Wednesday, June 27, 2012

News Junkie

I LOVE being informed.
As a student of International Politics, that should come as no surprise. What might, though, is that despite that love I have a very on-and-off approach to actually staying informed. I guess this comes as the unlucky consequence of two facts: there is an unlimited amount of information available - and too little time in my day to process it. 
My first experiences with the news started in Switzerland, where when reading the local newspaper you could be lucky to find a page and a half covering global occurrences. The rest was dedicated to the really important things in life - which village had a fundraiser when, the most recent local scandal and an interview with a moderately famous cheese maker from the vicinity. Thus, I found myself already proud of my achievements if I listened to the radio or occasionally scanned the headlines of the big newspapers at the kiosk. 
A rude awakening awaited me when starting as a fresh-faced U0-student at McGill. I vividly remember sitting in my first lecture of "Intro to International Relations" when the prof said "So, I assume you have all followed the war this summer in depth..." I was dumbfounded. I had no idea what he was speaking about. Granted, I had just moved continents, but the fact that I had missed an interstate war because I was unpacking boxes (it was the stint between Russia and Georgia, by the way) was unacceptable for me. I swiftly proceeding to signing up for a daily Globe and Mail delivery to my doorstep - and spent the rest of the year struggling to get through at least half of the thick wad of paper clogging up our entrance every morning. 
This valiant, but always somewhat quixotic effort to keep up with what was happening everywhere at all times continued throughout my university career. The thing about studying international relations is that there is barely any information that is not relevant or interesting to you and so suddenly you get sucked into reading a 5 - part expose about the weapons Russia is allegedly delivering to Syria and found yourself late for work yet again, but yet have only read one out of the gazillion articles on your to-do list.
I am not sure that I have found the answer to this challenge quite yet, but technology does make it easier to stay on top of things. Two tips for those overwhelmed by information too - 
  • Google Reader lets you subscribe to the RSS feeds of all major news websites. It is a little arbitrary which articles are featured, but in essence, you open one page and the latest articles from as many news sources as you feel like are at your fingertips! Plus you can set Google news alerts to key words (I have done that with "food security" and "right to food", for example). I love it for an overview of news from various viewpoints and regional concentrations - Right now I am subscribed to the New York Times World news (plus their Fitness and Nutrition section), Le Monde Diplomatique, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Al Jazeera English, the Economist, and Foreign Policy (from time to time I add or delete some; for example, I found myself always skipping the regular Le Monde articles and thus did away with them.)
  • Podcasts are the best thing ever invented. Ever since John introduced me to This American Life and Stuff You Should Know, I have loved listening to these and other podcasts - on my commute, on a walk, when cleaning, the possibilities are endless! For news, the BBC World Service Global News podcast updates twice a day and gives a great overview of worldwide current topics. I also just found that the German ARD Tagesschau has both audio and video podcasts available.
Do I still find myself fighting a losing battle in the quest for absolute knowledge? Absolutely. But at least now that I make a dent in my reading and listening to news every day, I won't simply overlook another war - let's hope so at least. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

By the Seashore in ... Montreal?

Sometimes, when dreaming of tiny Italian fishing villages or aquamarine waters and hidden coves on Croatian islands, it is easy to forget the beauty of your everyday surroundings. This summer, I made it my mission to finally explore all the places in and around Montreal that I had wanted to see for four years and yet never managed to get to. When my friend Steph invited me to help her paint her room (at her home in a suburb of Montreal), instead of taking the metro and driving, I thought ... why not bike? 

After taking various bike paths down South from the Plateau, you reach the Old Port (which in itself is lovely to explore). Follow the path that edges around the promenade close to the water steady West, and eventually you will hit the Lachine canal, a paradise for joggers, bikers, inline skaters and picknick-ers alike. 

Close to the canal, you can also find various rental services - for bikes, kayaks, canoes and pedalo boats - for the times that you want to get even closer to the water. I went canoeing there with some friends two weeks ago, and I had such a blast! The canal also holds dear memories to me because this is where I did almost all my long runs leading up to my marathon in 2009 - and let me tell you, if you are going to run 32 km, you will want your path to be pretty at least! 

Its name purportedly comes from the unsuccessful explorer Cavalier de Lasalle, who was convinced he could find a passage to China. Once he came back and had to admit his failure, the locals called the land he owned (and on which the canal was later built) La Chine (China) in order to mock him. 
The path leads out of Montreal proper, into the Lasalle borough and all the way up to Lake Saint-Louis, which adjoins the island of Montreal at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. 

doesn't it look like the sea?
 Then, I turned right to follow the Lakeshore route, which took me along the Northern edge of the lake. People here really seemed to lead a lifestyle similar to those living close to the ocean - there were yacht clubs, tons of parks, sitting areas and viewpoints along the water, and many pretty boats waiting for the next excursion. 

so much water!
I followed the path all around the lake until I hit Boulevard St. Jean - one of those horrible three-laned driveways clearly built for a car-dependent society - and was suddenly reminded that I was not, in fact, somewhere in Southern France, but in a North American suburb. Yet, I bravely defied the tons of cars and made my way safely to my friend's house for a successful day of painting. I left in the afternoon at 6.30 and followed the same route back home, which gave me the opportunity to enjoy the sights in the late afternoon sun. So pretty!!

this is the Lachine canal again.
Today my legs ache a tiny bit (I mapped it out and from door to door it was a 80km out-and-back trip!), but it was so worthwhile! I would suggest everybody snatch up their bikes and go explore - who knows what you will find! 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Club - One Hundred Years of Solitude

While my blog has laid dormant for quite some time, it might be time to resuscitate it. Not only am I part of a online book club with John and Hillary now, new adventures are looming on the horizon after I finished my BA in Montreal - a last summer in Montreal and Canada, travels around Italy and Croatia, and a two-year Masters program that lets me rediscover my roots and explore new places - what a lot to write about! Let's start with the book club... 

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez most definitely isn't your breezy Sunday-afternoon read. But a little patience - and attention due to the consistent name repetitions - goes a long way in discovering the unique beauty in this family saga imbibed with magical realism. John's post describes the special feeling reading magical realism gives you much more eloquently than I ever could, so be sure to check it out! The premise of One Hundred Years is simple - we follow the Buendia family literally through a hundred years of the family members' lives, which all seem to be dominated by two insurmountable emotions: one, a tremendous feeling of solitude no matter how many people they surround themselves with, and two, an unfettered obsession with either knowledge or achievement, which more often than not goes awry and ironically leads them to lives spent in even greater isolation.

The sole one to keep charge and aid the Buendias through their struggles is resilient Ursula, the matriarch of biblical age who herself discovered the odd repetition of history which leads all the José Arcadios and Aurelianos of the family to have similar fates and all the women to strive for love and passion without being able to consent to marriage. In her old age however, she starts to confuse past and present - surely readers will empathize, having struggled through many of the same confusions - and to surround herself with the family members she already outlived in an effort to normalize the circularity of history she so keenly spotted. This self-awareness, combined with the unbeatable but yet unsuccessful urge to solve the family issues and lead the Buendias to the peaceful and tranquil lifestyle they sought in moving to Macondo makes Ursula my favorite character, though the main theme of solitude is better portrayed through the many Aurelianos, including General Aureliano with whom the story opens. After Hillary so astutely reminded me of her, I do consider Meme and her yellow butterflies a close second in my affection for the literary characters of this novel - and her fate all the more heartbreaking.

Having finished the book, I found myself going back to the underlying themes again and again and becoming oddly self-aware in the process. As an individual, can one ever fully escape the feeling of aloneness? How do we know how others feel and whether they understand how we feel if we have never lived as another person than ourselves? Thinking about this reminds me of the eternal question of what the colour red really looks like. Clearly, we have defined objects that reflect light on a certain spectrum as being "red" and we are readily taught the name and meaning of colours growing up, but do two people really see the same thing when they see a red ball? Similarly, do two people ever have such a similar perspective of the world that they can truly efface the aloneness of being? 

Next on our list will be "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick, the dystopian classic that set the premise for the movie Blade Runner. I'm already excited to start reading!