So I won a vacation yesterday.
Or at least that's what they said on the phone Friday night. Apparently I entered a draw (I never do) and they chose my name as the lucky winner. So now all I have to do is come to their office Saturday afternoon and pick it up. Easy right?
Well, being an untrusting fucknut, I ask some questions. "So... I walk into your office and you give me some nice shiny plane tickets?"
"Yes," they reply, "Is that so hard to believe?"
Wrong thing to say, asshole. It sure as hell is.
Upon further questioning, it comes out that I have to sit through a "short, 90-minute presentation" before I receive my free vacation. "But isn't that a small thing to do for a free vacation?" By this time I'm in full defense mode, and do my best to say nothing and get off the phone as soon as possible. I agree to nothing, and say my polite goodbyes.
I did some checking (see here and here) that night, and apparently it's a fairly common scam. The presentation is generally a high-pressure sales pitch for a timeshare or somesuch, and apparently it's very difficult to get out of the place without buying one. You can get the free vacation, but it's a hassle and a half. Classy. They can fuck right off.
So I skip my special meeting, and go biking instead. When I get back, I have two full messages from some fairly disappointed people, worried I won't take advantage of my special opportunity. I've been screening my calls for the day, but I figure I'll have to deal with them eventually. Creative suggestions of ways to tell them to bite my ass are now being entertained.
Some other 'signs of evil' I noticed:
- They called at 5:00 on Friday, and wanted to schedule a meeting for 1:00 the next day. My guess is that's so I can't call the Better Business Bureau or anything.
- They're telling me I'm a very special winner, but in the background I hear several other voices who sound like they're doing the same thing. Gee whiz.
- By the time the phone call's over, I've talked to three different people and received about three different confirmation numbers. What the hell is that? All this to pick up my free vacation?
- To 'confirm my identity', they ask me some pretty personal questions. Am I single? Am I 25 or older? Is my salary above $46k? What is my occupation? Right. That's the kind of stuff I filled out on my 'draw entry'.
A while back I was asked to post some stuff on where my last name comes from. So here's the always dreaded 'Origin Issue', lacking any strangely named planets or radioactive spiders. My aunt was doing some research a while back, and she got the following as an answer to some of her inquiries. While I think there's a few things that defy belief or just don't make sense, it makes a pretty interesting story.
Like most stories in this vein, it starts with an orphan. Apparently a small boy was found set adrift in the Bay of Bisqué (in France) back around the turn of the 19th century. He was found by a salt boat crew, who decided he was a good luck charm and took him across the Atlantic with them to the Gaspé peninsula. When they arrived, they left John (for so they had named him) there with an unknown lady, and gave him the name of the boat they found him on: 'Savidant'.
And so the Savidants came to Canada, and muddled around in the maritimes and Québec until the present day. Which is a nice story, even though it sounds like something from a comic book or Disney movie.
Here's my issues with the above:
- Assuming the 'found in a boat' bit is true, why the hell did they take him across an ocean. Crossings weren't exactly easy in those days.
- Even so, if he was found by a French salt boat crew and dropped off in a predominantly francophone part of Canada, why did they name him 'John'?
- They named him after a boat? What kind of a boat name is Savidant? Or maybe I'm just lucky my last name isn't 'Bluenose' or 'Titanic'.
- All strange orphans set adrift have superpowers. Where are my superpowers? Shouldn't earth's yellow sun have some strange effect on me?
Not much more to say about that. Trying to make this place more aesthetically pleasing. The digital equivalent of Van Gogh and potpourri.
Book of the Month Club (Book III)
After a long hiatus, your least favorite feature is back!
Okay, so on the long trip I went through three books, mostly on the plane and train. The best of the ones I read was The Alienist, by Caleb Carr. Now, this was apparently a New York Times bestseller, so you may have all heard of it before, but I hadn't so it gets a review here.
The book's essentially a turn of the century murder mystery. However, the century being turned is the 19th. It's set in 1896 and deals pretty well with the period. My personal favorite parts are the descriptions of the late 19th century forensic techniques – think of it as CSI: The Victorian Period. It also deals significantly with the field of psychology in its infant stages, and it's here that the mystery aspect comes to the fore. Most of what you get are psychological tidbits rather than physical clues leading to the killer.
The book is pretty explicit. The murders that lead to the mystery are brutal, and they are described in livid detail. In my opinion it makes the book genuinely creepy, and gives it a decent feeling of dread throughout.
So a good book. If you like murder mysteries, it's great. If you like period dramas, it's alright. If you like neither, go somewhere else.
As an additional note, the sequel to The Alienist is called Angel of Darkness and I really can't recommend it very much. While The Alienist is a creepy murder mystery, Angel of Darkness reads more like the Scooby Gang in the 19th century. Poor characterization, far too convenient plot twists, and other weak shit make it nowhere near as good as the first book. Only read it if you're a big fan of the first one.
French Speaking Fun (Part IV)
This will be the last post. Really.
Anyways, the photos are up.
French Speaking Fun (Part III)
A few general comments, and then I'll stop talking about my trip.
1) Québeckers have grown much more forgiving of bad french. The last time I was there you either spoke in perfect Québecois french, or people would immediately start talking English in reply. This time not so much – I would bungle my way through a question and they would answer back in french (ableit simple french). It was nice, and good practice.
2) The streetlights in Québec are utterly insane. When I first hit Q.C. I would stand at a corner and try and puzzle out when I was allowed to cross. There are flashing lights, strange arrows, and counters on many of the lights. Eventually I figured out the following:
– A flashing light is essentially equivalent to a left turn arrow (as opposed to the Vancouver version which means yield to pedestrians. Wow was I surprised.)
– The arrows create a complex light system that I still believe doesn't make sense. Sometimes you'll be able to go straight and turn left, but not right. Other times it will be turns only. Insane.
– Not allowing right-turns on red lights in Québec likely saves thousands of lives a year. Ye Gods.
– The counters on pedestrian signs are essentially 'hurry your ass up' signals due to the same conditions which eliminate right turns.
– All of the above is irrelevant. Cross whenever you can, but don't expect cars to stop, much less slow down. I saw people jaywalking openly in front of a manned policecar while I was there.
3) Train travel rocks. I took the train from Québec City to Montréal and it was the most relaxing part of the trip. I am still crossing my fingers for a high speed train line to Edmonton.
4) Québeckers aren't as fond of the corner coffee shop as the rest of Canada. I attribute this to the significant number of actualy cafés which fill that role pretty well.
5) Churches. Wow do they have a lot.
French Speaking Fun (Part II)
Montréal was awesome, and I can't thank the people who put me up enough. Special thanks go to Pekoe the cat, who kindly woke me up at 4:00am every morning by sitting on my face. Without him, I might have slept through all the fun on my vacation.
First the weather smalltalk: Montréal was surprisingly warm when I got there (+15°C) and surprisingly cold when I left (-15°C). According to the weather today there's a blizzard. I apologize to the people of that city for bringing Calgary's foul winter with me and leaving it there. If you wish to send it back, please do not hurry.
Montréal is still a nice city in winter though. It's disorienting at first to have a city that's just so dense. I mean, you can walk for blocks and blocks and still see the same type of tall-but-thin apartments and commercial streets. Everything is different enough to be interesting, but similar enough that you have no freaking clue where you are half the time. I got lost several times when I was there, and only managed to find my way back by heading into the Metro.
However, I can't say I minded getting lost. Montréal has beautiful architecture (which is nice) and truly beautiful women (which is excellent). I'm not sure which is cause and which effect, but I'm pretty sure this is inexorably tied to the amount of nifty little clothing boutiques that dot the commercial streets. I would say 80-90% of these boutiques are for women's clothing only. Anyways, two thumbs up on that front.
The other major comment I have is about the food. By my third day in la belle provence, I had to cut my food intake by half. Food there is just so rich, consisting of innumerable cheeses, creams, fancy breads and the like. My meat and potatoes stomach was just not able to keep up, and I spent a day feeling sick before I figured out a good solution. I guess you get used to it if you live there for a while, but it was pretty much the only bad thing about that city.
Other highlights included:
– A visit to Schwartz's deli for an awesome smoked meat sandwiches. Such noshery is not for the faint of heart or tiny of mouth.
– A tour of the McGill campus. Which is very very small compared to the other universities I've been to. Beautiful architecture though.
– I tried to get myself enculturated by going to the Richelieu exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art. However, I immediately felt like a poseur when I learned that Richelieu was not actually a painter, but a cardinal of the church in france several centuries ago. The exhibit was paintings done for and of him, rather than by him.
– A few of my friends and I hit a fondue place for dinner one night. The food was excellent, but the real highlight of the night was the people around us. We had a girl behind us who was either in or getting into pr0n acting. We had another table filled with cheerleaders (and some football players, but whatever). We spent the majority of the night gaping at the outfits (think J.Lo at the Oscars) and eavesdropping on the conversations. Good fun.
There's plenty more, but this entry is way too long and that's the really fun stuff. All I have left to talk about it the general stuff about Québec (the province) and I'll do that in another entry later.
French Speaking Fun (Part I)
So some of you may know that I'm in Québec City and Montréal this week. Some of you may not but now do, so we're all on a level playing field now.
I spent the past weekend in Q.C., being there for the first time in over a decade. It was nice, albeit really freaking cold. I have to say, they've done a really good job of keeping the old part of the city authentic. I wandered around for a good two hours and was unable to find a chain store (i.e. Starbucks, McDicks etc.) until I finally started heading outside the old city proper. Which brings me to one comment - they seem to be so enraptured with cute little cafés that there isn't a place to just sit down and have coffee. Every place has fancy restaurants and snooty waiters. I'm not saying I needed Starbucks, just something with a similar menu and style.
Speaking of snooty french waiters, a friend and I made it our mission on Saturday night to find the snootiest french restaurant possible and eat there. We found one, but sadly they were far too friendly. The only time we got snarked at a little was when my friend asked what a certain cheese was called and the waiter said: "Zees are frainch cheeses! They have no name in eenglish."
Some other quick-hit stuff:
- My friend was staying in the Chateau Frontenac (I was not so lucky), which is really nice. However, I have to say that I think the Banff Springs is better
- They have a staue of FDR at the gate to the old city. I was unable to determine why.
- Apparently only 3% of the residents in Q.C. speak English. This means that whenever I was near a radio I got deluged by bad Québec pop. Why can't the french make pop music sound like anything but Roch Voisine?
- Public Service Announcement: Running on icy cobblestone streets - just say no.
It was also nice that I was able to determine that my french is still good enough for restaurant use. I made it through a complicated meal at a crèperie without slipping back into English. Which makes it a pretty good trip so far.
Weekend Roundup Part II
So after the boys had gone their merry ways, I made it to Saturday night's Neko Case concert. Ms Case is one of them-thar alt-country singers, which as far as I can tell means country stylings without as much electric guitar or twangy voices. In other words, its good music. She was in the New Pornographers for their one and only album, if that band's known to anyone.
The concert was in Mac Hall, which is at the UofC. An excellent venue, but we really should have gotten there earlier. The early people got to sit at some nice tables and sip their drinks. The late people (us) got to sit on the floor.
Music-wise, the opening act was a bluegrass band from Vermont ('Jim, Jenny and the Pipetops' I think). They were alright, but made the mistake of thinking that you can't get too much mandolin. I stopped listening about halfway through their set and went to get more alcohol.
Ms. Case was enchanting, but I would hate to be one of her ex-boyfriends. She sang about five songs which dealt with the death and dismemberment of former lovers. I know that's a common theme in country music, but she's a bit more visceral than most. "...until the river grinds your bones and the catfish eat your eyes..." was one of my favorite snippets. Aie.
Several other notes:
- The band was only three people and a goose. There was Neko Case singing and on guitar, a main guitar player who did most of the solos, and a bass player. The goose was plastic, but I'm assured he played an important role in their sound.
- Something I've never seen before was the bass player spanking his bass. Like full arm swing and everything. There were some balance issues during that song, so I couldn't tell what musical effect it had, but it looked like a helluva thing.
- For you Cub fans, Ms. Case played a song written by Lisa Marr. Apparently she's down in Chicago writing songs. Who knew?
- Memo to the guy in front of me. You can't dance worth spit so sit the hell down.
- UofC waters down their gin something fierce.
Anyways, I'll heartily recommend her music for anyone who's getting into 'Roots' music or whatever you call it these days. It's good stuff.
Weekend Roundup Part I
So, the weekend was big fun. Tim and Warren were in town, and we managed to go out Friday night to Catch – one of the fanciest restaurants in town. Except we didn't know it was one of the fanciest. Which is where the fun begins.
So the three of us show up late, two of us wearing jeans. We immediately realize that we aren't dressed as well as we should be, but it's too late. The nice thing is that Tim knows one of the chefs, so we walk in, are greeted by the hostess and are shown to a table right away.
The funny part about that is that (by utter coincidence) my dad, in fancy dinner jacket and everything, had been waiting for half an hour in the bar for a table he's had reserved for a week. We were seated before him. This was a coup unheard of in our time. The boys and I were pretty smug for the rest of the night.
The food was insanely good. We didn't order anything – they just kept pushing food and wine in front of us for most of the night. I do not think I will ever eat that well again.
We even got to make our own desserts, though messrs Oxenford and Code seemed to get away easy. They ordered stuff that could be taken out of the fridge. I ordered a soufflé, which is significantly more work. After being cheered on by most of the restaurant in my whisking endeavors, the soufflé actually rose. I am not shy about saying that this may be the greatest achievement of my culinary career, though it came at the expense of my right arm, which will never be the same again.