chuck close, rest in peace

The artist Chuck Close died last week at the age of 81. He was an incredibly talented artist, a progressive thinker, and a diehard New Yorker who was often seen around town, especially in museums and galleries.

I had the good fortune to interview Close at his studio in 1998. I saw a few paintings in progress, and had a glass of wine with him. The interview was for a cover story for New Mobility magazine, and at that point, a highlight of my writing career.

My interview with Close is notable, in my mind, for a foolish gaffe I made in the published story. Close said something off the record, then talked for a very long time, and I assumed the off-record part was very brief -- turns out it was the whole long story. 

He was gracious about it towards me, but furious at the magazine who allowed the story to run without checking with him first. The online edition was edited, but in 1998, print was still ascendant in the magazine world. 

The quote caused Close no small embarrassment, and of course I was embarrassed, too. But I was also secretly pleased that I was able to include an unvarnished truth that the subject preferred withheld. 

If you're interested, here's the story. 

goodbye charlie watts

Charlie Watts was the greatest rock and roll drummer of all time. He's the reason the Stones' music has so much swing, why it skips and chugs and rolls and flies, where so much rock merely clumps and plods. His playing was always described as propulsive.  

And of course Charlie was known for his deadpan style, his bemused, unflappable demeanour. He always talked about hating touring, but loving playing with the band, the central, unresolvable dilemma of his life. I love how he always mentioned his fascination with jazz.

Everyone jokes about how Keith Richards will outlive us all. But one by one, the original members of the Rolling Stones will die, and I will be gutted, every time.


portland street art

Our pics of murals, other street art, and food carts in Portland's Alberta Arts District are now online. The photos themselves are nothing special, but the murals are very cool: here on Flickr.

I also added a link to the photos in the post about our day in Portland.

what i'm reading: you could look it up: the reference shelf from ancient babylon to wikipedia

This must be the book-nerd-iest post ever, and unless books are your profession, possibly the biggest book geek-out you'll ever read. And I'm proud to bring it to you.

You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf from Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia, by Jack Lynch, is a joy to read, endlessly fascinating, and for aficionados of books or history, extremely entertaining. 

YCLIU is organized in short chapters, each highlighting two related, contrasted, works of reference. Between the small chapters are even shorter half-chapters on relevant, often amusing topics. 

The organization may seem a bit complicated, but it works wonderfully in the reader's favour. The author, no doubt, knows a lot more about each book he has highlighted, and I imagine could easily overwhelm us with information. Instead, he crafts a concise and lively summary, highlighting whatever is most unusual and interesting about that particular book. 

Some of the creators became household names, synonymous with their work: Roget, Webster, Hoyle, Post. Others dominate within professions: Gray's, Black's, Merck. (The card catalogue belongs in this category, and true to librarianship values, it was never branded.) There are collections of medieval medical knowledge, catalogues of sciences of the ancient world, maps of the stars, maps of the world. There are several dictionaries and encyclopedias, which take multiple forms, without even widespread agreement on the differences between the two. From the (marvelous) introduction:

You Could Look It Up does not pretend to be comprehensive, touching on all the world's important reference works -- no book could do that. Instead, it contains accounts of fifty great works I find interesting, maybe because they are the first of their kind, maybe the biggest, or the most learned, or the most controversial, or the most influential, or maybe just the most eccentric or quixotic.  . . .  In my pairings I choose two more or less contemporary works on related subjects and set them in their historical context. . . . Tucked between the chapters are shorter interludes that introduce stories that would otherwise go untold in a strictly linear history. In telling fifty little stories, I hope one big story emerges, as well as histories of some of the major reference genres -- dictionary, encyclopedia, atlas, and so on. 

The topical half-chapters are particularly fun. These include information overload (first recorded between 450 and 200 B.C.E.), plagiarism, bookshelf organization, famous errors and omissions, sexism, unfinished or lost projects, a list of some quirky and strange reference books -- and many more. The half-chapters, each only two or three pages, make addictive reading; the breadth of human knowledge represented is astounding.

For a topic that may seem so specific, this book will have great appeal for people who, like me, love to learn bits about everything -- and anyone who loves language. Each short chapter reveals the book itself, and the social context of its creation. Why was this book needed? What problem was the creator trying to resolve, and to what extent did they succeed? How does the work reflect the values of its era? How did it advance progress -- or prevent it? How did the work change lives, and whose lives did it change -- scholars, merchants, professionals, ordinary people? 

The creation of each work (they're not all books, strictly speaking) is often the most interesting part of the story. Lynch, an English professor at Rutgers University, has an uncanny ability to highlight details that make what could be a dry synopsis entertaining and often amusing. It's difficult to choose from the dozens of examples that I tagged, but here are a few.

From a chapter about logarithmic tables -- the forerunner of the slide rule, itself the forerunner of the pocket calculator, now made redundant by personal computers and smartphones.

At the end of the eighteenth century, the French engineer Gaspard Clair Francois Marie Riche de Prony oversaw one such workshop. Inspired by Adam Smith's recently published Treatise on the Wealth of Nations (1776), he assembled a team of some sixty unemployed hairdressers to carry out his instructions. (In the wake of the French Revolution there was less call for high-end hairdressers, not least because, thanks to Citizen Joseph-Ignace Guillotin's eponymous invention, fewer aristocratic heads needed dressing.)
From a chapter about catalogues of erotic writing.

To twenty-first-century sensibilities, seventeenth-century pornography does not seem very pornographic. Aristotle's Master-Piece sometimes reads more like a sermon than a sex guide. . . . Once the book gets going, though, there is little doubt that it should be categorized as what Jean-Jacques Rousseau called a "livre √† lire d'une seule main," a book to be read with one hand. 

From a chapter about two massive dictionaries, the creators of each taking different approaches to their task.

The next editor, though, was a winner: a forty-two-year-old Scot named James Murray. (Later he would pick up a knighthood and a pair of middle initials, becoming Sir James. A. H. Murray, but the initials do not seem to stand for anything.)

In this chapter, Lynch describes two different methods of defining words: splitters and lumpers. He calls Murray of Pompous Initials a "card-carrying splitter". 

People who created reference works tend towards the obsessives. In the same chapter as Sir James of the Nonsense Initials, there is the story of William Dodd. Dodd's obsession with compiling quotes from Shakespeare cost him his life.

Dodd hoped his Beauties would not merely entertain his readers but would edify them as well -- from Shakespeare, readers would learn valuable lessons of morality. But he should have paid more attention to a passage he included under "A Father's Advice to his Son, going to travel," in which Polonius advised Laertes against being a borrower or a lender. In 1777, Dodd found himself in debt, and he forged Lord Chesterfield's name on a bond worth £4,200 -- this at a time when a middle-class family could live comfortably on less than £100 a year. When the forgery was discovered, he was sentenced to death by handing. Samuel Johnson pleaded for mercy, and more than twenty thousand people joined in signing a petition begging the crown to commute the sentence. It was in vain. Dodd was hanged at Tyburn in 1777, after prompting one of Johnson's more memorable quotations: "Depend upon it, Sir," he said, "when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

* * * *

Lynch demonstrates how reference works reveal cultural attitudes, beliefs, and biases. I was familiar with some examples -- such as the Index, the notorious work of the Catholic Church, and the DSM, which infamously defined much of human sexuality as pathology -- but most were new to me. About Hobson-Jobson, the English-language dictionary of colonial India, Lynch says "the book ends up being a social history despite itself." He attests to the book's racism -- and makes no excuses or justifications for this -- but also reveals how under the often offensive exterior, the book documents a historic cultural shift, evidenced by language.

Lynch makes a very strong case for the reference book as foundational to human progress. At various times, the creation of a new reference work helped form revolutionary thought, created a national identity, enabled science and modern medicine to progress, or enabled ordinary people to educate themselves. 

I loved the author's passion for his subject, and his true scholar's openness to learning across all cultures and time periods. Lynch prizes all collectors of knowledge no matter what the source. This quality should be universal, but of course it is not, and it's a pleasure to come across. He also doesn't fear change. He fully embraces the digital era, acknowledging both its wonders and its pitfalls.

Lynch's writing is so lively and animated, that if you have an interest in the books, in language, and in a sweeping world history, you are very likely to enjoy this. The way it's organized makes it an ideal book to read in portions, perhaps between novels -- although I would recommend reading it in the order written.

In short, if you're a book geek, this book is so much fun.

* * * *

Only now will I share that I didn't like YCLIU when I first picked it up. I thought the organization of the book was too precious, even silly. I read a few pages, and let it go. 

But that just seemed ridiculous. I love reference books! And I'm a librarian! Not that most librarians do much reference anymore -- I certainly don't -- but still, knowing where and how to search for information a core part of my profession. How could I not want to read this book??

I gave it another chance, and...  I loved it. What's more, the organization is genius. 

* * * *

I have always loved reference books. 

As a child, if I had a school assignment that sent me to an encyclopedia, I would get lost flipping through the book and reading random entries. The same for a dictionary! I'd look up one word, I'd start skimming dozens of definitions. But now, even with a print dictionary and multiple thesauri within reach on my desk, I will quickly google a word to confirm its meaning, thus missing the opportunity to browse. And this from someone who loves print reference. I am rarely nostalgic, but this seems sad.

I can still lose myself in a paper map or atlas, looking at place-names and thinking about their origin. When I was a child, my native New York State always seemed so interesting that way, its place-names revealing layers of history: English, Dutch, and Native American. 

My personal reference shelf includes two treasured books that were (two separate) birthday gifts from my mother: a hardcover thesaurus, The New Roget's Thesaurus in Dictionary Form, and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th Edition. These were incredibly meaningful gifts. We didn't own many books, and even fewer hardcovers. My mother was affirming my writerly self. 

Many years later, I was excited to add a copy of the AP Stylebook to my reference shelf; it was a milestone in my writing life.

Through a lengthy email friendship, I ended up with an The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and a copy of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Pre-internet, Allan and I would look things up in Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide and The Rolling Stone Record Guide (neither of which we own anymore). 

And of course, there is The Baseball Encyclopedia, foundational in our home.

Here are reference books we own.

These are in my office, in easy reach, although I rarely reach for them anymore.

These live on our shared shelves.

Just the one on the left.

Despite Google Maps, we still use this frequently.

I haven't opened these in eons, but I hang onto them.

Ditto, although with less feeling attached.

These are books I contributed to and helped create.
I also contributed to a children's world encyclopedia.

These are a sample of the reference books on Allan's shelves.


a childhood book and a dream for humanity: in henry's backyard (1948)

When I was a child, my family had a book called In Henry's Backyard. My siblings and I read it repeatedly. The book tells the story of a man who learns that all the "races of man" are equal.

Over many years and decades, my brother has mentioned this book, an artifact from our youth. With the advent of the internet, I was able to suggest a few sites where he might be able to find a copy of In Henry's Backyard. And he did.

During our recent vacation, hanging out on the deck of my brother and sister-in-law's home, my brother mentioned the book, and I was excited to hold it in my hands, a piece of my personal history.

Seeing the cover was transporting! By today's standards, the illustrations are racist caricatures, and the concepts are all drawn from stereotypes. But in the context of its time, this book was decidedly anti-racist

In Henry's Backyard disputes claims of racial superiority. Its claims: physical differences between humans are superficial; humans of all colours have equal potential; humans of all colours may be good or bad, smart or stupid, kind or unkind.

Here's the inside blurb of In Henry's Backyard.

As my brother read a random page aloud, I suddenly remembered a line from the book. One portion refutes the idea that brain size is somehow linked to intelligence, a concept that was in vogue at the time. I called out, Wait wait wait . . . and the biggest brain belonged to an imbecile! Long-term memory, eh?

As I paged through the front matter, I was even more amazed to see this.

Imagine my surprise -- and my pride -- at discovering that In Henry's Backyard this book was born of the labour movement! The UAW! Walter Reuther! My heart swells thinking of it.

* * * *

I was recently involved in a discussion about the book Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George. (George also wrote one of my favourite childhood books, My Side of the Mountain, which I mentioned here, in a post about the book Hatchet.) In Julie of the Wolves, Inuk people are referred to as Eskimos, now an antiquated and derogatory term.

A colleague suggested this book doesn't belong on our shelves. And they were right. Children don't need to read Julie of the Wolves; there are far more modern and relevant books that cover the same ground. 

But I felt the need to put Julie in context. The intent of the book was not racist. George was using the terminology of the time. We might also point out that George was white, and was telling an Inuit story. It would be better for Inuk to tell their own stories. True enough. But in 1972, telling a positive story about an Inuit person and about wolves was itself progressive.

Similarly, I would never suggest that In Henry's Backyard should be reprinted, and it certainly doesn't belong on library shelves today. But it shouldn't be dismissed as offensive or hidden as an embarrassment. In the context of its time, it was light-years ahead. As my brother said, "It makes a point that is yet to be embraced."

who else turned 60 this year: celebrating the bc ndp

The great Tommy Douglas
was an MP for a BC riding in the 1960s.
I recently learned that the BC NDP -- the party I vote for, the party that currently leads the provincial government -- is 60 years old this year. 

There's a website showing highlights of the party's accomplishments. It's impressive, and it explains why I vote for them. 

In a sense, it explains why I moved to Canada: the fact that there's a viable party I can feel good about voting for, a party that shares my values. That means my politics are not freakish or extreme in Canadian culture. It means I belong here, more than I ever did in the US. 

Right now, both my MP (federal) and my MLA (as provincial representatives are called here) are both NDP: Rachel Blaney and Michele Babchuk (who was elected after long-serving Claire Trevena retired). They are both outstanding representatives. I met Rachel Blaney when Port Hardy held its first-ever Pride event; she came all the way up to Port Hardy to join in. 

* * * *

Many leftists are angry at the BC NDP for its support of the logging industry -- for allowing more forest to be logged. Now that I live in a "resource town," as it is called here, I see why this is. It's one thing to hear vaguely about the economic impacts of the failing logging, mining and fishing industries. It's quite another thing to see people struggle for survival in an area almost completely dependent on extraction. Or, as is often the case, struggle to remain in the middle class -- to have enough stability to pay a mortgage, keep the kids playing sports. In other words, the same concerns as millions of other families. 

This doesn't mean I want to see all the old-growth forests felled and all the oceans overfished. It means I understand the political struggle in a different way.

In BC, no party is going to form the government campaigning on shutting down the logging industry. If the BC NDP were too vocal about curtailing logging, it wouldn't win an election. And if the NDP doesn't win the election, it won't be able to do all the good things: support and expand child care, build affordable housing, expand health care, fund education.

And if the NDP isn't elected, not only won't we have a government doing good for all people, we would be suffering from all the very bad things the Conservatives or Liberals would most assuredly do. We'd suffer through corporate tax cuts and an austerity agenda. 

So the BC NDP walks a fine line. Logging families think the government is weak and gives in to the tree-huggers. Lefties and environmentalists think the party sells out by allowing too much logging. 

A brief history of the BC NDP

Perhaps this is what caused Rachel Notley's government to implode in Alberta. I don't know. (I'm sure someone will be along to tell us!) But when Canada's most right-wing province elected an NDP government, I knew that government would support the expansion of the tar sands. It could not be otherwise.

This doesn't speak to the faults of the NDP: it speaks to the reality and the limitations of electoral politics. 

It's also why the path to creating change must begin outside electoral politics, in the grassroots -- educating ourselves and others, gathering support, creating campaigns, applying political pressure. 

And it's why any win for the grassroots will always be partial -- will always be, on some level, a disappointment. But that doesn't mean it won't be significant and have a very positive impact on people's lives. 

* * * *

Here's something else I've heard from nominally progressive Canadians: the Liberal Party, historically, is responsible for everything that's good about Canada -- that all positive change in Canadian society has come under Liberal governments. While perhaps this is technically true -- since the NDP has never formed a federal government -- it's a false narrative. Would the Liberals have done anything progressive without pressure from the left? Without knowing that they might lose left-leaning, "liberal" (in the American sense of the word) voters? 

Here's a snip from a story in Canadian Dimension about the birth of universal health insurance in Canada. (Emphasis mine.) We know that the movement to universal health insurance began under the CCF, which later became the NDP. The NDP weren't in government, but their presence exerted the necessary political pressure on both the Liberals and Conservatives.

By 1964 the pro-Medicare forces in the country were riding the crest of public opinion during a period when the political culture was moving to the left. The political alignment of national parties saw six years of minority governments over three elections between 1962 and 1968, and this favoured those political forces attempting to move the country in a more progressive direction. The NDP was growing and this strengthened left Liberals who argued that their party must protect their left flank. This in turn encouraged the red Tories within the Progressive Conservatives, who argued that the party must move left to remain electorally competitive. All of this was occurring during a minority situation when an election might occur at any time and no party wanted to be caught on the wrong side of a popular issue like public Medicare.

It took fierce struggles within both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parliamentary parties, but in the end the party whips forced the right wing into submission. The National Medical Care Insurance Act was passed in the House of Commons on December 8, 1966, by an overwhelming vote of 177 to 2. The starting date was July 1, 1968, and the Act provided that the federal government would pay about half of Medicare costs in any province with insurance plans that met the criteria of being universal, publicly administered, portable and comprehensive. By 1971 all provinces had established plans which met the criteria.

* * * *

Speaking of healthcare, when I moved to BC, I was surprised to learn that residents of this province paid monthly premiums. In Ontario, the cost of health insurance is calculated in provincial taxes, according to income. (Ours was about $1,200 per year for two people.) In BC, residents would pay monthly, also on an income-based scale. 

For the past decade, under Liberal governments, those costs had been rising steadily. In 2015, the maximum premium was $864 annually per person, or $1,728 per family. By 2018, the individual premium was $125 per month or $1,500 annually, and the annual family premium was $3,000. If you have good employment with benefits, that monthly premium may be covered by your employer. But obviously that's a condition that many people don't meet.

The BC NDP promised that, if elected, they would eliminate these fees. The Liberals trotted out charts and graphs supposedly proving that without these fees, the Province would go bankrupt. 

The NDP was elected, and it kept its promise: the monthly premiums were eliminated in January 2020. No services have been cut. Services continue to expand. 

Why wouldn't I vote for the party that does that?

* * * *

I hope many of you have seen this video of Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, then a Member of Parliament, speaking about her experience in the House of Commons, after deciding not to stand for re-election. It's a powerful speech, shared widely on social media. I hope you will watch it or re-watch it. 

Mumilaaq also explains why she stands with the NDP; she also specifically mentions my MP, Rachel Blaney.


using mailchimp for subscribe-by-email is no longer working (updated: it is working?!)

If you subscribed to this blog through the widget on the sidebar, that service is no longer working. Mailchimp's free option has a cap on sends -- not only how many email addresses you can send at a time (which I knew) but how many you can send, cumulatively** (which I didn't know). 

Even the lowest paid Mailchimp option is more than I need. And since reading this blog is free, writing it should be free, too. 

I am still receiving emails for blogs I subscribe to, but I don't know how long that will last. Perhaps Blogger hasn't gotten around to completely killing Feedburner yet.

So... anyone who wants to read this blog will have to figure out how to continue without the email alerts. This makes me sad, but I also don't want to fuss with it anymore.

* * * *

** It appears the service is working! Perhaps the cap on sends is monthly, and by blogging every day while we were traveling, I hit the limit. And now the monthly allowance begins again. 

In which case, I will put the "subscribe by email" widget back on the sidebar. And this gives me an opportunity to tweak that a bit.

Nothing to see here. Carry on.


friends and family reuinion road trip: day fourteen: portland to delta, in which we miss a crucial step

Step one: you must use an app

We left Portland and drove north uneventfully. As we approached the border, I remembered that we were supposed to use the "ArriveCAN" app to facilitate our return. We considered pulling over to use it, but didn't. Then the fun began.

The border agent checked our passports, then asked to see the information on the app. We told her we didn't have the app but had our vaccination cards.

Border Guard said she couldn't accept our cards -- that she couldn't even look at them.

Border Guard escalated her questions. In my experience on both sides of the border, when anything is a little off, you get a lot more questions. She asked the alcohol, tobacco, firearms question three separate times. She asked if we were bringing vaccines into the country. She expressed skepticism that we hadn't gone shopping, or that we had only bought books. Many questions.

BG said she didn't have to let us use the app now, but that she would. This time. I find this is also fairly typical: "I don't have to do this, but I will grant you this privilege."

Something about this seems not quite right. BG says we can enter Canada "by right," but we can't enter without using the app and she doesn't have to let us in to use the app. And without the app we would be subject to quarantine.

I said I had read that fully vaccinated Canadians re-entering the company no longer had to be quarantined. This seemed to piss off BG and she scolded me: fourth wave of covid, surging numbers, delta variant, blah blah blah. She wrote some stuff on a card, and told us to see an agent inside. 

Step two: use the app, but you must be tested

The CBSA agent inside was friendly and seemed to assume we didn't use the app because we had trouble with the technology. I found this amusing, but of course I didn't say anything. We sat down to use the magical app -- scanned our vaccine cards, our passports, relevant dates, and so on.

The agent said we did great (ha!) then noted we left blank the part about our recent covid test.

We tell her we have not been tested. 

She repeated that we were allowed to enter Canada by right, but because we had not shown the result of a covid test, we would likely be quarantined. But, she said, that was not within her jurisdiction. We would have to speak with a public health officer. She made it very clear that there was the CBSA issue (app) and the PHO issue (covid test), and her role was finished.

Step three: you must be tested or you will be fined

The PHO took it from the top. She collected all our information from our vaccination cards, our reasons for being in the US, home addresses, etc., writing down everything longhand, in an notebook.

PHO also confirmed that we can enter Canada "by right," provided we have met certain requirements. And one of the requirements is proof of a negative covid test within 72 hours of crossing.

Believe me, had I known this, we would have gotten tested!

PHO said we had two options. We could go back to the US and get tested, then provide the PHO with the test results, or we "may be subject to a fine". The fine is a lot

She gave us some information, printed from the government website, detailing what kind of covid tests are acceptable, and some places where we can get tested. Some test results may be available within 24 hours. Others take several days.

We sat down again, and began calling testing facilities. It wasn't easy.

Some places have only online registration, but the URL doesn't work, or you need a US address, or it says to call the number that just sent you online.

One place said there is a national shortage of test kits and they have stopped all testing.

Another place was open until 4:30, but here was a 2-3 hour wait. It was 3:45, and the place was at least 30 minutes away.

Another place said results take three or four days.

Two or three places were not accessible by either phone or internet.

At that point, I was prepared to choose what's behind door number two. If we're fined, I would try to get it waived or reduced.

We tell PHO we can't find a way to make this work -- the proper test, with results available within an acceptable time frame -- and we'll opt for the fine.

Step four: now get tested, but someone else might fine you

Now PHO says she has no power to fine us, that will be up to the RCMP.

And still we're not free to go. Despite being fully vaccinated, and despite the fact that fully vaccinated people can enter Canada without quarantine, we must be tested at the border, and we will have to self-isolate.

PHO went over the rules for self-isolating. I have already done this once -- although I didn't tell her that! -- so I know the drill. 

Next we are sent to the testing tent. Some very kind health workers gave us two test kits each -- one for Day One and one for Day Eight. They helped us register the kits, linking the kit IDs with our passports. It's a multi-step process involving a lot of onscreen typing. We're doing this outside, standing up, outside the tent. I was tired and felt dehydrated. The whole process seemed ableist and ageist. 

After that, another kind health worker walked us through a self-administered covid test. It was easy and didn't involve any pain or discomfort. 

That was the Day One test. For the Day Eight test, we will give ourselves the test while while being observed via Microsoft Teams. 

Step five is in the future: we may or may not be fined

Finally, we were allowed to leave. The dogs had been waiting in the car and were pretty happy to see us. We drove to the Coast Tsawwassen Inn, had a good dinner in our room, and took an early ferry in the morning. We had an easy, uneventful drive home, and are happy to be here.

We're self-isolating now, and I assume we will get a visit from the RCMP. But I have a hard time believing that we will be fined. We didn't travel before being fully vaccinated. We traveled for a family reunion. We didn't know we needed a covid test, or we would have had gotten one. I can't see our local RCMP fining us in these circumstances. But we shall see!


friends and family road trip reunion: day thirteen: portland: books, street art, food

Portland is as advertised: an interesting city with a lot going on. We both look forward to returning, perhaps before or after a family visit. We got only a taste of the town, but it left us wanting more.

In the morning, we dropped off the dogs, along with their beds, toys, and treats, at the daycare, for their day in a private suite. Then we had a quick breakfast at a Peet's Coffee -- my favourite iced coffee -- and were at Powell's when it opened at 10:00.

Powell's. OMG Powell's. It is vast. It is beautifully organized. The staff is amazing. Their customer service is amazing. Did I mention it is vast? Powell's just may be the best bookstore I've ever visited.

Allan and I browsed a bit together, then split up. Since my brother successfully transplanted my old sim card and SD card into an old phone of his, we now have two phones and could safely go our separate ways. (I still need a new phone, but the loaner works as a stopgap.)

Allan had printed out his master to-look-for list, but my list somehow didn't make it here. It's not on Google Drive, not on my USB, not even saved in email drafts, which I often use to save something quickly. I was disappointed, but I contented myself to browse in subject sections. For fiction, I normally use the library, except for my favourite authors, which I'll buy new. But with nonfiction, I don't like the pressure of the due date, so I'm more likely to buy those titles. Often I borrow nonfiction from the library to see if I like it before buying.

As I've mentioned in various "what i'm reading" posts, my List -- the universe of books I might like to read -- is very long and goes back many years and decades. There are always titles growing old and older. I did remember a few authors' works I keep reading reviews of, consistently put on The List, but never seem to read. Little by little, as I browsed, names came back to me, and I was able to look them up on their customer-use computers. I remembered one title without an author and one author without a title... and slowly a mental short-list formed. I ended up with a big pile of nonfiction -- very satisfying.

When I bumped into Allan, we were both holding full shopping baskets, monstrously heavy! Allan found someone on staff to hide our baskets in a holds area. We both picked up fresh baskets, but I needed a break. I'm not a marathoner -- about anything. I had been choosing books for two hours. I needed to rest my feet and to eat something. Allan was still very busy tracking his list. 

I walked to a food cart "pod". Portland's many food carts are grouped into pods, where you can find many varieties of food in the same place. I'd read that many have picnic tables and covered areas. The one near Powell's -- also near our hotel -- has 12 carts, but no tables or even benches. This may be to discourage people without housing from using the facilities. I don't know if that's the case, but I knew I wanted to sit down. I bought pot stickers from a Vietnamese food cart, and ate them while walking back to Powell's. 

I was tired and felt dehydrated and was ready to leave, but Allan was in full-on search mode. We negotiated a bit. By the time I found a bathroom (in a Starbucks) and finished the dumplings, we were now three hours in. 

I spent a full 20 minutes walking in circles looking for a section that didn't seem to exist, plus fielded a phone call from TD Bank, telling me my credit card had been blocked for suspicious activity. Now nearly four hours had gone by, and Allan was still shopping.

I felt the day was shot, and announced I was going back to the room to lie down. This seemed to snap Allan out of his bookstore trance. We found a bench in the children's section, and went through our baskets. I put back any new titles that I can easily find at home. I was tired and cranky.

This scenario is pretty typical for me and Allan, and one of the reasons he usually goes to bookstores without me: a fun outing devolves into frustration and annoyance. No need for reminders: I know how lucky I am to share the love of reading, writing, language, and ideas with my partner. But that doesn't mean we don't get tired and cranky!

* * * *

Overheard at Powell's

Woman: Why are we here? I'm already reading a book.



Woman, frustrated and resigned: Fine, whatever, we'll stay, I'll just wait.

Man: I'm almost done, I'll only be a few more minutes.

Yeah, right.


Kids: I want this one! Oh look look look look! I've read this book four times! Oh look, I want this one! I want this one! 

Kids who love books! Make me so happy!


Adult with child: I'd like you to get a better book. Can you get one better book? 

Me to Allan as we walk away: Let him read whatever he wants, all the books are better books if he's reading them!


In the elevator, with a young staff member pushing a cart of books

Me: Do you like working here?

Staff: I really do. I love being around people who are excited about books. I love helping people find books. I love discovering books through our customers.

Me: I'm a librarian, and I say the same things.

Staff: Oooo, I would love to be a librarian...

Me: You can be. You should look into it. 

* * * *

We lugged our bags of books back to the hotel, drank a lot of water, rested our feet, and regrouped with a plan to see some street art. There are murals and street art all over Portland, but there are especially high concentrations in two areas: the Alberta Arts District, and the Central Eastside Industrial District. I found some useful maps of the areas, and asked front desk staff to print one for us.

The Portland Street Art Alliance sounds like an amazing group that does fascinating work. If you like public art, I encourage you to spend some time on their website, which includes information on why street art is a public good, and a reading list.

Their mural map of the Alberta Arts District (pdf here) gave this trenchant introduction:

The Alberta Arts District is a culturally rich and dynamic area that attracts people from all over the city with its fine art galleries, graffiti alleyways, and community murals.  Even the benches and ATMs are works of art! Galleries open their doors and vendors line the street for the monthly Last Thursday Art Walk. The annual Alberta Street Fair draws thousands of people into the streets for a party, complete with local music, food, buskers, and artists.  While many of Portland's neighborhoods have experienced revitalization, Alberta is unique because it was historically home to the highest concentration of African-Americans in the city. With a painful history of racial segregation, redlining, and now gentrification, Alberta is a place of juxtaposition. Few areas in Portland offer the variety of cultures and artistic interventions that can be found in Alberta. This map is just a starting point. The streets are always changing, and finding street art is often times like a scavenger hunt. We have provided you some insider clues, but now it is up to you to find the hidden treasures Alberta has to offer!
I enjoyed this -- not boosterism, not consumerism, but actual social context. And well-written, with the correct "its"!

We drove to the area, found a parking spot, and walked many blocks and saw many interesting murals (photos to follow). It was very hot. We saw two food-cart pods -- probably more than 10 carts between them, both with seating areas -- but it was just too hot.

NE Alberta Street is in the "fun and funky" stage of gentrification, full of independent stores of all types, progressive or radical politics displayed proudly, plenty of cheap eats and entertainment. But the next stage is also beginning to poke through. There are no chain stores (yet) but expensive boutiques are sprinkled in among the more earthy and affordable. I hope the neighbourhood can hold on to its unique life and beauty.

[Some cell-phone pictures of Portland street art are here.]

After murals and other street art, and a fresh, cold juice, we headed back to the hotel, dropped off the car (again), then walked over to the local food-truck pod. 

Many were already closed, which was just as well. From three separate trucks, we picked up a lamb shawarma, Chinese roast pork and rice, and a torta, which turned out to be ginormous. They cost $9-11 each.

We paid for valet parking, which seemed exorbitant until the bellman reduced it to half price. (I assume this is typical.) We've been making ample use of the unlimited in/out service, and have probably spent the other 50% in tips, but that's fine, I'd much rather the money go in a worker's pocket.

We brought the food back to the room to eat and enjoy some air-conditioning. The food was delicious, and we haven't even touched the torta yet. 

After that we picked up the dogs, who were happy and tired. I'd like to know more about how the day went... I may try to get some information. 

Back at the room, Allan was plotting a walk to Voodoo Doughnuts for some baked goods. Donuts don't do much for me, and wacky toppings do even less, but we did identify a few flavours that I wouldn't mind having a taste of. Then Allan asked if he could go back to Powell's. That was kind of cute, because he doesn't need my permission, and kind of annoying, because if he was going back, why did we spend four hours there?

But that's the way it goes. He didn't anticipate having a second shot. I had time to write, and he got two more books, then got lost, then found the doughnuts and came back with a box of four. They were fresh and tasty -- but over-rated. But I would say that about any donuts.

* * * *

I want to note that we have seen hundreds of tent encampments, on the approaches to every city, and within cities themselves. This is very, very sad. Shameful.

Today we begin our two-day drive back to Port Hardy. Allan is ready to go home. I never am: I can always travel more, especially when the dogs are with us. 

I'm pleased to report I have not checked my work email once, the entire trip. I will definitely look at it on the weekend, at least to delete hundreds of useless emails.


friends and family road trip reunion: day twelve: ashland to portland

On our last day in Oregon, we met my mother and sister-in-law for breakfast in Ashland, finally getting to Brothers, a favourite of mine from our 2016 trip to the area. After breakfast, we brought my mother with us to the dog park, which I knew she would enjoy. Allan is having a lot of hand pain (he has a compressed ulnar nerve) and he met our nephew D in town for some treatment. 

At my mom's apartment, we all said goodbye, which was painful for me. I realize I have to come down here every year, probably flying by myself, the way I did when my mom was still in New Jersey and I was in the GTA. She's 90 years old, and I want to see her at least once a year. This makes me feel better. But still. Goodbyes are hard.

For various reasons, I hadn't done more than an hour of driving on this whole trip, so I was happy to give Allan's hand a break and drive to Portland. On one stretch of I-5, the sky was very hazy and there was a strong smell of smoke. Whenever we stopped, the heat hit with a wallop, well over 37 C (100 F).

We're staying at The Benson, a historic hotel, which I found only because I love the Coast hotels on Vancouver Island and will always choose a Coast when it's an option. The Benson has been open in the same beautiful building since 1913.

On the way to the hotel, we passed Powell's, then found our hotel only a few blocks away. This is our first time in Portland. We're here one full day. Our plan: Powell's, murals, food carts

Cookie and Kai will spend the day at Sniff Dog Hotel. Rather than do an evaluation and have them in regular daycare, we've booked a private room, where they can have their own beds and toys, and cuddle with each other, plus "potty breaks" with staff. Travel and all the new places have been stressful for Kai. Right now she needs comfort more than play. Cookie's eye looks much better.


friends and family reunion road trip: day eleven: mostly waiting to see a vet, with some family time

Yesterday Cookie woke up with what appeared to be an eye infection. I was concerned that it might be conjunctivitis, which is highly contagious. We had a full day of daycare booked in Ashland, with someone I found on Rover, but obviously we couldn't do that without knowing what was going on. I called five or six different veterinary clinics in the area. With many doctors on vacation, everyone was booked solid. I took the advice of several of those calls, and we went to the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center -- the 24/7 animal hospital, not far from where we're staying. 

It looked like a great place -- very modern and efficient -- but they were very busy, likely with much more serious emergencies than ours. So we waited. And waited. And waited. For six hours.

It was boring and the dogs were not very happy. The treatment itself took about two minutes. But Cookie does not have conjunctivitis, or anything contagious. Kai is not at risk, and we can use any daycare services we have booked. Yay! It was also not a scratched cornea or anything requiring serious care. Also yay. 

The eye issue may have been caused by some debris getting in her eye, then Cookie pawing at her face, or something similar. We have some antibiotic/anti-inflammatory ointment, and the poor girl has a cone on her head for a couple of days, and we'll follow up with our vet at home.

By the time we finished up at the animal hospital we were so hungry. I used our last dregs of phone battery to find the In-N-Out (less than 10 minutes away), and we devoured that. I've eaten more burgers on this trip than I have in the past three years -- probably since our last mega road trip, when we moved to BC. 

From there we drove to the dogsitter's house in Ashland, hoping to salvage the last few hours of the full day we had booked and paid for. She had a large, shady, fenced-in yard, where three dogs (one her own and two other guests) were playing. Cookie and Kai were very happy to be off the leash. The cone doesn't slow Cookie down. Typical alpha dog, she takes it in stride. 

After we saw the dogs settle in, and chatted with the dogsitter a bit, we met M&M (brother and SIL), who had already collected my mother, plus nephew D and the lovely grand-niece. The place we were going to eat was closed, but even with many restaurants closed on Mondays, Ashland is still spoiled for choice. It's a touristy town built around the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: restaurants and cute shops galore. It was over 100 degrees and Allan and I were amazed that people were eating outside, or in places with only ceiling fans. No and no. 

We ended up at Louie's, which has several great, eclectic menus, including separate gluten-free and vegan menus, a kid's menu, and a fur-kid menu! The food was very tasty and the service was great. Definitely worth a positive Tripadvisor review. It was lovely to sit in the cool, have a glass of wine, and be among family, especially knowing the dogs were not waiting in the car.

After dinner, we picked up the dogs. They were (of course) thrilled to see us but relaxed and not at all stressed. Three hours of play did them did them a world of good. We went over to M&M's house (everyone minus my mother), and hung out on the deck with wine and ice cream. 

The temperature had cooled off, as it does here at night, and there was a breeze. There was also smoke in the distance, and the faint scent of smoke in the air. M&M have had their share of scary wildfire issues, with highways closed, long power outages, and evacuations in the area, although (obviously) they haven't had fire tragedy. We tethered the dogs to the deck posts, and after their somewhat stressful day, they were happy to lie down and nap.

After a little while, nephew and grand-niece said goodnight, and we continued hanging out with M&M. It was a lovely relaxing evening, drinking wine and gabbing about anything and everything. I'm so grateful to have such wonderful, close, loving relationships with family. As in all families, not all the relationships are happy and fun, and I cherish the ones that are. It's also so great to have close friendships with all the generations.

I have a fun note to share about an old children's book, but I don't have that together yet. To be continued.


friends and family reunion road trip: day ten: berkeley to medford

Yesterday, we got a short list of car repair places in Berkeley that are open on Sunday. Allan went out to try to get the electrical issue fixed, while I packed up and took care of the pups. No joy: the garages were either closed or extremely busy. One place said they "might" get to it in a few hours. We made a sign "TURN SIGNALS NOT WORKING" and stuck it on the rear windshield. (Thanks to our wonderful Berkeley host and her incredibly well-appointed cottage!) We had a burger and a hotdog from Smokehouse, then got on the freeway to connect with our old friend I-5.

It's around five hours from the Bay Area to the Ashland/Talent/Medford area, but since we got a late start, I called the hotel in Medford to confirm our reservation, and we went straight to the Kaminker compound. We left the car at my brother/sister-in-law's house, because my brother wanted to try and fix the car. We walked up to the little house where my nephew D, his partner R, and my great-niece S live. S was excited to show us her room, and to have us meet (from a distance in my case) her two adorable gray-striped kittens.

D grilled steak for tacos, and we sat on their patio and talked. S stayed up late to visit with us. Allan had picked up some weird little handmade finger puppets in the Mission District and we played with those. We also took turns on the trampoline with S. Thankfully the trampoline sessions were timed: parents got 5 minutes each, Allan and I had 3 minutes each. It was a long three minutes!

As it got dark, we said goodnight, and Allan went down to M&M's house to get the car. Voilà! The turns signals were working. My brother can fix anything.

Thanks to our one working phone, we found the Best Western Horizon in Medford and happily collapsed. The trip is winding down: we have one full day in the Ashland area today (we'll see my mother a few more times), then drive to Portland, two nights with one full day there, then two days to get home.

* * * *

Two notes about the dogs.

Cookie is what I call a "go-anywhere dog". She is always up for a new adventure, a tiny bit cautious in new situations, but then very quickly dives in and enjoys everything. That's typical of an alpha dog. Kai, on the other hand, is stressed by new situations, and takes longer to adjust. She's not extremely fearful and anxious -- we've seen much worse -- but she does love her routines and would just as soon not have any adventure! I think this whole trip has been stressful for her, and not always pleasant. We've seen her have some fear reactions, barking and snapping, clearly telling people to keep away. We can very quickly soothe her and she'll return to being her usual friendly self.

I love traveling with the dogs, but of course there is a downside. Surely the most annoying part of having them with us is this: on the first night of any stay, Cookie will not pee. The first time this happened, we were at the Coast Bastion in Nanaimo. Allan must have taken her out four or five times, walking around and around, returning to the room in frustration again and again, before Cookie finally graced us with her precious urine and we could go to sleep! After a few trips with them, we clearly saw the pattern. It is so annoying! Last night Allan gave up and went to sleep. A few hours later, the dogs woke us up, barking, and I prevailed on Allan to try again. Finally! This is very annoying!

* * * *

Cool tidbit that I missed in an earlier post: San Francisco's Mission Dolores was a location for the film "Vertigo" in 1958. If you know this Hitchcock classic, you will recognize the Mission's tower.


friends and family reunion road trip: day nine: friends, dogs, and views, plus some thoughts about future travels

When we went to the BART station to pick up our friend D yesterday, there was an unexpected surprise: a market! It was the Berkeley International Flea Market. A vendor told me it's been going on every weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, for 47 years. 

I was immediately drawn to the first table I saw. There were two necklaces that jumped out at me; they appeared to be "paper beads". I have a necklace and a bracelet made of these fun beads, which I purchased at an AIDS fair when we lived in Port Credit. Turns out I was right, these necklaces were also paper beads, and I bought one. Earrings and beads: you can never have too many. 

We wandered through the whole market, which was quite extensive, with an African and Caribbean accent. Like most flea markets, there were some nice stalls, and some junk. But of course one person's junk is another collector's treasure. Surprisingly, that first stall with the paper beads was the only one I liked! (The artist told me she is on "Selective Treasures" on Instagram, but I only found her Facebook page: @SelectiveTreasures.)

Soon after that, D arrived, and (with Allan in the back with the dogs), we went to the Ohlone Dog Park. This is one of the nicer dog parks we've been to -- very large, with lots of shade, and wood chips on the ground to help tamp down the dust. Kai and Cookie played a lot. There were lots of beautiful and funny dogs to watch.

We had a great conversation -- apparently the norm when D and I get together. He recommended we listen to this: Rod Serling's speech at UCLA in 1966, just after Ronald Reagan has been elected governor of California. Serling's speaking style is slow and wordy -- a product of a different era -- but the speech, about Black freedom and "white backlash," is very powerful. The speech is about 30 minutes, followed by a Q&A, which I have not heard (yet).

After a while we said our goodbyes and dropped D in downtown Berkeley; he was off to do some exploring. After a quick pitstop at the cottage, we drove further into the East Bay, to nephew and niece-in-law J and C's home.

J and C live in a lovely neighbourhood with modest (as opposed to McMansion) homes. Their house is amazing: they've knocked down walls and re-configured rooms to create an open-concept space. I was amazed to learn that J did all the work himself. It's filled with art created by C, and some by her parents, who are also artists. It's altogether beautiful in a way that feels random and haphazard, so you might discover new beauty every time you look. C's design sense is incredible.

In the backyard, C has her studio and J has an office space, both really sweet little buildings. The rest of the yard is a garden, where they are growing seemingly every fruit and vegetable I can think of. We ate plums off the tree and strawberries off the vine as we walked around and J pointed out all the plants. The showpiece is a giant Meyer lemon tree that was absolutely laden with gorgeous yellow fruit.

The yard is fully fenced, so Kai and Cookie immediately made themselves at home. Because there are cats inside, I could only do a quick indoor tour, but it was delightful to sit outside in the gorgeous Bay Area weather. (I was reminded how, for a fair portion of my adult life, just sitting outside in someone's backyard was a huge treat. City life!) 

J picked up yummy Mexican food for lunch, something we never have at home, a lovely treat. Their suburban neighbourhood has a large Latinx and Asian population, so there are plenty of food choices. (Yes, I'm a bit envious. No, it doesn't matter.)

After lunch, we drove (in two cars) to an amazing park area about two miles from J and C's home. "Park" doesn't do it justice; this is a peninsula of marshes, grassland, forest, and coastline, with hiking and bike trails. It connects to a regional trail system that sounds completely amazing. We took a long walk, first on a trail that hugs the coastline, with beautiful views, then went back on a paved walkway, slightly more inland. It was warm and sunny, but breezy and not at all humid.

Back at J and C's house, we cooled off and relaxed on their patio, and talked more, before saying goodbyes. You know how I feel about goodbyes. sigh

When we moved to northern Vancouver Island, I said that all our travel would be to visit family and friends -- that our days of exploring new places around the world are over, at least for a while. I felt ready and able to do that. And I still do... except when I think about places I haven't been. J and C, for example, casually mentioned their trip to Turkey, and I immediately feel a desire to go to Turkey. We've never been and it's on my List. But, like any other addict in recovery, I've learned to sit with that feeling, and let it pass. 

A few weeks before moving to BC, I wrote:

There are few things I love as much as travel. It feels more like a need, an addiction, than a pastime. But these days, some of my hunger to see new places has abated. I just want to travel -- anywhere. There are still dozens of places I'd love to see, but I notice that any travel, to anywhere, feeds the need. A big, special trip -- like Egypt last year, or Peru in 2006 -- slakes the thirst for a long time. But a short trip to a place I know well also quiets the bug, just for a shorter time.

Since we moved to Canada in 2005, all our family has been long-distance. This has sometimes caused conflict between wanting to visit people, and wanting to travel someplace new. Moving to Vancouver Island, we'll be closer to some family and farther from others, but everyone will still be long-distance.

So here's what I'm thinking. I'd like to try traveling primarily to see friends and family, plus local exploring, and see how that feels. That alone includes Vermont, Boston (Fenway Park), New York, New Jersey, California (both SoCal and the Bay Area), and Oregon. It could also include Florida, Maryland, Texas, and Alaska, if we wanted. And the GTA! We would see family and friends, and get some travel in at the same time.

I wonder, could we do this for, say, five years? Would it satisfy my wanderlust?
In the Pacific Northwest, the Bay Area, and SoCal alone, there are so many things to see and do, and it would be wonderful to see and do them with family and friends! This is all peachy keen -- until I think about Turkey, or Hawaii, or Prague, or... any other place we haven't been to. How this will play out is the story of our future; it has not yet been written.

Meanwhile, today we drive back to the Ashland/Talent/Medford area. Unfortunately, we have car trouble: the turn signals are not working. Further unfortunately, it is Sunday. We got a tip on a car-repair place from J, who has an office in Berkeley, but will they be open?