Saturday, August 30, 2008

Back in the USS, Back in the USSR!

Today, we drove over the border from New Brunswick into Maine, and the CBC faded into static.

Fortunately, we'd managed to hear this week's "The Irrelevant Show," and some more interesting (to my 'Murican ears) Canadian indie rock played by a DJ named Sean who seemed to think a lot of himself, but was pretty amusing anyway.  And we had the best fried clams I have had in about a million years at a place called Ossie's, not too far from the border crossing.  

All of the sudden, there weren't a million different places to put your recycling.  There were just garbage cans.  And there were a lot more cop cars.  And a lot more stores of every sort.  We were in New England.  Darn, I thought.  I'm just now beginning to understand this calling-for-a-new-election thing.  I'm not ready for McCain's out-there VP choice that's supposedly going to rend the Democratic party asunder by peeling off the PUMA's. I'm not ready for American idiocy and fish that's less than fresh and butter that doesn't taste like butter and and and plastic bags blowing around everywhere.

When we got out of the car in Bar Harbor, Maine, the air was warm and just a little bit humid.  I could imagine Hudson River Valley air.  It wasn't the oddball sideways mist of the Maritimes.  I switched  my jeans for a summer dress, and Ken and I plunged into the throngs wandering through eighty-five different venues where you can buy sweatshirts that say Bar Harbor and stuffed mooses and candles that smell aggressively of the piney forests.

Did I tell you that I finally read Anne of Green Gables, and I liked it?  Turns out that the Canadian Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a proto-feminist tract, and better written than I would have expected.  

I'm busy downloading music for my first show back home.  I can't wait to hug my kitties, and to greet Treavor Hastings of Sonic Streams down in Round Pond on Monday.  He's on a short Maine vacation, and we have some catching up to do.  I'll be home on Wednesday night, and I'll be making fresh Cocktails with Chris on Friday at the usual time: four to six Eastern.  By the way, that's five to seven, Atlantic.  See you there. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Doctor Dolittle Strikes Again

If you listen to my radio show, you know that my husband, Ken, talks to the animals.  You know that at home, the mallards who live in our creek follow him around making little quacky muttering noises (full disclosure: he gives them cracked corn to eat).  I once caught him on the other side of the creek, having a conversation with a deer, who was so transfixed by Ken's presence that you'd think I was  married to a headlight.  You know--deer?  Headlight?  Oh, never mind.

Ken has names for the groundhogs.  Ken tells the golden finches that they are beautiful.  They seem to listen.

So we're still on vacation, still on Prince Edward Island, and Ken has a whole raftload full of new animal pals.  Yesterday, we visited the Anne of Green Gables house.  Neither one of us had read the book before we came up here, me because I was a bitter and cynical youth & Anne was just too sweet for my tastes at the time.  And Ken probably didn't read it because he wasn't a girl.  

Ken's reading it.  He loves it.  He reads the purpler, more sentimental passages out loud to me. And he was the one who insisted upon the pilgrimage yesterday.  I'm here to tell you the place that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery is a lovely site, prettily restored in the appropriate late-Victorian fashion you'd expect, and surrounded by an exuberantly blooming English-style flower garden.  There are nature trails, too, marked by the charming names Montgomery gave them in her book and filled with little critters for Ken to talk to.  He made friends with a little brown squirrel yesterday in The Haunted Woods.  

It talked back to him, making this odd little chirping sound that American grey squirrels don't make.  Perhaps it was telling Ken that it was good that he was visiting Canada, and that maybe when we go back to the States, we'll remember our Canadian vacation & continue to compost our garbage.  I don't know.  But Ken was crouched down for quite a while, saying things like "You're a fine little fellow, aren't you?" to the squirrel while other Green Gable fans cut a wide swath around him.  

Let me say that again: other Green Gable fans. Ken's love of the little brown squirrel was a little too sweet for other fans of Anne.


I was proud of him, though, really, as I always am, and even though I threatened to buy him the straw hat with the red pigtails on it in the gift shop afterwards, I was even prouder of him later that evening.

So.  Act Two.  We returned to our picturesque vacation rental, a barn/cottage sort of place outside Charlottetown.  I started to cook dinner.  Ken made me a delicious cocktail.  And a rattle rattle bang bang bang came from the (happily un-lit) woodstove in the living room.   

"What the Hell was that?" said I.

And it clattered again.  Ken had been busily watching birds outside our window.  A very dark thought struck him.

"I hope it's not a bird!!  It could die in there!" said Ken.  "I'm calling the landlord!"

The lucky couple who gets to rent to us lives right next door.  I'm sure they were starting dinner preparations also.  Robert came right over, bearing a tote bag.  He and Ken took apart the woodstove, spilling plenty of soot around in the process.  I went into a downstairs bedroom, to take a cell phone call from my sister.   Somewhat later, Robert was gone and Ken was happy.

"It was a sweet little bat!" he said.  "Look!"

Indeed, there was a little brown bat, outside our back door, looking a bit put out at being awakened before twilight.  I sipped my cocktail and got back to cutting up the yummy tomatoes I'd just bought from a farm market nearby. My sister called back, to continue our conversation. 

 "It was a bat," I told her.  

My sister is terrified of bats.  She hates them.

"Ugh," she said.

"But you'd really like it here," I told her.

She didn't seem enthused.

"Um--there are no bear on Prince Edward Island," I said.  "Or moose."

"Perhaps there will be some tomorrow," she said, "In your wood stove."

And a little while later, as if to prove her point, the stove clattered again.


Ken got back on the phone.  For the next twenty minutes or so, he and Robert spilled more soot, hauled the stove around, and tried to figure out what the heck was still in there.  Robert finally left, but nothing else emerged.  Five minutes after he was gone, the noise happened again.  Ken got down to business.  Soon a starling came flying out of the stove, crashed into the front windows, and allowed itself to be collected from the floor by Ken.  The bird was a bit dazed, but uninjured.  Ken gently put his hand around it, absolutely delighted.  

"Wait till I show ROB!!" he shouted to me, and ran happily out the door into a cloud of vicious Prince Edward Island mosquitoes.   The bird roused from its stupor a bit and began to scream.  Rob's wife and family, seeing Ken's manic run toward their house, also spilled outside, holding back two dogs and a cat who would surely have thwarted Ken's Operation Starling Rescue in an ugly manner.  

Rob came back to our place with Ken a little while later.

"Saint Francis of Assisi," he said, slightly under his breath.  He said he'd put the wood stove back together sometime today.  I felt for him--but I wouldn't be making this post if I weren't also really proud of the loon I married.  Last night was his favorite night of the whole vacation.
And now it's time for both of us to go enjoy today's sunshine.

Monday, August 18, 2008

OK--Now I Get It...

We've been on the road two weeks.  Rando's still got some fresh Cocktails with Chris prerecorded for the show this Friday, fear not.  And we'll start production of Roots 'n' Ruckus again as soon as I get back home after Labor Day.  But it feels like we've been gone a long time. Canada is, although geographically nearby to those of us in the Northern US, a genuine Foreign Land.  We're really a long way away.  And it took me a while to get that.

Canada is what America could be, and what we aren't because we are too full of ourselves, perhaps a bit too unwilling to change, and probably too greedy.  So I was stumbling over my old ALM high school French in Quebec, and finding their accent (which is indeed as thick as the French French complain it is) a bit impossible.  Big deal.  I should have prepared more.  

Imagine respecting folks enough in the US to accept the fact that they might want to speak a language other than English.  Imagine letting go of the jingoism surrounding--say--the way we regard immigrants from Spanish-speaking lands.  In Canada, there is a province where you speak French.  It's the official language there, the language of road signs, the language in which you will be greeted if you make a phone call for a dinner reservation.  Most of the English speakers up here also speak French, the way Europeans speak more than one language. Remember the Separatist movement in the 1970's?  This is part of how it got settled.  Can you imagine something like that in the States?  It boggles, it really does.  And it is a good sort of boggle.

Here, recycling is the law.  And you have to compost, even in city apartments.  You can get a ticket for idling your car.  There's a hefty sales tax...and people can afford their health care.  It's front page news when nursing homes aren't absolutely up to snuff.  And something gets done about it.

We're on Prince Edward Island right now, for two weeks.  It's what Cape Cod would be if folks hadn't been so anxious to make a buck there--which is to say that most of it is totally gorgeous and unspoiled.   

We've been watching the CBC coverage of the Olympics since we got here, and it's way less shiny-new than the NBC coverage, and a lot more honest.  An anchor actually looked up an athlete's blog on his Dell the other night, and the camera man closed in the laptop screen--glare and crappy picture quality and all.  

Broadcasters don't tiptoe around the uncomfortable issues that arise from having the Games in--let's face it--a country whose policies are pretty dern close to being fascist.  The pro-Tibetan protesters from here who got kicked out were big news.   On CBC radio news, there's no sense of slip-sliding around a government that would LOVE to muzzle them--the way NPR sometimes sounds to me, lately.  Yeah, NPR still does some wonderful news coverage...but it's easy to pick out the story that's been included as "balance."

OK, I'm here in the summer.  It's almost eighty degrees outside and sunny and the light is dancing on the lindens outside our cottage.  But this country's looking pretty good to me right now.  I get it.  It's about being honest, sensible--and decent.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

La Festival Internationale du Shut UP!

I'm not sure I spelled "Festival Internationale" right.  Although for years I have privately amused myself by translating things into French (especially when forced into boring conversations with folks I'd rather not be talking to), it takes a visit to a French-speaking area to realize how feeble one's second language really is.  Makes it worse that I am essentially a product of 1960's ALM foreign language studies in which we sat in a thing called a language lab, listening over earphones to what were supposed to be French high school students (just like us, only continental and sophisticated) having conversations.

"Dis donc, out est la biblioteque?" we chorused into our microphones.  This was supposed to teach us to speak rather than to just read.  It didn't.  And since my generation of college undergrads was allowed to major in anything that helped them actualize themselves--and that without a language requirement--I haven't advanced much further in La Francais.  I know where the library is, but I'm useless with (say) road signs in Quebec.  Did that one say something about the cow and the railroad track? I wonder.  And off we hurtle into the mountains where the road crew at work is about to fait les explosions, our speedometer set to those thrilling kilometers (Wow, it says 105!!). 

We have been considerably north of Quebec for several days.  The only thing in English is The Discovery Channel, one Montreal newspaper that our hotel puts out for losers like us at breakfast, and the Olympic coverage on the CBC.  So I find myself rooting for the Canadian women gymnasts. I caught my husband, who hates buying clothes like kids on Our Gang comedies used to hate taking cod liver oil, eyeing a cocktail dress on  What Not To Wear.

Did I mention that it's been raining? 

And that the food is--well--not great, although everything has French names and sounds like it should be.  There's a lot of odd fast food: poulet BBQ, and a ton of Tim Hortons chain restaurants.  For some reason or other, Subway is really big up here.  The sky is huge, the mountains look like the Pacific Northwest a bit, and it's quite obvious that the electricity in this part of the world is enthusiastically, unabashedly hydroelectric.  There are so many lines and towers that it looks like a toy train set.  And there are festivals.  Lord, are there festivals!

We barely made it out of the Quebec 400th (swarms of tourists wearing odd little pewter necklaces that get you into the festival events, many in 17th century garb)!  And an oompah band that played the songs my old high school French teacher made us sing in class (French oompah--what a concept)--this last thing in a tent full of giant puppets featuring the heroes of French Canadian history! As well-educated Americans, we had only the dimmest recollection of who the puppets were supposed to be, but many of them appeared to be members of the clergy or royalty, all wearing manic smiles. One seemed to be a Canadian separatist songwriter of the 1970's--18 feet high.   

And did I mention it has been POURING? It was even raining on the Olympics when we tuned in last night. 

When we arrived in this charming little town, there was another festival  by the local fjord, featuring a scary clown and a foot-pumped  merry-go-round loaded with oddly quiet local children, spinning at about 78 rpm.  The rain had let up a bit by then; it was just spitting.  Last night, that festival seemed to have decamped to the main street of town and grown booths where you could get mojitos, and everyone within ninety miles had arrived to drink them and wear glow-in-the-dark devil horns on their heads.  

Which was probably why it took us two hours to get a plate of mussels to eat in a local restaurant...We kept telling each other that American too-fast service with the courses piling up on the table before you can even finish eating them is uncivilized, but I'll be frank with you.  I'm looking forward to Halifax.  They speak English there.

Gad, I've said it.  Forgive me.  Don't tell Obama.  Don't revoke my citizenship of the world.  

It's morning now, and time to grab some dejeuner (NOT petit dejeuner in this part of the French-speaking world, but that's a trifle I'm not trifling with right now).  We get to ride a ferry today.  See you on the flip side.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cocktails with Chris--On the Road

No, I'm not being thrown from various moving vehicles--that would be Chuck the DJ (and would you look at him bounce!).  I am on the move--but here's the good news for you, dear listener: Cocktails with Chris is still minty-fresh.  All during July, I worked hard at creating new radio shows for August, so that no Cocktails fan would be left with a watery drink.

I say turn off that silly soundtrack for the Olympics on Friday the 8th and try watching TV with the radio on!  There's a delightful Cocktails with Chris waiting to stream that night.  And my special show with Juliet Quaglia, my link to what those crazy kids are listening to (for real--she's in 9th grade) is on the 15th.  Yet another new new new show awaits you the week after.  So Friday afternoon, 4 to 6, is still cocktail time!

I write these words from just outside Quebec City, having duly embarrassed myself with my high school French.  Folks tend to answer me in English. And I thought I sounded just like Julia Child saying "Bonjour!"  Merde. 

Last night, Ken and I stayed at The Mountain View Resort up at the tip of New Hampster--a venerable sprawl of a  place with sweeping views of the White Mountains and an elevator that needs an operator to run it.  For real--the thing's from the thirties, and its door has a grate and everything.  We had cocktails on the gorgeous front porch, watching the clouds gather over hills and hills and hills, all blue and green and amazing.  Even our bathroom had a view.  It was most swanky.  We played Scrabble in the game room after dinner.   Ken destroyed me.  I think there were a couple of tiles missing, tho'....and he got all the darned vowels. When we returned to our room, we discoved that had it been winter, we could have booked a dogsled ride. A dogsled ride turns out to be very expensive--but a king sized room at The Mountain Resort costs about what the Holiday Inn does.  The food's OK, not fab.  But the place is simply cool.  Recommended, if only for the Shining-esque long, long carpeted halls.  

Have  a listen to my show on Friday--I will :)!  And check this space for further adventures of a Rando DJ on the loose!