9.30.2005

still alive

The Red Sox, that is. One game out with three to play against the momentarily first-place Yankees, and tied with Cleveland for the wild card. It looked all gloom and doomy last night, but I insisted on staying positive and I was rewarded. We are keeping the faith.

I haven't the slightest idea how this team will make it through the playoffs, but I know they can make it to the playoffs.

On tap for today, some Toronto exploring! I'm meeting wmtc commenter Marnie at Union Station; we're walking around and going to the St. Lawrence Market. Marnie, like me, is an urban explorer. She writes about her meanderings at You Are Here. I was trying to read the whole blog before meeting her today, but alas, I did not. But I will, because it's my kind of place.

I've been combing through old comments on wmtc, gathering up all the links and suggestions you guys have made, the ones where I said, "I'll look at that when I have time." Now I'm making good on that: creating, yes, another list. My life in lists.

One neat link I found, I believe from Lone Primate, was Pier 21. It seems to be the Canadian equivalent of Ellis Island:
From the twenties to the seventies, Pier 21 was Canada's 'front door' to over a million immigrants, wartime evacuees, refugees, troops, war brides and their children. This enriched our social and cultural landscape and uplifted the very soul of a nation forever.

Pier 21, a National Historic Site, has been transformed into a testament to Canada's profoundly emotional immigration experience. . . . Halifax's Pier 21 opened in 1928 and closed in 1971.
I've been to Ellis Island; my grandfather's name is on the wall there. Maybe I'll get to Pier 21 eventually, too.

Fifth Business, the first book of Robertson Davies's Deptford Trilogy, is so good that I'm hoping my editor stays away, so I can read it for hours. The narrator is an elderly man looking back at his life growing up in the small (fictional) town of Deptford, somewhere in Canada. He was the intelligent, curious boy who chafed at the confines of his small town; he remembers the emotion of the moment, but with the knowing distance of hindsight. He'll later become a distinguished author and professor of history; right now he's a young man in the trenches of France, 1917. The story so far is full of wry observations about small-town life, religion, and the Canada of the Scots. It's very funny, and often very poignant. Terrific.

Hey, guess what? We've been here one month today.

9.29.2005

our cards arrive

I am overcoming my extreme aversion to showing photographs of myself, in order to bring you our new [drumroll...] Permanent Resident cards! Everyone knows these official pictures never look good. But these cards are bee-yoo-tiful!

pr cards 0025

pr cards 0017

what i'm reading

Ta-da! A new "what i'm reading" post. I just did a Blogger search for all my "what i'm reading" posts and found fifteen of them, dating back to July 25, 2004, back when no one read wmtc.

We used our new Mississauga library cards for the first time yesterday. I found the Robertson Davies's trilogy I mentioned yesterday. We also spent a while around the history shelves, and I saw a lot of Pierre Berton books I want to read. I don't like not knowing any Canadian history. Fortunately it's a condition easily changed.

We also spent a small fortune at Home Depot, ordering window shades for our bedroom and my office. I'm watching our bank balance go down, and it would be nice if there was some money coming in, too. I'm not seriously worried - that's why we saved so much money, and the work will come. It would just be nice.

I spoke to Dr S yesterday, our specialist vet from New York. She's really pleased with Buster's progress and is lowering his meds again. She also reminded me that inflammatory bowel disease is not curable, only manageable, and we can expect Buster to be on maintenance medication for the rest of his life. Well, of course. Otherwise it wouldn't be Buster! This makes three chronic conditions we treat him for: anxiety, glaucoma and IBD.

In other news, I hate baseball.

9.28.2005

words

I just might write another "what i'm reading" post again: yesterday we got Mississauga library cards! There's a small branch library down the road from us, and the big main branch is a short drive away. On our very first visit to Toronto, we actually ended up using the internet at the main library, which is really big and looks great. I'm going to pay it a visit today.

One author I want to read much of is Pierre Berton. Since I love well-written history, and I want to read about Canada, Berton seems like a great place to start. He's the best known Canadian historian, and he's a terrific writer. He was also incredibly prolific, so there's plenty to choose from. (Berton died last year at the age of 84.)

We have his Niagara: A History of the Falls, which I bought for Allan long before we knew Canada was in our future. Allan started reading it a few days ago, and I'll pick it up next. After all, the Falls are just down the QEW from us.

In yesterday's Globe And Mail, there was a story about Robertson Davies's Deptford Trilogy. The film rights to this Canadian literary masterpiece had been tied up in legal wranglings for nearly thirty years. Charles Pitt, head of Vancouver-based Novalis Entertainment, succeeding in bringing together the rights to all three novels (Fifth Business, The Manticore and World of Wonders), and bringing them back to Canada. The trilogy is now being made into a six-hour television miniseries. But now I have to read them before I see that! From what I understand, these novels deal with themes that are close to the heart of wmtc: what it means to be Canadian.

* * * *

Neither of us are working yet, although my editors continue to "any day now" me. Yesterday Allan registered with a second agency before we settled in for a long day of baseball. We got two out of three results we wanted: one Red Sox win and one Yankees loss. The second Red Sox loss meant that the division and the wild card are all still tied: Boston, Cleveland and New York have identical records.

This final week of the regular season is insane, and getting crazier. This weekend, Chicago plays Cleveland and Boston plays New York. Two of those teams will win their division, one will win the wild card and one will stay home.

9.27.2005

entertainment

The Sox were rained out last night, so, feeling lazy and tired, we ended up watching a bunch of shows on the Comedy Network, including Air Farce and Kids In The Hall. We saw our second or third episode of The New Red Green Show, which is surprisingly funny.

I've been trying to figure out how to describe this show to non-Canadians. It's a spoof on a home-improvement show, hosted by a redneck whose answer to every challenge is duct tape. It makes sport of country folks, and men in general, but in (what seems to me, anyway) a warm and self-knowing way, as in, this is us, ain't we funny. The host, played by Steve Smith, has a deadpan delivery a la the great Bob Newhart. The show he hosts from "Possum Lodge" is "a fishing show, a fix-it show, and a men's advice program all rolled into about 3/4".

What do you guys think? Hate it? Love it? Ignore it?

* * * *

I haven't been blogging about baseball, but it's basically all I think about right now. The Red Sox are driving us insane, in a dead-heat tie with the Yankees for the division, and a half-game behind Cleveland for the wild card. The Yankees won last night, which technically puts them a half-game up, but only because the Sox were rained out. Boston plays a double-header today.

I feel like playoffs have already started, and in a way they have: at the end of this week, two of those teams will be alive, and one will go home for the winter.

I will be crushed if the Red Sox don't win the division. I say that about ten times a day; just wanted to go on record here.

I want to be excited that hockey season is about to start, but I can't focus on that until after the World Series. I do like seeing all the hockey news on Sports Centre (not to mention how that is spelled!). The national focus on hockey must be how baseball once was in the US. I like it.

* * * *

"Missed It By That Much." As I'm sure you heard, Don Adams, a/k/a Maxwell Smart, died yesterday at the age of 82. There was an actor forever identified with one role. No matter what he did later in his career, Adams would always be Agent 86. Get Smart is one of my all-time favorite shows.

don_adams

9.26.2005

bigotry in ontario

Ontario California, that is. Commenter Liam J brought this story to my attention over the weekend.
ONTARIO, Calif. - A 14-year-old student was expelled from a Christian school because her parents are lesbians, the school's superintendent said in a letter.

Shay Clark was expelled from Ontario Christian School on Thursday.

"Your family does not meet the policies of admission," Superintendent Leonard Stob wrote to Tina Clark, the girl's biological mother.

Stob wrote that school policy requires that at least one parent may not engage in practices "immoral or inconsistent with a positive Christian life style, such as cohabitating without marriage or in a homosexual relationship," The Los Angeles Times reported in Friday's edition.

Stob could not be reached for comment by the newspaper. Shay and her parents said they won't fight the ruling.

School administrators learned of the parents' relationship this week after Shay was reprimanded for talking to the crowd during a football game, Tina Clark said.

Clark and her partner have been together 22 years and have two other daughters, ages 9 and 19.
I love the bit about "cohabitating without marriage". Because of people like these school administrators, the girl's parents aren't allowed to get married!

Checking out reaction in the blogosphere, I saw many people pointing out that a private school is allowed to set whatever standards they like, and it's within their rights to admit or expel a student for any reason. Two problems there. One, most private schools receive some government funding. If gay families were equal under the law, and the school accepts one dime of federal or state funding, this discrimination would be illegal. And two, it may be technically legal, but it's still unethical and immoral.

Christian School indeed. Do you think the school expels students because their parents engage in other practices inconsistent with a positive Christian lifestyle, such as supporting the death penalty or useless foreign wars?

i go out

I went out last night with my friend BC. BC and her partner are the two Trontonians Allan and I knew before I started blogging. She and I met online through a mutual friend (who neither of us are friends with anymore!) and the four of us got together on both our exploratory Toronto visits last year. Last night I took the GO train into town and met BC for Thai food.

I had a great time - excellent food and excellent company. But the evening was momentous to me because it felt like real life. I frequently go out for dinner with female friends, taking public transit at night, while Allan has some quality alone-time at home. This pattern is as old as our lives together, and this was the first time in our new home.

The only difference is the GO trains run once an hour, and you have to be mindful of the schedule. The NYC subways presumably run a little more often. On the other hand, I live closer to downtown Toronto than I did to downtown Manhattan, and there are more places to go out in my own neighbourhood.

And by the way, BC also insisted on paying for dinner! You generous Canadians are ridiculous.

* * * *

Wmtc readers are amazing. A reader I had never heard from before sent me today's Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert columns. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

I'm supposed to begin work on the next ancient civilization book this week. Although that's what I said last week. My editor has been too busy to make my assignment. We'll see if it materializes.

9.25.2005

grapes and hops

What's the deal with wine here?

I've figured out that the LCBO is owned and operated by the Province of Ontario. Certain US states have a similar deal; when I lived in Philadelphia, we bought wine or liquor at a "state store". Are liquor sales controlled by the province throughout Canada, or do different provinces have different liquor laws? I assume the latter.

More importantly, are all LCBOs the same? There's one right around the corner from us, and while it's terrifically convenient, the selection is poor. Yesterday we checked out another LCBO - this one conveniently located next to a Beer Store - but the selection was nearly identical. So is this the wine that's available in Ontario? I know Canadians are beer-lovers, but stereotypes aside, what do people do when they want to drink a nice bottle of wine?

We're also trying different Canadian beers, so if you have recommendations, send them in. Right now we're drinking Export (I prefer it to Canadian) and Steam Whistle, and we had Keith's at the Blue Jays game. US readers: Canadian and Export are both Molson. Yummy.

staying home

Yesterday there was a big anti-war rally in Washington, with similar protests in London, Paris, Rome and other cities. It felt very strange not to be in DC. Certainly Allan and I would have taken the day off, arranged for dog-walking, and gone to Washington. We both feel it's our duty to do so.

But I was at home, doing errands and yard work, watching the Red Sox. Not good. (The day was good. Missing the demo was not.)

On the other hand, my taxes are no longer supporting that war. Very good.

As for the demonstration, it sounds like turnout could have been better, even by organizers' standards. But there was a decent amount of mainstream coverage, and more than stock footage of a guy with purple hair and facial piercings shouting "Death to the new world order".

Here's coverage from Reuters, AP (via CNN), BBC and the Globe and Mail.

* * * *

The New York Times has changed their website to make most of it - most of what I want to read, anyway - available only by subscription. I was hoping Common Dreams would still carry Krugman, Herbert and Rich, but I guess they don't want to pay either, or can't afford to. So it seems I will either permanently break my Times addiction, or I'll fork over forty bucks. Not sure which yet. I really miss Paul Krugman.

9.24.2005

we buy a lawnmower

Yesterday we had the surreal experience of buying a lawnmower at Sears. The friendly, helpful salesman was out of a 1950s time warp, making silly sexist jokes about yard work and stockings.

So now we own a lawnmower. We are suburban.

This has been a good time to be buying things like barbecue grills and lawnmowers, as everything is discounted for the end of the season. It's purely by coincidence, but it is nice.

Yesterday, for the first time since we moved in, I needed a sweatshirt on my morning dog-walk. It's still warm during the day, and just a little nippy in the morning and at night. The weather continues to be gorgeous, life continues to be heavenly.

it's the little things

Here's my favorite thing about Canada so far. Every time I turn on the TV, "Kids In The Hall" is on!

I'm really not watching TV outside of baseball, but sometimes in the afternoon, feeling spacey and in need of a break, I flip it on. And there's Mark McKinney and Dave Foley and Scott Thompson to the rescue! You can sometimes find KITH re-runs on American TV, but not as often.

We also saw "Royal Canadian Air Farce" for the first time. Air Farce is a sketch comedy show, in the Saturday Night Live or MAD TV vein. I've been hearing about it for about as long as I've been blogging. It was pretty funny, not hilarious, but it spent a lot of time making fun of the W & Co, and we loved that. It's very political, with a definite anti-war, anti-empire, anti-big money point of view.

The first episode we saw was kind of flat, but sketch comedy is often uneven, and you can't judge it properly on one take. The second episode was definitely funnier, and I'll continue to watch if I run into it.

Here's something else I really like: the two-dollar coin. There are one-dollar and two-dollar coins here, as in many countries. The two-dollar coin has a different kind of metal in the center, so it's very recognizable.

toonie

It's so convenient - although it took a while to lose that feeling that I was being shorted when given change. If you've spent $17.25 and you pay with a $20 bill, your change is all coin. I would think, where's the bills, then look down in my hand, and take a few seconds to realize it was all there. I'm just losing that feeling now.

I haven't been able to call it a toonie yet. The dollar coin is called a loonie, because there's a picture of a loon (the bird) on one side.

loonie

And from there we get toonie, a two-dollar loonie. I hear people use these silly names all the time. Maybe when I can finally bring myself to say them, I'll be officially Canadian.

I'm kidding, you know. Kids In The Hall is only my second favorite thing about Canada. Sex toys in Shoppers Drug Mart is better.

9.23.2005

strange and familiar

I forayed into Toronto's Chowhound message board yesterday for some tips on Chinatown, and on good food in Mississauga.

Do you guys know about Chowhound? It's the brainchild of food writer Jim Leff, a/k/a The Alpha Dog, and it's a great way to (among other things) find good food all over North America. In New York I would use it when exploring a new neighbhorhood, or if we were going out for an extravagant dinner and wanted to pick the perfect place. Yesterday I knew that I'd be able to post a message, and within hours I'd have the opinions of many friendly food-lovers in T.O. and vicinity. (Reason number 346,720 to love the internet.)

I understand there are three Chinatowns in Toronto now - the same in New York - and that the oldest Chinatown, the one on Spadina, is now largely Vietnamese. That's also the same in New York. We drove into the Spadina Chinatown, left the car at a "green P" [US readers: reasonable public parking in Toronto] and wandered around with a short list of recommendations.

We ended up having a couple of things at a Vietnamese place, a few more at a Chinese place, and topping it off with mango bubble tea. The food was very good, and the atmosphere completely familiar. I love how Chinatowns all over the continent have the same look and feel. We saw many restaurants with "all day Dim Sum" signs; we'll have to find a favorite spot for that, too. We looked in a few Chinese groceries and pharmacies, something I always enjoy, walked around a little bit with our bubble tea, and headed home.

Except now we don't get on the subway, we get in the car. And we sit in the backyard. I do the laundry in the basement. We put dishes in a dishwasher. I drive to the supermarket. Ordinary life is very different. We like it.

A long time ago, when Allan first moved to New York, we would be walking around somewhere and, a propos of nothing, one of us would say, "Here we are in New York." It was part reality check, part sheer amazement. Our lives had changed so much, it often felt surreal. Driving home last night, I said, "Here we are in Canada." Allan said he's been thinking the same thing. Here we are in Canada.

As in, we did it. It really happened. We live here now.

9.22.2005

alternate take

There's a discussion going on about whether or not Canadians are generally anti-American. It's pretty much Rob against everyone else (but what's new).

I personally haven't seen anything I'd characterize as anti-American. People vehemently oppose current US policies, for sure. But if they were anti-American, I don't think they'd be so warm and welcoming when they learn we are Americans.

And if Canadians are a tad obsessed with the US, who can blame them, sharing a border with the 800-pound gorilla of the world. On our last trip to London, I remember thinking that the British were similarly obsessed, and this was many years before W stole the election and Tony Blair dragged them into a useless war.

Rob sent me an essay by an self-described liberal American living in Toronto. (It turns out several wingnutters sent this to me when it first ran.) The writer sees anti-Americanism at every turn. Now, she didn't relocate to Canada for political reasons. She made a career move, and thought the political side would be a nice plus. Instead, she found that being away from home helped her get in touch with what she values about the US:
And it's helped me discover what I do value about it: its contradictions, its eccentricities, its expansive spirit, all the intensity and opportunity of a deeply flawed, widely inconsistent, but always interesting country.
How nice for her. For me, those deep flaws and wide inconsistencies prove that the "opportunity" is a bunch of crap. The expansive spirit is a just that - spirit. A bunch of slogans and hot air.

Perhaps I don't see the supposed anti-Americanism because to me it looks like honest criticism, and I agree with it. Perhaps I don't see it because it isn't there.

Maybe the writer is not as liberal as she imagines, or maybe she exemplifies why I don't call myself a liberal anymore. The results of the 2004 election made her miss the US. That might be a clue.

A year from now, if I've come to agree more with the observations expressed in this essay, I promise I'll let you know.

happy autumn

It's officially autumn today, but it still feels like summer here in balmy southern Ontario. Even at 6:30 in the morning, walking my dogs on the lakefront, I'm still wearing short sleeves.

The Red Sox are taking a night off from driving us insane tonight, so we're heading into Toronto for... something, we don't know what yet. Maybe Chinatown.

Nothing much to report today, except how happy I am with this house, this neighbourhood, our car, and life in general. It's all very, very good.

9.21.2005

the less friendly border

In comments somewhere, we were recently discussing the changes at the Canada-US border. The border is less open than it used to be. As of January 1, 2006, passports will be required, and many border guards have been putting the policy into effect early.

A million years ago (a few days before we moved), Alan With One L sent me a story from The Economist about the changing habits of both Canadians and Americans when it comes to visiting the other. Turns out it was a very good story, and I'm glad I kept it in my inbox all these weeks. (Thanks Alan! Better late than never, eh?)

Story here, but it may not be accessible, so I've copied it below.
The unfriendly border

Aug 25th 2005 | OTTAWA

A withering of people-to-people contacts augurs ill for a historic friendship

Travel across the border between Canada and the United States long followed a predictable pattern. When the Canadian dollar went up, shoppers would flood south and a few budget-conscious American tourists would forgo their vacation among the moose, mountains and Mounties. There was even a rough rule of thumb: for every 10% appreciation of the loonie (as Canadians call their currency) against the greenback, there would be a 13% increase in the number of Canadians going south and a 3% decrease in the number of Americans heading north.

Recently this pattern has broken down. In the past two years, as the loonie soared from 72 cents to its current level of 83 cents to the American dollar, the number of cross-border shoppers has barely budged (see chart). Meanwhile, the number of Americans heading north has dropped 22% since 1999 — a far bigger decrease than the rule of thumb would indicate.

Contrast this with the last big loonie appreciation, in 1991. In that year, Canadians made almost 60m day trips across the border (or two for every man, woman and child). They went for cheaper groceries and petrol, and a bigger variety of products than they had back home. Spurring them on, too, was a newly imposed value-added tax. Crossing the border was easy, with only a driver's licence, birth certificate, or even a friendly wave needed to pass through some customs posts. In 2004, by contrast, just 21.4m day trips (only two for every three Canadians) were made, according to Statistics Canada.

Behind these numbers lie several small things — and one big thing which points to a deeper change in relations between Canada and the United States. The small factors, which apply on both sides of the border, include rising petrol prices and higher houses prices, which have cut spending on leisure. Since 1991, many big American retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, have opened stores in Canada. Others, such as J.C. Penney, target Canadian shoppers through their websites. The big factor is the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, which have had both physical and psychological effects.

Physically, the border is harder to cross. A recent report by the Coalition for Secure and Trade-Efficient Borders, a Canadian business group, identified 44 government agencies in the two countries that now have some jurisdiction over border issues. More means slower: eight of the top ten crossing-points are either bridges or tunnels (the busiest, between Windsor in Ontario, and Detroit in Michigan, features both). They have become bottlenecks, with long waits.

Tighter security parallels widening gaps in attitudes between Canadians and Americans. Despite a shared history and the world's biggest bilateral trading relationship, attention nowadays focuses on issues that divide the two countries: the war in Iraq, decriminalisation of marijuana, legalisation of gay marriages, and the recent ban on cattle exports after three cases of mad cow disease in Canada. This week, Canadians are fuming at a decision by George Bush's administration to ignore a ruling under the North American Free-Trade Agreement which found that countervailing duties imposed on Canadian softwood lumber in 2002 were unlawful. Few talk approvingly any more about the world's longest undefended border.

Canada abounds with scary tales about what the new American security regime can mean for the unwary. One such was Michel Jalbert of Pohenegamook, a village in Quebec. Mr Jalbert was on a hunting trip in October 2002 when he crossed 45 feet into Maine to visit a petrol station. Following longstanding local practice, he did not check in with the customs office further down the road. The Americans' Border Patrol arrested Mr Jalbert and charged him with being an illegal immigrant and possession of a firearm. He spent 35 days in jail before an official protest from the Canadian government caused Colin Powell, then America's secretary of state, to intervene.

What of American travellers to Canada? Two film stars, Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, made headlines recently when they bought a holiday home near Mount Tremblant, a ski resort in Quebec. But they are not following a trend. Americans are travelling abroad less, and Canada is no exception. Americans made almost 10m fewer trips to Canada in 2004 than they did in 2000. Hardest hit is Ontario; Americans made up 95% of visitors to the province. (Alberta and British Columbia rely more on Asian visitors and Quebec looks east to European tourists.) William Fatt, the boss of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, which manages a string of posh hotels in Canada as well as London's Savoy Hotel, said his group's profits would be lower this year because the strong loonie and border hassles were keeping American customers away.

The Ontario government is surveying potential American tourists to find out why they are staying away. Border issues were the main reason, but respondents also mentioned the SARS respiratory infection, which hit Canada in 2003, mad-cow disease, terrorism and the fact that Canada recognises homosexual marriages.

The latest survey contained two other findings that suggest many Canadians and Americans will not soon go back to their previous friendly habit of dropping in on each other. One is that America is phasing in a new requirement for its citizens travelling to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean to have passports. Since only 34% of Americans over the age of 18 have a passport (compared with 41% of Canadians), tourism officials north of the border fear that potential visitors will be deterred by the extra paperwork. More worryingly, respondents gave anti-Americanism among Canadians as the second most important reason they were inclined to stay at home. Greg Hermus, of the Canadian Tourism Research Institute, an industry body, says that Canadians have similar fears about American attitudes. "Both sides feel less welcome in the other country." The change in travel habits may be much more than a passing blip.
One question. American tourists are staying away from Canada because Canada recognizes same-sex marriages?? I would think that loss would be far offset by gay Americans - and liberal Americans in general - wishing to support a country with egalitarian principles. Maybe the reason Americans aren't visiting Canada as much can be summed up in two words: Fox News. After all, "Soviet Canuckistan" sounds like a pretty scary place.

i heart canadian tire

We have passed another milestone in our Canadian journey: our first trip to Canadian Tire.

Non-Canadian readers, Canadian Tire is kind of a cross between Home Depot (without the lumber) and K-Mart (without the clothes) - an all-purpose hardware and houseware store. They are everywhere (at least in Mississauga), and when you buy something anywhere else, someone will undoubtedly tell you that you can get it for less at Canadian Tire.

In truth, their prices weren't so fabulous, but they were fair, and they had a lot of what we needed.

Living in a house, we need so many things that we didn't have to deal with as apartment-dwellers. A lawnmower and a rake, for starters. Fortunately we both grew up doing yard work, so although we're rusty, we're not complete novices.

Today I will rake leaves for the first time in, let's see... 30 years? Yikes!

* * * *

A helpful commenter just reminded me that I forgot to mention Canadian Tire's most famous quirk!

Every time you shop there, you receive 1% (?) of your purchase in Canadian Tire Money. It's like a bonus points system, but they actually give you paper "money", good for future purchases at their stores. If James and Lori hadn't mentioned this the other day, I would have been quite amazed at checkout! So far I have $3.35. Whoo-hoo.

See comments below: don't let this happen to you.

9.20.2005

follow-ups

Mississauga's recycling program is amazing. We have barely one large bag of garbage each week. Now I can see how the "three bag standard" is possible.

* * * *

I also wanted to clarify something regarding my earlier observation about the relative frugality of Canadians. Although I have had some private amusement over concerns about the price long-distance phone calls and parking, at the same time, I've been bowled over by Canadians' personal generosity towards me and Allan. So many people - including many of you - have shared their time, thoughts and support. Some of you have given us "welcome to Canada" gifts (both edible and not!), which we are much abashed to accept.

This is clearly a culture that values giving to others. I see that on a daily basis.

friends and sushi

The internet is an amazing thing. We move to a country and a city where we don't know a soul - but really, we do, thanks to the blogosphere.

I've been suffering from sushi withdrawal since moving, wrenched from my Friday night sushi habit into what may be a sushi wasteland. (Or may not, we have to look more thoroughly.) Fortunately, Toronto is only a short drive away, and it appears to be sushi heaven.

First we saw James and Lori's really cool house in a downtown neighborhood. We had lunch in The Beaches, a neighborhood of beautiful old homes and an "urban village" that borders on Lake Ontario beachfront. Dispelling all myths about Canadian frugality, these generous Trontonians insisted on picking up the tab. Welcome to Toronto!

After lunch, we walked on the boardwalk, saw some of the neighborhood, and scarfed down delicious ice cream at Ed's.

Oddly enough, this was our first time in the city since moving - we've been so focused on our home and our neighborhood. But there's plenty of time to explore Toronto, and the afternoon reminded me that I really want to do that on a regular basis.

Today, Allan takes the plunge: he's registering with a legal staffing agency. We met with this company on our first visit to Toronto, one of two agencies that assured us there'd be plenty of well-paid work for us. Now we'll see how those assurances hold up.

Allan's bummed about the prospect of working again, and I don't blame him. When the time comes for me to find a day-job, I won't be too excited about it either. But it's been three weeks (three weeks today!) since we moved. Real life beckons.

my morning walk

Allan accompanied me on my morning dog-walk today, so I could have my hands free to take pictures. Here's some of what I see every morning.

morning walk 010

This is the park at the end of our street, where we join the waterfront trail.


morning walk 004


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morning walk 007


morning walk 023


morning walk 015


morning walk 012


morning walk 031


morning walk 018

Lake Ontario


morning walk 011

This is the view in the other direction, opposite the lake.


morning walk 026

Lest we forget where we are.


morning walk 027

This is at the end of the Port Credit marina.


morning walk 021

I discovered that if I go all the way to the end of the park - and if I stand on the stone wall - I can see the top of the CN Tower.


morning walk 013


morning walk 029

Some wildlife on the rocks.


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This is what most of the neighborhood looks like.


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And this is across the street from us: the back of the condos.


morning walk 039

Back home.

9.19.2005

quiz time

From today's Globe And Mail, check out the Intelligent Design Science Quiz. I thought question nine was particularly amusing.

breakthrough

I can read again!

When I'm under a lot of stress, my concentration suffers. The more stress, the less concentration. In the extreme, dealing with a crisis, a fog envelops my brain. I can deal with the issues at hand, but nothing else. I don't know if this is a common phenomenon? Does this happen to any of you?

Sometime over the summer, I lost the ability to read books. I mean, I could read words, but I couldn't concentrate on anything long enough to understand it, let alone enjoy it. Blog posts and short magazine articles were the most I could manage.

Last night, graced with the lovely prospect of a free Sunday evening, I sat down with a small pile of back issues of the New York Times Book Review, and read them. Read them all.

This signals an adjustment to real life. Of course, a full transition to our new lives will happen gradually over a long period of time, but being able to concentrate again means the end of that initial disorienting transition. And none too soon, as I expect to get work this week.

So I've just added a new errand to my list: a Mississauga library card!

Speaking of real life, it's funny that we arrived in the Great White North while there's no CBC and no hockey. Now the hockey pre-season has started, so that's one down. Can't wait for the CBC!

* * * *

This morning we're taking Buster to a local vet for a follow-up blood test. For those following the Buster saga, our specialist in New York has been managing his medications with me by phone. We found a local vet's office that has been very accommodating about prescription refills, food, blood tests and such. We'll see the doctors for the first time today, and if they seem fine, we'll use them as our general neighborhood vet. They're just five minutes down Lakeshore from us.

Finding a specialist who'll pick up Buster's treatment hasn't been as easy. I've made a lot of frustrating phone calls to a lot of not-nice people. In fact, the only nasty people I've encountered so far in Canada have been at specialty veterinarian's offices. Each office is less helpful than the next. How strange.

In any case, I've dropped the search for a while. I do have some good leads, thanks to Marnie, and for now the doc in New York and this local office should meet our needs.

After the vet visit, we're meeting blogfriend James and his partner Lori for a sushi lunch. I have been suffering from sushi withdrawal here in Mississauga and James says he has the cure. We're going to see The Beaches neighborhood I've heard so much about.

* * * *

The weather continues to be gorgeous, now with a hint of autumn crispness. Yesterday we took the dogs on a long walk through the quiet, upscale, lakeside neighborhood that borders our street. There are some beautiful old homes, and many oversized new ones, many with beautiful lawns and plantings. Funny, here we are renting our little house in the midst of all this wealth. It certainly makes for a beautiful neighborhood.

9.18.2005

sweet victory

A victory against Wal-Mart in Canada! Remember the Quebec Wal-Mart that closed rather than have a unionized staff?
The Quebec Labour Board has ruled that the closing of a Wal-Mart store this year amounted to a reprisal against unionized workers and has ordered the company to compensate former employees.

The labour board concluded that Wal-Mart Canada, Inc., failed to prove that the closing of its store in Jonquière in April was "real, genuine and definitive" as required under the Quebec Labour Code.

The board will determine the "appropriate remedies" for the former employees later. As many as 79 of the store's 190 former employees filed for compensation under the labour code.

During hearings, the board was told that the retail giant has yet to rescind a 20-year lease on the store building and has made no effort to sublet it. This led the labour board to conclude that the store could reopen and that, under the province's labour code, it was closed as a sanction against employees who were exercising their right to unionize and negotiate their first collective agreement. [Story here.]
How great to live in a country where the Labour Board actually looks out for labour.

brunch

This morning Allan and I will be enjoying an Irish breakfast at our corner pub. This is the place where we stopped for lunch, and accidentally discovered Port Credit, on our first visit to Toronto.

But that's not why this brunch is a noteworthy event. I started working on weekends in late 1995; Allan joined my schedule three years later. We still find it odd to have our weekends free! Friday nights still feel like Sunday, and I still expect to be exhausted on Monday morning from working late into Sunday night.

When we lived in Brooklyn, we used to go out for Sunday brunch all the time. If I recall correctly, we knew all the places that served complimentary mimosas. (We were young, poor and thirsty!) But it's been at least 10 years since we've done that. Today: brunch at The Brogue!

more congratulations

I enjoyed my Saturday Globe And Mail (mop and pail?). Well written and substantial, without the 20-section overkill of the Sunday New York Times. Lots of interesting features, plus many more opinion and essay pieces, which I appreciate. So far so good. I wish there was a way to get only the New York Times Book Review and Magazine in print form. But I think I'll be able to live without them. I think.

I'm also noticing that two years of skimming the Toronto Star online have paid off, as I'm familiar with most local issues. I don't understand them in depth, but I'm at least aware of them and know the basics.

Here's a cool bit of Canadian news. Two Toronto-area scientists have won the prestigious Lasker Award, sometimes called North America's Nobel Prize. Both recipients are in their 70s, and made their pioneering discovery 45 years ago. From the Star story:
Almost 45 years after their breakthrough discovery, two septuagenarian Toronto scientists — revered within their field of stem cells but largely unknown outside of it — have won North America's most coveted prize in medical research: the Lasker Award.

James Edgar Till, 74, and Ernest Armstrong McCulloch, 79, proved the existence of stem cells while toiling away at the old Ontario Cancer Institute labs on Sherbourne St. Their breakthrough 1961 paper on the formation of what were then called colony-forming cells is regarded as the starting point for the science. That paper, and several that followed, also provided the scientific underpinning to bone-marrow transplantation.

Public recognition, however, has largely eluded them. "Both James and I are private people," the soft-spoken but droll McCulloch said in one of the interviews conducted with the pair last week and last year. "We do not seek celebrity."

After all these decades, however, celebrity may be looking for them: Winning the Lasker — begun in 1946 by philanthropists Albert and Mary Woodard Lasker, and known as "America's Nobel" — is often the prelude to capturing the Nobel Prize: Since 1946, 70 Lasker winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, including 19 in the past 15 years.

The men will be honoured Friday in New York, sharing a prize of $50,000 (U.S.). Calling Till and McCulloch the "Fathers of Stem Cell Research," today's Lasker Foundation's announcement makes the global impact of their discoveries clear: "Their work laid the foundation for all current work on adult and embryonic stem cells and transformed the study of blood-cell specialization from a field of observational science to a quantitative experimental discipline." They also "explained the basis of bone-marrow transplantation, a procedure that prolongs the lives of people with leukemia and other blood cell-cancers."

While happy to be so honoured, McCulloch wished it had happened "10 to 15 years ago" when his health was better and his legs were stronger, "so that I could really enjoy it."

Till speculated that controversy around "just about everything to do with stem cells — stem-cell science, stem-cell ethics, stem-cell politics — the whole bit" might have been a factor in the delayed recognition of their work.
Maybe one day when the W junta has been overthrown, Americans will be able to benefit fully from the fruits of their discovery.

You can read about the Lasker Awards here.

immigration equality

Immigration Equality, a US grass roots organization, fights for families torn apart by discriminatory immigration laws. A US citizen cannot sponsor her partner for a green card, no matter how long they've been together, how many children they have, or whether they were married in Massachusetts or abroad.

Immigration Equality also focuses on winning asylum for LGBT refugees fleeing sexual orientation and gender identity-based persecution, and fighting for an end to the immigration discrimination against people with HIV.

A friend from the Haven Coalition has just been named the group's first Executive Director. She's a great activist and an outstanding person. Immigration Equality is lucky to have her on board.

Some wmtc readers might find this information useful for their own lives. Lots of info here.

9.17.2005

on my doorstep

Last week I was thinking I should get home delivery of the Globe And Mail. I really like the paper, and much of the online version is only available with a subscription. I miss reading an actual paper, and home delivery seems like the way to go, here in suburbia.

No sooner did I have this thought than, on my way out of Loblaw's, a man stopped me: he was hawking home delivery of the Globe And Mail. I felt sorry for him - an older gentleman in a shabby jacket and tie, earnestly trying to interest busy shoppers. He was giving away $10 gift cards and free map books of the area as incentives. Having just bought a car, I thought a pocket-sized map book was a great treat. I'm sure I was his easiest sale all day.

Today, the first paper came to our doorstep.

I've blogged many times about my addiction to the Sunday New York Times, and how I thought I would miss it. Commenters have told me it's available in this area, but I'm not sure if I'll subscribe. In the weeks before we moved, I was too busy to even look at the paper, and I hardly missed it. That's partly because I already feel too swamped with too much to read, via the internet, and partly because I'm less interested in the Times's point of view.

So now I'll see if the Saturday Globe And Mail can inherit the place in my life that the Times used to own. (US readers: the "big" paper, with all the extra book, arts, sports and features, comes on Saturday here.)

what katrina revealed

Today's post brings us south of the border. Here are two emails I received about the Hurricane Katrina crisis. I thought they were worth sharing. I'll post the information and excise most of the donation pitch.

The first, from Wal-Mart Watch:
Dear Friend,

We've seen a new side of Wal-Mart in recent weeks. By being first on the scene in many of the places hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina, Wal-Mart and the Walton family have shown how the private sector can and should respond - with haste and generosity. Working closely with federal, state and local authorities, Wal-Mart's fleet of trucks, temporary stores and ruthlessly efficient distribution network has, no doubt, helped saved lives.

We applaud Wal-Mart's employees, the Walton family, and CEO Lee Scott for their generosity. We also take pride in knowing that our campaign to hold Wal-Mart accountable for their business practices has, in part, spurred their hasty and generous response.

But because generosity in time of crisis isn't enough, our campaign must continue.

Sam Walton once pronounced at a Wal-Mart rally that "high expectations are the key to everything." We agree. So today, we're proud to reiterate that call by announcing our plans for a nationwide "Higher Expectations Week" November 13-19.

Sign up to host a house party screening of Robert Greenwald's new documentary "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices" here. [I'm not including the sign-up link, but I did want to announce Greenwald's new film.]

The troubling displays of poverty and despair that have flooded newspapers and TV broadcasts in the wake of Katrina have reintroduced us all to America's forgotten class. While there are many other factors contributing to America's poverty epidemic, Wal-Mart's role cannot be understated.

Wal-Mart profits from and promotes poverty. As our nation's largest corporation and private employer, the standards they set (low wages, unaffordable health insurance, disregard for community and environment) accelerate a destructive race-to-the-bottom across all industries.

Wal-Mart Watch's "Higher Expectations Week" is the culmination of our campaign's first year. Today, we ask you to pledge your support of the week by signing up and introducing your friends and family to our campaign. Invite friends and family to join in a series of events around the country, including: [For updates on the Wal-Mart campaign, what's been done to date, and how you can get involved: go here.]
The second email was from the National Resources Defense Council, my environmental group of choice.
Dear Friend,

Hurricane Katrina has been, first and foremost, a human disaster -- a seemingly endless tale of suffering marked by lives lost, communities dispersed and families torn asunder. Our hearts go out to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people who are now struggling to piece some semblance of their lives back together.

NRDC is doing all that we can -- as I'm sure you are -- to aid the ongoing relief effort in the Gulf states. We're also contributing our special expertise on oil spills, toxic pollution and drinking water in order to help meet the immediate challenges.

As the flood waters begin receding, Americans are also beginning to gain some much-needed perspective on our fragile place in the natural world. Few events in our lifetime have revealed so dramatically the deep interconnectedness between people and nature.

As an environmental organization, NRDC has a profound obligation to ensure that the environmental lessons of this disaster are not only learned, but that they are heard loud and clear in our nation's capital. Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than human lives and homes. She also blew away a decade's worth of denial about major environmental problems that confront America.

Katrina destroyed the fantasy that we can blithely go on increasing our dangerous dependence on oil -- whether imported or domestic. Our oil-addicted economy is just too vulnerable to supply disruptions, as anyone who filled up their gas tank last week discovered. The solution is NOT to drill and destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- or our beautiful coastlines -- as many in Congress are now suggesting. Drilling in the Arctic would not have any impact on gas prices until 2025, and even then it would only reduce prices at the pump by a trivial 1.5 cents per gallon. Our nation simply does not have enough oil reserves to affect world oil prices. The only way out of this mess is to reduce our appetite for oil by improving the fuel economy of our vehicles (which consume 40 percent of our oil) and by relying on smarter, cleaner and renewable ways to power our economy.

Katrina also exposed the fiction that we can dredge, bulldoze and fill millions of acres of coastal wetlands without paying a price. Wetland ecosystems are Mother Nature's perfect buffer against catastrophic storm surges. Destroy that buffer and you destroy the last line of defense, not only for New Orleans but for a host of other American cities. In this case, as in so many others, what's good for the wildlife of coastal America is also indispensable to its people. We are part of nature.

Katrina demolished the pretense that we needn't reckon with global warming. While no single hurricane can be directly linked to global warming, climate scientists agree that we are entering an epoch of warming oceans, rising sea levels and much more intense storms. We know full well what kind of pollution controls are required to reverse this trend. If we don't act, Katrina will be our future. You can't say she didn't warn us.

Finally, Katrina tore the lid off one of our nation's most shameful truths: that petrochemical plants, toxic waste sites, oil refineries and other industrial threats to human health are most often sited next to low-income minority communities. The rest of America regularly averts its eyes from this injustice. But with the poorest neighborhoods of New Orleans drowning in a hazardous sea of fuel, sewage and chemicals, it's hard not to notice just which of our citizens are paying the ultimate price.

Oil addiction. Wetland destruction. Global warming. Environmental injustice. You're well aware that NRDC has been working for years to awaken America to these terrible problems and to champion urgently needed solutions. But Katrina has changed everything. The public is finally paying attention. And officials in Washington are looking to respond.

Our challenge is making sure our leaders take away the right lessons from this disaster and respond with real solutions, not with the old ways of thinking or business-as-usual giveaways to well-connected industries.

It won't be easy. The Bush Administration and Congressional leaders have spent the last four years digging us ever deeper into a hole of oil dependence, wetland destruction, global warming pollution and environmental injustice. It's unspeakably tragic that it took a deadly hurricane to expose this gaping crater.

There's an old proverb that says, "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." Getting our leaders to stop digging will be a tall order. But with more hurricanes sure to follow in Katrina's wake, we have no choice but to dedicate ourselves to the task at hand. As always, NRDC will be counting on your commitment, your support and your activism at every step of the way.
That's all for now. I had an awful night (food poisoning?) and I'm going to sit in my backyard with a cup of tea. These are my favorite words right now: my backyard.

9.16.2005

do this right now

Go to Google, type in "failure," and hit "I'm feeling lucky". Go! Enjoy!

Many thanks to Kyle_From_Ottawa.

question

We keep hearing about people going "up to the cottages". Qu'est que c'est?

sharia again

Star columnist Rosie DiManno has a terrific column about sharia law, the McGuinty decision and Canadian identity.
The time has come for Canadians to be weaned off the teat of multiculturalism as a primary source of sustenance and self-identity.

Surely, in the 21st century, we are more than the sum total of our diverse parts and hyphenated definitions.

What once bound us together in a less self-assured era - the appealing dynamics of ethnic and cultural distinctions undiluted by melting pot nationalism - served its purpose well for several decades, since first advocated as a cementing ideology by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

But somewhere along the line, perhaps when human rights tribunals and clumsily codified diversity legislation began to illogically skew the social balance, asserting minority rights over majority concepts, the whole thing began to unravel.
DiManno goes on to say that the decision is not racist, anlabelingng opposition to the use of sharia "Islamophobic" is missing the point. (But she says it much better than that. Please read.) She closes with this:
There is nothing to prevent Muslim women, or people of any faith, to continue seeking mediation from religious authorities. Surely, it is well within the purview of such authorities to give counsel and advice to the faithful. The spiritual and the moral remain realms of temporal consultation. But this province couldn't put its faith in the fallback protections afforded by civil courts, which would still have maintained the right to overrule decisions rendered under sharia law, had the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice been successful in seeking state sanction for Islamic tribunals.

The most vulnerable individuals - women accustomed to patriarchal dictates and their children - would likely find it extremely difficult to assert their civil rights, particularly if they are new to this country, unfamiliar with our legal system, and living within an ethnic cocoon, as is the case for many recent immigrants. This might seem, as proponents of sharia law (including some Muslim women) claim, an intrinsically paternalistic view, as if Muslim women are incapable of grasping their own circumstances and require the apparatus of the state to defend them. But the reality is that, for so many women, especially immigrant women who lead insular lives, they do not share, are often not permitted to share, in the values and rights so vital to our society.

I saw this a generation ago in the constituency I know best - Catholic women in Italian families, allowed precious little choice by the domineering, if however well-intentioned, men in their lives.

Islam may be the answer for more than a billion people on this Earth and I in no way wish to diminish the richness of a majestic faith that expresses itself in every facet of a person's daily life. It is, or thus it seems to me, a religion of surrendering to intensely codified conduct. Perhaps this is what makes it so attractive and why it is the world's fastest growing faith. It's not my place to judge.

But there are applications of that faith, as determined by sharia law, that have no formalized place in Canadian society.

That much we do have the collective right to judge, without being called racist.
Good stuff, I think. Read more here.

friends and neighbours

Here's something ALPF brought to my attention. (Just like old times, eh?) In an annual Harris poll, Americans were asked how they feel about a list of countries. The scale ranges from "close ally" at one end to "unfriendly and is an enemy" at the other.
In this year's survey, Great Britain, Canada and Australia continue to lead the list as the countries perceived to be our closest allies, followed by Israel and Japan. . . .

Great Britain still holds a very special place among U.S. adults as almost three-quarters (74%) think of them as a close ally. Canada (48%), Australia (44%) and Israel (41%) receive high marks but they are quite distant from those received by Great Britain.
In 1997, 73% of Americans surveyed felt Canada was a close ally. This year that number was down to 48%. I can only think this is the result of war propaganda.

I remember when we had our fingerprints taken for the FBI check for our Permanent Resident application. We went to a local police precinct. When we said we needed the fingerprints for emigration to Canada, the officer helping us said, "Canada? They didn't help us in the war, you know." He said it in a cautionary tone, like, are you sure you want to go there...?
Germany and France, countries that for many years had been among the United States' closest allies have now slipped in the eyes of U.S. adults. France, the country which was most outspoken in its opposition to the Iraq war, slipped from eighth place in 2002 to 17th place last year and has improved slightly to 16th place this year. Fully 41 percent of U.S. adults think of France as less than friendly.

Germany, which was almost as strong in its criticism of the United States and the war in Iraq, fell from sixth in 2002 but has returned to a more respectable 10th place this year though a quarter (24%) of U.S. adults still think of it as less than friendly.

The countries which the largest number of people see as "not friendly" or worse are China (53%), Pakistan (53%), France (41%) and Colombia (41%).
The Coalition of the Bribed and Stupid would also explain the jump in favorable opinion of the UK, and of course, the drop in Americans' opinion of France.

I think what the survey shows is the way in which the mainstream media is presenting images of these countries - the relative favorable or unfavorable light they're portrayed in. Most Americans don't know anything substantial about any of these places.

Survey results here.

9.15.2005

back up

Cable has been out all afternoon and early evening. I know, I know - welcome to Toronto. I hope I don't regret using VOIP here.

No cable or internet is bad for blogging and commenting, but good for continuing to set up our home. We got so much done today! And now I have a few dozen comments to catch up on.

Still no word from any of my editors. Also good for blogging and setting up, but bad for income. No worries there. I'm enjoying this weather and the house entirely too much to work.

I gave Cody a bed on her landing, to help keep the carpet cleaner, and because she loves this style bed. What a good mommy I am.

cody on the landing2 001

cody on the landing2 002

identity

After my recent post about the banning of religious tribunals in Ontario, a great discussion about the pros and cons of the decision ensued. The discussion morphed into one about Canada's national identity - whether such a thing exists, and if so, what it is.

This is a big topic about which there is no definitive answer, but here are some random thoughts.

First, what do we mean by national identity? Is it a shared history? A shared culture? The first thing people think of when they think of the country? A collection of myths? What the country has contributed to the world?

Kyle_From_Ottawa offered Wikipedia's definition, and answered the question this way. Rob, wmtc's Resident Conservative, believes Canadians don't have a national identity.

The historian Gerald Early has said the United States' three great contributions to the world are baseball, jazz and the Constitution. I really like that. But does this constitute the US's national identity? I don't think so.

If national identity is a set of recognizable traits - a kind of free-association, the first thing that comes to mind - then the answer will always depend on who you ask. If you ask most Americans about a country other than their own, you're going to hear some ridiculous reductionism, because they know very little about the world around them. Even if you ask an American about the US, you're going to hear widely different answers, probably based on the person's politics.

Ask an American the first thing they think of when they hear the word "Germany" and they'll undoubtedly say Hitler or Nazis. They won't say Goethe or Beethoven or beer gardens or the Autobahn.

What would happen if you say the word "Israel"? Think of the words you'd hear depending on who you ask. This is why national identity can't be equated with a "most recognizable" list.

In our discussion, Rob also mentioned history, which (I believe) he feels Canada lacks, or perhaps Canadians lacks a proper understanding of their own history. (Rob, just correct me when I'm trampling on your ideas here.) I don't think history can be a good basis for deriving national identity - at least not for Americans, because Americans are so ahistorical. We are not taught much history, and what we are taught is only about the US, from a very skewed point of view.

My own knowledge of history has come from my own interests and obsessions - either with places (New York City, Ireland) or with people's movements (civil rights, American labor, women's) - or from writing research. As for what I was taught in school - and I went to a good school and was a decent student - squat.

Plus, Canada is a very young country. If identity is bound up in history, the country's relative youth must come into play.

So with all these caveats, and the general warning that I'm not sure what any of this means, here are my free-associations of the word Canada:
peaceful
universal health care
hockey
wide open space and lots of natural beauty (such as Rockies and beautiful seacoasts)
bilingual (in fact, most Americans have the impression Canada is more bilingual than it really is)
cultural diversity
very livable cities
maple leaf
maple syrup
beer
nice people who mind their own business
safe haven (underground railroad, Vietnam)
cold and snow (most Americans' first association, I'd bet)
and a bunch of famous Canadians who have become famous: Wayne Gretzsky, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, lots of comedians, Alex Trebek, Peter Jennings, Margaret Atwood, Bill Reid, Pierre Berton, lots of hockey players... This list could go on and on. There are dozens of websites dedicated to famous Canadians, and one might say that making lists of famous Canadians is part of the national identity.
Those are my thoughts, for what they're worth. I look forward to lots of comments.

cody on the landing

Cody always likes to lie in a spot that's well clear of human activity. She likes to be alone, one of the many reasons I know she is really a cat cleverly disguised as a dog. It took a week, but she has found her favorite spot in our new home. This is Cody On The Landing.

cody on the landing 005


cody on the landing 004


In a rare moment of generosity, the alpha dog shares a mat.

cody on the landing 001


cody on the landing 002

flora and fauna

Looks like we picked the wrong game to attend this week. The Sox took two out of three, but we saw the Jays thrash them silly. It was nice to see the Blue Jay fans wake up, though. The last time we visited Skydome/Rogers Centre, Tronno fans were very subdued, and Red Sox fans were making all the noise.

The GO train was great. It would be nice if they ran more frequently, I would certainly take the train more often if they did. But the trains are nice and the ride is fast. No one took our ticket! I've read that the GO train operates on an honour system, but seeing this in action was surprising. Do huge numbers of people ride for free? Which is the stronger Canadian value, frugality or honesty?

* * * *

Last week, on one of my early morning walks with Buster and Cody, Cody became suddenly alert, telling me there was an animal nearby. In the barely-dawn darkness, I saw a dark shape scurry across a neighbor's lawn. It was a humped, low to the ground, like a hedgehog or woodchuck. As we watched, another shape followed it - then another, and another. Cody wanted to jump out of her fur to chase them. When the whole family had run off, we resumed walking.

Five minutes later, I went to throw out some dog poop in a garbage can. A huge clanging started up from within, and the trash container - a big metal can - started rocking back and forth! We all three jumped back, and out of the can popped a raccoon. It was enormous. I didn't know raccoons grew that large. So that's who was running across the lawn. Neat.

Yesterday I held the dogs well back as a skunk ambled across our path. I don't think I'd ever seen one that close, unmistakable with the white stripe down its back and the white tip on the tail.

We also see geese and swans every morning, which is a beautiful treat, especially those elegant white birds.

Here's a question for you horticulturists out there. We have a tree in our backyard, huge trunk, very tall. Among the leaves, we can see round fruit about the color and size of a tennis ball. I can recognize many kinds of trees (early upbringing dies hard), but I don't know this one.

We found one of the fruits on the lawn, and I cut it open. (Shades of "The Blob"!) It has a huge pit and the inside is mushy, like an avocado. Whatever it is stained my fingers and will absolutely not come off. It's been three days, and that's a lot of showers and hand-washing, and both my thumbs and forefingers are still discoloured.

What is this?

9.14.2005

later again

One last trip to Buffalo this morning, so I'll post when we return. Til then, here's something to look at.

car 001

car 005
It's new!

car 003
And it's Canadian!

9.13.2005

progress report

Today is two weeks since wmtc-day. (Thanks to David Parsons for that name!) We've made tremendous progress.

After our day off on Saturday, we had a mammoth Ikea morning on Sunday before game time. (They serve breakfast! For a dollar!) Much to my surprise, we knocked off every major item on my list. The only things left are either little things that we'll pick up here and there - on the order of a paper-towel holder - or large decisions that I'm not tackling yet, like what to do about the living room windows. Now the house is filled with Ikea boxes, which will magically turn into furniture.

Yesterday we got our auto insurance, which was more expensive than we planned because one of us still has a speeding ticket on record. I'll let you guess who. But the ticket will be gone in six months, so our rates will go down. Today we pick up our new car (!!), and tomorrow we return the rental to the Buffalo airport once and for all. That's a huge item crossed off The List.

We may have finally found dog food that Buster can tolerate, and it's available at a vet's office a short drive away. This is good news for B's health, and for our lives. The white rice and boiled chicken diet isn't very nutritious, but it is more labor intensive than dog food. I look forward to having one less thing to plan.

In general, the to-do list that felt so overwhelming two weeks ago is on the verge of completion, and none of it was very difficult or odious to take care of.

My next book assignment is on the near horizon, but hasn't materialized yet. This might mean an even tighter deadline down the road, but for now, it's so much fun. The gorgeous weather has lulled us into a false sense of Endless Summer. Every morning I walk the dogs along the lakefront, and in the afternoon we have our tea in the backyard. We're in heaven.

Everyone - the bank teller, the insurance agent, the car salesman, the neighbors - wants to know why we are here. I could tell what the bank teller was asking, so I said, "It's for the reason you're thinking of." He said, "Good for you. I don't blame you." The manager he needed to co-sign something wished us congratulations and good luck. Everyone does.

Tonight we're going to the Red Sox-Blue Jays game, taking the GO train for the first time.

9.12.2005

sharia

This morning I see that Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario, is banning the Muslim religious court known as sharia. This ends months of debate about whether sharia would be legal and binding in Ontario.

I'm quoting at length from the story in today's Toronto Star because many US readers are likely not up on this.
In a surprise announcement that caught both supporters and opponents of sharia law off guard, Premier Dalton McGuinty says he will move quickly to ban all religious arbitration in the province.

McGuinty made the announcement in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press yesterday after months of debate and controversy surrounding use of Islamic sharia law in family arbitration.

"I've come to the conclusion that the debate has gone on long enough," the premier told the news agency.

"There will be no sharia law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians."

The announcement prompted tears of joy and cartwheels among opponents of sharia who say they suffered constant harassment, including verbal taunts, physical attacks and even death threats by fundamentalist Muslims because of their stance.

"I'm just thrilled! It validates what we've been saying. It's a big victory for separation of religion and state and a huge defeat for Islamic fundamentalism," said Tarek Fatah, of the Muslim Canadian Congress, adding the group feared McGuinty would allow sharia after receiving a report recommending it by former NDP attorney-general Marion Boyd.

"I want to congratulate the premier for taking such a bold and courageous decision. It restores my faith in politicians," said Fatah.

Boyd could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Proponents of sharia expressed shock and disappointment at what they call McGuinty's "flip-flop" on the issue, and the fact that he went against the recommendations of Boyd's report.

"He is misguided and will alienate many people of faith in this province," said Mohammed Elmasry, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

"He obviously caved in to political pressure from a minority with a loud voice. Not only will it cost him at the polls in the next election, the problem won't go away ... Arbitration will continue anyway, because it is part of our social fabric."

"If McGuinty is worried about women abuse," Elmasry said, "then recognizing and regulating arbitration is much better than the ad hoc procedure that is currently happening because, when you regulate it, there is transparency and accountability."

A representative from Ontario's Jewish community also expressed surprise at McGuinty's decision.

"We're stunned," said Joel Richler, Ontario region chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

"At the very least, we would have thought the government would have consulted with us before taking away what we've had for so many years."

Richler said the current system -- in place since 1992 -- has worked well and he saw no reason for it to be changed for either his or other religious communities.

. . .

"We're still in disbelief. But it's such good news. It's remarkable. We're very happy because it's been a difficult fight. We got a lot of flak from other Muslims who called us Islamaphobic," said Nuzhat Jafri, a spokeswoman for the group.

"It was way too complicated for the government to allow faith-based arbitration. Most faiths, whether we like it or not, are not fair to women because they are based on a patriarchal tradition."

Banning all religious arbitration is an "equitable move," Jafri added. "To single out Muslims would have been discriminatory."

Just hours before McGuinty's announcement, writer June Callwood, actress Shirley Douglas and other prominent Canadian women had, as a group, issued an open letter to him on behalf of the No Religious Arbitration Coalition.

Elated, Callwood and Douglas were full of praise for McGuinty.

"Wow, that's brilliant!" said Callwood. "So many women and a lot of men, too, felt this (sharia) was going to be a disaster. To do it in one big stroke is wonderful. It provides consistency."

McGuinty's decision "will be cheered around the world," said Callwood. Douglas was equally effusive. "It's terrific. Dalton McGuinty has made a move he will be proud of for a long time."

Expanding legal use of sharia would have been a "huge step backward for women ... being dictated to by men and elders of the (faith) ... this is a recipe for deep trouble for women in those communities ... why terrorize people with that kind of insecurity? I'm very pleased he's discontinuing the others as well. Religion has no place in law."

Under the 1991 Arbitration Act, sharia law is already legal in the province so long as both parties agree to its use and the arbitrators' decisions do not violate Canadian law. Aboriginal, Christian and Jewish tribunals have operating similarly under the act for the past 14 years.
Since I started wmtc, whenever US wingnuts want to bad-mouth my decision to move to Canada, they bring up sharia. Of course, these are the same people who claim I will be forced to speak French, and subject to arrest - via Gestapo-like middle-of-the-night raids - if I disparage the Queen. So it's not like I put much stock in what the Big Soccer crew has to say. But it's clear that Fox News has been feeding them lies about the compulsory use of sharia courts in Canada.

This is an interesting issue, since it brings into conflict two important principles: religious freedom vs. equal rights for women. For me the conflict is resolved with another basic tenet. In a pluralistic society, no subculture's customs can take precedent over the principles of the larger society, when it comes to individual rights.

Some years back, a judge in New York City acquitted an immigrant for attacking (and nearly killing) his wife with a hammer, because - said the judge - harsh discipline of women was acceptable in the man's original culture. Excuse me??? (There was a huge outcry, of course.)

All sorts of repugnant behavior has been excused by "cultural standards", the most egregious being slavery, and then Jim Crow, which white Southerners called "our way of life". So for me, it comes down to this: each of us is free to practice our religion, but if that religion makes someone else a second-class citizen, it should be curbed.

This is the principle invoked when parents of US Christian Scientists are forced to have their children treated by conventional medical doctors. Some see this as an unconstitutional curb on religious freedom. I see it as a defense of that child's individual rights. Practice your own religion as you see fit, but don't threaten someone else's well-being.

Religious courts are often used to curtail the rights of women. The rights of a girl born into a Canadian Muslim family have to be the same as the rights of one born into any other Canadian family.

One argument in favor of religious courts is that, under Canadian law, participation in sharia must be voluntary. This seems disingenuous. Voluntary for whom? If a woman is accused of some trespass against fundamentalist mores, is she given the right to not be judged by those standards?

Then there's the issue of the religious courts used by Orthodox Jews. If sharia is banned, those courts must also be illegal. And of course there's the fact that religious courts will still be used, whether or not they have legal binding status. That may be so, but it's not an argument to allow them.

I see this as a victory for basic equality. Your thoughts?

9.11.2005

diaspora

This is way off-topic for me, but I was so struck by this article, I had to share it.
Hurricane Katrina has produced a diaspora of historic proportions. Not since the Dust Bowl of the 1930's or the end of the Civil War in the 1860's have so many Americans been on the move from a single event. Federal officials who are guiding the evacuation say 400,000 to upwards of one million people have been displaced from ruined homes, mainly in the New Orleans metropolitan area.
Knowing something about the Dust Bowl, and about the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to northern industrial cities in the early part of the 20th Century, I find this fascinating. Hurricane Katrina - and the massive failure of the US government to serve and protect the country's cities - may result in a sea change in American culture.
Carrying the scraps of their lives in plastic trash bags, citizens of the drowned city of New Orleans landed in a strange new place a week ago and wondered where they were. The land was brown, and nearly everyone they saw was white.

"I'm still not sure where I am - what do they call this, the upper West or something?" said Shelvin Cooter, 30, one of 583 people relocated from New Orleans to a National Guard camp here on a sagebrush plateau south of Salt Lake City, 1,410 miles from home.

"We're getting shown a lot of love, but we're also getting a lot of stares like we're aliens or something," Mr. Cooter said. "Am I the only person out here with dreadlocks?"
No one can predict what other changes will result from this diaspora. We can only speculate and observe.

shadow

As G often reminds us, in Iraq, every day is 9/11. Surely there's something just a little bit ridiculous about September 11th being a kind of gruesome national icon, while people suffer on a massive scale in Darfur, and Rwanda, and Iraq, and . . .

Nevertheless, 9/11 is a day I lived through, and it remains a potent memory for me.

I'm using today's anniversary as an opportunity to plug an incredible work of art: Art Spiegelman's In The Shadow Of No Towers. I recommend it highly. If you're not inclined to buy a book like this, sit yourself down in your local bookstore and read a few pages.

Spiegelman, creator of the famous Maus graphic novels about the holocaust, lives near what is now Ground Zero; on September 11th, his daughter was in school only blocks away from the attacks. After 9/11, Spiegelman suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and creating comic panels about the experience helped him regain equilibrium. For a long time, it was the only work he could do. The panels were gathered into No Towers, which was released at this time last year.

In The Shadow Of No Towers perfectly conveys Spiegelman's fear and horror on 9/11, his paranoia and his own awareness of it, and his disgust and further fear of all the new horrors for which 9/11 would be used as an excuse. And, because it's by Art Spiegelman, it's funny, poignant and visually compelling. The graphics pay tribute to a panoply of comic book styles from the earliest days of newspapers. It's a masterpiece.

Here's the publisher's site about the book, a review in Salon with some sample graphics, and more about the genius of Art Spiegelman.

9.10.2005

nobody here but us chickens

See G for a laugh.

we buy a car

We bought a car!

I am 44 years old and this is the first car I've ever owned. I bet that sounds pretty bizarre; it certainly is unusual for an American. I learned to drive at the minimum age, but as a teenager I shared a car with my mom, then I went to college in Philadelphia, where having a car was a toy, not a necessity. Once I settled in New York, there was no reason to own a car. Keeping a car in New York City is either a great expense or a great headache, or both. We rented dozens of cars over the years, but daily life was lived on foot or on public transportation.

But now we're suburban folks, and I'm excited about having our own set of wheels.

We chose a Chevrolet Optra Wagon, a Canadian-only model, the GM equivalent of the Ford Focus. There was a 2005 available, we got a good price, and we went for it. We're hoping to get insured on Monday morning and "take delivery," as they say, on Monday afternoon.

Our friendly Car Dealer Guy and the Final Pricing Guy were both very interested in why we (Americans) are here (in Canada). They asked enough questions that we got into the actual reasons, not my shorthand "we like Canada better than the US" answer. Once again, I see how much more mainstream our views are here. I suppose I'll be seeing this over and over, and I don't think I'll ever tire of it - considering it's the bottom-line justification of why we moved.

Interestingly, both men asked us about Fahrenheit 9/11. In the US media, the words "Michael Moore" are a buzzword for a ranting extremist. At a Chevy dealership in Mississauga, he's a man who made an eye-opening movie.

* * * *

We're taking the day off today, a much-needed breather from shopping and setting up and figuring things out. I know we both want to catch up on our blog-reading in the morning, then there's the very important baseball game in the afternoon, and the music festival in Port Credit to check out at night.

9.09.2005

more advice

People email me all the time about emigration. About a year ago, I tried to gather together some advice. At that point in our process, most of what I had to offer could be summarized in two sentences: fill out forms carefully, and be patient. Now that we're here, my advice can be more concrete.

Here are some pointers I can pass along about the move itself.

1. Save more money. Calculate the amount of money you think you're going to need, double it, and make that your new goal. Even if you don't reach it, you'll be better off for having tried. Moving is always full of unexpected expenses, and with a move of this magnitude, the expenses increase accordingly.

2. Bring a big wad of cash with you. While you can withdraw Canadian currency using your US ATM card, getting the contents of your US bank account transferred to a Canadian bank account is not simple and doesn't happen instantly. We didn't do this and I wish we had. It wasn't awful to fix, but it created a few more steps, and no one needs more work at this time.

3. Apply for an Social Insurance Number right away. You can print and fill out the form in advance, then take your passport and your confirmation of landing to a local Human Resource Centre. It isn't hard to do, and you'll want to get that number as soon as possible. Unless you're self-employed or have guaranteed employment, you'll need this number in order to work.

4. You don't need an SIN to open a bank account.

5. After emigrating, you will have no credit. Zero. No matter what you've done in the US, your credit history is wiped clean and you'll be starting all over. Keep this in mind if you're thinking of applying for a mortgage, car loan, or anything like that. Your US credit record is not accessible to Canadian banks and businesses, although you can get a copy of your credit record before you leave. As soon as you have your SIN, you can apply for a Canadian credit card to begin amassing a fledgling credit history.

6. Before you leave, get a copy of your driving record. For US citizens, this is called an "abstract", and you get it from your state's Department of Motor Vehicles. You'll need it to get auto insurance, but Canadian insurance companies cannot access it. I would have missed this entirely, but for a helpful Canadian insurance agent who I was emailing with before we left. We ended up at Motor Vehicles on our last day in New York. Put this on your advance things-to-do list.

7. You'll have to clear customs at the border. Make a list of everything you're bringing with you, assign an approximate (Canadian) dollar value to each item, and total it. You don't have to itemize every single thing, but everything must be accounted for - for example, "clothing," "stereo equipment," "living room furniture". The list should be divided into two sections: what you're physically bringing with you, and what is arriving at a later date. Print out two copies and have it with your passport and other documents when you arrive.

We were fortunate to find out about this and do it in advance. While I was breezing through customs, I saw a woman struggling to fill out the form while her three little kids squirmed and squabbled. I felt so sorry for her - and it wasn't her fault, this information is not easily found.

8. Which brings me to my last point. On that wonderful day when you receive your acceptance notice - "Your processing for Permanent Residence in Canada is complete..." - the envelope will include a little green postcard. On the postcard is a website: Direction Canada. This is the place to go - it's full of essential information for your move. However, it's just a postcard thrown in your envelope. Your papers don't say, "Visit this website for essential information." There's no checklist or list of "what you should know before your move". Bookmark this site and read, read, read.

That's it for now. To Nick and Mason, Daniel and Alan, the woman in Virginia who is studying French, the witchy couple in California, and all the good people who've emailed me about their hopes and plans, I wish you all the best of luck. I wish you the kind of landing we're having.