From the Blog

English-speaking Canada: nice, but dull

There is a common stereotype about Canada and the Canadians: that they are nice, but dull. I really wanted to be able to disprove this idea when I visited Canada, but in retrospect I really can’t. Sure, I had fun doing some things in Canada, and there are some exceedingly pretty places, but I have come away with the sensation that if you don’t go to Canada, then, well, you’re not missing much. If you can’t face reading this whole article (I certainly don’t blame you), don’t worry because I am really going to be saying the same thing over and over again.

This is a very lengthy article, because I haven’t written for such a long time. You can read from beginning to end, or else jump straight to the sections on Vancouver, my experience on the trains, Edmonton, …

A list of Canadian place-names I find kind of amusing or at least vaguely interesting

Before I got on the first train of my trans-Canadian railway odyssey at Vancouver, a man at the station gave me a map of the route, which was published by the Canadian National (CN) Railway c. 1967. Glancing at it on and off, I was able to discern a couple of categories of place-names shown on the map: those which sounded funny, because of either the words or the sounds used; and those which are strongly reminiscent of one ‘old country’ or the other. Here are some of those which caught my eye

Funny Words and Sounds

  • Antigodish, NS
  • Barrie, ON
  • Bartibog, NB
  • Chilliwack, BC
  • Cranberry Portage, MB
  • Flin Flon, MB
  • Forget, QC (presumably really pronounced ‘forjé’)
  • Hope, BC
  • Knob Lake, NL
  • L’Épiphanie, QC
  • Medicine Hat, AB
  • Moose Jaw, SK
  • Nipissing, ON
  • Sexsmith, BC

Brief observations on the French spoken in Canada

As I learnt whenever it was we first came across the word and concept of francophonie in French classes at Gilling, they speak French in Canada. In France, meanwhile, they make fun of the French-Canadians for their accent and curious turns of expression. How exciting for me, therefore, to arrive in Quebec (the city), the capital of Quebec (the province) and be thrown into an almost-entirely francophone society. I have been amused and surprised by some of the the French I have heard so far, and what follows are a few brief observations based on my own experiences—they shouldn’t necessarily be taken to be indicative of the way everyone speaks French in Canada.

First, that hilarious pronunciation, of which the French make so much fun. At Mass on Sunday the girl singing …

Nightmare at Dream Lake and other Colorado stories

My flight from Los Angeles to Denver was delayed by more than ninety minutes and so when Elizabeth found me at the baggage carousel it was too late for us to do any of the activities she’d planned for us in Denver that afternoon. We went quickly to the family with whom she’d arranged for me to stay and then to the Fraternas’ house at the edge of the Auraria university campus in the centre of Denver.

The Fraternas’ house in Denver is within the parish building of a parish whose church is used both in the Latin rite (‘St Elizabeth of Hungary’s parish’) and the Byzantine rite (‘Sts Cyril and Methodius’ parish’)—one priest confusingly celebrates in both rites. Add to that the fact that the parish centre is called the ‘St Francis Centre’ (or …

A Tale of Two Cities: San Francisco & Seattle

A comparison is often drawn between Seattle and San Francisco. On paper, it’s easy to see why this would be: here are two Pacific-coast cities which portray themselves to the outside world in a similar way, with a fairly affluent, smart, well-educated, and ‘liberal’ (in the U.S.-American social sense) population. They also both have a large tech industry: the San Francisco Bay Area is home to ‘Silicon Valley’, including many of the recent successful Web startups as well as industry giants like Google, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple; Seattle is home to many major tech companies, including Microsoft,, and, er, The Omni Group. While on paper the two cities seem to resemble one another to a great extent, my own experience suggests that the two cities are not …

Five (not-so-)secret tips for getting the best experience when viewing my photos

Note that not all of this is still true on the current version of my site. I am now using the ‘Journal’ view-style by default, and have hidden the view-style menu on most galleries. You can still click on an individual photo in the Journal view to have the options to view it at larger (or smaller) sizes. You can also use the left and right arrow buttons on your keyboard to move through the photos one-by-one. The ‘map this’ option still works for photos that have embedded GPS co-ordinates.

I suspect that some people are poking through teeny-tiny photos and thus getting something far from the best experience. So, a few tips to increase your photo-viewing pleasure:

  1. When looking at a photo, click on it. The photo will then open as big as your screen will allow. …

Take that cap off!

Come on, America, it’s time to grow up and end your love-affair with the baseball cap. Face it, you look ridiculous. It’s fine if you want to cover your head outside or protect your eyes from the sun, but keeping it on inside? Pshaw. On my flight from Anchorage to Seattle I was surrounded by men in baseball caps, every one of them evidently covering his head in an effort to disguise its paltry cerebral content. They had all failed.

The event which really made me consider this situation was when I was dining in Fairbanks in an upstairs restaurant. A fellow diner across the room sat there, nonchalantly chewing the cud with his cap wedged on his head. I suppose you think that I shouldn’t have let it bothered me, but it did. I’m sorry to say, I judged that man. And he …

Three Days in SoCal

My time in Southern California was certainly too short: there was a lot more which I could have seen. What I did see and do, though, I enjoyed; this was due in large part, I’m sure, to the beautiful weather. It was not nearly as stiflingly hot as it had been in Texas and Tucson, but instead temperatures got to about 85ºF absolutely maximum on the days I was there, which was mitigated by cooling oceanic breezes. The days in Los Angeles were bright and clear, with none of the infamous smog trapped in by the Hollywood Hills.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles should perhaps really be called the ‘town of Our Lady, Queen of the angels’,1 but now of course Our Lady has been largely written out of the town’s nomenclature and this massive city—the epitome of massive urban …

Thoughts on Grand Canyon Tourism

Quick, someone check in on France to see if there’s anyone there. My experience at the Grand Canyon suggests that there was some sort of French national excursion to northern Arizona. I’m not over-exaggerating when I say that three out of four tourists I encountered there were French (-speaking). It is possible that there is an alternative national outing to San Francisco, because I heard lots of French being spoken by tourists there, too.

The Grand Canyon, when you get there, is undoubtedly spectacular.1 This enormous canyon has an average depth of a mile, with sheer red rock-faces giving way to rock stacks dotted throughout its middle. It is so large that the Colorado River is often barely visible from the rim of the canyon. While it was about 70ºF where I was on …