Sights of Milano…

Larry– on one of the many trams that criss-cross the city.  The city is oddly flat, with no rivers or streams! In the distance you can see a bit of the snow covered Alps.  The city has few public parks and a plethora of ugly tall towers as it’s the “business” capital of Italy.  Here is Larry in front of a lovely tiled water tower near our hotel near the railway line to the airport.  And the ubiquitous Uber Eats bag in the hole in the wall Turkish kebab pesto nearby — it’s not a rat but a pigeon on the floor near the Uber Eats driver’s pack.

A beer bottle I saw in a local cafe. Plus the wonderful apartment tower covered with greenery near to our hotel.  Two pix of the Galleria across from the Duomo.  Plus a nice view of a private garden.

The Duomo and square downtown in Milano.  Duomo on the left and on the right is the wonderful dept store Rinascente — the food floor at the top has wonderful food, an outdoor patio which overlooks the Duomo and this nice bar with fixings for drinks– including a forest of celery.

My drinks of choice to write this blog in the hotel bar:  coffee and Campari and Soda.


In Milano…

First of all it’s spring and beautiful. Green everywhere and leaves on all the trees. Flowers are out. It’s amazing.  We are taking a bus tour of northern Italy. And you might like to see some sights I’ve seen.

Leaving Halifax, I made sure to give an intellectual booster to Diego the cat first. He’s watching a wildebeest being taken down by a lion.wildebeest

Now to Italia. We went to a brand new gallery across from the Duomo

It’s called the Museo del Novecento  and it’s a gallery dedicated to the 20th century. Here’s what I liked:

sybilSybil, a wonderful bonze seated sculpture. My favourite is this painting01-dettaglio-Quarto_Stato Here is a detail of it, above.  By Pellizza da Volpedo, il Quarto Stato.  I have a nice reproduction of  it on my wall at home, a gift from my son Omri. But the original  is divine. quartoMe in front of it.  Other art I liked includes this Picasso,  Rue Des Bois (1908) (on left).  Compare it to Canadian Emily Carr’s painting Cedar (1942)– not at the gallery.

And more from the Novecento Gallery:

Large circe Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, and the three smaller are (left to right) Bologna’s favourite artist Giorgio Morandi’s Natura Morta (1940); Ardengo Soffici’s 1915 Bottle and Glass and a bronze by Boccioni.

What to Watch on an Air Canada flight….

En route to Italy, I got to watch a lot of interesting films.  Here’s what I recommend.

An NFB short film from ’72 was worth watching.  Part of the Challenge for Change series (which made famous Fogo Island, NF) is a 14 min. film, A Bus- For Us about a bus service in Ottawa. Residents of the busthen suburb, Beaconsfield,  had no public transit. So they banded together and hired several school buses with drivers to ferry residents to downtown Ottawa and back for slightly more than the price of a public transit ticket — 50 cent in those days.  This was a community action to get transportation from OC Transpo and you see people power– in action in the ’70s.

“My mom says High school is where you go to get shot, high or pregnant,” says Starr, the protagonist in the film The Hate You Give.  In this film, made from the best selling book of the same name, Starr, is a black girl from a middle class black suburb in a US city whose parents send her to a  a pricey private mostly white school, rather than the local high school.  Starr  becomes an unwilling witness to a police shooting. Her best friend is shot by police when he  gives the police some attitude in a stop check.  The film moves fast and is clever and of course — wholly believable.  Worth watching.


I also watched Lemonade.  This feature film is about a Rumanian immigrant mother to the US and her 9 year old son.  Sensitive and deftly done — it shows what happens to immigrants who come with money and a bit of professional status.  Shocking and well worth watching. Here is the Trailer. lemon

Watch this series– don’t read the book.

Cracker:  This series is 20 years old, but is just as political and intriguing as when I first watched it — I think in the UK when I was a student there.  Brilliant.  An alcoholic, arrogant psychologist, Fitz, helps solve murders for the Manchester police.  Just watched the 3rd series, which I think is the best. It’s at the Library on dvd.  There are no dead bodies, hardly any blood, lots of scenes in pubs, and the seedy cop-shop in Manchester. The sexual politics are wry and witty.  And ultimately deflating.


On the other hand don’t run out to read n A Noise Downstairs.  It’s author Linwood Barclay used to work as a reporter for the Toronto Star till he got the bug to  write murder mysteries.  I’ve read several — all have sub-par dialogue, repetitive expressions, rather boring characters, and reckless scary bits.  Start read this book half way thru.  It saves you time and trouble.  And the villains come out of their coffins (so to speak) in the last half.noise

When No Does Not Mean No: why the PM and his top aides dumped Jody Wilson-Raybould

What happened to Jody Wilson-Raybould that holds true for most women in Canada?

They are badgered and brow-beaten by men. Either the men are more powerful, or judge themselves more powerful and important than the women.

Often, men badger, hector and cajole women to get sex.  This is where the campaign “No means no” came from. Without an ‘enthusiastic’ yes, it is now assumed women do not consent to sex.  Hold on, not so fast.

Many men in powerful positions believe – or want to believe –the woman gave her consent.  Consider the case of  Jian Ghomeshi. Back in 2015, Ghomeshi was the first of a long line of men in high positions who fell from grace because they took what they wanted from women.  We all remember that the men refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.

In the case of Jody Wilson-Raybould, we see a woman whom a handful of men at the very top tried to “turn.”  Of course the issue was not sexual per se, but part of the same concern:  “no means no”. “No means no” applies to politics, business, the workplace and many matters outside the bedroom.  Clearly a gender thing was going on – and the powerful men refuse to see it that way.

gods-clipart-janus-12Janus, the two-faced god


The SNC-Lavalin scandal began when the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, refused to give the company a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) so SNC-Lavalin could avoid a criminal trial.   Wilson-Raybould supported Roussel’s decision not to give the DPA.  In “discussions” throughout the fall of 2018, Wilson-Raybould noted that three times in one month she or her chief-of-staff, Jessica Prince, were prevailed upon by the Prime Minister and his men to reverse Roussel’s decision.

  • ·On 6 September 2018, Ben Chin, chief-of-staff to Liberal Finance minister Bill Morneau, told Jessica Prince that if SNC-Lavalin didn’t get a DPA, the company could leave Quebec, and imperil the Liberals in the Quebec election.   There was a warning that the “bad news” could go public, and bite into the Liberal brand.
  • 16 September: Two senior advisors to Trudeau contacted Jessica Prince and urged her (and by extension Wilson-Raybould) to find a ‘reasonable solution’.  They told Prince that SNC’s next board meeting was on 20 Sept.  And the advisors talked about problems for the Liberals in the upcoming Quebec election.
  • 17 September: To Wilson-Raybould, the Prime Minister stressed the potential loss of jobs [since disproved—ed.], and warned that SNC would move away.Michael Wernick, then Clerk of the Privy Council, stressed there was an SNC board meeting on the 20 Sept, and SNC could move to London “if this happens”.  He also warned of a Quebec election very soon.  The PM “jumped in stressing that there is an election in Quebec and “I am an MP in Quebec… .”

In the lead up to Christmas, there were more efforts to sway Wilson-Raybould including phone calls, demands by Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s then chief-of-staff and a cajoling and threatening phone call with Michael Wernick,Men-Cool-2447

Liberal party men in suits

The powerful men’s lies were monstrous. First, in early February 2019, the Prime Minister himself said “ the allegations are false”, referring to the Globe and Mail’sstory about the PM’s push for the DPA. That lie in itself was the signal that it was “open season” on criticism of Wilson-Raybould by members of the Liberal caucus.

The top men insisted they did not pressure Wilson-Raybould.  They just wanted her to seek ‘outside advice’ or a second opinion.  However, as University of British Columbia professor Andrew Martin, a specialist in legal ethics, said “The only reason to suggest to get an outside opinion is that she’s wrong.”   Put simply, Martin says that it’s a way for the government to say: “I’m going to bug you, until you say what I want.”

Neither the Prime Minister, nor Butts, nor Wernick believed that 20 meetings, phone calls and texts amounted to pressure. They said that people (read ‘women’) “experience situations differently.”

After all, women should be used to men’s pressure tactics.

Of course none of this was sexual per sebut it’s part of the same idea that for women, no does not mean no: that women cannot be taken seriously. When women say no they are not taken seriously.

What would a man have done had he been asked for a DPA? A male Attorney General could have easily joined the old boys’ club (like the new AG, David Lametti). Or if he had said ‘no’ it would have been taken seriously.  Whatever Lametti does, he will be taken more seriously than Wilson-Raybould.  When a woman says no, it is deemed frivolous and counter-productive.  When a man says no, it is assumed he has a good reason.

This strengthens my point– that gender is at the heart of the SNC-Lavalin scandal.




What to Watch; What to Read

A new Swedish mini-series (on Netflix), Quicksand,  offers a shocking look at youth crime and drugs in a small city in Sweden.   A very lovely 17-year-old high-achieving high school senior gets involved with a similar-aged male friend.  While she is a sterling student, he is from a very rich family and rarely attends  — let alone passes– his courses.

The young woman, Maja, is charged with murder and inciting violence when we find out about a mass-shooting in Maja’s classroom. A teen’s time in solitary in prison is well presented and the court case is impressive.  There is no over-acting, little sentimentality and Maja’s relationship with adults, especially her parents, her boyfriend’s dad and her teacher are well sketched.  When you’ve watched all the episodes, I’d like to know if you think justice would work the same way in Canada. Poster_for_Quicksand_(TV_series)

Very much worth watching is a quiet and stubbornly thoughtful film Leave No Trace (also on Netflix).  A father and his 13-year-old daughter live in a camp they create in an Oregon forest. leave-no-traceThe forest is “public”park, and though the family treads lightly and is hurting no one, park authorities destroy their camp and toss them off the land.  Their homelessness is short-lived when the authorities force the father and daughter to live as tenants on a Christmas tree farm. The father has to cut down harvest the trees while the girl goes to the local high school.  There is suspense in this film, and watching it I found the subtext kindly and hostile at the same time.  I highly recommend it; you won’t forget it.

the-goldfinch.jpgThe Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, 1654.

The brilliant novel that held my attention for 600 pages is The Goldfinch. The book begins when a 13- year-old boy in New York City steals a Dutch master’s painting, The Goldfinch (pictured above), from a major gallery.  Why he takes it, you have to discover — it all makes sense.  His family falls apart, and he becomes a ward of social services.  Finally, a  long-lost father and his girlfriend take the boy to live live with them in Las Vegas.  A decade passes and the now young man, back in New York, joins an older friend in his antiques business.  This book shows the reader how much the author, Donna Tartt, knows.  She knows about fine art and art theft; she knows about youth, drugs and social services; she knows about violence, gambling and casinos; she knows about antiques and furniture restoration.  She  understands  the very rich and she knows about debt and larceny.

Shegold knows about “Russian” or Ukrainian mobsters and Dutch paintings –and she writes about everything brilliantly.  I downloaded the book on my e-reader and could go nowhere without reading a page –or 5 — in the supermarket, on the bus, waiting for a friend at a cafe. The GoldFinch takes you into a world that is exciting and a faux-visual delight.  The book has unforgettable characters, irony a bit of humour and some tragedy.

Somehow this week I happened on a new French novel (in translation) called Adele.  I don’t know if you’ll like it. adeleAdele is a narcissist — luckily for her so is her husband.  Her professed love for her 3 year-old son becomes a game, and the reader sees how Adele is consumed by her need to be loved and to be sexually exploited.  It’s an easy read, and a tough read.  I got it from the Halifax Public Library, which also has The Goldfinch.

Yay — NS finally made it to the middle of the pack!

Finally, we have almost made it to the middle of the pack. Yay!

This week’s minimum wage hike in NS from $11.05 to $11.55 an hour  means there are three provinces with a lower minimum wage than ours – but they are quickly catching up. Saskatchewan (at $11.06), Manitoba (at $11.35) and Newfoundland and Labrador (at 11.40) fly below our radar.  However PEI, at $12.25 an hour, is the highest in the Atlantic region and 6% higher than in NS.


NS Minimum wage goes up to $12.10/hr in 2020, and $12.65/hr in 2021. 

In NS, if you  work 40 hours a week at minimum wage you earn $462 a week, or just over $24,000 a year.  However to earn minimum wage of $11.55, you have to have worked for the same employer for at least three months.  If you have not worked the requisite three months for the same employer, you will earn the “inexperienced” wage of $11.05 an hour.   An employer can pay any new employee (who is not in a union) 50 cents  below minimum wageor  $11.05 for the first three months.  For a  40 hours’ work, an “inexperienced”  employee earns only $442 a week – a 4.3% cut from minimum wage!

However low minimum wage workers’ wages are, they are in fact lower than that! How many low paid jobs offer 40 hours’ work a week? Perusing today’s job listings on Indeed, a major online job search site, less than half the Halifax area jobs posted offer 40 hours per week.

Here’s a partial rundown:

Warehouse worker $14 per hour 30 hrs per wk.
Administrative assistant No wage specified 20 hrs
Administrative assistant No wage specified   7 hrs
Warehouse associate $12 20 hrs
Office Cleaner $12-$15 29.5 hrs
Dog handler $11.55-$12.00 6-20 hrs
Administrative assistant $15 24 hrs
Hotel housekeeper $12-$15 24 hrs
Editorial assistant $14 30 hrs
Dishwasher $12 20 hrs
Marketing assistant $14 30 hrs
Admin. in real estate office No wage specified 20 hrs

To be fair, there are two unionized-jobs which stand out for their higher wages, and longer hours.  One is a service attendant at VIA Rail ($26.27/hr), and the other is a help desk technician at a university ($23-28/hr).

The Living Wage Campaign, supported by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-NS, calculated the Living Wage in Halifax in 2016 at $19.17 an hour.  This means two adults in a family must eachearn at least $19.17 an hour for a 35 -40 hour work week for a household to meet its basic needs. What are basic needs? The Living Wage calculation is based on a family with two wage earners and two children under age 12.  The household may own a modest family car, use a bus pass, pay for daycare and after-school care, buy groceries and pay rent and utilities.  The Living Wage also includes money to buy clothing, pay for medical expenses, cover ‘social inclusion’ – such as swimming lessons, or going to occasional movies– and ensure a family is not under severe stress due to lack of money.


NS minimum wage is 39.7% lower than Halifax’s Living Wage. In 2016, 6.6% of employees in Nova Scotia earned minimum wage ($10.70/hr at the time). 32%  or 125,200 of all  NS workers earned $15 an hour or less.

Oh –the bright spot on the horizon:  Indeedrecently posted an ad for President of NSCAD University.  True it’s a “killer” 48 hour week, but the job does pay $231,000 per year.