Archive for the ‘Way of the world’ Category

Turn the other cheek so I can hit it

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Apparently the Holy Church of the Sepulchre isn’t the only victim of monk-to-monk combat.

And look out fellas, we’re in the age of video…


Friday, December 3rd, 2010

I walked into the public bathroom and saw two women at the mirrors.

One was dressed in a full white hijab. She patted at her face, and adjusted her headscarf until it sat just so–a brilliant contrast to the darkness of her eyes. Then she turned and looked at herself critically in the mirror and began to pull and primp her skirt and the white stockings underneath until the material fell in agreeable folds around her ankles.

The other was dressed in skinny jeans tucked into stiletto black leather boots that hugged her calves, a ruby red satin shirt and a black tuxedo jacket. She patted her hair and fluffed the sides, then set to reapplying her lipstick just so. Then she stood back to admire the view.

Suddenly, a man’s voice called out for the woman in white to hurry up. Both of them took a final glance before striding out to meet whatever was coming next.

That was not a random act of kindness!

Friday, November 12th, 2010

When I opened my green bin last night to fill it for pick-up, something was knocking around in the bottom. Some thoughtful neighbour thought my empty and clean green bin was a great place to toss their full bag of dog shit. Must have been while it was still at the curb last week.

Good thing I keep my green bin outside and it’s been cold enough at night to keep it in a solid state.

Who does that??


Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Jerusalem is a place that was not on my immediate travel bucket list, but I got to go there recently for business.

Getting there

At check-in, I was awed? impressed? by the vehement gesticulations of a rather tall woman a few ahead of me. Very ticked off because she was being turned away at the check-in for having 3 hockey bags and 2 suitcases, 3 lifelike baby dolls dressed in sailor suits (yes, it was that creepy), a guitar, and a black sombrero with orange feather trim. But no Ranch salad dressing. Given the glacier speed with which the lines move, I had some time to write little scenarios in my head that might account for what I was seeing. Best I could come up with is that she was desperate to get to a surprise Hallowe’en birthday party for triplets in Cuba.

Security was shockingly fast at Pearson, so I was at the gate way early. What was interesting was that the assigned gate was off in its own little wing that could be closed off with a big set of doors. About 90 minutes before boarding, some security staff came along and kicked us all out so that they could set up some additional scanning and  then we had to go back in and get “wanded” – that’s the one where they check all your bags, especially the seams as well as the palms of your hands.

Plane was full and I was wedged in between young Apple douche-guy and a Russian real estate diva (as I would come to know). Next to her, across the aisle, was a very polite middle-aged man and then an older woman with a pony-tail at the window. So, from the minute we got on the place, pony-tail launched into a description of the conference she was going to with middle-aged man, at fairly loud volume and with no discernible pause for breath or response. Russian diva and I chuckled a bit. AT FIRST. Three-and-a-half hours later, when there has been no pause or alteration in volume, Russian diva was ready to lose it, as she whispered to me, “It’s a sickness. She cannot stop. But I am trying to watch this movie and then I will want to sleep, and for what will she stop talking!?”

Next thing I know, Russian diva takes off like a shot to the back of the plane and then the chief flight attendant comes up on the other side, listens to pony-tail for a bit and decides the Russian diva isn’t crazy. First time ever I’ve seen someone get in trouble on a plane for being a pain in the ass. It was awesome :)

Best part was that the Russian diva, in turn, was talking to me (quietly at least) about her mega-million deals in Vancouver, her escape from Russia when she was 21, her smartest, best looking son in the world and so on. Then she’d catch herself and say, “Ah, but I will be quiet now so I don’t have the sickness like HER.”

Things I Learned

1. Most of the cars here are white or grey. You see a red car and you think it’s just asking to get dinged.

2. Duh. Israeli breakfast means dairy and fruit. Like, NO BACON AND NO HAM. That’s a sad, sad thing.

3. The sport they seem most obsessed with? Basketball.

4. I can be mistaken for a Russian.

5. Lanes are just a suggestion when driving. Especially if you’re on a motorcycle.

6. It’s really hard to tell whom you can shake hands with and whom you can’t. Particularly if you’re a woman. And they don’t get the universal rock greeting \mm/ either.


While I was there, the anniversary of the death of Rabin. I was at an overlook with a local person and they were lighting fireworks, and later there were bagpipes playing the funeral dirge. It was weirdly comforting and anachronistic at the same time.


The Haredim live mostly in one section of town that I went through every day. What I did not know is that they don’t work and live on welfare, so their housing is a bit slummy. And in irony, some of them don’t actually believe in the state of Israel, so I don’t know where they think the welfare comes from. The newspapers were also covering a story in that there is an allowance for them to suspend their strict observance to volunteer for army duty (everyone else has a mandatory term), but very few are “taking the opportunity”, so to speak. One other tidbit: every once in a while they protest something or other…. by burning garbage in the streets. Lovely.


A few of us went for dinner on a fancy shopping promenade overlooking the old city. It was still 31 degrees at 9 at night. Then we walked over to the YMCA building to end all YMCAs. It was built with a lot of money, and has a beautiful carillon, Armenian tile work, painted ceilings and intricate Arabic woodwork. There’s also a mosaic of the Roman “map” of Jerusalem where they didn’t even put in the Second Temple.


My big tour was a walking tour of the old city. The guide said an Israeli poet described it as a “modest woman” with many layers veiling her intimate self. If so, I’m pretty sure those layers are for sale, when she’s not praying. Jerusalem is a warren of allies, congested with people from all of the world getting accosted by men of every quarter.

I thought small French towns were bad for city planning, but Jerusalem takes the cake. Even with a map, you can enter at one end of a “street” and find yourself somehow on the other side of the city or back at the same entrance without knowing how you got there. And the week I was there, some kids in the Muslim quarter were getting their kicks throwing stones at tourists who wondered in unawares, so it was kind of important to know where you were.

The guide did a good job of explaining different religious views and the history of the places we stopped at. Many of the places are “believed to be”, and in this time of facts, it’s just faith that makes them so. We did go to the Temple Mount, which was fantastic to see. The security going in is run by Israel, but the modesty police are Muslim – one guy in our party had shorts that were too short, so the guide lent him a pair of 80′s rocker pants with images of Bob Marley in Florida colours on them. How that was more respectful, I have no idea, but they were awesome!

There was a time in the long history of the Temple Mount (at the time of the moneylenders in the bible) when Jews were able to buy sacrifices in the square – a goat, or a lamb, or whatever you could afford. Kinda like the goats you can buy from The Plan at Christmas time, only not so much used for milk and food.

I also learned that Solomon had a magic chain that made people tell the truth – just like Wonder Woman!

At the tomb of David (not likely really the tomb of David), most of us were more enamoured of a small, newborn kitten who was sleeping nearby with her Mom.

We had a wonderful lunch in the Muslim quarter, family style with falafel and spicy sauce and pretty awesome hummus. And they made this drink that, as the guy with the Marley pants said, “was a whole new world”: fresh squeezed lemons with fresh crushed mint and crushed ice. Seriously refreshing. Especially since we had been in open sun and 34 degree heat for most of the morning.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the most venerated Christian site in the city probably. It is, supposedly, where Christ was crucified and the body of Christ was laid to rest. The lines to kiss the Rock of Cavalry and to go into the sepulchre were crazy. And random people were kissing walls and genuflecting in niches. The church is in the templar style but is jointly “owned” by 5 Christian groups today. Which explains why some areas are half-burned. On the Saturday before Easter, the tradition is to light candles and circle the sepulchre, which has led to fires on more than one occasion. But the kicker is that not one thing can be changed in the church unless all 5 parties agree, so…. since that doesn’t happen, the charred bits stay.

On a hot summer day in 2002, a Coptic monk moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, and eleven were hospitalized after the resulting fracas, according to Wikipedia. So yeah, harmony and all that. And in a land full of ironies, it’s worth noting that it’s an Arab family that owns the keys to the church, and only they can open it and close it each day.

After all of the hills-go-up walking, it was mandatory to take a shower and a nap, which I did, before joining a colleague and his wife for dinner and a stroll on a promenade overlooking the city. The night was so clear, we could see the hills of Jordan, which was cool, but also the lights of the Arab poor areas and that awful wall again, which was not so nice.

Here’s the photo album.


To end on a more positive note, I had great service from Air Canada. Really. Both there and back. They are in a new customer service campaign and it seems to be working. Also, on the way back, I was on an aisle with the middle seat empty. Score!

You don’t say

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

I am a logophile. So, I was looking forward to reading Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia T. O’Connor and Stewart Kellerman.

I like O’Connor’s approach (it’s her voice used in the book), since she knows her stuff but comes down firmly on the side of “the English language is changing and will always change, so we might as well get used it”, and she’s not afraid to tell sticklers to relax.

There were a lot of etymologies and word stories in this book that I already knew about (perhaps making me a word snob already, hmmm). In any case, there were a few items that I either chuckled at or realized that I had to revise my own misconceptions.

  • Best street name (though it’s been renamed since): Gropecuntelane. If you guessed it was a red light district of sorts, you’d be right.
  • The annoying quotation usage of the word “like” (as in She was like, I don’t know. And I was like, dude!) is a perfectly acceptable though recent development of the language that is here to stay.
  • The more proper pronunciation of “comptroller” is “controller” (the first spelling being an introduction into the language as an illegitimate spelling in the 15th century. O’Connor prefers the “pure” pronunciation, but I think she contradicts her advice elsewhere in the book to keep things simple, so if it says “omp”, then you probably should pronounce it.
  • “Female” has nothing to do with “male”. It’s etymology is from the Latin “femella”, whereas “male” comes from a different Latin root: “mascalus”. So no need to try to revise it as femyn or any other thing (except, I guess, “femella” if you want).
  • “Grandfather clause” has racist origins. It got started as a Jim Crowe law in the south, a group of laws requiring poll taxes and literacy to be able to vote, with an exception being if your ancestors were able to vote before the Freedom Act, and this right to vote could be passed down to sons, grandsons, and so on. Great way for illiterate whites to be able to vote, but not so much the black people of the time.
  • “Moot” means both “of no interest” and “debatable” or “worthy of discussion” (actually, the older meaning of the two).  Only one example of many where we allow a word to hold opposite meanings.
  • One last one, and one where I disagree with the authors: “they” as a singular pronoun. As they note, “they” was used as “he” or “she” or a singular person as early as the 1300s (Chaucer, even), but then it was restricted to the plural use after that and for a long time. In a departure I don’t really understand, since she argues for a democracy of language most other times, O’Connor is left at the end not wanting to use the singular “they” and concluding that we need another word to get around the awkward “he or she”. “They” is perfectly suitable to my mind, and if it has a pedigree for that usage from old times, all the better.

The style of writing in the book is accessible, and I like that they give anecdotes about how word citations are found in obscure newspapers, popular culture, and so on.

If you like words, you’ll probably enjoy the read.

A love story

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

Amendment to my top tv shows of the past decade: please add The Wire. As described by numerous critics, “the best television series of all time.”

This show is a love story for the city of Baltimore and its people. But it’s love like paint varnish. Each of the 5 seasons focuses on a different aspect of the city – the drug “game”, the dying port and its unions, the schools, the government and the media. Always intertwining stories of diverse characters and motives and good intentions and social mobility – I called it “Dickensian” after watching S2, not realizing that it would become an explicit trope in later seasons. Taking a step back though, I wonder if the better comparison is with George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Like Dickens for adults.

Expect to be treated like a thinking person. Expect to laugh your ass off. Expect to have sudden urges to talk Bo’more in business meetings, though I don’t recommend it (Don’t be getting up in my shit, muthafucka). Expect to cry. Expect to love the bad guy and be royally pissed off at the hero. Expect to not want to believe that this is really what it is, while knowing this is the closest you will ever get to seeing how it really is.

And, I think what David Simon and Ed Burns want from us? To give a fuck when it ain’t our turn to give a fuck.

A taste below. Spoilers!


I’m more interested in what happened after

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

A woman in Houston got a little perturbed and she shot someone with an arrow in her office. Definitely not good, but check out what happened right after (bold and italic for emphasis) – it was freakin’ standoff in there! I don’t know whether to be happy she was stopped or freaked out at the armaments.

HOUSTON – Authorities say a 30-year-old woman entered a Houston office and fired an arrow into a worker’s chest, and that police later shot and wounded her.

Police say Julie Parker entered the Texas Components Corp. office Monday afternoon armed with a bow, arrows and toy gun, and fired an arrow into 55-year-old Armando Silva’s chest.

Houston police spokesman John Cannon says two office workers then drew their own weapons and confronted Parker.

Police say officers shot Parker several times after she turned on them with the bow.

Investigators have not determined a motive.

Parker was hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday. She is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Silva was in hospitalized in good condition.

(Link courtesy of Mike’s Bloggity Blog)

This raises many questions

Saturday, January 17th, 2009
  • Is it because they are working such long hours that they drop where they are when there’s 5 minutes of snoozing to be done?
  • Is this a cultural thing? Like hockey?
  • Should we infer from this that China is a very safe place to live – I mean, no fear of pickpockets or someone drawing an evil curly mustache on your face? (okay that last thing happened to me once when I was passed out, but still, one should be concerned)
  • Why choose such hard surfaces, like a meat counter or a rock?
It fit much better when he was a baby

It fit much better when he was a baby

Sleeping Chinese(link courtesy of The Morning News)

We suck

Sunday, December 21st, 2008
We don't like to look South most times

Our Dumb World, or the Onionized Google Atlas

Mamma Troi

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Majel Roddenberry died in her sleep – we’ll miss her as the voice of the Enterprise but word is that she got her stuff done for the new Star Trek movie already, so it’ll be great to hear her there.

I loved her best as Troi’s cougariffic mother in TNG.