Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam

Cover image from Quill and Quire

Recently, Vincent Lam read from his novel at the Surrey City Centre Library. Afterwards, he talked about the writing process and answered questions.

He said he had conceived of the book fifteen years ago and taken five years to complete it. For the first four years he floundered around, threw out reams of work, and sometimes doubted he'd be able to finish. The fifth year it came to life and resonance. After that, he said, if he had any questions, he just asked the story.

The narrative takes place at a pivotal historical moment, a small part of the Tet Offensive of 1968, which Lam calls a psychological turning point for American support for the Vietnam War.

The protagonist, loosely based on Lam's grandfather, is a gambler who runs an English school in Saigon. Percival Chen tries to ignore political situation around him, but that strategy fails. When his son is threatened at home by the powerful of the regime, Percival must bet on how to best ensure the boy's continuing safety.

The decision he makes is dangerous and costly. After, he must risk the little money that remains to him to repay an almost ruinous debt. And this is not the last bet Headmaster Chen is involved in; his final wager is the most risky of all; its loss would mean death to all that remains dear to him in life.

This novel, which was published recently, was a finalist for for the Commonwealth Prize, a high honour. Lam is a past winner of the Giller (Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures), which was made into a TV series. He has another novel in the works.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Making a Good Brain Great by Daniel G. Amen

Cover Image from Random House

This book came out in 2006, but I discovered it recently. Listening to the audio version while driving was informative and enjoyable.

Much of the advice offered by Dr. Amen is not new. Amen stresses the importance of diet and exercise health: "What's good for your heart is good for your brain." Ummm...yeah, that's a no-brainer.

One great thing about this book is that it provides such compelling evidence of the benefits of loving your brain (and the heart goes along for the ride). Another is the numerous tips he offers, many of them painless enough to get procrastinators started.

But those who think they know a lot about the brain are in for a surprise. Amen is a well-known specialist doctor, and he goes into biological detail about the surprising relationships between the functions of specific brain areas and the types of behaviour they govern.

Much of his advice, including suggestions he routinely gives to his patients, is free and practical. He tells us what we should know, and clarifies what we think we know. His advice takes account of the practical realities of contemporary life.

Who wouldn't want to know how to get the children on a lifelong path of brain health?  Who couldn't use some advice on how to manage grocery shopping and meal preparation for brain health?

Dr. Amen even offers advice on how to go about intervening when you suspect someone close to you know has a brain problem that needs attention.

The good news is, mental and emotional problems are related to specific areas or functions of the brain that can be treated individually. This makes it very possible to treat not just symptoms, but underlying causes of brain-related distress.

Of course he trots out what we all know but don't always act on: prevention is better than treatment, early treatment is more effective, and the brain is like the heart and muscles. It comes with the implicit instructions, "Use it or lose it!"

Some books we read from the library, or borrow from friends. This one is definitely worth keeping a copy on the shelf.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Ammolite is an opalescent organic gemstone found only on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. It is comprised of the fossilized shells of now extinct cephalopods called ammonites, as seen in the photos. These are made up of aragonite, a mineral found in nacreous pearls.

Also called calcentine, the recently identified ammolite is the official gem of Alberta (as of 2001) and of the city of Lethbridge (2007). Attractive pieces of ammolite may be found in the trading post at Fort Whoop-up, located in the historic Indian Battle Park on the Old Man River, in the city that has adopted it as an official symbol. The photos were taken in the gift shop of the Chateau Lake Louise.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

Image from The Guardian

The picture of village life painted by JK Rowling in her latest novel is downright ghastly.

According to Nick Clark in the Independent last month, this book made the top five 'putdownable' books. It shared that embarrassment with Fifty Shades of Grey.

(To digress for a moment, I confess I was glad to hear that reading just the beginning of Shades of Grey is more than enough for many. This gives me hope for the future of the novel.)

As for A Casual Vacancy, I can see why readers abandon it. The characters are nasty in varying degrees, with the possible exception of Gavin, who dies in the first scene. The others are all up to something unsavoury. Listening on CD, I asked myself, three disks in, just who is the protagonist here? Who can I possibly root for?

Rowling's technique of using limited omniscient point of view to shift from one character to another worked for me at first, but the number of points of view kept piling up. This made it even harder to identify the protagonist, if any.

A departure from the Harry Potter series of seven, which enjoyed historic success, this book came out in October 2012. As far as I'm concerned, it can go right back in.

That's where my copy went  -- back to the library unheard. Even when, determined to give the story one more chance, I pulled out CD 3 and put in the last one, it was still a yawn and I gave up.

Not usually attracted by this type of fantasy, I have read none of the Harry Potter stories, nor have I seen any of the movies. Maybe it's time I gave young Harry a chance. There must be good reason for the great success this author had with her original series.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar

Cover image from The Guardian

Of Libyan parentage, Hisham Matar was born in New York and raised in Tripoli and Cairo. His beautifully crafted tale of a son surviving the mysterious disappearance of his father is a gripping and memorable read.

Nuri el-Alfi lives with his parents in Cairo, on the island of Zamalek with a view of the Nile. His father has wealth but no regular job; he travels and reads historical books, seeking his own name in the index.

Because "nothing is more acceptable to you than what you are born into," Nuri never questions his mother's old and persistent unhappiness. He simply describes "the memory of her collarbone" which is to him what a "sturdy ledge" is to a rock climber. He watches the "wide blossom" of his mother's eyes that "wilt" on the days when she becomes unreachable, and her pale hands become as cold as "frozen twigs."

Nuri is an only child, and when his beloved mother dies, he is left in the care of Naima, the maid who has known him since his babyhood in Paris, where his parents fled following a coup that endangered Nuri's father's life and ended his position as a government minister.

Nuri's father Kemal keeps secrets. He explains little about his political past to his twelve-year-old son, nor does he answer the boy's questions about the cause of his mother's death. The bereaved boy needs comfort from his father, but there is a gulf between them. He is "suddenly spoken of in the third person." As his father inquires of Naima whether he has bathed or brushed his teeth he feels he has "become a series of tasks."

After a year of grieving at an emotional distance from his son, Kemal takes Nuri to stay at a seaside hotel in Alexandria. Their lives are changed again when Nuri meets Mona, with whom both father and son fall in love. Mona treats Nuri, now fourteen, with a playful intimacy that tortures his tender adolescent feelings. Before long, she marries his father and becomes his stepmother. Shortly after that, he is packed off to boarding school in England.

At his exclusive school, Nuri learns to cope with the "mild yet constant disdain" of the English. Because "being Arab and German were equally disapproved of here," he forms a friendship and alliance with Alexei, the son of an orchestra conductor from Dusseldorf.

On the last occasion that Nuri sees his father, the two walk in Green Park. It is "one of those English days suspended between the seasons" when the air is "temperate yet alive to the coming winter." Nuri tries to make his father feel comfortable; Kemal shelters both of them under his umbrella.

A short time later, Nuri is waiting with his stepmother for his father to join them in Geneva for Christmas. Instead, he learns from a newspaper article that his father has been snatched by two intruders in balaclavas from the bed of a Swiss woman he never knew existed. The kidnapping story refers to his father as "the leading dissident and ex-minister Kemal el-Alfi."

Assisted by Kemal's Swiss lawyer, whose "slicked-back hair looked part of the effort to keep what he knew silent," Mona and Nuri make desperate inquiries and wait in vain for news. They return to the Cairo apartment and still no news comes. Eventually, Mona moves back to London and Nuri returns to school.

Ten years later, when he is twenty-four and in full possession of his considerable inheritance, Nuri returns to Geneva. He wants "the world to fix it and be fixed within it." Instead, he finally meets Beatrice Beanameur, the woman his father was with, and recognizes in her something of himself. From this woman, he learns some surprising news. Back in London he meets Mona, tells her of this, and gets another surprise in return.

The time has come to return to Cairo, which has been a character all along. From the rooftop of the building where he lived, Nuri had watched the city hum and clank on the night of his mother's funeral "like an engine in the night."

From the leather seat of his father's car, he observed in relentless sensory detail the journey to the distant quarter of the city where Naima lived with nine family members. Their two bedroom flat was in a building "covered with flaking red paint with the words Coca-Cola repeated across it." The street was overflowing with garbage and running with raw sewage, and almost too narrow for the car to pass. The description of his trip to the hospital to visit his mother ten years before is an unforgettable journey through Cairo streets where children sell jasmine garlands to passing motorists.

Matar's language is exquisite. Narrator Nuri unfolds his tale with precise often painful images and profound observations. The funeral scene is stark and poignant, from the moment of tenderness between Nuri's father and the maid Naima to the Egyptian cafe chairs "with a profile of Nefertiti on the seat," set out "in conspiratorial silence," and the speakers that will broadcast the Quran set facing each other at angles that "suggested a quarrel."

Nuri's aunts come to life as they speak of taking him home with them to raise beside his cousins, and as they worry about "Silence, solitude, the roof, the slightest hint of contemplation" or even a longer than usual time spent in the bathroom. Mona, half-English, has "that English quality of placing the people she knew in compartments, as if fearing they would contaminate each other."

When Nuri returns to his old home in Fairouz Street, the aging porter is still there. At first he looks at Nuri not with recognition but "a benign curiosity." It is in this old home that Nuri undergoes his final ambiguous transformation.

In spite of his past loss of his own father in a way that resembles that of his protagonist, in this work of fiction Matar de-emphasizes politics in favour of describing in minute detail the emotional effects of the disappearance on the people who knew Kemal best. A major theme concerns the struggles faced by loved ones to come to terms with the enduring uncertainty of an unsolved disappearance.

Yet perhaps, like George Orwell, Matar is conscious of writing this novel politically "without sacrificing [his] intellectual and aesthetic integrity."

Monday, August 26, 2013

Blue sapphires

Image: Deviant art

A large portion of the world's sapphires come from Madagascar. However, this gem is also mined in Thailand, Burma, China, Kashmir, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Tanzania. One of the four most precious stones, sapphire is a corundum, a hexagonal aluminum oxide.

The sapphire is a traditional September birth stone. Birthday gems associates it with healing, clairvoyance and peace of mind.

The word sapphire comes from the Greek for blue stone; however, according to Collins Dictionary, it may be traced back to Hebrew and before that to Sanskrit, in which it meant beloved of the planet Saturn.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Larimar image from daxuxuxy55

Larimar, also known as pectolite, is a rare gem found only in a specific area of the Dominican Republic, is considered a healing stone. Other names used to describe it are Dolphin Stone and Atlantis Stone. According to Emily Gems, Edgar Cayce, who wrote about Atlantis, predicted that this gem would be found where it was found, on the island of Hispaniola.

Formed by volcanic activity, larimar is said to have a balancing effect on the body. Associated with the throat chakra, it helps wearers express emotion and release unhealthy emotional blocks and attachments (Emily Gems). This stone is associated with the Zodiac sign of Scorpio.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Fire opal photo from Independent Jewellers

The iridescent opal is similar to labradorite, but its basis is white rather than grey, though there are some darker ones.They are the birthstones of people born in October.

Many opals are mined in Australia and they are incredibly varied. The largest yet found, the Olympic Australis, was discovered in South Australia 1956, an Olympic year in Melbourne. It contains about 7,000 carats' worth of gem, weighs 3450 grams and is worth about 2.5 million AUD.

A dark opal with a suggestion about it of the night sky, the Aurora Australis was found in 1938 in New South Wales. Brilliantly coloured, it weighs 180 carats and is valued at about a million Australian dollars.

The Halley's Comet Opal is a huge and nearly flawless uncut black gem, was found around the time the comet crossed the sky. In 2005, it was offered for sale at $1.2 million.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Image: Palagems

Also called the rainbow gemstone, tourmaline was believed by the ancient Egyptians to have travelled along the rainbow gathering up its colours.

Scientific description classifies it as an aluminum borosilicate with prismatic striated crystals. 

This October birthstone symbolizes thoughtfulness, courage, and generosity. It is thought by some to give permanence and stability to friendship and love.

According to Crystal Vaults, ancient magicians used Black Tourmaline, or Schorl, to protect them as they cast their spells.

Still valued as a talisman, this stone has the special characteristic of gathering a polarized electrical charge when it is heated or rubbed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Image from Roy W Macdonald

Tanzanite takes its common name from Tanzania, the East African nation that is the only place in the world it is found. More formally, it is known as blue zoisite. 

First discovered in 1967, this gemstone is a gorgeous blue with purple highlights. Soon after that, some tanzanite jewellery went on sale at Tiffany's and proved very popular.

According to the International Coloured Gemstone Association, this stone is especially valued because it comes from only one source.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tiger's eye


Tiger's eye is a yellow-brown vitreous mix of limonite, quartz and riebeckite. It is also called chatoyant. According to Breanna Redwin, the tiger's eye symbolizes the grounding earth energy combined with the light energy of the sun. Thus it can be used to help those who are unfocused and can also help dreamers distinguish wishes from needs.

The tiger itself has powerful symbolism. Think, for example of the song "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor. This stone evokes feline power in a concentrated form by evoking this golden eye.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013



Like hematite, this stone if often but not always a glossy black. It may be white, orange, green, yellow or cream. Onyx is a banded chalcedony and thus often features attractive stripes, as seen in the picture on the left.

An interesting association I have with this stone is the onyx wall featured in the modernist house in Simon Mawer's novel, The Glass Room.

Onyx is ideal for making cameo jewellery. It is carved so that the white figures contrast with the black ground.

The hand-carved onyx cameo brooch in the picture is a Victorian antique that dates from 1850. Image from Etsy.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Southbank winds up for another year

Southbankers pose with their mentors at City Centre Library in Surrey.

On Saturday, this year's SFU Southbank Writers celebrated the completion of their summer intensive writing program with a reading, a photo binge and a celebration dinner.

This year's group was diverse, devoted and diligent. We had people working on memoirs, essays, short stories, novels, and poetry.

It's true that a lot of the time we writers are solitary creatures, alone in a room with the proverbial blank page (now sometimes a computer screen). But writers do need to be around other writers.

The reaction when a heretofore solitary writer finds a peer group is delight and relief. What? You mean there are other people like me? I'm not the only one in the cafe with my back against the wall writing down scraps of things other people are saying?

As for being a mentor for Southbank, I can't think of a more perfect gig. Really looking forward to next year. Anyone who lives south of the Fraser (la rive gauche of Metro Vancouver?) will be relieved that no bridges are involved in travelling to SFU Surrey.

Check out the program here. So far it's run just in summer, but down the road, who knows? Do get in touch with SFU Continuing Ed if you have a question or suggestion. Our Director is Wayde Compton.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Image: Metaphysical Realm

On my last trip to Turkey, I visited Cappadoccia. On the central plain of Anatolia, we stopped at a  gemstone sales place. It was amazing. A huge variety of gems could be seen in all stages: rough cut, polished and set into completed jewellery.

I found the black hematite arresting. It evoked high school days, and the craze for what we called Alaska black diamond.

Hematite, with its high iron content, is magnetic, and because of this is said to relieve migraines, and help with arthritic pain.

My hostess had just bought me a small slit-weave carpet. When I learned she suffered from headaches and saw her eying the hematite necklaces, I decided to reciprocate by getting her one.  

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Lavender jade

Photo right from Far East Jade

The afternoon in Macao when I bought the malachite elephant was more years ago than I care to count now.

It was memorable for more than just my first encounter with malachite. That day I also enjoyed the hovercraft ride over from Hong Kong (fast but noisy) and saw bicycle rickshaws at close quarters for the first time.

I also enjoyed the beauty of the old Portuguese architecture and discovered lavender coloured jade, another gemstone I had not known existed.

Lavender jade is a type of hard and lustrous sodium aluminum silicate called jadeite, and is associated with Guan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.  According to Crystal Vaults, lavender jade soothes emotional pain and nourishes the spirit.

Image below: A Little Market

Friday, August 16, 2013


Image from Gem Select

According to Gemstone Dictionary, Amazonite, in spite of its name, is found in Russia, Madagascar, Australia and the U.S. It is also found in Brazil, but not in the Amazon.

This stone is opaque to translucent, and comes in various shades between blue and yellowish-green. Also called the Amazon stone, it belongs to the feldspar group of minerals.

Sunstone, Moonstone, and Labradorite are actually forms of Amazonite. This stone is said by New Agers to be a power stone with metaphysical powers involving communication, integrity, and trust.

It is associated with the throat chakra, the seat of communication and integration.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Image: Wikimedia Commons

Malachite is a copper carbonate hydroxide mineral, usually in this striking green colour. The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has a Malachite Room.

The origin of the name is uncertain; it may be from the Greek malachos, meaning soft, or it may be named for the green herb mallow.

I first came across this attractive gemstone in an open air market in Macau, where I purchased a small malachite elephant trimmed in gold, a piece of jewellery I later gave to my sister-in-law. This was many years ago.

Much later, I was astonished to learn that malachite can be dangerous. The copper-containing dust is toxic to breathe, and those who grind the stone are safest if they keep it wet to minimize this dust. They should also wear protective respiratory gear.

Malachite is about 58% copper and is often recovered as a by-product in copper mining; indeed, it is considered a minor copper ore. It is mined in the Congo, Russia, Namibia and the U.S.

According to the CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Malachite Green (MG) is used for the treatment of parasitic infections of fish, roe and shellfish. It is also an effective fungicide and is used to disinfect fish hatcheries. In Canada, it is approved for use in aquarium fish, but not for fish destined for human consumption.

Malachite green is also used as a dye in the textile and pulp and paper industries. This application is not new, however. Thousands of years ago in Egypt, malachite was ground and used as pigment.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Image from neatstuff

Thule is an ancient Celtic name for the northernmost archipelago of the Atlantic, later applied to Scandinavia. Ultima Thule, as I learned from my Scandinavian father when I was very young, was a term used to indicate places beyond the known world.

Thulite is always pink and is also known as Manganoan zoisite. This mineral was originally found and described in Norway. It is also found in Australia, the United States and South Africa.

Thulite crystal is said to be helpful for those who need to perform, and also for those who need to be lifted from a state of exhaustion. Some believe it has healing properties, and can help to stimulate and regenerate the body. It is associated with the solar plexus, heart and throat chakras.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Orange garnet image from Wikmedia Commons

Although as the picture shows, garnet can be light red or orange. it is usually a deep red. The name comes from the Latin word for pomegranate, and its colour commonly resembles that fruit.

Garnets have been in use since ancient times. Pliny speaks of them hollowed out as drinking vessels, and they were used thousands of years ago in Egypt, Sumeria and South America.

According to Crysal Vaults, The Talmud says that Noah's Ark was illuminated by a large garnet, and during the Crusades, both Christians and Muslims used it as a Warrior's stone.

Possibly because of its association with warriors, Garnet is also a man's name. Canadian folksinger Garnet Rogers (brother of the late Stan Rogers) comes to mind.

A library in Waverly, Ohio is named after a man called Garnet A. Wilson -- obviously he was also someone of whom his community approved.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Image from Gemstone guide

Turquoise is a greenish blue semi-precious stone that has been used since ancient times, both as an amulet and a symbol of wealth.

Made of turquoise and gold, the world's oldest known bracelet was discovered on the arm of the ancient Egyptian Queen Zer, whose tomb was excavated in 1900. It dates from 5500 BCE.

The name turquoise comes from the French word for Turkish, as the stone likely came into Europe by way of Turkey. 

In the new world, the Incas made beautiful turquoise jewellery, as for example the museum pieces shown here at the Museo Larco in Lima.

Using stones found in central Mexico, the Aztecs also produced ornate and detailed masks like these.

This beautiful turquoise was mined in Afghanistan.

Photo: Gemselect

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Image from

Citrine is the name given to yellow and orange quartz crystals. The shades can very from pale to very deep and bright.

Because these colours are somewhat rare in nature, many of the citrine crystals on the market are coloured by heat treatment. 

In nature, citrine crystals may begin as amethyst and have their colour altered by heat from the earth's magma.

Citrine is the traditional birthstone for November, and is sometimes confused with similarly coloured topaz, an entirely different and more expensive gemstone.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Image from Charms of Light

Rhodochrosite is a lustrous pearly mineral of the calcite group. It usually comes in a variety of pinks, roses and reds, but there are also grey and white specimens.

Found in Argentina, Peru, South Africa and the US, this stone is sometimes called Raspberry Spar or Inca Rose. According to Crystal meanings, the Incas believed it was the solidified blood of their deceased kings and queens.

Energetically, rhodochrosite is associated with the heart. It may be worn to soothe stress and encourage a positive outlook.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Post of a thousand days

As the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Likewise, a blog begins with a first post and a lot of optimism, determination and willingness to learn.

My initial post went up November 20, 2009. It was an essay I had already written. As it seemed in keeping with the title "Essay-eh," which had been in my mind for awhile, I simply typed that first piece in. No categories, no links, no illustrations. Yesterday, nearly four years later, I completed my thousandth post.

For nearly four years, I've blogged through thick and thin. First I posted only when inspired, then I committed to the daily practice, even when it was a slog to blog. That's when the real learning began. Today it's hard to remember what the archive looked like when it contained only the first post.

It was the beginning of 2011, while I was with the Writers's Studio at SFU, that I set the goal of doing a daily entry for the whole year. By then, I had already moved into working with brief series of posts. My routine consisted of composing several initial drafts at a single sitting on the weekend, then scheduling them ahead to come up at the same time each day.

As well as producing daily writing, I continued to hone my editing skills by looking at the posts as they come up. It's only once a post is published on screen that I get a sense of how it looks on the page. Then, as I proofread for errors, I work to make it look better.

Sometimes, when my stats tell me that readers are looking at old posts, I go back and look at them too, and take the opportunity to do further editing. As with any self-editing, it's much easier to see how work can be improved when a certain amount of time has passed.

My other writing has moved forward too. I am now well into the third draft of a novel I started around the same time I began blogging. A historical story that deals with personal secrets kept against a background of national secrets, it is provisionally titled Joan, Joan and Joan.

Though I never intended the daily posting to continue beyond 2011, I found that after I let myself off the hook in early 2012, I missed the regular routine of creating blog posts, so I went back to daily production. I'd managed to get myself well hooked on this daily practice, which I've find an excellent discipline. I intend to keep on blogging.

Now I've set a new goal. Before the end of this year, I want to select some of my favourite posts and organize them into a small book, just to celebrate the accomplishment: a thousand posts and counting.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Image: a cut peridot and a natural one from Pakistan. Both belong to the William Larson collection, photo Jeff Scovil

Peridot is mined in China, Burma, Australia, the US, Norway and Brazil. These stones derive their coloration from the iron they contain. They may be yellowish, bright green or brown, depending on the percentage of ferrous iron.

In the past, peridots were mined on an island in the Red Sea and worn by pharaohs. According to Peter Bancroft, while influential in Egypt, the Ottoman Turks began a series of mining ventures to exploit peridots and formed the Red Sea Mining Company to trade them. Early in the twentieth century, one large gem, 6.6 cm in length, was acquired by the British Museum for $100 from a Cairo businessman who purchased it from company director Ismalum Bey.

In the Middle Ages, these gems were thought to have the power to rout evil spirits. During the Crusades, they were brought home to Europe as loot.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lapis lazuli

Image from De Mairo Pigment

Valued since ancient times, Lapis lazuli has been ground for brilliant blue dyes, eye makeup, and medicines. The name comes from Latin (stone) and the Persian (blue). The gem is a melding of sodalite, calcite, lazurite and pyrite, which may be visible as gold flecks.

King Tut image left from history embalmed

A famous objet d'art, the sarcophagus of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen is richly inlaid with lapis lazuli.

According to the International Colored Gemstone Association, lapis is mined in Italy and North America, as well as Myanmar, Mongolia and Pakistan. It is also mined in Afghanistan and in Chile. Pre-Columbian cultures valued and used this blue stone, which they mined in the Andes.

Lapis Lazuli is also the name of one of the most famous poems of the great 20th century poet William Butler Yeats.

I find the colour of this gemstone irresistible. Favourite bits of jewellery include earrings brought by a friend from Pakistan as well as a square pendant I bargained for in the Medina in Tunis.

In energetic terms, the colour of lapis is associated with the throat chakra, the seat of communication and integration.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Image of Labradorite crystal from Emily Gems

Labradorite is a member of the feldspar family of silicate minerals, and is thus related to Amazonite, Moonstone and Sunstone. This mineral reflects a sheen of many colours from just below its surface, which makes it unusual and beautiful.

My Uncle Ted believed that this mineral had the potential to be used for power generation. Since it is abundant in Labrador, he reasoned, developing a way to use its magnetic properties to generate electricity would be a lucrative and clean business for Newfoundland and Labrador. Unfortunately, he didn't live to test his theory.

According to the University of Waterloo, the attractive mineral was named after Labrador, where it was found in the 1700s by Moravian missionaries. It is also found in Morocco and elsewhere.

NRCan attributes the name of Labrador (and thus labradorite) to a Portuguese explorer, Joao Fernandes, from the Azores. The theory is that the Portuguese word for landholder, lavrador, was first applied to the coast of Greenland, and later transferred by cartographers to the coast of North America. (Labrador also gave its name to a breed of retriever dog.)

Formerly, I suspected it was related to the French words bras (arm) and d'or (made of gold) -- a golden arm. This would fit with the idea of Champlain's vain search for a legendary city of gold in the St. Lawrence. The flaw in this theory of the word origin of Labrador is that the French noun bras is not feminine, but masculine, so the name should by this logic be Lebrasdor.

Caryl Haxworth believes that labradorite can be used to stimulate imagination and strengthen intuition, as well as having a calming effect.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ancient Light and musical words of the past

Cover image from Overdrive

"Time and memory are a firm of interior decorators," says Alex Cleave, the aging actor who narrates Ancient Light, the 2012 novel (Knopf) by Irish author John Banville. The sentiment is poetic, edging on comic.

Listening to this novel on CD, I feel deep comfort at hearing the sounds of words now rarely heard. The late Robin Sachs renders them with the relaxed tempo and introspective mood of a vanished past.

Some of these were from my mother's lexicon -- old country usages brought to Newfoundland by the Irish. I have scarcely heard them since childhood. Who speaks now of the halt and the lame?

Often I have been looked at askance (ah, there is another) for using sonorous old words like streels and skirl, squamous and gloam, preternaturally and pert. This book is verdant with such words, especially those that are languishing at the edges of antiquity.

It is a delight to me to hear again of napery and quiffs, to know that people can still truculently go off in high dudgeon. Further revelations the audio book provides are the pronounced sounds of words like cicatrice and dramaturge, which one reads and recognizes, but almost never hears uttered aloud.

Is it linguistically tendentious of me to be so palpably fond of Banville's elderly nouns: hoydens, and tramps, bickies and fairy cakes? And I do so enjoy hearing of the mordant perfidy of the tumid teenage lover the narrator once was.

I delight in the images of the old man in his aerie/eyrie, almost squiffy in his bafflement as he ponders the twists and turns his life has taken.

As the author means me to be, I am carried away by Alex's tawdry assignation with the young actress Dawn Devonport aka Stella Stebbings. Wondrous names. How uncanny that she knows his secret grief and its associations with the place of brumous winter sky they visit in Italy together, after someone attempts suicide.

I must say, it gave me the greatest pleasure to bathe in the ancient light of Banville's luxurious word showers, even though the story itself, like the deeply unreliable narrator, is rather strange, passing as it does at the end through a postern gate, to bring "a portent out of the past."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

1966 Mustang Fastback


The fastback was a later Mustang, not as cute as the original ones. No worries. I bought it not for the flash and dash, but for the stereo system and ski rack. Mine was dark green.

Sadly, the car handled terribly in snow. Once it spun sideways across the road up Blackcomb and I panicked. My friend had to shift places with me and maneuver it back in position.

The Mustang had pep, though, and the stereo was fantastic. I never regretted paying the princely sum of $600 to a friend who was going back to France. I drove that car until I got married.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Austin Cambridge

Photo 1968 Cambridge from MG Experience

The first automatic I drove was an elderly cream Austin Cambridge sedan with cracked red leather seats. This was a nice little car, solid and square.

It followed the Austin A40 Somerset. I had one of those too -- a 1954 convertible Coupe de Ville.

Friday, August 2, 2013

1955 Buick Century Hardtop

Buick Century Custom Barrett and Jackson

Shortly after I bought my 1958 Buick, I took it to a conference in Victoria. What a thrill to hear the echoing growl of its engines as I drove it into the belly of the ferry.

If you get what you pay for, then I guess $175 was not enough. Soon after I purchased this car from the Buy and Sell Press (then a weekly newspaper), it became evident that the automatic transmission was going.

The power brakes had some issues too. Once as I drove down the steep hill of Arbutus Street, I nearly rolled across Cornwall Avenue. For a terrifying moment, I had visions of plunging right down into English Bay. Fortunately, though the power-assisted brakes were not working, I managed to wrestle the heavy monster to a stop just short of the intersection.

That was the last time I attempted to go to the beach in the Buick Century. Shortly after, I had to replace it with a more expensive model. As I recall, I got $100 for it, and obtained its replacement, a 1954 Austen Somerset A40, for the princely sum of $350.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cars: Morris the Donkey

Morris Minor saloon, Gullible's Travels

I never owned a Morris Minor like this, but I drove one for awhile, a loan from a friend.

In addition to this reliable but slow workhorse, this friend had other luxurious steeds. I remember a ride in a lemon yellow right hand drive Triumph TR3.

Then there was a noisy and tatty Lotus Elan, often up on blocks.