April 2012

I really like this photo…

A cat relaxes on a Buddha-statue’s palm and lap [image credit: amanatsu'tumblr]













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I put on a long-sleeved shirt; it was a nice day, with a slight breeze. The morning sun was behind a thin cloud-cover, just above the trees.

Another walker was ambling toward me: he was wearing a toque and a light ski-jacket. His beard was stippled with shades of red ochre.

“Good morning,” I said, raising my right-hand in a half-wave.

His face broke into a wide grin and, through a slight Scottish brogue, he said, “Aye; and a good mornin’ to you.”

Next, I ‘met’ a young man on his first-floor-condo-balcony; he was smoking a cigarette, wearing only boxers and a dark sports-jacket. He told me a joke I didn’t understand, but won’t repeat, just in case its dirty.

I turned west on 108th: a small Asian woman was plucking young fiddle-head ferns along the grass-lined boulevard. She smiled and nodded at me as I passed.

I walked around the block, stopping to sip my coffee every now and then.

It was a good walk.

The Culture is a fictitious, galactic civilization; a hedonistic, socialist utopia, which is populated with intelligent, biological species, but overseen by sapient machines called Minds, which not only rule the Culture, but also control massive star-ship-colonies  that house billions of beings. The Culture books form a ‘series’ of stand-alone novels, written by Iain M. Banks (aka Iain Banks, without the M., when he isn’t writing science fiction, e.g.: The Wasp Factory). The Culture, managed by the machine Minds, sometimes needs difficult, non-Culture-related tasks taken care of, which come under the auspices of Contact. The most sordid activities are directed to Contact’s Special Circumstances  branch. The Culture utilizes psychological and political schemes to ‘persuade’ other civilizations to adopt the Culture’s philosophy as a means to assure the Culture way of life is not endangered; many times, persuasion leads to war.

I’ve read three of the Culture novels. I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, so I began with the first Culture novel published (Consider Phlebas (1987), which I didn’t like much), then I read the second Culture novel (The Player of Games (1988), which I did like), and I just finished the third Culture novel, Use of Weapons (1990), which I think is the best so far, by a country kilometer.

Use of Weapons unfolds in alternating-chapter plot-streams: one plot moves forward in time (chapters one through fourteen), and the other stream flows backward in time (from XIII to I). The forward moving chapters reveal the current activities of Diziet Sma (to be precise, Rasd-Coduresa Diziet Embless Sma da’ Marchehide), Special Circumstances agent,  in her latest assignment as the handler of Cheradenine Zakalwe, a non-Culture, human-norm Soldier-of-fortune/General who does the Culture’s dirty-work. Zakalwe has dark, hidden memories that haunt him, and these memories are motivation to fight for the ‘good guy’, but Zakalwe is forever questioning the tactics of the Culture (do the ends justify the means?), and I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I suggest that Zakalwe is one of the weapons being used. The chapters that flow backward in time move resolutely toward an event that Zakalwe would rather forget.

This book includes graphic violence in several sections, and Mr. Banks’ imagination has a morbid steak, but I enjoyed this book more and more as the plot moved along. The ending was well set-up and presented, and the revelation sent reverberations back through to the beginning of the novel.

If you can manage your way through the plasma-guns, spaceships, and graphic violence, the book is quite enjoyable.


Image credit: VPL LSCC

I just came across an interesting list: the 25 most beautiful libraries in the world, as ranked by Flavorpill.

I must admit, the thing that most intrigued me was the fact that the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch, Library Square came in second (the Vennesla Library and Culture House, in Norway, was in first place).

The Vancouver library was designed by Moshe Safdie & Associates’ Downs/Archambault Partners, and the exterior design —  based on the Roman Colosseum (the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome) — was the most radical design submitted to the City of Vancouver, but the design was embraced by the public, and eventually won the competition.

The exterior has certainly made the library a landmark, but it is the interior, Promenade Square that I enjoy the most: this spacious, glass-roofed concourse serves as the entrance to the library and access to offices and retail space. It’s a lovely place to drink a coffee and enjoy a novel.

My only grievance is that the rooftop garden is not open to the public (I’m still awaiting my private viewing if anybody is reading this and can oblige ;))

People Magazine  announced their choice for the world’s most beautiful woman, and there is no doubt that their choice is blessed with many physical attributes that are considered beautiful.

But beauty, to me, is more than a physical construct; it is an indefinable quality that emanates from within and transcends physical ideals. Even in the most beautiful works of art there is an enigmatic characteristic that resides within, and emanates from, the work. It is not just the object itself; rather, there is a metaphysical connection to the soul of the artist: the art is a tangible representation of the beauty within the artist.

[Image credit: Joel Carillet]

And so it is with human beings. A photograph of a person is not the person, and their beauty can only be experienced by bathing in their mysterious emanations (I was once within a few-dozen feet (ten meters) of the Dalai Lama as he spoke, and that was close enough for me to decide that he was a beautiful human being).

I believe that beauty can emerge from the most unlikely places, so I make a conscious effort to focus on the beauty of my everyday world and the beauty that emanates from the people whose lives I share, whether they are my friends, colleagues, family, or a person I meet in passing. Sometimes, their beauty overwhelms me.

The Martini

The origin of the martini is sometimes shrouded in myth, but one popular account suggests that it is the natural evolution of the Martinez cocktail:

— 2 oz sweet vermouth
oz gin
1 tsp maraschino liqueur
1 dash bitters
Stir. Strain into cocktail glass.

Garnish with a quarter lemon wheel —

The martini’s popularity skyrocketed during prohibition (1919 – 1933): whiskey took too long to mature; however, gin could be produced quickly and at a low-cost. With the end of prohibition, gin’s quality improved and the classic martini became even more favored by the fashionable crowd.

The concept of a dry martini, contrary to popular belief, had nothing to do with the content of vermouth. Originally, the only available vermouth was a sweet Italian variety. The French, bless them, produced a dry vermouth, which marked the beginning of the dry martini. The concept of a perfect martini has similarly been twisted: the term perfect pertains to any vermouth drink that contains an equal measure of sweet and dry.

So, what is a classic martini? For a start, the martini snob would insist it be stirred: shaking can create air bubbles, which results in a murky drink, indicating that too much water has been released from the ice cubes, causing the gin’s flavor to be ‘bruised.’

I use a metal shaker, but gently swirl the mixture for thirty seconds, which chills the liquid-nectar nicely, but doesn’t ‘bruise’ the gin. I use Bombay Sapphire Gin (not too expensive, pretty smooth), but tastes vary, so you may enjoy another brand more. And I use extra dry, Stock vermouth.

Thinking ahead:

For best results, keep the vermouth in the refrigerator, and cool the gin and the martini glass in the freezer for two hours prior to creation. Also — this is important — have plenty of ice cubes handy (martinis should be cold).  Have your favorite jazz (I prefer hard-bop from the mid-50s) or classical music cued on your sound system (if you must, listen to other music; after all, it’s your life). Some connoisseurs insist that the more formally you dress, the better the drink tastes, but I have no problems enjoying a martini in shorts and a T-shirt.

Ingredients (not quite a classic, but I like the measures below. Currently, I prefer close to a 5:1 gin/vermouth ratio, but please experiment: it’s your drink, for your enjoyment. Some people like to add a dash of Angostura bitters; all the power to them, but I don’t. If you don’t like green olives, you can substitute a lemon twist):

Slightly more than 2 ½ oz gin

Slightly less than ½ oz extra dry vermouth

2 or 3 large green olives (even people who don’t like martinis seem to enjoy the ‘tipsy’ olives. I like to share (but not my drink))

Lots of ice cubes

Standard Operating Procedure:

  1. Fill  a metal shaker (or mixing glass) with ice cubes.
  2. Pour the vermouth and gin into the shaker (or mixing glass)
  3. Swirl the shaker (or stir the mixture) for thirty seconds.
  4. Strain the liquid into a chilled martini glass (gently coax the last three drops out).
  5. Garnish with olives
  6. Enjoy; drink slowly, and your anxiety will dissolve.
  7. Repeat steps 1 through 6 as necessary (but be careful; martinis can be dangerous).

Nothing in the world is weaker than water;

But, for attacking the hard and strong, there is nothing like it!

For nothing can take its place.

That the weak overcomes the strong, and the soft overcomes the hard,

This is something known by all, practiced by none.

From the Tao Te Ching (by Lao Tsu), Chapter Seventy-eight, translated by John C. H. Wu

I also like the edition translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English

(with black and white photos by Jane English)

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