Monday, July 27, 2009

Buenos Aires and the Journey Home - Chapter 3

Hola, Gumboot readers! Well, Michellé y Juan have returned home to Downtown Canada (Editor`s note: on Sunday night, we flew over mountains and ocean and rivers and green space into Vancouver...and then we were lucky enough to meander up and down The Drive during the tail-end of Summer Days - people, we are so, so fortunate to live where we do...tourists must orgasm when they arrive in this part of the world!).

But enough about Vancouver and beautiful British Columbia. Let`s get back to Downtown South America! So, the last time we checked in with Juan y Michellé, we had thrived in the Andes, learned about olive oil, defended against nuclear zombies at the Difunta Correa, and survived precarious paragliding. The next challenge for this delightful power couple: smog, traffic, rain, and a hospital in Buenos Aires!

So, Buenos Aires is a city of 13 million people (give or take a dozen). Some of the city's highlights include the world's largest street, 9 de Julio, and Christianity's answer to Disneyland, the Parque Tierra Santa. According to the country's maps, Argentina, not Britain, owns the Malvinas, not Falklands (shhh, don't tell the United Kingdom!). Argentinians, as described by the "rest of South America" and "Lonely Planet" are "Italians who speak Spanish, want to be French and behave like the English." One travel writer also used the term "a-hole" to depict these "Europeans of the Third World." In the experience of Juan y Michellé, the Canadian travelers were discriminated against more by French Canadians named Martin than by Argentinians; everyone was pretty darn nice, in spite of the hazy busyness of the city. In the end, Buenos Aires grew on us.

First highlight, Caminito: ladies and gentlemen, welcome to La Boca, a neighbourhood built on Italian immigrants (not literally), tango and Maradona's football club, Boca Juniors, where the now coach of Argentina's National Men's Club played his career. Caminito was/is a tourist mecca. Throughout our travels, Juan typically looked out of place with his Panasonic Lumix draped around his neck; however, amongst the restaurants, souvenir shops, cheesy tango dancers, and colourful buildings of Caminito he was right at home. Besides, dozens of Argentinian tourists had, ahem, much longer lenses than he did. Fun fact about tango: contrary to popular belief, tango is actually not at all about dancing; originally, the art form was created as a comment on class-romance-relations, where a man would sing to a woman about, well, forbidden-esque love. For questions about tango, please email Martin Renauld at renauld14(at) Probably the most hilarious part of the Caminito trip was the Maradona impersonator. For a modest price of, we think, 10 pesos, you - yes, you - can have your photo taken with a guy who looks like Maradona. Again. He's not Maradona, but he kinda sorta maybe looks like him. Needless to say, we don't have a photo of this gent. But we do have a great idea. A "business venture" if you will. Would you rather pay 10 pesos for a picture with a fake Maradona, or 8 pesos for a picture of the real Martin Renauld. We know the answer...

Second highlight, San Telmo Market: as Summer Days in Vancouver sputter towards cancellation (such is the word on the street about carless streets), the San Telmo Market, which is exactly where the thoughtful, visionary, humble, street-savvy, and amazing Andrea Reimer will be taking Vancouver in the years ahead, will be the vibrant, colourful and, yes, carless Sunday street market that it has been for decades. Hey, man, Buenos Aires defines itself as a "European City," so it's understandable that such street culture survives and thrives amidst the rise of the automobile in the Southern hemisphere. Argentinians see cars as a status symbol, sure, but having a street or two closed in a neighbourhood will never deter people (most of whom still walk everywhere, which is why the wine and meat can't make 'em all fat!) from visiting the neighbourhood. From the locally made crafts (most of Argentina's consumer products are also local) to the amazing street performers (see video and prepare to dance!) the market was a delightful romp that was so extensive that it took up all of Sunday afternoon and most of the evening.

Third "highlight," public health care in Argentina: nothing says "adventure" like heading to one of Buenos Aires's hospitals during a swine flu epidemic that has inspired a "state of emergency" from the city's mayor, Mauricio Marci. While free health care for all is certainly admirable, in a city of 13 million with a 51% poverty rate, it obviously comes with a fair share of challenges. One such challenge is limited resources coupled with high demand: there's nothing quite like waiting 2 hours in a crowded waiting room only to share a 6x8 ft doctor's office with three other individuals, each suffering from a different ailment. Despite the 'health care for all' mantra, a tiered system was still fairly obvious: one of the first questions Michellé was asked was why she had come to the public hospital and not the nearby private hospital. With symptoms that some sources (mostly questionable organizations like the WHO) say represent the swine flu (5 out of 6 symptoms isn't that bad, right?) Michellé was lucky to have made it out alive two x-rays, one ventilator, numerous threats of quarantine, and 5 hours later.

Fourth highlight, artful museums, cemetaries and freezing rain:
for two days in Buenos Aires it rained like it was November in the Pacific Northwest. And we took the bus. First, buses in Argentina are superfun, because they only stop for, like, 30 seconds to let people on. And, when you get off, sometimes you just have time to jump off the back as the bus slows down. Needless to say, a fun time. What is not fun is putting 2.50 pesos in change (biggest coin in Juan's hand was 25 cents) into a rickety old machine that eats a lot of them (bus companies may or may not be a leading cause of Argentina's coin shortage). And what is hilarious is when a five-person line up forms behind Juan as the bus careens around Buenos Aires streets and he tries - with little success - to pay for the tickets from 10 blocks ago. And what is amazing and community-inspirational is when the five-person line-up cheers Juan on and gives him high-fives when the tickets finally spit out of the machine. And then the unraveling travelers got off the bus at the next stop... So, we nerded out in a couple of musems, including the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (picture), and then braved the chilly weather in one of Buesnos Aires's coolest, and creepiest, attractions: the La Recoleta Cemetery. Some of the famous burials include Eva Peron, Domingo Sarmiento and Isabel Walewski Colonna (grandchild of Napoleon Boneparte). After walking for 20 minutes in the wrong direction, Juan y Michelle arrived a little later than expected at the cemetery, which inspired them to split up - each with a camera - and document the amazing history of the site. Soon, we were approached by security guards who were understandably cold and ready to shut things down. And so began a giant game of hide-and-seek. Basically, there were two strategies: first, Michellé pretended to not understand what anyone was saying (which she took to quite naturally); second, Juan just ran, man. The game was highlighted by pointing, shrugging and yelling of infinitives and nouns: "Amigo?! Amigo?!" That's right, Recoleta Cemetary Security, Juan leaves on his own accord...and because hypothermia was setting in. Oh, and, needless to say, given how the journey began, we took a taxi back to Ximen and Martana's place...

Fifth highlight, Tigre on the Delta:
one can only imagine how excited Michellé was to travel into the river delta of Buenos Aires on a train and a boat! While the train was, well, a jam-packed, uncomfortable commuter train that makes the B-Line look spacious, the boat-ride was enjoyable and adventurous (see "transportation culture" community-takeaway below), mostly because the boat doesn't really "stop" for you to get off; the Captain (we're nautical now, people) sorta backs up, the First Mate loosely wraps a rope around the "dock" and then you hop off as the boat pulls away. Making the day even more enjoyable was the delicious lunch we had on one of the islands. Perhaps it was our nautical savvy, or our delightful Canadian air, but somehow we even managed to score free drinks at the end of the meal. We later learned that such drinks are given to customers when they (a) spend a larger-than-normal amount on a meal or (b) are well liked by their patrons. Given that Juan's meal consisted of "Provaletta El Hornero" - fried cheese - it was probably mostly column b that earned us the drinks. Top score for efficiency. Top score for deliciousness and customer service. Top score for adventure. Low score for safety. Still, well played, Argentina.

Our big night out with Ximen and Marta
na: finally, we experienced an authentic tango show. Ximena, breaking with Argentinian culture and social norms, called out to the singers with requests for songs. People turned and sent curious looks her way, but the performer totally got it: "this is normal in Uruguay," she explained to the audience. You're darn right it is! After several bottles of delicious malbec and the best steak Juan has ever had, Martin and Juan bid goodnight to the ladies and ventured out into the chilly San Telmo, well, morning. [INSERT YOUR GUESS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN 3AM AND 6:30AM HERE]. And then we meandered home to get a restful few hours of sleep before striking out into the city in search of delightful goods to smuggle into Canada. (Editor's note: look, Canada Border Services, we might've brought a green herb back into the country, but, relax, it's only maté.) In any case, Monsieur Renauld, you got it like you did in our Bishop`s University days, good sir.

And then we came home. As it turns out, South America is far from the West Coast. But after 36 hours of traveling, which included extended stopovers in Santiago and LA, we made it home. Terrifying fact about LAX: you can buy iPods and digital cameras in vending machines. On the way home, there was really only one glitch. We had an unannounced two hour stopover in Lima, Peru. It was almost that medium-sized, um, thing that makes travelers lose it, break down and get a little nuts. Luckily, we channeled our craziness through humour. And, so, here is an excerpt of our "things we hate about Lima" list:

1. The "L" has something to hide.
2. Alpaccas, unlike sharks and bears, are naturally violent, aggressive and angry creatures.
3. In Lima, terrorists outnumber teachers 11:1.
4. Machu Pichu was actually built in 1987.
5. We had to go there.

Luckily, Limans (number six on the list) have a good sense of humour.

As you, the readers, know, The Weekly Gumboot is both about community and the actionable steps/tips/ideas that can be implemented to build said community(ies). So, in no particular order, here are the five things Juan y Michellé would like to share about the Argentinian/Urugyuan community that, well, we North Americans can certainly learn from:

1. Maté - the green herb of which we spoke. This warm drink is all about community. It is commonly shared between family and friends over stories and laughs. Here are some rules about mate: only the server can touch the straw or "re-arrange" the maté; drinkers must drink until a slurping sound is made; once you finish your turn you must return it directly to the server. If anyone wants to stop by commercial drive for a little maté-party, like we said, we smuggled some back.
2.Transportation Culture - imagine how much fun it would be to take the 99 B-Line if, say, it only slowed down at Commercial and Broadway. And, hey, imagine if the bus from Vancouver to Calgary served champagne, unlimited wine and the biggest glass of whiskey you've ever seen. Not only that, imagine if, for a few dollars extra, you could lie down and sleep in a full sized bed the whole way. People in Canada don't take the bus over long distances because, well, they're shabby. But recent findings show that, because of things like oil disappearing, traveling by plane as we do will most certainly change. Don't worry. There's a large reserve of whiskey and 1980s music videos in supply.
3. Eating - like maté-drinking, meals are typically a time when families and friends share moments and community is built. So, what better way to widen and deepen the community net than, well, adding another meal to the day? In Argentina, like in many South American countries, dinner is eaten much later in the evening - as late as 11pm - with a smaller meal eaten at about 6pm. While indulging in a small-child sized steak and a bottle of wine close to midnight takes some getting used to, the opportunities for community this tradition brings with it does not.
4. Coins (even if they are part of a black market racket) - if one stereotype can be said to be true about Argentinians - from the perspective of two humble Canadians - it's that they're laid-back. Symbolic of this laid-back lifestyle is the Argentinian attitude towards coins. With a low-supply-high-demand situation on their hands, the laissez faire Argentine solution is not to fight over limited resources (which cannot, sadly, be said about much of the world's population), but to instead not worry about the details and round up or round down to the nearest peso.
5. Martana y Ximen - it is Canada's loss that one of its greatest revolutionaries left Quebec in search of a "real" revolution in Argentina (without Che the place is pretty calm, though, Martin). And Ximena, well, she's just hilarious and makes up for any lack of English-speaking with dramatic flare. When asked what her favourite part of Juan y Michellé's visit was she said, "when you left and went to Cordoba." The delivery was deadpan, too. In all seriousness, our hosts defined friendship and community, constantly putting themselves out to welcome us in. If Martin's PhD dissertation doesn't get finished on time, we are partly to blame. But, then again, it is South America. Being on time is just a little bit different in that neck of the woods. So, Martana y Ximen, muchas gracias!

So there it is. The end of the unraveling travels of Juan y Michelle. Keep your eyes open for The Unraveling Traveler, our new adventure guide for community minded travelers (appendix on shade-finding included for free). We hope you've had as much fun reading as we have writing. So you know, we did our writing in installments... Our final tip: if and when all else fails, just say 'si'...


- Juan y Michellé

Friday, July 24, 2009

Recipe for an AKON Concert

  • 1 undersold GM Place
  • 15 qued lines of angry AKON fans forced to exchange tickets for new seats to offset the undersold concert
  • 1000 really, really short skirts
  • a large handful of people from every ethnic community in Vancouver/Lower Mainland
  • 2 three ton giant banana shaped speakers capable of thumping so hard your clothes feel the breeze
  • a shitload of other smaller speakers
  • a large pinch of super drunk and tatted out "gangstars"
  • a sprinkle of the VPD's finest
  • 20 cups of young men wearing funny baseball caps askew
  • 1 guy wearing a pink skirt and a mohawk
  • 1 AKON
  • 1 Karlwolf (never heard of him before, but you learn something new everyday)
  • 1 Danny Fernandez
  • 2 backup dancers from the "hood"
  • 1 random Surrey rapper who does a lot of pacing on the small stage
  • a generous mix of hummer and SUV limousines
  • a generous serving of concerned parents watching suspiciously as their teenage daughters scream they want to be a "private dancer" for AKON
  • 10 cups of boy-band-esque dance moves
  • 1000 bright lights
  • a bakers dozen angry after-concert fights
  • 1 code word that's guaranteed to "take things to the next level with your woman"

Mix all ingredients and you have yourself an AKON concert.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Expression in a Recession

Modus Operandi: Provide yet another example of how fast and dirty (not that kind of dirty) videos posted on Youtube help build community - yah, like that hasn't been hammered in. Fun and free expression during the recession.

Inspiration: The Blair Witch Project meets Sesame Street meets John Carpenter meets bored-twenty-somethings meets Carl Orff's O Fortuna meets Galiano Island meets The Weekly Gumboot meets bored-with-nothing-else-to-do.

Cool Factoid: Did you know that the Latin root for the word inspiration is inspirare? It means "to breath in."

Motto: Breath in, let roll.

You can also watch the video on Youtube -

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

From East to West in Argentina ­- Chapter Two

As Juan and Michellé ventured out on our own for the first time in Argentina, without the wise advice and watchful eye of our trusted friend and guide Martin Martin (who taught us, among other things, the intricacies of bus riding and peso procurement) a few questions crossed our minds - will our combined knowledge of about 50 words en éspanol get us across the country and back? Will Michellè's vegetarianism be compromized due to a lack of sin carne options? Are we unknowingly venturing into a fire-ridden, flu-ravaged pool of terror and disease? Ah - fear not, friends! With a combination of luck, wit, and a few uttered threats from a tall, bearded Canadian who constantly boasts a sun-inspired-scowl, it was pretty darn certain that everything would be perfecto. I mean, hey, we made it back to write the blog post, right?

Our adventure started before we even left Buenos Aires. With four minutes to go before our bus departed for Mendoza, we found ourselves madly rushing from one end of the terminal to the other, attempting to figure out how and where to catch a bus that wasn't registering on any of the schedule boards. Luckily, we made it. Not only was this good because it allowed us to, you know, reach our destination, but it also afforded us an opportunity to experience the unexpected bus culture in Argentina. In just a few words: champagne, wine, whiskey, and blaring 80s music videos. 10 hours and some Tears for Fears later, we found ourselves stumbling off the party bus and watching the sun rise in Mendoza province ...

First stop, Uspallata: the town of Uspallata is located in the province of Mendoza and finds itself nestled in the Andes in the middle of the Argentine and Chilean frontiers. Upon arriving, we naturally started looking for a taxi to get to our hotel. Without a taxi in sight, we walked a block and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of town. Town, of course, being one street. Lucky for us, the beautiful landscape more than made up for the lack of cityscape. Our time in Uspallata was spent mountain biking in the Andes, walking through fields and streets with our adopted dog, Carlos, and musing over the inexplicably large and rather threatening military presence in town (It was quite an experience to have a fully armed and camouflaged military batallion pointing guns at us - Argentinians can sleep soundly knowning that the Grupa de Artilleria de Montaña is prepared to defend a Chilean advance through the Andes!). Hey, Lonely Planet and Fodor's, why no love for the Pizzaria?! The two "travel guides"totally sidestepped what is clearly the best kept culinary secret in Uspallata. Folks, if you happen to be in the Andes, stop off at La Pizzaria on Uspallata's main street. For 60 pesos you can dabble in some delicious pizza (vegetarian options available if pre-beginner Spanish spoken), a bottle of outstanding Malbec and a healthy, tasty salad that will leave you stuffed. The tolerant staff even let two talkative - and slightly oblivious - foreigners remain in the restaurant well after closing time. Well played, Uspallata, well played.

Second stop, Mendoza City: welcome to wine country! Mendoza accounts for 70% of Argentina's wine production, and recent findings show that the province exports nearly 95% of it's wine around the world. The city of Mendoza is kinda like the West Coast Canadian city of Victoria - it is quaint, quiet and sanitized for the millions of tourists who flock their from around the world. The city was actually destroyed in 1861 by an earthquake that levelled the city and killed over 11, 000 people. By the end of the 19th century, Mendoza was "reconstructed on a grid, making it easy to explore on foot." Well said, Fodor's. But you forgot to mention the five outstanding and community-centred plazas (Espana, San Martin, Italia, Chile, and Independencia) that create a vibrant hang-out for youth, seniors, senors, police, philosophers, luncheoning businesspeople, and folks who just wanna make out (there was and is a lot of love in Mendoza). Our hotel - La Hotel Zamora - was located right in the centre of town and had a garden-hallway (complete with koi pond) that made my dad smile just by being there. We toured two wineries (Vistandes and Granata) as well as the Laur olive oil factory. Good times were had by a lot of Argentinians, some Dutch, a Swiss fellow, a Columbian, some Irish lasses, and a couple of Canadians who, after some direction, stopped drinking the olive oil and putting wine on all their bread. Just kidding, we're totally cultured. In fact, Brenda Enegren, my co-worker/sommelier/friend, would've been proud of us. Michellé even caught the hint of red peppers in the Granata Malbec! Mendoza also offered a range of culinary experiences. First, there was La Florenica, a Boston Pizza of a place that got Juan's order wrong and proceeded to drench Michellé's rice and chicken in enough oil to put the Laur factory out of business. The kitchsy ambiance was great, but it wasn't enough. And then there was La Tasca de Plaza España. Amazing atmosphere (we even got an intimate table in the back), amazing tolerance of our limited Spanish and, most importantly, amazing vegetarian-sensitive food. The fish au gratin was out of this world in a way that matched the tastiness of the torrentes wine with which it was paired. Mendoza, it was a pleasure.

Third stop, San Juan:
oh my God!!! Nuclear Zombies have attacked the town of San Juan and no one in the city survived!!! Oh wait, it's Sunday in Argentina. Let's back-track, though. The visit to San Juan started with a rather eccentric and risk-taking taxi driver, who chucked our backpacks in his trunk and, well, didn't close it. We sped off into the dusty, cold night with the trunk's lid bouncing up and down. Further to this, we also stopped next to some rather seedy characters who sneakily eyed our bags. Juan was perched on the edge of his seat, ready to burst out the door and chase down any theives, but it never came to that. Now, back to the zombies. Okay, so there weren't any zombies. More likely, a combined love of rest, family, markets, sport, and Jesus kept 99.9% of San Juanians off the streets on our first day in the town, Sunday, which made searching for food and drink slightly challenging. Speaking of food and drink, San Juan, of all places, possessed a leafy green vegetarian buffet called Soychu. It was delicious and yielded a wide range of vegetarian dishes that ranged from quiche to homemade pasta to stuffed peppers to, thank heaven, a salad bar!!! But, dear readers, the piece de resistance for San Juan province was, without a doubt, the Difunta Correa shrine in Vallecito. Pictures say more than words, and we added a few of em. Here are some words, though: Correa was following her husband, a soldier fighting in the civil wars of the 1840s, through San Juan when she died; her baby, however, lived by suckling on her breast and this has been declared a miracle by a grassroots community (ironically enough led by long-haul truck drivers) that has, for over a hundred years, championed her cause in, well, one of the weirdest and most amazing displays of spirituality that anyone has ever seen. Michellé and Juan walked around like this [insert image gaping, awestruck face here] the entire time. All the license plates, bottles of water, trophies, model houses, plaques, and countless other trinkets are purposed to thank Correa for creating miracles (like cars, houses, success). The Catholic Church, officially, doesn't like it, either. Perhaps they are displeased with a massive grassroots movement that represents a fusion of Catholic and indigenous beliefs. Oh, be sure to pee before arriving in Vallecito, as bathrooms are hidden and the bus ride is two hours. San Juan, you started off with mixed reviews but came through strong in the end - it might have been, um, a miracle!

Last stop, Cordoba: worst. Bus ride. Ever. After the initial party bus to Mendoza, we were pretty excited about spending the night in gluttunous bus glory. One can only imagine how disappointed we were to spend the night on a cold bus with - no lie - only Ricki Lake in a horrid 1984 film to keep us company. No champagne, no whiskey. Life was hard. Luckily, Cordoba was amazing and well worth the torturous journey. The vibrant city was chok-a-block full of university students and colonial architecture. The final leg of the journey was spent exploring the numerous museums and art galleries (since when do notebook scribbles classify as post-modern art?), and marvelling at neo-gothic cathedrals. A highlight includes the Parroquia Sagrado Corazon de Jesus cathedral, which boasts a missing steeple to symbolize human imperfection. Speaking of human imperfection, we capped off our journey with a trip to La Cumbre to go paragliding. After nearly missing our bus after two individuals guided us incorrectly to a nonexistent ticket booth at the bus stop (44 is pretty close to 68, right?), we made our way up to one of the world's top paragliding destinations. Despite some human error in misjudging Juan's weight (it's okay, Pablo, you landed us safely after a scary few minutes caught in an updraft) and resultant free spin in the clouds (oh, the joys of human imperfection!), we experienced other-wordly beauty as we flew with the Condor's through the Sierras. If you're ever in the neighbourhood, look up Fechu - a former Argentine paragliding champion who showed us a very wicked and adventurous time. Food, architecture, culture, adventure, young people; Cordoba had it all, baby!

Juan's reflections: "If I had to rank the cities I would probably do it this way: Uspallata, Cordoba, Mendoza, and San Juan. It's the rural hick in me, man. The rugged outdoorsy-ness of the frontier town just made me feel right at home. The cultural highlight was definitely Difunta Correa - never seen anything like it, and probably never will again. And, hey, I gotta say that I was pretty impressed with my ability to 'speak Spanish' throughout the journey. Mostly, though, I was impressed by my ability to consume an entire cow over the course of 10 days...thanks for that, Argentina. And Michelle was and is a terrific travel companion who tolerated my saying 'si' over and over as 'speaking Spanish' as well as my shoes, which rightfully lived in the closet of our hotel rooms following our mountainbiking through the Andes."

Michellé's reflections: "The trip really couldn't have offered any more. Nature, adventure, culture, and delicious food! Mountain biking through the Andes was definitely a highlight for me - although it's annoying to hear, it really is one of those 'have to be there to believe it' experiences. the scope and scale were unlike anything I've ever seen. Regrets? Well, there were a few ridiculously cute babies and dogs (Carlos!) and many bottles of wine that I would have like to bring back with me. Alas, they must live on in photos (or must they?? insert evil laughter here...). In all seriousness, a fantastic trip with a fantastic travel partner. Despite signing up for an annual membership at a Cordoban grocery strore and possibly offering to sell me, Juan's Spanish savvy was superb (si!), and his humour and sense of adventure were unparalleled."

After a Suite Class bus ride home, which saw our seats turn into beds that even Juan, the tallest person in Argentina, could sprawl out on (Canada, we can learn something from South American bus culture) our unravelling travelers arrived in Buenos Aires a little tired, pretty smelly and ready to relax before living it up in the big city on their last week of vacation. The final chapter will tell such tales!


- Juan and Michellé

Monday, July 20, 2009

the evil banana

some of you may have heard of my ongoing war against the humble banana. if a harangue from me has not convinced you, maybe this will. (full credit to for this excellent munitions package!)

1. Bananas

We eat them every day, and their carbon footprint is huge. This fruit originated in Asia but is now raised in the tropics across the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Brazil is the leading banana producer, followed by Uganda, India, and the Philippines. Latin American countries supply more than 90 percent of the bananas eaten in North America.

Take into account that getting a single banana to your table uses about 8 pounds of carbon for a four ounce serving or .13 % of your year's allowance, according to Eat Low Carbon Diet. If you eat a banana every day for a year that would equal nearly 49% of your goal average. In the event that you can't fight off your banana craving, try buying an organic variety. Then you can at least ensure that your bananas weren't treated with tons of chemicals and pesticides, which can destroy the stunning tropical eco-systems from which they come. If you eat one every other day, a day or two or week, or sparingly you an see how much you can drop your carbon footprint, just by changing your banana habits!

finally --- and importantly; you CAN eat bananas in canada if you grow them yourself. case in point --- alison and my efforts below. and always remember high carbon = low community; more bananas = less farmer's markets = communal sin

a cursory search of the thoughtsphere turns up; curiously little to do with the cursed fruit, but i rather enjoy the white button

= )

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Community Movie Nights the Way to Go

Last week I attended an outdoor showing of SHREK at Trout Lake Park. The evening was sponsored by my employer Vision Vancouver as a fun community oriented event where people of all ages could come, set up lawn chairs and blankets and take in a night at the movies for absolutely nothing (no $15 Famous Players tickets for this show).

For an hour or so before the show began, dozens of people set up, munched on late dinners, indulged in the concession stand's fare, chatted and otherwise got to know their fellow neighbours. The energy in the park was terrific. Then the show got started. The sound was superior to a regular movie theatre, the screen crystal clear (no scratchy drive-in hear), and the backdrop of a starry night spectacular.

The event was a big success. Several hundred people turned out and like a gravity well in space, the more people arriving, the greater the draw it was for families and kids in the surrounding area to meander over and check out what was happening.

The success of this event signalled to me a real appetite for more movie nights in the park. As an enthusiast of both parks and movies, I think it would be a terrific idea if the Vancouver Parks Board moved forward on this initiative. Imagine how great it would be to have a well known family-oriented schedule of films in parks all around the city throughout the summer. Young and old could come out and sit on the grass and enjoy the parks well into the night when normally everyone packs up and heads back to the isolation of "home sweet home". These showings could also be terrific multi-cultural and independent film showing venues.

If they were popular enough, perhaps the Parks Board could even consider purchasing some of the equipment necessary to put the show on. This would cut costs even further and open the movies up to the community. Definitely a laudable dream and one well within our grasp.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Facebook Community Hits 250 Million

That's right - 250 million. That's according to company founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg's blog post. That's up 100 million from January. Funny the snowball effect of it all. Just recently, a German friend of many years past befriended me on facebook. Obviously its starting to cut across the Atlantic.

I think a big part of the success of applications like Facebook is its exploitation of social networking to peer pressure everyone in net-sight to get online and start making facebook friends, else one may find themselves left out of the loop. Plus the ability to stay simultaneously updated (some might say inundated) by news, photos, updates, links, videos, preferences, and random thoughts is undeniable and interesting (usually...).

Anyway, here's what Zuckenberg had to say about the success of it all:

From the beginning, Facebook hasn’t been about building a website. Facebook is about all of the people using it and all of the things that are important to you. The 250 million of you on Facebook today are what gives Facebook life and makes the site meaningful to everyone using it, so we thank you.

Each person who joins makes Facebook better by adding a presence to the site that friends and family can connect with and feel closer to. For us, growing to 250 million users isn’t just an impressive number; it is a mark of how many personal connections all of you have made, and how far we at Facebook have to go to extend the power of connection to the billions of people around the world.

Talk about a thriving and vibrant community. Give it another few years and it's population may well overtake the American population.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bike Community Rallies Around Burrard Bridge

This morning dozens of cyclists turned out to make their voices heard on the issue of the new Burrard Bridge Trial Bike Lane.

The new lane protects cyclists and pedestrians with a new concrete barrier on both sides of the bridge. The result means one less lane for drivers heading out of the city. That's got some drivers crabby - particularly those who are dead set on keeping their single occupancy vehicle
commuting, despite a growing belief among the majority of Vancouverites that commuting green is commuting smart.

The trial has happened once in the past and wasn't successful. This time, there's been a huge amount of organizing and enthusiasm from the city's burgeoning cycling community. In addition, City Hall has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into communicating with drivers in order to shift traffic away from Burrard Bridge and on to the underused Granville Street Bridge. Below are some shots from this morning's ride all courtesy of Ariane Colenbrander.

If you haven't had a chance to check out the new bike lane, make sure you do so.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Community of South America - Chapter One

¨¡Hola! Mi llamo Juan. Yo soy Canadiense. El nombre es Michelle y el es vegetariano. Nosotros hablamos un poquito de espanól. ¡No como la carne roja!¨And so concludes the Spanish portion of this update; not because we don´t like Spanish (far from it) - it´s just that we don´t really speak much more. Given Michelle´s vegetarian status, we figured this would be an important sentence to weave into our lexicon as soon as possible.

First, let´s introduce each other. You see, dear readers, this is the first time that we (Michelle and John) have traveled together; so, while we know each other well, there are always a few new things that arise during adventures. So, here we go:

John introducing Michelle: ¨Michelle, or Michellé, as she is called in South America, slept for the first four days in Buenos Aires/Montevideo. Fair enough, as the 27 hour flight and lack of non-steak-protein would be enough to hamper even the toughest vegetarian traveler. Michellé is exciting, curious, fearless, and provides energy and laughter to those lucky enough to travel with her. She also falls down out of nowhere, which is hilarious.¨

Michelle introducing John: ¨John, or Juan, as he is referred to down in South America, is a clever and thoughtful traveller. When I would, say, forget my glasses on a 27 hour flight or bring shoes that were falling apart to Uruguay, Juan would be there to help me, you know, see or walk. Besides piggybacking a blind companion through Uruguay, Juan is very good at picking out wine - and drinking it. And he´s always up for joining me in some tomfoolery, such as salsa dancing in a tango bar.¨

Let´s start at the beginning, with our journey from YVR to EZE. It took two transfers, two airlines, three flights, and 27 hours. We were both a little crazy by the end of it, but that might´ve been due to the nerves we were feeling because of the peanut butter smuggling operation we were also running. Speaking of nerves, Mexicana Airlines almost left our bags in Mexico City, a quaint, quiet and clean town in the middle of Mexico. So, unscathed and with contraband peanut butter in-bag, we arrived in Buenos Aires.

Soon we were met by our hosts/tour guides, Martin Martin and Ximena Ferrer (pictured), or, as they were called two nights ago after some delicious Malbec, ¨Martana and Ximin¨- amazing. Martin is a PhD student and Freedom Fighter at the University of Buenos Aires. He comes from a long line of Coureurs de Bois and sports charming wool socks year round. Ximena is an Actress and peddler of Argentine leather. She also makes outstanding chop suey and brings a dramatic flare to all the backstories and context-providing she does.

Our first little tourist-jaunt saw us meander through the streets of Buenos Aires. It was like 19th century Europe meeting 21st century USA, with a lot of dirt, smog, traffic, congestion, businesspeople, and the seven bicyclists who are brave enough to ride through the streets of the city. We also came across a few South American emo-hipsters; however, unlike many of the hipsters who frequent our neighbourhood of Commercial Drive, Canada, these folks were not douchebags. Also, Buenos Aires has, so far, yielded no fewer than 37 different hairstyle-types. Recent findings show that this is well above the international average. One particular point of interest in Buenos Aires are the cirujas, who make up a union-organized social class of collectors of raw materials that people throw away. They´re a lot like the recyling leaders in Vancouver - homeless people - but there are just, like, way, way, way more and they´re organized.

And then we moved on to Montevideo, Uruguay! Like Canadians, who are generally well liked and respected around the world, Uruguayans are similarly percieved. Kinda like how American travellers often say they´re Canadian to avoid a doubled taxi fare, Argentinians tend to say they´re Uruguayan when visiting neighboring Brazil (this is all, of course, according to some lovely Uruguayans we met on our journey, which may or may not make this a biased account of Latin American relations). Needless to say, we noticed a difference between Buenos Aireans and Montevideans, and felt a bond with the kind, well-liked Uruguayans. In Montevideo we stayed at Ximena´s mother´s house - she will hereby be referred to as our ´Uruguayan mom´. Despite the language barrier that existed between us (not getting very far passed ´Ola!´ or ´Ciao!´) we formed a bond laughing at a ridiculous Canadian travel book with 80s-era photos. Oh, those poor Uruguayans thinking us Canadians still sport one-piece neon ski suits and handlebar mustaches. Even though it´s winter here, one can still appreciate the spectacular beauty of Montevideo, which is a city that wraps itself around a flawless sandy beach. La Rambla, a sidewalk that spans the entire beach/city, provides everything from a space for young people to drink/make-out to safety-seeking bicyclists to maté drinking joggers to tired Canadian tourists wishing they had worn better shoes for a long, long walk around a city. It´s a beautiful thing, La Rambla!

John´s observations on the journey thus far: ¨Argentina´s flag has a giant, angry Sun in the middle of it, and I don´t like it one bit. For a porphyria-riddled traveler, this omen does not bode well. This being said, the wine is the best I´ve tasted (many kinds are never exported to Canada, so it´s quite a treat to experience them here) and the meat is plentiful and delicious. People are friendly and tolerate us butchering their language while we point to things. I also really missed Martin´s beard and his Quebecois shenanigans; it´s good to see them again! Finally, I´ve yet to meet an Argentine and/or Uruguayan person who is taller than me; therefore, I am officially declaring myself the tallest person in South America. Please keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming parade on 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires in the coming days. Thanks.¨

Michelle´s observations on the journey thus far: Okay, so I don´t really `get´ the food culture down here, seeing as I don´t eat meat. However, I have been lucky enough to experience another facet of the culture that is as ingrained as meat and futbol (which, sadly, I don´t really `get´ either): Maté. A tea drunk out of a small container (the maté), the traditions surrounding maté drinking are deeply ingrained within the culture, and involve strict rules: when drinking maté in a group, it must be returned to the initiating person between drinks. All tea must be finished before being returned. And the water must be boiled to just the right temperature before being poured over the tea. Sharing food and drink is a defining aspect of any culture, and I feel lucky to have experienced it.

Coming soon ...

Juan y Michellé venture out on their own (sin guia) ... with limited Spanish but big hearts and adventurous souls, what shenanigans will they find themselves involved in? Whatever happens, these two correspondents from the Weekly Gumboot will be back with reviews, critiques, questions and stories that will give Fodor´s and Lonely Planet a run for their money ...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I Saw the Future and It's Awesome!

Remember those days when you, your folks, your friends, maybe your girlfriend would all mozy down to the ol' cinema? That was before the big Famous Players and Cineplex Odeon conglomorates took over the movie biz and "disappeared" (that's mob speak) many of the smaller community theatres.

Fun Fact: Back in the 1930 (the earliest year from which accurate and credible data exists), weekly cinema attendance was 80 million people, approximately 65% of the resident U.S. population. That's changed these days. At the beginning of the 21st century, that figure was only 27.3 million people, which was a mere 9.7% of the U.S. population.

And that's before the advent of the age of the home entertainment systems, big flat screen TVs with crystal clear HD screens, and of course amazing new sound systems capable of sound we could never experience on the older TVs. DVDs were almost as good as the big screens.

Then there's the increasingly fast download speed provided by high-speed internet connections. Suddenly you could download a movie quickly - and on pirate sites - for free. Why pay $15 for a movie, when you could see it on your home theatre before the release date for nothing?

So it seemed to me the time of the movie theatre was in its decline. After all, what could the future theatres possibly offer that I couldn't get at home? And then, I went to the Vancouver Acquarium. That's right, the aquarium.

I was there at the behest of my lovely redheaded partner. We joined dozens of kids and adults for the opening of the Acquarium's 4D Experience. In the theatre we were treated to the Shallow Waters episode of the landmark series Planet Earth - but with a big twist. First of all the whole show was in incredibly sharp 3D - awe inspiring when you see a giant whale or a host of sea snakes swimming towards you.

But by far more impressive was a combination of mist, air effects, bubbles and smells all of which are perfectly timed with what was happening on screen. When a whale surfaced and blew from his blow hole, we got sprayed, when thousands of little fish swam by bubbles on the screen and real bubbles hitting our noses, and when the sea snakes swam around us in 3D - air nozzles blew under our leg simulating the feeling of a predator swimming by. Then there were our seats, vibrating, jerking and generally bringing the show to life.

Watching Planet Earth is always an amazing experience. But experiencing it not only visually but on all five senses is something else. Can you imagine watching a horror flick and feeling the breath of Freddy on the back of your neck or the smell of the ocean where the action's taking place? Or imagine how cool it would be to smell the chocolate factory as Charlie walks through it and creepy Michael Jacksonesque Wonka prances about. The possibilities are limiteless.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Uber LEFTY Marxists Get Organizing!

I came across a recent article posted on BC political blogger Sean Holman's Public Eye Online.

Apparently there's a new group in town, who's raison d'etre is to drum Carole James and her right wing NDP supporters out of the party. The new group comes from a peculiar community of extremists who, in the wake of the BCNDP's recent thrashing at the 2009 polls, are crawling out of the woodwork in an effort to wrest power from James and her corporate backers. Yes, that's right, according to these folks James is a corporate shill who's decisions have dragged the BCNDP away from the Wonderland where they would cater exclusively to the working class (do you consider yourself a member of the working class?) and seek to constantly do battle with the dark forces of the petite bourgeoisie (I think that's me, but I'm not sure - maybe I need to brush up on my Marx).

Want to learn more - check out the group's facebook page.

For their inaugural event they've decided to hold a forum to discuss the future of the party titled "Take Back the NDP". Who have they enlisted to lead this discussion? None other than firebrand lefty Tim Louis. Strangely, Louis not only lacks an NDP membership (you'd think that'd be essential for group pledging to "take back the party"), but is widely viewed as so dysfunctional and difficult to work with that he was pushed out of COPE, the most lefty of all Vancouver's left of centre municipal parties. Wow - what a populist asset and consensus maker you just gotta have in your group.

Then there's Mike Palecek, an ardent Marxist who at least has some NDP street cred (according to his facebook page he's served on a smorgasbord of NDP offices). Doubtlessly he has some connections within the NDP, though probably not nearly enough to overthrow the corporate interests he sees pulling the strings.

"The NDP is supposed to be the party of labour - the party of the ordinary person. So we'd like to get that voice established back within the party," said Palecek in an interview with Public Eye Online.

According to Palecek, labour - despite donating hundreds of thousands of dollars (by far the lions share of the NDP war chest) during the last election and supplying most of the BCNDP's key organizers (and executive officers) - doesn't have nearly enough influence. It's business (who incidentally donated a fraction of that amount during the election and disproportionately funded the campaign of Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals) who're pulling Carole James' puppet strings.

I have to admit I find these tidbits fascinating. Are there really people who still think this way?

The whole thing looks like it mainly has the support of only the NDP's most harcore leftwing/socialist/marxist/communist/[insert other political/philosophical faction here]/trotskyist elements who usually (thank goodness) seem to be the least visible. Check their facebook event page and you'll see they have a record 25 guests at the time this article was published. With a vast proletariat army of supporters swelling their ranks like that, its a wonder capitalism hasn't yet been vanquished all over the world (let alone in the BCNDP).

I certainly hope they tape the meeting. Watching this community of activists try to come to any sort of consensus and compromise when the very political ideals many participants share rules out any appeasement as treacherous should be more entertaining than a midnight showing Snakes on a Plane (in other words - very entertaining).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sauerkraut, Perogies and Old Gents

Sampling the fare of different ethnic communities around town is a personal goal of mine this year.

Sort of like a mid-year New Year's reunion.

It all came about after dropping off our two South America-bound correspondents at the airport. On the way back I drove by the Vancouver landmark "Deutsches Haus", which sits plumply (yes, a building can sit plumply - especially a German/Bavarian Building) off 33rd and Victoria.

Driving buy I realized it has been a long time since I sunk my teeth into Bratwurst, Spaetzle, Currywurst, Blaukraut, and the old fried favorite - Wiener Schnitzel. What better way to celebrate the German community its heritage in Vancouver than to round up a posse and head down to Deutsches Haus to see what tasty times await.

It's also neat to do so, not at the latest trendy eatery off Main or Broadway, but rather in a den that local Germano-Vancouverites (that word has now been copyrighted by your's truly) keep coming to decade after decade. It's kinda like the Legion experience for those of you have ever frequented a Royal Canadian Legion and had the honor of chatting and sharing beers with some of our veterans in their home away from home.

It also wet an appetite to explore similar old school ethnic bastions that I know are hidden across the city, and which are rally points for dozens of other communities.

A few months ago, I visited one such place in Strathcona during Vancouver's East Side Culture Crawl. That day we hit up the a Ukrainian church basement and filled up on buttery homemade perogies (assembled, I like to dream,
painstakingly by old, thick and boisterous Ukrainian grandmas who while surviving Stalin, famine and the 5 Year Plans, managed to perfect the best perogie recipe in history), rich sweet and sour cabbage rolls, and hearty and salty Ukrainian sausage. It was a blast, made even better by the diversity of community that turned out and the great hosting of the local Ukrainian community.

The French cultural centre is another great example of delicious French cuisine imported to Vancouver (though its a bit more high class than the aformentioned examples - not a big surprise right?). There you can wander around the community centre and see what theatre, shows, and films are coming up until you're seated by a dainty francophone hostess who sketches out le menu du jour from memory and helps you select which entre to enjoy (will it be filet mignon or a salad de fruits with fresh baguette? - oooooh the hemming and hawing). All this can be enjoyed for an incredibly reasonable price considering the quality of the meal and experience.

I'm looking forward to see if the Germans can measure up to the Ukrainians and French when it comes to tasty food and unique atmosphere. I'm hopeful they'll knock the sox off both of them, but knowing the culinary history of the German people, Im not willing to put more than a handful of change on it.

And if you have any suggestions of delectable restaurants that host and represent a cultural community in the Lower Mainland, let me know. I'd love to try em.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Community of South America

Good day, good readers! In a matter of moments, a couple of The Gumboot's contributors - Michelle Burtnyk and, well, yours truly - will be heading way, way down South to the country of South America! Crap, I know better than that. After all, I am an historian. Michelle and I will be visiting our Latin America Correspondent, Martin Martin. He lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Funny story about Buenos Aires. The city's mayor, Mauricio Macri, just declared a state of emergency in Argentina's capital. Now, pessimists will tell you that traveling through a city and/or country during a state of emergency will doubtlessly present problems. But I beg to differ. There will be fewer tourists jamming the streets downtown area. The many rides in Buenos Aires will be free (I've been told/promised that there are several fun rides throughout the city). And here's the biggest positive as I see it. Two words: discount pork.

In all seriousness for any of our friends and family who are seriously concerned, we'll be fine. Michelle speaks fluent Portuguese and is a vegetarian ("Yo soy vegetariano!"). In 2004, she also, I kid you not, was teaching English in Guang Dong, the Chinese town that was where SARS started. She's got street cred in spades, people. And, hey, even though I'm allergic to the Sun I went to Africa and survived - if not thrived - in the Dark Continent (which isn't really dark at all, is it, misguided European colonial storytellers?!). And, much to my surprise, it turned out that I traveled through Northern Uganda during a civil war. Has Argentina been in a civil war since the early 1980s? I don't think it has. But do you know what China, Uganda and Argentina do have? Adventure.

We will keep you abreast of our story-filled travels. Not swine flu nor revolution nor Sun nor emergency dental surgery will stop us from calling it as we see it and telling it like it is. We will collect stories from South America and use them to build community. At home, and abroad.

Happy travels!

- John and Michelle