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At the gardenWhile Val worked on her term paper this weekend, I took advantage of the sunshine and mild temperatures to honor my name by working on our vegetable garden. It was exciting and a bit scary: I didn’t know if I was doing things right and I didn’t want to kill off our seedlings or sow our seeds incorrectly (I think I placed them too low… we’ll see).

Strawberry and lettuceI’m at the point where I’m just beginning to realize that I’m in total ignorance about gardening. I used to think it was easy; now, researching about how to grow food properly, I keep reading about nitrogen-fixing this and bolting that, about transplant shocks, companion plants, crop rotation, disease control, and lots more concepts that I don’t know how to tie together. I hear enough about these things to recognize I’m doing things far from optimally (I didn’t mulch the site last Fall, I waited too long to weed it out, and I waited even longer to transplant the seedlings), so I’ll be satisfied with a very modest crop this season. But I’ll learn fast—especially thanks to several friends who have been giving me plenty of great advice and seeds.

Spring sunsetI used up slightly less than half of our veggie patch. I filled it up with lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach, parsley, cilantro, strawberries, and two kinds of peas. The rest of the patch is waiting for warmer weather and will hopefully feature several varieties of tomatoes (including tomatillos) and hot peppers (jalapeño and chile ancho), zucchini, and edible flowers. I hope we’ll be able to share this with some of you, and more bountiful harvests on years to come.

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Birthday

Birthday cake
I celebrated my first birthday here in Victoria a week and a half ago! We had lots and lots of good friends coming over, and it was heartwarming—even though it sometimes feels like we just moved into town, my party was a fantastic reminder of how many great friendships we’ve already made here. Thanks to everyone who made it!

Mexican House of Spice

Inside the Mexican House of SpiceA friend of us tipped us to a new business in town: the Mexican House of Spice, at 2220 Douglas St. As the name suggests, the store stocks Mexican spices, but it has a lot more stuff: tortilla flour, cheeses (fresco, panela, oaxaca…), tostadas, cactus, dried chiles, tomatillos, tamales, piñatas, and a long et cetera that includes goods from all over Latin America and Africa. It’s a bit like Perolas in Kensington Market, in Toronto. Spread the word and visit the store, to make sure it stays in business!

Circo

Still from "Circo"Val and I went to see “Circo” at the Victoria Film Festival last Saturday. It’s a documentary directed by Aaron Schock about a struggling circus touring rural Mexico, and about the family whose members own it, publicize it, set it up, perform in it, take it down after a day or two, and move on to the next town (tigers, camels, and llamas in tow), barely scraping enough to get by, torn between business and family obligations, dreaming of the days when their acts will be more solid and their crew larger so that they’ll be able to compete in the big cities, but seeing those dreams move farther and farther away with each stop on the road.

It’s a very good documentary, and one of those rare movies that portray Mexico as it really is. It is not afraid of exploring my country’s complexities in full, but it does so gently, sweetly, and lovingly. I hope it will get a wider distribution. Catch it if you can. Here’s an interview with Schock, if you’re interested in learning more.

Back from León

Casa de la Cultura, LeonVal and I came back from León a week ago, after a much needed month-long stay. It was a bittersweet visit: I was delighted to see so many friends and family doing well, but while we were there, on January 2nd, my grandmother died of pneumonia after a long decay. I expected it to happen any day for the past few years (and, all things considered, I am glad she’s finally at peace), but I did not expect to be there to say goodbye.

With my father and grandmother, early 2008I find now that going back to my hometown makes me feel older—or rather, it lets me realize my age, the status of my generation. I have plenty of younger nephews and cousins that I can barely recognize, and to whom I’m only vaguely familiar too. “Do you know who I am?” often draws out a negative, as it did when I was a boy and some traveling relative (an Older Man, to my eyes) came to León on a visit. Many of my friends have left the city or are otherwise engaged in grown-up activities and worries: mortgages, kids, schools, and the like. And the city, of course, has grown and changed: I find it slightly unsettling and unfamiliar how the old paths I took no longer take me where I want to go, and how the places I want to go to are not necessarily there anymore. In Toronto, and now in Victoria, I’m somewhat removed from all this; having it all hit me at once is a bit of a shock.

With the Aranda-Greenes, this visitAnd yet it’s all good: seeing all these people and places, however different from those that I left behind on our previous visit, still brings out many of the same chords and emotions, the same aromas and flavours that are a part of me and that I didn’t know I’d miss so much, because I hadn’t learned to tell them apart from those of the rest of the world.

We’re wrapping up another year, so I thought of sharing pointers to some of the things that got me excited throughout 2010 while I was not burying my head in my thesis or packing for our move to Victoria.

In terms of books, last year around this time I was very excited by Javier Marías’ trilogy, “Tu Rostro Mañana.” I still haven’t read it, unfortunately, but I did read the older “Corazón tan Blanco,” and I loved its flowing prose and its subtle plot. I was quite surprised with Roberto Bolaño’s “El Tercer Reich“—not by its quality (Bolaño is always fantastic), but by the discovery that he must have been, for a while at least, a boardgame geek: the novel narrates, with plenty of interest, a match of a game that seems to be “The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich” between a German nerd and a tortured South American. I know only two other novels that take a serious look at boardgaming (Kawabata’s “The Master of Go” and Nabokov’s “The Defense“); I love the former, and I have not read the latter.

I also plunged into Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” which has taken me a little more than I expected (I’ve only just finished Volume III), but I’m thoroughly enjoying every page. It’s not just the hypnotic prose (and I wish I could read it in the original French), but the blindingly bright cognitive, psychological, and sociological insights—a humbling masterpiece.

Probably the best non-fiction book I read this year was Paul Edwards’ history of the development of climate modeling, “A Vast Machine.” It’s engaging, timely, and fairly accessible, while exploring the difficult epistemological questions of climate simulation. On a different topic, Richard Evans’ historical trilogy of the Third Reich is engrossing and informative, and probably the best I could ask for to understand that brutal period of history.

To get a fascinating individual perspective of that time, you should read or subscribe to the “Orwell Diaries” blog, which posts entries from George Orwell’s journal seventy years to the day (so the most recent entry today is from December 29th, 1940, in the midst of Germany’s campaign of aerial bombings in the UK—thanks to Greg Wilson for the pointer). For more recent events, there are several blogs I came to love this year: George Monbiot‘s provides great commentary on ecological and social affairs (and he engaged in a wrenching debate with my PhD advisor, Steve Easterbrook, on the topic of the East Anglia emails). The New York Times’ “The Stone” blog demonstrates that philosophy is practical and relevant. Boston.com’s “The Big Picture” is a jaw-dropping photo blog (thanks to Michael Tobis for the tip). The New Yorker Fiction podcast features cool short story readings and discussions. And after the G20 meeting in Toronto, I discovered the Waging Nonviolence blog, which among many inspiring news and reflections on non-violence pointed to this essay on the futility of the Black Bloc that I wish was more widely read.

I’ve mentioned some of the great things we’ve discovered in Victoria in the few months we’ve been there (the delicious food from the Puerto Vallarta Amigos’ taco truck, Lifecycles’ fruit picking project), but there’s others I have not talked about: the Good Food Box (which is as great as Toronto’s, except for the fact that deliveries are monthly, not biweekly); the Springridge Commons permaculture garden and the Haultain Boulevard’s street garden, where anybody can come and pick any fruit, vegetable, or herb they like (just leave enough for the rest!); and Transition Victoria, the local Transition initiative, of which I should talk more in a later post.

It wasn’t a great year for new movies for me: we rented plenty of wonderful classics, but I was mostly disappointed at the movie theatre. Two notable exceptions: the mexploitation extravaganza of “Machete” and the Toronto-loving geeky fantasy of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” It wasn’t a great year for boardgames either (though I’m holding out for “The Resistance“), except for the hours and hours I spent playing Go, a game of intimidating depth and beauty that I appreciate more with every match I play (I’m “yorchopolis” at the Dragon Go Server; feel free to invite me to a game!).

Some software tools and I’m done; these may be old news for you, depending on where you’re coming from: I discovered Mendeley for managing my library of academic papers and notes (after painfully parting without my annotated paper copies of hundreds of papers in Toronto), I started taking advantage of Instapaper to reduce the clutter of my browser tabs, and for task management I switched from Toodledo (which was alright) to Omnifocus (expensive, but it fits like a glove!).

That’s it, I think. I hope you enjoy these as much as I have, and I wish you a happy New Year!

En León

Vale y yo andamos de visita en León para cerrar el año. Encuentro la ciudad menos cambiada que la última vez que venimos; quizá porque aquella ocasión vimos abierto por primera vez el nuevo distribuidor vial. Entre las novedades buenas y malas que me han llamado la atención en esta visita hasta ahora:

  • Cada vez hay más contaminación. En la mañana se distingue una nube de smog sobre toda la ciudad.
  • El Forum Cultural tiene un nuevo teatro, supuestamente buenísimo, que tendremos que visitar.
  • En la entrada a la ciudad desde el aeropuerto hay un nuevo monstruo: un centro de “outlets” de zapatos. No me explico cómo piensan estas zapaterías mantener también todas sus otras sucursales en la ciudad.
  • Más ciclovías.
  • Más tráfico.
  • La comida china y thai como que se empieza a poner de moda.
  • Un circo de los Backyardigans.