Friday, August 29, 2014

Photo Friday: Au Revoir, France!

It's been a great three weeks but we're ready to go home. I hadn't found much time to blog over the time (most of the posts over the weeks were set to post before I left Canada) but I'll catch up in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, here is a shot of one of my favourite stops on our trip. This photo of Mont-St-Michel, in the Bretagne region, was the last time I looked at the millennia-old town. We had spent the morning exploring the cathedral and ramparts and had taken the shuttle back to the mainland. I wanted a shot of the town from a distance, so I put my telephoto zoom on.

I took the shot, then turned my back and never looked at the town again. I moved forward.

Today, as my family and I head back home, I think I will never see France again. I loved it but I'm ready to move on, to see other places.

Next year.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Playing With Fire

Photo credit: Sebastian Ritter
I loved matches: I loved the sulfurous smell that stings the nostrils. I love how the spark leads to a flare, and then to a small flame that burns on a tiny sliver of wood, or a compressed pile of paper.

I used to make miniature rockets with matches, using only a small piece of tin foil, a paper clip, and a needle. I would wrap the head of a match with the foil, making sure that about the first half of the match was covered tightly. I would then insert the needle along the shaft of the match, under the foil and up to the head, creating a vent.

The paper clip would then be spread apart gently, such that if you lay it down, the larger loop of the clip made a stable base and the smaller loop would rise up at about a 45-degree angle. The match would rest on this stand with the head at the top part of the paper-clip launch pad.

I would then light a second match and hold it under the head of my rocket match, standing to the side of it.

Blast off!

I loved setting things on fire. I would crumple sheets of paper into tight balls and see how long it would take to burn through. The tighter the ball, the longer the burn.

My mom didn't like me playing with matches, was afraid that I would set fire to myself or to the house. But I promised that I would take care not to burn myself and I never set fire to paper indoors.

Except that one time.

I was alone in the house, playing in my room, in the house at 69 Chesterton Drive. I was in the fourth or fifth grade, or perhaps it was during the summer, when school was out. I remember looking out the family-room window that overlooked Chesterton and Woodmount Crescent, and the grass was green, people were outside without jackets.

I loved to light paper matches, bending the one at an end around to the strip and lighting it while it was still attached to the rest of the pack—failing to close the cover before striking. I would use that match to light all the others in the booklet, delighting at the mini fireball.

It was a wide matchbook; perhaps, twice the width, with twice as many matches as a typical book. When I ignited the pack, the flaring light was spectacular, burned brighter and faster than I could have imagined. The fireball startled me, and I dropped the pack.

I was young, but I wasn't stupid. Not completely. Before I struck the first match, I had taken the precaution of setting myself up over the garbage can in my room. It was tin: blue, with an illustration of Snoopy, standing beside his doghouse, dressed with a scarf and a World-War I pilot cap and goggles, pretending he was about to embark on a mission in his Sopwith Camel. On the other side, Snoopy sat atop his "plane," bullet holes in the side, smoke trailing from behind. He was shaking his fist and uttering, "Curse you, Red Baron!"

When I dropped the pack, it fell straight into the waste basket. I wasn't entirely stupid, but I hadn't thought everything through. There was a lot of crumpled paper in the basket, but it wasn't balled tightly and it caught fire immediately. Soon, I had a raging inferno to accompany Snoopy's plight.

My waste basket was close to my bedroom window, and I could see that the flames were well-above the top of the can, trying to reach out to my curtains. Out of fear of burning my house down, despite my assurances to my mother, I took swift action: I lifted the can and ran to the bathroom, which was next to my room.

It was a stroke of luck that the smoke didn't overpower me, that the flames didn't reach for me, or that the burning paper didn't lift out of the can and spread. I set the can in the bath tub, under the faucet, and turned on the water. In seconds, the room filled with smoke and the tub echoed the hiss of doused flames. Relief flooded me as I realized I hadn't burned the house to the ground and my mess could be cleaned easily.

And that's when the pain set in.

I looked at my hands, the palms and fingertips seemingly melted, and I screamed in agony. The flesh was glistening and I could see the bubbling blisters begin to form. I crossed my arms, tucked my hands into my armpits, and squeezed, hoping to alleviate the burning, or at least hoping the pressure would distract me.

I ran around the house, upstairs and down, jogging laps around the main floor, wondering what to do, crying uncontrollably.

And then Mom came through the front door.

She didn't scold me, she didn't punish me. She could see her young son was in pain, that he had punished himself enough. I showed her my burned hands and she told me she could make them feel better. She said nothing as she applied the ointment and wrapped my hands in gauze. Gave me aspirin for the pain. And held me tightly as I cried some more.

I never played with matches again.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Music Monday: Enemies

I don't have any enemies, do I?

I hope not.

I'm sure I've pissed off a few people in my life (I know I have), but I don't mean to. And I'm sorry.

Maybe one or more of my posts has pissed off a person or two, but I have to try to be true to myself: if I try to live up to other people's standards, I won't be able to make everyone happy anyway; least of all, myself.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with today's music, except for its title, Enemies, by BC singer-songwriter, Hannah Georgas.

This song has a good beat and great vocals, and the video is well-shot. The main character, played by actor John Ennis, gives a convincing performance on a down-on-his-luck guy who enters his dog in a race and bets everything on it.

Though I hate dogs (yes, I guess we're enemies), I like the story. And I love the song.

Happy Monday!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Music Monday: Weapon

I know: I play a lot of Matthew Good.

But when I try to think of the best song by this incredibly talented Canadian artist, I can't pick just one song. I won't promise this will be the last time that I share his music with you.

When Matt Good performed at Bluesfest last summer, I had to go at all cost. I had missed him so many times in the past because I couldn't get my wife to come (she isn't a fan) and none of my friends were available. So I went alone.

Although Matt's solo career is just as strong as it was with his band, I always love to hear the old stuff (yet, I have an equal mix on my smartphone).

At Bluesfest, Matt sang many songs from his years in the Matthew Good Band, and I blissfully sang along. But the high point came at the end of the show, when he sang one of my all-time favourite of his songs, Weapon.

From 2003 (before I even got into the band), it's a powerful song with soft acoustic guitar mixed with ear-splitting guitar and heart-pounding percussion. It starts slow, explodes, and then relaxes. And then it explodes again, and calms right down for a finish that make you want to start up again.

At the concert, the crowd went wild, and I was right there, singing and swaying along.

I was going to share the video for this song, but changed my mind after watching it. I find the commentary that flashes on the screen to be a bit distracting—although, at times, amusing—but worst of all, it's a shorter version of the song, more than two minutes shorter.

And you need to hear all of it. So, I've included a SoundCloud widget. You can simply scroll to the song, click it, and it will start.

I recommend that you plug in your headphones, close your eyes, and enjoy.

Plus, you can also listen to other Matt Good songs at your leisure. (I guess I worked more songs in, didn't I?)

Happy Monday!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Photo Friday: Best-Laid Plans at the Louvre

I wanted an evening shot.
One of those nights when the fountains are stilled and the pools become mirrors. I wanted the pyramid reflected in such a way that it becomes a cube. I wanted a golden glow, with the palace facade of the Louvre standing in the background.
I planned the shot for after our second tour of the day, when we hoped the crowds had thinned, that we could see the Mona Lisa without obstruction.
But as we approached the entrance to the museum, a different light caught my attention, and we delayed our entrance for about a half an hour. When we saw Da Vinci's masterpiece, it paled by comparison.
When we left the Louvre, I had forgotten about my imagined photo, the one I wanted before we arrived. I got what I didn't know I wanted.
Happy Friday!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Of Sailors and Strippers, Friends and Loved Ones

What I have written here may get me into trouble with some of my family members and dear friends. It's a topic on which I've had an opinion for several years but one that I have spoken about with only a few in my closest circle.

Picture this: a brand-new, state-of-the-art structure, steel and glass glimmering in a sun-soaked sky. A thing of beauty, from which one can hardly look away.

And on its unveiling, it's opening day, the architect takes several cans of multi-coloured spray paint, and adds a heart to its unblemished side. Or a Celtic cross. Or an inspirational quote from a popular piece of literature.

The vandalism seems out of place with the clean lines, the perfect curves of this structure, has nothing to do with the architecture. But there it is, in plain sight, for all to see.

I don't like tattoos.

I have never understood the thinking behind the desire to take ink and inject it under the skin, to have something so permanent take up such a valuable space.


The first tattoo I ever saw adorned the bicep of a neighbour. He was mowing his lawn, dressed in shorts and a white, sleeveless undershirt. It was a monotone blue, the ink no different looking than if the person had drawn it on with a Bic pen and it had only started to fade. A ship's anchor, unremarkable except for a mermaid coiled around the shank, her arms spread wide, supporting herself by the stock, as though she was on a crucifix. Her gravity-defying breasts and blue nipples revealed for all to see. (When he was without a proper shirt, that is.)

My neighbour was retired but had served in the Navy. The tattoo seemed a rite of passage, was probably applied as some sort of hazing ritual or on a drunken furlough in some seaside port.

For me, being so young at the time, knowing my neighbour, it seemed natural. And although it took up a considerable amount of fleshy real estate, it didn't draw attention to itself. It was simply there.

I'm not going to lie: I've been to peeler pubs. I have gathered with my male friends, either for a stag night, for a guy's night out, or even because a strip club was the only bar in a friend's neighbourhood and the beer was really cheap.

A lot of dancers have tattoos that seem to spread over their bodies like vines (and there are lots of those inked on their skin). Roses and Asian letters, emblems on the small of their backs--the so-called tramp stamp.

While I can watch the stripper dance on stage and admire her body, I can't help but look at the tattoos and think: Ick.

Last year, in my photography group, I attended a nude model shoot. We used a simple set, a white backdrop and then a black one. The model was pretty and nice to work with, but she had the outline of a vine tattoo that wrapped around her legs and torso. The work was unfinished and I had no idea where it was going to stop, as though she were Daphne, pursued by Apollo, transforming into a tree.

I wished I had known in advance that she was a tattooed model. Had I known, I would not have signed up for the event. In post production, I took the time to remove the ink from her skin. Where the effort to remove the mark was too great, I moved the photo to a folder of so-called rejected images: ones I would keep but never use.

I would never tell someone what to do with his or her body, never berate someone for getting a tattoo. It's his or her body to do with as he or she pleases.

But I can't help but wonder at what that flower is going to look like over time, how fierce that tiger will be when the flesh loses its firmness, when it starts to wrinkle and sag. When the colours fade with the memory of why that patterned was etched in such a permanent way.

To me, a body is a beautiful structure that carries a person's being. It's like that shining, new skyscraper, there for all to behold. A tattoo is that bit of graffiti that is painted on, that detracts from the natural beauty.

But, unlike spray paint on a building, a tattoo can't easily be cleaned off. It can be masked with more ink or it might even be removed by lasers, but not without leaving a permanent scar. Removing graffiti from architecture is a simpler task that removing a tattoo from a body.

If that adage that your body is a temple is true, then why would you want to deface it? Wouldn't that be a form of sacrilege?

The other week, my youngest daughter came home with a tattoo. It was a henna tattoo, on her hand. The detail and pattern were beautiful, and I was eased in the knowledge that in two or three weeks, those marks would be gone.

I never have to worry about my eldest daughter: the thought of a vaccination shot puts her into a state of distress. The notion of countless injections from an ink gun would give her nightmares.

I don't like tattoos. Seeing young folks with their entire arms covered in these ink sleeves is a turnoff. When I attend a special occasion, like a formal dinner or a wedding, and I see beautiful women in stunning dresses with tattoos, I think, what a way to ruin the look.

I know: it's my problem. I have no right to judge a person's decision to do what he or she does. But I never want to hear that person complain when they have tired with the pattern or how that eagle has sagged to a pathetic pigeon.

When the "art" they have placed on themselves looks as worn and dated as that sailor's tattoo that I first saw.

I love my friends and family, and will support them, no matter what. But when I see a tattoo on their beautiful bodies, I can't help but think...

... ick.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Clothes Make the Man

My wardrobe hasn't changed much in the last 15 years. In fact, I'm still wearing clothes that I bought in 1999. Or from even earlier.

I'm an old fuddy-duddy that way.

This is me before I read at the Writers Festival,
but it could be me on any given day in 2000.
I like to wear clothes that make me comfortable. Which means that I'm generally dressed in a buttoned shirt, with a t-shirt underneath, jeans, and comfortable walking shoes. My shirt is never tucked in these days, but about 10 years ago, it was.

I keep up with trends in fashion, if not fashion itself.

My favourite shirt, a tan, faux-suede fabric, has been worn since the fall of 1999. I've worn it to job interviews, to work, to casual outings, to Toastmaster meetings. I tend to wear it less frequently in the summer, because it's just too darned hot, but I'll still put it on to make sure it doesn't feel neglected.

When it finally wears out—and I don't think it's showing any signs of doing that—it'll be a sad day, indeed.

But I'm growing tired of my look and am thinking of a change.

For our trip to France, I've purchased two pairs of light-weight, light-coloured travel pants. They pack really well, don't wrinkle, but best of all, they are super-light. I don't feel them when I wear them.

These pants are the only pants I have with me for our trip (I'm on my trip now, so unless I'm sleeping, I'm wearing them as you read this post). But if they hold up during my vacation, I'm going to seriously consider buying more when I get home.

But I don't know what to do about dressing my top half. In France, I have two short-sleeved button shirts and some sport t-shirts to keep the perspiration from affecting the outer layer. But I don't know if this is the style I want to keep when I get back.

We shall see. If the clothes make the man, then I have to think: do I like who I am? Or do I need to be a new me?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Music Monday: Night Still Comes

There is a song I have, that I downloaded for my iPhone when I was still collecting the iTunes cards at Starbucks, that I had to keep and store on my new phone when I upgraded (in so many ways) to an Android phone.

Neko Case is one of those singer-songwriters that gets a lot of attention on the CBC, and so I have heard of her for some time, listened to her songs when she got the air time, but I never owned any of her albums. Though she is American, she has been active in the Canadian indie-music scene, namely, The Sadies and The New Pornographers.

I like the power of Neko's vocals in her song, Night Still Comes. And in wanting to share this song with you, I found a video of her singing the song, live, on CBC Radio's show, Q.

Happy Monday!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Photo Friday: Natural Polarizer

One of my favourite filters, when I was shooting with my old Minolta X-700 SLR, was my polarizing filter, which would apply a highlighted contrasting effect between light and dark.

Circa 1990: shot with my Minolta X-700

The next-best thing is natural lighting.

If the sunset shines on bright objects when the background sky is naturally darkened, say, from storm clouds, a natural contrast would be accentuated.

This was the situation I was given the other night, when I picked up my daughter from the Britannia Yacht Club. I caught it with my D-SLR.

While I did pump up the colours, I did not play with the contrast. I let Mother Nature take care of that effect.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Bike Is Possessed

I still blame the chipmunk.

Ever since that speedy little rodent ran out onto the bike path and failed to evade the rear tire of my bike, since his soft little neck got crushed and his nut-gathering days came to an abrupt end, my bike has never been the same.

As the last of the synapses fired from his tiny brain, I feel that a dying curse was conveyed upon my bike because, since that fateful day, I have had the worst luck with my bike.

I have already written about that day where I ran over that chipmunk on my ride to work. But the bad luck on my bike hasn't ended with the eventual, safe return to my home.

Since that day, when I blew two inner tubes, I have lost an additional five tubes. That's seven blown tires in less than two weeks! My last blow-out was on August 1, as I was cycling along the Rideau River, following the path under the Queensway (which, incidentally, was less than a kilometre from where I blew a tube before, on the same path).

Having been taught the proper way to change a tire, by my neighbour, who cycles competitively and is somewhat of an expert, I know to inspect the tire thoroughly, by running my fingers, carefully, around the inside of the tire, to ensure that if an object punctured the tube, it is no longer there. I know to feel the inside of the rim and check the rim tape.

With all of the tire changes I have made, to both the front and rear tires, I have become a quick-change artist, of sorts. And yet, on the very next ride, I have a tire that goes down on me.

The front was the worst: on one change, I had to fix both wheels. I changed the front because it is the easier of the two: no chain or gears, no derailleur. With the front tire changed, I leaned it against the bench at the front of my house, next to the bike frame. I was going to wash my frame before I put my bike back together.

As I was pumping up the fresh tube on the back tire, working on my front steps, I heard a loud SSSSS... and looked to see the grass under the front tire blowing against a powerful and isolated breeze. The tire blew before I even had it back on the bike.

I took the entire wheel to The Cyclery, hoping that they would either identify and fix the problem or help me replace the rim, tube, and tire.

After 20 minutes, I had the same tire and rim, but a new tube. The service person told me I had "more glass than rubber" in the tire. White chalk marks dotted the spots, and there were a lot of them. He told me he was able to get them out, and my tire was otherwise fine, would most likely last until the end of the season, as long as nothing drastic happened to it.

The cost: $5 for a new tube and another $5 for the labour.

I also bought a new tire, just in case the front tire went down again, in case he didn't get all the glass out. Later that day, while shopping at MEC and stocking up on more tubes, I purchased a second tire because I thought, if the front tire was full of glass, the back one was probably the same. And I didn't have the expertise to take them out.

Coincidentally, the very next time I went to get my bike to go on a bike ride, the back tire was flat, so I changed the tube and the tire.

And I headed out on a ride to Chelsea, thinking I would take a round-about route. I carried a compact camera in my back pocket so that I could capture the picturesque spots throughout the journey. (I didn't stop at every picture-worthy spot: it would have taken me all day to get to my destination.)

As I passed under the Queensway, only 26 kilometres into my ride, I blew a tire. The rear wheel, with the new tread (I marked the spot on the map, below).

My bike is possessed. I'm sure of it. I have had my bike for three years. In that time, before the chipmunk incident, I had only had one flat tire. That time, I inadvertently ran over a small piece of metal. I removed the debris, changed the tube, and managed to stay flat-free for more than a year.

Since the "chipmunk ride," as I now call it, I have dealt with seven flats between the two wheels. My latest flat came on a new tire with no indication as to why it went flat. Unless, I messed up with the change, had somehow pinched the tube (I always check, but you never know).

I was super-careful with the last tire change and managed to ride for another 45 or so clicks, without further incident. The only wildlife I saw was a fawn and her mother, and I didn't ride over them: instead, I stopped and took a couple of photos, and waited for them to leave the path and wander back into the woods (see my photo in yesterday's Wordless Wednesday).

I'm hoping that this gentle interaction with wildlife restores the balance of nature, and that the bad karma that came with the death of the chipmunk abates.

One more flat tire this season, and I'm replacing my bike.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Vincent Massey Park

I hung out here a lot when I was a kid. In my teens, I was involved in a bad collision on a bicycle as I neared this park, totalling my bike and losing a fair about of flesh and blood. I still cycle through it on a regular basis (see my bike in the photo?).

And this month, it is the 39th location of Where In Ottawa.

While this pavilion is relatively new, it has become as much a familiar symbol of the park as the old bandstand and the train underpass across from Carleton University.

Congratulations to John Richardson, who correctly identified the pavilion in Vincent Massey Park. John, please contact me at and we'll talk about getting you your copy of my book (unless you've already received a copy: at 39 iterations of this contest, I'm beginning to lose track).

Where In Ottawa returns Monday, September 1.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Where In Ottawa XXXIX

For many of you who live in Ottawa, today is a holiday. Many of you have left town to visit friends and family, maybe relax at a cottage.

Good for you: enjoy!

While you're relaxing, maybe you can take in a leisurely game of Where In Ottawa. All you have to do is correctly identify the location of the photo, below, and leave your response in the Comments section to this post.

The winner of this challenge may be eligible to receive an autographed paperback copy of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.

However, the following conditions apply:
  • If you were with me when I shot the photo, you are ineligible to play.
  • If you have won the Where In Ottawa challenge before, you can still play, but no giveaway will be awarded.
  • Only correct answers that are posted in the Comments section are considered valid. No other form of communicating your answer will be accepted (if you tweet me with the answer, for example, I won't respond).
  • If you win the challenge and are eligible to receive the giveaway, you must collect the giveaway before the end of the month.
Each following day where the challenge continues, I will post a clue on the right-hand column of my blog. If the image doesn't help you locate the spot, perhaps the clues will.

Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

And good luck! 

Update: Where In Ottawa has been solved. Tune in tomorrow to see where this structure is and who won the challenge. (Or just read the comments, below!)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Photo Friday: Sunflowers

There's a small patch of sunflowers in the Greenbelt, along Greenbank Road. It's on your right-hand side, if you're travelling south, toward Barrhaven, between Hunt Club Road and Fallowfield.

The patch is surrounded on three sides by corn stalks and is set back a ways from the road. You don't see it until you are almost upon it. And then, seconds later, you're past it, returned to the monotony that is experimental farmland.

You have to be careful if you pull over and stop: there are lots of accidents that occur on this stretch of roadway. To see over the chain-linked fence, you must stand on the shoulder of the road, but that too is hazardous. If you walk to the pedestrian/bicycle path that follows Greenbank Road, in the recessed ditch, the field is obstructed.

But if you climb onto the raised sewer cover, which lifts you by about three feet—just under a metre—you're okay.

A 300mm lens should do it.

I've wanted to stop for about a week to take this photo, but I either wasn't travelling with my camera, the lighting wasn't right, or I had a passenger in the car with me who wouldn't appreciate the stopover.

Last night, I made a point to go out there on my own.

There is something else in the Greenbelt that I've wanted to shoot for years. Next week, I'll take the time to capture it. If all goes well, I'll share it next Friday.

Happy Friday!