One of my favourite docks to photograph is on Longboat Key Florida. I have been going there for over 30 years to vacation and this dock always draws my eye and my camera.
A Facebook friend recently posted a visually striking black and white photo of a man on a pier and it reminded me just how drawn I am to photographing docks and piers and breakwaters. I think it is the idea that the dock leads somewhere and the somewhere is often an expansive body of water. The boats at the docks are transport for adventure into the ocean or lake. There is something solitary about many of these images at the same time. Perhaps we are dwarfed by Nature.
It spurred me to look through my photo library for pictures of docks and piers that I have taken in many parts of the world. I have so many that I have to divide this into three parts. I hope you enjoy this maritime travelogue.
Primum non nocere – first of all, do no harm” was a dictum that I learned in medical school and always tried to apply in day to day practice. I remind myself of this principle, as well, in my role as a trustee of the CanAssist African Relief Trust, an African charity that has consumed much of my energy over the last few years.
There are two schools of thought about providing development aid to some struggling parts of the world.
Peter Singer puts forth the argument that we are morally obliged to help. If we see someone straining to survive and helping them would be of little significant consequence to our own well-being then we must. Most of us would not hesitate to wade into a shallow pool to save a drowning child, even if it meant getting our new leather shoes wet and dirty. Taken more broadly, giving up the cost of a night out at the movies to help vulnerable children in Africa follows the same moral responsibility. A life saved is a life saved, whether in a Canadian water park or a Ugandan village.
Other writers wonder whether some forms of developmental aid are doing more harm than good. A recent documentary, Poverty Inc, refers specifically to the tons of rice that poured into Haiti after their disaster in 2010. This aid was certainly helpful for crisis relief but it continued to flow into Haiti after the crisis was over. Free rice, bought from suppliers in the US and subsidized by the US government to provide “aid”, caused the farmers in Haiti who previously sold rice locally to go bankrupt. Who would pay for rice at the market when you can get it for free? This ongoing supply undermined the local economy and increased dependency while American suppliers were being paid. There is a difference between humanitarian aid and ongoing developmental funding.
This debate challenges me to think about what we do through the CanAssist African Relief Trust. How can we satisfy our moral obligation to help struggling communities but not create or foster dependency? Like the primum non nocere dictum, it is partly what we don’t do that is important.
First of all, CanAssist does not send goods; we send money. We don’t flood the East African market with materials purchased in Canada and shipped overseas at great cost.
CanAssist does not deal with large multi-layered governmental departments but directly with individual schools, support groups and clinics. We don’t go to a community to promote our own agenda or ways of doing things. We let the community, school, health facility come to us with their ideas of what sustainable infrastructure we can fund that will improve their well-being.
We don’t send unskilled volunteers to Africa in a “voluntourism” holiday to build a school or do other work that can be done more effectively by Africans. Our supporters don’t rob jobs from local carpenters and masons who need that work to pay for their family’s schooling or health needs. Instead, our funding stimulates the local economy, albeit in a small way.
We don’t provide money for programming, staffing or other individual support. Once a donor starts paying for school fees for a young child, for example, the student becomes dependent on the benefactor’s help to finish secondary school, and beyond. It becomes difficult to stop this individual aid. And only one person benefits from this well-meaning generosity. CanAssist provides communities with funding for sanitation or clean water, or for classrooms and furnishings at rural schools. The materials are purchased locally and construction done by employing local workers, both men and women. If parents are healthy, better educated and have work available, they can earn the money to look after their children. CanAssist project funding, therefore, provides two benefits – temporary employment for local people and infrastructure improvement to the community, benefitting many rather than just one or two.
CanAssist’s administrative expenses in Canada are about 5% of our budget. For some other development programmes, a large proportion of the claimed development funding stays in Canada, paying for salaries, airfares, office space, fax machines, hotels and computers. CanAssist does have obligatory administrative expenses like bank fees, Internet access, postage and liability insurance and some unavoidable professional fees we can not get pro bono. All other goods and services are purchased in Africa. We pay no Canadian salaries. We provide casual employment to some Africans to help implement our projects but this, too, provides initiative to them to work to earn their money. It is not a handout.
We don’t fund one group indefinitely. CanAssist attempts to give a school or community a kick-start to help their development but ultimately they must figure out how to manage their own operational and infrastructure needs. The goal is self-sufficiency and this would not be attainable if the group could rely on CanAssist support indefinitely.
For these reasons, I am convinced that that CanAssist can continue to provide help without harm African communities. We are grateful to our many generous donors who participate confidently in this mission with us – knowing that they can help without fostering dependency.
There are over 400 movies at TIFF, including documentaries and short films. My penchant for things African led me to see The Ivory Game, a recently-completed Netflix-produced film about the rapid decimation of the African elephant population that, sadly, is threatening extinction of this largest of land animals. The figures are startling. The number of elephants in East Africa declined by 30% or about 150,000 elephants, from 2007 to 2014 and continues at a rate of about 8% per year. Part of this stems from human-wildlife conflict as human development encroaches on previously protected areas. Elephants know no boundaries and may destroy gardens and local agriculture so people living in villages near these animals turn to killing the animals to protect their crops.
But the bigger problem is poaching of the animals for their tusks. It seems that the main trade in elephant tusks is through China where ivory trinkets or carvings are seen as valued pieces of art. And poachers, gang leaders and corrupt officials can make a lot of money selling illegal ivory. They are even banking on the approaching extinction of the elephant, a boon to their profit as ivory becomes increasingly scarce.
In addition to educating about this crisis, the film turns into a real-life spy thriller as it follows undercover agents as they try to gather information to help capture and convict the poachers, including one of the kingpins aptly nicknamed Shetani – “the devil”.
It appears that the only way for elephants to survive is for governments around the world to make sale of ivory totally illegal. Until that happens the poaching will continue and the number of African elephants living in the wild become dangerously threatened.
I give this documentary 4 stars of 5. It was the only movie that I saw this year at TIFF that actually moved me to tears. It will be on Netflix later this season.
I have peppered this page with a few of photos of elephants that I have been fortunate to see over the years in East Africa. How many of these magnificent animals have survived the poacher, I wonder?
I took the above photo on my way to the airstrip in the Maasai Mara. I was worried that having to stop as this herd of elephants meandered across the road would make me miss my plane back to Nairobi. But even the small local airlines are on “Africa time” and the plane was an hour off schedule. Meanwhile I got to sit in a jeep and watch this extended elephant family enjoying their day.
And when I got to the air strip, the small plane was oversold by one – so I got to sit in the cockpit with the pilot. A commanding view of the Maasai Mara and this memorable sight of another large herd of elephants crossing the Savannah.
Day three was a three movie day. Cue the violins and choral swells. Get out a few pails of fake blood. White backlight ready? Unpack those nineteenth century costumes from 12 Years a Slave. Cotton fields ready to harvest? Time for the much promoted Birth of a Nation, touted as an Oscar contender, surrounded by a bit of controversy regarding a past incident involving the director/star. High expectations. Collective (deserved) residual guilt about the treatment of black slaves in the US.
Nate Parker (where did he come from?) takes a Mel Gibson approach to writing, directing and starring in this film that actually reminded me of Braveheart. Lots of testosterone and high drama. A final sacrifice of the hero that almost seems like a crucifixion.
It will do well at the box office, will be heavily promoted by the distributer who has paid through the nose to get it and it will be Oscar fodder. I give it 3 out of 5. We have seen all this before.
Loving is a true story about an interracial Virginia couple ( who just happen to have the surname Loving) who, in 1958, went out of state to be married but were arrested when they returned home. Interracial marriage in Virginia was illegal. “God made Robbins and sparrows different and there is a reason for that”. “God put black people and white people and brown people and yellow people on different continents because he wanted them to be separate.” The Lovings were made to plead guilty and agree to leave the state for 25 years. Eventually in 1967, in my adult lifetime, their case was heard before the Supreme Court and became a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights movement. The court overturned state laws prohibiting interracial marriages – a hangover from the slave days I had just watched in Birth of a Nation. I saw these two shows back to back and it felt like a prolonged history lesson.
I found Loving to be slow. It took almost ten years for this couple to achieve their right to be married and at times it felt like that. Lots of silences and thinking going on. At 123 minutes, it was about 23 minutes too long. It was touching – the lady behind me used a lot of Kleenex. Like Birth of a Nation, I give it 3 out of 5.
I am glad that I got a ticket to see Weirdos, a film by Canadian film maker Bruce McDonald ( born in Kingston) written by Daniel McIvor ( writer of Kingston Storefront favourite, Cul de Sac). Shot in black and white in Nova Scotia, and set in 1976, this movie follows two teenagers – Kit (Dylan Authors) and Alice ( Julia Sarah Stone) as they hitchhike their way from Antigonish to Sydney accompanied by the spirit of Andy Warhol. Of course they learn things about themselves, each other, and their families along the way. Sounds trite and a bit formulaic but it doesn’t come off that way at all.
I am always intrigued by films in black and white. They add a certain nostalgia – think of Nebraska or even The Artist. The sound track to this film was also lots of great 70’s music, mostly Canadian.
The cast was all excellent and naturally amiable. And Canadian to the core, I might add. Both young lead actors were wonderful to watch. I loved Molly Parker’s portrayal of Kit’s eccentric mother. It suddenly dawned on me that she plays Jackie Sharpe on Netflix House of Cards. Rys Bevan-John as Andy Warhol’s presence was quirky and lots of fun to watch.
Who knows where this movie will show up – not the blockbuster appeal or marketing of the other two I saw today, but I hope you get to see it. I was moved by its nostalgia. The mood, the music, the cars, the clothes, the Canadiana were all very satisfying. It gets my first 5 star kudo.
Will there be another? Running oit of time.
When I saw that Christopher Guests new film Mascots was opening at TIFF it was at the top of my list. Never mind that it will be available in a few weeks on Netflix (it is a Netflix-produced film). I was quite willing to pay the Premium dollar to see the world premiere with a theatre full of Corky St Clair fans and with Christopher Guest, Parker Posey , Bob Baliban and Jane Lynch sitting three rows behind me.
But there was some risk. Could this film hold up to the high expectation I had given that Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show are two films I have laughed through maybe 15 times each.
The verdict? I loved it. Using his proven “monumentally” formula, Guest has created another winner based on a convention for mascots with a competition to win the coveted Fluffy. A few times, I had to wipe away tears of laughter . The usual troupe of Guest’s favourite actors create new characters and improv their dialogue through a hilarious collection of vignettes. There is even a surprise appearance that delighted the audience. No spoilers.
If you like Christopher Guest’s quirky previous work, you won’t be disappointed. I can hardly wait for its appearance on Netflix so I can watch it again. It gets four stars. I am waiting for the five star film.
Within half an hour of watching Mascots I was back in line under an umbrella to see Queen of Katwe, another African-themed film shot in Uganda, directed by a Ugandan, Mira Nair, starring black actors, including David Olyelowo, who played Martin Luther King in Selma, and banked by the Disney corporation. It is a wonderful movie about a young illiterate Ugandan girl, Phiona Mutesi, from the Katwe slums of Kampala, who becomes an international chess champion. A feel-good true story of someone rising from obscurity through hard work and intellect. And as a treat, the real Phiona was at the screening of the film.
Unlike the Nigerian film I saw yesterday, the direction was impeccable, and the soundtrack was much more representative of good quality modern Afican music. The kids in the film, and there were lots of them, were wonderfully naive and natural. I have been in these streets and communities and that, too made the movie more meaningful to me. Nair said that she jokes that this is the first African movie made by Disney without animals in it but Africa is more than giraffes and AIDS and she welcomed the chance to have Africans make a movie about the Africa they know. One of the young boys who has a major role in the movie is a kid who lives in Nair’s neighborhood in Kampala.
This film will be released this fall and anyone who has an Africa connection will relate to it and love the message that genius is not owned by any one race or gender. Of course all the analogies between the game of chess and this game of life are not lost. I give it four stars of five, knowing that my delight in revisiting Ugandan streets and people prejudices me. The premiere audience gave it a standing ovation tonight, an indication that they liked it, too.
While I indulge myself for a few days in Toronto seeing films at TIFF, you will have to indulge me as I feel obliged to record my opinions about the movies I see…and I have 9 of them on my schedule so buckle in.
In addition to the usual well-hyped potential blockbusters there are over 400 movies to chose from during the festival and I try to mix in some from other parts of the world. I have a soft spot for Africa so I usually pick a couple of African films in my menu.
I started last night with The Wedding Party, a Nigerian-made film that is one of a number of films at TIFF this year liming Laos with Toronto and giving exposure to film makers from that country. The term Nollywood has been thrown around to identify these presentations. This one was disappointment to me although I am not sure exactly what I expected. Maybe something with a little more originality or substance. The premise is the well-worn plot (term used loosely) of a wedding where families squabble, bridesmaids flirt with the groomsmen, the wedding dress gets damaged…add your own from any number of similar stories and you will find it here. The screenwriting was abysmal and the direction amateurish. The soundtrack, with the exception of a few African dance tunes, was just bad. As was some of the acting. There was lots of colour and dancing that gave a taste of the lively African engagement with rhythm and movement but even that went on a bit too long.
Top it off with a cast and production staff that were on “Africa time”, keeping the audience waiting for 10 minutes for them to arrive from the bar for the Q and A. Several invited Nigerian guests came in late to the film, occupied the Reserved row of seats and texted, took phone calls and even videoed snippets of the film ( a definite TIFF no-no).
You won’t have to worry about seeing this film in North American theatres. Maybe it will be more appealing to African audiences. I will give it two stars out of five and that is somewhat charitable and acknowledging that Nollywood is trying.
On my way to my next film I caught a glimpse of Ewan MacGregor, waving to fans through the open window of his limo as he left the premiere of American Pastorale.
My second film of the evening was a world premiere public showing of Trespass Against Us, a film about a marginalized family of lawbreakers that were the Irish equivalent of the Avery family from Making a Murderer. Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson portrayed the main characters, apparently in a reasonably true depiction of a real family. I had a little trouble, sometimes, with the broad Irish accents that may have made me miss some of the subtleties of the dialogue. I loved the photography, however, much of it done with a Steadicam, giving a frenzy and energy to much of the action – great car and foot chases with skilled photography and editing putting you right in the action and raising your heart rate. The film is worth seeing, but in a theatre on a big screen, for this energy alone. There was an interesting collection of characters but I would have to say that I didn’t get invested in any of them. I will give the film three and a held stars out of five with particular kudos to the DP – Director of Photography.
The Irish flavor whetted my appetite for the upcoming October King’s Town Players production of Cripple of Inishmaan. (Shameless promotion on behalf of KTP).
Several months ago I spit in a test tube and sent the my saliva off to have over 700,000 of my DNA markers analyzed to find out what my genetic heritage is.
Six weeks later I got an analysis that showed me to be about 42% West European, 36 % Irish (this component includes northern Scotland as well), 10% British and a 10% smattering of other several other ethnic extractions ranging from Scandinavia to Spain to the Middle East.
At first I was not surprised by this – maybe a little disappointed not to see some African genes in there. I have been able to trace most of my relatives on both my parents’ sides back several generations and they all seem to cluster in Britain or Scotland as far as 1600.
On further reflection, I started to wonder why I had such a strong component (42%) of Western European genes. According to this analysis, my DNA distribution is almost the same as people who currently live in Western Europe, and not as compatible with natives of Britain or Ireland. Maybe it was because many of my UK relatives originated way back in Western Europe. Certainly migration has happened over the centuries. But still, Western European DNA markers making up the major contribution of my genetic material seemed a bit strange.
Ancestry has identified me as a distant relative of over 100 people scattered over North America that I have never met. For some of them who have their family tree posted online, I can see the common relative – usually a third great grandparent on either my Dad’s or Mother’s side of the family. David and Agnes Geddes seemed to produce lots of kids and scatter their genes widely as did Robert Riddell, my mom’s great great grandfather.
Someone contacted me by email last week, a woman I don’t know who shares enough to DNA markers with me to indicate we are probably fourth cousins. None of the names in her tree were familiar to me except Dixon, the family name of my third great grandmother on my mom’s side. After a couple of email chats we determined that her third grandmother and mine were sisters. So our common contribution of genetic material must have come from our common fourth great grandfather, born in 1786 in Northumberland, England or his wife, my fourth great grandmother, Martha Moore.
It astounds me – and would likely amaze these ancestors.to think that a determinable part of me is a remnant from this couple who lived 200 years ago. And that some of my genes will be detectable in fourth degree offspring in 2300. This is how I imagine life after death.
Then, Ancestry told me that there is a strong possibility that I am related to Sarah Jane Busenbark since I share many genetic markers with several people in her family. Where on earth did this come from? Well, Busenbark is a modification of Busenberg, a German name – fits with my Western European genetic make-up. And I have one great grandfather whose identity remains a mystery. I could have received an eighth of my genetic material, or even more from this unknown donor to my gene pool.
So I started to look into Sarah Jane Busenbark a bit more. It turns out she was born in Romulus New York in 1825 – upstate New York – about 25 km from Manchester NY where, in 1823, Joseph Smith found the “plates” that started the Mormon religion.At age 18, Sarah Jane married Newton Hall and in the mid 1850’s they moved west, presumably part of incredible migration of Latter Day Saints who drew handcarts across the country to Utah. They ended up in Salt Lake City region. Sarah’s husband became an associate of Brigham Young in the establishing Mormon Church and they had nine children.
Immediately, I started reflecting on the story of the Mormon Church as told in the hilariously irreverent Broadway show – Book of Mormon. Although I had never heard of Sarah Jane Busenbark, I certainly knew, from the score of Book of Mormon, about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. I am very much amused and almost a little excited to think that one of my probable relatives, perhaps a great great grandmother or great great aunt was part of this story.
This whole connection may not be altogether accurate but Ancestry says there is a very strong probably that I have a genetic connection to Sarah Jane Busenbark. And I choose to believe that because it fills in the only gap in my great-grandparent line, explains my strong Western European genetic make up and, dang it, Mormon’s just believe.
It has been a very rich summer for theatre in Kingston with literally hundreds of presentations happening in the downtown core. The Storefront Festival converted empty spaces into unique venues that offered a wide range of productions over about 10 days. My favourite was Cul de Sac, a Daniel MacIvor play. In this one woman show, Anne Marie Bergman, under the direction of Will Britton, presented an engaging story told by several memorable characters. And they were characters indeed.
Blue Canoe, with their usual enthusiasm and energy, presented Chicago at the Baby Grand. This show kept my toe tapping and face in a steady grin throughout. On a balmy Wednesday night in Market Square behind City Hall, I enjoyed an evening of Shakespeare – Driftwood Theatre’s Taming of the Shrew. Outdoor theatre-in-the-round always seems to be the perfect venue for Shakespeare.
For a few weeks, I worked with a group of Kingston theatre friends on a Single Thread production of Ambrose – Re-imagined. I loved this unique theatre experience last year when it was presented for the first time so I was delighted when creator Liam Karry asked me to join the cast for this newly re-imagined version. Liam likes to surprise audiences and have them experience theatre in non-traditional settings. In this show, audience members made a journey through many hidden areas of the Grand Theatre to meet up with characters who have had some connection to the mysterious Ambrose Small. Ambrose was an Ontario Theatre magnate who disappeared on December 2, 1919 the day after receiving a million dollars for the sale of the many theatres in Ontario that he owned, including Kingston’s Grand. His spirit is known to haunt the theatre with many people over the years, actors and employees, having had a ghostly experience in the Grand. The mystery of his disappearance was never solved.
No two audience members at Ambrose had the same experience, ever. Their exploration of the Ambrose Small history was their own. Liam told me that he likes the idea that the audience participants are invited to play with us with this material. People who expected to sit and snooze and be entertained may have been a bit overwhelmed but most of our audience members were wildly enthusiastic. When they let go and engaged in the process it was delightful and unique – and a lot of fun. Fun, too for the actors who never knew exactly what was coming next.
In mid August I also took in a Single Thread production of Salt Water Moon that was “staged” on the steps of the University Club, outdoors on a sultry summer evening. This is a great little play and was wonderfully presented. The setting was absolutely perfect for this piece.
Kingston has a vibrant theatre community all year around. It takes no summer break. In fact, this summer it ramped up to provide audiences a wonderful selection of productions in a variety of settings. Thanks to everyone who entertained us so well.