July 29, 2014

Crows at lunch

Some people have no sense. A young boy doesn't eat the sandwich ordered at our nearby golf club and his parents let him order a different one, which he also leaves unfinished.

Most of us take our plates in to the kitchen, to assist the often busy and short staffed crew in the club house restaurant. But not these people.

We watched as the crows arrived just as the family of four departed. The crows looked over at us and sensing no rivalry for the food, began to help themselves.

It was a feast, until Sherry couldn't take anymore of it, and took the dishes in herself and the crows gave us the cold shoulder.

As for the crows in our tree, it would appear the nest was attacked by a raccoon some weeks ago. Perhaps a hawk might have been involved as we saw one lurking about. In any event, we haven't seen the crow family for weeks, and never did see the fledglings, if indeed they ever reached that stage.

Sometimes it isn't easy being a crow.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

July 28, 2014

The long light of the summer sun and the cool of a summer breeze

The heat of these recent summer days has been exhausting. In the furnace of the late afternoon we seek out water and shade and sometimes drift asleep on the cool and slightly damp grass.

Summer breeze, 
makes me feel fine,
Blowing through the jasmine 
in my mind.
See the paper 
laying on the sidewalk,
A little music 
from the house next door...

A gentle respite comes, sometimes, in the cool of the evening and a gentle breeze. The long light at sunset is soft and rich and the shadows linger, the colours fading quickly as the sun disappears.

Feel the arms that reach out 
to hold me,
In the evening 
when the day is through.
Summer breeze, 
makes me feel fine, 
Blowing through 
the jasmine in my mind.

Lyrics by Jim Seals & Dash Crofts (1972)
Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

July 27, 2014

Smoke test at KPU Richmond

Fridays during the summer can be quiet at the Richmond Campus of KPU. Extremely quiet.

On this particular Friday, July 25, the atrium was to be filled with smoke as part of a smoke evacuation test as one of the final parts to the six million dollar refurbishment of the campus.

A small crowd gathered, including architects, engineers, consultants of course, the general contractor and KPU's own Facilities Services. For a moment it seemed oddly like waiting for contact in Close Encounters of the Third Kind; waiting for something to happen.

The Fire Marshal was on hand, ready to put out a blaze with a fire extinguisher, or quite possibly to start one with the tank of propane beside her.

At the appointed hour, a non-toxic artificial smoke was ignited by a trained professional, thus replicating the smoke of an actual fire. The smoke would trigger the automatic opening of exhaust louvers and start the roof-top exhaust fans.

The thick cloud lasted only moments and the louvers and fans started exactly as designed. The sunlight streaming through the skylights created interesting patterns and colours in the haze.

At the end of it all, no students or faculty were harmed during the test. Only one lone bookstore guy appeared to have been overcome by the excitement.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

July 25, 2014

The best place on earth or how the richest 85 have more than 3.5 billion

Well. We know this stuff already... but now it's official. The richest 85 people in the world earn more than the bottom 3.5 billion. Is it really possible? That the income of less than one hundred can  somehow equal that of 3.5 billion?

The information is according to the UN in its most recent report on human development. Parts are encouraging though generally we seem to be slipping on the planetary scale. The CBC provides a useful and accessible summary.

Canada has improved on the UN's Human Development Index; we find ourselves back in the top ten again, after several years in the teens. Many of us remember being at the top of the pile during the 1990s. For the current year, the top nation is Norway, which isn't all that surprising given its continued stewardship of resources. What is surprising is that for some bizarre reason, the USA is ahead of Canada on this index. The writer and I have visited the Excited States twice this year, and that certainly wouldn't be our observation. The divide between the American rich and the nation's underclass is ever more obvious than it is in Canada, though we are doing our part in the race towards the bottom.

Perhaps the wonderful policies of Our Dear Leader in Ottawa and our less-than-dear leader in Victoria are finally working in concert; the rich get richer and the rest of us...

According to Stephen Harper and Christy Clark their enlightened economic policies put more money into our pockets, and as consumers we get to decide how to spend it, but that mainly benefits the rich. The rest of us are squeezed with cuts to the very services that used to lift up all of us, rich and poor alike.

The Government of BC used to promote the province as being "...the best place on Earth." For some reason that slogan has quietly disappeared, though it still pops up now and then. Having the highest rates of child poverty in Canada and seeing a doubling of homelessness in the past year alone might be reason enough to change the slogan.

Maybe we are winning the race after all. This is not good.

Photo of local street person by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

July 18, 2014

What is harder than dying in Gaza by a missile?

These are the days of miracle and wonder. Sons and daughters announce engagements. A grandchild is born. We celebrate each new day, life and all that it brings.

These are also days of unimaginable horror. Planes fall out the sky. School girls are kidnapped and never seen again. Villages are destroyed to be made anew for someone else. How do we begin to understand this seeming global madness, especially when we have so much to celebrate?

Into Israel rockets are fired by Hamas. The Israeli government responds with a massive campaign. In some cases, earlier in this war, the IDF gave advance notice to civilians; that their homes were about to be bombed. One should leave if given that kind of notice. Advance notice that is perhaps worth celebrating in a strange sort of way.

Mahmoud Jouda, a Palastinian in Gaza was interviewed by the Institute for Middle East Understanding and gave a much different perspective on a lifetime worth celebrating each and everyday. But for the advance notice...
I’ll tell you what is harder than dying in Gaza by an Israeli missile deluxe.
What is harder is that you get a phone call from the Israeli army telling you to evacuate your home because it will be bombed in ten minutes. 
Imagine; ten minutes; and your whole short history on the surface of Earth will be erased. Gifts you received, photos of your siblings and your children (dead or alive),
things that you love, your favorite chair, your books, that last poetry collection your read, a letter from your expatriate sister, reminders of the ones you loved, the smell of your bed, the jasmine tree that hangs off your western window, your daughter’s hair clip, your old clothes, your prayer rug, your wife’s gold, your savings;
imagine; all this passes in front of your eyes in ten minutes, all that pain passes while you are struck by surprise.
Then you take your identification papers (passport, birth certificate, etc.) which you have ready in an old metallic candy box,  and you leave your home to die a thousand times, or refuse to leave and die once.
These are the days of miracle and wonder. And don't cry baby, don't cry. And then again...

Lyrics from The Boy in the Bubble by Paul Simon (1986)
Photo by Jim Murray.
Copyright 2014.

July 06, 2014

49th Parallel Coffee

Meticulous comes to mind after having a coffee at 49th Parallel Coffee. This is serious coffee where attention to detail is everything.

49th Parallel Coffee was born out of Caffe Artigiano. In the late nineties, Vince Piccolo established the upscale Caffe Artigiano in downtown Vancouver. It was wildly successful and expanded to five stores and a staff of over 100. Around 2004 Piccolo opened a roasting facility in Burnaby so he could roast his own beans. The same year he sold the coffee shops and Artigiano's expansion continued. Meanwhile Mr Piccolo concentrated on roasting beans and then selling them to coffee shops like Artigiano.

In 2008 49th Parallel opened its first store in Kits and a few years later entered trendy Main Street with another. The store on Main is a delight; lots of seating, including long tables, more intimate settings and some comfy chairs near the back. And while the decor is great, its the coffee that blows one away.

The espresso drinks are made with an obstinate care. Beans are ground and weighed. Temperature and time are constantly measured. The shot is pulled and, if it doesn't meet a certain weight, it is set aside, as was my first espresso. "Not really up to our standards" said the pleasant young man pulling the shots. "I'll make another for you right away."

Presentation is impressive. Espresso drinks are served on wooden boards, with indentations in the wood for cup, spoon and water. Impressive indeed.

The coffee is superb. Creamy, rich and delirious in chocolate tones. I had to have another, this time from a different bean; again it was delightful, with hints of nuts and smoke.

An important sideline, though it's hardly secondary, would be the high end donuts crafted in-house. Could this be the best coffee place on earth?

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

Forty Ninth Parallel Café & Lucky's Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

July 03, 2014

The Nectar Trail in Vancouver

In cities many bees have been pushed out of their natural habitat by urban development. The remaining bees end up living in "islands" within the city: meadows, naturalised parks and community gardens. They then have to move between these "islands" through trails of green space in which they feel comfortable. This is not easy.

Last year, a group called the Environmental Youth Alliance, partnering with the City of Vancouver, and local residents and schools, began to develop a plan to facilitate habitat for pollinators, and The Nectar Trail is happening in our neighbourhood with a corridor linking VanDusen Gardens to Queen Elizabeth Park.

On our regular walks the past year to VanDusen we've noticed a wild space of flowers along West 37th Avenue, near Oak Meadows Park, along with something called the Insect Hotel (a telephone booth re-used). Along with the off-leash area for dogs and a popular playing field, the park has been naturalised to the benefit of not just bees, but other wildlife too. One night we watched as two young owls learned to hunt.

The Nectar Trail project only began last year, though much advance work was needed to bring it to life. It is a fantastic example of what can happen when great ideas and good people come together for an even greater common good.

Photos by Jim Murray.
Copyright 2014.

July 02, 2014

Caffe Artigiano ~ Vancouver Coffee Shops part 12

Yet another coffee shop, this time in Kerrisdale and right next door to Faubourg, the wonderful French bakery-cafe that creates the best croissants in the city.

Caffe Artigiano is a local chain of ten coffee shops through Metro Vancouver and four, opening soon, in Calgary of all places. They are anchored by their own roasting facility in Burnaby.

I used to be an almost-regular to their store in North Burnaby and was always impressed by their artistry, as well as the sweetness of the roast.

The coffee here is good and it certainly has that sweet aroma I recall from several years ago. There was an distinctive hint of chocolate to my espresso, and they readily make a proper cappuccino and macchiato.

Compared to the place next door, Caffe Artigiano is a more relaxed and quieter space, which is often welcome in a coffee shop. Background music was subdued and there weren't any screens that I noticed; another plus to be sure.

For pastries it is perhaps impossible to beat Faubourg, but for coffee... we might have to come again to Caffe Artigiano.

Photos by Jim Murray. 
Copyright 2014.

July 01, 2014

Canada Day and World Cup futbol

It's Canada Day and what better way to start the day than with another World Cup game at nine in the morning.

Many of my comrades would choose to go to a coffee shop or pub along Commercial Drive but I chose to walk to my club: the Langara Golf Club. And why not? It's only a fifteen minute walk from home with great views and excellent sandwiches, and it's proudly owned by the citizens of Vancouver. On a serious negative side, beer and wine cannot be served until after eleven, given our strange liquor laws. If I had known that at eight in the morning...

The golfers were certainly out on this fine holiday morning and there was no sign of coyotes on the fairway today.

The futbol crowd had not yet materialized and I had a relatively easy time picking out a table. Well, in truth, the crowd never did materialize.

In the end los Albicelestes were the better team, though the Swiss, oddly perhaps, kept the game scoreless through the regulation ninety. Finally, and only moments before the end of extra time, and the dreaded shootout, Di Maria scored after a beautiful set up by Messi. One picture says it all.

But two or three say it much better.

And so it goes. One game closer to the final victory and another smile from Lionel.

Happy Canada Day!

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014. 
Game photos from La Nacion, Buenos Aires.