Cannery Row Magazine
A Literary Journal ... with Benefits
by Tanja Rabe
by Roger Nash
Poetry & Musings
by Mat Del Papa
by Rebecca Kramer
by John Jantunen
by George Miller
by John Jantunen
by Randy Eady
by Katerina Fretwell
Poetry & Musings
by Rebecca Kramer
by Tanja Rabe
by Gregory Patrick
Born in Kingston - Made in Canada
by Tanja Rabe
You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
It's that time of year again and, as I rake the leaves in my backyard on a gorgeous, early-November day infused with a belated touch of 'Indian Summer', Christmas songs already dance like syrupy-sweet sugar plums in my head.
Is my memory slowly succumbing to the ravages of age or are we getting inundated progressively earlier each year with seasonal tunes permeating not just the frenzied malls but also hounding us on our weekly trips to the grocery store? I distinctly remember sales of Christmas decor popping up as soon as the end of September neared, wrestling for space with spooky fare and bite-sized candy as stores initiated the customary grab for our wallets before the first leaves even hit the ground.
As I watch the last colours drift from the trees and savour the spicy aroma of fall, there's a feeling of sadness mingling with the fleeting charm of the autumnal season, a nostalgic farewell to light and nature's abundance as we face the cold, dark days of winter ahead.
And every year there is a longing in many of us that this December holiday will be different from the previous ones. We promise ourselves that we won't be dragged into the mass hysteria that seems to afflict everyone around us, that we will spend more time with loved ones, be kinder to others and ourselves and, above all, trade in the madness and trappings of the season for some peaceful contemplation and self-care. Then the eggnog-flavoured Kool-Aid kicks in all around us. We get sucked back into the melee and that inner voice of yearning gets drowned out to the ringing of cash registers and the incessant refrain of Jingle Bells blaring from mall speakers.
There is so much wrapped up in the holiday season for many of us and, as we grow older, more and more baggage tends to accumulate. With the days growing shorter and the darkness taking over more of our waking hours, we feel a vulnerability and closeness to death that likely harkens back to a time in human history when the cold and gloom of winter was habitually riddled with life-threatening perils - unimaginable to us now with modern conveniences providing a comfortable buffer zone from what lurks out in the cold, dark night. At the same time, as we've insulated ourselves so effectively against nature's seasonal bite, we have also, over time, lost the need to come together as supportive communities during the inhospitable months, progressively cutting ourselves off from each other as a consequence.
Thus, isolation has become one of the major challenges for many, particularly when incessantly bombarded with advertised versions of what a perfect holiday celebration is supposed to look and feel like, exacerbating the loneliness that many are already struggling with long before the dark days hit. And with seasonal disorders adding their own knock-down punch to the bargain, it comes as no surprise that more people frequently say their last farewell during this season than at any other time of the year.
Sadly, my father happened to be one of the holiday's casualties. He passed away prematurely around Christmas at the turn of the century, alone in a rundown apartment where his body lay for a full two weeks before his landlord noticed he was late with the rent. Cause of death could not be determined at the time but there is a succinct possibility that loneliness moved his hand in the end.
Like many people who've lost a loved one during this "most wonderful time of the year", there will inevitably come a spell every December when I feel a slow wave of sadness wash over me, inexplicable except for the memory of his untimely passing during the holidays. Over the years I have learned to take a break from the bustle around me and give myself space to remember and mourn him until that bitter-sweet echo from the past recedes on its own and releases me back into my life.
In a way, this seemingly innate practice of paying our dues to sad events in the past as the days get shorter reflects our mourning over the loss - or temporary death - of light as we approach the winter solstice and, while passing through this transformative period, there is a kind of cleansing that should occur within us, a ritual that finds its seasonal twin in celebrating the return of the light as we head into the New Year.
It is a true shame, then, that rampant consumerism has so insidiously hijacked this season of reflection, offering a myriad of costly distractions as a pseudo-panacea for what ails us this time of year and feeding off our need to reach out and share of ourselves. As we frantically try to fill that lonely void with purchase after purchase of (mostly) useless junk and stress over creating that illusive, picture-perfect Christmas experience, we sabotage the very thing we so deeply yearn for.
As an antidote to this maddening paradox, our family has developed its own traditions - or rather 'coping mechanisms' - over the years, mostly by way of boycotting this economic and environmental insanity. Since the kids are of an age where a Christmas tree has lost its magic, we let go of that ritual easily, using the old tree lights to decorate the front window and replacing the needling pine with a reusable wreath, courtesy of a crafty friend. Taking evening walks through a snowy, seasonally lit neighbourhood always works its charm, often indulging our need for community as well.
Regarding presents, we've given up on surprises which all too often backfired in the past. Our teens each get a gift or two of their choice (within reason) on the traditional European celebration of Christmas Eve, and have a stocking filled with their favourite, cavity-inducing fare for Christmas Day as a nod to the Canadian custom. John and I keep it low key on gifting each other (see "surprises") but partake in the stocking tradition to appease our own sweet-tooth.
Despite the common-sense restraints we've imposed on the holidays, I have to confess there's one affliction I splurge on relentlessly during the Advent season - though I'm inclined to blame it on my heritage.
There appears to be sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that German females are born with a specific gene which lays dormant up until the first snowflakes drift from the skies. As much as we might try to resist this seasonal urge in favour of our waist line, out comes the rolling pin, the tin of cookie cutters gets dug from the back of the cupboard, baking supplies dominate the grocery list and specials on butter and nuts unleash the enthusiastic hoarder. My mother might have been a mediocre cook at the best of times whose favourite seasonings included a good amount of char, but Christmas baking was serious business during my childhood and I don't recall her ever burning a batch of cookies. This tradition has been passed down from my late grandmother, who could still whip up a an amazing tray of apple-streusel cake in her nineties.
So, towards the end of November, my kitchen turns into a veritable battlefield with a light dusting of flour covering all surfaces as I stir, pound, grind, whisk, melt, roll and chop away for two weeks straight, snarling at anyone who dares intrude into my sanctuary and slapping greedy fingers trying to sneak a taste. Samples are judiciously doled out to test each batch which is then stored away till the day when the kitchen returns to its former communal designation after a good baker's dozen of airtight containers fills the raccoon-proof bin on our back porch (for lack of a cool, indoor space).
In a way, this yearly ritual somewhat resembles a kind of spiritual exorcism, since there appears to be a decidedly therapeutic upside to this manic bake-out.
As the season turns and the scenery succumbs to desolation before the first snow drapes across the land, my kitchen offers an aromatic refuge from the dismal weather, with baking a welcome distraction that lightens my mood and keeps me from getting too deeply affected by the seasonal downturn. And the added benefit is a treasury of treats that doesn't just spare us from purchasing sweets until we fill those stockings for Christmas Day, but also provides plenty of fodder for gift baskets to be dispersed to all those on our "Nice List", a convenient way to avoid the shopping craze.
In the spirit of the approaching season, I'd like to share the benefits of my particular affliction with our esteemed readers and delve into the merry and, at times, challenging world of the German Christmas Backstube with a few of my favourite creations.
I tend to try out a couple of new recipes every season to spice things up, but the following cookie started the ball rolling about 15 years ago and has been at the top of my list ever since. Not just a family favourite, the recipe for this chocolate and icing-covered cake cookie filled with ground nuts and mixed peel has been passed on to fans more than a couple of times. I used to indulge my nostalgic taste buds via its imported version as soon as it hit the grocery stores every year before realizing I could save money and spread the joy by rolling up my own sleeves.
The following treat belongs to the Lebkuchen family which ranges from cake-like varieties to decorated cookie cutter versions often compared to Gingerbread, though quite dissimilar in taste/texture and a great alternative for those who love the tradition of making Gingerbread creations with their kids but don't care too much for the flavour/crunch itself. I will cover both ends of the Lebkuchen spectrum that we've enjoyed over the years.
- 4 large eggs (separate yolks from whites)
- 1 cup yellow or white sugar (not brown)
- app. 300 gr. melted milk chocolate (batter & frosting)
- 100 gr. ground hazelnuts
- 100 gr. ground or finely chopped, blanched almonds
- 6 tbsp. roughly chopped, candied orange-lemon peel
- 1 tsp. cinnamon, pinch nutmeg/allspice/cloves
(or Lebkuchen spice mix if available)
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups flour & 1 tsp. baking powder
- icing sugar & liquid flavour of your choice
Oven temperature: 360 degrees F
1. With an electric hand mixer beat egg yolks and sugar in a large metal bowl until creamy.
2. With a wooden spoon, stir ground almonds, hazelnuts, 150 gr. of melted chocolate and mixed peel into the egg mixture.
3. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and gently stir into mixture (pull-under method/wooden spoon).
4. Mix flour, spices and baking powder in a separate bowl and slowly stir small amounts into the wet mix until very thick (if your arm hurts, take a break, then back at it; or enlist a strongman in the family).
5. Drop tablespoon-sized, roundish chunks onto a baking paper-lined cookie sheet, leave room for spread between cookies.
6. Bake for appr. 10-15 minutes on the middle rung of the oven with a sheet of aluminum foil on the lower rung to protect the cookie bottoms from burning.
7. Leave cookies to cool on sheet for 5 minutes to harden their bottoms, then carefully remove from baking paper with a thin cookie spatula to keep them intact (easier to spread chocolate over a smooth surface).
8. While still warm, brush tops with icing (not too drippy), decorate with almond slivers or sprinkles (opt.), let dry and cool completely, then brush bottoms with melted chocolate. You can use a water bath for melting, but I wing it with a small pot on the lowest heat, turning the burner on and off during brushing to prevent the chocolate from drying up in the pot. Start with 3/4 of a bar and add more as needed. (Btw: Chocolate chips tend to be less creamy and melt a tat too thickly so I get affordable 100 gr. bars of Selection brand Swiss milk chocolate. Don't use bars that have been sitting in your cupboard for a while (months), since they do dry out and clump even if sealed.)
9. Store Lebkuchen in an airtight container in a cool place.
When my kids were still young and clamouring to 'help' with holiday baking, this was the perfect recipe to appease them and it would keep them out of my sanctuary for the rest of the bake-out. Each got a nice-sized chunk of dough to cut out and decorate, at least whatever hadn't found its way into their mouth before hitting the oven. They had their own batch to enjoy which generally lasted until my 'affliction' had run its course and I'd filled all the requisite gift baskets for friends and family.
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup yellow sugar
- 1 heaping tbsp. cocoa powder
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- pinch nutmeg/allspice/salt
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine
- 3 cups flour & 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 fork-beaten eggs
- icing sugar, sprinkles, nuts, food colouring
Oven temperature: 380 degrees F
1. In a large, preferably non-stick, pan stir together honey, sugar, margarine or butter, spices and cocoa powder on low heat until sugar is dissolved and butter melted, forming a thick liquid mass.
2. Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a large, low bowl (or deep tray), make a well in the middle and add the slightly cooled honey mass and beaten eggs.
3. Stir with a fork, pulling the flour mix into the mass until almost mixed, then finish kneading by hand to a soft, smooth, slightly sticky dough (add more flour to hands if necessary). Cool for 15 min.
4. Roll dough out in small batches on a lightly floured surface to about a 1/2 inch thickness or less (dust dough surface and rolling pin with flour to keep from sticking) and cut out into desired shapes.
5. Place on paper-lined cookie sheet in the middle rung of the oven and protect bottom of pan with aluminum foil on lower rung. Bake for appr. 10-15 min. until bottoms have slightly darkened.
6. Cool and decorate with icing and toppings of your choice (frost the cookies with a brush and sprinkle or, for designs, fill thick icing into a sealable Ziploc baggie with a small exit hole cut into a corner). Let dry and store in a cool place. (Lebkuchen softens nicely if stored in airtight containers for more than a week and the thicker the dough, the softer the cookie after the rest period)
Anyone who has ever visited an outdoor German Christkindl market will be familiar with this popular variety in the shape of large, whimsically decorated hearts you can string around your neck, offered at Christmas stalls amidst an abundance of warm candied nuts, fresh-spun cotton candy, soft Magenbrot (another Lebkuchen type), roasted chestnuts and the obligatory spiced Glühwein (mulled wine), served hot to keep off the chill while browsing for handmade, seasonal crafts.
I'm a huge fan of German Christmas Cake (Stollen) which is quite unlike the traditional, often maligned British Fruitcake. Since Stollen is a bit labour-intensive and needs to be prepared at least a month ahead of time to ensure that full flavour and a moist texture develop during the rest period, I was pleased to discover this little treasure on the web. It ties me over conveniently until after Christmas when the commercial Stollen can be snatched up at half-price, like so many other seasonal goodies. I have added marzipan (almond paste) to the original cookie recipe to imitate my favourite kind of Stollen. (Recipes for homemade marzipan are plentiful and it has many creative uses in the Backstube.)
Christmas Stollen Cookies
- 3 tbsp. finely chopped candied peel (orange/lemon)
- 3 tbsp. chopped raisins
- 2 ounces dark rum or whiskey
- appr. 3 cups flour and 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. vanilla flavour & a good dash of cinnamon
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup soft butter
- marzipan (opt.)
Oven temperature: 350 degrees F
1. Soak raisins and candied peel in liquor overnight and pat dry with paper towel before use.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, vanilla, salt, cinnamon and sugar in a bowl and make a well in the center.
3. Add fork-beaten eggs, candied peel & raisins to center and place butter cut into small chunks along the edges.
4. Mix with fork, then knead by hand to a soft dough and roll into 3 strands about 1 1/2 - 2 inches thick.
5. Flatten strands and run a thin strand of marzipan along the centerline of each, then fold dough over marzipan and roll into a strand again. Chill for 30 minutes.
6. Cut into 1 inch-thick slices, place on papered baking sheet mid-rung with alu foil protection on lower rung and bake for 10 - 15 min. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while warm. Seal and store in a cool place.
Despite the fact that I'm still a good two weeks away from delving into the Backstube, my hands already itch for that rolling pin with the first hint of snow chilling the air. This year, though, I will have to contend with an eager sidekick in the holiday kitchen since my younger son has discovered a passion for the Culinary Arts and made me promise to initiate him into the family tradition of Christmas baking. His assistance will most certainly come in handy when we whip up that first batch of wrist-breaking Lebkuchen batter . . .
In any case, wish us luck and may the Christmas Angel grant this mother the gift of infinite patience.
All the best wishes of the season to our wonderful contributors and readers near and far.
Stay calm, avoid the malls and enjoy the Journal!
Tranquil (Tanja Rabe)
by Roger Nash
Times of Transition
If the new hasn’t begun,
or the old ended yet,
where do the sentences
we are start or full-stop?
We’re words both borrowed
from the future, lent to the past.
And time stutters fast.
Where Did Our Language Go to?
Call a spade a...
catalogue number 134.”
The Newest New Math
Kids in the school for refugees
are taught to do sums
and construct circles, but pencil in
of lines that run out
of both childhood and paper.
The whistle of a train in the night.
Both train and night on time.
The whistle of a sailor on leave,
so tanked up, he can’t tell
train from night from time,
and tries to catch midnight
from the station to his early childhood,
that’s now asleep on Platform 9.
Fretting Over the Impossible
by Mat Del Papa
I know a tween who saved up all her allowance and babysitting money in order to buy something special: an axe. She wasn’t the outdoorsy kind or a budding lumber-jill. No, she was prepping for the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’.
This otherwise smart and capable girl not only believed that zombies were possible but that their civilization-ending arrival was inevitable. Worse, she was convinced that she, all of twelve-years-old, needed to be ready to fight for the survival of humanity.
I, of course, applauded her forethought.
Given the unpredictability of the world and the media saturation of the current zombie craze (movie, TV, music, video games, and comics all push this plot point), it shows a certain practicality for this young woman to plan ahead. She didn’t stop with the axe, either, but readied a complete post-apocalyptic wardrobe, complete with hiking boots, pocketed cargo pants, and a bite-resistant jacket. There was even a backpack ready and waiting, stuffed with various camping supplies ‘liberated’ from her parents, not to mention a ton of granola bars and water bottles.
It was her choice of weapon, however, that showed the most brains. Short-sighted people, when presented with the ‘What would you do?’ scenario, go with guns or samurai swords when preparing to battle zombies. While both are prominently featured on screen - and look ‘cool’ when wielded by the hero(ine) - they have some serious drawbacks in fighting the undead in the 'real world'. Guns are too loud and require appropriate ammunition. A samurai sword is a high maintenance work of art and surprisingly fragile if misused (it takes a lifetime of dedicated training to master).
Unfortunately, this girl bought into the ‘more is more’ philosophy and so ordered a mutant axe capable of doing a hundred different things . . . none well. This abomination came with so many attachments welded on that it became useless as anything but a piece of non-functional art.
The truth is that - even if zombies were real and not the overused villain of lazy screenwriters - living in the North makes us almost immune to those manic chompers. Winter would stop these undead invaders cold. Our climate would literally freeze zombies in their tracks for weeks or months on end. Immobilized, the no-longer-walking dead would be easy prey to all of nature’s many carnivores. Few of these brain-seeking monsters would survive their first extended cold snap . . . at least not whole. Between the weather and predation, not to mention their surviving human prey actively hunting them down, these horror movie tropes would not fare well in the Great White North.
And if you’re wondering how much time I’ve dedicated to this particular thought experiment, the answer is: a worrying amount. Figuring out ways to survive an apocalypse-level event is my happy place. I’ve planned my tactics down to the letter. And for my weapon of choice? I’d carry a solid iron crowbar. Something capable of smashing zombie skulls and popping open doors with equal ease. I just hope I never live to see society crumble . . . at least not any more than it already has.
(The Capreol Express, November 1, 2021)
by Rebecca Kramer
Created by no human hand
To find you here melting
Could not have been planned
You cry in your glory
In gothic dismay
The mountain stream carries
Your dreams far away
But tears are your essence
When frozen your shape
When melted by spring sun
For you it’s too late
To stay an ice sculpture
Forever’s your dream
That’s why I’ve a photo
I carry with me
A Question of Maintenance
by John Jantunen
During the court case, which would span an unimaginable nine months, Reg managed to say one thing that stuck with Dan. She said it in response to a question posed by his lawyer, although Dan hadn't been paying attention during much of the discovery session so he'd missed what the answer was in regards to.
The session had been going on for three hours and Reg was getting visibly testy about having to put up with Dan’s lawyer’s disjointed and repetitious line of inquiry. It was a thoroughly one-sided affair, given, and mean-spirited to boot. What Reg was required to answer about her former relationship with her daughter’s father was certainly demeaning and necessarily implicating but, as Dan’s lawyer had explained, was thoroughly required if Dan wanted to get out of paying support for a child that was not his own.
By now, both parties had found out that there were mitigating circumstances; Reg was on social assistance and she had two children at home, one of which was Dan’s. Even though she was under court order to reply to every question posed to her, the punitive measures for refusing to do so were unenforceable. No judge was going to fine her for her unwillingness to co-operate nor would she be threatened with time served. Her disadvantaged position effectively gave her impunity within the law, a point which made Dan smile and his lawyer shrug his shoulders as if to say “What can you do? Now I have to get nasty.”
The only means left at the disposal of Dan’s lawyer was to get Reg angry enough so that she would blurt out some form of self-incriminating statement. She was predictably easy prey in that regard and it only made matters worse. What Reg would say, in the long run, had little relevance since the discovery session, Daniel later realised, was nothing more than a pretence for escalating legal aid expenses (two months later the judge gave it a once-over and passed verdict without so much as a consideration of what it noted).
Her anger, on the other hand, proved highly consequential. She said, “He likes being poor.” On the surface this statement seemed an absurd form of condemnation to Dan. He sensed that the stenographer, and both lawyers present, thought so too but there it was nonetheless, etched in print as the defining standard of their conflict.
“You’re not a man. That’s what your problem is.”
“And you’re a fucking psycho!”
The plant just missed Dan’s head, smashing instead against the wall. On his hands and knees, Dan surveyed the damage looking for something that he could use against her. (He'd kicked a hole through the bathroom door just two weeks earlier. In his defense, Reg had refused to come out, same old story, and he’d become over-zealous. His concern for her had quickly turned to panic and his knocks had become kicks. One had been too hard, nothing more, and he’d been hearing about it ever since.) There was a lot of dirt, the carpet was screwed. No, it could be repaired. Another Saturday spent with the damn carpet cleaner. And on the stairs too. But the wall was fine. Soiled, yes, but without even a hint of chipped paint.
Dan turned back to Reggie. He was way over his head on this one. Just run or, better yet, surrender. Get it over with. Put up the white flag. Her last comment weighed heavily though and didn’t put him in a conciliatory mood. Might as well just wade in deeper. “You’re cleaning that up.” And so it continued.
It had started like it always did: With a question.
“What did you say!?” Reggie had already turned her back on the Skinhead and started to walk away when she stopped dead in her tracks. Dan knew what was coming. Reg had been in that kind of mood all night. You couldn’t call it angry (though Dan most often did); she was far too happy to be angry. There was this unmistakable glow about her that made her eyes shine and sent her out into the streets in search of whatever would offer a suitable mark for her general state of acrimony.
Cloaked in the oversized leather coat that Dan had given her a few months ago when he realised how ridiculous all that studded chrome was, she'd been prowling through mostly empty streets for the past three hours looking for, in Dan’s best guess, a succession of mostly empty streets. A couple of blocks back, Reg had tried to bum a cigarette from a fifty-year-old Chinese man who seemed to be waiting for a cab. He said he didn’t smoke and that should have been the end of it.
“Well, you got a light then?” Reg had been saving a cigarette or, maybe, she'd just found one while warming her hands in her pockets. She'd stuck it in her mouth with such casualness that it gave the guy pause to consider. Dan watched with interest as Reg stood glowering, waiting for a response. Under her glare, the Chinese man’s restraint was starting to buckle. Ten seconds passed and silence didn’t seem to be doing the trick. He leaned away, almost imperceptibly, and turned slightly to the right. Dan waited for him to check his watch, maybe even feign frustration at the lack of a cab and, in a huff, start walking home but he’d misjudged. He let another couple of ticks go by, then pursed his lips and no more than breathed: “I said I don’t smoke.”
“Well, what use are you then?” Reg spat at him and walked away, Dan following a few steps behind.
Did we scare that man? Was he nervous? Did he get the joke? Dan wasn’t sure. He looked back from a half-a-block away. The man was still standing there, conspicuously not looking their way. Hard to tell. Dan imagined a checked glance thrown at their backs as they walked on and it made him smile like when old ladies clutched their purses and crossed to the other side of the street as they saw him coming. He didn’t think he looked menacing in any way but sometimes that was what he suspected upon reflection.
A bat sends out radar and it bounces back to it but does this give the bat any impression of the effect it has on people? Do they sense fear? Snakes do. Dogs as well. Do bats get the same intuition or do they only get what their radar tells them. Large, grey-haired object directly ahead. Now moving, crossing the street, pursue or disregard, depending on the mood. No judgement inferred. Simply two masses encountering one another, causing an inevitable chain of reactions.
Dan wasn’t thinking straight. Reg was having a few problems of her own. The cigarette in her hand was now broken. Little tufts of tobacco were falling all over the street from its frayed edge as Reg was trying to fix it without losing any. Dan had a sudden impulse to grab it from her and get the fixing over and done with but he resisted, hoping that she’d figure it out eventually.
Instead, she crumpled it between her fingers then tossed it to the side, mumbling something about hating broken cigarettes. Dan caught little bits. He was finding it hard to keep up and, every time he fell a few steps behind, her hair flapping thickly about her neck in time with her pace would muffle her words.
Her argument, from what he could gather, was a simple one. You can’t tape a broken cigarette. You have to smoke it delicately and no waving your hands around in the air either. It took the fun out of smoking. You ended up having to smoke another right afterwards to make up for it, Reg continued, and since that was their last cigarette there was no point to it. The only problem was that it still required them to get another smoke so it wasn’t a foolproof plan.
Luckily, a block and a half over at Memorial Park, they ran into some chronic who looked like he’d just woken up a couple of minutes ago (which would explain his full pack). He’d parted with one for free and Reg threw in fifty cents for another two. While she was scoring a light, Dan stood back comforted by the shade of the hedge, which all but blocked out the glare coming from the street, and tried to get his bearings like he’d done so often since his arrival in Vancouver three years ago.
This was the park he’d been trying to remember. Had to be. It was where the city bus had let him off. He’d asked the driver to direct him to the local Greyhound station where he could stash his stuff until he'd reached one of his three contacts. It had seemed a lot busier then. Dan distinctly recalled the sense that he'd been crowded in by more greenery as he'd made his way along the narrow pathway. There was some sparse growth here now, a few trees and a tasteful garden decorating the war monument with a steady hedge spanning the perimeter, but otherwise there was enough space for a game of pick-up football.
They’d played on less spacious grounds back home. A fifteen meter stretch out back at his best friend’s place where a three-men game could be set up. They’d used the same space for playing a kind of handball if there was only two of them. The purpose of both games was relatively simple. Killing time. Or rather spending time together without the inconvenience of conversation. It was the kind of personal space that you found only when with close friends. You could scream, swear (depending on the proximity of one's parents) and pretty much act like Simians engaged in a fight for supremacy without the concern that others would get offended.
In fact the game, the real game, never quite got underway until someone - most of the time Dan - went off half-cocked, screaming “Motherfucker!” as the ball took an odd bounce off a rough piece of turf and careened inches out-of-reach from diving fingers. The immediate response from the opponent was 2-up of 17-15 (the handball games would last to twenty-one) followed by a whimsical grin as the defender retrieved the ball and flipped it to the server. After first blood was drawn, the gauntlet would be thrown down and a new strategy beyond that of merely winning a point crept into the play.
You’d look for any way to force each other into positions that were liable to cause bodily harm. Snubbing one close to the oil tank resting against the brick wall so the ball took an odd dive was always a safe bet. And you’d give it your all to get there in time too. If it accidentally caught an odd piece of plank discarded there (the grounds were never cleared before the game began) the ball would come right back at the charging player and his feet would fly off the ground while his hands grappled to get control of the ball. A half-second later he’d be lying flat on the 'court', quick bursts of pain like nails shooting up his back. The point’d be called and the opponent's smirk would be just enough of an excuse to get himself back on his feet.
There wasn’t a wall in this city park save for the public toilets off to the west side but the ground was even enough for football. Not too alluring, though, as the only recreational users one was likely to find here were of the decidedly non-sportsmanlike variety.
Funny, Dan thought, how that kind of activity doesn’t pass for scratch in this city. Most of the people he’d observed, even young ones, never seemed to consider finding a wall somewhere and just chucking a ball around. It was almost demeaning. In the city, passing the time meant an entirely different thing to the financially under-endowed than where he came from.
Time seemed at the heart of the matter. Here, time appeared to be the only element in one’s environment that one could adequately control; and it was pounced upon, wrestled to the ground, with a vigour that Dan found disconcerting. There was a frenzy to the city, it had to be admitted, but that only crested the surface. Underneath it all, at the core, time was forcibly slowed, not savoured mind you, just subdued. It became a preoccupation, a field upon which a kind of mental tug-of-war was played. Lack of activity, which was a death blow in a small town and had to be combated at all cost, did not inspire boredom here but was a desirable state of mind. It was the only way to attain some kind of mastery over one's surroundings.
There had to be a sort of scientific or, in the least, some pseudo-scientific explanation for this phenomenon though, at present, Dan was unable to figure one out. Maybe something to do with heightened neural exchanges or with the amount of exterior stimuli in the city. Even when the body or mind was doing nothing, one was unable to actually be bored. It was a constant rush. The struggle to suppress the level of nervous excitement, characterising so many people in Vancouver, itself acted to eradicate boredom, to wipe it from its very existence. Relaxing took on a whole new meaning and was very nearly impossible to achieve without some kind of succour.
Dan shook his head trying to quell his rambling thoughts and noticed Reg had turned back to the chronic. He’d said something to her and she had taken offence but Dan hadn’t heard it, or he had heard it and was now unable to remember what it was. It must have only happened a moment ago since it wouldn’t have taken Reg that long to turn around and here she was facing the guy. She looked him over heel-to-toe. Shaved head, black combat boots with white laces, black jeans and a flak jacket.
He'd said something about chinks. What was it again? Oh, yeah . . . a roving gang of chinks. Coming from a Skinhead that kind of made sense. Chinatown was just a few blocks away.
As they’d passed through the ethnic area earlier, he'd remembered the first time he had taken the city bus through there on the day he'd arrived in Vancouver. It was the colours which had left an impression on his mind more so than the Chinese characters painted over rough-hewn signs noting this and that kind of establishment. There was no order to them. Random splashes here and there fighting with one another, no symmetry whatsoever.
Initially it had appeared completely non-unified, a mish-mash of vibrancy which paid no heed to what came before or after. It was almost impossible to discern even the bricks of the buildings, although no effort was made to conceal their facades. It was truly chaotic and he hadn't got used to it until the bus had crept and crawled a few blocks down the line, slowed down by road crews repairing the streets. Then it was just more of the same, something faintly exotic, its power diluted by the stark decrepitude under the surface, and it became more interesting to turn to the passengers to catch, say, a quick glimpse of a woman’s cleavage as she bent to check if that transfer on the floor was worth a longer ride than the one she had in her hand.
Now Reg and the Skinhead were both yelling at each other. Kids had come into play and, even on the best of days, this was an incendiary topic. Here it became a detonator.
Dan quickly strode over, grabbed Reggie by the sleeve and dragged her out of the park. She didn’t give much resistance as her curses carried little weight and, within moments, she was safely beyond the stretch of trees that circled the grounds, standing in the cold glare of the street lights.
“Did you hear what he said?” Reg barked.
Dan had not. He had, however, noticed how the Skinhead was staring at him and that was more than enough. Regardless of the state a guy like that was in, he wasn’t going to hit someone else’s woman. That was her man's job and if Dan wasn’t going to put Reggie in her place then he, himself, became an open target. There was no doubt in Dan’s mind as to how close he had just come to getting the shit kicked out of him. His heart was racing and he reached into Reg’s pocket, searching for the cigarettes she had just bummed.
“The nerve of that asshole. He said I shouldn’t be allowed to raise kids. He said if it was up to him he’d have my kids taken away from me. I’m going to kill that motherfucker!” Dan grabbed her by the arm and began dragging her up Pender Street past the Catholic Church sitting next to the Post Office. The whole while Reg was yelling and doing loops backwards, trying to break free from his clutch. Her attempts were half-hearted at best and Dan had no real trouble keeping her going in the direction that he wanted which, incidentally, was towards home.
“Racist asshole.” Then she turned on him. “Why didn’t you do something. You should’ve kicked the shit out of him. You should have . . .” and then she growled which was the only way she had of verbalising the fate which should have befallen the Skinhead. She stomped her foot on the sidewalk a few times as if to say she would have finished him off if only Dan would have got him on the ground.
“He just bummed us a cigarette.” Dan held it up as if proof were needed and Reg snatched it.
There’s just no reasoning with some people, Dan thought.
“He was a racist asshole and we should have kicked his head in. And then we could have taken his whole pack.” Dan was no longer listening; only walking. Reg followed, puffing away at the smoke which was the way things generally turned out. Reg liked an audience and if Dan had given up and actually let her go back, she would have lost all interest like she had now. Besides, Dan was thinking, it’s past one o'clock when I told the babysitter we’d be home. I have twenty bucks left in my wallet and that equals a pack of smokes at Seven-Eleven with enough left over to pay the sitter, so we don’t have time for this shit.
It had taken three months to regain the trust of anyone suitable enough to watch over Dan and Reg’s two-year-old son and Reg’s eight-year-old daughter. In the Co-op where they lived, a few missed deadlines and a bounced cheque got around pretty quick. The girl he’d wrangled at the last minute had been burned by them before and Dan had to hand over ten bucks as a downpayment to get the night off.
He took for granted that Reg’d never give up a Friday Night out on the town to let him have some time by himself. She might promise to be back for dinner but, after a couple of beers with her fellow stereo salesmen, the seed would have been planted and she’d head down to East Hastings looking for something a little harder to take the edge off the work week. At two o’clock in the morning he’d get her call asking if he had enough money on him to pay for a cab and that’d pretty much spoil it for the rest of the week. After all it was his money that she was spending. Not on the surface of course. On the surface she cashed her cheques in her bank account, or at Money Mart if the bank was 'mad' at her, and used her money to go out. Dan just put food in the fridge and paid the bills.
The Cambie bridge was approaching. A suitable-enough construction, though little bleak, or rather low- lying. The other two bridges visible from the Cambie - the Granville and the Burrard - each had their charms. They both shared considerable height for a start. The Burrard seemed older, more ornate. It was a place to take pictures from, looking out over English Bay at the perfect sunset, that kind of thing. The Granville bridge was just kind of awesome. The overwhelming fact of the matter was that you couldn’t survive a fall off the Granville. On one shore was a cement factory and on the other was an acre of parking lot. The fact that there was a river running between them seemed inconsequential. It was what existed between concrete and asphalt.
From the city side, the Cambie started over what could have amounted to a fairly decent parking lot, if a lot of time and money were invested. Instead it was just a weedy lot caged in by portable wire fencing. The Indy 500 thundered along there every spring so that was another thing. That must have been a boon for someone in the fencing business. During the races the entire bridge would be cordoned off, both sides, and guards hired to make sure no one was sneaking a free glimpse. Dan wondered if they contracted out for that or if they’d signed some kind of lot agreement or maybe it was some rich firm, so rich that the name plated on each fence length was obscured because they didn’t need to advertise.
His thoughts were again interrupted, this time by Reg tugging at his arm. Apparently they’d stopped walking somewhere past the first curve leading onto the bridge.
“Give me a hand.” She was already using his shoulder to climb up onto the railing.
“What are you doing?” Dan was miffed at first but it didn’t take him long to realise what she was up to.
“Get down from there!” he yelled.
“Get the fuck down! Jesus.”
Dan grabbed her sleeve and wrenched her back down onto the sidewalk. Reg struck out at him.
“Let me go. Stop it. You’re pissing me off. Fuck you!” Dan let her go and they walked in silence half the span of the bridge.
“I could have made it.” This came as a surprise to Dan because he’d really suspected she was trying to throw herself off the bridge. She'd threatened it often enough.
“You can’t even keep on the sidewalk,” he shot back.
“Yes, of course I can, look!” Reg ran herself into the guardrail separating the sidewalk from the road and threw him a grin to assure him she was just playing. Dan disregarded her misguided attempt at humour and kept trudging onwards. He was looking forward to getting home, maybe watching some TV. He wished he’d rented a movie, something that would really get his mind off things, like science fiction or horror, but the local video store had closed hours ago. He fingered the twenty in his pocket for the hundredth time and remembered he couldn’t have afforded one anyway. Reg stepped up beside him and shyly took his hand out of his pocket. For a moment he thought she was going for his money but he realised she just wanted to hold hands.
The wind was whipping up and it started to rain.
Dan glanced at the clock tower over City Hall. It was two-thirty. It had been seven hours now since he’d met up with Reg at the Railway Club. Eight since their babysitter, the cute fourteen-year-old Filipino girl from next door, had shown up for the gig and he’d rushed out, leaving no last- minute instructions for her like his mother always used to when they were kids.
“There’s chips in the cupboard and pop in the fridge. Help yourself to whatever else you can find. Here’s a number where we can be reached” or “I’ll call around eight to find out how things are going.” Sometimes she’d even leave enough money for them to order a pizza or run down to the store and pick up some snacks if she hadn’t found the time to during the day. She’d be very apologetic, like it was her responsibility to have stocked the fridge beforehand. That was back when babysitting was done just for kicking-around cash or as a favour. Now money was probably saved for college or the prospect of car payments. Made it colder. More cut throat. It wasn’t playtime anymore. You had to fight for what you got even if it was an unopened bag of Doritos.
Reg tugged at Dan’s arm. They were standing in front of the Seven-Eleven, two blocks from their apartment.
“You got any money left?” she asked. Dan fingered the bill in his pocket.
“I want some ice cream.” After a moment of contemplation she added, “And a Scratch'n Win.”
They went in and made their purchase. Dan walked out with a smoke already stuck between his lips. He went to light it and found that the change was still in his hand. And that was the thing that struck him as odd. It was just change. He rattled it a couple of times.
“He ripped me off,” he mumbled aloud and looked back in at the clerk polishing the spouts on the Slurpee machine.
Reg was already around the corner at the garbage can trying to unwrap her Cornella. He sidled up to her. She was having some problem with the wrapper and was right then considering using her teeth but the decision was somehow out of her reach.
“I only got three bucks left.” Dan said and reached out, grabbing the ice cream. He ripped it open and handed it back. Reg turned, staring. “You didn’t save any for the babysitter?”
“He ripped me off.”
“Well? Go back in and kick his ass.” Reg prodded Dan’s shoulder and he halfway turned to the stark fluorescent lights casting window-sized squares on the sidewalk.
“You know what?” he finally offered, “We could give her the Scratchy.”
Cloud Racing (Tanja Rabe)
Three Thousand Years of Longing
Review by Randy Eady
Australia, 2222, R, 1h 48 min, Romance/Fantasy/Drama
Director: George Miller (Mad Max Film Series)
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba, Erdil Yaşaroğlu
Recently, in a dim theater while watching George Miller’s film Three Thousand Years of Longing, I had an experience of the mythical, poetic impact envisioned by author Joseph Campbell in his famous book on archetypes in mythology The Hero of a Thousand Faces. No surprise, really, since this film explicitly presents mythological exploration as its main cast member.
Based on The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, a collection of five short stories by British novelist A.S. Byatt, the film follows a British narratologist (actual job title) named Alithea Binnie who occasionally suffers from bizarre hallucinations of demonic beings. During a trip to Istanbul, Alithea purchases an antique bottle and accidentally unleashes a mythical Djinn (or Genie in Western lingo) trapped within it. The Djinn offers to grant Alithea three wishes, so long as each one is truly her heart's desire, but Alithea argues that wishing is a mistake, accusing the Djinn of being a trickster. In response to her accusation, the Djinn proceeds to tell her three tales of his past and how he ended up imprisoned in the carafe.
The Djinn has a long-standing history in the storybooks - from the tales of Aladdin and Charles Perrault’s fairy tale The Three Ridiculous Wishes, to the (in)famous Arabic story collection of One Thousand and One Nights - and has permeated Mesopotamian and Persian literature and oral traditions since pre-islamic times. The Djinn even found a mention in the Quran which states: ". . . humans are created from the earth and jinn from smokeless fire."
The unfolding (or retelling) of this particular Djinn’s tale over three thousand years reaches beyond a simple rendering of aloneness and love. It also concerns itself with our love of story and why narrative as an act of creation has become so central to our understanding of mythological ideas and their importance in our spiritual lives.
To examine this film through a mytho-poetic lens would require a deeper delving into the subject matter than afforded in this sampling, besides eliciting a 'spoiler alert' in prematurely giving away those gripping moments that make Miller’s endeavor so exceptional.
Still, there's no spoiler in suggesting that metaphors relating to current motifs in our world abound throughout the film. The Djinn (Idris Elba) - in over-identifying as a servant always wanting to please - remains a constant 'masochist', relishing in the monstrous suffering he inflicts upon himself. Alithea (Tilda Swinton), on the other hand, evolves and hones her 'sadistic' qualities as she enables and reinforces the Djinn's subjugation; a power play all too prevalent in psychology.
Even the landscapes throughout the story tell a tale, describing a dying world - a post-heroic realm. In Creative Mythology, Joseph Campbell reflects on such Waste Lands by saying:
What, then, is the Waste Land? It is the land where myth is patterned by authority, not emergent from life; where there is no poet’s eye to see, no adventure to be lived, where all is set for all and forever: Utopia! Again, it is the land where poets languish and priestly spirits thrive, whose task is . . . to repeat, enforce, and elucidate cliches.
The Waste Lands in Three Thousand Years of Longing span a speculative history, but is that not like any historical rendition? Often constructed and patterned by Authority, they are neither organic nor endogenous to emergent, creative life. They repeat, enforce, and elucidate cliches; most Waste Lands are designed specifically for that purpose, something which, paradoxically, heightens the importance of a harboring, expatiating cinematic experience.
In slipping into a dreamy space of projected immersion, we can imagine a world beyond cliches, far from what lays waste to our soul. We may portalize to a place where a face-to-face encounter with a divine Djinn is able to rend the fabrications of reality as we know it. In the darkness and stretching across time and space, whatever lies before us appears larger than anything we’ve ever seen before. It sparks the imagination and apportions an image in which the Waste Lands are reinvigorated as fertile ground where poets are no longer condemned to languish.
Here - despite the confines of a dark cinema and the occasional candy-wrapper crunching, popcorn-chomping loudmouth - we are able to conceive of a world where a shaft of light illumines the desolation, beckoning our parched souls towards that lush oasis nestled amidst the desert dunes.
(Bruce Plante, Tulsaworld)
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