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Archive for January 20th, 2009

I thought I’d add some views on the current book I’m working through. I’m reading “Microserfs” which is a novel written by Canadian, Douglas Coupland. It’s set in the business culture of the most influential American corporation of the 1990s, published in 1995. It’s a good read and also a fascinating time capsule of the views, styles and collective thinking of the last decade of the 21st century.

Even though Coupland tries to insert himself as one of the characters experiencing life working for Microsoft, he observes the Americans in their element as an outsider… as a Canadian. He can’t help but impose a heavy filter of irony over Microsoft Corporation’s stated aims to put a PC in every home and to make America, and by association the world, a better place. Canadian’s are suspicious of anyone’s stated aim to reinvent themselves, tackle something huge or dream in technicolour.

I tried to think what Canadians would make of a Prime Minister making an address like Barak Obama’s inaugural speech. Where was the mandatory cow-towing to regional, ethnic and cultural special interests? Where was the subtle, or not so subtle, partisanship that’s required to manage power in a four or five party parliamentary political system? Obama has the luxury of addressing all of his people as Americans without need for hyphens, qualification or worry that anyone would be offended, or of being misunderstood in a second language.

I’m not saying that Canadians don’t covet and dote on the new President. He’s wonderful. I’m just saying that, no matter what we may think, if someone like Barak Obama tried to run in Canadian politics the reality is that they’d be unlikely to get elected as MP, let alone become Prime Minister. Even someone as charismatic and flamboyant as (love him or hate him) Pierre Trudeau had to play a shrewd and relentless game of politics to obtain and maintain power. Part of this is because of our parliamentary political system but much of it is because of our basic inability to see our country and ourselves in heroic roles. The Americans never stop seeing themselves in a heroic image. And a US President like Barak Obama who can positively motivate that heroic image can accomplish great things. I know for certain that presidents who have negatively motivated that ideal among Americans have done the world great harm.

Tomorrow night we are having some friends over to celebrate the continuation of my remission from cancer. Cassie and I have decided to cook “soul food” which for us is Ukrainian fare. We’ll be making borsch, cabbage rolls and perohe. As we get our logistics in line to prepare all the food in time it occurs to me that Ukrainian food is very labour intensive. Off the scale. Just the borsch takes almost 2 hours to make and includes separate stages of boiling and peeling beets and prepping dozens of types vegetables. The cabbage rolls are another massive undertaking involving preparation and trimming of the cabbage leaves, constitution of the filling, assembly of the rolls themselves and  baking them for the right amount of time. We have purchased perohe from a local Polish deli so they only have to be placed in boiling water, rescued at the exact right moment and have their tasty condiment of fried onions and bacon prepared. The amount of labour that goes in to making perohe from scratch would take another long paragraph.

Ukrainian food is made of humble ingredients like other peasant cuisines. There are no expensive cuts of meat required. No exotic produce is needed. However, it takes a lot of work to transform the simple starches, grains and coarse meat that was available to our ancestors into wonderful food. All I can say is, thank goodness we don’t need to cook Ukrainian all the time. One of us would have to do it as a full time job.

Hmmm… I suppose that was my grandmother’s full time job. She started cooking first thing in the morning. She had an enormous garden instead of a back lawn. She spent much of the late summer and early fall months canning, freezing and preserving. No wonder that’s “all” she did. Oh yeah, she lived to be 91 years old and was healthy and sharp up until about 5 months before her death. I suppose it was all part of the lifestyle… just as we are part of ours.

“We decided that the French could never write user-friendly software because they’re so rude — they’d invent a little icon for a headwaiter that, once clicked, made you wait 45 minutes for your file. It’s no surprise that user-friendliness is a concept developed on the West Coast.” Microserfs

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