Lynda Cronin on CBC

I listened to CBC Radio’s Radio Noon phone-in today, because the guest was Lynda Cronin, author of Midlife Runaway, A Grown Ups’ Guide to Taking a Year Off. I first got the idea for a year off about two years ago. Unfortunately I haven’t done anything about it besides think.

According to Cronin, just about anybody can do this. All it requires is good planning and three to five years of saving money. Ouch. That’s the hard part. I not only have a lot of um, lifestyle debts, but I continue to maintain a lifestyle (if not a life).

Cronin says if you’re serious about it, you just have to make certain choices about where your money goes. Well, I’m part way there. I don’t spend much on my car, and I haven’t done a serious clothing splurge for about a year and a half. But my rent is high and I tend to eat well. Mind you I don’t eat out often, so that should count for something.

Hmmmm. Maybe I should buckle down and get serious. After all, 1993 was the year of ed for many reasons, and I haven’t really had a comparable year since. (I’ve had good ones, just not that good!) 2004 has year of ed ll written all over it, if I can just get the debts down, and live cheaply until then.

A year.

A year without a job and many destinations. How about this for an itinerary off the top of my head:

A couple of weeks on the islands of Croatia to chill out, decompress, and get into the groove. Across to Budapest for a couple of days, then spend a few weeks going across Romania, through Moldova, to Odessa in the Ukraine (for some reason I’ve always wanted to go to Odessa). Chill with the Ukranians for a week then travel the coast of the Black Sea south through Romania and Bulgaria to Istanbul.

Pass a few weeks in Istanbul then travel down the coast to Antalya and across to Cyprus. Depending on the situation at the time, either check out Beirut and Jerusalem, or just skip over them and head directly for Cairo.

Pass either a few weeks or a few months in Cairo, depending on the living situation (I might be able to get an apartment there, cheap, arranged from home). From Cairo to Crete for calamari, then back across the Mediterranean to Tunis. From there, overland through the Atlas mountains to Casablanca and then Marrakech.

And that’s just the first half…

It’s so damn cold today!

Get this: May 1, 2001 was the warmest May 1 on record in Montreal (about 28 C). Today, May 30, 2001, is the coldest May 30 on record! Specifically, today had the “lowest high on record” (the high was about 10 C). Grrrrrrr!

Small World Department

Any anglo Montrealer can tell you about our “small town within a big city” environment, where we all seem to know each other, and everyone seems to have bonked everyone, and if you haven’t at least your room-mate has. Well here’s an anglo Montreal Small World Story of global proportions:

The players:

  • Moi (bystander)
  • Randi (my ex)
  • Mikel (another bystander–a buddy of mine, and a former office colleague of Randi)
  • Virginia (Mikel’s ex)
  • A quadriplegic kid in Bangladesh

It was a Monday night soireé on the Main, in honour of the upcoming Montreal Fringe Festival. I was there with Randi and we bumped into Virginia, who works for the festival. Randi and Virginia haven’t met before but have heard of each other.

A bit later, I’m talking to Virginia about international travel and Bangladesh comes up. Her parents, it turns out, are there as diplomats. I mention that in 1996 Randi had spent six weeks doing volunteer work in Bangladesh at a hospital for people with spinal cord injuries.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Virginia has not only heard of the place where Randi volunteered, but she’s been there several times. We found Randi on the other side of the room and had her confirm we were talking about the same place. The hospital (called the “CRP”) is funded through a variety of international sources and is known to the diplomatic community, and hence to Virginia’s parents, who introduced her to it.

It gets better. When Randi was there, her favourite patient was a 14-year-old orphan who had been working and living at a factory, and one night she fell out of a window and got tangled up in a mangrove tree, rendering her quadriplegic. Randi and some others taught her to paint with her mouth, and she’s now living somewhat independently as a mouth-painter. Virginia not only knew who Randi was talking about, but purchased some postcards of this girl’s paintings when she was there last year.

Imagine that. Welcome to Montreal.


Saturday night and I had nothing to do. Then I started thinking about it. Wendy is in Toronto. Mikel is in Ottawa. Frank and Diana are in the Eastern Townships. Suki is in Ottawa. Jeff is in Taiwan. Judith is in Rome. John is in California. Ehab is in Dubai. Sheesh! Everybody’s somewhere but me!

So I cooked me up some dinner and settled in to watch “Giant” (1956, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean) on the Lame Movie Channel. I’ve never seen it before, but always sort of wanted to. Damn, it’s long, but good. A huge Texas epic spanning about 30 years, I was struck at how progressive it was in terms of anti-racism and letting go of “old ways”. No wonder that McCarthy guy was all abuzz about “commies in Hollywood”.

(Warning: spoilers follow.)

Rock Hudson’s character, Bick Benedict, is a third-generation Texas rancher, with half a million acres and as many cows. He’s a “gentleman rancher”, wealthy but rugged, equally comfortable in a silk shirt as in chaps and spurs. He marries Elizabeth Taylor, (Leslie) a charmed young ‘un from a good family back east (Maryland). This “down home conservative Texas” versus the liberal “back east” ways sets the tone for much of the flick. For example, Bick refers to his Mexican farm hands as “wetbacks” while Leslie brings hope and medicine to the impoverished village where they live.

By the end of the movie, Bick is somewhat transformed. He defends a Mexican family who are refused service in a diner, and in the process gets whupped in a fist fight. I love this! Unlike the Hollywood of today, he lost the fight.

What does that mean? It means we, the audience, have to think about it a bit, instead of just getting caught up in the emotion of victory without contemplating what the thing is really about. Bick is transformed, but not fully. In the closing line of the film he says to Leslie “As long as I live I’ll never figure you out.” What’s happened is that he has learned to let go of the old ways because he realizes that things aren’t as they used to be. We know that deep in his heart he misses the old ways, but he knows he has to evolve to survive.

This is a much more realistic message than the standard Hollywood message of complete salvation and renewal. It’s not realistic to expect old dogs to learn new tricks. You can, however, get them to stop playing their old tricks and to give way to the younger puppies. Jessie Helms is never going to change, nor are the George Bushes, nor Brian Mulroney, nor all those fat-cat executives running big industry. The seething resentment of entire populations in the Balkans will not just go way, nor will the racism of the old guard in South Africa. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t protest, boycott, and do all those other transformative actions. What we should strive for is the giving-way of power and authority to others–not the transformation of those in power.

That’s how our society evolves.

OK, enough with the philosophy. Here’s an interesting but trivial observation: James Dean plays Jett Rink, a poor farm hand who nabs a tiny parcel of land where he later finds oil. He becomes a stinking rich, corrupt, playboy. He defines the rags-to-riches Texas oil baron. His intials, “JR”, are everywhere. Remember “Dallas”, from way back in the 70s? “Who shot JR?” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that JR Ewing’s name was not “JB” or “BF”. Jett Rink was the original JR.

I enjoyed the proto-feminist angle too. In one scene, Leslie comes into a room where a bunch of men are discussing politics. One of them says to her “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about politics.” She shoots back in that icy Liz Taylor way, “You mean my empty little head, don’t you?” Then, to the room, “What is so masculine about a conversation that a woman can’t enter into it?

There was even something of a vegetarian twist. On a visit “back east” for Christmas, the three Benedict children (ages about three to six) are seen feeding a turkey named Pedro. Cut to a dinner scene in which the butler delivers a delicious golden roasted turkey to the table. The youngest kid points at the turkey and says “Pedro?” When mom says yes, all three kids start screaming and wailing and refuse to eat anything, and dinner is ruined.

Then there was a young Dennis Hopper as the 20-ish eldest son of Bick. He was always bad with horses and cows, and now he declares he wants to be a doctor, not the successor to the rule of the ranch. He also marries a Mexican woman. The last scene of the film shows Bick’s two grandchildren, one blond and blue-eyed, and the other half Mexican, side-by-side in a playpen, staring out into the audience as the closing music begins.

On top of everything, my favorite parts of the film were the numerous and tremendous skyscapes. The ranch was set on a barren plain of rolling hills, with the biggest sky you’ve ever seen. Scene after scene, the sky is there, dominating the screen, with every sort of cloud you can imagine. Sometimes the ground occupies only the bottom eighth of the view, with the rest all sky.

I so miss the sky. People who live near the sea, on lakeshores, and on the prairies have the pleasure of big skies, but most of us don’t. It’s always there, of course, but in the city and in the tree-filled country we don’t pay much attention to it. If you love the sky, see this movie if for no other reason than those big beautiful skies.