2014/07/01

Our home on native land

Hardly original, but very much on point on this Canada Day, the 147th anniversary of Confederation.

Hanging out with younger people, not just in Femme City Choir but also in and around Girls Rock Camp Vancouver and other activist groups, has made me more aware of political issues that I had previously either overlooked or not taken seriously enough. I have always been liberal, but liberals can sometimes exist in a bubble of privilege. There are times that I think the kids go too far, and not always with wisdom, but that's how I was at their age too. And they are a whole lot better informed than I was. They have plenty to teach me.

So let's talk aboriginal land rights. I'm proud of the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that the Tsilhqot'in First Nation holds title to its traditional lands in central British Columbia. The decision is firmly grounded in constitutional law and precedent, all the way back to the Royal Proclamation, 1760, which stated that the only legal way for European settlers to live in British North America was to negotiate land rights with those who held title. Two hundred fifty years later, the SCC finally said flat out that a great deal of the land non-native people are living on does not belong to them.

British Columbia is an especially egregious example of this, since so few treaties have been concluded here. The City of Vancouver made a recent acknowledgment that the land the city sits on is part of the traditional territory of three First Nations, none of which has ceded the rights to that land. It's a start.

So although I'm proud to be Canadian, and I do celebrate the birthday of Canada, I'm feeling a little subdued. We can't continue to ignore land claims. We can't continue to pretend that native people don't have rights to the land we occupy. We can't continue to act is though our ancestors did not colonize land that was never legally alienated from its rightful owners. If King George III and his government in the 18th century understood that, surely we can too.

We can't turn back the clock. We can't undo hundreds of years of history. Descendents of settlers and immigrants are not going to head back to Europe and Asia and Africa. But we must find a way to move forward together, not as colonizers, not by imposing power, but in a way that respects most especially the rights of those who were here before us.

2014/06/21

A gift from the goddess

I'm feeling rather sober this morning.

Double entendre intended. I am of course not drunk. It's before 9 o'clock. I'm not even hung over. But last night I was not sober. I went to a club. I had a couple of drinks. I purposely stopped drinking well before I left the club and got in my car. I felt fine. My head was clear. I had no trouble driving.

It's funny how choices work. I always say that my goddess is metaphorical, but sometimes I wonder.

There are a few ways I could have driven from the club to the highway. My favourite was not really available because a large section of road is under construction to the point of being closed. I might have gone around the closed section and still joined the highway at the usual spot. That's a favourite route (at least when the road is open all the way) not only because there are few traffic lights but also because it's very unlikely that I would encounter a roadblock. Think about that reasoning.

I could also have driven the way I would have if I had been going around the closed road, and then instead of turning to get back on the open section I had just kept going. There are a lot of traffic lights in that direction, but it was late, and I wasn't in any big hurry. There probably wouldn't have been a roadblock in that direction either.

Instead of those two choices, I cut across Chinatown and took a route that zigs and zags a bit but is normally a pretty efficient way to get onto the highway. There are also a few service stations along that route, and I stopped to top up the tank at one of them. Gas prices are hitting record highs in these parts, and this one had a slightly lower price, so I took advantage of that.

By the time I reached the on-ramp to the highway, it had probably been at least an hour and a half since I'd had a drink, maybe more. Certainly not less. I noticed that traffic was backed up on the ramp. I thought about going straight, which is a slightly slower but reasonable alternative when there's a hold-up on the highway. I thought the backup was due to construction, which has continued on some nights well past when it was supposed to have been completed. I joined the lineup, thinking I wouldn't remain stuck for long.

I didn't recognize it for what it was—an RCMP roadblock—until I was committed.

They weren't letting anyone through without a stop. A member told me to pull over. She asked where I had been, and I told her. She asked if I had been drinking, and I told the truth, including the timing. She demanded my licence and then told me to get out of the car and walk to a point behind a police vehicle. There, she read a formal statement about suspicion of drinking and driving and then explained how the breathalyzer worked. I blew. We waited for the number.

We both saw the number come up. She told me what the legal limit was. My number was a fraction over that. But then she said that she was satisfied that I was fit to drive. I was surprised, but I wasn't going to go checking out the dental work of that gift horse. I got back into my car and drove away.

Just so you know, the cop was unfailingly polite through this whole thing. Firm, but polite. There is a reason that we respect the Mounties, despite some recent incidents. For the most part, they are consummate professionals. Maybe that was one reason why I remained curiously calm through the entire procedure.

If, if, if. If I had had my last drink a bit later, if I had left the club a little sooner, maybe even if I hadn't stopped for gas, my weekend might have been very different. The penalty for blowing over the limit when it's your first offence (as it would have been) is a roadside suspension. They would have impounded my car and taken my licence for 24 hours. I would not now be preparing to drive to the farmers market, the first stop in my usual Saturday morning routine.

If I had driven either of the other ways toward the highway, I would not have encountered the roadblock, and I doubt there was another in the area. You might think that would have been a happier outcome. I was calm during the ordeal, but it was still stressful. And yet, let's just call it what it is: a wake-up call. And a gift, not just from the Mountie, but from the goddess.

Decades ago, before I moved to Vancouver, a guy with whom I'd played in a band got busted for drinking and driving. He had to go to "drunk school"—mandatory classes. That was an early wake-up call. I changed my behaviour. I became more cautious. But not cautious enough. I knew it. I knew I had been on the road when I could easily have blown over the limit, with no margin for error. And however you feel about cops, I think we can all agree that operating a vehicle when you're not really in shape to do so can have tragic consequences, all too often for innocent parties. I never want to cause harm to anyone, myself included, because my judgment and reaction time are impaired by alcohol.

I already take transit when I know I will want to drink more than would be safe for driving. But clearly my calculations of safety have been a bit off. I'm still not likely to go completely sober even when I have to drive home, but I will need to drink less, or allow more time, or a combination of the two. I might still drive the route out of town that is less likely to have a roadblock because it's a good way to go. But if I am pulled over again, I am going to make sure I know that I will pass the test. And we'll all be safer for that. I was given a second chance. I don't expect a third.

2014/06/10

Femme-tastic choir

Well, what do you know, I have a blog. I hadn't forgotten about it, but I wouldn't blame you if you thought I had. Just not feeling blog writing lately, I guess. I've never gone in for those "post something every day for a month" things. I don't always have something to say. But if I don't write every day, maybe that means I'm not a writer.

I have been writing though. Songs for V+T, sometimes in collaboration with my drummer T, which is a cool new experience. Poetry (more or less) for a project of which I am a part. I would say emails, but I don't think those count. Twitter?

At any rate, I hope this is the first of a few entries about Femme City Choir and what it means to me. Have I told you about Femme City Choir? I thought for sure I had, but I can't find evidence of having done so.

Last autumn, when it became clear that Lisa's Hotcakes wouldn't be playing as much as I wanted to (and before V+T got started), I joined a choir. A choir of femme-identified people of all genders.

I showed up the first week, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. I'm used to hanging around with people younger than myself. But here I was surrounded by women (mostly) in the their mid-20s (mostly). I was very conscious of being the granny. I also didn't know anyone there, although some of us had friends in common. The first hour was taken up by an explanation of the choir and the vision of the two directors as well as by introductions of ourselves. Then we started singing.

And a funny thing happened. I kind of fell in love. Not so much with the music, although I found I could enjoy singing even material that I wouldn't normally listen to, but with the people and the space we all created. I have known plenty of femme lesbians and bisexuals, but I think this was the first time I had ever been in a room in which everyone considered themselves femme--including one guy. It was a beautiful space! It felt very special. I realized that I wanted--nay, needed--this choir in my life.

I went to rehearsals. Slowly, I got to know the others. We gathered material. Sometimes I loved the songs, sometimes not so much, but singing was always fun and challenging. I found it was good for my voice and my range. Over the course of the fall there was some attrition, and those of us who stayed started to feel like a unit. We had a great December social. In January we had another intake. By that time a lot more people had heard about us. The group got large for a while, which felt a bit confusing at first, but slowly I got to know the new people, or at least their names. Again there was some attrition, as expected. About 30 of us stuck it out.

We had a mini-debut in February with a small group made up of those of us who had been there from the start. Eleven of us did extra rehearsals with the music director and sometimes an accompanist so that we could perform two songs at a benefit. The benefit performance went very well. It helped create a buzz in anticipation for our full debut.

That full choir debut happened last Saturday, June 7, at the Wise Hall in East Vancouver. We called it Femmestravaganza. We had four guest artists, and we performed two short sets ourselves. It was a fantastic night! We did a performance that was better than any of the rehearsals, which is what you hope for. The audience response was very gratifying. Femme City Choir has arrived!

Being part of the choir has given me a lot to think about, and now that we're on a summer break, I have time for reflection. I plan to write about those reflections. Meanwhile, here's a video that an audience member shot and posted, and hopefully an official video soon. We're proud of what we have created and especially proud of our fearless (truly) leaders, Kate Monstrr and Lau Sequins.

See you at New West Pride!

2014/05/11

No-Mother's Day

Ribes aureum
It's my first No-Mother's Day. My mom left us in February after a long and good life.

I'm bombarded with Mother's Day reminders, of course, and it's not always easy. Mother's Day can be difficult for anyone who has lost or is estranged from their mother. But it's the same for the fatherless (or estranged-from-father) on Father's Day, singles on Valentine's Day, pagans on Christmas and Easter, and so on. The majority celebrate these things. I'm not going to take that away from them or whine that I'm left out. I don't expect anyone to accommodate my difference. No one is trying to hurt me. I'm happy to wish all mothers a Happy Mother's Day. I'm especially happy to see links on Facebook and elsewhere to articles about the actual origins of Mother's Day. This ain't no Hallmark holiday! At least it shouldn't be.

So have a great day, moms! I no longer have one and have never been one, but I think moms are totally rad. My mom loved yellow flowers, so this flowering currant is for her.

2014/04/28

Two's company

I'm not a big fan of two-piece bands--by which I mean the guitar-drums combination that was kicked off by the White Stripes and really popularized by the Black Keys. The Beatles had two guitars, bass, and drums. The Who showed us that one guitar was enough. I have been very comfortable playing in three-piece bands. But two? I never thought I'd go for that. After all, I am married to a bass player! And I love bass guitar. More than once, I have thought about putting the guitar aside and playing bass instead.

But some people have made the guitar-drums thing work well. There are not only the aforementioned White Stripes and the Black Keys, but also local (now international) hot band Japandroids and, among my favourite bands anywhere, the Pack a.d. For my money, the Pack have really shown how much possibility there is in this format--not to mention economy. They are currently touring Europe with a total of four people: themselves, their tour manager, and their sound tech.

Sometimes, you just want to go with the fewest complications. Really that means solo. I have sometimes done that and might again. But I love to play loud and play in a band. I will never rule out playing in a larger band, but right now, since I'm a guitarist and the other person I know who is also frustrated with not playing enough is a drummer, well, there you go.

We're calling ourselves V+T. Not super creative, but band names are hard to come by, and you can expend a lot of energy coming up with one that (a) is not used already (b) is easy to find with Google and (c) you both agree on.

With any format, there are always limitations. Obviously, when you have only drums and guitar, you're really straining against boundaries. Conventional guitar solos are pretty much out. Drums really need to fill space. So does the guitar. I crank up the distortion and the bottom end and I play a lot of drones. T will be making more use of toms and cymbals. Will I need a bigger amp? Yesterday, T actually asked me to turn up! Guitarists don't hear that very often.

Fundamentally, duos run on audacity. It's just not enough, right? But we're going to do it anyway! We're going to be loud! We're going to rock hard! We're going to play great songs! If it's not at least somewhat audacious, it's probably not rock and roll.

We're just beginning to put material together. We have maybe three songs at this point and lots of semi-formed ideas. Several of the songs I've been working on recently aren't right for this format. But I have a feeling we're going to find a burst of creativity. And when we're ready, or maybe even before (audacity again), we're going to be coming to your town. OK, figuratively. Or maybe literally. You never know.

2014/04/14

Keep digging

Have you ever gone deep into a project only to realize the scope is much larger than you thought?

Insidious leafy thing (no idea what it is)
It's spring cleanup time in my gardens. I've been doing battle with dandelions, creeping buttercup, sprouts from maple and holly, and various nameless weeds, including that insidious leafy thing that spreads like wildfire. For some time, I had been eyeing a "nice to do" but not "need to do" project. Yesterday, I needed a break from weeding. It was a gorgeous day. I had time. So I went for it.

After the major renovation 11 years ago that included demolition of a derelict detached garage and construction of the deck and carport, what had been a combination of lawn and junk in the back yard was nothing but an uneven mess of dirt and rocks. I started the long process of rehabilitation to turn that mess into the native plant habitat it is today. One thing I had to deal with was water running off the lane and into the yard beyond the carport pad. I didn't know at the time that this was due to a clogged street drain. I tried to kill two birds with one stone: accommodate the runoff and make a place for an abundance of rocks. So I created a "water feature"—a little stream that ended in a tiny pond. I built a little footbridge (just a few planks bound together, nothing fancy at all) over it. I filled it with rocks. It looked nice. Even after the runoff was fixed, I figured it was OK to have a dry faux-stream. Sweetie called it the wadi, because it was mostly dry but occasionally caught some water.

Early garden picture -- with rocks
Over time, however, more and more soil made its way between the rocks. Weeds inserted themselves and were difficult to dig up. The feature was no longer a feature but really a bit of a mess. So I finally decided to rehabilitate it.

The project started fine. I removed the footbridge and started to dig out the stream again. I made a pile of the rocks I was digging up and moved recovered soil to a few beds that really need it. When I got toward the "pond," however, I started to realize something. I had forgotten just how much rock was in this thing, not to mention how big the tiny pond really was. One pile of rocks turned into two, and the two started to merge. So many of the rocks are tiny. I kept taking breaks from the hot sun, but by mid-afternoon I realized I'd hit the wall. No more digging that day. And there were more rocks to go.

Sometimes I wonder if I really should have done a massive soil replacement and maybe rented that Cat to regrade the place (would have been fun to drive). The slow rehabilitation has mostly been successful, but the quantity of rocks in this poor excuse for soil is staggering.

I should be able to finish digging today. Then I think I'll put only the largest rocks back into the waterless feature. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all the small ones. Make a heap in a place where nothing grows anyway, I suppose. What does one do with masses of stones that are too small for anything useful?

2014/04/06

Things we learned...

...and might do differently next time, for surely there must be a next time.

Pack what we need

We liked the idea of travelling as light as possible and getting a cheap suitcase over yonder to bring stuff back in. For many reasons, it didn't work out. First there was the problem with liquids and gels. We would have to seriously cut down on toiletries to be able to fit everything into a one-litre bag. Second, because Firenze was our first stop, and there's where we did most of our shopping, we had to buy the extra bag there (inexpensive ones near the railway station), which meant we had it with us in the car and on the train. And finally, I at least am just not that good at not having the clothes and accessories that I want. Firenze and Roma are stylish places. Although it's practical to dress very simply, I'm just not that into looking like a tourist. OK for Rick Steves, maybe, but not for me.

The same idea (with liquids somehow taken care of) might work better in the summer. As it was, we had to accommodate a wide range of weather phenomena. Spring is a very changeable time of year.

Parlo un po 'italiano

I imagine you can go pretty much anywhere in the world and get along at least to some extent without knowing the language of the place you're visiting. But it really helped us to know at least some Italian, thanks to Duolingo. Sweetie had quite a bit, and did quite well. I reached beginner Italian, and I had to settle for small victories of asking questions and getting answers, of understanding and being understood. We also did pretty well reading signs.

For whatever reason, I find that I really like the sound of Italian and the feel of it in my mouth. I want to keep learning. And use it again.

There weren't any horrible linguistic cock-ups, and only one teaching moment that I can remember. That was when, at the end of a long day, we ordered a pizza and a salad with the intention of sharing them. Sweetie told the waiter "per due," or something like that, intending to convey that the order was for both of us. Two salads and two pizzas arrived (which I'm afraid went down pretty easily). We used Google Translate to look up a word that remained important for the rest of the trip: condividere (to share). Google Translate isn't perfect, but it's pretty handy.

City mice

A lot of people, including many of our friends, would probably love to stay in a Tuscan farm house for a week or two. There is certainly some appeal in that, and we enjoyed the days when we got out into the country. But we are urbanites. We made full use for our three days in Firenze and could have used at least a day more. We could easily have used two more days in Roma. There's just more stuff happening in cities. I will say, however, that some of the best food we had was in Levanto, which although not tiny is by no means a city. So sometimes you will find great restaurants where you least expect them.

TripAdvisor is friend

We got some excellent restaurant advice from our hosts in Firenze. We said we wanted cusina tipica, and they directed us well. It turned out that they knew about the place that we stumbled upon (and went to twice). They simply hadn't thought that we would be likely to head in that direction. In Levanto, our host gave us a list of restaurants, but without much information. TripAdvisor definitely helped us there. And in Roma, our host suggested one place that was great and one that served us one of the least memorable meals of the trip. So we shall keep in mind that our host might not have the same taste in restaurants as we do. It was through TripAdvisor that we found the excellent restaurant where ate on our last night in Roma as well as the awesome panino place.

Speaking of TripAdvisor, it's definitely a better idea to consult first rather than post a bad review later. The trouble is, you probably need wifi to check it. Bar Due Ponti seemed like a reasonable lunch stop. It promised free wifi. The food was nothing special, but that's true of the little bars. But although the panino was only a little pricy, the beer cost almost €8 and a large but not that large pop cost even more. We were stunned! And the wifi barely worked. If we'd been able to check, we would have found dozens of reviews from people who had had very similar experiences there and who also wish they had checked TripAdvisor first. So be warned: do not go to Bar Due Ponti! And it's probably best to be careful of anywhere that's in the tourist areas.

For the love of money

Visa is lovely, but cash is still king. There are restaurants where you want to go that don't take credit cards. There are shops where the Visa machine is on the fritz. There are plenty of reasons to have euros in your wallet. Fortunately, we never had a problem using ATMs. The exchange rate was what it was and couldn't be helped, and the "ding" from our credit union wasn't bad. At least when you're getting it from an ATM, you can kind of keep track of your spending.

My left foot

The car we rented was a Fiat 500. It was smaller than our Subaru, but it held quite a lot of luggage in its hatch. I found it comfortable to drive. It was a five-speed standard, and I hadn't driven a standard since we sold our Honda Accord in 2002, but after one stall and a few times forgetting to clutch before I turned the key to start the car, I had no problem. I am glad, however, that I never had to hold it on a hill. I'm not sure how that skill has held up! The problem now is that even after more than a week back my left foot keeps wanting to find the clutch.