zzzzzzzHusband. Drummer. Marketing, Sales and Customer Service Specialist. Music and Art Collector. Road Cyclist. Volunteer. Traveler. bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb Amateur Photographer. Media/News/Coffee Junkie. Hockey Fan.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Heart: Reflection and Respect in New York

Sandra and I have traveled to NYC every year since 2008. Even though we often find ourselves in Lower Manhattan for a walk around Battery Park (not to mention the obligatory shopping trip to retail shrine, Century 21), we have never visited the 9/11 memorial. We have our reasons, of course, and chief among them is a desire to pay our respects far away from long, snaking lineups of tourists waiting in 90F heat. We also steer clear of the even more annoying hucksters that ply the area, hawking September 11th souvenirs, like maps, T-shirts and other memorabilia. 9/11 has already been marketed to death and we see the result everyday: we have watched the creation and implementation of myriad new security systems, institutions and practices; we are forced to adhere to stupid rules and regulations in airports (as if Osama bin Laden is alive and well and hiding in our toothpaste); we are implored to 'remember' by purchasing all sorts of commemorative crap sold on television; and what's left of our privacy bends over in the name of national security. Thanks, Osama. And Rummy. And Wolfy. And that Dick Cheney. 

We remember that morning in 2001 all too well; even though we watched it unfold on TV we now have a very clear and personal appreciation of how that event forever changed our favourite city - and our friends & family who call New York home. We knew we would one day remember and reflect in our own way at Ground Zero; we simply were never in any great hurry.

As yesterday was our last day in NYC and since we happened to be in the area (Century 21...mea culpa), we decided to finally visit the Pools of Reflection. Line-ups are now a thing of the past, thankfully, as passes and security screening are no longer required. Besides, you can look down on the pools from the surrounding office buildings as well as the observation deck of the new One World Trade Center. The pools are massive square waterfalls situated on the footprints of what were the North and South towers of the WTC. The names of the dead are engraved around the perimeter of each pool. As expected, there were many visitors lost in deep and emotional reflection in the park-like setting. I found the pools to be both haunting and disturbing. If this was the intent, the designers succeeded: the water pours down from all 4 sides, then flows - or rather drains - into a large square void in the centre of each pool, falling into a black, unseen nothingness. Into forever. Gone.

Many believe that the full story of 9/11 must be viewed through the prism of US foreign policy. I tend to agree, although I also believe indoctrinated and unreasonable douche bags flying planes into the Twin Towers at the behest of other indoctrinated and unreasonable douche bags is a pretty shitty and cowardly way to make your point. It's 'dirty pool', as they say - the dirtiest, really - and many innocent people died during that game. Sorry you bozos, but you failed spectacularly (see marketing of 9/11, above). There are those as well who will point to the suffering and death that stains our world, and that 3000 lives are nothing compared to the tens of thousands who die unnecessarily every day. It's a spurious argument and insensitive in the extreme. One is too many, anywhere, in any circumstance. 

Our visit was not about politics. It was about the names engraved on the edges of the pools. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers; wives, partners, husbands, sons and daughters. They went to work one day and fell into a black unseen nothingness. Into forever. Gone. I hold them responsible for nothing more than being in the right place at the worst possible time. Choose: burn to death or jump to death. Hell's oceans are a contaminated slurry of confused politics and twisted ideology. 

As we wandered around the pools, checking out the very international collection of names, scattered among the reverential were groups of seemingly brainless tourists posing - yes, posing - in front of the pools like they were at the goddam Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building ('is this my good side?' No. Your good side is behind you, just below your waist). I mean, like, seriously. There they were, in what is essentially a public cemetery, getting into position and smiling for the cameras, smartphones and tablets. Imagine: the 9/11 memorial site as bucket list item to be ticked off the been-there-done-that check box. I know: Sandra and I were tourists, too, and my righteous indignation may come off as more than a little hypocritical. So be it. I took no photos and stared at the black void. 

Ok, I lied a little. I did take a number of photos but the only images I shot were of the gleaming new One World Trade Center standing tall, or, as a good friend remarked today, raised like a giant middle finger with a message to those that would see it, too, knocked down. I never saw the original Twin Towers in person; like many millions, I only saw them fall. The images I took today are my way of celebrating fresh, powerful and iconic architecture, while keeping alive the spirit of the original towers - and the people who worked and died there.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Frite To Be Tried: My Belgian Spin

My last few hours of 2+ weeks in Belgium. This has definitely been a trip to remember, full of terrific memories and unique experiences that I will savour for quite some time.

The Belgians are great hosts. It's not that they go out of their way to provide a warm welcome or great customer service. It is simply the way things are done; there is no 'phoning it in' over here. Not doing great work is simply unthinkable. That alone, I think, is what will resonate longest: the lack of pretence and a profound lack of attitude (OK, I came across a couple of D.B.'s and was snubbed by the greatest cyclist in history, Eddy Merckx - he can be rather cantankerous - but really that was it). Most interestingly, the concepts of 'who you are' or what one's 'status' is comes across as quite insignificant. "What do you do?", often one of the first questions asked upon being introduced back home, may come up in conversation here but much, much later. It's considered a rude lead off, actually. Better evaluations by local standards (or by any standard, in my view): Are you a good person? Respectful? Do good work no matter what that work is? From my experience anyway, these are paramount attributes in Belgium. It certainly shows in the treatment of guests, clients and the way Belgians interact with friends and family, and it is on display on roads and highways. Think of that, Vancouver: a country full of keen and courteous motorists. 

I covered Belgium's rich cycling tradition here the other day so at the risk of repeating myself all I'll say is this: cycling is to Belgium what hockey is at home. In fact, I would suggest it is even more tightly woven into the collective fabric. Even though most Canadians tune in and watch hockey, not many actually play either casually or as part of league. And you certainly don't see many seniors out there back-checking. 

Oh, yes...there's the beer. I've never been much for beer, preferring stiff drinks made with bourbon, scotch, rye, vodka...you get the idea. During my time here, however, I have not had a single cocktail, nor have they been missed. Triple Karmeliet is my new favourite drink, all 8.6% of it, a beer introduced to me by a helpful waiter in Oudenaarde. All hail to the monks that indulged in developing this other (more interesting and fun?) faith.

Of course, many of my observations are not unique to Belgium or Belgians. Over the last 16 days, however, I have taken keen notice of what I have experienced and it really has been very impressive - and humbling. I have witnessed and learned much (I hope) and intend to bring some of this exceptional hospitality and thoughtfulness home with me. I owe that to everyone who made this trip so extraordinary.