Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy 2011: A New Year Of Awakenings

“To live is to be slowly born.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
2010 was a great year - India, Russia, Vietnam, poetry, friends...lots of events and awakenings. I even got glasses. The future looks bright - we're planning some big changes in 2011...stay tuned! Happy New Year everyone!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas! Moscow Festivities

We made it to Moscow this past summer for our second time this decade (our first time was in 2001). It was inspiring to see all the elves working so hard in the middle of a hot summer...we couldn't help but get into the spirit. Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

WikiLeaks: Bigger Than Julian Assange

The figure of Julian Assange is overshadowing the work of WikiLeaks. If Assange has any professional integrity his first loyalty should be to WikiLeaks and its work, not to himself. He needs to pass all responsibilities over to other capable colleagues, get himself out of the headlines and off the WikiLeaks masthead. He's become a hindrance, a distraction.

A cult of personality has been developing around Assange, one that's sickening in its narcissism. Respected supporters of human rights and some of the world's greatest investigative journalists such as John Pilger, are now accusing alleged rape victims of base motives and suggesting that Assange, their alleged rapist, "deserves all our support." What? Is this about WikiLeaks or Julian Assange? Assange is one person; WikiLeaks and the work it has done (and will hopefully continue to do), is much more important than he could ever be. In other words, the messenger hasn't been shot - but Assange has.

Assange may very well be innocent - I hope so - but he and his supporters have been put in the impossible position of defending him against accusations of rape. He needs to address the allegations and quit claiming to be a victim of a smear campaign. Yes, he's been smeared, but so too have these women, who according to Swedish police reports published by the Guardian, have allegations that deserve investigating. There were four accusations outlined at the hearing last week in London:
• That Assange "unlawfully coerced" Miss A by using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner.

• That he "sexually molested" Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her "express wish" one should be used.

• That he "deliberately molested" Miss A "in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity".

• That he had sex with a second woman, Miss W, without a condom while she was asleep.
The Guardian article, "10 Days in Sweden: the Full Allegations Against Julian Assange", was published in the name of transparency. If Assange is pissed off with them as has been reported, there's a name for that - hypocrisy.

A spokesman for the Guardian said: "Julian is not a confidential source. The argument that the papers involved with the WikiLeaks cables should not report criticism of him is one all journalists would find ridiculous."

The same is true of WikiLeaks, but Assange needs to "recuse" himself until this crap blows over. Private Bradley Manning, the alleged source for the WikiLeaks material, has also not been convicted of any crime, yet he's reportedly been suffering extremely harsh and unusual treatment while languishing in solitary confinement. Surely, he's just as deserving of our support and of searing Op-Eds by the likes of John Pilger.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

U2: The Thin Line Between Rapture & Corn

No band in the universe is as big as U2. U2 is so big -- the joke goes -- that when Bono wants to change a light bulb all he has to do is hold it and the world revolves around him. At their bombastic worst, few bands blur the line between rapture and corn quite as effectively as the Sonic Leprechaun and his Irish Soul Men.

But at their best, U2 achieves what very few artists in any genre can: they create work with a sustained intensity that transforms the particular into the universal. U2 has that rare ability to communicate what Federico Garcia Lorca called "duende"; that "mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher explains."

Popularly associated with flamenco, the concept of duende was imported into the south of Spain centuries ago by the Roma people, and has since migrated over to English. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as "the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm," but it's much more than that. In 1933, Lorca gave his famous lecture, "La Teoria y Juego del Duende" ("The Play and Theory of the Duende") in Buenos Aires detailing his notion of duende:
"I have heard an old master guitarist say: 'Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet.' Which means it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture; of creative action."
My own relationship to music is based on this concept. It has to move me on some level, be alive, visceral and not about what's cool or popular.

This has led to some bruising clashes with certain aficionados when I proclaim, for example, that Bob Dylan's so-called "gospel" period beginning in the late 70s cuts far deeper than his fabled mid-60s output. The "Bobbynazis" roil and flail, but I refuse to surrender. That's the beauty of art -- its impact lies in the heart of the beholder.

So it is with U2. Sometimes the band's earnest intentions can seem as uncool as Napoleon Dynamite's retro-geek is cool. But as Miles Davis once so elegantly riffed, "So what?" -- my gut tells me a different story.In the wasted aftermath of the late 70s punk and post-punk explosions, U2 shifted the paradigm; it was cool enough to care, to believe that music could do more than just inspire gobs of hot neon or tinted highlights and actually change the world. My interest was sparked when I walked into A&B Sound on Seymour Street in Vancouver and caught a glimpse of their first video for War. As I watched the peculiar spectacle of four figures galloping on horseback across the frozen tundra of the Arctic Circle, the ricocheting chords and slithering bass of "New Years Day" filled the store:
And so we are told this is the golden age
And gold is the reason for the wars we wage
It was the antithesis of the times. Boy George, Madonna, and Michael Jackson all exemplified glossy pop; Duran Duran the pursuit of glamour, singing "Rio" in pastel suits aboard a yacht in the sun-kissed tropics. But here was something different -- a band confronting harsher elements, brilliantly fusing bombast with conviction in a song inspired, we were told, in part by the Polish independent union Solidarity.

Throughout 1982 when much of War was written, Solidarity and its leader, Lech Walesa, were in headlines around the world challenging the communist authorities in both Warsaw and Moscow. For a pubescent kid looking for something to believe in, this was a group that inspired faith. I didn't know it at the time, but I was responding to the exuberance of what could be, the limitless possibilities inherent in what Lorca called "newly created things."

Fast forward to 2004 and "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. The band connects with an emotional power, one that "surges up from the soles of the feet" with the velocity of an accelerating rocket. Written for Bono's late father Bob Hewson, (the "atomic bomb" of the album's title) who died in 2001, the song manages to uncover a condensed kernel of human pathos recognizable to anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one:
And it's you when I look in the mirror
And it's you that makes it hard to let go
Sometimes you can't make it on your own
A few years ago, while I was trying to make sense of the song's emotional impact, a student of mine was suddenly murdered by a triad gang in Hong Kong. His father, a police officer, was beginning to cause some very dangerous people enough anxiety for them to unleash their wrath on his one and only son. That loss was devastating and it opened me up to the song's raw power. As Bono says on the album's accompanying DVD, "a song can change the world...it can change the temperature in the room." I kept listening to it again and again, feeling my heart leap into my throat with the force of a Molotov cocktail. I was overtaken with rapture, a caesura captured in time.

As with other U2 songs like "Bad," "Without Or Without You," or "One," "Sometimes" is a smoldering ballad that gradually intensifies until finally breaking into a transcendent crescendo:
You're the reason I sing
You're the reason why
The opera is in me
It's an explosive confession that raises the room temperature and for Bono's father who apparently loved opera, it's a fitting tribute.

U2 - Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own

Producer Chris Thomas, who has worked with everyone from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols, doesn't intrude or impose any formulas on what is essentially the song's mournful tone. But it's not a tome of despair. As with gospel-blues, the raw passion of Bono's voice elevates the music above grief and into the realm of catharsis. "Keening" is how the Irish dramatist J.M. Synge once referred to it, and Lorca identified it in the "deep song" of his country's folk music:
"It is truly deep, deeper than all the wells and seas in the world, much deeper than the present heart that creates it or the voice that sings it, because it is almost infinite...It comes from the first sob and the first kiss."
Few other bands come close to these dizzy heights. "Sometimes" is pure duende. Music of this caliber and class feels as primal as shelter and food. It's in this realization that "Sometimes" crosses from the particular to the universal, cutting deep into the heart's core to pull out an emotional response that has nothing to do with Bono's father, but everything to do with our shared vulnerability as fragile living beings.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Liu Xiaobo: A True "Chairman"

"Lui Xiaobo today has become a true 'chairman'" - anonymous internet post
Attempts by China to demonize and discredit the Nobel Peace Prize and its committee have backfired gloriously, reaching absurd levels of guano. Not only has a simple image of an empty chair aroused fear and panic in the authorities, but television screens turn black whenever the name everyone knows is mentioned. As the New Yorker's Evan Osnos writes, "The Black screen is reserved for a specific kind of unknowing: the denial of something everyone knows."

Is this how a great power acts? It's more like the tantrums of a spoiled brat who expects the world to revolve around his own swollen head. China makes a fool of itself whenever it tries to employ the same tactics it uses domestically on the international community. Fellow citizens may kowtow to Beijing out of fear, but for the rest of the world China is anything but the so-called "Middle Kingdom" it views itself as.
As Lui Xiaobo wrote, "To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth." When China's rulers try to do this on an international level they distort the true nature of their country, so much so that China will now forever linger alongside Nazi Germany in the annals of Nobel lore. And for anyone who knows China and its people, that's just one more tragedy - albeit a self-inflicted one - caused by the true enemies of the people - unelected thugs like Hu Jintao.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

China's Shame: The Nobel Boycott

"It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness"- Chinese proverb
On December 10th, International Human Rights Day, China will have made every effort to snuff out the light of our collective humanity. Rather than permit the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, to attend the award ceremony in Oslo, authorities in Beijing have been pressuring countries to join them in a boycott. As of today, 18 have agreed - Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq , Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco. Add to that list of shame the U.N.'s top human rights official, Navi Pillay.

Outside The Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong
No one from Liu's family is expected to be on hand to accept the award. His wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since he was named the winner in October and other family members are under pressure not to speak publicly. The last time no one was present to accept the peace medal was in 1936 when the German journalist and pacifist, Carl von Ossietzky, wasn't allowed to leave Nazi Germany. China now joins the odious ranks of the Nazis in attempting to snuff out human rights.

Many of Liu’s fellow dissidents and supporters have been warned not to attend or, as in the case of Ai Weiwei, have been physically prevented from leaving China. That hasn't stopped more than 40 exiled Chinese dissidents from traveling to the Norwegian capital in what will be an unprecedented reunion since many of them fled China 20 years ago. According to the South China Morning Post;
"Among the participants will be former Tiananmen pro-democracy activists now living in the United States, such as former student leaders Chai Ling and Feng Congde , as well as Fang Zheng , a former student whose legs were crushed by a tank as he fled Tiananmen Square in 1989. US-based astrophysicist Professor Fang Lizhi and Taiwan-based Wuer Kaixi will also attend.

Feng said the event would be the largest gathering of dissidents since the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, and the honouring of Liu would be "extremely meaningful" for the Chinese democracy movement."
In response, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said;
“We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path."
Indeed, clowns come in many different shapes and sizes....

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Social Network: Vapor Status

So that's it? According to The Social Network a vindictive wannabe started it all. Facebook is the revenge of a nerd - a cyber-Attila - and we have his ex to thank for it cuz behind every billionaire you know there's some biotch who dumped him. I think I liked the fashion best - call it "pajama-chic" or "slacker-prep"...

I did enjoy the film, but was disappointed there weren't fewer high-school hi-jinx and more juice about the wider Internet context that spawned Facebook. I mean, we were there too, if not at Harvard at least hanging out at BBSes, in chatrooms or clustering around "likes" whether they were your favourite band's website or a particular type of software. It seems that all along we were just hungering for the type of juvenilia that Facebook delivers - the "status", the "friending" and the endless digital flâneurism of surfing other people's profiles that can be so addicting. Don't we know better or is there something about being alone behind a screen that inflames those desires?
I thought Jesse Eisenberg was great in Adventureland, but he was even better this time - something about the "berg" must have given him some voodoo insight. His Mark Zuckerberg was as anti-social as he was awkwardly brilliant. The thing about "the smartest guy in the room," is he knows it and it drives him crazy because with that impatient arrogance comes the gnawing feeling of what he lacks - humility. And without that you have a jerk-off, a smart one, but one who's a mess of insecurities in desperate need of self-awareness, the kind that's able to reject egoism and the vapors that inflate it. Or to put it another way - those little red bubbles at the top of the page.

Monday, November 29, 2010

WikiDumps: Afflicting The Comfortable

"He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands." - Sarah Palin
What strikes me as the takeaway from the ongoing WikiLeak's dump is the reaction. Whenever power balks, threatens or demonizes you know something substantial has occurred. Moreover, it's probably righteous. Sarah Palin has been suggesting that Julian Assange is the moral equivalent of Al Qaeda. Members of the press are outraged that the government was unable to keep its secrets from them. So when you hear the Pentagon, or the so-called "watchdog press", criticize WikiLeaks for jeopardizing security, endangering lives or doing more harm than good, just remember who has the real blood on their hands. And the real power to stop its flow, as the grandaddy of whistleblowers, Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers, continues to point out.

When you hear pundits say, "No news here - seen it all before," these are transparently the words of people arriving late to the scene of a crime and pronouncing a death long after the body has turned cold. Don't believe a word. They've lost the scoop and are desperate to cover it up. As Glenn Greenwald notes, how one reacts to WikiLeaks will ultimately depend on how you feel about U.S. authority:
"Ultimately, WikiLeaks' real goal appears to me to be anti-authoritarian at its core: to prevent the world's most powerful factions from operating in the dark. There may be reasonable objections to this latest release -- such as the fact that war becomes more likely if diplomacy is undermined -- but I'd argue that one's views in general of WikiLeaks is shaped primarily by one's views of the legitimacy and justness of those authorities."
As in the run-up to the Iraq War, the financial meltdown of 2008, and the resignation of General McCrystal the media failed. Now they're aiding and abetting power in its attempt to shoot the messenger. But sniveling lapdogs lack the ability to do even that.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Eagles: More Than A Plastic Dry...

The Eagles, "the fucking Eagles," as the Dude said. The band you love to hate. The same that prompted Gram Parsons to say listening to their music was like a "plastic dry-fuck." Hathos alert. According to Andrew Sullivan;
"Hathos, a noun. Hathetic, an adjective. Meaning: something so unpleasant you can't help but be riveted by it. As in Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, Hugh Hewitt and the smell of one's own farts."
Add to that list my completely sincere devotion to the Eagles.

Whenever I hear "Already Gone" or "Take It Easy" I go to a place where shag rugs litter the floor and everyone is clad in plush velour; a place where Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham still share the mic and where their bleached harmonies spill out of Firebirds burning rubber outside the Ocean Beach Hotel on Marine Drive through the heart of a Saturday night in White Rock.

When they formed in 1971, the burgeoning country-rock scene that included Parson's Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt was just lifting off. After releasing their debut the following year with the insta-classic "Take It Easy" (co-written with Jackson Browne) and the spooky "Witchy Woman", they came fast and plenty: "Desperado", "Lyin’ Eyes", "Hotel California" and, more recently, 2007’s "How Long" from their first studio album in 28 years! - Long Road Out Of Eden. For better or worse, their influence has been huge with contemporary Cashville stars Taylor Swift and Keith Urban direct inheritors of their legacy.

The numbers are staggering and inspire the same sense of befuddlement as the popularity of Sarah Palin or Justin Bieber. The Eagles have sold more than 120 million albums, earning five No 1 US singles and six Grammy Awards. Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 has exceeded sales of 29 million units and vies with Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the best-selling album of all time. Hotel California and Greatest Hits Volume 2 have sold more than 16 and 11 million albums respectively. The band is the embodiment not only of decadent solipsism, but of whorish corporatism.

The Eagles emerged at a time when rock had been devolving away from the baroque pop of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper to the more rustic and rough-hewed Americana of the Band's Music From Big Pink. It was roots based, with the emphasis on country rather than blues. They took the twang from the likes of Richie Furay's Poco and melded it with two other southern California bands that on first listen seem diametrically opposed - the Beach Boys and Doors. By blending Brian Wilson's rich harmonies and sunny pop with Jim Morrison's jaded hedonism, the Eagles were able to create their very own aesthetic, as all-American as trans fats and oil slicks.

After the blockbusting success of One Of These Nights, former James Gang outlaw, Joe Walsh, hopped aboard their good yacht of excess and in December 1976 they released their magnum opus: Hotel California. Shortly before its release Henley told the British magazine ZigZag:
“This is a concept album, but it’s not set in the old West, the cowboy thing, you know. It’s more urban this time ... It’s our bicentennial year, you know, the country is 200 years old, so we figured since we are the Eagles, and the eagle is our national symbol, that we were obliged to make some kind of a little bicentennial statement using California as a microcosm of the whole United States, or the whole world, if you will, and to try to wake people up and say, ‘we’ve been okay so far, for 200 years, but we’re gonna have to change if we’re gonna continue to be around’.”

Don Felder first introduced the track to the band as an instrumental and it got dubbed “Mexican Reggae” before Henley and Frey added the lyrics and some finishing touches. It has since become one of most universally recognizable songs in the world with Rolling Stone placing it at No 49 in its list of the “500 Greatest Songs Of All Time,” between Jimi Hendrix’s "All Along The Watchtower" (No 48) and Smokey Robinson’s "The Tracks Of My Tears" (No 50).

With their seventh studio album, Long Road Out Of Eden, the Eagles proved they still have the ability to blend MOR rock with lyrical themes that confront contemporary issues, such as the disillusionment of the Bush years, while keeping it all about the money - in this case, a "Strategic Marketing Partnership with Wal-Mart".

The Eagles are playing the Hong Kong Convention Centre, March 11, 2011. Tix go from HK$588 (CAD$77) to HK$2088 (CAD$275).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Prague: Charles Bridge, Early Morn

Charles Bridge in the early morn
Just after a hailstorm
The clouds unleashed and on their way
From Letna to Vinohrady

You're as beautiful as the day we met
In that mountain town I'll never forget
The way the snow falls and the onsen steams
It's a floating world, we are as we dream

What brought us here, I'll never know
It's the same force that makes the river flow
Statues stand like wilting shadows
In their hands they hold buckets of rainbows
Last week was Yuko's birthday, but rather than just limit it to one day, we like to celebrate a "birthday week". After being together for a few years, it gets harder and harder to come up with an original gift. So this year I wrote the song, "Charles Bridge, Early Morn", and commissioned a painting from Steve Meyers, an old high school friend from White Rock. It's from a photo of Yuko on our last morning in Prague this past summer.

There had just been a weird mid-summer hailstorm that week and the air was still damp and chilly. We'd woken up at 6 am so we could enjoy the scene without the tourist hoards and we weren't disappointed. Yuko snapped a few photos of me playing guitar and then I passed it her. She struck some poses and then spontaneously leapt up in the air. Now it's in our living room, a family heirloom from our journey through the floating world.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tibet: "Sky Burial"

I recently received some very good news - my poem, "Sky Burial" came second in This Magazine's Great Canadian Literary Hunt 2010!

Sky Burial
The path behind Ganden
cuts through a clutch
of wild flowers, continues
beneath a flutter of prayer
flags and rises to the crown
of a hill. We walk towards
a large, flat stone where
the body was divided
from itself. Instruments lie
scattered like a toolbox emptied
in a slaughterhouse: rusted
machetes, axes, a blood-stained
rope. To the side a fire pit
cradles jigsaw pieces of charred
bone in its ashen basket: a skull
plate, a jaw missing teeth, broken
chunks of spine. Ochre stained
tsampa, soaked with blood, is left
for the vultures to clean. Beyond
this cutting board the valley rolls
out its tongue, licks the sky blue.
A gust of wind tosses up a maroon
coloured cloth, spins it in the air
like a monk rising as the birds circle
above. On the drive back to Lhasa
we pass a lamb still breathing,
its eyes flaring as blood
spills from its mouth.

The poem is based on a trip Yuko and I took to the Ganden Monastery, about an hour's drive outside of Lhasa, Tibet. Ganden, meaning "joyful paradise", was once a huge university that was home to 3,300 monks. It was desecrated and razed before and during the Cultural Revolution. It was nothing more than a blackened shell until the early 1990s when the Chinese authorities allowed restoration work to begin. Today, much of it has been rebuilt. Rather than apologize for past atrocities, it seems the Chinese authorities have allowed such projects to go ahead to make up for the damage once inflicted.

Ganden straddles Wangbur mountain and overlooks a sprawling valley. Dating from 1409, it has been a centre for the "yellow hat" Buddhist sect and its founder, Tsongkapa. It's of significance to the current Dalai Lama, who originates from the same sect. Tensions have erupted within the past few years between the Dalai Lama and a small group of monks at Ganden. The Dalai Lama issued a decree banning the worship of a controversial figure here, and some monks refused to accept it. Small clashes have broken out.

Our guide tried to discourage us from visiting but eventually agreed after saying some prayers to protect himself from any bad karma. Once at the top, we began walking the kora with stunning views of the surrounding hills and valleys. A kora is a core ritual for Tibetans that involves a clockwise circumambulation around a holy site or sacred object. Believed to bestow blessings on those who complete it, most monasteries have one. It includes prayer wheels and colourful flags known as "wind horses", which most Tibetans believe deliver prayers across the sky to the gods.

Ganden is one of the few sites to hold sky burials, a Tibetan ritual for disposing of the dead. Tibetan Buddhists believe the material body represents nothing at death and that all meaning resides in the soul. A sky burial entails cutting the body into pieces and burning the bones. No ceremonies were planned for the day we visited, but a large flat stone and tools stained with blood suggested that one took place within the last day or two. As we gathered at the site, vultures were circling overhead.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"So Much To Tell You": Aung San Suu Kyi Freed

A Young Suu Kyi
Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been freed from house arrest, but the real test of her freedom will be whether the junta allows her to travel around the country meeting with her supporters. She's been locked up for 15 of the last 21 years and has been released twice before already. She could easily be detained again if the junta feels threatened, regardless of their expressed goodwill.

But for now, the mood is one of rejoicing. She greeted a throng of supporters last night when she was officially freed and then delivered an impassioned speech today encouraging them. “Democracy is when the people keep a government in check,” she said. “I will accept the people keeping me in check.” As one woman said, “I’m happier than if I won the lottery. But this is just the beginning, not the end. The political prisoners are still in jail. Everyone needs to be released!”

Kyaiktiyo Paya
When Yuko and I traveled there in 2008, it was just months after the "Saffron Revolution" that had brought thousands of monks into the streets to protest the country's brutal military regime. Deciding whether or not to visit Myanmar/Burma, a nation of over 50 million, wasn't easy. Suu Kyi has recommended tourists stay away until "genuine progress towards democratization" is made, while others such as Thant Myint-U, an historian and grandson of former United Nations Secretary General U Thant, have argued for engagement.

Top of Mount Popa
I made my decision after befriending a Burmese student in Hong Kong who had been confined and tortured by the regime. He urged me to go, meet the people and report back about his country. I knew to avoid any organized tours and meet the locals to prevent our money going directly to the junta.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Fortune Of Tears: Remembrance Day

About your easy heads my prayers
I said with syllables of clay.
"What gift," I asked, "shall I bring now
Before I weep and walk away?"

Take, they replied, the oak and laurel.
Take our fortune of tears and live
Like a spendthrift lover. All we ask
Is the one gift you cannot give.

- from At The British War Cemetery, Bayeux, by Charles Causley
The photo above is of my Aunt Pat and Uncle Jack Gallagher (brother & sister). Pat served with WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service); Jack with the Canadian Scottish Regiment. He landed at Juno Beach, D-Day, June 1944. Both survived World War II and Jack is living in West Vancouver. Pat passed away in 2007.

Back in the summer of 2004, the 60th anniversary of D-Day, I travelled to Bayeux in Normandy, home of the famous Tapestry and a beautiful town in itself. There were streamers and flags hanging from the wires, the cider was flowing and the people were geniunely friendly, even moreso after learning I was Canadian.

I rented a bike to ride out to the coast and visit the Juno Beach Centre, about 25 kilometers away at Courseulles-sur-Mer. It was a gorgeous day and as the wheat fields and farm houses flew by I felt like I'd fallen into the middle of a Van Gogh painting.

Then disaster struck. My back tire popped. I was about 10 kms outside of Bayeux and had no choice but to push my sorry rental all the way back to the shop.

I grabbed a cab and rolled down the window to catch the breeze like a slobbering dog as we made our way to the coast. The Juno Centre had opened the previous year in 2003 and was empty except for the young Canadian woman from Halifax looking after the place. It's compact, but serves the purpose of housing artifacts from the period like the Allons-y Canadiens! poster above, and of keeping the memory alive of those soldiers who perished or were wounded in the D-Day operations.

I stepped back outside and took in the idyllic scene - kites, picnics, sunbathers. While gazing out across the water I thought of my uncle and his fellow soldiers floating out there in grey-metal gunships about to be flung into the maw of an unknowable terror. It was almost impossible to imagine the blood and carnage that had once ripped open this coastline. But that's the point, I thought. Through their sacrifice they had bequeathed peace from war, communion from animus and life from death just so we could enjoy such fine summer days.

I'm still moved when I think about it - they gave so much, a "fortune of tears", as the British poet Charles Causley put it. This Remembrance Day I give thanks to my Aunt Pat, Uncle Jack and to everyone who serves in whatever capacity and vow to live "like a spendthrift lover", cherishing the pulse of each dying day.