Quirks & Quarks: No plastic, please

Hey, friends. It’s time to lose the plastic bags. Really, it’s time.

It’s normal to be stopped at international airports to have your documents and luggage checked by officials, but I’ve never been stopped for carrying plastic. After landing in Rwanda last month and passing through customs at Kigali airport, I was just about to leave the building when an official intercepted me, pointed to the duty free items I was carrying and said, “You can’t have those.”

Thinking I was about to lose my new purchases in some African tourist scam, I watched the man take a pair of scissors, cut the plastic bags open, put the items in a paper bag and handed them back to me. Plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda.

More on Bob McDonald’s Quirks & Quarks blog.

Elegant Heathens

Elegant Heathens, Trial and Eros company (Montreal), choreography by Deborah Dunn

Wow — that was probably the best modern dance performance i’ve even seen. 

Dancers tend to have big egos, it occurrs to me, and the usual approach is for one or two to take the stage, command all eyes, and proceed to impress. Or not, depending. It’s a tall order, and few dancers have the chops and stage presence to pull it off alone. Even when they do, it’s necessarily a spare performance. 

This show was the opposite. Five dancers (three female, two male) went at it in every combination, onesies, twosies, three, four, five, in a spinning visual feast that never had a dull moment, not one. There was no star, no centrepiece, but there was concerted movement on stage, all over the stage, scene after scene that melted into one another for the whole hour — lush variety, poignancy, surprise, humour from wry to slapstick. I never thought my gosh, what next? I didn’t think at all; i just watched. Theatre at its best.

The costumes were a good part of the show’s character. Nothing outrageous, but just outre enough that they too were participants in the effect. And the lighting was stunning: a wash of light purple, almost ultraviolet, shooting forward from high in the back of the stage (i still don’t know what precise effect it had), a maze of tight spots from unusual angles, occasional striking washes of deep colour. The end scene, with the five dancer/actors in a line across a blacked-out stage, with five tight spots on their faces … it felt like good cuddling after sex. Great stuff.

The dancers were sharply on cue all through, as was the lighting-and-sound tech, and i said after the show that they must have done it a hundred times before, it was so tight. This morning i see on choregrapher Deborah Dunn’s Trial and Eros website that the show toured New York exactly a year ago, and many places in between since. 

Ahh, i’m a believer again. We went on spec for something to do and we came away feeling light and invigorated for the rest of the night — exactly what art at its best can do. 

Sadly, Elegant Heathens is only in Vic one more night (Jan. 11). Too bad — once word gets around they could pack the Metro Studio Theatre for a week.

There’s a short video of one of the show’s amusing scenes on this page of their website. 

Sat Chit Ananda

Well. The more i mess about in this new-age consciousness business, the more i think that everybody is saying exactly the same things. It can’t be described directly, of course — that’s the catch-22 of the whole game — so it must be illustrated obliquely, through yogic posture or Buddhist ritual or, most often, linguistic metaphor.

I’m convinced that two-thirds of the struggle (once one gets to the point of beginning to struggle, which is a whole epic in itself) is simply to find the metaphors that resonate most strongly with you. Some people — “seekers” — go through their whole lives from guru to guru, method to method. A lot of this is egoic procrastination — the threatened self not truly wanting to find the simple secret that will mean its dissolution — but much of it, i’m convinced, is metaphor search. 

For me, the rational, scientific argument works best. For me, yoga is just good exercise; meditation is simply ritual; far-flung foreign monasteries are but theme travel. Yet give me a good, hard-nosed, evidence-based logical argument for the empty mind and the universal self and i’ll eat it up every time. 

That’s how 1950s-60s British-American scholar and “religious entertainer” (his description) Alan Watts first kick-started me down this path, lo, those three (four? six?) long years ago. I listened, i was entertained, there were no cross-cultural references that i didn’t get … it just straight-up made sense. Eckhart Tolle was another one, speaking and writing from right here in B.C. I didn’t get through The Power of Now, but his follow-up world-wide hit A New Earth just laid it all out like … well, for me, the meta-metaphor is mathematics: a chain of small logical (or at least sensible) steps that leads like a path of stepping-stones to a conclusion that feels right on every level.

Did i say “laid it all out”? I overstated. I’ve always had questions, gaps, holes and unbridgeable interregnums in my understanding of even the relatively simple logical argument. Besides, all these myriad approaches, every one of them, is just a recipe; none of them is a cake. No matter how good, how thorough, how compelling the recipes are, until you’ve made cake, you don’t get cake. So no, it hasn’t yet been all laid out, not for me. But it feels like i’m getting there.

In pursuit of which i’ve been browsing about like mad on this marvellous Internet, here in Victoria with lots of free time, and yesterday i happily stumbled on what might be the clearest, most concise wrap-up of the whole plate o’ spaghetti that i’ve yet run across (for me, as always). It was this The Evolution of Consciousness page, and in the space of maybe 3000 words it runs neatly down a long, long evolutionary timeline. The headings: 

  • Are All Creatures Conscious?
  • Consciousness and Biological Evolution
  • Language and Consciousness
  • Self-Consciousness
  • Transcending Language
  • Sat Chit Ananda
  • Our Evolutionary Imperative

The page is on Peter Russell’s website. I don’t know anything about the guy, but i plan to look into his sizeable site over the coming days.

A Neanderthal Christmas

Homo sapiens neanderthalensis

I spent Stressmas alone, delightfully free of the travel-and-consume imperative that grips my fellow lunatics in the West. Most memorably, i walked the Victoria streets for a couple of hours listening to two fascinating podcasts, courtesy of CBC Radio‘s Ideas program, called Homo (sapiens) neanderthalenis. From which I gleaned the following:

There have been perhaps 20 different species of human over the 400 million or so years since our ancestors learned to walk upright, but none has captured the imagination like the Neanderthals — the textbook ‘cave man.’ They ranged over much of Eurasia (from Portugal to Israel, Germany to the Mediterranean). The oldest find to date is perhaps 350,000 years old, though most specimens are less than 120,000. The fascinating thing about them is that they disappeared rather abruptly, some 25-30,000 years ago — precisely the time that modern man was moving into Eurasia from our African homelands. Continue reading “A Neanderthal Christmas”



I finished (finally) the above book, which according to the blurb on the Long Beach Golf Course links page is “an e-novella by Mathew Stryanka that takes readers into the angst-ridden life of Roy Merck as he surfs across Canada, looking for a place to call home.” 

It’s always interesting to read a piece set in a place one knows — something that must be a common occurrence in celebrated places like New Yawk City or Paris, France, but is a rarity for WestCoast small towns. 

Mat’s book is not a Great Work of Art by any means, but i found it an interesting look into the struggles of, well, Mat himself to make sense of this senseless existence, and also the ins and outs of the WestCoast surfing life. Lots of checking out waves, metaphysical wonderings, paddling out to mysterious breaks, and intense philosophical conversations. 

Here’s my fave quote in the book is where Roy, sitting in a hot tub with his physicist friend discussing free will and the structure of the universe, says: Oneness isn’t separateness holding hands. It’s Oneness.

I downloaded the book last spring sometime from Mat’s surfmonkery.com website, which doesn’t seem to be active anymore. He offered the book as a free download, by donation. (Yes, i donated.) 


The format was new to me: a kind of on-screen booklet provided as a Windows .exe file by DesktopAuthor.com. I’m not a fan of lengthy on-screen reading, but this made it fairly palatable with very short pages and a nifty page-turning feature. Less appealing was the lack of page numbers, which prevented me from knowing how long the book was or where i was in it. That made reading it a pretty much one-shot deal, which is one reason why it took me so long to get around to it. 

I’ve still got the file, which technically i paid for, so i suppose by analogy to a paperback i should be able to pass it on to anyone else who wants to read the book. First request gets it (you’ll need a Windows PC).

On a similar note, i ran across the $300 Sony Reader (at right) during my Stressmas shopping spree (one hour long, on Boxing Day). Seems like e-book readers are slowly getting to the point where i’d want to own one.