I ♥ Paris

Horrible things have happened tonight in one of my favourite cities.  I was there this past July, having one of the most relaxing and romantic of times — as hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people do in Paris every year.

Over the next few hours and days, the exact picture of what happened tonight at the Bataclan and throughout the city will become more clear, but – for myself – I just need a few images of Paris as I know it and love it.

For me, Paris is Audrey Hepburn.  It’s s’wonderful.  It’s timeless.

Sex and the City Finale

For me, Paris is the target of a thousand annoying Hollywood clichés, but I also kind of love them all, too.

Credit: Travelpod’s Travellingross

For me, Paris is history.  It’s medieval and Napoleonic and Art Deco and classical and has the best gargoyles.  It just does.  Don’t even try to argue.  Best.  Gargoyles.

Café de Flore

For me, Paris is sitting at the Café de Flore in Saint-Germain, having a coffee and a croissant and participating in the city’s favourite sport: people-watching.

And, as I wait for the 9pm headlines, which I’m sure will be very dire and depressing, this is all I want to hear, because it’s just the opposite:

Best scene of the film.  If the news from France is making you low, don’t give in.  You can’t if you’re listening to La Marseillaise.


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If I Picked The Winners… The New Cabinet

Election night two weeks ago was like the Oscars for poli-sci junkies in Canada.  Millions of us stayed up far into the night to see who would win, even though fairly early on in the night, it was kind of obvious which way all of it was going.

Now it’s a reverse situation: we get to guess at who the nominees will be, now that we know who won.  Justin Trudeau will announce his cabinet team on Wednesday, November 4th and, judging from some Tweets coming through my feed and a website or two, there is at least a small crew of us who have been playing the Canadian nerd version of fantasy football with the potential names to fill the jobs.  There’s also a bit of a guessing game in terms of which cabinet positions will still exist on Wednesday, as Justin famously promised to cut down the number of ministers and to have gender parity within his choices.  The ballpark figure now seems to be in the high 20s, perhaps even as many as 30 cabinet members… time will tell.

And so, in the grand tradition of Siskel and Ebert’s “If We Picked the Winners” and office pool fantasy football teams everywhere, I’m going to have a crack at it.  I have no idea how right I may be on some of these.  I want Scotty Brison to be in the cabinet simply because I think he (and his accent) are so wonderfully Canadian.  I can see him hanging out with Sir John A. and D’Arcy McGee and George-Etienne Cartier back at the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 and fitting in just as well then as he does as a notable Liberal face now.

The Charlottetown Conference – 1864 Everyone in this photograph is drunk. We have a country because a Scot and an Irishman crashed the party and got everyone intoxicated… except for George Brown, because he was a killjoy. My vote for best hangover photo ever (PEI’s Andrew Macdonald gives the game away with his jauntily-raised top hat).

So, here we go:

Prime Minister – Justin Trudeau

I am confident that this one will happen.

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Spine-tinglers: A Truly Creepy Childhood Hallowe’en

It’s October 31st and beautifully sunny.  That means I can actually write this brief post without looking over my shoulder half a dozen times or panicking as soon as I hear an unfamiliar creek in the apartment.

Hallowe’en as an adult is funny.  Facebook is full of friends and frenemies posting odd photos of their toddlers in humiliating costumes.  People go off to dress-up parties — the best I ever heard of was a “before and after” event that had one of my friends arrive as Dirty Harry Potter.  There will be bags of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on sale tomorrow morning and thousands of us will either be listening to Thriller or Rocky Horror or both before the night is done.  I, myself, have an afternoon planned around Young Frankenstein… or maybe Red Dragon.  Camp comedy or psychological thrillers are how I like to usher in the fall months these days.

But Hallowe’en as a tiny tot was different.  Not only because of the pressure any costume in Canada had to be both what you wanted and also functional under a snowsuit or garbage bag (October 31st is notorious as having either the first snowfall or a well-timed thunder-storm as soon as the kids get outside), but because there was a lot of creepy shit available to youngsters.  And I’m all for it.  I think children should read the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales and feel frightened in order to figure out what is good and what is bad.  Lots of people think that way.  So the following list is not a condemnation by any means, but more of a personal recitation of the things that really, really scared me before I had the words (or dry, sarcastic wit) to know what to do next.

If you weren’t ready for it, Hallowe’en could truly terrify you as a little person — and it had nothing to do with watching The Exorcist.

Experts tell us that children before the age of 6 are the most impressionable.  No bloody kidding…

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“There’s No Getting Away From It If You’re Irish”: Gender, The Irish Diaspora, and Gone With The Wind

It might be the most famous rejection in literary history. Aware too late that she has made a horrible mistake for the past dozen years, Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler runs through the mist to tell Rhett that she loves him. And he, exhausted and jaded, tells her that’s done.

In 2005, the American Film Institute announced that “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” was the greatest line of dialogue in the history of the movies, not only for its dramatic importance, but also because of the struggle off-screen simply to have it said.

The Hays Code had been adopted in 1930s and truly enforced as of 1934 under the guidance of Will H. Hays, the one-time U.S. Post-Master General and a man who, in the immortal words of Gore Vidal, “looked not unlike Mickey Mouse.”[1] There was nothing short of a full-scale epistolary war in order to convince Joseph Breen, chief enforcer of the Production Code Association, that the famed word ‘damn’ from Rhett Butler was, at the most, a “vulgarism” rather than true profanity.

Scarlett’s reaction to the ultimate put-down is just as well-known. She summons up images of Tara, her family plantation that has survived despite the horrors of the American Civil War and Reconstruction, and declares that, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” However, what wasn’t apparent in the film’s sweeping Max Steiner score or on Vivien Leigh’s face, are the words Margaret Mitchell wrote that immediately precede the novel’s final sentences:

With the spirit of her people who would not know defeat, even when it stared them in the face, she raised her chin” (Mitchell, 959).

These words are not about Southerners who have been broken by the war and still cling to illusions of moonlight-and-magnolias or the mythology of the ‘Lost Cause.’ As she had done since the novel’s earliest pages, Mitchell once again was underscoring Scarlett O’Hara’s Irish heritage as the key to her American/Southerner identity.

We might think of Scarlett as the ultimate icon of the antebellum American South, but she is, just as much if not more so, the relentless heroine of the Irish Diaspora. As a personality, she is complicated, frustrating and even despicable at times, but she also stands as an irrefutable success story of gumption and survival that mimicked the lives of tens of thousands of Irish migrants arriving in America and their descendants throughout the nineteenth century.

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Burning Convictions – Getting Fiery about Canadian Politics

A week from now, we might have a new country.

Well, okay, not a new country, but certainly one with a different outlook for the future. The federal election is set for October 19th and for weeks the pollsters have indicated that it is far too close to call. The Nanos numbers today suggest the Liberals might be pulling ahead, but there have been major surprises before.

Perhaps because of the tight race, the headlines on the news this past weekend were full of stories about long lines at the advance polls. The most recent findings I saw from Elections Canada state that 2.4 million of us voted over Thanksgiving weekend. Some people waited hours to cast their ballots – in a Canadian election – more than a week before voting day.

This is not the norm.

The turnout for the last six federal elections was fairly pathetic: around 60%. That might sound large enough, but consider that this means a political party can win a “majority” mandate from the country with less than 22% of the electorate.

We Canadians are a fairly apathetic bunch when it comes to our political convictions. We value our freedoms, but we’re hardly marching in the streets to protect them. I polled one of my classes the other week, asking how many of them had ever marched in protest, or demonstrated in a public place. The result was minimal: maybe half a dozen out of a class of nearly 60 students.

Like a good sex scandal, getting all up in arms over politics is really not a very Canadian thing to do.

Or, at least it hasn’t been for a long time.

There was a time when elections in this country meant one thing: violence. Lots and lots of violence: riots; brawls; fisticuffs; arrests; even the odd murder or two or three (though, sadly, still no sex scandals).

Yes, we literally used to kill each other over politics in this country.

There was even a time when marching in protest wasn’t enough: we needed to burn things.

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The “Cultural Compatibility” of “Old-Stock Canadians”

Two men walk into a bar.

Both are cynical, though one is certainly more flamboyant than the other. They order single malt whisky and begin to break down the problems of the world; in particular, they discuss the merits (or lack thereof) involved in bringing a paramilitary leader to meet the president at the White House.

“When did it become policy of the United States to negotiate with terrorists?”

The debate turns lofty. There is an attempt to out-do one another with remembered quotations – something akin to Bobby Kennedy and Richard Burton’s duel of sonnets, or Quint and Hooper’s comparison of scars on the Orca. The two men battle out their positions through the words of dead Irish writers:

“It was Kipling who warned to expect ‘the hate of those ye better and the blame of those ye guard’.”

            “Wasn’t it James Joyce who said that ‘history is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake’?”

            “Yes – but it was your own great Irish master, Eugene O’Neill, who said ‘There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.’”

            “You’re saying we should butt out of Ireland until we know what we’re doing?”

            “I’m saying Brendan McGann cannot come to the White House.”

            “Say, speaking of dead Irish writers…”

            “Yes, another drink.”

Quibbling aside that Rudyard Kipling hardly counts as an Irish writer (although his son did fight in the Irish Guards at the Battle of Loos), Aaron Sorkin picked a bevy of quotations about history for this scene from Season 3 of The West Wing. But it’s the final one of O’Neill’s from A Moon for the Misbegotten that, I feel, best encapsulates the twisted ironies of one of my current projects: how the Irish have been treated over the generations by various Canadian governments, and how that fits into the Syrian question in the headlines. We think we’ve come a long way into the future over the years, but, really, it’s just the past happening over and over again. Racialized interpretations of Irishness throughout the past two centuries in the country have created quite an unsettling picture about who has mattered most in Canadian society, and who continues to “count”.

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“Kings are killed, Mr Garrison” ~ The Kennedy Craze Fifty Years On

The moment of silence has just been called for in Dealey Plaza.  The bells are ringing.  It’s been fifty years to the minute since John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot to death.

I was born eighteen years after the Kennedy Assassination.  Having two historians as parents meant that I grew up with a lot of “extra fairy tales” told at bedtime: the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the fall of Anne Boleyn…  I don’t remember Dallas in November 1963 as one of the ones I continually asked for, but I do know that I learned the “facts” very early on.  I know where my parents were when they found out the news; I know where my godfather was; I’ve seen the clips of Walter Cronkite and remember my grandmother (who was the same age as JFK) telling me how eerie and silent the weekend was, with everyone unable to stop watching the coverage, both before and after Oswald was shot on live TV.

This morning, I watched my generation’s version of 22 November 1963: Oliver Stone’s JFK from 1991. Continue reading

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