July 3, 2008

No, that's *my* Winnipeg

"I don't think i've ever met anyone from Manitoba"

This is the response by a professor at a a school of information when i was asked recently where i was from (after identifying the accent as "not british"). "That's not surprising" i replied "as a rule we don't get out much"

I've just learned that famous winnipeger and film maker Guy Maddin has a film out called My Winnipeg that is being celebrated as seriously weird and wonderful, full of his usual cabinet of dr. caligary meets woody allen.

Somehow, i think it would be ironic or just wrong to see this film in a theater outside of the beating heart of the center of canada - the place where, because of its urban culture but magnificent isolation, MacDonald's love to test its new ideas (anyone remember "macribs"? thought not).

So i must go home, now, and seek out a room projecting this film, a room filmed with others who grew up on weather identical to siberia (Maddin created a film called Archangel, afterall, situated in just as weird, no doubt, version of this Russian port town). I must go to a place where that room of people will swell with pride and recognition at a filmmaker finally putting the name of our starting point on the cultural landscape. People will ask "is that what winnipeg is really like?" and i'll say "oh yes" without seeing the film and with seeing the film. Oh yes.

No more to live in the shadow of Grand Forks as posted on the Nuclear Weapons map of War Games - most of the people in the US would not have known or visited Grand Forks - but winnipegers do. It's not only a missile silo: it's home of great cross border shopping. Before Free Trade.

No more to live in the shadow of Fargo - where that opening shot of that pontiac across the blizzarding highway, or the scraping of windows in the lonely parking lot is so well known it's in the bones. Oh no, now, we step out into the Main Attraction. A very weird main attraction, i bet. But there it is. There is no Paris/France, Paris/Texas. No multiple Springfields. No many Yorks. There can be only one Winnipeg. So there Fargo!

You go, guy maddin! Let's hear them say "winnipeg" at the oscars, eh?

Posted by mc at 10:05 PM

June 27, 2008

Laurie Anderson on the Star Spangled Banner

Thank heavens for youtube.

The work of the artist is to make us see the familiar afresh - to defamiliarize and thus cause us to look anew at the thing conceptualized.

In the late 80's or early 90's (they blur), Laurie Anderson did a series of "public service announcements" from Women and Money to Jerry Rigging. One of these was about the Star Spangled Banner - the US of A's National Anthem. I had certainly never thought of the song this way - as she puts it - just a series of questions: heh, is that a fire? couldn't really say, it's early in the morning...

And that's it really: a nation's anthem is about someone noticing a place going to hell during a fire and a flag waving away. So important - no matter what. The brand label survives. X marks the spot. Let X, knock knock, equal X.

anyway, here it is:

Posted by mc at 12:12 PM

April 4, 2006

So, how long you here for?

It never fails: get into a cab anywhere in the UK, and within minutes, i'll be asked "so, how long are you here for?" There are variations, "Are you traveling or on business?" - then the delicate probing to discover whether the accent originates from the US or Canada. This is followed by either "i have family in Canada" or "what part of Canada are you from?" - never mind that either (a) the person has never been there and so has no knowledge of what being from any region means or (b) their knowledge of the country is that they have relatives invariably either in Vancouver or Toronto. "They wanted me to come out there too, but...."

The surprise is the automatic assumption that if one has a north american accent, then that person is either a tourist or just in the UK on business. Even within a work context, i regularly get asked first if i am working over here and then "how long have you been here?" For a Canadian who's grown up around a sea of voices, such questions have never occurred to me to ask. But in the UK it seems it's the opposite. The assumption is first and foremost that you're visiting at most, and that if you're working here, it's just a quickie.

Is it so shocking to the UK psyche that someone from the New World/colonies would move to the old country?

In Canada, you're surrounded by accents, not the least of which is English of some sort. I've spoken with many many canadians about this: not once have any of us, on hearing a non-local accent EVER asked "so, how long are you visiting for?"

It's not that there's an assumption that the person either lives here (in Canada, say) or not. It's simply that to question someone about their locality would not occur as a question.

I was in yet another taxi awhile ago, and asked by the driver (a) where i was from and (b) how i liked it in the UK. When i asked her if she liked it in the UK, the reply was she hated it and wanted to leave. This is not the first time i've heard such admissions about wanting to get out.

I can't lay hands on it now, but there was a survey a couple years ago about Brits feelings about their home and native land - and nigh on 50% of them wanted to leave. Increasing numbers who can afford to are retiring to Spain and such warmer Euro climes - to the point where the local communities are getting quite miffed at the adamantly english invasion and lack of sensitivity to local cultures/languages.

Having only been here a few years now, i could only speculate about this angst to get out, whether these folks have ever been out or not, but it goes some ways to explaining the seeming mental hurdle that UK nationals seem unable to overcome when faced with a North American accent - a perspective that can't believe anyone who could chose to be elsewhere would be here.

Posted by mc at 9:51 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2006

The UK's Royal Mail - what an amazing thing

The US still has mail on saturdays. Canada dropped saturday mail decades ago. In Canada it can take a week for a piece of post mailed from an address in Toronto to reach another address in Toronto. It recently took five weeks for an air mail envelop (light - contained a scarf a cousin had knitted for christmas) to arrive from california to the UK. "Typical" was the only reply.

In the UK, you can order a parcel from Scotland on Monday, and it will be with you in England by tea time on Tuesday.

To a Canadian, such postal service is just this side of miraculous; it's this kind of service that makes internet shopping something equally magical: order something from electronic scales to sneakers at a UK internet shop and it's there the next day - two days at the most - and at a savings from buying "on the high street." And there it is: brought right to your door. For those who are not keen on the hurly burly of heading into stores (the get in and get out types) this kind of shopping service is heaven sent.

And really, in the UK, there is an online store for everything. A colleague was telling me about a place that just sold hassocks. Another, that i wrote about earlier, just does light bulbs.

I thought perhaps this kind of internet service was a global phenom. It isn't.

i wanted to get a pal in the US a gift, so was looking to order something from a US online shop to be delivered to him - in the US: it would take 3-5 days to process the order and then another week for delivery of the goods. A ten day to two week process. The business processing the order was one part of the hold up; speed of the post is another.

Now maybe it's just that the UK has hit the sweet spot between geography and population density, such that it can move mail with such alacrity. After all despite Canada's land mass is three times the size of the US (the UK would likely fit inside the province of Alberta) it has a low population (about 33mil) compared to either the US (295mil) or the UK (60mil). Too few people to form a chain to pass the mail from one end of the country to the other?? And in the US? Just too many places for mail to get to, to be delivered efficiently? Dunno.

There's a lot of problems with services in the UK, as there seem to be in any country. Ask someone about trying to get an NHS dentist in the UK; where the concept of a semi-private room in a hospital is a complete non-starter (wards - just multibed wards here. does canada have wards in hospitals outside of Intensive Care Units?).

But when it comes to the mail, and what an efficient mail service enables for local trade, it seems quite untouched. I don't know what the rest of Europe is like, but compared to North America, the Royal Mail is a wonder.

Posted by mc at 10:12 AM

January 4, 2006

brilliant vs excellent - canadian and british parallelisms and cultural dissonances

In Canada, where i hail from, the term "brilliant" is gnerally reserved for truly outstandingly genius-like demonstrations of talent, intelligence, wit - whatever. It's not a term you hear often. If someone says "that was brilliant" or "she is brilliant" it's pretty much the highest degree complement with respect to intelligence or excellence one can achieve.

Not so in Britain (not prepared to generalize to the UK yet...).

In Britain, everything and anything can be "brilliant." Brilliant seems to be used in a way very similarly to the way "excellent" is used in most parts of North America. The one difference between the interchangeability of brilliant/excellent is the rather ironic way that brilliant can be used in the uk to indicate its opposite: you'll hear "oh that's just brilliant, isn't it" when something's really "a complete cock up" (to use another great brit'ism).

You'd rarely find a Canadian saying "oh that's just excellent" when it's a disaster. "That's just great...just great" is more common when going for reversal.

So if you're in the UK and someone says something you've done is "brilliant" - it's still a compliment, but it's just not as hot as you think were that epithet to be used back home. Alas.

Another expression that seems to have no Canadian equivalent is "bless 'em" or "lord bless 'em" or more simply "bless"

It's been harder to get a handle on when and how this particular expression gets used, but it seems to have something to do with covering one's ass after offering a critique of a person. Someone might say something to the effect of "he's not the sharpest tool in the shed" and follow this immediately with "bless him." The desired effect of the apostrophe "bless him" seems to be to mitigate the perceived harshness of the critique - so much to say "doesn't mean i don't like him or that he's not in other ways a nice person, no doubt."

The above interpretation is just deduction on my part based on the contexts of hearing the expression, and also the cultural context of observing the british reluctance (relative to canadians) of saying anything critical of anyone or anything.

This could well lead into an observation on canadian/british behaviour rather than word usage, but it's interesting to see how the two might be related.

It's just these small kinds of differences between english word usage that is part of the culture shock a person coming from Canada experiences when hitting the UK: the word differences become clues to deeper cultural differences that are more challenging to decode, because it's not a case of equivalences like "biscuit" in britain means "cookie" in Canada; it's a case of differences where there aren't parallels between the two places. So it sounds the same, but it isn't the same.

Even being in Britain for a few years now, i don't know how to interpret all the differences, but am better at recognizing them, and the recognition at least allows more comfort; less disorientation. I'll have to think of some examples anon.

Who'd a thunk it, eh? that two such supposedly historically close nations would have these, what would you call them, gaps in connection? I'm not sure what it's like for Brits going the other way, from here to Canada, if there's the same sort of sense of slight twilight zone off set. I have the impression of Canadians being so exposed, our heart, thoughts, everything on our sleeves, without being boisterous about it, that there'd be no difficulty getting a read on Canadian customs, practices and rationales for same. huh.

Mind you, try asking a Westerner why a Quebec'er may be a "separatist" and you'll soon see that we're not always so clear about our own culture(s), either...bless us.

Posted by mc at 1:37 PM

March 20, 2005

So i go down to the lobby
...and Jane Siberry's left the building.

Jane Siberry, a canadian singer/songwriter of whom kd lang once remarked that she ought to be as famous as she was/is, is taking yet another new turn within the music business.47118749476464 0Vidcollect

In an interesting move 9 years ago this May, Siberry parted with both record company Warner and then manager Bob Bloomer (now a TV Chef in the States. Stranger things can happen), and starter up her own web-based record company, Sheeba.ca.

And now, turing 50 herself, she's closing its doors.

And i' celebrated the cycle with a sale of rare and special things.

Mien Bitte: Several years ago, at the mid point in the Sheeba cycle, i was meeting with Jane each Saturday for months and months to work on the web site with her. This was before it hit its php phase and just when it was verging into frames.

Included in the refit was a desire to start digitizing audio tracks for the web site (this is how sound edit pro works...this is how to make an mp3...remember not to muse aloud about issues with goLive tags) to promote her upcoming release of traditional and not so traditional songs (became known as "HUSH"), and potentially to get video excerpts up from the various music vids Jane now had for sale.

I was given videos to digitize and could keep them for my efforts (the whole web tutor/cleanup thing was voluntary: help support independent canadian artists one html tag at a time).

These vids, from Janes hands to mine, are the ones of which i'm now, in Jane's parleance, "letting go." To be had for a song. Almost literally.

If you're a Jane fan, or know someone who is, you can give them something even they mayn't have.

Of the videos, there's the 11 minute film "the Bird in the Gravel," from the Walking. Rare is not the word.

the siberry-directed videos in support of "When i was a boy," on the compilation Boy Collect One. There's the Video Collection 84-89 including Mimi on the Beach, the 9min video that started it all (did i mention these are all out of print?). There's also the documentary I Muse Aloud from the Speckless Sky tour. It's great to see the live performances. Her musicians were exceptional. Anne Bourne, Rebecca Jenkins, Ken Myer, to name a few. This is an award winning live music documentary.

Then there's a special Advance Release Copy of Jane's collection of older tunes, HUSH. It was right around this time that i was getting emails about how best to rip and send a new dub of Calling All Angels because the producers of Kevin Spacey's new film, Pay it Forward, were interested in using it for the film. This would be an all-siberry version, not the duet with lang.

Anyway, the advance cds were to help raise money via the sheeba site to help cover costs of recording the album.

Each of these items sat in Jane's basement office in TO, and went from her hands to mine. And now i'd like to put them into the hands of others who would enjoy watching the vids of some of the best written, best delivered (Canadian) songs ever.

kd lang's recent Songs of the 49th parallel does two of Jane's pieces. That's high praise to be in the company of songwriters like Cohen and Cockburn. But you know, if that's the only way you've heard a Siberry tune, you owe it to yourself to hear the originals.

As you can see, it's pretty cheap to do just that (update: all gone now, 4 to the UK, one to Germany. Surprisingly, nothing to Canada. Ah well, burn little candle out into the world...)

ebay screenshot of jane sale

Posted by mc at 12:17 PM

March 18, 2005

Constantine: Keanu's got a Whole New Bag - almost - and it looks good

ConstantineWell, it's worth it. Worth seeing, worth enjoying. The dark side in cynical stride. Lucifer getting the finger, a satanically possessed Lynda Blair clone getting punched in mush when talking trash rather than sprinkled with holy water, all by a chain-smoking guy just trying to get to heaven. Keanu Reeves has found his metier.

Few lines, terse rejoinders, skinny black ties. It's a wonderful follow up to the Matrix. The 1999 Matrix that is. Here, Reeve's character is self-possessed without being prepossessed (or in the context of the film, possessed).

Maybe it's a reach, but Reeve's black clad hero/anti-hero is not unlike Clint Eastwood's from his spaghetti westerns to his Unforgiven gritty ex-assassin. And look what's happened to Eastwood, how many oscars later? Could the same be in the future for Reeves?


Why not? the quiet Canadian has had a most excellent career, moving from the comic Bill and Ted to the intensity of My Own Private Idaho, to the genre making Matrix. And now Constantine. The successes help make one forget the uncomfortable casting of Little Bhuda, Dracula (and that awful accent) or Much Ado. He somehow inhabits the unreal in film more effectively, more believably than the real. Why is that?

Which is what reminds me of Eastwood, in all his loner guises. More presence with fewer lines. Compelling to watch. Humourous touches (touchees) around the edges (Reeve's delivery of "I know Kung Fu", for instance, in the Matrix; Eastwood's high fiving a chimp in Every Which Way but Loose).

In any event, Constantine is worth seeing. If you want to know more about the film, Andrew O'Hehir has a great review of the film in Salon.

Posted by mc at 6:45 PM | Comments (0)

February 28, 2005

the beginning of the long dash

How do you tell a Canadian from an American? Accents may be deceptive but just
ask them to complete the following sentence: the beginning of the long dash...

This is a phrase that has been part of the canadian lexicon, the canadian psyche, perhaps, since the thirties. It is repeated daily on the national radio service (CBC, radio 1) daily, at 12:59pm eastern. It is the most pervasive and persistent demonstration of the work of research, and the National Research Council. It potentially does more for national unity than the railway once did - in its quiet, semaphoric way.

Sharon Theesen, in the late 80's wrote a collection of poems entitled the beginning of the long dash. it should have won the governor general's medal that year (it was nominated) for the title alone. it strikes a chord.

There's something particular about an event that happens everywhere at the same time each day in such a vast country, its people spread so far apart, as a nation synchronizes watches to the following (any canadians out there, feel free to chant along...)

Now for the National Research Council Official Time Signal. The beginning of the long dash, following ten seconds of silence, indicates exactly one o'clock" (EST).

peep peep peep peep peep &nbsp&nbsp &nbsp&nbsp &nbsp&nbsp &nbsp&nbsp


Are there culturally identifying nation-based events like this where you are?

Posted by mc at 9:54 PM | Comments (0)