At home on the Prairies

Ahhh Saskatoon – the prairies, big sky country. Four of us city gals headed to Central Canada for a long weekend of country fun at the farm. Around here the wheat and canola fields predominate; it’s easy to tell where the farm houses are because they’re the only places where there are small stands of trees in the vast expanse of waving grains. Around the perimeter of Tracey and Darrin’s farmyard they have mowed in the Taydar Trail, a grassy path encircling the homestead.

The fields here behind the Lumberman’s Curve are canola waiting to be gathered up by combine harvesters.

Along the trail are various bits of used and disused farm equipment, boat trailers, huge metal grain bins (I suggested that they be repurposed into above-ground swimming pools), a gigantic truck trailer, and hidden gopher holes.

The big red barn is over a hundred years old and used to store farm equipment and Darrin’s old 1970s Lincoln Continental, its smooth length a wee bit dusty from hibernation.

Of course, the first thing one thinks of when contemplating prairie life is water-skiing … not. But Tracey and Darrin are lucky enough to live only a few kilometeres away from Blackstrap Lake and the mighty Blackstrap Mountain (a tiny pimple on the landscape that formerly served as a ski hill where Darrin learned to zoom down the slopes as a child, whose facility is unfortunately now shuttered).

Darrin’s friend Phil, who lives at the lake, was kind enough to let us use his boat for the day to try water-skiing, an activity that I had tried precisely once previously in those long-ago days of youth up at Pender Harbour. I proved to be hopeless at it, not even able to get my water skis on. Tracey, on the other hand, was a natural; she gave an excellent display of superpower on the water – we were impressed.

After our collective attempt to walk, or ski, on water, we headed to the beachside concession stand to consume the famed onion rings for which this place is known.

Since we’re all about the outdoor activities here on the prairies, the next item on our weekend agenda was biking the Meewasin Trail along the river that flows through the city.

After having rented our bikes at the Bike Doctor we rolled along Broadway and down to the trail that runs riverside.

One of the must-see trail stops is the University of Saskatchewan Sculpture Park, a collection of peculiar cement and metal creations that called out for climbing and crawling along.

This cement dragon boat proved to be a hit with the gang, as we imagined ourselves running victorious over the finish line.

There are several bridges over the river; we picked the very high railway bridge that required pushing the bikes up and down wooden staircases. Luckily one such staircase provided a trough that ran along its length, allowing us to put the bike wheels in a runner that eased its passage upwards.

A surprising sight for me was the flocks of white pelicans cruised over the water. Right near this weir is the rusted hulk of the Varsity Ski Jump, built in 1931, enjoyed for 43 years and dismantled in 1978. From here people could zoom down the shoot onto the frozen river. A nice stop along the east side of the river trail is the Mendel Art Gallery; too bad it’s going to be relocated to a not particularly nice spot further down the river soon.

Back at the ranch, across the street from the farm are two abandoned houses slowing sinking towards the grass, an odd sight against the horizon.

On the farm, Tracey explained to me, nothing is ever discarded; old houses, equipment, metal parts, and the like are saved, just in case they might prove useful again someday. Some obsolete stuff is repurposed into art objects, as in this example made by Tracey.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the canola fields with a nip of wine and a soupcon of bug spray.

Tracey took us for a spin around the neighbourhood, including a visit to the Mennonite cemetery where some of Darrin’s relatives are resting.

And the Dundurn Community Labyrinth, a surprising find that is now unfortunately somewhat overgrown.

We also paid a visit to the local glass blowing studio, the Hot Shop run by a retired teacher and nurse. Al Hiebert was kind enough to show us around this enormous space where they do cold, warm, and hot glass, and also have space for wood and metal working. I have to confess that I was jealous of the incredible studio.

Interestingly, upstairs we came upon a nice stash of mannequins …

On the farm there was a tree … an apple tree, laden with fruit crying out for picking and eating … we obliged.

The final item on the farm activity agenda was metalwork, welding a metal sculpture for the Tradar Trail from the vast collection of metal bits stacked for reclamation. Darrin was kind enough to show me how to use a metal grinder and acetylene torch; I may look like I know what I’m doing but this would be a false impression …

After piling up the metal that we thought we’d use, the next morning was spent creating Frankie, the elephant-man.

As far as welding goes, Barb was a natural … me, not so much.

The amazingly ever-patient Darrin showed us how to arc weld; we discarded the first base for being too flimsy to hold our emerging metal creation. First the crossed legs, the the pelvis and ribcage …

then the ear-arms

and finally the nose and eyes were crafted. Frankie had emerged from the heap of metal.

Supplied with the final touch, a metal chain, our sculpture was then rolled across the lawn for placement on the trail.

Even Tango approves … a great time had by all.

See more pictures of farm fun here.

Culture Shock in South Vancouver

From the penthouse to the basement … since we’ve rented our own place out for a year, and we’re on the road for ten months, we needed a place to stay before and after the Grand Tour. It’s a bit of a culture shock to move from the urban core, where everything we like to do is within walking distance and we hardly ever fire up the car, to the burbs of south Vancouver, our home for the next 26 days, where there’s nothing we like to do within walking distance and everything requires firing up the car. Living downtown has spoiled us, I’m afraid.

The suite itself is quite nice, newly made with new all-Ikea furniture and appliances and, oh joy for Ty, a large flat-screen TV. We haven’t had a TV for 10 years so for the first couple of days we watched it and discovered that, no, nothing has changed, it’s still 500 channels and nothing on … back to the computer screens and the kindles. I had a bit of a meltdown the other day when, for some unknown reason, our internet was down – I really am an addict.

One nice aspect of living in a house is the back yard; we have a grassy area with several beautiful flowers and a gigantic leafy tree for shade, as well as access to the recently constructed deck and BBQ while the house’s owners are away.

This morning, wanting to explore the area on bike, I headed off down towards the Fraser River. Along the way I saw many houses in what appears to be the new Vancouver Special style, a very ornate design, and large house, on the usual 33 foot lot. Each of these houses has the same kind of stone/brick fence and inscribed granite address number plate – whoever is making these is making a fortune. Once having crossed over the very busy, and bike-unfriendly, SE Marine Drive, I followed a guy on a bike onto the Kent Avenue bikeway along the river (I had no idea this bike path existed).

This not-so-scenic route took me past a cement plant, the City of Vancouver recycling depot, and a bunch of small industrial buildings on the river’s edge. Past these the view became better as I was able to turn onto a gravel path that ran right along the river, from which I could watch the tugs towing barges and log booms up towards New Westminster.

Cycling further out along this route I came to some new upscale townhouses and condos in an area that has been christened the “River District”. As with all things related to housing in this town, once someone has a good idea – homes on the river – everyone wants to get in on the action and the area is now in the process of redevelopment all along the river as far as Burnaby.

In certain sections wooden piers and viewing platforms have been erected, from which one can observe the many ducks and herons enjoying the water. Lots of folks take advantage of these to fish, although I’m pretty sure that I’d not eat anything that came from the Fraser River, given its muddy brown colour at the moment and the signs warning of water treatment plant outflow …

Crossing over the city boundary into Burnaby, the river-side area becomes the Burnaby Fraser Foreshore Park, in which apparently bicycles are not allowed on the trails. Bah humbug!

Since riding along the roads here is not at all enjoyable, since they travel through industrial areas and are busy with gigantic trucks and many other speeding vehicles, I ignored the no-cycling signs and rode gently and quietly along the gravel path through the forest, a much more pleasant and scenic — and safe — route. Most of the pedestrians I saw were also ignoring the posted signs with respect to unleashed dogs so I did not feel too bad about my small transgression.

Read more about the River District here.

Read more about the Kent Street bike path here.

Read more about the Burnaby Fraser Foreshore Park here.

See more pictures here.

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day, all! It is a cool, breezy but sunny day here in Lotus Land – hard to believe that it is the first of July since the temperature has not risen beyond 20 degrees yet this summer … Since I have been back from Turkey, I have done the following:

Unpacked and put away my bags.

Vacuumed and dusted the entire apartment, including the walls (really a futile job, since with two shedding beasts, and two long-haired humans, the dust bunnies immediately start to accumulate again. However, if it was never done, the four of us would have to poke our heads out of our respective dust burrows to breathe).

Gotten rid of many years worth of accumulated “stuff” gracing every flat surface and the tiny apartment storage room (not all of it, mind you, just a portion of it that I could bear to part with, pack rat that I am). Cleaned out my closet of clothes that I haven’t worn for a while. Boxed up books that I will never  read again. Several bags full were taken to the Wildlife Rescue Thrift Store on Granville, our favorite charity, including several boxes of used, but serviceable, computer bits and pieces.

Extracted all the dead plants and shrubs from the planters, swept up the accumulated dirt and vegetal debris, home to spiders, worms and other assorted wildlife, and washed the terraces and balcony on my hands and knees.

Planted new perennials and bedding plants in the newly cleaned planters.

Removed my artwork and other bits and pieces from the apartment storage room to the larger storage lockers downstairs – now we actually have room to store things in the storage room. Rearranged stuff in the storage room to maximize available space. Ty had previously completed the much bigger job of moving our stored stuff from the storage facility down the street to the lockers in our building.

Packed away boxes of books for later rearrangement on the built-in bookshelves that Ty is going to install in the computer room.

Begun an InDesign book. I plan to make four books about my trip this spring, one on the art work I did in Cappadocia, one on the artwork I did in Kas and Gumusluk, one on landscape, and the last on ruination.  These will be illustrated “coffee-table” style texts which I may or may not actually print, depending upon the cost. But they will be published on the web as “flipping books”, virtual books exactly like actual physical entities.

We have also had plenty of time to ride around on our bikes, have drinks on patios, go to the beach, and play with the dog, the usual summertime fun; even though it’s unseasonably cool, it is still beautiful and sunny here on the west coast. Mind you, all the Turks I know would freeze here at these temperatures. (I am reminded of the stories that I have heard from more than one source of Turks marrying Europeans, moving to their spouses’ countries of origin, and being miserably unhappy there, not simply because of the weather, but certainly the coldness of both weather and culture would be hard for them to bear).

See a few pictures here.

Yesterday a plane crashed into the Indian Ocean off the coast of east Africa with 153 people on board. Although I am not a terrified flyer, I must admit that the more I fly, the more I think about the possibilities of disaster. I listen for strange engine noises (as if I’d know whether or not a noise was “strange” …) and am alert to nuances of tone in the voices of the airline personnel as they make announcements. What are the chances of survival if the plane were to have trouble? A 14 year old girl was the only one to survive this latest airplane crash … the sole survivor – why? The BBC has an article that asks “Are children more likely to survive plane crashes” here:

Also, a few days ago a train carrying liquified gas exploded at a railway station in the northern Italian town of Viareggio, the beach resort where I have often gone inline skating when in Florence for the LBST Abroad program:

Finally, the super-fraudster whose antics I was following last December was sentenced to 150 years in jail for his massive 50 billion ponzi scheme:

With respect to this case, I am reminded of the old PT Barnum adages “A fool is born every minute” and “A fool and his money are soon parted”. While Bernard Madoff is a corrupt and conscience-less crook, he could not have played his enormous hustle without the many thousands of investors who wanted in, irrespective of the fact that the gains he purported to offer were impossible to achieve without fraud.

Madoff piggy bank: money goes in and doesn't come back out again Madoff: fraudster extraordinaire

[Between 1999 and 2008 Harry Markopoulos, who worked for a rival firm, tried to simulate the returns that Madoff made. He couldn’t. Mr Markopoulos came to the conclusion that something was very wrong with Madoff’s funds. Mr Markopoulos complained to the SEC several times from 2001 onwards. Even after he left that firm, he devoted his energies to uncovering what was at the heart of Madoff’s amazing returns. In 2005, Mr Markopoulos gave the SEC in New York a 21-page document. He concluded that Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities “is the world’s largest Ponzi scheme.” The SEC’s conclusion? “The staff found no evidence of fraud,” a memo said. All they concluded was that Mr Madoff violated securities regulations by operating as an unregistered adviser.]

“The Madoff scam – if proven – is the perfect fraud for our times – during the boom years America was seduced by the illusion of easy money, and a blind faith that house prices could only up. Now, after the collapse and with the global economy reeling, it seems obvious: it was always too good to be true”.

The Eagle Has Landed

Eagle has landed

The eagle has landed – back on Canadian dirt again. The trip back to Canada from Turkey is horrendous, between 30 and 39 hours of flying and waiting to fly. Tracey and I were up Saturday morning at 2:20 am, after having gone to bed at 10, to finish packing our bags, cleaning and taking out the garbage before our 3 am pickup for the airport. Kaan whisked us along the lightly trafficked Antalya highway, dropping Tracey at International 2 and me at Domestic for our respective flights. Since I was so early for mine, I was able to get on the 5 am flight to Istanbul rather than waiting for the 7:15 – better to spend the hours waiting at Istanbul International than Antalya Domestic.

The next four hours were spent wandering around the airport and drinking the world’s most expensive small cappuccino (10 lira). Be warned: Turkish airports are notorious for their extortionate food and drink prices. About an hour and a half before my flight to Chicago was due to leave, the security checks began, with detailed questioning and meticulous searches of everyone’s hand luggage and bags. Once on the plane, the 12.5 hour flight itself was uneventful, but loooonnnng, especially because I found it very difficult to sleep and there was only one inflight movie worth watching, Suspect X, a Japanese crime film, and one documentary entitled Guardians of Nature, about saving animals in Turkey. Even though there was nothing else to do, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the rest of the crap on offer.

Chicago airport is enormous and the lineup to get through customs was long, although not as long as it might have been had there been more planes landing. After customs, a long wait for my bags which then had to be re-checked through to Vancouver, then a train ride to Terminal One to pick up my boarding pass, another long security procedure to get into the gate area, then a wait of some hours at gate B21 only to find out, as I casually glanced at the departure information board, that my gate had been changed to C22 without any loudspeaker announcement. Then, a dash down long hallways to C area and another wait for my final flight. The Vancouver flight was bumpy in an old plane with no frills, no blanket, no pillow, no food and few drinks on offer. However, it did get me home in 4 hours rather than four and a half, where thankfully my bags arrived and Ty was there to meet me.

Vancouver seems grey and cloudy and cold after the permanent heat and clear sky-blueness of Turkey. However, it also felt very good to be back, especially greeted so fondly by man and beasts. Brubin remembered me instantly and was delighted to see me; the cat not so much, since he sees Ty as his particular property. When we go to bed, Aran casts a baleful eye on me, and insinuates himself onto the pillows in between our heads. Back in the apartment, I had a moment of culture shock with the comparative luxury in which we live, after having been in some areas of Asia and South East Asia in which people call corrugated shacks and garbage dumps home. At the moment, I am quite jet-lagged and seemingly unable to sleep more than 2 or 3 hours at a time – hopefully that will pass soon. I hope to be able to sustain my desire to live a kinder, less angry, more gentle life here.

See a few pictures here.

Evil paradises: Neoliberalism’s degenerate utopias around the world

By Reed Eurchuk

From time immemorial, the “city as utopia” has been a recurring theme in religion, politics, and literature. From the “city on the hill” of classical Christian belief, to Balzac’s Paris, to the socialist city of the Paris Commune, there have been many versions of the utopian city.

Given this long history, how does the city as utopia manifest itself today? According to co-editors Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, in their new book Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism: Evil Paradises, today’s “new luxury cities” are nothing less than a utopian frenzy that “enflame desires” for infinite consumption, total social exclusion, and physical security, and architectural monumentality. The book provides a guided tour of the globe’s urban luxury palaces: the gated communities where elite groups live in a privatized heaven amid the public squalor that lies just beyond their gates.

Read Mike Davis’ Fear and Money in Dubai here.

Goofing around

The Three Muscateers in a barbershop trio
The Three Muscateers in a barbershop trio

The Three Muscateers in a barbershop trio

Checking out the possibilities of a pleather man-thong for Christmas ...
Checking out the possibilities of a pleather man-thong for Christmas ...

Checking out the possibilities of a pleather man-thong for Christmas …

Tracey is captivated by the huge variety ...
Tracey is captivated by the huge variety ...

Tracey is captivated by the huge variety …

One of Santas bigger elfs ...
One of Santa's bigger elfs ...

One of Santa’s bigger elfs …

See more here.

Early Christmas 2008

Slideshow from our ride on the Christmas Train in Stanley Park

Aran checking out my flowers