Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

I kept to my goal of reading at least one non-fiction book a year - it's November, so I cut this one a bit close. Enter the latest Book Club pick: The World Without Us. It's full of interesting factoids (ceramic tiles would be the last marker of humanity) and fabulous thought projects. The (often insightful) observations of bonobo and chimpanzee behaviors when it comes to humans is equally captivating: "Murderous, mutual loathing between tribes was not more explicable, or complicated, than the genocidal urges of chimpanzees -- a fact of nature that we humans, vainly or disingenuously, pretend our codes of civilization transcend." My favourite passage comes early, and gives me some hope for our species: "bonobos, smaller and more slender than chimps but equally related to us, don't seem very aggressive at all. Although they defend their territory, no inter group killing had ever been observed. Their peaceful nature, predilection for playful sex with multiple partners, and apparent matriarchal social organization with all the attendant nurturing have practically become mythologized among those who insistently hope that the meek might yet inherit the Earth."

The writing can be a bit dry at times and I'm always looking for more prosaic writing (more description, more colour, more adjectives), but Weisman is far more interested in sociology than poetry. The book promises to answer whether our planet would heave a great green sigh of relief at our disappearance or, perhaps, miss us as one of its black sheep children. There are no real answers; but, like Neo in the Matrix, it's the question that drives this entire work. I recommend the book for the cottage in the summer - surrounded by all that nature, one won't be able to help but feel a visceral connection that all humans, at their core, must feel for this blue and green marble we call home.

Monday, November 24, 2008

that's why it really hurts

On Saturday, just before midnight, I got a phone call from my mother. Dad's in a lot of pain, she says. Won't let me call 911, she says. Only wants to see you, she says. What could I do? I drove like a madwoman to get to my old home as fast as I could, only to find my father curled up and crying like a baby. The same man who could barely get himself to shed tears when my Dada passed away 16 years ago. So, I called 911 and seven EMTs later, I'm driving again, this time to the hospital. Thank God JC was there (first to make sure I changed into real shoes, then to make sure I kept breathing in the waiting room). Four hours of lying in an overcrowded hallway (and many indignities) later still, the doctor comes by and tells us that he'll need a CT scan in morning. The nurse injects morphine into my father's IV drip and he, mercifully, drifts asleep.

On Sunday morning, three and a half hours of sleep clocked in, we go back only to find him moved elsewhere. A few minutes of panic while none of the nurses seem to either know where he is or want to bother to look it up. (Props to the night nurses who were friendly and courteous). We see him wheeled back from getting his CT (something he should have gotten when he first saw blood but couldn't get an appointment until December 3). A kidney stone, only 5 mm thick. All that pain and blood and puke for something smaller than a ball bearing.

But all my sympathy and sadness was being seriously undermined. By what? Well, he saw blood in his urine last Sunday. Panicked, he went to the doctor and he was told it could be one of two things: urinary tract infection or kidney stones. He was prescribed antibiotics and told to keep hydrated. What does he choose to do instead? Skips his Saturday dosage so he can go to a party and have a drink. Four drinks actually. Which made it all the more complicated because it's obvious his kidneys aren't functioning very well to begin with, so when he gets wheeled into the hospital they can't treat him as well as they would like because of the alcohol in his system. God. What a totally irresponsible thing to do. Two hulking adults who can't figure out the right thing to do, who bend their wills to whatever "they" (as in their friends) will think. What are they, twelve? Christ. I am so on the anger stage of the twelve steps.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Now Playing: Quantum of Solace

I have to admit, I didn't watch Casino Royale for one reason only: I don't like my Bonds being blond. Even Daniel Craig couldn't convince me otherwise. But now Quantum of Solace comes out and I've been made an offer I can't refuse - a free ticket. So, I get Casino and watch it so I'm all caught up for Quantum.

I like action movies - they're lovely bits of mindless drivel that please the 13-year-old boy that surely lives deep within me. I also like revenge movies, because there's a sense of vicarious satisfaction that comes from watching a piece of scum getting garroted. Mix in my undying love for overly capable men who can drive stick and you've got the perfect mark for a Bond fan. Alas.

Casino Royale was slow. Cards? Honestly. Also, the unnecessary romps on beaches was just boring (I like my Bond to be a sexy, not all tamed). I yawned more than once and felt the movie was at least 30 minutes too long.

Quantum of Solace fixed one of my basic problems: clocking in at just over 100 minutes, it wasn't TOO long, but it still felt a bit drawn out. The action was gritty and fantastic; the bond girls were very Bond-y and capable. The villian was appropriately villainy. There were enough twists and backstabs to keep everyone happy. It was an okay movie.

But it wasn't a very good Bond movie. And why? It all comes back to Daniel bloody Craig. He just doesn't cut it as James Bond. I'm supposed to beleive that he oozes enough charm to break Bolivian spies and office clerks alike - but I don't. He's not ugly, but he's not handsome either. He looks like a bruiser - not at all suave and debonaire. And he's not smooth at all - he loses his cool more than he keeps it; he seems to be in a constant state of shaken and stirred.

I know Pierce Brosnan was a bit of a ponce, but you know who they could have had? Clive Owen. Now there's a Bond I can get behind.

I give both movies 3 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


There's a theory out there when it comes to children and illness. It goes something like: when they're young let them get sick and eat mud and scrape their knees. All that time they'll spend being sick as children, they'll get over and have fabulous immune systems as adults. Children have a way of bouncing back. Thanks mom, for making me hug the chicken pox-ed LilBro. It's probably the same for pain in general: broken bones heal so much quicker when we're kids. Broken feelings too. We go from "I hate you" in morning recess to "you're my best friend" by afternoon. So much harder to forgive as adults. Is it because the sins are so much greater? Or are we just that much more brittle?

I have come to three conclusions in the last 72 hours.

1) I have the physical memory of a sieve but the emotional memory of an elephant. I don't remember, really, having both my wrists snap on my virgin skateboard experience but I distinctly remember a June playground where my faith in humanity first shattered. So it comes as no surprise that, even after the passage of time and conversation, I still feel slightly hurt and vengeful whenever I'm around certain people (but have no compunction about skydiving). Could I forgive him? I think I have. But I don't think I can forget.

2) There are only four people who would really miss me if I got hit by a Mack truck tomorrow. I don't mean that I would have one full pew at my funeral - I think I'd have at least two. I mean that, after time passed, there would probably be only four people who think of me randomly (standing in a movie line or drinking a hot apple cider) and actually miss me. Weirdly enough, I don't feel sad about this. I feel, strangely content. Four whole people. That's more than a lot of people. I feel lucky.

3) Stats are far crueller than the month of April. We know that the chances of winning the lottery are 1 in 28 million but people buy tickets anyway. There are those other stats too; the worse ones. The 1 in 7 and, being female, the emotionally eviscerating 1 in 4. Why does it even surprise me any more to hear about someone else? Basic math skills tell me that either my circle of friends have been fortunate or (more likely) that we're better at keeping secrets than we let on. Here's my theory: it matters when stuff like this happens to you. If it happens as a kid, we're so used to the idea that the memory of it doesn't phase us anymore. I'm not saying it isn't hurtful or raw or heart-breaking - it's all of those things - but the pain isn't a sharp as if it happens to you as a grown woman. If it happens as a kid, you learn to function like a normal human being despite this secret you carry with you, like a disfiguring scar you’ve learned to over up with makeup. So it's not that.

What constricts the chest and blurs the vision is the knowledge that it's happening right now. Not theoretically - because, statistically, we know it happens once every 8.1 seconds. Seconds. It's the knowledge that, as I'm turning off my bedroom lamp, someone, in a place I've been, is crying because of the pain and humiliation of it all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Nouvelle France

Ahh, Vieux-Québec... not a UNESCO World Heritage site for nothing.

When I was in Grade 7, we learned all about New France. That's where I got to wrap my thoroughly anglophone tongue around delicious names like Samuel de Champlain, Jacques Cartier, Jean Talon, Joliet and Marquette; it's where I ate up the stories about General Wolfe and Generale Montcalm, battling it out on the Plains of Abraham, the very character of a nation being fought over by its founding fathers; it's where my cynical tween self felt a spark of nationalism that hasn't sputtered since.

Yesterday, I stood on those Plains, just past the Saint-Louis Gate, with the setting sun glinting off the Chateau Frontenac. For a moment, I felt that 12-year-old leap a little in my chest. Québec City is a beautiful reminder of our roots. While Canada is a country renowned for its natural beauty, it is small pockets like this that show we are more. I stood at the port where Champlain decided he would build a city; I stood on the spot where our Confederation was signed; I ate lunch in a retaurant established in 1657. When I ducked into an art store to rifle through the $5 bin, the proprietress struck up a conversation with me that had little to do with exchanging money. It felt like I was back in New France - for a just a moment - chatting with a local shopkeeper.

I hardly get to view the sites of my country as a tourist - I find humans rarely enjoy the treats they can find in their own backyards. We are so concerned with broadening our horizons that we often overlook that which is right in front of us. I have longed for so long to see birthplace of our modern nation I was almost too overwhelmed to do anything but grin like an idiot and answer in stilted French, "ça va bien, merci, et vous?"

Pardon my rusty French, but I have a few things I must say. Je t'aime Vieux-Québec. Je t'aime Canada. Je suis honoré d'être une partie d'une telle grandeur.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008

treated and tricked

Here's what I learned over the weekend:

1) Fright Fests are very frightening only if
a) you have not seen the movie before and
b) everyone else is as scared as you.

2) The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a real testament to the liberalities of the 70's. BTW: liberalities? Not a word - but it should be. Tim Curry is one hell of a singer. And he totally rocks stilettos.

3) Hanging out with my brother is a sure-fire way to get drunk when I don't have to DD his ass home. oh. my. god.

4) Nothing beats a compliment like this: "are you old enough to get into clubs?"

5) The aftermath of a good party is as amusing as the party itself. Here is a catalogue of things I found after wandering about the house at 0930 (EST)
a) three distinct sticky patches
b) a glob of salsa on a glass table
c) four socks, none a pair
d) a broken tiara
e) pants
f) several glasses, some labelled thusly: "Mistress Mandy" "Mand-- er, I mean, Agnes" "Macho Mike" "Mister J." "Sexy D" "Dallas Green""Paper Bag Erin" ... and yes, these are real people.
g) a pile of jewellery I remember putting on but not taking off.
h) Tarot cards, still in their last spread position - they were all swords, man.

6) Gatorade is THE best thing for a hangover.