Showing posts from July, 2012

Giving Me The Gears

Looking back, my fascination with communication and my knees probably started about the same time somewhere on Highway 16 heading from Edmonton to Jasper with Jaime and Bart. On our bicycles. There was a lot of back and forth between us, of course. Three high-school-university friends on touring bikes had enough to talk about.  How best to find comfort on the concrete floor of a camp kitchen in Obed? Can you eat too much yogurt? Is it wrong to mix rum and orange juice? What did Plato mean by the young are to be taught in play? Is that really banjo music or just the wind playing tricks? Can you put Vaseline there? (I don't mean you, I mean can one....?) And on and on from politics to girls to derailleurs, which, if you think about it, is not that difficult a gear change.

But it was a different kind of communication that took hold that trip. It was the communication of gears.

I learned the obvious, that we weren't going to get to Jasper in a day. And I learned the not-so-obviou…

Language Masonry

Something about who we are in language struck me last night at Hawrelak Park.

We were at the Interstellar Rodeo. It's a new festival. Our friend Murray, who can swim in the words deep end, describes it as the folk festival for the one percent, because it's built around a concept of pairing the musical acts on stage with a wine. And, so, it's not just Texas roots-punk-rocker Alejandro Escovedo, it's the underground-and-always-threatening-to-be-pulled-into-the-mainstream Alejandro Escovedo and a glass of De Angelis Rosso Piceno with which he shares a commitment to quality and an ambivalence to commercial success.

But that's not the item.

What is the item was the young boy, Mason, who was sitting alone with his family in front of us on the hill who, at turns, crushed plastic cup, broke tree twigs, and opened and closed and open and closed (repeat) his mother's umbrella.

"It's a peacock," he told me, as he held the umbrella behind him and triggered i…

Royally Amused

We should have known something was up when the Queen joined Facebook. But we didn't really see what was coming until today at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics when HRH joined the fun.

In a blend of reality and fiction, entertainment industry and royalty, fun and frump, Queen Elizabeth II stole the show by playing a cameo role in a video shot at her castle with Daniel Craig in character as James Bond. 
Bond, wearing his trademark tuxedo,  is ushered into an ornate sitting room where, could it be, the Queen is sitting at a writing desk. Bond stands waiting. He clears his throat to remind her he is there. Could it be the real Queen, the viewers ask? It is. 
"Good evening, Mr. Bond," she says. 
Bond then escorts her through the red-carpeted hallways, the royal corgis chugging along, and out to a helicopter from which stunt doubles parachute out and down into Olympic Stadium. 
Time may blunt my assessment, but I thought her cinematic debut was a masterstroke. Bo…

Joyce And Red Noses

For the longest time I thought Shelagh Of The Irish Spelling was a little crazy. She would lie there in bed, wired to her iPod, listening to podcasts as she drifted off to sleep, while I talked to her about things important to me, and our marriage. She was listening to things like National Public Radio's Fresh Air,This American Life, and Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me! And The Splendid Table and Spilled Milk and Stuff You Missed In History Class. And Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac. Of course, Shelagh is a borderline insomniac, but, give her one thing:  she does put her waking time to good use.

And she's onto something.

I am not at her level in terms of the number of podcasts that escort me into sweet sleep, but I have found one. * It's called Re:Joyce, and it's Frank Delaney's tribute to and guide through and analysis of James Joyce's Ulysses. It is published/shared/posted/whatever the word is these days every Wednesday, and I find myself looking…


Tonight in Aurora, Colorado, U.S. President Barack Obama decided that what the community, the country, the campaign most need right now is a story.

And I think that the reason stories like this have such an impact on us is because we can all understand what it would be to have somebody that we love taken from us in this fashion.

Some of the stories are remarkable.

There's one particular story I want to tell because this was the last visit that I had and I think it's representative of everything that I saw and heard today.

And I don't think this story has been heard -- at least I hadn't read it yet -- but I wanted to share it with you. 

The U.S. Commander-Of-Attention-In-Chief went on to tell the story of two friends, Allie, who was shot while trying to draw the attention of others in the theatre to the gunman's canisters, and Stephanie,  who stayed with her friend, applied pressure to her neck wound with one hand while calling 911 on her cellphone with the other. All t…

Viking. Alberta. Canada. Stanley. Cup.

No music. No introduction. No criss-crossing spotlights. No confetti gun.

And certainly no smoke.

He just walked in. Carrying the Stanley Cup. While two Mounties in red serge watched, the people in the hall clapped politely. And then waited. What do we do next?

He put the trophy on a table in front of a printed sign that congratulated him for winning the Cup, and then he motioned for people to line up, come forward. And they lined up.

He was Darryl Sutter, the coach of the Los Angeles Kings, one of the favourite sons of Viking, and what he walked into was the Viking Community Hall. And what it all was was a great Canadian moment.

Five bucks got you a picture with the coach and the Cup. The money went to Viking minor hockey. The line of fans curled around the hall and out the door.

When we got to the front of the line, and it was our turn to get a photo taken, he was the first to speak.

"Hi, I'm Darryl, thanks for comin'," he said to Shelagh. "You must be tired …

Moving Pictures

I don't know the point of adding to the words, the adjectives that are everywhere tonight, on the air, online, in newspapers, on radio, from experts, from reporters, witnesses, family members, survivors, police officials, politicians and seemingly everyone else about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve people were murdered and 58 wounded at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in that community.

But I want to try this.

Everyone who was killed had his, her own unique story, and those will start to be told in the hours and days ahead. This woman who dodged death only weeks ago. That young man who decided at the last minute to join his buddies at the movie. That boy who was a big Batman fan. The coach. The mother. The girl who died on her birthday. All of their individual hopes and plans for their future, their successes in the past, the unique impact they had on those around them, their medals, certificates, writings.

But they did have one thing in common in life, be…

Butting In

It broke my own rule about never engaging with other drivers. It almost snapped my short tolerance for those who judge and then find refuge in social media. I don't know why I did it.

We were sitting at a red light on 87 Ave and 149 St last night. It was a beautiful, peaceful evening. The driver in the car next to us rolled down the window and threw a cigarette butt onto the ground.

I admit it. I don't like littering. Long before reducing the size of your footprint became popular, I was taught to not throw garbage of any size, shape on the ground. In university, we learned about the challenge of the commons and the lack of motivation people feel for public property. I actually think about the birds and other creatures that might eat an errant cigarette butt. And the irony is priceless. Smokers willing to pollute their lungs are unwilling to keep evidence of their habit in view and nose. And, so, out the window the butt goes.

And, so, I'll often joke about picking up the b…

Rein To Reign!

The next time I do a degree in communications, it's off to the Rangeland Derby at the Calgary Stampede for my research on the sound of the chuckwagon races. Listen to the SoundCloud clip below for the horn, the crowd, the jingle, the hooves, the cheers, the Go, Wayne!

Of course, the other big sound at the chuckwagon races is the agallop voice of Les McIntyre. He calls the races from his perch, his eye in the sky, high above the racetrack. One of the memorable aspects of being at the Rangeland Derby is the relatively unimposing role played by video. Sure, there are video screens at both ends of the track and on an infield tower, but they are not signature screens. What defines the viewer's experience at the grandstand is McIntyre's voice.

Quiet on the set.
There's the horn. And the charge is underway!
As they cast their fate in the figure eight. 
The barrels are up, the outriders are in hot pursuit.
They're outta town!

A version of this is how McIntyre starts his call. …

Heus Feist (Hey, Feist!)

Hey, Feist, I thought I'd drop you a quick line.

We saw you in Ottawa on Canada Day, and we thought you were pretty cool. I mean, to one degree or another, most of the other performers played cheerleader. And it got just a little thin. After all, we were all there on Parliament Hill because we love our country. It just seems kinda Canadian to leave it at that, and not get all booster, you know?

You just got up there on stage, said Happy Birthday, Canada,  and were great. Thanks for that.

Last night I was in Calgary, hanging out at the Stampede for work. I got an email from home in Edmonton. Our son, Alex, a fourth-year classics student at the University of Alberta, decided to do some Feist translation. (There's Old West, and then there's really Old West, I suppose.)

It's kinda blurry in the blog post, but what Alex emailed was:

"When you comfort me,
It doesn't bring me comfort, actually."

"Cum consolaris me,
Non est mihi consolans vera re…

Running Commentary: Horse Sense!

To quote Plato's Socrates only slightly out of context, I know only that I know nothing about chuckwagon racing.

But I have spent the last few days at the Calgary Stampede and have gotten to hang out in the chuckwagon barns as part of ATB's sponsorship of rookie rider Codey McCurrach of Eckville. That means taking photos, posting updates via social media, drinking the occasional beer, hosing off the thoroughbreds, having the occasional beer, and hauling hay to the stalls of Primo, Bernie, Ernie, Googles, Mob and the rest of the horse team.

As for washing the horses, it's just like flooding a backyard rink. Except there's a giant horse wondering what you are doing, and an even bigger horse called Mike Obrigewitch who is wondering the same. But it's also the easiest post-race job there is.

Mike is quite the guy with quite the stories, quite the face, quite the moustache, quite the heart. Mike was Codey's sponsor in the early years, and helped make a call that Cod…

A Quick Note From Home And Away

Here is some video of the changing the guard ceremony in Ottawa. What I don't have on tape, what I didn't have time to get on tape is the medley of Canadian songs the band plays before the drills start. It was good to be there when they played Alberta Bound.

I have stayed. Unlike most of my friends, I have stayed. I have to travel and find other ways to simulate the perspective on home that comes from away. Hearing Alberta Bound reminded me of that.

But that is not the item.

Here is a bit of Ottawa from our perspective on the day after Canada Day, 2012.

Statue Of No Limitations

At the intersection of Albert and Elgin in Ottawa, just outside the National Arts Centre, is a figure portrait, the work of Ruth Abernethy, in honour of the music and personality of Canadian jazz great Oscar Peterson. Seeing it is an unexpected thrill, even in a city full of stunning statues, plaques, carved words.  Turn up the volume on your computer, and take a look, listen at something different.

It demands that you notice and contemplate Peterson's joy. His is not the carved face of a typical Father of Confederation, a prime minister, a judge or any other citizen hero.  Really, how many sculptors have the courage to capture their subjects in anything but the most severe, stern, awful facial expressions? I don't disparage those works. I'm just glad this is different, and that bronze has been taught to smile.

I think Peterson has just finished playing something live and has turned to accept the applause of the audience. But he also seems to be contemplating that applause…