Thursday, August 30, 2007


Winnifred's pictures of the trip to and from Lund last weekend. Includes a waterwheel now being used as a roadside advertisement for a campground; banana trees (she didn't see much evidence of it, but there's a reason they call it the Sunshine Coast); and lots of louring clouds.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Must-Have Soap and Summer Fashion Advice from Felix

You know how you don't know what you're missing until you see something that fulfills a need you didn't even know you had? Win had to go up to Lund last weekend, so she missed my birthday. She brought me back some home-made soap from the ferry lineup in Saltery Bay. In B.C., waiting for the ferry is a summer ritual and local craftspeople make the most of this captive audience. It's like buying Mexican blankets at the border crossing at Tijuana. This particular soap has a feature I've never seen before: there is a piece of loofah embedded right into the soap.

I can't seem to find "Heaven Scent Soap Works" online, but a big thank you to them and Win for this great product, and for a new addiction which will dog me for the rest of my years. Just what I needed.

Earlier this week I had the chance to visit the aquarium with, among other people, Felix. Here he is admiring some coral. I liked the way the blue and pink of his shirt mimicked the blue of the water and pink of the coral. Felix showed me his flip-flops, one of which is stripey and the other of which is polka-dotty. Felix wanted me to know that they "came from the store like that." Felix is about to be five and has one of the better-developed fashion senses I've run across.

For a change, the Vancouver Sun had a decent editorial on the city strike yesterday, still stalled and looking like it'll be a long one.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Librarians, Again

Call me a naive, library-loving fool, but I don't see any reason why Vancouver's striking public library workers shouldn't be given every single thing they want. It is 2007, so you'd think you could go around assuming that nobody really believes female-dominated professions are worth less because they are, well, female-dominated? Apparently municipal governments think just that. You might also think auxiliary workers, who do the same work as regular employees, should be entitled to earn pro-rated benefits, but apparently they, too, are second-class citizens. And when you consider that the mayor and city council give themselves pay increases automatically (apparently in Vancouver they don't even have to vote an increase for themselves, to avoid embarrassing publicity: the increase just kinda shows up in their paycheques every January)--and this year the mayor gave huge raises to all his cronies, the senior managers in Vancouver's city bureaucracy, well, you get the picture. Meanwhile he's been claiming library workers don't need a pay increase because they get 50 days of holiday a year. What's he smoking? They get about 20.

I will say, though, that this is the most creative picket line I've ever been on. People bring kids and dogs, they have speakers, music, and literary events right on the library steps. What a great idea! I'd like to think this little guy was engrossed in Stan Persky's outstanding reading Friday afternoon, but I think he was concentrating on getting every drop of juice out of that box.

They get support from the Button Lady, Melva of Bablyon Buttons. The scene above took me back in time. Melva's been making buttons for, if I'm not mistaken, 22 years. She made the first ones in her bedroom in an apartment we shared on Victoria Drive.

Then there's the knitters. About 40 members of CUPE 391 have been knitting with donated yarn on the picket line. Most of the hats are being sent to homeless shelters in the Downtown Eastside, but some are being sold to benefit the hardship fund. I bought one for Winnifred, who is surprisingly fussy about the kind of wool hat she will and will not wear. I thought this one fit the bill, and apparently so did she.

I didn't manage to get a picture of the bike pickets, a bunch of library workers who go from one branch to another spreading energy and good cheer; or of the skateboarders, handstands, and other stuff for amusing the kids. Sometimes there are guitar lessons and there's been at least one accordion. They do tai chi in the morning and have laptops to answer directional questions for lost tourists. So Vancouverites: get out on the picket lines and give your librarian a hug. After five weeks they're getting awfully sunburned out there. Drop a few bucks in the hardship fund pushke. And remember to write city council and the mayor to voice your displeasure.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Weekly Food Allowance

Given that we didn't set out to write a food blog, I've decided to limit our blogging about it to once a week. Once a week shows a healthy appreciation of the importance of food in our lives to provide nourishment, enjoyment, and sociability. More than that might mean we lack other interests, have little imagination, or are only able to experience culture via the stomach.

We haven't actually experienced that much non-stomach culture since we got here, but we've been unpacking, okay? And on that topic, since we have been quite busy these past few weeks, it's good Vancouver now sports a phenomenon that did not exist when we left it in 2000: the Indian fast-food place.

It used to be that Indian food in Vancouver was expensive and an all-evening affair, which was great but obviously could not be done frequently. I often wondered why Chinese food could be had at any band in the economic spectrum, but not Indian food. The curry take-away is a British staple. Why not us, God? I used to plead. God seemed to be ignoring me just because I don't believe in him/her.

Yesterday body and mind were both fed robust, stimulating meals in the Oakridge neighbourhood of south Vancouver. I started the day by meeting my new Yiddish study partner in the library at the Peretz Centre. I was meant to be helping him improve his Yiddish, but as usually happens, I learned more than I imparted. Afterwards, I went across the street to the Oakridge Mall, and found Curry Express where none used to be. Huzzah! Next time I'll know to get the one-curry special for $4.95 instead of the two-curry special for $6.95. So much food! Delicious, cheap, filling: one of you Believers has been petitioning God while I was away, haven't you?

There were no pickets at the Oakridge Library, so did my shopping on Commercial Drive and walked by Britannia to sign their petition. Vancouverites: please stop by a library and sign the petition. As you know if you've been paying attention, Librarians Fix Everything. Which makes it doubly horrible that they are being treated so badly by the city. Since this is our weekly food round-up, I should probably mention that getting enough to eat can be a struggle for those who haven't had income for a month: contact CUPE 391 to make a donation to the hardship fund.

Then came home to discover the SFU library calling. Why was the SFU library calling? Why, to offer me a job, of course. So now my "To Do" list reads:
  • donate to CUPE 391 hardship fund out of first paycheque
  • get haircut
  • find ride to SFU
  • find decent food on campus
Unrelated picture below, by Winnifred, of some of our neighbours resting while shopping in Chinatown earlier this week.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Librarians Fix Everything

I want you to know I'm not one of those chauvinists who thinks the kind of person she is is likely to be superior to everyone else. For example, I'm Jewish, but I don't think Jews are automatically smarter/better/more cultured than others. I know, the people of the book: tell me about it. The people of the goddam book. When I was a Judaica librarian all this translated into was, they kept sending us books and we had to catalogue them and put them in the collection and nobody cared. Nobody was reading most of those things. So okay, Jews write a lot of books, but I have no illusions that it translates into much in the way of intrinsic value.

Similarly, I'd like to think that lesbians are better, nobler people than others, but in fact I find we run the gamut. My girlfriend, of course, comes out on top of pretty much any scale in terms of overall fabulosity; but otherwise, you can't jump to any conclusions.

But when it comes to another group to which I belong, I feel I can make some generalizations, to wit:

1. Librarians Want You to Get What You Want
2. Librarians Have Heard It Before and Thought of a Workaround
3. Librarians Fix Everything

The occasion for this rumination is the acquisition of my temporary Faculty Library Card at UBC. Here's the thing. You can't get a library card until you have a Campus-Wide Login (CWL). You can't get a CWL until you have an employee ID. You can't get an employee ID until Human Resources says so. Human Resources goes to sleep through August, apparently.

This means that for a lowly adjunct such as myself, I might not get a library card until well into the semester in which I'm teaching. (Apparently I also might not get paid in September, but one battle at a time). This would be dire at all times, but especially during a public library strike. Do people normally prepare lectures around here, or what?

Librarians to the rescue. Barely had I launched into my tale of woe at the circ desk at Koerner Library when the librarians were explaining to each other how to make me a temporary card and how long it could last. I showed them my letter of appointment, and five minutes later I had my card. It has a purple stripe and says "Faculty" on it. I love my library card. I took out two books and recalled four. Probably some future students of mine are using them. I don't care! I'll see your lousy graduate student card and raise you one faculty card!

In the picture above (mmmwa! I love my camera phone) I am standing contentedly in front of Koerner. I had to position the sun behind my head and use a flash so that you would be able to see both me and the library. While I was standing there two groups of tourists went by and one member of each group explained to the others that the library is shaped like an open book turned face down on the table. The rounded atrium is the spine of the book and the two wings are the pages. Since I heard the same thing twice in five minutes, I have to assume this is something in either a guidebook or on the UBC web site. In two years of graduate school at UBC shortly after the construction of Koerner I never heard this story. If it's trying to look like a book, the proportions are all wrong, for one thing. And for another thing, I hope they aren't giving the impression that turning a book face down is an acceptable way to treat your library books. People! I beg you! Use a bookmark!

In retrospect I feel a bit bad about complaining of too many Shadbolts in Koerner Library. They actually may only have one Shadbolt, but any Shadbolts are really more than I care to contemplate. But in the end, what's the defect of a Shadbolt--even a relatively large one--compared to the incredible joy the Koerner librarians brought into my life today?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Our Talented Friends

Not sure if I remembered to mention that my sister is now a published children's author. Her book, appropriate for 6 to 8 year olds, is called Theodora Bear and can be ordered through,,, and from the publisher. Congratulations are accepted at any time. [Librarians and bookstores: it is also in Baker & Taylor.]

While I'm waiting for your congratulations (and book orders) to come pouring in, I thought I'd send out a few congratulations of my own.

Three of our New York friends have great music web sites to check out. Faron recently posted some of his drum solos online. About the time I was getting to know Faron, when he was 9, he got his first drum kit. Now he gets gigs. Life is so confusing that way. Unknown to Faron, across the city in Queens is JHM, who has an entrancing, evocative style on guitar and vocals. You can hear some of his tracks (like this one) on his sophisticated, arty blog.

Meanwhile, electro-groove fans should take a gander at Shoshke-Rayzl's web site. Shosh is a huge inspiration to me: smart, gorgeous, she speaks a mouth-watering Poylish Yiddish, and far from resting on these laurels, she's doing all the things she wishes she'd done when she was a teenager. "You see, you really don't have to grow up," she told me once. Wish I'd listened much sooner, but I'm doing my best now to be half as awesome as she is.

The New York Wanderer, Ben Feldman, branched out recently with the publication of his first book. Butchery on Bond Street is hot off the presses, and fascinating. The New York Times said Ben "brings the texture of 19th-century New York to life in a tale punctuated by cameos and full-fledged appearances by, among others, A. Oakey Hall, the Tammany crony who prosecuted the case and would become mayor."

We've also got a million klezmer and Yiddish buddies with CDs and books out. Two that are coming soon are Wex's new language primer for people with a sense of humour; and Anita's long-awaited book on Yiddish culture in post-war America.

Unrelated picture above by Winnifred. Now go out and buy Theodora Bear.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Scoffer to Addict in 24 Hours

Today's trip was to SFU with my mum, and we found ourselves in the middle of an anime event of some kind. There were many capes and swords in evidence. I could not fathom the meaning of this scene, in which two young women appear to be to be buying some fish. They don't seem big enough to eat (the fish, I mean) and they seemed to be arguing with the young man (the women, I mean) about either the quality or the quantity of fish they were getting and kept making the young man empty the plastic bag and scoop up new ones.

Getting into the car this grasshopper-like cutie was hanging out on the back windscreen.

Later we found him on the front windscreen while we were driving. Wonder why he liked my mum's car so much?

And then I noticed a yellow ladybug on the window beside me, and thought I could get a shot of its lovely dottiness by gingerly lowering the window a smidge, sticking the camera phone out the window and shooting back in. But all I got was me with a fuzzy blob. I suspect it of being a Multi-Coloured Asian Lady Beetle, but with this photographic evidence it's going to be hard to prove one way or another.

But of course the most galling thing about the whole day was realizing that I love my camera phone. I mean, do you care about that grasshopper thing? I don't even care about that grasshopper thing. But there it was, and there I was, and there my camera phone was. Stop me, before I shoot again.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Never Place Your Phone in the Path of a Steamroller

There are a few things I want to mention. First of all, when you have a librarian in the same room with some technology, at least the kind of librarian I am, she will continue to fiddle with it until she gets it to work. A certain person (you know who you are) mentioned pownce to me, and now I just have to get an invitation to it, even though I think it sounds totally unnecessary to my happiness.

Similarly, I did not want a camera on my cell phone. Hell, I didn't even want the cell phone, but it's turned out to be central to my game plan of working various on-call and contract jobs until a real one appears. These days, it seems, you cannot get a phone without a built in camera. So what did Ms. Librarian Geek-Face have to do? She had to spend hours figuring out all the functions on her camera phone, didn't she? I would consider this a stupid waste of time, except that it filled in many minutes on the bus to UBC (see self-portrait above) and, once there and working in the library, waiting for Library Literature to execute searches. It would be the professional librarian database that is the very slowest thing you've ever used, wouldn't it?

Among the better parts of my afternoon spent studying the LG 245 user guide was the ceremonial reading of the Important Safety Precautions, which in this case runs to three pages. Highlights include:

*never place your phone in a microwave oven
*make sure that no sharp-edged items such as animal's teeth or nails, come into contact with the battery [unnecessary and somewhat bizarre comma in original]
*an emergency call can be made only within a service area. For an emergency call, make sure that you are within a service area and that the phone is turned on.

Figuring out how to use my camera phone meant that I could document a question that has always bothered me. One of the things I had forgotten about living in British Columbia is that everywhere you go, or at least everywhere with any pretensions to culture, has Shadbolts. Could someone explain the appeal of the exploding-zebra-butterflies to me? Perhaps one of the art librarians I used to work with?

Just to give your eyes a break from those gooey pictures snapped with my phone, here's an unrelated photo by the fabulous Winnifred. Not entirely sure what this structure is, but it's two blocks from our house and it sure is pretty.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Food obsessed, us?

I don't want to point fingers, but I just want to point out that not one of our eco-tree-hugger-mother-earth-green-sustainability friends here in Vancouver told us about SPUD. Oh nooooo. We had to read about it on The Group News Blog.
And you know, we only recently started reading The Group News Blog, because we were so upset when Steve Gilliard died we just didn't think another blog would do it for us. See, Gilly (whom we didn't know personally or anything) was this awesome left-wing blogger who ran The News Blog, and when he died earlier this year at the age of 42, we just kinda thought, well, it's good we're leaving America because without him we just won't stay sane.

But recently we decided we should support those friends of Gilly's who are now producing The Group News Blog in his memory, and on the very day we decided to do so, there was a post by Sara Robinson about SPUD.

What is this SPUD, you ask? It is Small Potatoes Urban Delivery. It's kind of a cross between a CSA and FreshDirect. You get a bunch of seasonal produce based on a profile you set up in advance: I like avocadoes, don't like cabbage, *really* like apples, etc. Then you set up your standing orders for groceries and household products you want all the time: toilet paper every week please, nuts every second week, olive oil once a month. So that stuff just comes, you don't have to do anything once you've set up your account. Then starting on Thursday evening every week, you can start ordering other food or products you want just this week.

Last week we set up our account and ordered. I spent the whole weekend thinking of more stuff and adding it to the order. Most of their food is organic, and when possible it's locally grown. Imagine: no standing in line, no humping the stuff home. People come and bring you organic, locally grown food! What could be more lovely and caring than that?
Frank arrived with our tub Tuesday morning, but didn't want to be photographed. Here's his van standing in.
Opening it was like getting a present. A bag of mushrooms! I love mushrooms! How did they know? Oh yeah, I told them.

A woman and her chard. Check out those beautiful multi-coloured stems.
Beneath the green leafies, the harder and heavier stuff, like a litre of juice and some gorgeous fruit. A re-used piece of fruit-packing cardboard separated the dry from the wet: our fish came with dry ice packs in case we weren't home and it had to sit on our porch for a few hours.
And our mangosteens had some mangoes to frolic with in the fruit bowl Shmu made for us. The brown and purple bowl is a perfect match for the mangosteens.

The packing slip tells you things like substitutions, the name of your apple (we got Sunrise, new to me even though I'm an apple addict), and how far each item traveled to get to you. I'm a bit worried by the 10,000 km* the cashews came. On the other hand, the salmon only came 7 km**. On the back of the packing slip are some recipes and some information on food politics. And: a $25 off coupon for one lucky friend. If we refer a friend, you get $25 off your first four deliveries, and we get an unspecified gift. So, Vancouverites, the first of you to post a comment gets the coupon, but you have to promise to use it because I want that gift! Apologies to our New York friends that we can't extend this offer to you. We'll think of a way to make it up to you.

*6,213 miles
**4 miles

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Self-portrait with Mangosteens

This blog is in danger of becoming a food blog. Which would be a bad thing because we already have a favourite food blog and we wouldn't want to compete, even if we could. But we promised to report on the mangosteens, spotted in Chinatown last week. Little did we know that in our former home these items would until recently have been considered contraband; and even now, to the extent that they are available, cost $10 each. But we've noticed that in New York there is a tendency to pump prices up as a form of circular self-regard: if it costs more, it's better; and I'm better because I paid $10 for a piece of fruit. Meanwhile, the Chinatown markets have also begun displaying rambutans, another Asian fruit we'd never seen before. Winnifred coveted a bunch for purely visual reasons. She thought they'd be fun to photograph. I have no information on the availability or price of rambutans south of the border or east of the Rockies.
The Seasonal Asian Fruit Taste Test

Cousin Mark arrived yesterday on a short visit, so the three of us sat down today with mangosteens, rambutans and lychees (for comparison), and began the taste test.
Research revealed the proper way to open a mangosteen:
first by cutting all the way around the shell with a serrated knife,
then by pulling the bottom half away
to reveal the white flesh inside.
I was surprised by how thick the shell was. I also loved the lipsticky streaks it left on the knife.
It's not that easy to pry the segments out. They're delicate and sort of dissolve as you touch them. But that quality seems to be what lends it the most divine texture in your mouth. And the taste... what can I say about the taste. "Like the freshness of spring," Cousin Mark said. It's sweet in the way a fruity white wine is sweet. None of us have ever had a piece of fruit quite like it.
Next we moved on to the rambutans. The process for opening them was similar but much less time-consuming.
The apparent "spikes" are pliable and gradually soften and darken as the fruit ripens. The skin is thin and opens easily to reveal an egg-like fruit inside.

You chew the flesh away from the stone inside, like a lychee. The flesh is firm but smooth, lightly sweet and very, very juicy.
In fact, it turns out the rambutan is a cousin of the lychee. We ate a good number of lychees, but taking them as common we didn't bother to document it. I now realize that our New York friends might not find lychees as everyday as we do. The way you eat them is by peeling them by hand and popping the whole fruit in your mouth, then spitting out the seed.
The final tally

Winnifred and Cousin Mark both liked the mangosteen best, followed by the rambutan, with the lychee bringing up the rear. "And this is not to imply that I don't like lychee," Cousin Mark pointed out. I, on the other hand, have never been overly fond of lychee, but I liked it's relative the rambutan even better than the heavenly mangosteen. Cousin Mark felt that the rambutan is subtler than the lychee: in a lychee you taste rose, whereas the rambutan is a bit nutty. Winnifred describes the lychee as just as sweet as the rambutan, but more cloying. For photographic purposes, Winnifred ended up liking the mangosteen better than the rambutan; Cousin Mark, from a purely aesthetic point of view, put the rambutan above the mangosteen. I myself am torn between the soft, sparse hairs on the rambutan, tenderly curling in their variegated colours, like an old lady's dyed hair with the roots showing; and the purple solidity of the mangosteen shell which lives in apposition to the ethereal white fruit inside. Even the bumpy brownness of the lychee husk and the smoothness of the dark nut you spit out at the end have a certain hold on me.

When I looked a bit further into the relationship between the rambutan and the lychee, I was surprised they weren't more closely related. Apparently they are in separate genera in the sapindaceae family. They are as far apart from each other as they both are from the maple tree and the soapberry. I ate another one of each with this in mind, and I fancy I can discern a trace of the taste of maple syrup. I think the lychee is beginning to grow on me.

Total cost of the Seasonal Asian Fruit Taste Test was $26 for four mangosteens, one large bunch of rambutans and a small bunch of lychees. But at less than the cost of a movie for the three of us, it provided at least as much entertainment.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Us + Stuff: ReUnited at Last

Apparently, when you move long distances, the folks who move your stuff all work for different local companies that are associated with a big international company. In New York, I contacted Liberty, which is an agent for United Van Lines. But the guy who actually moved our stuff--all the way from Brooklyn to Strathcona--was Chess, who works for Howard's Van and Storage in Brandon, Manitoba. On each end of the move, he was helped by swampers from the local affiliate.

This is our stuff in the back of the truck. You gotta love a guy who picks up your steamer trunk and carries it up two flights of stairs.

Here's Chess hamming it up for the camera. These guys were cheerful all the way through the move. That includes through 37 boxes of books. Out of 67 boxes in total. We have our priorities.

Locally, Chess was assisted by two apple-cheeked Irish lads--and when I say lads, that is not a manner of speaking.

I don't normally feel much loyalty to the companies I do business with--I mean, I'm paying for it, they're not doing me a favour--but I was amazed at how great every single transaction has been with these movers. New Yorkers: allow me to recommend Liberty. They kept me apprised of every aspect of the move, answered many questions, advised me on labeling and documentation for crossing the border, and changed the pick-up date to give us a few more days to finish packing. On the day of the move, they arrived on time, were pleasant to work with, and got us out and into the van in just over an hour. Also important was the Vancouver end: because the company is bonded, Chess could drive the stuff into the city to pass through customs here, and we didn't have to shlep out to the border. And finally, I could hardly believe it when they called to tell me our load was lighter than expected and the move would be $600 below estimate. It's not like I would've known the difference if they'd kept the 600 bucks.

In Manitoba, call Howard's; in Vancouver, look here for a local United affiliate.