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Monday, July 25, 2011

May in Vancouver

After the Habitat for Humanity AGM in Vancouver last May, I stayed an extra week to enjoy the city and visit friends. This lovely lady is someone who first came to me a couple of decades ago as a very small girl, for violin lessons . She's now living in Vancouver, articling to be an architect. She showed me her town. We walked a lot. Van is a lovely city for walking..... through parks filled with forget-me-nots and the last of the spring bulbs,

down to Granville island where buskers have to audition for the privilege of performing, and in designated locations during specific time slots. Kind of an oxymoron... regulated busking.... The mermaid statue got in before they made all of those rules, so she didn't have to audition. i suspect she wouldn't pass the dress code requirements.

We walked along the harbor, where children danced to the sounds of flamenco guitar, and fed the pigeons.

And to Gastown, where the steam clock fills the streets with the breathy voice of a giant pan flute.

A fountain in old Gastown. Fish are a popular theme. These are copper, transformed to an organic looking verdigris by the weather.

A walk along the shoreline as the sun goes down.

And a lucky find! It's poetry slam night at a local cafe'.

Up 'way past my bed time.

Then a few days with another friend at her lovely cottage on the Sunshine Coast, where I lost count of the hummingbirds swarming the feeders on the porch... at 26!!!

It was a gorgeous week

Monday, July 18, 2011

Don't make friends with dinner.

after graduating from high school, youngest son, Luke chose gainful employment over further education. he was tired of school and wanted a way to finance his love of all things electronic. a regular paycheck was the only honest means of accomplishing this, so he worked for a big box electronics store. seemed like the dream job, working with all his favorite toys, AND getting an employee discount. after locking horns with the real world for several years, he was disappointed to learn that his opportunities didn't match up with his ambitions, (or his expensive tastes) so he has conceded that post-secondary education might be worth his while after all, and has enrolled in university, to begin this fall. meanwhile, his dad had a trip to Africa planned with a colleague from work, and asked the lad to join them. it was all paid for by the pater, and there were no longer any worries about job security, so how could he refuse?

he was a tad worried about traveling with his dad, who is the mastermind behind many many holidays from hell, but his sister and i assured him that even his dad couldn't spoil africa. mama and big sis were so right. and so ensued a photo safari where the boy snapped this, and many more shots of his all-time favorite animal, the cheetah......

as well as lions, zebras, giraffes (oh my!), and numerous hordes of bouncy or galloping ruminants. he loved it most that he was taking pictures, and no one was killing anything. then they helped install water tanks and rain collection gutters in a school in Nairobi.

note the ladder. when he asked "where do i find a ladder?", he was told, "you build one." as there was no hardware store to run to, he did just that, from wood he had to harvest himself. he also made the hole for the spigot in the 500 gallon vinyl water tank with a screwdriver, as there was no drill or cutting implement to be found.

the gentlemen below are responsible for security at the school. hall monitors of a sort. there's a certain faction who consider educating and feeding children to be a threat to the local economy - or at least to their lucrative business selling hootch and drugs. if you look closely, you'll see the business end of one fellow's rifle resting between his feet. their job is less to keep the children in class, than to ensure that outside interference stays outside.

as Luke finished work on the eaves troughs one day, a newfound friend offered an invitation to join his family for a meal, which invitation they were pleased to accept. their time in Nairobi had already taught them that they were sometimes awkwardly ill-informed regarding local social conventions, so they asked another friend if there were some protocols they should be aware of, regarding a dinner invitation. the conversation went something like this:

"Well, it would be polite to bring a chicken."

"Where can we buy a chicken? There is no store here."

"I think I may know someone who might sell you a chicken."

so off they went to the home of this lady.....

Luke waited in the car while, after a pleasant conversation with their friend, the lady agreed on a price for a chicken, of which there were none in sight.

she received her payment, reached inside her house for a tin of something, and scattered a handful of it round her feet. a flock of chickens immediately and magically materialized out of empty air, pecking cheerfully at her feet. just as cheerfully, she reached down and snatched one of them up by its feet, which she bound together with a piece of string found in her pocket. by now the chicken was less cheerful.
it made a terrible racket as her customer opened the back door of the car so she could toss the desperately flapping chicken on the floor at Luke's feet.

i'll let him tell the rest of the story in his own words. "i felt so sorry for the chicken, Mum. i just wanted to pick it up and cuddle it and tell it everything would be o.k..... except that would have been a lie.
.... and i didn't want to make friends with dinner."

shortly thereafter, lad and dad continued on to climb Mt. Kenya, which i believe he said is the 2nd highest peak on that continent - where only 25 non-nationals make the summit each year. he was determined to be one of this year's 25. today i received a note from him via facebook, posted from his cell phone, "3rd person this year to summit point Batain via north face of mount Kenya. Also the 3rd canadian to do it in 6 years. no big deal... :p"

credits for all photos but the chicken (which i stole from a web archive somewhere) go to our intrepid adventurer, Luke.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Badgering a Kiltie

in a recent post Susan mentioned the Halifax Military Tattoo. though i've never been to one of these events, i was once married to a Scottish-born fellow who went to great trouble to immerse me in the traditions of his homeland. part of this immersion was a requirement to participate in numerous Scottish Country Dance workshops and other related events. one such event was a Scottish fiddling class taught by a fellow whose love of storytelling was second only to his passion for the music of his homeland. some of the tunes i learned from Calum are still among my favorite performance pieces. the story i'm going to share with you is one of his, told over pints of beer at the local pub one evening after class.

but firstly, some cultural background. as the photo shows, what is worn under the kilt (or more accurately, not worn)is considered the test of a true Scotsman. the gents in the photo are, indeed, true Scotsmen. here they are seen marching in a parade somewhere or other. a military tattoo is much like a parade, but it's all done on a parade ground instead of down the streets of town. the groups involved are in full military dress. they're immaculately groomed, attired in perfectly matched uniforms. they perform complicated choreographed maneuvers on the parade ground, marching in time to the music they play, to the admiration of crowds or visiting dignitaries. today's story, boys 'n girls, is about one such true Scotsman - a piper, participating in the Edinburgh Tattoo.

to the unwashed masses, a uniform is a uniform is a uniform. those encased in the things, however, know there are specific, and distinct differences, which serve as identifiers to the indoctrinated eye. there's a lot if available information in a uniform, if you speak the language. from small details one learns the rank of the wearer, where the regiment is from, how important the event they're attending is, etc. etc. i don't pretend to be uniformally literate, but i do have a glimmering of understanding of how much i don't understand.

the uniforms of Scottish regiments are unique even to the untrained eye. the most noticeable difference is the kilt. Scottish men are, we're led to believe, so very certain of their masculinity, that they can wear a skirt into battle. they'll also knock the head off of anyone gauche enough to call it a skirt. another take is that they're so insecure about their manhood that they need to be able to lift their skirts to prove it on a second's notice. the jury is still out on that, and i'll confess to a certain amount of cynicism which i cheerfully blame on the former spouse. The fellows below are at the Edinburgh Tattoo, one of the most famous and extravagant of its kind, performed on the parade grounds of Edinburgh castle each year.

on the front of the kilt, you'll usually find a sporran. this is the original man-purse. (calling it a purse is also grounds for having your head knocked off) the kilt has no pockets, after all, and a fella has to put his pocket knife and coin for beer somewhere. this can be a simple, flat leather bag on a string run round the waist, but it isn't usually. there seems to be some sort of competition to see who can come up with the most elaborate or outrageous sporran. you'll find everything from tastefully tooled leather to grotesque carven ram's heads in 3D. most common are bits of fur and tassels. yes, the Scots assure us, real men can, and certainly do wear tassels. they also wear a wee bit of lace at their wrists, to formal balls, which, i'm here to tell you, looks absolutely smashing. in addition to serving as a container for needful items, the sporran helps hold the front of the kilt down in a breeze, and while dancing. the back, it seems, is fair game for gusts and curious onlookers.

a certain middle aged lady of North American extraction was attending this particular edition of the Edinburgh Tattoo. she was clearly enamored of all things Scottish, and was having the time of her life, snapping photos and chatting with the locals, who described her speech as having a very nasal and high pitched 'twang'. after the grand finale, with fireworks and deafening cheers, the contents of the parade ground swarmed into pubs in the neighborhood of Edinburgh Castle. participants and onlookers mingled, celebrating the great event.

the hapless hero of our story was a strapping handsome young man - a piper in a regiment whose sporran was made from the head of an equally handsome badger. it may have looked something like this. he stood at the bar, with his foot up on the foot rail that is often found in such places. he was a fine specimen of Scottish manhood, striking a most appealing pose in 3/4 view of our lady tourist, as he chatted with a friend. she appeared to be fascinated with him, and most especially with his sporran. as the evening progressed, and she enthusiastically sampled the local brew, she couldn't take her eyes off of him. it took her some time, and many brews, to screw up her courage, but she did it. tottering unsteadily up to the object of her attentions, she laid her hand on his arm. he turned toward her and smiled politely. taking a great breath, in order to speak loudly enough to be heard over the ear-numbing noise of music and conversation, she shrieked, "oh, i just love your scrotum!" she had an excellent set of lungs, so was heard by everyone in the room, which now echoed with silence. all eyes turned to question what the ears couldn't believe they had heard. the poor fellow's ruddy face paled, his foot dropped convulsively from the rail to the floor. in total silence, and to the glee of the hundreds of eyes following him, he bolted from the room.

whether she intended to say what she said remains a mystery. no one else had seen anything but his sporran, and the lady was in such a state of confusion afterward that she required assistance to find her lodgings.