Monthly Archives: May 2009

It’s all about the truffles, silly

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Belgium gets a lot of bad press. And whatever lousy reviews Belgium receives, Brussels is dissed even more. You know, it’s boring, unsophisticated, the Toronto on a Sunday afternoon of Europe, can’t hold a candle to its decadent cousin Amsterdam, and so forth.

Before I go on, I’ll just say to any insulted Torontonians that I was exercising a Western Canadian snipe at Hogtown just for the sake of the blog. If you wish to insist it is a wonderful and vibrant city, I shall not quibble.

Moving along. About Belgium and Brussels, I can only say that after having spend a couple of days there in late 2006, we found ourselves delighted by the Belgian capital, enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and only wished we had more time to explore. The one good thing we found, along with a few others, was food. Especially the propensity to consume vast quantities of mussels and, of course, chocolate truffles.

The truffles were to die for, my friends. We brought a couple of pounds of them back to Canada, and we only wished we’d been able to accommodate 30 or 40 pounds. They were decadent, sensual, almost licentious in their allure. Pshaw for Swiss or Dutch chocolate, the Belgians truly have a love affair with the stuff. And the truffle is, to me, the apex of what chocolate should be all about.

We are a bit blessed in this community in that we do have a brilliant chocolate confecrioner here, and the truffles of Courtenay’s Hot Chocolates are not to be faulted in any way. But, and I don’t mean to turn my back on a local purveyor of delectability, the Brussels truffles were just a teeny bit more depraved and wanton.

Chocolate is a curious thing. While for some it is merely a charming confection, while for others it is a way of life, and possibly even an addiction in the true sense of that word. For me, while I am not addicted to a substance that originated in Mexico centuries ago, I do love it and will find excuses to consume it.

I was talking to a female friend a couple of weeks ago and she confessed that she didn’t really like chocolate all that much, in a take-it or leave-it kind of sense. She didn’t dislike it, she just never hankered after it. I found that remarkable. While men generally like chocolate, women are purported to adore it with a passion. That to me is a good thing since chocolate is believe to have genuine aphrodesiacal qualities. That may be myth, but I like to believe it and have made gifts of chocolates to females of my acquaintance a number of times over the years.

Right now we have a number of Hot Chocolate morsels in our fridge, which we picked up for celebratory reasons yesterday. About the celebration, I’ll explain what that is all about in due time, but suffice it to say that even the fact that it is a rainy Tuesday is a good excuse to have chocolate.

And as a reminder, if you should find yourself in Brussels make sure you pick up lots of truffles, and feel free to send me some.

Finally, at age 84, Archie makes a commitment

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This just in — as we say in the news biz — Archie Andrews has finally made his babe choice. I just read that on Internet news this morning and am delighted to offer my congratulations. Since 1941 the red-headed teen has been playing Betty and Veronica like a couple of fiddles. I’m thinking, if Archie was 16 in 1941, he would be 84 now.

Anyway, if you are sufficiently agog about all of this, I will tell you his choice was Veronica. Bad news for the long-suffering Betty that she lost out to the rich bitch. But, you know, it makes sense. Veronica, as an only child was heiress to the Lodge millions, so Archie craftily deduced that he wanted to be kept handsomely in his old age.

When I was growing up people generally opted for either Betty or Veronica. Guys with a sense of adventure and a fondness for sultriness went in Veronica’s direction. There was something a bit mysterious about her and she looked like she would just be a lot more fun in a clinch. I dated a private school girl when I was in high school and, believe me, she was fun in a clinch. Those little boarding school babes were significantly wilder than the average public school girl.

Girls in those days, however, found Betty a favorable alternative. Healthy, homespun, utterly middle-class, the blonde (she really only differed in appearance from Veronica via hair color; their faces were identical and they fetchingly filled out their angora sweaters in much the same manner) one of the duo struck a chord with girls who lived pretty much the same lifestyle.

But for me Betty was just a little proto-June Cleaverish. Indeed, it is possible that she actually became June Cleaver. Veronica, on the other hand, seemed to suggest torrid adventure.

One suspects Miss Veronica was married three or four times and likely took a slew of lovers through the years as she cavorted about the Riviera and other upscale spots. Yet, finally, when age had taken its toll and cosmetic surgery was no longer working, she looked up old Archiekins.

Archie was living in a relatively pleasant retirement home in San Diego, I understand. Archie and his three cats. So, he was surprised to hear from Veronica, but nonetheless, delighted.

As for future vows, no definite plans have been made. Archie always wanted Jughead as best man should he marry. But old Jug, even in his mid-80s, is still working diligently in recessionary times to keep his fast-food empire afloat.

Reggie, on the other hand, was whacked in a contract killing in 1962.

Just thought I’d bring you up-to-date.

Lots of fun with our favorite drug

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About a week ago I spent the day in court. No, it wasn’t for me. I didn’t arrive in cuffs. I merely strolled in and took a seat in the gallery, both to ‘spectate’ and to see if there was a story therein.

A friend of mine is a prosecutor and she was there for the sentencing of a guy. A guy she had prosecuted. I like prosecutors. I like what they do to keep the rest of us safe. When I was young and foolish I liked defense attorneys, but then a transition happened that often gave rise to the thought: “Fry the bastards!” Well, not really. I am actually more tolerant than that, but I do like the concept of justice being brought to bear on somebody who deserves it.

Anyway, I had never seen her in action, so I was curious about how she worked at her task and how it was all going to come out. When I was a young reporter I used to do court as a regular beat, and my favorite day was ‘call day’ for first appearances. I could always get some good stories and at times there were even moments of moderate drama.

This day was one of those call days and it was a bit like déjà vu for me to be there. It almost took me back to the days when a local retired postmaster in a drunken rage many years ago fatally blasted his wife with a shotgun, or when an investment advisor who worked two doors down from me was running a mini-Madoff scheme from his desk. Human tragedy, no doubt, but drama, definitely yes.

Anyway, as assorted souls took their places before the learned judge I could not help but be struck by the obvious fact that at least 80 percent of the cases (and there were many that day) involved alcohol abuse in some way. There were the usual DUIs. In one case it was the guy’s third in the last decade. Not very comforting to know that bastard is out on the road, especially since he was driving while disqualified.

Another was a 60-ish (I suspect) woman – though she could have been 40-ish, so ravaged was her face. A lot of miles on her, as we used to say when younger and crasser. She had violated a restraining order to avoid contact with her estranged spouse. Booze was a very big factor in that charming relationship. Anyway, the restraining order was reinstated; she was put on probation, admonished to stay away from the hard stuff. Think that’s going to happen? Me either.

And so it went, case after case. At different points we were linked up with assorted out-of-town places of incarceration where sad souls would sit on camera and find out the dispositions of their bail hearings. In those cases, involving men and women, alcohol was the default factor in their being inside and attempting to get bail.

I make no judgment on the people here – that’s up to the courts – but I reiterate what I have said many times before, and that is that we devote so much time to fulminating against street drugs, but we turn a blind eye to the social and legal havoc arising from the abuse of our ‘legal’ drug.

I am not a prohibitionist. Alcohol treated with respect causes no red flags for me. Fine malt scotches and vintage cognacs are heavenly tipples — if i recall. And while it’s true that I no longer drink, due to the fact I didn’t have a particularly good relationship with the stuff, I do not begrudge others who take pleasure in fine wines or a cold beer on a hot day.

But it is true that 80 percent of beverage alcohol is consumed by 20 percent of the drinking public. It is that 20 percent that gives me pause. It is that 20 percent that brings about a huge cost to society and costs loss of life, loss of health, and loss of productivity.

In fact it has recently been revealed that the costs of addressing the societal distress stemming from alcohol abuse outweighs the revenues governments gain from selling the stuff. That really should give the bean-counters pause, but probably won’t.

Workin’ for the man

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There used to be a guy we regularly saw at coffee in the morning. He was sort of late middle age, often in grimy clothes with dirty hands and nails and was slightly stooped and walked with seeming discomfort. We didn’t know who he was but we christened him ‘Working Guy’. What we meant by that was with his scruffy demeanor and bearing he was definitely not a bum, he was a guy who worked hard for his crust.

Working Guy was typical of a lot of men we used to see on the BC coast: poorly schooled, a bit profane, a bit racist, a bit vulgar, and hellishly hard working in the forests, in the mills, in the factories, in the mines and on the fishing boats. There was a lot of room for those guys in the old days. “Only have 8th grade, buddy? Well, we don’t give a shit because we want you to knock down them trees and haul them out to the boomin’ ground, we ain’t gonna ask you to be no Shakespeare.”

It was a pretty nice life being unskilled and unticketed labor in the old days. You got good union pay; a certain amount of job security; and you got the good things in life. You were able to live like the middle class with a couple of cars, a pickup truck, maybe an ATV and a boat Hell, you could even take the missus and kids to Hawaii once in a while, just like rich folks with educations.

Your archetype was repeated all over North America. You worked on the Great Lakes steamers and in the auto industry. You went into the mines in Nevada or the Yukon. Sure, you took risks. Sometime a mine tunnel would cave in or a tree would fall on a guy, but the pay made the risk worthwhile.

I always had a soft-spot for working guys. My university summer job was in a plywood mill. I spent all my shifts with working guys. I liked them. I wanted to be accepted enough that I was seen as one of them, not some snotty-nosed college kid. In that I had to swear a lot, and teach myself not to wince when somebody would make an overtly racist or homophobic comment or joke. I had to talk dirty about ‘broads’ because that is what working guys would do. I had to be lewd about the plant’s very pretty secretary, when I actually harbored a secret crush on her and wanted to take her to a fine restaurant and wine and dine her. But it was good, all in all. Not such a shabby life.

What fascinated me with a lot of these guys (though assuredly not all) was that for them there seemed to be no tomorrow. Money was there to be spent, and spend it they did on hot cars, fancy vacations, booze, women, gambling, and so forth. They seemed to save nothing. “Saturday night and I jes’ got paid — fool about my money, no time to save?”

They lived in an eternal present, with rarely a thought of tomorrow. Rarely a consideration that the wolf skulking around the door had very sharp teeth.

A few years ago the wolf arrived. Jobs went away. Mills and logging operations ceased to do what they had done since time immemorial. No longer did that 8th grade education get you anywhere at all when the car plant shut down, or the bottom dropped out of the copper market. Yeah, you could have gotten a trade; become a journeyman of some sort, but, damn it, that ‘Vette was more alluring than spending 5 years learning to be an electrician.

So, as industries collapsed, city-slicker university educated government wonks and weenies said: “No worries, working guys. We’ll retrain you. You can go into, oh, the tourism industry, or become computer techs of some sort. You just have to upgrade your skills.”

And so, in back-to-work facilities, hulking ex-loggers try to get their sausage-like and calloused fingers to function on a dorky little keyboard rather than using those hands to fire up a Stihl chainsaw. Those same guys had to learn to be polite, keep the cussing down, and maybe even take a shave and change the shirt once in a while.

Yes, are such humiliating regimes that may or may not result in employment of some sort, or a guy can always become a greeter at Wal-Mart and earn, maybe, a good 10th of what he earned in the bush.

The destruction of the old-fashioned male trades goes well back before our current recessionary time, it has just become punctuated more dramatically by the economic downturn.

The result is the growth of a huge underclass of males who were once primary economic movers. Whose fault is this? Well, some of it is theirs because they exercised no sense of planning for the future. And some of it is just plain bad luck and a refusal to see that we have moved into a post-industrial era and the likelihood of us going back is remote. Even in such industries as petrochemical, which are still doing OK, the demand is for tradespersons with all the training they need under their belts. Working stiffs need not apply because they are rapidly becoming dinosaurs.

When I was a kid I liked going to the garage when my dad needed some work done on his car. The men in the garage were low-tech grease- monkeys. And they cussed and were filthy and had girly calendars on the walls and had no idea what a dying breed they were.

We don’t see service stations much any more. They have gone the way of the guys that worked therein. Now the person who fixes your car must be a highly-skilled technician who is prepared to upgrade his skills on an ongoing basis.

And you never see a girly calendar on the walls any more.

Do we really want them to be even dumber?

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I just read that a school district to the south of us is going to be shortening their school year by a week by tacking on a further week to Easter Vacation. Huh? Shouldn’t that have read ‘adding’ a further week to the school year? You know, looking at the quality of literacy that abounds in the young, wouldn’t that make more sense. Just sayin’ …

I gather that the noble body of school trustees in the Victoria district felt that lots and lots of  parents wanted that extra break so that they could take wonderful mid-term vacations in the South of France, Hawaii or Belize. I noticed that the demand by po’ folk for extra vacation time — you know, the working stiffs who will have to fork out for an extra five days of daycare — didn’t seem to factor in. In fact, the feelings of parents did not factor in, period, in the arbitrary decision.

The school board made the statement that money wasn’t a factor, but that students and teachers needed an extra week of R&R to gear up for the final onslaught of the school year. As if that onslaught was something actually demanding. When I read that I think I threw up just a little bit.

Oh, and they also justified their boneheadedness and irresponsibility by saying that all sorts of other school districts are grabbing an extra week of slackass time, so who are they to buck the trend. Who are they indeed? Certainly not a group of people who put education first-and-foremost in their instincts.

Maybe I’m just ranting, but I don’t think so. Are modern kids (with school years appreciably shorter than ours were) stupider than we were? I mean, we were pretty damn stupid; I’ll concede that point. But, looking at the general level of literacy out there (or lack thereof), I would say we were virtual Rhodes Scholars in comparison. In other fields, there is a bit of a crisis in Canada and the US because none of our graduates want to go into the sciences. “It’s like way too hard, dude.” So,what happens to technology and medicine? Thank God for India.

The point is, Canadian and American school years are already the shortest in the world (American are actually shorter than ours, but we’re catching up.)

When I was teaching senior history centuries ago it was a struggle to get all the course material in during the time alloted in the semester. If more time was to be taken away we wouldn’t have been able to finish. Or, at least the course would have need to be watered down to a superficial level. And, judging by our knowledge deficits, I expect such is actually the case these days.

Education is, to me, old-fashioned bastard that I am, not a business that must especially cater to the comfort zone of students and teachers, but a vital component of any future that we might be able to latch onto.

God knows contemporary society needs more bright people so, dear school trustees, whatever your remarkably ill-advised motivations might be, stop pissing around with our future. That is not what you have been entrusted to do.

He may be late, but he’ll always be great

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This is just my little artistic (after my own amateur and unschooled teqnique) to great old cat Griffin, who passed on to the catnip in the sky nearly 3 weeks ago. Nothing brilliant about the little painting, which hangs on the wall above my home office desk, but its rendering was heartfelt.

When he was younger and more spry he liked to lie out on the cool lawn grass on a summer’s day, whence I took the photo that the painting comes from. I wish I were as skilled as blogger friend, Andrea, who produced an inspired painting of her late and much loved dog, Zappa.

But, I think Griffin will understand and find meaning in the fact this came from me. Or, maybe he has better things to do these days. Hope so.

So here’s 21 from me

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For this one I was tagged by Selina at Selina Kingston is 40 (if you haven’t read her, please do, she’s worth the trip without question.)

It’s all pretty straightforward. Just respond to the categories, but replace one question and add another of your own.

What are your current obsessions?
At an earlier time I would obsess agonizingly over various females of my acquaintance and how they did (or didn’t) respond to my company or pleading overtures at any given time. Now I mostly obsess about the rapid passage of time, and how I am getting older despite my best intentions to stop that process. Otherwise, I’m pretty much O/C free.

2. Who would you most like to have dinner with?
Definitely not Andre. Maybe Wallace Shawn who had to bear with Andre. Good but weird movie. But, in the real world, either the Queen (not because I’m a monarchist, because I’m not, but just to find out if there is a real person behind the regal façade), or filmmaker John Waters just because I think he is one of the funniest and most ironic people on the planet.

3. Last dream you had?
Just last night I dreamt I was out in the back garden and I happened upon a turtle. Just one of those little pet turtles kids get, and he looked the worse for wear. I took him indoors to warm up. A while later (in dream time) I checked him out and he had thoroughly come alive and was essentially ruling the household with his demands for attention. A while further on he transmogrified into a kitten and caused even more trouble. I think I am missing my cat, Griffin.

4. Last thing you bought?
Two magazines, a newspaper and a candy bar.

5. What are you listening to?
Earlier in the car I was listening to a CD called Flower Power, a mish-mash of hippie anthems from the late 1960s like San Francisco Nights , Mr., Tambourine Man and the inimitable Judy in Disguise (with glasses).

 
6. If you were a god/goddess who would you be?
Neptune. I am a Pisces, so it would work.

7. Favorite holiday spots?
Kauai, of course, Palm Springs, the Oregon Coast, Tuscany, the South of France, Devon and Cornwall, the west coast of Ireland. And that’s just for starters.

8. Reading right now?
A true crime potboiler called To Die For, John Updike’s Self-Consciousness, and Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory (that’s a re-read).

9. Four words to describe yourself.
Handsome, charming, intensely attractive, and sexy. The statement doesn’t say they have to be true words. In my own insecurities, I would say sensitive, sometimes temperamental, funny (sometimes) and I think I can honestly apply charming.

10. Guilty pleasure?
Most things that I love that are bad for me, as well as the fact I still sneak the odd cigarette.

11. Who or what makes you laugh until you’re weak?
Very few things these days, but I’ll go with the character Snake on The Simpsons, and 30 Rock.

12. Favorite spring thing to do?
Gardening, long walks, and preferably hitting the road and going to a favorite place. Those and cook outs.

13. Planning to travel to next?
Still in the planning stage so don’t want to jinx it.

14. Best thing you ate or drank lately?
An orgasmic three-part dessert at a fine local restaurant called, appropriately enough, Locals.

15. When did you last get tipsy?
On June 5, 1997. Guess that pretty much says it all.

16. Favorite ever film?
There are many, and few are recent. So, to name my few: The Caine Mutiny, Bad Day at Black Rock (contender for one of the finest films ever, in my esteem), A Man For All Seasons, Slingblade, Alfie (the original, not the crappy remake), Edward Scissorhands.

17. Care to share some wisdom?
We’re only as sick as our secrets.

18. What item could you not live without?
Good coffee.

19. Thing you are looking forward to?
The next time we go to Kauai.

20. What’s your favorite smell?
Be appropriate here, oh, OK. Pine trees in a dry-belt forest always remind me of childhood camping. That, and bacon being cooked over a campfire.

21. If you didn’t live where you do, where would you choose to live?I’d be here for the summers, but in winter I would go to either San Diego or Hawaii.

So that’s it. Now, the rules. Respond and rework. Answer questions on your own blog. Replace one question. Add one question.

With memes I have decided with my new blog to not tag people, even though tagging is part of the equation here. If you want to do it, then feel free because it’s actually fun and it’s something to do if you are devoid of ideas. If you are planning to use it, please let me know because I would delight in seeing your responses.