Friday, May 29, 2009

The Fishermen

This story took place in a small village on the East coast of Spain called San Pequeno Salvador De Oro Del Muy Frio Mar De Un Hermoso Azul; San P for short. In San P lived 2 fishermen: Pedro Blanco de San P… and Juan Negro de San P… (no relation). They were both fairly successful in their trade and earning an honest living. As is often the case in these circumstances, they had both found their niche: Pedro specialized in catching fish using live bait while Juan was a recognized expert in the use of artificial lures. In the village of San P, it seemed as though half the population preferred Pedro's fish while the other half preferred Juan's. And, though some heated discussions arose once in a while over who's fish was best to make the local speciality, guiso de pescado con mantequilla de maní y jalea, life was quiet and peaceful in San P. But any equilibrium is fragile.

Things changed in San P when Pedro's first child was born. The extra mouth to feed put a lot of pressure on Pedro who saw no other way but to increase his income. He first thought of using more lines or going further out to sea but he didn't think that was the way to go. He then had what he believed to be a stroke of genius: if he added artificial lures to his live bait, he would more than likely catch more fish and also possibly attract some of Juan's clientele. He thought the potential negative impact on some of his long time clients who preferred fish caught with bait would be minimised by the fact that he was still using bait, only adding to it. So Pedro went ahead with his new approach and, in only a short time, his catch and sales increased significantly. Suffice to say that Juan was really frustrated. Loosing clients to his competitor wasn't what he needed. He was building a brand new casa high up on the hill overlooking San P and he needed all of his revenues to cover the costs. So, Juan decided to go ahead and add live bait to his artificial lures. The effect were almost immediate: some of his old clients came back and he gained new ones who where dissatisfied with what they perceived as unorthodoxy on the part of Pedro. Equilibrium was reached once more, but to no one's satisfaction.

Juan's house was costing much more than initially planned: his wife's vision of having pink marble inside the kitchen cabinets now seemed like overkill but it was too late, Juan needed more revenue. So, in an effort to catch more fish, he decided to put down some lines in Pedro's fishing hole, over and above those he used in his own. This required him to work longer days and get up much earlier in the morning but, at least, the house could be paid for and his wife would be happy. The news made its way around the village like a wildfire, since Juan was coming into port much earlier than Pedro, he took away a number of Pedro's clients who were happy to get the same fish they usually got from Pedro, but earlier. Pedro was extremely unhappy, the fragile balance was no longer. Pedro decided that the best thing he could do was to fish longer hours, even if it meant coming in really late at night (he hated getting up early but was a night owl), and put some lines in Juan's fishing hole. The results were quick to materialize. A number of Juan's clients were really happy to get their fish late at night because it allowed them to prepare their meals ahead of time. Again, an equilibrium was reached but both fishermen were miserable; the long hours were taken their toll and they were not bringing in any more money than before.

In order to try and get the upper hand, Juan decided to start doing all of his fishing in Pedro's spot. Since he was there early in the morning, he could complete his fishing before Pedro ever showed up. Some village folks were not that happy with the change but at least they were getting their fish early so continued to buy Juan's fish. Seeing this, Pedro decided to now fish exclusively in Juan's spot. Because he was out late at night, Pedro could fish there without ever running into Juan. Yet another unsatisfying equilibrium was reached.

But Pedro, wanting to differentiate his catch, decided to now fish in Juan's fishing hole using exclusively artificial lures and, as a response, Juan decide to now fish in Pedro's fishing hole using exclusively live bait. The end result of this last change was that the fifty percent of the population that once preferred Pedro's fish now preferred Juan's and vice versa. White was black and black was white.

This story may seem to have come full circle but it highlights, I believe, an important point: although imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, it will get the imitator no further once he can no longer be distinguished from the imitated.

In the end, one should always stay true to one's self or run the risk of becoming someone else.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sunset on the Pacific

A picture I took while on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (before the H1N1 hype). What a great place and my first sunset over the ocean! I have a number of cloudless sunsets but prefer this one as the clouds seem to play with the light, giving a greater spectrum of colours to the sky. When I look at this picture, I can still feel the ocean breeze.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Green Pond

I live next to Gatineau Park, a small federal park covering a beautiful region of the Gatineau Hills. I took this picture while on the trail up to Pink lake. This small pond was covered with some sort of pollen (or algae?) that made it look like a solid green surface. It was an amazing sight and, with the lengthening shadows providing contrast, made for an interesting photograph.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wisdom comes at a price

It started like any other night, but I should have known something was different. It must have been 3:00AM or so, I was tossing and turning, sweaty and feverish. Then, I felt it, like a dagger being planted in my left cheek. No doubt, I was coming of age, about to achieve wisdom; or so I thought. Little did I know that wisdom did not come easy, it had to be earned through ever increasing levels of pain and suffering. I did not sleep much for the rest of that night. The next morning, I called my dentist.

- Hello, may I speak to Dr Waldowski please.
- One moment please.
- Doctor?
- Yes?
- I feel an intolerable pain on the left side of my mouth, it comes and goes, but each time it seems more painful and the period shorter and shorter.
- Well, I see two possibilities. Either you are about to have a baby through your cheek, or your wisdom teeth are trying to make an appearance.
- You can eliminate the baby possibility, unless you believe in immaculate masculine conception. So I think it may be the second option.
- Honestly, I believe it to be the most likely scenario. I just wanted you to be cognisant of all the possibilities. Now that you know, I hope you feel better.
- Yes and no, knowledge is certainly power but not much of a painkiller. Would it be possible to have an appointment with you today?
- Certainly, I have some time right after lunch, but I must warn you, today is Kielbasa day at the club.
- Between smell and pain, I will pick smell any day. I'll be there at 1:00.

I spent the morning aimlessly walking around the house, moaning, while holding an icepack to my cheek. Finally the time came to go to my appointment. I drove myself to Dr Waldowski's office. I was not really sure how I got there, I only really remembered leaving point A and arriving at point B. I hoped I hadn't done anything stupid between the two. When I walked into the dental office, Mrs Waldowski greeted me with her usual smile.

I've been going to Dr Wakdowski for as long as I can remember. When I was young, every time I walked into that office, it was a bittersweet moment. I knew that if I accepted the pain without complaint, my mother would take me to Kresge to buy me a little something. This time, it was also bittersweet. After the pain would come wisdom.

- Mr O'Reilly, how are you today?
- Well Mrs Waldowski, I could be better. My wisdom teeth are acting up and I can't say I am enjoying the performance.
- Oh, I know what you mean Mr O'Reilly. We had a patient years ago who was in so much pain because of his wisdom teeth... I can't recall his name, he died shortly after that visit. Anyhow, his teeth were so difficult to pull out that I had to hold him down in the chair while Dr Waldowski pulled with the biggest pliers he had.

Mrs Waldowski was well known for her "feel good" stories. Some said that she does this to make the patients nervous, as a challenge to her husband. It worked.

- He died?
- Yes.
- From having his wisdom teeth pulled out?
- No, from a brain hemorrhage.
- His wisdom teeth caused a brain hemorrhage?
- No, the car accident did.

Mrs Waldowski was well known for her inability to read more into a question than what was stated. Some said it's because she was colour blind.

- Please take a seat, the doctor will be hear shortly.

I sat down, trying to forget the pain. It was diffiicult since it seemed that everything in that waiting room was planned to remind me of it. The vague smell of clove, the magazines that looked like they barely escaped a full on attack by a desperate toddler, the uncomfortable chairs, CNN for the hearing impaired on the television. Finally, the doctor arrived and called me in.

- Good afternoon Walter.
- Good afternoon Dr Waldowski. How was the Kielbasa?
- Nice and garlicky! Please sit down and we will have a look at your teeth.

After looking around for a few seconds, Dr Waldowki sat back, seemingly perplexed.

- Hum, it is a bit worse than I expected. It seems that the wisdom teeth are pushing on 28 and 38.

Dr Waldowski was well known for his lack of diplomacy. Some said it's because he once was in the army.

- How can that be, I'm only 24?

He either didn't hear me or decided to ignore my comment. He continued explaining the situation in a way that made me realize he was talking to himself and not to me. So I tuned out, distractedly watching CNN on the ceiling mounted television. they were forecasting rain in Atlanta that day. But then, a word brought me back to reality.

-.... cut the gum to get at the teeth.
- You will need to cut the gum?
- Yes, the way your teeth are growing, they may never come out but will keep pushing on the teeth in front, causing discomfort.
- Is it painful?
- Just a bit.

The excruciating pain I had been feeling was only considered, from his point of view, a discomfort. I couldn't imagine what 'a bit painful' might be like.

- Any other options?
- Just one. But it involves a hammer and a bottle of scotch...
- OK, where's the scotch?
- All I have is the hammer, sorry. So I guess we will go ahead with my first approach.

There is no point in going over the details of the procedure. Suffice to say that it was very uncomfortable and that the only thing that kept me from crying was thinking that, afterwards, I would attain "wisdom of the left side".

- There you go Walter, all done. I will prescribe you some painkillers. The effect of the anesthesia will last for a few hours but I suggest you take two painkillers in about an hour so that they overlap the anesthesia.
- FfffffThang gyou doctow Walfffoffski.

I went to the pharmacy and drove home. As I walked into my house, my knees buckled; the pain was unreal. The anesthesia had lasted for half an hour at most. Dr Waldowski is well known for his inability to estimate time. Some say it's because he was a philatelist.
I took the painkillers and waited, and waited, and waited. After 45 minutes or so, the pain started to subside. I could finally find the courage to go back and close the front door.
Now came the longest wait. I sat in the middle of the living room in the dandelion position (I was never able to achieve the lotus position so I invented my own - Chair in the reclined position, remote control in the left hand, arms on the armrests, left foot over right, on the footrest) waiting for wisdom to arrive. Then, out of thin air came a ringing sound, "finally", I thought to myself. "here it comes". I was wrong, it was my mother calling to find out how I was doing. After a short conversation, I went back to my meditation.

It must have been the painkillers; I passed out for a good 2 hours. When I woke up, I felt the same, no wiser. I was disappointed; I thought wisdom would be some sort of "come to Jesus" moment or like when Buddha achieved enlightenment. But it was not the case, at least not for me. I didn't feel or look wiser, and I still couldn't figure out why the chicken crossed the road. Nothing more happened in the following days, weeks, months and years and I forgot about the whole story.

Many years later I realised that wisdom doe not come with the extraction of wisdom teeth. Wisdom comes with experience and experience comes with time. So maybe that dental hell did make me a bit wiser after all?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Last summer, the whole family took in the sights of southwest France. We visited a number of the "cathare" castles known as "les cinq fils de Carcassonne". This picture shows one of the walls of Termes castle. Seeing the inside of the wall made it feel more real to me. I felt as though I could connect with the people that built it all those centuries ago.
From a photography perspective, I found the balance between the different groups of colour was really amazing.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Coffee, Toast and Monique

Monique Tonique is well known in the burgeoning metropolis of Baie d'Inde. A born and raised Baiedindeuse, she became the well known and much loved host of the local TV station's live morning program "Coffee, Toast and Monique". In the last five years, Monique has become part of the daily lives of many Baie d'Inde residents. It's easy to understand why: on the show, Monique comes across as a personable, engaging, caring individual, always smiling and seemingly interested in all of her guests, regardless of status. Outside of the show though, it's a different story. When the director yells out: "that's a wrap...", a different Monique appears. That Monique is snobbish and antisocial. Off-camera, Monique barely talks to anyone and cannot wait to get home to be with her beloved cats. She rarely goes to any of the functions where she's invited, even though station management puts a lot of pressure on her to do so. The only cause she supports, albeit secretly, is the local animal shelter.

Monique is comfortable with her duality. In a way, it allows her to create a separation between her public and personal life. For her, the TV personality is simply a role she plays; it just happens that they both share the same name.

But, like it so often is the case in life, events have a way of shaking our foundation, taking us out of our comfort zone. It was a Wednesday. Appropriately one would say, as Wednesday is the "make or break" day of the week; the day that causes the rest of the week to go by quickly or drag on for ever; a day with a split personality... As usual, Monique was getting ready for the show in her dressing room, going through the list of guests and topics. She was surprised to see the director of the animal shelter, Marie Mih, on the list. Although Monique was very secretive about supporting the shelter, Marie knew of it, and that made Monique uncomfortable. The first part of the show was uneventful, Monique being her usual TV personality self. Then came the time to introduce Marie; Monique took a deep breath and dove in.

Marie appeared, happy to be given the opportunity to promote the shelter she dearly loved. The interview started well, Marie not showing she knew Monique at all. But then, when the discussion turned to how best to support the shelter, Marie mentioned that the most effective way was to do like Monique and contribute monetarily. She was quite satisfied with her crafty answer since it allowed her to leverage Monique's fame and involvement with the shelter to promote the cause. In the interviewer's chair though, Monique turned white. She was livid; the wall separating the TV Monique and the real Monique was shattered in one single sentence. For some unexplained reason, Monique directed that anger at the shelter itself. She attacked and attacked the cause until Marie could not take it anymore and ran off the set, crying. Monique, seemingly unperturbed concluded the segment by stating that not only did she never support the shelter but that she thought it was an inhumane organization that kept animals locked up in cages and slaughtered those that could not be placed in homes. In a final verbal eruption, she said that such shelters should all be razed to the ground. A cut to commercial put an end to the segment. Everyone in the studio was silent. Then, for the first time since she had started with the show, Monique walked off the set without finishing the show, left the studio as quickly as she could and went straight home.

Viewers were flabbergasted. Never had they seen Monique behave that way or take such a hard stand on anything. Most viewers took it all with a grain of salt but a small group of hardcore Monique fans, calling themselves the Mistake FC (Monique Is Surely The Absolute Killer Entertainer Fan Club) took the last statement very seriously and decided to act on it. Under the cover of darkness, they went and torched the shelter, with all the animals trapped inside. When the firemen arrived, they could only watch as the flames consume the last standing wall.

Monique remained cloistered for a few days with her cats, not listening to the news, reading the papers or answering the phone. When she finally turned on the television, she was shocked with what she saw. There was Marie Mih, standing in front of what once was the animal shelter, explaining how many animals died and wondering how they would find the funds to rebuild. After the report, the news anchor mentioned that two other shelters in the region had suffered the same faith, all since the now famous episode of "Coffee, Toast and Monique".

Monique did not know what to do or who to turn to. Listening to her voice mail, she found out she had a few messages from the Mistake FC, asking for her blessings in their continuing attacks on animal shelters. Monique sat down in her comfy chair and started to cry, unwillingly she had led to the destruction of animal shelters and the death of hundreds of cats and dogs. Unable to come to grips with the reality, Monique quickly wrote a short letter, left her house and was never seen again.

After not having heard from Monique in over a week, the station called the police who went and visited Monique's house. The house was empty except for the cats but the police found the following letter:

To you viewers of the morning show and residents of Baie d'Inde,

I wish to offer you all my most sincere apologies. If I could somehow go back in time and avoid my Waterloo, the Wednesday of my downfall, I would. But that is not possible. As you are surely aware, I was very secretive with regards to my personal life. There was a reason for that: the real Monique is detestable and I didn't want anyone to know her. In the end, I failed. The Monique you saw daily on air, the front, some would say the fraud, allowed me to hide who I really was. My alter ego was solid except for one thing, my Achilles’ heel, my love for animals. This conduit between the two Moniques created the breach that lead to Wednesday's debacle.

Hearing what happened to all these shelters has hurt my very soul. No apologies could ever right the wrongs I caused.

With this letter, the last words you'll ever hear from me, I bequest all I own, all I have, to rebuilding the animal shelters.

Please take care of my cats...