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Philippine typhoon relief - help needed now · Thursday November 14, 2013 by colin newell

Typhoon Haiyan – locally known as Yolanda –is the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2013 and arguably the most destructive storm to hit the region in anyone’s memory. The storm has caused widespread damage, including landslides and flooding. Tragically, among the people affected are those who were left homeless by an earthquake in mid-October.

So, I ask you… I beg of my readers:

Donate to the Typhoon Haiyan Fund

The Philippine Red Cross has been on the highest alert since the typhoon was sighted, pre-positioning supplies, helping with evacuation plans and warning communities. Today, they are working to meet the needs of individuals affected by the storm. It is a tough job – and how can we help? With money.

Canadians wishing to help individuals affected by this storm are encouraged to make a financial donation online, at their local Red Cross office or by calling 1-800-418-1111. Please earmark donations “Typhoon Haiyan”. Funds will be used to support Red Cross efforts in all countries affected by the storm.

Our American readers can pop over here to donate.

International readers click over here for the International office of the Red Cross.


UVic Congress 2013 Main Stage with Buffy Sainte-Marie · Thursday June 6, 2013 by colin newell

Buffy Saint-Marie at UVic Congress 2013

It has been a busy week at the University of Victoria with the Annual Congress of the Humanities – with some 7000 delegates and their families, the campus and the city as a whole has been hopping with big thinkers, the learned, the curious and the rest of us.

The reality for me, at UVic, is that every day of the year is an adventure in advanced education. Congress 2013 has been more of an amalgam of thought pressed into a tight 7 day event.

Humanities at UVic encompasses the study of English, French, Germanic and Slavonic studies, Hispanic and Italian studies, History, Latin studies, Greek and Roman studies, Linguistics, Medieval studies, Philosophy, and Women’s studies (hope I did not miss anyone!) –

Within the Faculty of Social Sciences is Economics, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Geography, Political Science, Psychology and Sociology.

Congress is kind of a conference within a conference… plenary sessions, discussions, summits, society meetings, AGM’s etc – and even executive events for the government group known as SSHRC (Social Sciences Humanities Research Council) – they hand out money and often lots of it.

During the event (and because it is a fairly inclusive event) there were lots of family friendly events, food kiosks, entertainment and attractions on campus and in the Capital regional district.

We actually had a main stage on campus on one of the green spaces that featured afternoon and evening entertainment – many of them local and regional musical groups.

The evening headliner on Wednesday was 60’s legend and Canadian-American singer/artist/activist/educator Dr. Buffy Sainte-Marie. She wrote hits like “The Universal Soldier”, “Up where we belong” from the movie Officer and a Gentlemen, “Until it’s time for you to go”, “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” and many others. Her significance and place in the history and evolution of the sixties is well documented – but that only barely scratches the surface of what she accomplished in the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s and so on. Her 60’s hits are merely an introduction to a life well lived – with clearly many more chapters to be written.

According to her bio, she has recorded over a dozen and 1/2 albums (with clearly more on the way) has charted 1/2 dozen singles and has sold in excess of 26 million albums. She lives a quiet live on the Hawaiian Islands when she is not on tour – and she is currently on year 3 of a 2 year tour!

At 72 years of age, Buffy looks more like a mid-fifties athlete. I had around 2 minutes of her time the day before the concert while assisting her team on her spoken word lecture at one of UVic’s recital halls. Her demeanor is one of peace, harmony openness and inclusion. She was, after all, an educator before she became a musician. She created the Cradleboard Teaching Project – a curriculum that aims to raise self-identity and self-esteem in present and future generations of Indian children by introducing them to enriching, accurate information about Native American people and cultures. (Wikipedia)

Seeing her in concert with her backing band of rocking all-stars was a far cry from my reminiscences of the late 60’s – however dim and youthful they may have been.
If this lady was a Woodstock era folk musician, there was little evidence of it in the 21st Century. Buffy has clearly been keeping with the times and the technology – apparently using Apple computers to compose new music since the 90’s. So, she is on top of things. And her stage shows reveals the energy of a rock star a fraction of her chronological age – kind of a lady version of Mick Jagger.

She launched right into the classics to an appreciative audience of around 3000 folks – many of them clearly a fan of the folk-World-Native genres. It was a spectacular mix of softer songs contrasted with harder edges pieces – all of them with a message. She did write “Universal Soldier” after all – the treatise on the root causes of conflict and who, ultimately, is responsible. (Us, by the way…)

Her 2 hour set included the body of her best work and (she is prolific!) an unveiling of one of her latest songs – so new that all of her band members had the musical chart in front of them!

I can admit this now, that even though I am not from the 60’s (I was a teen in the 70’s) there was something so resonant about her concert, her stage presence, her voice and message that moved me to tear up several times. And I am pretty sure I was not alone.
She has been a messenger for peace (a pacifist if you would…) since the 60’s and has railed against the culture of war and aggression since the early 60’s – it is even generally accepted that she was “black-listed” by the Nixon and Johnson administration – it’s written that Johnson wrote letters to several radio networks thanking them for suppressing her message of peace. Peace (in the 60’s) was considered a threat to the establishment much as it is now. In reality, her messages are as important now as they were then – if not more so.

She sings about love, the environment, a plea for equity, fairness, justice and a livable World community for future generations – the stuff that is often labeled “terrorism” or “Eco-terrorism” by “The Man” here in the 21st Century. Yup, not like that much has changed.

Anyway – seeing and hearing Buffy Sainte-Marie at the University of Victoria was one of the best outdoor shows I have seen in a long time and easily the most meaningful!

Long life and more music to Buffy! She has an incredible schedule – interested in seeing the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie live? Head on over here to her Tour Schedule

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Puccini's Tosca - by the Pacific Opera Company - reviewed · Thursday April 4, 2013 by colin newell

Tosca by Puccini - Pacific Opera Company

In my life I have seen around a dozen opera’s – many of them classical – some of them I fit into the category of Pop Opera (Like Phantom of the Opera – a modern piece with its feet firmly grounded in the 21st Century…) Puccini’s Tosca fits into that classic tragic opera niche – standard elements, straightforward story line – 2 and 1/2 hours and a body count.

Puccini’s tale of tyranny and love has thrilled audiences since its first appearance in 1900. With all the ingredients for classic opera; – lust, jealousy, murder, suicide, love triangles, plot twists, and a memorable and somewhat by the book score.

Many hard nosed purists would rate Tosca as the “beginners opera” – a simple story line, all the basic elements that make up a classic tragedy – something that most people could follow – even if it is in Italian.

I had the good fortune (Saturday afternoon) in sitting in on a casual rehearsal as well as the Tuesday dress rehearsal – there is nothing more entertaining (for me anyway) of seeing (and hearing) the contextual displacement of a story set in 1900 being performed full voice in 501 Levi jeans and T-shirts (on the tenor and the soprano!) and getting to stand stage left a few feet away from one of the principal singers as they belt it out.

But what of the story?

Political repression, revolution, art and deception unfold, as Tosca – played by the very talented Joni Henson – racked with jealousy over an imagined lover from a canvas, she struggles for comfort and reassurance that is fleeting. Painter Mario Cavaradossi (played by tenor Luc Robert) goes head to head with the sadistic and lascivious police chief Scarpia (played with wicked aplomb by Luxembourg resident and singer David John Pike), who only has eyes of conquest for Tosca – who betrays her knowledge in exchange for Cavaradossi’s life… which turns out to be an additional twist and deception. And so on.

There are opportunities for a more complex narrative and story arc in Puccini’s Tosca – but that would defeat the purpose of keeping it simple. It is, after all, true to the formula of tragic opera with no additional decoration or even the bare smidgen of humor.
The cast is well matched and believable – no one voice rises much above another. If anything, Joni (as the soprano) had fire power to spare but held back just enough.

Impressions: Andrea and I did the dress rehearsal. Consequently, it is a lively evening with a large contingent of opera clubs (middle school students, aspiring musicians, University students) making upwards of 75% of the enthusiastic audience. Sold out in fact.

For ticket holders for the main event this week and weekend, I say – strap yourself in for some good old fashioned classic tragic opera that will please newcomers to this old entertainment genre and those veterans of this music form returning for some twists and surprises.


2012 Return to reality Chapter 1 Hawaii travel summary · Thursday February 2, 2012 by colin newell

Looking back on what I have written about Hawaii, I smugly thought to myself…

I have most certainly written everything that has to be said about travel to, living on and returning safely from the Big Island of Hawaii.

Fail on that account.

Magic Sands Beach - pretty safe but keep your wits!

This trip was entirely different – we embraced it differently – we approached it more from a “If this is the last time we do Big Island Hawaii for a while, let’s approach it like the buffet table on the 1st night of a cruise…” perspective.
Which was very effective. Did more stuff. Went more places.

Photo above – the up view at Magic Sands Beach – Alii Drive Kona – could have shot my horizontal perspective but that would have been bikini’s and bronzed dudes!

Tried some different things. Have a few more things to suggest. And some warnings for those who need to be reminded that, hey, listen up… there are hazards and you need to be warned.

Directing that more yours truly than anything else – but it makes for a good story I think.

Right off the top, this is going to be the last month long departure from home for some time to come. We both work – we both have a solid family connection here – and dang it, I love Victoria and I am a home body – and becoming more of one as time goes on.

That said, 25 odd days in paradise is hard to beat. And I have discovered a couple of things.

Crate Iki - be careful! Rocks, heat, fumes!

Thing A:) I take very little time winding down into the Island groove… often as little as a couple of days – this time was no exception.
Here is how it works: Plane arrives on Kona mid-day. Get off plane. Get baggage. Collect some brochures after visiting the lav. Get on shuttle to rental car kiosk. Thank you to Avis for years of great service! Drive to Kona Brewing company for a pizza and a beer. Drive to Cost Co for a quick shop. Drive to Safeway for some more supplies. Drive to Kona village condo to “get in” and dump bags. By 4 PM we are by the pool with a drink in our hands. If we are feeling energetic, we head down to “Don the Beachcomber” (great Mai Tai, very sketchy food) for a quick snack and a couple of strong drinks…
and in bed early because we are exhausted from being up at 5 AM for the 6:30AM connector flight from Victoria to Seattle.

Photo above – Iki Crate hike – 2.5 hours – take a minimum of 1 liter of water per person. You will lose this amount of fluid. I did and I didn’t have enough water. Result: Next chapter.

Note to readers: I avoid Vancouver International Airport in favor of Seattle because, IMHO, everything is better in Seattle. Another blog on this subject in the future.

Early days in Kona include medium to long walks early in the day to get acclimated – Kona is not tropical and not overly hot but it is not the North West and you will get dehydrated pretty quickly if you do not pay attention and badly sunburned if you do not load up with sun block.

Alii Drive - good eats, people and ocean watching

So – quickly: What did we do more differently?
The weather was really good and the surf was not too high so we spent way more time at Magic Sands Beach on Alii Drive – a great small beach about 1.5 miles from our Condo (at the Hale Kona Kai…) It is a great beach for body surfing (board surfing further down the beach) and snorkel. Average shore break is 3 to 7 feet this time of year and has to be considered very, very dangerous to those not familiar with Hawaii water hazards.

Photo above – the calm that is Alii Drive on a Wednesday (Cruise ship day) directly across the street from Island Lava Java Cafe – photo by Shari Morkin of Illinois

More people drown in Hawaii than any other state or Province in North America.
In 3 visits early on in our trip I witnessed three mishaps requiring Life guard and/or first responder intervention – Life guards in Hawaii actually are Firemen if I did my research correctly.

A couple of the mishaps involved turning ones back on the water. Here is the thing. Never, ever turn your back on the ocean – If you are in the wrong position when the wave breaks it is like having a 600 sq. foot apartment filled with water dropped on you. Best case scenario – you will get picked up and tossed backward 15 or 20 feet. Worse case: You will tumble under the water and your head and neck will get pushed into the sand. I saw both these things happen – and it is not pretty – and it is particularly frightening if you are just visiting and this is the start of your vacation.

Personally, I learned my water limits in 1996 – and that means never go much further out that waist level in the water – because the breakers are going to be double or triple that. Prepare to jump or tuck and torpedo under the approaching break – know how and it will save your life.

In the next chapter, more about… you guessed it… Hawaii!
Hawaii Photo-Gallery here.


2012 Picture report from Hawaii number 7 Shrimp sunset · Saturday January 21, 2012 by colin newell

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Alii Drive in Kona

Meal at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on Alii Drive in Kona.

This place was massively hammered by the Tsunami in March 2011 – the community pulled together and had the restaurant up and running again in 24 hours. That was the way it was all the way around the damage zone.

Many people do not know this but the Kona Village Cabins and resort (some 25 minutes up the highway towards N. Kona and Kohala – was utterly devastated by the wave – and they will not be rebuilding. Sadly, they had one of the best Luau going.

Anyway. Nature lashes out – and people pull together.

Below is a shot of nature at its gentlest. A sunset. We get one a day.
Enjoy it folks. It is a precious thing.
Click on the photo for the bigger view


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