Monday, September 27, 2004

Montreal vs. Toronto

Which city is cooler? Very good question.

Most Montrealer’s have an obvious answer to this life altering question. Why? Well, these good citizens will probably tell you about the night life, the culture, the joie de vivre, the culinary experience and the women (let’s not forget the most important) that make Montreal so much hipper than Toronto.

I agree on some points (especially the opposite one), but I happen to have lived in Toronto for four month during one great university summer vacation. so I nourish mixed feelings when it comes to this so important question.

I’ve had the opportunity to discover a whole side of Toronto that is well hidden, even from many its own citizens. Montreal is packed with people from all kind of backgrounds, but so is Toronto, and probably more so. China Town in the T-dot really is a China Town, and when you feel like Korean or Indian food, you can find authentic Korean or Indian (or any other kind) much easier than in Montreal. There is Lee’s Palace that features tons of acts that skip Montreal, and hordes of bar loving students in the Annex, University of Toronto’s student neighbourhood, much larger than the McGill ghetto.

But then, Montreal has a crazy summer festival season, beautiful terraces and women (did I mention that already?). And Montreal feels different; there is an obvious riff with the traditional North American urban life style which tes the rest of the continent.

Yet, people tend to grow so accustomed to where they live, and end up not noticing what makes their city different anymore. Didn’t a wise man once say that the grass always looks greener on the other side?

Montreal, with its bohemian reputation, seems to be attracting more artists and related odd professionals (web designers, animation artists, fashion designers, wanna-be rock stars…), while Toronto reeks of money; just take a short trip around the business district and you’ll smell the green in the air. And some money never does any wrong; even artists need to make a living after all. There are the very hip success stories of Softimage, Ex-Centris and EA in Montreal, but T.O. has all the corporate headquarters, and when it comes down to the regular person’s life, which companies do you think employ more people? I doubt that there is more than a few dozen Wallpaper reading, nouveau-posh metrosexuals working at Softimage right now.

And Toronto is not devoid of artistic and cultural richness; you just have to look for it, it does lurk here and there in the underbelly of the corporate beast mega-polis that T.O. has become.

Still, I prefer life in Montreal much better. My main problem with Toronto is the over-work oriented life styles that rules there. It seems like too many people don’t take enough time off, which is unfortunately understandable in the cut-throat setting of the North American neo-liberal corporate jungle.

So here is my answer to the question that motivated this rant. Send more money to Montreal, and chill people down in Toronto. Then both cities will be equally cool.

My man Boby

No updates last week; I have an excuse but I don’t feel like giving it.

I did write another article for my web site though. It is about the live show given by The Wailers in Montreal during the CSU frosh. Writing is a strange thing. For that article, I started off with a title / idea: "Filling the Big Shoes", and then I sat down to write the article. I wanted it to be a reflection on bands that replace their stars, on how hard it is to fill someone else’s big shoes (you see, the title wasn’t completely unfounded). I was thinking of having a listing of bands that have done / attempted to do such a stunt, and evaluate their level of success. But I just kept on writing about The Wailers, so the text morphed in something new. It still somewhat deals with the topic of bands that continue their career without their star, but it became more focused on Bob Marley and the phenomenon that he was and still is.

At the end, I had to change the title of the article.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Feeble attempts at becoming a writer

I wrote yet another article for my web site, this one about my thoughts of McGill University frosh celebrations. I tried to make a thoughtful point with the article, while keeping it funny and entertaining. Unfortunately, I am not too happy with the final result. If someone will be kind enough to give me feedback, it would be greatly appreciated.

Also read my new post, following this one. I have included the site of the week in there, and it is definitely worth a quick peak.

BTW, I configured this blog such that readers can now post comments anonymously (in the Comment Sign In page there is a "Or Post Anonymously" option now). Please, bombard me with comments.

Jessica and how I didn't buy anything today

It may sound a bit odd, but you probably buy something every single day of the week; there are very few days of a full year where people like you and me buy absolutely nothing.

I am pulling off a day like this right now, and I can honestly admit that it is pretty hard. But I’ll get through it; I just have to finally arrive home, and isolate myself from all sources of potential spontaneous consumerism.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that consuming everyday is bad. On the contrary, a good coffee in the morning is an investment with a much higher return than the faraminous five bucks that evil Starbucks charges. And I have to be realistic here, once life grabs you by the balls, there are some shopping deeds that can not be avoided: gas to get to work, food to make it trough the day and tons of other little yet fundamental needs.

My situation, and that of millions of other students, is a bit different though. I can go through my day using only public transport, I have time to spare and thus can make bad ass lunches (by which I mean large and nutritious), and most importantly I don’t have that much money to spend in the first place.

I can thus afford to live through a buy nothing day on a regular basis (strange way to use the word afford, I guess consumerism has slipped in every aspect of my persona, even the anti-consumerism one). And it feels good; it has a cleaning effect, not on my body and mind, but on my perception of my place in society and my relation and dependence to it.

Basically, I feel like I am talking a small (very small) step backwards, away from the ranks of the social battalion in which I have inserted myself, mostly because of the need to survive and lead a normal life (an achievement which is determined by the opinion of my peers in my battalion).

This small step allows me to take a break and look around. Observe, feel, experiment anew a city and life that I know all too well. As simple as it may sound, a buy nothing day boils down to getting away from the everyday routine. I want the newspaper, well I can’t get it; I have to either find a free media or find a way of getting my favourite paper free. I need to eat, well I actually have to spend the time cooking, and I might as well prepare something new, and while I am at it, why not make it healthy.

Consuming has become a passe-temps (an expression in French used for the word hobby or literally, an activity to pass the time). On a regular day, being bored can very easily be cured by buying something, and using the new acquisition to occupy oneself during those dull moments.

Today I had to stay outside on the grass, bathing in the sun, while reading. Granted, some people do that all the time, but unfortunately, a huge portion of people never or almost-never do that. I believe generalizing the buy nothing day will push people to look for alternatives to their brain-numbing routine, alternatives that can be found all around us, that stare us in the eyes daily, but that we ignore all too casually.

I started thinking about all this non-sense while watching an episode of Newlyweds. Jessica Simpson has an unbelievable addiction to shopping. It is much worse than that of most of drug addicts, as she can spend in the tens of thousands of dollars in a day.

And her shopping dependence is financed and allowed to exist only because of the blind consumerism, the same addiction that she has, but of millions of schmoks (read regular people like me). An addiction lived out at a small scale, yet adding up to enough to allow her to buy the best designer clothes, and make her even more beautiful, making us buy even more of stuff with her pretty face slapped on it, making her buy even more leather accessories… and so it goes.

I will be honest, Jessica is hot; she emanates femininity and sexuality. But she has a big problem, and worst, she plays along in a game that negatively influences millions of teens and adults. She has become a mass consumption product herself. I am wondering what is going to happen when she outlives her shelf-life? Just as she probably doesn’t buy last summer’s fashion because it is out-of-date, one day people will stop buying into her image. I just hope that she is saving some money for these dog days, and has a close psychologist at hand to help her cope with the probable loss of popularity and its devastating impact.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Bruce Willis, where were you when Beslan needed you?

On this beautiful rainy Tuesday, which happens to be my bday, there is only one topic that I find worthy of discussion, the tragedy that occurred in Beslan, North Ossetia.

As pretty much everyone, I was extremely shocked by the event in School No1 of Beslan, mostly because of the fact that children were used as hostages. But, as the crisis was ending, and news arrived that the terrorists were shooting on fleeing children, I was brought to feeling something that deeply scared me. I was feeling anger and hatred towards an entire people, only because of the nationality of the attackers. Within 12 hours of the end of the siege, had I had the power to, I would have ordered a large scale attack or at least retaliation on Chechen civilians.

Pretty scary, ah.

After a good sleep and some rational thinking, I managed to chase these demons from my head, but the actions of these terrorists sure had touched me. Probably more than most people here (Canada) because of my personal background. I asked my mother why there were so many people in the school for the first day, and she explained to me that we used to do the same thing in Bulgaria when I was only a child. On the first day of classes, school children, their younger and older brother and sisters, their parents and even grand parents would gather at the school for a day of festivities.

And these terrorists exploited this family event, turning a celebration of education and culture to a nightmare (as you can see, I definitely haven’t forgiven these people for what they did).

I can somewhat comprehend the motives that pushed the terrorists to do what they did. Most probably they all had missing or killed family members, their country is in a state of total destruction and desolation, and they simply have no future to look to. But it is such a primary and inefficient method of bringing change. If anything, the anti-Chechen sentiment in Russia will grow to unprecedented levels, and give Putin carte-blanche for his methods of dealing with the conflict. Unfortunately, of one, the Russians are a very proud and nationalistic people (or maybe fortunately, because after all that is what stopped Hitler only over 50 years ago), of two, they are now lowered to the level of secondary world power and finally they are have a much lower standards of life that they would want. Combine all these factors, and the recent events, and you have the recipe for a strong, generalized and long lasting anti-Chechen popular feeling. It’s easy to polarize people to extremes when they need to take their minds off their own problems. And this is exactly what seems to be happening : Hatred of the Chechens was strong enough before last week. Beslan will have intensified it and thereby further legitimised Mr Putin's refusal to compromise.
(full article here)

Were the terrorists hoping to achieve something concrete when they set up their attack? I doubt it. But they obviously believed that all other means of approaching their problem were exhausted and have resolved to extreme measures.

The saddest side of this story is that once again, the innocent and poor civilians are paying for the actions of the rich elite, which was in no way affected. It is the rulers and the individuals influencing the Kremlin that make the decision to have the Russian army (a hord of innocent young men) remain and fight in Chechnya, and once again, mostly because of oil strategic interests. Why didn’t the terrorists take their frustration out directly on the Kremlin; that is what I am asking them.

Sadly, in the short term, this attack will only result into mores suffering for Chechen civilians. Furthermore, North Ossetia is a mostly Christian republic surrounded by Muslim republics; the events of the last few days can only have disastrous effects and contribute to the instability of the region (the Russian government has already sealed off the border of North Ossetia in an attempt to prevent the conflict from spreading).

I strongly suggest checking out the three main web sites set up by the BBC to cover the events in Beslan here. The pictures are particularly poignant.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Why the RNC in New York?

I am seriously puzzled to why the Republicans decided to hold their National Convention in New York. So I tried to analyze their political move in a logical fashion:

1) As I hinted in my previous post, the Republicans are trying to capitalize on the homeland security / presidential achievements by holding their convention in the city where the attacks of 9/11 occurred, and this only a few days before the 3rd anniversary of the events.

1) In New York, Anti-Bush protesters, anti-war activists and liberals of all kinds are very active and will attempt to disrupt the RNC as much as possible and create negative publicity for the Bush camp by piggy-back riding the intense media coverage currently focused on New York.

2) New York is a Democrat stronghold, where the Republicans can not hope to make any progress, and even if they do, it won’t be enough to win the state. Swing states (like Florida) is where the battle is fought the hardest, because these states will decide the outcome of the next election. Holding the RNC in a swing state would have been a logical way of recruiting new supporters.

Really, why New York? At least, staging the RNC in a Republican stronghold would have avoided a lot of headaches to the party’s organizers. That is exactly what the Democrats did, by holding their convention in Boston, where they were able to demonstrate the support they enjoy.

It seems to me that the Republicans are taking too much of a large gamble, when comparing the advantages and disadvantages. It really is hard to say which side would outweigh the other.

Unless there is something else I am missing; in the advantages side. And I think I got it. Disadvantage 1 could very well end-up reinforcing the popular support the Republicans enjoy. Live on TV, 24 hours a day, the regular Joe and Jane can personally witness the fervent attacks orchestrated by New Yorkers (these damn Yankees) against Bush, the poor president, who did everything in his power to protect and support these same Yankees. And this is how they repay him? This is how those rich, educated, artsi-fartsy and now ungrateful bastards treat our president? You think I’ll vote for the causes that these anti-nationalist protesters/punks/Yankees support? Definitely not.

This is what might be going on through the head of the regular American right now. The RNC in New York might be winning the Republicans some badly needed votes in the swing states. And don’t underestimate the organizers of the Republican Party, they are not like W; they must been pretty damn sure of what they were doing before bringing the whole party to New York.

I just hope I am wrong in my analysis.

BTW, don’t hesitate to post comments if you disagree (or agree) with me.

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