I usually take a few pictures of whatever looks pseudo-alive on our visit to the cottage at March Break. This year I went in the opposite direction, searching out macro snapshots of manufactured items. See if you can identify the following:
reflectors, fence measurements, road safety sign, fence label, pattern on telephone box, wire coil, fence hinge, community mailboxes.
Elizabeth Kolbert’s book was a welcome Christmas gift from Mr. Mahoney. He knows I like science and the environment and good writing. I promptly read it in a few days after Christmas was over when I was recovering from eating so much.
Reading Kolbert’s book on mass extinctions of species, one must wonder whether the earth will ever recover from humans’ folly. Or rather, will species, who, through no fault of their own, find themselves out of luck, out of habitat, out of oxygen, out of adaptation techniques, whatever.
Ask the bats of North America, frogs and toads throughout the world, long lost mastadons, or coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Kolbert chooses an interesting array of animals and plants to survey in her quest to verify if we really are in the midst of another in a series of mass extinctions that have occurred throughout earth’s history. Accordingly, as a science journalist, not a scientist, she must seek out the advice and guidance of many leading scientists, including a lot of geologists.
I particularly appreciated the geologic angle given my interest in Charles Darwin. Darwin, the father of evolution by means of natural selection, was influenced by the work of Charles Lyell. Lyell was an early geologist that proposed that earth changes slowly over time. Kolbert brings him into the extinction argument as he was one of the first people to propose a theory of how extinctions actually work. She spends a lot of well worth it time tracing the history of the theory of extinction. One wouldn’t think that was interesting but it was.
I feel guilty about saying that I enjoyed this book immensely. A resident of this current world should not be happy about a book that makes it clear how much we have changed it, for the worse. While Kolbert doesn’t focus in on climate change specifically, she does give a lot of attention to ocean acidification, a topic not too many of us know about, and one that is a sort of correlation to climate change. I was never particularly interested. Now I’ll definitely want to watch David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef, recently on CBC.
It’s not a book that offers solutions. For that, readers might want to follow up with something like Mike Berners-Lee’s How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything. For a vegan such as myself, the book that really got me on the road to thinking about how the environment affects my daily life through food is Michael Pollan’s 2006 masterwork, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I’m not critical of Kolbert for not suggesting how to solve our problem. What she is doing is changing attitudes, something that is absolutely necessary before behaviour can be changed. Near the end of the book she tells the sad stories of a certain raven and a very particular rhino. You really have to read the book to appreciate how poignant they are.
Like Mary Roach, author of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, an investigation into the human digestive system (previously reviewed on this blog), Elizabeth Kolbert knows how to use her talents as a writer along with her skill as a researcher to bring a subject alive (no pun intended in this case).
The Sixth Extinction: highly recommended.
Here are some pics from our last day, sadly. Great class:)
OISE – Jan. 19, 2016
Thanks for attending. Please feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have any questions.
Here are the two parts of my presentation:
Speculation abounds on whether Tut’s tomb was just a rush-job and was really a part of a larger tomb, maybe Nefertiti’s.
Scientists on the Verge of Finding Queen Nefertiti’s Secret Tomb, Daily Mail Online, Nov. 7, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3308292/Scientists-two-hidden-chambers-King-Tutankhamun-s-tomb-testing-temperature-tomb-s-walls.html (Dec. 7, 2015)
I attended and fully enjoyed many Pan Am and Parapan events this summer. The summer started out with a huge event on the Bloor Viaduct, one block from our house – the torch relay passed through and there was a concert and the reveal of the Luminous Veil (lighting of the suicide barrier). It was so cool to be on the closed bridge with so many other people. On opening day we went over to City Hall to watch the opening ceremonies. For actual sports I was lucky enough to go to beach volleyball, indoor volleyball, sitting volleyball (gold medal men’s game), women’s wheelchair basketball, dressage, and show jumping. It seems so long ago now but it was an amazing summer.
I really haven’t blogged for a long time. So here’s a quick list of things I have explored and liked.
JMW Turner: Painting Set Free
- exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
An interesting exhibit that explores Turner’s later, more creative and diverse years as a painter. Highlights beautiful scenes from Venice (a place I would like to go) and his incredible work with light that inspired the Impressionist painters (who I love).
- photography exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
A very interesting view of how photography and the media have both recorded and shaped people’s view on nuclear power and nuclear war since the dawn of the atomic age. One photo in particular stood out for me; a 1950s image of a navy admiral and his wife cutting a cake in the shape of a mushroom cloud. Were they really so superficial and short sighted?
East Side Players – Wonder of the World
We went to see this hysterical play by David Lindsay Abaire at the historic Papermill Theatre at Todmorden Mills, just down the hill on Pottery Road. Best part: assistant stage manager Felicity Cormier – Val’s sister.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
How refreshing – a cabinet that looks like Canada, a ministry named ‘science’, government members with brains that are allowed to speak to the media! That are allowed to speak, period. Change is amazing.
Patrick is back – yay. However, the guy makes me nervous because I never know when this quad-committing wonder will double a jump. I’ve seen him skate a few times in Stars on Ice. He’s no Kurt Browning yet. Kurt happens to be my all-time favourite skater! I was happy to hear he won Skate Canada. I do truly wish him luck. I’m excited about Canadian ice dancers as always. And so far I like David Pelletier as commentator on CBC.
My favourite CBC show. My favourite show, period. I am very sad to see Dr. Grace leave. I guess it’s too much to have two women coroners in the early 1900s. While I’m very happy that Murdoch and Dr. Ogden are happily married, I hope her career won’t take a back seat.
Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano
- exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum
A really thorough look at life in the early Roman Empire. I saw it once on teacher appreciation day at the ROM and I liked it so much that I took my grade 11 world history class. Unfortunately the guide talked too much and the kids didn’t get to see enough of the exhibit. Though she was very informative, she didn’t allow them to discover anything for themselves. One of my favourite items was the carbonized bread. Rome was all bread and circuses.
Pan Am and ParaPan Games, Toronto, summer 2015
I was lucky enough to be a spectator at beach volleyball (men and women), indoor volleyball (men and women), show jumping, dressage, wheelchair basketball, and sitting volleyball (gold medal match). I had an amazing time almost all summer long. When I get my act together I will post some of my own photos. Val tells me he has purchased some Pan Am items from the auction. That worries me.
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem
I often peruse cookbooks, stopping to admire the photos and check out potentially vegan recipes. Rarely do I read a cookbook from cover to cover. In preparation for this year’s Thanksgiving lunch at our cottage, I read this entire book. I ended up making green bean, eggplant and rice dishes from it. I don’t know how everyone else felt but I loved the green bean salad with capers and intriguing spices and the rice with wild rice and chickpeas. The eggplant took way too much of my time for little reward. The cultural similarities between Israelis and Palestinians is fascinating.
A Chef’s Life
I’m not addicted to Netflix. I may be addicted to the PBS channel on our Roku. It allows me to watch A Chef’s Life, a PBS show following the life and work of North Carolina chef Vivian Howard. So far in two seasons there has only been one dish I could actually eat. But I keep watching because Vivian Howard and her husband Ben Knight are very real. I looked into how long it would take to drive to Kinston, North Carolina from Washington, D.C., but it’s too long for a side trip on a potential March Break trip.
In my latest attempt to lose weight I have been trying to reduce my sugar intake. I found this chart quite interesting. We’ll see if it helps me.
I found another PBS show (actually, another Masterpiece show) to fill in the void when Downton Abbey is not available. All I will say is that scenery is beautiful. But I am awaiting the final season of Downton. Please let Anna and Mr. Bates find some happiness!
Cool Gray City of Love by Gary Kamiya
I don’t tend to read happy or uplifting books. So it should come as no surprise that the gem of a book I just finished was not self-selected. Val got it as a gift from a friend of his who is currently living in San Jose, California. The book is a collection of 49 ‘sketches’ of San Francisco. I took posession immediately after it arrived in the mail a few days ago.
Before getting into the book, I want to contrast it with my usual types of books. Right now I am also reading (a.k.a. plodding through) Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. I have been reading it on and off for about two or three months – it is that heavy. Though Applebaum is an amazing writer and fills her book with meticulous details about the events that brought Poland, East Germany and Hungary under Soviet control, she also fills her books with horrors. However interesting the stories are, they are sad and they just go on and on. It is for that same reason that I couldn’t finish her earlier book, Gulag: A History.
No wonder I grabbed Cool Gray City of Love and didn’t put it down until I finished it.
I was also deeply attracted because I have a thing for San Francisco. Most people know I’m not much of a traveler, yet I have been to the city by the bay four times (I know this is not much in the annals of travel but it is for me). Each time I’ve stayed somewhere different: touristy Union Square in a posh hotel, shoppy Union Street in a potentially seedy motel, upscale Cow Hollow in a nicer motel a block away from a granola-style restaurant, and Emeryville in a standard Hilton Garden Inn (doesn’t really count – it’s across the bay at the end of the Bay Bridge). Last time Val and I were in San Francisco, only for a day, it was a wonderful day. We picked one thing to do, walk up Telegraph Hill, and it happens that it’s Kamiya’s favourite place in San Francisco. Apparently there’s a lot more to it than the views.
Kamiya is one of those writers who fills his chapters with apropos literary references, few of which I get because I’m not a fiction reader. However, he mostly paints city pictures with his own cheeky little prose style. He meshes his personal experiences, either familiar recollections or new tours with experts both geological and historical, with the rather odd history of the city. Socrates would have loved this guy having been a fanatical city dweller himself. What’s particularly nice and quite informative is that he goes back to the times when the Yelamu Indians lived on the peninsula and is very respectful of these now-disappeared people’s history.
The book’s genesis lies in Kamiya giving himself the task of ‘learning’ his own city, bit by bit, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. It surely didn’t hurt that he was also quite familiar with it through his years as a cab driver. What a way to learn a city, not just its places but its people. His cabbie stories don’t disappoint, especially the one about luring a gay fare away from a fellow driver. This view of the city gives him an ‘if these walls could talk’ advantage.
The other advantage Kamiya has is his sheer love of his city, warts, guts, glories and all. Natural and man-made, touristy and off the beaten path, he loves it all. He loves the mix of inspiring landscapes and spirited people. He loves their struggles to keep San Francisco unique and non-conformist. And he’s honest about the times when battles have been lost such as in the demolition of entire neighbourhoods in favour of highrises. The story of a neighbourhood called the Western Addition, which was home to Japanese families before they were forced to leave the west coast because of World War Two internment, is quite poignant. When the Japanese left, African Americans moved in. While not all the Japanese returned after the end of the war, some did and the question became what to do with them now that they were back and their homes and businesses were occupied. It reminds me of the story my grandmother used to tell of living in wartime Vancouver: all those nice Japanese people just disappeared.
Kamiya is critical of his city and some of its past decisions; he is not a booster in the 100% unquestioning sense. I can relate to this. I consider myself to live in the epicentre of a beautiful and functioning city. But that’s the view from where I am at Broadview and Danforth in my comfortable life. I don’t sit in traffic for two hours a day. I walk two minutes to the subway when I want to get somewhere downtown.
Toronto may not be knowable in the same way – it’s such a huge sprawling city and so much larger in population. Maybe the old City of Toronto (in which I live) could be approached this way.
The reason that Stephen W. of San Jose (formerly of Toronto and Kitchener) sent this book to Val is that he knows Val is a Toronto-lover. He thinks Val could write the Toronto version of Cool Gray City of Love some day. Val used to write a column on Torontoist.com about hidden places in Toronto. I can think of more than a few times when I’ve benefitted from his knowledge. When we first met he took me on a hike on the Don Valley trails – not the well-worn paths but places that were unknown, at least to Risa from North York. A few years ago he lead a bike tour through the laneways of the east side. A little history, a little geography, a big city made little.
A lot of Val’s love of the city has rubbed off on me. I feel like I know Gary Kamiya and I appreciate where he is coming from. I don’t mind that each one of the 49 chapters ends with his unabashed, almost embarrassing love for his city.