Jan 22, 2011

Poo, graffiti and the perils of online renting

I despise moving.
For those who know me, that statement would seem an oxymoron since I appear to be a chronic mover, uprooting my life about once a year.
Last August, however, I got the opportunity to make a very important move -- to Calgary. Despite the two-weeks notice and scramble to pack all of my worldly belongings into a 14-foot U-Haul and drive it, with car in tow, across the Rocky Mountains, it was a move I knew I wouldn't regret.
That, unbeknown to me at the time, was the easy part.
The challenge is finding the perfect, no scratch that, a decent place to call home that you've never seen in person in a city you've never been to.
Enter the Internet.
Like a mad woman, I scoured online postings for rentals in Calgary from my then-home in Kamloops, B.C. After myriad emails and phone calls (as well as bleary eyes and a sore neck), I found an apartment that was both close to my son's school and my work.
Perfect. Or, so I thought.
Nevermind the unease of sending a stranger money and heading to a new province with fingers crossed the guy didn't jack my security deposit and I'm left to sleep on the streets, the state of the building upon first in-person glance was jaw-dropping.
I rented a slum. 
OK, so the actual suite is decent, aside from the non-ventilated bathroom that resembles a cave due to moisture build up and the Easy Bake-sized oven and Holly Homemaker-sized fridge.
But the building itself is horrific. In the past six months, I've endured one pile of human poo, two sets of broken pipes, four days of no heat, two days of no hot water, one drug bust, piles of trash everywhere, dozens of tenant parties, less-than artistic graffiti scrawled in the elevator, one drunk guy kicking in the door beside mine and one homeless man, which turned into a hobo community, in the garbage room.
All of this on top of the fact it's always either too hot or too cold because I don't control my heat, my blinds still haven't been fixed (I had to taken them down) and my buzzer still hasn't been set up.
Maybe I'm just fussy, but I don't like to live like this. And, quite frankly, I shouldn't have to.
But, thankfully my lease (yes, I signed a lease. It was the only way to get a deal on the over-priced rent.) is up at the end of February and, no, I'm not renewing.
Lucky for me, I've found a much cleaner and hopefully quieter place in a decent neighbourhood that's both close to my son's schools and my work.
Well, aside from having to move — again.

Jan 12, 2011

A new year and new beginnings in Calgary


The past year has been full of newness: travel, cars, jobs, people, cities and provinces.
For me, this meant to moving to Calgary to start my new job as an associate web producer at the Calgary Herald.
Yay me! (I'm more than a little excited.)
In addition to all of the amazing opportunities the new gig brings, it also means I get to cross another item off my unburied life list - working for a major daily newspaper.
Things are off to sweet start in 2011. I expect it'll be a year rife with wonderful firsts and likely some spectacular failures.
And, yep, I'll be sharing 'em all.

Jun 24, 2010

In search of the beat in Baghdad by the Bay


I went to San Francisco in search of the beats — not those of the musical variety, but those that consequently threw the literary universe off its axis.
They were the iconic founders of the beat generation: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Neal Cassady and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. They were the ones who shaped the literary scene in San Francisco’s North Beach in the mid-1950s.
The beat-movement writing was unlike anything ever done.
It was non-conforming, unconstrained, highly and openly emotional, depicting gritty worldly experiences, often including abundant drug use, deviant sexuality and other forms of aberrant behaviours. 
A seeming contradiction, the beat generation was also spiritual and heavily influenced by Eastern religions, such as Buddhism.
It was Kerouac — an American novelist and poet born to French-Canadian parents — who unwittingly coined the term “beat generation” in 1948, when he said, “We are nothing but a beat generation,” describing the way the young people at that time felt — weary and beat down.
But it was the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen who conceived the term “beatnik” to describe the bunch.
It was the Pulitzer-Prize winner who also dubbed his city as Baghdad by the Bay.
In the early 1950s, Kerouac lived on Russell Street with Cassady — said to be the real genius behind the beat movement, despite never publishing a book — for some time while revising his seminal novel On the Road and writing parts of Visions of Cody.
The unassuming house is tucked away on a side street and is a private residence.
While taking pictures of the place, I wondered how many times the home’s owners watched as other wannabe novelists stood outside, dreaming of days gone by.
On the Road, spontaneous prose about his cross-country adventures with Cassady,
was published in 1957 and established Kerouac’s place within the beats.
During this post-war time, the city was an enclave for writers, poets and thinkers — and North Beach was the epicentre.
Attracted by low rent and myriad eateries, North Beach was the cultural heartbeat of the city.
By day, the bohemians drank cheap wine on the grass of Washington Square Park or sipped coffee at Cafe Treiste, the West Coast’s first espresso house.
By night, they frequented Vesuvio Cafe — where you can order a “Jack Kerouac” made from rum, tequila, orange, cranberry and lime juice — and jazz central The hungry i (which is now a topless strip bar).
But, no other spot was more a meeting place than City Lights Bookstore, opened in 1953 and still owned by Ferlinghetti, a poet, painter and liberal activist best known for his Coney Island of the Mind.
City Lights became a landmark after the 1956 Howl trial.
In October the previous year, Ginsberg — a poet opposed to militarism, materialism and sexual repression — wrote Howl.
He first read his poem at the famous Six Gallery reading on Filmore Street in the Pacific Heights district.
It was, perhaps, one of the most arresting openings ever heard:
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix . . .”
The very next day, Ferlinghetti sent the young poet a telegram: “I greet you at the beginning of a great literary career” and offered to publish his work.
However, the uncensored examination for the ugly underbelly of society was too salacious and Ferlinghetti was arrested and charged with obscenity by San Francisco police for selling the novel.
The trial garnered national attention of the beat writers and heaps of support from prestigious literary and academic figures.
It was a long battle for freedom of expression that included the government burning more than 500 copies of the poem and was eventually won in 1957, when Ferlinghetti was acquitted, setting a precedent for other First Amendment cases.
Though missing the iconic green awning today, the bookstore is still selling and publishing some of the best revolutionary and evolutionary novels.
Take a walk by the store on Columbus Avenue — right next to Kerouac Alley — and you’re likely to see a novelist giving a reading in a room packed with books and other writers. 
The beat movement was conceived in New York, but came to life in San Francisco, attracting other famous writers, such as William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky — Ginsberg’s 40-year partner — Herbert Huncke and Clellon Holmes.
And, although the height of the movement was 60 years ago, if you listen closely, the beat is still audible in the streets of San Francisco.

Jun 3, 2010

Just me — and the toilet seat firmly down, thank you.


“Just for one?”
Seems like a harmless enough question.
But, for singles, this innocuous little phrase carries a lot of clout.
For singles, it’s saying, “Really? You’re alone? How embarrassing.”
OK, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
Maybe, as a 31-year-old single woman, I’m a little sensitive.
Being single is not a new concept to me, but never have I been so acutely aware of my singledom than on a recent solo trip to San Francisco.
The most outing of examples was me standing in line with 30 other people, waiting to get in an elevator to take us up the 210- storey Coit Tower.
The elevator, not surprisingly, can only hold so many people.
So, when it was near to capacity, the kind elevator operator called out to the masses: “We have room for one more. Anybody by themselves?”
Picture me, red-faced, stepping out of the packed line and making my way to the front, all eyes on me — just me.
Mind you, I did jump the line and get to see the stunning 360-degree views of the city a half-hour before the others ahead of me.
However, I can’t help but feel society is geared for the couple.
Think about it.
Aside from the often awkward dinner and movie scenarios, singles have it rough, especially if you want to travel.
You can’t take an all-inclusive vacation without facing an obscene amount of tax.
You can’t stay at many hotels because the rates are based on double occupancy.
You can, however, take your chances with single-geared resorts dubbed “Temptation Resort” or the not-so-appealing “Hedonism II” and “Hedonism III.”
I bet you can take a wild guess as to what kind of vacation that would be.
No thanks.
Even single objects are given a dual classification: A pair of pants, underwear, jeans, glasses, binoculars, scissors, pliers, tweezers, tongs — the list goes on.
And society looks at men and women singles differently, too.
Especially after a certain age, men are eligible bachelors, living carefree, luxurious lives, while women are desperate spinsters, living in a basement with cats.
But, being single does not equal being lonely — if you let go of the stigmas of a relationship-obsessed society.
Beyond the over-squeezed toothpaste and classic seat-up toilet problems, single is an opportunity for us to have fun, learn and find out who we really are.
It forces you to be stronger, build a tight network of friends and reconnect with your family as you get older.
If you let go of the fear of singledom, that doesn’t sound so bad.
Plus, you can be totally selfish and buy too many pairs of shoes, redecorate your house in pretty colours (and keep it looking nice most of the time) and put an unnecessary number of pillows on the bed.
Did I already mention the toothpaste and toilet thing?
Despite all of the above, I’m not going to lie and say it wouldn’t be nice to meet a man who’s nice, funny, smart and handsome (know of any?) and fall in love.
But, until then, I’m perfectly content with being me — just me.

May 31, 2010

Baghdad by the Bay

Here are a few snaps of my amazing trip to San Francisco May 6 to May 10 this year. What an amazing city — no wonder why so many people leave their heart in SF!