Sunday, November 25, 2007

Naiad Nymph, Shapeshifter, Possible Lesbian

You are going to think we do nothing but shop for big-ticket items. That's not true. We spend most days not spending a cent. I take public transportation to work, carrying a packed lunch. Winnifred works at home and doesn't even buy a bus pass. We're just as abstemious as all get out.

Well. So we bought a car. Yes, a car. I know, that was sudden. We've been driving my sister's car but she got back from Wales and, uh, wanted her car. We thought we'd start the car search and take a few weeks to find something. But you know, when it's bashert it's bashert. No point fighting it. We mentioned that we were going to start looking for a car to Winnifred's dad, who went through the newspaper that same day and told us which one to buy. Winnifred looked it up on the internet and found out that this model year there were problems with some transmissions. She took it to John, our old mechanic from before we moved away seven years ago, who carefully spread some transmission fluid on his arm, then licked it. "Taste's good," he said. Apparently that's how you test for transmission problems.

So John gave his blessing, in his own way. John's a phlegmatic sort of fellow, and what he actually said was, "It's not a bad car." He did tell us to replace the struts. The fellow selling the car liked Winnifred so much he talked the price down, and the rest is history. And here she is.

We call her Daphne. I could not say why we are on a Greek mythology female name kick. We just are. I think of Daphne as a sweet, old-fashioned name. It turns out it peaked in popularity in the 1970s, did well in the 80s and 90s, dipped at the beginning of the century but has rebounded again. It was the 533rd most popular girl's name for babies born in the United States in 2003, ranking well behind another old-fashioned girl's name, Faith (52nd most popular in 2003). If we really wanted an old-fashioned name, we should have called her Winnifred, which hasn't been in the top 1,000 since the 1930s. How do I know all this you ask? Why, the Baby Name Wizard, of course.

A few days after we bought her, we noticed a bird had left us an artwork on the hood.

That bird has been eating late-season berries, if I'm not mistaken. We'll leave it there looking pretty until it doesn't.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Moby Dick and the Vegetarian

Chapter 65: The Whale as a Dish
It is not, perhaps, entirely because the whale is so excessively
unctuous that landsmen seem to regard the eating of him with
abhorrence; that appears to result, in some way, from the
consideration before mentioned: i.e. that a man should eat a newly
murdered thing of the sea, and eat it too by its own light. But no
doubt the first man that ever murdered an ox was regarded as a
murderer; perhaps he was hung; and if he had been put on his trial by
oxen, he certainly would have been; and he certainly deserved it if
any murderer does. Go to the meat-market of a Saturday night and see
the crowds of live bipeds staring up at the long rows of dead
quadrupeds. Does not that sight take a tooth out of the cannibal's
jaw? Cannibals? who is not a cannibal? I tell you it will be more
tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his
cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that
provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, than for thee,
civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground
and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-foie-gras.
Indeed, who among us is not a cannibal? I have been reading Moby Dick far too slowly--other books keep intervening--but that is not to say I'm not loving it. It is completely mad, but wonderfully so. I am grateful to Project Gutenberg that has made not one, not two, but three versions of Moby Dick available as plain text, so that I can read it on my palm pilot on the bus. It also makes it mighty easy for blogging.

There are a number of places in Moby Dick where I have been struck by the modern seeming sensibility, wrapped up in elaborate 19th century prose. Certainly the opinion above would not be out of place in an East Vancouver coffee shop, phrased slightly differently. It is also the only time I have seen unctuous used in its literal sense. My that's a nice word, with all those u's.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Unemployed Philosophers

When I began planning my class this summer, many an experienced teacher advised me to show movies and get in speakers. I have taken this advice to heart. So far the librarians who have spoken to the class have each received a charming children's book by a local author who is available for public appearances; and a small token such as chocolate or coffee. This week I have four librarians coming to have a panel discussion. I was in the university bookstore looking for a little gift for each of them and found these:

They are Great Writer finger puppet/fridge magnets. Above we have the team of Dickens and Dickinson, a pairing which honestly had never suggested itself to me. They tend to couple up because of the magnets in their hair. Here we see Jane Austen and Sappho making like conjoined twins, in defiance of the space/time continuum:

I will feel bad separating them when I give them away. I am particularly fond of Sappho with her lyre.

I do seriously hope my guests don't find these gifts strange, or not in a bad way. I can count on the children's librarian among them at least.

I found out from looking up the web site of the Unemployed Philosopher's Guild (which makes these little cuties) that they have a Sholem Aleichem figure, which has now turned into the must-have Hanukkah gift of the season. They also sell, and I'm not making this up, Freudian Slippers. What's more they're headquartered in Brooklyn, and so when I inevitably order more than I really should, their products will literally come from Brooklyn to Vancouver.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Broken in Many Places

One of the many useful lessons my mother taught me in childhood was to beware of places offering "Canadian and Chinese Food." What you look for is Chinese food alone, she said. If they're offering Canadian and Chinese, they don't really know how to make either. Thus we have not eaten in Smile Restaurant.

This week was marked by a number of situations in which I wished I had such clear instructions. My student M. was admitted to hospital this week with a serious situation that we thought might affect her ability to complete coursework and graduate in December. Thankfully, that has not happened and she is back home now and able to pick up where she left off, having only missed one week of school. At the same time, an enormous, expensive piece of equipment was returned to my workplace after repair, and didn't work. The technicians with whom we have a service contract for this item are in Maryland and Germany. They did not seem concerned because the piece worked when they had it. They kept offering none-too-helpful advice such as, "It sounds like the computer you've got it attached to has a memory problem." In the end it turned out to be two separate problems, one of them a hardware issue with the very piece they had sent us, and our techies diagnosed and fixed both problems, no thanks to the vendor. Thursday night, when both situations were still up in the air, I had the following dream.

My right foot wasn't working properly and I could see the cables poking through the skin, so I called the right-foot technician. He came and looked at it and assured me that, although the problem was manifesting in the foot, it was actually a knock-on effect related to a problem emanating from my leg. He advised me to call the right-leg technician. I called the right-leg technician, but his waiting list was so long that I was referred on to right-side administration. They suggested that the right-foot technician probably should be called back for further testing and consultation, and to re-wire the cables while I waited for the right-leg technician to have an opening. At this point I woke up in a cold sweat.

I have to be grateful I work in a place where the technical staff will work doggedly at fixing a problem until they get it fixed--two and a half days, as it turned out--and where nobody acts as if you're the problem when it's your equipment that dies. "There are only two kinds of computers," one of our IT guys told me: "Those that are broken, and those that are going to break." I never heard this before but when I think back to my lifetime of computer ownership and workplace use, it is literally true. As for my student M., well, next time the cables begin showing through her right foot I will advise her to find a holistic technician who looks at the whole cyborg.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Weather and Transportation

This morning the world was wrapped in a beauteous, soft-focus fog. Usually Vancouver fog is clammy and bone-chilling, but today it was rather warm. Those car headlights are not even half a block away; the houses across the street were noticeably fuzzy. This is not the thickest fog I've seen in Vancouver. I remember a ten-day fog that descended on the city many years ago, during which you could not see the house next door. You couldn't go to work; the city buses couldn't run. It was serene and dignified, and when it seemed to be letting up a bit you ran out to buy some more milk, then hunkered down for further welcome, enforced rest.

Well, today's fog didn't last but I couldn't give you details because on my bus up the mountain to work we rose suddenly above the cloudline and were in a perfect, sunny, cold fall morning. For the rest of the day, whenever I looked out the window I could see another cloud lifting off the city below, rising to dissolve against the blue mountains across the harbour. There is fog in Brooklyn; but there isn't this fog. However, Brooklyn has great lightning storms, which B.C. generally does not.

Some other differences:
  • people here wait on the sidewalk to cross the street. If you step down into the gutter to prepare for a dash across the street, you are endangering yourself and others. The drivers will screech to a halt, in the belief that you are beginning your advance across the street.

  • on the SkyTrain, people are not reluctant to take the inside seat.

  • in Vancouver, you thank your bus driver.
I was actually sure I had heard people in Brooklyn thank their bus drivers; but Winnifred assures me I had just heard us thank our bus drivers while we were in Brooklyn. Apparently it's a B.C. habit I never kicked. Thank God there's one thing I don't have to relearn.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Late Afternoon Light

I suppose it's partly a result of my work schedule: I'm working (remotely) in New York, so I knock off for the day around three. I'm sure I'm not the first to notice how lovely the late afternoon light is, but I just noticed how many of my pictures are taken then. One of the wonders of shooting digital that the camera records the time of day you took the photograph. I just took a look at my digital photo collection: almost all of them were taken between 3 and 6 in the afternoon.

I've put up a couple of web albums so you can see what I mean.