Archive for February, 2007

If One’s Life is a Work of Art, Mine is Part of the Surrealist Movement

Today was one of those days that really strikes home how ridiculous life really is. The brief version of the story is as follows; at dinner, I was struck over the head with a banana, which lead to an escalation of events and caused a three-hour Cold War that nearly ended more than one friendship forever. Feelings were hurt and mean things said that might never be forgiven.

At one point my hair was covered in chocolate. And then someone tried to lick it out.

Sometimes I wonder why I ever get out of bed.

Editor’s Note: Man, this day… this day was weird. I got into a fight with Sydney, someone with whom I shared an incredibly contencious friendship. A mutual friend once claimed that there was also an air of tension between me and Syd, as if things could explode at any minute. Looking back, I regard it as one of those really valuable learning experiences that was nonetheless difficult at that time.

For the record, Syndey is a pretty cool kid most of the time. We just butted heads on a few… key issues.

February 27, 2007 at 9:56 pm Leave a comment

“We’ll Always Have Paris”

Well, the image thing is sorted out. You know what that means, of course. Tales of the utter glory that is Paris.

Paris: It’s Better than You

As you’ll recall, we left Brussels around two o’clock by bus; we got into Paris at 10 PM. Now, what could a bunch of university students do in the City of Lights on a Tuesday night?

Go pubbing, of course.

After wandering the streets of Paris for awhile to get a feel for the city (i.e. we were lost), before finding a little hole-in-the-wall place with barely enough room to stand. This is where we got our first real experience with the people of Paris, wherein we confirmed Stereotype #1: French Men are Horny.

Seriously, one of the girls in our group was hit on by no less than two French guys. Of course, being the utter assholes we are, we were sure to shout advice like “take this one all the way!”. Of course, considering the guy spoke English, it was very awkward for both of them. Later on, he gave her his phone number, e-mail address, and home address. He also said that he had plenty of free time if she wanted to come by, since he was ‘just waiting to get fired’. Basically, he was really creepy.

After that, there was nothing left except to go back and sleep. In the morning, we left with the rest of the school to go to the Louvre, which is the most insane art museum on the face of the Earth. I tell you, if Napoleon had one thing going for him, it’s that he knew how to loot; taking the treasures of Europe home to stick in the former palace of the king was easily one of the high points of his career. We splintered into smaller groups while we were there, and thankfully we had our classmate Nick, an art student who explained the artistic and historical significance of most of the pieces. His presence was invaluable.

The Louvre. It is also Better than You.

The highlights were, of course, the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, but the incredible amount of great works besides those were astonishing. I saw pieces by three of the four Ninja Turtles (Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello), countless Greek statues, and the physical embodiment of law in the Code of Hammurabi. The best named thing, though? “The Right Hand of Victory”. Basically, the place is incredibly awesome.

After we left, the first thing we ran into was a crazy-expensive antique shop, where even things just lying around cost over 1000 Euros (I’d love to see what they thought was valuable enough to lock up). We amused ourselves by pretending to be wealthy antiquity collectors, which no doubt sounds incredibly lame to anyone who isn’t us.

Later on, we went on a cruise of the Seine river, followed by a late-night jaunt up the Eiffel Tower. Proving Paris as the city of love, a marriage proposal took place while we were up there, to the joy and merriment of all. Another cool thing at the top? The apartment used by the guy who built the place. How would you like to be able to say “I have this little place; the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps you’ve heard of it”. Until we build colonies on the moon, this will remain the coolest place man has ever lived.*

*No, Antarctica is not as cool.

And there you have my first night and day (followed by another night) in Paris.

Because this post is getting lengthy, I’m just going to skip to a photo-format. Get ready for a whirlwind tour of my time in the city.

The Arc de Triomphe, a huge arch commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate how badass he was. God, I love that little man. I climbed to the top, which is how I got that photo of the Eiffel Tower and Paris streets at the start of the post. At the bottom is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and going out of it in all directions are the great streets of Paris, including the Grand Avenue (which leads directly to the Louvre).

Notre Dame, where the Hunchback lives. It’s located on a tiny island in the middle of the Seine River, the birthplace of the city of Paris. It’s still a functioning church, but the inside is ridiculously commercialized; they ask for money for everything, and even have a souvenir booth in there.

A little bookstore from which we started our “Literary Walking Tour of Paris”. Highlights include the spot Oscar Wilde died, the infamous “dueling coffee houses”, and a generally startling representation of the decadence of the French literary establishment of the 1920’s. I’m pretty much the only person in the school who finds this interesting.

My delicious Parisian dinner of bread, cheese, fruits and wine purchased at local markets. Not pictured here is the chocolate eclair I had for dessert.

The River Seine, which runs through the heart of Paris. God lord, is it ever brown. Set up along the riverbanks are a bunch of booksellers operating out of little booths, a tradition going back to the French Revolution. They sell everything from the works of Voltaire to French Pornography. I imagine the latter tends to be a better seller.

Other highlights of the trip:
-Dropping 13 Euros on hot chocolate and a pastry at what I was told was the best hot chocolate place on the face of the Earth. The hot chocolate in question turned out to be, for all intents and purpose, a thick cup of melted chocolate. Incredibly rich and hard to get down.
-Visit to the Shoah Museum (the term used in much of Europe for what we call the Holocaust), which ended with a meeting with a Jewish woman talking about her experiences as a child during WWII. It was incredibly interesting, and she had a stunning sense of humour about her even when confronting hard topics. The whole thing is really deserving of a blog post of it’s own.
-Going solo in the city, which included wandering the streets and markets, walking the Grand Avenue, and riding the Metro. I noticed beggars tend to harass you more when your alone.
-The incredible inventiveness of people trying to get your money. At every major landmark there were people walking around selling cheap trinkets, but there were also more subtle schemes. Some people would weave you a bracelet while you watched, and then once it was tied to your wrist explain you had to pay a ridiculous amount for it. Others would approach you with a city map, as if they were going to ask for directions, only to open it to reveal a message explaining how hard-off they were and that you should give them money.
-Helping a Japanese couple figure out how to work a Pay Toilet set up in the street. Seriously, those things were everywhere.

Finally, the big question: “Are French people really that rude?”. Having experienced the city firsthand, I can honestly say that no, they are not. For example, at one point I got lost in a non-tourist part of the city. While I was looking at my map, a guy on a smoke break from work came over and asked if I needed help. When he couldn’t figure out where it was I needed to be, he found someone who did, and then proceeded to translate while they gave directions. It was incredibly thoughtful.

Everywhere I went, the people of Paris were no less polite than people anywhere else. So why has it built up this reputation? My theory is the language barrier; at the Metro, while asking for directions, I was asked to repeat myself five or six times because they were having trouble understanding me. Now, as anyone who knows me knows, I’m used to people having no idea what the fuck I’m talking about. However, I imagine an average person in such a situation would get rather irritable, and when the French person trying to help them gets irritable in response, who do you suppose is blamed?

All over, there were incidents of tourists being dicks and the Parisians being forced to take actions to stop them. At the Mona Lisa, one man kept trying to take pictures despite being asked not to four times (as we all know, flash photography destroys art). When he still refused, the guards were forced to take him to the side and put his camera back in his bag. I fully expect that right now he’s telling his family and friends stories of being manhandled by the “rude” French.

The lesson here? Most of the time it’s your fault, not the people of Paris.

And that excessively long post covers most of my trip. I still haven’t talked about the stops on the way back to the English Channel, or the Ferry Ride back, or about a million of the things I did in the city, but there’s a limit to how much I can expect you all to read. Needless to say, the city was fabulous, and I regret having to leave so soon. If I could, I’d still be there right now.

Au Revoir, Paris. I hope to see you again soon.

Editor’s Note: Paris is pretty much the classiest city in the world. I had a fantastic time there. My greatest regret, though? I failed to visit the Catacombs, an awesome place filled with skulls. One day!

February 26, 2007 at 7:09 pm Leave a comment

What the Deuce?

Apparently my image hosting is on the fritz, so tales of my Parisian will have to wait until I get this sorted out. You know, on account of me having pictures for it.


Editor’s Note: There’s absolutely no interesting commentary I can possibly give on this.

February 25, 2007 at 9:45 pm Leave a comment

Brussels: I Hear Belgium has Chocolate Now

As you may have gathered from last night’s post, I have returned from this strange and wondrous land known as “Continental Europe”, which I spent much of the previous weeks talking about.

I’m sure you’re all dying to hear about my trip (by which I mean I’m going to talk about it no matter what you want), so I may as well just jump in. I’ll cover the first leg of the journey today, and the second tomorrow. Let us begin.

For those of you who don’t know, this all part of the big mid-term trip put on by my university, which you may recall is located in an castle in England. It’s pretty kickass that way. The journey began at about 4 AM, when we had to get up to eat, load luggage and hop on the coaches. That was followed by a long bus ride to the English channel, and which point the bus drove on to a train, which in turn drove through the Chunnel.

Don’t ask me to explain that one. I don’t get it either.

Our first stop of the day was a WWI museum near the city of Ypres, where we saw memorials and trudged through the trenches. Immediately afterward we went to the Tyne Cot cemetery, final resting place of nearly 12,000 soldiers who died in WWI. It also has a memorial listing over 33,000 names of soldiers who’s bodies where never found; a memorial that was only built because they ran out of space for names on the first one. And this is just for the soldiers who died at Ypres.

Imagine seeing this many graves, then turning to see an equal amount in every direction you look. It’s a somber sight.

I’m strongly considering waxing philosophic about the horrors of war right now, but I think that pretty much says everything that needs to be said. Over 50,000 names at one cemetery, and another 54,000 at the memorial down the road, all killed in pointless trench-fighting over petty nationalism. The world can be a pretty crazy place.

After that rather somber set of stops we continued on to Brussels, pulling in at about 4 PM, at which point everyone separated for free time. Much of the evening was spent trying to procure the local delicacy of Mussels and Fries, which are (as you might have guessed) delicious. I also got to walk the Grande Place, a giant town square with spectacular architecture.

This would look much better if I could have somehow got a panorama; I even managed to miss most of the cool-looking buildings. I have no idea who those people in the front-left are, either.

I also picked up a few souvenirs, a postcard to send back to my little sister, and ten Euros worth of incredibly delicious Belgian chocolate. Good god, it’s delicious. I still have some of it left.

Now, despite what some unscrupulous individuals will tell you, the rest of the night did not involve drinking games.

…Well, actually, yes it did, but that’s because my hotel roommate Mitch is something of an alcoholic and he had a lot of people over to our room. I honestly don’t know why I put up with him. It’s always awkward being the only sober person in the room.

Later, sleep.

In the morning, because I used my meaty brain to think ahead, I ran down to the Grande Place to get Belgian Waffles. We left for a field trip to the Flemish Parliament at 9:15 AM, and many people on the trip complained about how they wished they had time to stop and enjoy these sweet, delicious treats. My feelings on the scenario are basically a textbook case of Schadenfreude.

I think I’ll spare you all details about the inner workings of the Flemish Parliament, okay? Suffice to say, it is one of six parliaments operating in the city of Brussels, and that doesn’t even include the European Union parliament. Clearly the Belgians are a model of efficiency.

Immediately after, it was back on the bus to go down to the Belgian Museum of the Congo. As anyone who has read “Heart of Darkness” might recall, Belgium has a museum of the Congo because they raped the country and pillaged it’s resources. The museum itself seems to gloss over that fact, though. It also has some shockingly racist statues.

A common theme of the statues was the ‘civilized’, well-dressed and almost godly Belgians taking care of African children, who were barely clothed and looked up to the Belgians in awe.

Literally at the feet of every one of these golden statues was a statue of a grown “African” made of dark stone, portraying them as some kind of Neanderthal. These statues depict things like knocking stones together or trying to make fire with sticks.

Belgium kind of has a problem accepting responsibility for the “horrors of colonialism” thing. Our tour guide skimmed over the issue, discussing it in terms of a “war” between the Belgians and Congolese. Apparently the other group’s tour guide was even worse, justifying it by saying that every European nation was doing it and the Belgians only got in trouble because everyone else was jealous of their successes in Congo.

Between the frightening levels of racism and historical revisionism, and the fact that the cafeteria there shortchanged me five Euros, it was a pretty unhappy trip.

That’s it for Belgium. After that, we loaded onto the coaches for the long, long ride to Paris. It was a weird stay. As long as we stuck to the tourist parts (the Grande Place, dinner, chocolate, etc.) it was great. But as soon as we did educational stuff for class, it got really depressing. Every country has it’s troubled history, but it seems strange that so much of the trip here would focus on it. You just don’t expect it of the Belgians.

That’s all for tonight, folks. We’ll return later with the second and final leg of the trip, including more lovely pictures.

Tomorrow: Journey into Paris! The Louvre! The Eiffel Tower! Creepy Frenchmen in bars! All this and more on “There Shan’t be Wit”!

Editor’s Note: An important event this blog post fails to mention is that at one point I tried to strangle Mitch to death in our hotel, thus making me an (attempted) international assassin. It was all in good fun, I swear.

Telling people stories about the Belgian trip is always a little weird. There’s always this same shocked expression, as if people seriously can’t believe the Belgians did (and are doing) this. The country has a much darker past and present than generally acknowledged.

February 24, 2007 at 6:40 pm Leave a comment

Just got back in from Paris….

…and I’m exhausted. Expect a report on the trip sometime tomorrow.

February 23, 2007 at 11:38 pm Leave a comment

Wherein I Butcher the Hallowed Subject of History

Tomorrow is Presidents’ Day in the United States, and as I won’t be around to blog about it then, I feel I should say a few words on the subject now.

Presidents’ Day, of course, is the celebration of the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both born in February. In general, this holiday tends to celebrate only them; however, the name suggests the importance of all men who have held that high office, men who tend to be overlooked on this day of days.

Which President in particular do I speak of, you ask? Who could hold such high importance as Washington and Lincoln? Is it Thomas Jefferson, framer of the Declaration of Independence? Franklin Roosevelt, who saw the nation through both the Great Depression and WWII? William Henry Harrison, who paid his country the highest sacrifice by dying swiftly after coming to office? No, I speak of a greater and more terrible man, one of the most striking figures to hold this or any other office. I speak, of course, of:

Martin Van Buren
America’s Meanest President

Van Buren was born in 1782 in a small town along the coast of New York. His father was an infamous brigand, and his mother a tavern wench. Van Buren first came to prominence at the age of fourteen, when it was discovered that he had seduced and impregnated a succession of his school-teachers. In those days most people caught in these circumstances would be tarred and feathered, but Van Buren escaped that fate when he defeated the sheriff and his posse of eight men in hand-to-hand combat. Knowing that more men would be sent soon Van Buren escaped to New York City, hoping to disappear among the multitudes.

It was here in New York that Van Buren would begin his political career; realizing the police would never stop chasing him, he took up the study of Law to learn how beat them at their own game. To pay for his education, Van Buren worked nights fighting in an underground fisticuffs-ring, where he earned the nickname “Old Kinderhook” for his powerful right hooks.

So successful was he at law that he decided to run for, and eventually one, a seat in State Senate. During this period Van Buren also became a slave owner, and fell in with the infamous “Tammany Hall” corruption ring of New York City. Van Buren exploited the ring’s connections to amass vast wealth, influence and power, and was known to personally threaten the lives of all who opposed him politically. Though unconfirmed, many historians suspect him of having beat to death rival Albert Regent, who may have been preparing an expose of the ring.

Using his newfound political power Martin Van Buren was elected to the US Senate, where he went about cultivating power in a manner similar to the way he had in New York. Quickly, Van Buren established himself as Speaker of the House, and manipulated Andrew Jackson into becoming a puppet-leader in his stead. Van Buren’s Senate career was marked by the establishment of a vast and intricate web of conspiracy and corruption, called in it’s time (as it is today) “The Democratic Party”. Soon later, utilizing his network of deceit, Van Buren had himself elected Governor of New York.

In regards to his Governorship, I quote Wikipedia directly: “Van Buren’s tenure as NY governor is the second shortest on record, and nothing of note took place”.

Having thus rested, Van Buren returned to the serious political ring in lightning political career that saw him go from Governor, to member of the Presidential Cabinet, to Vice President, and finally the Presidency itself in the space of six years.

Now elected to the highest office in all the land, Martin Van Buren set out on a ruthless mission to exert his power over all who opposed him. For example:
-Van Buren plunged the nation into a Depression after he personally strangled the head of America’s largest bank, creating a chain-reaction that devastated monetary policy. This was not, however, an accident: Van Buren’s private journal shows that he purposely caused the Depression to “teach those fuckers a lesson”.
– Van Buren continued the “Trail of Tears” campaign instituted by his predecessor (really Van Buren’s puppet) Andrew Jackson. This campaign saw Native Americans forcibly removed from their ancestral homes, killing thousands.
-Van Buren supported an “Extermination Order” in Missouri that called for the death of all Mormons. When a Mormon leader begged him for help, Van Buren’s response was as cold as ice: “I can do nothing for you. If I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri”.

Through all these events, Van Buren maintained popularity using his network of corruption, which bought good press in the media and silenced political critics.

While his rule looked unstoppable, Van Buren was eventually ousted by the return of his youthful indiscretions. A newspaper writer in New York discovered his seven illegitimate children from his days as a schoolboy, and at least ten more from his time in New York City. Shocked by their President’s dalliances, the people of America ousted him in a popular vote at the end of his first term.

Thus ruined, Martin Van Buren spent the rest of his life trying to regain the office of the Presidency through election, fraud, and outright force; he died in 1862, failing to achieve his goal.

So, on this Presidents’ Day, let us all salute Martin Van Buren, the meanest President, for his willingness and ability to rule the United States as an iron-fisted dictator. His example shows us all that if you are evil and clever enough, few can stand in the way of your rise to power*. God bless you, Martin Van Buren. God bless you.

Well, that’s it for now, folks. This blog is going on hiatus for the rest of the week while I kick it up in the lovely cities of Brussels and Paris. Expect at least one (and perhaps more!) posts about my European adventures when I return next Saturday.


*For this reason and many others, many historians refer to Van Buren as “America’s First Supervillain President”. Others, however, believe it historical revisionism to talk about ‘superheroes’ and ‘supervillains’ prior to 1938, and instead give the title to President Harry Truman.

Editor’s Note: This is just… wow, I don’t even know where to begin. Basically this was a Seinfeld reference that rapidly spun out of control. I just intended to name-drop “The Van Buren Boys” and the next thing I know I have a huge screed slandering Martin Van Buren and hideously falsifying historical fact. Sometimes these things just can’t be avoided.

February 18, 2007 at 8:18 pm Leave a comment

It turns out I forgot to title this one…

I’ve got nothing of any particular importance to say today, a result of my near-constant efforts to prepare for the Paris trip. Tomorrow, in honour of President’s Day (which I sadly won’t be here for), I’m going to treat you all to a report on one of America’s greatest Commander-in-Chiefs.

In the meantime, I’m going to be lazy and fill out one of those “getting to know you better” memes that floats around. Enjoy random aspects of my personal life!

1. WHAT IS YOUR FULL NAME? Everyone who needs to know it does already.

2. HOW ARE YOU TODAY? I don’t really feel any particular way. It’s just one of those odd days where nothing seems to be happening.


4. FAVORITE SPORT? Moon-Karate. But since that’s so rarely available, I take kickboxing and train for marathons.

5. HAIR COLOR? Brown.

6. EYE COLOR? Blue.

7. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS OR GLASSES? I would be, for all intents and purposes, blind without my glasses.

8. BIRTHDAY? February 13th… just a few days ago.

9. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

10. FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR: I love Halloween.

11. WHO DO YOU CALL TO VENT? Usually Dani, who’s a saint for putting up with me. Occasionally Stina, who is not a saint but in fact the devil in a fiendishly clever disguise.

12. SUMMER OR WINTER? I used to love winter. Then I moved to Winnipeg. Goddamnit, I hate Winnipeg in the winter, as does every sane person on Earth.

13. NUMBER OF SIBLINGS? Three. Older brother, younger brother, little sister.

14. LIVING ARRANGEMENTS? The horror known as “the dorm”!

15. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? Nothing. However, I spent the whole day listening to puppets sing about their problems (ah, the “Avenue Q” soundtrack).

16. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? Crackers and Peanut Butter.

17. DO YOU WISH ON STARS? Sadly, no. I have a story about this I intend to post on this blog someday.

18. WHAT IS SOMETHING OBVIOUS ABOUT YOU? Huge comic book geek.

19. WHAT IS SOMETHING ABOUT YOU MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW? I have an endless fascination with the propaganda of World War I and II. It just strikes me as really interesting.

20. WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR? I’m not sure. For a long, long time, my biggest fear was entropy (look it up if you don’t know what it is). But for some reason, the inevitable heat-death of the universe doesn’t bug me as much as it used to.

21. DO YOU NORMALLY TAKE THE SAFE ROUTE OR THE SHORT CUT? Depends on the context. I try to stay pretty safe on school essays and assignments, but out exploring it’s just so much more interesting to go other ways than the safe route. Of course, it rarely turns out to be a short cut.

22. NAME ONE THING YOU WANT YOU CAN’T BUY WITH MONEY. A kind of weird one, here, out of all the things I could ask for… I would have loved to see The Beatles perform in concert, back in their prime. But then, no amount of money is going to get me that now, is it?

23. WHAT IS YOUR MOST TREASURED POSSESSION? There’s really not much I own that can’t be replaced. Even my laptop, which contains everything I’ve written, isn’t necessary because I have all the stuff backed up a bunch of other places. If it came down to having to save one thing, it would probably be the reel from my student film “Joe McCarthy: Communist Hunter”.

24. WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU DO OFTEN YOU HATE? Leave things to the last minute… constantly.

25. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LIE TO TELL? “Back when I was in ‘Nam….”

26. FAVORITE DRINK? I think I’m in the early stages of an addiction to Coca Cola. It’s quite pathetic, really.

27. FAVORITE ALCOHOLIC DRINK? Whiskey. Not because I particularly like it, but I like the Whiskey Mythos. It has a very nice place in popular culture.

28. NAME SOMETHING EMBARRASSING YOU DID WHILE DRUNK. Don’t get drunk, Jim, much to the disappointment of many around me.

29. WHAT DID YOU DO LAST NIGHT? Watched “M*A*S*H” (the movie), had my door beaten on for twenty minutes by a drunk ex-girlfriend looking to yell at me. It was a night of mixed success.

30. WHAT IS THE ONE PERSON, PLACE AND THING YOU CAN’T SAY NO TO? I answer to nothing and nobody!
… In reality, the answers are nobody (I say no to pretty much everyone at some point), London, and dinner in that little restaurant I found in Chinatown.

31. STRANGEST THING ANYONE HAS EVER SAID TO YOU? “It’s too bad you don’t have a vagina”. Er, thanks….
(For the record, a girl told me that, making it the most emasculating thing ever said to me).

32. WHO INSPIRES YOU? I don’t really have any idols. I’m just not particularly given to hero-worship. Maybe that’s just part of the Canadian national psyche?

33. FAVORITE DAY OF THE WEEK? Wednesday. No classes, no field trips, nothing I have to worry about.

34. THING YOU’VE DONE BEFORE YOU WANT TO DO AGAIN? Go to Edinburgh in Scotland. It’s an incredibly beautiful city, and I loved every second there.

35. DREAM VACATION? I’m going to Rome if it kills me, dammit.

And that’s it for tonight. You kids have fun psychoanalyzing me.

Editor’s Note: I never did get to Rome, sadly. Also, it’s funny how quickly things like this change. It’s been a little over a year, and apparently my answer to “What’s Obvious About You?” no longer applies. Now I’d probably answer “Something Most People Don’t Know” with the fact that I’m highly interested in Constitutional Law.  Also, I can no longer tell my favourite lie because I’ve been forbidden from ever telling a ‘Nam story again.

February 17, 2007 at 6:31 pm Leave a comment

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