It used to be a tall order to become Canonized, which is to be declared a Saint by the Catholic Church. You used to have to be dead for five years, which is the easy part - it used to be 50 - and then you need to have TWO miracles assigned to you, which is considerably harder given how difficult it is to have ANYTHING be declared a miracle with scientific advancements, let alone TWO things... But, hey, the Pope, like Cartman, can "Do what he wants." So Pope John Paul II waived the 'Dead for five years" rule because he wanted Mother Teresa's Canonization to come before he died, which unfortunately for him, didn't happen until 2016, 11 years after his death.
By waiving that rule, one might wonder if the 'fix' was in... but, nah... he's the Pope, right? It reminds me of how pissed many of us in the BC actors' union were when the brass reduced the number of acting credits required for membership from six to three, because, believe me, getting three credits is tough enough, but six is the appropriate level of miraculous preferred by those of us already in... And, so, after a medical miracle was declared the result of Mother Teresa's intervention, she was duly Beatified. (By the way, that miracle was the spontaneous healing of a tumor by an illiterate tribal woman from Bengal. Local doctors treating her were like "Hello, we're providing treatment over here..."). Anyway, it's not like it was all that impressive when you compare it to St. Birgid's qualifying miracle of turning her bathwater into beer (which, word is, was more Bud Light than Kilkenny, so not really all that impressive), or St. Anthony of Padua who was miraculously a polyglot way before Google Translate.
Well, by those standards, I am putting forth a proposal to have my friend’s Mr. Coffee® Cafe Barista Espresso Maker declared a Saint, because, believe me, there have been numerous miracles since she purchased it a month ago, and I can think of no other explanation for them, as she is neither the “course in miracles" or Magic Crystals type. And miraculous things have occurred since it appeared on her kitchen counter, by far exceeding her simple expectation of saving money on Starbucks lattes. Herewith is an enumeration of two, which is the full requisite number for full Canonization…
Okay, okay. I know what you're thinking. Those are no "St. Joseph of Cupertino levitating at will, or St. Benedict of Nursia walking on water to save his priest," but I suggest to you that those miracles might not pass today's scientific rigour. unlike my Summer for Summer miracle, which is a lock.
The paper work has been submitted to the Vatican and I expect an expedited decision soon, and then Lattes for all on the imminent Feast Day of the Blessed Mr. Coffee® Cafe Barista Espresso Maker.
Mr. Coffee® Cafe Barista Espresso Maker. Was $269.99, now $189.99 at Bed Bath and Beyond.
Everybody loves to be seen. I don’t care how shy you are, or how modest you are, or how good you are at lying. Everybody loves that moment of recognition. When someone says, in one form or another, I see you. Or it’s cousin, I totally get you. Being acknowledged in and of itself is its own little high. When we get awards, even if it’s only minor - say, “ACME International’s Mail Sorter of the Month in Building D in Tuscaloosa” - we still find ourselves inordinately happy with the award. Why? Because the most important feeling in that moment is that you were seen... Seen for what you’re worth, or seen for what you need, or seen for who you are, or just seen, standing there, waiting to acknowledge the seeing. It all feels the same way. Like you exist.
In Nicole Krause’s “History of Love,” an old man, who lives alone and is old enough to be taken by old-age any day now, says he does something every day to make sure he is seen. He might be at a store, unnoticed by the shoppers, so he’ll drop some coins so there’s a little commotion as he scrambles to pick them up, even at the high cost of the pain of getting down on his knees while people watch, and some people help, and all the while he’s content that he was seen. His worst fear is that he’ll die on a day that he was not seen...
That kind of deeper recognition - that ‘existence affirming’ one - is a rare occurrence, which gives it its weight. That’s why that moment of “I looked across the crowded room, and there she/he was - looking back, our eyes locking as the moon shone blah (I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit) blah blah blah.” Although a cliché, it’s still pretty awesome when it happens to you.
That’s why the idiosyncratic practice in tango, of the Cabaceo, is so fascinating. At it’s purest, there’s no verbal asking for dances in tango. You have to look. They have to see. You have to be acknowledged. When it’s busy, and it’s crowded, and you don’t know anybody...it can be nerve-wracking. Especially the first time. And it isn’t until the first time you’re out of your home community that you really feel the effect. When you aren’t surrounded by your friends, where you might do “the look”, but it’s just for the ritual, because you could just as easily go up and say, “hey, get off your ass. Let’s do this.” Or something to that effect.
Now, you have to enter into the realm of that secret, non-verbal language that gives permission to long stares that would otherwise be considered rude, not de-rigour. I look at you from across the room; you look away, and settle on somebody else you want to engage, but alas, his eyes move straight past yours while directing his own laser look that careens off a bored cat and continues its ricochet until it lands.
But. Sometimes you scan scan scan and you see someone - a complete stranger - and you connect without saying word, where eyes locking is the contract, and perhaps a tiny smile is the signature that seals the deal: ‘yes, I see you.’ ‘I see you seeing me...”
The best part of tango is that little acknowledgement. Over and over. All the gazes that previously turned away are rendered meaningless in that moment of recognition.
This ‘being seen’ is important enough that I think the French should have a term for it. after all, they have the very perfect ‘le petit mort’ for orgasm. ‘Le petit voir’ perhaps? Well, I know this much: that little moment, especially with a stranger, never gets old...
That feeling of acknowledgement comes in a variety-pack. We can feel acknowledged in different ways, including feeling acknowledged by those who govern us. And lately, I’m left with the feeling that I haven’t been ‘cabaceoed’ for a long time by the Canadian government. I think there’s a lot of us who are feeling that way, and with elections coming up in the fall, well, there’s a lot of looking going on, but who’s being seen? We wait, with our vote in hand, to nod.
Young people are getting a bad rap for not participating as voters. “Africans walk for days in the sweltering heat to cast a vote once the privilege has been granted”, they’re told - a variation of the “well, when I was a child I had to walk for an hour through a blizzard in my sneakers to get to school.”
Be that as it may, when people have been been starved of meaningful participation (in addition to actual starvation), of course they hungrily accept the opportunity. But if you’re left with the feeling that nobody’s really seeing you, it’s hard to get enthused about staying at the dance. I don’t think the reason people under 30 vote in small numbers is because they’re lazy - it’s because there’s no faith in a system where split votes lead to an asshole being declared dictator with 40 percent of the vote. And then, just to complete the “fuck you”, he sings John Lennon’s “Imagine there’s no heaven” as if it were meant as lullaby for Ayn Rand.
Harper could be guaranteed toast if the NDP and Liberals could get their act together to have a coalition government, but Trudeau is throwing a hissy fit about dancing with Thomas Mulcair. In doing so, he’s not just averting Mulcair’s gaze, but all of ours. I think that Canadian youth will participate in droves if they ever come to feel that their votes will count.
As for the rest of us? We’re just standing around. Waiting to be seen.
I wrote before about how dancing tango in Buenos Aires is about dancing in a place steeped in crisis, melancholy and sadness. But, jeezus, seriously - who or where isn't?...
But there's a perception, real or imagined, that serious Porteños believe that true tango can only be danced in Buenos Aires by people who know their pain – they say, “but you need to know what this song is about, and, invariably, it's about some sorry schmuck from the barrio who gets jilted and now he's feeling tortured and drinking to excess. Yeah, well, get in line pal. Been there. Done that. Or maybe the song is about a city or country in decline, and to that I say, don't get me started on Canada's own kind of crumbling as the country's reputation and values are unceremoniously dismantled by our current callous government...
So, on the subject of tango lyrics and Argentina's pain, that's cool, but those are common themes. Yeah, it is too bad we don't know the words, because, ultimately, they're easily metaphoric, and good poetry is universally true.
Some women have said to me that they really like it when the Argentines sing in their ear while dancing. It's true – knowing the lyrics of a song adds an extra layer, and it goes a long way toward motivating and animating you in a dance.
Which is why I, personally, love dancing tango to Tom Waits. That's some motherfuckin' pain right there. Know 'um sayin? And as much as I wish that Argentina had cornered the market on feelings unrequited, I fear that's not the case, and, once again, there's something that the rest of us...well, me anyway, can connect with. And that's tango. And it's also why I like dancing tango to non-tango music. A lot of it is just about understanding the lyrics. The language that you understand, describing the sadness, loss, loneliness or joy that you understand.
For some purists, if you say “I like dancing to alternative music” to them it feels like a betrayal of the true tango, or worse, it conjures images of repetitive electronica and people dancing with all the grace and aplomb of an epileptic Dervish, flailing around while petrified partners hang on for dear life. But I just mean music that isn't tango because it's great music that I understand, and dancing to it with the same dance vocabulary. And it's often more heartfelt because I understand the music and the lyrics. A personal favourite is Leonard Cohen's “Dance me to the end of Love”.
“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic til I'm safely gathered in”.
Bloody fucking hell, I'm already bawling over here.
I wrote the above passage, about liking Cohen to dance to, last Monday at a coffee shop near my apartment. I actually hadn't heard any song in English in a tanda at a milonga in what was at that point exactly 8 weeks here. That night at La Bicicleta there was a tanda (“three-song cycle” for the uninitiated) played live by a guy playing just a guitar, but excellently, with a beautiful voice and a head of hair that looked like at least three of the Jackson 5 standing together next to an electrical field.
He starts singing the first song, and I swear to freakin' gawd, it's “Dance me to the end of Love.” I just about fell off my chair. Well, actually, I did. But then I got up and danced.
Tango and the state of “estar”
When learning Spanish, one of the ways of explaining the difference between 'ser' and 'estar', two forms of the verb 'to be', is that 'ser' is for permanent states and 'estar' is for temporary states. In English, there's only one. “I'm a man” and “I'm happy”. One permanent, one temporary. But in Spanish, you say 'estoy feliz', and right there, before the words are even out of your mouth, the language is already reminding you “but don't get used to it.” Of course, the opposite is also true. “Estoy triste”, but that's okay. That, too, shall pass. I love this philosophical notion in the Spanish language: Whatever it is that you feel, its opposite is always lurking! Tango is that state of 'estar'. Shadows moving through; the fleeting and the flitting, as permanent as a plate of 'fiambres' after a night of dancing.
And so it goes. We come to another country and it's easy to feel superior and to naively want to 'get with the people and support them against their evil governments and meanwhile, my own country is being dismantled from the inside out while we passively allow it. Oh sure, people are signing shit, and there's a whole heap-a clicking and 'liking' going on, but where are the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets outraged as our country becomes a shadow of its former self?
I don't need to cry for Argentina. There's plenty to cry about at home...
Ok. So it's three weeks in and here's the truth about getting dances here: Its tough. In fact, it can be brutal. More than one book has been written covering the inevitable tango downer that comes from being ignored all night. I've certainly danced, but with no Argentine woman under 50. That group has the demeanour of bored cats, and so far, will have nothing to do with me. Word is, the locals won't dance with you until they see what you've got. So you have to choose your first dance carefully. One false step, and you're toast, or, in this case, a burnt 'media luna...'
And I've had some good dances. The kind that might put me in good stead with the locals. Walk smoothly; keep the turns tight and graceful; keep it elegant and simple. Don't over-reach. No triple Ganchos with a half-twist (oh, wait, I think that's a figure skating move...). But still, here's what it feels like as I try to a apply the Cabaceo, a way of communicating with your eyes to procure a dance:
scanning scanning hey youlooknicewannadance?
Ok ok that's ok keep looking whatabouther shelooksnice okay, eyes-trying-to-lock-
Ok, not her, ok, what about h-
fuck off .
And so it goes. It's humbling - some might say demoralizing. All I can say is, thank God for the Germans. I seem to be dancing with a lot of Germans, who I'm becoming rather fond of. And Russians seem to be in an amenable abundance.
Well, it can't be all tango all the time. I'm here for two months and I need some semblance of my regular life. Last Saturday night I went to the equivalent of what we have in Vancouver: The Philosopher’s Cafe. But here it's Vino filosofico: Wine and philosophy. For 150 pesos, you get a couple of glasses (to the brim!) of Malbec and three empanadas. I was so happy to find something other than tango – I was missing some intellectual stimulation.
We file upstairs to a private room in a restaurant. The topic was “The lost art of Listening”. How we yearn to be heard; how this 'being heard' is one of life's great validations, but the listening is often lacking (yes, yes, guilty as charged...) Being truly engaged when listening to someone while in conversation has always been a challenge, and even more so now with the smorgasbord of innovative distractions. I mean, how could I possibly be expected to continue listening to you when texts keep coming in...
After the presenter spoke for 40 minutes, the floor opened up. People gave examples of their experiences while lamenting the state of listening skills among today's youth (as our parents did with us...)
Then, a man of around 60, with a light linen jacket, perfectly pressed shirt and slicked back hair slightly grey at the temples, took his turn. He said, “You know, there were some terrible things that were going on in the 70's in this country. People were taken from their homes in the middle of the night. Well, I was one of those people. I was put in a tiny square room. You had to stand – you couldn't even bend your knees, and I was left their for a week, that this little closet with no light, and no sound. And I found that I was listening for sounds. Just listening. More than anything, I wanted to hear something. When they let me out after a week, everything seemed like a festival of sound, and it was good to listen, and to hear.”
He tells the story rather matter-of-factly, like, it was just a thing. And I have to let that sit there a minute. This is a country where that kind of thing, for some, in order to cope, was 'just a thing.'
In so many ways, Buenos Aires is not like other Latin American countries. For starters, I don't see a lot of indigenous features. The European flavour is abundantly clear, both physically and architecturally. And getting out of the airport was un-Latin American like in its efficiency...
BUT. I pick up some groceries at the supermarket and the slight twenty-something cashier is having trouble with the receipt-tape because it keeps jamming and it's slowing the line, even though it's the '10 items or less' line. When it's finally my turn, my total is 111 pesos, and I give her 112, but her tape jams again, and she has to fetch the manager to swipe into the computer to reset something, but I'm happy to forgo the peso and be on my merry way, but she'll have none of it. I say “gracias” and turn to leave, but she says 'no, you have to wait', And I say, it's okay you can have the peso, but this causes her considerable distress and her voice rises and she says “sir, you have to WAIT.” and the security guard looks over to see what the fuss is, and I wonder why she's so fixated on giving me change I don't want and a receipt that's of no consequence to me.
My father worked in northern Argentina in 1979-80, and inflation was close to 200 percent (it topped out at 433.7 percent in 1983), and you wouldn't get change in coins, because it wouldn't hold it's value from the beginning of your transaction to the end, so they would give you something that WOULD hold it's value – no, not gold, but buttons, or those little hotel size sewing kits, and you'd hand over your bills, and the till would ding open and there would be buttons and sewing kits and other knick knacks where the nickles and quarters would usually go. and I had quite a collection by the end of that summer visit to the little town on the Paraná in Misiones. So maybe the cashier here was thinking, “we've been through a hell of a lot to be able to give you money that has the same value when you first picked up those chicken legs to the time you're ready to pay for them, so, goddammit, I'm giving you your peso whether you want it or not!' I don't know, really, but I demurred and waited unenthusiastically for my peso.
But the insistence on making me wait for a receipt and a peso lest security be called puts the country firmly in the company of other of it's geographic brethren. “We follow the rules to an absurd degree, and to the detriment of efficiency, because it's that soupçon of control that we have over something, and I'm afraid, sir, that I must insist on it...” Maybe. I don't know.
And all of this while the city crumbles. Buenos Aires is a majestic city that's definitely a bit crumbly. But the juxtaposition of the majestic with the dingy creates a kind of ragged beauty that I love.
And, you know, you might be a bit crumbly, too, if you had to default on 82 billion dollars in loans (in 2001) and have your peso devalued and a tax base that comes from God-knows-what because the level of distrust is so high that I don't think there's a lot of desire to pay them and there's an awful lof of cash-only businesses here, which tells me one thing. So, actually, it's amazing that there's any infrastructure at all, so the crumbly bits, well let's just call it 'character'. And that rusted out shell of a car left parked for years on the street, and it seems like nobody's responsibility to remove? That's art, man. Real fucking art. It's certainly a statement; and the city seems to work well enough, even if some of it feels jury-rigged. The broken sidewalks that will never get repaired; the old buildings that are sagging and in disarray – I mention them only because one Vancouver dancer told me he'd never come back – the streets are full of dog shit, and it's dirty and dangerous. Yeah, well, no one ever said Buenos Aires was made for indoor cats. And, anyway, the dog poop leads to mindful walking. Imagine that – it's a spiritual practice!
Now, it you'll excuse me, I have to go take another kick at the (bored) cat...
I wonder if dancing tango in Buenos Aires is akin to doing yoga in India. Here in Vancouver, in the west in general, it's largely stripped of the spiritual element – you need look no further than Lululemon and it's Ayn Rand-loving owner to see that. But how could you do yoga in India and not be infused with the spirituality of it? Well, at least that's what I imagine. How will tango in Buenos Aires be different? I think tango is danced best when it's harbouring a certain sadness. I've often received the strongest compliments for my dancing when I have been at my saddest. You close your eyes, and the world falls away, and there's only you and your partner and the music; and your steps are animated by melody and melancholy. And in those moments it really DOES feel like two lonely souls mitigating that loneliness through the dance's embrace. I love those moments, and yet, paradoxically, only truly possible when tinged with sorrow or regret.
Argentina has been through so much as a nation. It's hard to separate tango from the history of Argentina's sorrows. I've seen the men, in documentaries, talk about this connection with tango, and its history, and I've heard that some older men cry and sing along to the classic Argentine tango music. And it's with some of this that I come to Argentine tango music. And it's with some of this that I come to Argentina. It's' been a good year overall, but one also filled with sorrow and loss, and a beauty that felt so close, and yet just beyond my fingertips, and I've been looking forward to dancing in Argentina with those emotions running in my veins; but then on Monday I was stopped in my tracks.
I finally got around to looking through my Alma Mater's quarterly magazine and learned of the death, back in February , of cancer, of one of my closest friends in university, with whom I co-edited the paper (The Picaro) in my final year there: Suellen Murray. How could that be? Suellen Murray was well and truly one of the good ones, whose brilliant wit and wry observations were wise beyond her years, and I was lucky to be her friend. And I remember the day she asked me if I would co-edit the newspaper with her, and I was so moved because I was so unsure of myself and so often felt lost in the world, and then I was crying and packing and hoping I could focus enough not to forget something basic, like my money. I've thought of her often over the years and always thought, “that reunion will come.” I'd look her up when I'm back in Nova Scotia, but I didn't, and now, I can't, and I can hardly fathom that her brilliance and friendship is one more thing beyond my realm. It was hard to finish packing on Monday, as I cried and tried to concentrate on not forgetting things, while not forgetting her.
It was Suellen I was thinking of on my first night of tango last night at El Beso. Tough to get dances in the packed room, and an unknown quantity. But at the end of the night, as the crowd thinned, I managed to catch the eye of an elegant woman from the city, grew up four blocks from here and was at this milonga because she couldn't go to her regular place (“quebre con un caballero”) and we embraced and danced with all the feeling I would expect from here, the last dance of the night.
I hope for fun, and lightness and laughter, which are all deeply in my nature, during my time here. But I've also come here as a kind of mourning. I know this sounds odd, but it's a mourning that has to to with honouring the things there are in my life – in the world – that have been lost. Personally, I can't think of a better place for it.
I'll hand it to the Tories. They're clever little fuckers when it comes to political manoeuvring, and I hope the other parties keep "political savvy" at the top of their list when picking a leader.
Case in point: The Conservatives new omnibus crime bill called The Safe Streets and Communities Act (aka the "if you love criminals so much why don't you marry them?" bill) makes it sound like the streets are a panoply of pandemonium, and order must be restored!
The bill is being eloquently attacked by the usual knowledgeable suspects: criminologists, police, judges, and lawyers from all sides. And statisticians. The numbers just don't support the amount of money being thrown at criminals, but Harper has a majority now, so who gives a shit. I mean, check out this quote from Justice Minister Rob Nicholson:
“We’re not governing on the basis of the latest statistics; we’re governing on the basis of what’s right to better protect victims and law-abiding Canadians.” Not governing on the basis of the latest statics. You mean the ones that show crime down everywhere, and at their lowest since 1973? Irrelevant. And now you know why the conservatives have such contempt for the census. Why spend money on something that will have no bearing whatsoever on policy when you can do the same thing with a 7 dollar Ouija board channelling the spirit of Ayn Rand? Talk about savings!
And yet, opposition MP's have to tip toe around it because everyone's afraid of being seen as soft on crime. God forbid that someone should point out that upping the rate of incarceration has failed miserably in the U.S. to the point that not even the Tea Party supports it. So, compared to the current Canadian government, the Tea Party is a voice of reason. How does that make you feel?
I hate that the only response Harper needs is, "What do you have against being tough on child molesters?" It's the political version of "So, have you stopped beating your wife?" It leaves opposition mp's in knots trying to figure out how to answer this question.
I suggest a private members bill: the omnibus "Rehabilitate Paralyzed Kittens, and Measures to Institute Social Programs to Address Concerns Regarding Factors of Mental Health and Poverty in Crime" bill, heretofore known as the Rehabilitate Paralyzed Kittens bill. Well, Stephen Harper, what do you have against paralyzed kittens From the waist down. Dragging themselves along. What kind of an ogre are you, sir?
Now, we just need an opposition leader that can sell it.
It isn't Stephen Harper's pig headed arrogance that upsets me the most in his handling of Omar Khadr, but the knowledge that way too many Canadians, who must also believe in Santa Claus, even though he repeatedly violates rules governing international air space, unquestionably buy the primary-school level logic that Khadr is guilty because some biased american 'authority' says so, even though law experts have lined up to condemn the entire Guantanamo process, and Canada's abdication of responsibility to look after it's citizens.
Never mind that the Canadian government is practically gleeful in its pride over how it treats someone who was only 15 at the time, in a grand 'fuck you' to the international conventions outlawing trials of child soldiers, to which Canada is a signatory. This is the Harper Archipeligo, after all, and goddammit Democracy is whatever the hell he says it is. Lawyers know that evidence like the fact that it was an American grenade that killed Sgt. Speer, and not anything that Khadr possessed, is meaningless in this movie version of Alice in Wonderland as written by Khafka.
And, if the comments on the media sites are anything to go by, I'm swimming in a sea of fear and ignorance. "That's what you get for killing someone" is a common theme, even though an actual unbiased trial would be a slam-dunk in Khadr's favour, in this universe, he has to plea-bargain in order to avoid life in prison in extra-terratorial space. Life in Guantanamo is the life of the un-dead, and to the untrained eye of conservative supporters, Khadr's life is neither here nor there.
Eight years he's plea-bargained for. Eight fucking years on top of the eight he's served. There's no "time served" in Alice in Kafka-land, so he'll serve 16, which, if you're Mullah Omar, is fitting as it delays his reunion with the 72 virgins, but for someone who is innocent, it's just tragic, and insulting to the rest of us who believe in a just Canada. We should have insisted on his return a long time ago. The Americans acually wanted, no, begged us to take him back. But Harper would have none of it. It wouldn't play to his base. Justice isn't worth pissing off the 35 percent of people who vote for him at election time. God, how I don't want to live in that world.
The front-line of ministers, Lawrence Cannon-Foreign Affairs, Vic Toews-Public Safety,and Peter McKay- defence, who is still acting out all this time after getting dumped by Belinda Stronach, have no interest other than towing the party line. Nuance need not apply.
I'll give ya this much. The rest of the Khadr family is pretty nasty. You'd think his mother would shut up already about how Americans should die. Omar Kadr is suffering for nothing more than the sins of his parents.
A pre-empitve note to the ignorant commentators to follow. No, you are.
In the commentary on proroguing by Rex Murphy, the government apologist who's forced to do a lot of apologizing these days, the undertone was one coloured with amnesia. He wants to know what the fuss is about, suggesting that the only reason proroguing is an issue is because haters are using it as a vessel to direct their anger.
Well, sorry Rex, but you're wrong...again.
If it was just about government taking time off to 'recalibrate' (there was a time when I thought I knew what that word meant) then whatever, I could use some extra time to recalibrate myself (with or without lube).
But no. Many of us are so angry, we may forget where this all started, so let me remind you: Richard Colvin. His testimony regarding mistreatment of afghan detainees, and the subsequent parade of diplomats, current and former, who came to his defence after the appalling mistreatment by the Harper government, leaves the distinct impression the government has something to hide.
According to Rex “There’s not an adult in the country who doesn’t know why he [Harper} shut the shop down --- for partisan convenience.” It's a clever line – it implicitly acknowledges that mere convenience is not a good reason to shut down parliament, while also suggesting that the outrage is disproportionate - as if shutting down a committee doing investigative work is roughly as important as something something something on a bull (I forget how the line goes). He finds it amusing that there are suddenly so many defenders of the dignity of parliament, where there were none before. So let me edify Rex on how we feel regarding aforementioned dignity: There is none. Okay?
We're not pissed off at the spectacle and Cirque du Blase that is question period, which is what many think is the sum total of what goes on in Ottawa. When you shut down Parliament, you shut down all of it, committee work, investigative work, and input on minor things like disasters in Haiti.
No, Mr. Murphy, we're not mad at politicians taking extra time to work on their tans, because, believe me, the conservatives caucus could definitely use a bit of colour. We're pissed off because killing off a committee that Canadians felt was important is just one more act of dissing the detectives: Police complaints Commissioner, defanged; Military complaints commission, declawed; Nuclear Safety commissioner, fired.
And while we're on the subject, I just love the lame excuse that “Chretien prorogued parliament.” Which leads me to the question, what does that have to do with the price of tea in the Byward Market? The liberals paid the price for his arrogance, and they have a new leader. I'm happy to judge politicians on their own merits and not on their predecessors'. That's an advanced concept for Harper's communication staff, I know, but they'll learn.
Here's my favourite Scandinavian poet, Piet Hein and his poem called “Hygiene: a short piece with no reference whatever to the two-party system."
To wear a shirt that's relatively clean,
you needn't ever launder off the dirt--
If you possess two shirts to choose between,
and always change into the cleaner shirt.
I'm not saying the red shirt isn't dirtyt. At this point, it's just cleaner.
Well, it seems as though the abusive relationship between BC artists and the provincial government continues. We're battered, but we're not ready to do anything about it just yet, because, well, maybe Gordon Campbell will still say he loves us. And it might be all we can hope for, because the cuts aren't being funneled into a home for abused artists.
Normally I'd say the details hardly matter. Usually, it's some insulting figure like a 20 per cent cut to grants, or a freeze on any new funds being handed out, and none of it replaces the larger point that some politicians deal with their anger-management issues by beating up on the arts.
But in this case of Gordon Campbell v. BC artists, it is worth mentioning because the BC Liberals' contempt is so deep as to be fascinating from a psychological perspective. Between last year and the end of next year there'll be a NINETY PERCENT REDUCTION in arts funding. One can only wonder if Campbell had a bad experience with a clown as a child - and there's no shame in that - many of us did, or if he was horribly jilted by a novelist as a young man. I mean, maybe we should feel sorry for him. Or not.
But you have to wonder what's behind these decisions. Or maybe the real question is whether to file the whole episode under Contempt, Ignorance or Stupidity. Because the arts is actually the last thing that should go – it's what get's us through hard times; it's what separates humans from vegetation, although I did come to know a very wise hibiscus – but that was a one-off. And when artists start making economic arguments to defend themselves, you know we're in trouble. Sure, the arguments are there to be made, but art is what contributes to our very identity. Without it, we'd be soulless automatons, which I'm sure Gordon Campbell would prefer. I've learned as much about how to live decently from novels, plays and cinema as others have from the Bible, the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita. In fact, if you want to make an argument for the arts, I think we're better off filing it under mental health care. The stronger our sense of self, the better our self-esteem, and this is what the artists in a community are up to. By driving the conversation of who we are, we come to know ourselves better, and we're healthier humans for it.
I don't expect the fans of “Corner Gas” or “Red Green” to know that those shows didn't just spontaneously materialize out of the ether. They're written by people who struggled until they got breaks, became known with the help of organizations that get funding, and eventually make it on the national stage where it looks like they just dropped out of the sky. Well, they didn't. And while I don't expect every Canadian to know the sausage-making process of their favourite form of art, I do think the political leadership should. And the political leaders in BC sure as hell don't.
In fact, as the crowning glory to display his contempt, Gordon Campbell appoints Kevin Kreuger as minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, who, before entering politics, was a manager of road safety for ICBC. So, as an artist, I guess it's fair to say to Kevin Kreuger: You complete me.
Although, his understanding of Arts and Culture seems to be on par with FEMA director Michael Brown's understanding of how to deal with a flood in New Orleans. When Kreuger was asked a serious question about the initial round of 40 per cent cuts to the arts back in February, his response was to quote Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, saying “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” I mean, what the hell? He might as well have said “The Beaver's Tail Slaps at Midnight.” I don't know what that means. Actually, I'm kidding – I do know what that means, and I'll set aside for the moment how deeply disturbing it is that he's quoting scripture at us like he's Billy Graham with a canoe.
This little gem comes after Jesus runs through the greatest hits of the Sermon on the mount. He starts with the blessed are the meeks, goes into the Lord's Prayer and later starts hinting about the Kingdom of Heaven. But then he says “take no thought for the morrow. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And you know what? The “morrow” he's talking about isn't to-morrow, it's the biblical 'Morrow” as in the afterlife. He's saying, don't worry about what happens after you die - our present conflict with evil in this world should be enough for us to contend with right now. And you know what? He's right! I'm dealing with the ignorant wickedness of a government willing to choke off the life of it's storytellers. So, yeah, I got you covered, dude, I'm not worried about the afterlife right now.
Or maybe the statement was just meant to be so much hocus-pocus to distract us from what the government's right hand is doing. But no amount of prestidigitation will keep us from this fact: The Liberals actions are a classic case of self-loathing.
Bottom line? You don't commit culture-cide and then call yourself a patron of the arts. Now that's just sick.
To see the Lalo and Patrick Show version, click on the next tab over.
Would someone please explain to me what is so wrong with the notion of adults cooperating in a coalition government? Because it's pretty clear from the numbers that if Canada gets back on the election merry-go-round, we're going to end up in the same place yet again - a bunch of pissy leaders and the rest of us with vertigo, ready to barf up our cotton candy.
The insane faux-horror that ensued after the last suggestion of cooperation in parliament is enough to make us believe the denizens of a certain Street should be renditioned to Syria for cooperationist propoganda. You know - that dangerous movement that started in 1969 by Gordon, Susan, Bob, and Mr. Hooper - more commonly known as the Sesame Street 4? For god's sake, man, they were teaching children to cooperate! How dare they!
That great definition of insanity is on everybody's lips these days: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The results will definitely be the same: There will be a minority parliament. But the outcome could be different, because three of these things belong together and one of these things just isn't the same. And if you guessed that three of these things are left-of-centre politics, then I think you're ready to play this game.
Because as much as Stephen Harper wants you to believe that a Canadian Axis of Evil wants to hijack parliament, I don't think it's unreasonable to see it as adults cooperating in order to represent sixty percent of the country. Any agreement with the block would go something like this: where common interests overlap, we'll work together to advance those interests. Quebec separation is not a common interest, and therefore is off the table. But of course, the religious faction of Harperville thinks gay marriage is a slippery slope to inter-species marriage, so why wouldn't they equate working with the block on EI reform, or our role in Afghanistan, as the first step toward mandatory poutine on Sundays?
I mean, it just doesn't make any fucking sense.
Of course, the Liberals and NDP are not making it any easier on themselves to work together without looking ridiculous, with constant accusations of who propped up who, and the Conservatives are happy to enlist the support of the separatists themselves in a case of selective amnesia worthy of a book by Oliver Sachs: The Politician who Mistook the Separatists for a Hat. They all end up looking like hypocrites, and things will be really awkward when they decide to officially bless the union.
In fact, the time really has come for the Liberals and NDP to actually run on a platform of willingness to cooperate. Let everyone know what's on the table so there's no surprises. Stephen Harper is convinced that the country would not stand for a coalition government, and that the threat of one would deliver him a majority. I say we call his bluff. I mean, it's definitely time to try something different, that's for damn sure. There's no question that there is an alternative to the merry-go-round. Maybe those Sesame Street communists might have been on to something. Adults cooperating may be the only way off.
Lalo Espejo is a writer, monologist and political satirist whose work has appeared on CBC radio, campuses across Canada. He has also taught writing and presentation skills at career colleges in Vancouver. firstname.lastname@example.org