I’m still mulling over my visit to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – I’ll write Part II of that post once I figure out what I think.
In the meantime…here’s something fun for you to do on May 1st if you happen to be in Ottawa.
Gil’s Hootenanny, an evening of “Songs of Protest, Songs of Hope”: Wednesday May 1st, 7:30 p.m. at the Glebe Community Centre, 175 Third Avenue
This is an annual event in honour of Ottawa activist Gil Levine, who loved folk music sing-alongs.
This year’s Hootenanny features Kristine St-Pierre, Mighty Popo, Three Little Birds, the Shout Sister choir, Maria Dunn, and Terry Tufts. It’s hosted by the Spirit of Rasputin’s Arts Society and is sponsored by CUPE and PSAC National Capital Region.
So…I went to Vancouver for a whirlwind business trip. I arrived Wednesday afternoon and left Friday morning. I was working most of the time, but I did have two more-or-less free evenings, so I did what I could to cram Vancouver in.
I hadn’t been there in 30-odd years, and Vancouver and I have both changed a lot. Back then, I used to hitchhike and my idea of luxury was to check into a youth hostel for the night. This time I was on a business trip, staying in a fancy-pants hotel and experiencing a very different side of a very different Vancouver.
Skyscrapers on West Hastings
It’s a pretty amazing city. It’s a visual feast, with its mountains and ocean and skyscraper architecture. I’m not generally a fan of skyscrapers, but they have some really impressive ones. I was in awe as I walked around downtown, just taking it all in.
My hotel was just a mile and a half from the Downtown East Side, which is where North America’s only safe injection site (Insite) is. The Downtown East Side is referred to as “Canada’s poorest postal code.” I’ve seen documentaries and youtube videos and I attended the Supreme Court hearing on Insite’s right to exist. I thought I knew what to expect. But nothing could have prepared me for the reality of actually being there.
I walked from my hotel down West Hastings to East Hastings, which is where Insite is. West Hastings is all high-end stores, and then it turns into East Hastings and BAM! Suddenly you’re there! Everything changes! Instead of upscale jewelry stores and people in suits, there’s shelters and food banks and the Pigeon Park Savings and Insite, and you’re in the thick of this bizarre sidewalk sale, surrounded by addicts and homeless vendors selling weird stuff, like half a guitar and four little bags of grapes and a box of cereal and a single high heeled shoe. Almost everybody’s got a grocery cart, and lots of people have their wares spread out on the sidewalk. Everybody looks so old, but they’re not. They rarely live long enough to get old…they just look old because they’re addicted, decrepit and toothless, and their faces are sunken and many of them have visible disabilities.
The first evening I was so shocked by the spectacle of it all that I literally fell down just half a block from Insite. I was looking around at everything and everybody except the curb I tripped over, and I slammed hard into the sidewalk. I was bleeding from my knuckle, one elbow and both knees, but I didn’t realize it until later. Several people put me back on my feet and I kept going.
I didn’t take pictures. I thought it would seem rude, like I thought they were freaks or something. And honestly? I was afraid someone would grab my phone if I took it out of my pocket. I didn’t feel safe at all. For the record, nobody accosted me, nobody talked to me, nobody asked me for anything or behaved in a threatening way towards me. But there’s something that feels threatening about seeing so many people (and there were SO MANY PEOPLE) who are so poor and sick and with so little left to lose.
The first evening I just kept wondering “How do they do it? How do they live like that? How can they stand it?”
I kept getting stuck on one thought – that they must, in some fundamental way, be different from “us.” They must be wired wrong or something. They must be inherently deficient to allow themselves to sink to the very bottom and stay there.
I didn’t like these thoughts. I didn’t like what they told me about myself. I was having a tough time reconciling what I was seeing with what I think I believe about poverty and addictions and stigma and desperation and social justice and EVERYTHING.
I went back the next evening. Stay tuned for Part II.
We have a bird perch in the shower – Simon showers with me, Kazoo showers with GC, and Oboe is versatile. Anyway, yesterday, after Simon and I finished our shower, we saw that Duncan was crouched in the doorway looking profoundly disturbed.
A few weeks ago, a hinge for one of the mirrored panels on the medicine cabinet broke. GC fixed it a couple of days ago and leaned it against a bathroom wall where it was drying before being re-installed. I guess Duncan had never seen himself in a mirror before, so he didn’t recognize himself. All he knew was that some huge, magnificent stranger was in his bathroom, staring at him with a look of sheer horror on his face.
I tried to distract him, but he was focused too intensely for that. I got dressed, took Simon downstairs and came back with GC. Neither Duncan nor the stranger had backed down.
Poor Duncan. We got him away from the mirror, but he still looked very, very worried and unhappy. GC turned the mirror around so that it faced the wall, and we showed Duncan that the other cat was gone. Then GC took him downstairs and gave him some chicken and extra affection. Duncan’s a very mellow cat, but sometimes when he feels anxious he pees on our stuff. It has only happened three times in five years, but that’s more than enough to motivate us to try to minimize any anxiety he might be feeling.
So weird that he has no idea what he looks like. Maybe he doesn’t even know he’s a cat.
In other news, I’m flying to Vancouver for a meeting on Wednesday. I’ll be back on Friday. I haven’t been to Vancouver since I was about 20. It usually took me five days to hitchhike from Ottawa to Vancouver, maybe a little less if I caught a ride with a trucker, or if I was hitchhiking with another woman. Once I took the train, which seemed like the lap of luxury compared to hitchhiking. This will be my first time flying out there!
In other other news, we’ve picked a wedding date: July 13, 2013. And we’ve picked an officiant. There are all these people out there who are licensed to perform weddings, but how are you supposed to pick one?? Well, I say you pick the one with the best name. Our wedding will be officiated by Floralove Katz.
We went to a great little event the other night at Patrick Gordon Framing. It was called Curated Castoffs: Art & Decor Edition. It was kind of like a collaborative garage sale where everything’s free.
It works like this: At 7:00 pm everybody shows up with five art + decor items for swapping: prints, paintings, mirrors, frames, wall hangings, fabric, ceramics, pillows, lamps, taxidermy heads, etc. No junk. You pay a cover charge of $8, turn over your items, and spend the next hour or so drinking wine, enjoying the tunes, socializing and checking out what everybody else brought. Then at the appointed time, there’s a big friendly free-for-all, and everybody gets to take whatever they like, provided they grab it before anyone else does.
Our five cast-offs included a dry-mounted 1998 Bluesfest poster, an abstract oil painting in yellows that I bought at Southworks, a mixed-media canvas by Gwendolyn Best that I bought at Everybody’s Art Show, a stained glass piece that hangs in a window somehow but I could never figure out how, and a painting of a sunflower. These were all pieces that I liked over the years, but I’ve since run out of wall space and it was time to let them go.
I spotted a Dan Martelock piece that I really, really, really wanted, as did several other people. It was in the middle of a table where I couldn’t reach it easily, so the long-armed GC stationed himself right next to it and pounced on it as soon as the free-for-all started.
Meanwhile, the woman next to us pounced on the mixed media piece that I’d brought, and seemed surprised that we hadn’t wrestled her for it. “I thought you guys wanted it too,” she said, “Since you were standing beside it for the last 15 minutes.” We explained that we had been staking out the Martelock piece next to it. She loved the mixed media piece, and it gave me great pleasure to see it go to a new home where it would be appreciated.
We also picked up a framed giraffe batik for my giraffe-collecting son, and a puppet for my puppet-collecting boyfriend.
Anything that was left over was donated to Highjinx, which is a trippy little second-hand shop in Chinatown that uses its profits to help homeless people get off the street. So it was a win-win-win situation all round.
I love the Curated Cast-offs concept and it seemed to work well too. People were civilized and there was no blood shed, although if anybody had challenged a certain young woman for the taxidermy deer head, there might have been.
Taxidermy is one of those things that is kind of awful and cool at the same time. I can’t decide whether it’s more awful or more cool.
About 10 years ago I was a guest at a party on Georgian Bay. A second party splintered off from the main party when a handful of us got in a boat and zoomed off to someone else’s “cottage” for a couple of hours. This splinter party was held by a nouveau riche couple who had tons of money and extraordinarily bad taste. They were loud and crass and they took tackiness to bold new heights. The decorating theme for their house was Dead Animals. They had heads mounted everywhere: moose, zebras, antelope, all kinds of animals. They had a real bearskin rug in front of the fireplace, and they bragged about how often they had sex on it. It was an awesomely awful party.
Anyway, ever since then I can’t see a taxidermy head without thinking of them. But I think the girl who got the deer head the other night will be able to pull it off better than they did.
Ever have one of those days when all the good stuff is happening at the same time but you can’t be everywhere at once? Last night was like that for me. I had to decide between going to my writing class, going to Irene’s Pub for the Chopper McKinnon tribute, or going to Parliament Hill to watch politicians vote on whether to extend human rights to transgender people.
I decided on Parliament Hill, and GC came with me. We’ve been to Parliament Hill many times, but this was our first time in the public galleries, watching democracy unfold. We sat in the gallery with mostly transgender people who were very friendly and helpful, and who took the time to explain things to us.
The voting was a bit confusing. Bill C-279 is a private member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Randall Garrison. For private member’s bills, voting proceeds in rows from the back forward. There’s a guy who calls each member’s name and a woman repeats the name and then that member sits down. At first GC and I thought they were taking attendance, but they were actually voting on an amendment to the Bill. It proceeded fairly quickly, but there were 16 votes and two hundred and some odd members, so the whole process took awhile.
Anyway, the bottom line is that Bill C-279 passed, with unanimous support from the NDP and the Green Party, and some much-needed help from a handful of trans allies in the Liberal and Conservative parties. Next it goes to the Senate – if it passes there, transgender people will be recognized in the Bill of Rights. The trans people in the gallery were very happy, and at least one of them was overcome by emotion and burst into tears in the hallway afterward. I felt good that I had chosen to be there instead of in writing class or in Irene’s Pub. After the voting, there was a party with snacks and cake and lots of happy politicians and transgender people.
Another highlight of the evening was that I got to see Kady O’Malley (@kady) live tweeting! I follow her on Twitter, just like everybody else, but I’ve never actually seen her in action. Do you know how many tweets she has? 130,575 and counting. She’s a tweeting machine.
I think it’s high time we had a contest around here!
Simon (the African Grey parrot) has spent several hours a day over the past few weeks practicing a song. I’ve recorded one of his practice sessions (see the black video below). The first person to correctly guess the song will win the prize. It might not be easy, since Simon hasn’t quite mastered the song yet. Even though it’s a work in progress, I think there’s enough here that somebody should be able to figure it out.
(There’s literally nothing to see in this video because Simon is camera-shy, so the camera was face-down on the couch throughout the making of this video. Make sure you have your speakers on, or you’ll have nothing to see or hear.)
GC and I went to the Nordik Spa up in Chelsea. It’s about a 20-minute drive from downtown Ottawa. Neither of us had ever been there before, or to any spa for that matter.
We went for The Baths, which are a set of indoor saunas and outdoor pools of varying temperatures. The recommended technique is you do a hot treatment, like a sauna, for about 15 minutes, followed by a cold treatment, like a plunge in an icy outdoor pool for 10 seconds, followed by 15 minutes in a relaxation area. The relaxation areas include comfy chairs by a water fountain, little pavilions with reclining chairs around a fireplace, heated stone beds and hammocks. Rinse and repeat as often as you like – hot, cold, relaxation. We stayed about four hours.
It was mostly couples and small groups of women. We were told upon arriving at 2:30 on Friday afternoon that we might have to wait up to an hour and a half to get in. We almost left, but we decided to stay. We sat on a couch and made lists until our turn came (sooner than expected – we only had to wait 45 minutes).
My favourite thing was the outdoor hot pools. There were three of them, I think. One even had a hot waterfall. My least favourite thing was the ice-cold waterfall. Most people avoided it, but I double-dared GC to do it, so I had to do it too. GC liked everything. There was lots of variety, so we didn’t get bored of the routine – there were wet and dry saunas, aromatherapy saunas, saunas in barrels, hot pools, cool pools, still water and running water. The relaxations areas were lovely and warm which was especially welcome after the cold treatments. We grew progressively more relaxed as the day went on.
We didn’t do any of the body treatments or the underground salt pools because they were extra busy and they cost extra money. Speaking of cost: it’s $54 per person on a Friday or weekend, or $48 during the week, and $30 extra if you want to use the underground salt-water floating pool.
We figure it must have cost many millions to build the place, but judging from yesterday’s crowds, it’s probably a very lucrative enterprise. In addition to The Baths and the body treatments, they also have a boutique and two restaurants, and they rent white terrycloth bathrobes for $11. (Or you can bring your own, which we did. It was funny seeing people walking around in their frumpy old housecoats from home.)
Anyway, it was lovely and we’ll do it again. Yesterday was a gorgeous spring day, maybe about 4 degrees Celsius, with lots of snow still on the ground. (These photos are from their website, not from our visit, by the way.) We’re curious to know what it would be like in the summer, when it’s hot outside. Somehow I think it would be better in cold weather than in warm. Have any of you been there in the summer?
I have what I know will be a very unpopular opinion about a highly volatile subject. I should probably keep it to myself, but I feel compelled to share it.
It’s about Tom Flanagan’s remarks about child pornography. The remarks for which he was roundly lambasted, fired as a CBC commentator, denounced by the Prime Minister’s Office, and cut loose by Alberta’s right-wing Wildrose Party. Based on the response I’ve seen so far, it seems the left, the right, the center and the apolitical have finally found something they can all agree on. The subject can’t even be described as controversial, since everybody seems to agree.
Except me. I see some merit in what he said. I don’t think he said it particularly well, and if he’d thought about it I’m sure he would have said it better (or, more likely, not at all), but I think I know what he was getting at even if he didn’t articulate it very well.
Here’s what he said.
“A lot of people on my side of the spectrum, the conservative side of the spectrum, have been on kind of a jihad against pornography and child pornography in particular. I certainly have no sympathy for child molesters, but I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures,” said Flanagan. “It’s a real issue of personal liberty and to what extent we put people in jail for doing something in which they do not harm another person.”
Now, to be clear, I emphatically disagree with him that consuming child pornography doesn’t harm another person. Real children are harmed in the making of the vast majority of child pornography. Further, to call child pornography “taste in pictures” is to trivialize the very real harm done to those very real children.
But what about child pornography that is made without harming children, like animé, or drawing? What if someone is sexually attracted to children but does not act on it, and creates their own pornography using their own talents and their own imagination? Why is that illegal?
I don’t think any of us have a whole lot of control over who or what we’re sexually attracted to, but we do have control over what we do about it. It’s not the sexual attraction to children per se that is illegal. I absolutely believe incarceration is called for if someone lays a hand on a child sexually. If, on the other hand, someone is unfortunate enough to be sexually attracted to children, but refrains from acting on it, I say good for him. I respect him for that. And if he creates sexual outlets for himself using his own imagination and art supplies, I’m not convinced that should be illegal.
I believe there are a lot of people who would be quite willing to criminalize fantasies were it possible to do so. They would be quite willing to incarcerate people who are attracted to children, even if they never act on it.
I think that’s what Tom Flanagan meant – that people shouldn’t be jailed for who they’re attracted to or for what they think or feel, only for what they do.
Here’s his apology:
“I absolutely condemn the sexual abuse of children, including the use of children to produce pornography.These are crimes and should be punished under the law. Last night, in an academic setting, I raised a theoretical question about how far criminalization should extend toward the consumption of pornography. My words were badly chosen, and in the resulting uproar I was not able to express my abhorrence of child pornography and the sexual abuse of children. I apologize unreservedly to all who were offended by my statement, and most especially to victims of sexual abuse and their families.”
Posted by zoom! on February 27, 2013, at 7:54 am |
This is what my day looks like so far:
9:00-12:00 – all-staff meeting at work to do a SWOT analysis of the organization (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)
2:00-3:30 – Conference Call
3:30 – meeting with funder
5:30-6:30 – House of Commons to watch Bill C-279 being debated. That’s the private member’s bill to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code with respect to gender identity and gender expression. (Or, as some notable Conservatives so crassly refer to it, the Bathroom Bill. They claim it will permit perverts to use the ladies’ room, where they will ambush women, when in fact it’s about the rights of transgender people to be who they are without being legally discriminated against.)
7:00-9:00 – creative writing class
In between those scheduled things, I have other things I must do, and I also need to get to the places I need to be, which means walking and busing through the snowstorm.
Some people thrive on this kind of schedule, but I’m not one of them. I’m going to be ready for a weekend by 9:00 tonight.
Anyway, I leave you with this little gem from Mudmama: Fum and Gebra.