Archive for March, 2009

livin’ (briefly) in the distant past…and the near future

March 30, 2009

My weekend type-out fest bled into Monday.  I shoulda learned how to get all my homework done years ago.  But whenever I get to the bitter end of a book project, I seem to become a terminal 7th grader: unable to push the project along at a steady pace.

At least there was that moment before today’s horrendous storm–way back yesterday–that I rose from my desk long enough to go out and see that, yes, there are daffodil shoots appearing in front of some houses.  And inside the disappointingly closed gates of the Public Garden, I saw rhodo buds.  Really!


Tax education

March 28, 2009

Don’t worry:  I am not going to go on about the stunned response we had to our income tax(es) situation this year. The Readers Digest version of that would be a wordless stare.

However, Carole asking after what HST means anyway has forced me (finally) to go read up on it and how it differs from GST and what GST is and so forth. I’ve been avoiding plumbing this area because on the face of it, tax computation and collection both seem confusing here and in the end I pay it anyway.

The confusing part for me is the huge number of stores that forego collecting tax on any umber of promotional occasions.  Since the sales tax rate here is in the neighbourhood of 14%, that’s a chunk to not collect from your customers and then have to pay to revenue services. Much less confusing, of course, is figuring out tips, since virtually no math is involved.

Also different, although not confusing, is how many goods and services are taxable.  In California, coin-operated photocopiers don’t charge tax on top of the copying charge, especially in a publicly supported place that gets certain tax exemptions.  Here that’s a math problem, too.

Our property tax bill just arrived this week and I noticed on the way to work the other day that I could, should I be so foolish, drop the corresponding check into a very beaten up metal box in the ferry terminal, affixed to which with an amazing degree of sloppiness, is a sheet of paper noting that all payments to HRM–dog license fees, property taxes, etc.–can be dropped through its slot.  As can, I will note, a coffee table sized lighter.

There was a time…no, not when I walked five miles up hill through the snow to get to school and another five miles up hill to return home…BUT, way back in first grade, my school collected tax stamps.  These were little tissue paper green squares imprinted with colored blocks denoting the amount of sales tax paid on any occasion.  The purple was deeply purple and the orange was deeply orange, while the red was kind of pale and yucky against the green.  We were all told to save our families’ tax stamps in a shoe box and then, at some magic time in the spring, we brought in those shoe boxes and what looked to me like so much confetti was turned into…what?

The next year, tax stamps had disappeared from the landscape. The school lost its second janitor.  Were these two things related?

Walking another way

March 27, 2009

The 20 minute walk from home to ferry can be undertaken along many alternate routes and I move among them, sometimes planfully (avoiding steep slopes when there’s ice underfoot) or not so much.  Today my automatic pilot seemed to be turned to fritz and I wound up along a path I haven’t ever gone, one that took me from Doyle Street along the back side of Spring Garden Road Library and down the wooden steps in front of St. David’s Church.

Although I’ve known about the 1,000+ paupers’ graves across the front yard of the library, I’d never noticed the dozen or so ancient and venerable headstones tucked up to the south side of St. David’s.

Most of the snow along the gutters downtown has finally melted and so I was able to jaywalk with alacrity for the first time in months.  Even that seemed to change my perspective on the passing scene along the slope down to the waterfront.

A few weeks ago, Halifax’s town crier died. Reading through the agenda for next week’s city council meeting, I see I’m not alone in cutting a row where I hadn’t expected. The agenda carries what must be a uniquely early 21st century item:  succession planning for the town crier.


March 26, 2009

I’ve just finished a gem of an essay collection, in which is included a piece on the 1921 racially motivated violence in Tulsa, an episode in US history I’d managed to never retain before this. The collection includes another episode in history–this one as much art as political–that fascinates me and fills me with regret for not having met sooner:  the painting of murals on the tunnel wall under Riverside Park.

That’s the beauty of grazing on books the way sheep take on a mountainside: the unexpected is almost always found in the same mouthful as the hoped-for or even the necessary–flowers among the grass and oat stalks.  In another volume I’m enjoying these days, recently deceased photographer Didier Lefevre has a wonderful pair of photos showing a boy about six or seven years old confronting print text, the expression on his face described in words as that displayed, through time and across cultures, by children learning to read. It’s not a happy look, but it’s not pained either: it’s the expression of one who is sorting nettles from petals.

Sizing up the city

March 25, 2009

As an urban dweller all my life, I’ve long been intrigued by how various cities see themselves:  perception of their own size doesn’t seem to be well-modulated by population or other empirical data.  The cities of the Bay Area are a case–that is a suite of cases–in point, with San Francisco weighing in at under a million but carrying the heft of history and density, while San Jose is bigger, sprawlier and johnny come latelier, factors that continue to give many within it the idea that it’s “just” a small city.  In truth, California nomenclature makes “city” into a funny word because every incorporated municipality is one; this leads to suggest concepts at City of Industry and City of Hawaiian Gardens (neither of which is in the Bay Area).

In contrast, Massachusetts has very few entities which are classified as cities; instead, incorporated municipalities are largely towns. When I was a child, my mother used to giggle when we drove through the countryside in Massachusetts and come upon warning signs on the road: “Thickly Settled.”  Apparently, a collection of any 17 residents in a certain geographic proximity led to the need for such a warning.

Massachusetts’ largest city, of course, is Boston, and herein lies a similarity to Halifax: both outstrip their regional siblings by yonks and yet both claim a kind of small town status. In neither case is it pretension or artifice; residents really have the self-perception of their city as an alternative to the hyperurban “other cities” like Manchester or Prague.  A lot of people in Boston and Halifax, just like lots in Manchester and Prague, have “always” been here and lots of others have moved in from outlying parts of the immediate region within a generation or two, moves of distances small enough that–on the California scale–might have been barely a shift in high school district.

Of course, there are scads of other elements that are important to any city’s identity:  history, natural resources, diversity, economic position in the region.  But size seems to matter to city dwellers, or, more frankly, self-perception of size.

Start with hello

March 24, 2009

In my new country, people are basically more polite than my old. And I mean polite as in socially graceful.  They start at the beginning, rather than plunging in halfway through to the point they want to make.

I am trying to learn from their example. Easier said than done.  Until now, I didn’t realize how often I am prone to begin a conversation or request, without that initial greeting that sets the stage for two people to ahve even minimal interaction that isn’t a brawl.

It’s kind of refreshing, that pause before the launch.  Hello.


March 23, 2009

If Robert Louis Stevenson had grown up here instead of Aulde Scotia, would he have written?

The snow is snowing all around,/It falls on field and tree,/It falls on the commuters here,/And makes it dark at three.

And if Carl Sandburg hailed from Halifax instead of Chicago…?

The snow/comes on ev’ry cat feet.  It sits endless/over harbour and city/on silent haunches/and just stays on.

Emily Dickinson, of course, never went anywhere, but if that had been different and she’d gone just a few hundred miles, might she have written somewhat differently…. 

I’m snowed upon! How about you?/Are you snowed upon, too?/Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!/They’d shovel us, you know.  How dreary to have a snow-free spring!/How public, like a frog/to see the ground the livelong day/under a sockless clog.

Yes, folks, it’s snowing. Again.

March 22, 2009

In spite of being busy as all get out in the here and now this weekend, there have been some hard tugs on my attention, turning it west.  Carole posted some gorgeous neighbourhood pictures of spring blooming–wisteria, daffodils–and that was a welcome tap to the far side.

A while after I fell asleep last night, however, I was rousted when Bob’s late night news viewing brought an announcement from KTVU unexpectedly into my unconscious.  The news was wretched:  four police and the suspected shooter shot on the streets of East Oakland, with shooter and three of the cops killed. Reports note that police arriving on the scene were taunted by some of the bystanders, direct fallout from the shooting two months ago of an unarmed man by a then-officer in the BART force. All in all, a grim time in a place that has more beautiful spring sunshine than any other city I’ve ever seen.

Before either of these prods to look west, Bob and I seemed to have got ourselves into a California small movie roll. I suppose since spring isn’t in the air here, we’ve been casting about for known alternatives.  Bottle Shock was good, but Just Add Water was better.  

But it would take something way more than a quirky comedy to keep my nose out of the news pages right now.

Mail de luxe

March 21, 2009

The preponderance of snail mail I receive is related to books: publishers catalogues, review journals, and, of course, boxes and packets and envelopes of books in various states of doneness. Today’s run to the p. o. brought me something rather unusual, however: an enormous “M Bag,” stamped all over in 90-point font that its weight limit is 70 pounds.  Inside was a box with the most thorough addressing I’ve yet seen:

name, address, street, city, province, postal code, country


followed by 





First Aid

March 20, 2009

The Red Cross has been synonymous for me with all things medical supply/first aid/etc. as far back as my memory goes.  The First Aid kit at day camp had a big red cross on it and there are–dimly in my mind–images of women with Red Cross pins who must ahve been nurses collecting for relief efforts of some sort.

Here, however, the entity that provides for training has the very emergency sounding name of St. John’s Ambulance.  And they seem way more folksy, but that may be the Maritime version.

I called them to try to find a class, suitably situated during the single April week Fred will be here, at which he can renew his credentials for the upcoming summer camp counselor season. I called because that is the only way to contact them.  You call, leave a message an they call you back. And tell you what they’ll do for you and how they’ll figure it all out and you are pretty much reduced to saying “yes, ma’am” but as though you’re talking to your auntie not to a bossy so and so.

The offerings are remarkably broad and deep: pet first aid, farm first aid, marine first aid, firefighter level cpr, and much more.  Not only was I able to get Fred enrolled, I was also told that he should bring lunch because he wasn’t driving himself to the class and the only place within hailing distance is a Needs store and that wouldn’t do for his lunch.  Yes ma’am.