Monday, August 31, 2009


I have synesthesia, and it's not debilitating, catching, or even a disease. Those who have synesthesia, or know of this phenomena, will know what I'm writing about; those who don't probably won't understand this post. Synesthesia is a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory pathway---colour--- causes an automatic experience in another---numbers, letters. I'll explain mine.

My days of the week---and months of the year---are all coloured. Monday is brown, Saturday is blue, Friday is red, etc. I also see the week as(this is where it gets strange) an oval stretching out in front of me, in a counterclockwise direction, horizontally. And all the days are coloured. The year is also an oval stretching out in front of me, in counterclockwise direction, but vertically. All months are coloured. When I think of August right now, I'm at the bottom of this oval moving up in a anti-clockwise direction. I'm also moving into another colour---September(white).
Roses smell warm, petunias cold, marigolds smell like shit( just kidding on that one; but they do smell bad). There's plenty more, but that will give you an idea about my synesthesia.

The funny thing about my synesthesia is that I didn't know I had it until my late fifties! I always thought it was just a quirk and mostly ignored it. I also thought that everybody had it in some form or another. I was wrong. I found out about it one day while listening to a radio interview with Jamie Ward who studies synesthesia and wrote a book about it. I was shocked, really. All of a sudden everything made sense. There's a hereditary connection with this, so I asked my family members if they think they have it, and found my daughter also is a synesthete. Hers is about ten times stronger than mine. Amazing! No other member of my family has it.

I'll tell you a story about my synthesia. It goes this way: When I was a young tyke in pre-school, our teacher, in her determined effort to teach us the alphabet, got us to colour the letters. We each had certain letters to colour---inside the lines, of course. I had an A, an R, and a C. R is red, no problem, I coloured it so. C is yellow, no problem, I coloured it so. A is green. Problem! I didn't have a green crayon! Oh no! By the way, scientists who are studying synesthesia say through all kinds of tests they have determined that there are vast differences in coloured letters except the letter A which they say that almost all synesthetes will colour RED. But mine is definitely green.

Anyway, back to my story. I put up my hand and asked the teacher if she had a green crayon? She, all smiles and patience, said that it didn't matter what colour to use. I thought,"Yes, it did!!" I said, " But A is green, and I don't have a green crayon!" I remember the silence that ensued, and the odd look on my teacher's face. And there was a certain panic rising from me over this that did not go unseen by her. She asked the class if anyone had a free green crayon to lend me(to shut me up). I noticed that my fellow students, who did have a green crayon, quickly grab it as if in use, or hide it in their desks. Cruel imps. The teacher sighed, came over to my desk, picked up a blue crayon and said, "This is a nice colour for the letter A, you should colour it blue". BLUE!! Horrors upon horrors; the letter A cannot be BLUE! I said rather weakly, "OK." She waited there by my desk watching me nervously, and quite badly, colouring my letter A with a blue crayon. My mind was sending off signals: WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! I finished colouring it, but couldn't look at it. It was a bad experience.

I soon realized that I should try to contain or at least ignore this quirk of mine--- it could be embarrassing. So, Elementary teachers of the world, if one of your pupils says that a certain number or letter SHOULD be a certain colour, goddammit, get them that coloured crayon. You might save them years of therapy.

Synesthesia is not researched as much as other psychological phenomena, but there are a few books out there to peruse if you are intested. MUSICOPHILIA by Oliver Sacks is one. Dr. Sacks is an amazing neurologists with many books out on various subjects. In MUSICOPHILIA, he just devotes a chapter to synesthesia, but it is quite interesting. Jamie Ward resides in London(I think), and is now probably the leading figure in scientific research in synesthesia. He has a web site where people can take a test to determine if they truly are a synesthete---it's not possible to fake it, actually. He wrote a great book on the subject which I would recommend to anyone interested in this. It's called THE FROG WHO CROAKED BLUE. It's an excellent book with the latest findings in this field. There's also groups on line who have synesthesia---they're banding together. First it's the GREEN A, then it's the WORLD! Just kidding.

Next: God books.

Monday, August 24, 2009


We had a hurricane! Well, not quite a hurricane---didn't measure up. I'm afraid Bill the Hurricane was overblown; a bit of a blowhard, actually. A linesman on our street this morning told me that Cape Bretoners are referring to this particular hurricane as Counterfeit Bill. Cute. So now the radio is interviewing people about what it's like to NOT have a hurricane, which, when you think about it, they could do any time. Right? Oh, we did have rain and lots of wind, but it's like the man being interviewed on radio said, "I seen worst". And it's true, but it's all too bad. I guess maybe the 'worst' thing is waiting for a great blow and not getting it.

I forgot one of my favourite sea quotes last post. It goes this way:

no matter what you lose(like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea.
by e.e.cummings Poem: maggie and milly and molly and may

I want to talk about the non-fiction book I just finished reading last week. THE FLOATING BROTHEL, by Sian Rees. This is a sea book, actually; I enjoyed it very much. Sian Rees is a good writer and must have done extensive research for this book. This is evident in the characters and dates presented.

It takes place in 1789 when a ship loaded with women convicts were heading for the new settlement at Sydney Cove (Australia). There were over two hundred women on board ranging in age from 13 to 60. They were all criminals under the eye of British Justice, and for their crime were "Transported to Parts Beyond the Seas". Most of their so-called crimes centered around thievery, most likely cloth, dresses, coins, watches, and so on. Many of them were really falsely accused. Of course, many of them were prostitutes. It took them about a year to finally get to Sydney Cove which was nothing more than a few shacks and a harbour.

They were given access to the whole ship during the day, they were never shackled or put in the hold during the trip. All the sailors took one of the women for their own, and fed and looked after them throughout the voyage---some of the officers, too. The women stole anything they could find; got into the storage rooms and helped themselves to the food and the rum barrel they found. The captain didn't know what to do for any form of punishment. It turned out to be quite a sea voyage.

At ports of call some of the prostitutes came upon an idea. They, with the help of their agent(government official looking after them), would set up a brothel on board ship for the locals in the area. The women would ply their trade and the agent would look after the money, which he divided equally among the women, some for himself, and a kickback to the captain who was expected to look the other way. It was all good. The women bought food, dresses, and put some money away for their new digs in Australia. A successful enterprise, for sure.

I was thinking that this would make an excellent Disney movie. Don't you think? It's kind of a feel-good movie that naturally brings a smile on your face. I would definitely have Shirley MacLean in it. And maybe Emma Thompson. Lynsey Lohan? Maybe Madonna---she looks like a convict. It would be great fun to make this movie. Yep, it would make a great Disney movie.

There's a long list of excellent sea books I could go over in detail, but I'll just mention a couple and get to the others at a later post.

SAILING ALONE AROUND THE WORLD by Joshua Slocum. He's one of our boys, and this is an excellent book. His voyage on the SPRAY has got to be the best sea adventure ever written.
Any of the books about the ESSEX which was sunk by a sperm whale ramming it. Owen Chase is the author. This is where Melville got his inspiration for Moby Dick.
MUTINY ON THE GLOBE by Thomas Heffernan tells the story of one of the most horrifying events in Nantucket's whaling history.
MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY by Nordhoff and Hall. There are many books out about the Bounty mutiny, but theirs is the best. Also MAN AGAINST THE SEA by them. This book tells of the fantastic voyage Bligh and his loyal officers took in an open boat after the mutiny. They actually made it home, excellent story---and true!

Anyway, I must go look for my bird feeder. It was hidden from Bill the Hurricane by my wife who thought it had the potential of becoming a lethal projectile. I think she buried it, but I'm not sure. She says that in the hurried preparation for the expected atmospheric onslaught, she has now forgotten where she put it. The finches are worried, I know. Maybe it's in the green bin---she puts many things in the green bin that don't belong there. She's not environmentally friendly.

Next: God books

Monday, August 17, 2009


I love the sea. I've lived near the North Atlantic Ocean for all my life, and can't imagine being anywhere, for a long period of time, without checking to see what temperament the sea is exhibiting today. For it changes all the time. I can see the point from my front window, and it's become a ritual to scan the waters to ascertain its mood and view its colour. The colours are amazing. It's a misnomer to say that the ocean is only blue, it has a wide range of colours and hues. There's dark blue, light blue, baby blue, aqua, green, gray, gray/black, black, at times redish, clear, almost white, and different shades of blue in different areas. The list goes on. Its state also covers a wide range, from calm, choppy, ripply, wavy, entirely still, white caps, angry with waves quite high spewing spray into the air, to dead still. Also foggy, misty, hazy. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the sea is always changing, never the same.

But I have the greatest respect for the sea, it's a powerful force that demands caution. Being in the sea, or at times near it, is like playing tag on the shoulders of a potentially ferocious giant. The sea doesn't take kindly to fools. I often wonder what was going on in the minds of some tourists who see huge waves crashing over the rocks on shore, and run to the end of those rocks to...what exactly? Feel the ocean spray? The ocean quickly claims them, of course.

There's a story that seems incredible enough to be true. I have no idea if it is---maybe just a ocean myth. It goes: There were two buddies---quite drunk---walking along a Cape Breton beach on a blustery, angry-sea day. As they walked, talked and laughed, they were getting closer and closer to the waters' edge. A huge wave presented itself and knocked them down. The buddy who was walking on the outside of the surf got back on his feet, pulled the seaweed from his face, righted himself, looked around for his friend, but soon realized he was alone. He called to his buddy, but to no avail. His friend's sudden disappearance had a sobering affect on him right then. He sat down on the sand trying to clear his head---difficult task, indeed, and after some time scanning the ocean for, he hoped, the bobbing head of his mate, he decided to seek out the local police to access the situation. On the long, arduous trek to the police station, he was having serious doubts as to whether his friend was actually with him at all on his walk. He became completely confused about he whole matter, and said so to the police.

The cops naturally thought he was lying(They always think that), and arrived at the conclusion that he had murdered his friend and buried him in the sand. They conducted a thorough search for this now missing man. After many cups of coffee and several intensive interrogations, all they could get from this drunken survivor were many trips to the bathroom and a raving about a HUGE wave that took his buddy. Tears were flowing as easily as urine in the police station that day. A college professor who was a marine biologist was consulted as to the possibility of such a wave dong such a thing. This learned man introduced the word "rogue wave" to the locals. Actually, rogue waves are still debated as to whether they really exist, but for the police who had no idea what to do with this man who can't usually stay on his feet for any period of time let alone kill someone, closed the case marked as a rogue wave victim. Police officers were instructed to scan the shores daily in case the victim washed up. He never did.

My favourite sea quotes:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea, and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
by John Masefield

I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear they skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.
by Coleridge

Haul on the bowline"
We sang that melody
Like all tough sailors do
When they are far away at sea.
Bob Dylan's 115th Dream

So, it's cheer up, me lads
Let your hearts never fail
For the bonny ship the Diamond
Goes a fishin' for the whale.
Sea shanty

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea.
You and I, you and I,
Oh how happy we'll be.
Song( sorry. I don't know who wrote it)

For some reason, I have to have a sea book(fiction or non) to read during the summer. It's become a ritual now. I picked up a non-fiction sea book at a friend's book sale last month. It's called THE FLOATING BROTHEL by Sian Rees. I really enjoyed it. It's not what you think it is...well, it is, actually; but it's not...I mean, you know..."brothel"'re thinking that...well, it's more than times.... I'll explain in a later post.

Next: The greatest sea books---novels and non-fiction.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Sorry. After all this, I still didn't get around to reviewing THE ANGEL'S GAME proper. But first I have to issue a caution. My wife, in all her cautious concern, frequently reminds me that at times I can become overly dramatic about certain things. Considering the fact that I once directed plays many years ago, this insight may have a truthful ring.

With this said, I want to revisit my emotionally-charged sunny afternoon when I had just finished reading THE ANGEL'S GAME while gladly guzzling two bottles of sauvignon blanc listening at high volume to The Talking Heads. This resulted in what I described as a certain summer madness---Am I now becoming "overly dramatic" I wonder? I say this because after much thought I came to realize that this behaviour was more than likely the result of the book, and not the wine.

When I like a book, or at least am intrigued with it, I get fully into it. I absorb the atmosphere, and get lost in the scenery and characters. I think I certainly got lost in THE ANGEL'S GAME, and it carried over and hung with me for quite a time afterwards. This is good literature. It's odd in that it seems to have a straight forward plot and story line which appeals to any reader, I suppose. But---like all of reality---it has strange and unexplained occurrences which makes you think that all is not what it seems. This can be quite disturbing. It was especially disturbing that hot afternoon.
It's mostly a love story with a detective element thrown in. It is quite violent in it's descriptions of the fights that ensue, but overall there is this underlying ghostly, evil presence throughout the story. There is also this hint of unreality which becomes unsettling as you read on. This is a good novel.

By the way, the author has the best definition for religion I have ever read. It's on page 145.

I believe now that I should have read Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novel THE SHADOW OF THE WIND first. I plan to do so now. Carlos Ruiz Zafon is from Spain and an international acclaimed--and much loved---author. The English novel is a translation, of course, so you occasionally get some odd and strangely worded phrases. But otherwise the writing just flows.

Oh! I have to tell you this. My wife started to read THE ANGEL'S GAME last week. She came to me with the book open and a quizzical look in her eyes. The conversation went this way:

Wife: Did you read this?
Bernie: Yes. I finished it awhile ago.
W: I know! But did you read this passage?(points it out in book)
B: Oh yes.
W: Well. What exactly does it mean?
B: Exactly.
W: What?
B: That's the question. Right?
W: What question?
B: Right! Now you're getting it.
W: (She looks at me in silence for quite a few seconds)Uh huh. ( she walks away)

We recently picked up a few really good books from a friend's book sale. I half expected my wife to give THE ANGEL'S GAME up and start to read one of the new novels, but she said that she's really into this book right now, and can't give it up. Uh huh.

THE STRAIN by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I'm reading this novel now, but I don't think I'll continue. It's a straight forward plot-heavy story of vampires arriving in New York---by plane. It reads like a low budget TV movie brought to you by McDonald's and Crest toothpaste. The characters are stock in all the definitions of this word, and their problems are all so familiar. In a word, boring. There's no need to go any further, but if you just want a mindless summer read---nothing wrong with that---then this is the book for you.
Interesting to note: This novel actually made my wife a bit angry. I guess the ending of this novel is pretty well left open to ensure a series along the lines of the other vampire books out now. This is wilful contrivance, is it not? She was not too pleased.

Next: Back to the Sea

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Our fair town has its annual summer fling around this time of year. There's a week of festivities including, for adults: dances, beer tents, beer fests, afternoon tea(followed by beer), meat darts, horseshoe throwing, card playing, pub crawl, and many other activities. It's all good fun. The pub crawl presents an unique challenge because of the fact that there is only one tavern in town. Therefore, participants crawl from the tavern to places like the legion, various clubs, and certain man-caves(garages). The latter being places of such comfort and convenience many choose to stay and forgo the need or the desire to continue this delightful endeavor. Many are waylaid by these beer beacons resulting in fewer numbers arriving at the concluding venue than have started.

For the kids there are many activities presented to delight and thrill, including: clowns, balloons, lots of junk food, parades, jammy jogs, face painting, and so on. With regard to face painting: I once saw a beautiful, nude, young woman get her whole body painted by a rather strange painter at an Artist's exhibition in Montreal many, many years ago. It was quite edifying if not just fascinating. But this is different. This is kids getting their face painted in various shapes and colours, making them look even more scary than they already are.

Last week the town cordoned off a part of the main street as a sort of fair, and set up many booths consisting of games, information kiosks, food venues, and flea market paraphernalia. I decided to go.

Walking among the many display booths, I chanced on quite a large one filled with books of various shapes and colours--- and conditions, also. I never get overly excited about this sight because I know two things: 1. These are second hand books(ugh), and 2.There's usually a slim chance there's anything good here---for me anyway. But, you never know. There could be a signed, first edition of a Charles Dickens!---you never know.

I passed the two tables filled with paperbacks(pocketbooks) quickly---a mere glance (I don't buy or read pocketbooks). I stopped at the table containing hard covered books, some not in bad shape. I noticed that there were many Nora Roberts' books. What's with Nora Roberts? I picked up one of her books to check what book was under it, only to find another Nora Roberts. The proprietor of this dubious book stall quickly came over and said,"You like Nora Roberts!" I realized then that I had two Nora Roberts' books in both hands. I stammered, " ah,, not really, no...ah, I was just...ah..." Oh, the embarrassment! He laughed, and told me that yes, they were for the ladies. But he said I do have some James Patterson over here, and led me over to the side table. He showed me three James Patterson books, giving me one to hold, and said that since they were listed at three dollars each, I could get them all for only six dollars. "That's a deal!", he said, and I was wondering when did flea market vendors became so pushy? It must be the poor economy. But I have to tell you, panic began to rise slowly in my spine, and I eyed the table for any possible bail-out. And I saw an old friend---Farley Mowat. The name of the book was THE REGIMENT. I've read many Mowat books and liked them, but I have never read this. This was his account of his regiment in Italy during WW11. Despite the fact that this book was not a first edition(Third, reissue), and that it was a Trade Paperback that looked like it went through the war with him, I bought it at two dollars. A deal considering the possibility of walking to the car with three Patterson's. He took the book and said he would get a bag for it.

As I waited, A little girl whose face was painted to resemble a cat---artistic talent questionable---sidled up next to me, grabbed the Nora Roberts book, and look up at me with defiance. I nodded, and gave a nervous smile. This cat-girl proceeded to flip through the book for whatever reason with sticky fingers. A little boy whose face was made up to resemble a rat, quickly came up behind her, and gave the cat-girl a big cuff on the back of her head, hollering out something unintelligible. The cat-girl screamed, wheeled around, and belted the rat-boy with Nora Roberts---the book, I mean. By this time, my bookseller had returned, and gave out a shout wherein these violent kids ran off, but not before the cat-girl threw down the book she was using as a weapon onto the table, where it landed on its pages. The book sat there splayed open with the covers reaching for the sky, and the spine just ready to break. I couldn't get my eyes off of it. The bookseller gave me my Mowat all wrapped up tight in a Sobey's plastic bag, thus sealing this shoddy transaction. He hurried off to another eager costumer who I think was taking the Patterson deal. Lucky man.

I stood there for a few seconds looking at the Nora Roberts' book begging for help. I started to wonder just how messed up I would seem if I straightened this book. I'm not a compulsive person by nature, but there's something about the condition of books that my mind cannot overtly dismiss. I picked it up, smoothed the pages, realigned it, closed it, and placed it in its proper position.

I thought then that is was time to go home. I had enough fun for the day, and besides, things were getting rough here. I caught up to a neighbour of mine, and we shared a few laughs on the way to the car. He asked me if I bought a book, and I told him no, that it was a set of steak knives.

I'll continue this on another day, for the sun is shining, and the wine is cooling, and the day is getting on....