Generosity

Browsing through some Airbnb listings for L.A. and I saw this in the photos for a nice looking place in the west end:

How generous! Two Buck Chuck and a bag of chips!

A little welcome gift for renters. Except anyone familiar with California will immediately recognize that wine as Charles Shaw, also known as “Two Buck Chuck” because it literally costs two bucks at Trader Joe’s.1|2

Oh, and a bag of Lay’s potato chips. Single serving.

You don’t need a PhD in semiotics3 to get the meaning here: “We’re friendly, we’re happy to rent our space to you, but we’re as cheap as fu*k.” I wonder if they even bother to launder the linens.4


1Sadly, in 2013 I saw that Two Buck Chuck had gone up to $2.50.

2Although only $2.50, it is surprisingly drinkable for the price. I’d rate it about equal to any random $11 wine from the SAQ, or a top-ender from a depanneur. In other words, it won’t make you gag, and if you open it as your third bottle of the night nobody will notice.

3If I ever become a billionaire I will donate money to whatever university will create a chair in “full-otics.” I fully blame government underfunding for the proliferation of semiotics classes and the dearth of 100% otics.

4BTW, today is the ninth anniversary of the death of David Foster Wallace.

My Periods

I recently posted a series of photographs on Instagram and Facebook. They were all pictures of me — some self-portraits and some taken by other people — from 1979 to 2000. I called them “retroselfies” and categorized each as being from a certain “period” of my life. I posted one a day for about two weeks.

I’m reposting the images here, on the Blork Blog, as an act of reclamation of ownership, since I don’t feel like I fully own what I post in the walled gardens of Zuckerberg.

So here, for my own sense of reclamation, and for the two or three of you who are not using Instagram and Facebook, is the series of photographs I call “My Periods” (hashtag #retroselfie).

My Periods (1979-2000)

(Not in chronological order.)

Me, in my centrefold period. (Corner Brook, Newfoundland. 1979.)

Corner Brooke, Newfoundland

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Me, in my radio period. (St. Francis Xavier University, 1986.)

Antigonish, Nova Scotia

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Me, in my “dark and stormy night” period. (Montreal, 1988.)

Montreal, Quebec

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Me, in my top-hat period. (Nova Scotia, 1980.)

Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Me, in my folk period. (University College of Cape Breton, 1982.)

Sydney, Nova Scotia

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Me, in my Hemingway period. (Montreal, 1990.)

Montreal, Quebec

(It was suggested in the comments that this was more “Corey Hart” than “Hemingway.”)

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Me, in my “Into the Wild” period. (Nova Scotia, 1984.)

Antigonish Landing, Nova Scotia

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Me, in my Slacker period. (Cape Breton, 1979.)

Gabarus, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

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Me, in my Pablo Escobar period. (Otavalo, Ecuador, 2000.)

Otavalo, Ecuado

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Me, in my sweater period. (Glenfinnan, Scotland, 1993.)

Glenfinnan, Scotland

(Loyal readers might recognize this photo from this blog post, and this related one.)

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Me, in my Early Steve Jobs period. (Montreal, 1991.)

Montreal, Quebec

Note: there was no “Later Steve Jobs” period. (It was suggested in the comments that this was more “John Lennon” than “Steve Jobs.”)

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Me, in my Tri-X period. (Prague, Czech Republic, 1995.)

Prague, Czech Republic

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And in conclusion, me in my WTF period. (Montreal, 1989.)

Montreal, Quebec

Me and Merguez Sausage

Merguez sausage is one of those things I should like, but don’t really. But why not? Tasty lamb meat spiced with harissa and other goodies then stuffed into slender tubes. Bring it on! But for some reason I find that merguez sausages never quite deliver the kind of sausagy goodness I regularly get from Italian sausages, smoked “farmer’s sausage,” and zingy bratwurst.

Let’s be clear; I don’t dislike the merguez. I just don’t love ’em as much as I expect to. I’m thinking about this because I had merguez sausages for dinner tonight (which, as usual, I liked but didn’t love). It brought to mind the first time I had a merguez sausage. Oh, you want to hear about that? Sure thing. Read on.

It was late October, 1993. I was in St-Tropez, in the south of France, by myself, taking photographs for a travel guide. I’d been on the road for six weeks and hadn’t had a home-cooked meal or even much of a conversation with anyone since I’d left Montreal. All I knew about St-Tropez before I got there was that I didn’t belong and that I saw Rachel from Another World go there “to escape,” back when I was a teenager home from school with the flu and we had only two channels on television.

My resources were meagre (this wasn’t a high paying job) so when it came time for lunch I skipped the fancy cafés along the quais (deserted as they were – remember this was late October) and looked for something more modest. Near a small square I found a sandwich kiosk that was open, a rare thing this long after the tourist season. The only thing he sold was grilled merguez sausages on chunks of baguette, which at the time seemed rather perfect.

So I ordered one, along with a can of Coca-Cola. The grumpy proprietor, who said not a word to me but sighed audibly at least four times, placed two red merguez sausages on an electric grill for approximately five seconds, then dropped them into a split piece of yesterday’s baguette. No mustard, no sauce. That, with the cola, came to something like 80 Francs, which I remember translated to about $12 Canadian. (Remember, that was almost 20 years ago.)

I ate it. It was tasty enough but really could have used some mustard and another five minutes on the grill. Whatever, I moved on, eating better and spending less in other towns down the line (Fréjus, Cannes, Nice, Manosque, Apt, and then the long road back to Paris).

Since then I’ve had merguez sausages many times, usually as part of a couscous royale. It’s never bad. It’s never great. But I keep trying. Perhaps what I need to do is revisit the original situation, even if only in spirit. I need to grill a couple of fresh merguez sausages – for at least five minutes – and put them on a fresh chunk of split bread (something softer than a baguette) along with an enormous blob of Dijon mustard. And I should open a cold beer to go with it (perhaps a crisp and crackling summer lager). Maybe that would re-boot my perception or at least boot out my prejudice.

We are Sorry

A week ago Saturday, Martine and I were walking through Union Square in New York when we saw a small group of people holding signs that proclaimed “We are Sorry.” Sorry about what, I wondered, so I went over to find out. They didn’t look very rueful, in fact they seemed to be having a rather good time, smiling and enjoying the fine spring weather.

I couldn’t resist. “Sorry about what?” I demanded. One sprightly young blonde sprang forward and said “we’re sorry that so many Christians have behaved so badly. That wasn’t Jesus, that was people getting the message wrong.” She then thrust a card bearing the words “We are Sorry” into my hand.

Christian apology

Well. How about that? Although I am not among the faithful, I do think that Christians tend to get a bad rap, their image spoiled by the words and deeds of the radicals and extremists. (Such is the lot of all of the children of Abraham.) It was nice to see people making a point of distancing themselves from their insane counterparts and planting a standard for the simply misinformed.

“Apology accepted” I replied with a smile, and moved on. Given that this is New York, where few people apologize and fewer still will acknowledge one, she seemed a little surprised. “Gee… uh… Thanks!” she said, with a big grin.

As I made my way across the square towards the Saturday market stalls, I turned the card over. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. It turns out those nicely washed kids are from “The Awakening Church,” a Greenwich Village based Christian center “bringing spiritual Truth through cultural relevance.” They bill themselves as “spiritually messy people following a perfect Savior.”

we're sorry

While I like the idea of spiritually messy people, these folks are establishing bulkheads against true messiness (and thus, I think, true knowledge and awareness) by proclaiming things like “spiritual Truth” and “a perfect Savior.”

Because, really, there is no single truth, and nobody — not even a savior — is perfect. Truth, perfection, and reality are slippery and shape-shifting. Nobody has it wholly right, and that includes Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and even the radical atheists like Dawkins and Harris.

The only “truth” I understand is this: the more you are convinced you have it figured out (in matters of God and spiritually) the more I distrust your opinion. I value the doubters and the questioners, not the ones who think they’ve got it.

On the other hand, it’s a nice try. All of the Abrahamic faiths follow the same basic principles, and much of what we in the West think of as morals and ethics spring from that foundation, so I’m not willing to throw the whole thing aside. But don’t get all doctrinaire about it. Be flexible. Have more questions than answers. It’s OK to run MS Word on your Mac and to use iTunes in Windows. Heck, the backbone of OS X is Unix for Pete’s sake! There’s no single right answer, and if there is any such thing as truth you find it by looking in all directions.