In October 2018, ten of us, cousins and spouses, ventured on a two-week trip to South Africa, organized by our youngest cousin, who grew up in South Africa. We took an overnight flight from Zurich, and arrived 9 hours later in Johannesburg where we were whisked off to the Johannesburg Country Club, a left over cluster of old manors and lounges from the Brits, sprawled over a few acres of groomed gardens and surrounded by a ten foot high wall, topped with electric security wires. Over a scrumptious, extended lunch we were treated to a bit of history from our cousin who loved this country of his birth with a natural passion and he also knew that we were curious and keen to know where we were.
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.
The LNG powered ferry from Tallinn, Estonia, to Helsinki takes two and a half hours and is a glitzy, floating restaurant, lounge, bar and garden patio with several large TV’s, a kids era, a live band and a whole floor dedicated to shopping. You can buy a fancy watch or designer clothes while drinking a glass of champagne. Living in a ferry dependent community as we are here on the Sunshine Coast, this was a jaw dropping luxury cruise compared to the old rusty and creaky, diesel powered boats plying the waters of B.C. Mind you that crossing cost $ 50.- p/person as in compare to $ 17.- or free for seniors during the week.
Who doesn’t like pizza ? Nobody. It’s the ultimate universal meal or snack and ranks in popularity right next to bread and chocolate.
Here is an easy recipe for home made pizza which tastes so much better then anything you order in a restaurant or that comes in a cardboard box. And it’s soo easy to make and so adaptable to your personal tastes and likes. Just look in the fridge.
If there is some left over spaghetti sauce or salsa, maybe half a jar of pesto, some mozzarella or marble cheese, tomatoes and onions you already have all it takes to build a basic pizza. Add any other ingredients you have, like olives, mushrooms, garlic, any kind of peppers, spices and if you like a meaty pizza add ham, salami, pepperoni or my favorite, prosciutto.
Of course there is no pizza without the base and here is how you can really impress yourself (and your guests). Make your own dough! Do you have flower in the house? How about some salt and maybe a packet of east? That’s it. Just add water and a bit of olive oil.
Of course the real secret to the perfect pizza is where and how you cook it. Nothing is easier and soo perfect. Not everybody has a pizza oven but almost everybody owns a bbq ! It helps if you have a round pizza stone on which to bake your pizza. I’ve used 12” tiles from the building supply (clay or granite, some tiles will crack from the heat) and they worked just fine.
Here is how you make the dough for one large delicious pizza:
3 cups (450 gr, 1lb) flower (unbleached white or whole wheat)
1 tsp yeast (you can skip the yeast if you want a really thin crust)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil
add some rosemary
1 cup (2.5 dl) warm water
mix and knead by hand, form into a ball , cover it with a tea towel and let sit at room temp for a couple of hours
roll it out into the size and shape you like
sprinkle some corn meal on the stone (helps to prevent sticking) and lay out the dough, curling up the edges.*
Spread the sauce, salsa or pesto. Next comes the grated cheese, be generous and cover the whole dough, then add whatever else you want over top of the cheese
Heat the bbq tp to 500° (hot !) and slide in the pizza.
Have a look after 12-15 min. It’s ready when the edges go brown and the dough is stiff. Check it by lifting it with a spatula. Watch you don’t burn it.
Oh, so delicious !
Merlot (from the Okanagan) will go great with any pizza !
Las Vegas New Year
Where the rich come to play
And the poor come to pay.
As soon as you step into the arrival and departure lounge the mechanical whirring, dinging and ringing of the ubiquitous slot machines permeates the atmosphere like everywhere in Las Vegas. This soundscape of gaming lures the masses to sit in front of, and feed money into, these blinking and clanging automated gaming terminals, depicting in bright neon lit screens various cartoon like scenes of fantasy themes, television and Hollywood icons. Casinos are at the heart of Las Vegas and they are the foundation on which this city has been built on and is still supporting thousands of jobs and the 150’000 hotel rooms. In this mirage in the desert you can go from the Coliseum in Rome to the Eifel tower in Paris to the canals and palaces of Venice, the roller coaster and Greenwich Village in New York or enter the pyramid in Luxor by just crossing Las Vegas Boulevard on one of the many elevated and escalator equipped crosswalks.
Seventy years ago Las Vegas was just a dusty old western village where today Freemont Street is covered by the ‘world’s largest’ video screen. This section features zip-lines under the video canopy with hourly visual effect shows to 80ies rock music like The Who or Heart. Its’ gaudily lit casinos and restaurants are older and a bit seedier then the glitzy new palaces on the strip, with lots of freaky performers at street level entertaining the crowds for spare change. Restaurants like ‘The Heart Attack Grill’ where 350lbs eat for free can be found here.
Camp was already parked in his seat by the window in our seaside pub, focused on his small screen like a teenager. Maybe his bookstore is financed by Credit Suisse?
‘Hey Camp what do you think of the implosion and subsequent acquisition by its rival of one of Switzerland’s and indeed the world largest banks? Was Credit Suisse Too big to fail?’
‘That’s an oxymoron right there my friend. It should be: too big to function, too big to trust, too big to protect, too big to be responsible. As it turns out the Swiss taxpayers are on the hook for billions of dollars of unconditional bailout money and guarantees.’
‘You nailed it: Too big to trust. On the other hand, I have to trust my bank teller who knows everything about my financial situation at the click of a mouse. They know more than my family and sometime even myself, like: Are you aware that your account is overdrawn or your term deposit needs to be renewed?’Continue reading
World on Fire
Camp is away in the big city today for a book event. My chance for a monologue. Every day when I wake up my phone dings and beeps with depressing news flashes on the one side and quirky WhatsApp messages on the other side, plus emails, more daily news, bills and the odd personal note. Depending on how I feel I thumb first through the humorous stuff, add my smilies, thumbs-ups or hearts, then move on to the calamities of the day. Today: A mass shooting in a Jehova Witness temple in Hamburg; intense missile attacks rain down on Ukraines infrastructure; Tiktok app banned from all Canadian and British government phones; visa denied to Chinese diplomat on security grounds and on and on. The best one was a new book by Trump: Dear Donald, a collection of letters from politicians and celebrities. Everybody apparently loves Donald.Continue reading
The Canadian Way
Camp and I talked about differences between Canadians and Europeans and I told him a story that highlighted the polite nature, sometimes painfully so, against the cut and dry and pragmatic central European way.
‘If a Canadian wants to have a day off, say Friday, they will write an email that reads something like this:
Hi Jack (presumably they are on first name terms) Sorry to bother you. How are you and your family? Did you have a nice vacation back East and how is Fluffy, your adorable poodle?
‘I hope I’m not imposing on your time but due to my cousin Erin having had a baby and her husband being away on a work commitment, I promised to help her out next weekend. Due to this ‘family situation’ I want to ask you a big favour. Could I take next Friday off? I’ll make sure that Bernice will cover me and nobody would be inadvertently affected. I hope that works for you and please let me know if that’s possible. Sincerely, Yours Truly.’
‘Ok, I get it, too much information. Too much blah, blah. What’s the Swiss way?’
‘Here It is: Hi Jack, I need to have Friday off. Thanks, YT’
Camp laughed and said: You missed something in the Canadian way. Where and when does Yours Truly apologize for nothing? Like: I’m so sorry Jack but I hope I’m not imposing…
We both took a sip from our brews and contemplated the different ways of the world. ‘I remember my French friend during his first time in Vancouver. We got on the bus and the driver said a polite: How are you? Pierre looked at the driver taken aback. ‘Why do you care how am I?’
‘Even strangers used to say a polite hello, when they passed each other. Today not so much. And thanks to Covid we even step aside when we encounter somebody coming towards us, as if in passing we could infect each other. Mind you, I find Canadians on the whole a very friendly and polite bunch and I’d rather be known for being too friendly and too polite than a curt pragmatist or a snob or loud and uncouth.’
‘May I ask you a personal question Camp?’
‘Are you being sarcastic now? Trying to be a super-Canadian?’
‘I just want to know if you feel like a Canadian or an Irishman? You are after all from good old Irish stock, aren’t you?’
‘I feel like myself, most of the time, not fitting some label or stereotype. I’ve been known to be abrupt and short fused but that’s just me, neither Irish nor Canadian. How about you? Are you Swiss or Canadian?’
‘I’m a hybrid,’ I said, ‘mostly friendly and polite but I don’t say I’m sorry, every time I want to ask a question and I try to be exact and to the point and on time which is an exact measurement not a fluid and flexible commodity, like some other people think. And I don’t start sentences with ‘if’ or ‘when’ and I don’t answer questions like: ‘What time is the ferry today?’ with” ‘I think…” I either know the time or not.’
‘Point taken but Canadians are usually on time except they make sure as in: Oh, I’m sorry, I hope I’m not late.’
‘Sorry to bother you two. How are we all doing? Ready for another one?’ Vicky asked and we both said in stereo. ‘Yes please?’ She gave us a funny look but then she knows us by now.
‘Camp isn’t it ironic that we’re living the most comfortable lives of any generation since the beginning of time. We are the most mobile, the technically, medically, socially and financially most advanced, the best fed, pampered and educated of any species ever to wander this planet. and yet, here it comes: we are not happy and the future looks shaky.’
‘I could say something silly like the future always looked rocky, as in the middle-ages, as in the depth of a world war, as in the middle of an earth quake. But you’re right, Instead of a natural disaster, we’re on a path to self-destruction. We are so successful and ingenious that we’ve introduced problems that we have neither the political will nor the resources to solve. Ronald Wright outlined this brilliantly in his 2004 book: A Short History of Progress, a series of Massey lectures about societal collapse.’Continue reading
STOP (The War)
Today is the sad anniversary of the Russian invasion of its neighbour, the Ukraine. Eight million refugees spread mostly across Europe and an equal number internally displaced, mostly women and children. The majority of those who fled do not want to go back. Life in places like Switzerland and Germany seems a lot safer then back home and the war is far from over.
‘But the Ukrainians need their people to return and rebuild,’ I said.
‘All this talk of rebuilding is futile when the Russian army and the brutal Wagner group are still destroying towns, infra structure and killing people with impunity and no respect for any international agreements nor basic human rights.’Continue reading
Carnaval was first introduced to the Caribbean in the 1700’s by the French bourgeoisie. It was then a festival witha series of masquerade balls with elaborate, expensive costumes, house and street parades signifying the start of lent. In Carriacou carnival is officially celebrated in the week preceding Ash Wednesday. The former slaves parodied these festivities by covering themselves in ashes and oil and their orchestras consisted of conch shells for brass and biscuit tins for drums.
We were ready and primed for the much anticipated and promoted Carriacou Carnival, famous all over the Windward Islands for its authenticity and fervour. This is not Rio, New Orleans or Cologne, it’s only a small island at the bottom of the Caribbean. The week-long super-party officially starts on the Thursday of the preceding week with the Queen Show but in reality it begins weeks earlier with several village road shows all over the island; meaning all night street parties with massive boom-boxes, hectolitres of beer and rum fuelled revellers. On the days leading up to the epic weekend, hundreds of partiers invade this small island. Many come from the mainland – Grenada – or other nearby Islands including Trinidad and St. Vincent and they are referred to with a disparaging sneer as foreigners, as opposed to us tourists and snowbirds who are more or less welcome here since we bring money and stay a while. Also, a lot of ex-pats from England, the US and Canada, make the long trek to this tranquil Island for the festivities, turning it into a party mayhem haven. The daily ferry from Grenada was mobbed and overloaded with standing room only, with many of the beer swilling passengers hanging over the railings in the rough seas.
The first official event is the crowning of the Carnival Queen on Thursday night. We arrived early at 9PM and got prime seats for the well run and entertaining program. Six young women showed off their sequined, feathered and glittery costumes, then each contestant performed a short drama or a musical number and then they displayed their ball gowns and answered a short quiz. Five local judges picked the winner at about 3AM in front of a jubilant and festive crowd consisting mostly of local women done up like New Year’s Eve, in stiletto heels and showing off their bling and super fun hair, braided, coloured, woven or piled high. The six girls representing their parishes, displayed a surprising amount of moxy and confidence with their ribald social commentary one-act-plays and songs, ranging from incest to their African heritage to the environment. There were only a handful of us white people in attendance but we didn’t at all feel out of place or uncomfortable. In fact, we were welcome to witness the local young women showing off their traditions and talents with pride.Continue reading
I saw her the first time at Cuddy’s rum shop on the corner of Mainstreet. She wore a red and yellow plaid dress, a Redsox ball cap and large, golden hoop earrings. Her shoulder length hair was frizzy and stiff and twisted into dreadlocks. On her feet she wore plastic sandals that had seen better days. Her hands were like roots and her face was like Sonny Liston after his fight against Cassius Clay, with amber teeth and a flat nose. Her charcoal eyes looked into the distance and her head nodded to the incessant beat of the jab-jab trucks rolling slowly up and down Mainstreet, followed by gyrating partiers dressed in colourful carnival costumes.
She sat by herself but talked to everyone in a low cackling voice like rocks rolling up and down the beach in the surf. Obviously the locals all knew her. She held a beer in her gnarled hand and sat there like a schoolgirl with her legs dangling.
“Who is she?” I asked Cuddy.
“That’s Stella,” he said. “She used to be the Carnival Queen for many years, leading the parade of bands in elaborate costumes, different every year. She is in her nineties now, a legend really but her mind has gone.”
“She looks like she is still enjoying the carnival.”
` “Yep, you’ll see her around for the whole three days and then she disappears again from sight. Not sure how she knows what day it is but she sure knows when Carnival starts. Everybody knows Stella, the Carnival Queen.”
When the big steel-band truck rolled in front of Cuddy’s, she hopped from one foot to the other, in time with the music just like she was half a century younger.
* * *
From the back she looked like a twenty year old. Slim, with lovely muscular legs, tight buttocks, a long back, and skin like polished Mahogany. She was dressed only in a sequined thong and glittery bra. Her black hair was braided and augmented with red extensions and loosely tied into a ponytail at the nape of her shapely neck. She stood with one hand on her hip in stiletto heeled red pumps, swaying to the beat of the jab-jab music that pounded out the incessant rhythm and bass line louder then a 747 taking off. Then she turned around and looked straight at me as if she sensed my appreciation of her lovely body but inwardly I recoiled because the face was that of an old woman, at least sixty but maybe even older. It was not a wrinkled countenance but one of infinite sorrow, her bright red mouth drawn, her bottomless black eyes recessed, high cheekbones and an aquiline curved nose. Her all knowing eyes lingered on me until I averted mine, taking a sip from my beer, but I felt like a schoolboy who had been caught out peeking under a skirt but then she nodded and smiled at me, forgiving me for my trespass. She slightly bent her knee and barely inclined her head towards me as if in a curtsey. I could not but do the same in return and then she turned and blended with the crowd.
“That is Marybel,” Cuddy informed me. “She is a grandmother many times over and used to work the streets in her working years. She’s probably known every man on this island and they all still respect her, as do the ladies. She is a good Christian and goes to church regularly. She was also one of our former Carnival Queens.”
* * *
On the sidewalk, a few rows back from the front, my eyes were drawn to a very large woman with a billowing blue polka dot dress, a white blouse, covering her water melon breasts, and a head crowned by sculpted black curls like an early Oprah Winfrey. Holding on to her skirt were a half dozen children of various ages. This woman and her slew of kids reminded me of mother Ginger and the Polichinelles from the Nutcracker ballet, the larger than life fertility figure whose crinoline dress hides all of her children.
I could not tear my eyes off her but nobody else saw anything unusual about this imposing woman. She just belonged like all the other characters on display. Carnival is after all the one time of the year when everybody can be what they want to be and let it all hang out.
Instead of my usual conversation with Camp I am posting this article below. It appeared in the Tagesanzeiger, a Swiss newspaper and they encourage sharing. You can also find it in the Guardian. It’s real news. It’s an eyeopener but not unexpected in this manipulative new age of electronic communication where AI avatars are about to replace real people and The News is an electronic soap box, accessible to anybody with the tools and some skills. As you can see from the article below, manipulation is everywhere. Scary? You bet. Real? Absolutely? Effective? You’ll be the judge?
Destabilize a democracy? Team Jorge does it for 6 million
The suspicion: A secret troupe hacks politicians and manipulates elections for money. For proof, three reporters visit the group’s command center in Israel, disguised as customers and with hidden cameras. Ein Recherche-Krimi.
Cécile Andrzejewski, Bastian Obermayer, Frederik Obermaier, Oliver Zihlmann
Published today at 05:00
Jorge greets the undercover journalists who pose as potential clients – and then the Israeli shows what his team can do: With a hidden camera in the headquarters of the election manipulators.
His name is Jorge. Or George. Actually, he has no name, says the man in the blue shirt. “That’s who we are. We are nothing. We are air.”
It’s towards the end of 2022. Jorge is sitting in a desolate office in the industrial area of the Israeli city of Modiin. Here, between a scribbled whiteboard and a screen, he receives customers to offer his product: “Suppression of voter turnout”, for example, is written in English in a PowerPoint presentation of his company.
It is a kind of “manipulation AG”, but it is not in any company register. No wonder, because it also offers services such as the “disruption” of elections or “accusations” of political opponents.
Jorge and his partners are Israeli ex-agents. The office is part of their command center. They laughingly talk about how they hack politicians, in which countries they have already been active, how they proceed, what it all costs. They talk casually, because they think they have new customers in front of them. In reality, they are undercover journalists of a research team, equipped with a hidden camera. In total, they record six hours in exchange with Team Jorge.
Any politician, any country in the world, including Switzerland, can be the target of an attack: “Jorge” at the meeting in Israel.Continue reading
I met Kelly when in the Windward Island where she ran a small beach side restaurant called the Wayward Café. When I say ran, I mean she shopped, cooked, served, managed and handled complaints and compliments with the same sunny grin and shrug of her small narrow shoulders. Kelly was a tough old bird, probably quite the looker in her day when her hair was blond instead of grey and her large owl eyes were not looking through thick lenses and when she still had all her teeth. Her skin was leathery and weathered like the skin of a lizard, wrinkled, sunburned and transparent at the same time and held in place by her girl size skeleton which was protruding in all the pointy places, her knees, elbows and shoulders. Her hands were calloused, her fingers long and slender, with yellow nails that bent like claws. She never complained about her arthritis or her aches and pains of which she had many, I could just tell. ‘No point in complaining, it wouldn’t change anything,’ she said when I pointed out the burn on her arm.
‘Getting burned is part of cooking,’ she proclaimed in her Kiwi accent, laughing her throaty laugh which shook her whole slender body.
She had trained her local girls well and they made the best fruit smoothies and cocktails and they knew what white people from across the water liked: strong coffee, crusty bread, unsalted butter, crispy potatoes, creamy or sautéed mushroom sauces over their meats and white sauce on their fish except for the tuna which she served seared with a wasabi sauce. Even though the Wayward Café was just that and not a fancy eatery, Kelly’s food was the best on the island. Every Tuesday she baked her famous sourdough bread, which tasted more like a French or Swiss loaf than the usual island variety of white and soft wonderbread. I would line up for a loaf of her bread to take home and the dozen loaves she baked for sale were all reserved and coveted like slips in the marina. If somebody wasn’t going to be around for their weekly ration, they would pass the privilege to a friend or relative.Continue reading
I told Camp about a recent conversation I had at the post office the other day with a woman I’ve known for years but never really had any interaction with. We were both waiting in line. I said something about Biden shooting down the Chinese balloon, trying to make small talk. I was not ready for the unusual response. It went something like this: ‘You do know that Biden is dead and the guy you see in the news and on TV is an actor, put there by the deep state.’
I didn’t know how to respond to that. ‘Where did you get that information?’
‘I do my own research since the media cannot be trusted.’
‘Research? Like scientific, peer reviewed and fact checked?’
‘Don’t tell me you’re sucked into that science crap. You know it’s all mumbo jumbo to hide their real agenda.’
‘Taking over the world and making us all into obedient slaves without any personal freedoms.’
I tried to humour her and said: ‘Like making us believe the earth is flat and the cosmos does not exist.’
‘Exactly,’ she said in a conspiratorial tone with her eyes darting around like looking for enemies in the jungle, except we were in the post office.
I thought I had made a joke but it was obviously more serious than that, telling by her haughty look. ‘Ok, but you are aware that we are all here on our own free will, say, read and watch what we want, move about and go where and when we like,’ I said.
At that point it was her turn at the counter which was the end of the conversation. After she was done, she marched out, without another word.
‘Lucky you,’ Camp said. ‘At least she left.Continue reading
Rich and Poor
‘A new report by Oxfam says that since 2020, or over the span of the pandemic, the richest 1% of people have accumulated close to two-thirds of all new wealth created around the world.’
‘No surprise there,’ Camp said. ‘The rich get richer and the poor stay poor.’
‘According to the report the pace at which wealth is being created has sped up, as the world’s richest 1% amassed around half of a new wealth over the past ten years. Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International, called for taxes to be increased for the ultra-rich, saying that this was a “strategic precondition to reducing inequality and resuscitating democracy.”
‘Tell that to the new US Congress,’ Camp said. ‘They want to reduce spending on social and health programs and give the rich and corporations another tax break.’Continue reading
As the rainy winter drags on and outside activity comes to a soggy standstill, the only fun times seem to be the frequent ‘happy hours’ with friends and neighbours; a glass of wine or a drink in hand, kicking back and telling tall tales and regurgitating memories and old stories. Our weekly Thirsty Thursday meet at the local waterfront pub falls into that category. I wouldn’t want to give it up nor would it be the same with a cup of tea instead of a cold, golden lager.
‘You must have heard that the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction published a real spoiler last week, recommending that Canadians limit themselves to just two drinks a week – and ideally cut alcohol altogether.‘
‘Indeed, I’ve heard and read all about this shift towards prohibition funded by Health Canada. The previous guidelines issued in 2011 recommended 10 drinks a week for women and 15 drinks a week for men. Talk about a double standard.’Continue reading
| I told Camp that I read an interview about a group of researchers at Harvard that had been studying the same 724 men from Boston for over 80 years. They have been observing and interviewing the study participants since 1938, since they were teenagers. One of the boys was future President John F. Kennedy. 40 of the men are still alive today, now around 100 years old. These researchers began studying their children and grandchildren decades ago and eventually included their spouses as well.|
‘I hope some interesting conclusions can be drawn from this long observation span, I’m sure.’ Camp said. ‘Did they figure out what makes a good life? The key to happiness? Can you be happy without your own family? Is it possible to escape a difficult childhood and still live contentedly?’
‘Robert Waldinger, the current director of the study supplied some answers in the interview. Strangely, they all struck me as common sense and I didn’t really learn anything that I didn’t know already. Like the conclusions that a healthy diet, a comfortable median income, stable relationships and nurturing friendships all make for a happier life than one of addiction, unhealthy eating habits, poverty, estrangement from family and friends. Apparently, stress, be it existential like wobbly jobs and marriages or poverty makes for an unhappier life than a stable existence surrounded by loved ones.’
‘Really?’ Camp said, somewhat cynical. ‘How about the fact that money doesn’t buy happiness but financial security buys peace of mind, resulting in less stress. It took all those resources and brainiacs to come to these conclusions?’ ‘Well yes Camp, I thought the same thing. Guess what, one of the happiest participants wasn’t the richest or the most successful but a teacher who lived a life full of compassion for his pupils and his family, always putting the community ahead of personal needs and finding satisfaction and happiness in the achievement of others under his tutelage or within his realm of influence.’ ‘Ok, I get it. A windfall from a lottery ticket or a goal in a soccer match gives one a burst of happiness that lasts a short time but when a pupil graduates and thanks the teacher or when a charitable involvement results in the betterment of the recipients, that kind of satisfaction goes a lot further. What astonished me is that it took dozens of academics, psychiatrists and psychologists over 80 years to come to these conclusions when they could have just asked themselves.’
‘Kind of reminds me of a story about this hermit who after many decades of meditation finally mastered how to walk on water. ‘For a few coins you could have taken the ferry, the buddha is known to have said to the pious sage.’
‘Ok, so the key to happiness is: help those around you, reciprocate and nurture the love of your friends and family, be humble and fair and enjoy the life you have.’ ‘You’re now sounding like some wise guy. Just enjoy the beer, the pristine vistas and the company you have. That includes Vicky who just happens to be on her game today,’ Camp said with an appreciative nod to our server’s perfect timing with two fresh frosty mugs.
Weather and Politics
‘In with the new year, much like the old year.’ I said as I sat down across from Camp, We were the only two guests on this soggy and glum winter day.
‘You’re right, not even the weather changed,’ Camp said. ‘Have you noticed how people in Canada constantly check their weather apps, several times a day, looking for improvement when the rest of the world just stick their head out the door or window?’
‘I do it as well, just to confirm that what I’m looking at is actually true. The weather is much like politics: unreliable, unpredictable and subject to change.’
‘A new congress in the US, hijacked by a fistful of fanatics from the extreme fringe, promises cold and chilly winds coming from the right. It seems to me that wherever you look, from Brazil to Israel, from the US to Alberta, a militant, fascist minority impose their ideology and agenda onto the majority by way of political blackmail, and siege tactics and propaganda built on lies and conspiracy theories,’ Camp ranted.
‘And what is their agenda really?’ I said and didn’t have to wait long for an answer from my friend.’Continue reading
Year End Rituals
Once again, we’re moving into the season where schools close, year-end reviews permeate the airwaves and print media, the weather turns nasty and the many coloured lights come on lighting up neighbourhoods, trees and even construction cranes in the city. It’s supposed to be a time for reflection, taking account of the past year, and making personal resolutions for the year to come. Or not.
This is also the time of year where families gather despite the difficult travel and weather conditions, presents are exchanged – or not – and foodbanks need all the donations they can gather. To be homeless at this time of year is multiplied by the fact that those unfortunate enough to have no home, most likely have no family and few friends they can count on. In other words, this time of year exacerbates their predicament. The rich are richer and the poor are poorer. Glamorous parties are the counterpoint to long lineups at the foodbank and the soup kitchens.
Children at this time of year are excited with all the lights, the feverish shopping of the parents, being out of school, the cookies and the anticipation of presents. Of course, there are the religious celebrations, the enactment of romantic stories about a poor, homeless couple with a new born fleeing persecution and finding shelter in a stable full of animals. This of course has no resemblance to the homeless down on their luck in our inner cities, living in tents and makeshift shelters. No temples and cathedrals are going to be built in their honour.
We’re in Mexico where the decorations and religious rituals are taken to another level and town squares are turned into magical fantasy sets replete with over life sized straw animals. Aztek warriors with splendid plumage on their heads and fisher folk casting imaginary nets are joined by indigenous dancers and of course, always eclipsed by a large and splendidly decorated tree. Church-bells are ringing at the oddest times and fireworks go off most every night.
Many Mexicans still live in extended family households where everybody joins in keeping the family unit functioning and together. Old people are cared for within the household, babies and toddlers are looked after within the family and those who work and earn, share and participate. This includes those who have to go afar, to the US or Canada, to make a meagre living in order to send some money home. We don’t see many homeless here. Yes, there are street people but most of them have something to sell, a few fruits or vegetables or some other products like honey or simple weavings or a small basket made of pine needles. Yes, the weather is warmer here than in Vancouver at this time of year and nobody freezes to death. Yesterday there was an event in the decorated plaza that advertised itself as ‘Nobody goes cold’ with various musicians playing for donations of blankets and warm clothes. By the end of the day a large pile of ponchos, blankets, hoodies, jackets and sweaters was collected to be distributed to those in need. A sense of communality is evident by the crowds gathering every day to just walk and look at the lights and sights whereas at home we are mostly enclosed in our homes or the malls. Not much outdoor life at this time of year.
To end the year and start a new one is part of the cyclic nature of our lives and closing rituals are an essential part and they help us release and let go of the past, good or bad; it’s a time to think about the future and what’s yet to come. We all have the three ghosts of Dickens tale, the past, the present and the future and all together they make up who we are and the things we’ve done and have yet to do.
Do we have a reason to celebrate and make merry? I suppose it depends on your situation. Personally, I don’t really care about the rituals of this season – bah-humbug – but I enjoy the lights, the food and the gatherings. I‘m thinking of my friend who is dying; I’m thinking of my niece and her fragile, new baby; I’m thinking of our neighbours and friends who enrich our lives and how fortunate we are to have each other.
AGE OF COVID
I first heard about the virus – it was then called Corona like the Mexican beer – when we were in the Caribbean enjoying a winter get away. It was the beginning of March 2020, when a world-wide panic took hold of governments, the media and most annoying the airlines. Flights were cancelled, frantically rebooked just to be cancelled again; protocols were rolled out, mandates proclaimed and rescinded, leaving everyone in a state of suspended disbelieve and confusion. Is it Ebola or SARS, is it deadly and where is it? Contagion, respiratory failure and lonely, horrific death outcomes were all in the cards. Who has it, where does it come from, how do we safeguard against it?
We were stranded on a small island and suddenly we had to figure out how to get back to Canada. Trudeau told everyone to get back home asap but when Air Canada cancelled all its flights it wasn’t so easy. We made it back on the last flight out. The airport in Grenada was pandemonium with people literally falling over each other to get on their respective flights out. I have never seen anything like it. Nobody had a clue what was going on and a sense of panic, mixed with fear and confusion permeated everything. Finally, flying at cruising altitude towards Toronto we relaxed. ‘It’s going to be okay. Everything will be fine.’ Nobody wore masks and a few rows behind us somebody was hacking and coughing.
At Pearson we found a place on the 3rd floor, right at the end of the terminal, where we could bed down for the night. We were not alone and lucky to find a bench that wasn’t occupied. Never mind a hotel. We were going to camp right here, in the terminal, ready to catch the first flight home, to Vancouver, at 7AM. A taxi from the airport to Horseshoe Bay, a ferry ride, and we were home again. Still, we had no idea what was going on and all we knew was that some nasty virus was infecting the world, putting people in hospital and even into the grave and travellers like us into quarantine for two weeks. We hunkered down and isolated as best we could.Continue reading
I walked briskly along the waterfront just when the light was fading and only the sugar-coated north shore mountains where still lit by the dipping sun. I was early and waited for Camp who showed up in an unusual good mood. ‘What’s up? I asked.
‘I had a record day of sales today. Maybe people got wound up with all this Black Friday and Cyber Monday hype, making them feel like they missed something. Also, more people are reading books this time of year when it gets dark so soon and they’re stuck inside.
‘Did you have any black Friday sales?’
‘You’re kidding right. How about ‘Free Books Tomorrow’ or ‘Buy two Books for only one Bill.’
‘Talking about books; I’m reading ‘Human Kind’ by Rutger Bregman, I’m sure you know it. It’s a hopeful history of our species and full of positive stories about how disaster and wars bring out the best in us, not the worst as so many want us to believe, from old philosophers like Hobbes to anthropologists like Chagnon, to today’s tabloids and news outlets.’Continue reading
‘How was the book fair?’ I asked Camp after he’d taken his pea coat off and sat down.
‘Good fun. So many excited and hopeful young writers and plenty of older book junkies like myself getting together at the end of the day for a pint or two. Did you know that on average over 1000 books are published in Canada every month? Add to those the self-published titles and you can triple that number.’
‘That could be depressing for any writer struggling to get a book together. You and I know what it takes. Years of lonely toil, self-doubts, re-writes, and rejections.’
‘It’s a labour of love my friend. A compulsion and a passion. Some people just have to write every day, mostly for themselves as their main audience.’
‘Do any of those self-published books sell? Is there any money in writing?’Continue reading
Power to the the People
Camp is attending a pre-x-mas book fair in the big city this weekend. That gives me a chance to slip this little essay in.
The world needs power, ever more, to energize everything from electric toothbrushes to e-cars, from computers to manufacturing processes, for lights, cooling and heating. Thousands of activities and consumer gadgets, industrial processes and comfort needs require electricity: power and energy. When we talk and think about renewable energy, we tend to confuse this with free energy, drawn from the sun, the wind and the thermal heat underground, the kind of energy which is boundless and there for the taking. But like the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which states that entropy within an isolated system always increases, so is the 1st law of life which proclaims: there are no free lunches.
Energy is wildly abundant all over the universe but harnessing it and then releasing it to drive, move and energize specific tasks like motors, resistance (heat, light) and transistors is where the cost comes in. Labour, infra structure, storage and transmission. Wind and solar radiation are free but to translate them into power is an elaborate and expensive process. Water flows downhill but to hold it back and transform its energy into electricity takes massive dams, turbines, transformers and transmission lines. Burning fossil fuels, which is a finite resource and energy sink, to heat water and drive steam turbines and generators, is also costly and leaves behind planet warming emissions and pollution. Then there is nuclear power which is a relatively clean energy, except for Uranium mining and burned out fuel-rod storage. That’s about it: hydro, coal, oil, wind, solar and nuclear. Which would you like to power your elevator or charge your electric car?Continue reading
November 11th is Remembrance Day here in Canada, Veterans Day in the US, observed throughout the Commonwealth to honour those who have died in the line of duty.
We remember the more than 2,300,000 Canadians who have served throughout our nation’s history and the more than 118,000 who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Remembrance Day was first observed in 1919 throughout the British Commonwealth. It was originally called ‘Armistice Day’ to commemorate the agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.—on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
In order to honour the day, we changed our usual pub by the sea for a draught at the local Legion. The view isn’t as spectacular and the clientele isn’t as diverse, mostly pensioners, from sexagenarians to octogenarians. There are no servers, only a bar tender but the beer is cheap and plentiful. Legions in Canada can be found in every town and city, from the Billy Bishop Branch in Kits to the Roberts Creek Branch here on the coast, most of them struggling to survive but one of the few places where you can still dance to live music by local cover bands on most Saturdays. It’s also a place to have cheap lunch on Fridays and play some serious snooker or darts.
‘What do you think Camp. Are the wars glorified by the pageantry of Remembrance Day ceremonies?’Continue reading