I have switched countries. Now on the east side of the Adriatic in Bosnia where I worked for several years between 1998 and 2009. It is nice to be back. My friend Saša picked me up at the airport and we headed along one of my favourite drives from Sarajevo to Mostar. A twisty road lined with mountains and following the Neretva River.
The weather was threatening rain but the sky was dramatic and there were lots of bursts of sunshine to give great light for photography.
I planned ahead. Train ticket bought. Researched the town of Aosta online. Arrived 15 minutes early at the station to be greeted by the conductor with “Treno kaput.” I didn’t need a translator to understand that one. Now what?
Three Italians waved their arms and yelled at each other to try to find me an alternative route. They suggested I get on the train to Milan and change at Chevassa to take an electric train to somewhere close to Aosta. I thought of the Marx electric train I had as a kid. It wasn’t very big. Time was short. They all hustled me onto the train and it soon started moving. Unfortunately they had put me on the wrong train heading in the opposite direction.
Whistle stop at Chiomonte.
There were no signs or announcements on the train. I had no idea where was going. When the conductor arrived he spoke no English. I tried to explain but he just looked at me like I was stupid (maybe I was) then wondered if it was Chiomonte where I was wanted to get off. It sounded vaguely similar so I said OK rather than provoke him further. He handed me a little paper on which was scribbled “Chiomonte 9:17”
When the train stopped briefly in Chiomonte I was the only one to disembark. I soon understood why. The station was deserted. Doors locked. Ticket machine broken. No one in sight. I really didn’t know where I was but it was certainly a beautiful setting. I considered just waiting for a train back to Torino, but I knew I was already heading into the Alps and I wanted to see the mountains. An hour later a train arrived heading in the direction of the mountains. I got on.
The last stop as a little town called Bardonecchia. It is the most westerly town in Italy and about 5 km from the French border. In 2006 it hosted the snowboarding events for the Winter Olympics.
I meandered up the Main Street and at the end of it found a path that appeared to be heading up. I remembered an old slogan, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
For the next two hours I headed up, and up, and up, until I was at the snow line in the mountains. There was no one else around. It was absolutely silent except a few birds chirping. The air was fresh. I lay down in the sun in a field of crocuses, thinking that if I had a heart attack and died there, no one would find me for a while. But what a great place to go! And obviously I did not succumb to the exertion.
The day turned out to be a complete surprise and exactly the experience I had hoped to find in a day in the Alps. My legs were tired and I welcomed a soak in the sauna in my hotel in Turin when I got back abound 6 o’clock.
I do like Italy. “Why not have a little summer place here?” I wondered. So Luca and Gloria and I headed off to Veneria Reale to check out the real estate. Turns out there is a nice little place there that was a summer residence for the Savoy family for centuries. Nice folks but apparently they left the place in ruins and the EU spent 150,000,000 Euros fixing it up in the late 1990’s. (Were there not some hungry people in the world that could have used that money?)
We we had a look around. It would need furnishing. There are lots of IKEA stores in Italy so that would likely not be a problem.
What do you think? Subject to a home inspection and me arranging financing….
Luca and Gloria check out the exterior.
A great little room for parties.
I will need to buy a lawn mower.
There is a nice view of the Alps from the guest room.
Currently the property is owned by Prince Enrico of San Michele. He would like to free up some money to buy video games.
Enrico and Lilli by the Secchia River, San Michele, Italy.
For the past 14 years I have been friends with Luca and Gloria Tracendi who live in San Michele, Italy. We have met many times in Italy, Canada, Florida and Barcelona. I rocked their son Enrico when he was three months old. We met serendipitously on an internet chat site in the very early internet days in the late 1990’s when I was working in Bosnia and have chatted online every couple of weeks since then. Enrico is now almost 13 and as tall as his Dad. I enjoy visiting them from time to time and they make me feel very much at home. I now know the neighbours and family. What a delight to have them as friends. This week I am visiting them again at their home in San Michele. Yesterday Enrico and the dog Lilli and I did some wandering by the river and the hills around the village, appropriately ending up at the top of a big hill where a crucifix overlooked the village below.
Music sometimes engenders distinct visual images and remembrances in me. The music can be random or have no particular association with the remembrance other than that I link both hearing the song and a very specific time, place and surroundings. Whenever I hear that song, I immediately am transported to the memory with visual recollections that are vivid and detailed.
Here are a few of my most distinct memories and the songs that trigger them. There are many, many more. What are yours?
Never Can Say Goodbye – Gloria Gaynor – I am sitting at a counter on the sixth floor of St Joseph’s Hospital about 9 pm on some evening in 1974 when I am an intern on call at the hospital and writing an admission history in a metal hospital chart. The music is playing from a transistor radio that is in the corner of the desk. I have an image of one of the nurses working that shift as well – she had a funny little crinkled nurses cap (back when they didn’t just wear sweat pants and floral shirts).
I Try – Macy Gray. I am standing on a hillside on the island of Brac on November 10, 2000 (I know the date exactly because I know when I took the photo) with my friend Daren Trudeau. We have stopped to admire the view of the Adriatic ( Donna and Al Blair in the car ahead of us) and walked across to the edge of the hillside. The car door is open and I Try is playing on the radio. Interestingly, I have talked to Daren about this and he has the same vivid memory of the song and the location. Later that morning the four of us were on a deserted beach and Daren and I succumbed to the temptation of stripping down and running into the Adriatic.
I took this photo while Macy Gray blared out I Try from the car radio behind us on the road.
September Morn – Neil Diamond. I am driving my new 1983 Oldsmobile home from Goderich to Kincardine. It is the first car that I had with any decent sound (or one that ran quiet enough to hear what was on the radio). With the car came a GM cassette tape that opened with this song – lots of bass. Loved it.
Quetico Canoe Trip 2001
Crackin’ Rosie – another Neil Diamond song. I am standing at a campsite in Quetico Park in August 2001 with Catherine Mikhail. We are the designated clean up crew after our camp dinner. Brian Perkins had brought a little transistor radio and we finally found a station. We both sang along to Cracklin Rosie as we scrubbed the soot off the pots. Good times.
Top of the World – The Carpenters. It is November 9, 1973. I am in my green 1969 Volkswagen stopped at the lights at the corner of Cheapside and Adelaide Streets in London, Ontario at about 8 in the morning. I am heading to Victoria Hospital to see my daughter, Kate, who was born the previous afternoon.
Holding my one day old daughter – November 9, 1973. Top of the World.
Top of the World
Such a feelin’s comin’ over me There is wonder in most every thing I see Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eyes And I won’t be surprised if it’s a dream
Everything I want the world to be Is now comin’ true especially for me And the reason is clear, it’s because you are here You’re the nearest thing to Heaven that I’ve seen.
I feel the same 40 years later when I sing along to this song. And now that my kids have kids of their own, they will understand this feeling.
I have written several times about successful CanAssist projects that help children and communities in East Africa to acquire improved sanitation facilities – or, in some cases, ANY sanitation at all.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me proudly tell you about another CanAssist-African community success, achievable through Canadian donors, the CanAssist African Relief Trust and responsible African community leaders.
Last July, our Kenyan field representative for CanAssist, Dan Otieno, made a visit to the Twiga school in Ruriru district of Kenya.
Boys toilets at the Twiga School before CanAssist intervention.
There he met with one of the officers of the Murera Community Empowerment and Support Organization. He visited the Twiga school where sanitation facilities were, like in so many East African schools, sub-standard. Disgusting and deplorable might be better adjectives.
The toilets for boys and girls and staff were falling apart and in some cases full of excrement and unusable. there are about 500 kids and 13 teachers using these latrines. I want to ask my Canadian teacher friends if you can even imagine this.
I have asked this question before. Would you want your kids (or you if you are a teacher at this school) using these latrines?
Through donations to CanAssist from individuals along with a $3000 dollar donation from the British Columbia based Grey Gates Foundation, we were able to secure the funds to repair the girls toilet and to build new latrines for the boys and staff. We sent the money to do this (about $7500 in total) to the community in February 2014.
Only a few weeks later we have received photos of the new installations at the school, including refreshed girls toilets, new toilets for the boys and the staff and a hand-washing station to be used by everyone. It is intuitively obvious that these improvements will be both more aesthetic and sanitary for the school and will also provide better privacy for toilet use and help reduce the spread of gastrointestinal illnesses.
I will let the photos speak for themselves.
New CanAssist-funded boys toilets at the Twiga School in Ruriru District. Kenya
New hand washing station at the Twiga school, funded by CanAssist. Handwashing has been shown to markedly reduce the spread of disease so it is an integral part of any school sanitation program.
Refurbished and reconstructed girls toilets at the Twiga School.
One of the marvels of participating in theatre is watching a bare stage become washed in light and colour and sound and movement and then, when the production is done and the set struck, usually within a couple of hours of the last performance, the stage returns to blank walls and a bare floor. It is over. Never to happen in the same way again.
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero says some of my favourite theatrical lines.
Legendary Canadian actor, William Hutt, at age 85, portrays Prospero in the 2005 Stratford Festival production of The Tempest.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The Tempest Act 4, scene 1
It is always bittersweet to put a theatre production to bed. Obviously Shakespeare knew this feeling, too. Like every minute of our lives, the words and actions and innuendos of every performance are unique and will never be repeated the same way again. Ever.
For the past few weeks I have been part of the King’s Town Players production of the Classic Canadian story by Margaret Laurence, The Stone Angel, faithfully adapted for the stage by James W. Nichol. It has been a pleasure to work with my theatre friiends to explore and interpret this piece, one that resonates with everyone.
Our final performance of The Stone Angel was last night. The stage is now bare and dark. Revels ended. But the experience of participating in this drama has been enriching and hopefully our audiences found it a thought-provoking piece of local theatre.
Stage of The Stone Angel before the last performance and one hour after the show was done.
Here are a couple of video montages of our production.
Here is how I imagined Jason Currie in front of his General Store in Manawaka, Manitoba in the late 1800’s
This year, Health Canada is playing an April Fool joke on Canadian physicians. Only it is no joke. Starting April 1, licensed medical practitioners will be able to prescribe marijuana for their patients, something that previously had to go through more elaborate scrutiny by Health Canada.
Last week in the mail I got the first advertising supplement for a company now producing it, complete with a tear-off prescription pad that allows me to just check off the dose and type that I want to prescribe…or more likely that the patient wants me to prescribe.
I have no training in the appropriate use of this drug as a medicine. In fact, there have been no good studies that have shown where to use it or how. Most of the time it is the patient that comes to the physician to say they have been buying it illegally and finding it helps them with their nausea, chronic pain or muscle complaints. Perhaps it does. But the benefits of using this drug are generally subjective and for poorly measurable outcomes. How can I evaluate who needs it for medical reasons and who just wants to have medical sanctions to use it for recreational use?
Most users of marijuana don’t use it for medical reasons. They use it to get some psychological benefit or a “high” on some level. It provides temporary relief from life’s trials and tribulations. For some it becomes a regular habit, an escape and perhaps an impediment to solving problems in a more constructive way.
I smoked marijuana on a couple of occasions several years ago. (Should I run for Prime Minister?) I have no qualms about others using it responsibly and occasionally to relax. I like the smell of it. But it makes me feel horrible! Either it does almost nothing to me or it makes me extremely anxious and nauseous. Not a sensation I ever want to repeat. I will stick to a glass of red wine for my relaxation, thanks. How long will it be before I am asking my doctor for a prescription for Chateauneuf-du-Pape?
Already, doctors are in an unenviable position of being a gatekeeper for some narcotic prescriptions that are often abused, trafficked on the street. The problems with Percocet prescription in Ontario are huge. Granted, there are some patients who may get relief from painful medical conditions by using this drug but the consensus is that it is not appropriate for chronic non-malignant pain, that it has a significant potential for dependency and abuse and that much of the Percocet prescribed by physicians ends up being sold on the street. And we know that regular users will suffer significant symptoms of withdrawal or acquire it on the street if the medication is stopped suddenly. It is a troubling dilemma for many physicians. Often the drug has been started by another physician and the patient is already dependent and reluctant to change their use of the narcotic when he enters the practice. The new doctor inherits a problem she did not create and then is stuck trying to deal with it. Will the same happen with medical marijuana? Narcotic abusers can be very manipulative, demanding and even threatening.
I view this change now allowing me to prescribe what is currently a common street drug as the start of another ethical dilemma for me and for all physicians. It is not what I signed up for when I became a doctor. Maybe I am just too old to be doing this any more. Or, like the referees I read about this week who are leaving junior hockey because the job has put them in unpleasant situations, maybe I should just retire.