Category Archives: Blog

Robin Flight School

Our second clutch of robins for 2021 flew the nest earlier this week. (I wrote about our 2020 clutches here.) There were three, born Bastille Day: Etienne, Jil and Daniel (named after singers Etienne Daho, Jil Caplan and Daniel Balavoine). Daniel left first, then Jil and…a full 24 hours later, Etienne was still sitting there, enjoying his space and enjoying his parents bringing him worms. He was like one of those kids who won’t move out of his parents house – a real failure to launch. What was truly comical – and a bit unnerving – was that Eleanor and Henri (Etienne’s parents) spent the last few hours he was in the nest perched in our cherry tree (located just behind the nest) squawking at their son. And I mean, squawking really loudly. We had never seen this behaviour. They appeared to be frantic, and we started to worry that maybe Etienne was sick or injured and couldn’t fly. I called a friend of mine who does wildlife rehabilitation and described the situation. She assured me that Etienne was fine and that his parents were simply encouraging him to leave. In other words, it was robin flight school. What they were squawking was, “Fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, FLY!!!!!” And finally, he did. We shall miss them and hope for a third year of clutches in 2022, a third year that we are able to witness.

Henri stands guard in our cherry tree.

Afghanistan

There was a time in my life, from, roughly, 2005 till 2011 or thereabouts, where I posted on a website nearly every day about politics, headlines and such. Followers of the previous two incarnations of this site might remember. I honestly don’t know where I found the energy or time, but I did. I was working full-time as a journalist then – as opposed to my current occasional piece in the Wall Street Journal – which might have helped in that I felt motivated to communicate, as it was how I made a living. I was also single, which perhaps meant I had more free time. (But did it really mean that? I am not certain.) I don’t feel the need to voice views as strongly these days, but for the things that catch my fancy. What I mostly said back then was, “the West is f****d.” I said it in different ways and in various permutations, but the gist was consistent.

And today, I’m back on topic. I am dismayed at the U.S. departure from Afghanistan. (And yes, I know Canada buggered off from there, as well – seven years ago and an equally bad decision.) This is, I think, a colossal mistake. The Biden Administration were going to have the final soldiers leave on September 11th – an unbelievably tasteless and ghoulish choice. They have, thankfully, altered course on the date. But they are still abandoning Afghanistan and not just women and girls there – much focus has been placed on that, understandably – but so many men who will also suffer. In the aughts, I spent a lot of time – or so I recall – defending George W. Bush and I am happy to still do so. I lost “friends” over my views and I am fine with that. Bush has been dignified since he left office, never intruding or commenting on what his successors have done. He has put his energy into positive things. So the fact that he has spoken out about the Afghanistan decision tells you how deeply he must believe it is not the right path. (FYI, good interview here with W on German TV about Afghanistan and other matters, including the record of Angela Merkel.)

So here I am writing, in 2021, about it all once more – is the West still f****d? Well, the song remains the same, and as I did in those days, I will link to a couple of good pieces about Afghanistan – one from Terry Glavin and one from Andrew McCarthy. For what it is worth, I have liked Biden’s comments on Cuba and I was happy that he appeared to support Israel during Hamas’ most recent acts of violence (of course, he should have been unequivocal). He is an empathetic, decent man (like W) and it is nice to see him resist the Squad – he does not resist them enough, though, likely for reasons of political expediency.

Thinking about Afghanistan these days, a Philip Larkin poem comes to mind. I’ll leave you with it.

Homage to a Government

Next year we are to bring all the soldiers home
For lack of money, and it is all right.
Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
Must guard themselves, and keep themselves orderly
We want the money for ourselves at home
Instead of working. And this is all right.

It’s hard to say who wanted it to happen,
But now it’s been decided nobody minds.
The places are a long way off, not here,
Which is all right, and from what we hear
The soldiers there only made trouble happen.
Next year we shall be easier in our minds.

Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it’s a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money.

July 4th

America’s most beloved former president delivers a stirring speech. I remember standing in line to see this film – yes, I am now and always have been, a nerd. (I appreciate the shout-out to veggie burgers here, for the record.) Happy Independence Day, neighbours!

Canada Day

We have much to celebrate, flaws and all. We can celebrate and we can be honest about those flaws – one does not prohibit the other. One Canadian we can celebrate is Norm Macdonald. This is too funny.

L’Appel du 18 Juin

I’m a day late with this, but ever since I lived in France – lo, those many years ago – I can never look at the calendar on June 18 without thinking of this speech, the magnificent call to resistance made by Charles de Gaulle to his occupied people. They didn’t really answer it, but hey, the guy tried. And regardless of his less attractive traits, he had honour here – as did his niece, who joined the fight and as a result of her courage was sent to a concentration camp. Mercifully, she survived.

My first exposure to this speech was when I was working as an au pair to two little boys in a snooty part of Paris. I remember making breakfast for them one morning in June, and they began reciting this appel, word for word. Remarkable! I was young and had not heard of it at that point, though I knew who de Gaulle was. I asked about it and they explained that it was the 18th of June, the day of de Gaulle’s great speech. They had memorized it in school. I believe, back then, all French kids did. I hope they still do. De Gaulle was an interesting fellow. I read this book last year and learned, among other things, that he was an adoring and gentle father with his mentally-challenged daughter. Such a contrast to the public belligerence. So very human.

Now have a listen and appreciate your goosebumps:

Keep Active!

I’m not 87 yet, or 72, but I hope to reach each age in decent health and in not too decayed a state. I think one way to achieve that is to keep active. Here are a couple of examples of people of a certain age making contributions, following inspirations and staying in the game (yes, I know, a rather cringey expression, but it suits here): Hazell Jacobs is an 87-year-old woman who, during the early days of pandemic, decided to do something creative with her time. A lover of scarves, she started a blog that has become internationally popular, even being featured in the New York Times; and Gerald Stratford is a 72-year-old man who has become the “king of ‘big veg’ gardening” and appears in a Gucci campaign. Curiously – or perhaps predictably – both are Brits.

Hemingway

I am a fan of Ernest Hemingway, so I loved, loved, LOVED Ken Burns’ documentary series about the writer. I especially appreciated that Edna O’Brien was one of the interviewees. She was one of my favourite writers as a teen. I thought I knew so much about him, but I really did not: the family suicides; the first heartbreak that scarred so deeply; the open-mindedness about people’s struggles with sexuality; the concussions in the last years, traumas that kept him from using his talent at the end; the deep depression that led him to be institutionalized; his longing for a daughter. I found the latter so touching – this macho fellow wanted a daughter. Above all, what surprised me was that he had written short stories so sensitive and clear, including one – Up in Michigan – about date rape (long before we called it that). It was, at the time, not included in a short story collection he had published, as it was deemed too controversial. The only thing the series lacked was an entire episode devoted to his love of cats. Hemingway would never approve of that aspect of his life being neglected.