Monthly Archives: May 2011

a few random things

1.  I’m making chicken soup for dinner tonight, using the remains of a chicken I roasted a week or so ago. As I stood over the stove, picking every last bit of meat off of the carcass, slowly exposing the fragile ribs and well-boiled scraps of kidney, I found myself thinking: this is what my flesh would be like, if cooked. This, how naked the bones. This, how easily it slips away.

2.  Terry’s Diary. Okay, so I think Terry Richardson is probably a bit of a demented pervert (see the many reports from models who accuse him of inappropriate conduct during shoots…), and it’s debatable how much of an artistic genius he is, but goddamn I love following his photo blog. The photographs fall into two categories: (1) random snapshots of things Terry Richardson sees, be it the Eiffel Tower or a patch of odd graffitti, and (2) pictures of celebrities. Many of them. Often playing what is (apparently) Terry Richardson’s favourite game: they put on his glasses, and he puts on theirs. They take a photo giving a thumbs-up to the camera. Terry posts the photos on his blog with the caption “Me as [celebrity]. [Celebrity] as me.” I dunno, it’s hard to explain. Just go have a look. Either you’ll like it or you won’t; it’s pretty clear from the first page or so what it’s all about.

3. I’m going to London tomorrow, to visit dear friends I met in India and haven’t seen since. I’m very excited. It always surprises me (in a delightful way) when people I haven’t seen for a long time are excited to see me.

4. American Idol. Scotty? Really? I’m still mourning for Casey and Haley.



preliminary sketchesPreliminary sketches, done from photograph.

I like to paint. I’ve messed around with watercolours for years, sketching from life but never having any actual training. I’m sure my technique is appalling. It wasn’t till my second year of university that I took my first painting class, and it was a revelation. I’ve long talked about how drawing helps me to see things more fully. I’ve also talked about it fixes moments in my memory – how looking at a drawing years later can bring me back to the moment in which I was drawing it – the weather, smells, sounds, the people I was with. But painting taught me to see in a way I’d never seen before. Colour, shape, texture, light and shadow, the endless illusions our eyes create for us. I also learned how to look at art in ways I’d never experienced before. The two painting classes I took enriched my day-to-day life, and improved me as a person – as an observer, a recorder, a witness to the earth – more than perhaps any other classes I took at Princeton.

I didn’t do much painting for the past three years. But recently, I decided to give it a go again.

work in progress - painting of alexI painted a portrait of Alex yesterday, working from a photograph. Here’s a rough work-in-progress photo.

messy desk!The finished portrait, showing my messy desk and working setup, as well as my sketchbook:

using up extra paintI’ve been using up excess paint by making postcards. These were glued onto rectangles of old cereal box cardboard and will soon be mailed out!

portrait of alexFinished painting.

break from politics: sheep

sheep sheep sheepOne good thing about living in the UK is that there are sheep everywhere, they are awesome, and I never tire of them.

canada’s election: commentary from the web

I have no brilliant commentary to offer, myself, but here are a few interesting articles from the interweb. (Credit where credit is due: several of these articles came to my attention by way of the facebook walls of my friends. Facebook: the lazy person’s news source, as long as you have intelligent and well-informed friends.)

1. The Guardian – Canada’s Cold Dawn, by Heather Mallick. The Americans are apparently learning from their mistakes, or trying to – and the rest of the world is certainly good at pointing them out – so why is Harper doing his best to repeat them?

2. The National Post – Welcome to the New Canada, by Tasha Kheiriddin. This election was expected to offer up another wishy-washy minority government; instead, it revealed a more-or-less total overhaul of Canadian politics, which has been coming on for some time. The separatists are crushed, the Conservative party completed their reinvention and rise, the long-standing dominant Liberal party has been hobbled, and the NDP has the chance to establish itself as the new alternate party. Could be disaster town, could be an exciting new playing field for Canadian politics. Lots of interesting reader comments on this one.

3. The Financial Post – In Canada, we have no conservatives, by Terence Corcoran. Or… is the playing field exactly as it was before, with the Conservatives essentially replacing the Liberal party, moving firmly into a centrist position, and maintaining the status quo with a few minor changes? Is Harper equally disappointing to fervent advocates of small government as he is to enraged lefties?

4. The Common Sense Canadian – A vote for Harper is a vote for oil tankers in BC, by Rafe Mair. Posted before the election, but a sobering concern for BC residents.

5. The Globe and Mail – Their man has a majority; now oil patch wants elbow room, by Carrie Tait. Post-election, more oil tanker info.

6. The McGill Daily – Four McGill students elected to parliament.  Aaand…. YIKES. Seriously? From what I understand, these candidates were probably nominated to run at a point when the NDP didn’t think they had much chance of winning the seats, and thus there was very little competition for the positions… and now they’re MPs. Wow. One candidate doesn’t own a cell phone? Most of them did little-to-no campaigning? Another facebooked the McGill Daily to explain why she wasn’t available for comment? It would seem they rode the Layton ticket all the way into parliament. Perhaps they’ll end up being excellent MPs, bringing their youthful enthusiasm, etc etc….  but I feel a little worried. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the NDP deals with their new situation.f

And… I need to get to work, so that’s all for now.

conservative majority blues

Canadian absentee ballot - so many envelopes!

Weeks ago, I applied for and received my absentee ballot in the post. I dutifully filled it in and mailed it off.

Yesterday was the election. My riding – Victoria – went to Denise Savoie, NDP. No surprises there. But the rest of the country? CONSERVATIVE. Stephen Harper reigns supreme. I feel rudely transported back to 2004, when I sat on the floor of my friend David’s dorm room at Princeton and watched Bush prance into a second term. I’m just less surprised. Seven years (!!) later, and apparently all that’s changed is that I’m more cynical.

Yes, I’m excited by the huge gains by the NDP. (Though I’m distressed that in many ridings, the NDP and the Liberals split the vote, leaving the Conservatives free to win). I’m happy that it seems the Bloc Quebecois is disappearing. But I’m brutally disappointed that Harper is still in charge of my country, this time with even more power. Can we consider for a moment all of the SHIT HARPER DID? Well, now we can look forward to four more years of SHIT HE HAS YET TO DO.

As a proud Canadian, I frequently espouse the advantages of my country over the United States, but I feel as though we’re starting to lose ground. Hopefully after enduring four more years of Harper, Canada will have a similar backlash of idealism. For now, let’s just hope that Harper doesn’t trash my country too badly. He’s the only Prime Minister to ever have been held in contempt of Parliament, and he’s back? Surely there’s some mistake…

p.s. Did you know that my dad looks just like Jack Layton? Srsly.

p.p.s. Apologies for this ranting, venting, negative entry… But I wanted to write something about the election, and this is all I could come up with. No eloquent political commentary from this girl. 


I love to read the dictionary. Sometimes I’ll look up a word on, then check out its synonyms. This might lead to me reading the definitions for several of the synonyms, or being reminded of another word I wanted to look up. Often I am sidetracked by the “words of the day.”

I have to look up words a lot because I have many words stuck in my brain from my reading, but don’t really know what they mean. I also have an embarrassing propensity for mispronouncing words that I’ve read but never spoken. The word “sycamore” was always “SKY-a-more” in my head, until one day I spoke it aloud and was thoroughly ridiculed. I still prefer skyamore.

Julian Butler

Note, added May 17th:

I’ve been getting a number of visitors to this post who knew Julian and are searching for information on his death. I want to put a brief disclaimer: I am proud to have been a friend of Julian’s, and I was devastated to hear of his death. However, I knew him for less than two years, and can only record my own, limited, personal impressions of a man who lived a long, full, and colourful life. This is a personal blog, generally read only by my close friends and family; I did not intend to write a eulogy encompassing everything that Julian was. Some of his friends have been gracious enough to leave their comments, expanding upon what I have written and bringing their own memories of a wonderful man and a great spirit. Please read their comments and add your own, if you feel so moved.

On April 28th, my friend Julian Butler died of heart failure.Me, Alex, and Julian Butler at the Gat in GhanziMe, Alex, and Julian at the Gat in Ghanzi, on my birthday in 2010.

I met Julian very soon after arriving in Botswana. I was still reeling from my arrival in D’Kar, and had just met the tiny expat/Peace Corps crowd in the village. It was Sunshine’s birthday and – still jetlagged – I tagged along for a long, dark, confusing night of birthday partying. Our first stop was the Thakadu bar. “Julian wants us to come,” Sunshine said. “Birthdaayyy!”

As we bumped along the rutted bush track in her faithful Toyota Tazz, CV offered this advice: “Don’t worry about Julian – he can be a perv, but he’s really the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.”

Over the two years I knew Julian, I constantly heard variations on that refrain. “Yeah, I know he seems like a dirty old man, but he’ll be your most loyal friend.” “Can be creepy, but he’d always be there for you.” “OK, he likes the ladies, but he’s always willing to help out.” And so on. It was true. I really didn’t like Butler at first, because despite the warnings, he came off as a dirty old man. I mean, that’s true too. He was a paunchy, hard-drinking, chain-smoking dirty old man who ogled every woman who walked past and could have a serious case of octopus arms. It’s entirely possible that he pushed many women way past their comfort zones. He was a wealthy white businessman and he sometimes pushed his advantages.

But he was also one of my most dependable friends. He could always be counted on to be helpful, generous, kind. I called him countless times for help with such varied things as organizing birthday parties, a can of petrol (to get back home, when there were fuel shortages in Ghanzi), business arrangements, advice on where to buy bricks, and a couch to crash on. He always came through. He did this for everyone he was friends with, and he did it with a smile on his face. He helped out simply for the reward of facilitating a good time, for making his friends happy. Very few people can honestly rejoice in their friends’ victories or happinesses; Julian did.

I drank far too much whiskey with Julian on long nights at the Kalahari Arms, whiling away the hours with him and Nelson and whoever else happened to be along for the ride that night… I also ate cheese-and-tomato toasties for lunch with him, chatting about work and idle gossip.

He was a Ghanzi character. People loved to hate him. He was of English origin, and didn’t quite fit in with the Afrikaans crowd in Ghanzi. Like pretty much every privileged white person in Africa, he could be racist, but he was one of the only white people I knew who would come to a party in D’Kar. He could make me very uncomfortable, but he could also be a perfect gentleman. He would use his wealth carelessly, throwing big braais with piles of meat and giant iceboxes full of beer; but at the end of the night, he would load up the back of his truck himself, collecting the last few cans and shutting the tailgate behind his enormous, slobbery dog Rex.

I had lunch with Julian on the second-to-last day I was in Botswana. “We’ll be seeing you around here again, I expect,” he said, grinning. He tossed down 50 pula to pay for our meal and scooped up his car keys. We said goodbye at the bus stop. I didn’t think it would be the last time.