Monthly Archives: September 2011

What’s Good About the Dutch?

Dutch houses, canals, gables, history

The top of the house shape is called a gable and this hook is used to bring items in.

I’m on day 5-8 of my European adventure and I’ve learned far more about Dutch history than I ever knew before. Granted, there are still gaping holes, but I know a few things about art and history now.

My education started before I arrived with reading the guide books, probably written a few years before.  They were the Eyewitness guide to Amsterdam and the Lonely Planet guide to the Netherlands. I’ll review these books side by side later. However as I read through and forgot information the one thing that struck me was, “How could I have forgotten about the Dutch masters?” I didn’t really.

I mean, the local gallery had a show the year before (with more impressive silver work and glassware than I’ve seen yet in any of the galleries). Yet my front lobes seemed to backfire and I kinda forgot. So what is Holland known for historically? Surprisingly little of it is military. Let’s say that the great deeds of men killing each other do live on somewhat but it is the painter and writers, composers and jewellers and architects whose great works we go to see.

Holland was a great naval nation and that’s only natural when you battled back the sea to claim land and most of the country is below sea level. Flying over Holland the great canals and swathes of very flat land were visible. I never realized exactly how pervasive the canals are and even before I landed I knew the Dutch would be superior at dealing with anything to do with land and water. They’re perfect hydraulic engineers because they’ve been doing it for over 500 years.

This also gave rise to the tall narrow houses in various cities and especially Amsterdam. They were once taxed by the width of the house so people built up instead of out. Stairs are extremely steep and narrow, which means you can’t get furniture in through the door. All the old houses have a hook at the top of the house where a rope can be put through and then items that are too wide can be pulleyed up the floors. Which means, when you look at Amsterdam streets, that all the houses all tilt out and look crooked. They’re done this way on purpose so that heavy objects don’t bang into walls and break windows.

The Dutch were huge sea traders and had a huge part in bringing tobacco,

canals, Dutch houses, water, shipping

Dutch canals are in every city. This is Delft.

chocolate and spices to Europe, not to mention being great silver smiths, painters and farmers. They’re a pretty helpful bunch and they really love their beer. Oh and there are those chocolate spreads and sprinkles to put on your toast in the morning.

They also love meet and I’ve never seen so many Argentinian restaurants as in Amsterdam. Meat, steak, meat. And beer. Wine is at a minimum and cider can be found but it takes hunting.

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Filed under art, Culture, environment, history, travel

Travel Tips For Planes and Trains

Horley, London, trains, express trains, tracks, trams

Horely Station near Gatwick

I’m traveling in Europe and in the process of  finding transportation hither and yon I’ve discovered a few things. If you want cheap, book your flight about two months before your trip and shop around. Airlines will often hide costs so  check to see if they charge for baggage or seat selection and what weight you’re allowed to carry.

I went with Thomas Cook to save on the flight, thinking it might be better than the Air Transat but it turns out they’re just a horse of a different color. So, while the flight over was in a plane more modern than the one I took fours ago (if you have an iPod there is a plug-in for that and the light dimmer is digital now. However they’ve tried to make the most of a flying sardine can it is still a flying sardine can. A man and his 10-11 yea old son sat next to me and not even the boy could curl up or pull a leg  up on seats that are narrow and short in depth. I do not look forward to the return flight.

Headsets haven’t been free for years but now they chinch you on a pillow. You have to buy it and while the price is reasonable, it’s something you have to pack out of there. One deal was  a pillow that came with an eensy spot of wine, to make it more palatable . With a nine-hour flight it was a very uncomfortable sleep. I won’t go into the highly mediocre, greasy plane food served in too much disposable but not necessarily recyclable packing.

Once in England I stayed at a local guest house in Horley, about a 10-mminute drive from Gatwick Airport (more on guest houses later). When I googled how long it would take to get into London, Victoria Station, I got 2-3 hours, no matter how I entered it. Google can lead you astray. Even the people at the guest house thought it would take longer but not that long. Well, it turns out a 10-15 minute walk (instead of a bus here and a bus there and a train) got me to the Horley train station, which took 45 minutes to get to Victoria Station, for 14 pounds.

Victoria Station, trains, trams, London, transit, transport, travel

Victoria Station, London

Vancouver, take note. In recent years there has been much discussion on putting in turnstiles at the SkyTrain stations because too many people get on board free. They now have the police pop on to check tickets. In England, you buy your ticket and you can put it through a ticket checker or walk right through. However, there are people on board who check the ticket, or when you leave they have the turnstiles closed at the smaller stations (or later at night) and you have to enter your ticket.  It’s still people checking half the time.

Back to planes for a moment. When I was looking at taking a train from London to Amsterdam through the Chunnel prices were about $170. On a whim I checked flights, which were half that price. Because I waited until about two weeks before my flight, I ended up paying more but still $105 is better and flying faster. Check all options.

Once I landed in Schipol Airport, the fastest way to Amsterdam Centraal Station was by train in 20 minutes, for about 4 Euros. A tram then took me the rest of the way for about 2.60 Euros. It’s a bit confusing and even the police were wrong on where I was to catch it but the driver of the tram was helpful.

In both Amsterdam’s and London’s stations, shops and even pubs abounded. These weren’t sketchy little kiosks but full-on establishments, making the station part of everyday culture, not some place to hurry into and out of. People had lunch there and shopped. Vancouver’s price may not be as high in comparison to Europe’s but if they want to make the trains viable and affordable then they should look at bringing people in with carrots instead of sticks. Don’t make the drivers of cars suffer, encourage them that the trains are better.

I’m sure to have more adventures on my travels and I’ll talk about other aspects in the days to come. But the biggest thing about travel is to check in advance, check all types of transportation, leave early if you have deadline, and ask the locals. They’ll almost always know the best route and usually won’t mind telling.

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Filed under Culture, flying, travel

Thoughts on 9/11 Ten Years After

I am probably one of very few people in North America who has never seen a picture of the Twin Towers falling. Ever. In ten years. There are several reasons for this. I didn’t and don’t have a TV because I feel very bludgeoned emotionally by the trauma and tragedy of the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. I care very much. Too much. So I have never wanted to see the people falling, the towers crumbling.

Even ten years later, when CBC’s The Current talks to a girl who was 12 at the time in a school near by, I find myself welling up with tears and emotion. It affected me enough that I don’t think I could handle the images. And I know what a terrible thing it was.

I was geographically far removed from the event, living in Vancouver, BC. And when a friend posted online in the morning before I went to work that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center I thought it was an unfortunate accident. As I drove to work I soon realized the severity of what was going on. I was glued to the radio all day, alternating between tears and panic.

I felt a fear that day that I had never known before and it makes me very sad to realize that many people have gone through this or live in a constant state of fear in countries and regimes fueled by violence and tyrannies. My world, my comfy world of little mundane issues was turned upside down. Like many, I didn’t know if we were under attack and war had reached our shores. I only know that my security was undermined and I was not prepared. Ten years later, were we to be attacked full on, I find I’m still unprepared. How do you prepare for such a thing. I’d like to think I’d survive, that I’m tough, that I’d adapt, but I don’t really know, and I hope I never have to find out.

The falling of the towers was also the final clincher in my mental health. I didn’t know I was going into clinical depression. I was already suffering from despair and sadness and not being able to cope with the little things. I was knocked completely for a loop after that. It was a long, painful year of recovery after that.

My story “Horizons” for the Mammoth Book of On the Road was for a collection of road trip stories. It was written during this time and about a woman who is late for work and therefore doesn’t die when 9/11 happens. She deals with guilt about being tardy while others were good and showed up on time. She also chooses to disappear, drive into the wilderness and camp for who will know that she didn’t die in the collapse of the towers? Interestingly, this story (which is not SF) got very little attention or reviews and even I forget about its existence. I might post it on this blog in the next few days.

What 9/11 did was put the Taliban on the map for many of us. It also gave George Bush his misguided holy crusade. Perhaps the good things were that emergency response measures and security were looked at closely but we also received an overlarge dose of paranoia. To this day it’s easier to fly from Canada to Europe than it is to the US because of ludicrous standards. And line ups and waits at airports seem to increase every year with another over-the-top precaution. Not all of them are but there are significantly stupid ones.

Many of us perhaps grew more fearful. Overall I haven’t, though it’s such reminders as this and close friends dying that tell me to enjoy every day and make it worthwhile. I still love and fear but I don’t let some threat keep me from doing the things I want, ever. And I will never understand nor condone that innocent lives should ever be taken just so some nutjob who wants to push his/her views on someone else can get attention. Here’s to world peace, letting us live and love and working at not hurting each other.

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Filed under crime, history, memories, news, security

Writing Update

It’s time for another writing update. Recently published pieces include “It’s Only Words” in the British Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies, and the poem “Shadow Realms” in Witches & Pagans #23. The Aurora Awards voting is now open to Canadians. This is for Canadian speculative fiction, published anywhere in 2010. My poem “Of the Corn: Kore‘s Innocence” is nominated for the Aurora Award in poetry. If you want to see a list of the nominees and vote, you can do so here. Cost is $5.50 to vote unless you are attending the convention where the awards will be presented this fall. Voting is open until Oct. 15.

“A Book By Its Cover” is in the Mirror Shards anthology, which is now available online and will be out in print very soon.”Tasty Morsels” in Polluto #8 should soon be making its way to me from the other side of the pond in England. This story blends parts of Little Red Riding Hood with aspects of the goddess Diana. And the poem “Obsessions: or Biting Off More Than You Can Chew” should soon be out in the gothic anthology Candle in the Attic Window from Innsmouth Free Press. I have another poem, “Leda’s Lament” coming out in Bull Spec but I’m not sure when.

I also just received word that “Gingerbread People” will be in Chilling Tales 2, edited by Michael Kelly, and published by Edge Publishing sometime next year. This tale was hard to place because it uses the motif of Hansel and Gretel but is a dark tale of incest, drugs, abuse and murder. I wrote it based on infamous sociopath killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. My premise was, what is the nature of true evil and which is worse: the person who commits the crime or the person who convinces them to do it?

And in little over a week I’ll be traveling to Europe. I hope to do some work on my writing while I’m there. I will also be going to British Fantasycon so soon the posts here will change to travel and observations along the way. Before then I have one story to rewrite and send out.

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Treasures in the Park: Geo Caches

Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver, Geocaching, parks, sun, ocean

Lighthouse Park

On Saturday I spent a great day at Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver with a bunch of friends. It was a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, hot and perfect. We hung out near the water on the rocks, talking, playing drums and didgeridoos and wandering down a few trails.

geocaching, geocache, Lighthouse Park, hidden treasures

The Geocache

We’d been there quite a few hours, taking a breaking from the sun under a couple of trees when one of my friends said, “There’s a box here, hidden under some bark and leaves.

We looked and sure enough there was this scruffy dark green box. Speculation arose. Why would a person hide a box? And fear as to what might be in it. Being curious, I moved more of the bark and found that it said Geocache. That rang a few bells and we pulled it out.

geocaching, Lighthouse Park, treasures, hide and seekGeocaching is a game where people hid boxes of stuff in different locales all over the word and then with the help of a GPS, or GPS enabled phone one can track them down. You log your find in a log book, add something to the cache and maybe take something to deliver to another cache. Then there is the whole geocaching site where you list what you found.

geocaching, Strait of Georgia, Lighthouse Park, Daisy Duck

Daisy Duck looks out over the Strait of Georgia

Although we did have a couple of GPS phones, we’re not actually playing the game, nor registered. We pulled all of the trinkets out of the rather full box and looked at them all. I guess, as the game goes, we could have taken something. However, we logged our discovery, noticed that there was Daisy Duck, a special geocaching item in which you needed to log her journeys. Since she took extra responsibility we left her for those more involved in Geocaching but we did take a picture of her close to water as requested. She got to look out over the Strait of Georgia, which leads to the Pacific Ocean.

geocache, geocaching, hidden treausures, Lighthouse Park

The full cache spread out

We didn’t take anything from the geocache and did add a little purple glass bead I found in my pocket, adding to the treasures for explorers to come. One of

the interesting (read: scary) items in the cache was a trading card called “American Terrorist” with highly hyperbolic information on the infamous Charles Manson. And to think this was put out by the Piedmont Candy Co. Eat the candy,  kids, but don’t talk to murderers.

After we returned the geocache to its hiding place for other intrepid adventures, we continued our own exploration.

Lighthouse Park, parks, Strait of Georgia

The rocky shores of Lighthouse Park

Mine included taking many photos so It added a bit of unexpected adventure to the day, finding the cache and I can certainly see the fun of finding hidden treasures. I’ll end this with a few more pictures of the geocache, and the beauty of the day that we were lucky enough to have.

Lighthouse Park, parks, low tide, ocean

Low tide at Lighthouse Park

 

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Insta Fashion: Is it Art?

Fabrican, spray-on clothing, fashion, art, skin-tight clothing

Fabrican or fabric can't spray-on clothing

I recently came across a new form of art. Or is it a new fashion statement? In some cases it’s both or just one. NewScientist reports on a process of spray-on clothing. You’ll need to watch the video to get a good idea of the process. There is a second one of an artist working with cellulose as well. The problem with cellulose is that it swells or gets slimy once water is introduced.

The spray-on clothing is a mixture of cotton fibers, polymers and solvents. I can’t find what those polymers or solvents are made of and if this would even be a good thing to put on bare skin very often. While the experimentation is ongoing and researchers see the possibility of medical usages, such as spray-on bandages, the aspects of fashion are quite limited.

First, you would have to go into a shop or have a friend spray your clothing on. Otherwise, everything would be backless. I imagine that spraying this stuff on to any length of body hair could be problematic with removal. Considering that we’re living in a nearly hairless body era, that might not be an issue. The material can be washed and re-worn but it looks pretty fragile in maintaining its shape. I also noticed that the women were small breasted overall for the application. Does that mean that dealing with larger curves for breasts or buttocks could be an issue of tension for the fabric? Not to mention, if your breasts aren’t perky, your top will sag.

The models were all very slim and trim. I think that spraying on a T-shirt over a large beer gut might just be a bit more than anyone wants to see. And what about pants? This material gives a whole new meaning to skin-tight and indeed nothing would be left to the imagination. What I’ve seen of the styles so far are pretty basic and seems to be used in a very basic T-shirt or tank top style, so style still needs to develop.

While spray-on fabric might be useful for scientific applications or one of a kind art displays, I can’t see it catching on yet for fashion. Not until they solve the form-fitting aspect. But in the future, perhaps when we’ve deforested so much of the earth that the remaining stands of trees are protected as oxygen sources, maybe we’ll be recycling every fiber and spraying on our loincloths (what with global warming and all) and dissolving them when we need a new one. It might be the way of the future but I think we’re stuck for a while yet with clothes that cover us up. Which gives us time to all get in shape so we look good when the inevitable happens.

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