Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Finally all home.

I haven't been posting for a few days because I was in Kansas at a conference. Many exciting adventures to tell you about. (Most of them are only exciting to me, though.)

(1) I was supposed to fly out of Pearson at 9:30am last Thursday to Detroit, and then on to Kansas City. Ended up leaving at 8:50am bound for Minneapolis. Thunderstorms in Detroit apparently made my plane late, and since I had a connection to make, they rerouted me through Minne instead. When I boarded the plane at Minneapolis---which looks like a really beautiful city from the air, and has an amazing airport---I discovered that I'd been booked into a first-class seat! So, I flew first-class, Minneapolis to Kansas City. Too bad, as the man beside me remarked, it was only an hour-long flight.

(2) There is free WiFi at the Kansas City airport. So, that's what I did while waiting for unknown (to me) JL to come pick me up. He's a friend of my friend EW, but we'd never met before. Good thing he sent me a photo beforehand, so I'd know what he'd look like!

(3) I stayed in Lawrence, KS with EW's parents. They are super-awesome. Lawrence, by the way, seems like a really nice town. An island of liberal blue in a sea of red, says JL. Cute downtown, and nice residential neighbourhoods with relatively inexpensive little houses. Lots of trees. The University of Kansas (KU) has a really beautiful campus. Very nice place to live, work, go to school, it seems.

(4) My paper went well. At least, I think it did. Yay!

(5) The other panels I saw were good, too. I mean, this is a serious academic conference, so it's not the most exciting thing sitting and listening to people read for 20 minutes, but it's interesting enough. I learned some stuff. Most importantly, though, I got to put names to some "famous" (for me) faces.

(6) I talked to all the profs and grad students I wanted to. All very nice and potentially good, useful contacts. I definitely need to go to this conference in later years. Collected a handful of business cards, which I will put to good use over the next few days following-up on some conversations.

(7) The prof. I was most excited about meeting did come to my talk. He then took me on a tour of campus, the town, and out a bit in the surrounding countryside. Very nice, down-to-earth man, if not super chatty. I'm a fan, for sure. And, I got to buy his last 3 books for 40% off! I figured I'd be able to get them with a conference discount, but I guess because the conference was at KU, and his books are published by the University of Kansas Press, the discount was double the usual 20% off. Awesome.

(8) American accents. Who know there were so many?! Not me. I was really quite amazed, though I guess I shouldn't have been. I especially like the older southern "gentlemen" I talked to. Very nice people, all. And everyone else I talked to was nice too.

(9) Got to talk for a long time with Juan Cole. Okay, mostly listen to him talk. He's very chatty, very knowledgeable, super-approachable, and not arrogant... though perhaps a bit of a name-dropper (in a good way). I really liked him, and didn't think he was at all like the man the neo-cons like to disparage. On a related note, I was surprised that it seemed like everyone at the conference was pretty liberal. I don't think there were any pro-Bush people there at all.

(10) I flew back to Canada on Monday with friend DS. Good times. This time I did head back through Detroit. Oh, and the Detroit airport is pretty neat too. There's this big tunnel with a huge art installation of sorts in it. The whole tunnel is filled with music and lights that change colour. I can't really explain it, but it was cool. And in the Northwest terminal there's an indoor train thing! We took it to speed down the terminal to our gate. I should mention too that I had chilly fries with cheese for dinner. I started to remark to DS that, "now I know why Americans are so fat!" until I realized that I was surrounded by Americans, so perhaps I shouldn't finish the sentence.

(11) When I got to Pearson... my luggage wasn't there! It was left behind in Detroit. But I've got it now. Which is why I'm "finally all home."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Because I have no original thoughts.

Can't think. Can only pack. I've been doing this for hours. And I do mean hours. I am so freaked out about forgetting something, etc. But I think there's really no way that's possible at this point. I need a personal assistant to do this stuff for me. Plus, I'm not really tired yet . . . though I'm leaving for the airport in less than 4 hours and have yet to sleep tonight. Oh well. Guess I'll be tired tomorrow/later today.

Before I attempt to sleep for a couple hours, let me share with you how to make the best pita pizzas ever. And I do mean ever. This is the basic all-dressed version. You can fancify as much as you like. Proper pita bread is the key to this recipe, as is lots of cheese and flavourful meat. And, the more toppings, the better.

Tomato paste
Salami of choice
Peppers of choice (preferably more than one variety)
Old cheddar cheese

Greek-style pita bread

Cut up veggies, grate cheese, and prepare pizza as desired. Bake in pre-heated oven at 400F for about 15-20 minutes or so. I never timmed it, but you can tell if it's ready if the cheese if bubbling and starting to darken. Yum!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Still up practising my presentation.

So much for getting on a normal schedule. But on the bright side, nearly everything is set for Kansas . . . and I'm excited! Just a few more things to do during the day, plus packing, and then I'm good to go.

Since I've been bad about posting recently, here's our easy smoothie recipe in partial consolation:

1 soft banana
1 large ripe mango
5 or 6 sweet strawberries

Cut up fruit into small pieces. Place in large bowl. Whip out $10 Wal-Mart hand-mixer. Plug in and start mixing (well, hacking/pulpifying) fruit. Add enough milk so that it's the right consistency. Mix some more. Makes two large glasses of smoothie-goodness. If you didn't add enough milk, put more in and stir. Drink with a straw. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

No time for this.

I have a bunch of things I need to do. Little, annoying things to prepare for my trip to Kansas for the conference. And, I need to force myself to get up early tomorrow so I can attempt to get on a normal schedule for the conference. I hate normal-people schedules. It's just not my thing. Blech. I am, however, looking forward to the conference... and wearing my fabulous new conference-going outfits!

(Future post possibility: What do historians wear at conferences... and how did I fare, style-wise?)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Today I did . . . almost nothing.

Well, nothing super-useful. Okay, so I did e-mail a bunch of people about sending in "blurbs" for our grad student newsletter. And that was important, I think.

Semi-related thought: Why don't people want to publicize their academic accomplishments? Why, when I tell them to send me a list of what you did---like conference papers, research trips, publications, scholarships, courses taught, exams passed, etc.---do people thinks this will take too long and just don't do it? The newsletter that we produce is really professional, and gets read by professors, other grad students, and potential grad students. It's available on the web so anyone can read it. It's kinda standard academic stuff, I think. So why don't people want to contribute? I respect not wanting to, but I don't really get it. Participate, people!

Let's see. What else? Hmm. Oh, I read a bunch of academic/history blogs, and some stuff on the NYT website. That wasn't useful at all, but kinda interesting and generally educational.

Semi-related thought: I'm amazed at the bizarre bloggers universe that's out there. It's actually really awesome. Some people are anonymous and use the blogosphere (a new word for me) to vent, complain, or just to deal with stuff. Other bloggers clearly identify themselves, and their blogs are usually less personal and more about academic-related intellectual stuff. Both are fun.

Oh, I also started reading a new book. I'm now making my way through Robert Service's Lenin: A Biography (2000). It's long, but should be a relatively quick read (for a 500-page book). I really need to finish this pronto and move on the next one. And the next one....

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Why I love Bloor St.

Whenever I go for a walk along Bloor St.---the part that runs westward from U of T---I expect to run into people I know. And since I haven't lived in Toronto that long, and don't know that many people (other than historians), this is saying something, I think. Even on a Saturday, when there are no classes and thus it's less likely to run into friends from the department, I still expect to see people I know. And I almost always do, like I did today. It's nice.

The reason, of course, is that there are a lot of students living in this area, and there are a lot of oft-frequented stores along the Spadina-Bathurst strip. But even though there's a good reason for running into people, I still think it's kinda neat. And I like it.

So who did I see today? LB, who's a year ahead of me in the program. He has a new baby at home, and is going to spend the next year in the south of France. Awesome. Isn't it nice when people have happy lives? I sound sappy, which is unusual for me, but I guess I'm in a sappy mood. I've been reading over the papers of my co-panelists---I'm presenting a paper at a conference next Friday---and I'm feeling inspired.

Back to work!

Friday, June 16, 2006

What can historians offer policymakers?

To some, even asking this question goes against the nature of history. After all, they argue, history should not have to offer policymakers anything. History is not a service industry; it is an intellectual pursuit. Historians should be engaged in a study of the past with as little thought to the present as humanly possible.

While I see the value of this kind of thinking, and certainly believe that historians should strive for objectivity and search out the truth about the past as far as possible, there is another way of looking as the discipline of history. After all, policymakers and the rest of society do take something from history, and they do it even if they do not realize it. It is simply not possible to remove oneself from one's own context and reality (political affiliation, personal history, occupation, country of residence, gender, age, etc.), and to have one's own worldviews not colour in some way how one sees the world. This is not a condemnation; it is just the way things are. We are always in some way connected with the present.

If historians don't take time out of their busy talking-to-other-historians schedules to counsel policymakers and the public, then others will do that job for them. I don't mean to say that all historians need to be publicly engaged, but it is vital that some are. And "some" probably means more than are doing it now. How often do we see commentators with a political axe to grind misusing history to serve their partisan purposes? Too often, I think. Of course this will always happen, but if more historians were actively engaged in educating the public about the past with an eye to, yes, influencing present-day thinking, then maybe, just maybe, the world would be a better place. The truth may not set us free---and not only because historians often disagree---but more self-awareness is always better than less. More understanding of where we have been, why past generations followed certain paths and where this lead them can only be a positive thing. And since many historians, whatever their natural aversion to commenting on the present, spend their professional lives thoughtfully considering and passing judgment on past policy decisions, it is incumbent upon some of them to weigh in on important contemporary issues. After all, more informed commentary is always better than less.

I could go on, but you get my point. Any thoughts?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

In lieu of a proper posting today.

Things I would write and post if I didn't still have thousands more pages to read/"read" before tomorrow afternoon:

Girl with power drill begins yuppiefication of student apartment.
Humorous piece in the style of breaking-news journalism. And, no, I'm not the protagonist of this one.

"What would JDS do?"
A list of things JDS would and would not approve of. It would be funny (" 'cause it's true," as my brother would say). Trust me. It would also be... something, because posting such a piece would certainly not receive JDS approval. Oh, and JDS is super-cool and totally awesome, so this piece would become my new guide to life.

Why summer sucks, part I.
A projected one-part series on the suckiness of summer. Part I to discuss the crappiness of TV-waves (is there a proper term for them?), resulting in difficulty enjoying Global TV in aforementioned slighty yuppiefied apartment.

Happy reading, me!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ryan Malcolm is on my fridge.

Back in the late 1990s, I was a Backstreet Boys fan. They were cool, their music was catchy and easy, and they were (to the outside world, at least) nice boys. It didn't hurt that they could, for the most part, sing well. Each group member had a distinct personality too. I think I even remember their names: Nick, the blonde one with the brother who's also a performer; Kevin, the dark-haired, tall one; Brian, Kevin's shorter, fairer cousin; Howie, the one with the longer hair; and AJ, the one with the best voice... but not the best face. Ha! I remembered.

One day, when BSB was going strong---they were a real phenomenon, after all, the first boyband of their kind in years---along came what I bitterly termed the "copycat boyband." I was unimpressed with 'Nsync (or however one's supposed to spell that). They were clearly just riding on BSB's coattails. They weren't original. Plus, their five members weren't as good-looking as BSB's, and, I thought confidently, they didn't sing as well.

But, what? Pretty soon, Justin Timberlake and crew were more popular than the other fivesome! How could this be? I felt sorry for the Boys. But, I had to admit, if a little grudgingly at first, that JT and co. were pretty nifty. They danced well, their songs were oh-so-singable, and rumour had it that the frosted-haired front-man was dating Britney! Pop royalty, for sure.

During these boyband-loving (but usually only secretly-loving) years, I could expect an embarrassing CD from my mom as a X-mas present. (I was, and still am, difficult to shop for, I'm told.) This is how I came to acquire several BSB CDs, and at least one 'Nsync album too. I would groan every year, but, well, they were kinda fun to have, even if I rarely listened to them... or anything else, for that matter.

I remembered this string of embarrassing CD presents last night. AG and EC were over for dinner and some TV-watching (TEE-vee, says EC, as opposed to tee-VEE, which is how the rest of us say it). Some Canadian Idol show was on during dinner, and Ryan Malcolm's name came up. He was the first Canadian Idol. "Whatever happened to Ryan Malcolm?," someone asked. Oh, this was my cue. Because, you see, the last embarrassing CD my mom ever bought me was, you guessed it, Ryan Malcolm's debut (one-and-only?) album. That, I think, was the most embarrassing of them all. Yet, I admit, the CD 'aint half-bad. It has no pretensions, and most of it is catchy and singable. Nothing wrong with that, I say.

And so I fetched the CD from my room. We all laughed. Especially when EC discovered that the liner notes opened up into (on one side) a small-but-still-poster-sized glamour shot of Canada's idol himself! Later that evening, AG decided we needed Ryan on display. And so there he is: Ryan Malcolm is on my fridge.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A day in the life of this history grad student.

In an attempt to figure out the answer to that age-old question, "Where does the time go?," I decided to do a minute-by-minute log of my day yesterday. And here it is. I haven't done the math yet, but suffice to say that, despite the lack of TV and/or movies and/or going out, I didn't manage to get that much work done. Sigh. But it's not like I was slacking off, either. I mean, a girl's gotta keep up with Go Fug Yourself, right?

11:30am - Alarm clock goes off. Hit "snooze" button.
11:39 - Alarm clock goes off. Listen to last 30 seconds of oboe concerto. Hit "snooze " button.
11:49 - Ditto. Snooze.
11:53 - Get up.
11:55 - Turn on computer. Bathroom, brush teeth.
noon - Check e-mail. Read Gather articles, comment.
12:35pm - Finish checking e-mail. Shower.
12:50 - Out of bathroom. Check e-mail.
12:53 - Start reading P.M.H. Bell's France and Britain 1900-1940.
1:45 - Sandwich time. Check e-mail.
CS calls - 7 minute phone call interrupts lunch.
2:07 - Finished breakfast/lunch. Check e-mail. Think: I can't work. Make tea. Print material for meeting. Check weather online. Get dressed. Apply sunscreen. Talk to FN.
2:45 - Leave house. Think: How does it always take me so long to get ready and leave the house?! Walk to school.
3:00 - CS rides by me on her bike. Think: I should get a bike. Rethink this thought: Toronto drivers.
3:05 - Arrive at meeting (late). Think: Being late is part of my charm, right?
3:50 - Finish meeting. Head to department. Run errands in department. Important stuff.
4:32 - Check e-mail at school.
4:35 - Head off to library to get inter-library loan book
4:45 - Leave library. Return DVDs. See nice dogs. Walk by hardware store (twice). Think (each time): I think I'm forgetting something. Buy 1 banana at fruit/veggie stand. Head home.
5:07 - Walking home. Think: I forgot to buy screws!
5:15 - Arrive at home
5:20 - Turn on computer. Wait for internet connection. Why is it so slow to connect?! Check e-mail. Send e-mail.
5:25 - Get on Yahoo Messenger at HD's insistence.
5:30 - Chatting with HD. Read History News Network articles, Fametracker, and Go Fug Yourself.
6:10 - Finish chatting with H. Change into pyjamas.
6:15 - Check e-mail.
6:20 - Do dishes. Make dinner.
7:07 - Break from making dinner to check e-mail.
7:20 - Eat dinner.
7:45 - Finish dinner. Check e-mail. Read Aussie girl's blog and more HNN stuff.
7:55 - Bathroom. Wash face.
8:00 - Continue reading Bell.
8:40 - Break. Check e-mail. Spend some time organizing/scheduling my life.
9:05 - Start reading again.
10:00 - Short break.
10:03 - Back to reading.
10:50 - Break to brush teeth, floss, make tea. Read stuff on internet. Read Acephalous. Think: I think I understand it today!
11:17 - Start writing this blog entry. Drink tea.
11:30 - Back to reading.
11:55 - Finish Bell. YAY! Check e-mail. Hungry. Eat leftovers.
12:20 - Finish eating and gabbing with FN. Type up some notes from Bell.
Intersperced with more e-mailing---work/school related---and MSNing. Get distracted reading friend's blog, chatting. Think: Must type notes.
12:50 - Finish typing notes. Think: I hate typing notes. Print notes. Think: Remember that time when this laptop crashed and I lost everything? Always back-up and print.
Continuing to chat. Think: Crap. But EC is cool, so it's all good.
1:10 - Start writing blog entry (the one from earlier today). EC has no good suggestions for what it should be about. FN is eating fancy junk-food. Think: I think that's an oxymoron. Whatever: It still tastes good!
1:20 - Finish chatting. Still working on blog entry.
1:30 - Finish blog entry. Post it.
1:45 - Realize I got distracted on Gather. Take a break.
1:52 - Remember I need to write newsletter article on threat of medievalist torture. Do that now.
2:05 - Finish write-up. E-mail editorial team about Thursday meeting.
2:10 - Start reading Herbert Hoover autobiography (volume 1).
2:45 - Break. Check e-mail.
2:55 - Reading.
4:30 - Stop reading. Brush teeth.
4:35 - Turn off light. Attempt to fall asleep.

Preliminary thoughts on what makes a good history book.

First of all, let me be clear: "History," as I use it here, refers to how the past is represented, interpreted, understood, etc. "History," then, is not to be confused with the actual past.

Over the past few months, I've read a lot of history books. Not as much as I should or could have, of course, but still a fair number. So, although I make no claim to expertise, I do have a few opinions about what kind of written history I think is good. And because I'm not feeling up to the challenge, I present my thoughts to you in point-form (which is definitely NOT how I think good history should be written):

- The author should have a clear overall argument which comes through the book. This doesn't mean the reader needs to be beaten over the head with it, but it should be there. The author should make clear subarguments throughout.
- A balance needs to be struck between being circumspect as needed and pointing out areas of continuing uncertainty or debate, and thoughtful, nuanced judgement about the past and its peoples.
- The text should be at least somewhat lively. The past, after all, was moving, entertaining, surprising, etc., but never boring. So historians shouldn't write about it like it was.
- Good, thorough research in primary and/or secondary sources (as appropriate) is key. Some evidence of broader questioning and engagement with bigger disciplinary and other issues is also important.
- The author should have thought---and hopefully told readers---about why (s)he wrote the book. And I don't just mean, "because there was a gap in the literature"---though this is fine as one reason---but the author should have reflected on what really made that topic interesting to him/her and how this influenced the shape of the final product.
- A good acknowledgements section. This is really important. Seriously. This is where authors acknowledge intellectual (if they don't do it elsewhere in the book) and personal debts, and tell readers something about the process of researching and writing the book. Oh, and slightly less important is a nice and/or meaningful cover.

That's it for now. (Too vague? Maybe.)

Tomorrow: A day in the life of a history grad student.

Monday, June 12, 2006

My work/play week.

I suddenly have a whole lot of things to do this week. Crap. But it's good, I guess, to be busy.

1. Monday afternoon: Meeting with my Russian history supervisor. I still have a bunch of books to read for him, but hopefully we can touch base on what I might expect from his exam. That would be helpful (obviously). I've just been going through my notes from a reading course I did with him over a year ago, and found some good stuff. Too bad I didn't take nearly as many notes as I could have. Oh well.

2. Later Monday afternoon: Excursion to Loblaws with FN. Not overly exciting, but necessary. It'll be a nice walk, too, which is always good.

3. Tuesday afternoon: Write-up due for our student society's newsletter. I'm half-done, so that's good. But the editor warns me that I will be subject to cruel and unusual punishment---at the hand of the medievalists---if I don't submit my piece on time. (She suspects they know some nifty toture techniques.)

4. Tuesday night: Dinner and TV with EC and FN. That'll be fun. But not good for my work schedule.

5. Thursday morning: Meeting of the editorial team for the newsletter.

6. Friday afternoon: Meeting with my main supervisor. No problem... except that I still have seven-and-a-half books to read before then. And a few of them are around 1,000 pages long. Yeah. So, I won't read all of those. Still, I predict late-night skimming sessions in my near future.

Other errands include applying for conference funding from my department, making a bunch of photocopies of course evaluation statistics for our student society, and printing out and filing some other stuff for the society. A trip to Kensington will probably be in order later this week. And then add sleeping, eating, chatting with FN time, etc., and I'm gonna be pretty busy. Wish me luck!

Well, now that I've figured out what I need to do, I guess I better get reading!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Alarm-clock SNAFU spoils World Cup plans.

I was supposed to be able to write all about my football adventure today. But, I completely missed the game. Because I was sleeping.

Friends had invited me to go to a pub on Yonge Street to watch England's opening match against Paraguay. The game started at 9am (our time), so we were gonna meet at the pub at 8am to make sure we got seats. Apparently, the game was a big deal, because we had to buy tickets to get in! I had been warned by other, slightly older and yuppie-er friends that this particular pub was a little sketchy, and that I should watch out for the soccer hooligans. And, since I don't really like soccer---I find all the fake writhing and screaming annoying, and totally unsportsmanlike---I wasn't thrilled about getting up that early in the morning. But, I felt like I should go, and that it would be a cultural experience, so I set my alarm clock for 6:30 this morning. Ugh. (I went to bed at 2:30am in preparation for this... and that's pretty early, by my standards.)

The alarm duly went off at 6:30. I hit the snooze button, as usual, to get an extra 9 minutes shut-eye in. So far, so good. But... my alarm didn't go off again 9 minutes later... or ever! In fact, I didn't wake up again until 9:38am, at which point there was really no good reason for getting up, so went back to sleep... only to wake up for real at 2pm. So I missed the game. But it's okay. I like sleep better than football/soccer any day.

Hopefully my friends won't hate me.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Why is the weather always wrong? Or, my realization of being duped.

Most days, I check the weather forecast online. Well, let me rephrase: I check it on most of the days that I actually plan on leaving the house. I do this because I walk almost everywhere, and it's good to know if an umbrella is in order, or what kind of outerwear will be needed/appropriate. Weather services thus potentially perform an important function in my life. I mean, how annoying is it to leave the house and realize that you're way overdressed for the temperature, or to be late leaving the house and wonder whether you should run back in and get your unbrella? All these and other little annoyances are potentially avoided by checking the weather forecast. What a great invention. Looking out of or opening the window can only tell you so much. And, so, I hail: Weather forecasters -- I salute you! Weather websites -- I thank you!

Now that that's over with, let the whining commence. I am very disturbed by the huge number of times that the weather forecast is wrong. Okay, so the websites usually get the temperatures right-ish. But when it comes to rain, they are just so wrong so much of the time. Is there something about living downtown in a big city that messes with weather predictions? Does it just rain a lot more out at the airport (or wherever they base their predictions on) than it does in the urban core? Are suburban lawns getting quenched that much more than the ones around here? Because, seriously, whenever the weather people tell me it's gonna rain, there's a really good chance that it won't. I can't get over this. It's just so bizarre. How can forecasters predict so closely the specific temperature I will experience on any given day, but fail so miserably when it comes to letting all us walkers know if we need fear a downpour?! How many days have I used my big purse-bag thing because my umbrella fits nicely in it, when I could have walked out with a much cuter---and thus less practical---bag instead? How many days have I worn unsophisticated closed-toe shoes instead of a pair of newer sandals because I feared ruining the latter by exposing them to muddy sidewalks? How many days have I lugged around my trench coat and never once felt the need to put it on? Oh, too many.

But I think what really gets me is that on almost all of these supposedly rainy days, I seem to have been the only person around who was persuaded by the forecasters! No one else paid them any heed! My fellow Torontonians apparently saw right through what I now recognize as the forecasters' nefarious attempts to mess with their wardrobe/accessory choices. Almost to a (wo)man, they eschewed umbrellas, embraced tiny bags and cute summer shoes, and resisted the indirect call for them to drape bulky rain coats over their tanned arms. And there I was, the physical embodiment of the Boy Scouts' creed ("Be Prepared"), all uncute and encumbered, the silent target of untold numbers of forecaster practical-jokers. O, to be had in this way! To have fallen prey to their cruel jokes, and only now---in my second summer in this city---to have realized the error of my ways! The shame of it all. And to think two paragraphs earlier I was singing forecasters' praises. Again, I say: The shame of it all.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bagel Shop love and other memories of food.

When I was growing up, I used to walk to a bagel shop and get bagels. The owner would give each child who came in a free bagel. How awesome is that? I'm still in love with those bagels, though I haven't lived in that neighbourhood for a long time. Actually, I don't even live in the same city anymore! And herein lies the problem: not only do I now have to pay for good bagels, but I have to go far away to get them. I have tried other kinds, but no one else seems to get the recipe quite right. (Side note: My friend in Germany tells me that Germans don't eat bagels. How sad for them.)

There are other differences too, methinks, between Ottawa and Toronto. Ottawa, for example, is awash in "chip wagons": van/truck things out of which emerge excellent, thick-cut, deep-fried french fries. And no one thinks you're odd if you order poutine. In Toronto, there really aren't such vehicular beasts. We have "street meat" here---sidewalk stands where you can order a hot dog---and trucks along the university's main street which sell Chinese take-away, but it's just not the same. Pizza in downtown Toronto is also lacking that Ottawa goodness. There's a lot of apparently-tasty thin pizzas with odd (to my capital-city palate) toppings... sometimes with pesto instead of tomato sauce! But the good thick, heavy-topping and cheese-ladden pizza is just not readily available around where I live. It's unfortunate. Last but not least is the lack of good Lebanese food. Ottawa and Montreal are well-served here, but Toronto just doesn't cut it. Falafels, donairs, and shawarmas are everywhere in Ottawa... and I do mean everywhere. In Toronto, instead, sushi places seem to grace every street corner. Don't get me wrong: sushi is good. But can a place ever really feel like home if bagels, pizza, chip wagon chips, and shawarmas are so hard to find? Toronto, I want to love you, but you make it hard sometimes.

Maybe I just need to let go of my O.dot upbringing, and learn to embrace big-city eats. I'm open to suggestions....

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Yes, I'm still reading.

In response to HD's query... since I seem, judging from my posts, not to be reading. I had a meeting with my main supervisor today, so that one hour totally counts as "work." And after that, I talked with people from my department about preparations for next year, and our student society's projects for this summer. That counts as "work" too, in my books. But then I watched "Good Night and Good Luck," which I can't really claim is part of my formal education, though any historical film is sort of relevant, so that's okay. I've got a couple things I need to do over the next couple days which puts my reading on hold, but, again, they aren't totally unrelated. Some of my colleagues would say I really should be concentrating on preparing for my exams, which, after all, are in a month and a half---if you know the process, that isn't very far into the future. Distractions are perfectly fine in my books, though. (Notice my use of the phrase "in my books" for the second time, which was totally unintentional? I think it's my subconscious reminding me I should be reading books.)

Despite my sojourns into non-reading territory, I am still making progress. Slowly. I figure (though I haven't actually done the math recently) that I need to "read" 60 books between now and the end of July. This is doable.

As I get closer to the exams, I realize more and more that I have actually taken in a lot of information over the last several months. Not nearly as much as I think I should have, but still. As long as I'm smart about preparing for the actual exams (making outlines for answers to possible essay questions, for example, and making sure to organize my thoughts on specific topics beforehand), then the fact that I haven't actually read all 200 of the books on my lists shouldn't matter. Which means I can take time off to chat with FN, HD, etc., watch movies, go to concerts, read the news, stay involved in departmental goings-on, and write blog entries without feeling guilty about it. As long as I'm still reading.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bizarreness and whimsy.

Watching "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" reminds me how I used to love Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. That pair: genius. My other favourite genius pairing of the moment is, of course, Tim Burton and Danny Elfman. And then there's the indispensable Johnny Depp. Fametracker deems him more important than chocolate... and hey, who am I to disagree? I was turned off Depp after seeing his interview on "Inside the Actors Studio." He starts to talk about his then-new baby, and just at that moment decides to light up a cigarette and smoke it... on stage, inside the studio, with all those people in the audience, and James Lipton sitting right across from him. It was bad enough that he was smoking, but I thought his timing was especially disgusting. Dude, what were you thinking? But now back to Dahl.

I can still recite the first few lines of Dahl's version of Cinderella from Revolting Rhymes. ("I guess you think you know this story....") That book is so funny. The drawings are fantastic. Whimsy is such an important quality. Burton and Elfman have it too.

So, I think I'm back to liking Johnny Depp. He is so wierd, but so good at what he does. His Willy Wonka was perfectly odd. And now I have to go back and watch all those movies I refused to watch during my Depp-boycotting days. And I think I need to rediscover Helena Bonham Carter, because she's freakily bizarre too, but in a good way. So much more interesting than cookie-cutter celebrities. We should all be caricatures of ourselves, don't you think?


(4 June 2006)

Today I went to a concert called MassBrass. It was in a beautiful church, St. Anne's Anglican, apparently known at the "Group of Seven" church. The concert was AMAZING. I'd actually seen some of the performers a few days earlier, at another concert (called Heavy Metal) part of the same festival, the Toronto Fanfare Project (see the Soundstreams website). The featured group was the Stockholm Chamber Brass, a brass (duh) quintet, and other performers included the True North Brass, Stuart Laughton of the Canadian Brass, and Gary Peterson, another trumpeter. They are fabulous. The concert ended with the world premiere performance of a specially-commissioned R. Murray Schafer piece for all 15 brass musicians plus percussion. Oh, it was so good. I can't get over the incredibleness of that last piece, as well as the skill and musicality of these people. The Schafer piece was especially thrilling because the players moved around the church while they played. It was such an interesting sound experience. I totally recommend new classical music. And I can't say enough good things about the Stockholm Chamber Brass. What an amazing ensemble. Today's concert was filmed, so perhaps I'll get to see it on TV one day.

The first concert (Heavy Metal) that I saw was amazing too, but in a different way. SCB was the featured group there, too, and of course it was an almost all-brass concert, but the venue was much smaller, and the concert was more informal than today's massive undertaking. Before experiencing the Schafer piece, I was thinking that I liked the first concert better. Because in that one, there was more interaction between the players and the audience, in that a few musicians and conductors addressed the audience, telling us a little about the music they were playing, and the composers who wrote the pieces. I think this is the best kind of concert, where the people on stage are not just musicians, but have speaking voices too. I wish there was more classical music in bigger venues that was like this.

I can't wait for my next injection of culture! Toronto is such a great city for this kind of stuff, especially in the summer.

Today I did a survey.

(3 June 2006)

Yes, I am a sucker. When I answer the phone, and the caller doesn't speak right away, I usually just hang up. Because I don't wanna speak to telemarketers. Actually, a few weeks ago I was getting around 6 phone calls a day from telemarketers. So I turned off my ringer for a few days. (One of those days happened to be a day when people I actually knew called to talk to me. Which happens, like, never. So, there would be silence, and then I'd hear my own voice on my answering machine---because I have an actual machine, and not that Bell service that costs $7 a month---and it was bizarre. But the cool thing about answering machines is that you can pick up and talk to the person leaving the message. Totally useful for screening calls without paying for Caller ID, which I won't do.)

Anways, right, I'm a sucker. Also, I'm gullible. Sometimes. So, today, the phone rang, and I was feeling nice, or something, so I didn't hang up right away. (Maybe my reflexes were just slow, or perhaps I was secretly hoping it was a friend calling. Alas.) It was a woman who wanted me to do a survey. First, she asked if there was a male over the age of 18 in the household. I said no, relieved that I was seemingly off the hook. But, alas (again), apparently women over the age of 18 were good enough to be second-choice.

I asked what the survey was for, who paid for it, etc. She said she didn't know, or perhaps she was told not to tell me. It was all about a potential bank merger in Canada. And some questions about the current government. Oh, I forgot to mention: I HATE SURVEYS. They are ridiculous. Let me explain with examples. The woman asked me how much I agreed or disagreed with certain statements ("Some people might argue that...."). One was, "A bank merger will mean the closure of some bank branches." Well, this could be true. But how can I know anything about it?! And so many of the questions were like this, asking my opinion on things I couldn't possibly really have an opinion about! It was so vague that it was completely useless. Should Canadian banks have a larger international presence? Will this be good for the Canadian economy? Will it make it more difficult for small business owners to get loans in Canada? Uh, how the hell do I know! Show me the details of any arrangement, let's have a discussion about it, and then maybe we can have a few opinions. But even then, I can't predict the future, and neither can anyone else. Grrr. Surveys.

What is the point of a survey, then? I guess one can compare answers of different people. But that only tells you about the differences between people. I seriously doubt any survey of this nature could truly predict what public reaction would be to a potential bank merger in Canada. So the point of it must be so that someone (the banks? the government?) can claim to have gauged the public sentiment. Democracy, you know. But this is pure hogwash. Sigh.

But, then again, maybe the results of these kinds of surveys really do have some influence on policy, be it corporate, political, whatever. Because maybe the people paying for and seeing the results of the survey do take it somewhat seriously. (I can't see why, but maybe they are genuinely trying to figure out what people think. See, I'm also naive, or perhaps it's just my youthful/eternal optimism. Or just plain dumbness.) If the results are taken seriously, then isn't it better that people like me take the time to participate? Better me than someone else, right? Someone who forms opinions based on hardly any information, which I try to avoid doing. Usually.

Will I ever consent to do another survey again?