Thursday, September 14, 2017

Glass Houses by Louise Penny


Louise Penny's latest novel deals with contemporary issues. In the face of ever-bolder criminals, the corruption and inadequacy of traditional Quebec institutions is thrown into sharp relief. 

Yet even as organized criminals plan how to recruit new krokodil users, the freshly promoted Surete head Armand Gamache takes thoughtful and carefully planned action against them. For a year, he's been gathering a team of with the integrity to face the fact that things may get worse before they improve. "It was an ever-evolving world, thought Gamache. Adapt or die."

Penny also probes the darker sides of friendship, using two couples who've been friends since adolescence. Using "'the tyranny of the weak,'" the dominant one is "not the one it would appear to be."

Jean-Guy Beauvoir, still working for Gamache, has a son. The fact that Beauvoir now wears glasses carries a multifaceted symbolic weight. Even as the spectacles demonstrate his increasing maturity, they also allude to what he has seen -- his hard experience -- as well as what he sees and does not see as an increasingly skilled investigator.

Isabel Lacoste, the new head of Homicide, enjoys watching Gamache and his son-in-law work together. In a moment of levity, she observes that "If ever two men were made for cahoots, it was these two. They were cahootites."

The atmosphere of the village is the same, and there are moments of playful humour to lighten the heaviness. The Gamaches still have their faithful dog Henri, a mutt of mixed breeds, whose ears seem to indicate that he has "some satellite dish in him." But he is handsome compared to their other rescue dog, described by Beauvoir as being pup, pug, pig or possibly wolverine.

This novel also portrays an ambitious politician, whom Lacoste must interview. Even though she is "not the cynical sort," Isabel always feels a "slight alarm go off when anyone answered 'honestly' to an interrogation question." On balance, she credits the woman with sincerity and true shock on hearing of the murder of one of her friends. Still, the police officer knows that "politics is theater."

Contemporary themes, sleight of language and a leavening of humour go together to make this another fascinating and absorbing Gamache novel.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Mary's Farm -- jigsaw perfection

In the late summer, this afternoon view from the parking lot of Mary's Farm in Surrey reminded me of the idealized worlds we see in jigsaw puzzle pictures.

Normally, I do jigsaws only in winter, but last week my neighbour had one out on a board in her kitchen. Of course, I couldn't resist her invitation to help finish it. We took it out onto the deck and worked there in full sunlight, imagining ourselves in the perfect world portrayed in the puzzle picture.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

West side window a blast from the past

En route to a social at the Wolf and Hound with fellow choir members, I parked on a side street in Point Grey, just off Broadway. Dusk had fallen when I returned to my car, and I had to pause and admire this lovely stained glass window. Vancouver houses used to have loads of these, but they're quickly vanishing.

Years ago when we lived off Renfrew Street, a friend gave us a pair he'd rescued from a demolished house. My carpenter brother installed them in our house, since torn down.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Workplace memories of the YMCA

The other night, I walked by the YMCA in downtown Vancouver. Along with nearby St. Paul's Hospital and two lovely old stone churches, this structure evokes a rapidly vanishing Vancouver. 

This was my workplace in the mid 1980s. During a months long bus strike, I cycled here from East Vancouver. 

Among the rising towers around it, I can't help but wonder how much longer the old brick structure will stand.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Willan Choir season opens with colour coordinated musicians

Willan Choir director Patricia Plumley and Pianist and Tenor Eric Hominick discuss musical plans at a break in the first practice of the season.

I'm sure they didn't plan it, but both are wearing the same colour green.

Timeless music, ageless singers. We look forward to a great choral year of happy song, collaborations with local orchestras and other choirs, and a performance at the Chan Centre.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Thick smoke blots out the sun

That tiny pink ball between the trees is the sun seen from the back porch yesterday afternoon.

With the whole of our region now bathed in forest fire smoke, the people of metro Vancouver are getting a taste of what folk in the interior have been going through all summer.

The faint pinkish light and poor air quality are constant reminders of the forest fires burning all over BC.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Incident near Costco

Walking toward the relief of the air-conditioned store, I passed a man lying on the sidewalk with his eyes closed. His knees were bent and his boots were new. His clothing looked too warm for the weather, and he had on a small felt hat.

I leaned over and shook his arm gently. "Hey, Buddy, are you all right?" Waited in trepidation lest his eyes fail to open. A moment later he looked back at me blearily. "Are you all right?" I reiterated. He nodded. "Are you sure?" He mumbled assent, and closed his eyes again.

But clearly, he wasn't all right, as those eyes, in their brief opening, had revealed. I continued walking toward the store, intending to tell someone inside, but at that moment, I passed a man in the automotive bay and decided to speak to him.

Good choice. When I said there was a man lying on the sidewalk, he went into action, running in the direction indicated. I continued toward the store, wandered around it, and came out empty-handed. Returning to my car, I saw an ambulance with flashing lights, and sighed in relief. Thank goodness for the garage man.

I walked past a small knot of people, pleased to see the man was sitting up. I nodded to the helpful employee. "Thanks for taking care of him."

"He's drunk," commented one of the ambulance attendants.

"But," I countered, "surely he's ill."

He nodded his agreement. "He's ill all right. From drinking rubbing alcohol."

My jaw dropped, and he added more gently, "He's well known to us. A frequent flyer." I still gaped and he added, "Don't worry. We'll take him in to Emergency. They'll take care of him. Again."

Looking again at the semi-conscious man, I felt an impulse to do a namaste gesture, or to ask aloud that he be blessed.

But I suppressed this impulse. I'm not sure why. Still wondering. Was there something more I should have done?