Why learn Latin?

Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. Quid enim est aetas hominis, nisi ea memoria rerum veterum cum superiorum aetate contexitur?

Cicero, Orator Ad M. Brutum

For the last week or two I’ve been fairly obsessively ruminating about my personal biographical relationship to some little spots around the Bay of Naples and the sweep of history upon which that relationship is contingent.  And for a number of years I’ve been ruminating about the absolutely vital necessity of a Liberal Arts education for all citizens of a free society. If citizens are not trained in the arts of life in a free society (the Liberal Arts), any other training or education is the manufacturing of Orwellian cogs for a grey, meaningless social machine.

This morning a tweet by Kelly MacFarlane, a “Contract Academic” at the University of Alberta, got me a little more obsessive about getting some of these thoughts down on (virtual) paper. Ms. MacFarlane asked “What can we do to make Latin More Appealing to more students?”

I replied “I find this a troubling question. Latin IS interesting. Students must be shown why/how it is. Trying to doll it up is misrepresentation.” What I meant, in more than 140 characters, is that marketing a Latin course as something other than “learning to read the language of the Romans and to appreciate their literature and thought and all that appreciation implies” is misrepresentation. Learning Latin probably isn’t going to get you a good job. But learning Latin, like any of the Humanities, will very likely make you better at whatever job you get. It might give you intense entertainment on your commute. Other than that, pretty much all I have to offer is meaning.

Ruminations and a couple of text messages

A week or two ago as I was obsessively ruminating, I wrote to a friend on evening:

I find it exciting that just now I’m linking up Virgil and Pliny the Younger who described the eruption of Vesuvius and the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder who described the painting of the Greek painter Apelles which description led me to paint my series of little paintings of the area around the Bay where Vesuvius erupted and Pliny (elder) died and Pliny (younger) studied, and Virgil lived and wrote, and Aeneas descended to meet his past and his future, and where I wrote and studied and marveled and . . .

I just had a vision of me as a University lecturer in an alternate universe, bawling my eyes out as I describe to a gaggle of baffled undergrads what poetry and history and life can do when it’s all working right.

It’s probably a good thing I left Academia; weeping would probably be frowned on by the arbiters of tenure.

I also wrote to my friend about some homemade wine:

I might save the apple wine for later in the summer with a crowd. Vinalia might be time to open a half bottle of last Fall’s bucket of juice from Italy and read some Ovid or something.

In those two sentences I have linked a laughing summer afternoon outside in the sun with friends and neighbours putting about a hundred pounds of apples from another friend’s backyard trees through a meat grinder. The glorious fragrant pulp went into plastic vats to be fermented into country wine. The reference to “Vinalia” is to the twice a year celebration of the grape in Ancient Rome, Vinalia Urbana, the festival of the new wine, and Vinalia Rustica, the festival of the grape harvest. On further consideration, it seems obvious to me that the poetry of Tibullus would be more appropriate than Ovid for either festival, and certainly for an Alberta high-summer backyard neighbourhood festival celebrating those apples we had processed together.

If you knew Latin, you’d fully understand the above paragraph and the following bit of verse.  And you’d probably be pretty good at whatever job you have.

nec Spes destituat sed frugum semper acervos
praebeat et pleno pinguia musta lacu.
Tibullus, I.i.

What does all this have to do with getting undergrads interested in Latin?

When I was in grad school studying Anglo-Saxon poetry I often was asked “what are you going to do with that?”

My long answer was “I’d rather drive a cab with a Master’s Degree in Anglo-Saxon poetry than drive a cab without one.”

My short answer should have been “Live.”

My best answer, an answer that I only found with time is “Live with meaning.”

Cicero wrote in a letter to his friend Varro: “Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, nihil deerit.” Ad Familiares IX, 4

I’ve always imagined that Cicero’s garden and library were often visited by friends and neighbours, that Cicero “networked” with living, present people as well as with his books.

“pulcherrimarum clade terrarum”

We are a network of experiences, of memories applied to each other, to the present, and to the future. We are not the product of our personal history, we, at this very moment, are our personal history made manifest, a history which includes what we read, what we see on Netflix, the games we play, the people we have met, the places we have been, our family . . . . The richer our personal history, the deeper our references and experiences, the more we have personal connections to the deep history of our families, of our nations, of our cultures, and of humanity itself, the richer, deeper, and more alive we are, the more meaning our time on this whirling ball of rock has, whatever we may be doing in the present moment.

When young, the network is loose. It’s hard to see how things fit together, we search for meaning, too often we give up.  Trust me, it gets tighter. A point will come as you pursue you living and learning, whether that learning involves Latin or another language or languages, when everything starts to fit together, where everything is linked to everything else in a glittering, beautiful, tragic and joyful web of association and causality and meaning. The depth is plumbed gradually, but my own life has shown me that within a couple of years of first taking Latin, experience was enriched, landscapes came to deep life, and things began to fall into place.  And I began to understand other languages. And even others. It all meant something.

Making a loaf of bread in the Bakery of Modestus

Because of Latin, and travel in youth, when I knead bread  I am connected, to my mother, of course, but, more deeply, I am connected to a man named Modestus who owned a bakery in Pompeii. Modestus most likely died on August 24, 79 A.D., shortly after enjoying Vinalia. But I have a photo I took of his bakery, and I have a photo of my mother standing in that bakery many years later, after I painted a little picture of Modestus’ grain mills. And I painted that picture because of the words of a man who died that same day, in that same Hellish disaster.

When I knead bread, I am connected to my mother, who taught me to bake bread, and who stood in the Bakery of Modestus where I had stood years before, and to people who died half a world away and two thousand years ago.

The Bakery of Modestus, Acrylic, 4″ x 6″

We are connected in this way because I learned Latin.

Below is a reverse timeline that may show some of the depth of connection that Latin has brought to my life.

A Reverse Timeline

Sometime before the end of 2006 A.D., a middle aged Canadian man started painting some tiny paintings using only red, yellow, black, and white paint.

Sometime after the end of 2005 A.D., a middle aged man from Canada chanced upon a passage about a Greek painter in a natural history written by an uncle who had launched the ships under his command to investigate a volcanic eruption, an eruption which soon claimed his life.

In late summer of 1983 A.D. a young man from Canada was having a wonderful time admiring the landscape and studying in the library of the Villa Vergiliana, in Cumae, Italy, just over the ridge from Misenum, on the Bay of Naples.  He wrote in his journal:

I’m in heaven, or perhaps Hades. I’ve got a vast (comparatively) library at my disposal, including The Idylls of the King and Dryden’s Aeneid; and Avernus is on one side while the Sybil’s cave is on the other. Up on the roof I can see for miles.  We’re staying in the Villa Vergiliana, a possession of the American Virgilian Society. I’ll never have enough time here. . . .

In the spring of 1981 A.D., a young Canadian was happily studying in an introductory Latin course at the University of Alberta.  The professor had big ambitions for his students and they rose to the challenge.  As the leaves budded out in the North Saskatchewan River Valley, these students, Latin neophytes a few months before, were reading their way through an epic description of a descent into Hell at Cumae and Lake Avernus. This glorious poetry had been written two thousand years earlier by a man from Gaul who was quoted by a man from Como in his description of his own descent to Hell.

Around 110 A.D., a middle aged man from Como in Northern Italy, who had studied as a volcano erupted, was asked by an historian friend to describe the events around the Bay of Naples during a late August week in his youth, when Vesuvius buried Herculaneum, Pompeii, and dozens of other cities, towns, and villages.

In late summer of 79 A.D., a young man from Como was contentedly studying literature at his uncle’s villa in Misenum. The Vinalia Rustica, the great festival of the grape harvest, had concluded a few days before. Every expectation was that in the spring the Vinalia Urbana, the festival of the new wine, would be celebrated in the towns and villages on the slopes of Vesuvius and in the villas along the bay.

As the young man studied, his uncle, commander of the Roman fleet at Misenum and author of an important work of Natural History, climbed to a high point of land to observe an unusual cloud on the far distant opposite shore of the Bay.  He stood studying the cloud with a scientist’s eye and soon decided his ships should be launched for a closer look. That closer look soon turned into a rescue mission.

In 77 A.D., the uncle who would die on a scientific expedition turned rescue began to write his monumental Natural History. That Natural History contained a brief passage about an Ancient Greek painter who had miraculous abilities with a remarkably limited set of four colours.

Sometime before 19 B.C., a man nearing the end of his life who had once lived at Cumae wrote a line of verse that would be quoted by a man from Como as he undertook to describe his own journey in flight through Hell on Earth across the Phlegraean Fields near Lake Avernus.

In the late summer of 49 B.C., a yet-young man from Cisalpine Gaul was living at Cumae, carefully observing the volcanic countryside, and studying, creating the mind, the sensibility, the developed consciousness, that would produce some of the greatest poetry in World Literature.

In the depths of mythic time, a hero arrived from Troy to the shores of Italy at Cumae. After retrieving the Golden Bough, he consulted with the mystical Sybil and then, on the banks of Lake Avernus, in the heart of the Phlegraean Fields, that hero descended to the Underworld, met with the dead, learned of his past and of his future, and returned to the land of the living through the Gate of False Dreams.

And, because I learned Latin, I was there. For all of it.

Why study anything?

Because I studied Latin with Dr. Bob Buck in 1981-82, I grew to love the poetry of Virgil, was able to read the letters of Pliny the Younger and the Natural History of his uncle, Pliny the Elder. Because I could read Latin, I learned of the Greek Painter Apelles. Because I could read Latin I painted a series of paintings which launched a funny little late-life career.

But, most important to me, those months in Dr. Buck’s class helped give to my life a rich depth of meaning. I am a network of experiences. I am linked to Apelles, to Virgil, to Pliny the letter writer and Pliny the Naturalist.  I have stood on the same ground. We have wondered together at the power of Vesuvius. We have looked deeply into other lives and other times with the tools forged by study and tempered with a life in society, and we have found meaning.

If that doesn’t make Latin interesting . . .

B

My Mazel Tov Cocktail

It’s pretty hard to be alive and not be aware in some sense of the U.S. Election. And for anyone who spends a bit of time on social media it would be difficult to be unaware of Donald Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes’ televised “Mazel Tov Cocktail” slip of the tongue  Of course, the twitterverse exploded with fulmination and amusement and, eventually, recipes.  Last night CBC Radio’s As It Happens even got involved.

Well, I can play that game, too.

After some moments of historical thought, consideration of current events south of the Medicine Line, and ruminations on flavour, I’ve come up with my own Mazel Tov Cocktail along with justifications for each ingredient.

Mazel Tov Cocktail

1 ounce Manischewitz kosher wine, obviously

1 ounce Finlandia vodka (I wanted Koskenkorva but it doesn’t seem to be available in Alberta)

1 ounce orange juice

1/2 ounce Wild Turkey Bourbon

A healthy dash of orange bitter(nes)s

Shake well in an iced cocktail shaker.

Serve in tiny glass bottles with an outrageous weave of orange zest and a small sprig of rue.

An outrageous weave of orange zest and a sprig of rue

Manischewitz Concord grape wine is awful, sweet stuff on it’s own, but a necessary accompaniment for any Mazel Tov toast.

The improvised incendiary device known as the Molotov Cocktail was given its name by Finish soldiers during the Winter War against the Soviet Union. It seems only appropriate to give Finland a nod in my Mazel Tov Cocktail. Koskenkorva would be even better.

The orange juice provides a necessary citrus balance to the grapey sweetness of the Manischewitz. It also is a cheap shot at a certain presidential candidate’s epidermal pigment challenge.

The Wild Turkey Bourbon? Wild. Turkey. cf. above mentioned candidate. And his supporters.

And I don’t think either the bitters or their orangeness need explanation.

I think you see where I’m going with the garnish.

The ingredients, with a lovely Canadian sunset

Good luck with your election, neighbours, and Mazel Tov, America!

A glass actually works better

What We Mean When We Say “We have bigger problems than that”

This evening somebody on teh Twotter said something like “Da City gots bigger issues than da unPC name of da sports team!”

Let’s unpack dat.

Yes. The City/Province/Country/County/State/World — lets just say We — have bigger issues than the name of a bunch of guys who chase a ball/puck around a field/diamond/court/rink. In fact, we have bigger issues than every single issue we have except for the top two issues we have.

But, can we agree on those top two big issues? And, even if we could agree, does that mean we should only work on resolving those top two? What about the person wrongly ticketed for jaywalking? The kid with the peanut allergy at Hallowe’en? The senior widow having trouble navigating social services in her jurisdiction? The women facing chronic sexual harrasment on the walk to work? The new immigrants desperate to work and contribute but with unrecognized credentials? The homeless? The disabled? The Environment? The Economy? Pipelines? Rhino horns? Politics? Art? Space exploration? Crumbling infrastructure? Minimum wage? Tax the rich? Don’t mention Trump? Hope? Love? Justice? Peace?

Which are the top two for you? Should we all just pay attention to your picks? Or are we not big enough to deal with lots of issues? Can we not delegate? Can we not work side by side on many projects?

Of course we can!

So what was the fellow who said earlier this evening that “We gots bigger issues. . .” really saying?

Well, I think he was saying a few things, the most important (to him) being “Shut up already!!” But more deeply he was saying “I don’t care about your stupid issue except to the degree it lets me say ‘Shut up already!’ and thereby make it all about me and my right to not be bugged by the stinging gadflies from outside my ever-shrinking fenced-in yard of privilege!”

Too often grievances — legitimate or otherwise — are dismissed with “We have bigger problems.” I write “legitimate and otherwise” with careful intent: a grievance, whether deemed “legitimate” or not, is a person hurting. It is inhumane and inhuman to turn aside from a person in pain. It is obscene to tell a fellow human being “Your pain doesn’t count.” 

Yes, WE collectively may have bigger problems, but YOUR problem isn’t thereby reduced.

Some of us will listen.

And help if we can.

We all can multi-task when it really counts.

A Conversation with one of Voltaire’s Bastards

The easy answer is that decision making must be decoupled from administration: the former being organic and reflective, the latter linear and structured. . . The rational advocacy of efficiency more often than not produces inefficiency. It concentrates on how things are done and loses track of why. It measures specific costs without understanding real costs.
–John Ralston Saul,
Voltaire’s Bastards, pp. 626-7

 

The other day I returned a call from a fellow at the City of Edmonton’s Drainage Department and found myself in a bit of a Joseph Heller novel, all because I wanted to make a sensible suggestion.

Although Edmonton is a remarkably young city from a built point of view, my neighbourhood’s sanitary sewer system is about a million years old. My neighbourhood also has a substantial part of one of the world’s largest healthy stands of American Elms. Taken together, these two are a recioe for disastrously root-plugged sewer pipes and black sludge spilling onto basement floors.

As well as an ongoing program of replacing or relining these old pipes, the City sensibly has something called “The Root Maintenence Program”. When my house was built over twenty years ago, the builder sensibly put a new, modern sewer line to the property line, tying into the old system there. For as long as I can remember, every twelve to eighteen months a City crew has politely and sensibly come to my house and augered out the roots blocking the old City pipe, sometimes sending a herbicide down the pipe to put a bad taste into the mouth of Old Man Elm.

Last year the main line on our street was relined, leaving only the short million year old lateral between the main line and my property line open to night-soil-seeking tree roots. So, the City crew came again a week or so ago, finding lots of roots again, saving me from a stinking basement, and generally being sensible and polite.

The Root Maintenance Program is a common-sense stop-gap until the sewage system is upgraded — the cost of routinely removing the roots is almost certainly less than emergency overtime and damage claims that would be filed by sludge-flooded homeowners if City trees were allowed to spread with wild abandon through the sewer pipes of the metropolis.

Yes. A sensible stop-gap until the scheduled upgrades proceed.

The evening of the Friday after the crew politely and sensibly augered my main drain, I found a voice mail message from a man at Edmonton Drainage Services.

“The lateral line to your house is going to be relined in the next year or two so you’ve been removed from the Root Maintenance Program. If you have any questions, call me at, etc.”

Oh. In a year. Or two. Every eighteen months the sewer has been on the verge of backing up. If it’s left for two years . . .

The next Tuesday morning I called the number and identified myself.

“Yes, I remember,” the fellow interrupted, and he immediately started into a defensive speech about how there would be no charge . . .

I squeezed in with “No, I just want to make a modest and, I think, sensible suggestion: they’ve been coming to clean it out every twelve to eighteen months and now you say it may be two years before it’s relined. Wouldn’t it make sense to leave me on the Program? Then, if the relining is done in a year, take me off, and, if it’s done in two years, I’ll get one more visit from the crew and be assured of no back up.”

“If you have a back up just call and we’ll clean out the roots. No charge.”

“But I’ll have sewage in my basement. Wouldn’t it be sensible to have me on the program for one more visit?”

“I can’t put you on both lists at once. Once you’re on the relining list you have to be taken off the Root Maintenance list.”

“You can’t put me on both lists?”

“No.” I could sense a “No charge” about to float out.

“So,” I asked, sensibly, I thought, “policies and procedures take precedence over what makes sense?”

“Yes” the fellow replied, without any trace of regret, or irony, or anything other than “that’s a mildly interesting but obvious fact.”

I was speechless for a moment. This fellow was the sort of person John Ralston Saul described in Voltaire’s Bastards: the devotee of the System at the expense of any human consideration, a person who had bought into the idea that the assembly line is more important than the product of the assembly line, that the mission statement is bigger than the mission.

“So, rather than leave me on the list, I have to watch my drain and hope I don’t find sludge in my basement.”

“Call at the first sign of a blockage and we’ll come and clean it out.”

“But I’ll have sewage in my basement.”

“Free of charge.”

I shifted  gears and joined the game:

“So, it would make sense for me to just call next summer and say I’ve got a blockage when I don’t actually have one.”

“Yes, that would be a good idea.” No appearance of seeing the mild absurdity of it.

“So it would be a good idea to lie? Okay. I’ll call next summer.”

“If you have any further questions, feel free to call.”

If the Socratic question can still be asked, it is certainly not rational. Voltaire pointed out that for the Romans, sensus communis meant common sense but also humanity and sensibility.  It has been reduced to only good sense, “a state half-way between stupidity and intelligence.” We have since reduced it still farther, as if appropriate only for manual labour and the education of small children.  That is the narrowing effect of a civilization which seeks automatically to divide through answers when our desperate need is to unify the individual through questions.
Saul, op.cit., p. 630

I’ve told this story to pretty much everyone I know and it has been met with unanimous recognition of the absurdity of rules so slavishly followed that common sense is abandoned. It’s reassuring that we aren’t all Voltaire’s bastards. And yet, the routine maintenance of the physical system is being replaced by emergency maintenance, probable overtime expenses, potential damage claims against the City, all because the Management System says “I can’t have you on both lists at once.”

Saul was depressingly accurate in his description of the dystopia we have created. From the needs of people with disabilities to the fundamental infrastructure underpinning our technological society, I’ve noticed that maintenance of the Rules has come to take absolute precedence over the needs and desires if citizens, over efficiencies of labour and cost, and, at root of it all, over common sense — sensus communis. As individuals we are forced to play the game according to often absurd and arbitrary rules or risk wading through sludge on a winter morning.

It pains me, but I guess I’ll play the game, make a phone call next summer, and lie about some tree roots.

But, tonight I’ll have a slightly bitter laugh or two while watching Gilliam’s Brazil again. But this time I’ll watch it as a documentary.

And I’ll try to remind myself:

“We’re all in it together!”

I’ve got a bone to pick with Edmonton’s Weed Inspectors

I have a bunch of very nice neighbours. One in particular is devoted to her yard and her flower beds, which she keeps in immaculate condition. Without knowing the term, she practices Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is pretty much the accepted set of practices for the management of weeds and insect pests in Alberta. It is what the Province expects to be understood and practiced by successful applicants for a Pesticide Application Certificate (of which I am a[n expired] holder). Basically, IPM strives to keep pests (and weeds) below a certain, manageable threshold, as eradication is virtually impossible even with massive use of chemical pesticides (many seeds hang around for years or even decades in the soil before germinating).

Lately my neighbour has been coming to me with plants she finds in her yard asking me what they are, which is flattering to me, but she’s at her wit’s end! A City of Edmonton weed inspector has been, to use a harsh word, harassing her about the state of her yard. Like every yard in Strathcona, her yard has some creeping bellflower, which, unlike most homeowners in Strathcona, my neighbour pulls out obsessively. She’s been cited by this weed inspector for rampant perennial sow thistle. She has none in her yard and the weed inspector later admitted that he “just wrote that on the citation” although he knew there was none in her yard.

Today I inspected her yard quite closely and found absolutely no uncontrolled noxious weed infestations. And yet my neighbour has had three letters from this weed inspector.

To add insult to the infliction of unnecessary anxiety, at least six front yards on my neighbour’s block have been unmowed all summer and are absolutely overrun with uncontrolled perennial sow thistle and/or Canada thistle and/or creeping bell flower with no apparent repercussions for the owners of those properties.

What is going on here? Does this weed inspector have a vendetta against my neighbour? Do the inspectors only come out of their offices if there is a complaint? If the latter, does some other anonymous neighbour have some sort of sick vendetta against my neighbour with the immaculate garden? Even if the inspector is only responding to vexatious complaints, do inspectors not have the training to recognize frivolous complaints and the authority to summarily dismiss such complaints? And do they not have the authority to act on seriously and objectively out of control noxious weed beds when such are right before their eyes?

I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I get any sort of answer. In the meantime, I’ll happily continue to advise my neighbour with the immaculate yard – and all my neighbours — about noxious weed identification and Integrated Pest Management.

I wish City of Edmonton weed inspectors would do the same.

P.S.

And we should discuss the several weeks this summer when the uncontrolled pigweed and other noxious weeds on the City-owned medians on Whyte Avenue between 96th Street and 99th Street grew so tall that it became a traffic hazard, completely blocking visibility for motorists making left turns onto Whyte Avenue from either Strathcona or Ritchie. Where were the weed inspectors when uncontrolled noxious weeds on City land endangered the lives of citizens?

Update, September 6, 2016: This morning, the first business day afyer I posted the above, I was contacted by a City of Edmonton representative (by Twitter direct messaging) asking for my neighbour’s location, saying they wanted to look into this further. 

Time will tell.


Yes, In My Back Yard. Please

A good friend of mine recently moved from a rented basement apartment on the southern edge of Edmonton’s Alberta Avenue neighbourhood to a rental high-rise apartment on the northern edge of Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighbourhood. Her former home was virtually across the street from the McCauley neighbourhood, which is the hub of Edmonton’s social housing and services for Edmonton’s homeless and marginalized citizens. Her new neighbourhood — my neighbourhood for three decades — has been voted Edmonton’s “Best Neighbourhood” for a number of years.  For some time now, however, I have been noticing a severe gap in Strathcona’s social fabric, a gap highlighted recently by an unexpectedly locked door.

For those who don’t know Edmonton, one of the most obvious things about the place is that there is a huge forest with a river running through it stretching from the southwest corner to the northeast corner of the City. This mega-central park (twenty-something times the size of that famous park in NYC) marks the edge of Downtown on the north side of the River and the edge of Old Strathcona on the south side of the River.  McCauley is northeast of Downtown. Most of the services for homeless and marginalized people are north of the River. Of course, as much as some more privileged might like it to be so, the marginalized do not confine themselves to a ghetto designated for them.

Here in my little neighbourhood there are a number of individuals I’ve come to know over the years – “gleaners” I sometimes call them – who make their weekly rounds collecting bottles and cans to augment whatever meager income they may have from other sources. In particular I’ve come to know Vivian and her dog Chewy. Often Vivian sits on one of the benches I’ve put in the alley behind my home as resting places for any neighbours who may need a break. Vivian often gives Chewy a drink of water and rests there. Vivian’s been having some health issues so the shady resting spot is important.  On Saturday morning Vivian is usually selling Our Voice at the Farmers’ Market. She is one of my neighbours although I’m not exactly sure where she lives.

This summer there has been a noticeable increase in the number of new faces I see amongst the “gleaners” in my neighbourhood. I expect some of these new faces are marginalized people displaced by the Fort McMurray wildfire and members of the McMurray Precariate pushed to the margin by that fire. But many seem to be those displaced by the new Downtown Arena. And there will be more.  A few days ago a couple of new faces sat down on the sidewalk out in front of my place.  It was a hot day. They heard me puttering about with my plants and one called over to ask if I minded if they sat there for a bit. I joined them for a chat and told them that as long as they didn’t leave a mess or burn down anyone’s house, of course I didn’t mind if they sat there. We talked a bit and then they offered me “a tip”: “the K&K Foodliner over on Whyte Ave is having a barbecue of bratwurst and stuff in their parking lot and for about three bucks you can get a nice bratwurst on a bun and a drink.” They were just waiting for the grill to get nice and greasy (and having a beer on the sidewalk) before going to get some good, cheap food. A while later they headed off to the K&K. They didn’t leave a mess. They only left the memory of a conversation and a few laughs.

Over the years I’ve been happy to make many memories of conversations and laughs with neighbours on the street. I strongly believe that the vast majority of people try to live in peace and without malice. And I know for a certainty a mean spirit will be found in a house just as often as on the street.

Until a few years ago when the Neighbour Centre opened on 104th Street, my little set of benches was one of the few places on the Southside that Vivian and Chewy and other tired neighbours could be sure of a welcome.  Certainly the Youth Emergency Shelter (officially Youth Empowerment & Support Services) on the other side of the Mill Creek Ravine – despite resistance from the “community” – has become an accepted institution, but until the Neighbour Centre opened as a day shelter and warm up space in the winter, there was no refuge on my side of the river for marginalized adults — and there still is no overnight shelter.  I fear that after the Terwillegar embarrassment, it will be a long time before any church or charitable organization alone floats the idea.

The unexpectedly locked door I mentioned, however, has spurred me to say to anyone who will hear “An overnight homeless shelter is needed in Strathcona, in the best neighbourhood in the city, in my neighbourhood, as soon as possible.”  I already have a little place of refuge literally in my back yard.

I don’t say NIMBY, I say YIMBY.

My friend and I returned to her new building one evening shortly after eight and found the outside door to the lobby locked.  Fortunately we noticed the keycard reader quite far from the door and were able to open this never-before-locked entrance. We dismissed the situation uncomfortably as a mixup, but later learned that the building’s new policy was to lock the outer door at eight every evening “due to the increasing number of homeless people displaced by the Downtown Arena” who were trying to find shelter in the outer lobby.

So, now, when visitors arrive after eight, they have to phone or text the resident who must then come down to the lobby and open the door for the visitor. No longer can a visitor enter the outer lobby, buzz the apartment number, and be buzzed in remotely. Imagine a get-together of six or eight guests, each arriving separately. Down and up a dozen stories to open the door for each arrival. Better to go down once and stick a block in the outer door. Or even better ask a homeless guy to act as outer-doorman and slip him a twenty in the morning.

This silliness is happening, not because homeless people seek shelter, but because the Arena has displaced people to a neighbourhood lacking adequate infrastructure for marginalized citizens, infrastructure which is decades overdue.

Personally, I think the building management’s solution to the “problem” of people looking for a dry place to spend the night is pretty much unworkable and won’t last more than a few weeks. The real solution will be for the City, churches, charities, and the wider community to come together and provide support to our fellow citizens.  Yes, the Mayor and Council are determined to End Homelessness by 2019 or something but we have neighbours right now, today, who need a safe, dry, warm place to go at night. The City should take the lead in bringing us all together to make an overnight shelter on the south side of the River, in my neighbourhood, a reality.

Soon.

 Update, December 13th, 2016: Well, winter is here. And Death. But no shelter on the southside. We lost a neighbour. After Ricky, how many more deaths on the Avenue will it take?.