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November light

Photo: Joseph Gruber, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Joseph Gruber, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Two years ago I had this idea that each month of the year shone with its own unique quality of light, and that I should write a twelve-poem cycle that would capture those qualities. Until yesterday, I had managed to write one–for August. But now there are just ten left. I figure I’ll be ready for press by 2020.

November is pretty tough–dark, wet, cold, stingy. But there are a few moments that can help you last out the coming winter.

November Light

The last sweet day of November
comes after days of gloom and rain
while you are still in mourning for the fallen leaves,
resigned to coming cold and endless dark.

It comes after a frosty night has filtered the wind
and dry leaves crunch underfoot to add
their tannic tang to the odor of the air.
It comes sultry, in the 60s, and dazzlingly bright.

One last day. The sky holds blue to the horizon
except for a scribble of cumulus clouds,
some drawn long by mid-altitude winds,
some stacked serenely into stiller upper air.

Such a glory of blue and white that the eyes rise
squinting up from the dull brown and gray surround
despite themselves. How could they not?
A sane man would take the day off from work.

But these few moments will have to do.
November is a parsimonious month.
It was only luck that there was even this,
and just your usual luck to have it be a weekday.

Still, days later, you remember that brief warmth
on your face like the blush of love, and you taste
again that last sip of brightness, precious now
as the flash of a cardinal’s wing amid twilight cedars.

EU Film Fest: See the world through movies

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Poster design/Conception de l’affiche par Ghyslain Gagnon

Who likes so-called foreign films?

I do, although I may not always “get” them.

Case in point, the spouse and I recently watched a film from India, Āgaṇṭuka = Stranger (1991). Described as:

A wise and witty world traveler returns to Calcutta after 35 years to visit his niece, who had only briefly known him as a child. She accepts the stranger’s story, but her suspicious husband believes the long-lost uncle is an imposter who has come to claim an inheritance.

Much of the movie’s main tension concerned the tremendous scandal and mystery of a family member who just up and left. The film’s intended audience would have known the magnitude of that action in their gut. But from my cultural landscape, mobility and independence are so taken for granted the tension of what mystery uncle did had to be imagined. Uncle’s wit and wisdom were somewhat muddy to me too.

To belabor the obvious, sometimes content is universal and easily understood. Other times one has to stretch and guess, which is not a bad thing either. In the case of this movie, I would’ve been grateful for a cultural guide to explain the references and their significance.

All this is a lead-in to a mention of a current film event, Ottawa’s 29th European Union Film Festival, taking place Nov 13-30. Presenting 27 films in 23 languages.

Each Festival evening will be introduced by EU Member State Ambassadors, exclusive video greetings from filmmakers, or by special guests. Many nights are followed by complimentary Embassy receptions for all audience members. All of the films shown are Ottawa premieres, presented at the Auditorium of 395 Wellington St., Ottawa (Library and Archives Canada building).

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La cage dorée was directed by Ruben Alves and stars Rita Blanco and Joaquim de Almeida. The film won numerous awards in Europe

I’ve only seen one of the films already, The Gilded Cage, a 2013 France/Portugal film.

Here’s how a viewer from Portugal wrote that up for the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) website:

A couple of Portuguese immigrants living and working in Paris, France for more than 30 years, she a janitor in a condominium and he a mason in a small firm, receive the information that a distant relative in Portugal has left them a fortune as heritage but with the condition that they must return to live in Portugal. This creates great stress to them since they both maintain very cordial relations with their bosses and their children are already grown-up French citizens who are not in the mood of going to Portugal a country very strange to them. Their bosses (chiefly the husband’s one) try to improve their working conditions to prevent their leaving. All this story develops itself in several episodes full of humour without breaking its natural realism and the authenticity of the labour, family and social relations (with ups and downs). A funny story that gives you a happy frame of mind mixed up with a healthy sentimentality. A final word for the cast’s performance both of the Portuguese (Rita Blanco, Maria Vieira and Joaquim de Almeida among others) and the French which is excellent and very convincing moreover.

As an American who has lived the past 15 years in Canada, the theme of dual-identity and the push/pull of old and new was something that truly resonates. It’s a fine, fun film – see it if you can.

An engaging historical comedy/drama from South Korea

Gwanghae, Wangyidoen namja features a tour de force performance by Byung-hun Lee

Another foreign film I would recommend is Masquerade (South Korea, 2012). As summarized by this Hollywood Reporter review:

Recalling both Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper and the political satire DaveMasquerade is a lavish historical drama from South Korea about a commoner recruited to impersonate a tyrannical king. Gorgeously mounted, it’s far more accessible than the usual imported Asian period dramas that require extensive historical knowledge, and the welcome doses of humor make its 131-minute running time go down easily.

That’s my current short list. What so-called foreign film(s) would you recommend?


Across the continent with a dog and a canoe

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Seven months with a canoe and a dog. That’s how an adventurer from northwestern Ontario has spent a large chunk of 2014. Mike Ranta, a 43-year-old man from the small town of Atikokan, Ontario – the “Canoeing Capital of Canada” – has just completed the adventure of a lifetime by paddling solo across North America accompanied only by his dog, Spitzii. (Spitzii is a Finnish spitz breed of dog, hence the name)

Mike and Spitzii left Vancouver, British Columbia on April 1 and arrived in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia on October 31 after travelling over 7000 km. Their route took them up the Fraser river, across the continental divide, through the Canadian prairies on the north Saskatchewan river, across Lake Manitoba and the upper Great Lakes, down the Ottawa river and the lower St. Lawrence and along the eastern coast of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Most nights they slept in a tent, sometimes at public marinas, often out in the remote wilderness and occasionally on the property of generous people they met along the way who offered them a secluded place to spend the night – and a meal. Courtesy of Mikes GPS tracking locator, his actual route can be viewed here.

PastedGraphic-2The Guinness World Records organization is expected to certify this trip as the longest solo canoe paddle ever undertaken. And it marks the first time a solo paddler has ever crossed Canada from coast to coast by canoe in one canoeing season.

So why would someone do something like this?

Mike has undertaken this trip in order to raise funds for a youth centre in his home town through a non-profit organization entitled Atikokan Youth Initiatives. And he has been spreading the word along the way about the importance of getting young people interested in exercise and outdoor adventure and showing respect for nature.

Equally importantly, crossing Canada by some means not involving an internal combustion engine (bicycle, horse, walking, wheel chair, canoe) has become somewhat of a right of passage in this country for a certain segment of the population. As someone who bicycled across Canada many years, ago I can definitely relate to that urge to prove yourself and see the country the way few others do.

I was fortunate enough to meet up with Mike on two occasions. With his large sombrero-style hat, colourful rain gear, large rubber boots, long hair and beard and booming voice, he certainly comes across as a larger-than-life individual. But he also impresses with his deep knowledge of the early history of Canada and its cultural traditions in each region he travelled on this trip. And, not surprisingly, his love for the countrys natural scenery comes through loud and clear.

Mike told me about some of his more hair-raising moments. These included a portage of over 200 kilometres along the trans-Canada highway through the Rocky Mountains in the snows of mid-April, paddling upstream on the Winnipeg River in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario against the fastest and highest water levels that river has seen since 1926, falling down a 15-foot cliff while portaging the canoe in Ontario and battling the tidal currents on the lower St. Lawrence below Quebec City – which finally caused Mike to portage by road again until he reached the Atlantic Ocean. And his last obstacles were the relentless swells and high winds on New Brunswicks east coast which forced him to portage his canoe for virtually the entire length of New Brunswick – a distance of over 200 km (again!). He finished his trip one day before a major snowstorm hit the Canadian maritime provinces.

Then there were the encounters. One night on the prairies an aggressive pack of coyotes surrounded the tent yelping at top volume, apparently intent on attacking Spitzii. Only loud banging on pots and brandishing a paddle scared them off. Another evening, after a long paddle across a portion of Lake Superior, they approached shore to camp only to be met by a very large black bear who made it plain that that spot belonged to him (or her); a quick exit to look for another camping spot was the wise choice. On the North Saskatchewan river, they came across a dead body which they promptly reported to the local police (no word on how that resolved itself). In northern Manitoba, man and dog had a frightening, extremely close encounter with a lightning strike during a thunderstorm which left Mike with a ringing in his ears for a few days. And after landing at a camping spot near Quebec city, Mike got a lesson in tidal action when he had to go for an impromptu swim to rescue his canoe which the tide was slowly carrying out into the middle of the river. Read about his own account of 5 major brushes with deathhere.



But there was also the kindness of strangers. After Mike inadvertently left his wallet containing all his money and information in the wilderness at the end of a portage, another paddler coming through the next day found it and managed to get it back to Mike with more money in it than when he lost it!

You can listen to a CBC Thunder Bay interview with Mike on his last day of paddling here.

So whats next for Mike. Well, he intends to write a book about his trip and, in 2016, repeat the cross-Canada adventure by way of a different canoe route!


Car Talk theoretician, Moseby Wye

Tom Magliozzi's laugh boomed in NPR listeners' ears every week as he and his brother, Ray, bantered on Car Talk. Photo: courtesy Car Talk

Tom Magliozzi’s laugh boomed in NPR listeners’ ears every week as he and his brother, Ray, bantered on Car Talk. Photo: courtesy Car Talk

Public radio listeners have had a love affair with Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers (aka Tom and Ray Magliozzi) since Car Talk  came on the air nationwide in the 1980s. Except of course for those who hated it. It was not a programming choice that inspired neutral feelings. In any event, the lovers far outnumber the haters, making the show a perennial topper of listener ratings, even now in re-airs, two years after the brothers retired from producing new shows.

The show would seem at first glance an odd pick for public radio, which has a reputation for going badly off the rails whenever it tries to bring the funny. But somehow the combination of banter, listener voices and sometimes maniacal laughter, salted with occasional sound mechanical advice (and perhaps less sound relationship counseling) stuck a chord. And it continues to do so.

I have a theory about why that is. When the show began, we were mostly driving cars built in Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s, cheap old ones, because we were young (or younger) and lots broker.

Public radio listeners needed car advice because we were going out on cold mornings to slide a tray of coals from the woodstove under the oil pan of a giant rust bucket with a dodgy battery in hope that it would fire up one last time and take you to work.  We were strapping down Coleman catalytic heaters with bungie cords to the cargo lugs and cracking all the windows, so the van with the shot heat exchangers could defrost enough to clear the windshield. Public radio listeners were reattaching their exhaust systems with coat hangers and wrapping chains around gas tanks that were otherwise attached to the vehicle only by the fill line and the gas line.

Tom and Ray understood. They could gently chide us toward better life choices. And they could make us see the humor in it all. Car culture is American culture, even in these latter days of owning cars that the bank will actually lend you money to buy, and having a relationship with a mechanic such that you don’t even have to know where they put the hood latch.

Tom Magliozzi was a national treasure and I am missing him this morning. Open roads, a clean windshield and a good friend to ride shotgun, Tom.

Election fair play

Yard signs on a corner in Canton. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Yard signs on a corner in Canton. Photo: Ellen Rocco

It’s said that all politics are local and I think there’s truth in that. At the local level, people are more likely to vote for the candidate and not worry so much about the party. In my township, one of the most closely followed races every two years is for town road supervisor. The work accomplished by the road crew affects everyone, on a daily basis. (Don’t get me started on what I think is the foolishness of electing a road supervisor, rather than doing a bona fide search based on skills and experience…that’s for another post.)

Around here, the main tool for getting the word out about a candidacy is the lawn sign. I know, I know. We all love to hate the explosion of lawn signs during election season, but it’s inexpensive and gets the candidates’ names out there. It’s part of the free speech thing we all believe in.

Sometimes, I’ll pass a yard with half a dozen or more signs promoting candidates for every office on the year’s ballot. They go by in a blur and none of them register with me.

Defaced yard sign in DeKalb. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Defaced yard sign in DeKalb. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Turning onto my road the other evening, a sign for one of the (several) candidates running for town supervisor definitely caught my attention. Bold blue graffiti defaced it. As I said, I don’t much care for election lawn signs, but this troubled me. It troubled my neighbors, too. There is something angry, mean and unfair about the desecration of campaign signs–it felt as if someone had sabotaged a voting machine, or the First Amendment.

It makes me want to vote for the candidate whose sign was defaced–just to protest the bad behavior. I suspect it was not one of the other candidates who did the damage. Most likely, it’s someone who doesn’t like the candidate or has a grudge against him. Whatever the reason, my message to the person who did the damage: don’t mess with campaign signs because when you do you’re messing with my democracy…the little bit of it that’s left to us…at the local level.

Chris Hadfield’s inspiring views of planet Earth

youarehere_450A new book by retired astronaut Chris Hadfield generated chatter on NCPR earlier this week, but I want to wax rhapsodic too. What’s not to like about seeing our earth as the marvel it is?

It helps that Hadfield is a publicist’s dream come true. NASA and Canada could not have asked for a better representative. He’s built a solid reputation as a high-achiever who is funny, charming, musical and nicely down-to-earth, despite attaining world-wide fame.

If you’d like to hear more about Hadfield and the story behind the new book, here’s a long interview with Bob McDonald, long-time host of CBC science program Quirks and Quarks. McDonald, it should be noted, is a keener on space exploration, to the point where he wrote a book on a sub-set of that action: Canadian Spacewalkers.

Hadfield wrote another acclaimed book in 2013: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination and Being Prepared for Anything. Here’s what astronomer Phil Plait had to say about that book in this Slate review:

Far from being clichéd “it’s the journey, not the destination” exposition, he gives pretty solid advice on attitude, most of which runs counter to the overly-positive aphorisms you generally see.

One of my favorites, for example, was “visualize failure”. Hadfield learned that if you want to survive in space, you’d better be ready when something (or everything) goes wrong, so you’d better sweat the small stuff and figure out contingency plans for when things go south. This advice runs 180° from the “visualize success” motivational posters, which I have always found trivialize the process of achieving a goal. That kind of advice might be encouraging, but in the end doesn’t really help you actually get there. You can visualize success all you want, but when things go wrong you won’t be prepared. Far from being cynical, visualizing failure is pragmatic — it might save your life in space, but it might help you attain your own goals right here on Earth.

Another bit I liked was, “aim to be a zero”. Someone who actively makes things worse is a “-1”, and someone who actively adds value is a “+1”. But in general, walking into a new situation and trying to add value before you know the lay of the land (or worse, telling everyone how great you’ll be) can easily turn a positive value into a negative one. Initially aiming to be a zero prevents that — it’s like the doctor’s adage, “First, do no harm.” As Hadfield puts it, “You have to be competent, and prove to others you are, before you can be extraordinary. There are no shortcuts, unfortunately.” It’s very rare that someone is a +1 out of the gate, and chances are you won’t be.

I know, that’s not as inspirational as you might expect. But it’s realistic. That’s why I like it better.

The book review site Good Reads had this comment on Hadfield’s semi-autobiography from Rick

Depending on your outlook on things, this book will either make you feel like you have lived a vastly underwhelming and underachieving sort of life, full of these lost opportunities, these missed chances… or it will make you feel infinitely inspired, like you can live more and do more just be more in general, and it will serve as fuel to your rocket, to use a hackneyed analogy.

Hadfield and I are almost the exact same age. So if I make the mistake of comparing my life to his, I come away feeling very small indeed. But Hadfield philosophy would never make that mistake. No, every day (he reminds the reader) we get to make choices about what we value and how to best pursue worthy goals.

In his newest book Hadfield says something else I quite like: it would be easy to moralize about what the images have to say. But he wants the viewer to look, think and draw their own conclusions.

Lastly, if this all sounds like a giant commercial I’m OK with that because Hadfield isn’t hauling the proceeds off to the bank.

“The pictures belong to everybody. We’re donating the proceeds to the Red Cross. My motivation was not to get rich making this book. It was much more that I wanted people to see the world the way we see it from the space station and hopefully feel some of the change of perspective.”

True, some would argue the Red Cross could stand a good make-over itself. But then again, everyone can aim higher (and be happier for it) according to the Hadfield school of life.

Great Lakes from the International Space Station 2013-03-15 Public Domain NASA/Chris Hadfield - Expedition 35/Chris Hadfield

Great Lakes from the International Space Station 2013-03-15
Public Domain
NASA/Chris Hadfield – Expedition 35/Chris Hadfield

Being scared, being scary

Could be a kitten. Could be a face-eating kitten. Photo: Hope Abrams, Creative Commons, some rights reserveda

Could be a cute little kitten. Could be a face-eating kitten. Photo: Hope Abrams, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Having a “good scare” is one of the pleasures of childhood, as our annual excursion into costumery, gluttony, and the dimmer corners of the collective unconscious demonstrates each October 31. Boo! Jump. Nervous giggle. Fun. But as we grow up, we are supposed to become brave and bold, and as we age we are supposed to become wise and level-headed.

So what has derailed that natural progression? There is a new “scare” seemingly every day. So much that I have a hard time now keeping track of all the things I am supposed to be afraid of–flesh-eating bacteria, serial killers, Ebola, child abductors, pandemic flu, terrorist cells, border-jumpers, identity thieves, mass surveillance, home invaders–what’s next?

And there are all the ways the world can end–the zombie apocalypse, the Mayan apocalypse, the climate apocalypse, the nuclear holocaust, the asteroid extinction, the “gray goo” nanotech scenario, not to forget the Biblical end times scenario. Yikes!

I grew up in a time when the term “existential threat” looked a little more realistic and a lot more immediate. On this day in 1952 the first hydrogen bomb was exploded. When I was a child, often the last thing I heard at night was a fully loaded nuclear bomber from Plattsburgh Air Force Base that perpetually circled the North Country, because when the moment came to wipe out the world, it would come too quickly to scramble and launch from the ground. Sweet dreams, son.

So these days I just try to get a grip. Not that there aren’t things to legitimately fear. Will all those cigarettes I smoked catch up with me? Is all this time spent online rotting my brain? Now, whenever someone else is trying really hard to make me afraid of something, I ask the classic investigator’s question–Cui bono? Who benefits from my fear? And the answer is never “Me.”

Iconic places of childhood

The famous, albeit unglamorous, Katz's. Photo: Thomas Hawk, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

The famous, albeit unglamorous, Katz’s. Photo: Thomas Hawk, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Earlier this week I came across an article in the NY Times about the challenges facing the current owner–and descendant of the original owner–of Katz’s delicatessen in New York City. The oldest deli in the city. That alone earns it “icon” status.

I was born in Manhattan. My father was born in what he called Russia but what is now known as Ukraine. He came through Ellis Island just before World War I with his mother and younger sister. His father had already emigrated and was living on the Lower East Side. My mother and father didn’t have my brother and me until very late in life.

Pastrami on rye a la Katz's Delicatessan.

Pastrami or corned beef on rye a la Katz’s Delicatessan. Photo: Al Scandar Solstag, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Every Sunday when I was growing up, we’d visit my grandmother, or Bobbe, who was still living on the Lower East Side–and would until she died at about 90 (my grandfather had died decades before I was born). Grandma lived on Norfolk just off Delancey Street, the Lower East Side’s main drag.

My grandmother owned what was called a “candy store”–which sold magazines, penny candy, some dusty odds and ends of paper and canned goods. But the heart of the narrow, dark business was the six-seat lunch counter from behind which my Bobbe dispensed homemade chicken soup. When I was little, my aunt Jerry worked at Katz’s Delicatessan, two blocks down Delancey from Norfolk.

Back in the ’50s, NYC, like most of the country, still had “blue laws”– prohibiting most commercial and retail activity on Sunday. The Lower East Side at that time was populated overwhelmingly by Jewish immigrants and had a special dispensation to keep stores open on Sunday because virtually every store was closed on Saturday for the Jewish sabbath.

On Sundays, we’d arrive at grandma’s tenement building, climb the three flights to her apartment if Uncle Eli was minding the store, or cross the street to see grandma in the store and get served wide flat bowls of chicken noodle soup with a film of grease across the surface. Sometimes, we’d visit Aunt Jerry at Katz’s. There were delicatessans in every Jewish neighbor  in those days. Katz’s was king. The wellspring.

Photo: Mike Licht, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Photo: Mike Licht, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Salamis hanging in the window and from the ceiling above the meat counter. Glass cases were loaded with roast beef, pastrami,  knishes, stuffed derma (also known as kishka), chopped liver,and every other artery-clogging eastern European food group. We always sat at a table, the kids ordering cream sodas, the adults celery soda (I still go “yech” when I think of celery soda).  Over on Second Avenue, the Second Avenue Deli dispensed dairy meals; Katz’s was the meat deli.

A few years ago, I took my son to the Tenement Museum, and then to where grandma’s tenement and store had been located (replaced with newer apartment buildings about 15 years ago).

Then, we walked over to Delancey and Katz’s. I hadn’t been there in decades and it seemed–of course–much smaller and far less impressive. But we ordered two cream sodas, and some sandwiches, and I thought of Aunt Jerry and grandma, in a neighborhood that is now predominantly Latino. Katz’s keeps the feel of my childhood alive. Iconic.

So, tell me where you grew up and what iconic businesses or buildings remain (if only in your memory).


Motherhood, apple pie and the Red Cross


World War II poster, the mom and apple pie iconic image of the Red Cross. Photo: Library of Congress via Wikipedia.

Icons of American life. Except the Red Cross seems to fall off its pedestal on a pretty regular basis in recent years. The current CEO Gail McGovern was brought on board in 2008 to help clean up the organization’s post-Katrina public image and public trust problems that surfaced during that disaster. She may have taken the image buffing charge a bit too much to heart, or too literally. In research and a story released on the occasion of the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, some disturbing priorities funded by the Red Cross under McGovern’s leadership:

Red Cross officials at national headquarters in Washington, D.C. compounded the charity’s inability to provide relief by “diverting assets for public relations purposes,” as one internal report puts it. Distribution of relief supplies, the report said, was “politically driven.”

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.

And, this:

During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.

Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern speaks at a post-Sandy press conference on Staten Island with emergency response vehicles as backdrops. Relief workers were angered that the vehicles were diverted for public relations purposes. (Via ProPublica: Catherine Barde/American Red Cross via Flickr)

Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern speaks at a post-Sandy press conference on Staten Island with emergency response vehicles as backdrops. Relief workers were angered that the vehicles were diverted for public relations purposes. (Via ProPublica: Catherine Barde/American Red Cross via Flickr)

This story has received a lot of attention following the coverage on NPR and via ProPublica. You may have heard the NPR coverage on the news programs this week. I urge you to check the extensive article at ProPublica if you’re interested in this story.

Certainly the Red Cross has done important, life-saving work over the years. But Ms. McGovern’s attention to branding and heavy investment in PR to elevate the organization’s image has been counter-productive. Everyone knows the Red Cross does good stuff. The best way to advance its image is to continue to do that work, and more of it–by spending far less on PR and at least 80% on the job of helping people.

I have a couple of dogs in this race. Back in ’98, during the ice storm that left huge swaths of the north country and eastern Ontario and western Quebec without power for as much as three weeks, the compelling takeaway was how quickly local volunteer fire departments and churches organized to provide relief to their communities. What they needed more than anything else was rapid response from the Red Cross to bring needed supplies into the region. That isn’t quite what happened. The Red Cross was relatively slow to respond and then the supplies had to be distributed on Red Cross terms, rather than allowing already effective and locally knowledgeable volunteers to proceed with their own methods. The Red Cross left a lot of ill-will in the wake of their presence in the north country.

As far as I'm concerned, this is all the branding the Red Cross needs...if it's doing its job well. Photo: public domain

As far as I’m concerned, this is all the branding the Red Cross needs…if it’s doing its job well. Photo: public domain

More recently, both FEMA and the Red Cross failed to deliver critical relief to the poor coastal neighborhoods outside of NYC. My son, who lives in Manhattan, has traveled to Far Rockaway every Sunday for the past year to help rehab housing, build pocket parks, playgrounds and gardens for the families who received no help in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Elsewhere in the state, politicians showed up to hand out money and promises to rebuild, while middle class or wealthier residents figured out how to access assistance from FEMA, and the Red Cross was visibly present. In Far Rockaway, it’s been crumbs–and the most help has once again come from local churches and community groups that just rolled up their sleeves and pitched in. No politically influential photo ops in Far Rockaway.

Mom and apple pie continue to hang in there without needing brand repair because they make their branding point by being what they are–Mom loves you regardless of your flaws and apple pie is just darn good to eat. Instead of spending time and money telling you what the brand is, maybe the Red Cross could learn something from mom and apple pie by simply doing what we all think the Red Cross does with its money.

Another regional winner: chocolate

Dark, milk or white, there's god chocolate being made right here. Image: Ajout d'une transparence

Dark, milk or white, lots of chocolate is being produced all over the place. Image: Romainhk, Creative Commons

New York, Vermont, Quebec and Ontario all produce lots of maple syrup, an array of dairy products, big crops of apples and so on. NCPR has reported on micro-breweries, craft beer studies, wine producers and wine trails and experimental crops, like saffron. Cocoa beans don’t grow here but it turns out our region makes some pretty good chocolate too.

As reported by Laura Robin in the Ottawa Citizen:

Hummingbird Chocolate Maker, a three-year-old bean-to-bar chocolate company based in Almonte, has won a second set of honours in as many weeks.

The International Chocolate Awards 2014 announced Monday Hummingbird has won Bronze in the Plain Dark Single-Origin category in the intensely competitive Americas semi-finals for its Hispaniola bar, which is made with beans from the Dominican Republic.

Last week, Hummingbird won Silver in the Canada-wide competition in the “dark chocolate bars flavoured with an infusion or flavouring” category for its Fleur de Sel bar, which is also made with beans from the Dominican Republic.

Not knowing much about the International Chocolate Awards I went to their website. Wow, what an amazing number of categories! And how might one apply to be a judge? (Hmm, experts only. Too bad.)

Vermont’s Lake Champlain Chocolates (est. 1983) has its own bean-to-bar award winner in a new line under the Blue Bandana label: “winner of the 2014 Good Food Awards for its 70% Madagascar Dark Chocolate Bar and 70% Madagascar Wild Pepper Dark Chocolate Bar.” Here’s a company Q & A with Eric Lampman about that award and why he wanted to work on single-origin craft chocolate.

Truth be told, it’s hard to write about all this without wanting to do more investigative reporting and some quality control sampling. But it’s nice to see this level of diversity and success as people in our region broaden what we make and eat.

Where it starts: cocoa fruit with cocoa beans. Image by Mininus, Creative Commons

Where it starts: cocoa fruit with cocoa beans. Image by Mininus, Creative Commons