Thursday, October 27, 2011

Oh Why, Oh Why, Do We Occupy?

At the urging of Sir Harry, my employer, I had been asked to examine the rationale behind the "occupation" presently occurring in various cities. This request struck me as a bit odd. The world's press saw it as a protest between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', as did I, but perhaps there was more to it. Sir Harry as a rule does not make witless requests.

There were various 'occupations' in Canadian cities, but these I avoided. Canada has nowhere near the gap between rich and poor relative to the other jurisdictions at issue, its banking system is sound, a sub-par mortgage would not be possible to obtain, and its unemployment rate, an estimated 6.5 to 7%, is not bad in the current economic climate. It also helps that the Prime Minister is a shrewd economist. There would be little point in conducting interviews with the occupiers; all you would get is a vague unease or the pushing of one sort of 'cause' or another.

Instead, I headed for New York, to Wall Street, the epicentre of the whole thing.

Irving, my Israeli minder, insisted upon accompanying me. He thought New Yorkers were slightly unhinged, and, in certain situations, could be dangerous. I acquiesced, recalling that New York was the chosen site for the film Men In Black with its thesis of New York as a kind of way station for extra-terrestials -- a not improbable proposition.

I travel armed, of course, keeping my customized 380 ACP in my purse, an attractive Fendi, since you ask. Why the gun is customized will become apparent in a moment.

At American customs, one comes face to face with officials of the American Transportation Agency (TSA) and all that that entails. A search of my handbag by an over sized woman with steely eyes produced the gun.

"What," she growled, "is this?"

"It's a vibrator." (When I said I had a custom-made gun, I meant it.)

"Doesn't look like a vibrator."

This somewhat odd exchange had drawn the interest of other TSA officials, both male.

"Well," I said, trying to be demure, "We can go into one of your little booths and I can show --"

The woman's face coloured. She quickly put the item back into the bag, and nodded curtly that I could go through. The two TSA guys looked disappointed, and Irving's face was contorted as he attempted to stifle a laugh.

In New York, we rented an Altima, and Irving drove first to Second Avenue, to the Israeli Consulate, saying that he was going to pick up his vibrator.

A bit later, I was mingling with the crowd in Wall Street. Irving was nowhere to be seen, but I knew he was nearby, watching.

The assemblage at Wall Street was unusual. It appeared that all walks of life were represented, not just the youth that so characterized the Canadian 'occupations'. The young ones were furious that their job hunts were proving so fruitless; the older ones just as furious that their pensions had been savaged (if they had any pensions at all). Both groups lamented the abysmal state of health care, and the even more abysmal state of the current U.S. Congress. As for the President, Obama was seen to be in the clutches of the very corporations that were at the bottom of the mess. This was summed up neatly by a professor of English at NYU who, on the subject of the President, drew on Hamlet: "O, what a noble mind is here o'er thrown".

This coming together of young and old I thought worthy to bring to Sir Harry's attention. Yes, the occupiers lacked a single purpose, yes, they were in some disarray, but one would be naive indeed to ignore just how many felt tremendous frustration at the growing gap between those that were exceedingly well off, and those that were tumbling down to penury. And if you're presently on the top, be careful. The situation is not going to go away.

Upon my return, I noted another factor had been added, perhaps to be expected. The various tribes of First Nations people had taken note of all this commotion, and, at least in Toronto, had begun to set up an occupation of their own, stating that this was "sacred ground" belonging only to them. (Why it was sacred remains unclear. Perhaps this was the burial mound of some elder long ago who had been gored to death by a gigantic elk. Or not -- reason tends to be rather unhelpful in this type of context.) In any event, money usually resolves this type of occupation.

Finally, what the occupiers are going to have to cope with in the future has been outlined by one deep thinker and philosopher. I speak, of course, of Doris Day, with one small addition to her famous lyrics:

When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother
What will I be?
Will I be pretty, will I be rich?
Here's what she said to me.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Unhappy Girls

Finally, some quiet time at the Manor, and a chance to catch up on what has been happening in the world. The following items caught my eye.

1.Unhappy Girls In China

I note that the People's Republic has been experimenting with television reality shows, and was achieving great success with a talent enterprise entitled "Happy Girl". The show was broadcast by a state-owned satellite television company in the southern province of Hunan, and was avidly followed by millions of fans. At the end of this years run, the Chinese government announced that the airing of the show next year would be cancelled.

This should surprise? The shows followers could, by using text messages from their mobile phones, VOTE, thereby expressing a choice for the most believable "Happy Girl". This expressing of democratic choice no doubt spread horror among members of the Politburo, hence the cancellation. The replacement? A show entitled "Practical Information About Housework". Unhappy girls indeed.

2. An Unhappy Girl In Ukraine

A part of me, and not the best part, believes that the winner of any election would dearly love to put the leader of the opposition in prison as quickly as possible. Makes things secure, as it were. This is precisely the fate of Yulia Tymoshenko.

And this brings us to Viktor Yanukovich, who managed to scrape up a win in Ukraine's last election (part of Ukraine is still in a gloomy Russian fog.) One of his first acts was to initiate very dubious legal proceedings against Ms Tymoshenko, who suddenly found herself jailed for seven years. One could almost hear Viktor saying, "There. Problem solved. No more fuss."

Well, a fuss there would be.

As readers would know, Yulia had been of great help to me in setting up my largest sugar beet plantation. In that one favour deserves another, I decided enough was enough, and made a few phone calls on very secure lines.

Shortly after, Viktor received two letters excoriating him for his actions against Yulia, one from the American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton (no slouch at dealing with wayward men) and another from Catherine Ashton, head of foreign policy for the E,U. Suddenly, American support and possible E.U. membership were at grave risk. I even managed to whisper into Vladimir Putin's tinted ear that Yulia had given him a more than fair gas contract, and urged him to "have a word" with Viktor. These actions also had the effect of causing the formidable magazine, The Economist, to raise a cudgel on her behalf.

Will such pressure work? We will see, but word has it that Viktor is rapidly considering his options. Perhaps a presently unhappy girl will become happy again.

3. Lindsay Lohan

A very paragon of unhappiness, with way too much already written on the subject. All I have to say is that the American legal system appears relentless in its pursuit of Ms Lohan. It is a great pity that the same legal verve isn't being brought against a slew of Wall Street bankers and traders, who continue to cavort merrily in The Hamptons or the Costa del Sol. So Anatole France: "Laws are like spider's webs; small creatures get caught. Larger ones break free and get away."


Friday, October 14, 2011

A Night At The Opera

I must confess to a fondness for opera. This stems from an experience I underwent when I was very young, and still learning The Trade. In short, while undertaking an assignment in Paris, I had screwed up rather badly, thus proving that Hesse was right when he stated "Experience is a good school, but the fees are high."

Very high indeed, and for three hours I would be at extreme risk. To go into more detail of what, where and why would fill a book; suffice it to say that I had to stay well hidden for those three hours.

At this point in time, a young French nobleman came to my rescue, pulled a string, and I found myself a cast member of the Paris Opera and its production of Bizet's Carmen. So there I was, in peasant blouse and flashy red skirt, part of Carmen's entourage, and obvious to all. Except those who were trying to hunt me down. Poe got it right in The Purloined Letter: if you want to hide something, make it visible.

The nobleman, of course, was the Compte de Rienville, and we have been together (more or less) since then. After the performance, and now safe, I even got complimented by the opera's Director, saying that I had a nice little contralto voice. I brightened at this, causing him to repeat the word "little".

Oh well, I had never dreamed of a career in opera anyway.

All of which leads to attending a recent performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto. I had done a small favour for the lead cellist, who was being stalked by an extremely annoying man. After some things were said and done, I could report to her that the creep had left the country entirely. On crutches. The cellist had thanked me profusely, and also sent two seats in the Grand Ring of Toronto's new Opera House.

Matilda Hatt being in town, I persuaded her to attend. This took some doing. Tilly had never been to an opera, and was not that keen on the enterprise. "It will be boring," she stated, "and I don't have a dress anyway."

"I have a slew of Armani's, Donna Karan's" and Lord knows what else" I replied. "Moreover, my son Sebastian has created some stunners. So that will solve the outfit problem. As for being bored, I doubt that very much."

So off we went. I was comfortable in my Chanel little black dress, while Tilly looked smashing in an off-the-shoulder number, one of Sebastian's best. She really should put more effort into appearance.

When we entered the house, Tilly gasped. "My goodness, all this wood. So warm. So inviting. It's like IKEA on amphetamines!"

"Acoustics are first rate too."

The performance started, and I was interested to note that Tilly was transfixed. Verdi's music is powerful, the story gripping, and Tilly could follow every nuance through the overhead surtitles. At the end of the opera, with Rigoletto, remembering an earlier curse, screaming "Ah!-- la maledizione!" over the body of his dead daughter, I saw tears streaming down Tilly's face. Bored she was not.

Later, at a suitable bar, Tilly made an interesting point about Rigoletto. "You know," she said, "there's not one likable or noble character in the thing. Rigoletto is vicious in his taunts to others, and while he loves his daughter, hiding her away from the world does her no favours. The Duke is a rogue and a liar, Maddalena is a whore, the courtiers are toadies and lack anything near compassion, and the only one with any integrity at all is Sparafucile. And he is an assassin!"

"And your point?"

"The thing works! I enjoyed every minute."

I said, "I suspect Verdi has something to do with that. The music, after all, is dominant."

"You may be right," Tilly said. "You know, when I consider the 'Rigoletto' nature of the United States Congress, my thought is, Giuseppe, where are you now when we need you?"

Where indeed.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Lost Spike

Bit late with this one, but even people in The Trade need some down time, time I enjoyed in cottage country. I am, however, now back at The Manor, and begin with the following dialogue:

"Don't look over there! No one went there."

"Bit improbable, but you never know."

"Well go ahead, but it's a waste of time."

First, to get at what all this is about, some positioning is in order. I had been invited by my good friend of many years, The Emp, to rest and relax at his fine island cottage on beautiful Lake Piranha in the Haliburton Highlands. Bodhan, my Ukrainian sugar beet manager, was also present, as was Sir Peter Crapp, a colleague in The Trade. The Emp had made a request, but Sir Peter, having previously worked hard in shifting firewood from the mainland to the island, was more keen on taking a quiet row around the island than participating.

Now a word about my friend The Emp. The term comes from a genealogical exploration he once did, where he traced his family tree back through United Empire Loyalists to England, and then to Germany, where he was delighted to learn that one of his ancestors hailed from some minor German principality, but had succeeded in becoming, briefly, an Emperor in the Holy Roman Empire. Briefly, because he died shortly thereafter from a surfeit of capers. Exploring further, he ran across another ancestor named Miles The Slasher, and at that point his interest in genealogy withered.

The Emp, I might add, is a kind of emperor on the island, ruling benignly over a number of suitably cowed cottagers. All is usually well, but every now and then The Emp commits the error best illustrated by The Charge of the Light Brigade and thunders the wrong order. This causes confusion on the island. It also caused confusion in what is now known as The Lost Spike Incident.

The root cause lies in the shifting of firewood from the mainland to the island.

A truck drops the wood on the shore, in an flat area that doubles as a badminton court.The court, now covered lightly in leaves, is demarked by strips held down by four spikes. The Emp had taken pains to lift this mobile boundary, keeping the spikes in a little pile for later insertion after the wood had been shifted.

He had not taken pains enough. One of the spikes was missing. A first attempt by himself to find it came up lacking.

On the following day, our mission was to locate the thing.

The Emp's theory, not an unsound one, was that he or the trucker had inadvertently stepped on the spike, driving it under the sandy ground. Thus The Emp busily began raking up the likely spots where this might have occurred. All this fell into the area of the probable.

Bohdan and I, however,felt the need to explore the improbable. The Emp gave grudging agreement, propounding a theory that somehow the spike had become embedded in one of the truck's tires. Hence I was sent to retrace the area where the truck had been, while Bohdan raked leaves away in places where a spike was unlikely to have fallen.

I proceeded on my task, finding, in no particular order, a brass button, a busted badminton racket, a ticket stub for a Foo Fighters concert,and faded piece of paper that might have been the inside flap of a book on erotica. All of which indicated that the nearby cottage was the residence of interesting people.

The bickering between The Emp and Bohdan was growing louder (see opening dialogue) with The Emp making the point that in no way shape or form could the spike possible be where Bohdan was looking.

Following the trail of the truck, suddenly I heard a roar from Bohdan.

"I found it! Here!" Satisfaction glowed on his face.

I hurried back, curious to know by what means the spike had extended so far out of the probable search area. The Emp was also doing some hard thinking, and then admitted that on the previous day had raked rather hard, and could have turfed the spike to where Bohdan had found it. [Note: This admission, made earlier, might have saved a great deal of effort. On the other hand, perhaps the Emp had told us, and we had not heard.] In any event, we returned all smiles -- that which was lost was found, and all was well with the world. And if there is a moral, it would be that when the probable has been exhausted, the improbable takes centre stage.

Thus the tale of The Lost Spike, not to be confused with the tale of The Last Spike. For that we would need Sir William Cornelius Van Horne and his triumphant completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Enough. Or too much.