Monday, August 14, 2017

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

Paul, a gentle food writer, is depressed when his live-in girlfriend runs off with her trainer. Then his faithful editor steps in, arranging a trip to Italy so he can finish his latest book and use travel as an antidote for heartbreak. Paul has "always been rather good at suppression," yet fails in his efforts to "delete" his love for Becky. Poignantly, he thinks there are "no flowers or letters any more, just...the faded leaves of the virtual world" to serve as love tokens.

Undertaken with reluctance, his journey brings strange developments: surprise meetings and even a brush with the Italian police. When a rental car proves unavailable, a new friend helps him engage a bulldozer. This machine raises his perspective and his spirits as it carries him at a sedate pace to his hotel high in the Tuscan hills.

Speaking through his characters, McCall Smith treats readers to hearty doses of the his gentle humour and philosophy. His beloved Italy is described as a complex culture in which people give importance to la bella figura, a sense of the value of doing everything beautifully, in the conviction that "they, like everyone else, were being watched."

It is also a collective of subcultures. As Onesto remarks, while politicians in Rome are "busy fighting with one another...all over the place there are people using European Union money to build things we don't need, and then other people come along and knock them down." Hmm, that's a good job for a civic-minded bulldozer driver.

We also learn that "love is a souffle that [can] only too easily collapse," and can rarely be revived. As Paul comes to terms with his loss, the author shares his surprising arrival at the view that sorry was "something he now needed to say to bring the whole matter to an end." He feels compelled to apologize to Becky, even though she left him for someone with more muscle.

The priest brother of a local wine grower routinely argues with the rationalist schoolteacher. In their perennial difference of opinion, Stefano points out that the same problem arises for the man of reason as for the one who chooses faith. "You can't point to something that I can touch or feel and say, That, you see, is Reason...yet you expect me to be able to show you God."

Smith's charming prose is sprinkled with potent philosophical commentary: In case of emotional undercurrents, casual conversation can "cover the things underneath" and "good deeds should never be paraded by those who do them, no matter how strong the temptation to do so might be."

What else do we need to know? Alexander McCall Smith has done it again: another irresistible title and another great standalone tale, filled with the moral solace his readers have come to expect from his work.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Another Southbank has flown

Ten writers committed to Southbank, and all of them upped their game during the short weeks of this summer intensive writing program. On Tuesday, our practice night, the readings were great. They were even better at Saturday's performance.

By Southbank tradition, we celebrated with photos on the stairs of the Surrey library, then adjourned to the Central City Brew Pub to share libations and snacks. Keep in touch and keep writing, everyone!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A feel-good evening with the Ocean Park Wailers

It was a fun evening at Blue Frog Studios in White Rock. Ex-journalist, bass player and vocalist Russ Froese described The Ocean Park Wailers as a "garage band that graduated to become a rec room band." I first met Russ in high school English class in a small northern town I'd rather not name. A few years back, I struck up a friendship with his wife, local writer Margo Bates, who is, as it happens, from the same home town. So there we were tonight, dancing to old songs, some from the repertoire of the Jurymen, the band Russ played with in high school. Funny how things come round.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Mt. Baker rediscovered through plane window; smoke casts weird glow on walls

Camera compensates for red coloration of the Super moon

Last night, the heavy forest fire smoke in the air made the Super moon glow deep red. However, my cell phone camera, thinking it knew better than to photograph a red moon, decided to filter out the coloration.

A super moon is a full moon that makes its appearance at the time the moon's orbit brings it closest to the earth; hence, it looks larger than usual.

Yesterday's super moon was coloured by a thick layer of the smoke that's drifting over us from interior wildfires.

Super news follows the super moon. Here in hot, dry Surrey, we're expecting some rain by Monday. How welcome that will be, and how great to see the mountains again.  Even better, Williams Lake is expecting rainfall next Tuesday, and so is should Cache Creek. How they need it!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Meaning trumps linguistic precision on sign

Second language learners share an unconscious assumption that L2 must follow the rules of the native tongue, which of course, it never does. Linguists call this first language interference.

That's why adults who learn second or third languages often make typical L2 errors.

Whoever created this sign didn't bother making sure of the precise English wording or spelling. They were confident in the sign's ability to convey the meaning, which is clear, in spite of the two obvious mistakes.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Forest fire smoke and dry weather create August autumn


Midsummer looks like autumn here, but we're lucky. BC's interior has been burning for a month, causing massive disruption to occupants, including loads of livestock. The people of Williams Lake were on evacuation alert for weeks before having to go. They've just recently returned. The airport reopened on Tuesday. Now Clinton is under severe threat from the fires. Over sixty BC parks are closed due to the extreme fire hazard. We need lots of rain, and we need it now!