Incowrimo – feb 19 (part 3)


In case it means something to you, those are Caterpillar-D8’s on that hill. On a good day there can be 7 or 8 of them up there plus a Komatsu or two for good measure. And yes it’s all snow.

I managed to write several letters today and have managed to close the gap that opened at the beginning of the week. Clear blue skies brightened things up for a bit and I had time to think about snow. Weather for Canadians is like a hardened crust of bread. It can be a topic of conversation, but it’s often the only thing on the table and not very good if you don’t know how to deal with it. The weather that is.

After posting about snow a couple of days ago, fondness had me looking at a lot of footage of snow clearing in Montreal. Living there for fifteen years never dulled the thrill of hearing the towtruck horns announcing the coming parade. Like a circus complete with trained seals and clowns, the whole shebang rolled down the street in a foundation rattling thunder. Rushing out to move a car and then huddling inside to watch the procession never once seemed like privation. It made me understand what we could attain as a high mark in civilization in a harsh, northern, snow-filled land. Inhabiting Mars isn’t going to happen just by sitting around playing with our cell-phones.

Montreal is only two hours drive from here, but in approach it could be a different planet. The more I watched, the more I knew this topic deserved more than a just a passing glance. A city with more than 6,500 kms of road that gets roughly 225cm of snow every year. And doesn’t shirk it’s civic responsibility. They’re building a culture. Happily. And snow removal plays a big part.

If the above didn’t make complete sense, it translates to 4,000 miles of road that get nearly 7½ feet of snow on an average year. Often in 5 or 6 major snow ‘events’.  And event would be the proper term.

It unleashes an immense tactical operation that may go on for more than a week. 2,200 dedicated vehicles manned by 3,000 specialized employees. They take to the streets in precision, skill and training with a certain celebration of life that even in the middle of the night when I hear that massive rumble it still makes me ‘tax-dollar proud’.

Imagine if it helps, that each major event has enough snow to completely fill the Houston Astrodome to the lid. Twice. And that hill at the top of this post? More than once it’s been declared an aviation hazard and officials have demanded it lit. There are now 10 piles around the city mixed in with a dozen other sites.

It’s impressive if not just entertaining, but more important are the implications to civic life. And that’s what has caught my attention and I want to continue to write about. So along with my daily letters I’m preparing a little summation about civics and snow. Alarming and fascinating I can’t wait til my research is done.

*note: the clip above is provincial highway clearing and doesn’t represent municipal efforts but is equally amazing non the less :)

Incowrimo and the new world

AntiqueWorldMap1587-long goodbye

So along with International Correspondence Writing Month (Ink-a-Rhino for some) maps have suddenly regained prominence in my life. I’ve always enjoyed maps. Including people who use them, make and find pleasure in them.

I had a long-time friend who, when he felt the need to relax, would follow the course of rivers in an old and detailed atlas he inherited. He told me he had been doing this ever since he was a child. It provided hours of inspired contemplation and deeply enriched his life. It also made him great at trivia games focused on geography.

Until I left primary school, every classroom I ever entered had at least one or two immense pull-down maps rolled onto brackets and attached to the blackboards. Unfurled they offered unlimited distraction. A place for daydreaming and exploration and adventure as well as introducing us to the wider world.  And much like handwriting, maps like these offered a glimpse into ourselves. A springboard for pensive inner conversation about where we saw our place in the world.  And while the modern era tried endlessly to replace this with every sort of electro-mechanical advance in technology. Slides and film strips, always in darkened rooms, 16mm and overhead projectors and those atrocious VCR towers. For years I secretly yearned for the simplicity of a large map of my own on the wall. At times I considered ginormous wallpaper editions, but could never decide how serious this map commitment was. That was until last year.

With my participation in Incowrimo set and the decision to continue writing well past the end of the month; a not unreasonable set of circumstances had me purchase a small laminated world map. It fit nicely under our shelving and right next to the dining table where I wrote. I tacked it up, rustled some decorative pins and took out my bundle of letters and began to identify where all of this correspondence was going to and coming from.

Pretty soon I began to notice many ‘new’ things about the world. Most of it my ignorance. For some of you this may be easy; but could you point out with confidence Suriname or the Seychelles or Estonia? Which is bigger Madagascar or Japan? Or which is closer to Seoul, Manilla or Hanoi? Where exactly is Idaho or Wales. And is Kazakhstan really the same size as Central Europe?  There are answers to these questions funny enough, and most of them can be found on a map.

Over the past several months, this map that I purchased has been a companion piece to my life. And while it’s definitely not the superbly drawn pull down version of the world produced by DENOYER-GEPPERT * in the middle of the last century; it has done the job.

But alas the world I knew has changed, and the signals have been there for a long time.

In part it was a letter I sent last week. My correspondent had mentioned their unfamiliarity with Canada and I on my ignorance of their corner of the Pacific. It wasn’t just that the country in question was at the other side of the table and I rarely changed seats.  I was becoming uncomfortably aware of how Eurocentric and ‘western’ we presented the world and how it has come unreasonably to dominate most other views.

While travelling in Norway a number of years ago, I had the fortune to see maps where the North Pole was placed at the centre. Even for a Canadian this was a chilling shock but it did make incredible sense. It was clear who your neighbours were, and how your country was positioned in the world in important and overlooked ways.  And I realized while writing this letter that my idea of the world, especially the picture I carried around in my head, placed me a little to the left but still, essentially, smack dab in the centre of things when in reality the centre of things is more likely closer to the Bay of Bengal.

I sensed right away that something had to be done; and a map by Arno Peters wasn’t enough. The world that I knew through correspondence, stories and news, the one I carried around in my head, just didn’t match the one stuck on the wall. It seems the sun has finally set on European colonization and we’re all overdue to find a new map. To that end, I figured I’d do it myself and what I found, while still not the wallpaper edition, might fit the bill. I have real map pins this time, and look forward to discovering new places and friends.

I’ve come to understand while corresponding this past year, just how deeply coloured our concept of the world is by what we are exposed to, what we read, and what we say. And it’s why I welcome International Correspondence Month. The thoughtful, handwritten conversations. The friendly introduction of new stories and perspectives. The exchanges of insight, joy and inspiration. The marked passing of time from posting to delivery. The patient and steadfast reply. The preparation. The space it takes. The paper. The ink. The pens, the stamps and yes the glue.

It’s why we co-respond.

The New Map – I’ll yet post a few pics of the old one before retiring and putting it away.



*(you probably know them today for those plastic body part models in your doctor’s office)

Postal Rates – letters are more expensive than out of season grapes.

I don’t know what led me to do this, mostly a suggestion on ‘A World of Snailmail’; but I’ve always wondered a little bit about what people around the world pay for postage compared to here in Canada.

When I saw that someone was paying 5 Rupees for Local and 25 Rupees for International letters in India and in Canada it’s closer to 40 and 120 Rupees for the same, it makes me wonder about a number of things. And that’s good.

There is something that has puzzled me over the years, and to which I have never heard a good answer. I can buy 450g of grapes this week for 2.50 Canadian dollars. This price includes the cost of growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping them 8,000km (roughly 6,000 miles), getting them to the store, stocking, advertising and selling them.

And yet if I were to write on a piece of paper, fold it in half and put it in an envelope, it would cost me the same to mail it anywhere outside the country. Even though it weighs less than 20g.

Anyway,  here’s an overview of what we are currently paying in CANADA in January 2016.

Domestic Rates

for letters less than 30g     .85 CAD   .56 Euro   .61 USD
for letters 30 – 50g   1.20 CAD   .78 Euro   .86 USD

to the United States

for letters less than 30g   1.20 CAD     .78 Euro     .86 USD
for letters 30 – 50g   1.80 CAD   1.18 Euro   1.28 USD


for letters less than 30g   2.50 CAD   1.63 Euro   1.78 USD
for letters 30 – 50g   3.60 CAD   2.35 Euro   2.55 USD

Below is a breakdown of what our rates here convert to in several other countries. I mostly chose places I recieve and send mail to regularly just to compare. Although it’s a bit much, personally I found it kind of interesting. (note: the two prices are for letters up to 30g and letters 30-50g)

Country                  Domestic
                        US             International
Australian Dollar       .85          1.20      1.20           1.80      2.51             3.62
Brazilian Real     2.45          3.46      3.46          5.20      7.21           10.38
Chinese Yuan     3.98          5.62      5.63          8.43     11.71           16.86
Indian Rupee   41.00        58.00    58.00        87.00   121.00         174.00
South Korean Won 730.00     1031.00 1031.00     1546.00 2147.00     3091.00
Malaysian Ringgit     2.50         3.54      3.54           5.31       7.38         10.62
Phillippine Peso   20.00        41.00    41.00         61.00     85.00       122.00
Russian Ruble   46.00       65.00    65.00        97.00    135.00       195.00
Singapore Dollar       .86          1.22      1.22            1.83       2.54           3.65



In my mind, there has always been a sense of something truly revolutionary flowing from the area between Leipzig and Prague. Over the years it has somehow become a comfortable and burnished home for much of my thought and served to deeply inspire me since my early years as an adult.

Never having been there, I have little desire to visit. I would rather it remain the collected wealth of cultural experience and inspiration that I have cobbled together over the years.

I have no idea why I feel so at home with Bach, Wagner, Schumann, Mahler, Weber, Goethe, or even Hus. But over time I have come to understand, just a little, the genius and revolutionary greatness of Beethoven.

The ability of any individual to tap deeply into their cultural surroundings and wrestle out a single work that presents them unsullied to the future, is a feat of astonishing brilliance and talent. Especially when that world is being torn apart and transformed in powerful and unimaginable ways.

The  sudden, forcefull, mass upheaval of ideology in Europe at the turn of the 19th century – with it’s pervasive repudiation of the known universe – set the stage for the world we inhabit today. Deeply complex, violent, and often incomprehensible in rational terms, it’s a world we’re still vainly trying to understand and tame.

Beethoven felt and understood the passion, torment and necessity behind the cries for freedom, equality and ability to gather together freely. A witness to the riotous birth of a new idea andexpression of a fervent hope, his Eroica Symphony captures this and more.


I saw this film by accident nearly a decade ago and it has haunted me through the years. Especially the sound of the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique under Sir John Eliot Gardiner.

By the end – open jawed – I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen. I had no real idea how powerful this piece must have been when it was first played. And how contemporary and meaningful it could remain today.

“Released on an unsuspecting world in 1804” is an understatement.

I’ve been searching constantly over the last ten years in order to see it again. I only recently discovered it online and suspect it’s life here could be brief. Even though it’s long, I urge you to take a look before it disappears again. This may be the last and only chance you’ll get. There are no guarantees it’ll stick around, so I urge you to find a big screen and some quality sound before it disappears for good, and the ideas along with it.

shake the dust


Gaining and sharing a new perspective on the world is one of the blessings of mankind.

I believe it’s one of those fundamental things that allow us to flourish. Properly named, it could be art.

More important though is the culture from which it springs. Culture made from the not so special lives of very ordinary people going about their every day business. Surprisingly and more often than we think; many of these very ordinary people are capable of taking a talent for something they love and sharing it freely with those around them. Often managing to transcend their small personal situations and teaching us about freedom and the need for it’s expression.

This is the very best of culture. At heart it’s who and what we are and it’s this that deserves our protection and respect. for more info

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

transit-1937-ford-busIt’s said the road to hell is paved with good intentions; but these days you could pretty much pick any road.

Given the dominance of motorized transport in our world, I’ve always wondered why we can’t find something better than fantasy and good intention to design how we move about in cities.

Some way of thinking that has an actual chance of real world success.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize the current mish-mash of broken dreams and failed potential is a mess. And not being good at dialectics we focus more intently on waiting for our chance to swerve into the next lane because we know it’s always faster …Utopia awaits, or so say the visionaries, preachers and hucksters alike.

Mad Max was a guy in a similar fix. His answer? “Hope is a dangerous fantasy to pin your life on …You have a better chance if you fix the problems you already have”.

So, I say “I’m in, where do we start?”

When I was a kid in the 60’s, all cars had speedometer with ridiculous speeds on them. They still do.

Like duh …what’s up with that? There are no public road that will ever let you drive that fast? But I was missing the point.

That speedometer gives us the room and power to take on the world and always come out number one. It shows we own a monster. A mighty engine capable of crushing, passing and intimidating anything in our path. It’s our visible proof. And like the other tricks we’re prey to; that speedometer convinces us that if called upon – we’re better, stronger and more skilled than anyone else.

We watch movies about it. The magic day arrives. Finally we are let loose to battle to the death, triumph and rise the victor. Winner takes all. And all this possible with our car. The most potent dream of power and freedom we’ll ever set our hands on. It’s no accident we like calling our roads a ‘snarl’ and continue to put up with it.

And it’s no wonder we pay so much for them. In comparison it’s no wonder that public transport is so hard to sell.

When it comes to transport; the thought of abandoning the disaster we confuse as individual freedom seems like madness. And coming up with cohesive ways to integrate our daily travel isn’t on anyone’s books.  Resistance is futile!

But there’s got to be another way. There always is.

Public transit like garbage is one of those areas where people come in direct contact with their government. A place you get to feel the effects of political, administrative and planning decisions in a forceful way. A mistake made here is clear and the consequences are deeply felt.

The basis of most bureaucratic, administrative and political work for the past fifty years has been grounded in an ability to personally avoid the consequences of decisions. And we all can sense the result has been a complete disaster.

Regardless, we’re not going to change any time soon but that is no reason to avoid thinking about better scenarios.

I often try to imagine the impact of small, simple, and no cost changes that could radically change our lives and politics for the better. It’s fun and a challenge. Sitting in traffic this morning I came up with a good one.

Imagine if the law required that every Mayor, Councillor, person who sits on a board or committee involved with transportation, every transport planner and designer, and every manager and executive in the city’s transport division had to use public transport exclusively for a one month period every year. And that failure to do so would be grounds for dismissal.

Just to make it a little more interesting; imagine it applied to their immediate family as well. Their spouses and children would have the same requirement as well. Their failure to ride the buses would put their jobs on the line as well. Hell, we could even afford to give them all free passes just for making the effort.

And to give it a little kick, let’s say this month had to February.  And like bike to work month we could celebrate city wide! They could be required to wear a ribbon month and take the pledge. Only this time it would have teeth. I can hear the heartfelt conversations around every dinner table about the crappy state of affairs.

How long do you think before the current state of public transit changed? What kind of changes do you think we’d see?

Personally, I believe people don’t use things because they don’t work.

Forcing people to use things that they’ve created and are responsible for seems like a sensible idea yah? Especially when they have both tools and power to fix it when it doesn’t work.  Just sayin’.

All of a sudden these people would have a superpower ability called insight. And they could use it to find practical and useful solutions in a way that has been the norm for most of human history . A month taking public transit and living with people who used it and you might be tempted to develop realistic solutions AND implement them.

The sooner we allow people who use things to take control of them and give them the ability to fix them instead of leaving it all to experts, the sooner we can get drop our stupid fantasy solutions and get on with real life.

In fact this could be a new kind of goal for civic institutions, but maybe that’s asking too much :P

the loss of the handwritten letter


At the beginning of the twentieth century, people worried about the future of letter writing.  It was a disturbingly familiar scenario. Was it the “modern art of leisure” or the way we teach english in school?

The whole problem, appears in a wonderful series of quotes by Harry Dwight Sedgwick in Simon Garfield’s book “To the Letter”.

“Hurry has been set on a pedestal, scurry has been set on a pedestal and the taste for leisure has been snuffed out. There are and always will be convalescents, cripples, confirmed idlers and guests marooned in country houses on Sunday mornings – and it is to them we should entrust the future art of letters.”

“Oddly enough, teachers of literature teach almost anything other than the art of letter writing. Boys and girls from twelve to twenty are set writing essays, theses, compositions, as if Tom, Dick, Molly and Polly were going to write essays throughout their lives to their parents, lovers, husbands, wives, children and old cronies.”

“The teaching of English alas, is dominated by the grammarians who desire passionately that every boy and girl shall recognize at sight and call by name a “partative genitive” or an “adverbial clause”, and by educational reformers who regard speaking English and writing English as machinery and not an art. Both sets despise the loafer, and the art of letter writing.”

Most people understood by this time that public interest and funding was doomed for teaching letter-writing or english, in fact all the arts, unless they could turn themselves into a measurable sciences.

And here at the beginning of the twentieth century we can see the glimmer of our modern world. And how the eventual the loss of personal art and leisure would be used to transform us into undeserving and hapless bumblers.

Oh and by the way…

A curious set of tidbits came to my attention this morning.

With the academic year ending, an article offered some important tips for upcoming job interviews. It felt some guidance and advice was necessary for people entering the image and retail sector.

For starters. Don’t wear sunglasses on your head during the interview. Whether you’re a guy or a girl, short shorts don’t always impress an employer. Searching out and prominently displaying a large logo on your clothing isn’t always a sign of skill and personality.

Equally important is the attention to detail, so avoid chipped and badly bitten nails and a streaked orange fake tan. Not to mention wearing worn out sneakers, dirty shoes and noisy bangles, it won’t help your prospects.

And finally, remember to show up, and preferably on time. This last one could hamper your chances.

Hello, did I fall asleep and miss something?

You have zero books unavailable.

I picked up a book the other day at the library. A place I normally consider a bastion of physicality and the printed word. Our local branch has undergone extensive renovations this past year that have pretty much rebuilt it from the ground up.

The ability of the library system to turn this entirely public and human experience into a totally impersonal and private experience is a tribute to the forward thinking board. And it’s vision to bring libraries in line with the changed world we live in.  At the same time relieving us from that annoying and complex modern problem – interacting with other people.

The most disturbing change is the amount of space devoted to a large system of highly visible conveyor belts and the large sealed room where the books are sorted and processed. Much has been made to draw your attention to this wonder of automation. From the unadorned and evidently bombproof window in the walls to the prominent placement of RFID checkout pylons. You are instantly given access to the secret inner workings of industrial book lending.

There is no hiding from this vision. With constant mechanical noise and thumping reinforcing the industrial sorting theme. There are plenty of clues to let you know you’re in the middle of a client interface facility.

Amazingly, the design has managed to reduce contact with library staff to virtually zero. Apparently the new system allows an entry-level librarian the ability to do the work of six previously employed professionals. My guess is that it lets them get on with the business of stocking shelves.

The checkout terminal was quite friendly though. It assured me I had zero books unavailable.

old dog, old tricks – what’s wrong with that??


Every once and a while, something that has been a stable part of your world simply vanishes into thin air. No announcements, no editorials no public outcry; it quietly slips out of everyone’s grasp never to be seen again. Worst of all, if it’s been around long enough, chances are it was extremely effective and not replaceable.. Something so ubiquitous you wouldn’t think to miss it, in fact it would never occur to you that some idiot would pull it off the shelf.

Such was the case this week when I found out not only LePage mucilage, but all mucilage, seems to have disappeared from the western world. In fact it’s so hard to find that even my spell checker doesn’t know what it is.

Mucilage …”a thick, gluey substance produced by nearly all plants and some micro-organisms”. Here is a product so green it’s ridiculous. And to top it off, it’s edible. Think flax seed for a minute, or the original marshmallow and Slippery Elm bark where it’s still extracted to make soothing cough and sore throat remedies.

Mixed with water, it makes a great glue especially for paper. It’s what you lick on an envelope or the back of a stamp. It’s strong enough to glue labels to metal cans, wood to china and leather to pasteboard. Most of all, to anyone of my generation and  a long time after, whether you liked it or not, it was the best go-to glue for anything stationary or paper-craft related. LePage – for a long time – the very definition of glue. But not any more. Better living through chemistry marketing seems to have knocked it off the shelf with crappy wheat paste sticks and specialized glues that are so child safe that children can’t afford them and they don’t work.

Here was an excellent product with “over a hundred years of natural sticking power with the simplicity of gum arabic”, and LePage decided it wasn’t worth selling. A versatile, reliable and recognizable product with great public visibility and cultural presence was dropped so the company could focus on ‘public relations’ and new product development.

I highly recommend the following link for a fabulous historical peek.  Not only glue, but LePage Ink! Who knew??

Meanwhile, back at home …I’ve been making a lot of envelopes lately, and gluing them has been an issue.  Almost all the glue sticks I’ve used, once dry, stop working and the paper falls apart.

PVA glue, the best choice for paper, stays wet too long, will permanently wrinkle the paper, and often bonds envelope to content.

Tombow Aqua is an excellent solution if you could find it in Canada. Oh! you say …Staples, the company who managed to force everyone out of the stationary market so they could sell Keurig pods and chocolate bars? They offer it at a reasonable $3.76.

The only problem is a refusal to carry it in a store. Like most of their useful products it’s ‘Online only’. And this scam means you have to pay $15.00 to ship the 48g bottle (1.8 oz) from their warehouse to their store. Either that, or purchase a further $41.24 worth of goods and get it shipped for free. Yea!

I scoured the internet and yes, mucilage is available, not from LePage who in fact continues to produce it; but China where it’s readily available. Smart and lucky people!

In fact I can purchase amounts that allow me to become an important importer-reseller. And by bulk buying, recoup my costs and wind up with the couple of bottles I wanted to buy in the first place – yea!

Otherwise it’s a cold dark world for anyone who wants an excellent and reliable stationary glue on their desk :P