Friday, March 31, 2017

Church of choral song

St. John's Anglican Church in Shaughnessy is of the same vintage as I am, but the building already seems to belong to a long past era.

On Tuesday, April 4, at 7:30 the Willan Choir will sing different versions of Stabat Mater, by Scarlatti and Verdi at this lovely church.

The Vancouver Community College Chamber choir will add their own numbers and join us in in the finale, singing Vivaldi's uplifting Gloria.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Willan choir concert with V4C for April 4 at St. John's Church

Choir leader Patricia Plumley directs The Willan and VCC Chamber Choirs at the tech rehearsal for our upcoming concert at St. John's Anglican Church Granville and Nanton.

The church has fabulous acoustics and the choirs have worked hard. To hear both choirs perform works by Scarlatti, Verdi and Vivaldi, be at the church by 7:30 pm on Tues, Apr 4.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Musical instruments for rent at VPL

Need to borrow a banjo, bongos, ukelele, harp, guitar? The Vancouver Public Library has all of these and more. Loaner instruments can be signed out by library patrons who can't afford their own instruments, or who, for other reasons, are not ready to invest in them.

At Long and McQuade, bongo drums cost $60 and up.
Banjos range between $400 and a couple of thousand. A cheap acoustic guitar can be had for a couple of hundred. Good ones sell for thousands.

Donation to the library is a great way to recycle gently used instruments that remain behind after their owners grow up and leave home. Borrowing instruments from VPL is very popular -- many place holds on them, as the instrument catalogue shows.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Agricultural ambience at Abbotsford Airport

Surrounded by farms, the Abbotsford Airport is flanked by the Tradex (Fraser Valley Trade and Exhibition Centre).

So is this terminal decor a permanent objet d'art in keeping with the agricultural theme? Or a random piece of machinery brought over from a Tradex farm show?

It's been seven years since my last visit to the airport -- we were escaping the Olympics by flying to Mexico. I don't recall this spanking new piece of farm machinery being on display in 2010.

It may look rustic, but this airport is easily accessible to the communities on the south side of the Fraser. Just think Hamilton, not Toronto as your landing place if you're headed for Ontario.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Deborah Campbell: A Disappearance in Damascus; an appearance in South Surrey

Thursday evening Aldergrove-born journalist Deborah Campbell returned to her home turf in the Fraser Valley. Hosted by Semiahmoo Arts, she discussed her book, A Disappearance in Damascus.

Upon arriving in the Syrian city to report on the devastation and the flood of war refugees flowing from Iraq after the 2003 invasion, she made contact with a "fixer," an Iraqi woman who worked tirelessly for the refugee community in "Little Baghdad." Ahlam was a strategic connector who helped get news out by introducing local people to journalists from BBC, Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.

The book tells the story of how the fearless Ahlam was spied on, followed and finally snatched, in front of Deborah Campbell's eyes. Fearing that her journalistic digging is at least in part responsible for Ahlam's disappearance, she risks her own safety in an effort to find her friend.

When another journalist asks her to leave after sleeping one night in her Damascus apartment, Campbell realizes that "Trouble is a contagious disease."

Fluent in Arabic, and with years of experience living in several Middle Eastern countries, Deborah Campbell feels a profound attachment to this part of the world. She finds it heartbreaking to see how as "proxy wars" flood the region with weapons, the violence escalates.

Before 2003, said Campbell, there was no Al Quaida in Iraq. She also revealed the dire long-term consequences of disbanding of the Iraqi army. When militarily trained men, deprived of employment and hope, were thrown together with a few religious fanatics in an American-run prison, all had plenty of time to air their grievances. The founding of ISIS was the result.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Ian Gill: No News is Bad News

Yesterday Ian Gill, writer, filmmaker, and veteran journalist, spoke in a full Simon Fraser University lecture theatre with an engaged crowd of concerned media observers. As his book title suggests, journalism is in trouble. Fortunately, as the subtitle What Comes Next suggests, there's some good news.

Lies and disinformation are not new, says Gill, and the situation is complicated. The the trend of newspaper ownership being concentrated into ever fewer hands is a problem that goes back fifty years. Unfortunately, the progress of this unhealthy trend has been unimpeded, in spite of a series of Royal Commissions. Of course, the internet continues to alter the journalistic landscape. In Canada, an astonishing 64% of ad revenue goes to Google and Facebook, while Postmedia gets only about 3%. The Globe and Mail gets a paltry .7%.

Big newspaper conglomerates, says Gill, focus solely on making money. They do not serve readers by promoting public discourse and engagement but push the agendas of their shareholders.

To become relevant again, journals have to do better than trying to replicate online what they've historically done on paper. Newspapers are in a bad way. Those that have lost the trust of their readers, Gill opines, should be allowed to die "with as much dignity as they can muster." We need more robust forms of journalism to take up the slack.

A new model, discourse journalism, is something Ian Gill is currently experimenting with. That is, when he is not working with Ecotrust Canada, or teaching as an adjunct professor at SFU on environmental subjects.

Gill proved an able and amusing speaker. Though he didn't sugar coat the bad news about the nation's current media problems, he left his audience with reason to hope.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Musical dog enjoys choir practice

Last night, this doggie fan of choral music added a few yips to the chorus. He had his human hold him so he could receive the admiration of the singers during break.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Seems the Zamboni cut itself

Spring is not quite here yet, but the last pile of snow in the parking lot of the Newton Library is well camouflaged by dirt.

At the back of the North Surrey Rec Centre, the snow scraped off the rink by the Zamboni was pristine -- except for the mysterious red stuff.

What happened? Maybe all that scraping gave the Zamboni an owie, and it bled onto the snow it was removing. Hope Zambo has health insurance, and got prompt maintenance.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Fountain Filled with Blood by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Image from Julia Spencer-Fleming

Like In the Bleak Midwinter, this mystery portrays life in the small town of Miller's Kill, New York. Sparks fly between married police chief Russ Van Alstyne and Episcopalian priest Claire Fegusson, and the author serves up plenty of bons mots and double entendre.

The image suggested by the title sounds off putting and gory, but the line is unrelated to the plot. It's from a hymn about redemption by William Cowper, an English poet who died in 1800.

Claire is ex-military, and she was past the the first flush of youth before receiving her priestly calling. In this book, she drinks enough cocktails to make her tiddly. She also gets to fly a helicopter.

Fortunately, three or four kir royales aren't enough to take away the sharpness of this unusual woman's mind. Nor does the attempt to sabotage the chopper she's about to take up on a rescue mission succeed quite as well as the saboteur had hoped.

In the final scene, Russ and Claire walk borrowed dogs, using every ounce of self-control to keep their hands off each other. Suggesting they go back, he comments, "There's a storm coming."

Yes there is. A perfect storm of mysteries by an author who has put her unique stamp on the genre. Reverend Claire encourages her congregation to stand against injustice in their church and their town. In the same way, her creator, Julia Spencer-Fleming, uses ordinary good folk to fight the prejudice, controversy and violence of contemporary America, creating plots that are courageous, intelligent and believable.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A powerful storytelling voice has left us: Rest in Peace, Richard Wagamese

Image from cbc

It's mysterious how often the people who have endured the greatest suffering are the ones who learn to be the most loving, and give the greatest gifts to the world. We've just lost such a man, one of Canada's most amazing storytellers.

Richard Wagamese survived childhood in a residential school, periods of addiction and homelessness, and alienation from his son.

Before completing his 61 years on earth, he faced his darkest memories, eschewed bitterness and developed the loving wisdom to advise, "Walk gently on the earth and do no harm."

I first heard Richard Wagamese in 2010 at CanWrite! in Victoria. With the most minimal prompts from the audience, he created and shared a spellbinding oral story. Since then I have been inspired by his books and I've posted a number of times about his work.

Something Wagamese often said: in the end, all we are is our stories. As Wagamese's character Saul Indian Horse tells us, "If we want to live at peace with ourselves," we must tell them.

And when our last tale is told, "We become eternal by being held in memory's loving arms." As you are held, from this day forward, Richard Wagamese.

A recent Shelagh Rogers interview with Richard Wagamese is here.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Southbank in Surrey - the season approaches

Southbank 2016 at Surrey City Centre Library

Today the information session for Southbank 2017 took place on campus at SFU Surrey. Now entering its sixth year, this Creative Writing summer intensive is a great place for writers to meet, work and create community. Along with colleagues Claire de Boer and Renee Sarojini Saklikar, Surrey's first Poet Laureate, I'm proud and grateful to have been a Southbank writing mentor from the beginning. Looking forward to a great summer of writing.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Simon Choa Johnston speaks to Canadian Authors Vancouver

Image from

Last evening, Canadian Authors-Metro Vancouver hosted Simon Johnston. Known in the Vancouver area and across Canada as an award winning playwright and artistic director, he recently retired from the theatre to become a novelist.

Choa Johnston's first novel, The House of Wives, made the Globe and Mail bestseller list a week after being published in summer 2016. Now in its second printing, the book is also selling well in India and Hong Kong, where the story is set.

A truly fascinating aspect of this historical saga is its basis in the author's family history. A Sephardic Jewish ancestor made a fortune in Calcutta when the opium trade was at its height. His second marriage in Hong Kong became a family secret.

From childhood, Simon carried questions about his forbears. After his mother's death, among her ephemera, he found the beginnings of a compelling trail of clues. While researching this, he felt a strong impulse to tell the family saga as fiction, and had a hunch about how to make that work.

Simon Choa Johnston was a delightful presenter. The audience of Canadian Authors members and guests enjoyed every aspect of the talk, from his description of his research to his spontaneous forays into theatrical humour.

When I read this book last August, I blogged about it here.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Jax the wrinkle dog awaits his shampoo at the salon

Sue, Jax's human, has a home salon. Every day, he watches her doing people's hair.

He knows that the first part of the ritual is to sit in the special chair by the sink and get a nice shampoo.

All the ladies get it, so why not him too? The way to make it happen, he figures, is to get up in the chair.

"Okay Mum. Ready when you are. Just glancing out the window here, and keeping an eye on the cat."

But Sue just shakes her head, remarking to a client, "He thinks he's human too."

Just so you know, Jax. It could be a long wait.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Intrepid crocuses bloom amid snow

They're smaller than usual, but they know this is their season, and they're venturing to bloom.

Even though day after day, they get covered by new layers of wet and sticky snow.

Isn't nature wonderful?

Let's be like the crocus when it comes to blooming: relentless and unstoppable.

Let's raise our bright heads like these flowers, no matter the external conditions. That way, each of us can be an inspiration to all.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang

Image from HarperCollins

Jialing is a zazhong with a missing Chinese mother and an unknown European father. In early twentieth-century Shanghai, society expects her to be a prostitute, as her mother, an accomplished musician, was forced to do. Instead, she is fortunate to be taken as a bond servant by the Yang family. First, the daughter of the house befriends her. Then, a minor miracle affords her the chance of obtaining some education.

At a mission school, Jialing learns English, but her ability to translate is no use when she tries to find work. A Women's Bank has opened in Shanghai, but she cannot seek a job there either. The lowly status of Eurasians causes both Chinese and Caucasian women to shrink from her, and encourages men to view her as a lowly whore.

As her eighteenth birthday nears, Jialing looks desperately for a way to survive after the Yang family have finished with her. She is overjoyed when she lands a job as a nanny for a foreign woman. Then, on the day her duties are to begin, the offer is withdrawn, in obvious deference to the social prejudice against "her kind." Now the young woman has no option but to place herself under the protection of a married man.

Meanwhile, an unlikely ally has watched over her since she was found as a child in the abandoned Western Residence of the Yang family home. The spirit woman Fox has been companion and friend, comforter, teacher and helper. As Jialing faces the dilemmas of womanhood, she realizes the value of Fox's friendship and the power of the mysterious secret the two have shared.

Fox remains steadfast as Jialing travels the hard road of experience toward forgiveness, self-trust, and understanding. Even so, when circumstances force the human woman to make the hardest decision of her life, she feels unprepared. Before taking a leap of faith, she must apply the lessons she has learned, as well as all she instinctively knows.

Set against the turbulent background of WWI-era Shanghai, this is the story of one woman's struggle for dignity and self-determination in a society with no compunction about denying her both. In our own time, Janie Chang's second novel holds a deep resonance. Many readers can relate to this timeless depiction of a woman determined to gain some control over her destiny.

In the real world, comparable stories are still taking place. Usually, women are the ones who face the harshest societal constraints, but this is not always the case. Reading this novel, I was reminded of the memoir of South African comedian Trevor Noah. With a Xhosa mother and Swiss father, he grew up under Apartheid, a system designed to curtail the opportunities of people with racially mixed backgrounds, as well as those with black skin.

Once more, Janie Chang has written a book that engrosses the reader with its depth of historical, moral and spiritual insight. It's a satisfying story and a book for our times.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Belfast Girls Canadian premiere in White Rock

Image from Peninsula Productions

Recently developed at the National Theatre in London, Jaki McCarrick's powerful play had its Canadian Premiere in White Rock this week and will go on to Vancouver mid-month.

Peninsula Productions Artistic Director Wendy Bollard has done a great job of realizing this story, based on the history of orphan girls shipped from their famine-ravaged homeland to Australia under a government plan. The Orphan Emigration Scheme was devised by the 3rd Earl Grey, British Secretary of State for the Colonies. [the tea was named after his father, the 2nd Earl Grey.]

Between 1848 and 1850, over 4000 women and girls were sent abroad. Some were orphans; others had been abandoned by families unable to feed them. Landlords who financed the workhouses were glad to reduce the number of their charges.

The play is showing at the Coast Capital Playhouse in White Rock until March 11. From March 15 to 18 it will play at the Cultch in Vancouver. A feature film is currently under development as well.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Image from amazon

The subtitle is Stories from a South African Childhood. Good thing they're true: you couldn't make this stuff up. This audio memoir lands the listener in the midst of the bizarrely illogical world of Apartheid.

The best thing about these astonishing, terrifying and sometimes hilarious stories is the voice of Trevor Noah. The second best is his portrayal of his mother. A big fan of Jesus and a regular at Black Church, White Church and Coloured Church, she knows right from wrong. The regime is wrong, so she doesn't feel obliged to follow its rules. More importantly, she understands how it operates.

Against staggering odds, Trevor's mom did more than survive. She consciously educated her son to break the historic cycle of repression and violence he was born into. And that's just one of the miracles in this inspiring book.

Trevor Noah is an internationally celebrated comedian. Last month, he featured in Vancouver at the Just For Laughs Festival. For those who can't get to see him on one of his live tours, his memoir is widely available and his shows can now be seen on Netflix.

I feel sure he's the only performer who has had an angry policeman shoot his monitor to death in a Soweto street, killing the attached computer in the process. Just one of the many weird turning points in Trevor Noah's amazing life.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Resolute Desk and the Northwest Passage

Image from feelguide

The history of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office is rooted in the Canadian North. The desk upon which President Obama was criticized for resting his feet was given by Prince Charles's ancestor Queen Victoria to then U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Two desks in Buckingham Palace were made from the same wood.

In 1845, Sir John Franklin set out from England with two ships in search of the Northwest Passage. In those days, it was normal for an Arctic expedition to take three or four years. There was no Panama Canal, so Franklin had to sail around Cape Horn. He restocked his ships with water and supplies in Hawaii before turning north toward the hoped-for passage. Though years passed with no word, confirmation that all the men had perished was a long time in coming.

Meanwhile, many ships sailed out to try to learn the fate of the Franklin expedition. In 1852, HMS Resolute was one of a group of five sent out on this assignment. Four of these ships froze into the ice and had to be abandoned. The Resolute was one.

A year later, an American whaler from Connecticut came upon HMS Resolute off Baffin Island, where it had arrived after it come free of the ice and drifted 1200 miles. After boarding the ship and determining that it had been abandoned, Captain Buddington towed it back to New York. The U.S. government had it refitted at a Brooklyn shipyard, and in a sensational gesture, sailed it across the Atlantic and returned it to the British Crown.

Confirmation of the death of Franklin's entire crew reached London, and the search was called off. HMS Resolute returned to regular naval service. In 1879, it was finally decommissioned and broken up. Queen Victoria had three desks made from the ship's timbers, and one of these was given to the U.S. President as a memorial to the "courtesy and loving kindness" of America's return of the ship twenty years earlier.  Here's a closeup of the desk and the wording of the plaque.

The small settlement of Resolute, in Nunavut, was named in honour of the ship. Brian Payton's 2010 book The Ice Passage uncovered more of the related history of the search for the Northwest Passage. After his publication, the remains of the Investigator, one of the ships that searched for Franklin, was found off Banks Island, now nearly bare of snow and ice. Royal Naval records at Greenwich reveal that in 1845, one ship was frozen in place at a 45 degree angle for many months. Then, open water came only for a few weeks in August.

On Monday night at the SFU Community Summit, Nunavut native and spokeswoman for polar peoples, Sheila Watt-Cloutier expressed concern that in the rush to use the opening Northwest Passage for oil tankers and to exploit the mineral wealth of the melting north, the Inuit people and culture will be forgotten and dismissed yet again.