Tuesday, May 29, 2012

TWO LATIN AMERICAN MOVIE MAKING POWERS

Argentina and Brazil aren't thought of much when it comes to commercial movies in North America.  That is a shame and perhaps one that will be corrected.  Recently I watched a Latin American double header which reminded me of a few other worthy ones I have seen.

The first Brazilian movie I saw was "Central Station".  One thing that struck me about it was that it did  not have a glamorous cast. It was Oscar nominated as best foreign language film and for best actress for Fernanda Montenegro.  The story is unusual in that an older very cynical single  woman finds herself wanting to help a young boy who had just lost his mother.  It takes her away from the big cities of Brazil and into different cultures.  The ending is a bit of a surprise, but somehow settling.

Another I remember was  "Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos"  It is about a woman who with a little fantasy has the best of two worlds--a husband who provides for her and another who excites her.  A song by Chico Bauraque "O que Sera"at the end credits has haunted me since.  Brazilians make some of the best music in the world.  So we know they are creative.

"City of God", a very violent movie that gets into the drug war culture and is regarded as a masterpiece of its genre.  It shows how even young children are brought into the culture of violence.

"The Year My Parents Went On Vacation" was highly rated and I naively assumed by the title it was about the trouble a young boy could get into while his parents were enjoying a holiday.  The year was 1970 which was a year in which Brazil again won the World Cup and also the worst of a dictatorship, both themes of which are interwoven in this film.  The director thought he could make his view known more effectively by this indirect manner than directly.  For a non Brazilian it may take you a little longer to get the message.  They show a lot of diversity in Brazil, but most of the action takes place within a Jewish community.  All segments of the population were very involved following the World Cup and also with the heavy handedness of the dictatorship which was shown enough to make you aware of it, but not so much that it dominated the film.  Taking a "vacation" was an expression used by political foes of the state when they wanted to hide from the authorities.  This was the first feature of two I watched recently.

The first Argentine movie I remember was "The Aura" which I saw through the Art Gallery of Hamilton.  The main character was an epileptic who just before he had a seizure would have a sense of calmness, or an aura.  He planned a very daring robbery. Have since seen three others with the same leading actor, Ricardo Darin.  "The Secret in Their Eye"s won an Oscar.  Another one "Carancho" was what is called a film noir focusing on auto accidents and the lawyers who chase after them.  "XXY" tackled an unusual difficult topic with a lot of serious implications.  A child is born with duo sexual identities and the parents are protective.

I re-discovered Norma Aleandro, not realizing I had seen her in a few other movies.  A year or so ago I had seen "City of your Final Destination", an English language movie where she had a minor role.  More recently I had seen her in "Andres Doesn't Sleep in the Afternoon" set in Buenos Aires. where she played a major role, but as a grandmother.

Very recently I saw her in one of her most critically acclaimed roles, ''The Official Story.'  It was the second of my Latin American doubleheader and this one was also political.   It was filmed in 1985 and told of a very sensitive issue where the military junta amongst other things took newborn babies from dissenters and gave them to those with connections.  Another Latin American movie recognized by the Oscars and Cannes Film Festival.

All the movies I have described have high quality in terms of script, direction, production, acting, and cinematography. You will feel like they are high end films and very enjoyable to watch except for those annoying sub-titles.  They are well worth the effort.  I would like to add that I have found often that the winner of the foreign language Oscar is usually better than the best picture winner.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Hamilton's Art Crawl Evolving

I have lived in the north end of Hamilton for almost 30 years. When I first moved here it was considered poor and rough. Fortunately we are within easy walking distance of both the harbour and downtown. As a big library user and Farmer's Market shopper my wife and I have been walking downtown mostly on James St North for over 20 years.

PHOTO:  Lester Coloma painting a mural on fence by Acclamation Restaurant.
http://www.lestercoloma.com/


In that time we passed by a lot of boarded buildings, empty stores and sometimes you felt you were walking the gauntlet. The last few years there has been a dramatic change and our walks are much more pleasant. From the efforts of some individuals (and there are a few willing to take credit) it has evolved into an artistic colony

The real driving force has been economics. A lot of Toronto artists noticed that rents were much cheaper in Hamilton. There has also been a lot of recognition that there is a lot of interesting and preserved architecure along the street. One person I like to credit is Graham Crawford who now runs basically at his own expense HIStory and HERitage.

PHOTO:  Gesuina Eyford with some of her paintings.

http://www.gesuinaart.com/

The art crawl got started with no involvement of mine several years ago. About three years ago I investigated out of curiosity.  What I saw was a mishmash of a variety of art.  Some of it I would describe as weird, but a politer way might be experimental. There were early on some of what one artist described as more "accessible" art.  As time went on more galleries and studios offered more variety.  Craft stores opened their doors and there was something for everyone.

There are street vendors offering further variety.  Many galleries have entertainment and even free snacks and refreshments. Others have caught on that snacks and refreshments can be a source of revenue.


One of the attractions for me has been the opportunity to talk to artists.  Some are local, but many come from other areas.  They gained inspiration and training all around the globe.

Battle of the Brushes got my attention and I was able to attend one of them.  You pay a small amount of money and get to vote for a particular piece of art.  I believe there were six artists and they all start from scratch.  At first it is difficult to figure out what they are working towards.  The crowd circles around (not always in the same direction) to view the progress each artist is making.  By the end you put your ballot in the box of your favored artist.  A winner is declared and all the paintings are auctioned off.

PHOTO:  Jarrod Hogeterp with some of this work on the occasion of Arcelor Mittal Dofasco buying some of his work.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/edeva/419164351/

Restaurants, at least some of them seem to benefit from the Friday excursions. The two I noticed are Mex-I-Can and Ola's Bakery. I discovered a small snack place, Hammocks Monimbo where you can get some treats from Nicaragua that are now a tradition with me.  There seem to be more restaurants and sometimes food trucks.

PHOTO:  Work of Julia Veenstra.
http://juliaveenstra.com/

As time goes by the Art Crawl seems to expand in different directions.  Already locations not actually on James St North are claiming an inclusion.  The Central library now puts on an art exhibition plus provides some entertainment.  The Battle of the Brushes has moved to King St.  King William St encourages art lovers to visit.

PHOTO:  Bryce Huffman working on painting that won Battle of the Brushes.
http://www.brycehuffman.com/about.html

This has just been a sampling of some things I have enjoyed.  I hope to show and write about more in the future.
PHOTO:  Ying Yu with display of her art at Gallery 4 in the Hamilton Public Library.

http://www.yingyusart.com/










CLICK ON THE ARTIST LINKS TO SEE SOME BEAUTIFUL ART AND LEARN A BIT MORE ABOUT THEM.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"The Sibling Effect" a book review about most people's longest relationship

I hesitate to get into this book as it hits a lot of nerves and it will for many of you.  The author Jeffrey Kluger, a senior writer at Time magazine has a lot of personal connections to the topic.  He is forthright in his personal life which helps the reader understand our own childhood and relationships.

Jeffrey brings up his own personal situation in stages to illustrate different points.  He is the second born of four boys and was brought up by a somewhat abusive father and addicted mother, that is until a few pages later we learn his parents divorced.  Still later we learn his mother remarries and for a short time he lives in a blended family that now includes two girls.  After learning that doesn't work out we learn that his father remarries and has twins, a boy and a girl.  We learn that his older brother comes out of the closet (not quite following a trend).  He himself has two girls and his wife was in the middle of two brothers in a Mexican family.  His own feelings in relating to siblings and parents will remind many readers of their own feelings.

He brings up all sorts of studies concerned about birth order, size of family, gender mixing that offer explanations for phenomena many of us have experienced, allowing for exceptions to every rule.  He brings up special cases like only children, twins, triplets the effects of divorce, etc.  Siblings provide relationships that help us cope with the world, but for some children cousins perform that same function.  In China with its one child policy, one thing that is overlooked is that the parents are often only children as well and that means there are no aunts or uncles or cousins to keep families together.

I am the oldest of six, my wife is the oldest of 3 and for over 20 years we lived with our oldest daughter and her younger brother.  In many ways it is easy to identify how we fit the trends.  Three of us fit a general profile of the first born.,  I have some kind of relationship with four of my siblings, but one is estranged, though not through the wishes of the rest of us.  I know my first cousins and occasionally connect with them. On my wife's side there was a much greater connection among brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins.

One contention of the author which I hadn't thought about was that siblings are very often the longest and closest of all our relationships.  It is normal to have siblings only a few years older or younger than you, but even with bigger age gaps you share a lot in common that outsiders really can't quite understand.  Usually you know your siblings longer than any other people you relate to including parents, spouses, co-workers, even friends.  There is a strength in family that most of us can count on, and that all of us should cultivate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A CHANGE IN MY SOCIAL MEDIA THINKING

I've gotten my feet wet and like many people just started with social media am wondering if I am making any progress or just wasting my time. Time to do a little assessment and perhaps refine my strategy.

Since this past Christmas I have become more involved with Facebook after a few months of Twitter and a little blogging.  I recently read a book about introverts after reading some books that advocated generating ideas through groups.  "Quiet" by Susan Cain suggested that many people feel more comfortable and are more successful thinking solitarily.  But she more than conceded that the inter-net really opens the synergy of ideas.

I have been told (and read) that social media is about a conversation not a sermon. Many of us start out as "stalkers" meaning we like to read interesting things other people present without revealing anything of ourselves.  Some of us move onto being missionaries spouting off our outlook on life. Almost by accident I have discovered that when you make an attempt to actually help someone or even just to understand them better they are more apt to respond.

Everyone is unique.  A good strategy is to find your niche.  Makes sense.  Like everyone who reads this (and the far greater crowd that is totally unaware of it) I am unique. There are things in life that I have learned I want more of. There are a few things I have learned that seem to put me on a path to getting more of what I want. The two thoughts are very closely connected and can be very compatible.

Being unique means not every body will be interested in what interests me nor that I will be interested in everything that interests them. More basically if we really want to understand and appreciate other people you have to understand and appreciate what interests them.   The more intimate you want to get with another person the more you need to understand their interests.

To get more of what I want, I need to help more people get more of what they want (paraphrasing Zig Ziglar).  Realistically there are only some things or combinations of things that are worth any reader's time. they can get much of what I say elsewhere.  Grabbing the interest of any reader is a challenge.

My plan is to appeal to as wide an audience as I can. No one will be interested in the whole package, but many will be interested in different aspects of my message.

My message is basically here are some things I enjoy that you might also and here are some thoughts that might help you get what you want. A few things you might be tempted to buy or find out more about (and help me pay some bills and have more time to indulge in what I enjoy). Just knowing what you want is a big part of the battle.  Some thoughts might seem like new ideas (or at least re-packaged), but many thoughts are just reinforcements of what you already know.

Can we help each other to enjoy more of life?  Maybe appreciate some beauty that escaped us before or use our resources more optimally to get what we really want.  One thing for sure, nobody made it entirely on their own although many act and pontificate as though they had.

Every thought you ever had might be of interest to or even benefit someone. At the same time most of them will bore the vast majority who either have already thought something very similar or really are focused in a very different direction.  Write to the masses, cater to individuals.  Represent yourself--everyone has something to offer.

Sometimes venturing a thought exposes you to other people.  Don't be afraid of other people's opinions.  they can be helpful or destructive or ignored.

Writing your ideas down forces you to think and reinforces them.  Although I am as vain as anyone, I also benefit from being forced to organize my thoughts.

Or is this all about vanity?  Is that a totally bad thing?

The photo is of Veradero Beach taken through some trees.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nature is Awesome

Most people who know me would not describe me as religious. They are right to the degree that I have no guilt feelings about not attending religious ceremonies on a regular basis (the main exceptions being weddings and funerals).  Nor do I subscribe to any religious doctrines. Still the basic concerns of religion are of great interest to me.

I remember reading about ancient Druids who gathered to worship around forest clearings. I never understood their theology, but I do understand the feelings evoked in the natural settings of the forest.  Underneath a tree it seems like the life force is striving for the sky.

When I say nature is awesome I really mean I am in awe of nature. I am overwhelmed with the feeling that there is a big connection. Each of us has conspired against nature--we build houses to keep out the cold, the wet, the heat and to be feel safer. We have extracted what we can from nature to smooth out our need to eat, to travel, to heal and to kill one another. We fight it at every turn and feel proud that we have insulated ourselves from the perceived negatives of nature and unconsciously extracted from nature things that add to our comfort.

Religious concerns are the most basic. We absolutely cannot comprehend infinity or eternity. We are fearful of death and in-comprehending of life. My belief is that religious systems evolved naturally as explanations of these factors. Some of it was manipulative as some recognized an opportunity to make themselves more powerful. Some of it was simple and easy to understand. Maybe there is a core that is actually true and can give us a core of meaningfulness.

I have lived in cities and in rural areas. My job has allowed me to travel through rural areas and it is one aspect of my life that I relish. In my home town, Hamilton we have turned a desolate harbour into a wonderful park that thousands of people visit every year. For me it brings the awesomeness of nature closer to my experience and lifts my spirits. You feel you are part of something much bigger than yourself.

Today on the long May weekend went for a walk along the Harbour Trail.  A sign of spring were lots of goslings and something I have not seen in year, dozens of spawning carp.



The photos were taken at Hamilton's Bayfront Park, near where I live.  My favorites are the cormorants.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cavalia Odysseo

Some people might argue that I don't get out enough (actually the people that know me best), but I had a very wonderful experience, last night at Cavalia's Odysseo.  I am lucky that working for The Rider I get the occasional perk and this was certainly one.

I am not sure of all the connections, but Odysseo is an offshoot of Cirque du Soleil integrating the basic concept of a modern circus.  You will find acrobatics and what I call aerial gymnastics.  You will find horses.  What makes it modern are things like scenery changes made possible by technology, original live music and choreography.

The first thing you are conscious of is the tent, a true Big Top.  It rises 125 feet and contains 120,000 square feet.  More importantly inside there are no obstructions on stage or in the audience.  It was developed with Italian, French and Canadian engineers and designers.

The performances are top notch.   On some of the aerial acts you will not believe what you see.  On several runs of trick riding, the horses are very fast in tight spaces.  A few times we thought there had been a mis-calculation but if so, the rider was able to escape with a smile.  The regular tricks were thrilling enough even if you have seen similar ones before.
There was not only thrilling action, but lots of beauty.  Drill team precision was normal.  Some elegant dressage highlighted when the stage was flooded.

Stage management was very smooth and an act in itself.  They used what might be called regular curtains, but you would be surprised at what you thought was scenery also was another curtain.  After initially viewing ground level acrobatics and horse maneuver some of the tree scenery was pulled away to reveal a hill and another entrance. Near the end part of the stage was flooded and new routines with horses, riders and acrobats were enacted.  Another element of stage management included lighting which helped create different moods.

Two other elements that were integrated and enhanced the show were some creative music and clever choreography.  Guitar, drums, violin and cello and vocals to fit the mood.  Michel Cusson a veteran of tv and movie music as well as Cavalia provided the score.

The creative team was led by Normand Latourelle and included Alain Lortie, Guillame Lord, Alain Gauthier and Darren Charles.

This capped off an afternoon in Toronto visiting the St Lawrence Market and the Distillery District and an excellent meal at Paganalli"s.  After the show a ride home with good friends talking about the show.

To find out more information check out their website http://www.cavalia.net/en/odysseo/videos     You can see a video of performances and also one of the big top going up.
 
These photos were all done by my brother Marshall who has his own website with a lot of interesting photos.  You can check it out at:  http://www.fotoworks.ca

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

THEODORE REX

My image of Theordore Roosevelt had been based on caricatures, particularly "Arsenic and Old Lace" where one character obviously insane thought he was Theordore Roosevelt.  I was also vaguely aware of him leading  a charge in Cuba and bullying Canada over the Alaska boundary.  Blustery buffoon about summarizes my perception.

How does a cartoon character get to be president?  This book doesn't really answer that question as it starts at the point where Theodore Roosevelt is notified of the assassination of President McKinley.  Originally Roosevelt was considered such a problem that it was better to make him Vice President than Governor of New York.   At the time he became the youngest President in American history.  I missed that early part of his biography which to me means I missed the character building years.  This book by Edmund Morris goes into a lot of detail in the presidential years.

What type of character was he in reality?  To start he was intelligent and even more so emotionally intelligent, meaning he could read people fairly accurately.  He was an excellent manipulator.  He made reporters feel they helped shape policy by sometimes consulting with them or confiding in them.  He did have a strong sense of fairness, but was determined to get what he wanted.  He was very expressive, often in an exuberant manner.  He was familiar with ancient Greek and Roman history.  Tennis, boxing and even jiu-jitsu were common activities at the White House and he was famous for his wild adventure tours.  He lost most of the vision in one eye from boxing while serving as president.

What did he accomplish?  Surprisingly a number of good things.

He was a true lover of nature which doesn't preclude a great joy of killing wild animals.  One of his pleasures in life was listening to birds sing.  Traveling in wilderness with guides was one of his favorite activities.  He added national parks to protect the encroachment of urbanization.

He got the Panama Canal built.  There was an element of ruthlessness involved, but most people are unaware of the difficulties.  When he became involved it had been decided to build a canal through Nicaragua despite the fact it would be longer and cost more to maintain.  He was persuaded that through the Isthmus of Panama, made more sense and it was part of Colombia.  Negotiations started off positively, but deteriorated as Colombia seemed to always want more.  A section of the people who lived in the province of Panama became concerned that the deal that would benefit them would be lost.  This was a spark that fueled a rebellion which Roosevelt encouraged.

He was instrumental in negotiations after Japan thoroughly defeated Russia militarily in 1905.  Both sides appeared intransigent.  It was a matter of pride on both sides.  After a lot of behind the scene activity Roosevelt invited both parties to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and eventually got an agreement to end the Russo-Japanese war.  He was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.  Earlier he helped avoid a war between Venezuela and Germany.

His presidency was only about two generations removed from the Civil War and prejudice was very strong against blacks.  One of his first visitors was Booker T Washington to their mutual benefit.  He appointed some blacks and moderate whites to small position in the South, but tried to be careful not to offend whites.  He could only go so far, but did move in the right direction with one notable exception.

He was a prolific writer, mostly historical and nature.  His son Kermit suggested he read a book of poetry which Roosevelt enjoyed.  He learned the writer Edwin Arlington Robinson was in a difficult situation so he arranged for a job with no demands so he could write.  Eventually Edwin won three Pulitzer awards.

He got involved in a project to simplify spelling that had mixed results.

He felt some companies were too big for the benefit of the country and also that workers did not always get a "square deal".  Legislation to improve incrementally the worker's situation were made.  He helped settle a difficult coal strike.

Some bad things?  There was an incident  in Brownsville he locked himself into a position without having the facts and his pride wouldn't let him admit he was wrong.  Blacks were accused of attacking white officers and on slight evidence he condemned the blacks and had them dishonorably discharged.

He was a dynamic person.  This book covered only 8 years of his life and I know he was not finished doing interesting things.  I also know he had a very unique background that helped direct him to the presidency.  He was always destined to do important things, but an assassin gave him some opportunities  at a relatively young age with America ready for more changes.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Remembering my Mother

There is no danger of me forgetting my mother, but unfortunately my two kids, Heather and Michael  never really knew her, although they very definitely have a little bit of her in them.  Dorothy Coakwell grew up in the north end of Oshawa and my father lived very near downtown (in fact on the site of the now current GM Centre).  They met roller skating at age 14 and both went to the same high school

My mother was the youngest of three, but married first. She also had a child first, me having that honour.  She turned 21 on January 27th and was so nervous about her first born that she went to the hospital on a false alarm, but stayed for two days until I was born on the 29th.

I know from being told that when my parents first married they lived in their own house, not too far from my grandparents.  Shortly after I was born my Grandfather Davidson had a stroke and my parents moved into the household.  My Grandfather died a few years later.  So for the next few decades my mother  lived in the same house as her mother in law.

I don't really remember much before the age of 5, but I do remember having stories read to me.  I remember going to teacher parent nights with my mother.  Fortunately for me they were not painful experiences, partly because I was reading at higher levels than most of my classmates.  I won two costume contests at school ice carnivals due to my mother's sewing efforts.

When I was in grade two I was told I would have to have an eye operation (I had inherited cross eyes).  I was given a choice of going to Toronto (where the doctor lived) or Oshawa (where our family lived) or Bowmanville, (the furthest for the doctor).  I chose Bowmanville.  My mother visited each day.  I was blindfolded for a week and pretty bored.  She used to give me coins to feel and if I could get it right I would get to keep them.  An example perhaps of how blind people compensate by developing other senses.  She read to me a series of children's book by Thornton W Burgess that I soon became addicted to.

One time we were having poor delivery of our newspaper and my mother was very annoyed.  She told the circulation manager that she had a young son who could do a better job.  I was actually about two years younger than the usual starting age and had no thoughts of doing it.  She went around with me that first day and it was a good thing as I was at the butt end of a lot of dissatisfied customers including one deaf mute who had trouble expressing himself.  I had a route altogether for about four years.  I later became a circulation manager (for over 15 years) and could relate my earlier experiences.  My experiences weren't all positive, but very helpful in understanding what paper carriers were up against.

At the end of the first week of high school was initiation day.  It was fun, but really it was humiliating by design.  I was very adamant I didn't want to attend the dance that night.  I had not had very much experience with dances and felt this was a bad time to start.  My mother was determined I would have a better social life than she had had.  I am not sure my mother actually stomped her feet, but it was pretty close.  I ended up going and having a wonderful time in a major ice breaking way.  Ironically I recounted this story in another city many years later just after my mother had died to the wife of the minister who ironically had been one of my tormentors.  I don't mean that in a vindictive way as he was actually very school oriented.  I would also add that the minister's brother had been one of the earliest to encourage my basketball enthusiasm.  Another irony, his father had married my parents.

Most people would be surprised to learn that I sang loudly and often at home  A few people have even commented that I had a very good voice, however I was very sensitive about singing in public. My mother confided in one of my teachers who recruited me for a small singing role in a school play. I quite enjoyed it, but unfortunately when we moved for the next grade that ended my musical career.

We moved from Oshawa to Haliburton just before I was to enter grade 12.  My Grandmother Davidson moved with us, but increasingly required difficult personal care from my mother.  In a few years she moved to a nursing home an hour's drive away in Lindsay. My mother drove every day to keep her mother-in law company.  Later my grandmother was able to move to a nursing home in Haliburton.  My mother not only visited her every day, she ended up doing favours for the patients and staff.  She was recognized as a volunteer and then to her surprise she was hired on a regular basis. Not all of us get paid for doing what we like to do.

I remember we didn't really have a lot of family traditions, but when I felt I was too old for a birthday party, my mother made a big fuss.  When I protested she said it wasn't just for me but for my younger sisters.

My Grandmother Davidson died and my mother phoned me first and asked me to phone my siblings. Her death was not a surprise, but it wasn't pleasant calling my brother and sisters.  It was an honour to be given the responsibility.

When I got married there was a minor clash of cultures.  My family was more Canadian, whereas my new bride's family was very family oriented.  At our wedding there was something like 200 from my wife's side and less than 50 from my side.  I remember pleading with my mother to help even up things a bit, but she felt everyone who should be, had been invited.  My father was called upon for a toast and said something to the effect that I was a very lucky guy to have such a bride and he was amazed she saw something in me.  Unexpectedly my mother got asked to say a few words and she said Sharon, my wife was also lucky.  I agreed with my father. but it was nice to hear my mother's words.

My parents moved to Cambridge and my mother was hired at another nursing home.  A little closer to my Hamilton home and visits were a little more common.

I had learned about a special Junior Shareholders club put on by Irwin Toy.  I thought that a great idea to get my kids introduced to the world of investments.  Really it was just a gimmick to get more people to buy stocks, but my two kids made a profit on it that helped pay their way through university.  I remember trying to persuade my wife to take a day off work to attend one of these meetings (where the junior shareholders got to play with new toys) and shamefully became very stubborn about it.  My parents overheard part of the discussion and quietly decided my mother would help.  For her it was an especially long day as she had to drive from Cambridge to Hamilton and then get driven to Toronto and then back.

Not too long after we learned my mother, a lifelong non-smoker had emphysema, but we were told she would live at least another ten years.  Only a few weeks later she had to put on an oxygen mask. She did not want her grand-children to remember her this way.  My oldest nephew, Steven insisted and I am grateful that he did visit his grandmother.

I remember my dad and her went to visit old friends recognizing there wasn't much time left.  They traveled to Georgetown, Oshawa, Cornwall and Haliburton amongst other places.  My mother mostly laid in bed in an RV my dad had bought to make it more comfortable for her to travel.

On one of my visits my mother confided to me she wasn't able to relax.  I gave a musical tape (instrumentals of Puccini) that she and later my father agreed helped a lot.  Around this time I went to our local library with my daughter Heather and came across a tape with the sound of ocean waves.   I hesitated and started to put it back.  For some reason Heather insisted that I get it, and after a few minutes worth of arguing I gave in.  Afterwards I decided to give it to my mother and again learned that she found it very effective in relaxing.  I am very grateful for what Heather did.

Things started to happen much faster.  The ten years compressed to about six months.  The week before, not realizing how close it was and not feeling comfortable I made other plans, but my sister Susan shamed me into visiting and I am grateful for that.  I found it very hard looking at my mother suffering.  I didn't know what to say.  At one point she asked me to give her some water.  I ended up spilling as much as she was able to drink.  I tried again and was a little bit more successful.  It was an effort for her to speak, but she reassured me "you did fine."  Very shortly afterwards her last words to me expressed a concern she had about one of my siblings and I tried to reassure her I would take care of it.

She died the next day after being in a coma with her sister Ruth  Stewart who had driven in from Cornwall at her bedside.  Mom was only 58.    Ruth's husband, Cam gave some good advice about keeping the family together and they both did their part to help.  My cousin Donna Stewart gave me some reassurances on a promise I made to my mother.

Like many youngsters I know I disappointed my mother countless times, but she always encouraged me to do almost anything I wanted to do.  Sports, music, hanging out with my friends.  She was very accepting of my friends and girl friends over the years.

Sometimes I feel cheated especially for my kids, but I try to focus on the good things.  Mothers are very special people.  I am lucky to have a mother in law and have my wife, the mother of my two children.


Photo taken by Miriam Barnes.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Tribute to Nelson DeMille, a real writer I am related to

Reading books is one of my favorite forms of entertainment.  The fact that you might learn something is a bonus. The fact that the process is healthier mentally than passively watching tv is incidental.  A good book takes your attention away from the rest of the world and after you are finished there is a deep satisfaction that you seek to repeat.  Such has been my experience with Nelson DeMille.


When I married I didn't realize I was marrying into a family that contained a soon to be famous writer.  My first encounter with a Nelson DeMille book was really a family obligation.

Sometime in my earliest days of awareness my father on the occasion of my grandmother's funeral asked me to do a family tree.  Ordinarily my interest would have been minimal, but unknown to him my wife was pregnant and the idea had strong appeal to me.  I spent all kinds of hours starting with my family, but realized my child had another set of ancestors.  My wife's father was Ukrainian and her mother was Italian.  Makes for a lot of good food and good times.

My mother in law never knew her father as he died shortly after she was born.  An interesting story in himself, but he did leave behind some family.  I talked to a sister, known to me as Aunt Mary Di Paulo who gave me an interesting story of the family (I am not quite ready to get into it publicly). Another brother, Huron had left for the states, marrying down there and fathering Nelson and living in Long Island, New York.

I met Nelson with his first wife at a family gathering (it was 1976 during the Canadian Olympics and his wife shared my interest).  I  hadn't realized he had written a few books at this stage, but I had been told that he had been in the army in Vietnam.  The first book I was aware of was a Book of the Month Club selection.   I belonged to the Book of the Month Club, but opted not to buy it as I was short of cash.  I thought I could easily order it the next month, but was caught off guard as it was not listed in their catalogue.  I speculated that the topic had gotten too controversial as it was set in Israel, but I persisted and got it anyway.   I learned later he wrote it partially in deference to his Jewish wife's interest in Israel. Although initially motivated as a family obligation, surprisingly I quite enjoyed it.

A year or so later I read "Cathedral" which further got me hooked.  Recently on my first trip to New York City, Saint Patrick's Cathedral was pointed out to me, reminding me of the book.  Another year I read "Word of Honor" which is still one of my favorite novels by anybody.  His books tend to be about 18 months apart and I now eagerly look forward to them and give some of them as gifts.

At a family wedding  in Hamilton, Ontario he showed up.  His Aunt Mary's youngest daughter (of 16) was getting married.  I took a photo of Nelson and he had to put up with probably the 20th person telling him how much they loved his books.  I also took a very opportune photo of the 80 year old father dancing with his youngest daughter.  Another relative joked that I probably didn't even have film in the camera.  His words were prophetic in that I did suffer a camera mishap with nothing to show for my efforts.

I joined a crowd at one of his book signings in Burlington, Ontario and he joked that the large crowd was all relatives.  There were a lot of us there, but a lot of other fans too.  I guess all writers start with the base of family and friends and being Italian meant it was a substantial beginning.

I had one other encounter in that I wrote directly to him regarding family trees and was referred to his father.  I talked to another cousin of his who was also interested in family trees.  Although relatively young she died very unexpectedly cutting off a line of query.

I get his newsletter emailed which is a funny read in itself and recently joined a facebook group.  I am realizing this phenomenon has grown over the years and there are far more people I can talk to about the joy of reading Nelson's books.

I have found and encouraged other readers for Nelson's books.  A fellow we deal with regularly at the local Farmer's Market expressed an interest when the subject came up and we loaned him a book.  He went through all the ones we had on hand (about ten).  He didn't bother waiting for a recent new issue and read it before I did.

A few points about how Nelson writes.  He is a great believer in research.  In many of his books you can tell he has been there (or at least read in depth about it).  In one book, "The Lion",  written before 9/11 he anticipated a major terrorist strike against the States.  Talking to a friend who read the book he commented his wife was impressed at why the Libyans would hate the Americans.  "The Lion" is interesting in its format.  He runs alternating chapters between the hunter and the hunted.

Many of his books are told in the first person.  This is where clever sarcasm is given full reign often with unexpressed thoughts.  You also get to understand the protagonist's doubts and fears.

Another book that is noteworthy is "Plum Island", a masterpiece of mis-direction.  That is already too big a hint.  The ending will leave most of us flabbergasted that we were so easily fooled.

He has developed what I call a breezy style of dialogue that is hard not to read without laughing in admiration at the wit.  His characters are like celebrities. When he announces a book many fans want to know who the lead character is. John Cory is a favorite of my wife.  Another is Paul Brenner.

Like some other authors Nelson has used names of successful auction bidders at fund raising events for his fictional characters.  It is an honour (Canadian spelling) to have your name used even as one of the bad guys.

A new book is on its way.  The "Panther" bringing back Paul Brenner is due for release October 2012.  It has a Yemen background which caused Nelson to claim he had some research difficulties.

Dil Chatha Hai a Bollywood classic


I just finished my fourth viewing of this movie and each time I think I understand it a little bit better. It follows a classic Bollywood formula--young immature men have a lot of fun, go through a crisis and then mature.

It marks the directoral debut of Farhan Akhtar who also did some of the writing. He was part of winning team that included Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Ashkaye Khan, Preity Zinta, and Dimple Kapadia.

The first music/dance number struck me as one of the most aggressive macho scenes I have watched. All three male leads put a lot of energy into it. The music team of Shankar-Ehsaan_Loy are at the top of their game.  Going back to my youth I remember going to dances and watching others (a little bit myself) wanting to show how cool I was dancing.  In reality at the early stages I felt very awkward, then later more confident.

Although this is a serious romance movie which means somebody dies and there are broken hearts there is also a fascinating use of fantasy becoming reality. At one point Saif and his new girl friend are watching a movie and a first glance it seems like an old black and white classic, but when your eyes are better focussed you realize you are looking at the couple transposed to the screen. In the end of course this symbolizes their mutual recognition of their love. In the second half, really at a climactic moment another fantasy is brought to fruition. Without giving it away it involves an opera where Aamir's character is later asked who he visualized and he avoids answering. He is actually in shock, but at the end acknowledges his real love.

A central relationship that drives the movie is Akshaye Khanna and his older love interest played by Dimple Kapadia. Aamir doesn't take this relationship seriously and ends up breaking his long term relationship with Akshaye just as each leaves home. Preity Zinta and Aamir after initial difficulties become closer ironically in Australia, but there is a something unknown keeping them apart (in addition to Aamir's reluctance to get too involved).

The acting is very well done. There are many details that go into a successful movie and another one might be the cinematography which includes scenes in Goa and Australia.  Farhan Akhtar gets off to a very good start.

At the ending is a little touch that I totally missed on my first viewing. Watch for the re-appearence of a minor character.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Four French Comedies

Many of the things in life that I enjoy the most were ones that I stumbled on.  They were there when I was looking for something else.  Is that true for you?  These new things went on to change what I was looking for.  Over the past two years or so I have stumbled on four French comedies that made me feel so good I want to share the pleasure.  Don't let your hang-ups about subtitles or notions of French movies deter you from considering these movies, especially if you like to laugh and can appreciate some subtleties.

The first was The Valet.  I had actually seen two of the cast members before--Kristin Scott Thomas was known for The English Patient and Daniel Autieul I had seen in a French drama, Jean de Florette",  I very much enjoyed.  I learned from the director's commentary that Kristin Scott Thomas had married a French doctor and split her time between English and French scripts.  The star was Gad Elmaleh who was very good at playing a lovable loser who of course gets the girl in the end, but has a very interesting side trip along the way.  In this film you like most of the characters, but not so much the one played by Daniel Auteuil, nevertheless he makes it work.










The second was Priceless.  Audrey Tautou was as I said in another blog "priceless"  But she was only half of the stars.  My previously discovered Gad Elmaleh shared top billing, playing a nervy ordinary hotel worker.  The two were wonderful together, mis-fitted in the beginning, then rivals with some friendly coaching, then finally what you were hoping for.  Basically you like the main characters and hope they can see the value in one another.

"I do" (prete-moi ta main) wasn't what I was looking for.  The writeups seemed interesting.  One of the stars I had seen recently in a totally differently role.  Charlotte Gainsbourg had played a mother in an Australian movie, called "The Tree.  Here she played a totally different character and very well.  Alain Chabat played a typical happy bachelor avoiding any thoughts of marriage.  His family plays a key role in the movie as his mother and sisters spoil him, but at one point demand he get married so his wife can do all the things that spoil him.  He schemes to fool them hiring the sister of a business associate who schemes to get as much money for the venture as possible.  The idea is the family will like the chosen one, but she will dump him. You know how it is going to end (actually it is very funny and a twist on the beginning), but there are lots of laughs and plot twists along the pathway.




A more recent movie with a lot of laughs was "Heartbreaker" with Romain Duris and Johnny Depp's wife Vanessa Paradis.  Romain had a reputation as a serious actor and I had never seen Vanessa before but both were impressive in a comedy.  Romain plays a character that specializes in breaking up relationships with the help of his sister and her husband.  They are very slick, but of course they eventually run into a situation where the hero gets emotionally involved.  You will also appreciate that Johnny Depp has excellent taste.  A character who played a sort of buffoon brother in law in "Heartbreaker" is the leading man, opposite a favorite of mine, Audrey Tautou. in a movie I look forward to seeing, 'Delicacy"

I am looking forward to discovering more French comedies.  These are all relatively in good taste, but very clever.  When you suspend your skepticism that is normal when watching a movie your intelligence is not insulted and you will just glide along.  At least I did.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

3 French Novels inspired by 3 French movie trailers

Dealing with French through high school and some university was difficult for me, but because my instructors took some pity on me I scraped through. Now I look at French culture more favorably. Ironically the three French novels (in English naturally) I have read this year by mid April were all inspired by movie trailers.

I follow the IMDB website a lot and learn about film festivals and check out new or highly regarded movies. Early this year I saw a trailer for "Sarah's Key" and found it interesting, partly because I had seen Kristen Scott Thomas in a number of French movies and quite enjoyed them (ranging from comedies to dramas). My sister in law, Cindy Olynyk decided it was a good idea to offer some books (especially books she enjoyed) to friends and relatives and suggested when we were finished to loan them to someone else who was interested. A great idea allowing more people to read good books. "Sarah's Key" was one of the books and the one Cindy talked about the most.

My wife grabbed it first and took it with her on the beach in Cuba. There it had an unexpected response. One fellow walking by noticed the book and loudly proclaimed it was one of his very favorites and that it had made him cry. This fellow created quite a stir as he was wearing a brightly coloured thong bathing suit and was quite loud. We ended up talking to him for about half an hour and learned a few things of our overlapping interests. Towards the end of our vacation my Kobo's battery ran out and I switched my attention to "Sarah"s Key." Like Cindy and my wife Sharon, I found it hard to put down.

In the airport to go back home I picked it up to read and got the attention of a woman nearby who also expressed her great love of the book. This started another interesting conversation. She and her husband, both in their 80's were from Thunder Bay, a place I have never visited. They were good models of what I would like to be like when I reach that age. They were both politically active (not the same voting tendency as myself, but very open) and I suspect physically as well. They had come to Cuba on a very enticing deal they learned about just a few days before the flight. They re-arranged their busy schedules to take advantage of the opportunity. I had stayed at a beach resort, but they chose a resort in town so they could feel the local culture more closely.

About the book itself, written by Tatiana de Rosnay  it is a page turner.  It explores a part of World War II that is not publicized very much--the roundup of Jews in France by French police. The actual events run parallel to a modern discovery of the events. The conversations around the history depicted in the book all acknowledged that it would be easy to condemn the French, but also admitted that most of us might not be any better. The story also is an example of the endurability of the human spirit and our capacity to empathize with others.

A little earlier in the year another movie trailer caught my attention called "The Hedgehog". Trailers can be very deceptive and they are are designed to develop your interest. I read some of the reviews and that encouraged me even further. This time I checked the library and alas the movie was not in, but the book, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" was. I checked it out.


Written by Muriel Barbery it was an interesting mix of younger and older characters, French and a little Japanese culture. A young girl bent on suicide is befriended by a self described ugly concierge mutually recognizing their superior intelligence and sensitivity.  A Japanese film maker becomes a part of the intimate group.  I didn't feel I had been too misled by the trailer, but the book's ending did catch me off guard.

A third time another movie trailer got my attention. I have to confess that any movie that has Audrey Tautou in it, is automatically something I have to watch. Audrey wasn't playing a particularly glamorous role, but the hint of the plot looked interesting. I checked the library again and saw an entry for "delicacy" that had Audrey's photo in it and reserved it. I was very excited, but when I picked it off the shelf I saw that it was a book. I was tempted to turn it back as I already had too many books out.

I am glad I didn't. "delicacy" made me laugh and I found it very satisfying not only its plot, but its unique style. It is a romance between a fairly young widow and someone thought of as a klutz.  Of course there are all sorts of obstacles for this unlikely couple.  They misunderstand each other often,  but it turns out to be a satisfying relationship.  I understand the author David Foenkinos teamed up with his brother for the movie version.

All three French authors were great to read. They seemed to have a feel for the psychology underlying the actions of the characters. I should credit the translators for making them easy to read, but I think the tone was set by the authors.   Like most Canadians I tend to read books written by English speaking authors, but as I have found in the film world, foreign perspectives can be very intriguing.

Still waiting to see the movies and I am sure there will be differences.  It is difficult to get into the internal thinking that is exemplified in these three books so I will be interested to see how the directors, screen writers and actors tackle the project

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Quiet The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking " Are you one of them?


I always thought I was one of "them." The author,  Susan Cain is a bit ambiguous with definitions, just the way we introverts prefer.  Being introverted is not a black and white thing and overlaps with, but is distinct from such things as shyness and being highly sensitive. As the author admits, humans are in reality very complex. We each have a unique mixture of traits.

One of her main themes is that we live in a world that rewards extroversion and we are all encouraged to express ourselves more aggressively if we expect to be "successful."  She is an advocate for introverts a task she feels more comfortable with than in her previous occupation of corporate law. I identify with her advocacy as us introverts see the world as unfair at times. Extroverts have lots of spokespersons.

Many studies demonstrate that extroverts are rewarded more often, although they do not always have the better ideas.  Their strength is action.  Introverts tend to listen more and consequently understand more and often their decisions are better and in more depth.  The arts and sciences are full of introverts.  Extrovert action draws more attention.  This is the essence of Susan's contention.

In different parts of the book Susan writes about how introverts try to adapt to a world that seems to be run by extroverts.  Sometimes they make a conscious effort to be more outgoing, sometimes they are able to pick their spots.  Sometimes they are able to make compromises.  Often they naturally gravitate to other introverts, especially if they share common interests.

Early in the book she writes about Dale Carnegie.  I felt a little defensive as I had taken a Dale Carnegie course and was very glad I had.  Looking at it closer my experience does illustrate her point. Dale Carnegie had been born in a rural setting and was originally very shy.  He made a conscious effort to overcome that to the point he could make a rich living helping others do the same.  I was spooked many years ago when I understood I would be speaking in front of 200 plus people at my wedding and took the course.  It helps to overcome inhibitions and to understand what works in expressing yourself.  That description doesn't do the course or Dale Carnegie full justice, but it supports the author's contention.

One chapter is devoted to Asians.  They have developed a reputation of excelling in school and displacing Americans in post secondary education institutions.  It seems to boil down to they spend more time studying.  But worse, they don't socialize the way their non-Asian classmates do.  They are not boisterous or aggressive.  Some Asians have made an effort to encourage more socially outgoing behaviour recognizing the path to success requires some extroversion and networking.

In real life introverts and extroverts bang into one another on a daily basis.  Many introverts have learned to do bursts of extroverted behaviour in order to win their points.  Often, introverts and extroverts partner, even marry.  Parents and child are often at cross purposes.  The author advises on how to best nurture a child that is the opposite (or you might say inclining to the opposite tendency). Extroverts and introverts can better understand one another and in fact in many cases feed off one another.

Extroverts are not bad people just because they are resented by the rest of us.  They are often intelligent and have social skills lacking in introverts.  They get things done.  They can work with introverts to their mutual benefit.  The author, Susan Cain married an extrovert.

In her conclusion she states, "If you're a manager remember that one third to one half of your workforce is probably introverted, whether they appear to be that way or not. Think twice about how you design your organization's office space."  If introverts are made comfortable they can contribute their share of productivity.  She cautions against groupthink suggesting that if you are really after creativity to solve problems it might be best to encourage employees to solve problems alone before sharing ideas.

One of the best aids to the benefits of group thinking has been the inter-net.  Lots of solitary thinkers pooling their ideas and building on each other's thoughts have done wondrous things.  

To find out more of Susan and her book check this website http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/