The Lost Aran Sweater

(Note:  This post was originally titled “The Lost Arran Sweater” – Arran with two ‘r’s. I have recently learned that Aran sweaters are not from Arran, Scotland, but are from Aran, Ireland. This might explain why I had so much trouble finding a nice “Arran” sweater in Scotland! I have updated this post to use the correct spelling.)

Frank’s retro-travelog (European Memoirs) has me thinking about some of my own trips from days long past. Perhaps because of that, I found myself digging around in a box of old negatives last Sunday. I happened upon a negative of the only known photograph of me wearing the famous Aran sweater that I blogged about back in August of 2001. (What, you don’t remember? Here, refresh…)

It’s a self-portrait taken in the bedroom of an inn, about a week after I bought the sweater. I’m not sure why I took this photo, although I was fascinated by the various rooms I took during the two months of that journey. I wish now that I had photographed myself in each one of them.

Me and my famous green Arran sweater

The photograph is remarkable for a number of reasons. First of all, I look so young! I suppose that makes sense, given that it was 1993 – 13 years ago, almost to the day. It’s also remarkable in that, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s the only photo I have of me in that mythical sweater; my only proof that it was real. Yet for some reason I’ve never made a print of it.

I so loved that sweater, and not just because it reminded me of the Scottish lass from which I bought it. Rather, I’d been searching for the perfect Aran sweater for over a week – which you wouldn’t think would be difficult in Scotland. But this was the only one I really liked, and it came with a crush and a story. Plus, I think it fit me rather nicely.

You’ll have to read that post from 2001 to find out what happened to the sweater. While doing so, you’ll notice that back then I had a fondness for using bold to emphasize things, perhaps a bit too much.

During my trip through the negatives I also found a night shot of the harbour at Cassis, a few kilometres east of Marseilles, in the south of France. It too is a negative that I have never printed. It is relevant to this story of a story, however, in that when I took this photo I did not yet know that I would never see the Aran sweater again, that Cassis would be the place where the sweater and I parted.

Cassis, near Marseille, France

I like to think that somewhere, in or around Cassis, someone is still wearing that sweater. Perhaps it’s the son of a maid who worked at the hotel where I left it. Or perhaps the maid herself. It was a sturdy and well-made sweater, so it could easily last 13 years – especially in the south of France, where the sweater-wearing season is rather short.

Lethargy, Clowns, and the Pope

Saturday. It’s been grey and rainy all day. I slept in until 10:00 AM, and didn’t really open my eyes until noon. Then I plopped myself on the sofa to read The Walrus, and promptly fell asleep. Or, to be precise, fell into a three-quarters asleep stupor until mid-afternoon.

To wake myself up, I scanned through the list of recorded TV shows on our Illico DVR to find something stimulating. I settled on the documentary Rendezvous with Death: JFK and the Cuban Connection. Far from another half-baked conspiracy theory, this documentary asserts – quite convincingly – that JFK’s assasination was essentially a counter-assassination act by Cuba, taken on when (a) the Cuban Secret Service realized that JFK and his brother Robert were behind all those recent failed assassination attempts against Castro, and (b) some guy named Lee Harvey Oswald (on referral from the KGB) essentially volunteered to take care of the problem.

OK, that kept me awake. There’s nothing like seeing video of people like former general and Regan Secretary of State Alexander Haig saying (and I’m paraphrasing) “We knew it was a Cuban job within 24 hours of the event, but for political reasons L.B. Johnson squashed the investigation and rubber-stamped the ‘Oswald-as-lone-gunner’ theory.” Haig says that Johnson feared a massive right-wing uprising in the U.S. if it got out that Cuba was behind the assassination, and as a result the Democrats would lose power for two generations.

OK, so now I know who killed Kennedy, and why, so the day was not a complete write-off.

Around 5:00 PM, I took a shower and finally got dressed. Martine was close to finishing up her second-last day’s work on her book project, so we were thinking maybe we’d go to dinner and a movie. Or maybe not.

“Not” won.

OK, let’s see what’s in the fridge. Some ravioli. A jar of canned cherry tomatoes left over from a recent meal. A few cheeses, some vegetables, and many little jars of this and that. Ravioli it is.

Normally I do ravioli “in brodo” with spinach, but we have no spinach and I felt like going the comfort-food (read: tomato sauce) route. So I sweated some shallots and garlic in a pan, deglazed with a bit of white wine, and tossed in the jar of tomatoes. I also tossed in some reconstituted and chopped up sun-dried tomatoes for texture and depth, and a bit of basil and oregano. Bubble-bubble…

As the ravioli boiled in another pot, I popped open a bottle of wine – one that Martine and I brought back from Italy in May. A 2001 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Sante Lancerio that we bought because it has a picture of a goofy-looking midaeval guy on the label.

I stirred some finely-grated pecorino cheese into the tomato sauce, then a bit of cream. By then the ravioli was done, so I drained it and added it to the tomato sauce along with a few grinds of pepper. I divided it into two deep plates, sprinkled some more pecorino on it, and rang the dinner bell.

Oh my. The ravioli was quite nice, but the wine was outstanding. Definitely one of the best we’ve had this year. I took a close look at the label and noticed that it says “Bottigliere di Papa Paolo III” in fine print. Now if ever a bottle of wine were to prompt a Google search, that would be it.

pope wine!

Brief investigation revealed that this is a Sienese wine from San Gimignano, and that Sante Lancerio was a wine expert and cellar master to Pope Paul III. Apparently, Santo Lancerio is the guy who convinced his Papal patron that wines from Montepulciano were rather tasty, indeed “most perfect, fit for gentlemen,” ensuring top-knotch product placement for the next 400 or so years.

He was, however, correct about the wine. But I’ll update his endorsement and say that it’s also rather fit for ladies too. Not to mention tarts and scoundrels. The wine is described here as:

Ruby red with bright garnet hues; very fine, deep, complex bouquet with strong taste of prune, cloves and cinnamon and hints of violet and iris; dry, savoury, attractively tannic, full flavour with a lingering aftertaste of plum jam and toasted almonds.

That’s nice. But here’s an even better description:

Dark garnet in color, this Tuscan blend shows sharp, pleasant tar and smoke surrounding black fruit and pronounced floral scents in a complex aroma. Full, tart black-fruit flavors and zippy acidity make for an appealing if oddball wine that makes me crack, “it’s like a Chianti wearing a clown suit.”

Perfect. After a lazy, almost surreal, day, followed by a comfortable dinner, we enjoyed a wine that was wearing a clown suit. That’s my kind of Saturday.

We have one more bottle of that wine downstairs, which we’re saving for a rainy day when Elvis shows up in a UFO. Unfortunately, that’s the end of the line for a while, as the wine is retailed neither here in Quebec nor in nearby Ontario. I guess we’ll just have to go back to Italy.

Gun Control in the Wake of Dawson College

They’re debating the gun registry in the Canadian Parliament today. Those who oppose the gun registry say the shootings at Dawson College last week are proof that the gun registry is not working. The Conservatives, in particular, claim this. They want to replace the gun registry with tougher penalties for gun-related crimes.

Without getting into a long rant (although you know I want to) here are a few abbreviated points to consider if you happen to be among those who fall for those simplistic assertions:

Argument: The shootings at Dawson College are proof that the gun registry is not working.

Rebuttal: The problem with that analysis is that it depends entirely on knowledge of what is (or was) and not on what might have been. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know what crimes were prevented by the existence of the gun registry because they didn’t happen. This is where faith and a bit of logic steps in: if you make guns harder to get, then there will be fewer guns in circulation, and fewer unstable people with guns.

The key there is fewer, not none. No one in their right mind expects any sort of gun control to completely eliminate all gun crime. The objective of gun control is to reduce the risk.

I’m sure there is a large cast of marginal, angry, half-crazy, depressed, and maniacal characters out there who tried to get a gun and couldn’t. Imagine what it would be like if it were easy for them. Unfortunately, a few such people still can get a gun here in Canada, despite the gun control laws, but it is (or should be) indisputeable that the risk is reduced with those controls in place.

Argument: Tougher penalties for gun crimes will deter people from committing crimes with guns.

Rebuttal: Yes, it most likely would deter some people from committing lesser crimes with guns. For example, instead of holding up a gas station with a gun, they will use a knife, or a baseball bat.

However, tougher gun penalties would have had no effect on the guy who shot up Dawson College last week, killing one and seriously wounding more than a dozen. He was most likely mentally ill, and was suicidal. He wouldn’t have cared in the least what the penalty was.

Nor would it have deterred the guy who shot up the École Polytechnique in 1989, killing 14 and seriously wounding 13. (Note I am not using the killers’ names – these guys have gotten too much publicity already.) He too was suicidal and would not have given a tinker’s damn about the penalty. Arguably, the same could be said about the professor at Concordia who shot that place up in 1994, killing four colleagues. Although he was not known to be suicidal, he was dillusional and felt justified in his acts. A tough penalty wouldn’t have stopped him.

I’m not opposed to tough penalties for gun crimes; in fact I kind of like the idea. But that’s a reactive solution. It should be linked with efforts to prevent those crimes from happening in the first place, which means, among other things, making it harder to obtain guns.

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Dawson College Shootings

Note: this post does not contain any new information about the shootings at Dawson College today. If you’re looking for news or eye-witness reports, you should look elsewhere. Like here, for example.

As I was eating my lunch, I heard a lot of sirens outside on Boul. de Maisonneuve (I work at de Maisonneuve and McGill-College, almost two kilometres from Dawson). Sirens are not unusual at that busy address, but this seemed different. For five solid minutes it was one siren after another. I finished eating and decided to go out and see what was going on.

I went down to the street and a police car immediately zoomed past heading west on de Maisonneuve, so that’s the direction I walked. A couple of minutes later an ambulance went by, then another, then a fire truck. I could see they were going farther than rue Guy, but because of the bend in the street I couldn’t see just how far.

A few minutes later I was getting close to rue Guy, and by then I noticed there were a lot of people walking the other way – coming towards me – and almost every one of them was talking on their mobile phone. I caught bits of talk; “Oh my God!” “What?” and the most chilling, “At least you’re alive.”

A couple of blocks later, near rue St. Marc, I saw three cars stopped on de Maisonneuve. One was just stalled in the middle of the road, another had been rear-ended, and a third had a crumpled front and had been pushed half way onto the sidewalk with its rear flank bent against a parking meter. Broken headlight lenses were all over the street. But there were no people there, and no police. An abandonned traffic accident. Everyone was walking east, away from the scene, a few of them running, almost all talking on the phone.

I got closer. At Lambert-Closse (a block from Atwater), de Maisonneuve was blocked by cop cars and police tape. I was able to get half-way to Atwater, and could see that the corner was full of police and ambulances. Every few minutes there would be a flurry of activity and cops would run here or there. Mostly it was just people streaming away from the scene, some in tears, as well as a few lingerers looking beyond the police tape.

The scene near Dawson College today around 1:30 PM

By then I had overheard exactly what had happened. It was about 1:15 p.m., some 30 minutes after the shooting had started. (Some reports say the shooting lasted for 20-30 minutes, and at least one witness claimed there was shooting right up until 3:00 p.m.)

It was a strange place to be. A cluster of gawkers around a bunch of emergency vehicles is not unusual – it happens whenever a big fire breaks out. But this was different. There were notebooks, textbooks, and other student paraphenalia scattered about. It was only later, when I realized how much ground the shooter had covered, that I realized the stuff had been dropped by people fleeing the scene during the first few minutes of chaos. Basically that means I was standing a matter of feet from where the shooting had started. What shook me, however, was when I noticed I could still smell cordite (gunpower). That’s when it really sunk in that this was more than just some nut taking a few pot-shots.

After a few minutes I turned and walked back to work. It was a long, strange walk, filled with overheard snippets of conversations. “It was like… bang! Bang!” “I’m so glad you’re OK!” “I can’t get through to my Mom…” Some people still had no idea what was going on. Others wore glassy-eyed, almost frantic expressions. Most simply looked stern and clench-jawed.