It was raining cats and dogs when we pulled up to my VPN pizza heaven, Viva Napoli, in Toronto last week. There were a few available parking spaces out front and the signage (as far as I could tell since there were several signs each with different messages) seemed to indicate that it was OK to park there. We had a marvellous meal, but on exiting the restaurant I found a yellow plasticized parking ticket for $60 on my windshield. Downer!
I always pay my tickets promptly and attach the receipt, keeping them all in my glove compartment in the event that some cop stops me and claims I have unpaid tickets. I went to the City of Toronto payment web site indicated on the ticket and tried to make my payment. Every time I entered the infraction number, I received the response: “Your ticket has already been paid”. Computer glitch I figured. This morning, I called their customer service number and spoke to a representative, who informed me that the ticket had been cancelled because we were from Quebec and they don’t like to penalize visitors, or to quote the young lady on the phone, “It’s bad for tourism”.
I told my son. His reply was au point: “That’s so Canadian….we give you a ticket so that you’ll learn from the experience, but we don’t want it to hurt”. I laughed. You’d never see that in Montreal. Hell, here they would also slap a boot on your car if you’re from out of town, to make sure you paid the ticket instead of skipping out!
Just back from a week out West, 4 nights in Vancouver and one in Regina (Saskatchewan for our American readers). In Vancouver I stayed at the Sheraton Wall Centre, across from St. Paul’s Hospital, where most of my meetings were. The week before I was in Toronto, staying variably at Sheraton, Holiday Inn, and Hilton hotels. Regardless of venue, I noticed one thing: All upper-range hotels have gone the “pouffy” route. They have, for all intents and purposes, been feminized with designs intended to please that gender. The needs of the male traveller seem irrelevant, mirroring the apparent redundancy of men in the general society.
What do I mean by “pouffy”? Here’s a list:
1. Ultra soft beds with layer upon layer of crisp sheets, thick duvets and massive pillows. One feels more swallowed up than supported.
2. Lots of hair conditioner, skin lotions, hairnets, manicure files….but rarely seen shaving cream and body wash.
3. Small toilet bowls incapable of fully supporting the well endowed male arse and family jewels at the same time. Often covered by lids that refuse to stay up (by design).
4. Bathrobes in “one size fits all”, unless you happen to be taller than 5’9” and heavier than 200 lbs. Get the hint?
5. Lovely pastel coloured furnishings and decorations
6. A misty shower incapable of washing off the soap from a large hairy body unless you’re prepared to spend 40 minutes in the so-called shower!
7. Deep jacuzzi style tubs with shelves all around for candles and some roses.
On the last night, I stayed at the Holiday Inn in downtown Regina. A quite town, catering to farm equipment salesmen and oil drillers. The bed was wonderfully firm. No duvet. The shower had a massive head and enough pressure to wash a circus elephant. The morning breakfast buffet had real food. The furnishings were mainly dark woods. The flat-screen TV was massive and the remote worked well. A man’s hotel.
For those who may not be familiar with the term “constructive dismissal”, it refers to the act of creating an intolerable environment so that unwanted employees will leave of their own accord and without severance. It is illegal.
I recently had the great misfortune to travel to Orlando for a psych conference on Air Canada’s new “destination” airline, Air Canada Rouge, which the company has the temerity to call, “A new way to get away”. Since the web site isn’t particularly explicit as to this specialty airline’s market positioning, I will take an educated guess and say that it is intended to compete with discount airlines that fly to “mass” tourist destinations at very competitive prices. Unfortunately, for the business traveler unable to plan a month ahead, the price remains very high ($1000 to Orlando from Montreal via Toronto); adding insult to injury.
If you’re the aforesaid business traveller going to the same place as all those tourists, you’re in for a nasty shock. The seats have been stripped and slimmed down so that they take up an absolute minimum of space. There is no entertainment unit; the company streams videos to your smartphone or tablet (if you have one). The seats are squished together to an extent that I have never witnessed….they make flying regular Air Canada Economy flights feel like First Class. The seats are clearly not intended for anyone 6 ft tall or over. The guy in the middle seat next to me was 5’10” and about 180 lbs. and he was at the comfort limit (we had a nice discussion about the seat configuration).
In my case, it was literally impossible for my torso and legs to occupy the same space. My legs had to be splayed off to both sides and I had to quickly grab my knees and pull them up to my chest in order for the carts to pass without giving me a patellaectomy! The space is so limited that the chair table comes down to rest at a 45 degree angle on your chest! It should have been a clue when I noticed that the AC Rouge staff are all young, thin, svelte people who look like they came off an Abercrombie & Fitch photo shoot (remember that…”We don’t want fat, ugly people in our clothes?”). I looked at one of the male flight attendants as I struggled to put my knees in front of me and I said, “This is inhuman”. He looked at me sympathetically and whispered, “I know what you mean, we get tons of complaints each flight….but the company doesn’t care”. I looked about me….all the taller/stouter guys were grimacing in pain as they tried to sit down.
Of course, Air Canada would never say that they don’t want tall, fat or both tall and fat people on their planes. That would not only be suicidal (has Abercrombie & Fitch ever recovered?), but it might even be illegal. The answer is quite simple: They have constructed a space that is simply extremely unfriendly and painful for the aforesaid demographics. The message, while implicit, is clear: Too tall, too fat….fly business class…not our problem. As Donald trump would say….”You’re fired”.
Rouge….”A new airline to get away from”.
Fruit has a special place in the human collective unconscious; it represents temptation, sweetness, and even joy. It’s power is such that even religions use and have used it metaphorically….the apple as symbolic of the Devil’s temptation of Adam and Eve, the lavishing of fruit on various deities by Hindus and others, etc.
An abundance of fruit may also be linked to the sense of “plenty” in that it coincides with a good growing season and friendly climatic conditions. Who know? Nevertheless, fruit is deeply entrenched in the human psyche as a source of pleasure and good nutrition.
I unabashedly see myself as a “gourmand” in the French sense: A translation brilliantly elaborated by my friend Stephane Gabart in one of his posts on his amazing site, My French Heaven:
In French, a word like “gourmandise” can only be translated in English as “gluttony” or “greed”. Almost always regarded as a sin with the image of a large person in mind. For the French, it actually is a quality.Then again, although we are mostly a Catholic people, we regard most sins as wonderful qualities… For instance we say that you should never trust a thin chef (or a thin person for that matter :0)
Someone who is “gourmand” is thought of as jovial, as someone who enjoys life, a “bon vivant”. He or she is not necessarily a person who is unhealthy looking and eats too much. He or she simply loves food; even the idea of it. It has more to do with the idea of kids in a candy store with their eyes wide open than the idea of a big slob feasting. To be “gourmand” has almost become a philosophy for those who see life as a banquet…
As a gourmand in the aforementioned definition, there is nothing I lament more than the utter destruction of the taste of fruit in North America. I used to absolutely love fruit and would crave it for breakfast or as a preferred snack at any time of day. But with the exception of the occasional apple, my daily fruit consumption has dwindled. The reason is simple: Fruit here tastes like shit! Or actually, I should correct that: Shit actually tastes like something….fruit doesn’t.
Horrific monster strawberries from California that “taste” like raw potatoes. Melons hard as rocks and inedible. Sour blackberries with no hint of sweetness. Oranges with dried out and fibrous insides, watermelons without pits and also without sweetness, and don’t get me started on the peaches! Eating fruit is an overall disgusting experience. Eating fruit in hotels and buffets is even worse….fruit salads heavily laden with sulphites to keep them looking fresh and appealing…until you take that first bite.
And it’s not even a seasonal thing. It used to be, but no longer. Local fruit in Summer did taste pretty good, even up to a few years ago. Not any more. Local strawberries and peaches in season taste just like the imported shit. Doubtless, the same techniques of breeding for appearance and transportability have become part of everyone’s technological armamentarium.
You don’t realize how bad it has become until you go to a country whose population has a high quality standard and would stage an open revolt if you tried to serve them the garbage we are sold here: France, Italy, and Greece among others.
I lament the death of good fruit. It is a barometer of the general decline in our food supply and runs parallel to the obesity epidemic, as we try to find satisfaction in manufactured sweetness from the industrial complex.
A close friend was recently robbed at the gas pump (no, I don’t mean by the oil companies and their outrageous gas prices). He had just returned from the bank and had two certified cheques for payment of commercial expenses, totalling $80K, in his briefcase. He also had $6K in cash which was intended to pay various last-minute bills as well as provide funds for an upcoming trip. His briefcase also contained his cellphone and various business documents.
The briefcase was on the passenger seat. His doors were locked and he had the keys to the car in his pocket, although the driver’s side window was open due to the intense heat we’ve been experiencing. He was pumping gas, no more than 4 feet from his driver’s side door. A man approached him asking for directions. He seemed to have difficulty understanding my friend’s explanation and kept asking more questions. The man left, and as my friend turned towards his car, he noticed a tall man walking away from the car, at some distance. He looked in his car and the briefcase was gone.
A common story I’m sure. A momentary distraction, deft thieves, and (very likely) collusion with someone on the inside (When my friend asked for the security tapes, the owner told him that the cameras were down that day due to a power failure).
My friend was devastated and in a deep funk. His wife and other family members reamed him out for being so stupid. He was depressed and felt intense guilt at his own stupidity and failure to prevent the theft. A dozen things he could have done raced through his mind.
If you think about it though, isn’t that an absolutely crazy reaction? Feeling guilty because you were victimized! Anger at the thieves would have been a more appropriate reaction. But guilt?
I took the time to help him understand that there is no reason for guilt and self-loathing. Anger at the thieves, yes! Here’s why there’s no place for guilt:
- Honest, compassionate people cannot project themselves into the mind of a thief. There’s an old Greek saying that “The thief is always afraid of being robbed”. That’s because the thief is able to project his mind into the minds’ of other thieves…he thinks like a thief! But honest people generally project their own honesty into others (an often deadly characteristic that makes them very vulnerable). It is natural for us to project our value systems into others.
- No matter what lessons you’ve learned from past experiences of being duped, they are only good at preventing the same experience. But here’s the rub: The bad guys are constantly innovating new ways to rob you, that you, as an honest person, cannot foresee because you aren’t wired that way! It’s Steve’s Third Axiom: You cannot protect yourself part-time from people committed to taking advantage of you full-time.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Here’s a few ideas:
- Learn from mistakes so that the same thing doesn’t happen again. Remember, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”.
- Never carry large sums of money or things of value on your person. If you carry a purse or briefcase, make sure it’s on a strap around your neck with the pockets facing inward
- Assume that everywhere you go, there are bad guys stalking you. It may or may not be true at that moment, but will be true at some time. Develop the sense of vigilance of the hunted animal
- If you’ve ever owned a rabbit, you’ll know that they never step on any surface where they don’t have traction. Stay away from high risk places and be prepared to move quickly if you get in trouble
- Want less and focus on a few things that really matter, are manageable, and give you the greatest pleasure. Become a profound expert in these things.
Stephane Gabart recently posted about meeting his foodie soulmate in the form of Mimi Thorisson. Her site, Manger, is pure enchantment, and has found a permanent place in my Chrome tabs. Not only are Ms. Thorisson’s recipes amazing, but the photography (her husband is a pro) are mesmerizing. I can stare at them for hours. The only caveat is that, reading her posts and seeing pictures from her daily life, may be enough to get you to chuck it all and move to France! This is what A year in Provence would have looked like with pictures. Cover photo from her latest post. I made the shrimps….terrific.
In 1975, my wife-to-be and I, fresh from university and on our first vacation together, rented a tiny Fiat 500 and drove thorough Crete. As we would come to each tiny village, the sound of the car’s motor would bring people flying out of their homes, gesturing us to stop and visit with them. In restaurants, as soon as they found out we were from “outside”, they wouldn’t accept money for our meals and would even pack us food and wine to go!
My uncle is from Crete, and heaven help you if you should express a liking for his figs or pears; he’ll surprise you at the airport on your way home with bags full of fruit and spirits!
So this video from Crete Tourism really brought a tear to my eye. I sure hope it’s still like this: