Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ryszard Kapuscinski

Journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski has died. His book, The Shadow of the Sun, which is a series of the writer's episodes in Africa, is one of the most gripping books I have ever read. You can read my review of it for Sojourners here.
In a tribute The Nation writes, "Kapuscinski's beautiful, poetic prose, sometimes compared to magic realism of Latin American writers, appeared effortless. Deceptively. His harrowing trips were preceded and followed by painstaking research--countless hours spent in his secluded study, filled with books, maps and newspaper clips. He did not have a phone there, he never used the Internet and he couldn't even be persuaded to use a computer. He shunned modern equipment. But he was an avid reader. He would enter into dialogue with generations of historians, writers, thinkers who had traveled the path he was about to take. Out of this dialogue came the richness of his work and the depth of his insights."
Kapuscinski is the journalist I always longed to be. I wish we could read more by this sensitive soul.

Fonda El Refugio

The food at Fonda El Refugio in Mexico City is so good it makes me cry. In 1987, I ate there with a certain New York City blogger every night for at least a week (or so it seems to me now). In 2003, I had the pleasure of taking Wendy there. The food was still great and we had the added bonus of watching a Mexican businessman order plate after plate of gusanos del maguey tacos (look it up) for a table full of groveling German investors. That was too much.

For more on the range of cuisines available in Mexico City see this article in the New York Times.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Gump Worsley is dead.

Gump was the last professional hockey goalie not to wear a mask. The obituary says "He didn't look like an athlete and smoked like a chimney between periods, but he was terrific when he put the pads on."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Happy First Birthday Booji!

"Booji" is what we call Amado around the house, almost from the day he was born. It means "kiss" in Polish. Today we're having a little party for the child and looking for kisses in whatever language we can get them. We'll also be looking for a few winks, as Amado kept us up virtually all night with his incessant howling. That kid really knows how to party!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Grenadier Pond

They say this pond in High Park is named after the regiment of grenadiers who drowned when the ice gave way as they were doing drills or perhaps chasing Americans here during the War of 1812 (Fort York is nearby). It's said that the pond is occupied by their ghosts.

I took this picture this morning while watching a honking gaggle of Canada geese circle, looking for open water to land in. Finally they settled for the ice, which you could tell they didn't like much.

At the same time, across the pond, a lone ice skater skated in a huge oval with a snow shovel, clearing a skating track. After he had cleared the snow from the ice, he disappeared. Hopefully not to join the grenadiers.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

P*Land Blazes: The Ditch

Dec. 29, 1981 -- My brother Sol lays down a wicked layback at the Ditch in Desert Knolls, right over our "P*Land Blazes" tag. This is one of my favourite skate photos from the P*Land days. Laybacks are definitely not for amateurs and Sol is totally shredding it.

Desert Knolls was one of my favourite skate spots and we went there a lot. It's a drainage ditch that's about a mile long, situated right next to a paved road to make it easy to drop in at any place. It also had a little tunnel under the street where you could get tubed. I still have a scar on my back from scraping my back trying that.
Back in the day, the Ditch wound through an undeveloped housing development. There were lots of paved streets, with curbs and lovely street signs with a bunch of Indian-sounding street names (Siskiyou, Chiwi, Tude, Wato)---but no houses at all. Checking the satellite view, I can see the Ditch is still there (it's the white line near the middle of the picture), but it's now pretty much surrounded by houses. I wonder if it's still skateable?

I still remember the first time we went there. Some of the Apple Valley locals had ramps set up on each side of the ditch to increase the height of the walls. I remember "the guy with the spot on his face" totally ripping it up that day, doing berts and getting some air off of the street side ramp. Those guys were pretty good. Some years later, the same guy invited us to his home ramp in Apple Valley that had about four feet of vertical on it. We only tried it once and never really got it wired.

P*Boyz, I am still waiting for you to send me your pictures. C'mon dudes.

It is so cold....

How cold is it? At the moment it's -18C/0F, and with wind chill,

How cold is it? So cold I see steam rising from the unfrozen Lake Ontario as if it were a giant hot spring.

How cold is it? So cold I saw a high school girl walking down the street in short pants and flip-flops. At first I thought she was wearing bright pink tights, but when I got closer I saw it was just the frozen bare skin on her legs. Was she making a statement? Was it performance art? I'll never know.

How cold is it? So cold I feel really worried for Wendy who out working the streets tonight (she's an outreach worker). She almost forgot her mittens, and that would have been bad because I am fond of her fingers.

How cold is it? So cold the heat in our building has gone out. This always seems to happen without fail when the temperatures reach bitter, almost satanic, cold.

How cold is it? Ok, at this point I can see Rev. Shawn, Brother Adam, and the rest of Manitoba laughing at me. Dudes, I'm from California, ok?

How cold is it? So cold I've resorted to playing Led Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown" as loud as I can without waking the baby up.

Mr. Smiley

Here's a sweet picture of the kid that Wendy took the other day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Amado up at the cottage a few months ago. Note the snowshoes. You would need them now. Along with the Kleenex.

Monday, January 22, 2007

High Park Steel

Local Hockey

Hockey is harder to take pictures of than I thought....but here's a snapshot of some of the local hockey action taking place in High Park. This was some sort of team practice, but there are also some killer pick-up games when about 50 hockey players crowd the rink and fight for numerous pucks.

It wasn't until seeing hockey live and up close did I understand the attraction some people (like all of Canada) have for the sport. I still can't watch it on t.v. though.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Remember Lennon

I just picked up John Lennon's Remember at Starbucks (where else? It's not just about coffee anymore, it's the new "lifestyle" store). Remember is a retrospective of John Lennon's solo work and his stuff with the Plastic Ono Band from the 70s. It's totally amazing. I can't put it down. "Jealous Guy," "Instant Karma (We All Shine On)," "Working Class Hero," "Watching the Wheels Go Round," --brilliant songs I'm surprised I don't really remember hearing too much back then. (No wonder, as I listened almost exclusively to Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jethro Tull in those days.)

But let me be the first to tell you: John Lennon was an incredible musician!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

14 Questions the Buddha Would Not Answer

1. Are the self and the universe eternal?
2. Are the self and universe transient?
3. Are the self and the universe both eternal and transient?
4. Are the self and the universe neither eternal nor transient?
5. Do the self and the universe have a beginning?
6. Do the self and the universe have no beginning?
7. Do the self and the universe have both beginning and no beginning?
8. Do the self and the universe have neither beginning nor no beginning?
9. Does the Blessed One exist after death?
10. Does the Blessed One not exist after death?
11. Does the Blessed One both exist and not exist after death?
12. Does the Blessed One neither exist nor not exist after death?
13. Is the mind the same as the body?
14. Are the mind and body two separate entities?

It's said that the Buddha would not answer these questions because they were simply intellectual diversions and not concerned with the true knowledge that could end suffering and bring enlightenment.

The Buddha compared those who ask such questions to a man wounded by a poisoned arrow. Instead of allowing a doctor to remove the arrow, the injured man insists first on finding out the caste, name, and clan of the man who shot him. He wants to know if he's dark or fair, and whether he lives in a town, village, or city. The injured man is also obsessed with the weapon used to shoot him and must know if it was a longbow or a crossbow and what the bowstring was made of. What kind of wood was the arrow made of, the man asks, and what bird did the feathers come from which lined the shaft?

This comes from the book, The Universe in a Single Atom by the Dalai Lama. I was reading this book in the hospital while Wendy was in labour, almost one year ago now. Our doula, who was otherwise a very wise woman, saw that I was reading and suggested Wendy might be comforted by hearing me read to her from my book. After considering the text, which is filled with this kind of Buddhist philosophical pondering, I declined. With the baby slowly on its way, there was no amount of information in the world that would do much to help Wendy's suffering at that moment.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Alice Coltrane

Alice Coltrane has left this terrestrial plane, a place she was always so lightly tethered to.... She was a wonderful musician and composer whose music was most uplifting.

Alice Coltrane was a young jazz pianist from Detroit when she married John Coltrane and later joined his band, replacing McCoy Tyner. After John Coltrane's death in 1967, Alice Coltrane released several critically acclaimed free jazz albums and then left music to start an ashram and become a guru.

In 2004 she returned to jazz, releasing Translinear Light, a profound album featuring her son Ravi Coltrane. Pure. Beautiful. Light. I highly recommend it.

Essence interview (September 2006)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I was poor and invisible and you ignored me.

This interview with a leader of the PCC, one of Brazil's largest prison gangs, is among the most chilling things I've ever read. Apparently it turns out to be fiction, but that doesn't matter. What it says is true enough that we all should be thinking about it.

Q. Do you belong to the PCC?
A. I'm more than that: I'm a sign of the times. I was poor and invisible. For decades you never bothered to look at me. It used to be easy to deal with poverty. The diagnosis was obvious: rural migration, income inequality, a few slums. But the solution never arrived. What did they do? Nothing. Did the federal government ever allocate funds for us? People only heard about us when the slums collapsed, or from romantic music about "the beauty of-the favelas at sunrise," stuff like that. Now we're rich, thanks to the multinational cocaine trade. And you guys are scared to death. We are the late blooming of your social conscience. You see? I'm well read. I read Dante in prison.

Q. Aren't you scared of dying?
A. It's you who's scared of dying, not me. In fact, you can't come and kill me here in jail, but I can send people to kill you out there. We're man-bombs. In the slums there are a hundred thousand man-bombs. We're at the core of what is beyond solution. You guys are in the right, and I'm in the wrong, and in the middle is the frontier of death, the only frontier. We're already a new species, a wholly different animal from you.

For you, death is a Christian drama: you die in a bed from a heart attack. For us, death is commonplace: we're tossed into a ditch. Didn't you intellectuals speak of "class wars", "Be an outlaw, be a hero"? That's right: here we are! Ha, ha. You never expected these cocaine soldiers, did you?

My soldiers are anomalies, products of this country's twisted development. There's no more proletariat, no pitiful or exploited masses. There's a third thing growing out there, cultivated from the mud, schooled on absolute illiteracy, graduating from prisons, like an alien monster hidden in the city's cracks. A new language has emerged.

We're on the edge of a kind of postmisery that has begotten a new murderous culture, propped up by technology, satellites, cell phones, the Internet, modem weapons. It's shit with chips and megabytes. My soldiers are a mutated social species, they're the fungus growing on a big dirty mistake.

Q. What changed in the margins?
A. Dough. We have it now. Do you think someone with $40 million doesn't run things? With that kind of money, prison is like a hotel, an office. We are a modern company, we're rich. You guys are a bankrupt state, dominated by incompetent people. We have agile management methods. You are slow and bureaucratic. We fight on our own turf. You're on foreign soil. We don't fear death. You're dying of fear. We are well armed. You have a .38 caliber revolver. We're on the attack. You are on the defensive. You are obsessed with human rights. We are cruel and merciless.

You have transformed us into superstars of crime. We have made clowns of you. The people in the slums help us, out of fear or out of love. You are hated. You are provincial. Our arms and drugs come from abroad--we're global. We don't forget you--you're our clients. You forget about us as soon as an outbreak of violence subsides.

You can read the whole "interview" here.

Art from the brilliant movie City of God.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Jumpin' 'Mado

When we arrive to get Amado in the morning or after one of his naps, he is often jumping up and down for us in the corner of his crib that is closest to the bedroom door. It is so sweet to be greeted with such joy.

An interesting turn of events...

...this book, by one of my favourite authors, just arrived in the mail from a mysterious, esoteric cousin in South Korea. I will take it as a sign that I am meant to read it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"Countess" Jeanne La Mar

Here's a story I thought you might like.

"Countess" Jeanne La Mar was a ballet dancer turned boxer who fought prize fights in the 1920s against both men and women. After the boxing commissions of several states banned female boxers, La Mar retired to the mountains in Wrightwood, California in 1928, not far from where I lived as teenager.

According to a local researcher, "the quiet life of the mountains did not seem to reflect on the spirit of Jeanne La Mar." Forest service statements say that she roamed the areas of ranches and nearby Big Pines areas, trying to find or spar with her."
Hardened forest rangers, mountain folk, and ranch hands were still in the area, yet none took her up on her offer. Most residents ignored her, and she was considered the 'Mystery Lady of Big John Flats' (the hill she lived on). Reports of her strangeness caused forest rangers visit her cabin on several occasions, but because her property was outside of the forest boundary lines, they were unable to do anything.

In 1935, Gus Von Herren, who most believe was her son (though she told people he was her nephew), was found shot in the head near her cabin by a homeless man who was providing sex and handyman work for La Mar.
A former forest ranger remembers the homeless man showing up at his station near Wrightwood in the 1930s, frightened and with a bullet hole in his suitcase. After Von Herren's body was discovered, La Mar had chased the handyman off the hill, shooting at him with a rifle.

By the time the rangers got to the cabin La Mar had abandoned it and disappeared. The death of Von Herren remains unsolved.
La Mar is reported to have died in the early 1940s, some say in Los Amigos Indigent Home in Norwalk, California. Other reports say the former boxer died in a hotel room "in the shady park," on D Street in San Bernardino.

You can read more and see pictures here. You can also read more on the Wrightwood discussion forum

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Holy Bagel!

This one took over 2 pounds of cream cheese.


From yesterday's Toronto Star:

Carcass in Afghan town described incorrectly
In the paper for Dec. 23, a story about Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan incorrectly identified an animal carcass displayed in an open-air butchery in Howz-e-Madad. The unidentified animal was not a pig. The Star regrets the error.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Family Portrait


Gerald Ford

Until this week I remembered Gerald Ford as simply a klutz who got shot at by Manson Family member Squeaky Fromm. He never seemed to be somebody who ever rose to the level of being truly presidential. How wrong I was! Wow, I had no idea what a statesman he was. I had no idea how much he was loved. I had no idea how important he was to the United States. Is it just me, or does it seem like everyone waited until he died to mention these facts?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year 2007!

Waves feel like they will be a theme this year. Big waves.

"The Green Room," Santa Cruz, California. Art from:

The Reservoir

Last night we did eight loads of laundry and watched 15 minutes of Anderson Cooper in New York City. Then Wendy and I shared a toast with some fine champagne, shook off the new parent blues, and went to bed just after 11:00.

As I slept I had a dream I was going to climb back up the mountain and visit the ancient reservoir. It's been a very long time since I have seen it.

[Art from]