Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Une intersection fuckée

I got hit by a car last week. I ride through the Ville de Mont-Royal, which cuts a perfect diagonal from Parc-Extension to Ville St. Laurent, where the school I teach at is located. The Ville de Mont-Royal is a city within a city, a rectangle of upper middle-class houses that is independent politically from the City of Montreal. It was built in the middle of the century specifically to house the executives and upper management of CN Rail, who were mostly anglophones (I believe entirely anglophones) and it was specifically designed so that it would be very difficult to for non-residents to find their way around. It's a rectangle divided diagonally by an X of two major thoroughfares. But in between the arms of the X, the streets are all loopy and random. (You can see it here.) It's kind of elegant to look at on a map, but you really can get lost here. I spent about half an hour trying to find my way out and the only thing that saved me was the top of Mount Royal (the mountain, not the town I was lost in!) poking out above the houses.

Montreal, especially outside of the Plateau is one of the most car-oriented cities I've ever been in. It's heinous. The whole north side of the city is divided by the Autoroute 40, which is the ugliest piece of 60's inspired pro-car architecture. Worse, when you drive on it, it's constantly under repair and jammed. It should be torn down tomorrow. They destroyed swathes of beautiful old working class neighbourhoods to build it and created an "across the tracks" situation where the rougher neighborhoods are all north of the freeway.

I give you these details because I blame my getting hit on the way Montreal is designed. I was crossing the street at Graham Boulevard (the southeast corner of Ville Mont-Royal) and Jean-Talon. I was riding slowly on the crosswalk. The light was mine and there was a pedestrian coming towards. All of a sudden, the front grill of a van was coming right at me. I had one of those, "it's going to stop moments" then a "it's not stopping!" moment and the next thing I knew I'm on the ground. The impact was pretty solid, but he was only going around 15 km or so and basically knocked me down. My bike is low to the ground and quite heavy.

I got up, checked myself and started yelling at the driver. He looked pretty shocked. People started honking! This really angered me, but I pulled my bike to the sidewalk and he pulled over. A very nice woman on a bike who was behind me came up and said she'd seen everything. The guy had just made a right turn right into me. He came out of his van and looked so upset that I lost all my anger. He apologized and said that he was occupied with paying attention to the oncoming traffic. He definitely fucked up and should have been looking to his right, but I had to agree with him when he said "cette intersection, c'est fuckée" because it has at least 7 lanes feeding into it and the lights are bizarre. Both of them kept asking if I was okay. I was jittery but fine, except for a slight pain in my ankle.

We took names and numbers and parted. My bike turned out to be kind of busted. The rear wheel rubbed and the gears were all wonky. I made it home and took it to the shop. It turned out the chain stay and the seat stay on the side where I got hit were bent in. The whole repairs were estimated around $100. I came home and called the guy who hit me. He again asked if I was okay and said that he would be glad to reimburse me for the repair cost. He came by the next day, gave me $100 cash and said that he was happy to pay it and would have done the same thing I did if our roles were reversed. He turns out to be a biker as well (and an electrician professionally). We shook hands.

I am physically fine and my bike should be out of the shop soon. I feel that the sum result of this whole accident has been a positive one. The guy who hit me showed himself to be an honorable and civic-minded individual. There was no need for any lawyers or bs like damages and loss of work time. Shit happens and good people respond to it. When he left, he said that if I ever needed an electrician, I should call him. And I would.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Que SIS?

This blog was supposed to be a commentary on the general life of a west-coaster in Quebec, but everywhere I turn are big political issues and I can't seem to keep myself from spouting on about the election or the environment. To try and keep things on track somewhat, I'm going to talk about my ever-evolving position on Quebec independence.

From what I can gather in the media, the Bloc Québécois is using this election primarily to push for sovereignity. The big news (and I suspect this is only a small part of a much more holistic platform) is that the Bloc are calling for a separate intelligence service and separate Quebec teams in the olympics (where they'd probably win more medals than Canada). As I say, I'm sure those ideas have been exaggerated a bit, but when I hear them, I can't help but react negatively to the Bloc.

The thing is, when it comes to individuals, I can sympathize with the movement for Quebec to become a separate country. This sympathy has grown stronger now that I've taught a half-semester of 10th grade Quebec history. At best, French Canada has been an afterthought to the english leaders of the country. Now that it has gained power, it's become an annoyance. Culturally speaking, this creates a very strong feeling of separation among the Québécois. For many of them, they don't understand why they should be part of this thing called Canada when it doesn't really recognize that they exist. These feelings have been exacerbated and strengthened with the success of Bill 101. I think, at this point, that a cultural move towards isolation and a single french language may be a necessary development, a reaction to over 100 years of inequality.

However, I think it is a failure and a loss for Canada and Quebec, to let this trend continue. Despite the powerful cultural differences of language, French-Canadians in Quebec are deeply Canadian, far more than they realize. I've lived for 11 years in the states and I spent a lot of that time noting differences between American and Canadian culture. I can tell you that if we had some language machine and sat down some hoser from Merritt with some tabernaco bonhomme from Chicoutimi and a redneck from Mendocino, CA in the same basement with a case of beer and a hockey game, the two Canadians would bond a lot quicker with each other than with the American.

Politically speaking the hoser doesn't really care about the french situation, though he'd certanly gripe about the taxes he's paying the feds. The bougon probably doesn't care too much about the language situation either, except that he's paying taxes to some english government out in Toronto. I guess there must be some working class people in Quebec who feel strongly about the protection of the french culture, but most of the noise seems to come from the educated classes, as far as I can tell.

I feel like the Bloc and the Parti are both hitting the separationist card really hard right now because they know it appeals to the emotional side of a lot of older, voting quebecois. I suspect that a lot of them (Boisclair in particular) don't really believe that strongly in true independence for Quebec. They just want to get as much power as possible, as do most of the other provincial leaders, and they just happen to have a very significant cultural and historical reason to fight for it.

I think it's a shame. I think it's the same as the Conservatives still harping on and on about gay marriage. There are real problems in Canada and the federal government needs to be addressing them. The environment, our education system and our health care are crucial and all three are seriously jeopardizing the future of the country. Why can't the Bloc use their power to make some changes for all of Canada. Fight for their platform of social welfare and a clean environment? Ally themselves with the NDP to push for those kinds of changes. Hell, they could even ally with the tories to push for some of this anti-corruption legislation (like the tories even give a shit about that other than as an election issue with which to attack the Liberals). Build up some capital with the rest of the country. Do something!

Then they can turn around and start pushing for independence. When the rest of Canada sees that the Bloc is not just a bunch of whiners whose only position is to gain power in the House so they can leave it, they may be that much more cooperative. They may even get some votes.

Instead, they keep pushing to become a separate nation. They don't even know if their own populace is behind them. And in pushing, they further the divide between cultures of a great country. It's destructive and irresponsible and hurts themselves worse than anybody. I offer myself, an anglophone resident of Quebec who a month ago was seriously considering supporting a sovereign Quebec, simply because they have the right to it. But I'm certainly not going to vote for independence if the leaders of that movement can't demonstrate that they actually care about anything other than independence. Or their own power.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Comme j'ai prévu

Comme je vous ai dit,
le bonhomme est ici.

5-10 centimetres aujourd'hui. Un bon début, mais je veux des mètres, 'sti!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Posters are already up! @%#%$

This is not a regular posting, but I just wanted to alert Montrealers that there are already Federal election posters up on Parc avenue north of St. Joseph. What the hell? Has an election been called? Do they know something we don't? Are they just jumping the gun to ensure that their candidates' annoying will be stuck in our minds for as long as possible?

We still have the majority of posters from the mayoral election still up (though this election isn't actually over thanks to the problems with new voting software). One wonders if there will be enough room on the telephone poles.

It's amazing to see these posters. You can tell which party is which simply by their size and quality. The NDP have little two-tone placards. The PQ posters are big, but just 4 colors (lots of blue of course), with a large full-on headshot. The Liberals are hilarious, the biggest of all, with a beautiful range of colours and completely professional vanity shots, their candidates at 3/4, subtly made up, hair perfect. In the background is a lovely ochre to off-white gradient, suggesting a glowing future. I see those high-quality posters and I think of the lucky printing and design companies that got that contract and I just can't help but think of the Sponsorship scandal.

I haven't come to an intellectual conclusion about whether or not we should have an election right now, but my gut is hoping that those signs up on Parc are a mistake and they'll be coming down quietly next week.

[edit 11/18/05: oops. The signs on Parc are for a provincial bi-election to fill the seat of the PQ Minister of Finance who stepped down last year. I should have known, seeing the PQ rather than Bloc posters, but I always get them confused.]

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"J'ai peur, j'ai tellement peur!"

I saw these words posted in the window of the local artisanal ice cream shop on St. Denis. It was under their regular announcement that they would be closing for the winter. People love their ice cream in Quebec and there are ice cream shops open only in the warm months in most neighbourhoods. I guess they get enough business that the store can be closed all winter. The words mean, I'm scared, I'm so scared. It made me laugh when I saw it, but it was one of those hollow laughs that are used to mask one's own fear.

For the winter is coming. The temperature has dropped significantly in the last two weeks. No snow yet, but hard cold rain and some overnight freezing. Snow is threatening in Quebec City. I heard the clicking of snow tires as I rode my bike on St. Urbain yesterday and there was a huge crowd outside the Kanuk outlet store. Kanuk is a quebec made brand of winter clothes, especially jackets. They are insanely popular among the french, almost like a uniform. I find their designs look kind of '80s and cheap, but they are quite expensive and I imagine quite effective. You don't see as much of the MEC, North Face gore-tex look here as you do in the west coast, though there is a bit of it among the outdoor set.

To be cool in Montreal, you have to dress as if you're not cold. So you see lots of guys in jeans and thin leather jackets in freezing weather. People go without gloves and toques way late into the season. You can always tell an anglo or an out-of-towner because they are rocking the huge down coat, toque and gloves in December. It really gets insane when you're on St. Laurent in mid-February and it's mad brick out (in the -20s and -30s) and you see women in mini-skirts, their knees dangerously red, walking to clubs.

Definitely some of it is trendiness, but I think that like the Inuit, the people of Quebec have some either genetic or developed ability to withstand cold. You can tell that some of them aren't trying to be cool. They are just comfortable in 0 degrees without gloves. Their hands aren't red and they don't seem to feel the need to stuff them in their pockets. Many of them love the cold weather, even prefer it. This is just a mindset that I don't have. I'm getting into it, though. I love the big snow dumps, all the plowing and I've taken up cross-country skiing (since I'm blessed to have Parc Mont-Royal two blocks from our apartment).

I think it is the end of summer that is truly difficult. I felt kind of frightened, oppressed and a little depressed when the weather first turned cold in October. Than we had another nice week and it felt so ephemeral, fleeting. I was already planning vacation ideas, desperate escapes to the west coast. But now that we've had a couple of weeks of the grey and wet, I'm starting to look forward to winter. Summer is behind me and I've let go.

The word from all my québécois friends is that it is going to be a brutal winter. When pressed, they say that you get a tough winter after a really hot summer, or you get a tough winter after a mild winter. Though they all agree that the general trend has been winters getting mellower and mellower. The science of this prediction model is clearly sketchy. But that doesn't make me doubt it it. I think that their common prediction is a result of some kind of cultural osmosis. They just know. We shall see. I hope that we get tons and tons of snow and not too many really cold days.

And just to put this all in perspective. The rest of Quebec thinks Montreal winters are mild and that we are all a bunch of wimps.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Les éco-quartiers and the mayoral election

I volunteer once a week at the Jeanne-Mance composting center. It's a little plot of land in Jeanne-Mance park that has been separated by a short chain-link fence. Inside are two giant tubes sitting on machinery that allows them to turn slowly, a big pile of compost separated by a fence of pallets tied together with innertubes and a bunch of garbage bins. People from the neighbourhood come by 3 times a week and drop off their organic waste (onion peels, apple cores, clippings, etc.) which gets mixed with straw pellets in the big tubes. It sits there for a few weeks until the heat, oxygen and bacteria have broken it down at which point it is moved to the pile. This goes on all summer. The pile sits there over the winter and next spring the members can use the compost for their gardens.

That process is elementary to anyone who is familiar with compost (except perhaps for the big tubes, which are the brainchild of the McGill Environmental Engineering department and speed up the process significantly but require a lot more planning and care). The composting center is a project of the Jeanne-Mance Mile-End Éco-Quartier, an environmental community center serving the needs of the arrondisement. They provide many other services, such as collecting batteries, providing les bacs verts (the green recycling boxes), cleaning up the alleys, distributing bulbs, etc. There is an éco-quartier in every quartier in Montréal.

They were created 10 years ago, when Borque was the mayor of Montreal. Their initial raison d'être was to be the distribution points of the bacs verts when Montreal first started its recycling program. They were overseen by an office in City Hall, but were basically left to develop other programs on their own. The bacs verts program was a big success. They got them to something like 98% of households in Montreal in their first year.

Since then, each éco-quartier has developed on their own. They receive their funding from the city, but they are run by a local board and the people who work there. So different éco-quartiers have different agendas. Some tend to lean more towards beautification while others have a stronger environmental bent.

Recently, their funding was decentralized, going to the arrondisement (district, basically). I don't know how this affected the other éco-quartiers, but it forced the three under the arrondisement of Plateau/Mont-Royal to compete for funds and only one remains. The other two became smaller, semi-private organizations under different names and there is some bitterness there. The relationship between the remaining éco-quartier and the administration of the arrondisement is not very good anymore either. I haven't heard anything from the politician's side, so recognize that my position is biased, but what I hear is that the current mayor of Plateau Mont-Royal, Helen Fotopolous is really not very interested in environmental issues. The only time she communicates with the éco-quartier is when there is a chance the media will be involved. This is all hearsay, but there has been little recognition of the fact that the composting centre took in 5 tonnes of organic waste that otherwise would have gone into the dump and planted a beautiful, producing garden that made the bike route to McGill significantly more appealling.

I present you this information because it is the only way I could think of to make interesting what is generally agreed to be a very boring mayoral race. The voting will be this Saturday and the candidates are Gerald Tremblay, the current mayor, Pierre Borque, two-time mayor before him, Richard Bergeron, the head of Projet Montreal who are a platform for pushing public transportation and Michel Bédard who represents the Parti éléphant blanc of Montréal (intriguing, but the first time I heard of him was when I looked at the sample ballot). I was quite liking Tremblay, though I have no real reason other than that Montreal seems on a general upswing and a bunch of new bike paths have been created. But I think I'll be voting for Projet Montreal, as they are the most overtly environmental. As a matter of fact, the most environmental the two front-runners got was arguing about who was going to plant more flowers.

I apologize if I don't have a more general overview of the mayoral race here in Montreal. I do think it is a city on the rise that still has a lot of problems (the famous potholes, litter, bad development, gradual racial segregation), but is generally working to fix them. It is traditionally the case that most mayors of Montreal win a second term and if I didn't have such a strong environmental agenda, I'd probably vote for him as well.

There is one extremely obnoxious thing about the mayoral race and it is all the placards that are put up all over the streets. It's a waste of money and an eyesore. They did this during the federal election as well and they didn't take the signs down until months after it was over. Fortunately, at least in the Plateau, many got creatively defaced quite quickly. Mayor Tremblay's campaign slogan is "Go!" and somebody wrote "fuck yourself" after it on a bunch of signs on the Main. Good stuff.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"A Sophisticated Waitress"

I was going to talk about the mayoral race here in Montreal on this post, but I'm too pissed off by the separatist reaction to the appointment of Michaëlle Jean to the position of Governor-General of Canada.

The Governor-General is the symbolic head of state of Canada, representing the link between the Prime Minister and the Head of England. Originally, the Governor actually was the head of state, first of Québec after the British won it from France, then of both Upper and Lower Canada in the Constitutional Act of 1791 (which can be seen as the political birth of Canada as a nation). The Governor ruled over all the British holdings in North America, ran the military and was responsible for calling the assemblies into session. He also had a supreme veto power. This lasted until the British North America Act in 1867, when Canada became an independent nation and the position of Governor-General only symbolic. The Governor-General still gives final approval to laws, but it is a ceremonial gesture today.

During the period between the Treaty of Paris (when France gave up Canada) and the BNA Act, the Governor did a lot of things to oppress the French (who increasingly became a minority as Canada grew west and waves of english immigration arrived). Very generally, as you look at the evolution of the Canadian political structure, you can see how it slowly worked to take or hold power from the french (this is 150 years of political history right there, so I won't go into it, but it's pretty interesting). Specifically, there were several acts of violent repression, such as the hanging of 12 patriotes after the rebellions of 1837-38. I point this out to show that there is a real history behind the french-canadian resistance to the continued existence of the Governor-General's position.

Today, the job has morphed into a de facto Canadian ambassador to the world. The previous Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson was a big promoter of the arts, though she got into some trouble for accusations of excessive spending. The new Governor-General, Michaëlle Jean, was appointed several months ago. She's Haitian-born, who came to Québec as a young girl and had a succesful career as a newscaster for Radio-Canada. She also has a long C.V. of doing good things for the world.

Her appointment caused some minor furor here in Québec, a furor that has still not yet died down. First of all, she was seen in a documentary from the 80s, at a dinner party with a bunch of separatists, toasting to their success. She responded to that saying she didn't believe in nationalism of any kind. Now that that has settled down, all different francophone editorialists are attacking her. Her husband was interviewed on the radio show Indicatif Présent and the following guest, Denise Bombardier, a writer and journalist, attacked his position and called Jean a "sophisticated waitress". There have been similar editorials in the papers, calling the couple traitors and accusing them of capitulating their views for status and power.

Clearly, I recognize the historical significance of the role to the French. But that part of history is over. The french lost the war. They were oppressed by the victors. This is normal, though not good. The oppression went too far and since we live in a democracy, was forced to bounce back. Today, Québec is freed from the bounds of english oppression. One may argue that it suffers (very loose use of the word "suffer" here) under the federal government, but within the province, the french are a powerful and succesful majority, with a thriving culture and economy. This is all good.

What the french need to do now, especially the bitter old-school separatists, is to throw off the chains of resentment and bitterness. They should be proud of Michaëlle Jean. She's a daughter of Québec's succesful social structure. She came here as a poor immigrant and through her own talents and will and the support of the province, has done extremely well. She's hot, sophisticated and stylish. She speaks 5 languages and makes Canada and Québec look super cool. She went to a high school in inner-city Winnipeg and talked straight to the students, actually getting them to listen. She also makes the many Haitian immigrants to Canada extremely proud and it is an insult to them for her to be disparaged. Fight for your independence if you still feel it's necessary, but don't vent your personal angers on someone who is going to do good for the world, for Canada and for Québec.

[Aside: I really appreciate the positive comments from the few readers who don't actually know me. I will try to answer your specific questions as they arise. There are some great Canadian blogs out there, that I'm just starting to discover and I'd love to be a part of that community, so spread the word!]

Monday, October 24, 2005

Election Primer part 2: the provincial race

I am very ignorant about provincial politics here in Quebec, but I'll post what knowledge I've got to give you some info. Knowledge of provincial politics outside your own is pretty low across Canada and I don't think this has much to do with any french/english divide. I'm sure most BC'ers have no idea about Alberta politics, for example. So what little I know from my stay here should be enlightening to those of you who are new or on the outside.

The provincial government body in Quebec is called L'Assemblée Nationale. Very generally, it works the same way as the federal government, where the party with the majority of seats gets to be the party in power. Currently, the Liberals are in power, led by Jean Charest. He was very well-respected in Quebec as a federal politician and decided to take over the Quebec Liberal party. He led it to a strong victory over the Parti Québécois, the separationist, lefter-leaning party that is the main opposition.

Now, everybody hates the Liberals and Jean Charest. It's hard to tell if he's done anything at all and even more difficult to discern why everybody hates him so much. One concrete thing he did was to cut down tons of university scholarship money, which caused weeks of student strikes and ended with him giving some of the money back through some federal funding.

The PQ has been struggling to get itself back in fighting form. First, Bernard Landry, their long-time leader resigned because he only got 76% of party members support. It's still unclear why he resigned and if it was a planned decision or not. He claimed that he couldn't act unless he had full support. Because of that, the PQ has now started a leadership race. The top runner was Pauline Marois, about whom I know nothing. Revelations that her younger, gay and Harvard-educated rival André Boisclair was a total coke fiend when he worked in the parliament, helped boost him to the lead.

The PQ's separatist mandate, though perhaps more directly effective than their federal counterpoints in the Bloc Québécois, is not on the top of their debating and PR list of subjects these days. They seem to be arguing about actual social and spending policies here in Québec. Part of that is that independence is a given in their platform, but I think another part is that they don't want to be pushing independence too hard, at least until they get in power.

From what I hear and read, everybody hates the Liberals so much that the PQ have a real chance to win. But I have a vague memory that at the end of their reign, everybody was hating the PQ just as much. When it comes to provincial politics, I don't know about any solitudes. Quebecers seem just as bitchy and whiny about their politicians as every other province I've ever been in. If they're from the right, they complain that the government is taking away too much of their money. If they're on the left, they claim that they aren't giving them enough money. I think this is a Canadian characteristic, perhaps one that can help bring us together!

So separatist pundits are keeping an eye on this next election (which hasn't been called yet and I think could be as far as 2 years away) because if the PQ wins, there is a chance that they could push for another referendum. Much of the push for separatism comes from the older wing of the party and they still have a lot of power. But I sense a growing fatigue and annoyance with independence. Quebecers are doing quite well and their culture is pretty strong (at least economically speaking). I think most of them want to get on with building the economy. I don't see a referendum winning here. But you never know. I wonder what would happen to me? Would I be allowed to get a Québec citizenship? That would be kind of cool.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Election Primer Part 1: The Feds

We've got 3 elections on the horizon in my world. Montreal is having a mayoral election on November 5th. The Parti Québécois (the provincial separatist party and current opposition) are having a leadership race towards a provincial election in the near future. And there is going to be a federal election at any moment, or at least that's what you'd think watching the media here. So let's start with the feds.

The Canadian government is run by a parliamentary system, with Members of Parliament being voted in by the electors of their riding. The party with the most seats in the House of Commons becomes the Cabinet. Their leader becomes the Prime Minister. They propose laws that than get passed by the House. If a vote is lost by the leadership, it forces a vote of confidence that can lead to an election. Or the government can call an election any time within 5 years of its last victory. We currently have four major parties and one independent with seats in the house: the Liberals, the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party. There are several other small parties that run in the Federal election that generally do not win any seats but some of whose minor success can have some impact on future legislation: the Green party, the Marijuana party, the Christian Heritage party, the Marxist-Leninist party, the Communist party, the Libertarian party and the Canadian Progressive party.

The Liberal Party has been in power since 1993, though under current leader and Prime Minister Paul Martin, they are hanging on by their fingernails. Their position is ostensibly center-left, supporting government programs while maintaining fiscal responsiblity. Socially, they run to the left as well, though in Canada, that puts them in the middle. They like big business and power, though, and their long run has either revealed or allowed to develop a lot of corruption and cronyism. They did do a lot of good for the country, notably getting rid of the deficit and keeping us out of the war in Iraq.

The Conservatives have gone through a lot of permutations in the last ten years, but we're for the longest time, like the Liberals an original party and a fundamental part of Canada's political history. Traditionally, when they were know as the Progressive Conservatives or the Tories, they represented slightly more conservative values fiscally and socially. In the 90's, a new party called the Reform came out of the west who were supposed to be a new wave of conservatism, addressing the failings of the traditional Tories. The Reform, who later became the Canadian Alliance (what are they, a super hero group. Just their name made you want to slap them.) tried to ride the family values wave and failed miserably, ending up splitting the Progressive Conservatives and partly supported the Liberals' dominance in parliament. Last year, the Reform party and the Tories got re-united under the leadership of Stephen Harper and became the Conservative Party of Canada. It's very hard to tell what their position is because every time one of them says something extreme about gay marriage or family values, the rest of them sush him or her up. And their spending plan at the last election was significantly more than the Liberals.

I don't know much about the New Democratic Party's history. They represent the farther left, with a heavy emphasis on social concerns and the environment. They have always been in the wings and in the 90's were effectively dead in the House. However, since Chrétién stepped down, they have had a new resurgence under the leadership of Jack Layton and now command an important position in the House.

Finally, the Bloc Québécois are the federal party that represents Québec. It is weird that they are a federal party, since their concerns are a single province. But Québec is the second biggest province (after Ontario) so they usually win enough seats in the House that they become pretty important players. They are led by Gilles Duceppe who was considered laughable 5 years ago (for no reason other than a funny hat he once wore. Ah, the Canadian media) and is now well-respected in Québec and definitely visible on the national scene. The Bloc's political position, aside from sovereignty, is quite close to that of the NDP. Their main goal is to make Québec a separate nation.

Since the federal election of 2004, the House of Commons looks like this:

Of 308 seats,

the Liberals have 135,
the Conservatives have 99,
the Bloc has 54 and
the NDP has 19.

A party needs 154 seats to form a majority. So, do the math and you can see that the Liberals quite quickly looked to the NDP for support and currently those two parties make up the Federal government. However, the Conservatives are constantly threatening, with the Bloc to vote against a bill and bring the House down. So we are currently run by what is called a Minority government and unfortunately, most of the political talk these days is not about actual legislation but strategic power-broking and who will win the next election. Despite all the game-playing, a recent poll shows that if an election were called tomorrow, very little would change. All the parties are stuck in their power position, at least for the near future.

Personally, my big-picture analysis of the situation is that those numbers fairly decently represent the will of Canadians. We don't want to waste money, but we believe in social programs. We don't want to impose our social will on others and we think it's extremely important to protect minority groups (and I mean that in the most general, political sense). However, there are some freaky christians out there in the small towns and their voice cannot be ignored, just as there are some old school leftists who don't like capitalism at all.

The last election was called because the Liberals time was running out and the Conservatives thought they could take advantage of a scandal-ridden government (I didn't even touch on the Sponsorship Scandal, but it's big and bad). Harper failed. Since then, all he has done is look like an idiot, trying to present some coherent platform to the Canadian people and muzzle the more insane elements in his party. The Liberals haven't done anything, except pass Gay Marriage and talk a lot. The Bloc just keeps blocking, which is particularily annoying considering the tantalizing idea of them uniting with the NDP. Unfortunately, their desperate dream of independence drives all their decisions. The only party who is talking about doing anything is the NDP. They actually forced the Liberals to spend a bunch of money on housing and the cities, spending that was part of the Liberal election platform. That's pretty bad when the party you allied with to make your minority government forces you to carry out your own campaign promise.

I liked Jack Layton a lot before he got into Parliament. He was intelligent and direct. He got a bit shifty during the election, smiling way too much and looking a bit like a used-car salesman. But he is, as I say, the only one talking about specific legislation and trying to get things done.

I wish the others parties would realize that this minority government is going to be the way of the future (as it is in many European countries) and start working on compromises that would actually help the Canadian people. Instead, it's, as usual, all about them and how they can get more power.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


We are approaching a provincial election here in Quebec and in the next several posts, I'm going to share my perspective on it. I had an encounter with a politician last week that served as a strong reminder of how slippery and dangerous they can be. I believe the anecdote will help set an appropriate tone to launch this subject.

Radio Noon is a Quebec-wide talk show on CBC in english that plays from noon to two on weekdays. The host, Anne Lagacé Dowson, is quite intelligent and informed but tends to walk a very safe line. She also summarizes the french newspaper editorial positions in the mornings, which I find an incredibly helpful and interesting service. When she does that, she's quite opinionated, quite different than on her show.

On Friday, she had Thomas Mulcair, the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, to discuss a range of environmental issues. I was initially impressed with the breadth of his knowledge and his strong pro-environmental rhetoric. He seemed to be very much on the side of the environment, to the point of restricting business, which is surprising for a Liberal. He came down particularly hard on pig farms, discussing how his office had closed tons down, restricted growth of new ones and were actively looking for other farms that had snuck through loopholes to stay active. A lot of people hate the pig farms because they smell bad, but the minister was also very aware of their more significant environmental damage.

He talked a lot. He seemed quite interested in discussing various approaches to sustainable development. But after a while, I started to realize that he wasn't actually answering any of the difficult questions. I was listening to all this on the phone because I had called up and was waiting to get my turn. When I finally got on the air, I asked him what was his position on bill 390, a bill proposed by Stéphan Tremblay, a member of the opposition Parti Québecois, to ban non-biodegradable plastic bags.

He responded respectfully, saying, "ah yes, that was introduced by my colleague on the other side of the house," sounding as if they were all working together. He then went on to talk about how in Ireland, plastic bags caught in trees are called witches' britches and how they have introduced a tax on plastic bags (something like 20 cents a bag at the supermarket), that has reduced consumption significantly. I tried to ask him again what his position on the bill here in Quebec was, but me and the host spoke at the same time. She repeated her question to me, which was what did I think of a tax on plastic bags. I said that I thought that was a better idea but at this point, the situation was becoming so bad that any legislation was necessary. I tried to ask if he was not going to support bill 390, what was he going to do about the plastic bags. He went on about how a lot of supposedly biodegradable plastic bags are actually still quite bad as they pollute compost sites and still release plastic molecules. I agreed with this and this time got kind of insistent, asking what his position on bill 390 and what he was going to do about it.

They hung up on me.

I was probably a little abrupt, but I really felt that Ann Lagacé Dowson had let him off easy. It's her role to press the interview subject to answer the callers' questions and her role as a public servant to call the politicians on their BS. Even worse, the lead news piece on the CBC that afternoon was how the minister had announced a possible tax break for people who buy hybrid cars. The soundbites were from that day's show. What kind of news is that? Aside from the fact that it wasn't actually news, because it was only a suggestion, it also painted the minister as this all-powerful benevolent protector of the environment and a CBC radio show as an official news event. Pathetic.

I would love to spend a day with minister Mulcair, picking his brains about the environment, policy and industry. As I say, he's intelligent, informed, well-spoken and charming. But he is also dishonest and indirect and I would not trust him to give me a straight answer on anything that might actually implicate him in some kind of action. He is, in short, a politician.

My uncles here in Quebec are hardworking people who lean on the side of libertarianism. They have gotten to the point with the governments in their world that they see them as a joke at best. One of them recommended that one should always vote for the opposition, just to ensure that the party in power never stays in power long enough to really get corrupt. I don't agree with this position, but after trying to get a straight answer out of one politician, I really couldn't think of a better solution. This minister of the environment cares about the environment only as long as it supports his party and his position of power. Why couldn't he and his opposition just sit and work together, hammering out legislation that would cut down on the plastic bag problem in a way that would work for the province? The citizens would support it. The bags come from outside of Québec so industry wouldn't fight it too hard. The grocery stores wouldn't care as that would be one less thing they would have to buy. So why isn't anything done?


Thursday, September 08, 2005

The extremes of officiousness

[I'll get back to your helpful replies on foutre in a bit. This one's urgent.]

Québec has a reputation of being a very bureaucratice province. It is well-deserved (though British Columbia is no joke either). What's so amazing is how relaxed most of the citizenry is about rules and regulations. What happened to me yesterday exemplifies these extremes.

I was trying to sign up for a couple courses at the McGill department of Continuing Education. The course are very reasonable if you are a Quebec resident ($50 per credit, about $200 per class), not so if you are a Canadian from a different province (around $500 per class) and nuts if you're from a different country (about $1100). I've lived her since March of last year, paid my taxes, worked and spent money. It has taken me a while to establish myself officially (except for the taxes) mainly because I was living with other people and thus paying them instead of having my own hydro or phone bills. But I do have my health card, my driver's license and my passport.

The passport alone is not good enough to prove my Canadian citizenship. You need to provide a birth certificate. Because I was born in the states, I have a card that is a Certificate of Canadian Citizen Born Abroad. But they changed that card a couple years after I was born and the lady at the McGill registration didn't recognize it and wasn't sure if it would "be accepted." (can you see the steam coming out of my ears?). But we got through that.

However, in order to prove my Quebec residency, I have to provide a lease or a letter from the landlord and a bill for every single month of they year before! How insane is that? So if I cut off my services for a month, I don't qualify as a Quebec citizen? When I very politely voiced my criticisms of these concerns, I get what I almost always get from the people on the other side of the desk: they say they don't make the rules, but it's always tinged with a disapproval. In this case, they actually started to argue with me. This was good, because the more questions I can put in a functionary's head the better. I explained that I had paid my taxes (and they were pretty steep) and had therefore contributed my share to the Quebec economy and thus had the right to the cheaper fees. They of course brought up the fraud argument and how it had nothing to do with McGill. (I wonder what the profit margins are for McGill for the different fees and if they are higher the more you pay. Probably.)

One catch-22 in all this is that both Hydro-Quebec and the phone company charge you ($15 and $25 respectively) if you want to add a name to an account. So if you move in with someone or transfer an existing account (as we did with my SO when we moved in together), you have to pay to get your name on the bill. But you need your name on the bill in order to get your health card, your driver's license and cheap rates at educational institutions. I'm writing my MP on that one.

The other thing about all these restrictions is that they are really biased against foreigners. I'm sure both the federal and provincial governments have all these economic reasons (protect jobs of "Canadians" whoever they are), but to me it reeks of old white racism. I bitch and moan, but the people I met who were trying to immigrate here had it way rougher. They are treated like second-class citizens here. Basically, any degree you have outside of Canada and the U.S. is worthless and you have to do it over. What they are saying is that the education system in Canada is better than anywhere else in the world. That's a good one. I've seen a high school physics text book from Bangladesh and it was easily university level here.

But I digress. Sorry, this issue really pisses me off. Anyways, I got through all the bullshit, having registered, but still having to get letters from my landlord. I call my current landlord (I've lived here since January of this year). He's not the best landlord in terms of fixing stuff, but when I asked him for this letter, he said: "Yeah, sure, no problem. I'll tell you what, you write it, I'll sign. Any dates you need." My previous landlord was just as amenable (though didn't bring up adding any extra dates) and he even has this special stamp in his position as professor at UQAM that he puts on the letter to make it look all official. The people behind the counter get all calm feeling when they see a stamp like that.

And then, on the way home, my transfer had run out of time. It got rejected at the metro gate. There was no time on it and I honestly thought that it was close, so I went to the booth and asked if it had expired. He just motioned for me to put it in the little slot and passed me through.

Perhaps the people have developed their mellowness in order to cope with the ridiculousness of the government. Either way, I hope that the government catches up to the people soon. It would help this province a lot.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

On en a rien à foutre

I saw a guy wearing a shirt that said "On en a rien à foutre" on the back. It was just a glimpse, but here's the process that it sent my mind into: 1. I know foutre, it means a whole bunch of things, including "dont' care" "fuck" "do". 2. En is the objective pronoun when a verb is followed by "de". 3. On literally means one but is used more often to mean "we" or just everybody around the person making the statement. 4. So then I was at We have nothing of it to not care. 5. And then I was like bling! oh yeah 'We don't give a shit about anything!" I laughed out loud to myself.

But foutre fucks me up. I know also that s'en foutre is used in an inoffensive way to mean "to not care." So if you want to say "I don't care" or "I'm not interested," you can say "Je m'en fous." First of all, it's counterintuitive to the english speaker because it's a negative comment in english but positive in french. Then, I can't find a single verb to come close to it in english. In english, being disinterested is expressed with an adjective ("I'm not interested" "he's disinterested") or negatively. What's the positive verb in english that expresses not caring in a positive form? To carethnot?

And then just to make it all complicated in french, it has to be both reflexive and have that elusive subjective pronoun "en" in it. Those things make it extremely tricky to conjugate on the fly. If "I don't care" was simply "je fous" (which as I explained above is still tricky, because the instinct is to say "je ne fous pas"), then it wouldn't be so bad to work on "il fout" or "Ils foutent." But those phrases mean "he fucks" or "they fuck!" So you've got to conjugate it as "Je m'en fous" and "Ils s'en fout" and then put those bad boys in the passé composé while you're trying to catch the metro!

Worse, foutre, as you can see, has tons of meanings. In this rare case, the Larousse is not very helpful. They claim it means "faire l'amour" as in make love. Which maybe it once did, but I don't think anybody uses it like that. But it also means "fucked" as in done for, or taken out. Like my kung fu teacher is always saying things like, "si tu fais ça, tu es foutu" (if you do that, you're screwed, or the opponent will have taken you down.) That sort of correlates with "fuck" in english, but in french it's foutu doesn't have such a harsh meaning. You could say it in respectable company and nobody would be offended.

Finally, some of the other people I asked also said that foutre can also be interchanged with faire as in to do. So you can say, "Moi, je l'ai foutu hier" (I did it yesterday).

Sorry to bore those of you who don't find these grammatical flailings interesting. Really, I'm asking for help. If anybody out there has a better handle on foutre and can explain it to me in a way that I can structure some kind of relationship between all the different meanings and structures, in such a way that I could get it in my mind and be able to use it, I would be most grateful!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The anglophone whirlpool

It's been a while since I've posted and there are many reasons for it (got a job, family obligations, etc.) but one underlying strand that I realized is that I've slowly been drawn into the anglophone world here in Montreal. Once out of the french language program for immigrants, I started to drift towards things that were familiar and easy and in english. My social life has been growing here and I've made connections with other people through playing basketball, my work and my girlfriend's job. All those people are english-speakers.

Montreal is truly a bi-lingual city and though there is a gradient and a wide middle which uses both french and english regularily, there are also totally separated parts, which are only french or only english. For me to stay in the only french side requires a real effort on my part and that's a tough effort to make when I'm trying to find work and make my way in a new city. It's one of those situations where having the the freedom to choose is actually worse for someone like me. If this city was totally french, I'm sure my french would be way better by now. I might be exhausted and a bit lonely and culturally disconnected at times, but I'd be out there. Here, because I can find work in english and play basketball in english and drink beers with other english speakers where we all share the same jokes and cultural references, it requires significant will to push oneself away from that towards the foreign.

I have two regular recreational activities that keep me connected to the french. My kung fu school is francophone and I go there 4 times a week. I'm an expert at saying things like "coup de coude en arrière" (rear elbow strike) and "prise de tête" (headlock) and I usually hang around after class just talking, so that keeps my french warmed up. I also play in a regular roleplaying group every other week and that is 5-6 hours of non stop listening and talking in french, with all kinds of vocab. Both these activities are fun in and of themselves, making the french practice really easy. Also, the other francophones there are mostly bilingual (not so much in the kung fu class) and immediately helpful with vocab and grammar.

Otherwise, it's basically shopping and comments on the street where my french gets used. I still don't really have friends where I can just hang out in french. My next door neighbours were bilingual, but they left and now they are all anglophones. My girlfriend, who is incredible in all other respects, is from Vancouver and her french is at the high school level. My job, which is part time, is also mostly english.

We did just finish a trip to the Gaspé peninsula (which will be an upcoming post) and my french got a serious work out there. We stayed at a lot of b&b's and hostels where I got to sit at the breakfast and sometimes dinner table and speak tons of french. That was great.

I give you all this background as a context for my current situation and the status of my experiment, which is behind schedule but slowly moving ahead. I had hoped to be more immersed in the francophone world at this point.

But I was given a serious push at the beginning of the week because I got a call from one of the places where I'd dropped off my CV. Now, getting a call back from a company where I've left my resume is a miracle in and of itself (that's something like 1 out of 95, but don't get me started). It's a francophone organization and they wanted me to come in for an interview the next day. Let me tell you, I was nervous! Job interviews are always going to make you nervous, but in a foreign language, that's a whole nother story. I was definitely stressing. I had fantasies of the interviewer just stopping the process about five minutes in and dismissing me because I was either not understanding a word or not making any sense.

We did a lot of job-related stuff at the french program I took, but it was a while ago. I wrote down a bunch of keywords and stock answers, looked up tons of vocab and grammar and practised. I also had my roleplaying game the night before, so that was great for warming up the ear. During the day, I listened to french radio (which I probably would have done anyway since the CBC is on strike).

The interview actually went quite well. I definitely stumbled and the woman interviewing me was very forgiving, often filling in sentences for me. I am a pretty good fit for the job, though it doesn't pay as much as I had hoped. At one point, she asked me what my goals were and I laid out my career and personal goals, (one of the phrases I'd memorized). She seemed satisfied by my answer, but then I remembered also to add that I wanted to improve my french. She basically said that my french didn't sound all that bad and she hadn't really considered it an issue in terms of my capabilities for the job (part of which would be as a teacher). Well, that was very good to hear. I don't know if she was just being nice, but it added a lot of confidence.

I don't know if I'll get the job, but despite the fear and a day of loose bowels, that interview was a great experience. Really forced me to turn back to the francophone job world and gave me a ton of confidence. After that, a job interview in english seems so easy! I've defnitely got a lot of work to do on my french and a lot more willpower needed to stop the slide into the anglophone whirlpool of comfort.

Monday, June 27, 2005

La fête nationale

Quebec gets an extra holiday in the summer. It's St. Jean Baptiste day or La fête nationale. This year it took place last Friday (June 24th). The rest of Canada also takes Canada Day (July 1st) off. I think they get that as a holiday here as well.

It originated in France as a pagan holiday celebrating the summer solstice. When King Clovis started making christianity official, he turned the holiday in to a celebration of St. John the Baptist (the dude who baptised Jesus and I think later got betrayed by Salomé and had his head cut off). The original french settlers brought the holiday with them to Nouvelle France and maintained it as a patriotic celebration. I think it's not such a big holiday in France anymore, but here, especially with the revolution, it has been installed as one of the biggest holidays of the year.

And it's big! Quebec City and Montreal have huge spectacles (that's concert in french). Montreal actually had two, a free one in Parc Maissoneuve and a pay one on Île st. Hélène. Hundreds of thousands of people attend these shows, wrapped in Quebec flags, fleurs-de-lys painted on their face. I'm sure most of the smaller cities in Quebec have their own spectacles and parades as well. People really party. I imagine there are a lot of people born 9 months after June 24th! At the shows, everybody knows all the lyrics, singing them together with the people on the stage.

Anyways, it's a very nationalistic holiday. I know to a lot of westerners, that must sound weird. It still sounds weird to me. I also heard a few bilinguals scoff at it being called la fête nationale. I'm sure there are many who feel threatened by Quebec nationalism who are not comfortable with the tone of this holiday. Most people, though, from what I read in the english hebdos, are quite happy to have an extra holiday and consider it a great opportunity to party.

I heard an interview with a politician who was encouraging people to come to the spectacle in Montreal. He took great pains to make it clear that this holiday was open to all Quebecers, especially immigrants. The host was asking him some tough questions about this issue, but I still got the sense that the politician was protesting too much. The problem with Quebec nationalism (any nationalism, really) is that it reveals the fuzzy line between cultural pride and exclusion. It's a complex and rich argument, with points on both sides. But Quebec nationalism connects itself back to the original white, french settlers. And that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Many anglophones have families that have been in Quebec for generations. There are also many immigrant groups, especially here in Montreal, who have been here for 2 or 3 generations (Italians and Portuguese specifically) who don't feel included in the fête nationale.

Furthermore, Quebec is bolstering its population with immigration. The government is working hard at educating the new immigrants, in the french language and the Quebecois culture. But you just don't get a sense that someone who moved here from Mexico is going to feel the same connection to Quebecois pop hits from the '70s as someone who grew up with them. Perhaps Quebec's strategy is a bit like the U.S. Unlike the "vertical mosaic" of the rest of Canada, Quebec is trying to fully assimilate its immigrants. Judging by the low-level racism that I see and hear constantly in Montreal, I don't think they are succeeding (more on this issue later).

I don't have many conclusions, beyond that there is a real tension inherent in the fête nationale, but I think the overall postive and festive nature of the culture here will keep the tension at an intellectual level rather than turning the holiday into something divisive.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

How french has taught me to love the phone.

[Thanks for the great feedback on my last post everyone. Really interesting and enriching comments. I'd love to find a good discussion group for new anglos to Montreal, that way we could carry on these discussions more dynamically.]

I have discovered a wonderful new bonus to learning and practicing French. Now two of the things that I used to hate the most, tech support and telemarketing, have become good things in my life. Let me explain how.

I'm a bit of a nerd and know enough about electronics and computers to be the kind of customer that I'm sure most tech support workers hate. I also have an attitude and a political opinion born out of a childhood in Berkeley and a father who is basically a technological anarchist. So when I'm phoning my ISP or the hydro company, I'm already in a fight before I even get them on the phone. Of course, they always do something to justify my anger.

In Quebec, when you call these services, the default tends to be in French. Speaking another language on the phone is much more difficult (no visual cues, can't watch the lips move, sound quality is bad) and you really have to prepare yourself mentally. The difficulty is especially pronounced if you are going to be using specific vocabulary, such as billing or computer terms. Generally, here, the people on the other end of the line are bilingual, but I always feel like such a jerk barging past their polite "bonjours" and "comment est-ce que je peux vous aider?" into my complaint (seeming all the more obnoxious in english). For a while, I would start out in French, exchange pleasantries and then ask if it was okay if we spoke in English as I had trouble with the technical terms. This tended to help me feel less guilty and improve the overall tone of the conversation.

Whether it's the language or the culture, French-Canadians are very polite. They take the time to state all the social pleasantries that we used to use in English but have mainly discarded. They say "bonjour" or "bon soir" when they see you and "bonne journée" and "bonne soirée" (have a nice day or evening) when you leave. They say "enchanté" or "c'est à moi le plaisir" (the pleasure is mine) when they first meet you. If you thank someone in a business transaction, they may well respond "C'est moi qui te remercie." (it is me who thanks you). I find it an interplay of language that makes for a warmer and more meaningful social existence. Anglos who want to get on in Quebec would benefit greatly by recognizing this. Even if you don't speak french, just taking the time to make a polite exchange tends to make the other person feel more inclined to be helpful, even if you continue in English.

I saw just how rude the anglophone can seem when I was out on my front porch sorting my recycling. A woman was knocking at the door next to mine. My upstairs neighbour, a woman from Saskatchewan, opened the door. The woman knocking told her in french that she was from the landlord and was here to collect some tax papers that had been dropped off in the mail. My neighbour said "We don't want any" and basically slammed the door in her face. It was jarring. The woman rang again and my neighbour came down. The woman started to explain who she was. I tried to tell my neighbour in english that she was from the landlord, but I could see from her face that she was quite stressed with her inability to understand. Finally, in a shrill tone, she yelled upstairs to her boyfriend that "Some lady is talking french." The boyfriend came down and they figured it out. I know my roommate was not trying to be rude. She was just anxious about not being able to speak the language and had her western canadian fear of talking to strangers defensiveness up. Obviously, the woman from the landlord could not see this at all and she looked very put out. When she turned to me, she went right into her need for these papers. I didn't respond to that and instead introduced myself and asked who she was. Then I remembered that I had talked to her on the phone and then we discussed the weather and the building and her husband the plumber who'd helped fix our kitchen sink. Her whole demeanour changed. She became relaxed, comfortable. I eventually got her her papers (and an appointment for her husband to come by and help me install the washer). Not only was the whole exchange so much more pleasant, but it really highlighted what's important in life: talking with people, not the stupid papers!

So I've been trying this strategy on the phone. Eventually, it got to the point where I just felt comfortable enough to stay in french. Sometimes, I'll ask them to be patient with me, but more and more we've been doing these transactions almost entirely in french. And the beauty of it is that, because of the gentle politeness at the beginning of the conversation and my sense of accomplishment at dealing with this onerous task in another language, I often end up not getting angry at all. Moreover, sometimes I find the person on the other end of the phone to be charming and engaging, to the point where I'm actually enjoying the conversation (despite the extortion-based policies of Hydro-Quebec and Bell, but that's another blog). Sometimes, they can't get me off the phone!

This has now extended to telemarketers. We all know them and we all hate them. Their demon spawn bosses should be packed in ice and shot out to Pluto. But suddenly, for the novice french-speaker, here is a free oral french lesson, on the challenging phone, no less! So when the telemarketer phones me in right in the middle of some project and asks if I have time to answer some questions, I say "avec plaisir!" Of course before they get to their questions, I head them off with some polite conversational openings. "Ça va? Oui, oui. Ça va très bien. En bonne forme, en fait, malgré l'humidité. C'est une catastrophe!..." Then I take the time to discuss each of their questions at length. It's great practice and eventually you can hear them start to get frustrated, which is deeply satisfying. Now they try to get off the phone with me! My most memorable discussion was the guy from customer service at Sympatico who called to follow up on a call I had made to see if I was happy with their response to my call (what middle manager fiend came up with that idea? "Let's see, our service sucks, so when they call to complain and we don't help them at all, we'll call them at home a week later and ask how they felt our service was!" "Great idea, JR!"). Anyways, I ended up arguing with him about the nature of their SMTP server (the poor fool knew a little bit about it, just enough for me to latch onto) and then launched into a discussion about data travelling around wires and in the ether and who should own it and what is private property anyhow. All in french. He hung up on me. I felt like I'd just got an unexpected tax refund.

And the upshot of it all is that my french on the phone is really getting quite competent. Now if only I could get my outgoing emails to be sent reliably...

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Les Bougons vs. The Trailer Park Boys

I just got a great comment to my last post from a french-canadian woman who considers herself Canadian. I strongly recommend that you check out what she said. There's a lot there, but one of her comments summarized nicely a problem I've been thinking about:

"It is amazing to me that so far noone at our much beloved CBC has managed to amalgamate in a program the two cultures for the two audiences to be shown simultaniously, something that I have been dreaming of for the past 30 years."

Late night on CBC they show some of the better television shows from Quebec like Fortier (a police investigation show led by a strong woman. I saw one episode and it was pretty good) and le Grand Ourse (a supernatural novela). They are subtitled (well) but probably don't get a lot of viewers as they start at eleven. I'm sure the CBC shows all the internationally sucessful french movies like the Barbarian Invasions.

In Quebec, we get all the english channels and the french commercial networks (TVA and TQS) show dubbed versions of many popular american shows (I'm told the dubbed Simpsons is actually quite hilarious because the dubbing is done in Quebec and they speak like real french-canadians). Most of the dubbed shows and all the dubbed movies are done in France by the same people, which everyone in Quebec knows quite well.

The two hot shows in French and English Canada right now are remarkably similar in theme. Les Bougons is a half-hour sitcom about a lower-class family in Montreal who are masters at scamming the system. The patriarch, played by Remy Girard (the star of the Barbarian Invasions, among many other things), is a domineering boor who loves to harangue the system while he mercilessly steals from it. The rest of the family are more than willing allies, each with his or her own techniques and scams to contribute to the family's well-being. They blackmail local politicians with their stripper daughter, adopt a chinese boy (who turns out to be a girl) to help with shoplifting and computer crimes, collect multiple social assistance checks, etc. They are portrayed sympathetically and the show ends up being more critical of the system around them. Characterizations are rich and the show ultimately celebrates the community and culture of the lower classes.

Trailer Park Boys takes place in a less urban setting and the protagonists are three young men constantly trying to strike it rich with crazy schemes that usually involve growing or stealing pot. It's less subtle than Les Bougons and perhaps aimed at a younger demographic. Most shows involve a shootout, drunken fights and some kind of physical slapstick. Again, though, the theme is about poor people taking advantage of a system in the only way that the system allows them. Furthermore, most episodes end with the notion that the trailer park is a big family, dysfunctional but loving. As in Les Bougons, you sympathize with the cheating criminals.

I believe that the theme of the lower-class underdog resonates across Canada. We love to portray ourselves as underdogs next to the big, rich US of A. The social welfare system is a much larger part of our economy. Authority may be corrupt, blind and stupid but it's not deadly. Our authority figures are petty corporals like drunken trailer park supervisors or obstinate clerks behind the desk at the DMV, not black-booted cops smashing someone's head in with a billy club.

So it surprises me that nobody I know in Montreal, french or english for that matter, watches the Trailer Park Boys. I can understand that few outside of Quebec watch Les Bougons simply because it's in french. The CBC bought the rights to it, but said they are going to refilm it with english actors. That seems ridiculously stupid to me. Basically, you're going to have the Trailer Park Boys in the city. Why don't they just subtitle it? The show already got a write-up in the New York Times. Part of the depth of the show is language they use. I can only understand it partially at times, it's so rich in 'sties and chalices, but it would give anglos such a rich insight into life here.

I think regionalism is a strong factor for the divided audiences for the two shows. Despite the similarity in themes, the city of Montreal is an important aspect of Les Bougons. But I've never been to the Maritimes and the Trailer Park Boys could practically be a small town in B.C.

So the question remains. What Canadian movie or television show would cross this cultural divide? I'll think about this because I don't have any clear ideas right now, other than that both sides should both be regularily watching Les Bougons the Trailer Park Boys. In case I didn't make it clear, both are well-written and hilarious, better than anything else on TV today.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The pernicious influence of the CBC

As all of Canada knows and maybe 6 Americans, we are in the midst of a decent-sized corruption scandal at the leve of the federal government here. The Liberal Party, whose politicians have been running the country for a long time now, gave away a couple hundred million dollars to Quebec advertising and PR firms, a chunk of which was funnelled back to the party so that it would have funds to run it's election. Pretty sleazy, infuriating stuff, without a doubt.

Everybody is angry about it, because it's basically taxpayers money that went to the two of the worst places you'd ever want your money to go, advertising executives and political parties (though now that I think about it, the places where I don't want my money to go make up a very long list and most of my money seems to go there, but that's another topic altogether).

What has surprised me, though, is how quickly the media have started pushing this idea that this sponsorship scandal is now going to ignite another, and this time possibly successful, separatist movement. Every day in the news, it's about how this is the last straw for Quebeckers, how they are so sick of the federal government that this time they are definitely going to vote for separation. Yesterday, Alfonso Galliano, the straight-up lying, sleaziest-mafia-thug-wannabe, who actually was the one handing out the money put forth this notion. And the CBC ran it as their headline! The story was crafted around Galliano's quote (who, by the way, should be in jail in about a year or two) and then all the politicians reactions to it. Every separatist politician responded neutrally, basically implying that anything Galliano said wasn't worth listening to.

I listen almost entirely to the CBC. Watching or listening to any commercial news outlet is not conducive to domestic tranquility chez moi. However, even the CBC is pissing me off these days with this bullshit. They portray Quebeckers as these imbeciles with hair-temper reactions, as if they were all tranquilly happy being part of Canada until all of a sudden! the sponsorship scandal has made them all decide to change their mind! No wonder the rest of Canada considers them to be such a bunch of babies.

I can't speak about the rest of Quebec, but here in Montreal, the reaction is exactly the same as it is in B.C. and I'm sure in the rest of the country. People are disgusted by the corruption, but not surprised. They want good stuff done with their money and they want politicians to address them honestly and directly. I'm sure the die-hard separatists are using this to spur their movement, but I really doubt it's changed anyone's mind.

One of the reasons I left the U.S. was because of the power and pervasiveness of the media and how its citizens clung to their teats, sucking desperately for their daily opinions and personalities. I don't consider Canada to be that much better, but I had hoped at least for some distance and not the kind of fear-mongering and yellow journalism that keeps CNN et al. rich. I grow discouraged.

There is a certain class of Canadians who just keep the CBC on all day. I'm one of those. My friend Ken, also of that class, pointed out when he came to visit how you forget that it's on, until it just becomes a dull buzz in the back of your head. After our third bottle of wine that night, I realized that the radio was on and it was getting in the way of the conversation. I turned it off and Ken reminded me of what he'd pointed out earlier. "What is that noise?" he said, hitting his forehead with the heel of his hand. And then when it's off, "ah yes, quiet. Now we can talk."

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Métropolis Bleu

The Blue Metropolis or Métropolis Bleu is an annual literary event in Montreal and another cool thing I got to attend for free thanks to my school. They arranged a workshop with Naim Kattan and groups of advanced students in various french programs. Naim Kattan, whom I did not know before, is a very well-respected Canadian author. He lives in Québec and writes in French, but his books get translated into many languages and he has all kinds of awards and is on a bunch of boards and committees.

He was chosen to lead this workshop because he himself has made the transition to the french language and milieu. He was born Jewish in Baghdad. He moved to Paris when he was a young man, where he mastered his french and then moved to Québec where he's lived for something like 30 years. He spoke to us about his experiences writing in a second language and transforming himself in his new worlds, issues all relevant to his audience, clearly.

He said that he still often gets asked two question here in Québec, questions that he has grown very tired of. The first is "where do you come from?" and the second is "How do you like it here?" Understand that, though once an immigrant, this is a man who has lived here for decades, has a french-canadian wife, children and grand-children. He has published numerous books in french.

In his view, we have many identities. More, identity is always changing. "L'identité est un mouvement, parce que l'identité fixe est la morte." [Identity is movement, because the fixed identity is death.] He explained how he considered himself to have three distinct births: the first as an Iraqi Jew in Baghdad, which encompassed his family and his childhood; the second as a young man in Paris where he learned about les jeunes filles (big laugh from the audience) and the third as a husband, father, grandfather, writer and part of the community of Québec.

If found this concept to be a very helpful one, as I've been thinking about this a lot. It seems sort of arbitrary and artificial to start choosing expressions, phrases and swear words to use in a second language. I feel like I'm acting or something and it makes me hesitate. When I think about it as growing up like a child into a new identity, it makes me feel less self-conscious about these things. It also makes me feel less defensive about what the hell I'm doing here in the first place! Although, generally, except for those two questions (which I also get all the time), the Québécois haven't given me too much reason to feel defensive.

I did have an interesting conversation with my next-door neighbour later in the week. She is completely bilingual, growing up to a french mom and an english dad in a french part of town. Her pet peeve is constantly being asked by Montrealers where she's from. As I said above, I get this a lot as well. I'm thinking it's the Québec equivalent of the New York "what do you do?" There, work is your source of legitimacy, here it's ethnic background. Québec was a very closed province until the revolution, but the attitude clearly persists. I'm sure it's changing, but I think they need to accelerate the pace a bit.

M. Kattan also told us a very funny little anecdote that was one of the things that made him realize how he was really a different person than he had been. His book Adieu, Babylon, which is about his childhood in Baghdad and his first big success was translated into arabic. When he read it in Arabic, he found that it was way better written than he could have ever done in his mother tongue. He certainly credited the translator, but he also realized that his ability to write in french had outpaced his arabic. He spoke than of the "dangers de déplacement" [the dangers or traps of moving], about how you can get stuck in nostalgia for home, when it is a home that can't possibly exist (see my last post). A good lesson, indeed!

M. Kattan was a cool, old dude, looking really writerly and calm, making the audience laugh a few times. At the end, he hung around and was very friendly. He put on a sweet burgundy beret that could only be pulled off by a french writer of his stature.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Negativity

Something I'm proud of myself about is that I seem to have mostly overcome the negativity that learning a new language seems to bring up in others. I think a lot of it is because we first started learning this stuff in high school when everything is "stupid" and "gay" and French, being illogical and frustrating, as well as seeming kind of fruity, falls hard into both categories.

I still have brief flashes of frustration, such as today when I said "beaucoup des erreurs" and was corrected mid-sentence by the teacher. Beaucoup is always, always followed only by de, never des and this mistake really seems to drive the teachers wild. It is a simple and consistent rule, except that it's buried in a bazillion other exceptions with de that I still can't figure out. For instance:

Le groupe des étudiants

Une group d'étudiants

Why? Who can say.

Once you've had a few honest french teachers who admit that the language makes no sense, it makes it easier for you to accept it and just get along with learning, memorizing and practicing so you can use the language, which is what you want to do. However, there is a certain group of people, even at this advanced stage of their learning who really can't seem to accept the way things are. And they have been really bugging me.

So I am going to indulge in a bit of negativity myself, just to get it off my chest. These are the arrivants to Canada who spend most of their time complaining about Canada and how poorly it compares to their original country. Please understand that this is a very small minority and most people are quietly grateful for their opportunity and just working hard to take advantage of it. Surprisingly, the ones who complain are almost consistently eastern European. It's bizarre. I've never been there, but from the way they talk, their part of the world is some kind of paradise.

It often seems that practically every other sentence out of their mouth is some kind of complaint. Here are some classics:

"There are no clothing stores for women in Montréal. There's really nobody stylish here. The woman don't know how to dress. In Romania, the women are much more stylish." (this from a woman in a denim pantsuit).

"I see the wiring coming out of the houses and I'm shocked. In Slovakia, they would never allow wiring like that. Don't they have inspectors here?"

"The architecture in Montreal is all the same. Everything looks very cheap and shoddy."

"The parents here are very different than in my country. They let their kids do anything. All the children here do drugs and drink all the time. Even in the schools."

"The day cares here are terrible. The other children are dirty and sick all the time. And they feed bad food to my children."

It goes on and on and in the case of parents, you can see a lot of it comes out of anxiety for their children who are growing up in a very different way than they did. But most of them seem to come from some kind of feeling of superiority. It's good to be proud of your upbringing, but have they no sense of cultural relativism? There are many responses to these kinds of statements, the obvious being "so why don't you go back?" Usually, the answer to that is reality and it's often quite sad, so I just stay quiet and nod, occassionaly tring to clear up misconceptions.

I used to go to high school with a guy from Austria who was always crowing about how clean and pastoral Austria was. We used to goad him by saying how the sheep in the fields were androids and the clouds were pollution until he got red in the face and had a spas out. Perhaps it's just a European thing, thinking that everything is better where you're from. I don't know, but it certainly is not a helpful mindset to have when you've emigrated to a new country.

Most of the people in my class are much more reasonable. The comparisons they make between their country of origin and Canada are just that, comparisons, and usually interesting. When they complain, it's usually the same things that Canadians complain about, like the government. And once you hear that, you know they've finally arrived and should consider themselves true citizens.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

La mystère de la tourtière

I first had Tourtière at a Cabin à sucre which was one of the first "cultural" events I did upon moving to Québec. A cabin à sucre is the cabin where they boil the maple sap to make sugar and syrup from. Every Canadian knows about the tradition of throwing the hot syrup on the cold snow and rolling it up in a popsicle stick to eat like candy. That in itself is an excellent thing, but here in Québec the trip to the sugar shack is a whole experience. You get to sit at a big giant communal table in a huge old barn with a giant fireplace and a band playing traditional music (with songs about the devil dancing with the prettiest girl in the village and carrying her away).

The tickets are kind of expensive, but you get to eat and eat. And the food was designed to fuel people who are cutting down trees and doing laundry by hand so it's large and easy to eat and full of fuel. The first thing you notice is the old, clear bottles filled with maple syrup, the fire lighting up the amber within (permit me a little lyricism in reference to a moment that was spiritual to me). One of the people in our party, a french-canadian from Ottawa, immediately poured the syrup into his cup and drank it! He explained that all syrups have a different flavor and that it's important to take some time to taste them before you pour it on the food. Like whiskey, I thought! The syrup was incredible, thinner than I had expected, but sweet and complex.

The food was great, especially since it all floated in maple syrup! If there is one thing I've learned from french-canadian culture, it's to not hesitate to put maple syrup on anything, no matter how weird it may seem. The results are always positive. Of special note for me were the fèves au lard (baked beans), the crisps oreilles (thick slice of bacon that looked like ears) and the tourtière. The tourtière is basically a meat pie, but it's almost all meat, with just some potatoes, and it's way thicker and drier than the english ones I'm used to. The crust was thicker and darker as well. I didn't want to stop eating it.

Since then, I've slowly been trying to find a good recipe for tourtière. This has not turned out to be so easy. According to the Larousse, the tourtière is first a casserole dish and second a meat pie made in Canada. Other recipes suggest that a real tourtière is actually more like a casserole, not a pie, with only crust on the top. My previous teacher swore that the only good tourtière was the one that is made with three kinds of ground meat: pork, beef and lamb, in equal amounts. I haven't been able to find that recipe even though she claimed that you could go to any supermarket and they would have a prepared package of those three meats specifically for the dish, with a recipe. I haven't found that in any of my local supermarkets, but I'm not in the most traditional of neighbourhoods.

More interestingly, the same guy who went to the cabin à sucre with us, explained that there was a bird called la tourterelle (I think, I'll have to double check the name with him) that used to be extremely plentiful in the forests of Nouvelle France. He referred to them as des frigos ambulants (walking refrigerators) and because they were so easy to catch, they were the original source of meat for many of the settlers who hadn't yet adapted their hunting skills to this new land. They are now extinct.

Most recipes just call for ground beef. But I'm not satisfied with that. I'm still looking and when I do find a recipe, either for the three meats, or that extinct bird, I'll try and cook one and let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Politics, finally (part 2)

So not to freak anyone out or anything. I haven't become a full-fledgled separatist. Not yet at least. But I am beginning to understand and sympathise with the separatist viewpoint more and more.

This separatist viewpoint encompasses a spectrum of positions. Obviously, they are all united by the common desire to turn Québec into a sovereign nation. But surrounding that one goal, there are extremes of views and ranges of motivations, many of which I don't support. For instance, last week, wedged between the plexiglass cover and the subway ads, were these black and white photocopied flyers promoting a demonstration downtown in memory of the hanging of the Dozen Patriots in 1839. They had an image of Queen Victoria on them and quotes from various Québec writers and political figures. All of these quotes had the word hate in them. I wish I had been able to get a copy so that I could include the quotes, but one I can paraphrase said "The first step in the road to freedom is to hate the oppressor" and another said something like, "Québec will not learn to be independent until she learns to hate."

Or there is this website, promoting an independent Québec. Reading some of the passages of their history of modern Québec reveals their underlying resentment, like this one, on the result of the first referendum:

1980 : As promised, Lévesque holds his referendum on sovereignty. The sovereignists mostly use a calm and moderate approach (specifying that the vote is not for sovereignty itself, but for a mandate to negociate it), while Trudeau's federalists will pull no punches, multiplying menaces and threats (you won't be able to afford gas, you won't be able to afford food, you'll lose your pensions, etc...), creating fear in the population. Trudeau will finally promise a great reform of Canada. In the end, 60% of Québécois choose to vote NO.

They also refer to the night when Trudeau signed the new constitution as "The Knight of the Long Knives." I don't know if that is what it is generally called, but it's a shameful comparison, considering that the first usage of that term refers to the blackshirts murdering the brownshirt leaders and allowing the extremists to take control of the Nazi party and eventually all of Germany. People were actually stabbed to death with long knives in the german version.

Anyways, you can get a taste of the bitterness that exists in many of the separatists argument. I have no patience for that kind of short-term emotional thinking in politics.

However, there are a lot of separatists who are very positive, who feel quite respectful and even friendly towards the rest of Canada. It is their arguments that are hard to defeat.

Basically, and fundamentally, they don't feel like a part of Canada. They feel ignored culturally,, and I have to say, that having been here for almost a year now, I agree with them. Most of English Canada has no idea what French-Canadian life is like. The food, the discourse, the social behaviour, the style of dress, the movies and books. Yes, many of us learn to speak french. But that's like learning to type and then saying you understand the internet. It really is a whole other world here. And what is especially frustrating, is that it's a great world! French Canadians really enjoy their lives, I'd say more so than English Canadians. But we're not taking. We're just not interested. So why should they bother clinging to a federation that doesn't really want them. Especially when they are quite happy without us?

Economically speaking, Québec is much more self-dependant than I realized. I don't know the numbers on any of this, so I could be very wrong. But as far as the service economy goes, Québec has it's own built in audience. They print their own books, make their own TV shows and movies (far better than their rare english equivalents, guess what, Canada, they learned to make their movies entertaining! [I exclude FUBAR from this point, of course.]. They also have a thriving software industry and the talent and educational system to keep it growing. They produce a lot of their own food, having an extensive agriculture community (that still relies on a lot of family farms) and of course they lucked out on their production of hydro power, having bought the rights to Churchill Falls in Labrador (the the endless resentment of the Newfies) until 2041 for next to nothing. Finally, they are growing weed at the rate and quality of B.C. They have a strong economic base and the kind of cultural and economic unity to keep it together. They would have strong export markets in the states and in Canada. Sounds viable to me, but I'm open to arguments from people who actualy know what they are talking about.

Finally, provincially, at this point, anyways, I may very well vote for the Parti Québecois. Why? Because their social platform is the best out there. It's a pretty pathetic selection, mind you. The Liberals, under Jean Charest, seemed more moderate at first. Since I've been here, though, they are wavering between being revealing their hidden pro-business anti-poor agenda and just being completely incompetent. I'm sure once the PQ is back in power, it will take them a year or two to screw things up as well. For now, though, the Liberals have just been so pathetic that there is no way that I could vote for them. I would've voted Green (which I did in the federal election), but now I'm hearing that the Green party has been co-opted by the NIMBY far right. Other than that, there are the communists and they are kind of cool in a PG Wodehouse sort of way, but that's not enough to earn my vote. Negatives aside, the PQ have a very strong historical belief in social programs and an equal society (language issues excluded here). They pushed for immigration and assimilation of immigrants to Quebec, they consistently support education, child care and the environment and they'll do it at the sacrifice of big business, which the Liberals never will. Unfortunately, they also tag the separatism issue along with all that.

I'm still a Canadian, still believe in one ass-kicking, beer-drinking, apologizing nation. But I can see much more clearly now where the separatists are coming from.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Politics, finally (part 1)

I've been avoiding the topic of separatism for a while now, but my friend Heather, who is also embarking on the same journey (though she left at least a year ahead of me and has a french-canadian boyfriend), asked me why I hadn't written anything about politics yet. We had a brief discussion and came to an interesting conclusion about the evolution of our own politics. It inspired me to finally broach the subject here.

I've been avoiding it mainly because it's really complicated and I feel about as educated about the political situation here as I do on the plausibility of the existence of Fermat's last theorem (good friends will note that this has rarely stopped me in the past, however). Also, though, there is something very apolotical about the life here, as if I'm not the only one avoiding it. Language and culture come up all the time, but actual politics rarely. Part of this could be Montreal. Perhaps we are just to busy having a good time and living our lives to worry about what's going on in l'Assemblé nationale. Perhaps in Trois-Rivières or Chicoutimi they are still arguing about Canada's role in the confederation.

It also could be the result of good old-fashioned Canadian politeness. That is one cultural strain that seems to cross both solitudes. The french are just as thoughtful and pleasant as the english, I've noticed, avoiding topics that may cause discomfort. They are also just as duplicitous about it, often being indirect to avoid confrontation when it would cause less misunderstanding and resentment if they would just come out and say what they wanted.

Finally, our Canadian politicians are really pathetic. In America they are generally evil or just so polished that they are more like celebrities than politicians. Here, our leaders are no strangers to greed, avarice and corruption. It's all just at a smaller, less sophisticated scale. But boy are they bumbling idiots. Even within the lax strictures of their own strategic gamesmanship, they are error-prone and maladroit. It does make for newsworthy, if embarassing scandals. Guys jumping out of helicopters, Prime Ministers having customized golfballs made on the public coin, police forces arresting their own mayors, etc. And their language is worse. Paul Martin, the current PM, stammers worse than Richard Nixon and his predecessor, Jean Chrétien, was notorious for not being able to speak in either of the two official languages. I think most Canadians are just so bored and annoyed with the whole thing, that it's not worth wasting the time you could be swallowing beer or puffing on a joint to talk about it.

But I digress. My point is that politics do not come up that often, at least not yet and not in my social circles.

That being said, I will get to my second point, which is sort of an introduction to a longer political thread that will be running through the life of this blog: my own political position on separatism.

For those of you who are not familiar with Québec's history, here is a very, very brief overview. Founded by the french in the 17th century, named La Nouvelle France, who then lost it in a war to the english in the 18th (a lot of beavers are killed in between these two events). It morphed into Lower Canada when the nation was created in 1791 and then Québec again when Canada kind of gains its independence with the British North America Act of 1867. Up until 1960, Québec's economy is controlled by the english. Power, too, mostly lies in the hands of the english. The population is kept quiet by the power of the catholic church and the strength of their cultural traditions. This all changes with the death of iron-fisted premier Maurcie Duplessis, who ruled Québec like a dictator, suppressing cultural and political change. With his death, Jean Lesage, the next premier opens everything up. The culture, politics and economics of the province undergo tremendous change, which we know today as la Révolution Tranquille. Amongst the upheavals in the education system, the role of women (who didn't get the vote until 1940) and social services, the most significant change was language. French became the official language of Québec (Canada also became officialy bilingual). Since then (and boy am I skipping out a lot), the largest political question in Québec is whether or not it should become a truly independent nation. This is the issue that most of us have grown up with. There have been two referenda where the province voted on whether to stay in the confederaton or not. Both times, they voted against it, though the second result was really close.

I consider myself a Canadian patriot. Probably more patriotic than most (currently preparing to defend against the US Water Invasions of '16). Ironically, this fervour is most likely a result of my years in the states. I came to Québec being completely against separation. First, as Russia slowly disintegrates, we edge closer to becoming the largest country in the world. Second, I consider having a powerful, rich and distinct culture as an incredible gift that we should cherish and nurture. Third, Québec is a fundamental part of our history, as is every other region. We exist because of the sum of our parts.

Negatively, I considered fervent separatists to be driven by resentment and emotion. Also, their complaining, except for the language argument, sounds exactly like every other bitching province in this country. In B.C. they are always moaning (and always have) about the federal government imposing laws on them, taking their money, etc... I take the long, historical view in of social structures and I'm shooting for Star Trek world, so I think the provinces can suck it up for the sake of building a strong nation for the better of all.

Culturally, I think every anglo should have the opportunity to spend some time in Québec, just as every quebecer should spend some time in the west (not Ontario, that wouldn't help them much) so that both can benefit from what the other has to offer, which I know now, to be plenty. When we are presented to the world as Canadians, we look good by being already exposed to such a different (and often contrary) culture within our own borders.

Finally, I always held to the common argument that Québec would not be able to survive on its own economically.

As I say, those were the feelings that I had when I moved here. They have changed somewhat, in a way that is surprising to me. I will share those with you in tomorrow's posting...