Nov 262017
 

Turning the corner onto a marketplace in the heart of Florence, we hear a street musician playing a flute outside a beautiful Italian cathedral. His song selection seemed to sum up our vacation experience and appreciation of life here – past and present. And, the song he’s playing? – written by a Canadian.

“Now, I heard there was a secret chord / That David played, and it pleased the Lord” Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen     

The haunting notes emanating from his flute seem to reverberate from every corner of the square as we sat to listen on this, perfectly mild, fall evening. Dropping some coins into his open violin case he acknowledges his thanks with a smile and, with a nod to my generation, slips into a rendition of “Yesterday.”

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…Oh, I believe in yesterday.”   Yesterday by Paul McCartney

Later, watching the sun dissolve into the red glow of a Tuscany sunset, I was reminded how we, on a good day, can replace fear with love; cynicism with hope; and tolerance with acceptance. Italians – despite their highly efficient 300 kms/hour bullet trains and lightning quick Ferraris – keep the really important things a central part of everyday living. Things that will never change: love of children, respect for the elderly, and superb cuisine made with pure, simple ingredients.

Households often include multi-generational families residing under the same roof. And, allowing for a greater quality of life, especially with family, most businesses are closed in the middle of the day. For example, we found that restaurants close at 3pm and re-open at 7pm: something to get used to, although businesses vary. Afterwards, Italian families stroll away the evening – seemingly without worrying about tomorrow – enjoying the excited laughter of children playing games.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci Wikipedia

Italians also revere their history – especially the Renaissance era represented by the priceless works of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Of course, there’s a big difference between honouring the past and living in it – which they don’t. I was equally impressed by their feisty spirit and can-do attitude. Yet, most Westerners would see their city driving habits as a little chaotic; or,  the whistling around blind turns – offered up by winding mountain roads – as somewhat death-defying. Yet, they get things done… their way.

As the evening church bells ring out – our flutist, switching to the violin –  plays the healing and beautiful strains of Ava Maria. At the end of the day, this only seems right for a caring society: one rooted in faith from the past; and in the future, a faith resolute within themselves. So, is it any wonder, we find ourselves falling in love with Italy: its people; their way of life; and, naturally, the ancient Italian culture?

By almost any measure, Canada is one of the best countries in the world to live. But, let’s be honest, Italy’s something else. It’s called “La Dolce Vita” (The Sweet Life)… something wonderful enveloping you.

Can I get a witness? Oh, yeah!

 

Sep 252017
 

John Lennon reminded us in Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy): “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.”

‘Life’ happened with news of the death of Alexander Martinez – an adult student attending a college night course that I taught.

Alexander was a real gentleman and a genuine person.  Originally from El Salvador, he told us, in a class presentation, how he had been a 3rd year law student who was forced to leave school to make a living. 

His life was a series of stories, with victories and losses but, being forced down, he came to succeed later. As he talked (needlessly apologizing for his command of English) I was able to see the picture of a man who was ‘worthy of his suffering’– choosing not to give in to defeat. I wondered how it was that a man like Alexander could find it so difficult to get meaningful employment in Canada. Was it his English? It certainly wasn’t his ability to communicate.

Nor was it for lack of effort as two years earlier, he worked hard on completing another of my business courses. The night I passed on the sad news of his sudden death to his classmates, we were consoled in the memory of the spontaneous group exercise we did for him after his class presentation. We conducted a “brainstorming” session to develop ideas that would help him gain employment. We listed these on large board sheets which we all signed, along with our best wishes. Later, I glanced over to see Alexander re-reading those sheets. He seemed moved that we took the time to care.

Perhaps, that’s why a large majority of Canadians have decided to welcome these hardworking refugees – from  places like Syria – to our shores. We know that we all began as newcomers and there’s no seniority with citizenship. There are short-term costs. But, how many would trade places with people having no future?

And, overcrowding fears seem overrated. For example, Germany with a large foreign-born population – that has accepted more than a million migrants since the Syrian crisis began – has a recent total immigration ratio of about 1% per population. Yet, to listen to some, you’d think it was 100%.

 “I’m gonna soak up the sun/ Gonna tell everyone to lighten up”

Soak Up the Sun by Sheryl Crow

Welcome to Canada Sign

 

That doesn’t mean, as in Canada, it’s been  easy integrating refugees; but, you can see indications of acceptance everywhere… that the will is there to do so. For example, brightly coloured lawn  signs (church-initiated  from America) can be seen today sprouting up in Canada – proudly proclaiming one message in three languages: “No matter  where you are from, we’re glad we’re you’re our neighbour.”

If that’s what Canada is all about, it’d be nice to show it with a deeper empathy and understanding. 

So, good-bye Alexander. And, on behalf of your classmates, thank you for choosing Canada! Your life decision has helped reaffirm ours.

“ I see friends shaking hands/ Saying, “How do you do?” /They’re really saying, “I love you” .

  – Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World  by Isreal “IZ

Aug 252017
 

Will Rogers once said that, “I never (yet) met a man I didn’t like.” Most people have taken that comment out of context. If they look at his full statement he adds,”… if I had a chance to meet him.”

This happened to me with the recent passing of singer / guitarist Glen Campbell. I read many of the tributes and interviews and got up to date with the history of the man – like you would in an interview.

Image result for roy rogers and trigger horse

Initially, I found his Rhinestone Cowboy music video – he’s riding a star-spangled rodeo horse and decked out in a glittering cowboy outfit – to be incongruous, as set against the reality of what I knew as serious world-wide issues. It just seemed that everything they said about showbiz was true: you have to get through the superficial tinsel in order to find the real tinsel.  As imperfect human beings, we’re the first to ask for forgiveness and understanding; but, are we the first to extend it?

Of course, music insiders knew him as a virtuoso guitarist – who Alice Cooper called one of the best five in  country or rock. Despite not being able to read music, Campbell was in great demand as a session musician  – from Sinatra to the Beach Boys – who could hold his own with anyone.

Then, there was his pitch-perfect, warm tonal voice that made him a household name with such hits as Galveston, Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Gentle on My Mind, and of course, Rhinestone Cowboy – over 45 million in sales, six Grammy awards, his own national TV show, plus acted in a movie opposite John Wayne. Yet his demons were many: his cross-addiction to cocaine and alcohol – with three failed marriages – hard times like he sang about in Rhinestone cowboy.

  “There’s been a load of compromisin’ / On the road to my horizon /But I’m gonna be where the lights are shining on me”

His salvation? With the faithful help and love of his fourth wife, Kim, he beat the booze, beat the drugs, became Christian and was there… along with his five grown children, announcing he had Alzheimer’s and was doing a final “Goodbye” tour. It was a sellout as fans welcomed the chance to honour this crossover legend.

The family’s ultimate aim was to bring awareness and support for Alzheimer’s victims and their caregivers at careliving.org

But before the disease reached its final stage, he co-wrote ‘I’m Not Gonna Miss You.’

“I’m still here, but yet I’m I’m gone/ I don’t play guitar or sing my songs…

I’m never gonna know what you go through/ All the things I say or do”

As psychiatrist Victor Frankle observed in his book ‘A Man’s Search for Meaning’, men like Campbell were “worthy of their suffering.” Can anyone ask more? Perhaps, just a breath away, Glen Campbell’s riding tall in the saddle… again.

Jul 252017
 

“I guess you can say that I’ve been lucky… all because of  you”                                           My Life Story by Gladys Knight

Coming back from London – driving down the western slope leading to our Bright farmhouse – I could see in the distance a strange van slowly crawling out of our gravel driveway. Two minutes later, as I walked towards the backdoor, I see my wife’s purse tossed on the deck, the foreboding house keys hang in the lock; yet, her car is parked as usual.

As I tried to piece this all together, I receive a garbled call from her cell phone saying, “Fred”… the phone goes dead.

Quickly, I make a round of phone calls to friends – no one’s seen her. Then, after getting another cryptic call from her cell phone, that ends abruptly, I figure this is either a cruel joke or something worse. Having had enough, I call 911. A patrol car arrives soon after.

I reviewed the situation with the officer. Why did she leave her purse and her house keys? Was the mysterious van a reason in her disappearance? If everything was normal, why wasn’t there a note? Why were her phone calls suddenly cut short?

With so many questions and no answers, he places an “all-points bulletin” call with the description of the mysterious van. As we talk further, I don’t know what to think. Finally, a call rings through: a friend, on a hunch, drives to nearby Plattsville and locates her. My wife has no idea the police are looking for her, but understands.

My wife calls and, talking to the officer, he learns that  she was about to unlock the kitchen door when friends arrive in their new van. She walked over to greet them and accepts a last-minute invitation to a get-together at the local curling club – uncharacteristically forgetting her purse and house keys in the process. She tried to call me to explain what happened, but couldn’t get through. Apparently, the two garbled cell calls were the result of poor reception from inside the arena complex – she was now using the club’s main line. Our friend offers to drive her home.

Outside, getting back into his cruiser, he calls for all units to stand down and waits for my wife to arrive home safely.

Finally, freed from my worst fears – knowing she’s only minutes away – my eyes unexpectedly fill with tears, making it impossible for me to speak, as shock sets in. Showing great empathy, the officer suggests I wait inside… “out of these cold winds.”

My wife arrives and he explains to her my reaction over her disappearance, while adding, “…and having met you for just a short time, I can understand why.”

“Me, I’ll take her laughter and her tears / And make them all my souvenirs / For where she goes I’ve got to be /The meaning of my life is… She”  She by Elvis Costello

Inside, she gives that knowing smile that asks if everything’s alright. It is.