The Centre Of The Universe?

December 2, 2016 § 2 Comments

An interesting thing has occurred in the realm of Canadian sports journalism in the past few weeks.  For those of you who don’t know, the English-language Canadian media is centred in Toronto, which every media outlet will remind you is “Canada’s largest city.”  The much smaller French-language media is centred in Montréal, which is Canada’s second largest city.  Toronto’s got a population of around 4.7 million, compared to Montréal’s 3.8 million.  Vancouver is third, closing in on 2 million.  And Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa are all around 1 million.  So we’re not looking at the situation in the UK, where London is the largest city and about 5 times larger than the second city, Birmingham.

But, reading Canadian sports media these days, and you’d be convinced that Toronto is the only city in Canada and that its sports teams are all wondrous, virtuous conquering heroes.  Never mind the fact that Toronto teams don’t really win much of anything ever.  The basketball Raptors and soccer Toronto FC have never won anything.  The hockey Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.  And the Blue Jays last won in 1993.  The Argonauts of the Canadian Football League are the really the only continually successful Toronto sports team, having last won the Grey Cup in 2012 (but, the CFL is a 9-team league, so law of averages…).

Toronto FC was engaged in a tense two-leg Eastern Conference final in the MLS Cup Playoffs against the Impact de Montréal, or IMFC.  An all-Canadian conference final should be one of those things that grip the nation, or at least get the media to recognize its import.  And while Sportsnet, the second of Canada’s sports networks, largely has, TSN, the largest sports network and MLS rights holder, has not.  It has openly and blatantly cheered for a TFC victory, and its coverage has exclusively treated IMFC as an interloper in TFC’s eventual, wondrous assent to the top of the North American soccer world.  On Wednesday afternoon, in advance of the second leg of the series, to be played at BMO Field in Toronto, TSN posted this article about the five keys to the match as its headline on TSN.ca.  Note that it’s all about what TFC needs to do to win.  This is just the most egregious example.  The rest of the coverage on TSN.ca Wednesday afternoon was all slanted towards TFC: its mindset heading into the match, which players it needs to excel, and so on.  Not a word from IMFC’s perspective, except for a feel-good story about the club’s 38-year old captain, and Montréal native, Patrice Bernier.

In the aftermath of the TFC’s victory Wednesday night, in a tense 5-2 match that went to Extra Time, allowing TFC to advance 7-5 on aggregate, TSN’s homepage was a torrent of TFC.  And while this is a good thing, and deserved, TFC won, it’s also still one-sided.  This was especially true of the headline that said “TFC MAKES CANADIAN SOCCER HISTORY.”  Factually, yes, it did.  It made the finals of the MLS Cup for the first time and is the first Canadian club to do so.  But, it did so after making history in an all-Canadian conference final.  And there was not a single story about IMFC and its own very improbable run to the conference finals.  TSN has continually picked against IMFC all season.  It predicted the Montréal side would miss the playoffs.  Then it wouldn’t get past DC United in the first round, or New York Red Bulls in the second round.  And so on.

On Thursday morning, TSN.ca’s home page featured no fewer than 12 features and stories about TFC out of the 28 in total.  Of the remaining 16 stories and features, 10 were about the Maples Leafs (7), Raptors (2), and Blue Jays (1).  One story was about how the Calgary Flames pummeled the Maple Leafs Wednesday night and another mocked Montréal Canadiens winger Andrew Shaw and his bad temper.  There’s a reason why Canadians in the Rest of Canada tend to dismiss TSN as Toronto’s Sports Network.

Meanwhile: Hockey.  The top team in the NHL right now is the Montréal Canadiens.  But, TSN’s coverage is almost exclusively about the amazing, wondrous Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a collection of burgeoning young stars and actually look like they might be a good team again one day.  There are also, you might note, five more Canadian teams in the NHL.  Sucks to be a fan of one of them: TSN just doesn’t care, other than to note the ways in which they’re failing.

And then Sportsnet.  Sportsnet is the rights holder for the NHL in Canada.  And while its coverage tends to be more national in nature, in that it notes that there are indeed teams in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montréal, besides Toronto, how about them kids in the T-Dot, y’all?  But Sportsnet can even out-do TSN.  On Wednesday, the American-based Forbes published its annual list of NHL teams ranked by value.  As always, the New York Rangers are the most valuable hockey team.  The Rangers are worth $1.25 billion USD.  But Sportsnet’s headline reads: “Maple Leafs Rank Third in Forbes’ Annual Most Valuable Team List.”  So, you think, well, that makes sense.  But, wait, what’s the second most valuable team in the National Hockey League?  Chicago?  Los Angeles?  The New York Islanders?  Nope.  It’s the Montréal Canadiens.

Now, I know we Quebecers had ourselves a couple of referenda on leaving the country, and we still harbour a pretty strong separatist movement; at any given time, around 35% of us want out of Canada.  But, in both 1980 and 1995, we chose to stay.  And 65% of us at any given time want to stick around in Canada.  And we keep giving Canada Prime Ministers.  In my lifetime, five of 9 prime ministers have been Quebecers.

So, in other words, my dear TSN and Sportsnet, Québec is part of Canada.  And Montréal remains one of the largest cities in North America, and also remains a major centre of global commerce.  And its soccer team isn’t that bad, even if its appearance in the Conference Finals is a surprise.  And its hockey team, which is, after all, the most decorated hockey team in the world, is the most valuable Canadian team.

And, if you just so happen to be one of those provincials from the rest of the country, well, as we say back home, tant pis.

Gentrification: Plus ça change

September 14, 2016 § 1 Comment

I’m reading a book that is, for the lack of a better term, a biography of the Kremlin.  I am at the part where the Kremlin, and Moscow itself, gets rebuilt after Napoléon’s attempt at conquering Russia.  Moscow had been, until it was torched during the French occupation, a haphazard city; visitors complained it was Medieval and dirty. And it smelled.  And not just visitors from Paris and Florence, but from St. Petersburg, too.

In the aftermath, Moscow was rebuilt along Western European lines, in a rational manner.  And the city gentrified, the Kremlin especially:

This was definitely a landscape that belonged to the rich and the educated, to noblemen and ladies of the better sort.  It is through the artists’ eyes that we glimpse the well-dressed crowds: the gentlemen with their top hats and shiny canes, the ladies in their bonnets, gloves, and crinolines.  They could be leading citizens of any European state, and there is little sense of Russia (let alone romantic Muscovy) in their world.

Leaving aside the fact that there were no citizens of any European state in 1814, this sounds remarkably familiar.  This is the same critique I have written many times about Griffintown and Montreal: as Montreal gentrifies, it is becoming much like any other major North American city.

But it is also true of gentrification in general.  There is a part on the North Shore of Chattanooga, Tennessee, I really like.  It finally dawned on me that it is because it reminds of me Vancouver architecturally, culturally, aesthetically, and in the ways in which the water (in this case the Tennessee River, not False Creek) is used by the redevelopment of this historically downtrodden neighbourhood.  But.  I could also be dropped into pretty much any North American city and see similarities: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, New York, Boston, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville.  These are all cities (amongst others) where I have seen the same tendencies.

And, obviously, one aspect of gentrification is the cleansing of the city of danger and vice.  Just like Moscow was cleaned up in the aftermath of 1812.

The Five Foot Assassin

March 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

Phife Dawg, also known as Malik Taylor, died a couple of days ago.  He was only 45.  Phife is a hip hop legend, one of my favourite MCs of all-time.  His music as a member of A Tribe Called Quest and his single solo album from 2000 have long been part of the soundtrack of my life.  The Five-Foot Assassin was a perfect foil to Q-Tip’s smooth delivery, with his guttural growl and ability to drop a patois.  He also wrote wicked rhymes, tougher and more menacing than Tip.

Tip was the unquestioned leader of Tribe.  And eventually, egos got in the way of old friends.  Phife always said that he felt especially excluded because both Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, the DJ, had both converted to Islam and he had not.  And he was largely absent from the 1996 album, Beats, Rhymes, and Life as Tip’s cousin, Consequence, was featured (why, I have no idea, he couldn’t hold a flame to Phife’s abilities).  I remember buying Midnight Marauders in the fall of 1993 at Zulu Records on West 4th Avenue in Vancouver.  I was with my friend, Tanya.  It was one of the first CDs I ever bought.  I still have it.  The fall of 1993 was when I moved back to Vancouver from Ottawa, transferring to the University of British Columbia.  I lived in the Mötördöme, with three other guys I didn’t know all that well. I worked with Steve at the Cactus Club (or the Carcass Club, as we called it) on Robson St.  We also lived with Skippy, who had a law degree, but preferred to play in punk bands, and J., who was also in a punk band.  That was the fall when I took the #22 bus to work on weekend mornings, I rode with Chi-Pig, legendary front-man of SNFU.  Punk was the regular soundtrack at the Mötördöme; Fugazi and Jesus Lizard were our favourites.  But we also played a lot of Fishbone and Faith No More.  And when we were in reflective moods, we dropped some Tom Waits on.  Skip, Steve, and J. were not fans of hip hop.  But I insisted on playing Midnight Marauders as well.  And when me and my main man Mike rode around Vancouver and its environs in the Mikemobile, a 1982 Mercury Lynx, Midnight Marauders was amongst the albums we rotated.  I listened to the album on my long bus ride to UBC on the #9 Broadway bus.

Everytime I listen to that album, I am immediately dropped back into Vancouver in 1993.  Similarly, their last album, 1998’s The Love Movement came out the year Christine and I moved to Ottawa, so she could begin law school.  I had just graduated from Simon Fraser with my MA in History and would soon begin a long run at Public History Inc., which launched me back into academia.  I got to Ottawa a month earlier than her.  And in a small flat, in a very hot Ottawa summer, I listened to The Love Movement almost obsessively.  It’s generally not regarded as Tribe’s best, but Phife’s rhymes, especially on “Find A Way” and “Da Booty,” made the album.

I got backstage at a couple of Tribe shows back in the day.  I got to meet them.  Phife was unfailingly the nicest, most polite dude you could imagine.  He was just a genuinely nice guy.  He was always humble, he also seemed kind of surprised he was a big deal.

I am listening to Midnight Marauders right now.  Hip hop has lost one of the greatest MCs of all-time.  And he was too young to go.

Place and Mobility

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.

Residential Segregation

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.

IMG_0137 IMG_0138IMG_0143IMG_0130What 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.IMG_0140

 

 

 

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Memory and the Screaming Trees.

January 26, 2015 § 4 Comments

Memory works in odd ways. So this course on space, place, landscape & memory.  Last Thursday, in addition to that article on Western Mass, we read Doreen Massey’s article “Places and Their Pasts,” from way ‘back in 1995.  And, this got me thinking.  About music.  I’m currently in a hard rock phase, where everything I’m listening to has loud, very loud guitars.  And inevitably, when I am in one of these phases, I come back to the Screaming Trees’ 1992 album, “Sweet Oblivion.”  My favourite Trees’ song, “Nearly Lost You” is on this album.  But, the album as a whole is one of my favourites of all-time.  I first bought it on cassette tape, back when it came out in the fall of 1992.  I bought it at the Record Runner, a legendary record store on Rideau Street in Ottawa, that closed in January 2006, after 31 years in business due to gentrification and condofication.  When I moved back to Vancouver the following spring, 1993, my best friend, Mike, had the album on CD.

We spent a lot of time driving around the Vancouver region that summer and fall, in his 1982 Mercury Lynx, which I had dubbed the Mikemobile. Mike had a Sony Discman, which he plugged into the cassette player of his car to listen to CDs.  It was incredibly moody and jumped when the car hit bumps.  Nonetheless, “Sweet Oblivion” was in constant rotation that year.  There is, however, a difference between the cassette and CD (and now, digital) versions of the album, however.  Track 6, “For Celebrations Past” was not on the cassette version.  I listened to the cassette version of the album a lot, but I’ve listened to the CD and digital versions of the album even more.  I’ve listened to this album hundreds of times, and I’d estimate at least 80% of those plays are either the CD or digital version.  And yet, every time I hear “For Celebrations Past,” it feels like a rude interlude into a classic album of my youth, even though I like this song, too.

I find it interesting that my initial memories of this album trump the memories of the version of the album I’ve heard many more times over the years.  I’m not sure what to make of this, really.  My memories of Ottawa in 1992-3 are not all that happy, though there was the diversion of Montreal and the Habs’ last Stanley Cup victory, but by the time Guy Carbonneau lifted Lord Stanley’s mug that spring, I was back in Vancouver.  So it is bizarre, I think that, my initial memories of the album trump the happier ones, back in Vancouver.  And yet, listening to the album, as I did last night, doesn’t transport me back the sub-Arctic cold of Ottawa anymore than it puts me back in the passenger seat of the Mikemobile.  Unlike a lot of the music of the early 90s, it’s not evocative of that time and place.  Maybe because I’ve continued to listen to the album in the years since.    Yet, for me, the proper version of the album lacks “For Celebrations Past” and goes straight from the organs and guitars of “Butterfly” into the vicious punk-inflected “The Secret Kind.”

The Out-Sourcing of Memory

May 27, 2014 § 2 Comments

Four or five years ago, we saw Josh Ritter at La Sala Rossa in Montreal.  Sala is one of my favourite places in the world to see a gig.  In fact, I’d rank it just below the legendary Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, with its bouncing dance floor.  Anyway.  We made our way up to the front which, frankly, wasn’t that difficult, Josh Ritter fans aren’t exactly scary people.  But after Ritter took the stage with his excellent Royal City Band, something strange happened.  The crowd around us became younger.  A lot of early 20-somethings.  And very female.  They were cooing over Ritter himself, and his bassist, Zack Hickman.  This had happened to me once before, at a Grapes of Wrath gig in c. 1992.  The teeney-boppers at this all ages gig in Ottawa went nuts when the Grapes hit the stage and nearly mauled my companion to death.  She required first aid.

Anyway.  This Josh Ritter gig happened just after cellphones began to be equipped with decent phones.  There was still some novelty in them.  But all these 2o-somethings watched the gig through the lens of their phones, snapping picture after picture of Ritter and Hickman.  It got incredibly frustrating, especially when they stepped on us to get a better shot.  But I just felt sorry for them, their entire experience of Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band was mediated through their cellphone camera lens.  They wouldn’t take any memories away from the show.  Not that I really did, either.  I remember getting stepped on and all the 20-somethings with their camera phones.

But photos aren’t memories.  I recently went through some old photos for some reason I no longer recall.  Included in these files (all photos are on the hard drive of my MacBook now, of course) were pictures of a trip to Tanglewood in the summer of 2006 with my then-girlfriend, now wife.  I have very distinct memories of that day.  It was the July 4 weekend, we went with her sister and her parents, to see Garrison Keilor and a live performance of A Prairie Home Companion.  I had no idea what any of this meant, frankly, I’m Canadian and lived in Canada then.  And avoided NPR and PBS like the plague (I’ve modified my stance somewhat since).  But in looking at these photos, I found they didn’t necessarily match up with my memories. In fact, I think I’ve conflated two or three trips to Tanglewood in my memories of that day.  I think this because I remember the night time stars and sitting with Margo by ourselves looking up at them hearing classical music.  But that couldn’t have happened in 2006, it was the time we saw Yo-Yo Ma with the Boston Pops in 2008 or 2009, after we got married.  But such is memory, it’s dynamic and our memories evolve over time.

Indeed, this is the point made in this article on NPR.org (so clearly I’ve modified my views of public radio in the US) today by a psychologist, Linda Henkel.  She notes exactly that,

It’s also a mistake to think of photographs as memories. The photo will remain the same each time to you look at it, but memories change over time. Henkel likens it relying on photos to remember your high school graduation.

“Each time I remember what my high school graduation was like, I might be coloring and changing that memory because of my current perspective — because of new ideas that I have or things that I learned afterwards,” she says. “Human memory is much more dynamic than photographs are capable of.”

The larger context of the article is our addiction to taking photos on our cameras, due to its simplicity.  No kidding.  I have over 1,000 photographs on my iPhone.  And I’ve probably deleted another 1,000, some because they’re bad, some because they’re not all that remarkable in the long-term.  And this from a guy who probably took a grand total of 50 photographs from 1989-2006.  We’re hyper-memorialising everything.  I presume I’m not all that different than anyone else in how often I look at old photographs, which is close to never, unless I’m looking for something.  And yet, every time I see an old photo, my memory of the events doesn’t entirely jive with the photographic record.

Henkel did an interesting experiment with her students.  She sent her students to the university art museum and instructed them to view some items and photograph others.  Then she gave them a sort of test when they got back on their memories:

[She] found what she called a “photo-taking impairment effect.”

“The objects that they had taken photos of — they actually remembered fewer of them, and remembered fewer details about those objects. Like, how was this statue’s hands positioned, or what was this statue wearing on its head. They remembered fewer of the details if they took photos of them, rather than if they had just looked at them,” she says.

Henkel says her students’ memories were impaired because relying on an external memory aid means you subconsciously count on the camera to remember the details for you.

“As soon as you hit ‘click’ on that camera, it’s as if you’ve outsourced your memory,” she says. “Any time we … count on these external memory devices, we’re taking away from the kind of mental cognitive processing that might help us actually remember that stuff on our own.”

And so I come back to those early 20-something girls at the Josh Ritter gig in Montreal on a cold, snowy February night four or so years ago.  What do they remember from that night? Probably next to nothing, they outsourced it all to their phones.  But, of course, the phones we had in 2010 compared to the phones in 2014.  The camera in my two year old iPhone 4s is infinitely better than the camera that was in my then-state-of-the-art Motorola Razr.  So, chances are, their photos are long lost.  And they just have a vague recollection of a gig.

Compare that with an old friend of mine who, whilst bored and sick this week, attempted to reconstruct her entire concert-going life over the past 25 years.  Relying largely on her memory, and aided by the internet and some photos, she did manage to reconstruct most of her concert-going life.  Why? Because she didn’t outsource her memory to her phone.  Largely because we didn’t have phones to take pictures on (or even digital cameras, for that matter) in 1992.

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