Category Archives: 2022 Archive

ISOBEL & VERA

Posted: November 1, 2022

This week I was writing a nice post about my friend Gabrielle who has been working on a really neat wood carving. But yesterday I sat down to write about two models instead. Now before you get all wound up thinking that I am going to talk about my relationship with two supermodels, I should clarify that my topic here is not about that. Nor is it about car models I used to build as kid.

Its about two role models. When I was growing up my buddy Jim, the focus of much of my writing on this website had an amazing aunt, Vera Preston. My other buddy James (he was once a Jim as well) had a pretty cool mom, Isobel Hale.

What has sparked my writing this today is that Isobel passed on October 15th. She was born on August 28, 1919, and yes, your math is correct, that’s over 103 years old. That in itself is a rather significant feat. But the real story is what her life was and how she managed it. As one of six children in that family and growing up in several small communities in Saskatchewan and Ontario in that era, it must have been a stimulating time with so much changing in technology and society, especially with five siblings! But later when raising her own children at a time when mothers were to stay home, she was running a nursery school and growing a body of knowledge about early childhood education. That experience she went on to share and became a portion of the foundation for much of what we know today about how young minds think and how to help them grow.

Now Vera Preston was the aunt of my other buddy Jim. She was of the same era as Isobel, being born in 1916 and lived to 2004. Like Isobel, Vera grew up in a modest house in a small Ontario village. Unlike Isobel, she did not have children or marry, but was dedicated to her work. In her case, it was nursing. She went through the nursing program at Brockville General Hospital, and after distinguishing herself in that coursework and as a nurse went on to be the Director of Nursing at Brockville General and an important part of what later became the Nursing Program at St. Lawrence College.

What struck me this week is how similar both of these women were in both their personal traits and in their dedication to various causes. They grew up at a time when the only occupations open to most women were teaching and nursing and while each chose one of those very defined fields for women, they were able to not only excel at the task but move the professions forward.

And again, as they aged, in a very similar way, they both went on to teach, to participate in various boards and causes. This was not because there was an artificial goal of equality in gender representation on those boards but because they could bring important ideas, experience and insight to the table. In her later years Isobel evolved her relationship with children to designing kids clothes and Vera to more medical related charity work.

Both had a very wry sense of humour, and a restrained response to bad decision making or the behaviour of others. As a generator of serious “tomfoolery”, “shenanigans”, and outright “mischief” myself, I always knew each of these women would have a measured response to my behaviour in contrast to most adults I would encounter.

I am sorry I did not know either of them better. I would love to have asked if the experience of Vera watching her farmer father die of pneumonia while working the field, set her on the course to pursue nursing or the experience of Isobel in a large family watching her younger siblings learn and process new information set her on her path to early childhood education.

There is no better a tribute than to say it was a privilege to have known these two woman, at least a little, and that I am a better person for it. At a time when we are rethinking the statues of big men, these two small women stand pretty tall in my memory.

Django

WHATS IN A NAME?

Posted: October 1, 2022

Over the last year or so the toppling of statues and renaming streets and institutions to try to correct the wrongs of the past has really taken on a new momentum. Much of it has been focused on the worst offenders – slave owners, and others who overtly set out to harm others. Of course, we have a long way to go in that regard. There have been so many who, by today’s standards, did awful things – benefited from financing Hitler, exploited workers, done atrocities to animals and the environment, who still have statues, cities and streets named after them. I don’t think we will ever get to the stage of calling out all the bad deeds of the past and the associated renaming. That is a good thing.

Names are used to respect those who have come before, or as aspirational names to try to live up to.

My own name is a strange amalgam of my heritage, my parents character and a bit of mischief. For anyone new to this website you can read some detail of that history in the piece ON LEARNING I WAS A BAD SON posted in December of 2015.

But while the elimination of names to correct past sins is common it is also interesting to see the reclaiming of names that have been misused. That in fact is what got me to thinking about names this week. I was at a gay pride event and was impressed by a fellow wearing a T shirt which said it all.  I would put his height at two meters at least, (six foot seven inches). The physique was less muscular that a body builder but as substantial as a rugby player. Where most of us have some flesh he had muscles, sometimes with multiple layers on display. His other features were also striking, an attractive face with some strong lines. But he moved not like a brute but like someone with discipline. It was clear to me that this would be the fellow chosen by most people to be stuck on a desert island with, ready to fight off the tigers or build the hut from palm fronds and shark skeletons. Probably the guy we would all vote for or chose to have as our doctor if such things were chosen by visuals alone. This guy just seemed substantial and trustworthy.

And the T shirt told the rest of the story. It fit just a little snug, like he had bought it before getting the last installment of muscles. Pale pink with just one word in purple on the front where to see it you would also be looking him in the eye. Well in the case of most of us, looking him in the neck, but you get the point.

SISSY. Yeah. SISSY. I can imagine him as a tall, sensitive kid getting taunted and razzed, maybe pushed around a bit, always challenged to respond. In the world of bullies taunts it is not as heavily loaded as some racist terms, or some sexist terms but as a fairly innocuous one it still has some nasty barbs to it.

But like some of those racist terms, and sexist terms, here was a huge powerful attractive and confident man taking it back and throwing it in the face of anyone who ever used the term. A challenge to allcomers to bring it on.

I am straight. I have been bullied for reasons that I don’t even know were clear to the bullies. And I learned to bully back with words, not physical abuse. The power feels good initially to play the role of David to a Goliath but once you realize just how much damage you can do, most of us learn from it and keep it handy for just those specific underdog applications.

We have only started to get to a point where othering is called out and that evolution is at various points on the spectrum depending on our location in the world, socio-economic status, race and other factors. But on that one day, in a little gay pride parade in Malta that powerful message said it all.

I think names matter. I think they matter a lot.

 

Django

P.S. The pride parade in Malta is not like the big ones in major centres but one of the things that is nice about all celebrations of Pride is that whether it’s a little town in Germany, Brazil or Japan, it is a message and one that needs to continue to be told. Unlike Pride in many parts of the world that occurs in June, the parade in Valletta, Malta occurs in September. This one was Saturday September 10th.

ANOTHER KILLER ADDED TO THE LIST

POSTED: Sept 1, 2022

I like eating and drinking. There I said it. Flavours, textures, smells, umami. I like holding burgers and corn on the cob in my hand, cutting fresh bread, and breaking a just out of the oven scone. I also like cooking and smelling the change when zucchini slices just start to grill or onions begin to caramelize, or a simmering Irish oatmeal wafts through my little kitchen in the morning.

So as I have passed through the last few decades it has been a real disappointment for me to learn at various points about the perils of many of the elements that make food so great. Those scientists want us to live forever, and keep identifying the bits that close up our arteries, screw up our hearts or brain or cause cancers.

Now we don’t need to manage these things. Like exercise, a “proper” diet will mean we will probably live a normal life but a “perfect” diet will result in us outliving our friends and there will be no one to say nice things about us at our funeral. But on the other hand if we want to hang out a little longer than otherwise we really have to manage our intake of these monsters, especially if we aren’t about to submit to an exercise regime!

Fats of course were the first nasty to be identified, particularly those trans fats. The latter had never been a big part of my life but conventional fats of course were. Yes, you can reduce their component in a dish, use substitutes and other tricks to reduce if you are cooking at home but if you go out to dinner or buy take away food or prepared dishes at the supermarket – there they are, lurking behind the proteins and green vegetables ready to ambush you.

The same is the case for salt. My buddy Jims paternal grandmother used salt like she was melting an icy winter road. Almost killed the taste of everything with it on her own plate but when making a nice tourtiere or pie for others she would restrain herself. Virtually any product you buy in a grocery store that is not a vegetable or a meat is full of sodium. Almost anything in a can or jar is loaded up with it. I have almost cut it out as a component in my cooking but must admit that there are a few things that I still will put a little pinch on.

Being a baby boomer, an ever-present part of my childhood was sugar. Everything was better with sugar. And if the massive dose of sugar in the products was not enough well lets just put a few extra spoonful’s on your cereal Django.

Some things are the holy trinity of these three – Ice cream – fat, sugar, salt and you might just want to put some more sugar sprinkles on top. I love a good ice cream cone but it has been ruined for me given what comes hidden in that lovely treat. Now sometimes I make homemade frozen yogurt, or a nice fruit sorbet that are better on the nasty components but just don’t measure up on the taste front.

You may wonder why I am ranting on about fat, salt and sugar. Well, I was watching the BBC last week and they ran a piece on a recent study. Apparently, alcohol is a carcinogen. Yeah, that age old favourite is killing us. When I dug a little deeper I learned this has been fairly well documented for some time, but of course the industry does not want to promote this, nor the governments who tax the product and enjoy the  employment numbers from its sale directly as well as the sale of wine beer and other alcoholic drinks in restaurants. And beyond governments own self interest the alcohol lobby is massive. It may be bigger than the NRA in its various efforts around the world.

At this point  in time it is becoming clear that a good time is to be had with a glass of water and a celery stick and its only a matter of time before we learn just how terrible that celery can be.

I am not about to cut out all the fats and salts and sugars and alcohol but want to be around a bit longer so will do my best to try to keep them in check but not beat myself up when I fall off the wagon. This week I have taken to only having wine on the weekend. Boy its hard to do. It has been a long week so far and its only Wednesday!

Django

MUGGING

POSTED: August 1, 2022

I really love Malta. It is a great place that I have adopted and many of my posts reference how nice it is. But its not perfect and like most of the world there are times when… well, shit happens.

Such was the case last week when an older woman, Isla, who lives on an old vessel in our marina was out later at night and confronted by a young woman on a scooter who tried to steel her bag. In so doing she did not get the bag but did knock Isla. She incurred a few multiple fractures from the event when she tried to regain her balance she fell over a high curb.

The marina community has rallied to help her with her chores and some financial help and I have taken over some prepared meals.

But the community has also taken to talking about their various encounters with people who attempt to rob others, and are prepared to get into a physical confrontation in doing so. The experience is quite traumatic for most of us and the effects linger for some time, even if we were not physically hurt or financially impacted by such an event.

One such experience sticks in my mind from when I was just out of high school. As regular readers know it has only been in the last year that I have connected with my old high school friends and only a few years since reconnecting with Jim. If you are not familiar with that aspect of this website you should read the ABOUT section.

But back in the spring of 1974, it was less than a year since graduating high school and I was still very much in touch with many of them and was off and on living in South Florida with a bunch of people as I was working on a cruise line that went out of there. My buddy Jim had contacted me in early March to see if I would be around as he was contemplating a trip to Ft. Lauderdale over university spring break coming up in a week.

The trip, like most things that happened to people like Jim and me and most of our friends had come together quickly and with not a lot of preparation.  The background is that Jim and another high school buddy Bo had really enjoyed their photography hobby through high school. Bo was off to college for it and Jim as teaching a rudimentary, non- credit course in it to pay for university. So with a few bucks in his Jeans from that job and doing some freelance work for UPI, the wire service that bought photographs from freelancers like him, he had been saving to go to New York to the camera district and buy a Nikon F2 Photomic. At the time, unless you were going to mid or large format cameras like Rolleiflex,  Hasselblad or Linhof, this camera was one of the best in the small thirty five millimeter film format.

Now sometimes a variety of things just come together as if they were meant to be. His girlfriend at the time had made the decision to fly to Ft. Lauderdale with a few of her girlfriends for the spring break. At the same time Greyhound, the American bus company had announced a new promotional programme. For $99 you could have unlimited travel on Greyhound busses throughout North America for seven days. Jim figured he could take the bus at midnight to NYC, spend the day shopping for the camera, then get on another bus heading out late at night for an all-nighter and much of the next day on the bus as well to get to Ft. Lauderdale. He would have a few days there with his girlfriend, see me and then get back on the bus in time to make it back to Ottawa within the seven days.

There were other motivations as well. This girlfriend was a bit of wild card and not super predictable. He thought that her time in Ft. Lauderdale would be quite the messy business.

So the plan was hatched, the Greyhound pass purchased, and Jim was off to the Big Apple.

Today NYC is a fairly safe, major city but in the 1970’s this was classic Gotham. Hoods and gangs roamed the streets. The police, city officials, some ambulance services and most of the public had given up large portions of the city to drug dealers and gangs. It is hard to believe today.

The fourteen hours overnight to New York worked out but left him a big groggy for the wheeling and dealing that went on in the camera shops of the day in the Camera District. People would bump into each other at the counter and there was a lot of haggling and brinksmanship etc. They sold lots of new gear but the haggling really came to the fore when a purchaser would bring in a piece or two of used gear. The best deals happened on buying a new camera where there was very little flexibility on price, when combined with trading in something used, or buying something used in addition to the new camera. The used equipment aspect attracted lots of questionable characters and sometimes purchasers were vendors and haggling with people behind the counter or beside them at the counter with something to sell or trade.

As Jim tells it one huge fellow who looked like Samuel L. Jackson on steroids, wearing black jeans and sweater and a long black leather cape who was pretty loaded down with gear dropped one of his cameras and Jim happened to be right there and caught it. No big thank you or shaking of hands or anything, just a nod. If you are from Ottawa this is not the amount of recognition you would usually receive for such a fortuitous catch, but it was New York and when in Rome….  The guy behind the counter told him to check to see he still had all his gear as sometimes one person distracts you while another picks your pocket. Nope, he had it all, but when he looked around the huge guy with the cape was not to be seen.

The buy went off without a problem and after walking around Jim found himself Uptown. It was late afternoon and the sun was retreating quickly and he thought he might get a chance to see the Apollo theatre before heading back to the bus station.  But as he walked and the sun withdrew the park started its evening shift. Guys were appearing from almost nowhere and they were in little groups of two and three. This was not going to go well, and he wisely tucked his new prize camera into his coat as he picked up the pace to get closer to the parks edge where he could see there were more passersby.  But his timing was all wrong and a few of the little groups had become larger and it was very clear that it was not only the loss of the camera that would be at risk.

But just as quicky as the strange falling camera events had unfolded in Downtown Camera, the guy with the cape strolled along and asked if he knew where he was. “Uptown… wanted to see the Apollo… Jim struggled to get the words out. “You’re a dead white kid in Harlem” was the low octave reply. But as he spoke, he asked “are you the one who caught my Leica in the store? ..you all look the same to me”. After establishing that yes, he was in fact that spindly white kid who had done the big camera catch, they walked together out of the park while sharing a couple of thoughts on photography. Well as Jim tells it he was chattering nervously and there was little said in response. And then after a pause as Jim turned to thank him the expanse of black leather cape moving into the subway was all Jim saw of angel.

He caught his bus, and after about another twenty hours of bus ride to Ft. Lauderdale stopping to drop off and pick up along the way, he made it to the address his girlfriend was staying at. It was clear to him pretty quickly that they were no longer together and her interest was elsewhere. I had been called up for a cruise on an unscheduled basis as someone had quit so we didn’t connect either. He didn’t have anywhere to stay and little money. I understand it was a long bus ride home for him.

My direct experience with this kind of perilous world of muggers and beatings was more recent.

Regular readers of my posts know that early in the Pandemic I went to Ireland to have a chat with a lad who was the ex-husband of my captain, Ciara. I did not say a lot about that in earlier posts and I won’t say much more here as it was a fairly unsavoury experience for all concerned.  But in my efforts to find the fellow I had not realized just a how tight the communities are in rural Ireland. If you walk into a village pub and are not recognized you might as well as be wearing a Bugs Bunny costume as the stares will be the same. If you then ask someone behind the bar if they know where to find a particular person you are quickly sized up and determined to be a long lost relative from America, which is not the best, or someone looking for another purpose, which of course is worse. You are also measured in terms of the quality of the person you are looking for. If it is any sort of low life scoundrel you are put in the same category. This was the case here of course.

So when the woman behind the bar told me he wasn’t around much, but that she would ask around and served me my pint, she gave me one of those piercing looks like film directors like to capture that cut out about a few hundred words of dialogue. I had two addresses of his relatives and decided to head off to find one of them before it got too late in the day. It was only mid afternoon but the two lads who met me as I stepped out to the street had been waiting. After a dialogue over why I was looking for their brother it was clear that they were not there to help. It didn’t help my case asking them to repeat some of their questions as if I needed a switch for close captioning to understand them.

I did not see the first punch coming. It was to the area not in my back but on my side just behind my stomach. Two of these guys were really not needed. One could have beaten me up on his own. But after falling over and catching myself on the stone wall of the pub, I nervously blurted out something stupid. “Well I guess if I have some super powers I am not familiar with, this would be a good time for them to kick in wouldn’t it.” They both looked stunned for a moment and then started to laugh uncontrollably. They both had gone through a lot of beer that afternoon I expect and I thought one of them might piss himself or have a heart attack they were so out of control in their laughter. And then after looking behind me and seeing we were being joined by a few people leaving the pub they sort of ran and stumbled away.

After a bit of searching, I found where I was going and did my business with Ciara’s ex.

I got off pretty easy on that one. The psychological effects of the actual meeting I had were worse. And that is a common result of these assaults, or attempted robberies. We are not as comfortable being out around people, we often look at strangers with more suspicion. It is a bad combination with aging where we are sometimes more reticent to get into any conflict.

My neighbour in the marina who was knocked down is certainly shaken, but she seems like a fairly resilient sort. Isla was from Utrecht originally. She is old enough to be my mom. She came here originally with her partner who was not well and has now passed and has lived on a boat for the last couple of decades so I am think she has some serious inner strength. I think she will be ok.

Django

THE EARLY MORNING PANIC CALL

Posted: July 1, 2022

We all dread the call in the middle of the night. As we move to respond and open our eyes we make up stories about what it could be about.  A loved one who is ill ….a friend in trouble…. It amazes me how many fast thoughts you can process in just a second or two. I think this conditioning is normal. Its way out of the ordinary to get a call at some ungodly hour so it must be important. And not the good version of important.

But in my case both my parents and my grandparents have passed. I don’t have siblings or children, so it has to relate to a friend. While a have a lot of friends and acquaintances I don’t have very many friends I am so close to that they would be calling at this hour. That I think is partially because I am a Canadian and living in Malta so if it was one of my friends in Toronto or Ottawa, I am not really in a position to help them get to the hospital, or to post bail in Montreal. And anyone having a problem in the middle of the night in Malta that I know well enough to be soliciting help would just rap on the hull of the boat. I looked over and Ciera was in the bed sleeping (she sometimes comes into my room for company) and looking out a porthole I did not see any special lights on.

So, in that few seconds of processing time, I concluded it would be my buddy Jim calling from Toronto. This time of year, the spread is six hours so at 4:54 am it was only 10:34 pm the night before in Toronto. That timing is fairly consistent with his questionable timing in calling me. If this remained true to previous calls of this type, he would have had a glass of wine or two and be exceedingly stressed about something. Previous all time great calls have been about Trump, the mistreatment of indigenous people in Canada, Justin Trudeau in Blackface and similar topics. I have documented this behaviour before – check out my post on September 2019, for example.

The phone was on its second ring and as I picked it up, I was already processing the topics of the day that when combined with a nice bottle of Amarone might generate such a call: Putin and the war in Ukraine, mass killings of kids in American schools and the lack of gun control…… My imagination was interrupted when the call connected.

Yes, indeed I was correct and yes, two for two, he was intoxicated and sure enough he had some big thoughts on his mind. But unlike previous calls where it is a big issue of the day that has him incensed, enraged or otherwise stimulated, this time his tone, while still with slurred speech as usual for these calls, was more subdued. “I have done something really crazy” he began.

Now beyond these unscheduled late-night / early morning calls I chat with Jim regularly at normal hours. Usually, it is during his mid afternoon so it is after my chores making dinner for Malcolm, Martha, Gerhardt and Gabrielle, Ceira and myself or by email. So when he said this I knew instantly the range of craziness it might encompass. Janice and Jim have had many lives and relationships but they have all been with each other. They change things up every now and again and evolve into new activities, businesses or pursuits but always seem to be able to do it together. I envy them that ability to change their lives but go off on the adventure together.  In some of my recent chats it has become clear that Jim in particular is really chomping at the bit do try something new, and half jokes about restoring a lighthouse on Prince Edward Island or restoring an old Airstream trailer and with Janice and their dog Tuli going on a road for a year. But these are the kinds of things they have always done – a record label, a cooking school, Janice going to grad school in her sixties, so would not be characterized as “crazy”.

In that moment I processed the other things he has chatted about recently. Over the pandemic, like much of the world they have watched a lot of films on the various platforms out there. And like most the spectrum of what they have watched has broadened. Some of it is a bit dark and I have heard him muse more than once about Ozark and what it might be like to deal with a Mexican drug lord, or what it would be like to kill someone.

“Have you taken up money laundering” I quietly asked.

There was a pause.

“No, but something equally questionable” he responded.

My mind was now fully engaged and racing. What the hell had he done? Ciera was now up and making coffee for me so I could be equipped for the ensuing trauma.

Well, it turns out that he had not killed anyone, Janice was not laundering drug money, or any of the other things that I had imagined. No, it turns out he had bought a jerk marinade and cooked up some pork and used the mixture rather generously. To hear him tell it Janice’s head spun around, steam came out of her ears and his lips looked like he was just back from a Botox convention.

My hopelessly whitebread buddy had spiced up a dish too much and this was the crisis!!!

It is not the first time my imagination had run ahead of me. I don’t know if it is age or the pandemic but I have noticed that the risks or possible negative outcomes or anxieties bubble up more often than in the past.

Ciera and I enjoyed our coffees on the upper deck looking over the other boats, listening to the sail lines singing and watching the sunrise and sharing a chuckle over my buddy who gets a sunburn when walking by neon lights and who was feeling he might need be hospitalized over the spiciness of a jerk sauce.

Django

 

A NIGHT OUT IN MALTA, POST-COVID

Posted: June 1, 2022

Malta is an amazing place. It has had continuous civilization since 5,900 BC and has been occupied by the Romans, Greeks, The Knights of St. John, Sicily, France, and in recent times by the British from the early 19th century until 1964. During WWII the Germans desperately tried to occupy it and while they failed then, they have certainly succeeded now. There are people from all over the world who have chosen to live here. Some are wealthy, some are not, but a lot of people who are here have chosen this place with many other options available.

I travel in a fairly narrow circle of friends, acquaintances and neighbours. This is partially because I arrived at the beginning of Covid and did not have history here when people could roam about freely. But that exaggerates the role Covid has played in limiting my exposure. I am like a lot of people with my little routines and rituals and comfort zone and other than the occasional exception I largely stick to my own space and encounter the same people I usually do in a day.

So I was a bit surprised to be invited to a full-on post-Covid party at the home of a very significant designer. These are not the circles I travel in.  It happened because this woman had come to visit En Plein Air a few months ago to see the yachts propulsion and electrical systems and design features. Now for those who don’t read my posts regularly you should go back to a post on Dec 14, 2016 EN PLEIN AIR: LIFE WITH AMY & JUSTIN – DJANGO BISOUS  to understand the significance of this old wooden boats propulsion system and its crazy design that has secret compartments.

This woman had come to her design life by way of studying engineering, and then industrial design before pursuing more artistic design.  She had heard from a mutual friend about how special my old boat is and wanted to see it for herself so we had set up a visit. Then this week a little card arrived in the mail thanking me for the tour and inviting me to see the restoration she had completed of her rather magnificent home.

I pulled out my best jeans for the outing, and most fashionable jacket, fully aware that the age of the later might exceed the age of some of the other guests. I was correct. Most looked like they had just stepped out of fashion magazines, and had not been fed in months, but I was happy to be there and see her amazing home.

It was also nice to drink some wines other than Spanish. Now don’t get me wrong, Malcomb supplies my wine for free and I like the choices for the most part but he does like his Spanish wines and I, on occasion prefer some French, or new world from Australia or New Zealand, so the opportunity to sample (what a polite word for guzzle) some exquisite vintages was welcomed.

For privacy reasons all guests were asked to not photograph the house so my descriptions here will have to suffice. It was a typical large but non- descript house viewed from the small unmemorable lane it was on. The frontage had several different facades as if it was several attached buildings but once inside it was clear it had been done as a magnificent home with an unpretentious exterior, consisting of what looked like several different properties. It was square in shape wrapping around a central courtyard for its four floors. Each of those floors had extensive open areas overlooking the courtyard below and the top floor other than the façade at the front of the building overlooked the nearby rooftops and the ocean further on. While a guest I was not an honoured guest so when one of that variety was given a tour of the place I followed along like a dog on its walk. Without the tour it would have been impossible to know the magnitude of the work she had undertaken as it was all so sympathetic to the design and finishes of what I assume was a version of the house from about the late 1800’s. After the tour I wandered around a bit on my own enjoying the views, and the wine.

A short distance from the bar was a doorway that framed a new room our host had done to show off her collection of vintage handbags and luggage. All the big designer labels were represented on the walls, and they were for the most part the quintessential styles associated with each one. Along the floor were vintage luggage pieces by Louis Vuitton presented both for their own attributes but also to serve as plinths for other handbags.

Standing in that portico looking at the bags and enjoying my various wines over the evening I would overhear the various responses to the room – both the objects sitting on mahogany floating shelves and the painted walls behind.

The walls captured a lot of attention. “Pantone 287 – I love it” was one comment from a graphic artist, who was then corrected by another person with “Benjamin Moore 2046-50 Scuba Green”, and topped off by a very young consumer of such things with “Tiffany Blue”.   Ah yes, I understood now. They were all speaking their own language or jargon. It was all English but none of it related other than reference to the same colour.

When I was young, I often thought that people who knew all these words were smart. As I have aged, I have realized that every field has its terminology, jargon, lexicon. Sometimes these words exist just to abbreviate a bigger concept, notion or process so they are like a short form but other times their use is a method to insulate them from the outside world as an exclusivity tool.

In some places it is common for  people discussing a sensitive topic to slide into a language they share that is not commonly used by others in a restaurant for example. I know a few snippets of several languages and have heard some pretty scary things from guests on the cruise ships believing no one would understand their comments. This application of technical, or specialty terminology is a like a variation on that.

So whether its artists talking negative space, architects talking compression & release, oncologists talking remission, or lawyers referencing a pari pasu arrangement, you need to evaluate why the terms are being used – as a good abbreviated or short-form way to describe, or whether the purpose is to exclude the outsider hearing the terms.

This business of inclusion and exclusion flowing from secret terms or language fascinates me. I have a buddy who worked in the investment world for decades and liked to really play with this. When new members of the team would pull out their recently minted vocabulary from MBA school, stringing together multiple bits of MBA speak he would sometimes start into a dialogue with a colleague, so these young graduates would over hear, and the little patter was filled with financial gibberish just to mess with them. His little nonsense speak would always begin plausibly enough but after a few sentences be so absurd everyone would be in on the joke. As a humorous learning tool it usually worked without invoking too much humiliation.

There is a little lad who I encounter every few days who lives with his parents just a few slips over on a fairly modest liveaboard they have been restoring all during the pandemic while living in it. His name is Nico. He was born before the pandemic and is about three years old at this point, so much of his early learning has been influenced by the pandemic. It has been a long time since I have been around such little creatures and it is amazing to watch the evolution of all aspects of his life including his speech. His dad is from England and his mom’s heritage is Columbian so the mysteries of learning to communicate for him has both Spanish and English dimensions. Just as he has gone from barely walking to now riding a scooter in seemingly no time at all, his language skills and vocabulary have also gone on an exponential curve. It must be something to start to unpack all these hidden terms for the first time. Of course, he has discovered the power of NO, but seems like a good kid who is not going into a couple of decades of the terrible twos.

But these days when I think just as I am awestruck by the positive power of this learning children go through on the flip side of that, it is a reminder of the shame of what was done to so many indigenous children in Canada in Residential schools. Their language was taken away, and they were not even allowed to use their own names. There have been few things in history that have affected me as much as this. Perhaps it is because it happened as recently as in my own time. Perhaps it is because it was my government and the churches of my country that did these things. It is one of those things that we can never make right, or truly correct.

But if we are to move forward at all it is important that all the little Nico’s of the world  need to learn that some words are racially charged, sexually exploitive or disrespectful of one group or another. As I think about it, the dictionary of current words in use that should not be used is as extensive as the correct ones. Perhaps the world Nico will inhabit as he ages will be better.

The wine was really flowing that night and as I would lean there in the portico overlooking the bag room, as other guests would come along to look at the display, I took to sizing them up and guessing which descriptor of the blue walls they would respond to, and which designer bags they would identify. I was usually wrong, but had some interesting conversations and expanded my little bank of friends. And at quite a late hour I found myself walking home, having made the wise decision to not operate a bicycle after such an evening.

Django

p.s. I have been really quite busy with giving cooking classes lately and was in a bit of a scramble to get this post done. As a result I did not put in any pictures of Malta but will be updating this post over the next week with some.

ON STICKY NOTES & LYING FALLOW

Posted: May 1, 2022

There is a young lad I sometimes see when I am out to the stores or just going for a walk. As I get older, I don’t have as good a handle on age as I once did, but I would place him at somewhere in his early thirties. Until a few months ago I only had a nodding acquaintance with him. Our paths would cross enough that we would acknowledge that we had seen each other before – something of a notion that we were functioning together in the same little island in the sea.

But one day when sharing a park bench, I could hear from his headphones a band I have liked since the seventies and one that is not well known to his generation – Weather Report. When he took off his headphones and pulled out a journal to write something down, I remarked the bridge in the song. As it turns out music is his field. He is a musician/producer/ composer. It also turns out, as I have learned over a few conversations since that time, he goes to the park when he hits a creative wall. Sometimes it’s just a clearing of his head that he needs.

Last week was a fairly intense conversation. He is plagued by this question of the determination of when something is complete. In the non-creative, real-world-functional-stuff this does not come up. I have either pealed the potatoes or there is more peeling to do, but in the creative world there is no bell to say the meal is ready for pick up, no green light indicating its good to go.

Because I have been on the planet long enough to be his dad, and observed this mental maze before, I was able to share what I have learned about it, while observing similar creative humans.

The mind is really strange item. And the desire to make an artistic product the best you can produce when combined with the judgement that comes from putting your name on something as complex as art, is a challenge. It comes from the underlying problem of the final work being made up of those bits of nothing you have combined, whether it is notes for music, words for prose, or the elements of visual art.

One thing that I know he already does well is to go for that walk, and take his mind off the problem. The truth of it is that a persons mind is never really off the job, but the effect of doing something else, diversion,  means the mind can work it without you getting in the way. One  artist I know claims this is the real reason for sleep.

Some creatives have found the formula in working with an editor or to collaborate with someone else. Often the completion of a project is more easily identified than when working on a project alone. He shared that he loved doing this but had a rather upsetting recent break up with a musical collaborator and is not looking for another collaboration situation right now.

But there are also tricks and techniques for learning how to get your mind into the right place to sign off on a project. I shared the experience of a friend who was studying architecture. On the first day and the first class the exercise was to draw in pencil a facade of a building the student liked. They had fifteen minutes. Some of course at the end of the fifteen minutes were still figuring out what scale to use, others were creating a grid so the visuals could be accurate, but most had a finished drawing a façade and some were quite detailed. The instructor pointed out what had clearly been a matter of time mismanagement for some of the students in their desire to make it so perfect in scale and representation they did not get anything on the page and had missed the opportunity to show others what they actually thought. After some discussion it became clear that the students understood the value of the exercise – there are times where completing is the task, so they will be measured on that, not on the results.

A pretty good lesson, I think. But the exercise went on.

They were then given ten minutes to erase the drawing, crumple up the paper, smooth it out and then do the drawing again. Once again a few were challenged by this – either bogging down in erasing to make the paper completely free of any trace of the previous image and did not get the task completed, or the notion of crumpling up the paper before doing the new drawing was a leap a few could not fully embrace. Most instantly understood the significance – nothing you produce is precious – be prepared to mash it up and come back to it. The really important aspects or ideas expressed the first time will come back quickly and the drawing can be produced in less time.

Finally, after much more discussion the exercise took on another iteration. They were allocated five minutes to erase that drawing, do the crumpling up but this time to try to get it down to a very small little wad of paper before opening it up again. Now the challenge was to do the drawing with the hand they do not usually use. By this point all the students were on board and understanding the exercise. The drawings they produced were very rudimentary, but while pared back in detail and accuracy, most of them captured the essence of the best parts of their design. Every student completed on time and every drawing, while sloppy and basic had some architectural elements that could be discussed.

My young friend enjoyed hearing the story and related it to a performing a song night after night on the road, and cutting out the junk verses, and the trappings that are not needed and getting to the real elements of what makes the song work.  Or going from the fully enhanced product to an unplugged version.

It was a springboard for us talking about some other techniques. I have never been a farmer but have some extended family  members who are. They use the technique of letting a field lie fallow to regenerate. Over a period of one or more years the field would not be in production, letting it rebuild its nutrients. Leaving a creative work of any kind for a period of time does not change the work but you do come back to it somewhat refreshed as the creator of it and can see it in a new light and with some edits may be more easily identified as complete or the deficiencies identified to correct to complete.  This I have found works very well for me but unfortunately while the technique works like a charm, it can also become a nasty excuse for procrastination.

A real challenge for many of us is to find the way to access the second most important thinking organ in your body. We all use our minds, but what we think of as the gut is often better at processing complex decisions. But how do you access it?  My buddy Jim had a big investment company and tried to use consensus management as much as possible. When dealing with difficult decisions where various scenarios and proformas and risk analysis had been employed and put into the mix for decision making, the decision would usually fall out of the research. If the answer was not apparent, you needed to go back to do more research on the various risks, or opportunities. But when the answer would still not rise to the top, he would write a definitive action plan on a little yellow sticky note and post it on the fridge of the coffee room – WE ARE GOING TO BUY XYZ BUILDING, for example. This is the technique he has used in all his big life decisions as well – changing jobs, buying houses, having kids. If the next morning you get up and feel good about that definitive action statement, it’s a go. If you wake up at four in the morning in a cold sweat and go to the kitchen and rip it off the fridge, your gut has let you know.

But after sharing with him all the wisdom I could muster on the subject he raised another one that is as good as the rest – feedback. Hearing from others does not help you create but it does tell you how your work is received and that might prove to be a guide. His conclusion was to post a piece of his music or two on a platform that is a bit of showcase for his kind of music and see the comments that come back. Ultimately its his work, and his decision to keep it as it is, or erase, crumple it up and do it again. But getting a response from the public to what in his case is a largely solitary act of writing music, isolated from the rest of the world, was his conclusion. Many a musical performer have let their music evolve and respond to the audience.

Part of my sharing with him also got me onto thinking about those things in my life I have not completed. Some of these I have good explanations for, others I do not.

If there is one thing I have learned from Covid, it is the little day to day interactions we now experience, that  in the past would usually not be indulged, today are often what sustain us. I have a new young friend, his name is Jared, and we are learning together.

Django

LEFTOVERS

Posted: April 1, 2022

Leftovers. Just the name has a bunch of strange connotations for people. I knew a couple of kids in high school who cringed at the idea. They had moms who were workaholics who would make something totally unmemorable on Sunday and make a big batch of it so that is what they would have each night of the week. YIKES.   One was the kid of a doctor. Her mom must have had some idea of nutrition, but she would make this monster mound of rice or pasta with lots of pork and chicken and vegetables, and it would start out as fresh, and could have been good but always was executed badly, and by the end of the week would resemble what I imagine boiled brains to be like.

So those are not the leftovers I am talking about. My notion of leftovers is cooking with leftovers in mind. It has become one of my most popular demonstration courses in the little cooking classes I have been doing at the marina. Some people who are living on their boats have families but most are couples or singles so the classes have been popular and anything that can make meal prep time more inviting is welcomed.

My passion for leftovers comes from three sources. Living on a boat means I am not as cavalier as some who have kitchens with an abundance of refrigeration and preparation space so that drives part of my motivation. Part of it comes from my time with my Bebe, my paternal grandmother for those of you new to this website, who lived in a time and place where farm to table was not a new notion but the only way it was done. Whether it was  a fish from the ocean or vegetables from the field they were picked, taken to market,  and mainly eaten that day – and no parts wasted as the remaining elements were worked into the next days meal. And the third part of my passion for leftovers comes from my experience on the big cruise ships as an application of conventional commercial techniques. Any product that is brought onto the ship as an edible makes its way to a plate. Where waste is generated on a ship it is with the consumer once it hits the plate.

But before I dive into this topic further, I should reveal my passion (borderline lust) for refrigeration. Refrigeration is just about the coolest innovation in history. Yes, I realize what I just said. I think it is a bigger deal than the microchip or the internet or putting some inbred scientist on the moon. Refrigeration, particularly in hot climates has done so much for nutrition and disease reduction and for the rest of the world for time management. It has also been particularly beneficial for the female gender. Living on a boat, I don’t have as much fridge and freezer capacity as most people so I use it judiciously, but there have been times in my past where when I have been working in land-based kitchens, the most important appliance in the room was always the fridge and freezer. While it is true that we all have preferences in ranges and kitchen layouts and steamers and countertops,  a good cook or chef can cook with a little butane flame on the hood of car, but still needs a way to keep ingredients fresh until use.

 

Some of the notes I get from readers remind me that more pictures are a good thing. Well I recently discovered a couple of images from Walters kitchen. It was full of refrigeration. A large fridge with freezer space as well as a couple of under counter freezer drawers and a pantry with another freezer as well. If you are new to this website you can read about my life with Walter in posts from April and August of 2016.

 

THINKING ABOUT MEAL PLANNING WHEN SHOPPING

Some people think about ingredient shopping as one-off exercises for each meal, other than those staples we keep on hand that have many applications.  For these people cooking is a new hobby. The recipe is consulted, the list made and ingredients purchased, the meal prepared and enjoyed, pictures taken and posted on Instagram. When I reference meal planning or grocery shopping this is not the model I am talking about. Grocery shopping is an exercise to get all those components for multiple meals, where the orchestration of the next several days meal planning has been considered.

This whole process of what is being acquired, how its being used and the associated meal planning is something that commercial kitchens do very well.

In a commercial kitchen a whole chicken is cut up and those fresh chicken supremes  or breasts are on the menu for tonight. For tomorrow, the thighs, and other good proteins go into the chicken pot pie, and the remainder goes into the pot for chicken stew or chicken stock/ soup the day after. It is a matter of mindset going into the exercise. It is very efficient if planned and very cost effective as often a whole chicken does not cost much more than two breasts.

Planning a week of meals, even if you shop multiple times a week sets you up for using different components over that time, with fresh elements being added as you go.

 

FOOD PREP FOR MULTIPLE MEALS

While the prep stage is hyped up as a sexy fun thing to do, with wine flowing, lots of conversation and nibbling on some apps while prepping the main course with some nice music on in the background, it is often something less exciting than this – particularly if its food prep just for yourself or a regular meal for the family and not a special dinner. So using that preparation time for multiple meals really helps.

One thing I really like when I am not cooking for a group but only for one or two is to prepare the protein the way you would for  a dinner for six, but pull all but the components you would be serving that night aside early before fully cooked. Grilling for example. Prepare six fresh chicken breasts,  grill them and then take four of them off the grill after they get their marks for presentation, but before being fully cooked and put two of them away in the fridge and freeze the other two. The next night or the one after, take out the two from the fridge, and just put them in a covered heatproof container with a little white wine in the bottom and cook at 350f for 20 minutes. They will be fresh, tender, and often moister than the original ones.

A similar trick is when you come home from the market or grocery store with a bunch of pork fillets or chicken that was on at a good price and you are not even planning on having for several days and planning on freezing. Get them all on the grill, or in to roast to give them their presentation and do the heavy lifting on cooking, then freeze them all. When you want them, just pull out the quantity you need, let them defrost in the fridge and they are ready for that same reheat technique.

Similarly, if you have worked up a pretty nice salad dressing, make up enough for a couple of servings and put it in the fridge, making the salad a little less time consuming in a couple of nights.

 

MAKE THE WHOLE GREATER THAN THE SUM OF THE PARTS

Ciara has been living on the boat long enough that she is really onto what I do. She has come to asking me whether we will be having end of week soup. As the week progresses and the fresh green beans are not as fresh, and the wonderful mushrooms are looking tired, I just grab a basic can of vegetable soup (when working land-based and not on a boat, it would have been a nice vegetable stock I had made some time before and divided and frozen) but instead of adding one can of water (or store bought stock) with it I will add three, then put in a lot of past-their-peak green beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli,  slice up a few potatoes fairly thin and perhaps a carrot the same way, and maybe a stock of celery and  a half an onion cut up pretty roughly. The components are just what you have left at the end of the period before your next shopping.  If you don’t have much that week for the pot throw in a handful of dry pasta or rice. This is what you do with the rice or pasta that is left after accurately measuring for rice or pasta dishes and you have some small orphan amounts. We all have these.

It just all goes into the pot and after simmering away for half an hour I will try it, usually adding a few fresh herbs and sometimes some garlic and pepper. I never add salt to soup I make this way as the little can of  soup I start with always has too much sodium to start with, so this treatment really rounds it out.

I then have this as a little side soup for the next several days.

And sometimes on the second day or third day I will then, with the soup ready to go and only taking a heat up time, I put my effort into making a little focaccia bread or a foucasse to have with it.

 

SOME THINGS ARE BETTER AS LEFTOVERS

Its easy to think of ways to work all of your food products as left overs and plan your meals accordingly once you get your head into it. I love a slice of fresh baguette with piece of brie cheese on it and a little dab of red pepper jelly. Equally there are few things worse than a day-old baguette with anything. But it can be fabulous for a bread pudding, or cut  into cubes, tossed with some olive oil and dried herbs and put in the oven at 375f on a baking sheet for just a few minutes (turn them at least once)  and they are the best croutons for a Caesar salad.

The result is that the second day or third day is a meal as good as the first, but with a different application of the original product. The trick of course is to plan your meals ahead based on the sequencing. Most big commercial kitchens have boards letting the prep staff know what the big plan is for a moving multi-day cycle. You just need a little notepad.

I do this same application a lot with my little fresh herb garden I keep in a few pots. When I get a bit too much basil ahead for example I will just roast up some pine nuts and make some pesto to use that excess. Another one I like for the herbs is making herb infused oil. Sometimes I use olive oil but other times vegetable or canola and just wash the herbs that are extras, cut them up (not too fine) and put them in the oil for a few days, then strain off the herbs and the oil will have a nice herb taste.

LEAPFROGGING

When I am cooking for just one or two, I will also leapfrog dishes so the leftover stigma doesn’t kick in.  The grilled chicken on Monday (that I did a couple extra breasts and pulled out early as described above) will appear again two days later, but with different vegetables and perhaps a sauce I have made with the extra prep time available. Any day I am doing a protein from scratch I will just do steamed vegetables but on the days I am just doing  a reheat of the protein that’s the day I will spend more time on a better vegetable recipe that will also last a couple of days. It makes the exercise of preparing a meal for one or two much less overwhelming as part of each days main meal everyday is already done.

 

So those are my thoughts on leftovers. I know that sometimes in my little posts  I dive into heavier topics but in a world that has a lot of problems and many of us have the associated anxiety that comes with each of them, sometimes meal planning, including thinking about leftovers is just a nice way to put one foot in front of the other to move forward.

 

Django

P.S. When I was working on this post, Martha strolled by and asked what I was working on. She was dropping off the bottles of wine she and Malcolm buy for us every week in exchange for me preparing most of the meals. Now Martha is a bit older than I, in her late seventies I think, but when I told her the topic was leftovers she immediately asked if they were “the ones remaining without a connection after speed dating?”  I may never think of  leftovers the same way again.

CHOICES

POSTED March 1, 2022

I was chatting by email with my friend June recently about the frustrations of computers when one program is not talking to another because they are of different generations or other issues. The truth is I was having the problems and she was sympathizing with a guy who had made the wrong choice of machine. She told me about the first computer she chose. It was an Apple and it was in the 1980’s. She was setting up a business with a partner and dealing with a fellow who was selling them out of his garage. He would make the modifications for ram etc. right there on the work bench. My choice at the time was set by my employer – a terminal for access to a big mainframe running IBM. Through the 1990’s and beyond the choices in computers were Apple for people who wanted better tools for graphics, and other creative elements and the IBM/ Microsoft products for business people.

But what it really said to others when you made a choice of computer for your home life was that you either:

  1. Cared about the world, were a good person, and could walk tall or,
  2. You were a money-grubbing-capitalist-weasel with no redeeming features.

While this may have been largely true,  over time it became clear that some of us who were tied into a system because of our employer may have been part of the big evil machine but perhaps were not really out to end civilization as we know it. But that’s the thing about choices – sometimes they define us or give off a message to others that may or may not be true. That choice to wear a Rolex or a Swatch says something but the interpretation we put on it may reflect our own experience  or sensibilities and may not always be accurate.

It is also interesting that our personal choice when combined with similar decisions by others puts us in a certain group and in so doing, the risk grows of identifying those who have chosen another approach. The othering is one nasty consequence some will make of choice. You’re a Democrat so you are not a Republican. You chose that computer type, so you are not on the right side. There may be other factors at work in your decision  and your thinking may be more nuanced than the simple binary decision but that decision  now sets who you are – you have made your choice.

This judgment of others based on some simple choice test is widely applied and at times entrenched in various government or private sector policies. It was common practice at one time for employment recruiters to use the Gilligan Test in asking  a young man to choose between Ginger and Maryanne as this would say so much about his priorities, beliefs and would be a good predictor of his decision making going forward and in general the future ahead of him. I can recall a conversation with  an openly gay friend in the mid 70’s who in such an interview pointed out the attractiveness of The Professor which must have put the recruiters into overdrive in their analysis. He got the job.

It is always interesting to me the choices made for children that in turn are then interpreted by others as their choice. Most of us are born into a household of a particular religion and do not have parents who encourage us to go out at a certain age and research which one really reflects our values. It is  often the same with politics.

And what of the choices that are not really choices at all but pre-conditions for something else. If you want to have a certain online service you are choosing to adopt that companies cookie policies or policies for sharing your data. Or you are a woman and you want to marry a lad of  a certain religion you must choose to adopt that religion as your own. Yikes.

Of course, it is all about the magnitude. Buying one brand of toilet paper or another is not a big deal – either one will probably be used for the same purpose and get the job done. But the choice to go to war, have a child, or smuggle that dope into another country well that opens up a very different set of consequences.

And of course at the core of it, choices come with consequences. Some are small, some are huge. Many have consequences that can be known ahead, and measured but some have consequences that can not be envisioned when the choice is made, and the magnitude unknown.

Some are the triggers for a stream or chain of consequences. That fellow who braved the trip to Australia in the nineteenth century and married another crazy risk taker becomes the beginning of a family line who are tied to that place from that point onward.

Some of the consequences from a choice we make are not shouldered by us but by others like those voters in the United Kingdom who chose to leave the European Union, or those voters who have elected various tyrants just out of spite for the previous leader. The world lives with the consequences of electing the class clown. Or the person who in high school chooses a field of study for college or university that will often set them off on a path for their studies, then on to a career in that area of study and then poof, before they know it they are pretty baked into that cake.

I think it is this link of choices and consequences that is the key to all of it. I am not a parent but the good examples of parenting I have seen beyond providing, and caring and making time, seem to have a good handle on setting out for their children what the consequences will be if they make certain choices, making sure those consequences are reasonable (to the extent they are within the parents control), and then making sure to follow through on those consequences. On a regular basis I have heard these parents last words as their teenagers go out the door in the evening to “make good decisions”.

And some choices come with commitments. Go down a certain road and there are no U -Turns allowed. That is now your trajectory, and your obligation.  A buddy of mine who has a bit of a fetish about measuring risk has said that other than suicide, the only choice or commitment that can not be undone is in having a child. Buy the wrong car – sell it. Take the wrong job – find another. And yes, marry the wrong person and while not done lightly, end it. But once you are a parent you are committed to being a parent of that child forever.

I find it quite the irony that the exceedingly positive notion of choice, the freewill to make a decision from various options,  is so uplifting a concept, but the reality is the choice we make is fraught with risks and consequences.

But of course, it is the duality of that interconnected relationship of choice on one side and the consequences, risks and commitments on the other that is at the heart of living.

Django

TORONTO ART.ca

POSTED: FEB 1, 2022

For some time you have heard me chatter on about meaning to get to writing up a couple of sections on this website. The two in particular that I have been really bad at getting to are The Chef Upstairs, and TorontoART.ca

Well at least for The Chef Upstairs I introduced the topic in some detail in a post on July 7, 2020 about the bombing at Kings Cross in London that Janice and Jim had been involved in. No, they didnt set the bomb- they were just in the tube at Kings Cross when it went off.

But the TorontoART.ca website section has been one I have avoided. While it was a massive part of my buddy Jim’s life it had a lot of moving parts and I was not clear that I could do it justice. That is partially because it had six hundred members and whenever one would contact Jim to ask if there will be any write up he would forward me the emails.

So here we are in 2022 and I am dedicated to getting into better shape, getting a few of my short stories published and grabbing the bull by the horns on some of these tasks that I have procrastinated on.

So check out the new section TorontoART.ca in the tabs and you can see what I have done so far. As there were about six hundred active members on the site I am not going to put in images of all of them but have started with putting in some to get rolling and will be working on adding more artists images over time.  This of course is a classic procrastinators commitment.

Django