Archive for July, 2009

Out of the Marvellous
July 26, 2009

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise

Were all at prayers inside the oratory

A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep

It hooked itself into the altar rails

And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope

And struggled to release it. But in vain.

‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said,‘Unless we help him.’

 So they did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back

 Out of the marvellous as he had known it


-Seamus Heaney


Cat – pen and ink
July 18, 2009


Hannah Arendt
July 15, 2009

“We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human.”

– Hannah Arendt (Political Theorist 1906 -75)

Summer Flowers
July 12, 2009


Riding the Rails
July 8, 2009

In the Globe and Mail this week, there is an article on ‘Yuppie Hobos” – young people who ride the rails illegally for the fun of it.

I have no comment on this new trend, but it did remind me of two things.  First – the wonderful book “Autobiography of a Supertramp” by William Henry Davies.   Published in 1908, it provides  a fascinating insight into vagrant life at the turn of the last century in America and Britain.  I recommend it.

The second thing is this story my father told me:

In the 30’s, my father and his mother were members of a fundamentalist Christian church in Victoria.  Several other families in the congregation were also originally from Saskatchewan – part of a wave that came out to BC after WWI and the Depression. 

My father, who was in his late teens, was friends with some young men in the church who were a few years older.  Every year, these young men would leave Victoria, ride the rails back to  the family farm in Saskatchewan and help bring in the harvest.  When the work was done, they would then jump trains and make their way back to Victoria.

One year, when his friends returned, my father asked them how the journey had gone.   They told him it went well.   In Alberta, they had managed to get on a train which was shipping military vehicles to Vancouver.   His friends had traveled all the way through the Rockies and BC seated in a military jeep.

de Kooning/America
July 4, 2009

We always celebrated the 4th of July when I was young because my mother was American.  At some point, I remember being shocked to find out it wasn’t a Canadian holiday but actually belonged to another country.

Here’s an American story.

Celebrated painter Willem de Kooning emigrated to the USA from Holland in 1926 by stowing away on a merchant vessel bound for Virginia.   He had been seduced by the myth of the America.  As the boat approached land, de Kooning was disappointed to see the Virginian landscape was exactly like the lowlands of Holland.  He cursed and wondered why he had made the effort to leave home.  

A few days later, De Kooning was with some other Dutch sailors catching a ferry to New Jersey.   The terminal was also a train station.  As commuters poured off an arriving train, de Kooning noticed a man behind a coffee counter.   The man had lined up a long row of cups and was pouring coffee into them from a pot.   De Kooning watched transfixed as the man poured rapidly down the line, splashing coffee and never raising the pot.  In Holland, the pot would be carefully raised after each cup to save every drop.  As de Kooning watched coffee spray over the rims of the cups, he thought. “Damn it! That’s America!”