Friday, 18 November 2016


You know the interior decorating rules for airports:
-       No colour. Stick to gray and black. White allowed where grubby fingers can’t reach it.
-       No soft surfaces. Stick to tile and metal.
-       Super-sized electronic advertisements for luxury goods, in the best of taste.

What can you say in favour of airport d├ęcor? It’s impeccable. This is minimalism at its grandest. Wait. Can you use “minimalism” and “grand” in the same sentence?

What possible objections could you have to airport decor?  It’s soulless. People seem sadly out of place, messing up the clean outlines. This is the home of robots.

How do you compensate for the cold esthetics?  With soulful sound effects.  You ride in the sleek, gray, silent shuttle between terminals and suddenly there it is, coming at you over the PA system: the clanging of cow bells, a contented moo, canned yodeling. No, I’m not making this up.

But come to think of it: Why not the sound of cuckoo clocks?

Tuesday, 8 November 2016


First experience: The other day I bought placemats at Bed Bath & Beyond. The price on the tag was $ 2.99. When I checked my bill I discovered that I'd been charged $ 4.99. I brought this to the attention of the woman at the customer service desk. Without blinking an eye, she told me that the $ 2.99 were American Dollars.

Hello? I said. The last time I checked, Toronto was in Canada. I expect the price to be in Canadian Dollars. She conceded my point after some back and forth and refunded the difference.  

BTW, what exchange rate are these people using?

Second experience: The next day I bought an eyeliner at Shoppers Drug Mart. After getting over my sticker shock – the advertised price was $ 33 -- I found that the cashier had billed me $ 40. I pointed out the price difference. She didn’t give me any argument but very sternly declared: I will change the price for you this time. Meaning, she will overcharge me again next time?
Well, thanks for the favour!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

#AMREADING James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room.

This novel, first published in 1956, has been reissued in 2013, establishing Baldwin’s place among the genuinely indispensable American writers (Saturday Post). Here are some memorable passages from the book:

A young American travels to Paris, trying to find himself, as we say in America. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people.

Or is he losing himself in Paris? Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don’t know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it.

He falls in love with Giovanni.I did not dare to mention Hella. I could not even pretend to myself that I was sorry she was in Spain. I was glad. I was utterly, hopelessly, horribly glad. I knew I could do nothing whatever to stop the ferocious excitement which had burst in me like a storm. I could only drink, in the faint hope that the storm might thus spend itself without doing any more damage to my land.

He moves in with Giovanni. Our life together held a joy and amazement which was newborn every day. Beneath the joy, of course, was anguish and beneath the amazement was fear…anguish and fear became the surface on which we slipped and slid, losing balance, dignity, and pride.

But when Hella returns to Paris, he took her in his arms and something happened then. I held her very close in that high, dark train station, with a great confusion of people all about us, jut beside the breathing train. She smelled of the wind and the sea and of space and I felt in her marvelously living body the possibility of legitimate surrender.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

#AMTHINKING It’s fashionable to apologize.
Naomi Klein and Mirko Zardini at University of Toronto

Yesterday I attended a discussion about the environment between Naomi Klein and Mirko Zardini. The moderator began by apologizing that they had neglected to invite an indigenous speaker.  Well, why didn’t they? They could have invited an indigenous speaker if they had wanted to. So what’s with the apology? I guess it’s fashionable to apologize. And much easier than taking action.  Preferably you apologize for mistakes made by your forebears because they are dead and don’t have to worry about being re-elected or being kicked off the career ladder.

And while we are on the topic, I’m thinking: Why doesn’t anybody apologize to me? I want an apology from the Catholic School Board because they didn’t give me maternity leave in the 60s. I want an apology from the government because they didn’t provide me with accent-removal courses when I came to Canada and from the public at large because they made me feel uncomfortable by referring to my accent. Do you know how hurtful it is to be asked “And where are you from?” without a trigger warning?  And most definitely I want an apology from my mother for giving birth to me during WWII, a shitty environment, let me tell you, and from the Austrian government for obliging me to emigrate because they didn’t provide a suitable economic environment in those post-war years. Finally I want an apology from my late husband for dying on me and leaving me to deal the authorities, requiring me to supply a hundred copies of his death certificate and his probated will and listening for hours to canned music while waiting for the next available representative. Where are those apologists when you need them?

Thursday, 6 October 2016

#AMREADING Michel Houellebecq, Platform. 

This is a book about travelling and sex -- friendly tourism, as one of the protagonists calls it -- but in between the clinical descriptions of foursomes and other procedures that might challenge the less acrobatic among us, there are some keen observations about the professions.

  • The Police. He must have had to meet people from all walks of life in his profession, no area of society could be completely alien to him. Police work is a truly humanist calling.
  • The Travel Industry. I liked holiday brochures, their abstraction, their way of condensing the places of the world into a limited sequence of possible pleasures and fares.
  • Farming. They had dedicated the best years of their lives to a hopeless task. They lived in a country where, compared to speculative investment, investment in proution brought little return.
  • The Public Servant: I managed information, facilitated acces toit and disseminated it. In a word, I had worked in the service sector. It would be easy to get by without people like me.
  • The Reader (Not a profession, you say? Well, I spend enough hours on reading every week to call it a profession). Not having anything around to read is dangerous. You have to content yourself with life itself, and that can lead you to take risks.