Monday, October 26, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
"The contract with Mr. Bell, for example — or the Northern Strategy Group, more proper — was one that, because he was very well-connected to the party, and we needed to get established and get our business case in and get as many meetings with the appropriate ministers as possible, it made absolute sense," Roland said.
When asked if his department's contract with Bell fulfilled its purpose, Roland replied, "I think it worked out very good. We got a lot of meetings initially and it served its purpose."
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I felt like a leper walking the streets of Yellowknife.
While working as a reporter for a local paper in the NWT’s capital city, I endeavored to complete a Street Talk column, where residents – their names appearing beside their photo – would be asked to rate the territorial government’s performance over the last 12 months.
Covering an often controversial and contentious legislative assembly, I had my own opinions, but figured I could have been a little insulated by spending too much time in the newsroom. With an important session set to start up the day the column would have gone to press, I wanted to get a sense of how people on the street really felt about the way the government was running.
I did not run out in naively. I realized it would be a difficult task because since I started at the paper – both in Yellowknife and Iqaluit – I had run into many an instance where a resident would refuse a comment based on their employment with the government.
It was frustrating, but I understood.
People open right up and then when asked for their name, they say: “You’re not going to use my name, are you?” or “I don’t know if I can say that. I work for the government, you know?”
I needed just six people to respond.
I spent a solid 30 minutes walking around with no success. I got polite ‘no thank yous,’ explanations and then retractions, and quick refusals. There were people I asked who said they depended on the government for program funding and could not reply. I got comments from people presently or recently employed with the government – or people who hoped to work for them – who would gladly divulge their opinions after stating they wouldn’t give their names. Their criticisms were insightful, relevant and offered me something new. They’d be healthy for public discourse if they were published. There were ideas to save money, improve programming, save jobs, but no one would get to hear them.
On the flipside, I met people who were very much anti-government – and some whose job it was to be. Their views were very predictable.
I must have asked 25 people in those 30 minutes – old and young, employed, jobless, homeless – and not one person was willing to go on the record.
I’d cross a street and people on the sidewalk would beeline for the other side. They’d pick up their pace. They could smell the question.
It was getting dark and after an hour, I had four respondents – one was very critical, two seemed to have moderate approval and another who was not up on the issues.
The next morning, I showed up for work early and after about 45 more minutes, I found two more people.
I got back into the office, wrote out the column, uploaded the pictures onto the server and was proud to have at least gotten some sort of judgment from the people.
Then I was told four of my pictures were out of focus and were unusable. I gave up and asked Yellowknifers what style of moustache I should grow for an upcoming fundraiser. I found six people in 20 minutes.
I realized those were some tough economic times and everyone was a little worried they might show up to work on a Monday and find a pink slip on their keyboard, I knew Yellowknife was a small place and workers were afraid they could be reprimanded for criticisms. I knew all about the government’s code of conduct, where employees are prohibited from speaking out against their employer.
Where does that leave democracy and the free-flowing of ideas and opinions though? In a system that’s truly open and working and accountable, residents would feel comfortable giving their honest opinions about government, feeling free of reprimand.
With a government accused frequently of incompetence, it does one thing very well: stifle debate. There isn’t public discussion about policy because people are uncomfortable having it publicly. They're afraid some vengeful bureaucrat is poring through Yellowknifer street talk columns, looking to find anyone foolish enough to question the government’s action, to then sacrifice as an example to the rest of the flock.
As a result, no one says anything until something gets taken away from them. And then, as is often the case, it’s too late.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Reminds me of that remix of Blur`s Tender by Cornelius. Listened to this alot during the drive around Iceland.
Bibio -- Cherry Go Round
Thursday, October 1, 2009
From there, I bussed off to the hostel -- waking up sporadically on the 40-minute drive to one of my many mammoth snores -- where I crashed and burned for four hours, drooling into my pillow like a St. Bernard under dental anesthesia -- an amalgamation of not sleeping, jet lag and hot springs energy-zapping.
Being a Friday, I woke up around 8 p.m. and decided to walk downtown to check out the capital city´s nightlife. I had a pint here and there and eventually took up shop at the bar in a trendy pub -- one of the last spots where you can still smoke apparently -- called Hressi by the locals.
It was there that I started chatting up an anthropology student at the university who -- along with the rest of her classmates -- had just recently returned from a wine and cheese soiree at none other than the Canadian Embassy (can these ambassadors party or what?).
After a long chat about her travels and the state of Iceland, she invited me over to her table, where I was greeted by very friendly students who were genuinely interested in talking about their country and hearing about mine.
She told me that she thought Icelanders were snobby. I hadn´t had too much experience with them up to that point, so I couldn´t weigh in, but now -- after spending two weeks in the country -- it´s a somewhat fair assessment. I mean, Icelanders are super stylish and a guy like me, with ripped jeans and a ball cap (I was the only person I saw wearing a ball cap the two weeks I was here... other than a couple wannabe thugs) sort of stands out, so I can kind of see why people wouldn´t be coming up to talk to me.
However, when I needed directions or chatted with people at cafes or gas stations or hostels or whatever, the people were really nice and funny for the most part.
For instance, I met an old man my first Saturday who chatted me up and down the seashore about the history of Iceland, Leif Erikson, and Gimli, Manitoba -- a large Icelandic community -- and his travels around Canada, the U.S. and the world.
He was walked briskly.
'How old do you think I am?´ he asked, proudly.
´I don´t know...´ I said, opting to joke and say 18.
He laughed. 'No. I´m 84.´
Jesus. Icelanders do live the second-longest of any people in the world, with the average age being 81.
He shared his opinion that Icelanders were cold to foreigners -- until they had two beers. From the night before, I agreed. He said he didn´t drink much anymore and was kind of embarrassed of how the youth drank to EXCESS on Fridays and Saturdays -- which is apparently typical of all Scandinnavian countries.
Back to Friday. One girl I met told me about the island´s superstitions, particularly the widespread belief in elves and dwarfs. While she said she didn´t BELIEVE in elves persay, there is a prayer her family says before New Year´s festivities (or was it Christmas?) which welcomed all the people they could see into their house, along with all the beings they couldn´t see -- namely trolls and elves and the like. She said again, she didn´t really believe in the creatures, but there was no way she would ever forgo the prayer, in case they did actually exist. I laughed, but thinking about it, it made sense -- as I swear I´m atheist, but if I´m in a plane and it starts to drop from the sky, the first thing I´m going to do is ask God to get me safely to the ground.
Another student I talked to said Iceland could be far more sustainable, except the people have expensive tastes. For instance, the country could produce its own cheese and milk, but people want Swiss or French cheeses and things like that. The crash in Iceland has put a hold on a lot of that, though. Many people bought their mortgages in Euros and in mere months, as their currency -- the Icelandic krona -- tanked, their mortgages more than doubled. A lot of people lost the majority of their savings too.
Eventually the area we were seated in became a dance club and our table was the last hold-out. I ended up losing everyone and wandered out onto the street.
The stylish, composed people I saw earlier that night -- classy, beautiful blond women and scarf-wearing guys -- had now become completely shit-faced and most people were stumbling along the sidewalks down the main drag -- Laugavergur.
I wanted to see some live tunes and strolled down a hill where I heard music and talked my way in for free to watch this really great band, with a little tiny blond girl singing in Icelandic, in front of a hard rock, almost metal band.
Feeling a little tipsy, I staggered the 40 minutes back to the hostel, where someone was sleeping in my bed.
Iceland´s language has not changed in a millenium, which is pretty much the original Viking language.
Cats rule the alleyways and streets here, although they all have collars. They stalk you down the streets and seem to play hide-and-seek with each other.
For the first few days I was here, my hands either smelled like fish or sulphur.
With all the volcanic, geothermal activity, the water here is steeped in sulphur smell -- or the rotten eggs stench. You take a shower, you smell sulfur. You brush your teeth, you can even smell and taste it. It´s a little strange at first, but apparently they say it´s good for your skin. And I´ll tell you what, my rosacea is receding better than it has in some time.
Ash was totally right about babies sleeping outside. Ladies -- and a good number of young ones -- push their babies around in these archaic, gothic looking strollers and then, when they go into the store or a cafe, they leave the babies outside, on the street, like a North American would tie up a dog. I´ve walked past a baby crying out there before, but like someone later told me, there is no crime in Iceland.
The skyr here -- a yogurt made from skim milk -- is outstanding. I´m officially an addict and am considering illegally becoming a skyr importer and selling it for outlandish prices in Canada.
Joedifferous was right about the hotdogs here. Delicious, especially with crunchy fried onions.
I´ve really become ashamed of how much coffee I drink. Here, the cups are smaller than smalls, and what I´m drinking in three or four cups in Iceland, is what I would pound back as breakfast at the paper. Someone said the portions are like that all over Europe.
I was here for the Reykjavik International Film Festival and saw three really great films. On Saturday, still reeling from my night of boozing, I watched a South Korean film called Daytime Drinking, which I highly recommend. It´s about a guy who gets dumped and then his friends drunkenly agree they should take a road trip. Only problem is the guy who gets dumped is the only one who makes the trip, and then all sorts of funny shit happens. Definitely recommend it.
I´d been reading One Flew Over the Cookoo´s Nest by Ken Kesey and when I heard Milos Forman´s work was being recognized at the festival and they would be showing that film, I could not resist going, even though I´d seen it before. Now I loved the movie, and it was nice to see it again, but it is totally a bastardized summarization of the book, which I already want to read again. I also thought Forman would be there for the showing, but it turns out an event was held the following Thursday, when I was on the other side of the island.The last film I watched was a grainy Neil Young concert film produced the exact opposite of the showy, glamorous Heart of Gold, called Neil Young Trunk Show.
The old man still has it.
I had drinks one night with a guy from Brazil who was training for a cross-country skiing race on roller-skis. And he later mentioned he´d only seen snow twice -- one time being that day, when he raced a ski-doo around a glacier.
He´s never cross-country skied on snow before.
I´ve really started to get back into reading again. I think I could live without cable when I get back.
The kid didn´t bring a bathing suit to Iceland, so when I went to an outdoor swimming spot, I had to rent one and all they had were speedos.
When in Iceland...
So I slipped into the thing and immediately felt self-conscious and like the centre of attention. I walked out of the showers and toward the pool, avoiding eye contact with people, convinced one of my balls was dangling out or something.
I guess I know what chicks feel like now.
There is a very distinct and strong sense of identity in Iceland. When you are here, you feel it is bigger than it is and has a very big role to play internationally. Everyone speaks the language, the island has a lively culture, strong music scene and lots of local foods and customs.
There is a cartoon I saw that I thought was very fitting. There were two pictures. One had a picture of Iceland behind a microscope, making it the size of Greenland in the Atlantic, with the caption 'Iceland the way Icelanders see it´, the second was an accurate depiction of Iceland in the Atlantic -- a spot of southeast of Greenland -- with the caption 'Iceland as it actually is.´---
I went whale-watching Tuesday and after two hours of nauseating waves and wind and rain, and having to boat all the way to Keflavik -- a good 45 minutes away from Reykjavik by car -- we saw some harbour porpoises, bottle-nosed dolphins and minke whales.
I thought I was going hypothermic when I got off the boat though and had an hour long shower when I got back to the hostel.
I´ve come to the realization that I will have to live somewhere to really get a sense of what life is like there. I find I´m learning more about the homes of fellow travelers than I am about the place I´m visiting.
It´s a little frustrating, but I suppose it makes sense.
So here I sit now in Reykjavik International Airport waiting for a flight back to Boston -- the boarding pass in my pocket is really the only concrete object pertaining to my future.
I figured I needed a break from work and to get out of town, where I was falling into predictability -- but not a good kind -- and that maybe some flash of inspiration would hit me in mysterious, magnificient Iceland. While I had a good time, nothing anywhere close to a revelation came to me and now I´m headed home but not home, because there is no home that I´m going to.
I´m thinking about tentatively heading to Montreal for a couple days and then probably on to Halifax, where I´ll meet up with Kelly and Caro and apply on some jobs. There was a reporter position open there and I´ll probably apply on that sometime tomorrow.
We´ll see how that goes.
I´ll put up some pictures and write about my trip around the country -- for those of you familiar with me and manual transmissions, you won´t believe how I got around.
And I guess there could be some crazy updates on here, as I try to sort this all out.
Ciao mein, dudes and dudettes. See you stateside.