Where are we going again?
Welcome to The Handbasket - Where are we going again?

A Failure to Communicate Click Here To Comment!

There is lots to love about Germanic efficiency. For example, the city bus stops have the bus routes numbered and colour-coded. The main bus stops have electronic signs that tell you how many minutes you will wait for your bus. You can count down the minutes and, like clockwork, the bus appears during “0” minute. Very nice.

... but when it stops, nobody knows.

… but when it stops, nobody knows.

I know about 20 words in German – enough to get around without offending people. And everyone seems to have at least 100 words, often much more, in English so it is all good. ¬†I can’t do anything more complex than the pleasantries.

Enter the mildly complex problem of trying to ascertain the arrival of a bus that has no electronic number to indicate its arrival time. Blank screen. It was around 9 p.m. Had the buses stopped running? That didn’t make sense – it wasn’t that late and there were still lots of people around. I thought I’d ask when I bought my ticket. I went into a souvenir/corner shop. The proprietor is of Asian descent:

Prop: (something in German, probably can I help you?)

Me: (smiling) Yes – I’d like to buy a ticket for the bus.

Prop: (smiling) Oh, I don’t sell those. You need to go to cigarette man (pointing).

Me: Ah, ok. Do you know if the buses are still running now?

Prop: (puzzled, stlil smiling) Yes, the buses run right past here. Stop there. (Pointing)

Me: Yes, I know the bus stop. But are they still running now, at night?

Prop: (insistant) Yes, the buses run right past here. Stop there. (Pointing)

Me. OK.Thank you.

Alright, maybe cigarette man will know. No buses had gone by in the last five minutes so I was starting to get concerned. Dodging city buses is a newly acquired Salzburg skill of mine.

Me: Hi – I’d like to buy a ticket for the bus.

CM: (nods)

Me: By the way, have the buses stopped running tonight?

CM: The bus stop is here. (Pointing)

Me: Yes. But are there any more buses stopping here tonight?

CM: (staring at me like I’m an idiot American which is categorically incorrect. I’m a dumbass Canadian.) The bus stop is here. (Pointing)

OK … I’ll just wait here for a while. ūüôā I’ve got lots of time. I’m on vacation.

Magically, the bus appeared within minutes, even though the sign refused to predict this. See what happens when you set my expectations high around efficiency? I now expect consistency!

 

Random Thoughts II – Salzburg Click Here To Comment!

8. Soundscape: Unbelievable.  The glorious cacophony of all these towering bells and glockenspiels, all trying to state the time simultaneously. Dozens, hundreds of languages. Clip clop of horses gently towing the tourist buggies carriages around.  Lots of birds singing, especially around Nonnberg and Miribell Gardens.

9. Don’t Miss It (3): The composer of ¬†my favourite Christmas carol was born in Salzburg.

Silent Night Composer - Joseph Mohr

Silent Night Composer – Joseph Mohr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. When is a throne room really a throne room? The Austrians seem to have struggled with the concept of the separation of Church and State. The term “Prince Archbishop” seems to have been thrown around a lot prior to the Napoleonic wars. The creative forces behind the movie Amadeus must have taken character design from the paintings in Festung HohenSalzburg (the big castle) and in the Salzburg Museum. Speaking of that movie, think of Mozart’s father pleading with the Prince Archbishop for his son to be forgiven for some misdemeanour or other. The Prince Archbishop was second only to Emperor Joseph. In any case, the state rooms, at the very very tippy top of the castle overlooking Salzburg, have been left in more or less their orignal condition, mostly wood, ornate and rich designs. But … who wants to go all the way to another floor to do one’s unofficial business? Here is a throne room inside a throne room!!

Throne Room

Random Thoughts – Salzburg Click Here To Comment!

1. Free WIFI: Festung Hohen Salzburg (Salzburg Castle) has free WIFI. Cool!

2. The destitute: There are more panhandlers per square km here than I have ever seen in Toronto or anywhere else.

3. Universit√§t Salzburg has 12,000 students who have to fight through the Sound of Music / Mozart / Music / Photography buffs who roam these tiny streets daily. Most of the students seem to be earnest, serious, clean-shaven young white men riding bicycles. They congregate on street corners in the inner parts of the city, smoking and arguing with each other in emphatic German. The presence of a strong student population makes it possible for the Mozart, Haydn and R. Strauss themes to be juxtaposed with places like Jango, the world music cafe and the Afro Africa Cafe. Aside from this, you’d have to look hard to find a radical counterculture here.

4. Was ist diese Anschluss¬†von dem Sie sprechen?¬†I always thought “anschluss” meant “annexation”. Then I rode around on the Salzburg city buses a while. The automated voice repeatedly says “anschluss”, as it relates to specific stop. “Next Halt – Griesgasse … anschluss, Haupbanhof.” It means “connection”. I couldn’t figure out how bus stops were related to annexation. *facepalm* If Captain Von Trapp were riding the bus, Herr Zeller could say, “If the anschluss is coming, and it is coming Captain … perhaps you’d find your way back to Hotel Bristol if we set the bus connections to music!”

5. Don’t Miss It (1): If you spend too much time staring at the horse fountain in Residenzplatz, you’ll miss the commemoration of the Nazi book-burning in 1938.

Commemorative Plaque - Residenzplatz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. #1 Leading Cause of Concussions in Salzburg: If you are 5′ 8.5″ tall, and are agog at the interior of St. Peter’s Cathedral, so much so that you stop RIGHT IN FRONT of the door you just came through so you can take a picture … you might get a concussion from the next person coming through the door. There is a sign about this in tiny letters on the door. ¬† See the tiny blue plaque?

See the tiny blue sign?

See the tiny blue sign?

 

 

 

Now, imagine going through this door with no expectation of seeing this …

 

 

 

 

First Glimpse - the Wow Effect

First Glimpse – the Wow Effect

Some football hooligan dude came through the aforementioned door at full speed while I was trying to set up this photo. Ow. He apologized in German or some similar language.

 

 

 

 

But then there was this, so it is ok.

Ducky takes a moment.

Ducky takes a moment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Don’t Miss It (2): If you spend too much time reveling in the magnificence of St. Peter’s section of the city, you may miss that part of it served as the headquarters for the Gestapo in WWII.

Confiscated by Gestapo

Confiscated by Gestapo

The translation, loosely, is something like: This cloister was confiscated by the Gestapo from 1938 to 1945.  In memory of torment, torture and death of (untold?) victims. The City of Salzburg.

 

Continued in next post …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ducky Goes On A Trip Click Here To Comment!

I decided to take my kayaking buddy, Ducky, on this trip to Europe.  She seems to be enjoying herself.

Upon arriving, taking a moment to get organized.

Upon arriving, taking a moment to get organized.

Sock Popping Click Here To Comment!

I have a lot to do today. There are work demands, with deadlines. That has to be addressed so I can tackle publisher demands this weekend, with deadlines. And there is life up here – about 18 inches of snow and ice, in layers, that need to be removed from the upper deck today before the big melt tomorrow. Otherwise, it will all melt against the brick and wood construction which can cause bad things to happen over time. Icicles have to come down so they don’t fall down and do damage.

upper deck in winter

Snow on upper deck, January 10, 2014

And I get to fetch, feed and entertain children today while Knotty Girl is off in the city, painting.

I was thinking about all this as I popped open a pair of fluffy thick socks this a.m. Popped open? What do you call it when you unfold socks that have been folded into a nice neat ball?

Anyway, the act of sock popping gave me a moment of nostalgia. There is a moment that happens in early fall most years. The moment when, after three or four months of not wearing socks, it is time to put socks on again. And it is a bit sad but also a bit comforting, the feeling of protecting feet with something soft and warm for the first time in a long time. The act of transitioning to a new season, a change of gears, as signified by socks.

I’ve just come off a time of relative calm in my work life, transitioning into what looks like a busy time. It is a gear shifting. I didn’t want the moment to pass without note.

I have fluffy socks to pop and cushion my feet. I’m ready.

Rags Click Here To Comment!

In Grade 12, I wrote a paper on Scott Joplin for music class. I had to do a great deal of research on it and it is the first topic I remember getting seriously “hooked” on, from a research perspective, other than WWII.

I spent more time on that paper than anything else I did that year. I spent hours reading every book I could get my hands on that was remotely related to music in the US at the turn of the 19th/20th Century. And, of course, I read about Scott Joplin specifically. I have only the vaguest recollection now of the specific details of his story but I have clear and distinct memories of my emotional reaction to the tragedy of his story. The raw, clear expression of talent that would not be suppressed vs. extreme social forces working against that talent. At times, I wept while listening to multiple interpretations of almost every piece he wrote, the popular and the obscure. I disliked the “hot dog” speed demons who turned these gems into blurry races of music. To me, his compositions are not meant to be played even briskly – the subtlety is lost. Played slowly, to me, the pain and knife’s edge place between brilliance and subservience that Joplin lived in for most of his life just cry out.¬† Back in the day, I settled in on Joshua Rifkin as my favourite interpreter for his slower, contemplative tempos and his ability to pull the emotional centre out of the music.

I listened and I wept. I still have that paper somewhere and, to this day, a slow, careful interpretation of Joplin’s best can really get me. The guy wrote all this material, was famous, to a degree, yet died in relative poverty, pain and obscurity with much of his best work unseen and unstaged.

So I’m writing this big, completely unrelated, report for work and there are numbers, charts and graphs spinning around my head most of the day. It has been said that music without lyrics is best for concentration so I’ve turned back to one of my original research subjects, Master Joplin, for background music and, still, some interpretations catch me off guard, right in that soft spot. When that happens, I have to stop writing for a moment and just listen.

Researching that Scott Joplin paper would be so different now. There are so many online resources and oh so many options for listening and comparing versions of specific pieces. YouTube is a treasure trove. There are other Joplin aficionados out there, imagine that, and some have put together amazing playlists of a variety of performers and versions. It is mind boggling. There are different variations of his story out there and debates about what happened, when, to whom. I haven’t had time to read all this – I’ve just been listening as I attempt to piece together decidedly non-musical data, attempting to turn it into useful information.

Here is Rifkin’s rendition of Solace, complete with pops and crackles from the vinyl.

 

 

The Drive Click Here To Comment!

There are multiple routes to get from The PostCard to my workplace, in the extreme east end of Toronto. On the best driving day, with no construction, traffic volume issues, weather, detours or gas/coffee stops, it is one hour, 50 minutes. This, of course, depends on the route taken and I’ve discovered many “new” routes and, each time, I insist that the route is “shorter”.

Technically, this may be true. The new routes get “shorter” but the time to destination keeps getting longer. The “new” routes zig zag past farm land, rolling hills, small towns, villages, hamlets, french fry trucks, abandoned farm equipment, antique shops … a myriad of distractions. I find the “new” routes so much more interesting, especially during dramatic seasonal changes when the landscape seems to shift before my eyes.¬† Right now, we are changing gears from a coolish summer to a gorgeous fall and the colours, the angle of the light, can be breathtaking.

Of course, I find these views, and the act of driving through them, nostalgic as all heck. When you are raised out in the country and you are also an active young person, involved in lots of extra curricular activities, you spend a lot of time driving places to do the things you are interested in. My Mom drove me everywhere. I remember early morning band practices, with the mist rising off the fields and creeks in the semi-dark. I remember navigating countless snowstorms to get to hockey tournaments. Driving in to the city every other Saturday to visit Grandma. Being dropped off or picked up at the school for newspaper, theatre projects, or some event or other. Driving great distances to get to do something, and then driving home, was part of my “culture”, growing up. As soon as I got my license, I was in charge of driving myself, for the most part. Long drives through the night from the community almost an hour north where I taught guitar one night a week.¬† Driving with my buddies into the city for a movie night from time to time – a huge treat.

As a younger passenger, there might have been a book to read or a crossword puzzle but there were certainly no electronic pacifiers for these drives. There was looking out the window, noticing changes and commenting on them. Riding along was a time to think about things, to sort through whatever pre-teen or teen emotional angst was current. I remember sitting beside my mother, countless times, in my sullen mopey way, rolling  my eyes at some bit of wisdom or observation she may have had which was, from my perspective, clearly out of touch with reality and definitely NOT COOL. I remember feeling, as a driver, all grown up when I was able to safely get myself Рand often my friends Рfrom activity to activity. That certainly felt cool.

My brothers are both drivers of long distances as well. When my nieces and nephews were in school, 2.5 hours from the community where they were raised, it was nothing for my brother and sister-in-law to drop everything, drive down to them and take them out to dinner or something and drive back. My other brother will drive hours north to “his” jointly owned fishing lodge to do engine maintenance or to fix something. Two of my nieces decided to start a main street, touristy summer business in Grand Bend, a daily one hour one way drive for 12 hour shifts. We, in our family, drive a lot and don’t seem to mind it.

This week has been one of the harder ones to manage, schedule wise, but it has worked out okay. I wound up staying in NewMarket after my Tuesday night hockey game at a funny little motel I discovered at the north end. It is clean, feels safe and inexpensive (I think I’m getting a deal now), and has a free breakfast. So, I can get up very early, hit the road home for the last hour and 15 minutes and be in front of my computer screen by 9 a.m., ready to go. On Wednesday morning, I tried to avoid the mass exodus of people going south on the 404 and took Old Yonge St. north to Mount Albert Road. This took me on a narrow road though some picturesque valleys with the requisite mist softening the sunrise. It was really gorgeous.

I came home last night from a work/social event and arrived in pretty good time, about 10:20 p.m. Driving through the inky dark night, zig-zagging through the rural back roads of Ontario, having time to quietly process all that is current or pressing in my life, listening to an audio book or CBC … it doesn’t feel at all like a burden or waste of time. It feels normal and necessary. I’m glad to have some ability to negotiate the timing of the driving and I am often overcome with gratitude for the generous and welcoming friends who let me stay with them in Toronto on the nights when the drive isn’t negotiable.¬† But the drive itself? Sometimes … to me … it is one of the most magical parts of living out the city.

Bodies of Future/Past 3 comments

There is a video making the rounds at the moment, a three minute clip from an interview about Dustin Hoffman’s experience preparing for the role of Tootsie.

Dustin’s moment of clarity

I don’t always “buy” celebrity “moments” in interviews, but this one rings true.*¬† I admire him for connecting the dots with such resonance.

I had a rather personal response to this video. I lost 95 lbs over 18 months, roughly between 2008 – 2009. I held steady there for a while but gradually – with all the changes and stress – my weight has crept back up, close to where I started.

When I was losing weight, I noticed that more people talked to me. Men and women. Between having a year off work to consult independently, being in an energizing new relationship, and feeling more attractive, I was certainly projecting a happy, vibrant energy. Undeniably, it helped that I was also fitter, not just more proportional. I had more energy, more muscle shape, and I was really happy with this – especially the muscles and the cardio fitness. Happy people are more attractive people, of course. It is a non-vicious cycle.

Face Too Skinny?

Face Too Skinny?

I’m thinking about Dustin’s comment in his video in which he says that he wouldn’t go and talk to himself as a woman at a party, for example, because he didn’t meet his own brainwashed standard of beauty. When I say people were more interested in talking to me, this is what I mean – the simple act of choosing whom to have a conversation with in a social situation. This too is a variable, and a highly prized one in our society. Feeling attractive in these moments means feeling valued.

There was a very specific point at which, from my point of view, I became “visible” and “viable” to people around me. It was really at the point where I’d lost about 35 lbs. with ultimately 60 more to go in the overall attempt. I wasn’t “skinny” by any means but something happened in the perception of proportions that changed my look. I started wearing different clothes and that accented the change. From my perspective, the more weight I lost from this point onward, the “chattier” people got.

As I got down to my lowest weight point – still by no means “skinny” – I thought my face didn’t look quite right. Too harsh or hard, perhaps? The photo here is at close to my lowest weight.

My life has changed enormously since this time. New routines are hard to establish and maintain, especially given the amount of driving I have been doing.¬† All the changes have taken an emotional toll on both Knotty Girl and myself.¬† When there are stressors and demands, I’m not programmed to run to the gym and sweat it off. I’m programmed to consume foods that I shouldn’t.¬† Thus, in all of the hubub, the weight has almost all come back and I don’t look like this anymore. I’ve certainly been conscious of this trend, I’ve felt a bit powerless about it, and I have tried to note at what point I appeared to fade from visibility, generally speaking. At what point am I less likely to be the person spoken to at the party? Not surprisingly, it was right about at gaining 60 of the lost 95 lbs back. So, in other words, there is something magical in terms of the perception of the exterior self that happens right about at that fulcrum point.

This is a non-scientific experiment of course. The other variables – like my own moodiness or sleep deprivation or what have you – are hard to account for.¬† My own sense of feeling less confident, less sure-footed in my new roles at home and in the ever-changing tides at work, hasn’t helped.

Biceps of Future/Past

Biceps of Future/Past

If I were talking to Dustin about this, I’d tell him not to feel too hard on himself. We are all subject to the “physical attractiveness brain washing”, both men and women. We look at ourselves and judge. We look at others and draw conclusions, often within seconds. I know I do it. The trick is to become self-aware of this behaviour and to try to manage it somehow. I remember hearing Susie Bright say something like this (apologies for inaccurate paraphrasing): the most interesting person in the room is the least “attractive” one because they have to work their other skills – charm, humour, sexiness, intelligence – to gain ground lost by not being “attractive”.

So now what? When I reflect back on the weight loss adventure, I’m remembering how good it felt to be strong and fit. I’m going to aim for that. I’m not sure I’m going to even weigh myself, although those numbers are good guideposts. I’m not aiming to raise my visibility, per se, to anyone but myself. I’ll know I’m getting somewhere when I can walk nine holes without huffing, skate three periods without collapsing, and find myself admiring the curve of my own biceps.

*It is hard to view Dustin’s reference to his conversation with his wife, Lisa Hoffman, without a sense of irony.

Can I Eat These? Click Here To Comment!

Mysterious Objects

Mysterious Objects

So Knotty Girl is away, and the kids are at their Dad’s. Thus, I’m “home alone” for a few days, writing, re-arranging furniture, weeding and generally trying to stay out of trouble.
I was feeling “afternoon snackish”, what with my meals being a bit out of sync. I went rummaging through the kitchen. I found these mysterious spherical objects. I sniffed them. They smell very nice, a bit like a visit to the Body Shop or Lush. What are they? Are they decorative? An olfactory enhancement to room decor? They have a nice heft to them – perhaps they are primitive weapons of some kind? Or exercise equipment?

Listen To Your Sports Gut Click Here To Comment!

I spent a significant chunk of time in the first half of 2009 working on the concept / development of a hockey skills reality TV show. My job was to produce draft after draft of the concept and to lead the pitch of the concept to lawyers and production companies.

I didn’t say much about this at the time as I had a gut feel that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. And I was right. I thought I’d learn a few things and meet some interesting people. Can’t say that it was a terrific return on investment so maybe the learning is to listen more carefully to my gut.

I did get to wear Mike Krushelnyski’s championship rings one night in a bar. That was fun. ūüôā

Krusher's rings

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