Log in

No account? Create an account
Craig Rowland's Journal
[Most Recent Entries] [Calendar View] [Friends]

Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in Craig Rowland's LiveJournal:

[ << Previous 20 -- Next 20 >> ]
Friday, August 16th, 2013
9:15 am
Sun on the seventieth
I have just had breakfast and in a couple hours we will dock at Honningsvåg. Honningsvåg is slightly further north than Vardø, which I visited in 2002, yet not as north as Mehamn, which lies just north of the 71st parallel. Mehamn is a village we will see later on today. Yesterday we spent the day walking around Tromsø, a major town of 70.000 situated on an island. My first stop in Tromsø was the public library, where I was pleasantly surprised to see signs in both Norwegian and Northern Sami. Northern Sami, also known as Tunturi Sami (in Finland) or Fell Sami, is in the minority here yet I have not been able to find any Sami books except for Norwegian-Sami and Sami-Norwegian dictionaries.

The sun is out again and before I came to the ship's small Internet station I walked outside on the uppermost outside deck with only a T-shirt, yet I am still wearing long pants and haven't put shorts on the entire time since we left Bergen. It is a cloudless day, quite unlike the start of this voyage when it was rainy, grey and cloudy all day and all night long. Tromsø had a very long bridge connecting it to the mainland where the Ishavskatedralen (www.ishavskatedralen.no) is located. (I can't insert links in this post.) The crossing of the bridge reminded me of the frigid windy time I had while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge: even though I crossed both bridges in the middle of the summer, the wind by the time you reach the central high arch of the bridge--high enough to allow cruise ships to pass through--whips you into numbness.

The polar museum Polaria (http://www.polaria.no/home.155300.en.html) resembles the Ishavskatedralen in its stylized iceberg shape. I did not visit this museum but did spend a lot of time and money in its gift shop, where one can buy countless books on the Norwegian Arctic polar regions. I came out with a new English guide to Svalbard as well as a large-scale map of the archipelago. While talking with Mark about making a return visit to the Norwegian Arctic, I mentioned that Svalbard (as well as Jan Mayen, an island you need permission to visit from the coast guard) was on my list. Mark did not seem put off by this suggestion, so who knows. We might be in Longyearbyen sometime soon.

Time to prepare for Honningsvåg, then tomorrow very early in the morning I make a return visit, this time in the summer, to Vardø and Vadsø. I can't wait to see those towns again.
Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
8:32 am
Tight squeeze

The sun has finally come out during this fjord cruise. We awoke to a shaft of strong sunlight slicing through our cabin window and when I opened the curtains it blinded me. Up to now we have had rainy weather all day. Yesterday the ship had a lengthy stopover in Trondheim and Mark and I stopped into the information centre and got a book in English about the local architecture. Mark loves regional architecture and city planning, and whenever I go on holiday I always pick up books on these topics for him. The book he got yesterday included a self-guided walking tour so we walked about the old and new buildings in this major city, which was once the capital of Norway. Late last night we had a brief half-hour stopover in Rørvik, to the far north of Trondheim, not the Rørvik literally across the bay from Trondheim.

Around noon today we have a long stopover in Bodø. The first sunny pictures will be from north of the Arctic Circle. Our dinner companions yesterday were Mark and Martine, a couple from just south of Antwerp. Can you believe it? How did the dinner planners know that this couple would be perfect for us as table mates? As it turned out, they knew all about the Out Games. Martine is--get ready for this--a trivia buff and plays in pub quizzes all the time and has even won big money: her biggest prize yet as an individual player was 2500 euros. I told her all about the team I play with on Wednesday nights and about our winning streak at the Drake Hotel in Toronto. Martine is also a sports lover and she enjoyed hearing all about Mark's two events and was excited to hear about his gold medal. Mark and I do not recall filling out a personal profile for the cruise seating planners, but this match was ideal, as Martine and Mark joined us for breakfast this morning, where there is no set seating.

The islands and fjords certainly look different when they are bathed in sunlight. For one: they're green, not grey. The MS Finnmarken cruises through some very narrow fjords. The highlight of yesterday's trip was a tight squeeze between two islands only 42 metres apart. Mark and I went to the enclosed upper viewing area and, with dozens of other passengers, clenched our jaws and bolted our feet to the floor as the ship glided through, with cliffs so close I joked that had we been on an open outside deck on any of the lower levels, we could have painted graffiti on the rocky sides. The water therefore must be deep enough to allow a big cruise ship to pass through.

Monday, August 12th, 2013
4:31 pm
Exploring the fjords
Yesterday Mark and I walked around Bergen and took a brief tour of the harbour, where we saw an enormous yacht named Katara, with the Qatari flag on display on its stern. When Mark asked the captain of the boat whose yacht it was, he confirmed that the emir of Qatar owned the boat but he was not in town, however four of his wives and eight of his children were. Subsequent Internet research (i.e., Wikipedia) says that it is indeed owned by the emir of Qatar. We didn't see any of the Qatari royal family strolling about the rainy streets of Bergen, but we did see gaggles of tourists. Sheesh! They're everywhere: all over Reykjavík, Amsterdam and the city of Luxembourg. The best place for lack of tourists so far on this trip has been Antwerp, which seems ironic to say since the city is relatively small and it was after all teeming with athletes in town for the Out Games.

I am using a free Internet station on board the MS Finnmarken, a medium-sized cruise ship owned by the Hurtigruten company. The Internet here is s-l-o-w, so I won't be composing lengthy travelogues here although once I get back home I will be adding photos and filling you all in about finalizing my plans for my trip to Tristan da Cunha. If everything works out okay I should be on the island one month from now. But I have a different voyage--this one--to tell you about first.

Mark and I were able to leave our baggage at the Bergen hostel while we saw the city. The bus service on Sunday was once every hour, so when we had finished our own self-guided tour we had to race back to the hostel, then grab our luggage and race back to the bus stop to catch the bus as it finished its route and looped back. My suitcase and backpack were overloaded with books, and when I have to run up and down hills (as Bergen certainly ain't no flat prairie town) carrying all of this, I get tired, thirsty and drenched with sweat all over. Not a pretty sight (or smell) am I. We took the bus to the central station and grabbed a tram where we got off as close as we could to the Hurtigruten terminal. There wasn't a tram stop anywhere near the terminal, so we had a bit of a hike. Needless to say I felt like falling asleep as soon as we checked in and both Mark and I felt drowsy which watching the compulsory safety film beforehand. The ship's crew and film went overboard (no pun intended) in explaining how important hygiene was on board, how one should always wash one's hands and use antibacterial sanitizers. I understand why they did this, as no one wants an epidemic to break out on board, but I can't stand those sanitizers as they always leave my hands feeling tacky, as though I soaked my hands in a bowl of glue and left them to air-dry. I should be grateful for this because the alternative is spending the remainder of the cruise throwing up in my cabin with stomach flu.

The food is delicious: all kinds of fish, shrimp, mussels, tasty vegetables and Mark, who is reading this over my shoulder, interjects "and desserts" as he obviously is enjoying the sweetness after dinner. I get enough sweetness just from him. It is rainy here as we explore the fjords. Today we stopped off at Ålesund and then saw a bridal party of veily waterfalls on both sides and houses built into the sides of the mountains, with no roads in sight. How do these people get to their homes? Some are 450 metres above the waterline. The ship has two Jacuzzis and a pool, as well as a gym. I always lose weight when I am on vacation but in this case I am afraid of coming home weighing more than I left. I might spend my workout today on the treadmill instead of weight training. Breakfasts and lunches, as well as yesterday's dinner, have free seating yet dinner tonight and for all the rest of the dinners on the trip will be at a set table. Mark and I are wondering who our table mates will be. I only hope that whoever they are, they're not annoying. I tend to be very reticent when I meet new people.

We have been playing Scrabble ever since the start of this trip, in the hostels and now on board MS Finnmarken. I brought along Mark's revolving deluxe board (because it will fit in my suitcase, not his) as I knew we would be playing often and I dislike playing on a travel set. Earlier today I played TuGHRIK, an amazing find on a board with two other monetary units: LIRI and VATU. While in Luxembourg a British gentleman stood by watching us play over several games and asked us what language we were playing in; I wonder if the curious onlookers aboard this ship are wondering the same. It's fun to play in public with our fancy board, Adjudicator timer and special Mississauga Club-versus-Toronto Club tiles. It's definitely not fun when your rack is AAAGOOY and you've got two people looking over your shoulder, as happened with me today.
Saturday, August 10th, 2013
12:43 am
's-Hertogenbosch and Oslo

This morning Mark and I left Antwerp for the Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch, which no one actually calls by that name. Everyone calls it "den Bosch" for short. Right now it is late at the hostel in Oslo, where I am happy both that they have free Internet as well as QWERTY keyboards. No more constant backspacing to make corrections. We were in den Bosch to visit Mark's friend Judy, who is a Canadian by birth but who now lives in the Netherlands with her husband and two sons. We did what every Netherlander does: went for a bike ride into the city centre. It was quite strange to be in a city where cyclists have clear smooth bike lanes and they have the right of way in most cases. I was amazed that cars knew to stop for us, and by "us" I mean quite a lot of people, as everyone in the Netherlands rides a bike. We parked our bikes in the city's downtown underground bike garage. In Canada we are so behind when it comes to making the cities bicycle-friendly. The city centre has a statue of the painter Bosch, he of so many nightmarish paintings, yet since all of his work is now outside of the country, there is no Bosch museum to speak of. During our ride back to Judy's house we had a lengthy wait as a drawbridge lifted and three barges passed by. The queue of cyclists behind us was incredibly long.

Judy drove us to the train station and we took it to Schipol, then caught our flight to Oslo. This is Mark's first time to Norway yet my first time to Norway south of the 70th parallel as all of my prior trips to this country have been Arctic adventures. We arrived at the hostel at 10:30 p.m. and just came back from a walk around the city centre, which was teeming with club activity. We found a late-night Turkish (?) restaurant and had a quick burger and kebab. Tomorrow our train to Bergen leaves at noon, so this is just a quick stopover. Mark has some errands to run; specifically he is on the lookout for Norwegian women's sweaters, and while he does this I will check out the bookstores (already found a couple during our evening walk) and also check out the royal palace. What an interesting tidbit: of the five countries we are visiting, four are monarchies: Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Norway. I saw the royal palaces in Amsterdam and Luxembourg-Ville (or Lux-Ville, as everyone writes it).

My suitcase weighs 27 kg yet my backpack is really a back-breaker because I have crammed it full of books. I might not buy any more books during the rest of this trip, but I will check out the bookshops nonetheless. The only things I will likely get in the towns along the coast will be postcards.
Thursday, August 8th, 2013
5:07 pm
Gold and a bit of rainy Baarle
I have just returned from the table tennis medal ceremonies. Mark competed on Tuesday yet since there were three days set aside for table tennis, all of the medals were awarded at the same time. Mark, I am very proud to report, won a gold medal in men's singles, "D" division. He only lost one match, yet two games went beyond the requisite eleven points designated as a win. In one of these games, against a Russian, Mark was ahead 7-3 while up two matches against one. One needed to win three matches in order to win the round then to proceed to the next opponent. The Russian had managed to tie while they were both at 11, when a win meant needing to win by two. If the Russian won, the round would have been tied at two matches apiece. If Mark won this game, he'd win the gold. He was awarded his gold medal by the deputy mayor of Antwerp, who had been imbibing a little too much earlier in the day. I have plenty of pictures to upload, yet I am at the fitness centre's public computer and I cannot do anything fancy with this post except write it and add all the bells and whistles later, likely at home. I tell you, once I get a laptop, posting photos with my LiveJournal entries will not be such a problem.

Yesterday was our set day to visit the enclave region of Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau. The weather was the worst ever so far on our trip: it was pouring the entire day and also quite chilly. I am happy that my new running shoes proved to be watertight; when we got back to the hostel, my socks weren't even damp. The whole Baarle experience will be reported in detail with the necessary photos to illustrate my points, but I can write a bit here. Baarle, which consists of about twenty Belgian enclaves surrounded by Dutch territory, also includes a few Dutch enclaves within Belgium. To make the jigsaw even more complicated, there are eight Dutch enclaves surrounded by the Belgian enclaves which themselves are completely surrounded by the Netherlands. The border is marked on the roads by white X's, or by silver discs, or in the brickwork on the roads. It was fascinating to see houses or businesses literally split between two countries. All houses have flag number plates, and we photographed several houses that were sliced in two by the border, where there were two separate residences, each one in a different country and thus with different number plates. The people of the two Baarles were very friendly to us (the Dutch of Baarle-Nassau a bit friendlier), waving to us from their windows as we photographed their divided houses or immaculate gardens. One septuagenarian gentleman chitchatting in his living room saw us walking around the tiny enclave where he lived, and then got up and opened his front door and talked to us in English for a good long time about living in Baarle. It was obvious to us that he had had this conversation with curious border freaks before, as he proudly told us that he was talking to us from his threshold in the Netherlands, while his garden was split in two and thus Mark and I were in Belgium. There are three tiny, tiny Belgian enclaves in the central northern region of Baarle and Mark and I walked up and down every street (there weren't too many) in each. In these areas, the only indicator of what country you were in was to look at the house number plates. We also visited both post offices (one with red Belgian mailboxes, the other with orange Dutch ones) and I mailed some postcards from the Belgian post office since I had already affixed Belgian stamps to them. I bought many postcards, as well as a small hardcover book in Dutch, yet by far the best book on Baarle is the one by Brendan Whyte (who I understand has also written another, and he was one of the recipients of a postcard mailed from the Belgian post).

Now I should work out since I am at the fitness centre for a reason other than to use their free Internet. They also have free coffee and I can smell it from here. Irresistible! Tonight Mark and I are watching same-sex dancing at the Antwerp Hilton: ballroom, salsa, and so forth. It is always a popular event at these games and is the only event that I know of that charges for tickets (only 3€ for us as registered OutGames participants; 10€ for the general public). Tomorrow morning we leave Antwerp to meet some friends of Mark's who live in 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, then we take the train from there to Amsterdam and fly to Oslo, where we will be for just one day before embarking on our Norwegian fjord cruise from Bergen.
Sunday, August 4th, 2013
5:37 pm
Mark and I arrived in Antwerp two days ago, and I am writing this on an AZERTY keyboard, which has returned me to one-finger typing. I started to write this yesterday afternoon inside the fitness centre that all registered OutGames athletes, as well as non-competing registered guests such as myself, are entitled to use for free. I have resumed composing this at the downtown Hostelling International hostel we are staying at. The gym was only a ten-minute tram ride here from the hostel.

Antwerp is in Flanders and thus the official language is Flemish (or Dutch). The Lonely Planet guidebook says that it would be a faux pas (pardon my French) to just start a conversation with anyone in French. I have found that English is more welcome than French, and a lengthy conversation with a bookstore worker confirmed this. He said that aside from the obligatory French lessons that all Flanders students take, no one really uses French here and you are more likely to find someone who would rather speak to you in English versus French. We in fact started speaking to each other in French when I informed him that I spoke no Flemish or Dutch. Then we switched to English.

Yesterday was the opening ceremony for the third World Out Games and unlike in Cologne where Mark participated in the Gay Games three years ago, these opening ceremonies were not held in an arena or stadium but outside in a sandy square by the Schelde River. We met Steven Bereznai there, who used to write for the Toronto Star and fab magazine. (The darn formatting on this hostel computer will not allow me to use italics or even to preview this post before I let it go "live". I foresee a major edit in the days to come.) He took our photo and it might end up in Xtra. Mark and I if I do say so myself looked the adorable couple, as I chose to wear a white tank top and red shorts while Mark wore a red tank top and white shorts. We both wore red baseball caps. We did not coordinate our outfits and only discovered what we had decided to wear when we left for the night. We also met Mr. Gay Canada 2012, Thomas Egli, who hung out with us before we marched in. Thomas bears striking resemblance to a fellow employee of the Mississauga Library System.

The team from Belgium marched in last and the entire team had yellow umbrellas. It was so funny because the female cohost of the opening ceremonies (which were conducted mostly in English, but also with some Flemish) said that the team had umbrellas "because it always rains in Belgium". She was right about that two days ago, but it hasn´t rained since. The team that got the most applause was from Russia. Gays and lesbians continue to experience violence there--even elected officials in Russia have shown no aversion to revealing their open homophobia--and the uproarious reception from the thousands of athletes showed them how welcome they were.

The entire city is bedecked with rainbow flags. It is a welcome to all participants in the Out Games. Imagine this happening in Rob Ford´s Toronto! Big flags line entire streets and are in countless shop windows. One sees red "A" lapel pins here ("A" for Antwerp, of course) and they are square and bear striking resemblance to red Scrabble Protiles. Antwerp, maybe because it happens to flank the Schelde River, also has mosquitos and I have the bites to prove it. Since arriving in the Netherlands, and then through to Luxembourg and now in Belgium, I have been congested in the same endless nose-blowing way I get back home in early September. I wonder what could be triggering my allergies in Benelux.

Belgium loves its French fries--er, strike a line through "French"--or rather, frieten, and there are frieten kiosks, or frituur or frietkot, everywhere. I ordered some yesterday, a size *small*, and was given a compact brick of frieten wrapped in tin foil larger than the biggest McDonald´s serving. They were delicious, made from fresh potatoes which were not frozen.

Tomorrow at 09.30 (still 03.30 in the morning Eastern Standard Time) Mark starts competing in in-line skating racing and I will be there waving the maple leaf. Then I will hit both the Dutch- and French-language bookstores.
Thursday, August 1st, 2013
1:00 pm
I am in the capital city of Luxembourg, sitting in the glassy downtown library. I have very limited time, because I just spent a large portion of my Internet time filling out a "next of kin" form for Tristanian authorities. It is a requirement when one is given passage aboard the S. A. Agulhas II research vessel from Cape Town to the island. So unless something catastrophic happens within the next month, I have been confirmed as a passenger to Tristan da Cunha. This is very exciting news, and I will tell Mark when we meet up again at 3 p.m. I am on my own for four hours as I visit the last of the bookstores (and bought nothing; I spent about 166 euros yesterday on books) and after I send this I am on my way to the postal museum. Tonight Mark and I are off to two more museums, which are free after 5 p.m.

Luxembourg is a quiet capital. The city closed down when we arrived shortly after 6 p.m. on Tuesday. I was expecting at least a news kiosk or a souvenir stand to be open, but everyplace in the old pedestrian-only part of town was closed. That wasn't a problem, as we had lots of time to look at the shops yesterday and today, but I found the city all shut down for the night, with the exception of oodles of tourists walking up and down the cobbled Grand Rue, to be surprising.

Hardly anyone speaks German here, and I get by fine in French. One does hear Lëtzebuergesch, the local idiom, and it takes a lot of effort to understand them, yet I found Lëtzebuergesch easier to understand upon my first listen than Swiss German. The street signs are in French but sometimes you will see them in French and German. The sales staff are extremely friendly, and the entire country in our encounters with locals seems to be the same. I have taken many photos here, as well as in the small city of Esch-sur-Alzette, almost at the French border, which Mark and I visited by train yesterday. We took the CFL: the dark red and grey trains of the Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois. I hardly took any photos of Amsterdam at all. I was not impressed with the city, I am sorry to say. I found its souvenir stores vulgar: I couldn't turn anywhere without bumping into a marijuana spliff fridge magnet or a prostitute postcard or any explicit sexual trinket. I was content to photograph the canals, the mailboxes and the trams.

It is almost 1 p.m., just enough time for a quick proofread then I have to go to the postal museum.

Monday, July 29th, 2013
6:58 pm
Yesterday Mark and I went out for a rijsttafel dinner at one of the many Indonesian restaurants you can find in Amsterdam. Sixteen mini-courses served in small rectangular bowls plus.an Indonesian beer to go along with it. Afterwards we went to the red light district, which has to be seen to be believed. It really is like you read about it: barely-nude women standing behind glass doors, smiling at all the men and tapping their rings against the glass to grab your attention. Not a pair of lips or breasts that any of the women were born with. Red lights are of course everywhere, even lining the canal tunnels in the area. There were several alleys with these window-women, yet the main drag of the red light district flanks both sides of a canal. Live sex shows, private "cabines" and marijuana "coffeeshops" were also on site, as well as the obligatory foreign (read British) stag parties.

The sun has been beating down on us for the past two days and I got sunburnt because I didn't put on any sunscreen yesterday, but I made sure to slather it on today. I walked to the bookstores, both Dutch and English, and got books on the Amsterdam "boat people" (those who live year-round in canal houseboats) and the history of the Netherlands claiming land from the sea. I also spent far too long in a map store called À La Carte. I bought a 1:50.000-scale map of the Netherlands-Belgium border region showing Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau and its cookie-cutter international frontier.

Tonight Mark and I are going out for dinner at a Surinamese restaurant. All these cuisines you can only dream about; tell me, where can you find such a restaurant in Toronto? Tomorrow at 11.00 we leave by train for Luxembourg.
Sunday, July 28th, 2013
7:05 pm
I am using the free Internet station at the ITC Hotel in Amsterdam, so I will write a little bit about Reykjavík until a guest comes, breathing down my neck to use the computer. The landing at Keflavík Airport seemed like a landing on cotton, not only for its gentleness but also for its appearance. The ground was shrouded in thick mist. I could only see a hazy darkness underneath. The ground was very rocky, almost black, with no grass. The rocky blackness was proof of Iceland's volcanic origins. The misty scene reminded me of my time in the Faroe Islands, where diaphanous curtains of fog sweep over the land. The airport is almost 50 km west of Reykjavík and there is always a bus waiting to take passengers into the city. The trip took about forty minutes.

Reykjavík is a small city, only about 120.000 population, yet the city during the summer was teeming with tourists. The streets were very crowded. I spent a lot of time in three bookstores and in several souvenir shops, on the hunt for fridge magnets that didn't have any English on them, only Icelandic. I did find one, yes one, in all of the souvenir shops I visited. Ísland is Icelandic for "Iceland" and I specifically wanted a magnet like that. (This reminds me of my time in Copenhagen when I refused to buy any "Copenhagen" postcards and bought only ones that said København on them.)

When Mark and I arrived at the bus terminal, the smell of eggs was everywhere. There was a restaurant in the terminal, and since we had arrived from Toronto so early (landing at 06.25) it first occurred to me that the restaurant was overdoing it in omelette production. Mark corrected me and said that the sulphur in the atmosphere was the cause of the eggy smell. The entire city smells like this, but you do get used to it and soon after our walk from the bus terminal into central Reykjavík, I forgot about it.

The Harpa concert hall is a new glassy structure which in winter looks like a gigantic ice cube. I bought both summer- and wintertime postcards of the Harpa. The city is small enough to see on foot without needing public transport. Reykjavík also reminded me of St. John's, with its rainbow range of colours on roofs. I took many photos of the fluorescent day-glo roofs that we passed.

More to come in my next instalment. Hotel guests are indeed breathing down my neck!
1:04 pm
In Amsterdam now
Mark and I arrived in Amsterdam yesterday late at night after spending a full day in Reykjavik. We are walking along the canals looking at all the houseboats. One has to look in both directions whenever crossing the roads as not only cyclists, but trams can suddenly appear out of nowhere and run you over. It rained last night but we didn't have our umbrellas as we explored the area near our hotel for a restaurant still offering sit-down service after midnight. We found an Italian place and I had a huge plate of penne with salmon. Mark stayed at the ITC Hotel on his last visit to Amsterdam eight years ago (when he came here once my first year in my Romansch class started). It is advertised as a "gay hotel" but the funny thing is, I have hardly seen any gay men in the entire place. It's overrun with straight people, those who have their eyes out for a bargain no noubt as well as for fellow guests with stylish dress sense. I ate breakfast with three generations of German women and sat next to a mother and her son. We're catching the ferry behing Centraal Station in five minutes so hafta go.
Thursday, July 25th, 2013
4:47 pm
Born in the 1800's
I find stories of human longevity fascinating. The chapter on the oldest people in the Guinness Book of World Records kept me captivated as a child, reading it every year. The book is a tabloid freakshow now, not worth the paper it's printed on. There are several websites devoted to celebrating the super-old, the super-centenarians: those who have lived to 110 or older. I have wondered how many verifiable cases there are today of people who were born in the 1800's who are still living.

The answer is eight. Ten people are still alive who were born in 1900 (thus the end of the nineteenth century).

I have also wondered the age of the oldest "child" with a living parent. On one of these longevity websites is a report about the birthday celebration of a 110-year-old woman. Present at the party was the woman's 90-year-old daughter. It is thus conceivable to have a living "child" into his or her mid-nineties, if the parent has lived to 115 or 114 as the example of the eight people above.
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
8:06 pm
5 countries

On Friday, July 26, Mark and I are going on holiday to see five countries: Iceland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Norway. We each have been to only one of these five nations: Mark has been to the Netherlands before, while I have visited Norway on a number of occasions during my trips to the Arctic. Oddly, I have never been to Norway south of the 70th parallel. Thus I have never been to the capital of Oslo nor seen any large Norwegian cities. I have only been to the small towns of Polmak, Tana Bru, Vadsø and Vardø. The primary reason for this trip is the Out Games, an international competition like the Gay Games which Mark participated in three years ago when we travelled to Cologne, Germany. Unlike the time in Cologne, when Mark lugged all his equipment overseas to play hockey, for these games Mark is competing in two different sports that are a lot easier on the back and in airplane luggage allowance. In Antwerp, Belgium, Mark will be playing table tennis as well as testing his speed in in-line skating races. I will be the supportive cheerer and Canadian flag-waver.

Before we arrive in Antwerp, however, we are visiting Reykjavik, Iceland on a deliberately lengthy layover en route to Amsterdam. We will have the entire morning and afternoon in the Icelandic capital, then fly to Amsterdam that evening. We'll visit with some of Mark's friends who live there, then catch a train to the capital of Luxembourg where we'll stay for three days. I am looking forward to getting my hands on some Luxembourgish euros. I will have an opportunity to use some Lëtzebuergesch; I had bought a phrasebook for the Luxembourgish language many years ago when in Switzerland. Other Lëtzebuergesch language-learning books exist, and I had even seen them last year at Schoenhof's Foreign Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

We will stay overnight in Brussels one night then will be in Antwerp for the Out Games from August 2 to 9. After the games have ended, Mark and I will go to the northern border area with the Netherlands called Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau. For border freaks like me, the Baarle region is a must. Baarle resembles a piece of Swiss cheese where all the holes are one country while the cheese itself is another country. On prior European holidays, I visited Büsingen, a German village completely surrounded by Switzerland, and in another year Campione d'Italia, a sliver of Italy also completely surrounded by Switzerland. Campione d'Italia is the location where I came this close to killing myself on the steep cliff of the Swiss-Italian border. I can't help but think that if I did plummet to my death, it would open up a political can of worms as each nation shrugged its shoulders and gave weak excuses of I'm-not-gonna-do-it, sparring over which country would be in charge of picking up my dead body should I actually die (in border-freak ecstasy, likely) actually straddling an international frontier. Check out the Wikipedia link and all the external links for the freakiest maps and zigzaggiest international borders of Baarle Hertog/Baarle-Nassau. I'm glad that Mark is interested in visiting the Baarle region with me. We made a day trip visiting Steinstücken, the former West Berlin exclave in 2010 (West Berlin itself being an exclave of the Federal Republic of Germany, so Steinstücken was an exclave of an exclave).

From Belgium we head to Oslo, then to Bergen where we will embark on a weeklong cruise among the fjords and islands all the way around the Varangerfjorden peninsula to Kirkenes. It will be the first cruise for the both of us (I am not counting overnight "cruises" from Finland to Sweden or Finland to Estonia). Our itinerary has stops in Vardø and Vadsø, two Arctic towns I visited in January 2002. Who would have ever thought that I would one day return to these same two towns, but this time in the middle of the summer (thereby giving me a chance of actually seeing something)? I have already excitedly shown Mark my photo album of Vardø and Vadsø, which, since the time of my 2002 visit was in the dead of winter, meant that my entire vacation in northern Norway was spent in utter darkness.

We return to Toronto once again after a stopover in Reykjavik. I hope to visit post offices in all five countries and take more postal photography. Maybe this time, yes maybe this time, I will see the northern lights. I have been to the far north of Finland and Norway many times, yet have never seen the aurorae. They must flick the lights off when they know I'm coming. I'm beginning to think that the aurora borealis is all a myth.

Follow my LiveJournal and follow us along as Mark competes in the Out Games, as I go book shopping, as we criss-cross the Belgian-Dutch border literally hundreds of times in Baarle, and as we cruise the fjords of northern Norway.
2:09 pm
The twenty worst airlines in the world
I found this link on the CNN homepage yesterday, for the twenty worst airlines in the world.

Fortunately, I have only travelled on one of the twenty. I have however made a total of five separate trips on the airline that ranks #5.

The description for this airline mentions "a concerning amount of water vapor in the cabin", which refers to the fog that greets you as you enter the cabin. It is very thick, like walking through dry ice in a 1980's music video. This water vapour--which I had never experienced on any other airplane or airline--quickly condenses. Upon takeoff, the water gushes down from the overhead luggage compartments and rains upon those sitting in the aisle seats. I was sitting in one such seat on my first flight into Pyongyang from Peking. Those passengers, me included, could do nothing but laugh at the one-sided water gun fight. The vapour fog only added to the surreal experience of flying into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. 
Monday, July 15th, 2013
7:54 pm
Åland in the European Union


The Åland Islands lie midway between Sweden and Finland in the Gulf of Bothnia. It is an autonomous province of Finland, responsible for its own education, health care and policing. Åland also has its own postal system, and the entire network of islands is demilitarized. I enjoyed a cycling holiday through Åland in January 2002 just days after the euro was introduced. I still remember the stamp I used on the postcards I mailed back home:
Åland in the European Union by Sören Silverström, translated by Päivi Koskelainen and Joseph Brady, discusses the archipelago's unique status within the organization. Because of Åland's special tax-free status, Finnish membership in the EU was considered a threat to the island economy. Åland makes an attractive sum each year in tax-free sales from passengers in cruise ships who sail between Finland and Sweden. I myself have taken this trip on several occasions and bought cheap(er) Finnish chocolate, some alcohol and other sundries as souvenirs. When Finland joined the EU it drafted Protocol No. 2, or the Åland Protocol, in order to protect Åland's interests:

"It was important to Åland that its special status would remain safeguarded if the province became a member of the EU. Initially, it seemed that certain derogations were necessary to make Åland's EU membership possible. For instance, it was difficult to combine the right of domicile with EU membership without derogations. The strong dependence of Åland's economy on merchant shipping and passenger ferry traffic and the consequences that EU membership might entail were regarded as threats."

Although Finland is the member state and has voting rights, Åland takes part in many Finnish committees where it would have special interest. Åland's autonomous status outside of Finland did not mean that it took an outsider role in its negotiations with Finland regarding EU membership. In fact, Åland conducted two referenda about membership. The islands took a proactive role in negotiating with Finland its status within the EU:

"'The outside track' would have meant Åland's opting out of the integration process just as the autonomous Danish territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands are outside the European Union. But even if Åland had opted out of the integration process, it would have been necessary to regulate its relationship with the Union in some way, for example by a cooperation agreement. Today it can be seen that Åland ended up on 'the inside track', with certain derogations, but such a situation was not at all self-evident at the beginning of the 1990s."

Integration into the European Union has been an economic advantage for Åland, and its protected special status has helped it maintain its independence while reaping the benefits of membership.
Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
3:20 pm
Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire
I fancy myself as another Simon Winchester. For not only does he have a passionate interest in dictionaries, as seen in his remarkable story The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, but Winchester is also a geography nut who likes to travel the world to the most unlikely tourist destinations. Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire is Winchester's travel diary written over the three years he spent travelling the world, in his attempt to visit the remaining bits and pieces of the British Empire.
By 1985, though, when  Winchester wrote Outposts, the empire had shrunk to only a handful of inhabited islands plus Hong Kong and Gibraltar. Not counting all the empire's rocks, skerries, uninhabited islands, Pitcairn Island and British Antarctic Territory, Winchester visited all the remaining relics of Her Majesty's empire. He started off with British Indian Ocean Territory, which happens to be the most tragic of all empire stories. The entire population of two thousand was forcibly evacuated from all the BIOT islands in order to convert the territory into a high-security air and naval base. Over five years and often without any advance notice, the citizens were uprooted and resettled, many to Mauritius. I had read about the forced depopulation of BIOT before, and Winchester has written the most personal account from the perspective of a tourist.

I took the greatest interest in the chapter on Tristan da Cunha. His experience there with a local family seemed pleasant, yet after he left the island and wrote about his experiences in the 1985 edition of Outposts, he discovered that there were repercussions. Winchester wrote in the introduction to the 2003 edition (which is the edition I read):

"For what I wrote in this book about the island of Tristan da Cunha I have been banned, and have never landed there since. I have been to the colony's territorial waters a number of times, but the local police have kept me away--the islanders still vexed that I had written about the war-time romance of one of their number, now an elderly (and contentedly married) lady. Whenever I have since visited I have had to content myself with lying offshore in a boat, gazing at the black rocks and the potato fields I liked so well, from a floating vantage point half a mile away." 

His journey to Tristan is unfortunately typical of many travellers: they get so close to the island, but the ocean is so rough that they cannot land. Thank goodness my trip there this autumn is aboard a vessel that has a helicopter on board, ensuring the passengers a landing. Winchester details the ordeal his ship, the St Helena, endured in its attempt to land at Tristan:

"Bows down and shoulders hunched, St Helena rammed her way around the island, which was illuminated by sudden shafts of sunlight, instant rainbows, and over which streamed veils of cloud. We reached the southern edge--a cape where the three-masted barque Italia had been wrecked in 1892, bringing the surnames of Repetto and Lavarello to the island, where they still survive--but the wind refused to calm. In fact, as we pummelled our way further and further around, it became clear that this, unique among all islands I have known, is a place without a lee--there is nowhere to shelter. The gales either blow around the island in some devilish spiral, or else pour as a katabatic torrent up and over the mountain, striking anything below, no matter at what quarter of the compass."

I have long been fascinated by Gibraltar's smallness, where close to thirty thousand people are crammed into less than seven square kilometres. A good portion of this land area is dominated by an uninhabitable rock (uninhabitable for humans, not for Barbary apes). Winchester got the feeling from many that he spoke to that life on the rocky peninsula was claustrophobic, and that living there was like being in a muggy prison. He explained the history of Gibraltar and Great Britain's ongoing dispute with Spain over the territory, and I appreciated his extensive histories in each chapter behind how these areas became colonies, such as the colony-no-longer, Hong Kong.

Upon arriving via a heart-in-throat landing at Hong Kong's Kai Tak Airport, Winchester noted:

"It is a mesmeric, intoxicating sight, a view to make one gasp. A hundred years ago there was almost nothing: just a thin line of warehouses, a few church towers, the mansions of the taipans up on the slopes, and Government House on Upper Albert Road with the Union flag waving lazily in the steamy air. Today a vast white winding cloth of concrete, steel and glass has been bolted on to the hillsides, obscuring the contours, turning a world once dominated by the horizontal and the gentle diagonal into a pageant of the vertical."

Winchester was in the south Atlantic in early 1982 just prior to the Falklands War. He flew to the Falklands when Argentina, at first, occupied the island of South Georgia, but was never on the Falklands themselves when war eventually broke out there. Winchester and I certainly share a love of islands; after he first set foot on East Falkland he wrote:

"Everything, so far as I was concerned, was exactly right. It was a place of islands, and I loved islands. It was cold, and I loved cold places."

His time in the Falklands capital, Stanley, was a tense experience owing to the invasion of South Georgia to the southeast, but one without any sense of impending danger. He writes that no one was aware of the Argentine invasion, and if the stationed military did have any advance warning of it, they were keeping it top secret.

Winchester's observations were often occasions I would want to reread. His descriptions of scenery captured a snapshot that seemed high-resolution and always panoramic:

"There may be no native trees on the Falklands, but the twentieth century's sterling efforts to allow the colonists to talk to the outside world has left many rusting iron masts and rotting hawsers that, from a distance and in a mist, look much the same."

Winchester ends his book as he begins, with a stinging belt to the behind to the empire for its devastating forced eviction of the citizens of British Indian Ocean Territory:

"And we deal--or rather we dealt--with horrifying callousness with the people of the Indian Ocean, when we evicted them from their homes, transported them to a foreign country against their will, and lied and evaded our responsibilities for years before a writer discovered the scandal, and told it to the world. Of all the events of post-Imperial British history, those of the late 1960s that occurred in the archipelago we customarily call Diego Garcia remain the most shabby and the most mean. No excuses can be made, by politicians of any persuasion: Diego Garcia is a monstrous blot on British honour, and shames us all, for ever."
Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013
9:14 pm
Isolation and Language Change

Isolation and Language Change: Contemporary and Sociohistorical Evidence from Tristan da Cunha English
[1] written by Daniel Schreier in 2003, is the second book I have read about the Tristanian idiom. The first book written on the subject, The English of Tristan da Cunha by Arne Zettersten was written in 1969. I am what I call an armchair linguist. I took several courses in linguistics while in university and actively seek out books on the subject during my travels. I read linguistics books for pleasure, yet some of them can be more trudging plods than others. Isolation and Language Change, at only 237 pages, nonetheless took me exactly three weeks to finish. I acknowledge that this time is an exaggeration, since I spent two separate weekends after I started reading this book doing other things. On the first weekend, Mark and I took a short art-buying holiday in Cleveland, and then the following weekend I spent competing in the eighth Canadian National Scrabble Championship. Still, I often could only get through ten pages per hour. The revelations in books such as this, which really are directed at post-graduates as a reading audience, were fascinating, and as I have at times stated when reviewing highly academic reads, my reading tempo is not always an accurate indication of how interesting I found the material.

Isolation and Language Change however got off to a very slow start with the chapter devoted to establishing definitions of linguistic terms. Many terms within the linguistic community are used interchangeably and for what Schreier may use to define one concept, another linguist might use a different term. In order to reduce ambiguity by the terms he intended to use, Schreier spent quite a lengthy chapter defining certain terms. While I thoroughly learned what koinéization was, and the differences between creolization versus creoloidization, I felt that the entire chapter was a drawback for armchair linguists such a myself who only wanted to get to the juicy bits pertaining to the central theme as expressed by the book's title. A shorter chapter on these definitions, or even putting the definitions into an endnote section, would have made the deep dive into this thesis less off-putting.

Schreier, who readers might recognize as the cowriter of Tristan da Cunha: History, People, Language, which he wrote with his Tristanian wife Karen Lavarello-Schreier, was entertaining as he described his attempts to sail to the island in order to conduct his research. Boat schedules don't always go according to plan on Tristan, as the viciously churning south Atlantic can alter such schedules at any time. The fishing season, depending on its productivity or lack thereof, can hasten or delay one's departure as well. When Schreier arrived on Tristan he had no firm idea when he would be leaving, but he felt that he had a good ten weeks to conduct his research. As it happened, he spent six months on the island, which gave him ample time to learn his lesson first: that in order to conduct linguistic analysis of the Tristanians as subjects, one must endear oneself to the people first, before sticking microphones into their faces.

For the linguist, Tristan da Cunha is unlike any other community. Its isolation is the source for many questions regarding the state of its language:

"Linguistically and socially, the Tristan community was at all times a genuine melting pot, in which contact and koinéisation processes occurred in substantially limited (and at times almost totally absent) contact with the 'outside world'. As endocentricity and restricted interaction with other communities have an effect on dialect change and new-dialect formation (Schilling-Estes 2002), Tristan da Cunha represents a fascinating 'language laboratory' (a dialectal 'Petri dish', if this metaphor is adequate), enabling us to investigate the effects of geophysical isolation on dialect variation and change."

Schreier elaborates on this premise, that isolated languages do in fact evolve:

"One of the most persistent linguistic stereotypes is that language change occurs at a much slower rate in communities that are geographically and/or socially isolated."


"The rationale is that restricted interaction patterns necessarily lead to an arrested linguistic development in isolated varieties, which leads to the retention of large numbers of archaic features. If this were the case, then Tristan da Cunha English, confined to one of the least accessible places on earth, basically represents a variety of early nineteenth-century English."

Whether a community is surrounded by other communities, or located on the most isolated inhabited island on the planet, the languages that are spoken there will evolve and will continue to evolve because they are being used. A spoken language is dynamic and will change from generation to generation. That is not to say, however, that some terms will and indeed have clung on to their original meanings two hundred years after the island was first settled. Tristan da Cunha was originally settled in the early nineteenth century as a British military garrison, and some terms which were transported to the island from the seamen who lived in various regions in Great Britain continue to have the same meanings, long after their regional British contexts have fallen out of common usage. This phenomenon of linguistic retention is most curious to visitors, especially journalists:

"At the same time, the extraordinary sociohistorical status of the community has attracted considerable interest on the part of journalists, whose books and articles at best romanticise the realities of island life and at worst distort it, projecting an image of the community that most Tristanians regard as inaccurate and offensive."

Among these offences is the perception that a trip to Tristan is like taking a trip back in time, where everyone speaks a "Dickensian" dialect or that Tristanians "speak an English which went out of fashion in London's docklands in the first years of Queen Victoria's reign".

Many of the island's settlers arrived by the tragic circumstance of being shipwrecked. They brought their various dialects of English, and in some cases, different languages altogether such as Dutch and Italian. Tristan has always been a "melting pot" and for those especially who did not speak English, they had to learn fast, as no rescue boat was going to be coming any time soon. Schreier analyzes the dominant idiom of English spoken on Tristan and how it supplanted other terms, and even adopted terms from other languages such as Afrikaans as well as from the idioms Saint Helenian English and east coast American English.

As I noted in Zettersten's The English of Tristan da Cunha, the voiced /z/ is rare in Tristanian English. Schreier, however, goes one step further:

"The extent of sibilant devoicing is very widespread and voiced [z] may be entirely absent in the phonemic inventories of some speakers."

The devoicing of /z/, even when used terminally as a sign of plurals, is one particular Tristanianism. Isolation and Language Change had several entire chapters which were devoted to specific Tristanianisms such as the levelling or regularization of the conjugation of the verb to be in the present and past tense. In Tristan English, this verb is conjugated only as is or was, regardless of the subject be it singular or plural. Schreier followed that by a chapter on the completive done, as expressed in phrases such as "That's all the money I was done spend" and "I's done had my turn at making tea". Both sentences are actual examples recorded from Tristanians. One chapter, on innovation and independent developments in Tristanian English, focussed on the used to construction. Schreier renders this as useta and provides examples where the island idiom uses either the preterite or the past participle after useta, thus useta went instead of useta go (used to go) or useta done instead of useta do (used to do). Whereas the other examples of linguistic phenomena particular to Tristan da Cunha can be traced back--and quite thoroughly and definitively, much to Schreier's credit--to the particular linguistic regions home to the original settlers, this specific Tristanianism, that of favouring the preterite or the past participle over the infinitive in used to constructions, was indeed a mysterious innovation in language dynamism.

Since my read of Isolation and Language Change was so slow, and I am a careful reader even with books that I claim I "can't put down", I catch errors and unfortunately spotted three of them: "a fare share", "comunity" and "less that 30" instead of "less than 30". I am sure the next printing will correct all of them.

Schreier ended his book with fourteen pages of references, which I pored over from Allan to our Zettersten. I will certainly be seeking out some of Schreier's source material in the form of interlibrary loan requests.

[1] I had to abbreviate the title in the heading to this post because it was too long, preferring to truncate it before the subtitle rather than squeeze in all the words that would fit.

I composed this review as a draft of an E-mail, then committed a fast-finger error of Brobdingnagian proportions. Earlier this morning after I had completed writing this review, just as I was about to copy and paste the E-mail into a LiveJournal post, I lost everything. I do not know how I managed to delete my review, but two days of work went down the drain in less than a second. The draft was gone. All I had was my page of notes that I kept while I read, recording page numbers and interesting passages to quote. I had no other choice but to start from scratch. A sinking feeling turned my heart inside out as I faced the work ahead. I hadn't had that feeling since my university days--pre-word processors or home computers--when I realized I would have to type an essay all over again when I screwed up the footnoting annotation. So for the past three hours (fewer than I expected it would take) I have spent rewriting this. If I recall anything I missed the second time around, I will edit this post with the new material.
Tuesday, June 25th, 2013
2:57 pm
Canadian National Scrabble Championship

I will remember the eighth Canadian National Scrabble Championship, or CNSCVIII, not for my mediocre performance but for the friends I spent it with. I had two houseguests from Thursday to Monday night, nagekinokifor four nights and redessencefor two. I was not expecting to meet either James or Jesse until Thursday night, yet while I was walking home from work around 5.30 on Thursday, I could see Jesse ahead of me towing his suitcase a block ahead. I was expecting to see him at the Mississauga Scrabble Club later on that evening. He had decided to walk to my place from the Square One shopping mall and make it to the Club for all three rounds. I had a little bit more housecleaning to do, so while Jesse and I chatted I raced up and down the stairs with the vacuum and clearing away dirty laundry. My Club codirector entershanpicked us up and we stopped off at a local grocery store so that I could pick up a birthday cake for my BF Mark.

When we arrived at the Club, who should we meet outside but James. I wasn't expecting to see him until after I got home from the Club at 11.00. It was a pleasure to meet him for the first time. So my two houseguests got to experience the friendliness of the Mississauga Club and to enjoy a rich slab of chocolate blackout cake as well.

Since I am taking so much time off this year for vacations, I decided weeks ago that I would work the morning of the CNSC. I have never done this before as I have always had houseguests for this tournament and wanted to be at home for them. Yet this year I have had to nitpick the remaining vacation time I have left and realized I could really use the four hours I would ordinarily have booked off. So while I worked 9 to 1 on Friday, James and Jesse got to sleep in after their flights in from the west coast.

James rented a car which saved us from taking the transit. For this tournament I wanted to revisit the feeling of excited ignorance that I felt at the very first CNSC in 1996, when I took part without knowing who was playing in it. Back in the early nineties when I started playing in tournaments, there was no Internet and thus no cross-tables website. Players just showed up on tournament day and found out who they'd be playing against. So for this tournament I deliberately refrained from checking the player roster. I wanted to walk into the CNSC playing room and be surprised by new faces and friends that I hadn't seen since the last CNSC or longer. It wasn't until we stood up to sing the national anthem that I realized that some players, including a past CNSC champ and another top-three finisher, weren't there.

On the Saturday night Jesse, James, tranonehalfand I went out for Persian dinner at Sheherzade dizi and grill on College Street. We narrowly escaped the rain once dinner ended. After dinner we joined Juraj Pivovarov and Randall Thomas for drinks on the pub patio across the street from the venue hotel. Sunday night though was the time to relax and stay up late.Our group plus Chris Williams and Mark Edelson were in the mood for Greek so I took them to Toronto's Greektown on the Danforth and we sat outside on the patio at Mr. Greek and enjoyed the spacious exterior all to ourselves before the dinner rush arrived. It poured that evening as well but the canopies protected us and the rain was over by the time slow-eater me finished.

jelitehad invited us to his house in Caledon for a party, so all of us with the exception of Chris and Mark took the fifty-minute drive north to my favourite place to go cycling, Caledon. On the way we stopped to pick up Gabriel Gauthier-Shalom, who lives literally across the street from my BF Mark. Over the course of this weekend James was using the name of his alter-ego "Gabriel Wong", and he had even filled out his Mississauga Scrabble Club score slip with that name. I didn't know what he was doing until the weekend wore on, but by the time we were all sitting in the car on the way to Jason Broersma's house, everyone was calling James "Gabriel" and the real Gabriel, Mr. Gauthier-Shalom, was answering to the name of "Cesar". Apparently there are strong physical similarities and mannerisms shared by Messrs. Leong and Wong and Messrs. Gauthier-Shalom and del Solar. I was amazed that Mr. Gauthier-Shalom never once answered a question intended for Mr. Leong when the latter was addressed as "Gabriel".

My BF Mark and I have been up to Jason's country house before, when it was still a work in progress. Now the house is almost completed and Jason The Builder should be proud of his supreme Scrabble house. When we arrived the house was full with guests: spherulitic, Heather McCall, Crayne Spanier, Risa Horowitz, Sue Tremblay and Roger Cullman and his girlfriend. Games were still in progress so all of the new arrivals headed for the Broersma bar and Sue pulled me some beer on tap. Then we joined the players and embarked on an evening playing Fry Your Brain. I love this game--and haven't played it since the last CNSC at the pub across the street. We were all stumped at BUUW. We were playing Collins Fry Your Brain, which permitted BLUTWURST#. The TWL gives SQUAWBUSH as the shortest steal; a fine rear extension to SQUAW. James and I didn't get back home till 3 a.m. It would have been even later if we had partaken of the invitation to join the others in the big hot tub.

The real purpose of us all getting together however was the tournament, and here are a few notes about my performance.

I finished with an even record at 9 - 9 yet had a horrid spread of -464. I suffered what has to be my greatest thumping ever in twenty years of tournament or Club Scrabble, from baudekin, who clobbered me 555 - 232. I just had to sit back and take it as he whipped my ass so red I couldn't even sit down for the next game. I must congratulate Allen Pengelly for tying the record as the opponent who squeezed me into the tiniest thimble for a score. Zev Kaufman many years ago in a Montreal tournament generously allowed me to eke out a score just past two hundred. He and Allen threw me crumbs, as well as endless I's and U's and multiple turns where I had no choice but to exchange, to the score of 210. In neither game with Zev nor Allen did I go overtime. My sighs were heard across the room. I was praying to the tile gods not to send me into a four-digit negative spread after Allen trounced me. I was down to -881 when the Pengellator pengelled me. The tile gods heard me and I buried those two beatings into the back of my mind and changed my outlook. I may have had my Scrabble ass kicked by Jason and Allen, but I did win rounds sixteen through eighteen by a combined spread of +417.

Here are my bingos, followed by my opponents':




In my game with Max Panitch I played a natural ZANDERS for 91. There was an open TLS and I thought about playing off ZA to score an easy 60+, keeping DENRS. As it turned out, Max took that spot leaving me without having to worry about what was the better move. At the beginning of the game, should I have taken the easy 60+ with my DENRS leave, or taken 91 points for ZANDERS? After ZANDERS I was ahead 161 - 69. I would eventually lose this game by one point.

If one does not draw many E's, it might be a reasonable assumption to say that one does not stand a chance at winning this game. However in my game against John Robertson I could only manage to pick two of them, yet I did make my blank an e for MONOCLe. Coincidentally, John himself made his blank an e for OUTHeARS. So he played eleven E's to my three. I managed to win that game in spite of the E-embargo against me.

Juraj Pivovarov had the opening move in our game. He considered playing the deliberate phony NONLITE* in an attempt to draw a challenge. He was hoping I would give him an E for his NONELITE. However, if he had played the deliberate phony, I would have seen right through it, and would not have given him any tile that would score him a bingo. Yet, in my case, I had the rack AADITW? and I myself was hoping to see Juraj drop an E or a V to enable me to play vIEWDATA / VIeWDATA. Had he opened the game with a deliberate phony, I maintain, as I told him that night while we were among other CNSC friends at the pub, I would have still opened with AWAITeD for 78. He would have snapped back with NONELITe for 74, as the e would have landed on the centre star. I don't believe that it was strategically the better play for me to refrain from playing AWAITeD for 78, even if it gave Juraj 74 in return. Maybe, if Juraj wanted to open with an intentional phony, he should have played something else, and preferably a move that didn't expose his entire rack. Yet what could he play that wouldn't make me see right through his ploy? The mind reels at the endless possibilities on how to find the "best intentional phony". Thoughts?

My game with Mike Ebanks was an unbalanced one-sider in my favour from the third move on. Mike had to exchange twice and lost a challenge early in the game. He drew both blanks but had difficulty, as many of us do, in finding a bingo even with dreamy tiles. By the time he found a bingo he was so close to going overtime that he speedily played it and in so doing, transposed two tiles. I had to apologize as I challenged it off. When I blocked this open lane, which had a D smack in the middle of the open row on the right TWS, he was left with only one bingo lane, a more difficult row where a bingo had to start with V and hook to make another valid two-letter word. Mike spent over four minutes until he could lay down VoCaLISE. It scored 87, but he had to subtract fifty points for going overtime.

The following photos of me at the tournament were taken by Sherrie Saint John:

Game 1 against Kristiina Overton. It was Kristiina's first CNSC, and she finished tenth. Onnea! Why do I look so old in this picture?

On Saturday I wore my football outfit (with matching shorts) that I had bought when I was in Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Mark Edelson is in the background.

Game 18 against Chuck Abbate. I am starting to look like an old man!
Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
10:48 am
Questions for cellphone users
I have a few questions about cell telephony. I have been wondering about these issues for some time, yet considering that I will be returning to a landline in February when my contract is up, these questions might seem moot but I still wonder about them nonetheless.

While on an art-buying mission in Cleveland with Mark this past weekend, I brought my cellphone along. I so rarely bring my cellphone outside of the house that what I notice when it is outside my four walls is the main focus of all my questions.

1) When one has a landline and calls anyplace in the world, one does not pay for the long-distance call if the phone goes unanswered. What about a cell call? Do I pay for a long-distance cellular call regardless where I make the call from, if the call goes unanswered?

2) In the period of only a few months I managed to break one of my two wristwatches and then lose the other, so I have no portable timepiece. When I need to have a timepiece while I am on the road, I will bring my cellphone. Once while on the subway I noticed (as I expected) that there would be no signal. The display screen even said as much. However, I couldn't even get the time while underground. Is this normal? Do all cellphones tune out while underground? I can understand not being able to make a call while riding the subway, but it surprised me that I couldn't even check what time it was.

3) When I converted to cellular in February last year, the vendor informed me that some calls that were long distance on a landline would be free on a cell. I put this to the test when I had to call my property management company just north of Toronto. I purposely did not dial a 1 in front of the number as one does when dialling long distance. The call went through and I was not charged for a long-distance call on that month's bill. However, would I have been charged for a long-distance call if I dialled a 1 anyway? Maybe this is the same thing as if I tried to call locally--like to anyplace in Toronto from my home in Mississauga--yet with a 1 in front of the 416 number.

4) While we were driving home from Cleveland on Sunday, I pulled out my phone to see when the "roaming" indicator would go off. I was very surprised to see that the roaming "R" disappeared when we were in St. Catharines. Now St. Catharines seems a lot farther away from Mississauga than Markham (as the crow flies) yet perhaps that is only an illusion since a lake separates the former. I wonder if I could have called from the car in St. Catharines and not been charged long-distance. Or would it still be a long-distance call, yet without "roaming charges"?

5) I plan to buy a watch before my trip to Tristan da Cunha, as I don't want to take my cellphone with me. Can you imagine what the roaming charges would be if I was even able to make a call from the most isolated inhabited spot on the planet? I would be curious to find out if I could even obtain a signal. I supposedly have unlimited free texts with my cellphone plan, although I have never sent a text since I got this phone. I have however received texts, all of the advertising sort, from the phone company. If I learn how to send texts, and if it really is free to send them--even from Tristan da Cunha--they might however not be received if I can't receive a signal on the island. How does texting work anyway? Is there really no long-distance charge to send a text internationally? I can't imagine that I will turn into an oblivious walking textman. Can you imagine me walking while texting on Tristan da Cunha? I could fall into a gulch or off a cliff. I'd be dead for sure.

I have saved my push-button phone and my two dial phones that are as heavy as kettlebells. I will be hooking them up again next February. Come to my house then, the time warp of telephony.
Sunday, June 9th, 2013
3:35 pm
What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal
Laina Dawes is a heavy metal journalist and fan, who also happens to be a black woman. What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal is her personal account of dealing with being the only black woman in the concert hall. Dawes also covers the history of black women in rock music from the early days of pre-rock with Bessie Smith and Billie Holliday to Tina Turner and Skin of Skunk Anansie.
What are you
For a black person, male or female, one often faces a crisis of identity when drawn to heavy metal music. Dawes and the many women she interviewed for What Are You Doing Here? all revealed that they had to hide their record albums and when they were found out, had to face accusations from friends and family that they were somehow betraying their black heritage by their musical taste. Dawes states:

"As a black girl into metal, I had nobody with whom I could share my adoration for Rob Halford or my crush on the late Steve Clark from Def Leppard. While listening to music and perusing music magazines became a great form of escape, I always felt a bit of residual guilt. After all, black people--real black people--don't listen to metal."

However she was drawn to metal for the same reasons it attracts many of its fans:

"There was a lot of rage around me, and I knew it could be channeled into the positive energy that I found through metal."

How do other black women metal fans reconcile their musical taste with the criticisms they hear because of it? Music journalist Keidra Chaney told Dawes:

"'I didn't fit in,' she says, 'but I wasn't going to fit in anyway, so my loving metal was just another reason to be that weird chick. It wasn't a black identity issue, like me wanting to be like white folks because I grew up around only black folks. It wasn't an issue like I needed to choose. I just happened to be a weird black chick that happened to like weird music.'"


"'It's extremely confusing as a black teenager,' adds singer Camille Atkinson from Empire Beats. 'Who knows who they are as a teenager? You are trying to assert your identity, but at the same time, you feel that you are being separated from your black identity.'"

Dawes deals with the negative reaction to her musical preference expressed by other blacks in the chapter entitled "So You Think You're White?". As a music journalist Dawes is well educated in the history of modern rock. When her critics--people who really ought to know better than to make an issue out of someone else's musical preferences--berate her for liking loud metal music played by white men, her revelation that it was black musicians who invented rock music in the first place always seems to grab their attention and build bridges of understanding.

In the chapter entitled "'The Only One' Syndrome", Dawes shares testimonials from other black women metal fans and their experiences at concerts. It takes an enormous amount of courage for a black woman to attend a metal concert, and some of the women she interviewed simply do not attend live events because of the attention they draw upon themselves simply by being there. Dawes herself often doesn't find support even from other black women concertgoers:

"I have felt the disheartening chill of making eye contact with the only other black girl at a metal show, and receiving a death glare in return that says, 'In no uncertain terms may you even try to talk to me and embarrass me.'"

This reaction reveals to me that the women Dawes sees might themselves be insecure about being at a metal show, and might feel more comfortable trying as hard as they could to be invisible, versus joining another black woman for a chitchat wherein they share their mutual love of metal.

Heavy metal music may have an unfair reputation for being sexist and racist, and Dawes confronts these issues in the chapters entitled "Too Black, Too Metal, and All Woman" and "The Lingering Stench of Racism in Metal". Metal journalist Sameerah Blue sums up both issues with this observation:

"As a black female journalist covering metal myself, sometimes it seems like there are more haters than supporters. 'Just like with most women musicians and fans in metal, you would have to work twice as hard as a guy, that just goes without saying,' says Blue. 'Even if you take color out of the equation, women in metal have to work harder. And if a white woman has to work twice as hard, a black woman is going to have to work four times as hard. You will ultimately get the same acceptance, but you have to work for it.'"

What Are You Doing Here? is perhaps the first book of its kind, giving a voice to black women who love heavy metal. I recommend this book but future printings should see the eyes of an editor. There were many grammatical errors, with repeated words, or repeated infinitives, or often missing words like the "to" when preceding an infinitive. I am led to believe that Dawes typed this at her computer, possessed with intelligent rapid trains of thought. An editor's keen eye, or even her own slow re-read, would have caught these mistakes. Dawes does make the same observations over and over, and at times What Are You Doing Here? seemed frustratingly repetitious. Yet at 206 pages Dawes's work seemed unfortunately too short; it is a sign of a hungry reader and perhaps a wider readership to wish to read more on this topic.
Tuesday, June 4th, 2013
8:20 pm
Angry Island: The Story of Tristan da Cunha 1506-1963


Angry Island: The Story of Tristan da Cunha 1506-1963
by Margaret Mackay was published in 1963, the year the Tristanians returned to their island after its volcano erupted in 1961 and forced the evacuation of the entire population to England. Mackay tells a very detailed history of Tristan da Cunha since its discovery over five hundred years ago, sharing many shipwreck tales and early yet failed attempts to settle the island. Some of the tales revealed facts about the island I didn't know, such as at one time it was home to tortoises:

"In 1775 Capitaine d'Après de Mannevillette warned other French skippers of danger from currents, winds and 'big trees which grow under the water'--the kelp, no doubt. He is the only mariner to have recorded finding on Tristan 'a quantity of tortoises, many the size of a sea-calf'. As they made no resistance, they were easily taken alive, or knocked out with the blow of a hatchet. Being edible, the giant tortoises were a prized source of portable fresh meat for sailing-ship crews. The species must have become extinct on the island soon afterwards."

yet oddly, no mention of the mysterious lion that found its way to shore after a shipwreck, which I had read in another book.

Mackay told a story that often brought a chuckle, even in stories about life or death (more likely leaning towards death) at sea. When the schooner Blenden Hall was shipwrecked on Inaccessible Island, located 45 km southwest of Tristan in 1821:

"A nightmare of those many weeks was the carousal and threats of the crew, whose discipline traditionally lapsed with shipwreck. They soon fell to insulting the passengers, especially the overbearing Indian woman, Mrs. Lock, who called them 'common sailors'. Many times she was heard screaming as they vowed they would eat her children."

As the most isolated inhabited island on Earth, the Tristanians have had to adapt and develop innovative ways in order to survive. In the first days of the permanent settlement in the early nineteenth century, islanders depended on passing ships to trade with for necessary provisions. They would even ask for the crew's clothes if need be. There might not be a boat sighting for months, or even years, and the islanders would have to make do with what they had, and in the following example had to make pants in the most unique fashion:

"The 'cossacks'--Glass's old tailoring term--had a front of sailcloth and a back of dried goatskin with the hair outside. The inhabitants told Earle that he would find this handy in coming down the mountain. He led the laughter when he first appeared in his 'Robinson Crusoe outfit'."

The only settlement on the island is formally called Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, or Edinburgh for short, yet no islander calls it that. "The Settlement" is the term they use. It has in fact been visited by two Dukes of Edinburgh. The first was Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria, who visited Tristan da Cunha while on a world tour in 1867. The settlement adopted the name Edinburgh of the Seven Seas after this Duke. Mackay wrote about a funny moment between the children and Prince Alfred's hat:

"The Duke did not know that while he was having dinner, the children were competing for turns in trying on his hat."

The second Duke of Edinburgh, the current Prince Philip, visited Tristan in 1957 aboard the royal yacht Britannia.

Tristan da Cunha had another famous visitor: in 1873 the HMS Challenger brought Charles Darwin and his team of oceanic explorers. They moved on to Inaccessible Island, which was covered in tussock grass higher than a grown man. Mackay told a sad story about one of the team's dogs:

"Having started through the mass, the several exploring parties found that there seemed to be no end. The spiky tussock stuck up above their heads, and they could not see where they were going...Unable to see each other, they were separated from their leaders and joined anyone they could find in the thicket...
"All the men succeeded in battling their way out, as did one of the spaniels, but not the other. Kindly old 'Boss' was lost in the rookery. Yelping, cringing, he had fled hither and yon, and vanished into some unknown hiding-place. Before the men left the beach they called and whistled until their throats were dry. But they had to board the boat and leave him behind, where he would probably be a victim of the vicious skua gulls."

The south Atlantic could be treacherous for days on end, making landing, or even launching impossible. Islanders visiting Inaccessible could be stuck there for as long as a week until the ocean quieted down. Likewise when the islanders were in need of provisions:

"As ships became fewer, the skilful boatmen would sometimes go more than twenty miles out to sea to try to intercept them."

In 1885, with stores almost exhausted especially after the island's potato crop having failed, fifteen men set off to try to intercept a ship to conduct trade for much needed supplies. The turbulent sea engulfed their boat and all fifteen men drowned, in effect turning Tristan instantly into an island of widows. If there was one moment in the island's history that wrought more devastation, it was the loss of these fifteen men in a single day.

Need for supplies was often conveyed to the captain of one departing ship to pass on to the next vessel headed for the island. Sometimes, though, the message got muddled in the transoceanic delivery:

"At the request of the Customs House in Cape Town, the Barrows [the resident chaplains] had taken along some supplies sent by a French firm in gratitude to the Tristanians who had helped when one of its ships was on fire. The Company had asked what would be useful and had misread 'soap' as 'soup'. They sent four cases of tinned soup, much to the disappointment of the recipients, 'for soap is prized more than anything'."

Innovative islanders found various uses for different products as it might be many months or years before the proper product was delivered:

"We [the Rogers family, resident chaplains after the Barrows] had to be careful over bandages as some would pretend to be sick or hurt to get bandages to mend their clothes. They came in handy for everything, from shirt-cuffs to boat-sails."

One observation I was troubled to read throughout Angry Island was the impression visitors had of the islanders. These were often prejudices about their level of intelligence, their apparent lack of vocabulary and laziness. No wonder the Tristanians of today have such a dim view of journalists and filmmakers. For example, the skipper of a visiting ship remarked:

"So, 'on more mature consideration', he softened his judgement of the Tristanians. He allowed for their ignorance and isolation. In the end he conceded that he was 'surprised they were not more wild and uncivilized'. And he summed them up as 'a lot of grown-up children'."

When the volcano on the island erupted in 1961, the entire population of 290 was evacuated first to Cape Town, and then to London where they stayed for a year and a half. They were treated like zoo animals, gawked at and poked by microphones. Mackay herself met the Tristanians after their evacuation to England and had opportunities to interview them:

"What the pupils all liked least in England they were too courteous to tell me, so Miss Downer [the Tristanian children's teacher] said it for them: the constant nuisance of reporters and photographers."

Footage is available on YouTube showing British interviewers talking to the Tristanians. Some of the most xenophobic questions I have ever heard were asked of the Tristanians, and the islanders are seen looking dumbfounded--no doubt they were struck silent by such imbeciles annoyingly sticking microphones into their faces. The questions were leading, intended to elicit a certain response. When the Tristanians didn't supply the answers the interviewer was expecting, they were made to appear simple-minded and technologically backward. In these interviews children were shown television for the first time and the interviewer couldn't believe it when they displayed not the slightest interest. This colonial power superiority was offensive, and never let up the entire time the Tristanians were in England, as someone always wanted to examine them, from linguists interested in their dialect of English, to doctors who wanted to find out why so many of the islanders were afflicted with asthma, to sociologists for any number of reasons. No wonder all but five of the Tristanians voted to return home as soon as the island was deemed safe. Being in England was too much of a culture shock:

"One islander told me [Mackay] that though they all marvelled at the traffic and the towns, he most minded walking down the street among 'all strange faces, and nobody saying hello'."

Many of the islanders found jobs while in England, yet while the following observations do have their merit, I can't help but read between the lines a subtle xenophobia:

"The chief problem was the fact that very few had ever worked indoors. Furthermore, as diarists and researchers had been pointing out for decades, the people had never lived, worked and eaten by the clock. It was a struggle against all experience to catch a bus and to check in regularly as a whistle blew; not to be free to down tools and wander off to gaze or chat."


"The people's almost oriental casualness about time made appointments seem irrelevant--used as they were to a lone village where everyone just dropped in."

An air of colonial superiority over the Tristanians permeated Angry Island, however I am not narrow-minded to believe in any of this supposed backwardness. With the world growing ever smaller under the broad net of the worldwide web, Tristanians are more connected with the rest of the world than ever before, however I am of the belief that the islanders weren't even "country bumpkins" even before the age of the Internet. To portray the residents as primitive, animal-skin-wearing illiterates makes for a dramatic story and casts the storyteller as a modern-day heroic Columbus. Mackay ends her book by conveying the outside impression of Tristan da Cunha from 1963 and while fifty years later, this impression still stings.

Volcanic eruption on Tristan da Cunha in 1961
[ << Previous 20 -- Next 20 >> ]
My Website   About LiveJournal.com