The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: September 2008

Electronic Ceiling Is A Beer Dong

Beer Dong! Only $20

WESTWOOD, CALIFORNIA—I found this Beer Dong poster attached to every other post on the street I’m staying on in Westwood. The street does have a map name but is more commonly called “Frat Row.” You’ll forgive me but this has put me in a gender war kind of mood. But screw you if you are a man!

Gender, because of Palin and Hilary Clinton, has become popular as a meme in 2008. Only gender is not actually ever discussed. (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  1 Comment

The Last Day

So it does not go on forever, what one passenger called “Matthew Swan’s floating circus.” There are grand finale events planned, of course—the final recap, the captain’s dinner, Aaju’s fur fashion show, the variety show. But the last day also had serendipitous moments…

Walrus public square, part one

Earlier in the trip, Franklyn Griffiths had given a talk on “Camels in the Arctic?” (The Walrus, November, 2007). He talked about his findings during a journey from east to west in the Arctic when he canvassed Inuit leaders and hunters about climate change. He concluded that there were significant regional differences (more awareness in the west) and three levels of understanding and concern: those concerned about climate change and committed to alerting the world about the loss of animals and a way of life; those more concerned about culture; and a majority who considered themselves “marvelous adapters” to the changes they identified, such as changes in the intensity of light and the taste of caribou, but who focused on the here and now in a very practical way, confident of their ability to adapt. (more…)

Posted in Walrus Arctic Expedition  •  No Comments

I moved to Toronto from Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, and one of the things I miss most about home is the daily commute that took me over the Cambie Street Bridge and into the downtown core each morning. I’d hop on my trusty ten-speed (minus one brake cable, but who’s counting?) and rocket down the hill, past the all-too-familiar yellow and red safety vests of the Canada Line construction workers, and onto the wide bike-friendly path speckled with self-propelled individuals on their way to work. On rainy days my view from the bridge was limited to the slippery pavement in front of me, but on the rare and much celebrated occasion of a clear, sunny Vancouver morning, the city would rise up before me in all its tall, glassy glory.

To my left, the expansive curve of English Bay’s shores would wind beneath the Burrard Street Bridge, where tiny rainbow-coloured ferries shuttled market workers to Granville Island. To my right, the waters of False Creek would reach into the city, before ending abruptly at the foot of the Expo ‘86 architectural orb known as Science World. And in front of me, clusters of residential towers would form a shining wall across the horizon, some so distant that only the sharp glare of their reflections would register, others so close that I could see through their windows smartly dressed couples making breakfast and preparing for the day. It was easy to see how Vancouver earned the Coupland-coined moniker “City of Glass.” (more…)

Posted in The Haulout  •  No Comments

Holy Flatfish: Halibut or Turbot?

LYUBOV ORLOVA—The fish bought in Greenland by the ship and served subsequently several times for dinner was called simply “halibut” on the menu; and then someone would say, well, really, it is turbot. It did not taste like my idea of “halibut”—the glorious weighty fish caught in late spring off the shores of northern BC and Alaska; this was softer in texture and smaller. Nor did it taste like what I remembered as “turbot,” so what was it?

Hippoglossus hippoglossus is the scientific name for the Atlantic halibut;

Hippoglossus stenolepis is the scientific name for the Pacific halibut;

Psetta maxima is the scientific name for the European turbot.

Even the website of the Canadian Department of Agriculture flounders (heh, heh) on the subject of why this particular flatfish—which sometimes acts like a roundfish, meaning it can swim vertically—is given the name of two completely different species: “The physical aspects of this fish more closely resemble its relative, the Atlantic halibut, than the European turbot (Psetta maxima), but for reasons too numerous to explain, the species must be marketed in the United States as “Greenland turbot” (so as not to confuse it with Pacific halibut) and in Europe as “Greenland halibut” (so as not to confuse it with true turbot).” (more…)

Posted in Walrus Arctic Expedition  •  1 Comment

Inside and Out (Sports Literacy Edition)

PARIS—Hola, Sportstrotter amigos. How’s it hanging? I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but the lines on the field don’t paint themselves here at Sportstrotter-MGD Stadium.

I’ll tell you where I’ve been the last couple weeks: holed up in my tiny apartment, with the heat on (winter starts early here in Paris), half-dressed and huddled under a desk with my laptop, obsessively reading the news and trying not to piss myself. With a virulent mixture of abject, tremble-inducing terror and maniacal, Joker-esque amusement, I’ve been following along at home as the world self-destructs. Economics, politics, society, science, culinary, environment — you name the topic, and one undeniable truth pervades: we’re fucked.

Worse still: a Cubs pitcher recently threw a no-hitter; the Buffalo Bills are 3-0; even the Yankees, ever-fueled by Steinbrenner’s billions, missed the playoffs this month. If that’s not a sign of the apocalypse, I don’t know what is. (more…)

Posted in Sportstrotter  •  No Comments

The Arctic, to the new eye, looks like a barren place, an empty place. But in fact this apparently desolate landscape, and seascape, have rich stories to tell; you just have to know how and where to look. This means seeing a little clump of twigs with red leaves the size of oat flakes as a forest; this adjusts the scale of everything. Major archeological finds have been discovered because a pile of rocks suddenly looks more than random.

Yesterday in Hoare Bay on the Cumberland Peninsula on Baffin Island, there were three small icebergs, clearly settling in for the winter. Someone asked Chris (assistant expedition leader, an exuberant Brit in an Aussie hat with a passion for ice) where those icebergs might have come from. (Icebergs follow the currents once they are unleashed from the glaciers, which means they travel north up the coast of Greenland and then south along Baffin Island, and can take as long as two years to reach the coast of Newfoundland. Like the ships of the British explorers, icebergs too overwinter in bays like this.) So where did these icebergs come from? The only way to tell, says Chris, is to find a bit of rock or gravel, imbedded deep in the glacier, and analyse that. (more…)

Posted in Walrus Arctic Expedition  •  No Comments

Hello, I’m Your Food

JEJU-DO—Meat-eating in Korea is very literal. Humanity’s participation in the food chain is much less disguised than it is in North America, where people are happy to pretend their bacon burgers or pork tenderloin medallions are magically synthesized for the express purpose of being delicious. In Korean, the word for pork is dwaeji gogi — “pig meat.” Most other meats work the same way: insert name of animal, followed by the word for “meat” — not much in the way of linguistic frippery to disguise the fact that meat is basically dead flesh and ripped-apart muscle.

In an unsettling twist, restaurant signage follows suit. Many restaurants advertise specialties with pictures of their dishes, displayed right underneath jovial cartoon versions of whichever animal gave their life for the food. This is especially true of restaurants serving galbi, pork or beef rib meat barbecued over flaming charcoals stuck into the centre of your table.

The following is series of portraits of these brave ambassadors of personal flavour. As you can see, most of them look downright delighted at the prospect of ending up in your bowels. (more…)

Posted in World Famous in Korea  •  12 Comments

Arctic Dialogues: Aaju Peter

She was born in a northern Greenland community and lived up and down the west coast, because her father was a teacher and preacher. In 1981 Aaju moved to Iqaluit, where she now resides. She reads and speaks many languages, is a graduate of Akitsiraq Law School, and designs stunning sealskin garments. She is a performer, translator, volunteer, and she collects traditional law from elders for the Department of Justice. And she has five children.


Aaju Peter was born in a northern Greenland community and lived up and down the west coast, because her father was a teacher and preacher. In 1981 Aaju moved to Iqaluit, where she now resides. She reads and speaks many languages, is a graduate of Akitsiraq Law School, and designs stunning sealskin garments. She is a performer, translator, volunteer, and she collects traditional law from elders for the Department of Justice. And she has five children. The clip above sees her singing at the lighting of a qulliq, or traditional seal oil lamp.

MBF: The Thule mummies that were discovered at Qilakitso—the women had tattoos; when did you first see these, and what were your thoughts?

AP: I first saw them in 1979, when I was working at the museum in Nuuk. I remember especially the young woman who was pregnant when she died and she looked as if she had been frozen in that state, as if she was in pain. Her tattoo was a single line on her forehead, with a dip in it.

MBF: Like a line drawing of a bird?

AP: Exactly that. I was too young to understand the significance. It was only when I visited the site several years later that I realized that these were real women, not museum objects. I could see their home, where they had lived, and I had a sense of their souls being present. (more…)

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Posted in Walrus Arctic Expedition  •  No Comments

The Work in the North


Last week while I was waiting around in a rural area in Northern Uganda, I was speaking to a friend on the phone and sitting nearby family of ducks in front of someone’s hut—eleven little ducks and a mom. My friend told me to take a photo. They are sweet, here together as a family, but they are dirty, not very photogenic, I said. Ragged and brown where they should have been yellow and fluffy. And they were drinking from a small container of murky and opaque water, more brown than clear. My friend asked if it made me sad. Not really, I said. This was my umpteenth trip North. I was hardened, and I’d seen worse, after all. And ducks weren’t people, after all. People need clean water more urgently, I thought. (more…)

Posted in This Is Not A Safari  •  2 Comments

Airplanes: Good or Evil?

Flying is becoming socially taboo. The tide of anti-airplane sentiment is still relatively low in North America, compared to in the UK, where nearly half of the citizens are vowing to fly less for environmental reasons, and one in eight teenagers supports the idea of a ban on “travelling by air for leisure purposes.” Are we, as David Beers in his July/Aug 2008 Walrus piece suggests, at the end of an era?

Common predictions suggest that even if it isn’t totally socially taboo to take a plane, it still may be financially impossible to do so for the majority of people in Canada and the US, due to the dwindling supply of fossil fuels. The languishing airline industry will continue to merge and shrink (albeit with a few companies supported by government, according to the “too big to fail” principle). Flying, many forecast, will be the exclusive privilege of the elite once more.

At present, though, many of us still do fly. How can we fully appreciate this gift? We have tapped nature’s reserves of millions of years, billions of hours of sunlight, in order to skip across the globe. No generation in history has been able to experience this on the current scale, and it’s possible that no generation will again, at least in the way we enjoy. What have we learned from our time in the air? Can we, as a global civilization, get something out of this experience besides increased CO2 levels?

(more…)

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Posted in Shades of Green  •  No Comments

Chester Brown’s Zombie Romance

I hate zombies. I loathe the marketing of “culture.” But I admire Chester Brown. And I think I love Chester Brown’s comic strip about zombies attending cultural events.

Chester Brown, master of the page-as-grid. Click to enlarge.

For those of you who don’t live in Toronto (and, believe it or not Torontonians, these people do exist), for the past several years the city’s streets, newspapers, etc. have been plagued with an ad campaign called Live with Culture that features happy people doing artsy things, like painting! or dancing!, their grinning mugs plastered with slogans like “TO LIVE with art” or “TO LIVE with dance” (note how TO is also short for Toronto—clever, no? no). From October 4 to November 8 2007, I briefly found myself no longer resenting this campaign’s intrusion into my eyeball space when a Live with Culture comic strip by future MP Chester Brown appeared in six weekly instalments in NOW magazine. The strip tells the story of an undead zombie guy and a living human girl who notice each other at the theatre, at a concert, at a gallery, and who finally arrange a date to see the long-in-limbo movie version of Brown’s Ed the Happy Clown. As is typical of Brown’s work, which has dealt with such other mile-a-minute thrill rides as 19th century Canadian history and word-by-word adaptations of the Gospels, it sounds boring. And it kind of is. But, again like his other work, it’s boring in a way that’s surprisingly funny and involving. (more…)

Posted in Four-Colour Words  •  5 Comments

Big Jim’s Day

AASIAT, GREENLAND—We are going to play soccer against a group of elders in a thirty-five-seat stadium. This is all we know, except that this is an Adventure Canada tradition. But when the ship docks in the early morning, there is a group of elders on the pier, dressed in smart navy blue and white uniforms, and clearly ready to play.

The tradition is that the people on the ship play soccer and/or hockey when the ship stops at a community, and the ship has never won. Usually the staff, who are young and fit, especially the zodiac drivers, end up playing, but this time an exceptionally large number of passengers are keen to play. Bear in mind that the temperature hovers around zero Celsius and there is a bitter wind and the uniforms are pale blue T-shirts over thermal underwear. And that there are aging cheerleaders in red T-shirts (led by yours truly—kee bo, ky bo, sis boom bah). Our team is named, roughly, after the ship: the Lube Oil All Overs, which we shout in a Kiwi accent, in honour of our expedition leader, Aaron Russ (Loo Boil Awl Ovahs). We have a Canadian flag and a Greenland flag, duct-taped to hockey sticks. (more…)

Posted in Walrus Arctic Expedition  •  1 Comment
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