Tuesday, July 31, 2012

storyboarding house

For the past week or so I've been engaged in an attempt to draw pictures of a few interesting houses and buildings, places that might make it into the background of that mysterious story I sometimes mention. Architectural drawings are just not a strong part of my repertoire - neither are cars, planes, trains, factories, plumbing, and assorted mechanical objects. Nevertheless, the world isn't all flowers, grass, trees, beaches, people and animals, is it? Sometimes we have to try things that are difficult. While I consider a paradigm shifting career change by returning to college to study something useful like marine biology or Sanskrit, or possibly advanced typing (beyond two fingers), I'll show you the little street scene that may appear in a future painting.

Long ago and perhaps even now in some places a building would start out small and as time went by the owners and new tenants would add bits. If it didn't fall down right away they'd eventually add some windows. Now this one really doesn't bear close examination if we're to look at it as a place to live but I rather like the general idea.

Meanwhile, in my attempt to provide you with Olympic level entertainment here's some bog snorkelling from Wales:

Monday, July 23, 2012

yo ho

This is the Bounty, a copy of the original, one of theTall Ships which have come and gone from Halifax. One afternoon last week we walked down to the harbor to see them and although it was nice getting to see some close-up details, the only really good way to see wooden ships is in full sail. That happened today when they all tittled off to wherever tall ships usually hang their canvas.

We got down to the park about an hour after the parade was due to start and I thought I'd missed the whole show when the only one in sight was The USCG Eagle already far out to sea.

Happily, there were soon more of them sailing through the narrower channel from the city and lots of people were gathered to watch them pass. There goes the Peacemaker.

Next, the Pride of Baltimore - a lovely schooner.

We were especially looking forward the seeing the Bounty under sail and weren't disappointed when she sailed her stately way out of the inner harbor. Much heavier than some of the other boats, she took time to get up some speed but that just meant we could watch her for longer.

The last I saw of Crow was when he flew over and perched on one of her spars as she was heading out to sea. He said he couldn't resist but would be back soon. Me too.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

the fashion heist

I don't know what triggered the memory since it has no significance to anything even marginally interesting, but this afternoon I was reminded of something that happened at my first real job. The summer after my sixteenth birthday I'd been hired as a part-time sales clerk at a large department store in Toronto. Back then this was a big deal for me as it meant I wouldn't be spending another July and August changing diapers, breaking up fights between toddlers, or slinging ice cream cones. To say I was delighted to have a job where I could wear nice clothes would have been putting it mildly. I was a shallow teenager.

The store was one of those giant places that took up a full block - the upscale ladies dress department where I worked was on the third of seven floors. Besides me, there were half a dozen other girls, all of us charged with the duties of encouraging customers to try on clothes and provide sufficient flattery to make them want to buy. Sometimes we rang up the sales ourselves but more often than not, when a purchase seemed imminent, one or more of the ladies of the senior sales staff would swoop in from nowhere and lead the bemused customer away. We didn't blame them because they worked on commission but we did call them the sharks behind their backs. In fact when we gathered at lunch or after work the double-crossing behavior among the well dressed, perfectly coiffed and bejeweled sharks gave us much to laugh about.

One afternoon a pair of young women arrived in the department and began the usual process of choosing clothes from the racks. Since I was closest to them, I carried the dresses, skirts, blouses, jackets, etc. into the dressing room where I hung them on the provided hooks and told them I'd be nearby if they needed different sizes. Over the course of the next hour I ferried in many more clothes, a great pile of clothes, while my friends went off to our favorite lunch spot without me. Eventually, the two women said they didn't need any more help.

Imagine my surprise a short while later when my two customers waddled out of the dressing room looking as though they'd each gained 100 pounds, only to tell me in passing they weren't interested in buying anything that day. I smiled as I said, 'Thank you and please come again'. Then I strolled back into the dressing room and peeked inside just long enough to see that every single hanger was empty and there wasn't a shred of clothing anywhere.

I thought about carrying all that stuff.
I thought about missing the fun we always had at lunch.
I thought about those two women treating me like an idiot.
I picked up the phone and told Security to meet them at the door.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

gone baroque

If anyone has wondered about my slightly longer than usual recent absence, I present the above photograph as a perfectly reasonable excuse, and one instantly to be recognized by any reader who has found him/her self caught up in Neal Stephenson's 'Baroque Cycle'. The three volumes, at about 900 pages each, were originally published in 2003 and 2004, and that was when I read them last. I've always intended to repeat the experience, thinking they'd come in handy for some long, dark winter evenings, but a few weeks ago at the beginning of our current heatwave I found myself drawn to the shelf where they've been sitting, picked up 'Quicksilver', and dove in. What a refreshing treat it was.

Taking place roughly between 1660 and 1715, The Baroque Cycle covers a period in which many of the foundations of our world are laid down. Things we take for granted now, like science, mathematics and currency weren’t obvious as our culture stepped away from the dark ages. What Stephenson did  is to take us through a period rich in intrigue, discoveries and innovation to show where the system of our world comes from.

There are three main fictional characters who drive the novel - all of whom could well be described as larger than life personalities. The first one we meet is Daniel Waterhouse, an eminent Natural Philosopher, member of the recently established Royal Society, and close friend of Isaac Newton. As the story begins we find him at his recently established Massachusetts Bay Colony of Technologickal Arts (circa 1714, in a log cabin). The second main character is Jack Shaftoe, (known as Half-Cocked Jack - you must read to find out why) an English vagabond who by chance takes up with the Polish army at the siege of Vienna, meets and kills a Janissary, and in the process rescues the third character, a young slave girl from the oddly named island of Qwghlm, a fictional place that resembles the Outer Hebrides of Great Britain.

Through the course of the books, these fictional characters interact with all sorts of famous historical figures, from Newton and Leibniz to Kings (James II, William III, Louis XIV), Queens, Electors, a young Ben Franklin, Peter the Great and John Locke, just to name a few. Their extraordinary adventures take them across Europe, the Middle East, India, the Americas, and Japan. There are thrilling pirate, naval and ground battles, political intrigues, poisonings, and sword fights. Amazingly enough, the history described is extremely accurate as I discovered while doing follow-up searches about specific topics that interested me as I read.

I admit I have a few nerd-like tendencies but even more I love to be entertained while being educated. I read an interview done by the Guardian shortly after the novel was first published and it appears Neal Stephenson has views about teaching that would be nice to see enacted:

'History is dull unless there's a yarn in it. A yarn by definition has to be about a small number of individuals who are in some kind of an interesting situation. It is, therefore, a rather fine-grained kind of history. But history teachers in schools are not allowed to teach that way. Instead they are told to teach a class called something like "The Ancient World" or (in this country) "American History." And this makes it impossible for them to teach at the fine-grained level of individual yarns; it filters out all the interesting content and leaves only the dull stuff. If I were running a school I would begin by chucking all of those courses into the dustbin. In place of "American History" I'd have the kids read Cabeza de Vaca, or a biography of Jim Bowie.'

You may have noticed there's another of his books in the photo, 'The Cryptonomicon'. It was written before 'The Baroque Cycle' and takes place during WWII and our era but the research done for it inspired the larger book. This time I'll read it second.

.. and I'll try not to be gone so long.

Have you read anything interesting this summer?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Crow's got game

Crow here. I must admit to feeling a bit ruffled after my last long flight. I'd just returned from an extended sojourn in the South Seas and had been hoping to spend some time continuing to dictate my memoirs to susan - she of the pen wielding skill. Then what should occur the very next morning as I was settling on to the perch in my library but an urgent message delivered by one of the local pigeons. It was a summons requiring my immediate presence in London to meet the Queen. No, not that Queen but the other - the older, wiser, and far more regal Queen of the Pigeons.

I had understood that many birds and other animals, including some well off humans, had been planning to leave London for the duration of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games that will begin at the end of the current month. What I hadn't been aware of is that London's pigeon community and far more humans have been given no choice but to leave the city they call home because of the games.

It is expected that there will be 900,000 Olympics-related visitors in London during the games, on top of the usual 1.5 million tourists that typically arrive in the capital every August. Private landlords are seeking to make a financial killing as there are only around 110,000 hotel rooms in the London area, with almost a third of those already allocated to Olympic personnel. Many hotel rooms have been booked for months and even for years. This means that landlords have been evicting renters at very short notice so they can charge visitors huge sums for short term accommodation in July and August. Even the Queen's Royal Roost at the summit of Big Ben has been commandeered for film crew use and she has had to relocate her court to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. It's a nice enough spot but she would have preferred a place closer to Trafalgar Square where she can keep her majestic eye on the rowdy young pigeons who like to steal sandwiches from unwary children.

Like clockwork every four years the Olympics take place in a different city somewhere in the world. Humans may not be able to fly unaided by technology, nor can the swiftest of you run like jaguars; I probably shouldn't even mention human strength is nowhere near that of an elephant, but overall physical competition is a good thing. What isn't beneficial is throwing poor people out of their homes simply because you need the property for a traveling circus. This seems to be something of a habit. When Beijing hosted the last summer Olympics thousands of people were relocated as neighborhoods were razed to make space for Olympic games venues and housing. Home owners were compensated but renters were simply displaced. Rio de Janeiro, scheduled to host the summer Olympics in 2016, is already undertaking the demolition of several favela communities in order to provide space in that city.

Now as I've mentioned before, I believe the games are great - it's wonderful to see people exercising rather than running around killing each other (or us) but what I can't help but wonder is why there can't be a permanent space where the summer Olympics are always held? The games date back to 776BC where they were always held in a little town in Greece called Olympia. As you can see from the picture there's lots of open building space there now and goodness knows the Greeks could use the money that would certainly pour into their economy. Why not?

I haven't talked at all about the winter games but I'm sure you might have some ideas about a country whose climate is permanently cold. Considering global warming, somewhere in Antarctica might be best for the near future at least.

Well, soon it came time for me to leave London and as I bid adieu to my Peerless Pigeonate, I was happy to reassure her that the rooftop missiles surrounding the London Olympics will not be aimed at her people but will merely serve to motivate the athletes.