Sunday, July 31, 2011

Don`t Mess With Atwood

There is something rotten in Toronto's City Hall.  What stinks is the Ford brothers and their seeming disdain for public opinion.  Though there have been more than a few controversial moments in their short reign, the one that I wish to concentrate on is Councillor Doug Ford's comments about the possible closure of public libraries. 

For those unaware of the controversy, I will elaborate.  When asked about possible spending cuts, Doug Ford replied to reporters saying that he would close down some libraries.  He argued that there are "more libraries than Tim Hortons" in his district, a fact which proved to be false.  Due to the proliferation of libraries, he claimed that he would close one "in a heartbeat".  This attitude provoked Margaret Atwood to step forward and voice her opinion on the subject and her legion of Twitter fans followed suit.  Over 25,000 signatures were collected as a result of Atwood's advocacy in favour of Toronto libraries, and her efforts have been recognized by Indigo books as well.  For everyone who purchased an Atwood book this weekend at any of the bookstores under the Indigo banner, they received a 30% discount when they presented their library card.  Atwood's efforts have not gone unnoticed by Doug Ford, who said that until Atwood runs for office, she had best keep her opinion to herself.  He even went so far as to say that she has very little political capital and he wouldn't be able to pick her out of a police line-up.  

Doug Ford's reaction to Atwood's call-to-action was more than a little childish and the backlash has only provided more of a platform for Atwood and the campaign to save Toronto libraries.  If Ford is speaking the truth and he would not be able to identify Atwood in a crowd, then that says more about him than her.  He comes off as a philistine who is out of touch with Canadian culture and clearly does not understand the value of libraries.  Maybe if he visited one more often, he would realize that libraries are hubs of the community where everyone has equal access to books, magazines, newspapers, and the internet.  It is one of the few institutions where everyone is welcome and all types of literature are accessible. Taking away this vital resource means that certain segments of the population will have only limited opportunities to read great books.  With the funding cuts to school libraries, their selections are too small for parents to rely on as a primary source for books.  For adults like me whose reading tastes exceed their bank balance, it is a great way to read what I like without any financial sacrifice.  It`s guilt-free shopping and a nice pick-me-up. 

The only compliment that I can pay Doug Ford is that he managed (if accidentally) to begin a conversation about libraries and their role in our lives.  I hope the resulting backlash will generate the amount of political capital necessary to take Toronto libraries off the chopping block. Or else Margaret Atwood and her band of CanLit loving minions will come for you. Based on personal experience, never oppose smart women with challenging hair. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

I circled around The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas a few times at my the bookstore before scooping it up at our local annual book sale.  What drew me to this particular book is its premise and how it told the story from many different points of view.  

The story begins with a barbeque in a suburban neighbourhood in Melbourne that goes horribly awry.  One of the children, an over-indulged product of new-age parenting gone wrong named Hugo, is hit by a man attending the party.  This one act results in a series of dramatic events and strains families and friendships.  Everyone has an opinion about how the situation should be handled and the tangled relationships of those present reveal themselves. The parents of the child who was struck, Rosie and Gary, decide to press charges against Harry, the man who claims to have hit Hugo in defense of his son Rocco.  Their pursuit of him becomes a single-minded determination, which ruptures friendships and develops tensions in otherwise happy households.  

The story makes a person question their own beliefs when it comes to child abuse and healthy parenting, but contains other, more subtle, underlying issues.  Without knowing much, if anything, about Australian society, I felt like I was given an authentic picture of Melbourne. Tsiolkas shows class distinctions as well as a divide between immigrants and Australians.  By "Australians" I am referring to the decedents of convicts and others who came from England in the first wave of immigration. As well, there are similar disparities between long-time friends who happen to be on both sides of the social-economic divide. It seems that economic class bubbles to the surface at the first hint of conflict and everyone is guilty of pointing out these differences.  

Though I am doing my best not to give anything away, I must say that the ensemble cast of characters all have a number of issues which reveal themselves at a fast pace. Everyone has skeletons in their closets and the plot moves along really quickly.  It is richly-textured, with complex relationships between the various characters and Tsiolkas does a great job keeping track of the various threads.  What he achieves is a complicated, but totally worthwhile story which causes you to question your own beliefs. This ability to provoke the audience into thinking about your fundamental beliefs, is a rare talent, and makes The Slap a great read.       

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Catching a Wave

In one of my previous blog postings, I discussed how I loathed public transit in bitter detail.  Since that entry I have sought to remedy the problem.  In a somewhat spontaneous move, I purchased a 50 cc scooter to commute to and from work.  It is a beautiful piece of machinery and has been a great fit for our lifestyle.  

When I first aired my complaints about taking the bus to work everyday, neither my boyfriend nor I even considered putting a second vehicle on the road.  Our two commutes take us in two different directions every working day and our hours differ too much to make carpooling practical.  While we are saving for our first property,  taking on the cost of insurance, maintenance, and gas for another car wasn't within the realm of financial possibility.  The idea of buying a scooter had come to me a while back, and I thought it would be worth re-investigating.  I quickly came to the decision that a scooter would complement our lifestyle in an undeniable way.  The initial cost of a scooter or moped can vary quite a bit depending on the make (with Vespas being at the very top end), but I opted to buy a used 2007 Yamaha Vino.  

The Vino is great, I love driving it, and the savings over public transportation is staggering. What I didn't know about was the complex hierarchy of the motorcycling world that I was about to enter.  Needless to say I am at the bottom of the food chain. I had no idea how bikers would treat me as I sped around town, and assumed that they would view me in a geeky novelty. Then the mocking began.  I would sit at a stoplight next to one biker and they would hoot and holler, or sing a little song in order to have a little fun at my expense.  It's really interesting to see grown men behave this way, especially considering how focused and quiet I am when I travel down the road.  I can see their frustration with the local tourists who rent scooters for the day and generally cause mayhem on the roads of our fair city, but that has nothing to do with me.  Also there seems to be tension between the bikers who drive the traditional chrome motorcycles and those who get around on "crotch rockets."  Though it is not fair to stereotype the two different groups, my experience after a few months within this world is that a lot of "crotch rocket" bikers take unnecessary risks, weaving in and out of traffic at dangerous speeds.  They are also a bit more disdainful of me, giving me a challenging look and gunning their engine at every opportunity.  I suppose they need a punching bag to make up for the flack that they take from the more traditional riders, but I don't want to get sucked into the realm of insecure male bravado.  Quite frankly, one false move and we are all roadkill, and as a chick on a bike with the power of a lawn mower, it's better that I not engage in this type of posturing.  The release of the movie "Larry Crowne" with it's scooter gang, will probably not help my cause either.

Besides the hidden hierarchy, their is also the introduction of the motorcycle wave.  Due to my place in this chrome caste system, I only receive the wave on very few occasions. And it's always exciting.  For those who don't know, the motorcycle wave is basically a peace sign held out sideways towards the recipient.  Often bikers will wave to one another right in front of me and glare as I approach, whatever.  This is not high school and I don't require to acknowledgement of the cool kids, but it is always a happy moment when I get the wave or a stoic nod from a fellow biker. It is a nice reminder that whatever the internal politics are, we are all motorists who are in it together, inches from death at every turn.   

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Left Behind

Things have been a bit complicated over the last few months, with a lot of questions hanging over my head.  My life as the girlfriend of a member of the navy has never been without its challenging moments, but the drama lately took on over-the-top proportions.  

His ship, the HMCS Vancouver is leaving today for Libya where it will relieve the HMCS Charlottetown.  As soon as my boyfriend Gio learned that there was even a possibility that he could take part in a NATO mission he became very excited about the prospect. This was why he joined the navy, to sail the world and gain combat experiences.  There is also a financial incentive for sailors to sail into war zones, which was a dangling carrot in front of his face.  Essentially his income would be doubled and he would not have to pay any taxes on this pile of cash.  For us, two people saving up to purchase our first house, it would have opened up a better class of options.  Also my little metal-chaser would have satisfied his need to be close to combat, before settling down and starting the next phase of his training.  Though I will never be in favour of my boyfriend sailing for over six months , especially with the remote chance that he might get hurt, I understood his enthusiasm and knew that everything would be okay.  

Unfortunately, Gio has been a hot potato between his superiors and his career manager, and his fellow sailors will be leaving him behind on the jetty today. Instead of sailing across the world to confront a crazed, power-hungry dictator, he will be starting a two-year engineering course in order to further his career. According to the zealous career manager that pushed for him to go down this path, he has been hand-picked as one of the rising stars.  Gio could not be more disappointed that he has been singled out.  I try my best to be sympathetic and am genuinely sad that he is upset.  But he and I both know that I am happy that he will be on solid ground rather than dodging missiles and taking leave in Sicily.  

To my mind, whatever home we buy will be fine and there will always be another insane dictator looking to shake things up.  One of the few things that we can count on in life is new challenges, whether they be in the form of a course, an aggressive regime, or a house hunt.