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!
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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.
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…)
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…)