Making, not buying

This past weekend, the mother of a friend asked me what my mother had taught me to do in the kitchen. I told her about the years spent helping to make pasta and bread and sausages. Then she admonished me, saying that I should only learn to make the things that I can't buy.

"All those years that my sister and I made tortellini into the middle of night, it wasn't because we wanted to, it was because we couldn't buy them anywhere. Now that you can buy pasta, why would you make it?"

I didn't reply properly at the moment because my mouth was busy deconstructing some fruit, but here is my full response now.

It's a health thing. Although there are many grocery stores, brands and eateries that I trust, there are three times more stores, brands and eateries that I don't. When you make something yourself, you can choose quality ingredients that you can feel good about. You know what's going into your food... which is not something you can say most of the time.

It's a social thing. There is great pleasure in creating food and eating it together. I don't make everything that I eat, but sometimes it's a nice excuse for bringing people together. Even if she did make tortellini all night long - she was doing it with her sister.

It's working with your hands. Understandably, this woman works with her hands every day and it must be a pleasure to just buy the stuff and give the digits a break. But for the rest of us that make our living staring at computer screens and tapping at keyboards, it's a pleasure to switch skill sets and make something with our hands instead. When my work day is drawing to an end and I'm exhausted between the ears, I long to clear my head by plunging my hands into soft dough.

And lastly, the food just tastes better.

Be careful. For the kids.

Sign spotted on country roads near Riviere Rouge this weekend. Classic. Can you imagine how the creative meeting must have proceeded for this gem?

"Ok, so we need to make this sign more impactful. It's not enough to say, 'watch out for our kids'. We need something to make drivers think twice about speeding."

"You're right. Let's add a visual. How about the silhouettes of children crossing the street?'

"Nah! Too boring. Been done before. This sign needs to scare drivers with the reality of the consequences."

"What would you suggest?"

"I'm seeing one child. A child who has just been hit by a car. His cherubic face turned towards the road, his eyes closed, his fate uncertain, no mother to soothe him..."

"But how do we know he's been hit by a car? Do we see the car? Taillights dimming in the distance? Skid marks?"

"No, no, too heavy-handed that. We need more drama. I don't know... maybe tear his shirts in a few places?"

"Oooh, yeah, yeah! And maybe he's only wearing one shoe! The other lost when he was hit!"

"Good idea. But the lonely shoe on the highway image has been overused. It's trite. Oooh! Oooh! I'm a genius! Let's also pull the sock off a little! The driver will definitely notice the missing shoe then. It will add another layer of pathos."

"You are a genius, boss! Should we also add some blood around the head?"

"Too crass there, junior. Crosses the boundary of bad taste. Get the artist on it immediately."

"Yes, sir!" 


More Christmas status lines

  • Courtnall is holding this report hostage until someone brings him more cookies.
  • Courtnall is decking halls and being jolly.
  • Courtnall is donning his gay apparel. Gay like merry, get it?
  • Courtnall wishes he could bathe in egg nog.
  • Courtnall is neither calm, merry, nor bright.
  • Courtnall is giving POKES this holiday season.


Shipbuilders' Magazine

A friend and I went to see the Titanic Artifact Exhibit today at the Centre Eaton. It's a fascinating experience for the modern mind. Staring into the eyes of Titanic victims. Looking at artifacts plucked from the deepest and darkest depths of the ocean. Marvelling at the opulence of another time. Discovering that there were automatic flush toilets in 1914 (because many immigrants had never used a toilet before and wouldn't know when to flush). Finding the squash courts on the ship blueprints.

It all seemed so long ago - and yet so familiar. Especially the similarities between the tragedy of the Titanic and our current economic mess.

Allow me to explain.
  1. Icebergs. The White Star Line was so eager to launch the Titanic - considered to be the summum of the shipbuilding art - that they cut corners in order to more quickly start generating profits. Binoculars for the watchmen were misplaced, not enough lifeboats on board, warnings were ignored, etc. The Titanic was primed for disaster from the beginning. Fast forward to 2008. Banks and corporations were in such a rush to generate more profits - especially with that cash-cow war in Iraq - they continued to amass more debt and eventually fell into the liquidity trap. They ignored the warnings and OOOH! is that an iceberg!? Once again, some refuse to learn from history, and we are all doomed to repeat it.
  2. Shipbuilders' Magazine. As the White Star Line was building the Titanic in 1911, Shipbuilders' Magazine labelled this mammoth of the sea as "practically unsinkable". Isn't it interesting to think that there was a magazine about shipbuilding in the early 20th century? Shipbuilding was a huge industry in that era and the magazine is a testament to how important it was. Was. The shipbuilding industry has shrunk since then, having been replaced by aeronautics, etc. So isn't this fact of history also a testament to the human ability to adapt? As we read about the bailouts for the Big Three, can we not find some comfort in the fact that even if car manufacturing is eclipsed - like shipbuilding was - that we will continue to find new opportunities to explore? As long as human ingenuity persists, we will develop new skills, new industries, new ways of making life more comfortable.
Before you go, watch this cool animation of how the Titanic sunk. James Cameron narrates. And don't worry - Leonardo DiCaprio is never mentioned. Thankfully. 


Saturday night quotes

Some of the following content may be objectionable. If you are unsure whether or not this blog post is for you, please seek parental approval before proceeding.

And without further ado, here are the funniest things I have recently heard uttered on a Saturday night:
  • "Femme saoule au Vol de Nuit." -heard in a taxi, dispatcher speaking to driver
  • "When he said something about 'releasing a new Terminator', I thought he was referring to the fart he was about to let rip," -Powell, about Sugar Daddy, while looking at movie poster
  • "You cannot have a spontaneous rimjob." -C.E., while nibbling sushi
  • "Um, about the coriander shrimp dumplings, could you tell me what's in those, please?" -Powell (obviously, although some of you are probably surprised that she didn't make the previous comment too)
Laissez les bon temps rouler!


Christmas Facebook status lines

Why do most of these sound grumpy, rude, or dirty??
  • Komisarek is hoping for a Festivus miracle this year!
  • Komisarek is embarassed by [most hated Christmas character/item] and wants to know if the Jews will take him.
  • Komisarek is bringing you gold, frankincense and some whup-ass!
  • Komisarek is going to stuff your stocking good.
  • Komisarek kicked an elf today.
  • Komisarek just ate his own weight in Christmas cookies.
  • Komisarek is going to slide down your chimney tonight. Wink. Wink.
  • Komisarek just ate Rudolph for lunch. With sauerkraut.
  • Komisarek wants [name of sexy person] is his stocking this Christmas.
  • Komisarek says "Happy Birthday Baby Jesus!"


How to get in trouble with your mom

[Right before my nice Italian mother and I started a painting project]

MA: You should make the sign of the cross before we begin.
AD: Umm, why?
MA: To ask God to bless what we're about to do. Don't you believe in God?
AD: Not in the same way you do.
MA: Then who do you think made you?
AD: You. And. Dad.
MA: Give me the roller, please.

Don't kids say the craziest things? [giggle]


Bah humbug!

It sometimes surprises people that I am mostly immune to the holiday spirit. I like kids and think puppies are cute, so it's natural to assume that the combined adorableness of Christmas makes my heart go jiggedy-jig-jig.

But it doesn't. 

I don't remember believing in Santa Claus as a child. I boycott stores that start playing holiday tunes as of November 1. I cringe every time I see Rita MacNeil's Christmas special or Anne Murray's Christmas album being advertised on tv. It seems like I spend the entire month of December flinching...

What I absolutely cannot stomach is the forced enthusiasm of Christmas. It seems as if every Old Navy commercial, Pharmaprix display and Sears flyer is forcing the holiday spirit down your throat.

And filling you with a blind panic. What will I get Dad? Did I spend enough on Aunt Patricia? How will I get through Christmas dinner without choking Cousin Paul? Am I being jolly enough?

Basically, if you're not wearing a matching striped scarf and tuque and being tossed happily into a snowbank by a boyfriend with perfect teeth and a puffy jacket, you're a no-fun Debbie Downer. If you're not presenting your white-sweatered mother with a perfectly wrapped jewellery-sized silver box, then you're doing something wrong with your life.

(or so they want you to think so that you'll buy the matching winter gear and jewellery, right?)

I do believe that someone named Jesus lived, that he was a very wise man and that we should listen to some of the stuff he said. I believe that the story of Santa Claus teaches children to imagine worlds beyond this one. I believe that it's important to tell your loved ones how much they matter to you. I believe in buying important people meaningful gifts that remind them of the year we shared.

But I see none of that in the pushing, petty hordes flooding the stores, or in the flashing images that fill the gaps between interviews on the Hour, or in the tinny voices of talking Santa Claus dolls.

The thing is -- life goes on despite the year's biggest shopping purge. Relationships are still falling apart. Children are still crying over empty bellies. Friends are still dying. Mothers are still estranged. Life is a big enough challenge without every word that falls upon your ears - without every image that strikes your eye - making you feel that you have to be sick with happiness for the next 21 days.

I'm not going to end off by insisting you make this season meaningful and donate money to Dans la Rue or volunteer to feed the homeless. You already know how important those acts of generosity are.

This is my blog after all, so it's going to have to be about moi.

What I want to say is - thank you for reading my humble scribblings this past year. It's amazing to think that anyone is reading my crazy, yoga-induced ramblings about the end of the world. But you do. And I look forward to sharing more adventures with you in 2009.


Ms. Julie does the CBC

Are you home tomorrow in the afternoon? Need to kill some time in the aft?

Catch Ms. Julie on CBC's Living Montreal at 3pm.

Have to work? It's ok - I'll post a link on Tuesday so that you don't miss one wacky moment!


Why I should take tango lessons

My agency rented a tango studio for our Christmas party on Thursday night, and part of the package was a 30-minute tango lesson. As I'm actively hunting for a dance class to take in the winter, I knocked a chair over in my excitement to get to the front of the line.

Conclusion: Tango is definitely a front runner. Why? To be good at it, I will have to relinquish control. In tango, you see, a woman follows. It is the man who must lead.

(Those that know me are now shaking their heads and giggling because they can smell the smoke that was curling out of my ears on Thursday night...)

Actual exchanges with my partners (identified as Victims 1 through 4), translated from the French when necessary:

V1: You're supposed to let me lead.
AD: I am!
V1: No, you're not! You only move when I move.
AD: Well, I can hardly just be a dead weight. I have to anticipate when you move.
V1: Just follow me.
AD: [eyeroll] Fine.

[No moving. Palanca makes a few false starts.]

AD: Now you're just doing it on purpose!
V1: Don't move unless I move!
AD: Then MOVE!

- - - - -

AD: I'm going to try with Esteve now.
V2 to V3: Be careful, she's going to pull you around.

- - - - - 

AD: I'll have you know that I did not have these problems with Esteve. We were floating on air!
v4: Did you let him lead?
AD: You're getting lippy.
V4: Let me lead.
AD: Not if your knees keep getting in the way of my knees like that.
V4: We are going to get this.
AD: Oooh, then lead on, big man!

New sessions start in mid-January if anyone wants to join. me.


Post-office party status lines

In honour of the rather rambunctious company holiday party we had last night, I bring you Facebook status lines for the morning after:
  • Maxime is issuing a blanket apology for any unsolicited touching that may have occurred during last night's festivities.
  • Maxime is sorry that he "partied" all over your shoes.
  • Maxime apologises for the botched tablecloth trick last night.
  • Maxime would like to apologise, but his attorneys have advised against it.
  • Maxime would like to say, "It was nice working with you!"
  • Maxime is www.aa.org
And if you're still having trouble, read my Facebook status line writing tips.


The Boy Least Likely To

Look what I found... An English duo by the name of The Boy Least Likely To. Isn't this totally *me*?


Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

It took precisely 2.5 days to finish the 498 pages of Twilight, but it only took 0.75 days for me to decide whether I liked the experience or not.

Turns out, I didn’t enjoy the book all that much. And you know I’m going to tell you why…

1) I love the use of the vampire theme to explore the subtext of teenage lust. Although Stephenie Meyer set up all the necessary elements, I found the execution to be disappointing (see points 2-3 below). Of course, Joss Whedon did it much better years ago with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so Meyer didn’t have much of a chance.

2) The repetition started to wear on me – and fast. Let me summarise things for you: Edward is impossibly beautiful, his lips are very cold and his chest is very muscular, also he averts his eyes a lot, has issues with anger management and shouldn’t be indulging in his feelings of Bella. Furthermore, Bella is overly self-conscious, has feelings of never being good enough, is perpetually upset about Edward’s reticence, has a jumpy heart, and is mesmerized by his topaz eyes. This repetition is tiresome and I never feel as if the characters evolve.

3) I didn’t feel any particular chemistry between Edward and Bella. In fact, her self-esteem issues got so repetitive, I started to ask Edward aloud, “Yes, why do you want Bella?” I understand why the story is so popular with readers – which Plain Jane out there doesn’t want to believe that she’ll attract the eye of a beautiful hero? But Bella is no Elizabeth Bennet, you know what I mean?

That being said, if Stephenie Meyer is getting teenagers to read more, I’m all for it. I don’t think I can stomach another volume, but I hope that her readers continue to enjoy the books for many years to come. As for me, I may go dig out a copy of Jane Eyre



You know those bangles I wear on my right wrist? With a little Indian flavour? That clink delicately as I approach?

Heidi wanted something similar and I hoped to add to my collection, so we took a stroll through Little India recently to find the shop where I originally purchased my bangles.

We happened upon the same shopkeeper who sold me the bangles last spring, a very educated man who explained to us the history of the bangles we sought as pretty baubles.

Apparently, he sells them mostly to Sikhs as part of a spiritual tradition that spans back to the late 17th century.

All baptised Sikhs carry five symbols known as kakaars, which are external symbols to identify and display commitment to their faith. The kakaars are:
  • Kesh (uncut hair)
  • Kanga (comb)
  • Kara (bracelet)
  • Kirpan (sword)
  • Kachehra (a special type of cotton underwear)
Thanks to a few high-profile legal battles over the kirpan in Quebec, most Montrealers are aware of what this short sword represents - but very few of us understand its context and the deep symbolism of the five kakaars.

For example, the kara - or bracelet - symbolizes restraint from evil deeds. It is worn on the right wrist and reminds the Sikh that he should think twice before doing anything evil with his hands.

And to think, my favourite thing is to shake my arm and exclaim, "Pretty!"

Now I'll have to throw in "and do no evil!" too.



Engaging in meaningful work

After a morning marked by frustration (unsuccessfully trying to access our security system with my Interac PIN, accidentally deleting a blog post, etc.), I sank down in my chair and listened to a tape of Malcolm Gladwell's presentation about developing human potential. It was delivered on Wednesday at the InfoPresse Innovations conference in Mtl.

He began by referring to Michael Lewis's theory of capitalization, that is, the rate at which a community takes advantage of its collective human potential, and then noted that only a small percentage of people in any given group ever fulfill their full human potential.

Gladwell attributes this blockage of capitalization to various factors, including poverty and cultural attitudes. One statement that I found to be particularly interesting was MG's assertion that "there weren't more dumb people in 1908 than there are right now", it's just that they were "stuck on farms" or other places where opportunities for developing their talents were limited.

Furthermore, according to MG, we all have inherent talents for math, music, etc. It's just a question of how hard we work and how much we are shaped by cultural attitudes towards learning.

I had two reactions to this:
  • We would like to think that we live in a country that encourages education. The truth is, we live in a country that imposes rules about what we'll learn and when. It's camouflaged with assertions of ensuring that our children are meeting certain goals every year, but reality, I think, is far less generous. Most schools push math and science, all the while cutting arts and music programs. How's that for limiting opportunities?
  • At first I objected, "we can't all go to university and be smarty-smartlets. Farms need to operate in order for everyone to eat and many farmers are passionate about what they do. Who are we to say that they're 'stuck' on their farms?" But then I chilled out a little.
MG is not supporting an elitist view of education in which all children must aspire to being the next Gladwell. The point is to offer children enough opportunities so that if they're suited to being farmers, they will become farmers, and if they're not suited to being farmers, they can discover whatever it is that will ignite their potential.

Who can argue with that? Isn't the belief that we're all inherently able far more human than believing "girls aren't good at math" and "men don't make good teachers"? Haven't we seen enough exceptions to these archaic stereotypes to finally invalidate such thinking?

I'd like to believe that I'm inherently good at math but that I was never disciplined enough to excel at it, because I found my niche in words and books.

I was lucky in that I discovered my potential early, but how many people out there are still searching, because they were never given the opportunity to explore their talents?

Too many, as MG reminds us.


So You Think You Can Dance - Canada

Before tonight's last performance show, I just want to say that I've loved every moment. But let's revisit one of my favourite moments before the party's over.

I miss you Arassay. I miss you Vincent. Maybe Nico can comfort me...

The dancing starts at :49 seconds. Try not to giggle when they bleep "bitch".


Most over-used lines on television

(which, unlike ‘DOH!’, have lost their charm through repetition)
  • “Take it back to the lab and see what you can get.”
  • “Detective, do you have children?”
  • “Hurry! Please! Fast! Fast! Hurry!”
  • “How have things been between you and your wife/husband lately?”
  • Family member: “You have to get the man that killed my wife/child/mother/dog.” Official (usually David Caruso): “We’ll get him. I can promise you that.”
  • Intern intubating patient, sweating profusely: “I can’t do it! I can’t visualize the cords!”
  • “The body was found by a jogger.”
Did I miss anything?


On the reading pile this week

Just finished reading (for book club)

Deniro's Game by Rawi Hage

Although my alter ego would be over-the-moon enthusiastic about this award-winning novel by a Montreal-based author, I remain ambivalent about whether or not I liked the writing. Sometimes uneven. Sometimes unnecessarily ornate. The plot, however, was definitely riveting. I would say more but book club rules being what they are...

Best quote (kind of)
The first morning, I took the metro and walked to the Eiffel Tower. Tourists like little ants strolled under the monster's metal feet. They looked up at it, protecting their eyes with small plastic cameras, posing underneath it like smiling statues, pressing their index fingers on tiny buttons to suck the light from their smiling faces...

Currently reading (thanks to Bram L. for the borrow!)

The Seance by John Harwood

I have only read the first part, narrated by Constance Langton, but I was immediately drawn in because:

(1) it is set in 1880s London (the time frame of my own dear project)
(2) it reminded me of Berkeley Square, a short-lived series from the BBC that I loved from the first frame

I barely lifted my head from the book to eat dinner. It has the page-turning suspense of Wilkie Collins, and is written with a crisp, well-paced prose that is effortless to read.

Best quote:
Mr Montague came to see me on a freezing January morning. I was standing by the window when Dora showed him into the drawing room, and he paused as the door closed behind him, seemingly struck by something in my appearance. He was tall and spare, and slightly stooped, with grey hair receding markedly at the temples. His face was lined as if by suffering or illness; his skin had a greyish tinge, and there were dark shadows like bruises beneath his eyes.

About to read

Les hommes qui n'aimaient pas les femmes by Stieg Larsson

Because everybody on the metro seems to be reading this book. Because my colleagues can't stop talking about it. And because Larrson's story is so compelling and tragic.


Wasting precious time

Being a member of the marketing/advertising community, I have a very low tolerance for bad ads - especially ones that shamelessly manipulate our emotions with the basest of tactics. One tactic that particularly upsets me is the "stop wasting your precious time" approach.

The straw that broke this camel's back was the TV commercial for McCain Roasters. You know the one where a business woman is preparing roast potatoes while at the office? She's ripping open tiny salt and pepper packets to season the potatoes she chopped while putting together a PowerPoint presentation (or similar), and there's a voiceover making exasperated noises about 'who has time to spend all day preparing roast potatoes?'

Yes, the absurdity of the situation is supposed to be funny, but I gnash my teeth every time it comes on. Not only does it anger me that a perfectly intelligent woman is depicted as being too brain-addled to peel a potato in less than eight hours, and that this product creates more waste in the name of convenience, but I hate how advertisements are constantly telling us to save-time-don't-waste-time.

Advertisers are not worried about us savouring every moment of our time here on earth. They want us to save time so that we can keep running and keep buying their products. These commercials keep us tiny guinea pigs running ever faster on our increasingly-shrinking wheels, and the whole cycle exhausts me.

Now excuse me while I peel the biggest pile of potatoes just for the pleasure of getting my hands dirty.


Video - Tricot Machine

Stop complaining! It's pretty outside! Watch this video. It will make you feel better. Maybe even inspire you to knit.


Sesame Street does 30 Rocks

Thanks to Steve (i.e. Shorty)!


Yoga and writing

I was having a chat with my yoga teacher, Allison, yesterday and we stumbled upon a revelation.

We were discussing the topic of writing and I was saying something about what a powerful act writing is, how it can help you focus your ideas, and even help you work out things that you aren’t able to understand otherwise.

And Allison is all, “Writing is like another form of meditation then.”

And I’m all, “Yes, you’re absolutely right, writing is another kind of practice.”

Writing is a practice that nurtures mindfulness, especially if you are writing in a journal (blogs included) or creating fiction. In that moment, you must immerse yourself completely in the flow of your pen. If you allow your mind to wander away from the task at hand, the sentences will fall apart right before your eyes.

But when you’re able to keep your focus on the writing at hand, the results are extraordinary.

And just like that, two of the most important aspects of my life came together in a meaningful way. Once again, I was able to see the underlying values that anchor everything I do, even if I am not consciously aware of them. It was one of those moments that reminded me that things aren’t as random as they seem, and that oftentimes, you find yourself in a certain place because it’s inevitable, natural and logical.

Suddenly, the prospect of taking a month off next year for yoga teacher training also seems to be a positive thing for my writing. Chances are, I’ll be exhausted from the daily 8-hour immersion in all-things-yoga, but maybe it will open some writing blockages.

Back to completing my application form...


George Stroumboulopoulos

Anyone else ever find themselves suddenly attracted to George Stroumboulopoulos? It's come on quite suddenly... inexplicably... and I don't know how to handle it.

(we'd look cute together, admit it)

It happened the other night during The Hour when he got all self-conscious about wearing a something-other-than-black shirt. He kept touching his belly as if worried that he'd look *poochie* on television, and it was very endearing. He's a Habs fan, did I mention that?

(so dark, so Mediterranean, so many vowels...)

Seriously, what do I do about this?


Palanca's big day

Wednesday, November 19, 2008 was a big day. A sweeper day. In which many situations finally came to a head and were resolved in ways that were perhaps difficult, but nonethess inevitable and acceptable and natural.

There was laughter, tears, much discussion, wild applause, and so much love. I feel as if so many things are coming to an end right now, but only because amazing new things are ready to grow.

I will try to approach this methodically. And less abstractly.

Palanca's big day, a summary
  1. A highly stressful situation at work was finally resolved. I received a long overdue raise and was granted a four-week hiatus to pursue yoga teacher training next year (if Ashtanga Yoga Montreal will have me). My boss had every reason in the world to say no, but he didn't. And I am so grateful. Thank you, √Čtienne.
  2. Ms. Julie "helped" Joel Yanofsky host the QWF Awards Gala. Or rather interrupted the evening's proceedings with cute commentary and one (aborted) musical number. I was worried that I'd flub it somehow, but I think I performed quite well to the receptive crowd. My tenure as Ms. Julie is coming to an end and although she is loved hardcore, her future is uncertain. Let it be said that I loved every minute of it.
  3. And after all that, a friend and I said our final goodbyes. Not because he's moving to another country or going off to become a priest. We said goodbye because our friendship was more parts heavy than it was light. The history between us grew too big, was suffocating us, leaving no room for belly laughs and compassionate understanding. It was pending for weeks now. I was just lacking the courage. But I told him how much I'd miss him, how much I loved him, and he said all the right things too. No regrets. No things left unsaid. Just clear roads ahead for us both on our separate paths.
So now I'm home. And I'm tired. And with black eyeliner streaking my cheeks. But for the first time in a long time, I am looking forward to tomorrow.

Love to you all.


Tuesday absurdity

Inspired by Tha Connaisseur and her hilarious Monday madness posts, I bring you Tuesday absurdity, or pretentious displays that made me "cuss, cringe and shake my head". It may not be an alliterative title, but I assure you, the content is quality.

1) This is Goop (thanks Manon D). Guess what? Gwyneth Paltrow is a better person that you are, and now she has the website to prove it. As G tells us in the opening page, "My life is good because I am not passive about it" and so she encourages us, "Don't be lazy". The solution to not being lazy, apparently, is visiting her website often to be inspired by her recipes, experiences, and shared thoughts from "one of my sages".

I imagine the greatness of her life has nothing to do with being born to Hollywood parents, being a successful actress, having married a rock star, and rolling around in enough money to make God blush in shame. Nooo, it's that vegetarian lasagna she made last week...

2) Plateau party invitation. Now, out of respect to a very dear friend of mine, I will not reveal how this little treasure fell into my hands. And I certainly won't reproduce it in it's entirety, but rest assured that the whole message is equally "WTF?"

Would you have attended this party "without the social crutches of alcohol and other substances making our minds fall back asleep"?
  • PROGRAM: I will probably initiate a talking circle (based on the millenium tradition of Native peoples of the Americas) and/or a collective reflection and writing exercise. Should you have any ideas, inspiring texts, poems, pieces of visual art, etc., that you wish to share with welcoming and curious souls, please allow yourself to share this impulse!
  • FOOD, DRINKS: Please note that i do not intend to organize any "potlacht" (potluck, community meal), neither any percussions jam, since i do not feel like dealing with the "dispersion" that it would create, nor end the night with 1-2 hours of cleaning up in the wee hours or the next morning!
Raw veggies and medicinal herb teas were on the menu. Seriously. And then people wonder where the Plateau gets its reputation.

Ooh, this is giving me a stomach ache... Palanca out!


Ms. Julie does Global TV

Now if you missed Ms. Julie being interviewed by Jamie Orchard on Global TV this past Friday, November 14, here is the link.

I... she... we are on during the last 10 minutes. Having watched myself on screen (with the volume turned way down), I must admit that my resemblance to TFey is astonishing. If only Tina knew...


Status lines inspired by Tina Fey and 30 Rock

  • Staal is BLURGH!
  • Staal is a dash of high school bitchy.
  • Staal doesn't like hypothetical questions. It's like lying to your brain.
  • Staal thinks your shoes are definitely bi-curious.
  • Staal loves this [food item here] so much he wants to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.
  • Staal is a real good sex person.
  • Staal is freaky-deaky.
  • Staal, Beeper King.
  • Staal has two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn't cried once today.
  • Staal loved The Rural Juror.
  • Staal needs more business juice.
Mwah-ha-ha! My Facebook status line supremacy lives on!


Webcom 2008 – Interlude

Three grown-ups

Two man-shaped USB memory keys with adjustable arms and legs.

Dead time between two conferences.

A digital camera.

Brought to you by the same perpetrators of the great bear massacre.


On the use of place names in fiction

I’m one of those rare creatures that experiences ecstasies while walking down the street, usually provoked by a sudden glimpse of graffiti or an unexpected shade of red pushing through the foliage. Last night, as I walked to yoga, I headed west along Duluth towards Park Ave. and let loose a sigh when I cleared the convent wall.

To my right, Mont Royal was shrouded in apocalyptic clouds of grey, shot through with ashy streaks of mustard yellow. To my left, downtown Montreal lit up, the lines of the skyscrapers clearly cutting metal from sky and distant traffic lights like flickering birds of red and green.

The kind of moment that doesn’t make you regret the arrival of winter.

But it brought back a memory of my days in the Concordia Creative Writing program, when a debate broke over the use of specific place names in fiction. After one of the more outspoken students treated us to a five-minute explanation of why he hated such hackneyed touristy writing, the general consensus was 'if it's written well, it's ok'.

Lately, I’ve read a few stories and one novel set in Montreal, and their depictions (both published and non-published) of this beloved city have been uneven. In the best case, the city becomes another character, unfolding with beautiful slowness like a lotus in the palm. In the best-best case, the city and the hero evolve together towards their future.

But in the worst case, the writing comes off as forced and reminiscent of the kind of amateurish writing you sometimes do encounter in creative writing classes.

Made-up example: "I walked towards home, and hesitated before Schwartz's, Montreal's most famous deli."

This speech pattern is unrealistic for a native Montrealer. Do you think, "Montreal's most famous deli" every time you cross Schwartz's? Neither do I. So if it doesn't fall within the plausible realm of that character, that moment, then the writer should know better than to tack on such a qualifier.

In this case, the (double) mention makes the sentence less crackling because it has nothing to say about the character speaking those words or the current mood he/she in experiencing.

It does not contribute to the story. Period.

So am I totally off the mark here? What do my fellow scribes and readers think? Am I being all snobby again?


Good advertising

I found this postcard today as I walked out of a restaurant - and was immediately impressed.

It was created to promote a project by the Fondation pour l'alphabetisation to encourage children to read.

Someone give Cinderella a B12 shot...



So what did you think your adult life would be like when you were a kid? Did you ever become a fireman? Did you get married and have those two kids? Where's that dog you always wanted?

How big is the gap between what-you-thought and what-came-true? Is it better? Is it worse? Would the kid-you-once-were recognise the adult-you-are-now? Would they like each other if they met?

I ask these questions because I'm having trouble recalling those memories.

I remember wanting to write and being surrounded by stories, stories, stories from my earliest days. I also remember a short period of time in which I wanted to be a hairdresser. I remember wanting to dance ballet. I remember not believing in Santa Claus. I remember walking to school in the third or fourth grade and thinking, "Just my luck I turned out to be not-pretty". And I remember music every day.

I don't remember fantasizing  about getting married and dressing up like a bride. I don't remember dreaming about having children. I just remember wanting words every day. And looking forward to the day when someone would want to be my Gilbert Blythe. And having a house of my own where friends could come and visit anytime.

So have you filled the intervening years in a satisfying way? Or is there a gaping lacuna between then and now?

I think I'm doing ok. I still have words, stories and music every day. I have a bee-yoo-ti-ful house with a stone Buddha and a crystal chandelier. I have a great hairdresser who helps me overcome my karmic deficiencies. The Santa Claus cynicism does not seem to have negatively impacted my personal development in any lasting way. No one wants to be my Gilbert Blythe (stupid boys!) but I have an army of Diana Barrys to make life bearable... nay pleasurable!

I hope mini-Adriana is proud of me, that I haven't let her down. I'll see what I can do about the ballet... maybe she'll let me do flamenco instead.


Deleting or editing comments

Following a conversation with a friend, I did some research and found a series of blog posts addressing the issue of whether bloggers - and in particular, business bloggers - should edit or delete comments left on their blog.
Most seem to agree that if the comment is spam, offensive, pornographic or insulting, deletion is an entirely reasonable response.

As for me, I "approve" comments before they are published not because I want to control the message. It's just an easy way to ensure that I'll respond to all of them.


Going upside down

Part one of the yoga inversions workshop I attended this weekend went extremely well (read: Adriana didn't do anything to embarass herself).

At the beginning, we were all asked to give our reasons for participating in the workshop. Many of the six participants expressed a desire to overcome the fear of being upside down. Oddly, I don't think I'm afraid of being upside down. I'm more panicked by not being able to hold the pose and falling in the most spectacular bone-cracking fashion.

I'm afraid of the precariousness of the pose.

Allison asked us to practice our inversions - headstand, shoulder stand, elbow balance - before the next session in December, so that we can spend the second session refining the poses already learned and move on to the more challenging inversions.

My goals are to:
  1. be straighter in shoulder stand
  2. learn headstand without the wall
  3. learn to bring my legs up together in a controlled fashion, rather than kick up
I've only had one yoga practice since the workshop, but I have already made one discovery.

When going up, I always worry that my back is too curved, that my ribcage is already too far back, and if I shift my weight, I will certainly topple. On Monday, I played with the movement, and discovered that my ribcage can be moved back farther than I suspected - and still be entirely stable. And without a wall to catch me either.

I also managed to lift both legs as high as my waist, at which point I was so impressed with myself, I totally forgot what I was doing and just came back down. But for a moment there, I trusted myself, and it worked.

I'm getting there. I'm getting there.


Rant. And help needed.

The previous owner of my condo suggested I put up a NO BIKES PLEASE sign on my front fence, warning me that bikes left locked on the fence could be a hazard in wintertime.

You see, in deep snow, those zippy sidewalk sweepers cannot gauge where the fence ends, and it's happened that while zipping along, they have missed the mark. Now I don't know much about physics, but I do understand that when a speeding object hits a stationary target (unless it's a moose), the moving object wins.

On two occasions, the sweepers have hit bikes on the front lawn - and have taken the fence with them. In fact, the previous owner even took the City of Montreal to court to have her fence repaired last year - and she won. Today, the fence is still a little bent near the entry to the path.

Also, I had beautiful rose bushes that grew around the fence. I didn't want them crushed!

So I put up the sign, using tie-wraps to make it nice and tight against the fence. To be kind to my neighbours, I placed the sign near the opening, where the fence is less stable. This still left them two places - near the outer, anchoring posts - in which to lock their bikes.

I have this cranky German man renting a flat next door who has been heard complaining about my sign, grumbling that people should be allowed to lock their bikes anywhere, that the owner promised him he would always have a place for his bike on the street, and other anarchist-type comments that display a disturbing detachment from reality.

Now let's remember:
  • Cranky German man (CGM) is not my tenant and lives in another building
  • I own my condo, therefore making the fence private property
  • Numerous times, while he and his less surly girlfriend have been standing by my fence locking their bikes to the sanctioned corners, I have walked out of my home and smiled at them, never being mean or asking them to cease and desist.
In the summer, I tried say hell to CGM (sans girlfriend), but he stared at me coldly like I was dirt. Two days later, I discovered that someone had defaced my sign with a sticker featuring a tree and a line drawn through it (anti-nature? wha??). I calmly peeled it off.

Two days ago, I bid him good morning. More cold stares. And this morning? Someone had stolen my sign. And considering how firmly it was affixed to my fence, CGM (or whoever it was) had to bring tools with him.

Could someone please explain to me how I became the bad guy in all this?

My only thought? Putting up another sign, and then asking my father for big wire cutters so that I can"liberate" CGM's bike the next time he locks it to my fence. Maybe even lock it my balcony and force him to come and ask for it.

This is obviously not the *adult* way to deal with the matter. So, any suggestions?


Palanca gets a digital camera

Guess what? I've joined the 90s and purchased a digital camera! To inaugurate the arrival of my new Canon Powershot, I bring you a snapshot of my favourite grafitti.

Scrawled on a brick wall, corner of Prince Arthur and Clarke. If you can't enlarge the image, it reads:

Anyone can slay a dragon, he told me, but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That's what takes a real hero.


Maybelline New York

At a recent conference I attended on email marketing, there was a presentation from Maybelline New York and the agency that helped them launch this (admittedly) very cool project: my MNY. The company asked women to sign up for a personalized booklet, which they received in the mail after answering a series of questions about their age, complexion, cosmetic style, favourite brands, etc.

The booklet is very modular, with some content that remains unchanged and some customized content that matches your specific profile. The cover photo, of course, was selected according to your colouring, but the teaser titles did not change. Most of the customization was reserved for product promotion on the inside pages. There were also savings coupons with unique serial numbers, so that Maybelline could track who was spending on what and when.

A stroke of genius, really.

There were some 50,000 different versions produced. For anyone who works in advertising and marketing, a project of this scope is undeniably scary... and impressive, if you have the resources to pull it off. At the conference, each participant received a randomly generated booklet, and much time was spent comparing individual pages to see just how much was customized.

And then Palanca learned something new (see image at right). 

Quote: The pointed and turned-out toe pose adds an extra few inches to your leg, making it appear longer.

There is a science to posing apparently, but I think it's inherent, programmed, built-in. I've been doing the pointed and turned-out toe thing unconsciously for years! More often when I'm trying on clothes in stores.

You know what this means, don't we?

We are all supermodels inside...

I miss you J. Hamilton

Correction, I miss talking to you, Hamilton. I could have used your explanations during the World Series.
Wherever you are cookie, I send you love and happiness.

For the rest of you who have no idea to whom I refer, listen to this tune by Angus & Julia Stone instead.


Buddhism and the ego

So I'm reading the Bhagavad Gita because it's one of the texts studied during yoga teacher training. And since I intend to pursue training one day, I'm preparing.

The reason that I'm sharing this with you now is that I read some verses last night that finally explained something to me.

You see, I have encountered more than one Buddhist who possesses as enormous ego, fabricates the most fantastic lies, and behaves in ways that are destructive to both themselves and others. I may not be the most studied Buddhist-in-training, but from what I've learned from teachers like Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, the behaviour of the above-mentioned individuals is decidedly un-Buddhist.

Interestingly, both Buddhists in question have cited the concept of "the divine within one's self" as a keystone of their beliefs. In my mind, these persons are basically using Buddhism to justify their own self-centredness.

I just don't t understand how the concepts of Buddhism could co-exist alongside such egotism. And then I came across a passage in the Bhagavad Gita last night (right) that showed me how these individuals were circumventing the paradox.

If I understand this correctly, I do believe that the Buddhists to which I refer read this passage and came to believe that meditation and yoga are expiatory acts that cancel whatever nonsense they provoke in their day-to-day lives.

This seems appalling to me, because (a) they are picking and choosing when to practice Buddhism, and (b) they are isolating which Buddhist precepts they wish to apply. It's like show-and-pony-Buddhism.

Is it me, or is this totally against the purpose and thrust of Buddhism? Help. Anyone?


Looking into other people's houses

One of the great pleasures of living in the Plateau is the ability to walk through quiet, shady streets, where the only movement is the ghostly shadow of trees flickering on the brick houses and the twitch of front curtains as suspicious neighbours press their nose to the front window.

Now that it's colder, I've abandoned my bike and opted for comfortable shoes instead. Walking home from yoga. Strolling to the theatre. Hoofing it to the pharmacy. Whether it's five minutes or 45, whether I'm iPod-equipped or not, I am up to task because as long as I have eyes, I will always be entertained.

Or should I say, as long as y'all keep your curtains slightly parted, I will always be entertained.

When I was in CEGEP and university, I hated taking the bus because a long stretch of the route cut across Westmount. The houses are certainly quite grandiose and sometimes beautiful, but it seemed to me that no one actually lives in Westmount. Other than the glow of a Lalique lamp in the window or the presence of a car in the driveway, you'd be hard pressed most days to find any sign of life in those mansions. It's like all the rich people are safely esconced in the deepest corners of their houses, where poverty and sad things can't reach them.

That's what I love about my neighbourhood - life is right there on the street, honestly represented in all its pecularities. Things I love to get a fleeting glimpse of as I whoosh past your windows:
  • The blue flicker of the TV on walls
  • Piles of books, hastily stacked in corners
  • A nice leather couch
  • A knife abandoned in a jar of peanut butter on the side table
  • A laundry basket on the floor (contents optional)
Anyone else out there want to fess up? Come on - you'll feel better!

PS. Photo brought to you by Esteve Favrel.
For more: http://picasaweb.google.com/estevefavrel


Uniquely Montreal

Heard on the radio this morning:

Weather guy: It will be a chilly day with lots of clouds and maybe a little rain, but nothing serious.

And a shudder of relief passes through the bodies of Montrealers from east to west. We know what "nothing serious" means - it means no snow.


Love song for hockey

The first thing I remember of hockey is my father.

Unlike other Italian dads in the neighbourhood, my pa didn't follow il calcio - soccer, football, or whatever you want to call it. My father watched hockey. Never one for forced enthusiasm, my father wasn't trying to 'fit in' - no, Serafino Palanca truly loved the pace and ardour of hockey. Still does. If you've ever heard his chuckle when some poor rookie pays the price for going into a corner with his head down, it's fairly obvious.

I remember him sitting in front of our basement television, clenched and occasionally exploding verbally at the screen. It was a visceral experience for him - and for anyone else in the room that tried to discuss what was happening on the screen. Funny this is - he's never been a Montreal Canadiens fan - even more not so when I started watching hockey and my love of the Habs became a new thing to tease me about.

"Hai visto come ha perduto le Canadese ieri sera? I Bruins l'hanno fatto mangiare la claque!"*

I decided to try watching this hockey-stuff one random night when I was in the sixth or seventh grade. The Habs were playing the Minnesota Stars, who were remarkable only for their fluo lemon-lime uniforms that lit up the TV screen like fireflies.

It was confusing. I didn't understand much - especially why anyone should get a penalty for passing a puck across two blue lines - doesn't that move the puck faster? But my dad liked it, and I was going to watch it until it made sense.

And then one day it made sense. And soon after that, I started to lose my sense, developing enough pre-game superstitions to put a French-Canadian goalie to shame. I still scream at that TV with an abandon that sees no reason...

But when you love hockey, it's crazy Fatal-Attraction love - there's no other way!

What wasn't there to love about hockey? Even when the Canadiens were losing badly, there was still this sense - as there is with every hockey game - that at any second, that cursed hunk of black rubber would slip between the goalie's pads and make this a whole new game!

I had a Russ Courtnall jersey (partly for his speed, partly for his cute). In 1989, during the finals against the Calgary Flames, we forced our teachers to include the Habs in our morning prayers. Lunchtimes, we picked at our sandwiches and discussed stats and players with passionate detail.

We even wrote naughty poems about our favourite players.**

As the Canadiens get their centennial season rolling, I count myself fortunate to have these hockey-infused memories to enrich my past. And hope to count a few more Stanley Cup parades in the years to come. Go, Habs, go!


*My father also spent 40 years working on construction sites, and thus knows a surprising variety of Quebecois-flavoured swear words that he can slip in at different moments. It's as cute as heck!
**Out of female solidarity, we decided long ago to keep these under lock and key. Don't ask to see them.


Facebook status lines again?

Because you kids keep coming back for more...
  • Jerome is wondering why Toronto needs another hockey team. Doesn't the one suck enough?
  • Jerome didn't know that Toronto had one hockey team.
  • Jerome has an alibi for that night.
  • Jerome went around the world in 12 clicks - thanks GoogleMaps!
  • Jerome has a hankering for a hunk of cheese.
  • Jerome is a little bit country, a little bit rock'n'roll.
  • Jerome is gonna do it.
  • Jerome is wearing his birthday suit. Wanna see it?
  • Jerome needs a drinkie.
Oh, and I think I've figured out why so many people are Googling for status lines. With the new Facebook, friends can now leave comments on your status line. It's another functionality they've added for more interactivity. So the pressure is on to compose something chat-worthy!

Go ahead - push my Analytics through the roof and view more Facebook status lines here.


New Benjy Ferree song!

Don't waste time reading what I have to say, visit Benjy Ferree's MySpace page now to hear the new track Fear.

(And a new album expected for February 2009... Ah, life is sweet!)


The Fourth Canvas by Rana Bose

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Rana Bose's second novel, The Fourth Canvas at Theatre Lachapelle. Let me explain to you why I so freely use the word "pleasure".
  • A musical set by cellist Brigitte Mayes and all-things-strings Prasun Lala. Their interpretation of "Love Hurts" was sensational, but their take on "Such Great Heights" still resounds with me today.
  • A theatrical setting with spotlights, chairs, and artwork by Siraj Chew-Bose.
  • Puff pastry filled with caramelised onions and bacon (I ate it before I knew about the bacon, so sit down vegetarian police!) Thanks Lisa!
  • And two readings by Rana Bose, of course.
I begin reading tonight. Stay tuned for more comments.

And for those of you that missed the festivities last night, Rana will also be reading at Paragraphe Bookstore on November 13 @ 7pm before moving on to Quebec City, Toronto and Calgary.


Tina Fey and Sarah Palin on SNL

Check out more Saturday Night Live clips here. If you want to reach about how NBC innovated with the creation of Hulu, read the Wired article here. To complain that Hulu can only be streamed in the United States? Turn to your pet, spouse, or favourite potted plant.


Classic Powell

My dearest bud, Powell, is known for many things. Her authentic British accent. Her stinky bum. Her terrible memory... especially when it comes to recalling the names of people, places, and things.

Imagine the hilarity this morning, when during our drive to Vermont, Powell said the following:

POW: He was listening to music on his dewberry. (pronounced 'doo-burry')

AP: (knowing full well what she is referring to) His dewberry?

POW: Yes, his dewberry. I can't possibly be expected to remember the technical names of things.

AP: Dewberry?

POW: Yes, with the curly thing on the front.

AP: You mean, his iPod.

POW: Yes, his iPod! His dewberry!



90 Degrees blog

What? You say you want to learn more about the online marketing industry? You're curious about search engine optimization?

Visit the 90 Degrees blog! Yours truly regularly publishes insights about the Web industry.

And, well, if my articles get lots of traffic, I could win stuff. I love stuff.


Knorr's Colourful Soups

Although it's true that most of us can only name freezies by colour, rather than flavour, I find this concept to be far more alarming when it applies to soups.

Soups are promoted as nutritious. Also, they are not marketed to children who admittedly (at a certain age) recognize colours far better than fruit names. So is the new Knorr soup line the ultimate dumbing-down? Is it really so hard to remember the name of soups?

Furthermore, the vague ingredients of each 'colour' are very alarming. Why can't they be more precise in their marketing materials?

Should they be really called floor-sweepings soups? Are these soups the 'hot dogs' of the soup world? I'm going to warm up a Bagel-ful while I think about it....


Haven't found your true love?

It's ok - just follow Emiliana Torrini's example...

And Torrini's new album will transform you, I swear!


Dusting off Anais Nin

Total lack of creativity tonight. I've been hammering away at Chapter Seven, but I feel less like a wordsmith, and more like a plumber. A plumber of punctuation.

So I put down my wrench and (as I've done frequent times before) I went digging for inspiration in the many volumes of my library. Tonight, I pulled out a tome of Anais Nin's diary, opened a random page and... here's the semi-random quote I fell upon:

Without self-knowledge you are not capable of objectivity. Only of rationalization. When you have self-knowledge you know what areas of your judgement are not to be trusted.

Very wise. I expected nothing less of my old friend Anais. But then I pulled out another tome... and another... and had one of those crashing revelations that are inevitable, but surprising nonetheless.

I've outgrown Anais Nin. It's official.

I was approaching 20 years of age when I read the first pages of her diary, and it was an epiphany. Here was a true artist. A richly creative woman who lived fearlessly, passionately. I underlined so many passages, left breathless by the desire to be her. When I read of her death, this woman who spent her life questioning the birth and death of creativity, who spent her days seeking sexual pleasure, who had an incestuous relationship with her father, I was rocked by the irony of her dying from a cancer deep inside her uterus.

Every moment of her life seemed charged with meaning and feeling, and I coveted her ability to give herself so willingly to life. Not the father stuff, obviously, but the other cooler non-incesty parts.

And then...

Having spent 30 minutes tonight rereading the underlined passages, I am a little saddened to announce that I've lost my idealism of Anais Nin. I respect her creativity, I love her spirit, but I see her as a real woman now, possessing frailties and weaknesses, and deep psychological flaws. She was never the perfect, mystic creature that I imagined.

And that's a good thing.

Because it means that I've finally achieved the maturity necessary (as an artist and as a woman) to understand Nin - and other artists, other women - on a level previously not accessible to me.