Tag Archives: Culture

Urban Archeology

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I met Alex in one of the public urban gardens where I took pictures of the flora. Here some chive blossoms.

My life has become so busy that back in April (yes, April!) I decided that for my birthday I wanted to do more exploring of the urban jungle, my city’s back yard. It would be a bit of discovery, a bit of a lovely stroll with friends and a bit of unearthing what it is we leave behind.

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The first find; a glittery sequined pine cone.

Do you ever wonder what archeologists of the future will find when they dig through the layers of earth? Will it be a Pompeii, with so much intact from a sudden disaster that catches everyone unaware? Will it be like Roanoke, Virginia, where a whole town up and left suddenly (or so it looked) that dishes and food were left on the tables? These are some of the mysteries discovered when we sift through the dust and debris of yesteryear. What will those lost artifacts tell the future about how we lived?

I was inspired to try out some modern day urban archeology by friend and fellow writer Alex Renwick, who had several found objects cases in her place with an array of interesting items. There were the natural wonders she collected (shells, stones, sticks, etc.) plus pieces of glass, or dolls or other things lost and abandoned along the way.

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We did not dive into the dumpsters but chose from near them.

As it turned out, no one else thought this was a fun idea so Alex and I went on our own adventure, with Daniel and Anja joining us along the way. My goal was to pick up anything that wasn’t natural, in the alleys and streets we wandered. I soon decided that cigarette butts (the most common form of human debris that I found) and skanky rotting garbage didn’t count. I only gathered man made items, whether pretty or not.

Alex’s mandate was a bit different and she had an experienced eye for collecting. In fact, when she met me she had already found some sort of sequined bauble. She also gathered natural debris such as twigs, berries and stones, plus a plethora of flattened bottle caps. Her collection was definitely more arty than mine.

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Anja’s collection included a bright fuschia flower, nails, and a disc with an urban angel.Enter a caption

The first thing I found was that my romantic image of great old chair legs and pieces of dolls was not going to happen. All of Vancouver’s alleys are paved over and overall, Vancouver’s a very clean city. For the future there would be better areas for debris, such as along train tracks. I’ve discovered in my goal of walking more this year that there are a lot of homeless people who hang out and live under the elevated SkyTrain tracks but considering the squalor of those areas it’s probably better not to wander into that area.

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Daniel’s items centered on plastics and that silver pack is a David’s Tea bag.

We did two different areas, with a long walk through some urban gardens where there are old tracks, but not quite as destitute because people grow their plants and veggies along the way. In fact Anja found the most interesting artifact in this area, mostly buried into the ground; and angel plague.

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My objects, laid out like specimens, with the flowering begonia. fake flowers, broken glass, a toy mouse and plastics.

We had a lovely day for doing this, saw some great gardens and plants,explored various streets and spent time in companionship. Not to mention that we did a bit of recycling for the city. Once we’d gathered our various bits, we laid them out for documenting and then they were recycled. Alex and I both kept some of our pieces. I found a full flowering begonia in one alley and still have it, with a few yellow flowers, though the frost is coming so its days are numbered.

found objects, natural art, urban archeology

Alex’s treasure trove, including the sign that says Paperback Cellar. Lots of plant material and artfully arranged.

Since then I have found some of the thoroughfares have the most garbage; abandoned tags and bus tickets, plastic and Starbucks cup, numerous cigarette butts and a myriad of wires and string. In fact, none of these are in the collections shown here and was what I noticed in my walks downtown. But I’ve been inspired. I believe that next spring I’m going to start collecting some of these items, yes, even the cigarette butts. This means I’ll have to carry gloves and other containers for such disgusting castoffs. I have several ideas for making urban art, which will be both a social commentary on what we consume and what we throw away.

In the meantime, it was a fun way to explore the city and I hope we can do a few more urban archeology projects when spring returns. Below, a little slideshow of our day, with a yard that was designed on found objects.

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All photos copyright Colleen Anderson. Alex Renwick for Paperback cellar images.

 

 

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Movie Review: Bass Ackwards

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Bass Ackwards is about a road trip to find oneself.

This is a low-budget, independent film from 2010, written, produced and starring Linas Phillips. It was shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

This was on a disk I borrowed from a neighbor and would never have asked for it. Because of this I almost didn’t watch it. It starts out slow and seems a depressing tale of a guy who is lost, drifting, doesn’t know what to do with his life, lives on people’s couches and generally is failing at trying to have a relationship with a woman who is married. From what I can tell he never gets farther than chatting with her and playing cards. Up until this point I was pretty bored with the meandering, going nowhere life. Then the woman’s husband/boyfriend follows her and tries to beat up Linas. It’s ineffectual, involving two guys who aren’t very physical or macho, rolling about and batting at each other. Linas doesn’t even know why the guy is after him.

After he goes to work on a farm, where he finds some old VW bus that’s been shortened. Without money or purpose he decides to travel east and maybe see his parents. He still entertains a dream that the woman will join him, but the viewer knows that won’t happen. Thus begins another road trip movie.

I found this started slow, depressing, dreary. The cinematography is pretty straight forward, the colors a little subdued. Once Linas gets going on his road trip the tale picks up. The true gems are the people he finds along the way. The small cast, Paul Lazar, Jim Fletcher and Davie-Blue, are also co-writers, along with Sean Porter.

Linas avoids getting beaten, barely, by a yokel who’s woman he was hitting on. Then he meets some guy who just kind of coerces Linas to let him sleep in the van. At first you think he might be a drug addict or nuts and maybe he is a bit. He meets a mechanic who first yanks his chain, then opens up to him. Through these encounters and a few others, Linas begins to find himself. The people come across as real, and have more depth than you think they would at first.

These encounters are the true heart of the movie and make it worth watching. So while the pace is as meandering as the road trip itself, and there is flatness to the beginning, the film builds on its humanity. This is no startling revelation, nor sudden change of fortune. It’s a tale of what life is often like; it continues on, like a gentle curve in the road, sometimes revealing vistas, sometimes potholes, and slowly you see Linas climbing out of stasis and finding a path.¬† I’ll give this 6.5 gallons of gas out of 10.

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Traveling in Europe: Antwerp Part II

Europe 2011: Antwerp click to enter album

Most of these memories are from my second day but in some cases it’s a mix of the two days in Antwerp. I was actually kind of glad that I decided not to go to Brussels. I was still feeling somewhat sick and my feet were starting to hurt from all the walking. I went to St. Paul’s Church and possibly St. James’ Church. In fact, I’m not sure anymore if I did go to the second one, and it’s possible one of these churches didn’t allow pictures inside. St. Paul’s church had the statues of calvary outside, with rough hewn stones forming a grotto. I couldn’t tell if it was of recent or older centuries but while St. Paul’s was of an earlier era, the calvary statues were added in the early 1800s I believe. It was in one of these many cathedrals, where I listened to piped in organ music, looking at the patterns of light through stained glass, staring at carved wooden and stone statues and admiring triptychs by the masters that I thought, even if a person wasn’t religious they would be hard-pressed to not feel moved by all the fantastic accomplishments and beauty of humanity.

Shops opened late on Monday because, as one person told me, people might be hung over still. ūüôā I wandered around the old area and noticed there were enough chocolate, frites and waffle shops. The Belgians love their chocolate like the Dutch love their meat.

While I still had to work at dodging bicyclists and nearly got run over twice; it’s not really clear who has the right of way so I always tried to look in all directions. I think the order is first trams, then cars, then bikes then pedestrians, almost reversed from Canada. Most of the street corners have fewer lights and cars and trams drive down the same narrow streets. At one point the tram was stuck because someone had parked too close to the track. The tram drivers kept ringing the bell for about ten minutes till the guy ran back and moved his car.

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This was a great lunch with three large pieces of halibut. About 17 euros including wine.

More people smoke than I’m used to but it didn’t seem as prevalent as Holland, however no matter where I went I seemed to smell cigarettes and people can sit on restaurant patios and smoke. I had a smoked halibut salad for lunch, which was quite large, making up for the 15 euros I paid. The portions are more than I’m used to. Unless ordering a bottle of wine, it was only one type of house wine so there was no point in asking for a type. At 3.5 euros a glass it was more reasonable than the water. Chocolate isn’t that cheap but the frites are, which come with an array of flavored mayo sauces. Being Canadian I’m used to dunking my fries in flavored mayo so it wasn’t that odd.¬† I wandered into a few stores and found shoes really expensive as well, which curtailed me buying any.

St. Paul's interior. This life size statue of Mary (holding a plate with eyes) has had the stain rubbed off of her hand from centuries of worshippers.

I actually wandered along the Scheldt River the day before, which is one of the biggest shipping ports in Europe. There is a plague commemorating Canadian troops liberating the city in WWII, and a couple of statues. Walking farther along is Het¬† Steen, which means the rock. It’s the oldest fortification in Antwerp and is rather small when you think of it as a castle. There wasn’t a lot to see as it was locked up (probably considered a museum) but it has a good imposing look to it.

I ran into an Egyptian-Belgian and he insisted in taking me to the best waffle shop where I had a waffle with chocolate sauce. I’m actually more used to waffles being like quilted pancakes but this was so airy that it was easy to eat and tasty. Down near my bed and breakfast was an area of the city that housed Art Nouveau buildings. While this man would have loved to show me around for several hours, the light was going to be gone soon and I love Art Nouveau. I made my way to the area and took some pictures of the truly amazing architecture from about 1910-1920.

That evening I at near the B&B in a square which had several restaurants. I had mussels and when the came in the giant pot with several slices of bread I was stunned. I ate nothing else and couldn’t even finish the mussels. Here in Vancouver, that meal would have fed three, but then the price was about the cost of three portions. I certainly didn’t go hungry.¬† After I walked down to this cafe and sat outside writing in my journal and having a couple of glasses of wine. These two women bought me a drink and we talked. One was on her way to Seattle for her sister’s wedding and was considering moving there, much to her friend’s surprise. Then three men arrived, with one being of the flaming variety of gay. He was very friendly and began chatting with me, telling me to join their table. Partway through the evening he said he loved me, but oh, not that way. I smiled

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One sample of a fantastic Art Nouveau balcony and architecture.

and said that was fine, I knew that.¬† (In fact, I saw a fair larger gay population in Antwerp than I did in Amsterdam.) His friends were getting mad at him for not talking with them and then at one point, the one guy (two were from Hungary) whose English wasn’t that good started yelling at me and blaming me for all the “horrible” things Canada was doing to the Indians.

I said it wasn’t that simple or black and white and that yes there were good and bad things done. He kept at me and I asked, “If your brother killed someone, would you be guilty?” That didn’t deter him so finally I lost it and retorted, “Fine let’s look at what the Hungarian Magyars did to the Gypsies.” He got more worked up yelling and walking around that the two women were telling him to shut up in Belgian. The bartender came out and said he was going to call the police. I was bewildered. Here were some of the friendliest people I’d met in my travels and some of the nastiest all at once. I couldn’t take the ranting so I thanked those who had been nice and went back to my lodgings. That one incident was bizarre but I’d go back to Antwerp again because I certainly didn’t see it all.

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Apocalypse Diet Summary: Days 5-7

Explanation is at the end of just what the Apocalypse Diet is.

Apocalypse Diet (AD) Day 5:

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I was not sad to see the last of the egg nog. Creative Commons: jeffreymorgenthaler.com

If the Apocalypse, zombies or a highly contagious virus had wiped out a fair number of humanity and made the rest afraid, you can bet that there would be raids and mass buying of food in the stores. People might hunker down and hide from the zombies, but the fewer numbers of eating humanity would mean more food though less suppliers. If it were summer, I’d start planting or hightail it to a farm where there would be lots of fresh food.

The interesting thing that I’m noticing about my Apocalypse Diet, and presuming that in a world where supply lines were cut so fresh produce and meats would disappear first, is that I’m trying to extend my proteins and vegetables. This means I’m actually making more dishes with carbohydrates in them. On average I don’t eat pasta, bread, potatoes or rice more than a couple of times a week. I’ve made shepherd’s pie, pasta, and stir fry with rice noodles so far. Those starches fill one up and bulk up the meal.

Because of this my lunches, which usually are only meat and vegetables, now include the last night’s leftovers. So today’s meal was pasta made with canned tomatoes (already opened or I would save this till the other vegetables ran out), mushrooms, carrots, onions, garlic, weird Chinese leaf that I don’t know the name of, and shrimp.

For dinner I decided I needed to finish off the egg nog and realized I’ve been dosing it with rum because it is thick and so sweet. It turns out there was only a cup left so I swished out the container with water and thinned it down. It was fairly strong, rumwise, so I was rather relaxed. Normally I don’t drink more than two days a week so it’s interesting that the nog has upped my rum intake (or finishing off the other rather sweet fruit juice). I had about four crackers with cheese. Later on, when the nog wore off I was digging in the fridge and found a full zucchini, and some swiss chard. I had to cook up the chard as half of it was a runny green mess. And I had to throw out the feta, which was turning purple and yellow. Wasting food–bad. The chard went with a carrot, some chopped onion and a few cheese gratings.

I hate wasting food, especially with an apocalypse on, but I don’t want to make myself ill either. It’s imperative that I keep an eye on the greens and use them in order of shelf life. The zucchini wasn’t moldering but being a fairly soft vegetable I’ll have to use it in the next week. There are no more green beans or chard, but there are still enough veggies for a few more weeks.

ApocalypseDiet (AD) Day 6:

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Zombies might be clamoring for food, but it isn't vegetables. Creative Commons: scrapetv.com

Pasta for lunch again today. Thankfully no more nog. Did I mention that I’ve had chocolates every day? Sob, my name is Colleen and I’m a chocaholic. But then, it’s the only way I get my caffeine since I don’t drink coffee or tea. I’m good for weeks to go yet but I only have a few a day.

Tonight I was working on writing and then went out dancing. In all of that I seem to have forgotten to eat, except for a few crackers. So of course when I got home at 3 am, with a friend who couldn’t catch her bus, we gnawed on crackers and cheese, finishing off one of the two cheeses I shouldn’t be eating anyway.

Apocalypse Diet (AD) Day 7:

Being a Saturday, I tend to sleep in and eat less formal lunches. So it consisted of two chocolates (yes, still) and a handful of these Chinese coated peanuts. Some are sesame, some wasabi, some seaweed. A small handful is about 100 calories. I also have a jar of artichokes and although I should be saving the preserved foods for later I had one of these.

By evening I was actually hungry so I cooked up a sweet potato, celery, carrot, onion, zucchini and mushrooms. I made a curry sauce. Normally I have a jar and toss in a few spoonfuls but I only had powder and I’ve found that just too harsh on its own. So it was kind of a curry gravy; margarine, flower, garlic, curry powder, jalapeno, paprika and fennel. Turned out tasty enough, with leftovers of course. I put in the 4-6 oz. of frozen turkey still left form Christmas. The fridge is starting to empty.

For those just popping in, the apocalypse happened on January, 1, 2012, just in time for people to freak out about the Mayan calendar. Of course, since the Mayan calendar actually shows the ending of one age and the beginning of another, maybe it’s now the Zombie Age (we’ve already had the consumer age).

I’m pretending that an apocalypse takes place (maybe it’s a supervirus, massive alien abductions or an evil plot), which stops the supply lines (but for the sake of staying healthy and clean, the hydro-electric power and water are still working). I am documenting how long I can live on the food in my place, without shopping. Here are my rules:

  1. I cannot buy any food at all.
  2. If going out for dinner, it’s a bubble outside of the experiment. I will not be going out for dinner often.
  3. When I start to run out of proper nutritionally balanced foods I will take vitamins.
  4. When I become bored or am on to only condiments and alcohol, I will call my experiment  ended.
  5. I believe I’ll be able to eat relatively healthy at least until March.

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Brushes With Poverty

Creative Commons: psd via Flickr

Because CBC recently continued its program about poverty in Canada, or those of low income, I thought I would also continue to talk about how poverty has affected me in the past. I’m also extremely busy at the time with several freelance projects so this will be in point form.

There are single parents, single people and even couples with children who struggle to survive and keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. I’ve never been dirt poor but I have often lived one paycheck away from being on the street. That’s scary enough, and with the rising costs of everything from rent to gas, the future is a place of scary possibilities of which I hope I won’t have to visit.

  • As a child I never had a bike. I’m not sure if it was for some other reason or that around the time I would have got one my parents divorced. All of my other siblings had one. So I can barely ride one to this day.
  • With the divorce, my vindictive father cut my mother off from all medical, which meant the kids as well. I should have had braces and now have a few resultant and expensive problems because of it.
  • When¬† there were field trips or trips for skiing in school, I and only a few others could never go nor afford to learn how to ski. It helped make us outcasts.
  • While my friends had cars (albeit used ones) that their parents had bought them, I eventually bought a very used one from my friend’s parents for art college.
  • I put myself through college as there were no savings that my single parent mom could give.
  • I paid off a rather small student loan over an exceedingly long time because I ended up on unemployment and welfare in the first recession.
  • Welfare was a demeaning situation and I only survived because I shared a house with three other people.
  • Food banks are not nutritionally balanced. You are lucky to get any vegetables, which would be limp at the best of times. At one point all of us in the house were on welfare because there were no jobs (50 applications a month).
  • The most income tax I ever paid was when I was on welfare. The second most I ever paid was when I was on unemployment, which coincidentally is taxed, as if you’re getting a huge income.
  • I stopped buying food so I could pay my income tax while on welfare.
  • I worked under the table, as a means to make enough to survive upon because welfare wanted to deduct everything from what they gave, which does not encourage people to even work a few hours or more and get established.
  • As I wrote about before, I was expected to turn in my $3,000 RRSPs before getting $300 from welfare, so that in the end I could tax the system more when I was elderly.
  • I seriously had to consider prostitution to make ends meet, which no one should have to do. Of course, stealing things could be an option as well.
  • I have lived in pain for months on end because I could not afford the extended healthcare to get the problem looked at.
  • I have lived with broken teeth and cavities because I could not afford dentistry.
  • I have watched friends go on vacations while I had a staycation.
  • I have literally, sold my secondhand goods on a street corner so that I could go to India, borrowing money from a friend for a flight and paying her back over a year. That’s ingenuity and not everyone can travel but it meant scrimping because of low wages.

I mention this last because while I have been poor I have always managed, sometimes just. I have not yet had to live on the streets, or forego eating for long, or go cold. Many people in India live in dire destitution, as do some people here. But I mention these things because I have experienced aspects of poverty and doing without. I’m doing okay now but the realities of such a future are so close it takes my breath away with fear at times. And don’t think I’m not trying to find ways to cushion the future. I work more than one job. I make my own lunch, I save frugally so I can have some nice things, and as my brother once said, I could get money from a stone. I’ve learned ways to conserve and use everything. If I cook a chicken I always make chicken stock. If I buy lipstick, I use a brush to get to the last of the tube. I don’t change my clothes with every season’s fashion picks. There are ways to survive but still, there are those who do not have those ways.

Everyone should probably experience poverty (and third world countries) so they come to appreciate and understand the freedoms they do have. But being impoverished wears the soul down and there are too many people worrying themselves into stress-related illnesses because they’re not sure how they’re going to make ends meet. Every civilization falls and if we’re not careful, ours could just be around the corner.

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Traveling in Europe: Delft in White and Blue

These posts on Europe will come sporadically as I have to digitally fix the photos for web viewing and it’s a busy season for me right now. To view my full album of Delft, click the first picture.

Europe 2011: Delft

After Amsterdam, I took a train to Delft. I was stunned at the thousands of bikes at the station. I doubt if you gathered all the bikes in Vancouver that it would even equal this number. People commute by bike and train a lot. Because there had been some confusion in email as to the dates I was staying at the B&B I ended up doing last-minute couch surfing for my first night. Robbert had just finished his university and was still in a student apartment. He was helpful in giving me directions to get to his place and the next day into Delft central. He tried to teach me some Dutch and pronunciations but some forms are so foreign in English I just had problems getting them to sound close.

Delft is small, when you’re looking at the medieval center. The next day I waited for the B&B owner to show. When she never did, I walked back to the tourist information center, always a good place to visit in any major city. Delft is small enough that they know of all the B&B’s. They tried calling both lines;when they couldn’t reach her they advised me to find someplace else. They ended up helping me find something in my price range (52 Euros) with someone who had just called in. (98 Plantages–not available through any sites) was run by Liesbeth and was beautiful, clean, updated and close by. Liesbeth was an excellent host, giving me some ideas of restaurants to try and directions into Den Haag.

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Delft's picturesque canals have lilies and waterfowl.

Delft was by far the prettiest town I visited in Holland, with Den Bosch a close second. The clean canals were picturesque with lily pads, swans and ducks. I even ran into a heron on the walkway beside one canal and got within two feet. The streets in the old town are cobblestone and shops line the streets. Delftware, that famous blue and white china, is not cheap but plentiful. I saw a guy on a scooter  where the front design was the Delft blue and white.

My first day after the screw-up with B&Bs left me with enough time to see the old and the new churches. (Throughout Holland and Belgium all shops close by 5. There is no evening shopping.) They were rather plain in the style of the no-fun Protestants who had pulled down statuary, removed paintings and white washed churches so that one would only concentrate on god’s glory, not on what humans had made. The one, ironic, concession to ostentation was the tomb of William of Orange, assassinated at the Prinsenhof (a convent he had taken over for a residence).

William of Orange, Dutch royal family, Delft, tomb, travel, history, Holland

William of Orange's tomb was so big that it was hard to photograph it all.

The Dutch started later than some countries in instituting royalty and pretty much voted in the best merchant. At least that’s what I could tell . William’s grand tomb is the central design of the church. Before this date the royal family was buried in Breda but it was still under Spanish rule, so they began putting the royals in Delft, where they are entombed to this day (the dead ones that is). I was beginning to think after Amsterdam’s two and Delft’s churches that I was getting churched out, partly because they were rather bland in a gothic cathedral sort of way. The focus became the pillars, the gothic arches (which are impressive) and the black floors, carved with names, dates, arms and symbols of those who had passed on before.¬† I wrote a rough set of poems here that I call triptych, after the style of religious paintings (that have three panels) used in many churches of the period. These will be polished at a later date.

I took in the Prinsenhof on my third day. The bullet hole in the wall from William’s assassination is framed and stands out. There are works of art such as paintings, sculptures, silverware and Delftware for which the Dutch are famous, plus the story of William’s life. I believe the new church, starkly plain had many partitions that told the story of the royal family from its beginning to its present day. Like England, they have had a queen since WWII (and before). But reading about all the royals and who killed who or succeed whom was mind numbing after a while. I just enjoyed walking along the canals of Delft and would definitely go back here.

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Traveling in Europe: Stonehenge

Stonehenge, prehistoric sites, neolithic cultures, travelClick here to go to the album.

My second day in England had me taking a train to Victoria Station to get to Stonehenge. Searching on the net for a map through Google showed a circuitous route of catching buses to the train, which would take about two hours. I asked the guest house instead, and in reality I walked about 15 minutes through Horley to the station. The one train ride was¬† around 45 minutes. I wandered around Victoria Station, which has shops from groceries to clothing, restaurants and stands of flowers, chocolates, pastries, etc. It’s covered over, massive, with at least eight tracks for trains (not to mention the underground) and can be confusing to figure out. There are information booths and I liberally used them to get my bearings.

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Stonehenge

I had booked a tour to Stonehenge online before I left Canada, because I wouldn’t be driving. This was through Evans tours and cost about 25 pounds. Entry fee by itself is 7.50 pounds, but if you’re going to be in England long enough you can by a UK Heritage pass, which will save you entry fees on various castles, churches and other historical sites. I dislike guided tours overall but this one consisted of the ride and the entry fee. You were given an audio device land eft to your own devices. We had about an hour and a half at the site.

And of course, it was raining, a lot. I watched sheets of rain and heavy black clouds, and stared out the window at the countryside as we took two hours to get there. The rain slowed somewhat by the time we arrived. I had bought a cheap, clear plastic poncho that I could throw over my jacket and day pack while I took pictures.

Stonehenge, stones, prehistoric sites, England, travel

I put this one in because the reddish thing to the right of the ground stone is not a rabbit. What is it?

The rain let up some and in a way it was a good thing. It added drama to the sky and cut down on the crowds. Yes there are about 100 people going by the stones at any one time. I debated putting pictures in of Stonehenge because there are so many out there, but I love the permutations of imagery.

The stones are indeed smaller than you would expect but still majestic in their way. As you walk around the henge, the path slopes gently down and what is believed to be the entry to the stones puts them on a rise and makes them look bigger, tower above the horizon. Many stones went missing over the centuries as they were taken for other construction. Some toppled. Debate continues as to the henge’s use but it indeed seems to have been a calendar that marked the passing of the summer solstice, just as Newgrange in Ireland marks the winter solstice. The are over 90 types of lichen that have been identified on the stones and some of them found nowhere else.

As fall comes along and the rains descend, I’ve been told that the stones turn more reddish because of the ores in their composition. In some of these pictures they’re just starting to turn red. But the stones have a variety of color; grey, black, white, green, beige, brown and shades in between. I’m fascinated by the architecture of humans and by the textures of stones. Some people will not find 50 some pictures of Stonehenge interesting but for me it’s both sculptural as art, and a mystery as to purpose. I’m glad I included Stonehenge in my trip.

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Are Hallowe’en Costumes Racist?

Hallowe'en, costumes, racism, culture

STAR's campaign against racism

If you’re on Facebook you might have seen this picture all ready, circulating all over and many jumping on the politically correct bandwagon and saying, don’t do this. Don’t be insensitive. It was a poster done by STAR (Students and Teachers Against Racism) out of Ohio.

I’ll probably get shot over what I’m going to say here. I’m very much against racism and bigotry but I believe this is a case of mixing apples and oranges. First let’s look at Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, when it was believed that the veils between the worlds thinned and that ghosts and creatures of the underworld walked the night. It was a time when the world grew dark, lands were bereft of food and animals slaughtered for the winter larders. Back far enough, primitive peoples probably wondered if the sun would come back, if they had offended it somehow. That’s why there were always festivals of light on the winter solstice, when the longest night arrived and then the days grew longer. No one knew if it was gods or not.

Hallowe’en’s Celtic name is Samhain (sow-en) and as time went by it became a time to dress children in costumes; scary creatures, ghosts, goblins, skeletons and other things that go bump in the night. It evolved to other costumes but there is a long and complex history of Hallowe’en, with trick or treating, guising, asouling or in costume. Masquerades have existed for centuries.

So dressing up is part of Hallowe’en and has been so for a long time. Now the pictures above have a child of (I’m presuming) African-American, Japanese, Mexican and Arab ethnic groups. They each hold up a picture of a cartoon or a person in costume and it says “This is not who I am and it is not okay.” The top says We’re a culture, not a costume.” And indeed all cultures are very complex.

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Creative Commons: Dutch regional costumes...is this racist?

This campaign was started to stop racial stereotyping, which is a good thing and all airports and police should really pay heed to that. Now the Arab costume has the guy wearing a bomb, as a terrorist I suppose. That is extremely in poor taste, just as dressing like the World Trade Center with a plane flying into you would be. So that costume needs to be tossed. The other pictures have a guy on a donkey, and a Geisha girl. They are indeed stereotypes. They are of earlier eras when in fact there were some people who dressed this way. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t unusual, it was the way it was. They were part of the culture of the time. Just as wearing a dress with a white linen apron, a cap with tips out and wooden shoes was a traditional Dutch costume. Stereotypes start as types.

I doubt there are few people who would put on a costume of a sailor, or a turbaned Maharajah, or of a witch (image from here) and presume that is the way people dress now and that all of a race are like this. Yes, I add witch because branches of neopaganism (Wicca) have members called witches. While there might be a few pagans who get upset at the stereotypical green-skinned witch dressed in black with a wart on her nose as a costume, most will keep a level head and understand that people don’t see them this way.

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Creative Commons: Is wearing this witch mask racism or bigotry?

I think we need to understand that dressing up in a costume from cultural history (whether a Hawaiian hula dancer, an Aztec king, a French prince, a Viking, a Chinese Mandarin…) does not mean we presume that all people of a particular race look or dress this way. It is part of history and traditional dress used in various festivals to this day imitate those costumes of long ago. Of the four pictures above, the terrorist one is wrong, the other two are historical aspects of a culture, and the last one is what in terms of racism? A person should not be bitten by a vampire? Is it racial stereotyping of vampires or black people because vampires only go after them? I don’t think I understand that one and would it be better or the same if a white person was being bitten? Dressing as a member of the Ku Klux Klan would be very tasteless and downright dangerous in some ares, though it would indeed be scary.

So what is right and wrong here? Hallowe’en does not say to treat all costumed people as bigots or racists, nor does it support racism. It doesn’t emulate racial stereotyping. It does let a person dress up. If First Nations went as a cowboy, and a white person as an Indian, would that be wrong, or just having fun with stereotypes of old?

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What’s Good About the Dutch?

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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,

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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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East Van Wall Art

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Bugs on the wall

East Vancouver, around the Commercial Dr. area is known as the boho artsy part of town.¬†The neighborhood used to have and still does, a heavy Italian and Chinese influence, mixed with artists, First Nations and lesbians. It’s eclectic, used to be lower income and filled with many restaurants. Every fall there is the East End Culture Crawl where people can wander through the many artist studios in the area.

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Wings on the walls

As much as these characteristics are part of the cultural pastiche of East Van, the natural fauna¬† include raccoons and crows. Crows and Ravens are our local board and even the seagulls don’t compare. Every evening as the light leaves the sky, murders of crows fly east to Burnaby and the Grandview cut to roost for the night.

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Feathers on the wall

It’s no wonder that recently in a community beautification project, that crows feature largely.¬† Britannia Centre includes a high school, day care, library, park, year-round skating rink, swimming pool, gym, courts and other areas. The school grounds take up several city blocks and on the west side there is a large retaining wall. A few years back, they rebuilt it and people have been trying to do some community gardening there though it’s been sporadic.

wall, East Van, art, design, crows, graphic art, graffiti, wall art, communityBut recently, in the last two months, during Vancouver’s cool weather this year, people were showing up to paint the walls. I was curious. Was it a random flash graffiti mob or was it organized? People came with stencils and I’d say the bottom part was done by participants who didn’t need to be artists. Several people blocked the background geometrical colors, while others came along and blocked in one color with a stencil.

Later, I saw some guys doing the top part of the wall, which is covered with flying crow silhouettes. The bottom half has bugs, bicyclists, birds and leaves. What really worked for this wall was the range of colors, bold swatches behind bold designs. All of the images have had depth added to them with brushstrokes of other color. The wall is interesting and complex without being overly busy and it’s so much nicer than the bland concrete of before.

wall art, culture, East Van, Vancouver, art, crows, graffitiI don’t know who paid for this project, if it was the community or the city or some combination but it is a beautification plan that has greatly enhanced the area. The wall is two blocks from where I live and I love walking by it. The only thing that could dampen it, like some of the other walls in other areas, is if people paint graffiti over it. I don’t mind graffiti but it’s disrespectful, pointless and destructive to paint over other art. Here’s to hoping there are more projects to make the city look better, and to community spirit.


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