Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Diamond anniversary: small body, big voice, great occasion

Photo: Daphne and John with daughter Robyn

On the weekend I was privileged to attend a diamond wedding celebration. Daphne and John have been married for sixty years!

Both were born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Before coming to Canada, they married in London and honeymooned in Paris. At yesterday's party we pored over the old wedding album once more.

During their long life together, they raised four children, providing them with pets, camping trips, and other adventures as well as a comfortable home with a fabulous garden.

In their working lives, Daphne was a nurse and John an engineer. They travelled the world and kept contact with friends in many countries.

Over the years, Daphne has raised orchids, Abyssinian cats, and bees for her garden. She has made many beautiful quilts and is also a voracious reader; in fact we met over books.

John played clarinet in a band well into his eighties, and regularly made wine and bread. Both are great cooks, and they've hosted many dinners over the years. Their golden wedding party, with its great food, music, fellowship, song and swimming, was held in their own home. It was the best large gathering I have ever attended, bar none.

Recently John and Daphne moved to a smaller home, and yesterday's celebration was hosted by their great friends Ben and Hidemi, and organized by Sharon. Guests talked ate, drank, sang and spilled out into the host couple's lovely Japanese style garden.

One memorable image was of Robyn, their musically talented daughter, as she sang a newly composed song to her parents. Watching her at the piano, her small bare foot pumping the pedal as her voice soared brought tears of joy and wonder to my eyes.

As Robyn said in her tribute, although these two people have faced many challenges in their long life together, they've risen above difficult circumstances with courage, love and joie de vivre

Warmest congratulations, you two!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lime trees in bloom along Broadway

The lime or linden trees along East Broadway are coming to the end of their season of bloom.

These limes are nothing to do with the citrus fruit. According to Bill Casselman, the name, which has its origins in ancient Arabic, is a corruption of lind, which was old Norse for soft and flexible. Lind then morphed into line, then lime.

These are lovely boulevard trees; as the picture shows, they lean over busy Broadway to provide welcome summer shade.

The blooms have a light and lovely fragrance. Besides perfuming my arrival at work in recent weeks, they have left a fine golden dust of pollen at the edges of the sidewalk.

According to Nicole Perez, lime blossom has long been in use as a herbal remedy; linden tea is used to promote relaxation and digestion. Linden flowers are also used in skin creams and tonics.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Teacup memories of my mother

These teacups belonged to my mother. Having tea served with homemade baking was an important ritual regularly shared with her friends.

Somehow the saucers have vanished over the years. The cup on the left was a long-ago Christmas gift from Mom's sister, Auntie Doris. The design is traditional: thatched house surrounded by an English country garden.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Coffee art less ephemeral than expected

This coffee design, created at the Blenz near the VPL Central Branch, was so beautiful I hated to sip and spoil the art. To my delight, the pattern endured even after I'd drunk half the coffee.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Invitation to see more

A few weeks ago, I took a weekend course at the Seymour Building, which is located, not surprisingly, on Seymour Street in downtown Vancouver.

There was something perfect about the way that every time we came out for lunches and breaks, we were reminded to see more.

Thanks, Jackie. The view is getting clearer every day!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Prince George: three days old and already sold

Photo from Prince George Citizen

Today The Vancouver Sun reminded readers of an email an Abbotsford Councillor named Simon Gibson sent a year ago to city officials of Prince George, BC.

He informed them that the name of their city was "musty" and "lifeless," and that they should consider changing it.

Today The Prince George Citizen is singing a different tune. The front page of today's  paper says that naming the Duke of Cambridge George has brought the city "a wealth of opportunity."

Also in the Sun, Matthew Fisher says the economic boost provided by the birth of the royal baby has been estimated at a half billion pounds.

Further, he asks, could Britain's tourism-dependent economy survive without the monarchy?

'Scuse me? Am I the only one that thinks this is just plain daft? Sure, it's great that William and Kate have a healthy child.

But isn't all this talk about using the poor little fellow as financial boost to Prince George and estimating his economic value to Britain just another proof of human irrationality?

We thought that Hollywood hype was over the top. Can it top this?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Centennial purple plans foiled

Leg of mutton sleeve from fashion sizzle

1967 was Canada's hundredth birthday and the whole country was celebrating. Expo 67 invited the world and changed the face of Montreal forever.

Men across the country grew centennial beards, even Dad. I was scolded by Mom for trimming his bushy grey whiskers with her good pinking shears.

I didn't make it to Montreal. Needing money for university, I got a summer job in a small news stand and souvenir store, The Hub.

Our town was full of Centennial plans and my workplace got involved. For work, each of us was invited to wear a centennial dress to work -- in the style of a hundred years ago.

The other girls wanted the big skirts and crinolines, but I planned to do something different. My pattern had a high necked bodice with lace at the neck and cuffs, leg of mutton sleeves, and a long straight skirt with one wide ruffle at the bottom. It would be simple and elegant.

I would make the bodice in lavender and the skirt in royal purple. Sadly, after I'd visited the only three stores in the town that sold fabric, I had to face the fact that there was no purple cloth to be had in our town, royal or otherwise.

I did find a nice lavender plisse for the bodice, but the skirt had to be navy blue. Perhaps that early instance of purple deprivation explains the extreme fondness I have since held for the colour.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Southbank writers read with Ava Homa at Joy Kogawa House

Joy Kogawa House photo TLC

On Monday evening, Joy Kogawa House hosted a garden reading that featured writers from SFU Southbank.

Anne Marie Metten welcomed visitors to the house, and Wayde Compton, Director of The Writers' Studio, introduced the readers.

Katherine Wagner kicked off the evening with a short story about a woman stuck in a remote wilderness cabin with a dead man.

Next up was Charlene Kwiatkowski, with a charming meditation on Emma Clarke, owner of the genteel voice that speaks to the riders of the Tube in London, telling them the stops, and warning them to mind the gap, but "never nagging."

Janet McLarty Fretter read a vignette of a woman who is reminded of her feelings of rage against the dropping of napalm during the Vietnam War when she hears the voice of Kim Phuc, the "Naked girl" in the famous picture.

Veeno Dewan was rewarded with laughter several times as he read his story about an unruly group of gods in heaven having a meeting just before the long weekend. The narration focuses on the tribulations of the Adjudicator in his role as chair. His patience is worn thin as the gods neglect their paperwork, flounce in late, argue, flirt and play with their iphones.

Following a short intermission, the second part of the program was more somber. The current writer in residence, Ava Homa, read from her work in progress. This is a fictional memoir based on the history of a real political prisoner who was jailed in Iran for teaching Kurdish language and literature.

The man who inspired Homa's story described life inside the jail in a series of letters that were distributed widely through social media. Homa's tale was accompanied by cellist Robin and keyboard player Farshad.

The guests were served lime cordial as they mingled and chatted. The writers, in keeping with tradition, had their photos taken with a life-size cardboard replica of Joy Kogawa. This picture was created to honour Joy as one of the featured British Columbians to be celebrated at the 150th anniversary "party" at the Royal BC Museum.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Tiger Claw by Shauna Singh Baldwin

Book cover image from Shauna Singh Baldwin (Vintage 2004)

This novel is much more than a spy thriller. Shauna Singh Baldwin has imagined her way into the mind of Noor Inayat Khan, who in 1943 volunteered to be dropped into Nazi occupied France as a radio operator for the British SOE.

Baldwin has created a novel of vast scope and universal themes, opening her lens wide to take in the full picture of war, complete with its sharp dilemmas. Against a background of hard national decisions like what Churchill called "acceptable losses," she shows how war infects the mind, causing ordinary people to betray others and delude themselves in the desperate effort to save their own skin.

Noor, on the other hand, is extraordinarily dispassionate as she works for the cause she has taken up. She assesses the French housewife Renee, who will eventually betray her. She considers, then decides against telling the other woman that her olive skin and "the shape of her nose were Indian and American but not Jewish."

She views this other woman with compassion, knowing that her husband is languishing in a German prison camp while her brother risks the entire family daily for his resistance work. Noor realizes that Renee "probably hadn't travelled much, probably considered Paris the pinnacle of the world" and "seemed...confused between religion and race." Alas, such confusion is by no means extinct today.

In sharp contrast to the strength of Baldwin's protagonist, we are shown the weakness and violence of the flawed Herr Vogel, his eyes "as cold as Vichyssoise." He is incapable of understanding why his alternating attempts to bribe and torture Mlle Khan fail; he persists in thinking that with some combination of food, money, comfort, sex and status, he will be able to prevail on her.

For Vogel, the issue of Nazi immorality does not come into the equation. From him too, we hear cant about the "New World Order," a chilling reminder of how little the world has changed.

Meanwhile, Noor's younger brother Kabir, in his zeal to carry out his traditional role as male head of the family, involves himself in forcing his sister to break with her Jewish lover.

Much later, while under cover in occupied France, Noor comes to the realization of how her mother and siblings have manipulated her, in a misguided attempt to protect her from herself and the war and preserve the family reputation. In an elegiac mood, she wonders if any of her life choices have truly been her own.

In Dachau, Noor finds a fellow SOE operative, Yolande with whom she trained. Far gone from abuse and starvation, the two young women lean on one another and hold hands. Still true to her training, one taps Morse messages into the palm of the other.

Though the outcome of Noor's SOE work may be known before the reader begins, Baldwin's narrative technique ramps up the suspense. She builds it to a fever pitch as she moves from scenes of Noor in prison to scenes of "Madeleine," (her codename), in occupied France. The dates gallop closer together and build to the capture scene near the end of the book.

Though Baldwin's protagonist is more intelligent and courageous than most, her rendering of Noor Inayat Khan is a finely drawn character whose dilemmas any woman can relate to. What woman has not experienced love and parting, the pain of separation from family through growing individuality, decisions about birth and death?

Noor's younger brother Kabir is seen with slightly less clarity. Obliged at an early age to try to fill the giant gap left by the death of their father, a musician and Sufi philosopher, Kabir uses his traditional right of male power on his sister in the name of protecting her.

Later, Kabir volunteers for the RAF. And from France and then Germany, Noor imagines her brother's bomber flying overhead.

Should she hope he drops a bomb on this camp at Drancy? But what if her lover and his mother are still detained there? And why do not the RAF bomb the rail lines to places like Dachau? Why is this a low priority?

At the end of the war, we see Kabir riding through Germany on his motorcycle, frantically following every lead in an effort to find the sister he loves and hopes desperately to see again.

In the final scene, an aging Kabir  has occasion to question the imperious actions of his younger self. At the annual memorial gathering to remember his lost sister, he is made party to a secret from fifty years before. History becomes a little clearer when he sees once more the Tiger Claw necklace once worn by Noor Inayat Khan.

In 2012, in recognition of her service to the nation, a memorial bust was placed in Gordon Square in London. Noor Inayat Khan was the first Muslim woman war heroine in Britain to be so recognized.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Jellyfish at the Vancouver Aquarium

The current exhibition at the Vancouver Aquarium is "Jelly Invasion." We saw a whole variety of jellyfish: some are tasty, some are dangerous and some are hauntingly beautiful.

My favourite name was the fried egg -- it looked like one too. Another name for this creature is the egg yolk jelly.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dolphin close up

Dolphins swim fast, so it took a lot of patience to get this picture at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The Aquarium acquires many of its large marine animals through rescue operations; sick, orphaned and injured mammals (often snared in nets) are brought to the facility.

The stated goal of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is eventual release back into the wild.

Unfortunately, that's not always possible.


It's true that misunderstandings caused by mispronunciation often occur when someone is learning English as a new language.

One story I remember a story was told by one of our grads. She made a Safeway clerk laugh when she tried to buy some bran to make muffins. Since she was also unsure about when to use the indefinite article "a," the question she asked was, "Do you have a brain?"

But English has wide regional differences, too. That's what caused my embarrassing faux pas when talking to an Australian a few years back. Same language, different pronunciation.

We were both visitors in Cambridge, attending a conference called New Directions in the Humanities, and I was conscientiously facilitating a Talking Circle, as I had agreed ahead of time to do.

When we introduced ourselves, I got the Australian's name all right. "And where are you from?" I asked her. As a volunteer, I was making a list of Talking Circle participants.

"Aramaity" was what I thought I heard. I was making a valiant effort to spell it when she leaned across, read what I had written, and gently corrected me: "No, R.M.I.T., The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology." (It's now RMIT University.)

My mortification was the greater because I knew that this institution had organized the conference. But Australian colleague waved my apology away. She understood; the way Aussies say the letters of the alphabet is very unlike how we pronounce them in Canadian English.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Indian Summer Festival finale -- I Don't Want to Choose

Deepa Mehta photo from Indian Summer Festival website

Last Saturday evening, the Indian Summer festival wound up for another year. In the final event of the Ideas Series, "I Don't Want to Choose," the featured conversation between film director Deepa Mehta and journalist-musician-poet Jeet Thayil was lively and full of laughter.

Mehta has directed many great films (Earth, Water, Fire, Midnight's Children and more) and Thayil has recently added novelist to his repertoire by publishing Necropolis). He read a short and charming series of "how to be..." poems, including one that featured the flaring nostrils of a horse.

Mehta talked about the challenges of making her film Water, which she was unable to complete in India after the set was bombed by religious fundamentalists. The work was filmed five years later in Sri Lanka. Mehta is both Indian and Canadian, but like Jeet Thayil, she dislikes being labelled. India inspires her with stories she wants to film, and Canada allows her to make them, she said.

Earlier, at "Reclamation/Exclamation," poet Renee Saklikar discussed roots, memory and transformation with educator Dr. K.S. Neel and radio journalist Gurpreet Singh. The moderator was Naveen Girn, and the conversation flowed from humour to seriousness and back.

In conversation with Diversity educator Satwinder Bains, the brilliant novelist Shauna Singh Baldwin talked about her "Reluctant Rebellions" concerning culture, identity and individuality.

"I resist; therefore, I am," she said, apologizing for the alteration to the quote of Descartes. When she read a passage from her WWII spy thriller The Tiger Claw, I knew I had to read it. Review here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What is it?

What is it?

A tadpole?

A newborn snake?

Nothing so exotic, I'm afraid.

Just a teaspoon with a dark drop left in the bottom.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Guinea fowl

Here's the original of an artistic representation that was displayed as part of the Van Dusen Gardens Zimsculpt exhibition in 2011.

The Guinea fowl is native to Africa and was introduced to Europe by the Portuguese, and later to America.

Gail Damerow describes raising a flock of these interesting "chickens" here.

The live bird in the picture above was seen at the zoo in Aldergrove, and the artistic rendition below was displayed at Van Dusen as part of the 2011 Zimbabwean sculpture exhibition.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


As a teen, I used to think an Impala was just a Chevy like the one owned by a high school classmate.

In spite of the logo with the horned animal, I didn't really clue into the fact that it was an African antelope until many years later.

Above: Chevy Impala photo from supernatual

The two gentlemen impalas in the picture are resting in the Aldergrove zoo. The male horns can be up to a metre in length, though the animal stands only 2 to 3 feet tall. Female impalas have no horns.

Though the OED lists the word impala as being of Zulu origin and the verb impale as being from old French and Latin, it's hard to believe the two words are not related. Word origins aside, I sure wouldn't want to be impaled by those horns.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Amazing Ankole cattle

Ankole cattle at Greater Vancouver Zoo

Ankole-Watusi cattle, a 6000-year-old breed, live in east-central Africa and can trace their ancestry back to the Nile Delta, where their ancestors lived about 4000 years ago.

Their enormous horns, bigger than those of any other breed, serve as a cooling system. The blood flows through them, dispersing the body heat of these large animals.

Daniel Semambo of the Uganda National Animal Genetic Resources Data Bank explains in this film why Ankoles must be protected.

Due to the farming practice of cross-breeding these hardy local animals with exotic breeds in order to produce more milk and meat, the numbers of purebred Ankoles is going down.

As communal pasture land reduces, and as droughts increase with more forests being cut, the government of Uganda is working with farmers to ensure the long-term viability of this ancient and resilient breed.

Ankole cattle also have cultural significance in marriage and other ceremonies of the people who raise them. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Marabou stork

It's strange that the stork should have been chosen as the storied bird that brings the new baby.

These huge sharp-beaked creatures are carrion eaters with  wingspans of up to 3 metres. The sign in the zoo states that the bald head is an evolutionary development: it allows the stork to place its head inside a carcass while eating with a minimum of fuss and mess.

Along with their favoured carrion, Marabou storks also eat fish, insects, and small animals.

Native to sub-Saharan Africa, these storks are also called undertaker birds, a name that, according to the Toronto zoo, refers to their appearance as well as their activities.

Marabou feathers have long been important in fashion.

This elegant stole of soft marabou is for sale at Abercorn and Company, priced at one hundred eighty British pounds.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lion spray warning

This warning is painted at intervals along the benches in front of the lion area in the Aldergrove zoo. I have some a couple of questions:

1. Why are the benches placed there if the lions are likely to spray in that area?

2. Does anyone ever sit on these benches? If so, why?

In this video, taken at the San Diego Zoo, a lioness is fed meat by hand, and a lion licks his mate's head fondly.

Then, apparently fed up by the laughter of the encroaching guests, who are ignoring the spray warning sign, he turns his back on them and lets fly.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Strange little creatures

The relative positions of these two seated South American animals suggests an uneasy truce or a hesitant friendship.

Native to Argentina, the Patagonian cavy, also known as a mara (right) resembles both an antelope and a jackrabbit. These animals are kept as pets, as seen on this video.

Its companion, the capybara, the world's largest rodent, is semi-aquatic with webbed feet. Two feet high, it can weigh up to 80 kg.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The peacock furls his tail

Does a peacock get tired of holding up its tail in a fan pattern? At the Aldergrove zoo, with an eye on his admirers, this one gradually relaxed the fan into an elegant rounded shape.

The peacock is a type of pheasant. Though both sexes are commonly called peacocks, the ladies are technically peahens and the general name is peafowl. It's the male who has the gorgeous iridescent plumage.

As shown  in the photo below, by Colin White, the peahen has a crown, and some iridescent neck plumage. But her tail is plain and greyish beige.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Peacock -- the other perspective

Peacock reveals back of fancy tail feathers at Greater Vancouver Zoo

I'd often wondered what the peacock's tail feathers looked like from the back; now I know.

This peacock let its guard slip enough to turn away from the audience.

The bird itself is still beautifully coloured, but the rear view of the tail feathers is distinctly unprepossessing, at least compared to the front view.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Peacock takes the limelight from the raptors

At the zoo in Aldergrove, the peacock strays into the area where hawks and falcons are about to put on a show.

From a human perspective, the peacock has acquired a reputation for incorrigible vanity.

"Forget about the raptor show," this one seemed to say. "Look at me."

When the trainers of the birds of prey tried to shoo him off, he lay down and stretched himself out at full length.

"Make me."

With that he began to preen his lovely turquoise neck.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Another use for animal horns

Now we know how an aoudad scratches itself.

Careful, buddy! Don't press too hard.

That could be painful.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Aoudad and admirer

At the Greater Vancouver Zoo, a tired aoudad sits by the fence, eying Rebecca, his observer.

This wild bovine, also known as a Barbary sheep, is native to North Africa, and is found in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and other African countries.

The name Barbary is derived from the name of the Berbers, a group of people who have lived for many centuries in scattered communities across the region. 

The animal has been introduced into Spain and also into the United States, where it now well established in the southwest.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Giraffe and donkey

Intimate inmates at Greater Vancouver Zoo

Apparently size doesn't matter when it comes to friendship.

There used to be two giraffes, but now there's only one. This fellow was lonely, so the zoo people gave him a donkey as a roommate.

Now they're pals.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Laugh, kookaburra

Photo: Krikey the kookaburra at Aldergrove zoo

I hadn't thought about him for over five decades. And until I saw this fellow at the zoo, the kookaburra, also called the Australian kingfisher bird, lived only in my imagination.

When we were in elementary school in Alberta in the 1950s, we sang a variation of his Australian song. Back then, I didn't imagine I'd meet a real kookaburra all these years later at the zoo in Aldergrove. I didn't hear him laugh; in fact, he looked rather serious. He's also a lot smaller than I would have imagined.

His name is Krikey.