November 4, 2016 § 2 Comments
I grew up as a fan of the Montreal Expos, or ‘Nos Amours,’ as they were known. I went to my first game with my dad in 1978, not long before my sister was born, when I was 5 years old. I was transfixed by the experience at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. It was still new, it had not yet become the albatross hanging around the neck of the franchise. It was glorious. So were the hot dogs, consistently ranked amongst the best in Major League Baseball. I don’t remember who the ‘Spos played that day, I don’t remember the score. But I remember the centrefielder, Andre “The Hawk” Dawson. He quickly became my favourite player. Others loved Gary Carter, the charismatic catcher. Or Tim Raines, the left fielder. And eventually, ‘Le Gros Chat,’ first baseman Andres Gallarraga.
In 1987, Dawson left the Expos. His knees were bad and the notoriously horrible artificial turf at Olympic Stadium made them worse. He signed with the Chicago Cubs. For a brief moment, I shifted my allegiances. It made sense to me, I was a kid. Plus, I was a Chicago Bears’ fan, and had been since I first discovered the beauty that was Sweetness, the Bears running back, Walter Payton, 4-5 years earlier. So I got a Cubs cap. And I was a Cubs’ fan. But old allegiances die hard, and in my heart, I remained an Expos fan. Imagine my disappointment in 1994.
But, underneath, I remained a Cubs partisan, and experienced heartbreak after heartbreak. But then Major League Baseball colluded and Nos Amours were stolen from Montreal in a skeezy deal that saw them move, eventually, to Washington and the horrible owners of the Expos, Jeffrey Loria, get the Miami franchise, while the owner of the Miami franchise, John Henry, moved up to Boston to take over the Red Sox. I was angry and devastated. I swore off baseball. Even today, I refuse to recognize the validity of the Washington team.
And then, in 2012, we relocated from Montreal to Boston. And I needed to cheer for at least one Boston team. See, the problem is this: I hate the fucking Boston Bruins. Hate them. The only thing on God’s Green Earth I hate is that team. Cheaters. Liars. Dirty SOBs. Hate them. And that deep, abiding hatred for the Bs seeped out to the other Boston teams, especially the Patriots. But, when I was a kid, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox tended to be the two teams that rivaled each other for the AL East title. And I always cheer against the Jays, so, by default, I kinda cheered for the Sox. So, I took up a fandom for the Boston Red Sox. The fact that they play in Fenway Park helped. I love that stadium. And, they also won the World Series in 2013, which I appreciated, it being my first full year in Boston and all.
But I always kept an eye on the Cubs. In 2015 I tuned into a baseball game and watched it start-to-finish, without doing something else, but actually watched it, for the first time in forever. On 30 August 2015, the Cubs, beat the LA Dodgers 2-0. And pitcher Jake Arrieta got a no hitter. The last time I watched a complete baseball game was on 28 July 1991, when those very same Dodgers were victim to another no hitter, this time a perfect game, against the Expos and the brilliant pitcher, Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez. So I felt I had come full circle. I was still a Red Sox fan, but my affection for the Cubbies remained.
I enjoyed the 2016 baseball season. Both the Red Sox and Cubs were contenders, both won their division. Both made the post-season, though the Sox crashed out in the ALDS to Cleveland (I will not use that team’s nickname, as it is racist). The Cubs, on the other hand, made it to the World Series, against Cleveland.
On Wednesday night, the Cubbies won the World Series for the first time in 116 years. The last time they won was 1908. The last time they even made the World Series was 1945. In my lifetime, since Dawson signed there, they had met heartbreak after heartbreak. In 1989, they won the NL Central, but were easily defeated in the NLCS by the San Francisco Giants. They made the playoffs a handful of times between 1989 and 2015, and each time came up short. And let’s not get into that Bartman incident.
I was at a concert in Nashville Wednesday night, but kept checking my phone for the score. I was really caught up in it. I thought they had it in the bag when it was 6-3 in the 6th. But then, all of the sudden, it was 6-6, after Aroldis Chapman gave up a homerun. And it went to extra innings. And then there was a rain delay. All of this meant that by the time we got back to the car for the drive home, the game was still going on. We found it on the radio, and caught the final out and the victory. And it happened. The Cubs won the World Series.
I was down in Atlanta yesterday running errands. Wearing my Cubbies hat. And had all of these conversations with people. Everyone kept asking how it felt. I felt a little bad, not being a die-hard Cubs fan, but, I still found myself saying that it didn’t feel real. It doesn’t. It doesn’t feel real. I can only imagine what a real Cubs fan feels.
January 8, 2016 § 7 Comments
I’m reading a bit about theories of place right now. And I’m struck by geographers who bemoan the mobility of the world we live, as it degrades place in their eyes. It makes our connections to place inauthentic and not real. We spend all this time in what they call un-places: airports, highways, trains, cars, waiting rooms. And we move around, we travel, we relocate. All of this, they say, is degrading the idea of place, which is a location we are attached to and inhabit in an authentic manner.
I see where these kinds of geographers come from. I have spent a fair amount of my adult life in un-places. I have moved around a lot. In my adult life, I have lived in Vancouver, Ottawa, Vancouver again, Ottawa again, Montreal, Western Massachusetts, Boston, and now, Alabama. If I were to count the number of flats I have called home, I would probably get dizzy.
And yet, I have a strong connection to place. I am writing this in my living room, which is the room I occupy the most (at least whilst awake and conscious) in my home. It is my favourite room and it is carefully curated to make it a comfortable, inviting place for me. It is indeed a place. And yet, I have only lived here for six months. In fact, today is six months sine I moved into this house. I have a similar connection to the small college town I live in. And the same goes for my university campus.
So am I different than the people these geographers imagine flitting about the world in all these un-places, experiencing inauthentic connections to their locales? Am I fooled into an inauthentic connection to my places? I don’t think so. And I think I am like most people. Place can be a transferrable idea, it can be mobile. Our place is not necessarily sterile. It seems to me that a lot of these geographers are also overlooking the things that make a place a place: our belongings, our personal relationships to those who surround us, or own selves and our orientation to the world.
Sure, place is mobile in our world, but that does not mean that place is becoming irrelevant as these geographers seem to be saying. Rather, it means that place is mobile. Place is by nature a mutable space. Someone else called this house home before me. This house has been here since 1948. But that doesn’t mean that this is any less a place to me.
September 23, 2015 § 2 Comments
Sometimes I’m shocked by segregation, in that it still exists. It exists in Canada. Don’t believe me? Look at East Vancouver, the North Side of Winnipeg, the Jane-Finch corridor in Toronto, or Saint-Michel in Montreal. But, in the US it is even more shocking. Boston was the most racist place I’ve ever seen, the casual racism of Bostonians towards black people, the comments on BostonGlobe.com. Or the fact that people told me that The Point, an immigrant neighbourhood of Salem, MA, was a place where “you can get shot.” Or the simple fact that residential segregation was very obvious in and around Boston. Unless you take public transit (as in the bus or the subway), you could live your entire life in Boston without noticing people of colour there.
Down here in Alabama, though, it’s not a simple question of race, class is also central to residential segregation. I live in a small city (so small, in fact, that my neighbourhood in Montreal is about the same size as this city in terms of population). I live in a neighbourhood that is comfortably middle-class, veering towards upper-middle class the closer you get to the university. But, in the midst of this, there are a few blocks that look like something you’d expect to see in the 1920s in a Southern city. These images below are from one of these streets, a block behind my house. These houses are essentially a version of a shotgun house. The block behind me is about 70% black, 30% white. It is also full of abandoned houses, empty lots, and lots with the ruins of homes. The street itself is about a car-width wide, and where I come from, would be called a back alley.
What is perhaps most shocking to me is how an apartment complex (which my neighbours all eye suspiciously) ensures this segregation with fencing designed to keep the riff raff out. To me, the very clear segregation of this block is shocking. Almost as surprising and shocking this block is in the midst of my neighbourhood. For example, the final photo is of the next block over from this street.
January 22, 2015 § 6 Comments
I’m teaching a course on space, place, landscape, and memory this semester. To get us thinking about these things, I have my students reading this article from the Boston Globe last week. In it, the author, llison Lobron, claims that Bostonians don’t care about Western Massachusetts. This isn’t exactly news, Western Mass is another world from the Boston region, and this has been blatantly obvious going back to the Revolutionary Era and Daniel Shays’ Rebellion in Springfield in 1786. There are still bullet holes in the Springfield Armory from Shays’ Revolt, apparently.
Anyway. Lobron goes on to make a claim that Western Mass is really more attuned to New York City than Boston, that there are more Giants and Yankees caps than Patriots and Red Sox caps where she lives, in Great Barrington, etc. Her TV stations come from Albany, NY, not Boston. (It’s also interesting that, in 2012, Lobron claimed that Great Barrington was “Cambridge with more time.” She is, after all, a transplanted Bostonian) I find this an interesting argument in a lot of way, given that she is essentialising Western Mass as a whole based on her experience in Great Barrington. My experiences in the Hilltowns of Western Mass and the Pioneer Valley say otherwise. Here, the Red Sox and Patriots are the main teams; here, the “city” is Boston, not New York, for the most part. TV stations here are Boston-based, too. She claims that where she lives, it’s easier to get your hands on the New York Times than the Boston Globe. Here, they’re about equal.
So what? So, it is incredibly difficult to generalise about space and region, apparently. Great Barrington is about 60 miles southwest of where I’m sitting in Amherst right now. Amherst is about 90 miles from Boston. Great Barrington, on the other hand is about 140 miles away, which is, coincidentally, the distance from Great Barrington to New York City, but it’s only 45 miles to Albany.
Lobron is correct, I think, when she notes that for most people in the Boston region, the world ends just to the west of Worcester. She is right to note that the state government in Boston generally ignores the western part of the state (I would add that it tends to ignore the central part, too). Newly-installed Governor Charlie Baker, for example, has no one from Western Mass in his cabinet or transition team. Plus ça change, says I. Even when Martha Coakley, who lost to Baker in the November election, was in power in Governor Deval Patrick’s team, despite her Western Mass roots, focused more on her adopted home of Cambridge, than her hometown of Pittsfield.
But. What I take away from Lobron’s article more than anything is that place tends to mean an intensely thing; our “place” is tightly bounded, and generalisations like “Western Mass” or “Central Mass” really don’t mean much in the larger scheme, because the 60 miles that separate my office at UMass-Amherst from Lobron in Great Barrington are huge, just as huge as the 90 miles between here and Boston. Somewhere between here and Great Barrington, on the other side of Springfield and the I-91 corridor, Massachusetts becomes Eastern New York.
August 7, 2014 § 8 Comments
I am doing a bit of research into the Know Nothing movement of the 1840s and 50s in the United States. The Know Nothings were a secret society that eventually evolved into a political party, based on the premise that immigration was bad for the United States. In short, the Know Nothings, who also formed one of the bases of the nascent Republican Party in the late 1850s, were nativists. They believed in a United States for Americans only. We could, of course, note the irony of that statement, given every person not of Native American heritage in this country is of immigrant stock. But, we’ll leave that alone. They were called Know Nothings not because they were ignorant (as my students always suppose), but because, as a secret society and asked about the society replied that they “knew nothing.”
I came across this list of things that Roman Catholics hate about the United States from the Boston Know-Nothing and American Crusader in July 1854. The Know-Nothing and American Crusader was one of the main newspapers of the Know Nothings, and Boston was a major centre of the nativists. Boston was ground zero, in many ways, in the ‘invasion’ of Irish immigrants and refugees in the years of the Famine and afterwards. Here’s the list:
- They HATE our Republic, and are trying to overthrow it.
- They HATE the American Eagle, and it offends them beyond endurance to see it worn as an ornament by Americans.
- They HATE our Flag, as it manifest by their grossly insulting it.
- They HATE the liberty of conscience.
- They HATE the liberty of the Press.
- They HATE the liberty of speech.
- They HATE our Common School system.
- They HATE the Bible, and would blot it out of existence if they could!
- The Priests HATE married life, and yet by them is fulfilled the Scripture, to wit: ‘more are the children or the desolate, than the children of the married wife.’
- They HATE Protestants, and are sworn to exterminate them from our country and the earth.
- They HATE the name of Washington, because he was a Republican and Protestant.
- They HATE all rulers that do not swear allegiance to the Pope of Rome.
- They HATE to be ruled by Americans, and say “WE WILL NOT BE RULED BY THEM!”
- They HATE to support their own paupers and they are left to be supported by the tax paying Americans.
- They HATE, above all, the ‘Know Nothings,’ who are determined to rid this country of their accursed power.
The author of this wonderful list signed his name as “Uncle Sam.” Newspapers in general allowed correspondents to use anonymous pseudonyms in the 19th century, so this isn’t surprising. But the nom de plume of our correspondent is telling of the cause of the Know Nothings.
As I am doing this research, I’m thinking back to my experiences in June, when I was told by a table mate that the AP Reading I was at that I don’t belong in the United States because I “don’t love America” (I don’t “love” Canada, either, for the record). And, thenthen, on the way home, at a layover in Dallas, another traveller, watching the news, told me that all immigrants should be rounded up and deported (this one didn’t know I was an immigrant). And as I watch the drama unfold about the refugee children from Central America in this country, and see the horrible rhetoric coming from the right wing, I can’t help but think that, even if 170 years have passed since “Uncle Sam” published his list of things Catholics hate in The Know-Nothing and American Crusader, in some ways, nothing has changed. The rhetoric of “Uncle Sam” echoes that of some far right politicians, commentators, and regular citizens I’ve seen on Twitter in the past month.
Of course, the Know Nothings were never a majority of Americans, any more than those so violently opposed and hard-hearted to the plight of children today are even close to a majority. The overwhelming majority of Americans then and now do not have a problem with immigration and immigrants. But, then as now, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
Tomorrow, Thursday 29 May, I’ll be appearing on CKUT, McGill University Campus Radio’s programme on Oral History, O Stories. The show will be hosted by my old friend, Elena Razlagova, a professor of Public History at Concordia University. I will be talking about Boston College’s Belfast Project, and the fallout therefrom. So tune in around 2pm tomorrow, I’ll be on around 2.30. You can tune in the old fashioned way, on your radio at 90.3 fm, or on CKUT’s website.
May 23, 2014 § 25 Comments
I got called a ‘frog’ today. Every time this happens, it stuns me. Like stops me in my tracks stuns me. It’s happened a handful of times in my life, a few times in Ontario and British Columbia and now twice in Massachusetts. The last time it happened was at the bar of a restaurant in a small town in Western Massachusetts. I was having an amiable conversation with a guy about hockey. He was a New York Rangers’ fan and I, of course, cheer for the Habs. When I told him I was from Montreal, he said, “Oh, I guess that makes you a frog.” I don’t think he really understood what the word meant. But it was a conversation stopper, I visibly recoiled from him.
I have asked most of my French Canadian friends about this. They, of course, have been called ‘frog’ many times in their lives, in Canada, the US, and Britain. None of my friends is particularly fond of this particular epithet, of course, but most of them are also rather sanguine about it. Perhaps due to being called a ‘frog’ repeatedly, according to one friend. One of my tweeps is married to a French guy, as in from France, and she calls him ‘the Frog.’ Clearly, for most people who actually are French or French Canadian, the term isn’t a big deal. Me, on the other hand, it is a big deal for me. Maybe because I’m an Anglo.
The term ‘frog’ was actually first applied to the Dutch by the British, who saw the Dutch as marsh-dwellers. Get it? Frogs live in marshes, too. But then, in the mid-18th century, the French became the main enemies of the British, so the term got applied to the French due to their propensity towards eating frogs’ legs. Eventually, the term ended up getting applied to French Canadians, just, I suppose, due to Anglo laziness. Then again, Anglo Canadians have come up with other names for French Canadians, such as ‘pea soupers’ and ‘Pepsis,’ due to their alleged fondness for pea soup and Pepsi. One Anglo Montrealer once told me that the Pepsi epithet also worked because French Canadians were said to be ’empty from the neck up.’ And French-speaking Quebecers also have a whole long string of nasty names for Anglos, including my favourite, tête-carré.
But. I’m not French Canadian. I’m an Anglo from Quebec. So when I get called a ‘frog’, it stuns me. Today I was called a ‘frog’ because I was wearing my Montreal Canadiens ball cap around. I’m used to the abuse the hat brings me in and around Boston. I welcome most of it, especially since the Canadiens knocked out the Bruins in the last round of the playoffs. But usually it doesn’t go beyond “Habs suck” and variations thereof. I don’t get told to go back to Canada (though I was once told to “Get out of my country” by a guy in Vancouver once), I don’t get called names or anything like that and 98% of the banter is friendly. Since the Canadiens knocked out the Bruins, most people have even been respectful.
What makes today’s name-calling all the more puzzling is that I’m wearing a t-shirt that makes fun of Irish stereotypes and I have a huge Celtic cross tattooed on my right calf. So clearly I’m not French Canadian. And when this guy called me ‘frog’ and dissed the Habs, I actually stopped cold in my tracks. I was stunned. I just looked at him, he seemed to realise he’d gone too far and scooted off.
But I do find it interesting how much I detest the term. And how much it offends me. Any thoughts on the matter are welcome.