Friday, December 30, 2011

Kane Learns To Skate

Today, a little Goderich boy named Kane had ice skates strapped to the bottoms of his tiny feet for the very first time.  On this lazy afternoon he was attempting to propel himself forward like millions of other Canadians have done for more than 100 years.  As he was prepared for the event, sitting with his family in the hardwood bleachers of the arena, he was poised to join the sacred, almost universal fraternity of Canadian skaters.  

This precious historic moment was safely nestled in the glowing period that lolls between the two towering winter holidays, of Christmas and New Years.   A golden opportunity had opened up in the life of this preschooler.  It consisted of a fortuitous convergence of opportunity, motivation, and timing.  Some of which belonged to him and yet much more belonged to the inevitable force and momentum of the Canadian psyche.

The critical elements also included, besides available ice, competent coaches and trainers for this operation to succeed.  This was fulfilled quite nicely by the attentive encouragement and support of his parents and the appearance of a bonus Uncle, as added backup, should the coaching breakdown in any way.   The most important ingredient in all of this was of course a pair of brand new skates.  Provided no doubt by the recent visit of Santa, who had either brought skates fresh from the North Pole or the local Canadian tire store.

Kane, to his credit, had already clearly mastered all the standard problems associated with humans primary mode of locomotion, namely walking.  Was he ready to adventure forward into the more challenging world of skating was another matter.  I never had much of a discussion with his folks, but my guess was that they had simply decided that today was the appropriate moment to test the waters, or rather the ice.  Regardless, this day, Wednesday December 29th had been anointed as the proud moment when Kane, regardless of the outcome, was going to stride forward in his life and officially take part in the great Canadian past time, skating.

There are a little over 34 million of us stretched across this vast country.  The number of indoor rinks has been calculated to be roughly around 2500, depending upon which census you look at, or believe.  When you factor in as well the countless frozen ponds and lakes that are created, when the heel of the frosty winter boot strikes down hard upon our 10 provinces.   The opportunities to strap on sharp steel onto your feet and fly across expanses of frozen water in this country of ours is tremendous.
Skating in 1884 Montreal

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Lights: Beyond the Glow

My Greek neighbors live in a sturdy red house directly across the street from me.  They are practical folk who have lived in this neighborhood a lot longer than I have.  We have never talked much, but I have noticed over the years in a smattering of brief conversations,  that their accent is still pretty strong, despite no doubt many years in America and many years in their tidy red house.  

The neighborhood has no doubt changed a whole lot since they first moved here.  At one time the street probably had lots of other Greek families, but now just a few grudging holdouts further up the block.  The street now is a spicy blend of  humanity.  Next door to them is a family from Bangladesh, across a family from Guyana, and the diverse ingredients of the neighborhood soup just goes on and on.  The little world that is 160 st has changed a lot even in the time that I have been there.  Because they are such rock solid people I really no longer take much notice of them.  In the winter they scoot inside quickly like everybody else on chilly days. 

 When summer is hot they will sit out front of the house for long lazy hours in aluminum folding chairs, right into the wee late night hours.  I have never noticed an air conditioner and just assume that if they never had one in Greece where it really gets hot,  then why should they have one here then.   Their only glancing nod to luxury, as far as I can tell, is a big comfortable Chrysler that always gets tucked away in the garage at night. Just to be absolutely safe.
 



Tuesday, April 12, 2011

World Harmony Run Sudaji Bali

 It was just a tiny inconspicuous speck on the map.  It hardly seemed like it was worth the effort, to take the long and  rambling drive in order to get there.   Still, a World Harmony Run was going to take place, and these events always have the unique capacity to open doors and generally inspire and surprise you in ways you could not ever imagine.

The trip there though meant trundling for several hours over the mountainous Balinese terrain, in an on again off again rain storm.  The day was so damp and gloomy I began to feel my enthusiasm gradually diminish with each new bump and sharp turn.  There were moments when I thought, that if there was going to be a silver lining to the long drive there,  the cloud was taking its time to reveal its hidden dazzling charm.

The Bali roads are narrow and winding and even a half hour trip on them can seem so long,  little alone one that smothered us for several hours in a soupy fog.  On the map least ways, Sudaji Bali was a miniscule dot surrounded by miles of undulating green.  It is far, far from all the pristine beaches, and it is not serenely tucked beneath the rim of a silent volcano.  The scenery is not manicured or extraordinary by Bali standards, and it has no picturesque temples or monkey forests.  It has never been featured as a must see place in Lonely Planet guide books.

It is not a place I had ever heard talked about, and if I were really asked to describe it now, there really isn't much to say, other than, you must go and see it for yourself.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Stone Cutters Of Ubud

My brain was filled with but one clear emphatic thought, "Don't do this."  Emblazoned from the very beginning, to the very end of the horizons of my mental landscape was one firm belief.  It was written large and printed in a bold font.  There was no nook or cranny for any other idea to grasp a tenuous nibbling hold.  I could examine the foundation upon which it was firmly embedded.  It was straight up rock solid common sense.  It would be both foolish, and dangerous to attempt such a thing.  I had calculated and examined all the possible outcomes, none of them would lead to anything other than failure.   It was unequivocally a doomed plan, with absolutely zero chance of a positive outcome.

Padyatra spent perhaps 10 seconds or less peering over the precipice and simply said, "Oh, come on," and hopped over the stone wall.  In a moment he was skidding down the nearly vertical muddy trail.  One with no steps, no stone ledges to pause, just slippery mud with a meager selection of hardy vines or branches to latch on to for safety, if you were lucky.  For a while I could hear him sliding, bounding, and letting out the occasional 'whoop' as he slithered out of sight.  I really had no idea how he could physically do it.  In one hand he was carrying a $3,000 dollar camera and in the other a large tripod.

I looked down at the sandals on my feet.  I was quite certain that it wouldn't take long for them to mangle my feet to shreds, long before I hit the bottom.  I had equipment as well, but not nearly so expensive and burdensome.  Than suddenly, like a traffic light, that just blinks from red to green, I found myself clambering over the wall and beginning my own foolish descent.

Cursing silently, and perhaps more often, with a great deal of vocal vigor, almost every slippery yard.  It was treacherous going down and around, each and every tangled sliding step and turn.  Why I committed to such foolishness I am not quite sure.   In an instant I seemed to suddenly have no options, other than to go.  I had said goodbye to logic, leaving it parked tidily and alone on the ledge above me, where I had been so certain and so content just moments earlier.

It was bad from the very first moment of my descent and than quickly escalated to very bad.  If I hadn't been such a wimp I would have taken pictures on the way down to prove this point.  You will have to take me at my word, and if you ever run into Padyatra do not believe anything he has to say about it.

He had somehow enticed or convinced me to do this crazy thing by saying, that the sound, screaming out of the deep gorge below us was probably coming from an archeological excavation team.  Certainly you could just see some men, working under a cliff on the far side of the river.  I found this observation to be just completely impossible to believe.  To my ear it sounded just too much like the nasty screech, my own 2 stroke gardening machines make, when they attack the urban landscape in Queens.  What it sounded like to me was the interminable and relentless racket of men cutting stone.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Denpasar Market

I have never claimed to be much of a tourist.  Laying on a beach for me is simply not my idea of good time.  In fact I would prefer to head in the complete opposite direction if someone mentions typical vacation activities.

One day while in Bali I was invited to drive into Denpasar and visit the night market.  Now for me that qualifies as perfect adventure.  We parked on a little road not far away and already you could sense the gathering energy of the shops and people who sell and make the necessary staples of Balinese life.
But it is people and how they mix and flow together that really interest me.  So much was going on my friend Padyatra and I were almost invisible...almost.  We could take shots without hesitation and breathe in the rich and vibrant atmosphere.

The market was crowded and yet everything here worked and moved smoothly.  The simplest way to carry your goods is to place it on your head.

Steps

I was there and yet somehow I wasn't. A quick early morning inventory of all my various bits and pieces provided me with sufficient proof however that the sum total of my being was theoretically still intact. A look in the mirror while shaving verified that the grizzled apparition looking out was definitely still me. Yet I couldn't shrug off the nagging suspicion that something was definitely amiss deep inside the inner workings of my little world, Utpaldom.

It was easy to come to grips with the striking realization that I had woken up in a distant land, far far from home. Gentle palms swayed in a sultry tropical breeze outside my hotel window. It had taken me 26 hours and I had traversed many thousands of miles to get here. I was now, in point in fact, clear across on the far side of our lovely planet.

The view from my window at home has always been just a notch above subterranean. While there, I had become a prisoner to winter, with crusty snow piling up. Nearly obliterating my miniscule view of the outside, which I cannot see much of even at the best of times. But that particular reality, of home, of New York, of ice and snow was quickly fading, like a cloud skittering away from the face of the bright sun.

My regular past, which I had recently fled from, just a day ago, was being swept away by all the sunbright optimism which is Bali. My existence now was poised in a place which fit snugly into my personal conception of heaven on earth. I could clearly recall how I got here, to this place of incredible natural splendor. Yet somehow, in a strange contradiction, I could not quite get over the notion that everything within me had not settled somehow back into a natural order. Truth to tell, I wasn't exactly sure how to put the scrambled elements of my being back together again in harmony.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Huron County Museum

How we view the world is very much shaped and formed by the company we keep. Our close family members in particular can have a profound impact in how we perceive and comprehend the world around us. When it comes to learning something new there can be no better teacher than someone who is part of your own family. There is an instant rapport and familiarity that automatically enhances the learning process.


Recently my brother and I had a chance to visit the Huron County museum tucked away in a quiet corner of Goderich. Our brother in law Gary was our enthusiastic guide. For a few hours, on a lazy day between Christmas and New Years, he managed to open a door for me to a part of the country I knew nothing about.






He himself is a recent resident to Goderich, but in just a couple of years has become more and more impressed and familiar with this new world that he and my sister now inhabit. It is hard to say which came first. His hunger to understand better this quiet corner of Ontario, so very different from the chaotic big city swirl of Toronto, or just perhaps because by fate he wandered one day into a truly excellent museum.