Wednesday, January 31, 2018

In the Midst of a Canadian Winter (2018)

The 4th Season

Yesterday Morning in Toronto:  After receiving some snow, such is the view from my sixth-floor balcony. Moreover, it is as cold as it looks; temp: –12°C (or 11°F). Take heart, fellow Canadians; we are at the halfway point.
Photo Credit: ©2018. Perry J. Greenbaum

We are half-way through winter. Actually, we are two weeks past the midpoint (January 15, 2018) of meteorological winter (December 1 to February 28, 2018), but a few days from the midpoint of astronomical winter (December 21, 2017 to March 20, 2018).  However way you look at it, we are just around the halfway point, and looking at the backside of winter—although it does not yet appear this way.

While some adults like winter, I am not part of this group, since I no longer skate and have never taken up downhill or cross-country skiing or snowshoeing; similarly, I have never owned a pair of mukluks. I do, however own a Russian fur hat (ushanka), which I wear on the coldest of days. My fond recollections of winter rest in childhood memories from the 1960s in and around Montreal’s Mont-Royal, “the mountain.”

I now welcome winter’s end, its temporary demise, and look for signs of its dismissal from Canada, at least for a short while—a respite from the cold and dark dreary days. There are also feelings of being shut in. While it still remains cold, and the first week of February is often the coldest of the year, there is encouraging signs, such as the days becoming noticeably longer. This is always a good thing to beat the winter doldrums—more daylight.

Today in Toronto, for example, sunrise is at 7:35 a.m. and sunset at 5:27 p.m., thus totaling 9 hours and 52 minutes of daylight—almost a full hour more than the beginning of the month. The end of next month will bring another hour of daylight and so on till June’s summer solstice. There is something encouraging in seeing and knowing that the days are becoming longer, that more light is making its way to us.

Today is also a rare event: the second full moon of January (a Blue Moon), coinciding with a Super Moon (the moon is at the closest point to Earth) and a total lunar eclipse. Joe Rao for writes (“Get Ready for the ‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Eclipse of Jan. 31!; January 19, 2018): “Interestingly, this will be the first time in over 150 years (since March 31, 1866, to be exact) that a total lunar eclipse will coincide with a Blue Moon in North America.”

That’s enough excitement for one day.

I am taking a short winter break and will return in mid-February.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Foghorn Leghorn: Little Boy Boo (1954)

American Comedy

America’s Pastime: Eggbert Jr., the bookish son of Miss Prissy, the widow hen, picks up baseball quick enough, even if he takes things literally, like “putting some pepper on the ball.” For more background on “Little Boy Boo,” go [here].

The large Rhode Island rooster, Foghorn Leghorn, sporting a a central Virginia accent, appears earnest in his attempts, even if he comes across as obnoxious and overbearing. The boy’s skills are out of this world and do not match what his small stature suggests, leaving Mr. Leghorn to declaim: “There is something going on around here that just don’t add up.”

Probably so; the events are far beyond his understanding, limited by his lack of awareness, his lack of sensibility, and his lack of humility. Such character traits are rare, and at times used to be found in leaders, whether economic or political. Now, all it takes is ambition, drive, a take-charge attitude and money, not exactly a good combination for their subordinates.

As for the rooster, he remains blithely ignorant; such incongruity makes for some funny moments in that the actual does not meet expectations, and where the quiet thoughtful one outwits the loudmouth and thus comes out on top. It is all the more funny because today this rarely takes place. In America, for example, un gros bouffon can become president.

Such is American (tragi)comedy at its best.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Rolling Stones: As Tears Go By (2006)

Rock ’n Roll

The Rolling Stones perform “As Tears Go By” (1964) from the Beacon Theatre in New York City on November 1, 2006. The Stones have been continuously performing as a rock band since 1962.
Via: Youtube

Part of their Bigger Bang Tour, this 19-set concert in Manhattan was subsequently released, in 2008, as a biographical drama film—Shine a Light—directed by Martin Scorsese. While they wrote this particular song in the early 1960s, the Rolling Stones only started to perform it live during this tour. The song was originally recorded by Marianne Faithfull, in 1964, whose version can be viewed [here]. The Stones’ recording from 1965 can be viewed [here].

While I greatly appreciate music before this time, it goes without saying that this music had a major influence on my youthful years, as it does for many of my generation. While rock is often about protest, about social inequalities, about dated social conventions and long-standing restrictions, this song shows that rock music need not be defiant and hard, that it can also be soft and melancholic.

A fifty-something-year-old Jagger, in 1995, said of the song: “I wrote the lyrics, and Keith wrote the melody. It’s a very melancholy song for a 21-year-old to write: The evening of the day, watching children play—it’s very dumb and naive, but it’s got a very sad sort of thing about it, almost like an older person might write. You know, it’s like a metaphor for being old: You're watching children playing and realizing you're not a child.”

Fast forward twenty years later, and it might be true that neither is it so today for children, so much has the world of play changed.

The Rolling Stones: Ready Steady Go! (1965 & 1966)

The Rolling Stones as shown on a special broadcast of Britain’s Ready Steady Go! from studios in London (ITV Network; 1963–1966), which was later rebroadcast on Channel 4, a British public broadcasting station.
Via: Youtube

The songs from this set were recorded in 1965 and 1966.

The Set
00:28 Under My Thumb 04:10 I Am Waiting 07:20 Paint It Black 09:57 I Got You Babe (Mime Spoof) 12:45 Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Going) 14:19 That’s How Strong My Love Is 16:31 Satisfaction

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Rolling Stones: 19th Nervous Breakdown (1966)

The Rolling Stones perform “19th Nervous Breakdown” on Bandstand (1958–1972; TCN-TV), broadcast from Sydney, Australia, on February 17, 1966. The song is the first track on side two on the 1966 album, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass).
Via: Youtube

This song, recorded in December 1965, was released a few months later. The lyrics, self-explanatory, are essentially about spoiled rich girls who never grow up into kind responsible adults. A bit of social commentary from a rock band at a time when the term “nervous breakdown” was in vogue.

Not so much now, it seems. Today, for example, mental breakdowns are called psychological burnout, depression and mental health disorders, which, despite the different terms, are all just as severe and debilitating to the human mind. You better stop, look around.

To be sure, there are still rich girls and boys, who have too much toys, and who were never brought up right, but they do not cry all night. Such persons have learned their lessons well; now they make others have nervous breakdowns with their economic spells.

A performance, though a greatly subdued one, in comparison to the one above, on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (CBS-TV; February 13, 1966), can be viewed [here]; Jagger is wearing a jacket, which is not his usual stage attire. Constriction.Infliction.Restriction.

19TH NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (Mick Jagger & Keith Richards)

You’re the kind of person you meet at certain dismal dull affairs.
Center of a crowd, talking much too loud running up and down the stairs.
Well, it seems to me that you have seen too much in too few years.
And though you've tried you just can't hide your eyes are edged with tears.

You better stop, look around,
Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes.
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.

When you were a child you were treated kind
But you were never brought up right.
You were always spoiled with a thousand toys but still you cried all night.
Your mother who neglected you owes a million dollars tax.
And your father's still perfecting ways of making sealing wax.

You better stop, look around,
Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes.
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.

Oh, who’s to blame, that girl's just insane.
Well nothing I do don’t seem to work,
It only seems to make matters worse. Oh please.

You were still in school when you had that fool who really messed your mind.
And after that you turned your back on treating people kind.
On our first trip I tried so hard to rearrange your mind.
But after a while I realized you were disarranging mine.

You better stop, look around,
Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes.
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.

Oh, who’s to blame, that girl's just insane.
Well nothing I do don’t seem to work,
It only seems to make matters worse. Oh please.

When you were a child you were treated kind
But you were never brought up right.
You were always spoiled with a thousand toys but still you cried all night.
Your mother who neglected you owes a million dollars tax.
And your father’s still perfecting ways of making sealing wax.

You better stop, look around,
Here it comes
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.

The Rolling Stones: Satisfaction (1965)

Rock ’n Roll

The Rolling Stones and a young Mick Jagger [born in 1943] sing (I Can’t Get No) “Satisfaction” on Shindig! (September 16, 1964 to January 8, 1966; ABC-TV). The show was hosted by Jimmy O’Neill, a disc jockey from Los Angeles.

The song, with its catchy and memorable lyrics, contains a few clear meanings, including frustration with societal and sexual mores, but at the end of the day it is a rock song with the three most famous notes in rock history and an energetic Jagger doing what he does best. Other live concert versions can be viewed here, here and here, the last on the Ed Sullivan Show (1948–71; New York City; CBS-TV), which many families watched on Sunday evenings. Enjoy.

Friday, January 26, 2018

My First Espresso

Montréal Memories

Italian Moca Pot: Making espresso in a caffettiera (“coffee maker”) on the stove-top is the old-fashioned way to make espresso, the way that millions of Italians continue to make it. Later on, I purchases such a caffettiera.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

My first espresso was not at a café, but at someone’s house, prepared by an Italian mother the old-fashioned way on the stove-top. It was at the house of my class-mate, Danny M. It was 1976 or 1977, when we were both students in pure and applied sciences at Dawson College’s Lafontaine campus in Montreal’s east end. We became quick friends; and he asked me if I had ever tried an Italian espresso. I said I hadn’t.

Classes ended early, so we hopped into his black  Pontiac Trans-Am (or it might have been a Chevy Camaro) and quickly drove to his house situated in or around Montrea’'s Little Italy neighbourhood, where prominently sits a large farmer’s market, Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon). The area is busy and bustling, as there are a number of excellent cafés, bakeries, and restaurants.

Sitting at the kitchen table, I looked at the black brew in small cups. Danny and his mother suggested that as a novice I might want to put in a couple of cubes of sugar. I did and took a sip. It was wonderful. I quickly downed the whole cup, saying this was the best coffee I had ever tasted. This was no lie. I whispered to Danny if I could have another, if it wasn’t too much trouble, that is.

Well, Danny's mother was more than happy to oblige; and she quickly prepared it on the stove-top. This other cup was also quickly enjoyed by me, and I soon felt the effects of the double shot of caffeine. His mother said something in Italian to Danny, who translated to me that she said something to the effect that now I “was an honorary Italian.” Danny smiled; his mother smiled. I smiled.

This was my introduction to Italian espresso; while I have had many excellent espressos in Montreal cafes and elsewhere, including in New York City and in Providence, Rhode Island (where I had one of the best Italian meals of any restaurant I have visited), this was the most memorable. I understand why this happens. We tend to remember our first experiences with fondness, notably if they were positive and good.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Careless People

The Human Condition

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby, 1925

I started off this blog more than seven years ago, in August 2010, writing about this issue of poverty, of the poor, and of how being poor pushes you to the margins of mainstream society. I wish I could say it has gotten better. But I can’t; it has gotten worse, and I believe much worse, not only for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, but also for those in the middle. The middle-class is not as robust as it once was decades ago; it is shrinking to the point where it might no longer be the dominant class in America. (see also here, here and here, where you can read the 2016 study by Pew Research Center.)

The wealthy (which includes the heads of large corporations, hedge fund managers and Wall Street bankers), for the most part, created this situation through political lobbying and campaign contributions, with the aim of reducing government spending and decreasing their taxes. Members of Congress, of course, are ultimately responsible for voting for such bad laws that favor only the wealthy, tossing aside and disregarding their mandate to represent the will of the people. Nobody likes to pay taxes, but this has gone too far, with undesirable and quite intentional consequences. Their “success” has led to large increases in the numbers of poor, including in the number of children who face food insecurity. 

This process of noticeable deterioration that began a decade ago (around 2006), based on decades before it of neglect (starting around 1980) has reaped what has been sown, including a lot of ill will, fear and loathing as well as hopelessness. The wealthy, who are admired primarily for their ability to acquire money, are good at influencing the lower classes to turn on each other. Moreover, what we have now in front of us is a social contract in tatters and a large portion of the population, including the common man and young people, who hold no hope of ever catching up to their wealthier classmates—even with a university education. College might not be the great equalizer, after all. Such unlucky ones, which is most of us, have the misfortune of not being born into wealth and privilege. 

America always believed in winners and losers, but some, perhaps only a tiny few, also believed in helping the less fortunate with abilities to achieve upward mobility. If the wealthy want to be remembered for more than just being wealthy, for more than making a magazine list of the privileged, they could use their influence and resources to help make America the nation it ought to be, for one, by joining people of conscience to reverse bad laws that unfairly and disproportionately affect the poor. But this is only a pipe dream, given the prevailing sentiment of the rich and influential. 

One wonders if they as a group are simply amoral, ignorant and insensitive. Are they simply like Tom and Daisy Buchanan, careless people, who could care less about others and who expect others to clean up the messes they make. Fitzgerald’s novel of Careless Capitalism is still a gem of a story. One wonders if the wealthy, deep in their being in their heart of hearts, realize that their overweening desire to save a few bucks, to further enrich themselves, has detrimental effects to society at large. Of course, only they know for sure.

A final thought to chew on. It is not about destiny or fate, but about knowledge and empathy. We are all marked by our particular childhood environments and our particular childhood experiences (think of Citizen Kane and a dying man’s last mysterious word, “Rosebud”). When we get older, we appreciate such memories of innocence more and more. It is what we do as adults that tell us who we have become, who we value, and who we are.

Monday, January 22, 2018

One Froggy Evening (1955)

American Comedy

One Froggy Evening and Michigan J. Frog (the voice of Bill Roberts, a nightclub entertainer in Los Angeles in the 1950s).

I remember seeing this on “The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour” either in the late 1960s or the early ’70s, when it was on Saturday evenings at 5:30 p.m (CBC-TV; 1969–1975). That was the night that my mother made hot dogs and french fries. What a great evening it was for me and my brothers. You can read more  about this cartoon [here], which, among its many virtues, says that you can’t count on a singing frog to make you rich. At least this is not the case for the construction worker, a common man, who can only dream about obtaining some of it—a small slice of the pie. It is indeed fortunate that for now such dreams do not cost money. And, yet, I suspect that if they could be monetized, if a way could be found to do so by corporate interests, they would. (A smartphone in every hand, anyone; or better, still, directly connected to the brain?) Perish the thought: for some reason, now I feel like having some fries and listening to “Hello! Ma Baby” and “The Michigan Rag.”

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis: That’s Amore (1953)

American Comedy

Dean Martin sings “That's Amore” with Jerry Lewis clowning around in comedic form in the Hollywood film, The Caddy (1953), directed by Norman Rae Taurog; it also stars Donna Reed and Norma Bates. The song was written and composed by Harry Warren and Jack Brooks. The comedy duo of Martin and Lewis made 17 films between 1949 and 1956, which were formulaic and forgettable, yet entertaining and a nice diversion from everyday realities, one reason being the apparent difference in mannerism between the two men. Such is American comedy.
Via: Youtube

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Cliff Edwards: When You Wish Upon a Star (1940)

When You Wish Upon a Star from the Disney animated film, Pinocchio (1940)
Via: Youtube

This song has a dream-like feel to it. “When You Wish Upon a Star” was written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (1940). In this animated film, the character of Jiminy Cricket sings the song; the voice is by Cliff Edwards [1895–1971], “Ukulele Ike,” who went from vaudeville to Hollywood.

Other notable versions are by Louis Armstrong [here]; Julie Andrews [here]; Linda Ronstadt [here]; and Neil Diamond [here]. Making wishes, whether on a star or in any other manner, might sound foolish and a wasteful effort, one that will lead to naught, but, yet, this is what people with romantic and dreamy minds have been doing for ages.

So, wish away my friends. Forsake not those youthful dreams and hold fast to them. Focus on those wishes and you will forever stay young. Focus on the wrong things, as many do, and you will age very quickly. This is what worry will do. Childish dreams, however, will rejuvenate your mind and body. When you wish upon a star/Makes no difference who you are. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Julie Andrews: The Sound of Music: Opening Scene (1965)

Musical Dreams

The Sound of Music, by Julie Andrews, who sings the song from the 1965 film of the same name.
Via Youtube & Rodgers & Hammerstein

This is one of the most recognizable songs, from one of the most recognizable voices, Julie Andrews, ever produced at the hands of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, known simply as Rodgers & Hammerstein, one of America’s most famous song-writing duos. This might be quintessential American music, but it is a song that the world understands and appreciates and, most of all, enjoys. I have enjoyed it since my childhood at elementary school in Montreal, moments after the teacher first put the LP on the record player and out came this memorable song and so many others from this album. It was a time long ago, when unicorn dreams seemed possible and the hills were “alive with the sound of music.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Canadian Dream

Our Nation

“It has been our experience that American houses insist on very comprehensive editing; that English houses as a rule require little or none and are inclined to go along with the author's script almost without query. The Canadian practice is just what you would expect--a middle-of-the-road course. We think the Americans edit too heavily and interfere with the author's rights. We think that the English publishers don't take enough editorial responsibility. Naturally, then, we consider our editing to be just about perfect. There's no doubt about it, we Canadians are a superior breed!” 

Jack McClelland [1922–2004], 
in a letter to author Margaret Laurence dated May 1960
Imagining Canadian Literature: The Selected Letters (2002)

I have never heard of the expression, “The Canadian Dream.” When I did an Internet search, I came across this article (“The American Dream has Moved to Canada;” February 28, 2017), published in one of Canada’s news magazines, Maclean's. The thoughts are by Scott Gilmore, a former Canadian diplomat and a social entrepreneur, who writes:
Every aspect of the American dream is now more easily found in Canada. In the United States, 46 per cent of the population has been able to obtain a college degree—in Canada it’s 59 per cent. After graduation, Canadians are more likely to find work, with an employment rate four points better. You are more likely to afford a house with a white picket fence in Canada, where home ownership rates are five per cent higher. Canadians also have more time to enjoy their homes, as they work over 80 hours fewer per year—and they take an extra three days vacation.
It might seem like a good argument, but I doubt that it will work for most Americans, whom Gilmore seems to be addressing in this article—suggesting that Canada has become the home of their nation’s economic dream. While it is true that the idea of property or home ownership has become more important in Canada over the years, it has also become more unreachable in major cities like Toronto and Vancouver.

Except for the success of our sports teams, and the athletes of our Olympic teams, we Canadians are loathe to toot our own horn. For as long as I could remember, we Canadians have been reticent to brag about our nation. chiefly because we are north of one that is large and does enough bragging for the both of us. Yet, quietly and consistently, Canada has been attracting some attention from the more quieter and thoughtful persons south of the border.

I really do not see many (if any) established Americans crossing the border into Canada (perhaps our winters act as a natural deterrent)—for example, fewer than a million American expats live in Canada—a tiny percentage (approx 0.2%) A great majority of Americans love their nation, and even if they loudly complain about it, would never consider living elsewhere. They do like knowing, however, that there exists a nation north of them that seems a little like them.

Even so, Canada can never become the United States, even if it wanted to, which for the most part it does not. The history of a nation always informs its thinking and its ways. A glaring example, and an important one, too, one that Gilmore fails to mention in his Maclean’s article is that Canada has significantly much less guns, much less gun violence and much less violent crime and, equally important, that we openly welcome gun laws restricting their ownership and use.

Such measures not only make us feel more safe, but have actually made us more safe and with less fear and paranoia. This is a glaring difference between us, one that was noticeable when I lived for a few years in the U.S. It is hard for us Canadians to understand how allowing free and unrestricted access to guns makes society safer. This is a logic that escapes us; and on this we’ll have to agree to disagree. There is no middle ground on this issue, it seems.

As for “The Canadian Dream,” this term is not really part of our vocabulary or thinking, but if it does exist I think it contains some of the economic aspirations of the American one, but without the strong language or loud determination. Middle-of-the-road describes us well, and I think that for the most part this is a good thing. There is something to be said about too much passion fanning the flames of inequality.

We can admire America, at least the parts that we like, but this does not suggest that we want to be American. We are after all Canadian, with our own history and ideas of how to live, which is not as ruthless and hyper-capitalist as it is in the U.S. We also have differing views on the role of government and what it ought to do to build a fair, just and equitable society. To understand a nation requires reading its literature, watching its TV shows and viewing its films.

We Canadians, especially in the midst of winter, often forget what a treasure we have before us.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Honeymooners: Better Living Through TV (1955)

American Comedy

The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason (Ralph Kramden), Audrey Meadows (Alice Kramden), Art Carney (Ed Norton) and Joyce Randolph (Thelma Norton), another great comedy ensemble. The show originally aired between October 1, 1955 and September 2, 1956, for only one season, a total of 39 half-hour episodes, all of which I later saw on syndication in the 1960s and ’70s. The show depicts working-class people (Ralph is a bus driver, Ed a municipal sewer worker) living in a neglected Brooklyn apartment building (328 Chauncey Street in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City)—thus depicting the apartment where Gleason himself grew up as a child. Ralph and Ed have schemes to get rich, but never manage to succeed. This was Episode 7, which aired on November 12, 1955.
Via: Youtube.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Petula Clark: Homeward Bound (1966)

Popular Music

Homeward Bound by British singer Petula Clark in 1966, the second track on side two of her fifth album, I Couldn't Live Without Your Love. 
Via: Youtube

This song was originally written by Paul Simon, one-half of the duo composed of Art Garfunkel and himself. It is found on the album Sounds of Silence (UK) and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme [US], both of which were released in 1966. It was also released as a single on January 19, 1966.

The duo broke up a few years later, and made many attempts of return and reconciliation over the years, including at a free concert at New York City’s Central Park in September 1981; you can listen to a later version of “Homeward Bound” [here].

Paul Simon, an American (who grew up in the 1940s and ’50s in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens in New York City), wrote the song when he was in England. There comes a time when home and memories of it beckon you, calling your name.
Home where my thought's escaping,
Home where my music's playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Leonard Bernstein Presents a 7-Year-Old Yo-Yo Ma (1962)

Young Yo Yo Ma [born in 1955 in Paris, France] with his older sister, Yeou Cheng Ma (then 11), who is now a Harvard-trained pediatrician, together perform the first movement of Concertino No. 3 in A major by French cellist and composer Jean-Baptiste Bréval [1753–1823].
Via: Youtube

This is from a benefit concert, “The American Pageant of the Arts” held on November 29, 1962,  whose purpose was to raise funds for a concert venue in Washington, the nation's capital. The concert was a success, both artistically and financially, raising more than a million dollars. The center is today named The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a place where an older and accomplished Yo Yo Ma has performed many times.

Rewind back five decades. The New York Times writes that this concert took place with “a cast of 100, including President and Mrs. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Leonard Bernstein (as master of ceremonies), Pablo Casals, Marian Anderson, Van Cliburn, Robert Frost, Fredric March, Benny Goodman, Bob Newhart and a 7-year-old Chinese cellist called Yo-yo Ma, who was brought to the program's attention by Casals.”

Now, consider the most important remark of an important introduction by Leonard Bernstein: “His is a cultural image for you to ponder. A seven-year-old Chinese cellist playing old French music for his new American compatriots. Welcome Yo Yo Ma and Yeou Cheng Ma.” Alas, this is the best of America, what it once was and what it can be again. One can dream of its return.

Friday, January 12, 2018

My First Pizza

Montreal Memories

Terasse Lafayette: Integrated into a residential building as I had remembered it. The outdoor staircases, particular to Montreal, also bring back particular memories, which includes sitting on them while chatting with your friends, perhaps while enjoying a slice of pizza.
Photo Credit: Air Canada En Route

The first time I had a pizza was from Lafayette Pizza, now called Terrasse Lafayette, which opened in 1962, and is still at the same location as when it first opened, on the corner of Villeneuve and Jeanne-Mance in Montreal’s Le Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood, which was then working-class. This was a few minutes from our house on av du Parc between Mont-Royal and Villeneuve.

I remember my two brothers and I taking home a hot, just-from-the-oven all-dressed pizza, which included pepperoni. It was a hot summer day in July while my father was hard at work. This fact is important, because I also remember my mother telling us to keep this a secret, and not tell our father. I was seven or eight. It was the first time that I ate pepperoni; it was the first time that I and my brothers knowingly ate non-kosher meat. It tasted different, but we all enjoyed it. The meat with the melted cheese is a delightful combination; it is hard to argue otherwise just on taste alone.

We used to get our meat delivered by a kosher butcher; I can still remember the reddish brown packaging paper in which the meat was was wrapped arriving every Thursday. But with this pizza, my mother made a statement of sorts. I also remember her winning that particular battle with my father, and soon after we were no longer getting meat from a kosher butcher; we were no longer worried about eating pizza as a secret indulgence. My father used to have a slice here and there, but not often.

I am not sure why my mother made this change, since we as a family did not discuss such things. It might have been her strong desire to fit in and assimilate and make us Canadian, which I heartily agreed with. It might have been her desire to have a broader palate of foods to enjoy, kosher having many restrictions. It might have been her desire to save money, given that kosher meat cost significantly more than non-kosher meat, and still does (i.e., double or triple the cost). It might have been all of these things, but economics might have been the major reason.

We were not wealthy, after all. It might have seemed foolish to pay extra for food only as a nod to tradition. Kosher might be ok for the wealthy but not for the poor or working class, which we undoubtedly were. My father, who came from a working-class family of small-time merchants, as did my mother, was not religious but found his raison d’être in the values of Bundism, a secular Jewish socialist movement which originated in his native land of Poland. I don’t remember ever having a religious conversation of any kind with my father.

Such arguments, whatever they were, were all unknown to me and my younger self. What I did know was that I fell in love with pizza; we bought pizza from Lafayette many times during those early years. I have bought pizza from many excellent pizza joints, including in Little Italy in Montreal, in New York City, in Chicago, and in Los Angeles. As well, there were the many mouth-watering pizzas made in the kitchens by the mothers, aunts and grandmothers of my Italian friends, work colleagues, and class-mates. Some are truly memorable.

I have not been back to the original place since we moved out of the neighbourhood in 1970. Taking a trip down memory lane, I wonder if my adult tastes would match my childhood memories. Even so, this will have to stay in memory as only a thought experiment, since eating here would break the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut, which my family and I follow.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Home Ownership in Toronto Out of Reach for Common Man

The Average Citizen

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …” 

Charles Dickens, opening sentence,
A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

For some fortunate few, it is the best of times; for most others, it is not. Family homes are so costly in Toronto that these forever remain out of reach for most everyone except for the most wealthy residents. In this city, for example, the common man will find out that single-family homes are highly unattainable, especially when you consider that home prices average almost a million dollars (and that just for a simple three-bedroom bungalow)—this is more than 11 times the total annual median family income in Toronto ($86,260; 2015 census).

When you consider that banks and mortgage lenders still tend to view the maximum cost one should spend on a house as three times total annual family income, one wonders who is buying all these million-dollar homes that require a total income of at least $250,000—this is three times the median annual income in Toronto. Certainly not the average Jill or Joe; that’s for sure. (For a humorous but tragic take on home ownership, there is a scene in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.)

This is not a good situation for anyone who wants to own a home. Is it going to change? I think so, but it might be too little too late. Let’s examine some scenarios. One scenario is that when a vast majority of aging baby boomers begin selling their homes, either to downsize or to go to retirement communities or to move near their children and grandchildren or to move to warmer climates, it will cause a glut of homes on the market. Then, the economic laws of supply and demand take over, and housing prices will drop, possibly to where they would have been had the market followed a normal trend of inflation.

Even so, this might be in another 10 years. No one can know for sure. Another scenario is that it can also happen this year. but for completely different economic factors. Trends suggest that house prices rise for a certain period, say 10 years, and then they drop, a sort of  housing market correction. Or the housing bubble bursts, as it did in the U.S. in 2006–8. Analysts say that such a correction is now due. It is not a matter of if but when. Or, perhaps the foreign investors (mainly from China) will find another city to park their money, seeing Toronto as less attractive, with too much government oversight into their financial activities.

The only people who would be upset upset about any of these scenarios are speculators and house-flippers as well as real-agent agents, mortgage companies and banks. And lawyers, title attorneys and notaries and builders and assorted financiers and various levels of government. There are a lot of people who keep this thing going, have their finger in the pie, and who make a good living from its continued success. It might also be the same people who contribute to its downfall. It’s real-estate monopoly but with real money.

Even so, it might be for naught. It might already be too late. All of these scenarios make an implicit promise that more families of my children’s generation will be able to buy homes, but unless it drops in half—an unrealistic scenario—a very large number of families will still not be able to buy a home here in Toronto. For those making minimum wage or slightly above it, or even two wage earners each making $25/hour (approx $50,000 a year), a house will forever be out of their reach.

Some realists will say that not everyone need own a home, and while this is true, a fair and just society says that an average middle-class family should have an opportunity to buy a house if they scrimp and save and work hard enough.

Yet, no amount of saving and self-denial will work in Toronto for the average Jill or Joe. The dream of home ownership with a lawn in front and a backyard for barbecues and a deck, and where kids might run about, will now always remain a dream. (“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”) Yeah, this is really the case for Toronto (and Vancouver), both anomalies, but not for many cities in Canada and the United States where home ownership is still possible, at least more so than in Toronto. This includes my native city of Montreal.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Chuckles the Clown (1975)

Chuckles Bites the Dust, an episode (Season 6; Episode 7) of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” one of the best that American television comedy has to offer.
Via: Youtube

Mary Tyler Moore [1936–2017] was called “America’s sweetheart,” but there is more to this woman than her TV image, which, of course, can apply to anyone who is an actor or actress. She let down her guard in this 1979 interview with Barbara Walters.

This episode, which aired originally on October 25, 1975, shows that in the hands of good writers and actors even a funeral can be funny. The show produced (by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns) 168 episodes, airing on CBS-TV between September 19, 1970 and March 19, 1977.

Again, the ensemble cast was as good as it gets: Mary Tyler Moore (Mary Richards), Ed Asner (Lou Grant), Gavin Macleod (Murray Slaughter) and Ted Knight (Ted Baxter). There was also Betty White (Sue Ann Nivens) and Valerie Harper (Rhoda Morgenstern) to round out the cast.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66: Going Out of My Head (1966)

Going Out of My Head: Lani Hall (left) Janis Hansen (right) and Sergio Mendes on piano sing the American pop song, “Going Out of My Head,” written by Teddy Randazzo and Bobby Weinstein, which was first recorded and sung by Little Anthony and the Imperials in 1964, a version found [here]. I also remember the version by British singer Petula Clark from 1965 [here], which is the one that I remember best. This one, however, has the cool jazz sound of Brazilian bossa-nova, or new wave. And what is old becomes new again, but you have to wait a generation or two. As for the song, I do not view this so much as a love song but as a state of mind. The more discordant a time, the greater is the need to return to an earlier period where existed the promise of finding relief from misery and, perhaps, the possibility of hope.
Via: Youtube

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Astrud Gilberto: The Girl From Ipanema (1964)

The Girl From Ipanema (1964): In this video, Astrud Gilberto makes her first appearance before a U.S. television audience. The Brazilian bossa-nova jazz song is composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes who wrote the Portuguese lyrics (“Garota de Ipanema”); the English lyrics were written by Norman Gimbel for Astrud’s husband João Gilberto’s album with Stan Getz simply called Getz/Gilberto, released in March 1964. You can hear the original version from this album, with João Gilberto on guitar and Stan Getz on tenor saxophone from 1964, [here]. There is a also wonderful version with the duo of Frank Sinatra and Antônio Carlos Jobim [here].

Friday, January 5, 2018

Unicorn Dreams


The Unicorn by the Irish Rovers; the song was written by Shel Silverstein (1962) and was made popular by the Irish Rovers in 1968.
Via: Youtube

It is not easy to have faith in the unknown, but people do it all the time when they place hope for a better future promised by politicians. This is no surprise, since this is precisely what politicians have been doing for ages—promising “a chicken in every pot.” Except now only the wealthy have the chickens and the pots to cook them in.

When I was a young boy around the age my younger son is now, I heard this song on the radio about unicorns; we even sang it in elementary school back in 1968. I immediately fell in love with these mythical playful creatures, and was saddened by their extinction in the great floodwaters of punitive judgment.

When my youngest son started school, I decided to make up a new story about them. This is a story that my son and I share and dip into on occasion, especially when things appear bleak. “One day the unicorns with their magical golden horns will return and make things better; after all, they are magical mystical creatures.”

It is as good a story as any I have heard. Before you say that this is complete and utter nonsense, you must remember this: so is much of what is done today in the name of politics. So, dear friends, I will take the unicorn dreams, any day. Such are the dreams of the common man; such are my dreams.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

It’s Winter in Canada


“What good is the warmth of summer,
without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: 
In Search of America (1962)

Cold Winter Morning: Looking at the park outside my sixth-floor window on December 30, 2017. The blue effect was unintentional; the colour blue is also associated with sadness, but also with calmness. In this photo nature appear more striking in comparison to what is in the foreground. The boundary between the two is noticeable. 
Photo Credit: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

It’s winter in Canada, which makes me think of my childhood and winter in my native city, Montréal, or Montreal in English, the city of my birth, the one which informed my thinking and which was an endearing and enduring presence in my life, and thus for reasons that need not be explained to any Montrealer holds many memories for me.

This is also the city where as a young child I first slid down Mont-Royal on a wooden toboggan (the kind with red metal runners), my father behind me holding me tight, excited and fearful at the speed of it all as we deepened the groove in the snow, getting to our final destination at the bottom of the hill. Only to trudge back up and do it all again until feelings of elated exhaustion tell me it’s time to go home.

Montreal gets a lot of snow (an annual average of 210 cm, or 82 inches), making Mont-Royal a pretty sight from a distance, seeing it is covered with a blanket of whiteness. This sameness can be either comforting or tiring, as I have written about previously when I lived in Montreal. Even so, it remains like a faithful friend. It is the change of seasons that makes a city unforgettable, as Steinbeck reminds us.

There is no getting away from him, Old Man Winter. Yet, in Montreal, you know that it is winter and it will remain so until mid-April. There might be some warm days where the temperature rises to 5°C and you feel elated, but there is often a long stretch of cold days below O°C, dropping to minus 20°C or even minus 30°C with a wind chill of minus 40°C or 45°C. This has been the case the last two weeks. It does not feel like global warming, but like an old-fashioned winter.

The cold weather and the snow forces you to dress for the season—hat or toque, gloves, sweater, good winter jacket or coat and good warm fur-lined boots. It’s about the layers. I even bought and wore long underwear for the first time in decades; it kept me warm. I plan to buy a few more pairs so comfortable do I find them.

Winter can convey many different images, including rest, death, or tranquility. The term “blanket of snow” can either be comforting, as a blanket is, or it can be the opposite, since snow is cold and damp. I prefer to view a blanket of snow as a term of beauty, where there is a felt peacefulness in this picture. The sound of the crunching snow as boot hits ground can also be appealing to the ear, as one makes his way to his destination.

Montreal is home, no matter where I live, a fact and a feeling that becomes stronger the longer I am away. Montréal c’est toi ma ville. Toujours. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Home in Modern Times (1936)

American Humor

A New Home, a scene in the silent film, Moderm Times, a comedy written and directed by Charlie Chaplin and also starring Chaplin and Paulette Goddard. While this film was undoubtedly relevant during the Great Depression, shining a light on some of the problems that industrialization provoked, it remains so today, with the comedy so poignant that it evokes both sadness and laughter. It seems that in many cities, including Toronto, all the common man can afford is a shack, and pretending it is a palace. Imagination can be grand, but it can only go so far in most humans before the tears start rolling down one’s cheeks.
Via: Youtube