Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Doggone generous

CBC Cape Breton’s annual Light Up a Life campaign to raise money for Feed Nova Scotia makes me awfully uncomfortable.

I know I sound like Scrooge, the Grinch and Donald Trump all rolled into one for saying it, but there it is.

In fact, I get so uncomfortable, I start quoting scripture — and believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. (Chiefly because I hardly know any scripture. I’m much more likely to quote Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes, most of which I committed to memory in the summer of 1979: “Ducks, wonderful ducks!”) But listening day after day to people making their donations live in studio always makes me think of this line from the Sermon on the Mount:

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…

Your left hand is going to know what your right hand is doing if your right hand insists on announcing it on the most popular morning radio show on the Island.

And I get it, I do — donations probably wouldn’t be as generous without the live radio component. That’s just the way we humans are, we like credit (and gifts from the gift table) for our good deeds and it probably makes more sense to roll with human nature as it is than to rail against it and leave the food bank cash-strapped for the holiday season.

But it always strikes me that if the public broadcaster is free to advocate for food banks during the entire month of December, it should be equally free to explore options that would render food banks unnecessary. Why not ask everyone who comes in to donate to make one suggestion for fighting poverty? That could make for an interesting pre-Christmas discussion.

Instead, this year’s campaign took a turn that left me positively cringing in my kitchen: people making donations in the names of their dogs.

Yes, you read that correctly: making donations to the food bank in the names of their dogs and challenging other people’s dogs to match those donations.

In their defense, I don’t believe they called in thinking, “People always find it so much easier to accept charity when it comes from an animal.” I believe they just weren’t thinking. They can’t have been, because if they’d thought about it for a fraction of a second, they’d have realized how utterly insulting and inappropriate it is to make a donation to a food bank for humans in the name of the family pet.

I really hope it was a one-season-only phenomenon.


Creative economy

I was googling madly last week, trying to find a pop-up and paper engineering workshop I could attend in 2018 (as one does) and it struck me, as I looked at the offerings at places like the Peters Valley School of Craft in New Jersey, and the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, and the North Country Studio Workshops at Bennington College in Vermont and the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine: why don’t we have something like this in Cape Breton?

My impetus for seeking out a pop-up and paper engineering workshop for 2018 was that I had already attended such a workshop back in 2014, and it was one of the best learning experiences of my life. (I went to the North Country Studio Workshops at Bennington.)

Basically, I lived in a college dorm for four days and spent almost all my time in a studio, with a bunch would-be paper engineers, learning to make pop-ups (and different types of books). I met great people and was exposed to some terrific creative work — there were workshops underway in everything from life drawing to jewelry making to quilting to basket weaving (which is actually not that easy to master) and we were encouraged to drop by the other studios to see what was going on.

The Bennington workshops took place in January and travel was a challenge, but many of the other schools do summer courses, which it seems to me would work here — especially since students who wanted to could bring their families and those families would find lots to keep them busy in Cape Breton in July and August.

I know the Gaelic College runs summer language and music (and weaving) courses and of course, the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design runs workshops and courses year-round, but they usually involve attending a weekly class or a single-day session, not being fully immersed in the subject for a few days.

Most of the instructors could be found on-island — life drawing, jewelry making, quilting and basket weaving, for example, not to mention pottery making, photography, oil painting, blacksmithing and woodworking.

Other instructors (the pop-up and paper engineering experts, for example) could be brought in (I have a wish list).

That’s as far as I’ve got with my planning. Clearly, I have some details to iron out. But I really think it’s a good idea.

Now this is where someone writes in to tell me there’s been just such a school operating in Benacadie Pond for the past 40 years, to which I can only say: I WISH.


St. Francis Xavier Is Coming to Town!

Some targets are too easy.

Some fruit hangs too low.

I have so much I could say about this, but for once, I am going to exercise restraint and allow you to provide your own commentary:


Blue Dot

There’s an event at the McConnell Library on Wednesday 10 January 2018 and before I tell you more about it I’m going to use it as a hook on which to hang some shtick I’ve been working up for a couple of months now.

I love the library and librarians (and all their close relatives: archivists, curators, museum directors) and I was thinking about the difference between librarians and Google and I realized it’s that when you ask a librarian a question, they never come back to you and say:

Here are 17 million answers. 10 million of them are just the same answer written in different fonts and the other 7 million actually bear no relation to the question you asked me. Also, these top 10 answers? I’m being paid to give you them first.

Another difference is that if you ask a librarian for a book on motorcycles she won’t follow you around for weeks trying to sell you one.

And another difference is that Google doesn’t host interesting events (or if it does, it doesn’t invite me) which brings me to the point of this piece:

The McConnell Library in Sydney will host a Blue Dot Movement program next Wednesday, January 10, at 6:30 PM.

If you don’t know what the Blue Dot Movement is, don’t be embarrassed — I just found out myself.

It’s an environmental movement started by the David Suzuki Foundation and predicated on the notion that “every Canadian deserves the right to live in a healthy environment.” I don’t know about you, but having grown up under the bright orange skies of Sydney, this Canadian believes that quite emphatically.

The movement’s goal is to amend the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to reflect our right to fresh air, clean water and safe food.

Wednesday’s event, which features Suzuki Ambassador Paul Strome, is part of The Compassionate Community or Living as if We Give a Damn… educational series sponsored by The Sustainability Project and co-sponsored by the CBU Community Garden Project, the Animal Ethics Project, New Dawn, the Cooperative Studies Club, CBU’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies, the Shannon School of Business, the School of Arts and Social Sciences and the CBU Library.

For more information on the series, contact Terry Gibbs.

The McConnell Library is located at 50 Falmouth Street in Sydney.


Old School Selfies

I’d like to dedicate this item to any millennials in the reading audience.

While going through old photos in search of some I promised a very patient person (who, if he’s reading this, will at least understand what I’m up against when I go searching for photographic evidence of my former existence), I came upon a very special picture.

You see children, back in the old days, before digital cameras, we took selfies but we could never be sure what they looked like until the film had been developed days or weeks or months (or, let’s face it, years) later.

Sometimes, we were lucky and ended up with a lovely photo in which everyone had their eyes open, wore a big smile and was looking at the camera.

Sometimes, we ended up with this:

That’s the door of my Prague apartment, New Year’s Eve, year unknown. A good friend was visiting from the States and we were about to hit the streets, taking part in annual Czech New Year’s Eve rituals like dodging empty champagne bottles and random fireworks on Wenceslas Square. The bit of silvery wool in the lower left hand corner is the top of my friend’s hat. The bit of blue wool is the top of mine.

I remember that we were very pleased with ourselves for having taken the time to immortalize the moment.

I like to think of this as a timely reminder that modern technology isn’t all bad.



Silver Donald Cameron got in touch just after I published Fast & Curious this morning and his comments are so à propos, I’ve decided to add them here for your benefit:

I wanted to comment on two items in today’s Fast and Curious.

First, I spent several years of my life back in the 1980s along with numerous outstanding Cape Bretoners — Father Donnie Campbell, Irving Schwartz, Scott and Terry Macaulay, Henry Fuller, Len and Chat Harvey, Bruce and Peggy Anderson, Stephen MacDonald, Ameta Stephen, Joella Foulds and many, many others — in a futile effort to establish in Baddeck an east coast, year-round equivalent of the Banff School of the Arts.  We saw it being as — like Banff — oriented towards the nation and the world, bringing great artists here, showing off our own great artists. We did run a summer festival for some years on those principles that in some ways was a forerunner of Celtic Colours. The initiative was called Centre Bras d’Or, and we came within a whisker of pulling it off.

So I was terribly saddened by your wistful regret that we don’t have an arts/crafts institution in Cape Breton that would draw people here the way the ones you mention draw people to New England and elsewhere.

Second, your readers might like to know that my colleagues and I at have spent the past several years working on the environmental rights issue in tandem with the David Suzuki Foundation and their Blue Dot initiative. In 2015, we produced a TV film called Defenders of the Dawn: Green Rights in the Maritimes, which was broadcast by the CBC and can be viewed here:

The following year we produced a full-length feature film (67 minutes) which I’ve presented at universities, festivals and community halls across the country, including a screening in Vancouver with the Suzuki Foundation and another last November in Sydney, at CBU. I’ve also put together a book on the subject called Warrior Lawyers which is available on Amazon or directly from my website. Much more detail at

I think the incorporation in the Canadian legal system of the legal right to a healthy environment — which is recognized by all but a dozen of the nations of the world — is one of the most important steps we could take in this country. But we remain among the tiny minority of nations that don’t accord these rights to their citizens. I’d strongly urge people to go to the McConnell Library next Wednesday to learn more about environmental rights, and how we might obtain them for Canadians.




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