Fact #1: U.S. Democrat Gabrielle Giffords was shot yesterday. Some commentators are linking the shooting in Tucson to violent language on multiple websites, at least one of which showed Giffords’ congressional district in the crosshairs of a gun.
Fact #2: Yesterday I read an article in The Atlantic about the cost of believing everything you find on the internet. The gullibility of the public has allowed radicals and reactionaries to succeed in smear campaigns against their targets, even when their accusations have been proven to be false, because the public loves sensational scandal and ignores the truth that is later uncovered.
Fact #3: I spent more than six hours yesterday reading news feeds and bookmarked blog posts, and catching up on the expected results of South Sudan’s referendum, participating in an online conversation about Saint John’s uptown, and reading about the advantage of planned spending over budgeting.
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If I wanted to remain virtually connected at this rate, I would have to devote at least two hours per day to reading online, and that would be mostly scanning the headlines. No wonder it’s hard to separate facts from fiction and to get a balanced view of the world.
And, in case you haven’t noticed, much of the noise out there (in the virtual world) is recycled information, broken up into byte-sized pieces. Sometimes the information is whitewashed, sometimes it’s muddied. And it’s all thrown together into the great washing machine of the internet, socks and underwear, tourniquets and tennis shoes, the bleeding red bandana and the white silk shirt. The internet does not sort and weigh the information, it does not separate the world’s laundry into the sheep and the wolves.
So take care what you say online, even in jest. Check your temper at the door but do not check your brain. Take care in what you read, and especially what you believe and pass on for fact. It’s not just viruses that we need to guard against. Sadly, very little can be trusted. Everything must be washed, rinsed and hung to dry in the cool light of rational thought.
Photo taken on December 18, 2010
Last night I attended the Open House for PlanSJ — the process to create Saint John’s new official plan — and had a good look at the proposed direction for city growth over the next 25 years. In a nutshell, the plan calls the city to grow up, not out.
What this means is that urban areas, where the population is denser and communities are walkable, are recognized as healthier alternatives to suburban “scatteration”. These areas including the priority neighbourhoods of the Old North End, Crescent Valley, Waterloo Village, the South End, and the Lower West Side, areas of the city which desperately need an infusion of cash and smart development and energetic citizens. And the need is desperate: despite generous support for anti-poverty initiatives and community building projects, the neighbourhoods are known more for their decrepit buildings, drug traffickers and arsonists than the tenacious citizens who are trying to make things better.
If the city follows through, if buildings worth saving are rehabilitated, if new construction replaces empty lots and eyesores, and if people are willing to move back into the urban areas to make the city core healthy and happy, then Saint John doesn’t have anything to fear from the growing suburban communities on its east and west that have been attracting city refugees for the past 20 years. But in order for this to work, the city has to make the urban neighbourhoods more attractive — to developers, business owners, and prospective residents — at the same time as ensuring that people who live at or near the poverty line aren’t pushed out of their own neighbourhoods by skyrocketing rents.
It’s a tall order; is the city up to it? I hope so!
Photo taken on November 9, 2010
I’ve always been drawn to construction sites. I like the square geometry of the steel girders, the ponderous dance of heavy equipment, the way the skeletal frame is formed and shaped, the way space becomes place.
It’s archeology backwards, creation instead of forensics, a community working together to create something new. It reminds me of a wedding, an event buoyed by hope, plagued by doubt and gnawed finger nails; so much could go wrong, and yet it could turn out to be so right. This particular construction site is already historied in critique and finger-pointing, threatened by the mire of politics, budgetary foreboding and the shaking of heads. So much could go wrong — in fact, already seems to be wrong — and yet, and yet (dare I say it?) it could turn out to be so right.
O fortunati, quorum iam moenia surgunt! (O Fortunate Ones, whose walls are rising now) – motto of Saint John, from Virgil’s Dido & Aeneas.
Photo taken on November 9, 2010
I am a spur-of-the-moment photographer. I tend to take ‘em as I see ‘em. That’s not to say I don’t work with different angles and compositions, and I certainly spend enough time adjusting colour, crop, contrast etc on the computer. But I have to admit that I seldom plan ahead.
Last night was an exception. I had two reasons to take photos. The first was because it was Thursday, and Utata (the Flickr photo group I participate in) always has a weekly project called Thursday walks. The second is the photo conference happening this weekend in Moncton, called Foto Expo, which is also running a contest with the theme “downtown architecture”. I didn’t get out during the daytime because I was making apple chutney, and it took longer than I expected (doesn’t it always). So that’s why I was uptown with a camera and tripod at 8 p.m. last night.
I had been wanting to take a photo of this building for a while, so last night was the perfect opportunity. Finding the puddle was a bonus. I’m really glad I planned ahead and brought the equipment I needed for this photo shoot. I spent about 40 minutes in this parking lot (my car is the 2nd from the right) and took photos of this Old Post Office building from several angles. In fact, it was so much fun, I might do it again (plan ahead, that is)!
Photo taken on October 28, 2010
This weathered door has seen a lot of Octobers. This door on Elliot Row, a few houses in from the sea in one of the oldest parts of the city, has seen thick fog and hurricane rains, hot sun and freezing gales, and everything in between. You can see the marks where the door has been pushed, shoved and bumped, where the paint is worn down to the wood by frequent use. It looks like this door was painted white before it was red, and before that — before the new owners refinished it and repainted and re-sided and renovated the house from top to bottom — I wonder what it looked like then?
When the Nor’easter rolls up the Eastern seaboard and sends the Bay of Fundy waves pounding against the shore, it will stand firm. When snowbanks ploughed off the street climb all the way to the top of the railing, and ice encases the steps, it will still open and close, firm against the weather. For now, it’s strong enough. For now, there are flowers, and a pumpkin to mark the season of harvest and Hallowe’en. Welcome.
Taken on October 2, 2010
I like toys. I have lots of them: a bike and camping gear and a harp and lots of camera stuff and a computer and an ipod touch and an elliptical exerciser and a bunch of kitchen gadgets and garden tools and, oh yes, a car. Yet I spend most of my spare time on my computer and ipod.
But I’m not doing very well in the fitness department. If I keep sitting all day, I’ll turn into an ottoman (the furniture kind) — all seat and no legs. With the exception of apps for activities such as birding, starwatching and geocaching, computers and being outdoors don’t go together, and unless you’re just listening to music, you’re not actually doing anything.
And it’s not just me. There has been a lot of hand-wringing about child obesity in the so-called developed world. I saw a Saint John photo by Ian McEachern yesterday, showing a group of 9 or 10 kids playing in on the street next to a group of homes, a couple of adults leaning against the stoop, watching. That was 1968; this is 2010. The boy in this photo is alone. He has an electronic toy in his hand. He hasn’t walked the few blocks to the nearest playground, he isn’t kicking a soccer ball with the neighbourhood kids or heading to the library to check out a new book. He’s standing in a neighbourhood parking lot, with a whole universe of playgrounds to explore, at least until the battery runs down.
Taken on October 2, 2010
This is the back door of the Baxter’s Dairies milk processing plant. I really should say Saputo, although the milk still carries the Baxter’s label. Baxter’s grew out of a milk route started in 1924 and expanded to buy out many smaller dairies in the region before being acquired by Saputo in 2001. (The ice cream side of the business was bought out by Scotsburn.)
I remember drinking Baxter’s chocolate milk in elementary school. At home, Baxter’s milk arrived on our doorstep once a week, in exchange for coupons left out for the milkman in an old glass milk bottle. In fact, I was surprised to realize not long ago that my parents still get their milk delivered by a milkman every Tuesday morning.
However, I rarely buy Baxter’s milk products now. I want to support local producers whenever possible, and Baxter’s is no longer local. Oh sure, the company tagline now reads: “New Brunswick’s Oldest and Largest Dairy.” But I’ve been buying milk from the Northumberland Cooperative Dairy instead — their tagline reads: “The only dairy that’s pure New Brunswick.”
Now that’s good advertising.
Taken on April 22, 2010
The sun is up, and the air feels fresh. Light is streaming between buildings, casting bright reflections from one side of the street to the other. Walking through the cool shade, you suddenly emerge into blinding light. There is a fluttering of wings as pigeons scatter through the park. Looking down King Street, you can see the sun sparkle on the open water at the bottom of the hill. A seagull calls as it soars high above the bridge. You might stop for a coffee, or maybe meet a friend along the way. The thing is, to get moving. The rest of the day beckons.
Taken on September 14, 2010
I used to have a t-shirt that said “Canadian seasons: winter and construction.” It sure seems that way this year in Saint John — everywhere you look, there’s construction. Sometimes the construction looks more like destruction. It’s hard to hold off on judging whether a project is worthwhile when you see only the mess and inconvenience. But the hardest part isn’t the chaos, it’s the letting go.
Construction projects need to start with a clean slate, which means razing whatever was there before and building a new foundation. Even home renovations require hard choices: you can’t get new stuff unless you make room by getting rid of the old stuff. While I think new building projects and renovations are exciting, I still find it hard to see landmarks disappear and beloved items go out with the trash, even if they are well past their useful life. And let’s not even get started on people!
When an old church is closed, a liturgy is held to “desanctify” it. I think we need a small but significant way to ceremoniously mark a change, and leave the past in the past. We need a way to properly say goodbye. I know I could use the practice.
Taken on May 24, 2009
Virginia Woolf wanted a room of her own. I think that even a corner, your own special nook, would be enough. When you’ve had a bad day, a hot day, a busy day, a dull day, a stressful day… whatever the day, whatever the weather, your cosy corner will be waiting for you. There’s your favourite chair, and a well-thumbed book, and a cushion. And there on a sunny shelf is a cat, or perhaps a pot of African violets, or that piece of folk art you bought on impulse at a yard sale, that always makes you smile when you look at it. Sometimes you read, and sometimes you watch people walking by, pushing strollers or pulling bundle buggies, caught up in their own lives and their own worlds. Sometimes you close your eyes and watch the sun dance through your eyelids. This is all you need: a few moments, a little time all to yourself.
Taken on August 23, 2010
Yesterday the wind switched direction, blowing strongly from the south. It was a relaxing wind, warm and full of dreams. But it felt like fall. Last night I went out and talked sternly to my tomatoes, still green and undersized. My feet were cold in their sandals. This morning at 6 am it was still dark, only a hint of blue in the east. I can feel the change coming, the nearness of autumn, the breath of snow on the air. No, it’s too early, I cry… but I know in my heart that I cannot stop the seasons any more than I can make those tomatoes grow faster. So I am spending as much time as I can outdoors, basking in the last of the summer sun, trying to store it deep in my bones to last through the winter.
I like to buy local produce, whenever possible. It’s not because the “100 mile diet” is the latest craze, and I don’t distrust the quality of foods grown in other places. I buy local for two reasons: to support local family farmers, who can’t make a living off their farms as it is, and because the food is almost always fresher. Just think: these cobs of corn have not travelled halfway across the continent to get here, they were picked just up the road near Oak Point. They should be fresher!
Grocery stores carry local farm produce as well — they’ve been talking up their local suppliers lately — and, let’s face it, grocery store produce is often cheaper than buying from a market stall like this one. The local store had fresh local cauliflower on sale for 95 cents a head yesterday, but we went out to the market and bought two for $5. Why? Because I gave that money directly to the farmer, and I’m sure the two huge heads of cauliflower were worth it. I wonder how much the famers who sell to the grocery chain get for their cauliflower?
Taken on August 13, 2010
The fog had rolled in while we were enjoying supper in a pub at the foot of Princess Street. The bright afternoon had given way to a different mood, a more contemplative setting for our walk back to the car. The shops had closed, no tourists were lingering about. As we strolled up the hill, a few pedestrians walked quickly by, their heads turned toward home. It was easy to imagine this city a century ago, looking much like this, the uptown streets quiet in the evening.
Taken on August 9, 2010
I love the incongruity of this. The word “smile” written as graffiti. That’s smile without a smiley face, with what looks like an anguished face. That’s smile written on an alley wall just off one of the main shopping streets in uptown Saint John. There is irony here, and humour. It made me smile.
Taken on August 9, 2010
This is the growing season. Everything is growing full tilt — flowers, weeds, vegetables, trees — and producing to its fullest. Everything looks its best in this season, and not only the flowers. Painting and re-siding projects are all over town, and if you can’t hear any hammering or sawing, there will at least be a lawn mower running somewhere close by. This is the time of year to be outdoors, to enjoy the fine weather and the sheer variety and vibrancy of life. In winter this will all look barren and cold, save for a splash of colourful paint on the house down the street. Take nature’s example to heart: don’t just live — thrive!
Taken on June 23, 2009
I wouldn’t want to deliver mail in this city, at least until you get to know the neighbourhood inside out. Here you have two doors, three doorbells, three numbers. There’s a mail slot in each door, plus two boxes. Well, that should be as easy as one-two-three. Right? Well, if there’s a 2B and a 3C, does that mean there’s a 1B, a 1C and a 2C? If so, that door on the left — is that 1A, 1B or 1C? This is beginning to sound like a dance lesson. And it’s not just apartments. There are streets that change names halfway through — no explanation and sometimes no sign. The street address for our house doesn’t match the sign at the corner, and the people across the road live on a different street. Sometimes, when there’s a substitute carrier on the route, the mail goes astray. I’m glad we have good neighbours.
Taken on August 5, 2010
This parking garage in the North End has a lot of doors. The blue paint is peeling and the hinges are rusty. You can see how the wood is worn along the edges where the water has seeped in over time. There is a “no parking” sign, half missing. And Christmas icicle lights hang from the edge of the roofline. It has been there as long as anyone can remember. Even if you don’t remember, it will be there.
Taken on April 22, 2010
I’ve been exploring lately, trying to push myself to go beyond “the usual” photos. I’m an opportunist by nature, relying on observation and a fast lens to snap whatever catches my eye. Although my photostream includes some lovely images, few were due to any planning on my part, any consideration of taking that photo at this time of day. So I’ve decided to start a list of favourite spots around Saint John that would make good subjects for a considered composition, rather than just a quick capture. And we’ll see what develops…
Taken on May 3, 2010
If you went back in time, before the graffiti and peeling paint, what would you see? I try to picture what the heyday would have looked like for this small corner shop in the South End, a few blocks from the harbour. Maybe it was a butcher shop, a barbershop or a green grocer. Maybe you could buy ice cream sodas here in the summer. I imagine this little corner bustling with activity, tradesmen making deliveries or stopping to talk, leaning against the post while they smoke a cigarette. They move out of the way politely for a young woman with a baby on one hip and a bag of groceries on the other. They pass around a grubby newspaper, scanning the headlines for news of the war, or the stock market, or the horse races…
Imagining the past is not just an exercise in nostalgia. It can help us to see past the grime of neglect in order to recognize potential. It can encourage us to breathe new life into old places as we imagine the future. And I believe that if we can imagine something, we can do it.
Taken on June 12, 2009
There was nothing remarkable about this house, no reason to stop and look. It was right next to the curb, looking well loved and more than a little tired. It was a sunny evening and I was looking for something interesting to photograph. My camera was in my hand, the lens cap off, my finger on the shutter release. I was ready… but nothing happened. No flash of inspiration, no bright shaft of sunlight pointing to a perfect image in an ordinary neighbourhood. But I was taking photos anyway, hoping that my camera would see something that I didn’t, knowing how easily my own expectations and biases get in the way. So when we walked by this house, I looked up at this window for a moment, my camera shutter snapped, and I continued walking. At first glance, there was nothing remarkable about this house, but I’m glad my camera gave me a chance to look again.
Taken on April 22, 2010
The uptown core of Saint John is fairly low key. Aside from a small cluster of tall buildings at the foot of King Street, the majority of the central city — much of which is 19th century streetscape — is no higher than four or five storeys. And since the city core is built on a hill that climbs up from the harbour, that means there are some interesting views if you know where to look. From the deck of this apartment in the South End where we lived last year, just a stone’s throw from the uptown area, we could see fireworks and the upper decks of cruise ships at high tide. We could see sunsets and steeples. And on a clear night we could see stars. In fact, you can see stars from almost everywhere in the city. All you have to do is look up.
Taken on May 2, 2009
Walls are seldom glamourous, architecturally speaking. It’s usually the windows or doors that get all the attention, enhancing their good looks with curtains or fancy plasterwork. Not walls; you don’t look at them, you look for a way around them. But walls have stories, too. You can tell how a building has evolved by noticing different brickwork where a window has been blocked off, or a different style of decoration where a new storey has been added. The quality of stone or masonry or brick says something about the skills, material or money available at the time. I don’t know a lot about these historical details, but I can tell that this wall has been here for a long time, and that these stones would have an interesting story to tell, if only walls could talk.
Taken on May 24, 2009
Saint John is an industrial city. There’s no mistaking the slight tang of sulfur in the air when the wind is blowing the right (or wrong) direction. There’s no avoiding the pulp and paper mill at the site of Saint John’s most famous landmark, the Reversing Falls (Rapids). I was told recently about a survey conducted with tourists at Reversing Falls; one of the questions was about whether they found the sight of the pulp mill offensive. But the tourists didn’t see a problem with having the mill there. What they wanted to know was the history of it — how did the pulp mill get there; what role did it play in Saint John’s history, what does it tell us about the role of timber and pulpwood in the growth of the city? And when you look at it like that, this pulp mill is at least as much a landmark as the blockhouse on Fort Howe, with perhaps more historical significance.
Taken on November 19, 2009
Much of New Brunswick is still wild, and that which is not heavily forested is farmed. As you drive along the river valleys, you can see fertile fields, dairy cows, apple orchards, hay bales, barns. Living in the city, it’s easy to forget that we can enjoy our urban lifestyle only because the settlers came before us, clearing and plowing and farming the land. It’s easy to forget the hunters and trappers, fishers and loggers, collecting food, furs, timber and masts for the explorers and travellers along our shores. It’s easy to forget the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) peoples who named and befriended this part of the country, and taught the newcomers how to survive. Today, on Canada Day, I remember.
Taken on June 8, 2009