October 26, 2014

After the rains, a walk in the park... and mushrooms

Our wonderful autumn weather ended abruptly it seems. Heavy rains, dark days and cold winds all bringing the dread of  the winter yet to come.

Still, on this day, a bit of sun and a walk through the park. Winter isn't here just yet.

Photos by Jim Murray.
Copyright 2014.

October 25, 2014

Tabitha Southey voices a nation's thanks for Peter Mansbridge and the CBC

The terrible events of the week still haunt our nation. Many of us, probably most of us, tuned to the national broadcaster for the news. Tabitha Southey, thoughtful columnist for the Globe and Mail offered her thanks for the CBC's coverage and for its chief correspondent:
Is it too much to ask that Peter Mansbridge follow me around every day periodically saying, “This is what we know for certain right now …”?
Then, I’d like him to just go over the verified facts: “You have a bowl of that good Scottish oatmeal close to ready but your milk has gone off,” he might say. “This has been confirmed by the yogurt-like film that’s formed on the top of your cup of tea.”
There’d be no agenda-ridden speculation about who might have failed by leaving the fridge open, thus causing the spoilage. Mr. Mansbridge would not opine on how that oversight, perhaps cast as malfeasance by a loud partisan pundit brought into my kitchen, might affect the culprit’s chances in an upcoming election.
There’d be no alarming conjecture about the condition of the soft cheeses in my refrigerator. Not at least while the oatmeal was reaching its thick-bubble boil stage and we had a situation on our hands.
My ideal, after the terrible events of this past Wednesday, is that Mr. Mansbridge just come along with me through my week, reporting on events as they happen, saying through much of it that things are “tense and unclear” before listing off the knowns and then detailing how it is they came to be known.

Together, Mr. Mansbridge and I would, as he’d say from time to time, “await further developments.”
Is that too much for me to ask?
That’s pretty much the service Mr. Mansbridge performed on Wednesday during the terrible shooting in Ottawa. He performed it for the nation on CBC television, of course, but it was noticed around the world, where it was written up by several media outlets in a tone of wonder generally used only when describing a Canadian who has done something on figure skates.
Outsiders, mostly accustomed to U.S. television news, were impressed that no one at the CBC coined a catchy name for the presence of what turned out, after agonizing hours, to be a lone gunman on Parliament Hill. It was noted with surprise that no snazzy graphic rolled in and out of view as a part of an effort to brand the event.
The lack of a dramatic music score suggesting through its tone that – on top of everything else the country was going through – Jaws might be about to attack was gaped at internationally as if it were several straight hours of triple axels.
No Web or text-message polls were conducted on CBC television while our nation’s capital was still under lockdown. It was as if the network assumed the nation’s affairs were intrinsically of interest to the nation.
I was struck while following the story by how personally fond many Canadians clearly are of the Hill itself. Those buildings on that much-used lawn do feel a bit like a community centre – almost as if anyone could just go into the Library of Parliament and take out a book. I never imagined such a thought would cross my mind, but watching Wednesday’s tragedy unfold and knowing what it could mean for the openness of that place, I’m sure I wasn’t the only Canadian to think, without irony, “Oh, Ottawa, don’t ever change.”
As if to make that thought slightly less ridiculous, politicians of all parties behaved with grace in the immediate aftermath of the tragic death of a man who served his country, Corporal Nathan Cirillo.
Was the coverage flawless? Of course not. As is inevitable during such an event, some errors were made. Was it only the CBC that rose to the occasion? Not at all. Journalists from many news outlets, many of them stuck in lockdown themselves, reported the story as it unfolded, some at personal risk, mostly without hysteria or conjecture.
However, it was the CBC, our public broadcaster, that set and maintained the tone, and set it so well, that I think many other Canadians now also want Peter Mansbridge’s voice narrating their crises, or at least as a ring tone. “This is what we know for certain right now …”
So when I think of things changing, about losing subtle aspects, unquantifiable perks of life in Canada that we may take for granted, like the Frisbees that fly on the lawn of our Parliament, I think a bit of the immeasurable benefits of a credible national broadcaster.
I hope it can be arranged that, in the words of Peter Mansbridge this past Wednesday, the CBC can always “continue to be on the lookout … until somebody blows the all-clear” – that they will indeed “continue to stay on top of it and watch as the events unfold.”
From The Globe and Mail 
Published Friday, October 24, 2014
Titled: Mr. Mansbridge, can you please narrate my life?

October 13, 2014

The New Pornographers at the Commodore Ballroom

Jeem might not have been the oldest person at The New Pornographers concert last Saturday night, especially if we're calculating his age in dog years. It was, I suppose, a slightly more mature audience in attendance at the venerable Commodore Ballroom that night to hear a slightly more mature band.

The afternoon began for Sherry y Jeem with a VIFF movie, probably one of the lesser lights in our strange movie-going process, then a simple walk down the Granville strip to be greeted by an unfriendly bouncer. "No ins and outs and no smoking. Sir." Ins and outs? You mean I am to be locked in this place all night without any hope of fresh air? Or a smoke? Not that I want to smoke of course, but that's not relevant to you, bouncer Brutus. Well. In hindsight, that might not have been the right thing to say to my burly friend on steroids.

Anyway. Once finally allowed into the Commodore, after many promises to behave, at least on Jeem's behalf, we found a table of sorts and a server who offered us wine for $7.50 a glass or two for $15. Somehow the incentive for two didn't seem all that great so we ordered two glasses. And then two more. This might have continued into the night, I don't remember.

Nearby, patrons were busy looking at their phones (some for much of the night it appeared to me) and taking selfies. Why come to concert with a group of friends if all of you are going to spend much of the time looking at your screens? I even noticed one young concert goer with ear buds in his ears for much of the concert. How does that work I wonder?

The New Pornographers, based in Vancouver, have been together since 1999, or even earlier depending on your source. They have achieved significant artistic recognition and some commercial success. Sometimes compared to Arcade Fire, their music is often complex in melody and texture, featuring intricate vocals especially from Neko Case. It's a thinking band and a super group of sorts, though never having quite achieved the commercial success they truly deserve.

The Commodore Ballroom, with no ins and outs mind you, is a fine venue. It can accommodate about 900, maybe more, and most will be standing for hours on end. No ins and outs after all. There were two warm-up bands, one local and one from the Excited States. The latter, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, was actually quite good indeed. Finally, the Pornographers took the stage at 10:30p. Jeem had been yawning for two hours and the "special" on two glasses of wine wasn't helping, nor the no ins and outs policy. Not that Jeem had any reason to go in and out of course.

One hundred minutes later, after the obligatory encore, the show was over. The concert was good. Sound quality at live events is always an issue for me; sometimes a CD offers much more.

Our crowd of fellow travellers, ran the gauntlet of bouncers again, this time as they directed people out of the building, stumbled into the early morning hours of the Granville mall. My bouncer friend Brutus took one look at me and Sherry, smiled and said "Get home safe you guys." We took the SkyTrain.

Photos by Jim Murray (except exterior of Commodore and band logo). Copyright 2014.

October 10, 2014

United Way 2014 ~ we are possibility?

A year ago I was in the first half of my four month secondment to the United Way of the Lower Mainland. I was a Campaign Associate from Local 704 of the BCGEU and from my employer: KPU. It was challenging and fun. I worked with some great people and I would have done it all again this year, had it been possible. It wasn't.
Instead I find myself involved in the employee campaign at KPU and in that capacity I attended the kick-off of the Metro Vancouver Campaign. Free breakfast and networking, whatever the hell that is, and some feel-good presentations and the new campaign video.

At one point in the morning we were given pieces of a puzzle of sorts and somehow, through the confusion of several hundred humans tromping around, the puzzle became a map of the region. At the end, several pieces were missing and the presenter quickly said that was because there was much left to do. When the map was "flipped" it became the slogan for this year's campaign.

The United Way does great work in our community. It makes crucial investments in key areas to make a difference in the lives of people challenged by poverty and injustice. However.

The numbers of children and families living in poverty, of people living rough on our streets, continue to increase. A poverty rate of 20% in a province as wealthy as ours might be acceptable to Premier Christy Clark; it shouldn't be to the rest of us.

A Vancouver homelessness rate that has increased by over 300% in the past 3 years might be an inconvenience to Mayor Gregor Robertson's re-election next month; it doesn't add up in a city with houses and apartments standing empty because wealthy non-residents buy property in this city simply as a hedge.

For real change to happen we need to change our governments and that possibility can't come soon enough for those who need it most. Are we ready?

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

September 23, 2014

Royston Roasting Coffee House on Vancouver Island

The Royston Roasting Co. is located in Royston, oddly enough, just a few kilometres south of Courtenay on the old island highway. The company's primary focus is providing fair trade, organic beans to fund raising groups across Canada and private labelling to others. More recently the owners have developed their own branding and a coffee shop too.

The operation began simply enough as a coffee supplier to the Comox Farmers Market over ten years ago. Today the owners, Dyan and Gary Spink, operate the roasting company and its coffee shop in downtown Royston, though you might miss the "downtown" altogether if you're barrelling down the highway as most people seem to do. Slow down. Enjoy the drive. Stop for coffee.

There is an outside patio at the coffee shop though within the chairs are much, more comfortable. The coffee is good; the espresso smoky, strong and slightly smug, which might reflect the barista more than the actual roast. I would prefer more crema, but all things considered, this is a reasonable doppio by West Coast standards.

The coffee shop, which also serves breakfast and lunch items, is a funky kind of place. The barista could well serve your espresso then strum a ukulele and break out into song, as she did on our recent visit. It's all quite wonderful and it's a place Sherry and Jeem have been coming to for several years and a great place to stop for a strong coffee before going off towards Cumberland (home of the best pizza on Vancouver Island: Riders Pizza) or further north on Vancouver Island. And yes, don't let go of your children around here.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

September 22, 2014

Garry Oaks Winery on Salt Spring Island

Garry Oaks Winery is located on a 4 hectare terraced vineyard overlooking the Burgoyne Valley on Salt Spring Island. It began in 1999 when Marcel Mercier and Elaine Kozak purchased a 100 year old farm and began converting it from sheep to wine. The winery gets its name from a stand of rare Garry Oaks on the property.

I don't know where the Garry Oaks are, nor would I know them to see them. My dilemma, shared by countless others I'm sure, might be a potential marketing opportunity for the winery.

It's all rather unpretentious, which is a good thing. The wine tasting room is simple  yet stylish and the tastings are always good natured.

The wines are interesting. Prism, a blend of Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay, is acceptable, though a wee bit on the sweet side. A red, the Zweigelt, an Austrian varietal not often seen in North America,  is okay too, probably best decanted once or twice.The Pinot Gris is highly acceptable, rich, clean and fruity without overpowering. It is easily our favourite from this winery.

When on Salt Spring we always seem to stop at Garry Oaks Winery, sample and buy. There are sheep in the field next door, which attract attention from tourists, and on this occasion from Jeem, thinking only of a nice rack of lamb to go with  the Zweiglet.

Photos by Jim Murray. 
Copyright 2014.