What to Watch; What to Read…

And Breathe Normally, is breath-taking.  This Icelandic film  features a near-destitute single mother Lara, who is trying to raise her 7 year old son. When she can’t afford the rent, she and her son leave their apartment to go on what Lara calls a “big adventure” — meaning driving, sleeping and eating in her car.   As luck would have it, she lands a job as an Icelandic border service agent at the airport.  But somehow she needs to get to work, washed, and in uniform after dropping her son at school– all without letting on she’s homeless.  Her first or second day at work, she helps to “bust” an African woman, Adja,  who uses a  false passport in a bid to take a connecting flight to Toronto where she wants to seek asylum.  We see that the protocols for Adja’s gaining refugee status on landing in Iceland are  not much different — nor more humane — than those in Canada.  Somehow Lara and Adja’s lives connect then intertwine on a very deep level.  This is an outstanding film.  Watch it on Netflix.  Here’s the trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47WvcQ6Mb1U

Walmart: Diary of an Associate is the first book about being a salesclerk or “an associate” at a Canadian Walmart store.  Written by veteran La Presse journalist Hugo Meunier, he does what too few journalists get to do — he goes underground and works as an associate for 3 months at the St Leonard store, just outside of Montreal.  This book is first in other ways.  He describes the day to day grind, the incredible poverty of his co-workers, the drive by management for the store to haul in at least $200,000 a day in sales (especially in the run-up to Christmas), walmartand what a Christmas party for Walmart “family” (staff) is like.  We experience a lot through his eyes, and through his ironic and excellent writing.  The first thing is because he is fit, able and well-organized, he  is all but promoted to “lead hand” status — which of course for the purpose of the experiment he does not want.  He hauls hundreds of pounds of frozen food, inside the store and into the freezers; he fields crazy and nasty questions and rebukes from the shoppers, and his work days drag by.  He earns minimum wage of $10.08 per hour (minimum wage in Quebec at the time) plus an extra $1.00 for his experience working in a supermarket when he was in high school.  This brings his wage to $11.08 an hour, or about $18,000 a year! The work and the conditions exhaust him. He needs to park in the outer edge of the carpark, otherwise the other staff will see he drives a late model and decent car — which none of them could afford on their wages.  Most associates take two or more buses merely to get to work  — the long hours means many associates (even those who are single parents with small kids) have to start their shift as early as 4 or 5 in the morning.  This necessitates taking a taxi — which costs them  three to four to  hours’ wages– every day.  Diary of an Associate is an excellent book — a must for students of labour relations, sociology, anthropology and even history!   I bought the book for $21, it’s a Fernwood book, translated from French.

I also read a thriller-mystery and legal drama, Dark Lady,  by the veteran novelist James Patterson North. dark-ladyUnlike some of his other books — none of this takes place in a  court room. But it is an excellent read for all of us in Halifax who are fighting against a stadium built with public funds.  In fact the situation in the imaginary city of Steelton (much like Buffalo, NY, or Cleveland) seems very similar to our situation here.  First with the debacle of the commercial Wanderers soccer team using public space on the Commons for a pittance, and then the big push for a stadium.  The book centres on a female district attorney, who is a bit hidebound and very career driven, her former lover — a clever lawyer who plays fast and loose, and dazzling levels of corruption in senior police and city government.  When her ex-boyfriend is found dead, Stella starts to investigate.  But she does not have the social capital needed to actually find out what happened.  As a formerly sheltered Catholic school girl from a poor Polish family, she cannot read the rich and the powerful.  Nor can she match them at their games.  The help she enlists puts her in more danger.  The book also looks at the all too visible “colour bar” in Steelton, and the huge disparity between blacks and whites there.  The book is clever and  veers into deeply troubling and deeply realistic issues in our very own city. I got the book as an e-book from the Halifax library.

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