Clematis As Taskmaster

February 24, 2008

ClematisWe have a clematis that we adore. It comes to life every spring growing like a weed, thrives every summer with gorgeous pastel purple and pink flowers, gets cut back to nothing in the winter, and then comes to life again each spring.

A week or so ago we noticed that the plant, cut back almost literally to nothing, was sprouting. Taking no chances, I put a tomato cage into place. And not a moment too soon! A week or ten days later — by today — the plant has grown at least 10 inches, and half a dozen branches rest restlessly against the middle ring of the cage.

The growth spurt seems to have come early this year. Pretty soon we will have to decide which wall and window we will let it climb; and once that starts, we will have to strip the winter covering from the windows. But it is only the end of February — we will get some strong winds in the next month and I’d like to keep the coverings up until then. But the precocious clematis might well force our hands.


No Country For Old Men

February 24, 2008

No CountryThe joys of the Vancouver East moviehouse have been written about before, and we enjoyed them again last night when we went to see the very fine “No Country For Old Men“.

I confess I have not read a single work by Cormac McCarthy, but I know now that I must. I’ll make him my summer reading project. “No Country” is a complex and often mystical story of people and place. It is deeply embedded in the here and now (of 1980 West Texas, at least) but is at the same time off-center in its fantastical storytelling. It is a marvelous middle, with no beginning (the drug deal gone bad happens before the story starts) and no end (no loose strings are neatly tied). McCarthy gave the brilliant Coen Brothers all the material they needed to build another cinematic masterpiece, and they didn’t fail.

I am sure that a half-generation of film scholars have picked through the Coen Brothers filmography and deconstructed their methods, but I haven’t read any of them either. The mystery of how a Coen Brothers movie is better than someone else’s movie is still a mystery to me. But it doesn’t matter when the end result — the result of just sitting and watching — is so satisfying. However, one aspect of their movie making does stand out even to me, and that is the brilliance of their casting. I doubt that Tommy Lee Jones has ever been more perfect for a role; and Javier Bardem is a marvelous slab against which the waves of the story crash. And, as always with them, the secondary and minor roles are cast with an equally perfect eye.

To my regret, “No Country” is the only one of the Best Film nominees we have seen this year. Any one of the others would have to be sublime to defeat “No Country” though.

Night Music: So What

February 23, 2008

The two iconic characters of my youthful jazz fascination play here together on “So What”. John Coltrane is at his supercool best, and this is the early more accessible Miles Davis who actually faces his audience.

Much as I love his work, I am not sure I could pull a Coltrane sound from a range of other sax players. But it only takes a note or two for the Miles Davis sound to be apparent. No-one ever made the trumpet sound that way. There is a sort of bright shininess to the upper register that drapes itself around every note, and is clearly heard no matter whether he plays the coolest of cool meditations or the hottest of symphonic jazz.

Note how Miles, after his solos, walks off to the side and smokes cigarette after cigarette, on camera. Ah, those were the easy-going days!


February 22, 2008

Kisses are such glorious business that it seems a shame, perhaps, to allow scientists to get their grubby hands into the entrails of such a wonderful experience.

“Kissing,” said evolutionary psychologist Gordon G. Gallup of the University at Albany, State University of New York, last September in an interview with the BBC, “involves a very complicated exchange of information—olfactory information, tactile information and postural types of adjustments that may tap into underlying evolved and unconscious mechanisms that enable people to make determinations … about the degree to which they are genetically incompatible.”

… In the 1960s British zoologist and author Desmond Morris first proposed that kissing might have evolved from the practice in which primate mothers chewed food for their young and then fed them mouth-to-mouth, lips puckered. Chimpanzees feed in this manner, so our hominid ancestors probably did, too. Pressing outturned lips against lips may have then later developed as a way to comfort hungry children when food was scarce and, in time, to express love and affection in general.

So says (and so much more) a fascinating piece in Scientific American.

Me?  I just like the taste and the texture and the smell and the cuddling that goes along with the kissing.  It would be a far less wonderful space my lover and I inhabit if we didn’t kiss so much.  That much I do know.

Which Way Did They Go?

February 22, 2008

Which Way?

A Fragile Line

February 22, 2008

Having been brought up in England in the 50s and 60s, I have a deeply ingrained sense of what is right and wrong when faced with a queue or line. The queue is the physical embodiment of that civilized leveling principle — first come, first served. An orderly queue is not something one should mess with. In North America generally and Canada in particular, the orderly queue is a rare event, saved mainly for those lining up days in advance to buy concert tickets or an attractive condo. Even then, I suspect, orderliness and decorum is better at the front of the line than closer to the back.

I am acutely aware of the lack of queue etiquette here, traveling as I do by bus every day. A day didn’t go by without someone barging into the line or to the front of it without a single thought for those who had been waiting patiently. When challenged on their rudeness, most of them genuinely seem baffled that something else might have been expected of them. Now, it is worse.


The otherwise wonderful express 98 and 99 B-Line buses have three set of doors. Since Tuesday, the system has allowed riders to board through all three doors. No longer do you have to show your bus pass to the driver at the front (financial integrity is now maintained by the goons with guns otherwise known as the Transit Police). This is an improvement in convenience, certainly, but it has dealt a death blow to the fragile flower known as a bus queue.

In my youth, I am sure, riders would have worked out where the doors would be when the bus was at the stop and would form three lines corresponding with the entrances. Not here, oh no. Now, here, the crowd schmeers itself along the whole length of where the bus will be and, upon its arrival, the crowd rushes pell-mell for the doors. What a damn mess!

Art, Lost and Found

February 20, 2008

In Jerusalem, the Israel Museum is presenting an exhibition of art looted by the Nazis and unclaimed after the war.

Israel Museum

This wonderful photograph is by Kevin Frayer/Associated Press.