Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ice Cream and Libraries

Library-themed Ice Cream
The New Yorker reports that a Facebook group is advocating for a library-themed Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Libraries are awesome; ice cream is tasty; therefore, a library ice cream would be tasty awesome.

Here are some of the flavour suggestions from both the New Yorker and the Facebook group:

Gooey Decimal System: Dark fudge alphabet letters with caramel swirls in hazelnut ice creamGooey Decimal System: Dark fudge alphabet letters with caramel swirls in hazelnut ice cream

Rocky Read: Vanilla with chocolate-covered nuts, chocolate chunks and raisins

Chick Lit: Fat-free Peach-Mango swirl with pieces of Chicklet chewing gum

Of Ice and M&M: M&Ms, Chocolate powder, Vanilla, Fresh bananas. It’s a good plan, but it never fully works

Loyal Library Patrons
I am a patron in good standing of the Saskatoon Public Library, and I think I read quite a few of their books every year. But I’m not sure I could beat the record of a 91-year old Scottish pensioner who has borrowed nearly 25,000 books from her local library since 1946 (and no late fines).

My thanks to Quill and Quire for these great news items.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dorothy Knowles: Saskatchewan Artist

The Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon is currently showing an exhibit of Dorothy Knowles’ landscape paintings. Dorothy Knowles was born in Unity and has lived in Saskatchewan all her life. Her paintings capture the beauty of the Prairie landscape – curving rivers, shrubby knolls, waving grasses.

I love the Prairies, and I think their beauty is often overlooked. This is not the cosy beauty on a human scale of an English landscape of small fields, hedges, thatched cottages and church steeples. The individual is swallowed up by the sheer enormity of the Prairie sky and fields that stretch to the horizon in all directions. And yet, disappearing into nature is very liberating. There is a sense of unity and of room to stretch and grow.

And, if you take the time to look, there are all sorts of flowers blooming close to the earth, beavers on the riverbank and deer in the fields. Saskatchewan is a good place to live – despite the winters!

Note: Quiet Day, a watercolour on paper, is for sale through Art Placement Inc., Saskatoon

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden, Vancouver

The Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden in downtown Vancouver is an island of tranquillity amidst the bustle of a big city. The layout follows the traditional design of a Chinese Ming scholar’s private residence and garden and is based on the harmony of rock, water, plants and architecture.
The building materials were imported from China and 52 master craftsmen from Suzhou, China worked with Canadian counterparts to construct the facility without using nails, screws or glue.

The garden is located in Chinatown at 578 Carrall Street. I would recommend taking a guided tour as there is so much intention behind each feature of the garden.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Things to See and Do in Cordoba, Spain

I stayed at the Hospederia Luis de Gongora, Horno de la Trinidad 7. I really liked the location as it was close to both the main tourist sights (la Mezquita, la Juderia, Alcazar) and the principal shopping district, but it wasn’t inundated with crowds of tourists. I could observe people going about their everyday business – taking their children to school, going to work. The single room was small with poor lighting, but there was a tiny patio on the main floor and free wifi. It was clean, attractive and only cost 40 euros a night.

I try to immerse myself as much as possible in the life of local residents so I avoid tourist restaurants. I found two restaurants that I really liked. Ziryab Taberna Gastronomica (San Felipe 15) was a small, very modern restaurant that had just opened. They had an excellent selection of wine and lots of interesting tapas, including some vegetarian options. CafĂ© Gaudi (Avenida del Gran Capitan, 22 – across from El Corte Ingles) has a lovely art deco interior as well as an outdoor terrace. There is an extensive menu.

Cordoba delighted me by the abundance of flowers, and the Palacio Museo de Viana (Plaza de Don Gome 2), with its 14 patio gardens, was absolutely stunning. Each patio is different with orange trees, pools of water, fountains and flowers. I also enjoyed touring the house. The museum is outside the downtown core so it’s a good opportunity to meander through a different part of the town. Don’t miss the Cuesta Baillo, with its curving stepped street, bougainvillea-draped wall and colourful church bell tower.

There is daily bus service to the archaeological site of Medina Azahara organized by Turismo de Cordoba. It’s a convenient way to get to the site, which is just outside of Granada, and you have roughly 2 hours to wander around the site, which is plenty. I was very glad I took the evening tour as it would have been very hot at midday.

The Iglesia y antiguo Convento de la Merced is an amazingly flamboyant building with a stunning courtyard. And across the street is Plaza de Colon and the Jardines de la Merced, an excellent place to take a break on a park bench.

The tour of the Alcazar is only of moderate interest, but the gardens are fabulous. The Archaeological Museum (Plaza de Jeronimo, 7) has an excellent collection of Roman statues and mosaics and is well worth visiting. In my opinion, it’s not worth going out of your way to visit either the zoo or the botanical garden.

I really enjoyed the concert by Cordoba’s Symphony Orchestra in the Gran Teatro. I also attended a free concert next door to the Gran Teatro in the Centro Cultural San Hipolito.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tea - for Health, Happiness, and Eternal Life

Perhaps it was youthful rebellion against my British father and his ever-present pot of tea, but it is only in the past few years that I have begun to drink and enjoy tea. Of course, I still don’t drink it the way my father did with milk and sugar. Instead, I favour jasmine-scented green tea, Earl Grey, and Oolong.

I have just finished reading The True History of Tea by Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh, which provides a comprehensive, entertaining history of tea.

Tea, Trade, and Politics
Tea and trade and politics are closely intertwined. China has never had many horses, which put them at a distinct disadvantage when they were attacked by northern nomads on horseback. As a result, they established Horse and Tea Fairs where they exchanged tea for horses. The Opium Wars between Britain and China centred on tea as did the Boston Tea Party and American Independence. Interestingly enough, Paul Revere, one of the heroes of American independence was a silversmith designing tea pots and other tea utensils. A teapot he made in 1762 sold for 10 pounds at a time when a labourer’s annual salary was only 30 pounds.

Tea helped fuel the Industrial Revolution as reliance on boiled water greatly reduced the risk of death from cholera and led to population increases. Winston Churchill said that tea was more important than ammunition during World War II and ordered that sailors on board naval vessels be issued tea without restrictions. During the Blitz in London, mobile tea canteens roamed the burnt-out streets serving tea to all in need.

Cultural Ritual
Tea is the basis for cultural ceremonies in many parts of the world. From the billy can in Australia to the samovar in Russia, each culture has developed its own traditions. The Japanese tea ceremony is perhaps the most elaborate, but similar ceremonies have evolved in other countries – from the Vauxhall Gardens and Lyons Tea Shops of England to sugared tea with mint poured from a great height to form a foam in Morocco to tea with yak butter in Tibet.
A special Oolong tea ceremony evolved in Chaozhou in northern Guangdong province in the Qing dynasty. The cups were small as walnuts, the pot as small as a lemon. The water had to come from mountain streams and olive pits were used to fuel the fire. You were to drink slowly, smelling its fragrance and contemplating its taste. “It frees people from restlessness and pacifies arrogance,” wrote Yuan Mei, a Qing literatus.
During the Cold War, it was reported that you could detect a Russian spy by observing his eyes as he brought his tea cup to his lips. “Russian men usually drink their tea in tall glasses in metal holders called podstakannik, and never remove the teaspoon from the glass. When taking a sip, the spoon is pressed by the thumb against the glass, and one eye instinctively shuts as a precaution against injury by the teaspoon’s handle.” The Russian spy may remember to remove the teaspoon, but the reflexive instinct to close one eye would betray him.
Healing Properties of Tea
Over the centuries, doctors and enthusiasts have often touted the medicinal benefits of tea. Following the SARS crisis, Beijing residents replaced their traditional jasmine tea with green tea because of its well-advertised health benefits. But Mair and Hoh conclude their book by saying, “For while nobody denies the beneficial, healing properties of tea, it is not a medicine foremost, but rather a daily ritual, an excuse for a well-needed break, a philosophy, a search for those moments of quietude and companionship when the din of the world subsides and all becomes one. Drink it in that spirit, and health, happiness, and eternal life will follow.”

In closing, I would highly recommend tea from Maison de the Camellia Sinensis in Quebec. They go on annual buying trips and purchase their tea directly from farmers in China, Taiwan, and India. The tea tastes great, and I much prefer supporting small-scale operations than mass-produced tea from large corporations.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Vancouver Farmers’ Markets and a Labyrinth

I am a weekly visitor at the Saskatoon’s Farmers’ Market so when I discovered that Vancouver has a number of local, summer markets (in addition to longstanding ones like the Granville Island Market), I was eager to check them out.
Last week I visited the outdoor Saturday market in North Vancouver adjacent to Lonsdale Quay. It’s very small with just a handful of vendors selling bread, organic vegetables, and handicrafts.

Today, I visited the West End Farmer’s Market in the 1100 block of Comox Street. There were booths on both sides of the street which had been closed off to traffic. There was a really good assortment of vendors – lots of organic fruits and vegetables, crusty breads and baked goods, pasta, and an assortment of handicrafts (pottery, jewellery). I was fascinated by two guys selling Thai Princess sauces based on a family recipe. I also bought a brie cheese from Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and two lovely little eggplants – surely the first of the season.

Afterwards, I visited St. Paul’s Anglican Church at 1130 Comox Street where they have a replica of the labyrinth found in Chartres Cathedral, France. I enjoy walking labyrinths but felt that this one took itself a little bit too seriously. In contrast, the one I walked in Amiens Cathedral, France was overrun by tourists and a wedding party.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Urban Gardens

For many years, I lived in a house with a big garden full of flowers and vegetables and fruit trees and bushes. Nowadays, I live in an apartment and, despite filling my windowsills with plants, I miss having a garden. So I was enchanted by the gardens that Vancouver apartment dwellers have created on an abandoned rail bed not far from Granville Island.
Here are some interesting articles about urban gardening:
  • A weekend course in urban gardening with The School of Life, London, England
  • Landshare, a British project to produce more fresh, local produce

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Social Media - a Fad?

Human beings love fads – the latest hair style, fashion statement, beverage. And, at the moment, we are fascinated by technology and the new technology-based ways of communicating. Journalists are writing stories and compiling statistics about Twitter use in Iran and blog postings about Michael Jackson's death.

Like so many fads before it, we’re inclined to think that social media will re-shape the universe. And, like so many previous fads, it won’t live up to the hype.

Scott Berkun has written a thought-provoking blog posting Calling bullshit on social media. It’s well worth reading as it clearly outlines some of the basic reasons for why and how we communicate.

Social Networks
First of all, he points out that we have always had social networks (families, clubs, communities), and we have always found unofficial ways to communicate (the Resistance in WWII Europe, Christians drawing fish). Twitter is simply a new communications device.

Quality vs. Quantity
Secondly, Berkun reminds us that quantity does not equate quality. As Berkun says, “I find all social media frequently consists of people re-forwarding things they were forwarded that almost none of them appear to have read, as they believe they are rewarded for publishing frequently above all else. . . . If you are interested in quality, and not volume, then the size of your network matters less than the value of what’s in it.”

Self Promotion
Berkun points to self promotion as one of the dangers of blogs and Twitter: “For all the upsides of any invention there are downsides and it takes time to sort out what they all are. Blogs and Twitter have made self promotion, and self-aggrandizement, acceptable in ways I’ve never seen before, and I’m guilty myself. Is it possible to write or publish without self promotion?”

What Problem am I Trying to Solve?
His final argument is particularly important for all of us who rely on communications to do our job. He reminds us that we should always ask, “What problem am I trying to solve?” Find the best tool, old or new, to communicate. It may be Twitter or a company blog, but it may just be a phone call or a flyer.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Seaside Mosaics

I am spending 2 1/2 weeks in North Vancouver, housesitting and working but also enjoying the change of scene. I really enjoy Vancouver - the climate and the location entice people out of doors to hike or sail or cycle.

I went out to West Vancouver yesterday and walked along the Sea Walk, a very popular local spot for people young and old (there's even a separate path for dogs). There was a big cruise ship setting out for Alaska and various cargo ships leaving the harbour as well as small pleasure boats.

The juxtaposition of the natural and the man-made, urban environment can be harsh and cruel or just plain ugly. But sometimes it's simply playful. I was delighted to see that someone has gone to the trouble of creating mosaics from sea glass and broken tile on the rocks beside the walkway.