And The Small Shall Be Kings!

May 24, 2009

At 6′ 1″ and 280 lbs, the 25-year old Mongolian Davaanyam Byambadorj would be a big man in most places.  But in the world of sumo, those figures make him one of the smallest wrestlers at the highest level.  He used to fight under the name Ama but recently changed his ring name to Harumafuji when he was promoted to ozeki, the sport’s second-highest rank.  He has been one of our favourite rikishi for several years, and last night he beat off all-comers to win his first Emperor’s Cup!


At the beginning of the night, Harumafuji and yokozuna Hakuho led the pack with 13 wins and 1 loss.   In the evening’s penultimate scheduled bout, Harumafuji defeated ozeki Kotooshu to ensure himself at least a playoff.  In the last scheduled bout, the two yokozuna faced off, with Hakuho finally overcoming Asashoryu to set up the playoff.   After a brief rest, Harumafuji and Hakuho came together in a climatic battle.  It was a great bout culminating in Harumafuji throwing Hakuho into the dirt.

Harumajufi (then called Ama) debuted at the highest level in 2004.  He instantly became our favourite with his “small” size and seemingly happy attitude to the whole thing.  It is great to see him take the ultimate prize!

(More) Colour Studies

May 22, 2009

Red Blue Yellow

Red Blue Yellow” (2009), PPT to TIFF, 36″ x 24″

Blue Yellow Red

Blue Yellow Red” (2009), PPT to TFF, 36″ x 24″

The Vermeer

May 20, 2009

Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, I bummed around Europe a lot.  Like most Brits headed to the Continent, I started out at one of the northern Channel ports — Dieppe, Dunkirk, Bouloge, Ostend.  In my memory at least, the weather was always cloudy or raining, there was a damp chill in the air, and the buildings and people seemed grey and dispirited.  All those memories flooded back to me as I walked around the new Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition:  Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art.

VermeerDon’t get me wrong, there are some very fine works on display;  there is Vermeer’s “Love Letter” at the end of the journey, for example:  The first time a Vermeer has graced our city and well worth seeing just for that (see image at right).  There are some striking portraits by Rembrandt, and fine examples of Dutch maritime, landscape painting and still life painting.    I enjoyed many of them.   And there are curiosities that are worth scrutinizing — the occasional piece that takes a well known building in Holland and places it in an otherwise imaginary setting, for example.  And in some of the interiors, there are splashes of colour.

But the overall impression I get is one of greyness, flatness, a desire for exactness (blame Rembrandt, I guess) that squeezes the life out of some of the works.  Standing in front of some of the paintings, I could feel the cold and uncomfortable trickle of dirty rainwater dripping down the back of my neck.

There was, however, one major surprise; a joy I had not expected.  The exhibition includes Frans Hals’ double portraits “Portrait of a Man” and “Portrait of a Woman”.  I was aware that Hals was known for his “loose” or “lively” style of brushwork, but the painting of the Man’s right hand, cuff and hair are almost impressionistic.  It was such a relief after the “accuracy” of so many of the other works.

After the show, we attended a lecture by Dr Timothy Brook who wrote “Vermeer’s Hat” which had entertained me so much last fall when I read it.  The book uses a number of Vermeer’s works to paint a picture of the expansion of Dutch trade with the Far East in the 17th century.  It is an excellent work.  In the lecture, I thought Prof Brook tried to be more of an art critic than an historian, and he was less successful.  Still, a standing room only crowd of 120+ appreciated the talk.

Update:   The Globe and Mail today has an excellent piece on Kathleen Bartels, the Director of the VAG.

Colour Studies

May 17, 2009

Blue Red Green White

Blue Red Green White” (2009), PPT to TIFF, 36″ x 24″

Green Blue Yellow

Green Blue Yellow”  (2009), PPT to TIFF, 36″ x 24″

Plus Ca Change ….

May 13, 2009

British_Columbia_Flag-contourSo we had the election yesterday.  Overall, little has changed.  Gordon Campbell and his BC Liberals were returned to power for the third election in a row, while Carole James’ New Democrats stay as Opposition.  The number of seats held by each side was essentially unchanged.

It was, I guess, a perfect recession election where the electorate decided to keep the status quo to get some stability.  Regardless of the NDP ads, most voters see Campbell’s middle-to-right policies as safer at this time.  And it means that Campbell’s innovative Carbon Tax keeps going, and Gordo will be doing the glad handing at the Olympics next year.

Three matters of interest:  turnout, the Greens, and electoral reform.

Back in the 80s when bare-knuckle politicking was BC’s style, the turnouts regularly hit 75%. In the last election in 2005 there was much gnashing of teeth and wailing because only 55% of the electorate bothered to vote.  This time, the numbers fell to an astonishing 48%.  I haven’t got a clear read on that (though I doubt so many consciously  decided to follow an anarchist path of non-voting), but it is the most interesting part of the election to me.  Were people too depressed about the Canucks loss that they couldn’t get out of the house?  Was it so obvious that Campbell would win?  Was the campaign simply so boring?

Then there is the utter failure of the Green Party.  They will finish with about 8% of the vote, a fall of at least a point from 2005.  And this in an election when Jane Sterk managed to force herself onto the Leadership Debate on TV.  They were definitely marginalized in the media, but they were last time too.  Even Sterk finished a bad third in her riding.  Perhaps the Liberals adoption of a Carbon Tax put such a dent in the Greens that they couldn’t recover.  Their failure to move ahead was a bit of a surprise to me as I thought they would do better.

And finally, we saw the death of a form of proportional representation called the Single Transferable Vote or STV.  My guess is that it was just too complicated.  The benefits (if any) were not sold hard enough to overcome the obvious complications.  It needed 60% positive vote to be adopted, but in the end 61% voted against it.  I’m happy to see it go as it distanced the elected from the electors even further than today.  It would have been the exact opposite of direct democracy.

So, the next four years here will be much the same as the last four.  Next time, we will probably have three new leaders to consider.

This Sporting Life #5

May 12, 2009

Sadly, the Vancouver Canucks were beaten in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  We played pretty well overall but we just couldn’t beat Chicago.  Oh well. That leaves more room for cycling, sumo and cricket!

The Giro d’Italia race just began this weekend.  This is Lance Armstrong’s first grand tour since his comeback.  I am no fan of his and I can think of a dozen riders I’d prefer to win.  A win by Mark Cavendish would be a turn up for the books — it has been a long long time since England had a serious GT challenger.

HarumafujiThe May basho also began in Tokyo this weekend.   After 3 days, only five rikishi are still unbeaten, and these include my favourites Haramafuji, Takamisakari and Kisenosato.   The highly publicized Japanese up-and-comer Goeido, and current sumo god Hakuho round out the top five.   The cracks that have appeared lately in the great Asashoryu’s game seem to have opened up again last night.  He was soundly defeated by Aminishki.  Early days, early days.  We’ll see how it shakes out come this time next week.

As for cricket, we England fans are still basking in the thrashing we gave West Indies in the first Test.  Coming off a limp series in the Caribbean and in advance of the classic Ashes series against Australia later this summer, the victory was greatly appreciated.   The second Test starts on Thursday and we will be looking to repeat.

Street View: The Upside

May 9, 2009

I had barely touched the Street View functionality of Google Maps before today.  I was aware of the political and privacy arguments against the technology, but hadn’t really put it to use.

Today, while in the process of writing memoir notes about my earliest years, I was using Google Maps to check locations from my boyhood in London.  I was looking at the highest magnification to the arial of one location and accidentally pressed +Zoom again.  I was transported in StreetView and there before me, as clear as day, was the house I lived in from the age of 9 until I left home in my teens.  I spent ages just zooming the view up and down the street, and tracing my walk to primary school.  Then I was hooked.

I have now looked at each of the places I lived in from my birth to the age of about 25, each of my schools, places friends and relatives lived, places I played.  And each image brought memories flooding back in ways that probably couldn’t have happened without the pictures.  Extraordinarily powerful stuff.  Great technology.

Annandale Road_Number Three

The picture shown here is of 3, Annandale Road, Chiswick, London W4, with the blue door.  (The out of focus areas are a Google artifact.)  I lived here, in a cold-water third floor walk up, from my birth until a little before I was 10.   This is a very fashionable area today (the building at number 7 is for sale at $1.2m), but back in the early 1950s it was a heavily-bombed lower working class area.  Chiswick was grey and dirty and I am sure I lived my life in black-and-white until we moved away.

This house has hardly changed (except for the painted door).  When I lived in the building, a lady called Agnes lived on the ground floor, a spinster lady.  On the second floor lived my Nanny Bull (mother of my paternal uncle’s wife).  She was “a very old” lady (though probably younger than I am today) and as I remember, she always sat in the bay window, looking out at the street.  On the third floor, the window to the right was my bedroom.  The windows centre and left were the tiny living room.

Amazing to be given such access to our memories.