Author Archives: lbujold

History of Cities

We are presently living on an urban planet: more people all over the world now reside in cities than in rural areas. This was not the case even 60 years ago, but cities have increasingly come to define, at least in part, the human experience. Cities also help shape a country’s “image”: when we think of France, we see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, when we think of the United States, we most likely will think of New York’s skyline or Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign.  We read the histories of cities not only because of the famous and less-famous people who were its citizens, but also because they are reflections of societal trends.

Cover image for A history of future citiesA History of Future Cities by Daniel Brook deals with the recent evolution of four cities (St-Petersburg, Mumbai, Dubai and Shangai) and compare their histories in specific time periods where revolutions in urban development (generally brought from outside forces) transformed them into global metropolises, and what those trends may bring in the near future.  St-Petersburg was the brain-child of Russian Czar Peter the Great, who wanted to build a modern “European” city on the model of Amsterdam, but had to rely on the work of serfs and autocratic rule to make it happen.  The oil trade transformed Dubai from what had been regional port into a cosmopolitan “boomtown” of massive skyscrapers in a matter of decades where the citizens native to Dubai are now a small minority compared to recent arrivals.

Cover image for Smart cities : big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopiaIn Smart cities : big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia Anthony Townsend, an urbanist and technology expert, presents the converging trends of growing urbanisation and reliance on digital technology to imagine how a “smart city” might function in a near future, and what new challenges might city-dwellers have to face as a result of this mutation.  Looking back at how new technologies like wireless Internet and apps are already helping city planners and governments to cope with the challenges of growing cities. The author takes us on a worldwide tour to find examples of how wireless communication and technology are being applied to manage city services, cope with natural disasters, and improve overall quality of life while also raising the issues of privacy in a world of increasing surveillance and the influence of corporations on city developments.  Despite its heavy subject, the book is quite accessible to the general reader.

Cover image for Tales of two cities : Paris, London and the birth of the modern cityIt would be difficult to not mention a book that deals with Paris and London as these two cities were the models which much of the rest of the world tried to emulate for two centuries.   Tales of Two Cities: Paris, London and the Birth of the Modern City discusses how they were the symbols of a competition between the two great empires of 18th and 19th century, with their respective elites striving to make their capital the centre of wealth and sophistication.  That “friendly” competition also helped shape each other’s cultures through their interactions and exchanges in business, arts, literature, gastronomy and fashion.

Cover image for The last days of old Beijing : life in the vanishing backstreets of a city transformedThe growing pains and dislocations of people and historical neighborhoods are a recurring story in any place where people and their environment have to make concessions to change and progress, but the price paid can often be quite steep.  Author Michael Meyer, in his book The Last Days of Old Beijing, tells of his experience while living in a Beijing hutong (narrow lane) for two years while he worked as a teacher and witnessed some of its oldest neighborhoods being razed in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, to be replaced by modern streets fit for cars, high-rise buildings and even Beijing’s first Wal-Mart.  Though most of Meyer’s neighborhood was spared in the end, his book is full tales of forced evictions and relocations from homes, some centuries-old, and of old ways slowly being eroded in exchange for dubious “progress”.

 

Cover image for 1913 : in search of the world before the Great WarIn the book 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War  author Charles Emmerson explores the world the year just before the outbreak of the First World War  through its capital cities, not just in Europe but all over the five continents, and see much that the war changed.  He writes about Imperial Beijing and Tokyo and their struggles to modernize their governments and countries’ infrastructures to better compete with the West, the capitals of the Middle East and their struggles to as the centre of multi-ethnic countries on the verge of great changes.  Winnipeg and Melbourne are also included, as cities of the British Dominions that shared many parallel histories in their explosive growth and mutations due to large influx of immigrants, struggling toward uncertain futures.

 

Cover image for Cities of the underworld : the complete season one [DVD videorecording].If you are interested in the hidden past beneath your feet, the documentary Cities of the Underworld, lets you discover the underbellies of cities like Paris, Shanghai and Rome and walk through their ancient catacombs, aqueduct networks and clandestine hideouts.  You also learn about their constructions and how they withstood the test of time, and the myths and legends that grew around them.

More books about the histories of cities from all over the world are constantly arriving on the library’s bookshelves, so please add your suggestions.

Louis-Philippe

 

Going on a Trip, One Page at a Time

 

 

For most of human history, the vast majority of people never had the opportunity to see the world outside their immediate communities, unless they were forced to by circumstance.  Those who did travel faced an arduous and dangerous experience, even at the best of times.  Now, we live in a world where travelling for recreation, as tourists, is accessible to an ever larger number of people, whether those voyages take them to other countries or local vacation spots.

mark twain the innocents abroad 

Before there was such a thing as a tourist there were travellers and explorers, who left written accounts of their adventures and travels.  Marco Polo was the first European to leave a detailed written account of his voyage into 13th-century Asia, a 24-year odyssey that took him from Venice to deep into China (ruled by the Mongols at the time) and back.  Mark Twain wrote an account of his voyage through Europe and the Holy Lands in 1867 entitled The Innocents Abroad, which provides a good portrait of that part of the world in the 19th century from the point of view of a proto-tourist, and is also quite funny.  Freya Stark was another writer and explorer. She wrote many books about her experiences in the Middle East in the 1930’s, and was one of the first non-Arabians to travel through the southern Arabian Deserts.

Today, travelling is so common place, and can be so mundane, that we forget what an awesome thing it really is. Yet there also exists a vast demand for travel literature in the form travelogues, diaries, and guidebooks. People travel, or read about people who do, not only to discover the world, but also to challenge themselves and their perspectives. A simple road trip can be a fun and enlightening experience, especially in North America, which is blessed with both plenty of space and plenty of good roads to ride on.  William Least Heat-Moon has written extensively about his travel experiences on the road in the U.S., as well as abroad, and is highly praised not only for the content of his stories but also his command of the English language. His recently-published Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road assembles selected pieces of his previously published writing, as well as new ones discussing the importance of cars and highways in the American identity, some historical treasures hidden in plain sight (like a sunken 19th century steamboat), and many memorable encounters in South Asia and Europe through decades of travel experiences.

Emilia Scotto is a man who had a dream of seeing the world, and actually got on a motorcycle and made a decade-long, 457,000 mile trip that took him from his native Argentina to virtually every country in the world, and landed him in the Guiness Book of World Records. His tale can be found in The Longest Ride: My Ten-Year, 500,000 Mile Motorcycle Journey, a book filled with photographs and anecdotes about the places he saw and experiences he went through.  Some of the stories are actually hair-raising, as he tells of many close-calls and dangerous situations he had to negotiate.

 

But what about you, you may ask?  If you suffer from bouts of wanderlust, or just seek a good vacation spot, World’s Best Travel Experiences: 400 Extraordinary Places is an excellent book to browse through to plan your next trip.  The book lists locations all over the world, from familiar cities to the most extreme and isolated (but gorgeous) locations, and organizes them in categories like urban spaces, wild places, and world wonders, depending on what kind of experience a traveller would be looking for.  For the more adventurous types, in Once in a Lifetime Trips: The World’s 50 Most Extraordinary and Memorable Travel Experiences, author Chris Santella proposes trips that are all about experiences that are “unique, decadent and off the beaten path” and are intended to be unforgettable.  On the menu: exploring the Galapagos islands, diving to the wreck of the Titanic, riding the Orient Express to Istambul, and…yes, it’s in there, visiting the International Space Station on an organized visit.  We may not be able to cram all this in our busy lives, but reading about those who did is a thrill of its own.

Even today, though, travelling is far from being a risk-free enterprise, and bad experiences, both big and small, are also part of the experience.  Travel writer Chuck Thompson, the “guru of extreme tourism”, has written about the darker side of the travel industry in the past.  His second book, To Hellholes and Back, details his experiences travelling to the worst destinations in the world, to see if they deserved their bad reputations, and living to tell the tale.  His journeys take him to parts of the Congo, India, Mexico City, and even Orlando Florida and Disney World.  Mr. Thompson is never in grave danger throughout his voyages, but he does go places where few, if any of us, would, and manages to be pleasantly surprised on occasions (especially in Mexico City).  If you like narrators with caustic humor mixed with genuine curiosity about their subject matter, this book will be an interesting read for you.

Whether you are planning to go on a trip or just read about it, the adventure is out there.  Do you have any suggestions for good travel reading?

Louis-Philippe

 

 

 

 

 

 

How about a dose of reality after all that drama?

Historical television dramas always have their fans (me included) and the selection has greatly increased in recent years, along with their scale and sophistication.  One can cringe at the anachronisms or outright mistakes in the historical details in a series like Downton Abbey or Mad Men without liking the series any less, because we know that they are used to help move the fictional plot.  But what I like even more is when the fiction creates an appetite to explore the real history behind it, and just because history is in the non-fiction category, does not mean it doesn’t have plenty of drama.

Regardless of what your chosen historical period might be, we’ve got suggestions for you!

Antiquity and the Middle Ages
You watched Rome and learned of pre-Christian mores and the never-ending political intrigues of a great empire, or you watched the series Vikings about an ambitious raider’s first foray into 8th-century Britain.

   

Ancient Rome : from Romulus to Justinian by Thomas R. Martin is a quick and accessible overview of the Roman civilization from its humble beginnings to the barbarian invasions and its downfall.

Author Robert Ferguson does something similar in The Vikings : a history with more emphasis on archeological discoveries to compensate the paucity of written records and how deeply they left their influence on the same cultures they raided.

The Renaissance
The Borgias or the Tudors series are your fares. You enjoy costume dramas with their mixture of political, religious and interpersonal power games… but those series have taken many liberties as far as historical accuracy goes.

 

If you are interested in the real deal, The Tudors: the complete story of England’s most notorious dynasty and The Borgias: the hidden history, both by widely acclaimed historian G.J. Meyer, will give you a more accurate and complete picture of what it was like to survive as power brokers of the Renaissance era.

Victorian era
You’re a fan of police procedurals like Ripper Street or Murdoch Mysteries, and may have dabbled with Deadwood, series that pits men dedicated to science and order against a chaotic and uncivilized world. 

  

The invention of murder : how the Victorians revelled in
death and detection and created modern crime by Judith Flander will satisfy anyone interested in the early efforts to create an organized and professional police force that would tackle “modern criminality” with the help of early scientific methods.  At the same time as mass media was giving unprecedented coverage and visibility to the criminal element of Victorian society, it saw death being used as mass entertainment (as long as it was distant enough).”Penny dreadfuls”,  saw the birth of detective fiction that has lost none of its appeal to this day.

The floor of heaven : a true tale of the last frontier and the Yukon gold rush by Howard Blum is a recent arrival that tells the story of three very different ex-cowboys who had to re-invent themselves and became prospectors searching for the promise of riches in the last wild frontier of northern Canada.  Recommended for those who wants plenty of action in their reads.

1910’s-1920’s
You are waiting for the next season of Downton Abbey and watched Parade’s End to tide you over.  Or you’re fascinated by Boardwalk Empire and the early Prohibition era.

 

Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey was written by the present Countess of Carnarvon, and owner of Highclere Castle (where most of the show takes place), and chronicles the lives of Catherine and Henry Carnarvon in Edwardian England.  Using primary sources, the book not only highlights the lives of the rich and famous, but also the staff that works for them, just like in the show.

On the other side of the pond, Last call: the rise and fall of Prohibition, 1920-1933 by Daniel Okrent chronicles the “Noble Experiment” that started with the Volstead Act which established prohibition in the United States and the rise of organized crime that resulted from it.  This is a great and detailed read about the importance of alcohol had in American culture and history, the reasons and forces that pushed for prohibition and the roots that help explain its ultimate failure.

1950’s-1960’s
Are Call the Midwife and Mad Men both still producing your favourite shows but you want to know more about the real deal? 

 

Call the Midwife has the merit of being based on the real-life memoirs of Jennifer Worth’s experiences as a midwife in London’s East End in the 1950’s, which is available at the library in addition to the TV series.

If you are more interested in what really transpired in New York’s ad agencies, try The real mad men : the renegades of Madison Avenue and the golden age of advertising by John Hegarty and learn how the period saw a revolution in the business and art of consumer advertising.

If you want more examples of good non-fiction related to your favourite historical drama, please make sure to take a look at our book display on the subject, located on the 4th floor of the Millennium Library.

-Louis-Philippe Bujold

Christmas Traditions Through the Ages

My grandmother recently told me a story which gave me the idea for this post.  In rural Quebec of the 1930s and 40s, Christmas was celebrated in large family gatherings, with relatives from all over making the trip to her parents’ home.  Since the roads were not always cleared of snow like they are now, those who couldn’t make it sent letters with well-wishes and news about themselves and family members.  After breakfast on Christmas Day, everyone would sit around the table and listen as the letters were read aloud, something that has been lost but was central to her experience of Christmas. This inspired me to explore the theme of where the traditions we associate with Christmas originated and what influences shaped the holiday into how it is celebrated today.

Throughout the centuries, traditions from many surprising origins have woven themselves into its Christian roots.  At its core, there is of course the celebration of the birth of Jesus (hence Christ’s Mass).  On the other hand, a book like Pagan Christmas: the plants, spirits, and rituals at the origins of Yuletide explores the pre-Christian origins of many of the traditions we now associate with Christmas and New Year celebrations. The Christmas tree, gift-giving, and even the tradition of singing carols outside can be traced back to Roman times, around the Saturnalia festival (which happened to coincide with the week of December 25th), while also borrowing from Scandinavian mythology and even Druidic practices. The book goes into great details about pagan rituals and beliefs, many I had never heard of before like the origins of certain foods and flowers associated with present-day cooking and decorations. It even provides recipes for smudges and incense used in shamanic rituals!  Recommended for readers looking for something different.

Much of how we celebrate Christmas today owes a great debt to Victorian England of the 1850s. Due to the Puritan era of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Christmas had become quite austere, and in fact was hardly celebrated at all. Kissing beneath the mistletoe, Santa Claus, exchanging gifts, caroling, Christmas cards were all introduced or re-introduced in large part due to the royal family bringing them back into fashion. Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol offers a portrait of how the day was celebrated in this era, and the fact that it still feels and look familiar to us despite a century’s passing is proof of their endurance.

Another example of the growing “Victorian Christmas” fiction genre is a sequel to the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice written a couple of years ago, Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers, with all the familiar characters spending the Christmas season at Darcy’s estate.  The plot revolves around the Darcy and Bennet clans’ efforts to weather not only unresolved family tensions, but also a blizzard that forces several unannounced guests to seek refuge at Pemberly.

Christmas crafts for both kids and adults have been around for a long time and under many forms.  Have yourself a very vintage Christmas: crafts, decorating tips, and recipes, 1920s-1960s by Susan Waggoner offers vintage craft projects organized by decades.  From quick and simple decorations, personalised greeting cards and gifts to classic candy recipes, this title is recommended for fans of the do-it-yourself personal vintage touch for the holidays.  One particular idea that stood out for me: the Marabou Treat Cup from the 60s section.

Another tradition that has been around for over a century is Christmas light displays.  We see them on trees, in city streets, shop displays and notably on houses.  Bright, colourful and cheery, light decorations allows us to transform our home into a public expression of the holiday spirit for all to see. At least that’s the theory. Human nature has also injected an element of competitiveness to the process! Christmas houses is a small but very colourful book that provides a catalogue of some of the most memorable projects in the British Isles, with examples ranging from creative and tasteful to tacky and often humorously disastrous.

Finally I had to mention Tis the season TV: the encyclopedia of Christmas-themed episodes, specials and made-for-TV movies by Joanna Wilson, not only because watching Christmas movies/cartoons/shows has been part of my personal Christmas experience as far back as I can remember (always with relatives and friends), but because I was impressed that such an exhaustive encyclopedia  existed. From The Addams Family to Yogi Bear specials, from Treme to Doctor Who this book has all the plot details, trivia, and special casting information, and serves as a wonderful trip down memory lane.

What are your personal holiday traditions?

Louis-Philippe

News from the Local History Room

The Winnipeg Public Library has partnered with the University of Alberta to digitize and provide access to our collection of Henderson’s Directories. Currently, the University of Alberta has most of the Henderson’s Directories from 1880-1965 available on their digital repository. The Directories can be searched, and viewed in a number of formats. Last month, we began linking to these from PastForward.  The links to the Henderson’s Directories on PastForward are also available on the Library catalogue.  This is great news for those who cannot come to the Millennium Library to consult the print or microfilm editions of the directories, which are still available to the public for research on the 3rd floor.

For those who are not aware of the Henderson Directories: they are similar to regular telephone directories, but in addition to listing residents alphabetically by name along with their address, they also record the person’s profession.  A separate listing by street name and address is also included which makes it possible to have a detailed yearly portrait of who lived where in the city.  It is no wonder why these directories have remained among the most popular items in the Local History Room.

This is a good place to highlight some new additions to the Local History collection. Apart from its historical fort, the northern community of Churchill is mostly known for being the polar bear capital of the world.  In 2008, a Californian author concerned with their potentially dwindling numbers, along with his wife and three children, decided to have a closer look and moved to Churchill in order to observe and study polar bears in their natural environment.  The book Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye by Zach Unger is not just about the auhor’s findings but also about his own family’s experiences in settling into this alien environment and an outsider’s view of the locals.

Local author and beer aficionado Bill Wright’s 300 Years of Beer: An Illustrated History of Brewing in Manitoba covers a relatively unknown aspect of our province’s history.  Brewing existed in the Red River colony as soon as Europeans came to settle in the area and names like Patrick Shea and E.L. Drewry rose to supremacy in the Manitoba’s beer business for most of the first half of the 20th century.  The history is fun to read and the illustrations of historical artifacts and posters (many praising beer as a product with an infinite number of health benefits for everyone) really add to the enjoyment of this book.

For those interested in topics closer to home, there have been a couple of recent arrivals, both dealing with Winnipeg neighborhoods. Wolseley Stories by Laina Hughes is about my neighborhood, so I enjoyed this short-but-sweet read where residents describe their experiences and perceptions living in the granola belt.  Mentions of the Wolseley Elm saga and the Happyland Park add to the contemporary accounts.

 North End Love Songs by Katherena Vermette is a work of poetry about the North End’s residents but speaks to universal themes of the human condition.  The poems express the pains, the joys, the ordinary lives of North Enders, how they see themselves and how the outside world see them.  The author often uses birds as symbols of people’s strengths and frailties.

Front CoverWinnipeg has its share of eccentric and colorful characters, and one who was very well-known a few decades earlier was Bertha Rand, Winnipeg’s own “cat lady.”  She made quite a few headlines and fought against city hall, was even jailed for a brief time for the right to keep caring for her cats in her home (which numbered at times between 30 and 65 by some estimates).  A recent addition to our collection is Maureen Hunter’s The Queen of Queen Street which tells about her life in the form of a play.  It is not light reading; Brenda’s life was far from idyllic as she struggled with mental illness and severe poverty, but it is certainly humanising.

Louis-Philippe

Memories of Things Past

There are many kinds of memories: fresh, old, good, bad, repressed, false, photographic, individual, collective. Libraries and archives, no matter the types, are all involved in their preservation and dissemination. As individuals we struggle to remember what is important to us while often forgetting the everyday details. We “put things on paper” because our own memories are fallible, and in our age, there is so much to keep track of.

The book that got me interested in the topic of memory was The last of the doughboys: the forgotten generation and their forgotten world war. Starting his search in 2003, Richard Rubin set about locating and interviewing the last surviving American veterans of the First World War in order to preserve their wartime memories before that living history disappeared. Attempting to record the personal stories of people who were all over 100 years old presented special challenges for the author, and he is as much part of the story as the tales of the men who went “Over There.” The “Great War” has been somewhat overshadowed by the events of the 20th century and this work of remembrance is a treasure of rare testimonials of a period which has literally gone into history, and is told in a very pleasant manner.

Researching one’s genealogy and writing your family history is about preserving the memory of our ancestors for future generations. Thanks to new technology, there more ways for people to not only find genealogical documents but also organize and preserve them. The Winnipeg library has an extensive collection of books on genealogy, but a new arrival, How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn how to preserve family photos, memorabilia & genealogy records focuses on preservation and proposes methods of how to be your own family’s curator. It discusses classification and digitization methods for paper documents, the best materials to use to preserve heirlooms and photographs (and what to donate or discard), and presents online resources to use to create your family tree.

As with the body, there are ways we can help keep our minds sharp and healthy, and resources available at the library to do so. Max your memory: the complete visual program by Pascale Michelon or Total Memory Makeover by Marilu Henner are two recent library titles that instruct readers how memory works and offer exercises and methods to boost your mental capacity. The former title is recommended for those who like quick reads as it is easy to read, full of visual examples with short text, and the exercises are fun to do. The latter title requires more commitment, as the author, who has the merit of being one of a handful of people who have Highly Superior Autobiographical Memories (in effect, she can recall the vast majority of her personal experiences), invites readers to view the pursuit of boosting their memory as part of a larger plan to change their lives for the better. In addition to memory exercises, the book is about Marilu’s own life experiences, so it reads like an autobiography.

The fear of losing our memory or having it altered is a recurring theme of fiction because it is very much a part of ourselves. We are, in a real sense, the sum of our memories. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson is a story of a woman who has lost decades of her life’s memories after an accident stripped her of her ability to retain new memories, forgetting every day’s events when going to sleep. With the help of a therapist and a journal she attempts to reconstruct the person she has become, and find out if the person who calls himself her husband can be trusted. The story is both a thriller and a testimonial of a person living with a debilitating condition.

Movies like the Jason Bourne series, Total Recall and even The Matrix, play with the idea of highly-trained operatives whose memories have been tampered with in order to make them easier to manipulate by sinister forces with unclear agendas. Outside of the action sequences, these movies’ main focus is the hero’s quest to recover their identity and uncover the truth about where they fit in the world.

Memento is an especially interesting movie, which although not new (2001), I highly recommend for its original execution and gripping storyline. The plot involves a man trying to find the murderer of his wife, while he himself cannot form any memories since the night of the murder due to injuries he suffered during the attack. He has to rely on photographs, notes and tattoos to keep going forward. The structure of the film puts the viewer in the same situation as the protagonist. The movie does not follow the usual structure but alternates between two timelines: the main one in reverse chronological order, interspersed with short black-and-white segments. We therefore experience “the present” in short bursts, always disoriented and always having to guess what is going on.

That’s all I can remember right now. Please feel free to add your own memories.

Louis-Philippe

Restaurants and the experience of eating out

Venite ad me, omnes qui stomacho laboratis, et ego restaurabo vos“. 

Translation: “Come to me, whose stomach screams in misery, and I will restore you.”  Motto on the door of the first restaurant, Paris 1765.

It seems strange to think that there was a time without restaurants in either America or Europe until a certain Roze Boulanger opened his business in pre-revolution France.  There were taverns that served alcohol, and inns where clients could expect a meal prepared by the innkeeper served at a common table, but no menu selection was available, nor was it offered all day. There indeed was no establishment that served selected cooked meals to their clientele.  The term “restaurant” itself used to mean a broth  of concentrated meat juices that was prescribed to restore one’s strength (hence the origin of the name).  Mr Boulanger had to fight in court for his right to serve meat (forbidden at the time unless you were member of a guild) as part of a variety of dishes available to the public in his establishment, but others quickly opened their own “restaurants” and the rest is history.

I discovered this by reading The invention of the restaurant: Paris and modern gastronomic culture by Rebecca Spang, which tells of the evolution of the early history of restaurants, and of the concept of gastronomy (fancy eating) as a new facet of popular culture.  Something that was once the realm of aristocracies and their personal kitchens became available to the emergent bourgeoisie, and eventually to everyone.

Canada is not exactly the most high-profile country as far as haute cuisine is concerned, but we have carved our own unique niche in the gastronomy and hospitality business.  Canadians at table : food, fellowship, and folklore: a culinary history of Canada by Dorothy Duncan covers the entire length of Canada’s history with food, starting with its first European settlers’ attempt to adapt their food habits to a new world with First Nations’ practices (most notably pemmican), and to integrate local plants and fauna into their diets. In addition to providing glimpses at what Canadians ate and how it evolved to the present day, the book covers topics like the importance of public markets for new settlers, the proliferation of cookbooks written by organizations for fundraising, and the history of local supermarkets and restaurant chains that became national brands.  Restaurant menus from different eras give readers an idea of what Canadians’ experience of eating out involved.

For those in the mood for a lighter read, You gotta eat here! : Canada’s favourite hometown restaurants and hidden gems is all about the lesser known but still excellent local restaurants and diners all over the country, including some in Winnipeg, which are worth discovering when you visit.  The book includes recipes of favourites from each establishment and fun descriptions of the author’s eating experiences.  The book has just arrived in our collection and has inspired me to try out “maple fried oatmeal.”  Also, kudos to the authors for including Schwartz’s Deli, a Montreal institution.  On a more local note, Russ Gourluck’s books about Winnipeg’s North End neighborhood and Portage Avenue contain many stories about popular local eateries, some no longer in existence, but others who are still very much part of the city’s popular attractions.

If you are looking for the best places to eat in the whole world, if you want to REALLY eat out, there is a book for that: Ultimate food journeys : the world’s best dishes & where to eat them. Whereas a travel guide is a book filled with information on what to see and where to stay with some recommendations on where to eat, this book is the reverse: it’s all about global gastronomy and the best places to eat with some recommendations on where to stay and sights to see.  The book is gorgeously illustrated and is very thorough in its coverage of every continent.

After World War II, speed – as symbolized by the automobile – became a symbol of the new modernity and restaurants adapted by introducing fast food (or, if you prefer, “good food, quickly”) and the drive-in/drive-through service.  Car hops and curb service : a history of American drive-in restaurants, 1920-1960 tells the story of this trend which first appeared in California and spread to the entire continent.  The book is full of great historical photographs as well as reproductions of menus and memorabilia spanning the 1920-60’s decades that preceded large fast food chains.

Food trucks : dispatches and recipes from the best kitchens on wheels deals with another aspect of the evolution of restoration: the mobile kitchens, or food trucks which serve an incredibly diverse variety of meals to a pedestrian clientele (hence the term “street food”) at affordable prices.  Even though the focus is on American cities, it is worth the read for the personal anecdotes from the owners of those movable feasts.

I am sure everyone has their own favourite eating-out spots, so please give suggestions, or share memories of places no longer open for business.

Louis-Philippe

Canadian Aviation Pioneers

  

Because of its vast geography, Canada occupies a unique place in aviation history.  To this day, vast stretches of our territory can only be reached by planes. This was even more pronounced during the first half of the twentieth century.

  

Before the First World War saw their use as military vehicles, airplanes were considered somewhat as gadgets for rich people. The war years brought about a dramatic increase in the number of people who were able to fly them.  After the war, returning pilots sought civilian work in new fields like air mail delivery and locating forest fires.  At the same time, the airplane began to be used to explore previously-inaccessible regions of the Canadian north, and help create new human settlements and keep them linked with the rest of civilization.  Wilfrid “Wop” May is a remarkable local example, and you can read a fascinating account of his life in Wings of a hero: Canadian pioneer flying ace Wilfrid Wop May by Sheila Reid.  This Carberry native returned from the First World War an ace (involved with the shooting down of the Red Baron), and continued flying in Canada by starting his own company, first doing barnstorming shows, but later expanding in delivering critical medical supplies to isolated communities (the most famous example being the “race against death” in Little Red River, Alberta) and helping police in manhunts using his plane for locating fleeing fugitives like the Mad Trapper.  This new breed of airman became known as bush pilots.

The era of the bush planes and the pilots who flew them is filled with stories of exploration and adventures.  These men and women flew aircraft which were primitive by our standards (no radios, radars, or pressurized cockpits) but which were uniquely suited to the environment of the Canadian north (like the Curtiss HS-2L flying boat featured on the top book cover).  They used to ferry people and supplies to isolated outposts of humanity in the Canadian North, and using only lakes and strips made in the snow for landing.  A recent title that is easy to read and focuses as much attention on the machines and the historical “firsts” as the people who built and flew them is Flying on Instinct: Canada’s Bush Pilot Pioneers by L. Dyan Cross.  Bush pilots are still around to this day, and still carry on many of the same vital tasks as their predecessors, From Fox Moths to Jet Rangers: A Bush Pilot’s Life tells the life story of Harvey Evans, another Manitoban, who started his career flying biplanes in northern Canada in the 1950s to graduating to helicopters ferrying construction material and other supplies.

During the Second World War, the country became the “aerodrome of democracy” with the creation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.  Dozens of training centers for air crews were set up throughout the country, but especially in the prairie provinces, where they helped train over 130,000 pilots and air crews.  Again, both our geography and the fact that we were protected from enemy aviation made Canada the ideal training center for pilots of all Allied nations, from all the dominions as well as the United States.  Of note, the first flight simulators (called Link trainers) were used.  This was one – if not the - most important contribution of Canada to Allied victory.  Wings for Victory : the Remarkable Story of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada by Spencer Dunmore tells how the plan was put into action and is filled with personal stories from the recruits who went through the program.

During the Cold War, Canada was faced with the threat of nuclear devastation on its own soil.  Because Soviet nuclear bombers and missiles would pass over Canadian territory as the most direct route to reach the United States, it became urgent for both countries to develop means to intercept those threats before they could strike.  This is where probably the  most controversial chapters in Canadian aviation history began, with the development of the Avro Arrow interceptor.  This new jet, entirely designed and built in Canada, was set to revolutionize military aviation, with performances ahead of everything that was available and a top speed that approached Mach 3 (3 times the speed of sound).  The project was cancelled in 1959 under circumstances that are still debated but it became known as a lost opportunity for the Canadian aviation industry.  In Janusz Zurakowski: Legend in the Skies, local author Bill Zuk wrote the story of this saga through the eyes of one of its test pilots: Janusz Zurakowski, a World War II veteran of Polish origin who was also a superb aerobatic pilot.  The library also has the CBC miniseries The Arrow which recounts the saga of plane, the team that designed and built it, and the political machinations that brought it down.

   

For those of you who prefer more visual reading or even coffee table books about beautiful flying machines, there is plenty to choose from at the library.  Two personal recommendations, both because they focus on Canadian aviation history and their visual content:  A Memory of Sky : a Pilot’s View of Canada’s Century of Flight by Jim Shilliday and Wings Across Canada : an Illustrated History of Canadian Aviation by Peter Pigott.  Even though it covers the history to the present day, Memory of Sky is excellent for covering the epoch of the Silver Dart, the first airplane that flew in Canada, as well as the early men and women who paved the way for the new era of flight.  Pigott’s book is focused on the machines and is divided by aircraft models. It include notably the Fokker planes used to keep Hudson Bay trading posts supplied, and several models of cargo planes used to fight forest fires.

There are far more to cover, so please add your suggestions.

- Louis-Philippe

Truth or Fiction? The Great Hoaxes of History

Hoax: a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth.

 

Hoaxes are not a new phenomenon, and one can find examples going back to the Middle Ages.  One would think that in today’s world, generally regarded as both far more sophisticated and cynical than in previous times (or so we might think), hoaxes would have a harder time flourishing, and the people responsible for them less tempted to try, but the facts show otherwise. They can take many forms and need not even be malicious: thanks to Guy Maddin’s docu-fantasia “My Winnipeg“, the Winnipeg Public Library received queries from as far as Texas about the memorable scene of horses drowning in the frozen Red River.  The event never took place but became “true” for many despite (or because of) the fact it came from fiction presented with a documentary “feel.” For the record: the fire was real, but the stable was empty at the time, no horses were harmed.

There are excellent books listing examples of  better-known impostors and their hoaxes throughout history.  The museum of hoaxes : a collection of pranks, stunts, deceptions, and other wonderful stories contrived for the public from the Middle Ages to the new millennium  by Alex Boese is to be recommended for its ease of reading, and how up to date it is.  The book includes examples of how hoaxers now use the Web as a new medium to spread potent lies in an age where fact-checking struggles mightily against the dissemination of unproven “news.”

Fakes & forgeries : the true crime stories of history’s greatest deceptions : the criminals, the scams, and the victims by Brian Innes, is recommended if one is interested in the career hoaxers, the professional forgers.  These  were the people who for profit used elaborate means, and also a great deal of talent, to make copies of works of art, money, utterly fake manuscripts, diaries, legal documents or even creatures (like the Cardiff Giant or the Feejee Mermaid) and managed to fool quite a few people–at least for a time.

 

A hoax’s ability to be believed in the information age is related to the desire of its audience for it to be true, to confirm its beliefs or fears.  They also make for great entertainment, and like a magic show, people will suspend disbelief when the tale  is “better” than real life.

A treasury of deception : liars, misleaders, hoodwinkers, and the extraordinary true stories of history’s greatest hoaxes, fakes, and frauds by Michael Farquhar deals not only with lies motivated by profit or pranks, but also the big lies that have been used throughout history to propel people’s rise to power, from witchcraft to pseudo-scientific arguments used to foment hatred against specific target groups.  It also includes the famous ruses used during warfare (like Sun Tzu suggested) to send enemy armies blundering into traps, like the elaborate hoax perpetrated against German intelligence before the Normandy Landings to fool them about the exact location where the Allies would land, complete with dummy armies and fake radio chatter.

In the 1800s New York City used to be the home of P. T. Barnum’s American Museum, which was a unique mixture of zoo, museum, and freak show.  It displayed scientific expositions and a variety of entertainments that became a national popular attraction.  This is one of the stories told in The Sun and the moon : the remarkable true account of hoaxers, showmen, dueling journalists, and lunar man-bats in nineteenth-century New York by Matthew Goodman.  The title refers to the New York newspaper, The Sun, which published in 1835 the first accounts of the existence of life on the moon (complete with unicorns and man-bats!) by Richard Adams Locke, and dramatically increased its readership (even after being proven false) thanks to this entirely made-up story, which was widely-believed for several weeks and was never officially retracted.

      Catch Me If You Can (2002) Poster

Movies have been made about this subject as well.  The movie The Hoax (as well as the book it is based on, both available at the library) is based on Clifford Irving, an American writer, who became famous, then infamous for his “authorized autobiography” of eccentric-recluse-millionaire Howard Hughes which turned out to be false.  Mr. Irving did manage to fool many, including experts, for a time before being exposed

Just as in Catch Me If You Can, the story of a young con man who became renowned for his ability to forge cheques, we know from the beginning about the forgeries.  What keeps us interested is to see how close they came to being exposed and caught, and how they used their wits to avoid the inevitable and prolong the life of their lies.

A darker example would be the German movie The Counterfeiters, based on another true story, about the people, many of them professional criminals, who were forced to help the Nazi regime under threat of death in their efforts to bankrupt England and the United States by flooding their economies with forged money.

How about you – know any good tall tales?

Louis-Philippe

Survival(ism)

For 36 hours, just as December 21st came grinding down, I was sent back to an earlier time as a snow storm stranded me and my family in an isolated cabin without electricity. We warmed ourselves by the fireplace, cooked food on a stove, melted water for dishes and hygiene on it, and lived through the night with an oil lamp and flashlights. The real question was how long would this last, and could we make a go at it. Electricity and all of the comforts we took for granted (media, running water, heating etc.), became brand new and so much more appreciated when they finally were restored. Rinsing dishes after washing them was a new and exciting luxury!

What would we do if our infrastructure, our technology, our civilization collapsed–not for a day, but for the foreseeable future? Would we be ready and able to fight and scrounge for our basic survival like our ancestors once did? It does raises uncomfortable thoughts about our reliance on resources and technologies. Many fiction writers have asked the question in a variety of ways and this event made me interested in the topic.

Tales of apocalypse like zombie novels are popular, but a real threat of social collapse can come from less fantastic sources.  Even being lost or stranded in an inhospitable outdoor environment can force you to confront a situation similar to a larger-scale catastrophe. Maybe you’re interested in realistic solutions as well. The library offers books written by experts to help you prepare to rely on your own means for survival against a disaster, whatever  form it might take, such as How to survive the end of the world as we know it: tactics, techniques, and technologies for uncertain times  by James Rawles  or Wilderness survival handbook : primitive skills for short-term survival and long-term comfort by Michael Pewtherer.

The best fictional example  I can think of on this topic is Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling, a thoroughly researched and convincing tale of a group of diverse, ordinary people cast back to medieval-style subsistence when something renders any technology, including gunpowder and dynamite, inert in 1998.  This is the first book in the Emberverse series which so far spans 10 books.  The author envisions the creation and ideology of a kind of “neo-feudalism,” some of it benign but some of it taken to its logical dark conclusion.  It’s not a light read and is quite wordy (but educational), spending time on explaining how things work, almost to the point of being a survivalist manual in disguise.  Readers less fascinated by the technical side of survival might be more interested in the next book.

One Second After by William Forschten is an unflinching look at the collapse of American civilization after EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) weapons wipe out all electricity-dependent technology, with catastrophic consequences for unprepared humanity. The story revolves around one father and his two daughters in a small rural town, and how they and their community struggle with not only the loss of contact with the rest of the world, but with an influx of refugees, dwindling supplies and the harsh reality of survival when social order breaks down.  How can you save a diabetic, for example, when the medication can’t be obtained, and has to be refrigerated to keep in any case?

These kinds of scenarios have also been made into movies, of course. In Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, humanity is slowly dying off after decades of total infertility, and an ordinary man tries to help the first pregnant woman after all this time escape the growing chaos and perhaps even save the human race.  Again, we see the struggle not only for physical survival, but the inner struggle to find the will to survive and fight for a future, no matter how grim.  On a side note, the original novel, written by P.D. James, is very different than the film adaptation — both are available at the Library.

In Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ character must evolve from comfortable urbanite to a sort of Robinson Crusoe when he endures four years on an deserted island–with only a volleyball as companion. Again, the story first focuses on the protagonist’s adaptation to his hostile surroundings, his struggle for food, shelter and clothing (and footwear), then shifts to his mental battle against solitude and hopelessness.

Heavy thoughts born from just a few hours without electricity! And yet, it’s good once in a while to step back and acknowledge that the comforts we take for granted have not, and may not always be there.  Forewarned is forearmed as they say.  Maybe this could be an impetus to learn more practical skills?

Louis-Philippe