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Walking to grow

Jean got involved in a MEDA project to raise funds for women entrepreneurs in Ghana. Specifically, the funds go to assist women farmers with training and loans so they can grow more soybeans and forge market links. This approach has been found to increase food security for the whole community.

The fund-raising approach was to walk the Bruce Trail, a craggy Ontario escarpment trail that runs from Niagara to Tobermory. Two women signed up to do the whole thing (900 km), over the month of July. A larger group joined for the last 100 km of it, over a week. And a larger group still signed up to walk one or two days on the final weekend. Jean and I were part of that group.

Honestly, when Jean first asked if I wanted to join him that weekend, I pictured me lounging about on the beach while he did the walking. But no, he said, I should walk with him. Oh, I said. Guess I can do that.

Hope Bay Beach

Beach that I didn’t get to lounge at

But, Jean seemed fairly worried about the walk, which was to be 20 km on Saturday, with Sunday off. I wondered if I should also be worried about it. 20 km did seem a bit long. Also, I’d walked bits of the Bruce Trail previously, and hadn’t enjoyed the rocky segments.

But, it was so refreshing to have him worry about things, when that’s usually my job, that I thought I’d leave it to him. The weather forecast for the weekend was great: Sunny, highs in the low 20s. So, no worries there.

When we first got to the cottages we were staying at, no members of the one-week team were there, but some did show up eventually. (Not everyone was staying at the same place.) We first talked to two ladies, both in their 60s, who discussed the challenges they’d faced. How much of it wasn’t so much trail walking as rock climbing. Having to wade through water. Dealing with the bugs (hello, DEET). The elevation. How much time these distances were taking them, because it’s not the same as doing that same distance on a nice path.

If that wasn’t enough to start getting me worried, this was the clincher: Despite their success with the previous distances, they had decided there was no way they could do the Saturday hike, which was supposed to be one of the most difficult. Instead, they were going to do two alternate, shorter segments of the Bruce Trail on Saturday and Sunday.


We then met with a MEDA representative who had joined the group for a 17 km segment that he’d found more difficult than expected. Aerobically, fine, but very tired legs by that point. And he reported that a few other people were planning alternate routes for that weekend, and we could too.

Jean was rather disappointed at the thought of all his worrying going to waste. Blame me, I said. (I really am bad at clambering over rocks. Like, worse than the average person, I think.)

So on Sunday we found ourselves doing a 12 km segment of the Hope Bay trail, which the team had found to be one of the more pleasant parts of the Bruce. It has elevation, but not a lot of rocks, and offers some nice views.

Jean, |Cathy, and Hope Bay!

Hope Bay

That took us a good six hours, leading me to think that a more challenging 20-km stretch could easily have taken us twice that long.

And instead of our Sunday off, we did an 8-km stretch of the end part trail that we would have done on Saturday.

Some Hiking Some Climbing

This part featured some rock climbing, but fortunately, not much

It was also a pretty picturesque segment.

Little Cove Harbor

The whole effort raised nearly $100,000 for the women of Ghana. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

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I have opinions. About things.

One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all.

The Madness of King Donald, by Andrew Sullivan

But this is not really one of those times. It seems to me it would be exhausting to be against the current US administration right now, whether you are actively resisting (so many protests! So many calls to make and letters to write!) or feeling guilty that you aren’t resisting, or aren’t doing so enough.

Meanwhile in Canada…

I haven’t written, called, or protested about anything lately, save this letter to the editor about the faux scandal of Trudeau not attending Trump’s inauguration. Remember that? It seems so long ago! A number of people mentioned to me that they saw it.

It leaves me heartened that so many still read the local newspaper.

Oh, and I did sign the official petition protesting the Liberal’s abandonment of their electoral reform promise. Still open, if you’d like to do so also, though we all know it won’t change anything.

Electoral reform wasn’t my most important issue, but I did want to make at least minimal effort (and that was minimal) to register that the Liberal’s handling of it was… Unimpressive. 

First of all in the drafting of the promise itself:


If your goal is to no longer use first past the post, why are you studying mandatory and online voting? Neither of those is an alternative to first past the post! (You can be forced to vote or allowed to vote on your phone with any system.)

Second, in making such a big deal about it. This party made hundreds of promises, any number of which haven’t been mentioned since election night. Since we now know they weren’t so keen on it, why did they spotlight this particular one so much, repeating it, according to the Washington Post, 1813 times?

Third, their handling of the committee report. First, the Minister of Democratic Institutions insulted the committee members, saying “they had not completed the hard work we had expected it to do” [false!]. Then she followed it up with a press conference in which she made fun of math—always a good look on a young woman (so inspiring!).


What a ridiculous formula!

Fourth, in the Prime Minister’s lame excuses for killing the promise, citing fears of extremist parties holding the balance of power. What, like having a party that wants to break up the country as the Official Opposition (Bloc Québecois, 1993 ot 1997—thanks, first past the post!)? And then bizarrely citing the example of Kellie Leitch running her own party.

Under first past the post, Kellie Leitch has a reasonably good chance of becoming Prime Minister in 2019

After all, she is one of the front-runners in the 14-person race to be leader of the Conservative party of Canada.

Look, if I’m sympathetic to PR, it’s because Canada’s major parties sometimes move in alarming directions, and I know they only need to convince slightly more than a third of a the population (living the right places) to gain a majority of seats. And these days the Conservatives are doing far too much cozying up to their lunatic fringe for my comfort.

Four of them—Leitch, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, and Pierre Lemieux—happily attend a “Freedom rally” by “Rebel Media” (think Canada’s Breitbart) at which Muslims were called “unintegreteable” into Canadian society, and at which Muslims bans were requested. Nice!

And the rest? Four weeks after six Muslims were murdered while praying at their Quebec, the majority of them are reluctant to support a motion condemning Islamophobia and other religious discrimination. Why? Because the Rebel people had stoked fears and anger about this innocent motion, erroneously claiming that it would stifle freedom and speech and bring in Sharia law (!!!).



As Paul Wells says, “all parties must decide if it’s better to campaign on fear or campaign against it.” Are they with Iqra Kalid, the Liberal MP who brought forth this motion, or with the people now bombarding her with hate and death thteats?

So far, only Conservative canddiate Michael Chong has shown the courage and ethics to support Motion 103.

I never thought the first political party I’d join would be the Conservatives, but it’s the only way I can vote for Michael Chong as leader. [And you can too (if you’re Canadian): Sign up at It’s only $15.]

Who also happens to be the only candidate with a climate change plan—one that would also give us a big income tax cut! Otherwise, we have one climate denier (Trost) and 12 people who claim to believe it’s a problem but apparently don’t plan to do anything to fix it.

And this is an issue because the Conservative leadership is not first past the post, but a ranked ballot. Meaning that even though I only like one candidate, I have to try pick out the least objectionable remaining candidates to rank higher than the truly odious ones (the Rebel four, plus O’Leary, wh0 apparently intends to run the country from a US base). Wish me luck.

Cute cat video!

If you’ve actually made it this far down this post, you deserve this:



A most terrible year?

The year-end reviews certainly are gloomy this year. A sort of consensus that it’s hard to find anything good to say about 2016.

And for residents of some countries, that was certainly true. Poor Haiti had yet another earthquake. Syria! A daily dose of tragedy, made all the worse because our countries were involved in trying to stop it. And the Venezuelans—suffering under an incompetent President, their economic situation already bad and getting worse daily.

But as a global aggregate, the fact is that a lot of things are improving. (These charts don’t all include 2015—and can’t include 2016 yet, as it’s not done!—but the trends shown did not reverse themselves last year.)

Extreme poverty is down, and real incomes are up.



This one is for Canada specficially

People are healthier.


Life expectancy is also up, globally

Education rates are much higher.

literate-and-illiterate-world-populationHomicide (and other crime rates) are down, even in gun-happy US.


I think the source of all this gloom is the US election and its highly unfortunate result. Had Hillary Clinton won the Electoral College, Brexit would seem a weird mess the Brits got themselves into rather than part of an alarming global trend. We could celebrate the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement and some actual action on the front (carbon pricing in Canada! Mon dieux!) instead of feeling it’s all a bit for naught now. The loss of beloved celebrities, some at alarmingly young ages (had not realized just how contemporaneous George Michael and I were), would be just a sad thing that eventually happens to us all, and not a pile-on when we don’t want more bad news (on Christmas Day? Really?).

However… while the mood is understandable, it’s still troubling. Because it’s pessimism, and a nostalgic belief that things were better before, and a denial of the inconvenient fact that things are actually pretty good right now—that the President-Elect ran on and got himself elected with.

It’s not a good place to settle in, mentally. It leads to hopelessness, and inactino. This one bad event didn’t make all of 2016 terrible. (And not to bring down the room, but won’t it be worse once he’s actually in office?)

But in 2016, the US had a great President.


The 2016 Olympics were fun and kind of inspiring.


The number of women of colour elected to the US Senate in 2016 has quadrupled.


After a serious health scare last year, Roger Daltrey came back with a Who 2016 tour.


In 2016 the Canadian federal government and its gender-balanced cabinet made significant progress on trade with Europe, climate change, safe injection sites, assisted dying legislation, pipeline approvals (and rejections), and improvements to the Election Act.


The Hamilton Mixtape, released December 2016, was awesome.


And Saturday Night Live (and other satirical programs) provided some catharsis.

“I’m not giving up. And neither should you.”


Costs and benefits of reading Wired magazine

Wired magazine itself isn’t premium priced. Plus, they post most of their articles on their website for free. They get a little antsy about ad blockers, but that’s fair.

I started following Wired on Twitter during the last Canadian election. I thought that a little more science and tech news would be a nice break from all the politics in my feed. And I was right; it was welcome content. With the far worse US election on now, I can hardly give up on it.

But I hadn’t realized to what extent I was personally susceptible to constant promotion of the latest and greatest tech. I should have suspected, given that a single Wired article led me to spend I don’t know how much on a three-room Sonos system. I do love it, admittedly, but maybe there are other, cheaper wireless speakers that would have satisfied?


Mmm, shiny new tech. (Image: Shutterstock)

Now I’m constantly drooling over new cell phones. Not iPhones, mind—I am simply not of the Apple world, and not even Wired can convince me to join it. (Possibly because I take such perverse amusement in reading about iWorld troubles; to wit the hilarious Don’t update your f-ing iphone!

nsoonaecxhen0kibllqmEnd of digression.)

But in “my” world of unlocked Android phones, look what they said about the Nexus 6P (the later iteration of my current phone):

There is absolutely no reason not to buy this phone. None. Zero. The Nexus 6P is the closest thing there’s ever been to a perfect Android device.

The perfect Android device! Why wouldn’t I want that? There’s no reason!

Except that, you know, it is a $700 (Can.) phone. Wired’s answer to that  point (in US dollars) [bolding mine]:

The Nexus 6P is absolutely the best Nexus phone ever. Hell, it’s the best Android phone ever. And at $499 unlocked, it’s even cheaper than nearly all its competitors. Everything Google could do, it did. It proved how good Android can be—that an Android phone can be better than the iPhone.

So it’s a deal! $700 is a deal, because it’s the best phone ever!

Only while I was pondering that, it basically went out of production, because there are new Nexus’s (Nexi?) coming out soon, and Wired hasn’t reviewed those yet.

But they did review the Huawei Honor 8!

Huawei’s new device, the Honor 8 (there have been many other Honors before), is every bit the spec monster smartphone. Glassy, colorful design; 12-megapixel camera, plus a second sensor just for good measure; ultra-fast processor and four gigs of RAM; fingerprint sensor that doubles as a clickable shortcut key; latest version of Android; lots of storage, with room to add more. In most practical ways, it’s not that far off from Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 7, or other Android phones like the new Moto Z. The only thing the Honor 8 is missing is the absurdly high (and VR-friendly) screen resolution, but you know what else it’s missing? $400 on the price tag.

Which translates to $520 Canadian. So look, by dawdling I’ve just saved $180! And, the Nexus is clearly too big (plus, out of production). I was about ready to order my new Huawei.

…Ignoring the fact that’s nothing really that wrong with my current phone, and the the little detail I don’t really use my phone that much, anyway. I’m much more the tablet girl, and Wired is kind of down on tablets these days (particularly of the Android variety).

I was also feeling some e-waste guilt. I started to ponder what could I do with the old phone, should I in fact get a new one. There are articles about that (you can guess where). It seemed it might serve as a sort of tablet extension for cases where the small screen isn’t so much an issue—for Chromecasting, Twitter reading, playlist display, and such. And yes, I can do that with the phone now, only that always risks me leaving the house without it—which doesn’t happen if I just keep the phone safely in my purse.

As I was justifying all that in my head, I won a 10″ tablet in a draw.


The prize

Now, this is not the sort device Wired would rave about. It’s a bit slow and clunky. It has only 8 GB storage and limited ability to use the SD storage. The screen looks acceptable only from direct angles. It’s not sporting the very latest version of Android.

But as an extension to my “good” Samsung Pro tablet, it’s fine! There are even a few things it does better.

It’s proven enough of a distraction that I’m willing to put off the phone purchase again.

Well, that, and the fact that I’m also… Awaiting shipment my new Kobo Aura One ereader!

The new Kobo Aura One is literally big, a 7.8-inch behemoth in a world of standard 6-inch displays. But its features are also outsized, whether it’s robust waterproofing, a clever new nighttime lighting system, or a way to help you read as many top-shelf books as you please without paying a cent. More importantly, they’re all enhancements you won’t find on an Amazon Kindle.

It was a mere $250 Canadian, and Jean thinks he will use my old Kobo. (Which is good, cause it’s still perfectly fine.)

Umm, how long now til the election?


A bewildered Canadian on a world gone mad

It’s Canada Day. And right now the world is giving me many reminders of how lucky I am to live here.

1. That Quebec’s referendum on separation was defeated.

I wasn’t paying much attention to Brexit until a couple weeks before it happened, and even then I was thinking that surely they wouldn’t vote Leave? Watching the results come in reminded me so much of the horrible Quebec separation referendum of 1995. A full night of tension (following weeks of worry on a vote I, an Ontarian, couldn’t even participate in) watching the movement of a Yes (separate) / No (stay) line on television.


That nail biting time before the needle moved to the side of good

But then, while the Yes started out strong, it gradually swung toward the No, who ended up taking it with a 0.6% margin. Whereas Great Britain’s vote was the opposite: A strong initial showing for Stay giving way to Leave, who took it with 2% margin. (No matter how many times I refreshed my browser.)

What would have happened to Canada had it gone the other way? Great Britain’s experience is giving us an idea:

  • A precipitous drop in currency.
  • Tumbling stock markets, with the UK dropping from the 5th to the 6th world economy overnight.
  • Expected rises in unemployment, debt and lowering of GDP and growth.
  • A Leave team with no plan for how to exit.
  • Political disarray all around, leaving no party or leader currently able to effectively govern through the chaos.
  • Regions (Scotland, Ireland, London) unhappy with the result talking separation of their own.

For Canada, it would have been all that, only worse. (For an idea just how ill-prepared the country was for the possibility of a Yes vote in the Quebec Referendum, read Chantal Hébert’s The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day That Almost Was.)

And just for the record, Leave voters in Great Britain: What you did was crazy. Your country had a great deal in the EU: you were allowed to retain your own currency and greater control over your own borders than other countries, while still enjoying full trading access and movement of workers. And you gave that up for what?


2. That recent attempts to win Canadians’ votes through xenophobic appeals have failed.

While a number of factors inspired Leave voters, the wish to reduce immigration—particular a certain kind of immigrant—was among them, as evidenced by the unfortunate increase in hate crime and racist abuse since the vote (as though racists now feel “allowed” to air their views). Meanwhile, the presumptive Republican nominee for US President wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country (“til we figure out what’s going on”) and build a wall to keep out Mexicans. And France has their National Front party. And so on…

But similar appeals haven’t met with success in Canada. In Quebec’s (them again) 2014 election, the Parti Québecois ran, in part, on a “Charter of Values” that would have banned public sector employees from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols:


This bill was so popular in polls, the PQ used it try to turn their minority government into a majority. It didn’t work. After a fairly disastrous campaign by the PQ, it was the Liberals, who opposed the Charter, who were elected with a majority of the seats. With the added bonus that the spectre of another Quebec referendum on separation retreated further.

Then in the 2015 election, the ruling Conservatives appeared to gain ground in polls after they pledged to ban the wearing of niqabs at Canadian citizenship ceremonies, and to set up a barbaric practices tip line. [This is when I had to check out of Canadian election coverage for a while, as I was so distraught.] But the end result was, again, a coalescing around the Liberal party, who were foursquare against both proposals (and, it must be said, who generally ran a brilliant election campaign).


A plurality of Canadians chose hope over fear

Upon election, Liberals walked the talk, dropping the court case on the niqab ban, and most notably, welcoming 25,000 (and counting) Syrian refugees, moves that have only made them more popular since the election. Americans look on it in wonder, from The Daily Show to the New York Times:

Why? Well, Vox Magazine says it’s the outcome of decades of Canadian government fostering tolerance and acceptance as core national values. As a result, most Canadians see immigration as an opportunity, not a problem; as something that improves rather than threatens the nation. Apparently, Canada is the least xenophobic country in the Western world.

3. That our current government is (mostly) pro-trade

One of the most confusing results of the Brexit vote, to me, was the cavalcade of federal Conservatives MPs who tweeted their approval—the only Canadian I’m aware of who did so. But isn’t Conservatives supposed be all pro-trade, because it’s good for business, while it’s the lefties who are opposed, fearing it’s bad for labour?

And yet there’s Trump, spitting about pulling out NAFTA. What? When did this turn around? (Harper’s government, it must be said, was most definitely pro-trade, making the MPs comments all the more confusing.)

So it was another interesting bit of timing that this week was the NAFTA summit between the current US President, Canadian Prime Minister, and Mexican President.


Too bad they’re all men (but this US will be changing that soon, right? right?), but a fine-looking trio they are

Their big message: Trade is good. Countries are stronger when they work together. Globalism brings prosperity. And it was all capped off by one amazing speech President Obama gave in the House of Commons:

And what makes our relationship so unique is not just proximity. It’s our enduring commitment to a set of values, a spirit alluded to by Justin that says no matter who we are, where we come from, what our last names are, what faith we practice, here, we can make of our lives what we will.

Watch or read the rest here.

It was heart-warming, and for a while, one might forget that it remains so much easier to cross borders in Europe than it is to move between the US and Canada, that we have to pay duties on even tiny online purchases from the US, and absolute absurdities such as Canadian inter-provincial (!) trade barriers that cost our economy billions.

So there’s a lot of work to do on this one. But at least it seems the intent it to make things better, not worse, on this front.

Cause that’s the Canadian way.

Happy 149, Canada.



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Tear down the wall

Modern Berlin is vibrant. Its streets are always busy, though never uncomfortably crowded. Its people are a multicultural mix who speak a variety of languages, with German predominating, of course. The population is pretty stylish. That it’s a pretty open, liberal society is apparent in various ways, from the casual beer drinking by people on subways cars on the street (not drunks; just people enjoying a beer); the mant sex shops and clubs; even the sweet, candy-cotton waft of e-cigarette smoke.

And it certainly seems economically healthy, with all the construction projects foiling Jean’s photography attempts, the many high-end designer shops available, the architecturally beautiful new malls like Bikini Berlin,  and the relative scarcity of homeless people—far fewer than you see in large Canadian cities.

Berlin Dome

The Berlin Dome—one of the rare older buildings in modern Berlin

Berliners are well-supported in their desire to move around. Admittedly, the new airport is stuck is some of construction limbo, and the current one seems a bit dated. (It’s convenient that you go through security right at your gate, and disembark from the plane right where your luggage is, but there’s a notable lack of airport services.) But the transit system… amazing! It took us a few days to figure out it—the light rail (M trains), the surface trains (S-Bahn), the subway (U-Bahn), the regional train, the buses. But then—sometimes with help of Google Maps—it got us everywhere we wanted to go.


Berlin transit map

We did notice some police presence—always around the Jewish synagogue, often at the main train station: one day we emerge to a whole lineup of police officers at the ready with riot gear. But it seemed clear this was about protecting, not repressing the population.

I think that’s why all the memorials to The Berlin Wall struck me so profoundly. The contrast with the present was so stark.

That Berlin was a city once divided by all wall into communist East and democratic west was the main thing I knew, going in. Today almost all of the Wall is down, and you can’t tell East from West—not by architectural differences, or weird road designs, or anything.

The main memorial remaining is the Gedenstätte Berliner Mauer, on a street once completed divided into east and west. Now just one wall segment remains, with an outdoor exhibit.

The closest train stop to it is the Nordbahnhof S-station. This station was below East Berlin, so the West Berlin trains that ran through it at that time were not permitted to stop there. This and few others like it became “ghost stations.”


The end of the line—U station trapped behind the Berlin Wall, 1962. Source:

The communist regime quickly realized these stations could be used for escape attempts, so they set up guards. Only thing is, the guards then escaped, so they started locking the guards in their posts to prevent this. In case of fire? The guards would have been doomed. I learned about this and about other—mostly unsuccessful—attempts to escape from these increasingly fortified ghost stations via informational posters put up at this station.


The Nordbahnhof S-station then and now (pretty much). Source:

It all just seemed so weird—this enormous amount of government time and money spent on keeping a population imprisoned in its country.

The Berlin Wall exhibit itself naturally gives the history of the building of the Wall. The initial version was a little too easy to scale, so they kept “improving” it with various features that made climbing and escaping more difficult. I hadn’t realized that they’d ended up with two parallel Walls, with a fairly wide, guarded space between each.

The green space on the left is bordered by yet another wall…

There was also a photo exhibit of people who had died attempting to escape (or from just being in the wrong place). Many were teenagers and children.

A rebuilt Church of Reconciliation chapel stands at one end. The original church was dynamited in 1985, its walled-on facade proving too much of a PR nightmare for the East German regime.


Photos, artifacts, and this statue commemorate the original Church of Reconciliation. Photo by me.

Later we visited a couple museums that focused on what life was like in East Berlin. The Lonely Planet description of the DDR Museum is pretty accurate:

The ‘touchy-feely’ DDR Museum does an entertaining job of pulling back the iron curtain on an extinct society. In hands-on fashion you’ll learn how, under socialism, kids were put through collective potty training, engineers earned little more than farmers, and everyone, it seems, went on nudist holidays.

The interactive approach was kind of fun, while also being educational. You got to sit in a 1970s style living room, try to determine your factory’s target output under central planning principles (very difficult), and gauge whether your choice of clothing and accessories would meet with government approval.


Photo from the official DDR Museum site

This is a good place to go if you want your faith restored in capitalism. It explained how the economic central planning led to product shortages (except for privileged government members), though it also keep basic food stuffs really cheap (which I hadn’t realized). And it just made innovation impossible—lack of trade meant they couldn’t build on others’ work, and lacked the incentive and materials needed to come up with similar improvements themselves. This was perhaps most evident in the one car available to East Germans (if they saved their money a long time): the Trabant.

Tranbant Sales Girl :)

The Trabant: A car model that didn’t evolve for 30 years

The above photo was taken at the History of Berlin museum, which tries to bring all of Berlin history to life through a series of multimedia exhibits. We didn’t get as much out of that one (though the teenagers there seemed to like it), but it did include a tour of a a nuclear bunker.

Now, we have toured a nuclear bunker in Canada: the Diefenbunker. This is a huge, amazing facility designed to keep the Government of Canada operational during a nuclear attack.

These German nuclear bunkers couldn’t be more different. Designed for ordinary people—though there were only enough of these for about 0.5% population (with no real plan for how the unarmed guards in charge were supposed to manage this triage)—only the very basics were available. In the vestibule, you were to strip, shower, then enter the bunker, in which almost all floor space was taken up with stacked bare cots.

Bunker Bedding

Welcome to the apocalypse

The space, our tour guide pointed out, would quickly very hot with the 3000 or so inhabitants crammed in. The toilets and sinks were quite limited for this number of people, and there were no showers or mirrors inside. Kitchens were also small, and designed just to heat up big pots of canned food. An air filtration system, with backup generator, was designed to work just 14 days. Then it was back out into the nuclear wasteland with you.

Whole idea really gave me the willies.

We took a bit of a break from Wall memorials til later in the week, when we stopped in at the Trãnenpalast, or Palace of Tears, the preserved pavilion where East Berliners had to say good-bye to visitors. The small exhibit does a very good job of showing of what the border-crossing experience was like, and giving examples of families and lovers who were torn apart by the political rift. Quite emotional.

The Wall only came up once more, on our tour of Potsdam the last day—I hadn’t realized the Wall stretched so far. A small fence by the river marks the spot where the view-blocking Berlin Wall once caused much unhappiness.

Building walls. Who in this day and age would still think that’s a good idea?

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Can a discount orchestra save the electric series at Centre in the Square?

This tweet was the first I’d heard about the KW Symphony being dropped from the Jeans’n’Classics series of concerts, which struck me as very strange, since the whole point of those concerts was marrying rock band with symphony.

Except for this one, though, Twitter—often a great source for finding things out—was annoyingly silent on the subject. Finally I had to go old tech: I emailed Centre in the Square to ask them about the tweet. The fact that they didn’t quickly reply made me think it was probably true.

And indeed, the email response that eventually arrived confirmed it, saying that the KW Symphony would be replaced with session musicians: “the size and make-up of the orchestra will be tailored to meet the artistic and stylistic demands of each Jeans ‘n Classics production”.

The community discussion I’d been craving kind of broke out in the pages of the Waterloo Region Record, who ran a story about this on May 31. That was followed by various letters to the editor, then a very critical commentary piece by a member of the Symphony board , followed by a defense by a member of the Centre in the Square board.

Nobody seems very happy about this change, but what strikes me in particular is that first article claims that lower production costs were not the main reason here, but an artistic need for revitalization. The last article frankly states they couldn’t afford the series any longer in this form—which at least makes more sense of the whole thing.

They both agree, though, that they want a bigger audience. Got to wonder if they’re going to achieve it. I’m afraid that I, for one, won’t be helping them out with that.

At the third concert this season, they had us vote on which three concerts we wanted to see the following year (out of six choices). I thought that wasn’t a bad idea, but note that everything they selected was a reprise of a previously done show. If I go next year, I’ll be seeing three similar concerts again, only with a smaller, less talented orchestra. The promised “better staging and lighting” won’t make up for the diminished music.

When it works, it’s a fantastic sound, it really is. The sound of an orchestra when it’s playing with a rock band well… It makes every hair on your body stand on end. It’s incredibly powerful.

– Roger Daltrey (The Who), 1994

I’d know what I was missing. So after about 10 years of great seats, I’m out.

And I know I’m not the only one. So to get their bigger audience, they not only have to add people, they have to replace the ones lost to this decision.

But you know, I do wish them well. I love Centre in the Square. It’s a fantastic hall. It’s incredible that a smallish place like Kitchener-Waterloo has one of the two or three best concert halls in the whole country. More people should go experience the sound there. It’s unfortunate it’s somehow developed a bit of a “stodgy” reputation. Some things do need to change. They do need better acts, more acts, even gimmicks to drawn more people in.

I’m not sure this particular series change will work out for them. But I sure hope something their Strategic Plan does.

And it’s not like I’m abandoning the place. I’m already signed up for six KW Symphony concerts there next year (to go along with my three at the Conrad Centre). And with some dates now opened up by not going to the Jeans’n’Classics series any more, I’ll probably add a few more.