Category Archives: The North

We Got Snow.

It’s probably not hard to believe, but I looked out the window today and saw those first few snow flakes fleeing from the sky onto half-leaved trees. It was lovely. The snow won’t stick, according to neighbors. It will soon. The air outside has a bite to it and the clouds are sometimes low. It’s usual that, around Hallow’s Eve, the snow comes and stays for five or so months. Environment Canada predicts a more mild winter for the nation generally, which means the areas largely to the north of us.
The polar bears are in trouble.
So is the ice shelf.
So are we all.
In other news, a friend of mine, who recently survived breast cancer, made some fine t-shirts that are funny in a serious kind of way. Advertised as being “for tough cookies with black humor,” some of the shirts are “form fitting,” which seems as fitting as anything. They’re truly unique and very bold.
More locally, Dan Messing of Stunt Software (a software design firm in Winnipeg), released its new version of Overflow, a nice little application that does one thing nicely—allow Mac users to categorize their increasing lot of good applications like Overflow and provide space for the lot. It’s even been picked up by one of my favorite bloggers, John Gruber, at Daring Fireball. Congratulations, Dan.

Labor Day, The North.

It’s Labor Day here in Canada (and it’s not cold). (Here’s an inside tip: Canadians don’t think it’s funny when Americans ask, “Man, is it cold there?” during August or September.)
In fact, no one is working. Oh sure, the police and the firefighters and the hospital workers and a skeleton staff at the 7-11. We even got a package from the States today. (I learned yesterday that postal workers in Canada make very good dime.)
But everything else is closed. Safeway, Home Depot, every restaurant worth its salt and pepper, bookstores, sex shops, everything. All closed. Labor Day—time off. For everyone. But I really wish I could go shoe shopping for the Fall.

Vancouver to China.

I’m back from a solid week’s vacation in gorgeous Vancouver. The place quietly whispers “natural beauty” in your ear almost whereever you are. The mountains pretty much surround you and the waters follow you. To the left are pine trees that climb 40 meters into the sky. To the right are swishing waters, receding because it’s low tide while birds come in to peck the mollusks clean. Above is, usually, blue sky, mild clouds and simple winds.
There is little air conditioning. Sure, it exists, if you want it and you’re, perhaps, old or sick. But you open a window and the air conditions your home. Lovely. We stayed in Coquitlam, which is about 45 minutes outside of the city. Indeed, it’s the suburbs, but nice suburbs, the kind of democratically okay suburbs that you might actually want to partake in. Tremendous diversity: I could identify lots of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Iranian and Hispanic cultures throughout that part of the town. Old and young. Some are retired. Some are superrich. Actually, a lot of people seem superrich. Having come from Winnipeg, where nice cars are hard to keep and maintain, the shiny metal skins being driven by people in Vancouver were surprising and even alarming.
Money flows in Vancouver. It’s said, or it was to me, that the money is fully Chinese. And I believe it. We went to an Asian mall at one end of Vancouver. It was huge and completely dedicated to Asian needs: every commodity and service was in Chinese, or occasionally, Japanese. 95% of the visitors were Asian and the parking lot was packed. Called Aberdeen Centre, the mall has about 80 stores and also hosts a range of traditionally Western coffee, banking and other fare.
If I could see the future, it is here. There’s little doubt in my mind that Vancouver, the West Coast, and the West generally, will become an Asian-focused economy over the next 50 years. The sheer number of people, the strength of their culture and attitudes, the prestige they so obviously attribute to being in Western Canada/The West is palpable.
I don’t mean this in any alarmist way. Cultures move like water, first to deeper pockets and then to shallower land. I expect that there will be a mall like that of Aberdeen Centre in Winnipeg in the next 20 years. But I assume there will be one in every city on the West Coast in 10.


On the East Coast, driving is mostly a matter of minding one’s own business, keeping one’s eyes on the road ahead and listening to music or radio. You pass large signs along the way which advertise various nicities like BMWs or trips to London or Sesame Place. You drive, sometimes with one finger on the wheel. You have a coffee or a Coke. Sometimes you even smoke. And you talk on the phone, though in New York State, you must wear a headset of some kind, which seems only fair because if you’re going to talk while driving and listening to music and smoking and having a coffee all at the same time, you certainly don’t want to get in an accident. Some people, and especially those in Acuras, even watch where they are driving virtually through a GPS video monitoring system that details their exact location on the mapped landscape. Most of thes scenery is pretty sparse and unbeautiful and there are concrete barriers lining the road to the left and right. You can go 65 miles per hour and sometimes 95 on emptier roads but mostly you go about 65 or 75, or whatever is 10 miles an hour more than the posted speed limit. On many highways, one will find light posts every 100 yards to show you the way and there are little yellow reflective bumpy things in the middle of the lines to make sure you stay on the damn road when you’re not drinking coffee. It’s all rather easy. Even when you’re stuck in traffic in Staten Island or Connecticut, the biggest worry you have is that you will run out of gas, which is unlikely. You turn the radio or the air conditioner on or off and hope that the traffic starts moving again and then you make a phone call and you go back to being frustrated behind the wheel. Hopefully, you don’t have a screaming child or spouse in the car with you, or, if you do, maybe they’re screaming at each other. It’s not always fun but it is straightforward. Signs are generally kind of clear, except when you’re in New Jersey and the whole of driving is rather determined by a combination of private and public definitions, constraints, legalities and allowances.
On the West Coast, it’s somewhat similar except people have guns in their cars. Pretty uncomplicated.
Here in Manitoba, it’s plain old scary ass on the road. Roads are long and flat and signs are few and far between. The signs aren’t bad; in fact, they’re downright fine, telling drives whether they’re going North, South, East or West, which is all that really matters in a huge Canadian province among other huge provinces and American states. You drive, and unless you’re in small car like ours and the wind blows you backward and forward and left and right and you don’t know what kind of tires you got even though you know they’re new and supposedly stable and there aren’t any problems with the struts or shocks or wheel axles, you’re totally fine. But once outside of a city, you look around you and to the left and to the right are endless open spaces filled with gently looming green or yellow or purple crops. And the clouds hang low near you and the trees dot the occasional field and the road gets straighter and straighter and the remaining barriers in the road disappear and the next thing you know you’re driving down a highway in which the only thing separating you from other vehicles going in the other direction is a thin, worn yellow dashed line. If you really look around you you’ll probably see a truck in front of you and one heading towards you in the other direction and the sun could be bright enough to make oasis-like waves on the asphalt and the road gets a little hazy as you hope to dear G-d that the truck with dim lights on doesn’t smack your vehicle. Then there’s another truck behind you and because you’re going only 85 kilometers per hour at this point (although the signs say 100), he’s passing you at 110 and you hope to dear G-d that he doesn’t railroad you from behind as another truck comes full throttle in front of you. Or worse yet, if it’s in winter, and the temperature is minus 10 or minus 20 Celsius, you could be driving on black ice, which is ice on black asphalt and you have no idea when the wind is going to pick up and push your car 3 feet to the right, thus sending your steering wheel to the left and your back sheers to the far right and your car into a full-out circle. And if it’s dark out and it’s winter, then you have to hope that you’re staying on the road the whole time. Meanwhile, you probably don’t have the radio on at this point and your cellphone doesn’t work and it’s darker than you can imagine outside and even the interior of your car is hard to see except for the dimly lit dash. Or, even worse than that, you could be driving along in winter and nighttime and it’s snowing out and your visibility is about 3 feet in front of you and the only thing your headlights are doing is shining on the snow falling before your car and the air outside is whipping around your tires, making you feel like you are starting to lift off, defying gravity itself because of new laws written just for the prairies. All this time, your little heart is beating because you know there’s no one else around for a few miles and it’s cold enough outside to give you frostbite in a matter of minutes and death in about 45 minutes. Worse, if you stop your car because you’re totally freaked out, the likelihood of another vehicle smacking yours on the highway is about 97 percent and, if you’re anywhere near your vehicle at that point, you just have to hope. Well, I think my point is that with driving in Manitoba, you just have to hope anyway. People here laugh when I tell them I want to get me an F150 or a new Ford Five Hundred but I’m dead serious.

Between Canada and Independence.

It’s the midpoint now between Canada Day and Independence Day. As a new permanent resident from the U.S. in Canada, it’s as strange a midway as one could have, given that this is the first Canada Day I celebrated in Canada. I have now celebrated one Canada Day and approximately 35 Independence Days.
Here are some (albeit superficial) differences between the two holidays:

  • Canada Day happens on July 1st whilst Independence Day happens on July 4.
  • Both holidays have fireworks celebrations. But I can’t figure out why Canada does; in the U.S., the works are seen as a celebration of war against the Brits.
  • Independence Day has a truly nationalist flavor to it. Flags are everywhere, the news is fully dedicated to the subjects of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You get the sense that America is truly great because it knows it is, and it does.
  • Canada Day is much more reflective than reflexive. It has a relaxed, very questioning feel about it. You see some patriotism in the media, but it seems mostly filled with mild surprise and amusement that Canada is even allowed to be a country. I think the country, on this day, breathes a collective sigh of relief that it’s not been devoured by the States and that its ways and means are based on reality rather than ideology.
  • Canada is, rightly, very proud of its current status in the world. It has no real deficits, universal healthcare, military missions that are focused on humanitarian aid, and very democratic political culture. The Globe and Mail had a very moving editorial today that was less self-congratulatory than taking stock. I’ll try to find a non-paying link to it later.
  • Independence Day is truly celebratory. It’s the one day during the year that Americans celebrate collectively national heritage. There is not a lot of history taught on this day but it can be moving to see veterans of World War II commemorate their work.
  • Both holidays, for some reason, celebrate by burning animal flesh outdoors on metal grills.
  • Nathan’s Hotdogs are not devoured voraciously in Canada.

Manitoba Rebrands.

I never heard of Manitoba until 2000. That was when I met my incredible wife and learned about Canada, Canadian culture and politics, and a place called Winnipeg. Actually, I had known about Winnipeg because I had been a huge of Guy Maddin since 1995. (He was and still is my favorite director, believe it or not.)And when I saw the first show of Marcel Dzama‘s work in New York at David Zwirner, I saw Winnipeg on the map again. (Dzama became and still is one of my favorite artists, believe it or not.)
Manitoba generally, and Winnipeg specifically, to me, has a tendancy to breed unusual characters, kind travelers, and a spiritually committed group of people.
Two days ago, the province revealed its new brand identity, a process which took two years and $2.1 million. Needless to say, the naysayers are out with their knives sharpened. In just one day, letter writers and columnists have said that the branding was alternately a waste of money, a process in futiliy, an act against the province of Manitoba, a slap in the face to design firms in Manitoba (the branding was provided by Interbrand’s offices in Toronto and New York). Others say that the brand, consisting of a complicated and flowing type treatment, bright colors and references to native symbology, should have a bison in it.
I’ll cut to the chase. I like the logo. I like the branding work that Interbrand did in conjunction with the Economic Advisory Council, organized by the premiere here. I like the way the beautiful type flows from one letter to the next, like the rivers connecting the various parts of the province. I like the weight of the text, which is blocky and bold but unpretentious and pretty. I like the way that different colors and patterns are shown behind the knocked out text and provide a sparkle, an energy that is like that of water meeting land. I like the tagline: “Spirited Energy” or, en francais, “Vibrant d’Energie.” Not all energy is spirited; most visible energy that we see these days is either generated by artificiality or is spent on the unnecessary. Spirited energy, to me, calls forth a feeling of bounty, brevity, clarity, and friendliness and these are all of the things that I would like to associate with this province, Manitoba.


We spent the weekend at KidsFest, a.k.a. The 2006 Winnipeg International Children’s Festival (presented by Tim Horton’s). It was glorious. The days were filled with adventurous performers alternately juggling swords and bats, honking clothing-laden bicycle horns, involving kids in various escapades and general face- and hair-painting and other kinds of kindly despoiling. We particularly reveled (twice) in the Silk Road Acrobats. I forced my daughter to get their MC’s autograph; I now have Fesso’s signature on my bookshelf forever.


A neighbor yesterday told me, in no uncertain words, that Canada has the best healthcare system in the world. He said this without hubris or, in my mind, any feeling of patriotism, though I’m sure that must be an inherent part of his comment. I have no reason to disbelieve him. My experience in the States, with its private and superb doctors and practioners has always left me incredibly impressed. Doctors that I’ve had and nurses I’ve encountered have been, by and large, incredibly talented, committed, and thoughtful. I’m lucky. I realize that 40 million Americans, perhaps more, have no access or have had no access to healthcare.
Coming back to my neighbor’s comment, I believe he knows of what he speaks. He’s a healthcare provider in the province and provides specialized care in a hospital here. He’s traveled and I’m sure he’s read stories about care in the U.S. and elsewhere. I continually confess to people around here my completely naivite and ignorance about Canadian culture and social programs (as well as street names and locations of cities). But this is where my true lack of knowledge bumps up against reality. Are Candians, who genuinely seem happy with their healthcare, better off than Americans? Are they actually healthier, as a recent Harvard Medical School study indicates? Do Americans, who often disparage the Canadian healthcare system, really know anything about it? Is the American media, and its pharmaceutical advertisers, a reliable advocate for American health? Can a bankrupted but excellent American healthcare system really be compared to the Canadian one?
Ultimately, much of this is academic. The Canadian healthcare system, for all of its flaws (e.g. long wait times in some provinces for major surgery, a dearth of good physicians because of a brain drain to the States, problematic differences in quality among different provinces), is inherently democratic and fundamentally cheaper. Only the United States, among industrialized countries, threatens its own, poorest citizens with a lack of healthcare.
I love the U.S. It’s the place where I was made once, healed often, and helped untold times. But the blatant and continued segregation of the country into healthcare haves and have-nots cannot last or stand.


I recently purchased the domain name
The whole process was very uninteresting, except that, during checkout at my online registrar, I had to check off one box from the following list so that the Canadian authorities could ensure that my ownership of a national domain is legitimate.

Corporation (Canada or Canadian province or territory)
Canadian Citizen
Permanent Resident of Canada
Government or government entity in Canada
Canadian Educational Institution
Canadian Unincorporated Association
Canadian Hospital
Partnership Registered in Canada
Trade-mark registered in Canada (by a non-Canadian owner)
Canadian Trade Union
Canadian Political Party
Canadian Library, Archive or Museum
Trust established in Canada
Aboriginal Peoples (individuals or groups) indigenous to Canada
Indian Band recognized by the Indian Act of Canada
Legal Representative of a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident
Official mark registered in Canada
Her Majesty the Queen

This list says more about contemporary Canada than most books out there on the subject.


On Saturday night, we went curling. It’s a fine old sport. Granted, Canadians are awfully good at it and deserve the credit for keeping this originally Scottish activity alive and well.
We went to a rink called “Heather” here in Winnipeg. Heather was nice. There were about 6 courts. Well, they’re called “rinks” but I prefer to think of them as courts because they look, to my jaded American eyes, like shuffleboard courts, despite the fact that ice covers them.
I did pretty well. That is, I stank. But I was able to get the rock (I mean, “stone”) to the other side. And my form was pretty good, despite the fact that I fell once on one knee, hard. Then I fell on my chest and arm. And I then fell on my side and knee again, which is pretty black and blue but looks, according to my daughter, like a lightening rod.
The stone itself is very easy to push across the ice. The hard part is pushing it across the ice so that it doesn’t either fly to the other side. That combined with not knocking your own team’s rock too hard.
And sweeping the ice in front of the stone is a pretty odd endeavor. I tried hard to sweep when requested (“hard” when screamed means “sweep hard”) but the skeptic in me kept thinking that sweeping in front of the rocks to make it go further was pointless. Was my brush-pushing actually doing anything at all? It was hard to tell but I’m a good sport.
Mostly, it was just good fun for eight people to get together, throw some rocks (sorry, “stones”) and see what the sport is all about. I would definitely to it again in a few months, though I doubt I’d get a membership at a local curling club. It is tempting, though. Curling does strike me (no pun) as a sport where no conversations can be had and friends can be made. I have a huge new respect for the sport because, man, it’s hard!

Manitoba’s first settlers, in 1812, made curling stones from oak blocks. Curling exploded in the west, turning Winnipeg into the center of curling, with more clubs in Manitoba than in Quebec and Ontario combined. The Manitoba Branch of the Royal Caledonian was established in 1888 and curlers from all parts of Canada and the U.S.A. flocked to the Winnipeg Curling Club, with 62 rinks participating in the bonspiel that year.

– Gleaned from
Manitoba, the province in which I reside, has a very strong Curling Association. There must be a few hundred clubs listed. I, however, quite liked Heather.
After the game, the eight of us went upstairs to drink beer and talk about our curling.
Today, there were 78 comments on a post called “The Greatest Curling Shot Ever” on Metafilter. I don’t know enough, yet, to say the video there is really the greatest but it’s an inspired bit of play.
A good friend of a good friend of mine made a movie about curling that is as hilariously informative as it is beautiful. It’s called History of the Hogline.