Fire – Water -Oil

Last evening felt like fall was just around the corner. We can see the mountains and islands once more and the smoke has moved on. Leaves are floating to the ground and the blackberries are done. It’s harvest time, a time of abundance. Farmers’ markets up and down the coast, apples and berries by the buckets and everybody, including Clare and I, are  swapping canning and drying recipes with our neighbours and friends.  Camp and I even exchanged blackberry jelly Clare made for  peaches Muriel canned. At our local beer farm we can also swap hops picking for beer. How lucky we are.

“We still need the rain,” Camp said as Vicky served us our first round.

“This year is the worst wild fire season on record in BC, over 2000 fires and 13’000 square km burned and no rain on the horizon.”

“I can’t believe we don’t have better water management here on the coast. Our sports fields look like parking lots and water restrictions are the norm at this time of year,” I said.

“I should know,” Camp said. “We’re always talking water supply improvements, reviews and proposals, anything from new wells to lowering the intake on Chapman Lake.”

“How about raising the dam instead of lowering the intake?” I ventured.

“You should attend some of the town’s or district meetings. It’s not about doing the work, it’s all about process, regulations, agreements, approvals and more consultation,” Camp said.

“Yeah, it’s all about consultation, dialogue, interest groups, stake holders, levels of governments etc. Just look at the Appeal Court’s thumbs down on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Apparently not enough of the above has been done.”

“It’s called the ‘rule of law’ and democracy,” Camp said.

“I call it too much bureaucracy,” I countered. “This decision, framed as Trudeau’s failure, will be exploited by the conservatives but transporting bitumen by rail leaves a bigger energy footprint and is less safe than a pipeline. And not all First Nations are against it. Not in my backyardseems to be the main argument.”

“We’re addicted to oil, we do need water and there is fire all around us. Sounds like a Shakespearean drama,” Camp said, taking a much needed swallow of beer. I did the same.

“Let me get back to the local water issue,” I said. “ The talk is all about drinking water supply and management but there are other sources of the precious liquid we could harness besides lakes and aquifers, like rainwater for example.”

“Exactly, Brother’s Park, the one and only sports field for the town of Gibsons, sits right beside the new recreation center and ice rink. We could and should collect the rain water from its large metal roof into a cistern which could then be used to water the sports fields.”

“You’re preaching to the choir Camp. My neighbour installed a 1000 gallon water tank to do just that. Collecting the rainwater from his roof to be used for outdoor watering. It’s done all over the world.”

“You’re right,” Camp said, “I’m going to adopt this concept for my upcoming election platform, along with the harbour expansion and a controversial proposal to move the town hall to upper Gibsons. There is no need for the old municipal buildings to straddle the best view property in the lower village.”

“Oh, and what should be in it’s place? Another hotel development?  a park? or how about a seniors residence? I would like to have that lovely view when I’m old and immobile,” I said. “Almost as good as the view from here.”

“Good luck with that,” Camp said, “in order to finance a new town hall we would have to sell that property. I doubt if a developer would build a seniors residence,” Camp said.

“Unless of course it was part of the deal,” I countered. “I would like to point out that seniors are a large part of our local economy and they deserve a room with a view.”

Camp shook his head of untamed grey curls, which he hasn’t maintained for several months. When I asked him if his unruly head of hair was a deliberate look that he promoted for his upcoming re-election, he replied kind of tartly: “Muriel likes it.  ‘Makes you look like Einstain’she said, ‘smart and distinguished’.”

“How about wild and crazy?” I laughed.

“I like it,” Rosie said as she brought us a refill. “We have enough guys in suits and buzz cuts telling us how it is.”

“There you go,” Camp said smugly, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. “I’ll drink to that.”

Voodoo Economics

The hazy pea soup engulfing most of British Columbia is persisting and made me think of the nuclear winter scenario that was bandied about in the 70’s. I know the birds are freaked out and the trees are going into early fall mode, due to the diffused light and cooler temperatures. I can stare directly at the orange sun but not see the mountains or the islands. Somebody told me that it’s like smoking half a dozen cigarettes a day. I used to smoke a pack a day back in the day when you could still smoke on planes. But we all go on about our daily activities and watching the news makes me feel even more helpless than usual.  Campbell, my Thirsty Thursday beer buddy, has matters far removed from the Gibsons weather on his mind.

“Did you hear that Maduro in Venezuela has created the new Soverano Bolivaro, tied to a crypto currency called Petro which in turn is dependent on the Ayocucho 1 oil field that is deep underground and has neither been developed nor accessed. He’s also striking 5 zeros off the old Bolivar. He calls it a ‘magic formula’ to solve the hyperinflation in his country. He might as well wave a magic wand and sacrifice a chicken. It’s about that effective I think.”

“I read that one coffee that used to cost 450 Bolivars now cost one million and that 4000 people per day are fleeing into Ecuador. Apparently over one million have crossed into Columbia in the past year,” I said.

“Yes, it’s a disaster and Ecuador is now enforcing a passport requirement for anyone coming into the country. Many Venezuelans only have ID cards which will not allow them entry.”

“But Maduro had himself a big military parade last week and claims he was attacked by a drone.”

“More theatre of the absurd I think,” Camp said.

We both concentrated on our drinks, trying to think of something upbeat for a change but nothing came to mind. I wanted to mention an article I read waiting at the bank in line for a teller.

“Did you know that households directly own 36% of the $46 trillion U.S. equity market, and indirectly through mutual funds over 50%; not portfolio managers or other professional market participants. Think about it Camp, day traders and mamas and papas sitting at their laptops trading stocks according to their whims, fears, horoscopes, tips from neighbours, even advice from their priests and rabbis. It’s a gigantic casino and nobody is in charge.”

“That’s very interesting my friend but it means diddly squat to me since I don’t have casino money and even less control of what goes on in the stock market.”

“I think we’re all influenced by it by way of pensions or currency fluctuations.”

“That may be true but the voodoo economics practiced by the US lately has far more influence on our daily lives,” Camp said. “Between Wilbur Ross –

Trumps commerce secretary – Maduro and  Erdogan we have an unholy trinity. If I had a crystal ball my prophecy would be: If you didn’t change your misguided, self serving policies and refused to listen to reason, you will be remembered as the chief architect of the failure of the international trade and monetary system and are therefore to blame for the 2020 recession. But then again maybe that’s what they want to achieve. Maybe they’re all secret anarchists in capitalist cloaks.”

“A bit harsh don’t you think,” I said, “since economic theory is just that: a theory, from Adam Smith to Keynes on one side and Hayek and Friedman on the other side, all are preaching from their ivory towers. Try and explain to a Venezuelan why his cup of coffee costs a million bolivars.”

“How about Doug Ford’s promise on twitter that ‘a-buck-a-beer’was coming back to a shelf near you.”

“Beer politics at its basest,” Camp said.

“You boys ready for a refill,” Vicky asked. It was a rhetorical question since she swiftly exchanged our empties for two fresh pints.”

“Happy International Beer Day,” I toasted.

“You’re a couple of weeks late,” Vicky pointed out. “That was on August 3rd.”

“He means to say every day is beer day,” Camp said, raising his glass.





Hot days of Summer

The water of Howe Sound is a dull green and the mountains and the Islands are obscured inside a shroud of smoky haze, like a Chinese watercolour painting, evidence of the 600 fires ravaging the province, displacing thousands of people. The sun is a fiery orange and the shadows are faded and an acrid smell permeates the air. It’s the new normal every summer it seems. Welcome to hot house earth, I thought, feeling a bit down.

I could see Campbell was already seated at our usual table in the corner, intent on his smart phone until he spotted me when he swiftly tucked it away. I was wondering what my friend Camp had to say about the ongoing spat between Saudi Arabia and Canada.

“King Salman of the house of Saud completely overreacted to a tweet from Ms. Freeland,” he said dismissive.

“Foreign policy by twitter? Like the prez?” I said.

“Not a good idea but nothing wrong with the message,” Camp pointed out. “I’m fully behind her asking for the release of jailed political dissidents. We all know that the Saudis human rights record is deplorable and the Wahabi interpretation of Sunni Islam and sharia law is not helping. Saudi Arabia is pretty well dead last when it comes to gender equality and they don’t want to be told by a woman – Ms Freeland – what to do.”

“Not on twitter,” I said. “She could have chosen a more appropriate method of communication.”

“Yes, maybe by diplomatic envoy, maybe asked some of our so-called allies to support us before delivering the message. It would have had more impact.”

“They now allow women to drive,” I said “and access medical and social services without the permission of a legal guardian, say husband.”

“Great, how are they going to get a drivers license covered with a hijab?” Camp said, “and how are they going to access services if they’re not allowed outside their house without a male family chaperon?”

“Pulling out 1600 students and their families and over 200 medical internists is kind of punishing their own kind. Imagine quitting your apartment, studies and friends you’ve made just because your irate head of state is having a hissy fit,” I said. Camp held up two fingers for Rosie or Vicky to see. This hot weather makes for a mighty thirst.

“The real shame is that no other country is supporting Canada on this. Nobody, except Amnesty International. Human rights take a back seat to petro dollars and oil,” I said.

“It probably also has to do with the proxy war in Yemen, Sunni Saudis against Iranian Shiites. The house of Saud wants to keep the upper hand on the peninsula and feels it cannot afford to be publicly shamed, by a woman of all people.”

Rosie brought two fresh pints, which we instantly attacked.

“Here is another question for you Camp,” I said, setting down the half empty mug. “Who or what is the real enemy of the people?”

Camp raised one of his bushy eyebrows. “This a trick question? We know it’s not the news media or the free press. You want a name? Comrade Stalin? Dear Leader? Trump? I tell you what is the real enemy of the people. Hubris! That’s what will bring about the downfall.”

Just at that time two couples, large, boisterous tourists, rose to their feet, laughing and guffawing loudly, like people do after a few drinks on a muggy summer evening. They left behind a battlefield tabletop littered with dishes, ketchup, spices, half eaten fries, empty chip bags, napkins, several glasses, bottles, straws, cutlery and other assorted garbage. Both Vicky and Rosie came to clean the mess while we looked on.

“Lousy tippers,” Vicky grumbled, “but large eaters,” Rosie said.

Camp laughed. “I read somewhere that today is the first time in history that rich people are thin and poor people are fat,” Camp said.

“Indeed,” I said.  “Corpulence was always a sign of well-to-do and signified that he bearer of all this fleshy weight has recourses and means while the poor people were scrawny, overworked and underfed,” I said.

“Exactly and now it’s turned around, at least here in North America. Thanks to fast food and sugery pops,” Camp said.

“It’s an upside down world. I guess we somehow fall in the middle, not rich, not poor, not thin, not fat.”

“Not pop, just beer.”






“Apparently Trudeau is not handling the illegal migration, mostly from the US, very well. Canadians want a more conservative approach,” I said after Vicky brought us a couple of beers. Camp was unusually pensive and thought about a response for a few beats.

“Not sure what they want? More armed border guards along the 7000km, mostly open border and how do you stop them walking into Canada, claiming refugee status? Many of them have no IDs or papers, either tossed them or lost them. You can’t turn them back since the US will not let them back in and you can’t shoot them and you can’t ignore them.”

“When Trudeau tweeted that ‘all those fleeing persecution, terror and war are welcome, regardless of faith’ he scored an own goal since at the same time Trump told those with temporary status to leave. So they came to Canada.”

“Yes, we now have more illegal asylum seekers then legal ones,” Camp said, “and it’s not getting better. It seems that the rule of law has broken down and the process has been completely derailed. There was already a backlog of legal claims which now has exploded with the influx of illegal claimants. The waiting list today is up to 20 months for a claim to be heard.”

“The federal government says ‘we’re dealing with a challenge’while the conservative opposition calls it a crisis,” I said.

“Globally we’re nowhere near crisis level,” Camp said. “Only 0.2% of the worldwide refugee population has ended up in Canada according to the UNHCR. Transfer that number to the Sunshine Coast with a population of say 30’000; that would be 60. I don’t think that constitutes a crisis. Globally the refugee population rose to 25 million last year, half are children, the highest number since WWII. On a percentage basis we’re not in the top ten and for that matter neither is Germany. Sweden received 170’000 claims last year, which in Canada would be the equivalent of 600’000. Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are the top three destinations and in those countries the unprecedented influx of refugees is a crisis.”

“How do you know all this?” I asked.

“Well I get most of that from this article in the Globe and Mail from last week. Here it is.” Camp shoved the paper in front of me. While I concentrated on the article he focused on his pint.

“It says here that there is nothing illegal if someone crosses the border by whichever means is taken or goes to a port of entry. The term ‘illegal border crossers’ stigmatizes people as law-breakers when there is nothing unlawful at the point of entry. So what’s the fix? How can this be addressed without appearing xenophobic or cruel?” I asked, shaking my head.

“Trying to cut the wait time in half by some means would be a good start,” Camp said.

“And separating refugees from immigrants and migrants in the public’s mind would be another step.”

“You two ready for a refill?” Vicky asked. “You seem awfully busy. What is it this week that keeps you two so agitated?”

“Refugees,” Camp said, handing her his empty glass, “and I don’t mean the song by Tom Petty,” Camp said.

Vicky looked perplexed. “I don’t know any refugees personally,” she said. “Do you?”

“Not really,” I had to admit, “but apparently it’s a calamity in Ontario and Quebec.”

“I have to feel sorry for anyone running away from their home and country for whatever reason. I can’t even imagine what that’s like.”

“You’re right Vicky, none of us do. We travel around the world as tourists and avoid places of conflict. Refugees escape those places and then are treated as outcasts wherever they land.”

Swiss Rösti


Rösti is an all time favorite ‘poor man’ left-over recipe and is served for dinner or lunch – never for breakfast – in most Swiss homes and restaurants, including the high-end gourmet palaces like the ‘Dolder Grand’ or the ‘Kronenhalle’, usually as an accompaniment to seared calf liver or ‘Zürich Geschnetzeltes’which is scalloped sirloin in a cream sauce with mushrooms. 

 Here is how it goes:

Boil half a dozen whole potatoes (yukon or white) until cooked (ca. 15-20 min)

drain water and let the potatoes sit for a couple of days (2-4) on top of the fridge or out of the way, no need to refrigerate

 Now the potatoes are firm and easy to peel, then grate or shred them into fettuccini sized strips

heat 2 tbsp of bacon fat or butter in a frying pan  (cast or stick-free)

add the shredded potatoes, turn over two or three times on high heat

turn heat down and let sit for a few minutes (2-3)

gently mix a couple more times

now leave it alone and let it cook on medium heat for ca. 8-10 min, until the bottom is brown and crisp

Cover the potatoes in the frying pan with a plate and flip the whole works over so the Rösti comes to rest on the serving plate with the crisp, browned side up

You can also add bacon cubes and/or finely chopped onions to the mix but fry them first before adding the potatoes

When I was a kid I always garnished the Rösti with a couple of fried eggs over top and my mom insisted on a green salad on the side

Rösti goes well as a side dish with veal stroganoff (or Zurich Geschnetzeltes) sausages or pork cutlets or seared calf liver or just green salad.


Politically Correct?

It is already August and the days are cooling off. I like this month the best because the days are still long, and summer is in its languid stage. The tide was out when I walked to my weekly Thirsty Thursday meet-up with my cohort Campbell or Camp for short. He was already seated at our usual table talking to Rosie, who was sharing the floor with Vicky during the busy summer.

“Did I miss anything,” I said jokingly when I sat down.

“Not yet,” Camp said, “we’re just talking fishing, more precisely crabbing. Rosie puts out a crab trap in the evening on the Hopkins wharf and picks dinner up the next morning. Now that’s my kind of fishing. No wasting any time waiting for the fish to bite.”

“It’s not about catching alone Camp, fishing is a state of being, sort of a Zen thing. At one with nature, in the zone.” I said.

Rosie just laughed. “I’ll be right back with a couple of pints.”

“Talking about fishing,” I said, “I ran into an acquaintance the other day who just returned from the Queen Charlotte Islands where he was employed as a guide in one of those exclusive fishing lodges.”

“Haida Gway,” Camp said.

“Oh, yeah right, I keep forgetting. All these name changes. Anyway he told me that there were no fish, no salmon and that this is the worst year ever. They had thirty boats, each with three rods in the water and out of those they caught 2 salmon, maybe one small halibut. Even the local Indians don’t know what’s happening.”

“First Nation people,” Camp corrected. “You can’t call them Indians anymore or Eskimos for that mater. There are First Nations, Inuit and Metis.”

“Ok, I’m confused,” I said. “What can you call who anymore?”

“Well, you can’t call the Chinese chinks, or the British limeys, or the Italians waps or the French frogs or the Japanese japs. Those are all defamatory labels. Unacceptable today. You should know that.”

“But you can call Canadians Canucks and the Scots Highlanders and the Norwegians Vikings?”

“Sort of. It’s best to keep it simple and not use any labels,” Camp insisted.

“What about those sports teams like the ‘Edmonton Eskimos’ or the ‘Cleveland Indians’? They’re not going to change their names,” I said.

“Yes, they claim those are brand names and have historical significance. Beats me really. I just know that you have to be careful what you call a group of people. It’s all about being sensitive and politically correct.”

“Do you think all this correctness helps to reduce racism?”

“There you got me, probably not, telling by the recent rise of right wing demagogues who want to keep their populations ‘pure’ and keep the aliens out.

That sort of rhetoric always leads to hate of others, name calling,  blaming  ‘the others’ and racial violence like Nia Wilson’s murder last week in Oakland.”

“Sounds like a repeat of history.”

“Yes, and regrettably racism is alive and well, not just in the USA but here in Canada as well according to Stats Can,” Camp said.

I took a sip from my beer, which was in danger of going flat. “Long weekend coming up, B.C. day I think.”

“Yes,, commemorating 160 years of being a crown colony. And did you also know that the first settlers led by the Hudson Bay Company’s veteran James Douglas weremainly Indigenous people, Orkney Islanders, Hawaiians, Metis and Scots. Douglas who was Colonial Governor of Vancouver Island was himself part Irish Cree and his mother was a ‘free coloured woman’ from British Guiana. He invited Chinese immigrants as well as African Americans from California with their friends and families to settle on Vancouver Island. Just a bit of local history that you as an immigrant might be interested in.”

“I’ve always considered myself a DP,” I said, “half here, half there and not a day goes by without being asked where I’m from.”

“A displaced person?” Camp said, surprised. “I hope you find yourself soon because nobody else is really interested. As far as I’m concerned you have found your place, right here at the pub.”

“I’ll drink to that.”