July 1st - Happy Canada Day

Well, once again, here we are at Canada's birthday.

Counting back to the date when the British provinces formed a federation in 1867, we're now celebrating the 141st "Dominion Day."

We chose to change the name of the holiday to the more popular "Canada Day," in 1982. For Quebecers, this has always been known as the "la FĂȘte du Canada."

As for me, I'm celebrating my 7th official Canada Day. While I've been here since 1974, I became a citizen only in 2001, after many years of procrastination. So as someone who has chosen Canadian citizenship, the national holiday carries a special significance for me.

To all my friends out there...happy Canada Day!

Thanks to P. Widling for his photograph of the Canadian flag.

The summer sky

As we approach the peak of summer weather, the horizon becomes an ever-changing canvas of billowing cumulus shapes.

Clouds can be amazing natural phenomena. Mushroom shapes, towers, mountains of vapour; gigantic structures that reach many thousands of feet into the atmosphere.

People in the Midwest are paying close attention to weather forecasts these days, as they've already seen a lot of aggressive weather this summer, with flooding and tornadoes in many states. Nature can be a menacing force.

But on more serene days, the clouds of summer are quite alluring. They spark the imagination and set the spirit soaring.

From a scientific perspective, these forms offer endless opportunities for study.

Cool Things, a web site that collects interesting stories from around the world, recently posted photographs of rare clouds. It's worth a look. (See if you can spot the hang glider in the set of photos related to "roll clouds.")

You Tube also provides some interesting images...

- A time-lapse of a cumulus cloud over St. Louis.

- Here's a strange storm formation.

-How about "cloud surfing" in a wing suit? Now this is special!

The photo in the corner is courtesy of Hoola, who lives in New Zealand. Thanks.

Rome and Malta

Matt Gross, the intrepid back-roads traveler with the New York Times, is heading to the Eastern Mediterranean after stops in Rome and Malta. As usual, his visits are colourful.

For those who haven't seen Matt's work, he's on a tour of Europe on less than 100 euros a day, and he's blogging, photographing and videotaping the whole way.

His videos begin with this introduction, accompanied by the up-beat strumming of a guitar:

"I'm Matt Gross, the Frugal Travel with the New York Times. This summer I'm embarking on the grand tour of Europe. Over 12 weeks, I'll seek out ancient history and contemporary culture. I'll find cool hotels and memorable meals. And I'll stretch the U.S. dollar to the breaking point."

He's a very likeable guy and he tells his stories in a refreshing, down-to-earth way.

In Rome, he stayed with nuns and visited the city on foot, by tram, and on the back of a speeding moped.

In Malta, he explored the many cultures that give this island nation it's unique character and language.

The videos are fun. Add the blog and slide shows and you've got a great recipe for an engaging armchair travel experience.

You can follow Matt Gross on the Frugal Traveler site here.

A group of fans even set up a Facebook page.

For a related post in this blog, see "Summer Travel"

Rome photo is courtesy of Kevin Stanson, who made it available on http://www.stock.xchng/

Teenagers, cowboys and photographers

Roaming the range is still a big part of life in the West.

In a recent issue of Time magazine, the editors explored the problem of sedentary children, poor diet and weight gain. They gathered a lot of negative data about today's kids, but they decided to balance their coverage by taking a look at the eating habits and lifestyles of some active children. One photograph of a teenage cowboy in Montana caught my eye. This is my version.

You can see Time's photographic essay, entitled "The Life of a Teenage Cowboy," here.

The topic of ranch life comes to mind also because next week the city of Calgary kicks off its famous "Stampede," a ten-day celebration and exhibition that revolves around the life of cowboys and ranchers. Organizers call it the "greatest outdoor show on earth," and it features rodeos, concerts, chuckwagon races and more. It's the city's biggest tourist event of the year. It has attracted folks for almost a hundred years. More here.

For many, cowboy lore still possesses a certain mystique. Robb Kendrick, a photographer whose work has been published in National Geographic magazine, enjoys visiting wide-open landscapes in North America and Mexico. He takes unique photographs of cowboys using an ancient wooden camera and a portable field darkroom. The process is laborious, but his results are quite striking.

"Cowboys — actual working cowboys, in all their manifestations — proudly and determinedly endure," he says.

You can see some of his photos here.

George makes his exit

In honour of the quirky, irreverent and smart comedian George Carlin, on the day of his passing, some of this thoughts:

"Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn't mean the circus has left town."

"I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, 'Where's the self-help section?' She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose."

"Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don't have time for all that."

"One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor."

Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning."

....And a comment from a New York Times reader, posted on the newspaper's website:

"Just seven words: brilliant, funny, witty, clever, sharp, erudite, hilarious.
RIP, George, this world will miss you."

-- Richard, Glenmoore, Pennsylvania

You can read the New York Times obit here

The Rideau

It's the beginning of the tourist season in the National Capital Region and the city is buzzing with visitors.

The Rideau Canal provides a water link between Ottawa, situated on the Outaouais (Ottawa) River, and the city of Kingston, on Lake Ontario. It was completed in 1832.

In the summer, the canal attracts lots of pleasure craft. From Kingston to Ottawa the route travels along rivers and lakes and through a system of locks for a distance of about 200 km.

More background here.

Our changing workers

Is North America's work force undergoing a substantial transformation related to the way today's youth have been raised?

They're called "millennials" -- people born between 1980 and 1995. Some say they can be defined by a collective psychological framework: coddled by parents, used to a comfortable lifestyle, congratulated for simply participating and not really challenged or prepared to deal with adversity on their own.

Focused on their own interests, they have grown up with easy and immediate access to technology that facilitates social networking. Constantly connected to their friends, they are comfortable being part of networks or "teams", but are not necessarily prepared for leadership.

Robert Hurst, the president of CTV News, said in a speech to Canadian news directors (RTNDA) last night that he believes millennials will soon define North American society. By some accounts, millennials number about 80 million and could become more influential than baby boomers.*

In the world of work, they desire an environment that is adjusted to their specific needs and expectations. Meanwhile, baby boomers who run most of today's companies are scrambling for ways to cope. They find this new wave of employees to be very fickle and demanding.

In some places, the collision of different generational values can be heard as loudly as the clash of cymbals.

For more on millennials, see this story at CBS News

* In the global economy, they are a North American and European phenomenon which may be distinctly different than workers in the large work labour markets in emerging and developing countries.

Thanks to Paulo Correa for his graphic entitled "Vector Concert". He made it available at http://www.sxc.hu/.

The dream factory

If you want to have a vision of what life should be like in your retirement years, all you have to do is watch TV. Not the programs...the commercials.

Television commercials offer multiple visions of what life could be like for aging baby boomers: an active and healthy lifestyle, weight loss, carefree travel, gratification and happiness. It's dream fulfillment that can be inspiring, provided you can turn off the voice in your head that keeps saying, "That's not real. That's not the way life is... it's just a commercial, what a con job, etc."

But so what? A fantasy is a fantasy, and the important thing is recognizing it. Where would we be in life without dreams that we turn into plans that sometimes become reality? Watch the television messages targeting people in their 50s and older: cereals that promote good health, medication that offers freedom from pain and discomfort (arthritis medication, for example); a life of endless sexual satisfaction for both partners (Cialis, Viagra); luxury cars; vacation properties, and so on. It's not so much the content of the message that can be so beguiling, but the styling and the settings: sunny days, exotic locations, flowers and colour, great hotels; outdoor living, people on excursions, people riding bicycles, painting, swimming, hiking; smiling, happy beautiful seniors, and so on.

Marshall McLuhan, the communications theorist, speaking about newspapers , said that advertising is always good news. It balances the bad news in the daily stories and editorial sections. The same theory could be applied to television. Commercials give us hope for graceful and happy sunset years.

Of course, reality is often different, but it's nice to live these 30-second dreams. They may even inspire us to work toward that kind of retirement lifestyle, whether or not we buy the products.

Photograph is courtesy of Craig Jewell and the stock.xchng.

Ottawa rain and a storyteller from the past

It's a rainy evening in Ottawa. Umbrellas have appeared on the sidewalks and the historic buildings look stained because the stones are wet.
The figures on the monuments shine in the gathering darkness.

This June evening brings back memories of a short story written by Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s. He called it "Cat in the Rain," and the beginning of it went like this:

"There were only two Americans stopping at the hotel. They did not know any of the people they passed on the stairs on their way to and from their room. Their room was on the second floor facing the sea. It also faced the public garden and the war monument. There were big palms and green branches in the public garden. In the good weather there was always an artist with his easel. Artists liked the way the palms grow and the the bright colors of the hotels facing the gardens and the sea. Italians came a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain. The motorcars were gone from the square by the war monument. Across the square in the doorway of the cafe' a waiter stood looking out at the empty square.

"The American wife stood at the window looking out. Outside right under their window a cat was crouched under one of the dripping green tables. The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on.

" 'I'm going down and get that kitty,' the American wife said."

The story is actually a poignant study of the relationship between the woman and her husband, but the passage about the rain seems somehow appropriate for this night in Ottawa. No sea, of course, but the Gatineau hills and the monuments evoke a certain mood in the rain.

For related posts on E.H., see "Hemingway lives on in Cuba"

Luna Park

Luna Park. The name holds a certain allure for me, right from the first time I heard it as a child in Italy. I have always wondered where the name originated.

Luna Park, you see, is the Italian term for amusement park. I heard of the mythical place long before I ever visited one. And today, on the day that marks the anniversary of the opening of the first roller coaster ride in America, I have the answer.

On this day in 1884, a ride called the switchback railway became a big attraction at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York. Reading about it, I learned that by 1904 three large amusement parks had appeared on Coney Island. They were called Dreamland, Steeplechase and... Luna Park.

This third park was the creation of Frederic Thompson and Elmer Dundy, who had worked together at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. There, they had created a popular illusion ride called "The Trip to the Moon." The one they built on Coney Island was a grand, colourful, fanciful attraction that employed 1,700 people by 1907 and was illuminated by over one million light bulbs.

The Luna Park idea was exported overseas. In 1911, over 20 fun fair experts were hired to build one near Melbourne, Australia, and it is still very much alive today. (The photograph in the top corner is of the entrance to the St. Kilda Luna Park. It comes from Mandy Olszewski, who made it available on the stock.xchng web site.)

During the Depression and the Second World War, people had less disposable income and theme parks fell on hard times. But they recovered in the 1950s, when Disneyland was built in California.

In Italy, Luna Park is a more generic term that applies to many different amusement concepts.

Roller coasters and themed experiences seem to have a bright future, as technology and human creativity come together to create thrills that keep luna parks alive and well in the 21st century.

Summer travel

It's been two weeks now, and I can't get Banff and the Rockies out of my mind. Like many parts of the Continental Divide on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, these landscapes inspire awe and respect for their pristine beauty. We must preserve them for future generations.

Summer is traditionally a time for holidays and travel; but this year, the rising price of gasoline and other travel-related expenses is making holiday planning a real challenge.

The New York Times recently published some great suggestions for summer travel on a budget. Included in their list is the train ride to the Pacific Northwest from Chicago to Seattle. The train crosses the Rockies and passes through Glacier National Park, in Montana.

The Times list also features a number of Canadian destinations, including Montreal, Quebec City, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Manitoba and the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia.

If, on the other hand, your taste for travel pulls you towards Europe, you might enjoy the work of reporter Matt Gross, who is taking a 12-week tour of Europe on a really tight budget (less than 100 Euros a day). The tour is part of the Time's Frugal Traveler series. Gross is posting a weekly video on the site, and this week he shows us his visit to a town I really like: I'm referring to Menton, on the border between France and Italy, on the French Riviera. When our children were little, we stopped there one summer for a short stay and it still brings back warm memories for our entire family, especially my own parents. They have visited more frequently. You can see the video here.

Matt is also writing a blog during his European adventure that you can read here.

An affordable way to stay in touch

For many travellers away from home for extended periods of time, the challenge of staying in touch with friends and family has been eased substantially by the availability of wireless connectivity to the Internet. I'm amazed by how many web applications have been developed since the mid-1990s; things like instant messaging, social networking, and so on.

We were having a snack at a fast food restaurant at the Vancouver airport recently and this woman was having a lengthy conversation with someone through her computer. Free Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services enable users to talk to people anywhere in the world. Add a camera, and it's like being in the same room.
Here's a reminder about the importance of positive thinking, ironically from a man who battled crippling depression for many years:

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

-Abraham Lincoln


For more on Lincoln's legendary ability to express himself with the right words, see the related post "Words to remember."

Banff: a place to learn about Canada's First Nations

In 1902, Norman Luxton, a local newspaper publisher, opened The Sign of the Goat Curio Shop to trade beadwork and furs with the Stoney Nakoda people. The shop became the Indian Trading Post on the south bank of the Bow River. This venture eventually led to the foundation of the Buffalo Nations Museum.

Luxton was a sort of mountain Renaissance man. In addition to running the newspaper, he was an adventurer and entrepreneur. He built a hotel and theatre in the town of Banff and was an avid student of native culture. More about him here.

The Stoney Nakoda have lived in this area for hundreds of years. According to their website, they are a First Nation of about 5,000 people. They are also known as the Rocky Mountain Sioux and are linked to the Plains Assiniboine. (More)

I was curious about the origin of the name of the Bow River, and found the answer on a plaque near the water:
"The native name for this river means 'the place from which bows are taken.' Douglas fir saplings along the riverbanks were highly valued for making hunting bows."

The river must have been the lifeblood of many people. Its banks are abundant in wildlife and many varieties of plants. From the Rocky Mountains, the Bow flows eastward through the city of Calgary. It then joins other rivers to form the South Saskatchewan River, which empties into Lake Winnipeg. Its waters then flow into Hudson Bay, thousands of kilometres away from the peaks of the Rockies.

The scenery is so beautiful here that it inspires spirituality. You can sense it in the words of the Stoney Nation. This is how they describe their 1877 agreement with the government:

Treaty No 7 is understood by the Stoney Nakoda First Nation as a sacred, living agreement that was intended to create a relationship of trust, mutual respect, and cooperation between our people and the Crown. This sacred agreement, in its oral and written forms, encompasses the presence of the Creator. It grows and changes over time to ensure the original vision of sharing and cooperation is maintained, for “as long as the river flows, the sun shines and the grass grows”.

Banff in the spring

This is a view of Cascade Mountain, in Alberta. It's located in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It stands almost 3,000 metres above sea level (2,998 to be precise) and dominates the view looking north from the town of Banff.

When I drew this about a week ago, I was sitting on a bench on the south side of the Bow River. A walking trail on this bank of the river leads to some rapids about 500 metres further downstream, off to the right.

Cascade Mountain is named after its prominent waterfall in the cliffs on the south face. In winter, the water freezes and attracts avid icewall climbers.

This is also grizzly bear country. While I was there, park rangers were keeping an eye on a bear that had been seen in the area. The region is rich with wildlife, and rangers thought the grizzly was looking for its next meal by following a herd of elk.

Jim McKay leaves an indelible mark

Jim McKay, the American sportscaster and host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, is gone. I join the many thousands of viewers who will miss him.

He was the voice of American network sports coverage in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Along with ABC executive producer Roone Arledge, he made sports more than sports; sports became a metaphor, a stage where the public really got to know the athletes, to see them as multidimensional people doing extraordinary things. He and Arledge pioneered the art of the “up close and personal” approach to sports reporting. Over the decades, the style of these features became copied by most networks and the segments became over-produced and kitschy. But before that, in McKay’s early years, they were truly special television moments. Informative and entertaining, they gave sports a perspective that took athletes out of the statistics pages and made them people you really cared about.

He was famous for his narration of the opening montage of the Wide World of Sports program, accompanied by dramatic video. Many Americans and Canadians know the words: “…The thrill of victory… (pause)…and the agony of defeat.”

McKay, of course, earned the most accolades for his reporting and anchoring work during the “Black September” crisis at the 1972 Munich Olympics; the tragic kidnapping and killing of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists. But I will always remember him as a kind-hearted, understated and sensible host, who excelled at conveying the mood and emotion of the moment. Columnist Jeremy Schaap, on ESPN’s web site, remembers him as a “reporter with the soul of a poet.” The Chicago Tribune says, “With an understated grace and eloquence, McKay brought the world of sports, ‘The Wide World of Sports’ to be precise, to viewers who had been primarily weaned on baseball and football. He was the first to tell the personal story of athletes, piquing our interest in the cliff diver in Mexico or the race car driver from England.” The New York Times writes, “Mr. McKay was a hype-averse optimist and poetic storyteller.”

My fondest memories are of McKay’s coverage of the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Those two weeks of broadcasts were for me, a 16-year-old aspiring journalist, really magical. I hope to carry on my business with his same sense of decency and good-hearted dignity.

McKay was 86 and died of natural causes.

The New York Times story offers a lot of interesting details about McKay’s experiences. You can read it here.

On the Greyhound

I made this sketch while riding the bus in Alberta a few days ago. It was too bumpy to get much detail, but I liked the pose of the woman in front of me.

A comfortable way to travel

When explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made their way across the Rocky Mountains on their gruelling expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific (1804-1806), they certainly didn't travel like this.

How times have changed.

This is a view of the business class pods that airlines are fitting on planes flying long distance routes. They're good for sleeping and for working in privacy; but not so good for conversation.

On this particular Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Toronto, all 24 business class seats were occupied.

Our quest for ever-increasing comforts on journeys of mere hours, protected from the elements, probably would have Lewis and Clark rolling in the aisles in laughter.

But the world turns and things never stop changing.

Moving around downtown Calgary is easy in the free public transit zone

One of the interesting things about Calgary is the city's Light Rapid Transit (LRT) system for public transportation. Built for the 1998 Olympics, the electric trains move people quickly in and out of the downtown core on three separate lines. The lines converge on 7th Avenue, where the major offices and shopping are located. It's really quite nice because in this stretch commuters can get on and off the train without paying. It's a free fare zone and it's a wonderful thing.

Calgary fulfilled a promise made by former premier Ralph Klein and joined a number of other cities around the world offering partial or free transit. It's a popular way to reduce vehicular traffic in downtown.

(You can see more about the Calgary Transit system in this information page.)

I believe subsidized public transit, made available for free to the public, offers many advantages for cities. Some time ago, I wrote a position in support of this idea as part of an on-line debate at Helium.com. The article is here. The debate is still active, so you'll see some of the arguments on both sides of the issue. My pseudonym is Pathseeker.

Related post: "Public transportation in Paris."

Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/