Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Storytelling Update

Just a quick note: Cafe Insomniac went out of business and we just found out about it. This Friday is the Monthly Story Swap night offered by the Montreal Storytellers' Guild, so instead of Cafe Insomniac, we'll be holding it at Cafe Perk (4872 Parc Avenue).

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Weird Photo Wednesday

I've got the photo, so it's time to resurrect my old tradition. Discuss.

Chug Chug... Need to Save the Planet
    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develops and enforces environmental protection standards and conducts research into the adverse effects of pollution. Ford Motor Company agreed to pay $7.8 million to settle allegations that it violated the Clean Air Act by illegally installing a device which defeated the emissions control system in its 1997 Ford Econoline vans. The EPA claimed the automaker used an illegal defeat device, in this case, a sophisticated electronic control strategy designed to enhance fuel economy. The EPA estimated that the settlement would prevent thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide from being released into the atmosphere. The smog caused by nitrogen oxide can aggravate asthma and cause other respiratory problems in humans.

    Ref: Page 9 of this document

This van is probably older than 1997, but you get the idea.

Do you think I should look up the toxic effects from spray-paint cans (I love the irony of "Vote Green" spray-painted on the back of the van), or would that be overkill?

Monday, April 28, 2003

Knowing and Believing

I went to a Scottish Ceileigh at the Black Watch Tower on Bleury on Saturday night. Bagpipes, kilts, pints, and haggis (yum!) were the order of the evening.

Don't give me that look about eating haggis. It is quite good if you can just get past the image of it. If you can eat lobster (which involved boiling a crustacean live, breaking its bones, and sucking meat from its dead carcass), you can give haggis a try.

I was chatting with a girl there (gasp!) and she was telling me how, at the early age of 12, she was travelling the world with her parents when she and her brother had been bitten by a mosquito and infected with a fatal disease. Her brother was infected first and died two weeks later. Then she was infected, sent to a local shaman, and cured in two days.

The conversation then turned to philosophy and world religions. That's when Johann spoke up and stated "I don't believe in God. I only believe the things I can see with my own eyes."

Me: Have you been to Egypt? Have you seen the Pyramids?
J: No.
Me: Does that mean that the Egyptian pyramids do not exist?
J: No. I know they exist. I know people who have seen them, I've read about them in books, and seen reports about them on TV.
Me: Ah... but until you see them in person, you can't actually know that they exist. You can only believe what other people tell you, but you don't know. That's why people travel... so they can know they exist, see the pyramids with their own eyes.
J: ...

That's what I usually tell people who say to me that they only believe in what they can perceive with their own senses. It's not that I don't think there are pyramids in Eygpt: I believe they are there due to everything I've read and seen. But I won't know that they are there until I visit them in person.

Okay... here's another example to illustrate the difference between knowing and believing. Pardon the macabre example, but if you've ever had someone die in your arms, you can explain the emotional impact of it to someone else all you like, making sure they understand what's going on. But that person will never truly know what that experience is like until it happens to them, not matter how many books or TLC specials they see on it.

There are many things that we think we know, but really, we only really believe because other people have told us so repeatedly. In that way, what we choose to believe and what we know are two different things. You don't have to believe you are sitting in a chair reading this: you know it. However, you believe that I actually wrote it, you don't know it (unless you were watching me type it over my shoulder).

So following, researching, and developing spiritual beliefs isn't such a great leap. I may not know there's a divine energy holding the universe together and that, through culturally traditional methods, I can harness that energy to achieve a goal, but I can certainly believe it just like I believe that there are pyramids in Egypt.
I Have a Request

On behalf of anyone who has coughed, sneezed, blown his/her nose, or suffered from any kind of fever in the past month, I must make the following statements:

1. We do NOT have SARS. And no, we have not licked any Chinese Health Care Workers in the last two months.

2. Having people constantly ask us if we have SARS is NOT funny. Oh sure, we chuckled politely the first 50 times we heard it, but the novelty of it all is wearing off. Cut it out.

3. Yes, we have seriously considered the possibility of being stricken with this deadly disease. Anyone who has felt the tickle in their throats in the past month has picked up the paper or searched on the Internet for the symptoms of SARS. A few of us have been so afraid that we've gone to see our family doctors for a 51st opinion (albeit a more professional one than the taxi driver, the florist, and our local bartender).

4. We are miserable and suffering enough without everyone around us suggesting that a) we may be dying of an uncurable disease and b) that we could be carriers. Cut it out.

Thank you.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Shameless Plug

Next weekend (not this weekend, but the weekend after), there are plenty of storytelling things afoot! So since I have your undivided attention for the next 30 seconds, I figured I'd tell you about it. The storytelling year is rapidly coming to a close, so if you were thinking about coming to a storytelling session sometime, next weekend would be the time to do it.

So here are the particulars:

May 2nd, 2003 (Friday night)

Storyteller's Guild of Montreal: Swapping Grounds

Admission: $4 (adults)/$3 (students)
Annual Membership: $25 (adults) // $15 (students, fixed income)

First Friday of every month (from October to June)
Cafe Insomniac
5322 Queen-Mary (near Snowdon metro, west of Decarie)
Notre-Dame de Grace, Montreal
8 pm

May 3rd, 2003 (Saturday)

Storytelling Workshop for Beginners
1 pm to 3 pm
Unitarian Church
5035 de Maisonneuve
(near Vendome metro).

Note: I'll be giving this workshop with local storytelling matron Rosalyn Cohen.

Come and learn about the process of storytelling and learn some of the basic techniques (choosing a story, learning it, telling it).

The cost of this workshop is $10 for members of the Guild and $15 for non-members (payable at the door).

If you intend to come to the workshop, please bring a small personal item that you feel has some kind of story attached to it. For example, you could bring a family heirloom and relate the story behind it.

During the workshop, you will have the chance to learn a story and practice telling it to the group. We will be supplying sample stories, but if you have a story that you would like to share with the group, feel free to bring it along.

If you intend to participate in this workshop on May 3rd, please RSVP with me by either calling me (514-488-5430) or emailing me (

Space is limited, so reserve your spot quickly!

May 3rd, 2003 (Saturday)

… And then there was Music
An evening of Stories with and about Music

Note: I'll be telling a story with local fiddle player Jonathan Mooreman! Didja hear that Drew? Jonathan!

Doors open: 7:30 pm
Storytelling: 8:00 pm

Unitarian Church of Montreal
5035 de Maisonneuve
(Vendome metro)
The church is on the corner of de Maisonneuve West and Bulmer Street (one half block west of Claremont Avenue).

Thursday, April 24, 2003

A Call to Action for Libraries

Unfortunately, the economic axe came down in April and closed one of our local institutions known as the Fraser-Hickson Library. This library is a stone-throw's away from my pad in NDG and I've spent many an afternoon perusing its books (mostly in the Children's Library, looking for new stories to tell).

The Fraser-Hickson was a popular library and was always busy with people using its services. It was kept alive through donations and private support, but the money finally ran out this year and the library had to close its doors. What's frustrating is that the city of Montreal has a plan to keep the libraries properly funded, but it will take two years to implement. The Fraser-Hickson needs the money now.

When I went to vote in the last election, there were a couple of guys offering a petition to keep the library open (which I signed) and they handed out flyers with a call to action (read more about this story here). The flyer suggests that you call Helen Fotopulos (the City Councillor for the Arts) and tell her that the NDG borough needs more funding to keep it's beloved Fraser-Hickson Library open, at least until the city's library plan goes into action.

So if you're interested in saving the Fraser-Hickson Library, you can call Helen Fotopulos at 514-872-2430 or email her at Remind her that the Fraser-Hickson is an important part of the neighborhood, that the citizens greatly benefit from its services, and it deserves support by the city.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Dr. Phil vs Evil Baby

Don't worry... I'll tell you everything you need to know.Since I had the gall to blog about the Evil Baby, it's been glowering at me for several days now. On buses, in the metros, various billboards. If anything, the baby is coming off as more evil every day. Shudder. Begone Sinister Baby!

But another Bald Wonderboy is rearing his cueball head: Dr. Phil. Granted, I've not watched the show much (I gave up on talk shows years ago), but I know too many people who have too much to say about how intelligent, compassionate, and wise Dr. Phil is.

The one time I half-watched a Dr. Phil show (I could've changed the channel, but the remote was way over there), he came off as a self-righteous boob. The man with all the answers so you don't actually have to think for yourself. Our Comb-Over Champion. Our Oprah-Approved Oracle.

Has this man gazed into his Psychological Book of Shadows, realized that I'm not watching, and sent his evil minions to infiltrate my life? And why do they all look like Evil Babies?

You think I'm making this up, don't you? Well... I am, but only a little.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Thinking Twice

Last Thursday (I don't tend to blog much on vacation), I was walking down Ste. Catherines street, on my way to a workshop on the plateau. I had just turned up on Stanley intending to find the closest metro.

That's when I heard the sound. It's a sound that is still ringing in my head today. The closest thing I can compare it to is the sound a melon would make hitting a hard surface.

I turned around and noticed a woman lying on the ground, face-up, with blood seeping from her head. A crowd gathered around her, while others popped open their cells to call the paramedics.

That's why I noticed three people wrestling between myself and the woman. It was two guys with a girl in between tussling, falling, and rolling from the sidewalk and into the street. Traffic swerved and screeched, try to get out of their way. The girl was screaming "Let him go motherfucker! Get your fucking hands off him!" Aside from the grunting of effort, the two guys were quiet.

Then I heard a man on a cellphone talking to the police. He reported that the man in the blue shirt had stolen a CD from HMV and in his hurry to get away, knocked a woman over.

At that point, the thief wriggled and twisted himself free and started to make a run for it. I blocked his path, trying to grab at him, but he dodged me and ran straight into two other burly guys who managed to grab him. Although he still fought them, he could not get away from their grip. Eventually, the two guys forced him to the ground and held him there.

The girl was on top of them in flash, kicking, scratching, screaming. Where the hell were the cops? She grabbed one of the guys by the throat saying "Who the hell are you? Mind your own fucking business! Let him go or I'll choke you asshole!" Her light blue fingernails dug into his skin while her eyes bored holes in anyone who got too close.

One of the guys let the thief go and attempted to remove her hand from the guys throat. She punched, kicked, and scratched, while the thief made another break for it. I grabbed at him, catching his shirt while another guy had him by the torso, forcing him down.

The thief, although enthusiastic to get away, remained calm and quiet during the whole episode, as opposed to his girlfriend. "A woman's been hurt," I shouted at her. "Your friend has to answer for that."

"So what... a lady's hurt," she spat back. "Why should you care? Get your hands off him!"

"Because we're showing more concern for her than your friend is showing for you, trying to get away and trying to leave you to clean up his mess."

"Fuck you," she snarled, although I could see a glimmer of doubt in her eyes. She calmed down after that.

The cops finally showed up and put the thief in cuffs. Since I didn't actually see anything with my own eyes, I left the scene and grabbed a cab to get to my workshop on time.

I was fine until 15 minutes later when the adrenaline wore off and I started to shake uncontrollably.

Drew was alarmed that I got involved. "What if he had a knife or a gun?" I supposed that's true; I took a risk. If he had just stolen a CD, I probably wouldn't have done anything.

But a woman lay still and bleeding profusely from the head. None of us on the sidewalk that day wanted him to get away for that. It could've been our blood discoloring the sidewalk that day. Any of us.

Drew agreed that I did the right thing in the end, but she wanted me to think twice in the future. The thing is that I did think twice, in the few seconds before the thief ran my way.

My first thought was "Don't get involved. Walk away.
My second thought was "Shut up. Do something."
My third thought was "What if I get hurt?"
My fourth thought was "Shut up. Do something."

I wonder how many other people struggled with their conscience and their survival instinct?

Note: I never did find out what happened to that woman.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Be Afraid

I noticed that Drew's Window Washer Fluid light is now flashing in her SUV, so I've started the countdown. How long do you figure it'll be before my pager goes off? Bets anyone?

To see what I'm talking about see SUV Princess.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Evil Baby

After reading Blork's examination of Montreal billboard ads in the metros, I started taking a look around and I noticed this one:

Look into my eyes and know out-of-focus fear, you bespectacled minion!

Flexiglasses are a great idea, but I had no idea there was a band of Sinister Babies going around, snatching spectacles, and having their way with them. Are the victims of this heinous crime some kind of target audience? Would somebody actually look at this ad and think "Why, that looks just like my own evil son when he bent my glasses in the shape of the UnHoly Beast, the little darling."

That child (undoubtedly named Damian) gives me the creeps. No matter where you go in the metro (or now on the Web), those eyes seem to follow you around. Brrrrrr...

Monday, April 14, 2003

The New View

My client has moved from McGill college to Crescent/Rene Levesque, so I'm a pint's throw away from Hurley's Pub (I went there for lunch). I'm on the 10th floor of the new E-Commerce Place. I was hoping I would face the Guaranteed Milk bottle, but my current view is not a bad trade-off (pardon the sad attempt at a panoramic view).

It's debatable as to how long I will actually hang on to this office. There's some grumbling from my fellow collegues as to why the junior member of the team ended up with the best view. That's what worshipping the False Gods will earn ya.

I daresay, my new view rivals the former view that Chez Blork once had.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Subtle as a Brick

I've been noticing a trend lately in the lives of friends around me, so I feel the need to point something out.

Men are not creatures of subtlety as a rule. Oh, there are exceptions to every rule, to be sure. But when you consider that a majority of this gender will, at one time or another, find wrestling/demolition derbies/monster truck races to be an afternoon of good fun, analyzing nuances are not high on their list of priorities.

If you (females) have something you want us (males) to know, you're going to have to spell it out. You're going to have to sit us down, take the remote out of our hands, turn the stereo off, and tell us what you want to say. No hidden messages, no subliminal tapes, no hints, hoping we'll just fill in the blanks for you.

Otherwise, we won't get it. Actually, one of two things will happen: 1) we'll analyze what you tell us and come to the wrong conclusion, or 2) we'll latch on to what you did say and not even attempt to consider what you didn't say.

Truth be told, the whole "leaving hints" tack that some women take is just a sign of laziness. Instead of taking responsiblity for yourselves and just telling us what's on your mind, you're trying to get us to do all the work so that you can walk away from the unpleasantness with a Low Guilt level.

As much as Dr. Phil would like you to believe that men have the potential to read the subtleties of female behaviour, Sharp as a Sack of Wet Mice is our default setting and the switch is broken in the On position.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Follow the Bouncing Shopping Bag

After months of meaning to, I finally took some time to explore Les Ailes de la Mode (down on Ste.Catherines and University). I found the architecture to be impressive, but I really don't like the wood panelling everywhere. Makes it look like the exterior of a Woody or my Uncle Gaston's basement.

Up on the third floor (past the cosmetics floor where everything smells like my grandmother), there's a feature that made me think of Anastasia immediately. In fact, I took her to see it today. Of course, I got lost on the third floor and had to walk through the lingerie section to find it. Once I saw the aisle of sheep, I knew I was on the right track (I'll will bring along my digicam next time so you can see what I mean).

Hidden away in Les Aisles is a Kareoke Room! That's right: free kareoke all during shopping hours. If you need a singing fix, Les Aisles provides!

It's a big comfortable room with two microphones and cinema-style seating. They've got hundreds and hundreds of songs, although their filing system leaves something to be desired. You just plop right in, pick your song, hand it off to the MC with the silky smooth voice ("Elvis Presley? You got it chief!"), and you're ready to warble to your heart's desire.

As for my singing prowess, let's just saying that there's an old saying that covers it nicely: "Storytellers are failed singers."

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Dammit Jim... I'm a doctor, not a physician!

Translation is truly an art form, and it is one I never truly mastered. I studied it in school, but I always had the toughest time distancing myself from the French version. Consequently, the quality of my English writing would drop substantially.

I can translate short documents, like letters or reports, but they take me forever to do. At the end of the day, I'm shocked at how little I've produced. I don't know how long it takes professional translators to produce their work, but I always feel like such a dumkoff when I hand off my translated work.

Just because I can write goodly in English and I can speak both languages, that doesn't mean I'm a qualified translator, any more than the fact that you can count makes you qualified nuclear physicist.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Herding Cats

There was a storyteller conference on Saturday at Le Cabaret du Roi in Old Montreal. It brought storyteller's from all over Quebec (Montreal, Quebec city, Eastern Townships, etc.). There were about 60 people there; a pretty good turn-out.

The point of this meeting was to form an association for storytellers in Quebec, allowing us to pool our resources and support each other. One of the main goals is to lobby the government to recognize storytelling as its own art form (instead of being a subset of Theatre). When that happens, we'll be able to receive more government funding for events.

Storytelling events (both French and English and other cultures) are becoming more and more organized and popular, which means the community is maturing and evolving. The idea of an association has come up before, but it was always dismissed as unworkable and dangerous. But now the community seems to be ready to take the risk and make the leap forward. It's a very exciting time.

On the flipside, I'll be watching how this process grows and evolves. I might be able to use what I learn here and apply it to the local Pagan community. Gods know we could use it.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Why Canada is not Fighting in Iraq

10. We have no way of getting there.

9. We are too busy at home with the Maple Syrup Season.

8. Jean Chretien might put his helmet on backwards again.

7. Saddam's name pronounced backwards is "Mad Ass". We'll stay away from him.

6. There is only limited potential for sales of Canadian Bacon in Iraq after the war.

5. Our Sea King Helicopter was damaged and needs repairs.

4. Celine Dion can't sing to the troops because she has a contract in Las Vegas.

3. The Rivers in Iraq are too shallow for our War Canoes.

2. Lousy hockey in Iraq at this time of year.

1. Our army is needed at home in case of another snow storm in Toronto.

(Thanks be to Moka for this one)

Friday, April 04, 2003

Those Pesky Crazy Folks

POOHWIRE -- Montreal, 2003 -- The number of people who seem to be talking to themselves, or to people no one else can see, is on the rise in many North American cities. They can be spotted on the street, in the subways, on buses, or even driving in their cars. Many people report feeling an odd uncomfortable feeling creep up their spine when the hear someone speaking a bit louder than they should be, responding to a conversation with a person no one else can see or hear.

However, upon closer inspection, it was revealed that these people were not suffering from some mental imbalance. What they were actually doing was speaking on their cell phones, which have become so tiny, they are almost imperceptable. Some cell phones now come with headsets and microphones, so you don't even need to lift the tell-tale arm to carry the conversation.

Once onlookers realize that the people were simply talking on the phone, these people would simply melt back into the crowd and become imperceptable. That uncomfortable feeling would go away and the population felt safe again.

This is the thinking behind Mayor Tremblay's latest plan to rid the city of Montreal of its pesky homeless problem.

"It's a tarnish to our city's image to see seemingly mad people wandering around freely, talking to themselves." stated Mr. Tremblay. "But our solution is humane and relatively inexpensive to implement."

The City of Montreal's plan is to issue cell phones to every homeless person on the street and train them in their use. Whenever a mentally imbalanced person feels the need to jabber away non-sensically, he/she would be trained to speak into the cell phone. "It is then virtually impossible to distinguish the insane from the yuppie without looking at their shoes," smiled Mr. Tremblay with a confident nod. "Of course, this is a short-term solution. We are currently working on a longer-term solution. You'll notice that is one my promises in my re-election platform."

Unfortunately, this interview with Mr. Tremblay was cut short when he suddenly jumped up, waved me away saying, "I'm sorry... I need to take this call", and moved to a corner of the room to have a private conversation. I must mention that, although Mr. Tremblay had his arm raised as if he were holding a cell phone, I could see neither cell phone nor any other apparatus that would facilitate a conversation with the unknown caller, leaving me with an uncomfortable feeling.

Apparently, this new program is further reaching than previously believed.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

The Talent is Terrifying

I went to a second night of French storytelling at the Sala Rosa on St. Laurent. It's a nice little hall, complete with a bar, a stage, and lights. It added a whole new depth and dimension to the storytelling experience.

All I can say about the French storytellers is... Wow. They are so... so... When they tell a story, it seems so effortless, so smooth, so eloquent. Every gesture, expression, and inflection adds so much to the tale they are telling. They aren't on the stage in front of 100 people; these tellers are telling to friends and family, transmitting their stories with grace, style, and a familiarity that binds you inextricably to the them.

I turned to Jackson after one of the tellings, my words almost lost in the thunderous applause, "I know I should be inspired by what I've just seen, but as a storyteller myself, I just feel so incredibly..."

"... Terrified," agreed Jackson. "When I see the older tellers, I think "They've had years to perfect their craft." But when I see the younger tellers, I think "Can I ever sound like that?""

When I'm at my best, I hope I perform half as good as these tellers in the Festival. And to think I'm actually going to try telling in French. *gulp*

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Snug as a Bug in Stereo

My headset finally died, which isn't a bad run considering I bought them over 3 years ago.

They were Koss headphones, the kind that grip your head with the plastic band stretching across the back of your head instead of over the top. They took some getting used to, but they were quite comfortable.

So I headed over to RadioScrap to get a new set. The only Koss headphones they had were the traditional ones for $10. I bought them anyways, hoping for the best.

The best was nothing but hope. The sound was tinny and hollow, the headset was incredibly uncomfortable, and it barely stayed on my head. I went back and shelled out the extra $30 for a pair of Sony behind-the-head headphones. What a difference!

Okay... so $40+ for a set of headphones is a bit of an extravagance, but if they last as long as the last set, it'll be worth it. If you knew the cacophony that bangs around my desk at work, you'd understand.

Oooooh... Tom Jones is coming on. Gotta go.
French Storytelling

There's a French storytelling festival going on right now called Bouche a L'Oreille and it kicked off last night during the Mardi Gras session at Bar L'Intrus. There must've been about 150 people there to listen to storytelling; it did my heart good to see that.

There were 10 storytellers telling all kinds of tales: bagels and devil, dream-dealing leprechauns, trois petites cochonnes, botched muggings, and tales of how men and women finally got together ("Are you hurt? You've got a cut right below your belly between your legs!"). Some of the stories were quite racy, but that's normal fare for the French storytelling crowd. I had intended to tell stories from my French-Canadian heritage this year, but the opportunities have gotten away from me (mainly due to my stalling daytime-career). Ah well... there's always next year.

I kept thinking how some of the stories would totally not fly at the Guild meetings. The Guild Swapping Grounds, although great fun, can seem timid in comparison to some of the French story nights. Of course, this is completely culturally driven. You should hear how blase native tellers can be when they work farting (and all sorts of other bodily functions) into their stories.

I'm not sure why the English-storytelling scene is so conservative. It might be because the English community is such a melting pot of diversity, the levels of what is acceptable is lower to accomodate the lowest common denominator. Or it might be that storytelling is still regarded as such a Child's Pastime, telling racy stories (even to an adult crowd) seems inappropriate.

But the French are a people of talkers: storytelling is something that is much more ingrained in their psyche, therefore it is much more developped. If you have a room with a French-Canadian, a Hungarian, and a Russian and set them off to talking, it'll sound like there's 150 people yabbering away.

When I see how successfull the French storytelling scene is, it really pushes me to develop more English storytelling events in the city. The next big event I'm organizing is another session at Cafe Perk on April 18th (a Friday). I'll let you know more about it as it comes up.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003


I filed my taxes online last light with QuickTaxWeb (a website by Intuit, the makers of QuickTax). QuickTaxWeb makes filing my taxes so painfree and it's so cheap ($25.00 +/-).

In the past, I've been very lax about filing my taxes on time (or at all sometimes). I remember a few warm spring nights of running through the streets of Montreal with my hastily-completed tax forms in hand, down Rene-Levesque to make a quick stop at the Federal Building to drop-off the federal taxes and then popping over to Complexe Desjardins to drop-off the provincial taxes.

I wasn't alone either. There's always a steady stream of folks coming and going from these buildings right up until midnight (the cut-off time). Stressed and worried going in, relieved coming out.

The Giant Restroom of Taxation.