An American’s view of Canada

Editorial published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in August 2003

This is funny in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way but with some truths to it…

It’s not just the weather that’s cooler in Canada: You live next door to a clean-cut, quiet guy. He never plays loud music or throws raucous parties. He doesn’t gossip over the fence, just smiles politely and offers you some tomatoes. His lawn is cared-for, his house is neat as a pin and you get the feeling he doesn’t always lock his front door. He wears Dockers. You hardly know he’s there. And then one day you discover that he has pot in his basement, spends his weekends at peace marches and that guy you’ve seen mowing the yard is his spouse.

Allow me to introduce Canada. The Canadians are so quiet that you may have forgotten they’re up there, but they’ve been busy doing some surprising things. It’s like discovering that the mice you are dimly aware of in your attic have been building an espresso machine.

Continue reading “An American’s view of Canada”

Chicago

I’m leaving on Wednesday for Chicago to present a paper at the Renaissance Society of America conference. I’m looking forward to going since I’ll be meeting many friends that I haven’t seen in a while but for some reason I haven’t really looked into what’s to do and see in Chicago. I assume we’ll be spending a lot of time at the conference itself, which is at the Chicago Renaissance Hotel at the corner of State Street and Wacker Drive, but no doubt we’ll have some time to explore the city a bit.

Any suggestions? any restaurant I *must* go?

Earth Hour

earth hour

At 8:00 tonight we’ll be turning off all our lights in our support for Earth Hour and to express our concern over the environment. The point is to make people aware of energy conservation and carbon gas emission. According to the news, 240,000 people around the world have registered at the official site (Alan is one of them) but they estimate that as many as a million people in Toronto alone will mark the hour. Recent polls shows that 70% of Canadians plan to join.

Here in Toronto many of the local landmarks will go dark – CN Tower and the Eaton Centre will shut off its lights and even Niagara Falls will fade into the night. Air Canada has also expressed its full support and will be shutting down its lights across Canada.

I know that cynics will say it’s all marketing and popular manipulation, and that reputable scientists still argue whether global warming is really caused by men or whether it is simply a normal cyclical weather pattern. That may be. But I don’t think there’s any reasonable argument to defend waste of resources. Even if our pollution is not causing climate change, there’s little doubt that it is harmful to human & animal health and that our resources are finite. I believe in conservation for that reason alone.

We participated at a similar event last year when we were in Barcelona. We plan to snuggle on our couch, with maybe some candles on, and simply enjoy each other’s company for an hour.

Update

Earth Hour came and went here in Toronto and we shut off our lights as promised. We then went outside to see the effects around the block. While there were many apartments with their lights still on, most of the corporate buildings downtown went dark and Dundas Square, usually illuminated like the main street in Las Vegas, was completely dark. The Bank of Montreal seem to be the only bank that kept its light on. The Rogers, the Manulife Centre, and The Bay were also off. It was cool although Alan was pretty disappointed that not everbody joined and there were still lots of apartments filled with lights.

In time – Chris Tindal wrote a really good article on the negative and positive sides of Earth Hour.

One highlight:

Maybe, just maybe, individuals and businesses—by going through an uncommon exercise in conservation—will realize all of the things they could be doing every day to reduce consumption. Businesses that have for the first time realized that they leave their copiers, computer monitors and lights running all weekend for no reason may see the cost benefit in turning them off from now on. Individuals who go through the exercise of trying to drop their energy consumption to near-zero may realize for the first time that they’re unnecessarily paying to have vampires suck energy out of their walls all day and all night long. In doing so, we move beyond tokenism, and towards a real movement.

Quote

“The best travel is not about a list of monuments, museums, and landscapes. The best travel is about people, and if you travel well it is people that you are going to remember most. People that are strange, unique, foreign, similar, friendly, nice, hospitable, loving, kind, rude, outrageous, and normal. These will be the experiences that stay with you forever, that no postcard can ever reproduce.”

From The Art of Travel

Food allergy test…

So, I went to the naturopath again today. As you know, on my last visit she had me do a blood test to determine possible food intolerances. They screen you against 93 different foods and I was afraid they’d tell me I had to give up something I actually love like coffee, tea or eggs. But the results were better than I thought:

I have to eliminate white rice, sheep’s milk, and cola (i.e. coke). White rice might be difficult but she said I can have brown rice, which makes it a lot easier. As for the others, I don’t drink sheep’s milk or cola drinks at all.

I should also reduce (i.e. not have it more than twice a week): soya beans, rye, wheat, grapefruit, pineapple, and yeast (baker/brewers). Hmm, I guess it means I need to reduce consumption of bread. Reducing soy is the harder part since I have been trying to increase my consumption of it recently and I was actually getting used to it. Oh well, I guess it was too much of a good thing.

But like I said before, at least it wasn’t essential foods (for me) like onions, garlic, coffee, nuts or chili peppers!

Fake Steve

I’ve been reading the Secret Diary of Fake Steve Jobs for a while and generally get a real kick out it. I’m a Mac fan and the parody of Steve Jobs is really well done. For over a year no one knew who Fake Steve was despite the many journalists and tech analysts trying to figure out. Fake Steve Jobs became a phenomenon on the Internet until he was finally busted by a NYT journalist in August last year. The site has continued, but now we all know that the author is really Dan Lyons from Forbes magazine. Today I found this really funny talk with Dan Lyons explaining how the blog came about – the guy is REALLY funny.

One bag travel

When I first met Alan and we started traveling stand-by, it quickly became obvious that the key to successfully negotiating flights, connections and the like was to travel with just carry-on luggage. Luckily, Air Canada has a generous carry-on policy – it allows for two bags, plus a personal item (which could be a purse) – and we have been traveling with what I call our “flight attendant kit” comprising of one small suitcase with wheels and a smaller bag that fits on top of the suitcase. I’ve mastered the art of packing to the point where I can fill up my little carry-on suitcase with enough clothes to spend three weeks in Brazil without needing to wash my clothes all the time (and I didn’t even wear half of what I took with me!).

But a combination of higher fuel prices, which makes airlines more conscious of the weight people carry into airplanes, and heightened concern over security, has meant that more and more airlines are adopting a one-bag policy for carry-on luggage. This means that if I want to keep bringing the same amount of stuff I carry usually, I need to either optimize my methods or check one of my suitcases. The latter is not an option as far as I’m concerned since once you get used to traveling with only carry-on luggage, you can never go back. There’s nothing quite as liberating than being able to get off a flight and immediately look for the nearest exit. It’s also a plus to be able to easily take public transit and negotiate stairs and the like easily.

So I’ve started doing some research. Apparently, I’ve been doing it all wrong. Rolling suitcases are NOT the way to go when you want to optimize what you can bring on board of an airplane. The simple fact of fitting a suitcase with wheels makes them 2-3 times heavier than a comparable suitcase without wheels and takes away half of the space available for your stuff. Doug Dyment, the travel light guru at onebag.com, has made a very effective comparison of the two systems. So what to get instead? After combing Doug’s site as well as the One Bag One World blog, I’m leaning towards Tom Bihn’s Aeronaut bag. I haven’t ordered it yet but will probably do so before we leave for Spain in May. My challenge is to manage one month in Spain with one carry-on bag.

In order to do that I’ve started doing research beyond the bag to optimize also what goes in it. Clothes shouldn’t be too much of a problem since it will be summer in Spain and I can bring mostly light clothes. One cool idea I found is to replace liquid shampoo for Lush’s solid shampoo bar. I bought one today to test and I am quite pleased with the result. Worth it even if you are not traveling. They also have a line of solid perfume, which contain no alcohol.

I was a little worried about the possibility of scaling down to one bag but I’m now a bit more optimistic. Anybody else out there would venture traveling carry-on?

Some links:

Mark Verber’s tips on traveling light

Travelite FAQ

Other links under “travel” on the right-hand column

You gotta love Toronto

Last night we went to our neighbourhood ice cream parlor after dinner. I’m not one to eat ice cream when the temperature is below 20 C, but Alan loves it even at -20 C. So he goes to the ice cream place a lot and got to know the owner. Last year he told us all about his wedding and honeymoon, and last night we finally met his wife. He is originally from Lebanon but it turns out his wife is from Portugal so Alan quickly points out that I’m from Brazil so we exchange a few words of Portuguese. There was another patron in the store, a Canadian man, who, as soon as he heard the word Brazil, yelled “obrigado”. Turns out he had spent three weeks in Brazil and that was the only thing he managed to learn in Portuguese. So we talked a bit about Brazil and when we left, Alan held the door for a Chinese woman who was leaving the store, who says “obreegado” as she walks out. We all laugh and walk out. Cultures connecting. That’s why I love this city.

Finally, a good meal!

Don’t get me wrong. I love Toronto. But I have to say that it is harder to find really amazing food in this city than it is in Montreal. Of course the restaurants in Toronto are as diverse as its multicultural population but somehow, most of them lacks a… how should I put it … je ne sais quois, an extra touch that makes the meal special. Most restaurants in this city prize quantity over quality, and you need to pay top dollar to get quality.

Well, last night I finally had a meal that made it to my top 10 meals of all times. Trust me, that is a very select group. I don’t think I even have the 10 slots filled yet. To make it to that list, a meal has to make me physically moan as I eat. I had that experience last night at 93 Harbord Street, a Middle Eastern restaurant with North African influences. The menu was simple – a couple of tajines, some lamb dishes, a couple vegetarian options, many appetizers, and some fish dishes. We were there to celebrate two friends’ birthdays and I had decided beforehand I would try their tajine but at the last minute I was won over by the fish of the day – a pistachio-encrusted black cod served with rice, grilled vegetables on a tomato harissa coulis. I love fish. And that was simply the most perfectly prepared fish I’ve had in a long time. It simply melted in your mouth.

Another thing that melted in my mouth in an explosion of flavour was the warm chocolate pecan pie Alan and I shared for dessert. It reminded me of Wushu’s perfect brownie cake.

Of course none of that came without its price. It cost 90$ for Alan and I, tip & tax included, for two mains (the two most expensive dishes on the menu), dessert, a glass of wine, a 1/2 pint of beer, and a macchiato. I thought it was very reasonable for the quality of the food and the great service. Must go back.  A good place to go on a special occasion.