Monday, June 29, 2009


Gardening in Cape Breton is like chasing a prized butterfly in a wind storm---it ain't easy. You have frost until the middle of June; rains so heavy they can dent the top of your car; winds that cause your trees to grow sideways. We live close to the North Atlantic ocean and receive the salt spray from a nor'easter---does wonders for the plants.

I bought two slender, beautiful, evergreen trees last year around this time that are quite dead right now. Their demise is a mystery. I bought them at half price, tried to see if i could return them since there was a guarantee attached, and was told the discount voided the warranty. It's the way the world turns.

My wife is distraught. The deceased trees are nestled within a vital region of our much laboured, quite pretty garden. These fir trees are now tinted with a rather handsome brownish colour, but this is not the hue they ought to be. So this presents a problem. Our overstretched garden budget prevents us from replacing these trees, so I suggested to my wife that maybe it would be a good idea to spray paint them---green, of course. My unusual resolution to this conundrum didn't faze her a bit since she knows me well, but she stated that if I decided to do such a thing she would make sure she was out of town for a few days until the deed was done. She fears embarrassment and keeps her distance at such times. I haven't decided on the colour green as of yet.

But this does remind me of a non-fiction book I once read called THE GOLDEN SPRUCE by John Vaillant. It is a true story of a century old giant golden spruce, which is a rarity, growing on one of the islands off the west coast of British Columbia. The natives there always considered this tree to be sacred, and it was always left untouched by the logging companies, that is until an unbalanced, hate-filled logger cut it down one weekend and left it to rot. Fascinating story, well told, a good book.

But our trees are not golden, and I really don't think I could pass them off as a new brownish variety of fir tree---very rare. No.

I'm without a book to read(oh, the horrors), so went rooting around my wife's library looking for something other than Atwood. I found LATE NIGHT ON AIR by Elizabeth Hay. It's a novel about a radio station in Yellowknife---way up north. I checked the book and found it is a first edition Trade paperback and signed! How about that? It also won the Giller Prize, and other prizes, I think. I vaguely remember hearing about it a few years ago and wondered if my wife liked it. She said that she didn't like it at all, and actually didn't finish reading it, which is highly unusual for her. I was intrigued. She also said that she picked it up at Chapters in Halifax, and that it was already signed by the author. I decided to read it.

I could understand why my wife did not finish this novel. Did you ever meet a person who loves to talk, and actually never shuts up? Did you ever meet someone who goes on and on mixing the past with the present with great ease, but never getting to the point? That's this novel. I found I cared very little for any of the characters---my wife's sentiment too. There's absolutely no curse words in this novel! None! My wife didn't think that that was a viable criticism. I do---not real. I was anxious to read about the canoe trip near the end of the novel thinking that this was going to pull everything together in a clever, exciting manner, but it read like a travelogue where the "disaster" was actually more of a mishap. I think this book is a disaster. Also I didn't get the feel of being in the North; there was no atmosphere to that end.

Some noticeable points: Quite a contrived ending; unbelievable, really.
One character said when on the canoe trip that this trip is going to change her life. Unbelievable, you never know what experiences will change your life until many years later.
Notice this: " After she left her desk, he went over and picked up the pen and held it to his nose, pathetic man that he was, trying to smell her hair". The phrase "pathetic man that he was" is written by the author E. Hay, not the narrator. In other words, the narrator tells the story and should be without any bias towards any character, so this phrase was obviously the author's. This is a faux pas seldom done by good writers.

The Giller jury said that this novel was "dazzling, flawlessly-crafted, masterfully told". So there you are, what do I know. My wife was right---she usually is.

Next: Taking a slice off of Pi

Monday, June 22, 2009


I---and my wife---have started watching the game show The Wheel Of Fortune. In other words, I have officially become an old fart. All I need now is to eat supper on one of those cheap metal trays that prop up in all their insipidness in front of you. Here's my skit on watching the Wheel.

Martha: Ralph!
Martha: Ralph!
Ralph: (in the other room) What!
Martha: Ralph! Ralph!
Ralph: What! What! (mumbles---unintelligible)
M: The Wheel is on!
R: What! What deal?
M: The Wheel! The Wheel! Vanna, you know.
R: Oh! I'll be right there.
R: (comes into room) Did it just start?
M: Yes! Someone just won a trip to Rooba-Dooba!
R: Where the hell is that?
M: Don't know, but I want to go. Looks like a nice place.
R: You want to go. It could be in Newfoundland, for Christ's sake.
M: I doubt that , Ralph. They wouldn't send winners to Newfoundland.
R: Who won it? Which one?
M: The little ugly one there, on the left.
R: I wouldn't mind going to Rooba-Dooba with her. She ain't ugly.
M: Shhh, they're starting the next game. A phrase...hmmmm.

Actually the Wheel of Fortune is from medieval philosophy and refers to the changing fortunes of us all. The wheel turns at all times---slowly as well as quickly--- issuing in great luck on one end and bad on the other. At the top of your good fortune there is nowhere to go but down. Likewise, at the bottom of you bad luck there is nowhere to go but up(hopefully). It's the way of things. The depth and severity of your fall from good fortune is directly proportional to your arrogance when you reach the pinnacle of success. Don't you love it? Shakespeare mentions the Wheel many times in his plays.

But this Wheel of Fortune is an American game show. It is interesting, although I find it hard to understand the need for Vanna. She actually slows the game down because she has to shuffle along the board to "touch" the lighted panels. I was thinking the game would be much more exciting and faster if Vanna was on a bungee cord and would swing around the board kicking the lighted panels. I would like to see that. This is silly, I know, but she is quite obviously redundant and should have a more entertaining role.

I get a lot of the answers on this board before my wife. You see, I do many crossword puzzles every week, and the game is along the lines of this worthwhile past time. When I get the answer, my wife says, "Very good!! Very good!!!" She also looks at me in wonderment. I find this a bit disconcerting. It's as if it truly shocks her that I can get anything right.

I don't watch much TV---my wife neither. I really don't have anything against TV, but I think there are probably better things to do with your time. There are a couple of things I can say against TV though, from what I see. One is this: TV lies to you, constantly. Books on the other hand tell the truth, mainly. The other is this: TV simplifies even the most complex subjects, and draws a conclusion from this simplicity which it wants you to adhere to. People with no more than a high school education feel they know everything about Astrophysics because they saw an hour special on this topic on the Discovery Channel narrated by Kermit the Frog. Books on subjects like Astrophysics written for the layman explain the many aspects of this field in understanding terms, but the reader will realize his/her limitations. And commercials are extremely annoying. Extremely.

Books offer a pleasant, relaxing, intellectual, calming, sometimes exciting, break from this too-busy world. TV takes over your mind; books engage it.

Anyway, I'll buy an "e", Pat(Is it Pat?) Watch Vanna go---how old is she anyway?

Next: Trees and Hay

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Tuesday, June 16, is BLOOMSDAY celebrated in Dublin, Ireland, and throughout the world. It relives the events of Leopold Bloom---the protagonist in James Joyce's masterpiece novel ULYSSES. The novel's story line takes place in one day on June 16, 1904, in Dublin.

This was the only novel that rendered me completely awe-struck. I was first wholly introduced to ULYSSES in the 60's, and have carried a flaming torch for it since then. I own three copies of this book---one is an older hardcover copy, and my wonderful son when on a trip through Ireland stopped by at the Joyce museum and bookstore, and sent me all kinds of books, pamphlets, pictures, AND a T-shirt. Good boy.

I remember way back when a friend of mine had a copy of ULYSSES before I did. He showed me the end of the novel, being Molly's stream of consciousness soliloquy, and its complete lack of any punctuation. I took the book from him and read it in amazement---all day! I was ducking him all day long between classes, and during lunch, but he cornered me at the end of day and I had to hand it over. Yes, I did, Yes, Yes, Yes.

ULYSSES is probably the most important, as well as the best novel ever written; yet not many people have actually read it---or actually read through it. It's a difficult book to follow and understand. I get hopelessly lost in some areas of the novel where I'm not that sure to what he's referring. However, there are great guides now outlining in detail the chapters. And the writing is beyond wondrous, they say Joyce uses several styles of writing in this novel.
I love the opening chapter in Martello Tower with Buck Mulligan. There's a really funny banter going on between the characters.
The scene where Stephen Dedalus teaches the boys in school, a very sad and boring day in school(I could identify).
Stephen's walk along the beach thinking about his now dead mother and other matters.
Blooms appears buying some kidney. his breath having a tinge of urine on it.
This is excellent stuff. But then you get to the NIGHTTOWN scene where things change to a hallucinatory stage, and the writing gets creative and exciting.
I love the question and answer scene near the end of the novel where the narration is pulled back to examine both Bloom and Stephen in their drunken antics. The end is Molly(Penelope)in her stream of consciousness. Yes.

I love this book. It's sheer genius.

Joyce's DUBLINERS is a collection of 15 stories centering around the characters of Dublin. They are excellent stories which makes for quite an enjoyable reading experience. One story THE DEAD was made into a great movie by John Huston. I remember when it first came out, the producers of this movie wanted John to change the title because they thought the American people would think it was a zombie movie. John Huston refused, good man.

Joyce wrote FINNEGAN'S WAKE after ULYSSES. FINNEGAN'S WAKE is unreadable, it really is. No matter how much you study the themes, check the guides, read the scholarly reviews, you can't follow this novel---I can't anyway. Joyce was into avant-gard techniques that drastically limit readership. But it's still considered a major novel in English literature.

So, on Tuesday, lift a pint to Bloom and his day; lift a pint to Joyce too.

Next: TV vrs Books

Monday, June 8, 2009


My wife and I went to see the movie ANGELS & DEMONS at the Empire Theater last week. A curious thing happens when we go to the movies, I have noticed. My wife stays with me when in the ticket line, but upon reaching the ticket booth she moseys on into the lobby to await my arrival with the tickets in hand. I purchase the Senior's rate, of course---it's cheaper. I'm alright with that. It's one of the perks of being of an older age. I was talking to an old buddy of mine recently who told me his wife who is close to 60 years old does not like to be referred to as "Senior". AHA! A light went on in my otherwise befuddled mind. I believe I now understand my wife's hasty departure when the ticket booth looms near. The pimply-faced youth managing the transaction of money and tickets gives a sly glance at you in order to confirm your request for the senior's rate. With me this glance takes a nano second. I would imagine, with my wife's disposition, a look by a witless youth to confirm age could be extremely dangerous for him/her. They could very well end up with those tickets stuffed away in an embarrassing part of their anatomy. So for me, that's one mystery solved.

My wife enjoyed the movie ANGELS & DEMONS, very much. I didn't all that much. I just find that director Ron Howard is so blah; I don't think he has an artistic flair at all. His movies are so straight and narrow, and so boring. But it was cool to see parts of the Vatican destroyed.

ANGELS & DEMONS is written by Dan Brown, as is THE DA VINCI CODE which was a major bestselling novel published in 2003. Both novels center around the so-called secrets and subterfuges brewing beneath the otherwise wholesome facade of the Catholic Church. One has to tread lightly with such a subject in the fear of evoking God's wrath, so to speak. But Dan Brown holds back nothing and therefore received scathing criticisms from not only the Church, but scholars and historians too. Dan Brown is smart; he's a multi-millionaire now.

Dan Brown got the material for his novels from a book published in 1982 called THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, & Henry Lincoln. This book claimed that Jesus survived the crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene, moved to France, started the Merovingian dynasty, and ended his days as a security guard at the Louvre( I made that last part up ). Like all conspiracy theories, these wild assertions are all ungrounded, based on speculations and jaded interpretations. Take for instance the Priory of Sion which is a secret society who purportedly holds all the information on this great secret. This was later revealed to be one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century. The Knights Templar were wiped out not because they possessed information and artifacts(Grail) that threatened the Church, but because in effect they were the first multi-national company who grew so much power and riches that they threatened the Church and certain countries with their influence. They had to go. And actually when it comes down to it, does anyone really care?

Both books by Brown are mysteries for all that. They contain the classic plot outline of sleuth, companion---female love interest, bodies piling up, time running out, twists and turns, dynamic ending. But with the Brown books you have this element concerning a secret well hidden from the public, which is like peeking at something you shouldn't, making the novels unique and exciting even though the "secret" information is distorted and groundless.

The novels are fun, but shouldn't be taken seriously.

Next: Two favorite authors

Monday, June 1, 2009


We'll put Da Vinci on the shelf for now because there is breaking news. I read it in the Globe and Mail, and I believe everything I read in the G&M. By the way, the G&M should be required reading for every Canadian, especially Saturday's. I love the Saturday Globe and Mail! On Saturday morning I set out early in order to purchase my copy---one has to go early for it seems there are limited copies on this part of the Island. I usually pick it up at the local corner store, and the female clerk always remarks on the high cost of this newspaper. It's always the same scene, every Saturday. I pass her the paper, she says, "Wow, expensive paper!" I usually say nothing. It's as if this bit of unimportant information is new to her every week. I believe you call that short term memory loss. She's a pleasant woman, but reminds me of the goldfish who they say suffers from this condition. The goldfish swims around a small tank endlessly in a circle discovering things for the first time that it has just seen two seconds ago. It goes like this: Goldfish swims, says,"Neat place, Oh look, a treasure chest!" Goldfish swims around, says, "Neat place, oh look, a treasure chest!" Goldfish swims around, says,"Neat place, Oh look..... you get the idea.

Anyway, I'm off the track. I was talking about....ahh(I'll check my notes)...oh yes, Archie Comics. (just kidding...really!)

The G&M has wonderful journalists, columnists, writers; one being Lynn Crosbie who wrote an excellent item on the Archie Comics. And here comes the "breaking news": Archie Andrews, the 84 year old teenager, is proposing marriage to Veronica, his girlfriend. WOW, this is big! Apparently, according the Lynn Crosbie, this will happen in August in a six-part-story called "Archie Marries Veronica". When was the last time I bought a comic book? I'm going to get this one, though.

I was never much of a comic book reader when I was young. I liked, in stead, Classics Illustrated where the greatest books written were turned into colourful panels where major characters had these dialogue balloons over their heads. You should have seen the monologue balloon over Hamlet's head in the "To be or not to be" segment.
I did have Superman and the like, but always preferred Plasticman. Plasticman was a rather tall, lanky, dorky-looking superhero, but what appealed to me is that he could change at any time. He could change into anything and everything at a glance, and had wit enough to change when it was advantageous. Cool! At a young age, that was quite desirable.

Off track a bit here, sorry.

Lynn Crosbie goes on to describe and explain the two girls in Archie's comic book life: Veronica and Betty. Betty: blond, fun-loving, cute, loyal, and who loves Archie. Veronica: Dark-haired, spoiled, rich, self-centered---a dominate bitch, there's that word again. You see, Archie loves Veronica---the beguiled boy could be a fool. Archie would be much better off with Betty---she's nice.

But this is classic, isn't it? Men are invariably attracted to the Veronicas of this world. This theme regarding the appeal of the "dangerous" woman to the hapless sap has been played out in literature as far back as the Bible. Lynn Crosbie mentions heroines in F. Scott Fitzgerald, Becky Sharpe in Thackeray's VANITY FAIR. I have others: Lucy Tantamount in Aldous Huxley's POINT COUNTER POINT, Hester Prynne in THE SCARLET LETTER. How about Catherine Earnshaw in Emily Bronte's WUTHERING HEIGHTS? Cathy is my all time favourite woman of literature---full of life, full of the devil. That's the best book to come out of 19th century literature, in my opinion. Lady Macbeth? "Screw your courage to the sticking place..."---be a man, Macbeth! I was so disappointed when Lady Macbeth fell apart, walking naked around the castle trying to rub the blood off her hands. She should have screwed herself to the sticking place. That didn't sound right, sorry.

So, Archie marrying Veronica could be interesting. Maybe she'll make a man out of him, maybe she'll destroy him, maybe she'll change his nerdy hairstyle, maybe she'll even turn Archie into a vibrant, dynamic, interesting comic book character---that's a stretch.

So I'll be buying the August edition of the comic book Archie, for sure. My female clerk will probably say," Comic books cost a lot!" Uh huh.

Next: Da Vinci