December 2016


Fright or flight?

The author takes the right seat - just don't touch anything! Photo by Raven

The strangeness of fear (or lack thereof)

December 11, 2016, OTTAWA — Fear — pure, irrational fear — is the damnedest thing.

I'm talking about the fears that don't make sense, or at least, that don't make sense when taken out of context. Fear of spiders that aren't poisonous, of rodents nott dangerous, of heights well-barricaded.

This last — heights — is my especial irrational bugaboo. Standing on a chair to reach a high shelf makes me uneasy. Getting onto the counter to change a light-bulb makes me nervous verging on frightened.

Hell, one of my earliest childhood memories comes from a terror near paralysis I experienced when I had to ride a down escalator at the old Eaton's in Montreal. In fact, it's only in the past five — maybe 10 — years, that I've learned to travel the moving staircases in more or less complete serenity.

But put me in an elevator or on an aeroplane, no matter that the latter, especially, is objectively much more dangerous than riding an escalator, and I feel no fear whatsoever.

At least, that's always been my experience on commercial airplanes. But I've wondered, ever since I first flew as a passenger in a Dash-8, how I would react were I to ride in the cockpit of a small aircraft, without the illusion of safety even a small passenger liner provides.

Would my fear of heights reassert itself in such a flimsy platform?

Last month, I finally found out whether I have any fear of flying.

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October 2016

Hysteria in the face of Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring

(Notes on the dangers of reviewing adaptions of one's favourite books)

October 23, 2016, OTTAWA — The wonderful people behind the Internet Archive Wayback Machine have come to my rescue once again. This time, with perhaps less credit to my critical analysis of old, than when I recovered my powerful response to the "events of September 11 (2001)".

In truth, I'm a little embarrassed by what I found when I re-read my review of Peter Jackson's first Lord of the Rings film. It's a well-written piece, yes (if I do say so myself), but with an hysterical edge of panic that I think the past 15 years have shown to be more than a little misplaced.

It's safe to say that J.R.R. Tolkien's classic will continue to be read, and quite possibly long after Jackson's epic trilogy is no longer watched.

In any case, my original review, for good or for ill, is back online here. Do you think I went overboard?

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September 2016

Notes on the uneasy satisfaction of prescience

Plumes of smoke billow from the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan, New York City, after a Boeing 767 hits each tower during the September 11 attacks. Photo by Flickr user Michael Foran, via Wikipedia.

September 11, 2016, OTTAWA — This afternoon, I drove my sweetie to the airport. She's off to Europe for a couple of weeks, scratching her nomad's need to move. As we drove in, she noticed the Canadian flag flying above The MacDonald-Cartier International Airport's welcome sign was at half-mast. "Look at that!" she said, "I wonder who died."

It took me a moment, then I realized. "It's 9/11!"

And of course, that's who died, the special victims, our victims, to be mourned forever, because 15 years on, we are a nation at war. Sort of.

And I remembered that I had written what I thought was a pretty powerful piece of analysis not so long after the fact, and went looking for it when I returned home. Only to realize that, somehow, it was a piece of work no longer attached to my website. Somehow, gone, lord only knows when or how.

Thank god for Archive.org! There were my words (not to mention an even more primitive design than the one "gracing" my site now), preserved for posterity, and for me. Remind me to send them a donation.

In any event, what follows is (but for a half-dozen typos I could not resist correcting) exactly what I posted on October 8, 2001.

It is, if I do say so myself, almost frightening in its prescience. To quote H.G. Wells, writing (if memory serves) on the eve of the Second World War, "I told you so, you damned fools." Click here for my full, depressingly accurate look ahead from October 8, 2011.

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January 2016

The Pedestrians' diaries, parts 10 and 11

Days 9 and 10: Sugar beaches and the General's gun

Image: Photo of cars parked outside a hamburger stand in Varadero.

January 22, 2016, OTTAWA — Excuses: the day job, other writing, selecting photos, an internet outage, real life ...

All true, all inadequate. But here we are at last, come to the end of our Cuban adventures.

Click here for Day 9: Varadero Sands, our last full day in Cuba.

And here for Day 10: Adios to Cuba, in which I encounter a General and his gun.

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The Pedestrians' diaries, part 9

Day 8: Last night in Havana

Image: Photo of the liquor shelf at the 'grocery store' across from our casa particular in Varadero.

January 13, 2016, OTTAWA — Our last morning in Havana was our first evening in Varadero.

We learned that Cuba pumps oil on the sea shore, that good food isn't restricted to Santa Clara and Havana, and that we both looked forward to, and dreaded, the impending end of our journey.

Click here for Day 8: A hovel in the lap of luxury.

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The Pedestrians' diaries, part 8

Day 7: Last night in Havana

Image: Photo of Young Geoffrey with painting of Fidel Castro in Old Havana.

December 20, 2015, OTTAWA — Our third full day in Havana was also our last; in the morning, we ship out to the beaches of Varadero.

But today? Today we returned to Habana vieja, riding instead of walking, visiting old forts, old streets and old cars.

Click here for Day 7: Cocotaxi, Habana Vieja & a '56 Ford Fairlane, and don't forget to play the video!

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The Pedestrians' diaries, part 7

Day 6: Havana by day, Havana by night

Image: Photo of yellow car, stripped or under repair near Calle Neptuno, Havana.

January 10, 2016, OTTAWA — My Cuban diary continues, with our second full day in Havana.

As with the first, we walked, and we walked and we walked. No soldiers this time, but a shuttered Capitolio, the Old City, really scary street-food and Chinatown (yes, Chinatown!).

Click here for Day 6: Stormy weather on the Malecón.

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The Pedestrians' diaries, part 6

Day 5: Soldiers on duty!

Image: Photo of El monumento Jose Miguel Gomez from the south, in Havana, Cuba.

January 7, 2016, OTTAWA — My Cuban diary continues, with a report from our first full day in Havana.

Walking, walking, walking, we encountered smog and soldiers and monuments galore. And also, found ourselves back that the Viazul station, almost by accident.

Click here for Day 5: Schlepping in Havana.

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The Pedestrians' diaries, part 5

Day 4: Adios! Santa Clara (Havana ho!)

Image: Photo of rear of statue of Che Guevara atop his Mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba.

January 6, 2016, OTTAWA — Life and work have got in the way of things. But here at last is the fifth entry (for the fourth day) of my Cuba diary.

The travellers come to Havana at last (and buy a pair of shorts)!

Click here for Day 4: Shopping in Havana.

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The Pedestrians' diaries, part 4

Day 3: Che sera, sera

The Note that wasn't

Image: Photo of Parc Vidal in Santa Clara, Cuba

January 1, 2016, OTTAWA — My diary for Day 3 is a bit of a cheat. I over-wrote the original and was forced to reconstruct it from memory and visual aids (ie, photos).

But I remember the day pretty well. We had our first introductions to the realities of Cuban bureaucracies and the limitations on freedom that Cubans have to deal with. We also spent time at the Che Guevara mausoleum and rode home in a horse-drawn taxi — no calèche, but a humble cart.

Click here for Day 3: Che sera, sera.

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December 2015

The Pedestrians' diaries, part 3

Day 2: The chickens cats streets of Santa Clara

December 30, 2015, OTTAWA — Our first full day in Cuba was a day of walking, walking and walking. Policemen at their ease, chicken invasions, Che's cat and many other wonders did we find (not to mention a single horror: the Worst Spaghetti In the World).

Santa Clara turns out to be a lot like what we have heard Cuba is like - and very, very different.

Click here for Day 2: The cat chickens streets of Santa Clara.

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A Canadian abroad: Memories of Cuba, Part 2

Day 1: Airplanes, a Lada and food (glorious food!)

December 29, 2015, OTTAWA — Our introduction to Cuba included an ancient Russian automobile, the mysterious Cuban language of the highways, a lizard and an absolutely fantastic meal, belying everything we'd heard from those who had been to the island before us. A jet plane, a Lada and food! Glorious food!

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A Canadian abroad: Memories of Cuba, Part 1

Security theatre of the absurd

December 27, 2015, OTTAWA — Before I get to Cuba, a few notes about the insanity that mascarades as Security at our airports. And believe me, it wasn't the Cubans who were ridiculous!

Security theatre of the absurd.

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Cuba: Notes from behind the Coffee Curtain

A Canadian abroad: Memories of Cuba, Part 0

December 27, 2015, OTTAWA — I imagine the word Cuba brings to mind all manner of things. To the historically-minded, it could be the Bay of Pigs, or the Cuban Missile Crisis. To the romantic, bearded Che and Fidel emerging from the jungles to over-throw the gangster dictator Batista. To automobile-aficionados, it is vast fleets of ancient Detroit steel and chrome still rolling. Even agronomists and ecologists have an interest, since Cuba is the first country to successfully transition from a "modern" industrial agricultural system to a more-or-less organic system.


A cop in Santa Clara talks with a woman. His relaxed body-language was pretty typical of those we saw in uniform during our visit.

Geopolitics was what first came to mind when I thought of that Caribbean island, but now that I have actually visited, the reality of people and places has pushed the abstract to the back of the bus. And what a reality!

Nine days don't make me an expert, but I think the experience was worth writing about — and worth reading. Click here for A Pedestrian's Diaries.

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