Power Success

Well, we’re back to the 20th century (we’ll get to the 21st in a few more days, I think). The power came back on at about midnight last night. So far, the only permanent damage is a lot of spoilt food in the freezer and fridge. Most of the clocks have been reset (except for the Rice Cooker – who thought of putting one on that? Oh, right, some people set it in the morning to cook rice for when they get home from work).
The computer seems 100%, but the TV is still dead. Actually, it died a day or two before the power failure, so it’s not related, as far as I can tell. Too bad that it didn’t magically heal itself when the power returned.
The reason for the power not coming back in our building (when it did for the rest of the area of South False Creek that was affected) was that our Main switch blew (and that is to say ‘sploded!) when the current started flowing again. With little or no communication (some of the landline phones were out as well) we relied on the old fashioned game of telephone. Rumours were running rampant as we came and left the building. “It was a huge rat that got torched.” said one neighbor. “It’ll be down for 4 or 5 days.” said another. I’m surprised we didn’t get stories circulating of aliens or zombies in the Generator room.
Having showered, shaven and reset most of the radios and clocks, etc. I now have to get to the task of throwing out all of the bad food. It could have been much worse; this week we had less leftovers than we usually do in the fridge.
I still chuckle over the fortune cookie (which I tweeted last night) that we got at the end of dinner: NOW IS THE TIME TO DEPART FROM YOUR REGULAR ROUTINE. Yes, Mr. Cookie, it was indeed. Now, I’m just hoping to get back to some semblance of that routine, if you don’t mind.

Lights Out

I was in the middle of an email early yesterday evening (about 7PM), when *poof* all the power went off. It wasn’t as much of a shock to me as it was to Pam, who was downstairs in the basement storage room, but she was able to feel her way out in the total dark – emergency lighting kicked in after a minute or so, just as I was making her way to get her, should she have become locked in. There was a Blueberry Buckle in the oven (it’s off now, leaving the dessert about half-baked. I had already made a light dinner of tuna salad and some hot rolls (which were, fortunately, done).
I checked with BC Hydro periodically, and yes, they were working on the outage, which spanned about 6 streets (5th thru 11 or so), in roughly a 15 block area from Hemlock Street to Yew or so (we are at the farthest eastern point of the outage. The other side of Hemlock to the east is fine — Doh!). They first posted that it was a cable problem and would be fixed by 7 PM. Then the set it to 11 PM. Curiously, they said the outage only affected 1100 residents, but since we know for a fact that there are 500 in our block of Hemlock thru Granville, that number is seriously out of whack.
We ate dinner, located some candles and flashlights, took a walk, got back and went to bed. Still no power. I checked again (although my phone was starting to run out of power), and BC Hydro had updated to their estimate of when power would be back to 2 AM. Then this morning, we got up at about 6:30, and still no change. I went to the nearby Wicked Café to get some coffee (since making our own was out). Apparently power was restored at 2AM to every other building but ours. Great. Our building manager is out of the country, on vacation, so that might account for the problem, but it doesn’t help, either. Another call to BC Hydro reports that it is ‘A problem with Customer Equipment’ and that the time they estimate that power will be restored is 4 PM, but given that the history of this set of missed milestones is starting to sound a bit like BP in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m not holding my breath.
So, it’s about 9:45 and I’m writing from Waves downtown. I plan on heading to the library at 10 when it opens, and have an appointment about 3PM, which I will attend unshowered, unshaven (no hot water) and in whatever clothes I could put together. I’m hoping that my computer will come back with all drives and that not too much food in our fridge and freezer was spoiled, but it’s hard to say how much damage has been done.

A Bit of an Ode to Granville Island

Entrance to Granville Island at Dusk

Entrance to Granville Island at Dusk

I often tell people that living near and shopping regularly for food at Granville Island has ‘changed my life’. It’s true, and I thought I’d spend a little time trying to explain how and why.

First of all, it’s changed the food that I buy. I rarely get food that comes in a box or is pre-processed, and get mostly fresh meat and vegetables. The things I do buy that are cooked or prepared include sausages and other meats and paté from Oyama Sausage company, soup from the Stock Market soup kitchen, the occasional pie (dessert or entree) from À la Mode, and bread from any of the 3 bakeries (French – La Baguette & L’Echalote, Artisanal – Terra Breads, or English/North American – Stuarts). I try to buy what’s in season (although that can be hard in January or February), and look forward to certain months when I know something will be appearing and gradually (or swiftly) going down in price. We are about to hit the summer fruit season, and I love seeing the arrival of peaches, apricots, plums and blueberries. Because of this, I’ve learned which vendors have the best of each variety of fruit, vegetable or meat. While I do get some organic vegetables (onions and potatoes), I also try to buy things that are grown locally. Again, this makes the winter months a time when I have to compromise a bit, but most of the year it’s quite possible.

We are very lucky in that we live a short walk from the market, and I quite frankly can’t imagine living farther away from it. The fact that we walk there and carry our groceries back adds just a little bit of exercise (or at least the excuse to go outside and get some air, even if the weather is rainy or simply dreary.) For the vast majority of visitors to Granville Island, the market is a curiosity, a kind of living museum of the way people used to shop for food (and still do in many other countries outside of North America). I’m always amused to see someone taking a photograph of a stack of cherries or strawberries (although they are pretty); They’re getting a snapshot of my grocery store, and in a few cases where they flood the aisle and are oblivious to the rest of us, I wish they’d just get out of the way and let me get on my shopping. That doesn’t happen too often, but some days, when a tourist bus lets off, the market has to walk the thin line between attraction and grocery store.

I shop at the market often, and nearly always bring a sack. Since I’m there so much, I’m recognized by nearly all of the merchants, and am on a first name basis with several of them. I’ve also learned about their families, heard some stories, found out their likes and dislikes, and think of them as people, not just someone at a cash register. I’m impressed with the close-knit families who work in the Market, and am often been cheered up (or calmed down) by simply entering the market, especially when it’s not crowded with tourists, which unlike a Supermarket, is not lit solely by fluorescents. (I should add that on Foursquare, the social media ‘game’, I’m the mayor of Granville Island Market, and have yet to be replaced by someone who checks-in there more.)

Speaking of Supermarkets, I do go to Costco about once every 2 months or so for a few items (olive oil, paper goods, maple syrup), and also go to an organic grocer on Broadway (who used to be the Dan-De-Pak home office, or so it seemed) for rice, the odd box of breakfast cereal or crackers, etc.) I always feel kind of disappointed and maybe even a little depressed when I walk into a cavernous Safeway, IGA or Save-On Foods, all lit by those fluorescent lights, and very cold from the frozen aisles.

Back to the Granville Market: In addition to the people, the food and the light, there are the smells. I can nearly navigate the market by my nose. In the fish market, I can smell the brine of today’s catch. There’s frequently the aroma of freshly baked bread by the bakeries (and La Baguette has that marvelous yeasty smell of pain de mie nearly all of the time). The food court (which I must confess, I sometimes go to first, in order to eat before I shop, which helps stop larger purchases made when hungry), there are areas where you smell pizza, curry, or falafel. In several spots in the building, the smell of coffee and tea wafts out into the aisle, and you can understand why there’s such a line at J J Bean.

In the summer, there is the extra treat of Thursdays, particularly in the morning, when local farmers truck in their produce, and sell some of it outside, next to the Market. In recent years, some farmers have specialized in Heirloom Tomatoes, and I’ve actually tasted celery (yes, celery!) that is actually mind-blowingly sweet and tasty. Some of the farmers stay all day, but most of them are there mainly in the morning, so Thursdays are particularly good to get early and get the best produce.

I’ve discovered new fruits and vegetables at the market. We’ve tried Stinging Nettles as a side dish, and boiled down elderberries into syrup. I’ve cooked sour cherry soup, and after our trip to Southeast Asia, have made Ataulfo Mangoes (Manila Honey Mangoes), Dragonfruit, Rambutans, Longans, Lychees, Pomleos and Passionfruits a treat for breakfast or dessert. Nearly all are available (although not cheaply most of the time) at the market. I’ve frequented the Asian Food specialty shop in the market, The South China Seas Trading Company, where I’ve finally learned to appreciate the finer points of coconut milk, fresh tamarind, little red chiles, lemongrass, galangal, and even fish sauce. I’m thrilled to have found great fish that is cheap (Rockfish – big, red, and ugly, but they’ll filet it for you for free, so you have a lovely, firm white flesh for curry or soup), and am surprised at how good the turkey is. I’ve cheated a little, and gotten pre-marinated Maui Ribs, as well as Cornish Game Hens, and one of these days this summer we’ll make a Caribbean Goat stew with the fresh goat meat we sometimes see them cart in. The spot prawns are in this week, and every year I look for fiddlehead ferns (in the Spring) and Okanagan pears (in the Autumn).

All in all, Granville Market has expanded my diet, made me more in tune with the passage of the seasons, lowered my blood pressure (at least when I’m visiting, I think), and provided me with a sense of connection to my food with the people who grow it and sell it. It’s helped me learn to cook new and more complicated dishes, and also let me off the hook when I’m stumped and just get a homemade turkey pie or soup. I feel as if I’m richer and my life is healthier and fuller with the market in it, which is about the most one can say about any activity, especially one as mundane as food shopping.

Heirloom Tomatoes at Granville Island Market

Heirloom Tomatoes at Granville Island Market

In Memoriam

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, and it’s probably the hardest one I’ve ever had to write. The world lost someone last week. She wasn’t famous, but she was important. Her name was Rebecca Hammann.

Rebecca, or Becca, as she preferred to be called, will be missed by many people; I’m clearly not alone. There has been an official obituary, and there will be memorial services, although I doubt I can attend them. I can’t even begin to sum up a person who I haven’t been in touch with on a regular basis for a couple of decades; I didn’t know her as an adult as well as I did when she and I were young. I can say that knowing that we will not meet again seems just as painful as it would have been if we had seen each other regularly.

We met, back in the late 1970s, at a summer program called The Walden School, a 5-week program for kids 9-18 who were interested in music, and in particular, music composition. The Walden School, as it’s web site says, was and is ‘an artist colony for young musicians’. The name of the place is from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which suggested an affinity with the New England Transcendentalists, as well as the idea of retreat to art within nature. More recently, when I served on the Board of Directors for the School, we wrestled with a phrase that summarized their approach, which was that at Walden, one could study music as if it were a language. You learned to understand it, as well as ‘speak’ it. As part of their training, all of the students compose, and just about everything that they write is performed by a combination of other students, faculty, and professional performers in residence. When Becca and I were students, the program was held in Vermont, but since then it has moved to New Hampshire. I recently learned with pride, that during a presentation in New York where a current Walden student was receiving an award, it was referred to as ‘the renowned Walden School’.

Here’s what the obituary won’t tell you: Becky (as she was called back then) was no average student. She had an extraordinary mind. She was a fine performer, but not as exceptional as she was a composer. At the time, we were both studying the opus 11 piano works of Arnold Schoenberg. In particular, the first of those three pieces, we realized, was the musical equivalent of a Hirschfeld caricature, where instead of picking out ‘Ninas’, one could find tens, perhaps hundreds of instances of a 3-note cell: b,g-sharp,g-natural – a falling minor third followed by a half step. In fact, Schoenberg’s piece of early atonality is not so much hiding these cells, but like a body, it is almost entirely composed of them. Some of the students wrote a few pieces based on this method of tight construction. As an assignment, Becky wrote a concentrated gem of a piano piece that I can still play back in my mind. It also was based on a three-note cell, but her’s was c,b-natural,f-sharp, a rising major seventh followed by a falling fourth. The drama of that initial leap, followed by the smaller leap down, was followed by a brilliant inversion of the first 3 notes: a,b-flat,e — a falling major seventh followed by a rising augmented fourth. Those first 6 notes displayed her unique sense of musical drama and balance, and along with the finely crafted and dramatic passages that followed them, won her a BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) prize at the age of 15. The usual age for winning a prize like that is perhaps mid-twenties. Several of my teachers, Pulitzer prize winners and now-famous composers won a BMI prize when they were older than she was, and many of them didn’t win one at all. I hope to be able to post or point to an online recording of the piece. The cassette recording I had of it is long lost.

Becca and I stayed in touch, mainly via sporadic letters, on and off until I went away to college. I know that she pursued a life in teaching, beat back breast cancer, and adopted an adorable child in China who is named Lucy. Those items one can find in her obituary. What it does not tell you is that she remained extraordinary — How could she not be? She had her seizure while teaching Science class. Despite the fact that she could no longer teach, she insisted in coming back in to see her class. She brought with her the images from her MRIs that indicated the tumor. I believe that she also met with each of her former students to talk about what death was, how it was a part of living, etc. In essence, she turned her illness and prognosis into a vehicle for learning. Frankly, I’m in awe of such courage and clear-headedness.

The obituary also mentions that when she learned of her diagnosis, she immediately wrote President-Elect Barack Obama. In fact, her seizure struck just 2 days after the election. Here is an excerpt from her online diary:

TUESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2009 5:15 PM, CST

When I first found out about the return of my cancer and that it was terminal, one of my first thoughts was to write a letter to Obama. Remember, all this began the day after the election. So I did write one, telling him to use his leadership to get us to make hard decisions. “Your task is daunting. It is not something you can do alone. You will need to convince the people of this country and in this world that they need to and can change. If anyone can do this, it is you. In a culture of lies and convenience and ease, you have the ability to say the truth clearly and, I hope, the people of this country have the willingness to hear your words.”

I wanted VERY badly for him to read the letter, but everyone knows how hard it is to get a letter to the President himself. My sister and her husband gave it to someone who gave it to someone who gave it to his personal secretary, the person who decides what papers go across his desk. Pretty darned close.

Then today, I got a letter from Obama. It was beautiful. It feels incredibly good to know he heard me.

Rather than link to her letter and his reply (which are online elsewhere), I’d like to provide them here:

Dear President-Elect Obama,

For the last year or so I have felt as if the world was falling apart. Our system is based on buying more than we need, more cheaply than the true costs. We believe that we deserve comfort and ease and material things that our Earth can not afford to give us. That is why I hoped so much that you would be elected. You bring hope and true leadership to this country and this world. There is a chance, now, for my two-year-old daughter to live in a world of beauty and love instead of the chaos and greed I had begun to imagine for her.

She is a glorious child, full of life and love and humor and she alone is worth changing the world for. You must not falter. I know in my head that there are millions of children to protect; even adults who have created this mess are worthy. But I must ask you for her in partic ular. The day after your election I learned that I do not have much time. A seven-year-old cancer has spread to my lungs and brain and will prevent me from taking part in the changes that must occur. So I am begging you to lead this world with all your heart and mind, to not take the easy path and to never let the rest of us take it either. This is a lot to ask of you, I know. Our entire paradigm must shift. Our decisions have been based on material possessions and comforts. Even mine. I just decided a few weeks ago to try to live without my own car. I realized that I must be part of the solution now before it is too late. But my tiny realization must be magnified a million times if it is to save our beautiful Earth. Our lives must change. We simply can not sustain what we are currently doing.

My hope is that you are honest and courageous enough to lead us in the direction we must go. You have two beautiful daughters yourself. You know there isn’t a moment to lose.
But your task is daunting. It is not some thing you can do alone. You will need to convince the people of this country and in this world that they need to and can change. If any one can do this, it is you. In a culture of lies and convenience and ease, you have the ability to say the truth clearly and, I hope, the people of this country have the willingness to hear your words. The changes we must make will require almost overwhelming amounts of courage and hope — and that is what you inspire in us.

My darling Lucy can do without most of what we have grown accustomed to — the material possessions and the comforts. But she needs a healthy Earth and a thoughtful self-sacrificing humankind willing to act for our future generations no matter how difficult.

Please, from the bottom of my heart, don’t give up this fight. If you could meet my daughter Lucy, you would know why you can not. And there are millions of Lucys in this world.

Rebecca Hammann

Obama’s reply:

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for the let ter that you wrote to me on behalf of your daughter. I was moved by your sense of hope and purpose.

You described what makes Lucy unique and glorious, and then ended by saying that “there are millions of Lucys in this world.” I was struck by the seeming contradiction, but of course it’s true — we all know that there are hundreds of millions of children, and yet each is unique.

Just like you, I try every day to build a better world for my daughters, and to make sure they are ready to enjoy it — that their personalities are shaped by love, knowledge, compassion, a sense of honor, and the free spirit that my mother always nurtured in me. While I can’t imagine the anguish you feel knowing that Lucy will grow up with out you, I am profoundly honored to be part of the hope that buoys you today.

You are right to be hopeful, because our children face a future of limitless possibility. We know that a sustainable way of life is essential to our children and grand children. But beyond that, the quest for sustainability that you described with such eloquence and passion is integral as well, because it is a powerful unifier, motivating peoples and nations to act in concert so that all may benefit.
I have every confidence that your daughter will grow up to be a part of this, living out the principles that have motivated you and which will live on within her. My heart tells me Lucy will play a part in creating the change you and I seek. My faith tells me that you will be smiling down on us the whole time.

Barack Obama

With Becca’s death last week, two phrases come to my mind. The first is Shakespeare, from King Lear, when he mourns Cordelia: “Thou’lt come no more, / Never, never, never, never, never.” I will never again hear her unmistakable voice, never again take in those gray-blue eyes, never again kiss her (we kissed once; I thought there would be more but that one was the first and last), she’ll never see the sketches I made of a Symphony that included her name (or at least the letters E-B-E-C-C-A) worked into it in several sections. We’ll never have a reunion where we laugh over my youthful crush on her (and how one day she finally wrote me a letter telling me to lighten up, that I was becoming a bit of a pain).

The other is a phrase from one of the English translations I read of the Tao Te Ching: “The Tao is the mysterious female.” Like many young girls, Becca talked softly and mumbled. Rather than ask her to say a phrase again, the awkward, pimply adolescent that I was, I would just guess at what she had said. This, plus the complex workings of her mind, made her a great mystery to me, and one can’t but help but love a mysterious female.

Finally, as a last word, I wanted to include one other entry in Becca’s online diary, which also displays, for lack of a better word, just how extraordinary she was, to the end:

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2008 1:25 PM, CST

This whole experience is profoundly different than I would have ever expected. I feel overwhelmingly lucky. There is so much goodness around me. I have to say I’ve been kind of down on humans as a species for a while. When we just go about their business, we take too much from our Earth and each other. We are so often selfish and cruel. But when faced with challenge, human beings are a glorious thing. We are full of love and strength. Anything is possible. The thoughts and love coming from all of you just proves this. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me!

And it seems clear that this whole experience isn’t really about me. It is about the challenge. The thing that makes us rise up and be what we ought to be. I see those around me do this everyday and it fills my heart with hope. Not for the amount of time I may or may not have, but for all of us.


Imminent BarCamp

Im attending BarCampVancouver 2009

Tomorrow is a big day. About 300 or so people are going to converge at an office park not far from here, The Discovery Parks building (old QLT building) at 887 Great Northern Way. We are all, once again participating in the annual BarCampVancouver, an ‘unconference’ and part of an international network of similar conferences, “born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment.” In a BarCamp, (a movement that started in 2005). It’s hard for me to believe that the first BarCamp (in Palo Alto, in August of that year) was organized from concept to event,  in less then a week, because this year I’ve been involved in the organizational planning of the event, and I can tell you that it took us longer than a week to organize this one (more like several months).

I like to think that I have a lot of smart and interesting friends. I’m very much looking forward to some of these presentations, including a remote presentation via Skype from my childhood friend David Saslav, who is leading a discussion (from San Francisco) on “how choral singing makes you smarter and improves memory”. Not only is this a topic near and dear to me, but I’m also fascinated by the idea of a remote and interactive presentation at a conference – hope it all works! Other topics during the day range from Data Mining Twitter, to how storytelling is remaking video games, to a public discussion of how we are going to perhaps fill the hole created in the Vancouver Tech scene by the demise of WorkSpace.

If you are in the area, have a free day this Saturday, and are interested in a day of stimulating presentations and discussions, head on over to Discovery Parks on Great Northern Way. As I always say about BarCamp, it proves that everybody is an expert in something, and hanging around experts can definitely expand your mind and make your day.