Sunday, September 27, 2009

Swiss Cheesed

So, Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland yesterday. He was arriving in Zurich for a film festival showing a retrospective of his work and never made it. He was arrested by Swiss police and detained for possible extradition to the United States, where he is still wanted on a criminal charge relating to his having sex with a minor in the late 1970s.

A number of Swiss people (and as many French) are pretty incensed about this, and I guess it is understandable; if my country had a globe-spanning reputation for neutrality, I don't imagine I would want my officials bird-dogging for the U.S. But I heard a fellow on the news tonight who was "ashamed to be Swiss" because Polanski "is a great man, a genius, who has entertained millions of people and made one little mistake all those years ago..."

Whoa, back up a sec... I wonder what mistake he is referring to? Having an unsupervised minor over to Jack Nicholson's house for a topless photo shoot for the European edition of Vogue? Giving her champagne and part of a Quaalude? Ignoring her objections and having sex with and sodomizing her? Maybe I just have an old-fashioned, provincial mindset, but while all of those things sound like mistakes, not one of them seems all that 'little'.

Now, none of these 'mistakes' are disputed; most of them are part of Polanski's plea agreement. His story is that the sex occurred, but that it was consensual. But when he heard that the media-hungry judge might renege on the agreement, he fled the United States for France, and has not been back since.

Shortly after the judge in the case died, Polanski started popping up in the news again. Prior to this, his last topical appearance was in Steve Martin's monologue from the year he hosted the Oscars ("I see Roman Polanski has joined us here tonight...GET HIM!"), but an appearance in Rush Hour 3 (?) and a documentary ("Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired")about the case brought him a bit of public exposure which some people speculated might have been an overture towards his asking to have the case dismissed. The documentary alleges that the judge in question had a real axe to grind and that some misconduct on the part of the courts might have been a factor. In February however, a judge declared that Polanski would have to appear in court to request the dismissal, and that appeared to be the end of that.

There is also the question of Polanski himself: the Holocaust survivor who lost his mother to Auschwitz as a child, the man who lost his wife to the depredations of the Manson gang. It has been suggested that any amount of prison time could have been tantamount to a death sentence, and there is no questioning the fact that the man has suffered.

But this changes nothing.

There was a huge outcry when it was revealed that the director of the movie "Powder" (Victor Salva) had been convicted on child molestation charges prior to being hired by a Disney subsidiary to make a family movie with young stars. Not huge enough to stop him from coming back and making a horror movie years later about a busload of teenagers being menaced by creepy trenchcoat-wearing monsters (hmmm...), but still, people were upset that young actors may have been put at risk. Others said that since Salva had paid his debt to society, it was irrelevant, which seems disingenuous at best. But in this case at least a debt was paid; Polanski has yet to face the music. His offenses took place in the 1970s; I can't even imagine the furor today if a famous Hollywood director was even accused of the kinds of acts Polanski described in his plea agreement.

My understanding is that three decades later, he still downplays the fuss. I do not believe he has ever admitted having been in the wrong, and makes statements such as "I like young women...I think most men do." There are many others who would like to see the matter done away with, including the victim herself. I am sure she has to be tired of having this traumatic experience re-visited in the media periodically, and I sympathize with her, so if it is determined that the judge acted inappropriately and the case ends up dismissed, so be it. But I have no sympathy for Polanski, who fled justice on hearsay, and didn't ask for an inquiry or his day in court for a third of a century, and in fact, still hasn't, because he has fans and apologists to do that for him. Strange as it may seem, I am reserving a portion of my sympathy for Barack Obama, who will probably end up mired in a diplomatic dilemma once he is asked by the French Minister of Culture or Nicolas Sarkozy to intercede on Polanski's behalf.

Regardless of how long ago it occurred or how the victim may feel about it currently or what sorts of things Polanski has accomplished in the meantime, plying a thirteen year old girl with drugs and alcohol so you can have non-consensual sex with her is not only wrong, it is evil. But don't take my word for it: Smoking Gun has the original victim statement available online, and it paints a pretty clear picture. Polanski was initially charged with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance (methaqualone) to a minor. He plead guilty to lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, which might seem like a slap on the wrist, but was brokered in part by the attorney of the victim, who did not want to have to testify in court. The spectre of being held accountable for even that small portion of his acts was enough for Polanski to choose exile instead, and he has remained there until yesterday.

Since learning the details behind Polanski's 'controversy' several years ago, I have not watched a single one of his films. Some might criticise me as judging the artist and not the art, but that guy does not see a nickle of my money until he has faced justice. As imperfect as that justice might be, it's all we've got. I'll see "The Pianist" and "Chinatown" after he's pushing up daisies, if that is what it takes. On the plus side, it did give me an (additional) excuse to pass on "Rush Hour 3".

Perhaps I am mis-reading the shamed Swiss citizen, and Polanski's flight from sentencing is the 'little mistake' he is referring to. If so, he should be glad that there may now be a chance to hear the other side of the story. If not, and this person honestly believes that Polanski's skills as a filmmaker somehow excuse his exploitative and criminal behaviour, then I hope his comments get plenty of circulation.

Because at that point, I am sure a number of other people may be ashamed to be Swiss as well, but for a different reason.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I Feel Pretty...

"I feel pretty
Oh so pretty
I feel pretty and witty and gay
And I feel pity
For any girl who isn't me today..."
"I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story

So I have had the opportunity to chat with our new minister on a few occasions now, in a variety of contexts, and the more I get to know him, the easier he is to like.

First and foremost, Rev. James is a very good speaker and teacher, with an excellent way of taking Gospel stories and applying a layer of context that makes them far more significant and applicable, which is something his predecessor, The Sermonator, did as well. He doesn't like standing behind the pulpit, and doesn't need to, as he can expound without the benefit of notes for the ten or so minutes he takes for his reflections. (He doesn't like to think of them as sermons, which I guess means I need to come up with a more appropriate and less lazy nickname than 'Sermonator Too.') So obviously he is an easy guy to be jealous of if you have ever done any public speaking, but I digress.

He's a sociable bloke with a sharp wit, and I get the sense that if he were to take his sarcasm off the leash, it could be devastating to anyone within the blast radius, but he doesn't, because that would probably be inappropriate at the very least for a man of the cloth. At a post-retreat barbecue we talked about a number of things, and it appears we share a weakness for sentiment, and he mentioned having a difficult time getting through his vows with his husband since he was weeping like a baby. I threw up a hand and mentioned a recent situation that produced a lot of 'eye-sweat' for me, and discovered we both enjoy a good turn of phrase (as previously documented in this very blog). After a little more conversation, Rev. James mused aloud as to whether any of my Irish ancestors might have had something to do with the mining, installation or perhaps even the promotion of the famed Blarney Stone. I confessed he was not the first person to make that observation, and he postulated it being highly unlikely he would be the last, so like I was saying, you might not see the sarcasm, but if you watch closely, you can his hand gripped tightly on the halter.

Last week I attended my first worship committee meeting with Rev. James in attendance. This is the committee that handles a lot of the nuts and bolts details about what happens during a worship service, from the scheduling of music and guests to which way communion will be served, and it has been a fascinating experience for me, largely due to the excellent people I get to work with. At this meeting, it was decided that we would donate a basket of goodies to the silent auction we are holding as a fundraiser this October 3 (tickets still available! e-mail me for details.), since we had done this the year before and it had gone over pretty well.

The lady who had done most of the collation, arrangement and presentation of the basket last time around, said she would not be able to do it this year, and wondered if someone else might be able to put it together. Well, anything beyond a sloppy gift bag is beyond my ken, so I clammed up immediately. Rev. James, bless him, jumped right in with, "Oh, give it to me; I can make anything look pretty."

Now, knowing him to be a fan of musicals, I lofted one over to him: "Pretty?" I said, "Oh, so pretty?"

"Yes," he smirked without looking up from where he was scribbling in his daytimer, "Pretty and witty and don't go there."

I don't know if how many others got it, but the two of us thought it was pretty funny. In fact, we got mildly admonished for giggling about it at the church council meeting the following day when he brought it up and I said, "Dude, it was a low road, but you have got to respect how fast I got there..."

He laughed and said, "You have no idea how much I enjoyed that," which is right about when the chair called us back to order, and there was much redness of the faces. But hey, those moments are a gift, and it's almost as much fun to revisit them as it is to share them in the first place.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Better Part of Summer II: Trail of the Calcinite Wolf

(Warning: the Calcinite Wolf proved impervious to photography and his image is not to be found within, but I liked the title too much to give it up.)

Our next excursion was out to Cathedral Grove, an old growth rain forest on the way to Port Alberni. This was mostly an excuse to take a leisurely walk around some gorgeous old trees. How old? In this case, you'd have to ask Fenya.

How big? 76 metres tall in the case of this 800 year-old Douglas Fir.

The forest is not as dense as it once was, due to a windstorm that knocked down a lot of the oldest growth. It's tragic to lose so many trees that were already old when Columbus sailed over, but it's fascinating to see new trees growing out of them in the fashion of nuresry trees. Plus it is almost a bonus to see deforestation not caused by bipedal carbon units, if you know what I mean. Cathedral Grove is not far from Cameron Lake, one of the preferred swimming spots in these parts, so we took a dip.

The next day we took a trip to Port Alberni. The main purpose of the trip was to ride a steam locomotive to Canada's sole operational steam-powered sawmill (Why? What do you mean, 'why?' Because steam-power is cool, and 54 inch head saws are cool, and combining them is AWESOME, that's why!), but we also went to the Maritime Centre to learn about the tsunami that struck the port in 1964 and which I was completely unaware of until I read about it in my AMA tourbook. The museums left a lot to be desired, but it was interesting reading and hearing some of the recollections from the tsunami. No one was killed, but imagining sitting in the attic of my house as it detaches from the foundation and ends up coming to rest on the golf course while you sit in pitch darkness inside wondering if you are being carried out to sea was pretty chilling, as were the signs both here and in Tofino which show you exactly when you enter the tsunami danger zone and mark out the route to safety should an offshore earthquake strike.
Port Alberni is also Vancouver Island's only deepwater port, which let me get a really neat picture of Fenya in front of a massive ship:

I really like this picture, and I can't articulate why. I'm not much of a photographer once you take the Rule of Thirds out of the equation, so I am not sure if it actually is a good picture or not, and if it is, why that is. (I know at least two of you are photographically inclined, and your comments would be appreciated either way!) I do like the tiny image of the crewman painting the side from a scaffold in the background, and the colour is very nice, but other than that, I am unable to say.

I certainly wouldn't call myself a train buff, but having a steam-powered locomotive pull you up to an old, out of the way locale like the McLean Mill is pretty cool.

Young dramatists (The Tinpants Players) acted out the roles of the many varied camp inhabitants from the mill's glory days in the 1940s, and even staged a production called "The Adventures of Douglas Fir". Fenya volunteered to go onstage, which was impressive in that there is virtually no chance I would have done that when I was her age, and not a lot better odds now, come to think of it. Good thing we got her into an arts school.

The mill demo itself was pretty interesting, and they actually sell the lumber they produce. What a great story behind someone's reno project! I spoke to the head sawyer, because he had mentioned that they still use the original engine the mill had started with in the 1920s, and I wondered about the boiler. "Oh yeah, it's all replaced with a new propane one now," he said. "The original, it was, you know, a bomb."

The next day had us heading on a narrow and winding road into the lake country and up to the Horne Lake Caves. I would have to put this one on the must-see list if you are ever in this part of the island. It's a decent hike up to the cave and then about an hour underground with a guide and the only illumination coming from your caving helmets.

The only other caves I have been in are the Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana, which are partially illuminated, you rearly have to even stoop and they have handrails throughout most of it. Not so the Horne Lake Caves; a lot of improvised handholds and butt-scooching and the like.

Our guide, Nick, had a lot of caving experience and was able to point out a number of fascinating mineral deposits, including a helactite, a spiraling variety of stalactite.

I was very pleased that Fenya was able to explain the difference between stalactites and stalagmites using a mnemonic I still remember from a comic featuring the Mighty Atom I read three decades ago and passed on to her. ("There's a 'C' in stalactite, let it stand for ceiling! And the 'G' in stalagmite stands for ground!")

Nick also spun a great yarn about a formation shaped like a wolf near the cave entrance, which he swore would animate in defense of the various calcium formations in the cave because they take so long to form and can be damaged irrevocably just by touching them. In fact, he told us that when they formally opened the caving centre, they had celebrities on hand, including Winnie-the-Pooh, who lost his head and started eating the formation called the Ice Cream Waterfall. At this point, the Calcinite Wolf burst forth from his shell and howled his anger, which scared the hungry bear so much that he tried to tunnel his own way out rather than face the wrath of the cave's defender. Alas, it was to no avail, as he became stuck and the wolf loped down and bit Pooh on his hindquarters, turning him instantly and permanently to stone, as this picture of hs stony bottom attests:

(In fact, if you look carefully in the background of the picture of Nick above, you can also see poor Piglet's little hooves, as he was unable to escape either.) I loves me a good folk story, especially a moralizin' one, and I can't say who believed and who didn't, but every kid in that cave was pretty conscientious about keeping their hands to themselves I tell you what.

The following day, we found ourselves at Little Qualicum Falls. It is a gorgeous walk with tremendous scenery, which again, my photography is only a pale imitation thereof.

(Please disregard the sign in the foreground, they're perfectly safe, I assure you...)

On our last day in B.C. we went swimming in this river. Our attempt to swim in a pool carved out of the stone by the waterfall itself was thwarted by virtue of the fact that there was absolutely no shallow water within the pool at all. It was a classic swimming hole: barely accessible, wicked cold, and with steep stone sides. When the girls are stronger swimmers, you can bet your bottom dollar we will be going back. As it was, we headed up above the falls to a more conventional swimming area and had a great time. The girls let me tow them to the middle of the river on a floaty board, and by thrusting their goggled faces under the water, they were able to see all manner of trout and stonefish swimming through the 4 metre deep bend. In the rocks by the shallows were plentiful amounts of crayfish, 6-8 inches long. I tried to catch one with my hands, but they displayed not only a belligerent attitude but also tremendous alacrity, which brought to mind the warning signs at the Asian grocery stores I frequent regarding how the management will not be held responsible for fingers severed as a result of ill-advised crustacean interaction. And yes, belligerent, for reals; I fully expected these wily arthropods to dart back beneath the rocks from whence they came once they caught a glimpse of myself via their beady eyestalks. Not so much because I am particularly formidable per se, but rather because I am an omnivore of considerable size with opposable thumbs and the like. But they not only failed to retreat, they advanced onto the taller and taller rocks, holding their little pincer claws up as if to say, "I wonder what the big one tastes like?" or perhaps, "you want some of this?" At any rate, this is another spot I long to return to, and the next time I will be bringing a camera in a Zip-Loc, a dipping net, and a Cajun cookbook. Dipping in the river also meant we hit the waterbody trifecta, and had swum in a lake, ocean and river all in one trip.

We also had the opportunity to spend time with Island Mike's excellent in-laws, Trevor and Laurie. They are tremendously cool people with a pair of equally cool daughters, and they also took us over to visit their neighbour Josh and his Newfoundland ponies. These hearty little animals came within a hair's breadth of extinction, and now here are a score of them on the other side of the continent pulling carts for show. I had expected them to be stockier, like Mongolian Steppe ponies, but they look like nothing so much as perfectly formed horses in miniature. Film-makers take note: if you want Gary Cooper to look bigger on-screen, put him in the saddle on one of these.

Running this kind of operation is a lot of work, and I think it was incredibly hospitable of Josh to not only show us the ponies and provide some rides, but to let Audrey take a turn at the reins, no less! The quality of people that Mike and his family choose to associate with never ceases to amaze me. (I don't actually include myself in this, due to the fact that my association with Mike dates back to a time when he was, frankly, disreputable.) And that wrapped up our time on Vancouver Island.

On the way back, we stopped at Hell's Gate on the Fraser Canyon, but it was a bit disappointing actually, as the drought meant the water level was a little less than half of what it had been when Audrey and I had last been there 14 years ago. More like Heck's Gate, really. On the plus side, it is a dog-friendly attraction, which meant we didn't have to rush through and hurry back to keep Nitti from overheating in the car.

Thanks to that detour, we ended up arriving home at 4:00 a.m., but with no close calls on the road despite much caffeination, and nary a complaint from the girls.

All in all, a very satisfying way to wrap up the summer, and we hope we will be heading back to the island before too long. Now I just have to explain to my daughters exactly why Daddy can't get a new job out there...

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Better Part of the Summer

Without Island Mike's aforementioned generous offer to housesit at his place on Vancouver Island, this post would probably have been the bitterest of epistles and entitled "How Bedbugs Ate my Summer". Coming as it did at the very end of summer break though, we were able to snatch back a tremendous amount of seasonal glee in comparatively little time. God bless you, my brother; our gratitude is eternal!

Thanks to modern innovations like the internet, it is now possible to bore people with holiday photos at a rate and scale unimagined in the days of slide projectors! I'd be a fool not to leverage that sort of opportunity, so: are you seated comfortably? Then we'll begin.* Luckily for us, everyone in the household, from the girls to the dog, is an easygoing traveller. Over the course of the 12 hour drive to Horseshoe Bay, we had plenty of opportunities to talk navigation and teach Fenya and Glory how to read a map. It's a boring commute for many, but for me, a ferry trip still feels like an excursion. After eating on board, we explored from top to bottom, and got a decent sunset photo in the bargain. Our first day in Qualicum Beach, we set out to Courtenay (about 45 min. north) to visit Scott and Bev, who just moved out there after Scott retired as our church minister this past June. By the time we returned, we had heard "When do we go to the beach?" approximately 86 times, so we pulled over on the way home and did some beachcombing. In the tide pools we found starfish, ...hermit crabs,

...squirty clams, ...dead jellyfish, ...colorful crabs, ... and a couple of nice photo opportunities, as well as a great number of seashells. We went down to the beach a number of times, and it never got old. I know there are a finite number of things to see down there, but it never felt like that to us prairie dwellers.

We also popped over to the neighbouring community of Oceanside to see their sandcastle building competition, and were impressed and amazed in equal measure.

The single best outing had to be our day trip to Tofino, on the west side of the island, where we went whale watching. We had gone on our previous visit in 2005, but Glory spent most of the trip curled into Audrey in an attempt tp keep warm, and doesn't remember much else from when she was two years old, and we wanted to go again anyways, so after lunch at Big Daddy's Fish Fry, we did just that. (I wouldn't normally pimp an ad in my blog, but the fish is great, and the logo speaks for itself; I had to get the hat and t-shirt.)
As always, the gearing up for an excursion out on a 28' Zodiac provided much hilarity. I sweated up pretty quick in the insulated survival suit cine it was about 28 degrees outside, but was grateful for it later as we zipped across the waves into an offshore breeze. Our skipper, Robin, was an excellent guide, and spared no horses in getting us out to where the whales be. Our previous jaunt had been in a regular boat, a 24' Boston Whaler, but the zodiac meant getting a teeth jarring amusement park ride before a whale was even seen. I am saddened to say that this is the best photo I have of the humpbacks we saw; the massive cetaceans are simply not that accommodating when it comes to amateur photography. This one is the mum, about 45' long by Robin's guess, which seriously dwarfed our little rubber raft. This one with the white tip is her calf. I can't stress enough how little justice pictures and video (especially my pictures and video!)do to this experience, and strongly recommend it to everyone.
We did get a good look at some seals and sea lions, however.
If anyone should bother to come back, the second part will include a living thing eight centuries old, a little train, a large boat, and a cave.

* Did anyone else hear Platinum Blonde's "Doesn't Really Matter" after they read that? Just wonderin'...