How to miss the Republican Convention in Cleveland without being sad ..

Posted: July 19th, 2016 | No Comments »

As it happens, summer family obligations mean I’ll miss most of the US Republican convention in Cleveland. Veteran North American progressive political junkie that I am, why am I not sad?

(Well … I did stay up last night with the diverse gang at MSNBC, as they only somewhat gleefully pondered the news that at least a few parts of Melania Trump’s 2016 speech sound remarkably like a few parts of Michelle Obama’s parallel speech of 2008. I will try to catch a little more of their work. And I am especially looking forward to connecting once or twice with Bill Maher’s convention coverage, on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights.)

A very economical piece posted today by Johanna Schneller, the Toronto Star’s “media connoisseur who zeroes in on pop-culture moments,” has helped me understand why I am almost happy to almost sit out the Republican convention.

“Johanna Schneller and Ian Brown at the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Gala,” December 2012. (Tom Sandler For The Globe and Mail.)”

The title summarizes Ms Schneller’s essential message : “It’s too late for Colbert and Stewart’s Comedy Cavalry … The divide between the issues of the world and Donald Trump’s inadequacy to handle them is too serious for jokes.”

There is a sense in which I  agree. One side of me cries out that it is not President Barack Obama but Donald Trump who has coarsened and lowered the level of public debate, to the point where some even in our “free and democratic” societies (as alluded to in Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982) viciously conclude that shooting your opponents is legitimate political action.

Trump has been telling the American people that you have to be strong the old-fashioned way, stand up for yourself belligerently, and push people around to get what you want. And that’s what he’s good at.

Apart from anything else, however, we’ve heard all this before and it never has worked. Donald Trump may say he’s some next new thing. But it is just his kind of thinking that got Democracy in America into the longest and least successful war in its history in Iraq.

Trump thinks he avoids that problem by saying it was wrong to go into Iraq, and the mistake was caused by intelligence failure. Or possibly Sadam Hussein was a useful hedge against terrorism? Yet all this does is underline what Johanna Schneller calls Donald Trump’s inadequacy to handle the issues of the world. It was wrong to go into Iraq because that kind of strong, push-people-around strategy cannot very often achieve American foreign policy goals in the 21st century.

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If Bird’s bebop finally did become the new pop music it just might sound like Allison Au and Tara Kannangara

Posted: July 15th, 2016 | No Comments »

The great Charlie Parker — Bird in flight.

[CW EDITORS NOTE : Nos cœurs et les esprits vont vers les gens du premier pays de mère européenne du Canada, à la suite de l'attaque terroriste épouvantable à Nice hier --- un jour que tous ceux qui aiment la liberté et la démocratie dans le monde d'aujourd'hui célèbrent, épaule contre épaule avec le peuple de France.]

Years ago now I spent the better part of a summer holiday sketching yet another book project that never reached fruition. The projected title was Bird Hop : Charlie Parker and American Culture.

I have just now been searching old files. The introductory paragraphs of my proposed first chapter went as follows :

Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1920. After a short and tormented but stunningly productive life he died in 1955 in New York City, at the suite of the Rothschild heiress Nica de Koenigswarter in what was then the Stanhope Hotel (now known as 995 Fifth Avenue).

Robert Altman — a great movie director hard at work even in his old age.

His unique contribution to American popular culture remains a minority taste. But you can still buy virtually all his major recordings and various written-down versions of his music. Clint Eastwood made a controversial 1988 feature film about him (called Bird — Parker’s nickname). A very young Charlie Parker is portrayed briefly in Robert Altman’s 1996 movie, Kansas City.

The early 21st century Internet includes an official website run by the Parker estate, an item about a 32 cent US stamp with Parker’s image, and many other related attractions (including downloadable music files). Considerably larger numbers of people must know and appreciate his music now than at the height of his all-too-brief live career, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Charlie Parker Residence at 151 Avenue B, across from Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, Manhattan. His last home, with Chan Richardson and family. Designated a New York City landmark in 1999.

My own feeling is that the numbers will continue to grow quietly. After a long meditation, I have come to the personal conclusion that Charlie Parker is probably the greatest and certainly the most interesting musician that America has yet produced.

To start with, he is the world’s most brilliant saxophone player. Much beyond this, he is the great innovator of bebop jazz, which remains the finest achievement of American popular music — the point at which it comes closest to an authentic high art.

Along with a draft text for the remainder of this first chapter the material I still have on file in my basement includes a set of headings for nine further chapters. The tenth and final one somewhat crazily asked “What If Bop Had Become the New Pop Music (instead of rock n’ roll)?”

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Struggles in US and UK .. electoral reform in Canada .. and the hopeful island of blue in the red state of Texas

Posted: July 13th, 2016 | No Comments »

“Mourners hold candles aloft during a vigil outside city hall in Dallas, Texas Monday. Photograph: Laura Buckman/AFP/Getty Images.”

GANATSEKWYAGON, ON.  JULY 13, 2016. Rachel Maddow, back from her (unexplained?) absence last week, was showing some footage of a vigil for slain police officers in Dallas Monday night.

In the morning a piece on the CNN website had mourned “A tragic first week of July.” (Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge ; Philando Castile in Minnesota ; then  “tragic climax in Dallas” ; then three other shootings, “in Tennessee, Missouri and Georgia” ; and then another in Michigan.)

And then, across the ocean on another wavelength altogether, “David Cameron to resign by Wednesday, Theresa May to be next British PM.” (And now it’s happened, much more quickly than anyone seems to have thought.)

In the midst of these jarring events in other places, it can seem almost reassuring to think that in Canada the big political news is “Welcome to the summer of electoral reform.” Four recent pieces by Aaron Wherry on the CBC News site offer a quick review :

Mohawk princess Pauline Johnson, aka Tekahionwake, who in her early 20th century poem “Canadian Born” memorably advised : “The Dutch may have their Holland, the Spaniard have his Spain, / The Yankee to the south of us must south of us remain ...”

(1) “Liberals back down on electoral reform committee, support NDP changes … Government supports amended motion to move ahead with study of voting reforms” (JUNE 2)  ;

(2) “Welcome to the summer of electoral reform: No sunscreen required for dozen lucky MPs … Members of the electoral reform committee meet in Ottawa for the first time” (JUNE 21);

(3) “Chief electoral officer warns of tight timeline to implement electoral reform …Marc Mayrand says he needs new legislation well in advance of next election” (JULY 7) ;

(4) “Maryam Monsef’s earnest guide to electoral reform for cynics … Is it possible for politicians to have an uncynical debate about electoral reform?” (JULY 10).

Also yesterday on this subject, from the Hill Times : “Most want referendum on electoral reform, new poll suggests, question dominates initial House committee, feds deke and dodge … a poll conducted by Forum Research released Monday found 65 per cent of respondents think a national referendum on electoral reform should be held … All 338 MPs are set to hold town halls in their ridings on electoral reform, with reports on feedback from constituents due by Oct. 14.”

“The House Special Committee on Electoral Reform will spend the summer studying ways to improve Canada's electoral system. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright.”

Note as well that the current head of the Cambridge politics department in the UK, David Runciman, has offered a wider international context for the work of the Canadian committee. “The primary cause of this referendum result,” Runciman has urged in connection with Theresa May’s new  Brexit challenge, “is the first-past-the-post system.”

(Which is what the Canadian electoral reform committee is supposed to be trying to change or replace. Because, eg, it allows one party to win a majority of seats in parliament, with much less than a proper democratic majority of the popular vote. See Stephen Harper, 2011–2015 and Justin Trudeau, 2015–???? — and many other examples from Canadian political history!)

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Meditations in time of almost civil war .. US election, Dallas shootings, and summer in a northern city 2016

Posted: July 8th, 2016 | No Comments »

GREAT LAKES REGION OF NORTH AMERICA. JULY 8, 2016. Almost all aspects of the  US election campaign strike me as too much over the top at the moment.

Maybe it’s just the summer heat. (Or maybe it’s just that the 2016 US election really is crazy, as all our US friends keep telling us, again and again.)

Watching Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich together on TV (on Wednesday, July 6) was like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the last half of the 1970s.

And then there is “Hillary Clinton email probe closed by Justice Department without charges … FBI director called Clinton’s handling of classified material ‘extremely careless’ but not criminal.”

As someone who has worked in and around governments all his adult life, my view is that “classified material” is a vague concept at best. Short of selling nuclear secrets to Vladimir Putin, it’s hard to know just what the serious problem here is.

But listen to the Republican response as they quizzed FBI director Comey in the House Thursday — or the related Fox News commentary (see, eg : “FBI chief’s testimony about Clinton emails torpedoes the bureau’s reputation”).

Even if Hillary wins the presidency (without the Democrats’ taking both Houses of Congress), it will be close to impossible at best to forge consensual policies that work on any issue.

Something the Scottish journalist Neal Ascherson recently wrote about the old anglo homeland sticks in my mind : “The battle of Brexit came about not because of any serious demand for national change but for the reasons that the Wars of the Roses came about: a power vendetta within a tiny group of privileged men, which they managed to spread beyond their own followers to huge numbers of discontented subjects as if it were their own quarrel.”

The legendary 1953 concert in Toronto. Worth remembering.

For some reason, an Arlo Guthrie tune from the first half of the 1970s also sticks in my mind : “Good morning, America, how are you? / Say, don’t you know me? I’m your native son.”

Meanwhile, it’s summer in the city up here on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario. Yesterday at noon I sat in the heat and sun at College Park Courtyard, listening to the Massey Hall Band’s 2016 tribute to the legendary May 15, 1953 performance by five giants of modern jazz at Massey Hall in Toronto (Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Mingus, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach).

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“Primary cause of Brexit is first-past-the-post” — Canadian committee on electoral reform take note

Posted: July 6th, 2016 | No Comments »

Bank of England governor Mark Carney speaks during a news conference at the Bank of England in London, Tuesday, July 5, 2016. (Dylan Martinez/ Pool via AP).

TORONTO, CANADA. JULY 6, 2016. Try as it will, our local and regional universe doesn’t quite seem able to escape altogether from the ongoing Brexit crisis in the United Kingdom — enhanced by “nervousness” over recent “weak data from China.”

(See from yesterday, eg : “Wall Street skids as global growth worries resurface” ; “Wall Street dips as investors shed risk” ; “Mark Carney warns financial shock from Brexit crystallizing as Bank of England eases bank rules in ‘major change’” ; and “Wall Street Turns Defensive as Brexit Woes Get Rekindled on BOE Action.”)

Meanwhile, to cite the latest communication from our own counterweights editors, “such present-day instruments of an esteemed old intellectual tradition as the London Review of Books” continue to  show “evidence that whatever the politicians may finally do will at least be accompanied by a lot of highly literate and even amusing written commentary.”

Neal Ascherson.

Yesterday the LRB emailed subscribers a digital version of a key feature from its upcoming 14 July 2016 print edition, called “Where are we now? … Responses to the Referendum.” This includes short pieces from 21 different alleged authorities or persons of interest — from  Neal Ascherson and James Butler, all the way to Wolfgang Streeck and Daniel Trilling, in alphabetical order. Very quickly, here are half a dozen examples :’

(1) “The battle of Brexit came about not because of any serious demand for national change but for the reasons that the Wars of the Roses came about: a power vendetta within a tiny group of privileged men, which they managed to spread beyond their own followers to huge numbers of discontented subjects as if it were their own quarrel.” (Neal Ascherson, Scottish journalist and writer, described by historian Eric Hobsbawm as “perhaps the most brilliant student I ever had.”)

Jonathan Coe in Oxford, 2011. CREDIT: DAVID LEVENSON.

(2) “The Leave vote in England and Wales, with its unmistakable working-class character, including elements of dangerous rudderless vindictiveness, ought to have presented a movement of the left with a challenge and opportunity.” (T.J. Clark, Marxist art historian and writer from Bristol, England, with teaching track record at Harvard and UC Berkeley in the USA.)

(3) “‘The story of the referendum,’ a friend wrote to me this week, ‘is one of people taking a joke too seriously.’ …   As a passionate Remainer I’m trying to accept the result with good grace but it’s hard when it was brought about by a campaign eloquently described by Robert Harris as ‘the most depressing, divisive, duplicitous political event of my lifetime’.” (Jonathan Coe, English novelist and writer, author of Humphrey Bogart biography.)

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Happy Canada Day 2016 — for Canadians biggest Brexit impact may be Canadexit from King Charles III

Posted: June 30th, 2016 | No Comments »

“Two time Bond girl Valerie Leon reckons 007 would be tempted to vote in favour of leaving the EU in this month’s referendum.”

TORONTO, CANADA. JUNE 30, 2016. Our local and regional stock markets are back,  and it is starting to seem that the Brexit crisis in the United Kingdom is not going to precipitate a global depression after all.

It does nonetheless remain something of a bigger-than-expected political (and no doubt economic) disturbance in the UK itself.

(And George Soros has perhaps wisely enough “urged members of the European Parliament …  to ‘drastically reshape’ fiscal policy across the region in the wake of Great Britain’s vote to exit the European Union.”)

Who knows just how well the current generation of the  political class that once built the greatest empire since Rome in a fit of absence of mind will rise to the not exactly expected challenges?

Already, however, such present-day instruments of an esteemed old intellectual tradition as the London Review of Books blog are showing evidence that whatever the politicians may finally do will at least be accompanied by a lot of highly literate and even amusing written commentary.

“The London Review of Books' co-founder and editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian.”

We submit two pairs of recent LRB blog postings as cases in point.

(1) David Runciman

The first pair are from David Runciman, a contemporary English aristocrat (born 1967 as “heir to his family’s Viscountcy”), educated at Eton College and Cambridge University, and currently “Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies” at Cambridge.

Professor Runciman’s two postings are “Why did he do it?” (24 June 2016) and “Slow Motion Disintegration” (28 June 2016).

You might think that these titles refer to UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s now clearly mistaken decision to hold a referendum on the UK’s future in the European Union in the first place, and the unwinding of his Conservative government once the referendum went against his own advice. And you would probably be half right.

David Runciman, Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University — and English football fan.

But the titles also clearly refer to the parallel mistakes and unwinding of Roy Hodgson, manager of England’s national team in the Euro 2016 football tournament (or ahem, soccer as we say here in North America) — almost poignantly if accidentally synchronized with the Brexit referendum.

And Runciman seems uncertain at best about which of these two key current disappointments in English history has disturbed him more.

He nonetheless concludes by noting that, although the Euro 2016 football tournament “has thrown up an embarrassment of riches when it comes to analogies between sport and politics,” he can find nothing to “compare with what [opposition leader Jeremy] Corbyn is doing to the Labour Party” in the wake of the Brexit referendum!

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Big Brexit surprise in UK .. and what it may or may not mean for Donald Trump in USA

Posted: June 24th, 2016 | No Comments »

TORONTO, CANADA. FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2016. 12:30 AM. Both ITV and the BBC have now called the Brexit referendum for the Leave the European Union side, with approximately 52% of interested United Kingdom citizens voting Leave and 48% voting Remain.

This is a great surprise for a great many people, and I am certainly one of them. The larger world, in the UK, Europe, and everywhere else seemed to have concluded that the Remain side would finally win, even if the vote was very close. Just what will unfold now in the government and politics of the United Kingdom and its neighbours is vague at best.

Some say David Cameron cannot survive as prime minister. He has made clear that he just doesn’t believe in the side that won. Others who are apparently on the side that won say Cameron is the best person to take up the reins on their agenda. (And somewhere lurking in the wings is Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London.)

There seems a rather clear geography to the result as well — which may add a few further complications. Broadly, London, Scotland, and (to a somewhat lesser degree) Northern Ireland voted Remain. The English and Welsh countryside and even urban areas like Birmingham voted Leave (while “Manchester votes less strongly than expected for remain”).

The theory that London is the only part of at least England and Wales that has profited from the economic policies the UK has largely followed ever since Margaret Thatcher may be reflected in this Brexit vote. It is apparently the old urban working class as well as the countryside that has rebelled against the Euro-bound politicians in both the Conservative and Labour parties.

Boris Johnson, at a Brexit debate a few weeks ago.

It seems likely enough that there will be some initial distress on especially anglophone financial markets in the wake of what just may prove a more important decision than most of the outside world was expecting. But just how much serious and widespread economic grief may result outside the United Kingdom is just one of many intriguing questions about to be answered.

Here, in a city once called “the citadel of British sentiment in America,” we are bound to wonder just what this largely unexpected big bump in the future of the old island heartland of the global British empire may mean for us.

That too would appear to be one more thing that needs to be discovered. What does suddenly seem clear is that something is going to change in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. The global village is less certain than it seemed to be yesterday. And that may even do places like Canada some good. (Though what it may or may not mean for the fate of Donald Trump in the United States is another matter altogether.)

Last Canadian thoughts on UK Brexit : trying to remember Orwell’s “Toward European Unity” in 1947

Posted: June 21st, 2016 | No Comments »

Two activists with EU flag and Union Jack kiss in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin this past Sunday, urging UK to stay in European Union. Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters.

[UPDATED JUNE 22, 23 : scroll below for LFB’s VERY LAST-MINUTE THOUGHT. LUNCHTIME, JUNE 23]. It first became altogether clear to me that the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom across the seas this Thursday, June 23 was serious, when I met the UK uncle of a friend of my son, in Canada on business earlier this year.

We were at a local jazz and blues bar. “So,” I asked just to keep up conversation, “is the UK going to leave the European Union?” And I was a bit surprised when he said that he was starting to think it just might be a good idea if it did. He was in some branch of the movie business — a sophisticated guy, with an attractive female companion perhaps half his age. I was impressed.

Now, early on the morning of Tuesday, June 21, in what the old (British) Canadian nationalist George Grant used to call the Great Lakes region of North America, the Brexit referendum is starting to look a little like the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.

Even fairly close to the end, it seemed that an independent Scotland just might be lurking around the corner. But then, as the fateful day of decision grew very close, the greater common sense of a No vote finally prevailed. On the actual referendum day of September 18, 2014, 55% voted No. (And then, some might say, the Scottish Nationalists prevailed anyway in the 2015 UK election.)

As someone whose paternal grandparents moved from south London in England to the Great Lakes region of North America in the early 20th century, I do hope that common sense finally prevails again, and the “Leave” Europe option is finally defeated in the UK on June 23.

I like the European Union of the blue flag and gold stars myself. And the euro (which the UK and Scandanavia still do not embrace in any case, except for Finland) certainly makes travel in Europe easier for North Americans. Insofar as I identify with anything in the UK these days, it is the local currents reflected in a George Orwell essay called “Toward European Unity” — first published in the New York-based Partisan Review in the summer of 1947, 69 years ago.

CW EDITORS UPDATE JUNE 22, 2:30 PM ET : Éric Grenier’s piece on the CBC News site today — “British voters split on Brexit referendum vote, but Remain may have edge: polls” — summarizes one side of the prevailing wisdom. On the spot in London, Leonora Beck at Associated Press reports : “Polls suggest it is too close to call, while bookies give the ‘remain’ side a higher chance of winning.” It is impossible of course to have any real sense of what is going on anywhere in Europe from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, but Carole MacNeil on CBC News Now has promised to try tomorrow. Bunting just shrugs his shoulders and says  he remains a Remainer himself, and still hopes the best side will win.

LFB’s VERY LAST-MINUTE THOUGHT. LUNCHTIME, JUNE 23 : Apparently we here in the Great Lakes region will be learning the final result sometime around 2 AM June 24 (which of course amounts to 7 AM June 24 in the old imperial/new global metropolis).

The biggest question may turn around just how close the vote is. Whoever wins, eg, will the victory be as strong (decisive?) as the 55% of interested Scots who voted against full Scottish independence in 2014?

(Or, from another but perhaps not entirely unrelated angle, as the 55% of interested Australians who, back in 1999, voted against altering “the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.”)

The lovely Helena Bonham Carter, actress, great granddaughter of Liberal Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, and prominent Remain advocate 2016.

Similarly, it seems not unreasonable to wonder just what the Brexit referendum will mean for the future of government and politics in the United Kingdom if the vote is close to, say, 51%/49% (on either side) ???? And this may be the question of most interest to the rest of the world.

The biggest thing about Brexit, in other words, is finally political, not economic. And, apart from its place in Europe, the UK today is most interesting as the global homeland of a kind of model parliamentary democracy — with special claims on such places as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but also (and increasingly more importantly in the 21st century) India and even Ireland and certainly Trinidad and Tobago and much more (including the diminutive island republic of Dominica, homeland of the present secretary general of the Commonwealth of Nations).

Whatever happens with Brexit by this time tomorrow, at some point we in Canada are going to suddenly wake up and realize that the United Kingdom which gave us our rightly respected system of parliamentary government in the 19th century is growing increasingly away from the real-world United Kingdom today. And that has at least a few implications for our future too … Meanwhile, I am still personally hoping that the Remain side wins … We the North …  etc.

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In the middle of June 2016 : we have to start trying to like Hillary .. and remember Horace on nil desperandum

Posted: June 11th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Hillary Rodham in 1969, the year she graduated from Wellesley College, in her early 20s. Before she even went to Yale Law School and met Bill Clinton. Was she thinking then where she’d finally be on June 7, 2016?

One feature of cruise ships is that (briefly but sometimes with a strange intensity) you get to know people you might not otherwise encounter in your more particular ordinary life.

Late last month I met various citizens of the USA this way. And some of these encounters came back as I watched the results of the last great Super Tuesday US presidential primaries of 2016 —  in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and North and South Dakota.

As best as I can tell up here in the northern woods, looking out from my office window in the old streetcar suburbs, there are two main parts to the great American political puzzle right now — (1) Clinton and Sanders, and (2) Clinton and Trump.

Already there has been significant if still not decisive progress on the first part of the puzzle, as the week comes to an end. President Obama has met with Sanders, and then released a video endorsing Hillary (while praising Bernie as well).

Vice President Biden has endorsed Hillary. And Elizabeth Warren has announced on the Rachel Maddow Show — with many of us up here actually watching — that she is doing the same.

As of Friday, June 10, Senator Warren (aka Pocahontas, goofy friend of crooked Hillary, in the juvenile political comic book Mr. Trump is peddling) has also met with “the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee” at Hillary’s Washington, DC home.

(As seen just now on MSNBC TV : a nice and decent-sized but far from extravagant center-hall colonial, with just a hint of a circular drive.)

The Clinton’s home in Washington, DC.

Senator Al Frankel, who first endorsed Hillary long ago, said warm and optimistic things on MSNBC last night, about the contribution of Bernie Sanders and his supporters to the Democratic Party that will be running in the November 8, 2016 elections.

Senator Frankel expressed a similar confidence about the honourably free and democratic way in which Mr. Sanders will finally wind down the most interesting (and still hopefully pioneering) act in this Democratic primary season.  For the moment I believe him. Why not?

But what about the second part of the puzzle — what happens when two widely disliked candidates fight toe to toe, mano a momma, in the bizarre Clinton vs Trump contest now unambiguously under way … at last? The picture here still seems much more nervously murky …

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Citizen X reports on Amsterdam, Bruges, and Berlin, Spring 2016 .. more to come later (well, maybe)

Posted: June 4th, 2016 | No Comments »

Waiting for the bus to beautiful downtown Amsterdam at the Holiday Inn Sloterdijk Station.

As previously noted, the managing editor assigned me the task of reporting on the recent offshore conference, “Northern Europe (and Russia) in the spring of 2016” — from which everyone on the counterweights staff returned safe and sound, late last week.

It is a task I have accepted in the past. But this year I rebelled. Immediately upon arrival in Amsterdam on the morning of May 12, Ms X and I bolted to a cruise ship party, at the Holiday Inn Sloterdijk Station.

We hung out in Amsterdam on the afternoon of the 12th, along with our partners in crime, Mom & Pop Y (or is it Z?). For me Amsterdam remains “The more I see you / The more I want you.”

Marvelling at the medieval marvels in Bruges/Brugge.

On the 13th we took a three-hour bus ride to “Bruges (French), Brugge (Dutch)” in Belgium. Its historic centre is “an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble, illustrating significant stages in the commercial and cultural fields in medieval Europe.”

In a another lexicon Bruges is  “a fairy-tale medieval town … cobbled lanes and dreamy canals … market squares lined with soaring towers.” It struck me as a worthwhile tourist trap.

It has been playing this role for a while now. According to Wikipedia : “In the last half of the 19th century, Bruges became one of the world’s first tourist destinations attracting wealthy British and French tourists.”

Our trip to Bruges from Amsterdam also introduced us to the first of three engaging female tour guides, with strong interests in history. Our bus ride was enlivened by our guide’s account of the remarkable creation of “polders” (ie “any piece of land reclaimed from water”) — in a region where as much as 25% of the current territory is below sea level.

Killer bikes of Amsterdam at rest.

Our guide also wisely warned against the “killer bikes” in Amsterdam. And she explained how  Netherlands citizens look down on “stupid Belgians” (of both French- and Dutch-speaking persuasions), whose only contributions to global humanity are chocolates, waffles, smurfs, and the EU capital city.

Finally, on the morning of May 14 we headed straight from the Holiday Inn Sloterdijk Station to Passenger Terminal Amsterdam, where we joined our cruise ship. Its “12 Night Scandanavia & Russia Cruise” had the same destinations as the counterweights offshore conference “Northern Europe (and Russia) in the spring of 2016.”

Our ship would stop first at “Warnemunde (for Berlin),” Germany. Then it would be “Tallinn, Estonia,” followed by “St. Petersburg, Russia” (the alleged jewel in the crown, for two days). And then : Helsinki, Finland ;  Stockholm, Sweden ; and Copenhagen, Denmark.

We were in Bruges, in Belgium, and suddenly the managing editor appeared.

In the end managing editor MacDonald agreed that I could fulfill my current obligations by posting a few short notes on each of these six destinations. (And a very few concluding words of deep reflection on the cruise ship syndrome today and the 2016 US election.)

For all and any who may or may not be interested, at least some of these notes can be accessed by clicking on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scrolling below. I see them myself as something like “Cruising the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Gulf of Finland — all vaguely similar northern places Canadians should know more about than we typically do, etc, etc, etc …”

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