Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Swedish fountain in Van Dusen

The iron sculptures that used to decorate the Swedish fountain now surround a large tree. The men labouring with axes, shovels, and farm animals evoke a rural and forested past.

Filling up on electricity

It was interesting to observe. Except for the missing person holding the pump, it looks just like a car filling up on gas.

This station is located in the parking lot of Surrey City Centre Parking lot.

Glad I finally witnessed what it looks like when a car fills up on electricity.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A flying visit by a blue jay

Image from pinterest

I left the front door open to the summer air and went back to the kitchen. Hearing a thump, I returned to the hall. All seemed quiet. As I retreated again, another noise made me look over my shoulder, just in time to see a Steller's jay fly out the front door and into the large cedar on the lawn.

I'm honoured that he came by for a flying visit, and grateful he left on his own.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hummingbird visits croscosmia by the front door

Three times in as many days, hummingbirds have visited the crocosmia in front of the door. I feel grateful and privileged. This amazing little bird is wonderful to watch, and I was able to observe it for a couple of minutes each time.

Hummingbirds symbolize lightness, joy and healing.

Image from flickr

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Image from empireonline media

Dystopic future books I usually avoid, and until I picked up this audio book from the library, I didn't know it was one. When David Mitchell spoke in Vancouver a couple of years ago, his comments on writing intrigued me, so I persevered with this novel, enjoying the dramatic cast of actors presenting the story.

I couldn't begin to comment on the immensely complex structure of these six interwoven tales. Instead, I offer some lines that struck me. In view of current news stories, a few are chillingly apropos.

"Missionaries are malleable if you pretend you're a potential convert," "The sacred is a fine hiding place for the profane," and the brilliant observation, "Where there's bluster there's duplicity."

Mitchell speaks of "the enemy required by any hierarchical state for social cohesion," and how "In a cycle as old as tribalism, fear of the other engenders hatred. Hatred engenders violence, and violence engenders more violence, until the only rights belong to the most powerful."

"An abbey had stood there for centuries until corpocracy dissolved the pre-consumer religions" and "non-consumer religions were criminalized." This, of course, is because "if consumers found satisfaction at any meaningful level, corpocracy would be finished."

Thought the novel has a certain gravity, it is not without humour. These comments made by Tim, the aging editor, are among the ones that made me smile. "The woman was sincere; bigots mostly are," and (in speaking to himself), "Oh imp of the perverse, why do I let you speak for me?" The excitable composer Robert Frobisher can also be funny, as when, after getting involved in a brawl, he bemoans having to watch "all those cannibals feasting on my dignity."

"He who pays the historian calls the tune" recalls Churchill's lighthearted prediction that history would be kind to him, "for I intend to write it."

Mitchell makes shrewd observations about our skewed vision of the past, illustrating with the idea of the Titanic. Once all those who remember the real event have gone, later generations begin to remember the movie as if it were the real story.

He also waxes philosophical with this astute comment: "Funny how power, gravity, love...the forces that really kick ass are all invisible."

The last quotations offer glimmers of hope: "No crisis is insuperable if people cooperate." And as a survivor of attempted murder muses, if our individual choices to do good are but drops in the ocean, they still count. "After all, what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?"

Cloud Atlas has also been made into a movie.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Bastard Tongues by Derek Bickerton

Linguist Derek Bickerton specializes in how language develops. His research focuses on the origin of Creoles, especially in Hawaii. Bastard Tongues is a rollicking read, as the reader joins the quest of a colourful academic iconoclast.

The anecdotal storytelling and lighthearted tone suggest the pleasing illusion of being seated beside the author in an open-air bar in the tropics, listening to him elicit Creole sentences from native speaker informants.

A self-described "lifelong autodidact," Bickerton has filled his book with grim historical details about slavery. Indeed, "the infernal machine" of slave-based sugar production gave rise to Creoles. Initially, English and Dutch brought indentured laborers to work the Caribbean islands. But the Portuguese were first to develop the plantation society."

I doubt it's common knowledge that "in 1493 the pope divvied up the non-Christian world between Spain and Portugal...the boundary line being down the middle of the Atlantic." One result was that "if Spain wanted African slaves, she had to buy them from Portugal." For the formation of Creole languages, "the shift over time in the balance of whites and non-whites" was "a crucially important factor in the formation of Creoles."

Bickerton began his linguistic research in Guyana, a place with a shockingly violent history. Later, Hawaii later revealed itself as the crucible of the Creole tongue. From this book, I learned the islands had been unoccupied until Polynesians settled there 1200 years ago. When the Americans took over, Hawaii was home to sizable immigrant groups from Japan, Korea, China and Portugal. Before the hegemony of English asserted itself, Hawaiian newspapers were published in at least five languages.

After his Hawaiian investigations, Bickerton found that the Creoles of Seychelles and Mauritius supported his language bioprogram hypothesis. What else could explain how children in Hawaii "ignore all the English they were exposed to...and acquire a Creole construction that they could never possibly have heard?" In effect, children built the grammar, and taught the new language to their elders. He posits his inborn grammar theory as the only explanation for why Creole grammar "was the same in Hawaii as it was in Suriname, despite the thousands of miles that separated them."

But what exactly is a creole, and how do creoles, pidgins, and dialects differ from languages? A pidgin is a short-lived and limited attempt by two linguistically different groups to understand each other on first contact. Highlighting the socio-linguistic hierarchy of tongues, Bickerton quotes fellow-linguist Uriel Weinreich: "A language is a dialect with an army and a navy." Creoles, though, are complete tongues. Although they use borrowed vocabulary from French, English, Dutch and Portuguese, they are complex languages that can express a full range of meanings and intimations.

Far from lamenting language loss around the world, Bickerton calls languages "tough beasts" that "die hard," and feels we should "treat reports of language death with some skepticism." Meanwhile, "like magma seeking a volcanic rift, the language in all of us will find some way by which it can break out into the world."

Friday, July 7, 2017

Flightpaths by Heidi Greco

Heidi Greco's well-researched book of poetry alludes to primary sources, of which there are many, to evoke the legendary pilot as a whole woman of complex aspect. Around her disappearance, all is uncertainty. However, a recent Washington Post news story raises one more theory about the fate of the disappearing flyer.

In this picture from britannica, Amelia Earhart stands beside her plane after her first solo crossing of the Atlantic. Perhaps the shadowy figure in the background is Fred, her navigator, limned but faintly, just as he is in Greco's well-crafted collection about the storied aviator.

The poems also evoke Amelia as a child, a sister, a friend, a dreamer, and a dog owner, and readers glimpse her ambiguous marriage and her daughter.