Category Archives: flying

Tesseracts 17 Interview: Elise Moser

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

Elise Moser brings a softly undulating tale of  discovery and transformation in Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast.

CA: Your story “Sandhill” is one of transformation. Such stories harken back to the earliest myths and rituals. Were you building on that tradition?

I wasn’t building on that tradition in a conscious way, although I like the idea. Really I started off just loving the cranes and trying to think my way closer to them somehow. I think a lot of our human socialization works to separate us from animals and animal consciousness, and we would be better off, as individuals and as planetary citizens, if we could find a way to open ourselves to the animal world again. And then of course once my characters were teenagers, it became all about the struggle through transformation.

CA: Childhood is in itself a transformation until we become adults. Do you think our transformation, like a butterfly or moth’s, ends upon adulthood?

No, with possible exception of some very sad and unlucky people.

CA: Are you exploring this theme in any of your other works?

Yes, probably always, one way or another.

CA: “Sandhill” is also a tale of being one with nature, whether animals or the environment. Where do you feel humankind is in this respect? Do we need to pay more attention to nature or do we, as individuals, manage it as best we can in a modern world?

animals, environment, fantasy, myth, Tesseracts 17, Canadian writers

Elise Moser explores transformation and environment in “Sandhill.”

I gave part of my answer to this question above, but I will add here that I don’t believe we are managing very well at all; on the contrary, our “managing” is disastrous. We need to pay more attention to nature — our nature, the natures of others, the nature of reality, of power, of suffering, of respect and of compassion.

CA: What other projects do you have in the works?

In September my YA novel, Lily and Taylor, which is about a transformation of a different kind, was published, and I have been busy launching and publicizing that. I have written the first draft of a play adapted from “Sand Hill.” And I am developing another project which isn’t ripe enough to pick yet.

Elise Moser has published short stories in journals and anthologies, and coedited two anthologies. Her novel Because I Have Loved and Hidden It came out from Cormorant Books in 2009. She was founding literary editor of Montreal online arts and culture magazine The Rover, and was president of the Quebec Writers’ Federation for three years. Her YA novel Lily and Taylor appeared in 2013 from Groundwood Books, just before her story “Sand Hill” hatched in Tesseracts 17.

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Megan Fennell

SF, tragedy, speculative fiction, Tesseracts 17, anthology

Megan Fennell’s story “Bird Bones” talks about the monsters that live among us.

Tesseracts 17 is now available. In continuing with the Tesseracts interviews, I have Megan Fennell, whose story “Bird Bones” is in the anthology.

CA: Family is at the core of this piece. Have you explored what family means in other aspects of your writing?

 Absolutely. In most of what I write there will be at least some screen time given to the concept of families, either family by blood or family by choice. People do truly incredible things and make enormous sacrifices for family that they wouldn’t dream of doing for anyone else. Upon reflection, my stories tend to include a lot of sibling characters, albeit with varying degrees of oddity and functionality. This is probably a side effect of having possibly the best kid sister in the world and thus being intrigued by the nature in which the sibling dynamic can turn bizarre.

 CA: Do you think humans run the risk of the god complex by too much scientific tinkering or do you think there are restraints that keep us in check?

There are absolutely restraints that keep us in check, which is why the first trick of writing a mad scientist character (at least in my experience) tends to be isolating them. You mentioned Dr. Frankenstein… Add to that list a few more of my favourite brilliant madmen: Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll, Griffin from the Invisible Man, and you’ll notice that secrecy, isolation and working within limited means play a big part in what they were doing. None of these folks were exactly in line for a government grant. In ‘Bird Bones’, Feyton’s controversial experimentations in his day-job are plagued by protestors and review boards. It’s his secret side project where he can really go wild. I believe that the all-seeing public eye and our tendency to ask this very question will ensure that cutting-edge science never galavants too far ahead of morality.

CA: What else are you working on these days and will we see other tales of transformation or escape?

You’d better believe it! Along with shopping around my short stories and trying to find the illusive market interested in love stories about squid-like aliens, I’m presently in the honeymoon stage with a new YA novel. This typically consists of me wandering around in a smile-y daze like a lovestruck teenager, murmuring happily about these wonderful new people who’ve turned up in my head. I’ll get to the hard work soon enough and start grumbling about it as is good and proper, of course! But yes, the crux of that one will be the nature of being human and the relative weight of what you are versus who you are, so more variations on some of my favourite themes for sure.

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

Megan Fennell was born in Victoria, BC, but has spent the majority of her life in a variety of Albertan cities and considers herself a creature of the prairies. Having disqualified herself from the great Calgary versus Edmonton debate by obtaining degrees at both the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta, she now lives with her two cats in Lethbridge, Alberta, drawing inspiration from the more rugged beauty of the Badlands. She has previously been published in OnSpec Magazine and the charity anthology Help: Twelve Tales of Healing

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/megan.fennell

Twitter: @FennellFiction

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/MeganFennell

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Lessons Learned on Traveling in Europe

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Horley (near Gatwick) Station

I thought I would write a lot while traveling, even took a laptop (mini) to do so but there were quite a few factors that made me post only once. I managed to get some gut bug when I flew into Amsterdam. It might have been caused by suspect Chinese food in Horley (but then I’m sensitive to the change of flavor in meat–it might have been slightly old or…bad) or it could have been the water, which is far softer than Vancouver’s water and maybe my body just couldn’t adjust. Still, tummy troubles didn’t keep me down but made my day a bit slower to start.

In Holland, thousands of people use bikes. If I had rented one it would have been a nuisance because I don’t just take pictures of tourist attractions but of things on the street; leaves, textures, patterns. A bike would have meant that I would be hopping on and off constantly.

I found my suitcase was in fact too heavy and I would take even less next time, maybe buying more there. However I was packing for rain and cold and got a very warm, extended summer of 25-30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t wear some of the items I brought because it was too hot. Still, backpacking might have worked but I have a few back issues that might have made it worse, but lugging anything up narrow, multiple Dutch and Belgian stairs will indeed give you a workout, and thankfully, my knees are good.

Most B&Bs have towels, though if you’re couchsurfing, check beforehand. I did a bit of both with even a hotel or two in there. I hate water splashing in my face and have always preferred using a face cloth. While these are pretty standard in any hotel in North America, you won’t find one anywhere in Europe (Holland, Belgian and England were the countries I visited this time). I brought one but might have brought two next time so one could air and dry when using the other. I had to deal with a bit of mildew even in half a day of being packed wet.

Many European buildings are centuries old and, besides having many stairs, have very high ceilings. This means the light might be faint. If your eyes don’t do well in low light, bring another light. I also brought a container for water, which was a good thing when walking around all day. In Belgium a waiter told me it was against the law to serve tap water so you’ll pay as much for a small bottle as almost for a glass of wine. And on drinking, while cider is in the veins of the British, Irish and Scottish it’s harder to find in other areas. I usually found only one bottled type in various places in Holland but it was nonexistent in Belgium.

I took cash but also brought my bank card and credit card. While cash always works, a couple of times I had to use the

stairs, travel, Holland, buildings

An example of old, steep, narrow stairs in Amsterdam

credit card, for reserving a room, or for storing my luggage at a train station because the machines didn’t take coins. I never could find out if traveler’s checks would work or not, or if there was a fee.

Trains are plentiful and sometimes hook up to trams. Many of the information areas are helpful. However, I found the rudest service in London at the booths marked for information. While different people working about the station were helpful in telling me what line to catch, no one bothered to clarify that there are trains and then there are trains in England. There is the underground or the tube, which has trains, and then there are the overground trains. They come into the same stations and sometimes your ticket transfers between the two (and buses) and sometimes it doesn’t. The underground information people were not helpful with the trains and vice versa. No one bothered to tell me the difference. At Victoria Station there was in fact a Tourist Travel Information center, which no one told me about, but they helped me figure out the overground and underground trains to the airport (after three other ties). It was also cheaper to fly from London to Amsterdam than to take a train through the Chunnel. On the way back I took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so check all forms of transportation,  and several months in advance of your trip for the best deals.

This is an overview and I did so much walking and visiting of galleries and buildings that I was just too exhausted to write in the evenings. Over the next few weeks I will do reviews of accommodation, food and the places I traveled.

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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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Big Scams: I’m a Winner!

We’ve all heard about the Nigerian scam letters, the requests from various banks to update our information online, even from the IRS and Canada Revenue that we’re getting a refund on our taxes. Some of these are more than the “Dear Beloved” letters requesting to transfer oodles of dollars through your bank account. Really, it’s amazing how much money is just floating around through the world for our benefit. I’ve seen many of these. I delete them all.

Tovar Travels Treasures

I’ve been thinking of going on a trip lately, sometime this fall to Europe or Asia. So when I found a a letter sent from Malaysia I was intrigued by the stamps and wondering what it could be. I don’t know anyone there.

There are actually four panels to this.

When I opened it, it was a travel brochure, very glossy and professional looking, from Tovar Travel.

This is a four-page foldout with a sexy yet healthy looking woman on the cover, beautiful turquoise beaches, palm trees, white sands, lawn chairs and amazing rock formations. Everything that speaks Asia at its best, relaxation and appeals to those of us in North America freezing our tushes off in springtime. (Okay, not you southern folks, but it’s still exotic, right?) Very bright, glossy and professional looking. Hmm, a travel brochure for a company. Okay, I’ll take a look to see what they have to offer.

As I began to peruse it there was something about a lottery, with a scratch and win ticket inside. Who doesn’t love a scratch and win? I didn’t even read what the lottery was for but scratched the two tickets inside. One is blank and just shows a plane. The other shows I’ve won $150,000 USD. Oh my god. I’m  a winner. I’m rich. I can quit my job. Woo! But wait, there must be a catch. I read the fine print. They won’t disclose my information, I may have to pay taxes in my country, I must give them my name, age, address and call. Of course the one clause that says “Prize winners may be obliged to submit taxes or any other mandatory charges as a result of the award,” is a bit worrying. After all, what is a mandatory charge for free contest? Hmmm.

I didn’t bother wasting my money on a call. I’m a bright girl and did a few cursory searches of the internet. What I found: well I wouldn’t use Tovar Travel for travel nor for winning the lottery. Lucent Tours is always the same thing. Don’t go there. There were only 2 (according to the brochure) second place prizes of $150,000. The internet shows that many people have won that prize. Many. And those that contacted the company have to pay $3,750 to release their winnings. I’d tell them to just deduct it from the $150,000. The winning card, as you can see below, looks like it’s sponsored by real companies, like Panasonic, but I bet if you contacted the companies they would be surprised of their involvement.  I think this just goes to prove, if something is too good to be true then it probably is. Darn, this means I have to keep working.

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Writing: March Update

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Want to read one of my poems, besides the one listed here? Well you’ll be able to in a month or so at Polu Texni. http://www.polutexni.com/ “A Good Catch” about a mermaid gone awry will be published in this online magazine. The poem was an honorable mention in the Rannu competition (two honorable mentions are given and equivalent of second place).

I’ve also just sold a story “Tasty Morsels” to Polluto #8, a British magazine. http://www.polluto.com/ I think it will be out in late spring but I’m not sure yet.

As well, “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha” published in Horror Library Vol. IV has made Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. Of course having a story selected for the anthology would have even been better but hey, it’s nice to be on that list again.

In other news I’m still judging the poems in the Rannu competition. I’ve done my second read-through and narrowed my list down. Now I’ll have to compare to the other judge’s and then we have to pick a winner and two honorable mentions. That should be done in the next month.

I’ve also finally finished my steampunk/blimp story and have it going through a few readers to catch those technical glitches. I’ve been up in a hot air balloon (the smallest possible airship) once but it was many years ago and the blimp (the next size up) in the 1800s has some different mechanisms that took getting my brain around it. It’s good to have someone who’s an ex-air force pilot and fan of airships look over it. I’ll work on the rewrite and hope to send that out in the next month.

Which means, my plate is cleared to work on another story. But I’ve also made a commitment to finish the languishing novel this year so it’s moving up the list. And slush, I still have slush to catch up on and gotta get going on that one. Maybe I’ll have plowed through enough slush before going to the World Horror Con in Austin at the end of April so that my conscience will be free. The pen never goes dry.

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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Superhero Fashion

Marvel, X-Men, heroes, capes

Could Mystique’s outfit even be called a costume? Or is it just skin?

When looking at superhero fashion, there are several things we must remember:

  1. The heroes have perfect or godly physiques. Even if slim, or buxom, superheroes are muscular and perfect. (There are exceptions like the Blob.)
  2. They have powers or abilities beyond the normal human.
  3. They are superbly fit and agile, as well as being able to withstand physical abuse that would disfigure, cripple or kill most other people (they never lose teeth for instance).
  4. They’re exhibitionists. This goes for the evil fellows too. Everyone wears flamboyant clothing, even if it’s subdued, flamboyant clothing. That type of style doesn’t make you invisible and suggests a certain level of arrogance.
  5. They rarely get paid unless it’s by the government or supported by benefactors, or they’re millionaires (Batman, Iron Man).

With these suppositions it’s obvious that superheros might not have their wits about them, evidenced by outfits both form-fitting and often more provocative than the sane person would wear. But if in fact there were people who fit the above paradigms in our world today, what would these costumes do for them?

First, capes. I mean, seriously, they were once great for the people of the middle ages, before coats came along, because they could keep a person warm or wrapped up for the night. And okay, vampires. The Bela Lugosis out there need a nice big cape to wrap their victims, and just in case they can’t turn into a bat, well it gives the impression that they can. And speaking of bats; let’s look at one of the more famous superheroes.

Batman, superheroes, hero, supervillains, costumes, fashion, leotards

DC’s Batman by Neal Adams. That’s a lotta muscle to see through a suit.

Some would call him vigilante, some would call him hero, all would call him dark. Batman. The dude is caped and hooded, unlike the caped but barefaced Superman who somehow naively believes that glasses and dashing his hair to the other side will confuse everyone as to his identity. But let’s look at the capes. Whether long and voluminous, or short and sparse, they are not used in most every day criminal or do-gooder capers (get it?). The capes flow behind the hero, denoting movement or speed, but should you have to battle someone or whip around the corner you risk the criminal element grabbing your cape or getting choked, or worse, tripping over your costume and looking stupid. How bad would it be if the bad guys laughed at Batman? Pretty bad for them I guess.

The picture above of different DC superheroes shows Batman, the Martian Manhunter (guy in green, doncha know) and Shazam in capes. Oh and Robin in a little demi cape. But really, if your cape is flowy, it’s only good for show but not for battle. And if your cape, like some of the versions in the Batman movies, is stiff and ribbed, well, you won’t trip over it or have it flap in your face but you’re as likely to have trouble going through doorways and windows as getting into a car. Unless every caped hero is stupid, even the most arrogant wouldn’t want to limit the chances of just taking down the bad guys. And these guys do it for truth and justice and because it makes them look good.

Now we can leave some aspects up to artistic expression, but you have those old pre-60s costumes and the morality codes that once ruled the comic world bringing out those shorts over the tights look. If some guy dressed like that and yes, I’ve seen some women do this, it’s a bit of a geekathon fashion nightmare. But you will notice that these guys to a one have great tailors and their clothes are form-fitting, so tight in fact that I wonder that their butt cracks never show nor underwear lines.  And we have to hope that, like dancers, these guys are wearing a dancer’s cup or codpiece underneath, or you’ll know whether they’re circumcised or not. Flash, in the background, is superfast and his costume is okay because it won’t get in his way.

Hawkman wears a harness of wings and can fly so his costume makes sense, unless he’s in the Arctic. Actually most of these guys would freeze in inclement conditions but that’s part of their powers. They can wear barely nothing and still survive. Hulk wears an abomination of torn purple pants, always. Bruce Banner is certainly a science geek with a limited wardrobe. Utility belts and other paraphernalia make sense if you’re scaling walls and swinging from rooftops. Gadgets are especially the guys’ domain, as is the real world.

I would think though, should these heroes walk/fly down the street in broad daylight, no one will miss them. And they will have

capes, heroes, superheroes, Storm, X-Men, costumes, fashion, skin tight

One version of Marvel’s X-Man Storm, with cape. By Greg Land.

to have something of steel to withstand the catcalls, wolf whistles and propositions they’ll receive for such outfits. Hell, they’d be noticeable in a total eclipse. I’ve only mentioned the guys so far but the women have costumes painted on in a much more provocative way. Not all artists go to this extreme but the pic to the right shows navels and nipples through their incredibly thin and skin-tight suits, what there is of them. High cuts, bare asses, low-cut bustiers; really every female superhero is a wet dream or perhaps just a call girl gone wild.

I already talked about capes and how they’re a bigger problem than not. Some exceptions are the X-Men’s Storm. She’s a weather witch and her cape buoys her on the elements she stirs up. Banshee has a sonic power which buoys his wings on the power of sound. But on top of capes some of these gals wear skirts, short short skirts. Of course they all have matching pants underneath, like tennis players, but it’s just something else for your supervillian to hang onto. Perhaps distraction is a diversionary tactic.

superheroes, female costumes, Wonder Woman, Zatanna

Female superheroes show a lot of butt and cleavage and wear high heels.

The gals above have been modernized a bit but Wonder Woman (far right) and Zatanna (right) are wearing fairly tight corsetlike tops. Corsets restrict breathing and movement and should they be made of more supple material, the adequate to the amply endowed gals would pop out of their tops, especially doing acrobatics or hanging upside down. Some accessories, like Wonder Woman’s, serve a functional purpose. Her armbands deflect bullets, her head band is a boomerang (long before Xena’s) and her lariat binds and forces truthful answers (not just for bondage). Very few of these heroes worry about armor or weather with their outfits.

I’ve already touched on the overtly sexual nature of the women’s costumes. They are as sexual, maybe a bit moreso than the men’s, but when you define every indentation and muscle, well, the costumes are just like paint over nekkid bodies. And perhaps their beauty is one way to stun perpetrators. If archvillian Doctor Doom gets mesmerized wondering if Power Girl is going to pop out of her top, that does give her an advantage. I won’t bother going into the high heel boots and the fishnets. We know what it’s like to run and kick in those. (For more on this see The Problem With Supervillains )

Suffice to say, superheroes really aren’t dressed for action, unless in the bedroom. Send Prince Namor or the Angel my way and I’ll find out if their costumes are painted on. I’ve looked at the functional aspects of the costumes but if you want another take on the style, check out the links below for Tim Gunn of Project Runway’s opinion, on Crazy Sexy Geeks.

Part 1 with Tim Gunn

Part 2 with Tim Gunn

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The Cornucopia List

Bridge in Trim Ireland

In the continuing effort to battle bad news and dire prophecies of the future about rising prices and taxes and population, wars, defects, ill will and political rivalries, I have my second installment of the Cornucopia List.

I will be continuing the list once a week with five items, ever expanding it and making me more of a shiny happy person. It will encompass everything inner and outer, physical and spiritual, visceral and ephemeral that I cherish in my life. Here are this week’s five things for which I am grateful.

  1. My Aunt Elsa, who is very ill right now. She reached across a family rift that happened when my parents divorced. Being one of my father’s sisters there was little contact with that side of the family and because I never saw my father from that day forward, the contacts disappeared. But my older brother kept in touch and one day Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred called me up, as they still lived in Vancouver then but were about to move away. I met all my cousins but have really only seen them once. Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred came to town from time to time and we’d get together for lunch or dinner. Elsa gave me the Anderson family tree, which I have just found. And my aunt and uncle were the only people to attend my university graduation (it being during a work day and most friends working and family far away.) Elsa has always been gentle, humorous and nonjudgmental, and I cherish that.
  2. Birds: many of them are annoying little buggers and some are downright scary beasts. But birds remind us that we can soar, that we can leave the earth. Albeit we must do it by means of devices (planes, gliders, parachutes, hot air balloons, Apollo missions) but we can do it. And even if it is only this way that we can unshackle ourselves from an earthbound existence birds help us see farther and indeed gave humans the idea of flight. They come in a range of sizes and colors and purposes from hummingbirds to condors and ostriches. They have feathers where we have skin or others have scales or fur. They are related closely in some ways to our dinosaur history and they add a natural chorus of song to nature’s backdrop.
  3. Chocolate: Yes, yes, I’m a chocoholic. I’ve done month long elimination diets and the only thing I craved throughout was CHOCOLATE! Where would we be without the ancient Mexicans (the Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs) and all those folk who had the cacao bean. The world would definitely be a lesser place and the Dutch and everyone else would be diminished without it. Definitely a food of the gods, the darker the chocolate the better it is, and toss in some chili or orange or nuts and it’s even better. Yes, I’m am smitten by and unequivocally grateful for chocolate. Just imagine what life would be like without it: no chocolate cake, eclairs, sauce for ice creams, chocolate bars, hot chocolate, cocoa, etc. A dull place I tell you.
  4. Writing: without it we would not be able to share our thoughts, except with a small group of people and not in a long term way. There would be an internet of pictures only. But more than that the many worlds that people imagine, the histories of nations, the stories of our lives, the workings of a myriad things would be mostly lost to us. Our history would be thinner and not as longlasting and fewer people would know of much. I can learn of events, places, things and I can curl up and get away with a tale. And I am of course grateful that I have a little bit of a gift and a lot of hard work and can write to some degree.
  5. Stars: One of my very first blog posts was about being a kid, growing up near the edge of the city and going to this empty lot to lay in the weeds and grass and stare up at the millions and millions of stars. There was less light pollution then but stars are amazing from what we can see from this angle of the galaxy. They range in sizes and colors and types. Stars make our night world brighter and mystifying, adding questions and searches to our lives. I love stars for bringing out my imagination. And no matter what we do to our Earth, there will always always be stars by the billions.

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The Ease of Automated Answering Systems

With the advent of computers people said, it will cut down on paper usage, we’ll have far less need. As we all know, this was not the case and in many ways paper consumption has increased with the ease of being able to print pages off of a computer screen. Not to mention all those businesses that archive in paper because the computer might crash and wipe out sensitive, even insensitive information.

Everything is automated now. A mechanic can’t seem to troubleshoot a car by listening to it and tinkering. They have to plug it into a computer. If the power goes out, how many of us sit at work and twiddle our thumbs because we need the computer? Many if not most companies have gone to automated answering systems. But like the advent of computers and hope for less paper, have the automated answering machines made for less questions and easier answers?

How many times have you called up some place and there is such a long list of: If you want service, press 1, if you want sales, press 2, if you want accounting, press 3, etc. that you zone out and actually miss the one you should be listening for? I’ve done this. The most annoying is when you know that you have to talk to a real live person but it lists all the options except that one; you then have to go to a submenu and perhaps another submenu. Either you find out the button for real people or you don’t and have to hit * and # and 0 hoping one will work.

The most frustrating aspect of the automated system happened once when I had to pick up some friends from their return flight to Europe. I had Air Transat’s name and the flight number and the city it was departing from. So I called to check that the flight was on time and couldn’t find anything listed with that flight number or that city. I tried to call Air Transat but it was completely automated with flight departures and arrivals, rules for flying, etc. but there was no other number nor way of contacting a real person. I checked the phone book, I checked the website and no luck.

So then I thought I could call the airport and find out if they had any other information on where the flight had gone. My friends hadn’t contacted me to say they were delayed so I had to presume they were coming in but when? Well, the airport too has only an automated line, if you can even find that. This was a few years back so perhaps they have a tangible person in case you want to call and say, oh, I don’t know, you saw a terrorist with dynamite strapped to his chest driving into the parkade…but don’t bet on it.

I was still nowhere after a half hour of pushing buttons. I finally resorted to calling all the other airlines that had flights coming in that night from that area. I can’t remember which airline it was but I finally found one, only one, that had a live person. It might have been Air Canada and I may have called the flight reservation number. I explained my dilemma and the woman was very nice, trying to help me track the flight down. It took sleuthing on her part too as it turns out the Air Transat flight did exist but landed first in Toronto where they changed the flight number and its point of origin to Toronto (but didn’t put that on my friends’ tickets.) So the flight was coming in at the right time but with a different number and city altogether. That bit of sleuthing took over an hour.

I always thought they put in these automated systems to cut down on labor and having to pay more staff, but I think it is a reverse measure. It was put in to irritate the hell out of people and when they finally get a real person they’re relieved and don’t notice if that service is worse than it would have been without the messages. And I think it keeps people employed, because now they’re needed to fix the issues that the automated bots have caused. As well, should you become furious because of the system that leads you on a merry trail all over but never gets you to where you need to go, you can’t yell at anyone because no one is there. Saves them wear and tear, I guess. But, I know that with all the automated systems and when I make a call, about 85% of the time I actually need to talk to a person so it just seems to be a way of slowing down the incoming calls.

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Traveling in India: Frightful Flights

When I traveled to India, way back when, transportation in all ways was memorable. Flying though, was something else. We first flew to Singapore on Singapore Airlines, a very classy, clean operation. However from Singapore to Calcutta was Indian Airlines and although the airline was fine, the hygiene was terrible. Here is were we ran into cultural issues. In India people use squat toilets or just squat over ditches and runnels, depending on the area. Even a porcelain toilet will be used to squat over, and often have no seat. So the toilets on the plain would be covered in dirty footprints from people hoping up on the narrow ledge to squat over the toilet.

Cleaner for them yes. They weren’t touching anything that had been touched for others. But for everyone of a Western culture it was filthier. We’re taught (but not all are taught well) to clean the seat if you splash but of course since they didn’t actually sit on the seat, they didn’t clean it. Singapore would have arrested people for doing such and indeed toilets there had signs of large fines for not flushing toilets.

But the flights, that’s what I’m really talking about. The next leg of our trip involved taking a smaller plane through the Himalayan foothills to Meghalaya. There were several small airlines but the most direct route into Khasis lands was Vayudoot Airlines. I don’t actually remember which town we flew into but the flight was memorable. The plane was small, one of those where the wheels stay down. I believe it was a Fokker aircraft designed to hold 28 people. Five of those people were my friend and her husband, their two- and three-year-old sons and me. The seats were small and close enough that I could have reach across the middle row to touch the other side. There were, I believe three seats on one side and two on the other.

I sat with Hanocia and her youngest son. The plane took off and we headed toward the Himalayas. The flight attendant on the intercom just came across as loud fuzzy noise and no one could understand her. Being in India, a largely vegetarian country, we were given a light meal, which consisted of white bread with some sort of oddly green paste in it. Then the flight got rocky as we hit air pockets. We dipped, we twisted, we swooped, and so did our stomachs. Hanocia’s young son lost his green sandwich, thankfully into a barf bag. Hanocia, who had done this trip before, sat tight-lipped and white knuckled (even for a brown-skinned person) clutching the seat. I had the window seat, not necessarily a blessing. We sat over the wing and the wheels and I swear there was a crack running up one of the struts.

Needless to say we made it, shaken up but relatively whole. When it came time to leave Meghalaya, we chose different airlines. I was leaving a month early to travel through India and Nepal so I chose another airline, but that meant traveling into neighboring Assam. Because the borders were closed between Assam and Meghalaya due to another fight between the two states, I had to have signed papers. It was an arduous bus trip of many many hours, and passing a bloated dead man in the middle of the road, who had been hit by a car and who knows how long he lay there with the crowd waiting for officials.

The flight from Assam to Calcutta was relatively uneventful once on the flight. But it was over three hours delayed in typical Indian fashion. I sat there for hours, very dehydrated because I didn’t have water with me and didn’t dare drink the local water. At one point, about two hours into waiting three men flurried over, their jackets flapping and said, come with us. In India you can’t really tell who is an official or not. There were no uniforms or name tags but I was taken off to a back room and asked where I was going, where I had come from. I had to show my papers and the guy took them and laboriously wrote out information. I think the painstaking time was to make me worry and really, I was too naive to realize they wanted baksheesh until after the fact.

But I was glad I hadn’t taken Vayudoot on the way out because we had heard, after landing, that one plane had lost a tail on takeoff and another a wing on landing. I hope all my frightful flights are things of the past.

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