Friday Flashback…

I found this little Librarian badge at the British Library in London, and had to get it since it reminded me of those long-ago school days when students were given “jobs” to do (along with special badges if you were lucky).

(This may have been a very 1960s/1970s English thing…)

Although I was sadly never offered the position of librarian, I would have jumped at the chance. Instead, I have this fabulous little badge to make up for that dreadful oversight.

(Our school used to give out “posture” badges, although I didn’t actually earn one. (My sis did though.) I may have slouched my way through my school days, I think…Tired arms and shoulders from swimming training?)

🙂

Random Vancouver pics…

Side by side contrast view of old hotel vs new one.
Fairmont Vancouver Hotel (with green roof). The old and the new co-exist happily in Vancouver.
A lovely face shot of hotel dog, a yellow Labrador.
A very sweet hotel dog who hangs out by the concierge desk at the hotel.
An example close-up of some aboriginal native art.
Example of aboriginal art at the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
Pic of random guy having lunch in the architecturally interesting rooftop garden at VPL.
Great place for a lunchtime break at the VPL (in their rooftop garden).
Pic of some more aboriginal art on the street.
Example of some First Nations art style…
Pic of trans-welcoming bathroom signs.
Sign of the inclusive times in Vancouver: welcoming all at the VPL bathrooms.
Photo of lady on Vancouver street giving her pet duck a ride on a shopping trolley.
The lady taking her duck for a walk on the streets of downtown Vancouver. Because why not? 🙂

Active outdoor Vancouver…

View of Capilano Suspension Bridge as it crosses the chasm below. Lots of fir trees!
The Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver. (Pic from park website.)

Set in the lower left corner of Canada, British Columbia’s flagship city of Vancouver seems to have the best of everything in its location: close to the Pacific Ocean, close to mountains, plenty of green, easy to get to (good to and from airport transportation), friendly people… Plus, the locals tell us that it’s pretty moderate, despite being so north: medium summer and medium winter… (unlike Toronto, according to a couple of people, where temps are really hot in summer and really cold in winter. Is this true?)

Situated as it is on the west coast, Vancouver is also full of outdoor active choices, and the SuperHero and I wanted to make the most of some of these whilst we were there. Of course, limited time and finances meant that we couldn’t do everything, but after researching, it looked like the two things not to miss were both achievable and super-fun.

Our first outdoor adventure was a quick trip to the northern part of Vancouver and its surroundings to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Set in the Canadian rainforest (which I hadn’t realized that Canada has), this national park features a lovely old cable bridge (which really sways) and a treetop wooden track which allows you to see the rainforest from high up in the canopy. (What a great idea.)

Birds-eye view of the wooden suspended path that takes you through the rainforest canopy at Capilano Bridge Park.
Part of the treetop wooden path that gives a birds-eye view of the canopy. (Pic from park website.)

I wasn’t really expecting that exciting a ride from the cable suspension bridge, but you know what? It’s actually much cooler than I had anticipated so poo on me for thinking that.

The bridge spans a large gorge (I think is the right term?) and is wide enough for two fairly typical height-weight appropriate people (or one rather large person). It’s built using cables so the bridge actually sways in the wind and wobbles from side to side, so you’ll probably need to grab the handrails at time to steady yourself and the view is outstanding. (Not recommended for perhaps very old or unsteady folks…)

Once you reach the other side of the cable bridge (which is the first thing to do when you enter the place) and have survived the overly-dramatic groups of teenaged girls walking across (:-)), then you get to go on the Treetop Adventure experience (which is the wooden track high up in the tree canopy that gives you a super-great view of life as a bird/squirrel). It’s sounds very plain-Jane, but is in fact a really nice experience as you get to look down and around from an unfamiliar view. (Plus – it’s so green!!)

And then towards the end of the trail, there’s a big climb up some stairs to reach a glass overhang than gives you a view of the rocky chasm right beneath you. Honestly. If you get the chance to see this place, it’s worth the effort to get there.

(And – what is really helpful is that the place provides a free shuttle from downtown Vancouver by the harbor so you can just jump on to that and get there really easily and cheaply.) Totes enjoyable.

Pic of bike-rider view of coastal bike path that hugs edge of Stanley Park.
The bike path that hugs the coastal edge of Stanley Park – fantastic!

The next day was also a super-fun outdoor experience when we rented assisted bikes (i.e. bikes with a little motor attached) and rode the wide and well-maintained bike path that takes you from, again, the downtown harbor to the nearby Stanley Park, a huge outdoor park place which juts out into the ocean with a well-designed bike/roller-blade path (separate from the walking path) to follow that hugs the coast.

(Note: You might want to take a light jacket with you since, due to the off-shore winds, the temp can get quite a bit lower than it is downtown. We could have used one each…)

The park is a lovely ride and has occasional stops for a quick coffee or similar, and the views are simply amazing. The bike rental place provided a lock, helmets and a map, and then it’s up to you. (Bike rental places are pretty easy to find, so no shortage of those.) Since we opted for the motor-assisted bikes, it wasn’t strenuous and kept it fun. We had a great time, to be honest. Worth doing and pretty affordable since the only thing you pay for is the actual bike rental, and our ride took about 2.5 hours in total.

After that, we hung out at the harbor for a bite to eat and to watch the cool sea planes land on the water, and then it was back to the hotel.

Vancouverites: thank you for a lovely and welcoming visit! We’ll be back. I’m curious how you guys handle winter! 🙂

Pic of five large painted totem poles in front of small patch of forest. Varying heights and designs.
Some of the authentic totem poles throughout Stanley Park.

Bookish Vancouver highlights…

A panoramic view of Vancouver's harbor and the sea planes.
Panoramic view of Vancouver Harbor downtown.

As is my tendency, I walked around Vancouver during my recent visit looking at the city through a bookish lens: always fun to do, and found some fascinating (and impressive) literary hangouts.

I’m always up for a visit to a local independent bookstore, and a quick search online yielded the nugget that the Indigo bookstore was quite close by, and although it’s not that well sign-posted externally (so easy to miss), it’s a treasure trove of literary loveliness inside the actual store.

View of inside Indigo bookshop.

It’s a well-lit haven of all things to do with the written word, including books (with a special focus on Canadian authors/lit which I found very helpful), but also a pretty well-stocked supply of other authors, big and small, and the usual selection of book-shop extras such as blank journals and other stationary accessories. (These were lovely though, so I’m not knocking it at all.)

I had entered with the intention of buying a title by a Canadian First Nation/aboriginal author, but when I asked an associate, she pointed me to the tiniest display of Canada-related books. I was confused as to the small choice since this place is one of the premier bookshops in Vancouver, so I looked at the selection and then looked up and there, before me stood a whole WALL of Canadian authors/books which had a much larger selection.

After pondering why I hadn’t been pointed to this huge display of possible reads, I mooched over to see what they had – such riches by authors new-to-me and old, but since luggage space was at a premium on this trip, I ended up buying just one book. (They did however have a sale on Moleskin notebooks – sales are rare! – so I ended up buying one of them for 20 percent off. (Seriously – there are never sales for Moleskin journals and notebooks. Never (at least in my experience).)

Pic of written welcome statement to !ndigo bookshop in Vancouver.

(Since Canada uses dollars (except they’re Canadian dollars – of course), I kept forgetting to translate prices to U.S. dollars so at first, everything seems sooo expensive, but when I finally remembered to do the exchange rate, things were actually pretty good prices. Sigh. I was such a tourist.)

External view of Vancouver Public Library. (Looks like a variation of the Roman colluseum.)

Another free afternoon later in the week yielded a happy visit to the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) which is, to put it mildly, a FANTASTIC space for readers. Seriously. It’s one of the most modern and biggest libraries that I have ever visited. Floor after floor of literature and numerous other community services (even a musical instrument lending collection (should you need a banjo or a flute, for example).)

The VPL was amazing on each floor (and there were nine floors!). They had writers-in-residence positions, they had so much light and space for its patrons, and get this magical option: they had a roof-top garden available for everyone. This wasn’t just an afterthought as well: it was landscaped with trees and plants, provided shade and tables and chairs (along with benches) and the view was stupendous: you were almost sky-high with all the notable surrounding architecture, some of which buildings also had roof-top spaces for their tenants. I’d never seen anything like it. Even better, it was free and available for anyone in the community.

View of fantabulous rooftop garden available at VPL.
Rooftop garden at the Vancouver Public Library. Be still, my heart. (View from rooftop garden in below.)

(Curiously, Vancouver is a very clean city. I didn’t see that many trashcans so I’m not sure where Vancouverites put their rubbish, but perhaps this is sorted out by the commonly available and comprehensive recycling cans? Not sure.)

In case you’re still wondering, I really enjoyed Vancouver!

(For more info about my Vancouver experience, try this post.)

View from one perspective of the VPL rooftop garden. (Pic of close-by residential building with gardens and balconies on high stories.)
Image of display of VPL's musical instrument lending collection...
The musical instrument lending library display…

Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women – Nina Burleigh (2018)

So it’s summer break here right now (for some of us), and so that means that I get to do some serious reading. (Not “serious” reading but more about the long hours of falling deeply into a story…) Lucky me.

So, in the spirit of the holidays, I thought for the next few posts, I’d just do a round-up of some of the better reads that have come across my way over the last few weeks. There’ve been some good reads (and then some not-so-good ones), but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

First up, we started off the summer season with an impulse grab from the New Books display at the local library: “Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Woman” by journo Nina Burleigh.

This title covers a small but important group of women in Trump’s immediate sphere, both historically and in the present. As the Amazon website marketing copy for the book says:

New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist, Nina Burleigh, explores Donald Trump’s attitudes toward women by providing in-depth analysis and background on the women who have had the most profound influence on his life—the mother and grandmother who raised him, the wives who lived with him, and the daughter who is poised to inherit it all.

Burleigh is an experienced political journalist with experience writing for Time magazine and with a number of narrative nonfiction (and straight nonfiction) titles, I knew that I would be in good hands in terms of writing polish and skill. Plus – there was a very good chance that she and I would be in political agreement, so I quickly picked up this book.

And you know – Burleigh handles this viper’s nest with a professional and calm hand. By covering the various relationships that Trump has had with the key female figures in his life, it’s much clearer to see, perhaps, what influences these particular women have had on him (and also, naturally, vice versa).

So the stage has been set for a chronological look at who these individual women actually were/are, how they saw/see life and how they have played a pivotal role in how Trump has grown (if you can say that without wincing), how he sees women, and how he views the world in general. True or not, let me say that this was a readable and ultimately fascinating subject to read about, once you can control the bile from bubbling up in your mouth every now and then. :-{

Despite Trump’s immature view of life, these particular women have been able to guide and even direct some of his decisions along the way, and perhaps (in a case or two) managed to redirect some of the more base opinions that he’s held (both in the past and the present).

Burleigh covers each of these women through both an individual and a group lens, allowing the reader to watch how the early Trump was influenced heavily by his mother and his grandmother (probably the main influences with regard to his interior design taste – gaaagh) and then to see how as an adult (at least in numbers), Trump seems to like to have a Pygmalian-influence on all three of his wives (although only two of them were/are quite tolerant of this). His daughter seems to have more of an individual spirit, but in no way has she remained unaffected by her daddy’s flaws and goals.

Seen as a whole throughout this book, Trump is not immune to female influence in his sphere, but to me, it reads as though two of the three wives were content to let him think he controlled them (although he didn’t really), and third (Marla Maples) refused to take it from him.

From a psycho-social POV, it’s quite a fascinating read to learn about this side of the current U.S. president as you listen to the day-to-day media coverage of the wreckage of the world in his orbit right now. It doesn’t make it any easier to stomach his questionable choices, but Burleigh writes in such a way that her argument and her points seem to be very en pointe.

Obviously, this book is targeted at those who are not particularly strong fans of the current administration, so if you’re not of that ilk, you will be probably get disturbed at this content. (Even if you are of that ilk (i.e. not a fan), it’s still disturbing…)

But for those of us who see the flip side of this whole situation, I found this to be a fast and provocative read which may helpfully fill a few holes in understanding (or at least having an inkling of comprehension) of Trump’s public persona and the way that he chooses to conduct his life in the position of arguably the most powerful man in the world.

(For those readers who are hoping that Trump will be a one-hit wonder: pay attention to Ivanka (and thus the husband as well). Trump seems to have a plan of building a political family legacy…)

Oh Canada…

Canadian flag fridge magnets on display in shop.

Earlier in the year, I happened to be very lucky to learn that work would be amenable to funding my attendance at a professional conference to be held in Vancouver. (Canada? Yes please.) After jumping through the required administrative hoops, I soon found myself in a plane seat heading for the Great North. Good stuff.

The actual conference occurred for the first half of the week, and then I opted to stay a few more days to meet up with the Superhero and see what we could experience in the metropolis of Vancouver. So much to choose!

One of the first places that we visited (and actually, this was pre-conference as I’d also arrived a bit early) was the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Vancouver doesn’t support Uber or Lyft so we were forced to either pay for a taxi (big bucks) or figure the journey out old-school by public transportation (meaning mostly buses). (No biggie but did take us by surprise a bit.)

Luckily, it was pretty ok to figure out bus schedules and pick-up places etc., but it still took quite a long time to actually get to the UBC campus. In the end, it was so worth it as the university has a gorgeous location full of plenty of trees, public art and close to the sea. (What a treat for this person.)

Close-up pic of a wooden piece of art  showing First Nation's symbols and colors (from University of British Columbia-Museum of Anthropology).

The actual museum itself was modern and well organized, so kudos to those folks. The most interesting section (and the one where we spent the most time) ended up being the Great Hall section where it was focused on the local First Nation people’s experience in the region. This included totem poles which were fascinating!

I happen to live in West Texas and Native American tribes were common throughout our region, but these were Plains tribes who commonly moved around and also did not have access to plenty of forest for totem poles so the poles were a new thing for me.

One thing that I hadn’t realized about totem poles is that there were usually several poles outside the dwellings of prominent people in the tribe’s community. I learned that these important houses would have two totem poles outside their front entrances, so although I think it’s inaccurate to report that each village was a forest of totem poles, there were definitely more than just one (which is what I had originally thought).

Each totem pole is carved with significant symbols that tell a story related to the family or individual outside whose house these poles would stand, and when I saw the poles in the museum standing in this awesome display area, they looked very majestic. They were huge – much taller and more sturdy than I had thought, but then that would make total sense as I think the Vancouver-area tribes weren’t that nomadic (at least compared with the West Texas tribes.) (Plus the no-trees thing which is significant around these here parts, pardner.)

This was a fascinating area to explore as it was all very new for me, and I loved it. The museum also focused on aboriginal/First Nations artists as well, so we were introduced to such luminaries as Bill Reid, a modern First Nations artist whose work was solid, beautiful and meditative in a way with strong connections with the natural world. (And slightly randomly, the place also had big collections of ceramics…Not sure of this connection with anthropology but there you go… ?)

Pic of sculpture, The Birth of Man by artist Bill Reid. Wooden carving.
Sculpture by Bill Reid: “The Birth of Mankind”. (At the UBC.)

So, after walking through the museum, we had a bite to eat at the small museum cafe (great food, btw) before we visited the nearby Nitobe Memorial Garden, a 2.5 acre Japanese garden also on the UBC campus and about a five-minute walk from the museum. This was gorgeous: incredibly green (so many different shades of green!) and serene, with a lovely winding path over bridges and around the different park spaces.

Before my trip, I hadn’t really put it together in my mind how geographically close Vancouver actually is for visitors and immigrants from many of the various Asian countries, but of course it is. (It’s actually closer to these countries than LA since the land sticks out a little bit around Vancouver.) Thus, there were absolutely tons of overlap between the different cultures and how they existed in Vancouver. (Another cultural layer to uncover for us!)

More to come, but don’t want to overstay my welcome with you with all this travel news. Suffice to say, we had a fab time. 🙂

Photo of serene Japanese garden, the Nitobe Japanese Garden, with stone wedding lamps, a small bridge and lots of trees and plants.
A view in Nitobe Memorial Gardens in Vancouver. Worth a visit!

Parable of the Sower – Octavia E. Butler (1993)

Image of book cover for Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.

Following on with the POC reading theme and wanting some dystopian world to read about, I picked up Parable of the Sower (no “The”?) by Octavia E. Butler. Written as the first of a two-book series, this sci fi novel was published in 1993, and received a lot of critical acclaim including being selected as the 1994 NYT Notable Book of the Year (along with other lit awards). 

So – all signs pointed to a good read (as was an earlier of another Butler book) and I’m happy to report it was – enough so that now I’m searching for the second title (Parable of the Talents). (My library doesn’t seem to have that title but I’m probably going to have to take advantage of their great interlibrary loan program since I haven’t seen it on the shelves yet.)

(Random aside: In fact, there was also supposed to be a third title to make it in a trilogy, but it seems that Butler had serious writer’s block about this, and although she started this third novel a few times, it never materialized into a finished product. (However, I totally get and respect the writer’s block problem. No problem with that. 🙂 ))

The plot for this particular spec fic/sci fi read revolves around a young woman (variously called “girl” and “woman”) called Lauren Oya Olamina, who lives in the U.S. (or what used to be that nation) during the 2020s.

(This is not so far into the future as to be unbelievable and was one of the many points that really sold the novel to me. I love it when people invent worlds just a squidge off-center from real life as it is right now. Plus – I love that Butler is sensitive to the vocabulary she uses to describe her characters.)

Back to the book: Lauren has been living with her mum and dad and sibling in a small community, gated and walled to protect them from the marauding aggressive outsiders who surround them, trying to survive in the external extremely dog-eat-dog world caused by governmental collapse and all other economic and societal systems. 

As the troubles start to move closer to her small community, Lauren starts to seriously plan to move north to keep in front of these dangerous gangs. But how to do that?

Another new wrinkle has the introduction of new street drug called “pyro.” Pyro had the effect of making the act of setting a fire akin to the experience of really good s*x for its users, and so, of course, to “chase the dragon,” lots of these outside marauders end up being quickly addicted to it, making life difficult and challenging for everyone else. 

Along with this increasingly unpredictable situation is the fact that Lauren also possesses hyper-empathy, a human condition thought up by Butler which gives the individual the ability to feel the pain (and other sensations) from people she witnesses. Thus, if someone close to her vicinity gets hurt, both that person and Lauren experience the same amount of pain even if Lauren was only a spectator at the incident…

This can make it tricky for Lauren to be really effective when someone is very hurt as both she and the patient may be incapacitated at the same time – another complication to consider for both her and any future travelers in the group on her already-precarious northward journey.

Fully aware that the future task (and all its dangers) will be easier if she can get a small group together, she invites the brother of a neighbor along to add power in numbers. Planning continues apace, but when the pyro vandals burn down her own home (and others) which ends up killing most of her family (and that of her friend) one night, the goal to migrate north to safety gets moved up sooner than originally planned. It’s too dangerous to stay where she is right now…

Another great twist for this fast-moving plot is that there is also a vast shortage of water, so it’s an expensive but necessary product and has to be used carefully. This situation doesn’t help the pyro problem (not enough water to put out the frequent fires, people dealing with scarcity and all its related issues), and so the whole situation starts to get a little incendiary for all. (See what I did there? 🙂 )

With nothing for which to stay, the small group starts to journey north to reach Washington or Oregon where it rains more, pyro is not yet a “thing”, and life is (hopefully) not quite so difficult.

The plot then follows the ragged group as it gains members (and loses some) and treads along the miles of abandoned highways in their efforts to reach their own promised land up north. And how does it end…? You’ll need to read it to see! 🙂

(You know, this novel reminded me in some ways of the poor old Joads in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” (1939) which describes a similar quest to reach the promised lands of California. I’ve read Grapes quite a few times, but it was mostly during grad school and that was a LONG time ago. Maybe I should refresh my memory to see if there are more overlapping homages to Grapes or other books in this Butler title…)

An excellent read, whether you dig sci fi or not… This might also be a really good book for someone not familiar with spec fiction in which to dip. There’s no robots, no Star Wars, no dragons. Just a good solid narrative arc that really made me care about the characters and pulled me in as a reader for a couple of days. Recommend this.

For another Octavia E. Butler read, try Kindred (review).

Summer time and the livin’ is easy…

Photo of hand holding slice of yummy watermelon with blue sky behind it. Summer!
Credit here.

Summer has been in full swing for a few weeks now, and since I’m faculty, I am privileged to enjoy a long break. It’s only my second faculty summer so it’s still quite new for me, and I have to admit that it’s a very nice set-up. 🙂

School finished up in mid-May with getting those final grades in, graduation and sorting out the related debris from the semester. Then I chillaxed a little bit (in between doing some heavy-duty yard work), and prepared for a week-long trip to Canada, Vancouver in particular. (You know how I likes me to over-prepare in pre-researching our destinations that don’t revolve around a beach.)

So, I completed those front beds (and their numerous rocks), I planted some marigolds in a pot (and they are still alive). Worked pretty hard on a difficult (and ultimately impossible for me) jigsaw puzzle, so now have donated that to the FoL folks. (Maybe one of them will have more luck.) It was a shame as it would have been a good image at the end, but oh my. For some reason, I wasn’t that thrilled with it and so passed it on to another loving home. There’s more in the cupboard when I’m moved by the puzzle spirit! 🙂

I’ve also been reading, but not at quite the usual manic speed. (It’s hot in Texas right now. Did you see that Paris was over a 100 degrees the other day? Yikes. And not much air-conditioning. Even more yikes.)

Just a note to let you know that I’m back and there’ll be a few posts in the upcoming days about books, Vancouver and anything else that comes up.

Tell me your news…