Sunday, June 26, 2011

Guns, butter and the Stanley Cup - a few scattered thoughts

Summer at the Station

*Economics 101’s basic tenet: what is spent on guns cannot also be spent on butter. (Are you listening, United States of America, Greece, any other countries that finance domestic or military projects with borrowing because they flunked Economics 101?!?) Fanatics (fans) spent millions for seats at that seventh game snorer; those millions ceased to be available for groceries, charitable giving, gardening tools . . . whatever. Guns or butter.

 *Next to the fear of death, the fear of boredom ranks second. Sports fanaticism provides an illusion of engagement, an occupation for minds that doesn't tax the imagination. The bottle must be filled; if not with fine wine, then with Kool-Aid.

 *Welding a link between professional sports and militarism seems pretty natural. Witness that guru-of-hockey-knowledge and military booster, Don Cherry. In the minds of many people, apparently, life is a zero-sum game. For there to be a win, there must be an equivalent loss. Pride of victory demands equivalent agony of humiliation. And if it’s the home team that must bear the humiliation, well, then, police cars must be set on fire. Somebody who is not me must be humiliated.

*The pride of Rosthern, Robyn Regehr has been traded to Buffalo by the Calgary Flames, which means that it won’t be possible for Rosthernites to nip over to home games to watch him play next winter. What a crisis in fan loyalties this is going to create around here! I suppose a four million dollar a year salary takes some of the edge off the uprooting.

 *Sport: an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. success or pleasure derived from an activity such as hunting (Oxford).

*Vancouver/Boston playoff series – by the numbers

Henrik Sedin’s salary in 2010-11                                $6,100,000

What the average nurse can earn in a lifetime       $1,500,000 (est)

Vancouver losses to vandalism and looting             $4,500,000

Distance travelled by players in final series             16,089 km

Cost of fuel for team travel in final series                $275,760 (est)

Cost of insulin therapy for 9,500 diabetic

     Kenyans for one year (MCC)                                  $275,760 (est)

% of Canucks who are Canadian                                55

% of Bruins who are Canadian                                    65

% of Canucks who are American                                19

% of Bruins who are American                                   12

Cost of a keg of champagne for Bruins party          $100,000

No. of players on the Canucks active roster            36

No. of persons arrested during riot                           99

No. of persons injured during riot                              140

 But when all's said and done, it’s OUR GAME!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Food, glorious food

And the winner for the best Moussaka made by an Anabaptist is . . . ARNE!!

Order me another, please.

Like most of you—probably—I am in love with food. Furthermore, I am extremely promiscuous in my affections. I can devour with equal relish a hot dog on a store-bought bun heaped with mustard and relish as I can a rare and delicate avocado and butter lettuce salad with balsamic and virgin olive oil dressing topped with sesame seeds. Nothing starts up my salivary glands like a perfectly roasted asparagus Rinderoulade with a side of mashed potatoes and garden-fresh baby peas. But if that’s not available, I can be perfectly happy with a cheezeburger and a pile of French fries with ketchup.

               What’s more, I like watching cooking shows on TV and reading cookbooks. It’s through the variety of cooking shows that I’ve come to the following conclusions about the relationship between people and food. Food is religion in our culture—and in many others, I suspect—with the French and Italians leading the way. But differences that are the most striking—attitudes toward food and cooking—can cross cultures just as there can be African Jehovah’s Witnesses and Swahili-speaking Mennonites.

               I begin with that attitude of near-worship of food, of food plants, etc., that characterizes some people. To them, tradition is everything; they practically faint at the sight of someone trying to whisk a sauce with a fork on high heat. They are adamant that there’s only one way to roast a duck properly. They can’t abide anything that’s even slightly overcooked or underdone; pasta that’s not done el dente is only fit for hogs. They lean heavily toward food names that are in a foreign language. Not only will they not eat at Tim Horton’s; they can’t even bring themselves to say “Tim’s.” They are the high church of food; eating is a highly structured, liturgical event. They pay homage to butter and cream. They are proud to call themselves Conservative.

               Next come the food fundamentalists. They see food in black and white, figuratively speaking. As adamant about the rights and wrongs of food culture as the traditionalists, their choices are driven by a combination of conspiracy theories, Biblical injunctions and reverence for an ever-changing procession  of health gurus. So preoccupied are they with balancing their mineral, vitamin, protein and carbohydrate intakes that they hardly have time for anything else. But that’s OK; they have truth on their side. Also like the traditionalists, they wouldn’t be caught dead in a fast-food joint, but unlike the traditionalist, they are quite evangelical; they feel compelled to win converts.

               There are those, of course, who can’t much be bothered with the niceties of consuming or not consuming food. They’re right at home in the whole range of eating establishments from Boston Pizza to restaurants with “Chez” in their names. They are not intimidated by gravy or ketchup, and yet, know how to eat a whole lobster gracefully. They appreciate caviar on a boiled egg, but they enjoy nothing better on a weekend evening than frying up a batch of eggs and potatoes, opening a beer and watching a baseball game on TV while they eat out of the frying pan. They are the food liberals, and they don’t care what anybody else eats, as long as they don’t eat their lunch.

  And at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak, are the food agnostics and atheists. They ignore others’ preoccupations with food altogether and sneer at the pronouncements of the traditionalists, the fundamentalists and the liberals alike. They neither eat nor dine—they feed. They feed so they don’t die or because they’re angry, upset, depressed or because it’s a day that ends in “y”; they order in a lot, throw frozen pizzas in the oven, drink until the beer runs out, eat until they’re comatose. If they have a kitchen, their tools consist of a few burnt pots and half a wooden spoon; neither cooking as an art nor eating as a social sacrament would ever occur to them. They have terrible table manners; tend to shovel their food while bent over their plates with one arm in their laps. Even liberals find them irritating.

               As for me, I can’t think of a greater pleasure than sitting at length around a table with friends and eating well-prepared and perfectly spiced and herbed food. I guess laughter and banter are my two favourite condiments. I’m probably a food socialist.

               By the way: I invented a new way to enjoy cauliflower yesterday; here’s the recipe: 

Herbed Cauliflower Florentine


10-12 cauliflower florets
ca. 10-15 pak choy or spinach leaves, chopped
½ cup freshly shredded old cheddar
1 Tbsp butter
1Tbsp whole wheat flour
½ cup milk
1 tsp oregano flakes
Salt & pepper to taste


Bring cauliflower to boil. After 5 minutes add pak choy or spinach. After 2 minutes, drain and cover.
In a frying pan, make sauce with butter, flower and milk. Stir in shredded cheddar. Add oregano and salt and pepper to taste.
Toss cauliflower and pak choy or spinach with sauce and serve.

Serves 2-4 as side dish.

Guten Appetit!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Will Wear my Trousers Rolled

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--

(They will say: 'How his hair is growing thin!")

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--

(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")

I’ve had occasion recently to revisit T.S. Eliot’s masterful stream-of-consciousness poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and since several of the lines are currently impressed like skipping tracks of a vinyl disc in my head, I decided to ease the repetition by writing a bit about that whole subject—aging and the reflection on the meaning of what we have been.

In my case, the “with a bald spot in the middle of my hair” would be understatement—by quite a bit—and “how his arms and legs are thin” could be replaced with “how his midriff is preceding him,” but I recall how my father’s clothes were all too big on him when he reached three score and ten, and I can empathize with Prufrock.  Besides his hypersensitivity about his changing appearance, Prufrock is plagued by world-weariness, the “why bother” syndrome; why keep up the rituals of coffee times and repetitive, mundane, silly conversations:

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

Being “elderly” grants permission to be honest, frank, impolite if necessary when faced with the same-old, same-old of conversation for conversations sake, but will one have the courage?

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

But knowing finally that we have settled for “shallow” in a universe that cries for “depth” may not be of much use when the truth of the matter finally comes home to roost:

And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

Would it have been worthwhile,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

To roll it towards some overwhelming question . . .?

There must be a word for that; I think it’s part regret, part too late and part would it have made any difference. Perhaps the right word is ennui.

            Whereas old age used to be an arm’s-length, somewhat mythical phenomenon belonging to a culture that was not mine, I now live in its midst. I have come to appreciate what has been called the wisdom of age in, for instance, my 98-year old neighbour who recently bought herself a new house and asked me a few days ago to help her locate the biography of Mahatma Gandhi’s wife because she’s interested in the life of that forgotten woman. And I’ve seen its opposite, the interminable assembly of jigsaw puzzles in seniors’ centre foyers, the tedious search for tiny pieces of the universe that will fit, and the exultation when a picture that was scattered has been made whole. What a metaphor!

            And yet, it’s hard to assign blame to whatever sadness accompanies old age for many people. My mother-in-law lamented as she approached 90 that all her bosom friends were dead. That recognition alone must be daunting to even the strongest among us. I’ve seen the powerful need to grasp whatever intimacy is left in the world in people in nursing homes and seniors’ centres. I’ve seen how their eyes light up with the hope that my entrance will mean someone to talk to, someone to attend to their existence.

Our institutions for the elderly are wrong, somehow. Like our prisons and hospitals, they group people with similar needs together and isolate them from the population. The reason for this might be obvious; we are so afraid of being old, sick and/or terrified of deviance that we can’t stand to be reminded of our fragility by seeing aging, by seeing illness, by seeing the variety of hurts and angers that combined to make criminals. (I’m exaggerating for effect, here.) Or else we just couldn’t possibly find the manpower to service their needs except we house them close together.

Resignation is the ubiquitous option, isn’t it? I find the penultimate lines in Prufrock as compelling as any in modern poetry:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--

Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old ... I grow old ...

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Perhaps that’s the inevitable finale: I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be . . .. Resignation? Acceptance? Feeble excuse?

Take your pick.

Eat a peach.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

You go, girl! . . . or maybe . . . I think . . .

You go, girl! . . . or maybe . . . I think . . .

I’m sure most of you saw the video clip of the House of Commons page with the “STOP HARPER” sign, soiling the pageantry and decorum of the speech from the throne. In an interview after she was fired and turfed out of uniform and job, she said (this is not a direct quote): “I felt I had to . . . like . . . do something. I don’t think his policies are . . . like . . . good for Canadians.” 
               I thought: if she was my daughter and had got this plum job as a parliamentary page, what would I have said to her when she walked in the door? Would I have said, “What’s the matter with you girl? You may not like Harper or his policies (as if you were old enough to understand them), but whatever made you think that this spectacle was justified?” Or would I have said: “Way to go, girl. That took massive courage.”
               The fact is that for the next four years, the Opposition won’t have the ability to “Stop Harper” on anything; the public will have to do it when necessary. A recent poll reported on Yahoo News showed that on some of the more contentious policies—the long gun registry, ending of public funding of political parties, the purchase of billions of dollars’ worth of jet fighters—the majority of Canadians are not on side. I would add the unwarranted and unconditional support of the state of Israel to that list.
If Harper is to be stopped on particular, unpopular policies, it will have to be by Canadian citizens mustering the courage to state their opposition to some of these policies vocally and loudly. We can’t all get onto the floor of the Commons like pages, but maybe we could pick up the STOP HARPER logo, put it on T-shirts that we all wear at crucial times of parliamentary debate. And if that would be too undignified for us, petitions and letter writing do have considerable effect if the numbers are there. Let’s write our MPs . . . copy to the PM and the relevant ministers . . . and say what we favour and what we don’t. That’s not too “out there,” is it?
               Or would that still be making too much of a spectacle of ourselves? Here’s an old saying I just made up: I’d rather be dead than embarrassed. (Actually, I think I read it in some novel a long time ago.) This following one is genuinely mine (I think): Timid citizenries are inevitably rewarded with regressive policies. People can find themselves meekly following political ideologues.

   The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
(Isaiah 11:6)

You go, girl! You may be dead wrong . . . or you may be the only really courageous person to set foot in the Commons for a long time. I really hope it wasn't just a stunt to get your face into the media. Lots of people will write it off as just that. Perhaps—whatever the final judgment on your action—you shamed some of us out of our silence, and that can’t be all bad.