But for Pastor DJ Soto’s church, that hasn’t been a difficulty – as it only exists in virtual fact. The BBC Planet Service’s Faith & Ethics journalist Sophia Smith Galer

Literary LifeDon’t Go Anywhere

Would you rather be poor in the First World or rich in the Third World and why?

October 26, 2018

First World, Third World?

I thought about this a lot when I was living and travelling overseas. I think more about it, now that I am a retired pensioner and basically free to go wherever they will let me in. But, I think there is a problem in thinking about this to start with. Nowadays, what is the First World and what is the Third World? This concept worked better in the 1950’s, when there was a limited number of relatively prosperous countries, and a lot of impoverished former colonies just emerging into independence. These definitions also had a political dimension, there was the First World of democratic, free enterprise countries, the Communist Block and then those impoverished Third World countries, pawns in a struggle between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Obviously, it is not that away anymore.

And then, there are the oil countries. I think they should belong in a category of their own.

First World, also frankly meant the white world, non-Communist part. However, within a few years in the late 1950’s and the 1960’s, several Asian countries stopped being poor. Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore emerged as consumer economies. I think that, at that point, the concept of “The West”, still sometimes used by Quora questioners, became non-synonymous with “First World”. We are told that Asian values are different, although, from what I have seen from being in Asia, there aren’t any universal Asian values.

Just What Country Do You Mean?

Say, you were a person from the supposed “West” and were presented with a mandatory dilemma. OK, you can’t be well off in your own country anymore. So, here’s the deal, you can be poor in your own country, or we will let you go to another First World country, and be poor there. Or, you can choose your Third World country, and be prosperous there. And, let us presume that you would have the equivalent access to the health and social services system as any local citizen, wherever.

To even think about this, you really do need to expand your typologies of countries. What, for example, do you do with Argentina, Chile, Malaysia, Mauritius, Belarus, Moldova, Albania, Serbia, the Ukraine, Trinidad and Tobago, the Barbados, Panama, and some others?

I used to make business trips to Belgrade. I want to speak respectfully about it, because most of the Serbian people I met were good people and some of them very good. The country and the capital have had some really rough times. But, you can live very nicely in Belgrade. It is not that poor compared to say, Zaire or Bangladesh. The historic city centre didn’t see massive destruction during World War II. (During the war with NATO, NATO used “surgical strikes”, not carpet bombing. You could see one, blown out building, on a street where the other buildings were completely intact.) Some parts of Belgrade are charming. The streets are relatively safe. There is shopping. There are restaurants where you can have a really good, not that expensive meal, and not be sick two hours later. (Actually, having worked overseas for a living, my prime divisor between countries other than Canada is “Yes, you can drink the tap water”, versus “No, you certainly cannot drink the tap water” countries.”)

I haven’t been to Argentina or Chile, but from what I see in “Streetview (R), it looks a lot the same.

And, it makes a big difference between what you consider “rich”. Are we talking about the more or less 1% that exists in a whole lot of countries, or also, the upper middle class? Say you qualify for that in Belgrade. You are not that far from some excellent beaches on the Adriatic. The occasional trip to Rome, Vienna, and the club scene in Ibiza, they are not necessarily out of reach. If you are a prosperous resident of Buenos Aires, some really nice hotel days in Mar Del Plata might not be a stretch.

OK, someone might say, you racist you, you are just talking about Caucasian countries! But, what about Malaysia? Say you live in Kuala Lumpur, prosperously. It is fairly safe. The people are generally civil. They speak English. Malaysian food can be really tasty. There is quite adequate health care there, provided you are well enough insured. You could save up and make junkets to Singapore and Bangkok. Or, you could even set yourself a goal, cut those luxuries and save for the big one, a round tip ticket to Sydney! How bad is that?

Or, the Barbados. An upsized income could cause a very pleasant life. No winters! (Different Canadians sees winter in different ways. It is considered kind of unpatriotic to say, openly, that the winters are a nightmare from hell, and that a hovel, anywhere where it is year-round warm, might be a relief.) Aruba and other nice and interesting places are at your virtual doorstep.

Maybe I should go deeper concerning the Canadian versus agonizing winter thing. Do some serious scrimping here, live poor. (You can live on that Canadian classic, macaroni and cheese. It is OK. And, buy new clothes only when what you are wearing is nearing the committing of a public indecency.) Get yourself an adequate travel medical insurance plan, and then, off to Mexico or the Dominican Republic with you, for maybe from November through March. Waste yourself away in Margaritaville for just a little bit, then back to Edmonton in April!

And Then, The Prosperous Oasis-Area, Third World Countries

Poor in southern Italy, versus a nice life in Beijing? I would have to think about that. The People’s Republic of China isn’t First World yet, but there are now sizable areas with quite adequate public and commercial amenities, and good public order, Actually, I don’t think I would think very long. Yes, pollution is an issue, but there are some good, expat jobs, there. With a good income, Beijing, or Shanghai, or Chengdu, or Xian, is not bad at all.

But, How Old Are You?

I am speaking from the point of view of an old guy. A younger working person might see things another way. However, maybe they would be even more keen. How about, living on social assistance in Ottawa versus teaching English in one of those pleasant parts of China?

I am presuming that the younger people can be more resilient to culture shock than I could be. Maybe it wouldn’t be that impossible to learn some survival Mandarin when your brain is twenty-five. However, if you are sixty-seven? Whatever is left of your brain may be spinning its wheels.

And, a propos of age, what if you get really sick? When you are old. You are never really far away from a medical calamity. How about having a heart attack and being in a Third World hospital where no one speaks your language?


However, there is a hitch to all of this. It is called expatting. I have been there. I have done it.

Say you go off to that good job or to upper middle class retirement in that Third World country. Chances are it won’t be easy to integrate socially with the local people. Unless you are content with being alone, you will require some sort of social life. That is likely to be in the “Expat Community”.

I would encourage anyone who is thinking about going expatting, for whatever reason, to read up on expat life. Some people take to it like a duck to water. Particularly, if you enjoy high levels of alcohol consumption, it may all be good.

But, it depends also on what country you are expatting from. Canada is still not a major expatting country, and full-sized Canadian ethnic expat communities are thin on the ground. The American expat communities are big, self-contained, and don’t at all need you. It helps a lot to really like being with British people and Australians. They are everywhere. Integrating with them may be a lot more important than integrating with the host country culture.

There Is Poor And Then There Is Really Poor

I am talking about countries and Canadians.

I wonder if this Question really refers to those Third World countries, that are still intensely poor. I mean very low comparative per capita GNP, and Purchasing Power Parity. These are the countries where much of the people live with daily food insecurity and slums with no hygeine. There is only a limited window for upper middle class life there. Some of these countries offer daily violence. You really do want to be in the local upper 1%, well-secured behind a gate.

But then, in places like Canada, there is a distinction between relative poverty and dire poverty. There are people begging in the street here in Ottawa. I am told that mostly these people are drug-addicted or suffering from mental illness. The City of Ottawa claims that it can provide some type of housing for everyone who can handle being in their own place, maybe with some care and supervision.

Food insecurity happens here, but, if you live in an urban area, there are food banks. Generally, the social assistance authorities will do something for you if you have no food. However, you don’t have much choice in what you eat.

Canada has government-organized medical care. Being poor doesn’t mean you have to worry about paying a doctor or a hospital. If you have kids, the post-secondary educational system is heavily subsidized.

However, if was poor in Canada, or could be poor in the United Kingdom or Sweden, knowing what I know about the Third World, I would think more than twice about the prosperous expat option. You could be poor in the the prosperous social welfare countries, with a roof over your head and food to eat. In Canada at least, you can earn some work income before they cut off your benefits. The benefits for someone who is poor, because they have a proven disability, are substantially better than social assistance. I am not sure I would go expat just because I want to afford to run a car, or want hobby stuff, or holidays, or nice clothes, or so I can afford to dine out in restaurants. Life would have to be tough.

For any Canadian poor people, I apologize sincerely if I am unintentionally trivializing what it means to be poor in Canada. I know poor people, but I have been lucky not to be poor, all my life. Please set me straight. Particularly, I do not want to in any way trivialize the poverty of so many indigenous Canadians. So many of them are very, very poor.

Clarifying One’s Thinking

This question has helped me go through some still strong feelings that I have about expat life. It has reminded me, if I need a reminder, that I am really lucky to be a Canadian. Again, I apologize if anything I have said is ignorant or insensitive. And, I want to make it clear, I don’t blame the poor in Canada or anywhere, for being poor.

Martin Levine

Why are British people mostly antisocial?

October 12, 2018

I speak from having lived in London for three years in the 1980’s and having been back a number of times since.

I haven’t seen any statistics about what proportion of the United Kingdom’s population demonstrates the affability trait, which is sometimes taken as an indicator for sociability. I would be interested in seeing statistics broken out by ethnicity (The Scots are certainly not the same as the English. I am not sure whether that is the case for British people of Jamaican, South Asian and Jewish origin.) Britain being Britain, there might be variations according to social class. Then age, then gender, then level of urbanisation, etc.

London Is Not The Friendliest Place on Earth

It’s a huge city. It is also the commercial and manufacturing centre of Britain and the national capital. (From my experiences, national capitals breed cold, unfriendly and self-centred people.) You don’t necessarily know your neighbours, and, if you did, you might not have the least thing in common with them.) Also, it is a rush around, hard commuting, high-priced city. with a lot of intense, highly-competitive workplaces. I think that being sociable takes effort. If you are burned out and tired you won’t have it. Also, if you have no discretionary money, where can you go to socialize?

I think there are little, friendly enclaves in London. For me, Goulders Green is friendly. Of course, it is a Jewish neighbourhood and I belong there. I know the score, what is kosher and what isn’t, what Yiddish words to use. People pretty quickly see you know how to get with the programme. It also helps when you reassure them that you are just a harmless Canadian Jew, not an American one. British Jews have lots of relatives in Toronto.

Frankly, I found the queer community in London pretty friendly. It helps if you are young and attractive, but booze is an important British social lubricant, and if you are in a gay bar to do your drinking, you are one of the crowd, and, if you are lucky, fair game.

I am sure there are other identity groups in the United Kingdom who have similar social jollity experiences.

Social Class Is Everything And You Don’t Have Any

Social class is still big in the United Kingdom. My experience was, that your social class identity trumped your human personal identity. It is quite appropriate for upper class people to disdain everyone else. (Presumably they have a great social time when they are at exclusive clubs, and when they are invited guests at royal weddings.)

And, it still seems to be a tradition, if you are working class, you get to resent anyone who isn’t. Middle class people get disdain from the other two classes, the meat in the British social sandwich. I presume they disdain back in both directions.

Foreigners are big outsiders, to this absolutely essential class system, that provides the necessary structural and rationalization for the British society and economy and British (Well, especially English) psychology. If you tried, as a British person, to unfold that social class system, so as to socialize with a foreigner with no social class assignment, you could put your own self-image and self-justification system in real peril.

The Unsocial Legacy of Empire

It was striking in Britain. Other than hard-line bigots, people seemed relatively comfortable with people of colour from the old Empire. However, the British seem to have rather rocky feelings with other Caucasians. This isn’t a result of Brexit-hate. The discomfort has been around for a long time. When one thinks of British history, there have been some serious conflicts with other Caucasians, the French, the Germans, the Americans, the Italians, the Boers, the Russians, the Spanish, the Icelanders, the Argentineans, (mostly Caucasian anyhow), the Poles, the Jews (We are sort of white, unless somebody else is in a bad mood with us.), etc. I think some British people are still annoyed about the Danelaw and don’t like Norwegian people very much. And then, there is the Eurovision song contest, which, I admit is an understandable irritant.

I don’t really understand the British loathing of Polish people. If someone heard Polish being spoken on a street in Winnipeg, we might ask what their favourite vodka is and to recommend some authentic pickles.

Everybody loves Australians (They are really just enviable British people, even though they are working class, perhaps a bit too Irish, but basking in the sunshine.) New Zealanders are seen as totally harmless. Being Canadian can sort of get you half a foot in the door, except that, I noticed British gay men seem to despise Celine Dion. But, being a foreign Caucasian in Britain means, justify yourself! You will very definitely not get the benefit of the doubt.

Stiff Upper Lip, Or Drink

Yes, it’s a stereotype, but stoicism is still prized in the United Kingdom. Of course, they have had a lot to be stoic about. And the women too.

Stiff upper lip is not a recipe for a dynamic social life. It serves the violence level that has permitted Britain to survive. British people still get a lot of socialization about the value of physical aggression. (The working class refers to “bottle”. I am sure that the middle and upper classes have more refined words, like maybe even Thanatos.) I really believe that, one of the major reasons the Brits were able to pound down the Germans twice in the twentieth century, is because they they believed in violence as a joy within itself, not just an implement of state policy. That can make British people kind of opaque to people from a lot of cultures.

When I lived in London, there was still the eleven P.M. closing hour for pubs. We lived in a large apartment building in the city centre. There were pubs on every corner. I used to call it “the Lullaby of London”. Sharp at 11:00 P.M., there was a generous round of guys hollering at each other, beating on each other loudly, and glass breaking. The women would shriek and fight with each other.

My conclusion is that, a really good way to make close friends with a British person, is if you both pound on each other first. Then, the two of you go pound on someone else.

Male-Female British Social Relation Are Kind Of Unique

In good conscience I can’t call the British the most romantic people on earth. About what other nationality could one say, “No sex please, we’re British.”

English-speaking Canada is still struggling to remove the yoke of Methodism and Presbyterianism. So is Britain. That yoke says, “women are kind of nasty and will get you in big trouble.” “Wenching” still goes on.

The Australians seem to have invented the term “mateship”, but the British have it too. When your closest, most reliable, real friends in life are the guys you love to play violent games with, well, what do you do about women, like your wife, partner, lover, etc? They can get in the way.

Socialization Is One Thing, Friendship Quite Another

I think British people tend to separate socialization from friendship. The Chumbawumba video kind of says it. It is available on You Tube. However, if there is a copyright, I am providing the link for information purposes only:

“Pissing the night away, Pissing the night away” (Non Commonwealth readers, in this context, “pissing the night away” does not refer to an evening of urination. “Pissing” in English means spending the night by drinking a whole lot.)

Coronation Street is another very apt descriptor. “Going down the pub” does not at all mean you are looking for new friends.” It means getting to gossip and expressing social class solidarity.

I love the honesty. We are not seeking new friendships. We are socializing because pissing the night away in company is nicer than going on a bender back home. We are going down the pub.

Can British People Change?

Well, why should they?

From my years of sociological study, and my travels abroad, I have a theory. When most people in a country are warm, friendly and nice, tyrants will run wild. Also, that country is a sitting duck for other countries, that don’t do nice, at all.

I saw it in the Balkans. Most of the people lovely, kind, friendly, so the thugs took over. Once they do, it is very hard to get them out.

I think the British have learned, you need a “Rule, Britannia”, attitude, not just because you want to colonize everybody, everywhere, but because Europe is thirty kilometres (twenty miles) away, and there are a fair number of nasty people there. You cannot at all afford to look gentle and lovable. You need to scare the Europeans. You need to look a little grim. You need to send the best of your soccer louts to the Continent, for a spot of Bovver.

From what I have seen, British people who really like you, are among the best friends that you could ever have. But, a British person’s true friends are a select circle, maybe those guys you liked to beat on, and get beaten by. I still don’t quite understand how British women find their true friends.

Britain life still has a lot of rough edges and deep divisions. Were I a British person, I would say to myself, why do I want to socialize at all? Maybe I could do a bit of social climbing, maybe a cut and thrust argument, maybe to have a justifiable background in which to drink. How likely is it that I am going to meet anybody that I really want to get with?

Once you understand why British people socialize, you can probably socialize with them. (Maybe a European could start with an upfront apology for being European.) However, don’t push them. It’s not about widening your social circle and making new friends.

Martin Levine

What is your biggest culture shock and in which country were you?

March 29, 2018

I made my living in the Canadian Foreign Service. I went to all sorts of places. I have lived in the developing world. I have lived in Austria. I have spent time in Russia. But, my biggest cultural shock was while living in Britain. How can that be?

When I was in university I did do some sociology of the developing world. To my amazement, when I was living in India and the Philippines, it was totally relevant. So much for the social sciences not being real! So, that was some of the cultural shock eliminated before I could get shocked.

Of course English is spoken in India and the Philippines. However a lot of the real stuff goes on in the local languages. I found that Indians and Filipinos who would talk to me in English were quite understanding about what I didn’t know. When I asked them to explain they were pleased I took an interest.

Before I got to Austria I kind of knew the score, Mozart and neo-Nazism. I can more or less handle Mozart. Also, because Neo-Nazism, from my point of view, is a mortal threat to my existence. I was well aware of how neo-Nazism (actually Austria had plenty of plain old Nazism, no neo needed.) works. Plus, having encountered some of Canada’s not insignificant number of neo-Nazis, there wasn’t much new. Austrian neo-Nazism sounds more interesting and exotic though, because it’s in the original Nazi language. You are getting neo-Nazism that sounds like Hogan’s Heroes.

Russia didn’t make it in the culture shock department. The problem is, my grandparents are from there. Also, I had the benefit of North End Winnipeg, an Eastern European-oriented enclave dismissively but, in retrospect, graciously permitted by anglo-Manitoban society. Nobody forgot our Russia there.

Britain, the National Looking Glass

(For any, about to be irate, British people, it’s all in context. Asserting that you are incomprehensible it not disrespecting you. In fact I know you do it at least in part to hopelessly confuse colonials and foreigners. You are really good at it. It’s part of your charm. And one thing I quickly learned about British people, no self-respecting British person cares what any foreigner thinks so they don’t care.)

Having a common language means you can understand what the people are thinking, or at least you think you understand. This can breed a lot of false confidence and set you up for a London fall. You end up doubting whether you understood a single word that Petula Clark, John Lennon, Lulu, Kate Bush, Ed Sheeran and other prominent British folks ever said.

I would like to avoid using “British” as a smother word to erase the other nationalities of the United Kingdom. I am talking to a large extent about the English. The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish are not the same. One of my challenges, living in London, was why the English haven’t tried to liberate themselves from the Scots.

Why Do English People Venerate Social Class?

I didn’t get it while I was there. I never will.

In this case my sociology mis-educated me. They told me that social class was an objective reality, driven by historic economic issues.

That doesn’t seem to be how English people see it. I am not at all sure I get it but, I believe that:

For the English, social class is a joy in and of itself.

I can only intellectualize about why this could be so. Perhaps it is because the Industrial Revolution destroyed traditional village communities, forceably urbanized people, stripped away their rural identity, and forced them to define themselves by their subjugated work life. However Liberal and Labour reforms stripped away some of the misery and left working class English people with a few shillings in the pocket. A little bit of disposable income leads to lifestyles.

Urbanization may have broken the new working class free of the Methodist and Presbyterian, moralizing churches. The upper class didn’t think working class people could understand the finer points of theology. Also they were not at all interested in promoting deferral of gratification, pecuniousness and social mobility.

The result? A not so unhappy world of working class pubs, betting shops, “knocking shops”, end of pier shows, vulgar ITV presentations, Council Housing and National Health. Working class English people were free to befriend each other and develop a sense of community. (I.E. Coronation Street).

The upper class was not disturbed by the situation. An amused, socially comfortable working class means a non-Bolshie working class. There isn’t the class struggle that they told me about in Introduction to Sociology. There’s a reasonably happy stasis. The upper class and their wannabies are a stream of amusement for the working class, supported by paparazzi pictures.

When I tried to discuss the social class system with English people, they didn’t want to. I was criticizing their sense of security and fun.

My ethno-Canadian brains smoke at the effort to comprehend this situation. I will never know if I am close to being right.

Lager Louts are Good People

I am convinced that most British people believe this. This includes the Scots. What is better than a street brawl on Saturday night in downtown Glasgow?

I was brought up to believe that violence belongs in wars and the National Hockey League. Why do the Brits love a spot of bovver? (I saw women fighting outside of pubs at closing time. This is not the Canadian approach to feminism.)

I struggle to have a theory. Maybe it’s this way. Wenching is the historic basis of British male-female relations. This does not lead to a lot of intersex warmth and quality-time together. Who do you then turn too for companionship and understanding? Your mates.

British boys learn this just as they get adolescent. Your upcoming developmental stage is a testosterone flood. You don’t have to worry too much about your future because your social class is the one with the future, not you personally. No young lady is going to soften your rough edges. You are a young pack animal. The males in animal packs fight each other. After a lager or six, you are good to go. It doesn’t matter who you fight, it’s a matter of principal. It’s bonding with the boys. It’s a fixture.

By contrast, Canadian society teaches young men to watch every step. Even working class young male Canadians think they have a chance to move forward, although often they don’t. Too much street brawling and you are done. There are no excuses for that here. Watch what you say, or Canadian morality will be on you in a flash.

Britain is an Exceptional Nation

It’s not just Americans. The Americans and Brits could sit down and have an exceptional contest. Europe is thirty kilometres away, but,there are no ideas to copy there. Just eat the wine and cheese and buy yourself a villa in Magaluf. France, the Netherlands, Sweden, etc., there is no need to discuss things with those folks, except about how to leave the European Union.

Why, why, why? It’s actually the English who seem to feel absolutely exceptional. Scotland not quite as much.

My theory is, England is, relatively speaking, a old country, and old countries have long memories. The island of Great Britain was successfully invaded by the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. The Papacy attempted a political invasion, The Spanish and the French took a run at it. Hitler would certainly have liked to. Then, the British had to loose military and civilian lives, intervening to end wars that the Europeans started.

I think that at some point, the English (England was the primary target of all these invasions) had just had enough. There was a collective decision that resonated with all social classes. Europe stops over there! We aren’t it! Your political ideas start attacks on us and wars that we have to fix. Go away! Just sell us the wine and cheese! We enjoyed our Empire way more then we ever enjoyed you. Even our former colonies don’t understand us. Our idea of interacting with you Europeans is to send our lout attack force to Spain! We will welcome them home as conquering heroes, in the spirit of Lord Nelson.

Why Are the Scots Just the Same as Us?

It was very strange. I would talk with English people and understand nothing. Then I would talk with someone from Scotland and it was like talking to someone from Nova Scotia. It was the reverse of cultural shock. How could this be?

Of course the Scots made English-speaking Canada what it is. They brought grim Presbyterianism, bonspiels, kilts, creative ways to make whiskey, work is the meaning of life except church, caber tossing, difficult folk dancing, a love of wool clothing and an almost overwhelming Celtic tradition to Our Fair Dominion. We fiddle here. Even some of us ethnics can do it. No Scots, no Canada. You’d talk to Scots and they could even locate Canada on the map and talk about the names of provinces.

The Scots are exceptional too but they don’t stress on it. They have a better understanding, social class is frequently grim, not a constant source of joy. You are not going to distract them with silly tales from the celebrity A-list. Particularly, compared to the English, the Scots are so Canadian!

The Narcissism of Big Differences

English-speaking Canadian life comes with factory-installed humility. We team play. Tall poppies get cut down. Shutting up is pro-social behaviour. It’s a matter of Canadian principal, from the House of Commons, to Fabian Socialism, to National Health, to regional development grants, we respectfully copy stuff from elsewhere.

Not the English, not at all. Humble belongs with Charles Dickens and no later. Britain does not copy. It originates all sorts of things and they get copied by others.

The English social class system is a national hobby. I don’t know of any country with such well-defined social classes and so little class struggle. (The Labour Party doesn’t have any more time for class struggles. What really matters is the Middle East, race relations and political correctness.)

The British don’t believe in holding back. Getting drunk and beating on other Brits is a well-established type of personal self-expression.

Britain is absolutely unique. British people know it and really like it. Being bloody-minded about it is respected. Put it all together and a foreigner can end up in a state of cultural panic, never mind shock.

Those are my theories anyhow. However I know that I don’t know. I won’t get it and Britain will shock me forever!

Martin Levine

As a Star Trek fan, were there any aspects of the shows and movies that you thought were silly or ridiculous?

January 28, 2018

Of course it depends which of the series and films one is talking about.

I have enjoyed all the series and films thoroughly but there are a few oddities.

The Low Status of the Crew

This was especially an issue in the first series. Crew members below the senior officer level seemed to get knocked off on a rather regular basis. If I was a crewman on Captain Kirk’s Enterprise I would have been terrified. You had the survival chances of a battle zone. I kind of felt that the lower-down crew were sort of disposable and replaceable.

Running Away is Good

This pertains to Star Trek Voyager. The Delta Quadrant is meant to be a low-down part of the Galaxy. However the plot was based on the Voyager hanging out and doing various types of research and messing with civilizations that would richly have preferred if they weren’t around. The Kazon wanted the Discovery to get the hell out of there. If I were Captain Janeway I would have apologized for the trouble and booted it.

How Do the Young, Single Crew People Mess Around?

The various Star Trek spaceships were distinctly dominated by middle-aged people. However a lot of the crew people were young and unattached. I wondered, did the younger crew people have some place they could go where they could get away from the old foagies? Could they have had a holo disco for under 30’s only?

Mind you, in the current series, the young folks are shown as having a bias-free dance evening, entertained by the finest works of Joan Travolta and the B. G’s. This would be like modern young folks listening to the dance chart from the mid 1700’s. Is this plausible?

What’s in a Name?

Prominent Star Trek aliens sometimes have just the one name. For example, Worf or Tuvok. However they come from societies with billions of individuals. In a society as patriarchal as the Klingons wouldn’t you be so and so, the son of so and so? For example, wouldn’t you be Worf ben B’Etor ben Lursa, the Levite, or something?

How Come France is up and Running and Doing Just Fine?

OK, the earth is meant to have had a humongous Third World War which blew everything straight to hell. However in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Eiffel Tower is still intact (unless they rebuilt it) and cafe society and haute couture are going strong. Jean-Luc Picard’s family has a traditional vineyard just outside of Tours, I think it was, although Tours is all built up with high rises.

So, did France get lucky and dodge the historic bullet?

Also, traditional English-life seems to have muddled through. Data retires to a country mansion and sits next to the fireplace reading Sherlock Holmes. In Star Trek: Enterprise the Royal Navy is still around.

And, for that matter, San Francisco still features the Coit Tower and the Transamerica Building.

Zefram Cochrane musters up the parts and creates humanity’s first warp drive in a non-radioactive rural Montana, with lots of wholesome nature.

I never could figure it out, so who got nuked? Was it a limited nuclear exchange with only low-yield type battlefield weapons?

I Think Maybe the Entire World Turned Into the USA

I can see why all the Star Trek TV series and films had to be tactful about this. Just saying that the USA had got blown out of existence in favour of a world government would really have upset more conservative Americans.

In the meantime Iowa is still there and Anchorage is still Anchorage.

The subtext seems to be that whatever wars the earth had, the USA won. Now mostly everybody talks with an American accent and for the most part, everybody behaves likes an American or like somebody who immigrated. So, in Jean-Luc’s Paris do they just talk English with a French accent or are they still talking the real thing? Of course, if Star Trek had got specific about how the entire world had turned into an expanded USA, it might have alienated international audiences.

The Ferengi Were Kind of Obviously Ethnic

They were rather visibly a satire on us North American Jews. They could have done a little more with the theme, a Ferengi bar mitzvah, Ferengi wedding buffets, Ferengi night club comedians, ultra-Orthodox Ferengi, etc. However, even back then, some of us probably would have have got a little cranky.

And Further, About Us

There is the one episode where Worf’s adoptive parents turned out to be Theodor Bikel and Molly Picon, the King and queen of Yiddish theatre. It would have been nice if they could have invented a plot device where they sing Bei Mir Bis du Schein and some hits from the Yiddish version of Fiddler on a Roof.

Also, more generally, what happened to us? Jewish names still pop up. Are we still around?

However, if they blurt out that we are still singing Hava Nagila in the distant future, but Christianity and Islam have sort of faded out, that would have caused some fairly serious ructions.

What Happened to Us Nerds?

Star Trek Voyager had a character who was kind of socially adverse and was not a hit with the ladies. He got psychoanalyzed, as I recall as a seclusive personality. I kind of wondered how he didn’t get politely removed from Starfleet Academy or how he got in, in the first place.

However, on a starship, I guess most crew persons have to be team player, people people or people aliens. Are there still the sort of people who, well, go to Star Trek conventions and collect comic books?

So, What’s Doing Back Home?

In the current series the revivified, nastier, Harry Mudd declaims about Star Fleet flying around on an ego trip while your average planetary person maybe lives a mediocre life.

Star Trek has always been pretty sparing about what Earth and the human-colonized planets are actually like. Is there something they don’t want to tell us? They have, through multiple series and films, given us only tiny hits. So, Jean-Luc has a vineyard and visits a reassuringly familiar Paris. However, does France still have numerous farmer protests and drop-of-the-hat labour strikes? We are shown a brief glimpse of the historic part of a San Francisco, with BART still up and running. So, what’s Oakland like? How about the futuristic East Saint Louis?

It would have been fun to attend some of the Star Trek scriptwriter meetings. I suspect there was a fair amount of politics going on, never mind concerns about scripts requiring extremely costly sets. Star Trek has been quite nimble about sketching an interesting future, unencumbered by downer sociological details.

Martin Levine

What are your criticisms of the Mirror Universe story line in the Star Trek universe?

January 18, 2018

Basically, I don’t have any. I have enjoyed this story line from when it first appeared in the original series.


Lots of Bad Universes

What I call the “bad universe” is part of a concept that is popular among historians, readers of science and fantasy fiction, physical scientists, social scientists and others, so a lot of potential Star Trek viewers. The concept is called Uchronia, which means, what if something else happened? Uchronia is based on a “point of departure”, that is, an event that turned out a certain way in our universe turned out another way in somebody else’s. By far the most typical examples are terrible ones, Nazi Germany winning World War II, the Japanese, or the Confederacy winning the Civil War.

And A Few Good Ones

However, not every point of departure is dreadful. A very popular one is, what if a security guard had seen John Wilkes Booth pull out his gun, and tackled Booth, taking him down before he could kill Abraham Lincoln? Presumably what would have happened is a much better post-bellum America, Lincoln managing reconstruction in a compassionate and forgiving way, while ensuring that Afro-Americans did not slide back under oppression, the Klan being defeated, the modern bitter and angry South never coming into existence, etc.

The same for John F. Kennedy not getting shot.

However, sometimes the contemporary time line has to be enforced. The episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever”, in the original series, refers to this:


The character played by Joan Collins is a wonderful person, and Captain Kirk falls in love with her, but she is a prominent pacifist who has to die so the Americans can confront Hitler militarily, and he doesn’t win.

Macho You Wears a Dress in a Gay Bar in an Alternative (Lifestyle) Universe

Uchronia also engages the physics idea of multiple and possibly an infinite, number of universes. If there are an infinite number of universes than, anything that can possibly happen, will. That means that are an infinite number of versions of you, in circumstances that you might find appalling. The possibilities for negative fantasizing are infinite too.

OK, you are a real typical, macho Canadian guy. You like beer, watching hockey on TV, Buffalo wings, bar fights, and maybe, the odd touch of domestic violence.

I have heard a concept from the Evangelical community, “flipping your gay switch”. This means that there is sort of an alternative lifestyle G spot in a male’s descending colon. An incautious proctologist can inadvertently flip it during the internal exam that all real men hate. You are done for. Your gender preferences have been reversed.

In that alternative universe Mr. Canadian Macho gets his switch flipped. By the end of the next day he has purchased season tickets for the ballet and has found a respectful shoe shop where one can find women’s high heel club wear in male sizes. Terrifying, yes! Look out for that Worm Hole tunnel to that disco reality! Be, really, really careful.

As a bisexual I wonder what happened to my switch. Maybe my lower digestive tract is caught between two different dimensions.

It’s Fun for the Actors

In Star Trek: Discovery, Mary Wiseman, the actress who plays Cadet Sylvia Tilly, has a challenging role for a young actress, and plays it very, very well. However, one doesn’t want to play naive, well-intentioned youngster, all the time.

Now that the Discovery is (hopefully temporarily) hung up in Star Trek’s latest iteration of the Bad Universe, Ms. Wiseman gets to do something new and different, be her lovable cadet playing Captain Monster. You can see that she is having fun. She is also getting to show a very impressive performance range.

The Flipside Terran Empire

The Terran Empire is a flipover of an alternative scenario in Deep Space Nine. In that bad universe Earth got soundly defeated while fighting everybody else. Here it is:


This article is the property of IMBd. I am providing the link for information purposes only.

Humans are slaves. Colm Meany did a really good reverse of his normal role in this one.

I wonder if the writers for the current series had that Deep Space Nine episode in mind? This time, humans beat up on everybody else, very thoroughly.

So, Are We Talking Germany Here?

The different Star Trek series always commented on their own political and social times. In Discovery we hear the Terran Empire described as “fascist” and “racist”. We have a very politically correct Starship.

As soon as I heard those terms I asked myself, who are we talking about here and how did our alternative universe get there? What was the point of departure?

I think it’s fair to say, Adolph Hitler dominates the Uchronian world and lots of science fiction. You could have a nuanced alternative universe but it’s not as exciting. Say, for example, the Germans and the Allies finish World War I with a saw-off and a negotiated treaty rather than capitulation. Without the national humiliation and huge reparations payments imposed by the Allies in our timeline, Germans are not so embittered and their economy recovers by 1920. There is no room for Hitler. Jews don’t get murdered and Jewish scientists do enormous amounts of work for German industry. Germany starts civilian space exploration by 1935. Germany remains known for operas, symphonies and cutting-edge Berlin culture, instead of mass murder, etc. This is nice but, as a dramatic story, kind of so what?

So, did the Terran Empire originate from the standard, Nazi winning, alternative nightmare, or something else?

This scenario makes a good explanation but would be difficult to implement. The whole excitement of the Terran Universe is that it’s about you, fantasizing being there, doing your drag performance and other absolutely horrid things. But you may not be a Caucasian. The Terran Universe is only racist about non-humans, it’s multiracial facism.

The Discovery has a multiracial human staff complement as well as assorted loyal aliens. In order to implement the human interest, you can’t have a Nazi-descending universe. The protagonist is an Afro-American and the Terran Empress is a lady of East Asian heritage.

Also, wouldn’t you have to have your principal characters talking German, or at least speaking English with silly, made-up German accents? You’d end up with an alternative, interstellar Hogan’s Heroes.

My best guess is that what we are meant to be seeing is a Trumpist point of departure into a universe that lots of Liberal Democrats assert has already got here. We are in the wrong timeline. We need to build a time machine, slam the breaks and go into emergency reverse!

Where Are You, Judge Crater?

Remember him? What if Star Trek’s fantasy is a physics reality? What if you walk around your horse and fall straight down your own personal wormhole? This is just as frightening as the impinging, increasingly obvious fact, that UFO’s are probably real.

The Bad Universe is a lesson about life. Don’t walk around that horse except if you are with a whole bunch of other people who jam you out of the wormhole. As a prominent American singer in our very own timeline put it, “You Gotta Hold on to What you Got”. Star Trek is telling you to let the series do the fantasizing and be happy in the universe you are in.

Martin Levine

Why do people think it’s hard to live abroad? Is it because of the language or culture?

January 12, 2018

I have already spoken in several Answers about the hardships and opportunities of immigrating to Canada. This Answer addressees the expat world.

When it comes to hardship it depends what people you are talking about. There are various reasons to fear the great unknown.

Of course it depends where you are coming from and where you are going. A Quebecois who has to spend some expat time in Paris may not feel massive distress. However, as I understand it from Quebecois friends an irritant is that people in France think you are speaking the original French from the 1500’s and want, for their amusement, to hear you speak at length in your supposedly fossil dialect. I have heard a Quebecois refer to this as a cultural “pat on the head”.

The reverse can happen in a cheery way. One evening I was frequenting my favourite Francophone gay bar in Hull, Quebec. A rather lonely-looking young woman from Brittany in France had wandered in. She wasn’t lonely and sad for very long. A lot of Quebecois are of Breton origin. Some of the supposed Quebec-French archaisms originate from there. After not very long the young lady realized she was in some place friendly and familiar. She used the opportunity to get really drunk but, since so many young local women got drunk there too, she was in the groove. She knew it too.

Do Not Trumpicize, Deal With the Situation

It probably is not a suitable word for tactful cross cultural discourse, but I have heard the President’s recent summary of certain countries, many times in my foreign service life. I wonder if he hasn’t had too much contact with his own diplomatic core.

In the following recent Answer I describe how you can be overseas and get yourself into a “shithole” state of mind:


Look out the embassy car windows on the way in from the airport and you may be thinking the sh-thh-le word while you panic. If you are a little literate you sometimes have to check yourself from feeling you have made a nightmarish descent into Dante’s lowest level of the Inferno. However as English-Canada’s mother country folks would say, “get a grip on yourself” or as The Donald might say, “suck it up”.Think about what your personal Inferno really would be and recognize that this ain’t it. You are panicking. Talk to the local people. (Someone always speaks English.) Remind yourself that most of the world doesn’t get to be an ethno-Canadian and be very glad you are. Think about the basics of life. Judge not.

I always thought of the basics of life in Expatia this way, pretend you are gassing (petrolling) up. However, the money metre on the gas pump is running in reverse. The more you pump the more you are in profit. Being an expat sometimes means getting paid a lot more with no taxes. Think of that pump metre, running in reverse, pumping away all the troubles of your life.

Foreign Booze From the Boozeless Point of View

In Canada booze costs a lost. There are plenty of public service announcements to remonstrate with you that booze is bad. Booze can turn you into a male chauvinist with no feminist perspective.

In the meantime, the commercials of Canada demand that beer equates with being a real Canadian. No beer then no macho, no bar fights, no babes.

Then, here you are, in the world beyond. Your booze comes cheap from the diplomatic tax-free store. Or, the retail price is a fraction of that at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Anyhow, since your economic gas pump is running in reverse, you can afford it.

If I could for but a moment return to that figurative gas station, booze is the primary lubricant of expat life. But, the rules are different from your favourite Canadian restaurant-bar. You can’t answer an inappropriate comment with the traditional fist in the mouth. Traumatically, you are confronted by certain other nationalities that can reliably drink you right under the table. They are still having fun and hooking up while you are blacked out.

Be a non-boozer like me. Look at all of this and either be smug or despair. You have come half way around the world for that intercultural experience and that reversing gas pump. There you are. You at are the embassy cabana in 45 C. (113 F.) heat. The other Canadians demand you drink with them. But you really would much prefer to pass out from a heat stroke. While you are comatose you dream of a medevac to the most Orthodox synagogue in all of Tel Aviv and getting some serious apologizing done to the Rabbi. Then you wake up and, you know, you are still amongst people who demand you be one of them but have not the least clue where you are culturally coming from.

Hope That the Knife in Your Back is Pretty Sharp

You aren’t overseas for a two week holiday at Club Med. You gotta live there!

In any place I have worked overseas I have found that local people respond well to your respect. Once they see you are not misimporting your own cultural judgements, they will talk with you about theirs.

However, watch your own nationals! Expatting with other Canadians can be a mine field. Unlike the Brits or the French, Canadians do not have a highly-defined structure for Expat life. (E.G. Buy rounds and engage in alternative forms of sex.) There you are in Dubai, missing Moose Jaw real bad. Exotica is not your thing.

The Embassy Canadians get lonely for Labatt’s Blue (the Foster’s Lager of the frigid north) and the National Hockey League. Christmas is on the horizon. You are in an Embassy office and your fellow Canadians want ersatz family, family, family.

But, you don’t drink. Like me you are halfway light in the loafers. Rather than the Montreal Canadiens versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, you would vastly prefer to see Kylie Minogue commentating about a combined ballet-fashion show. You don’t do Xmas.

So, enjoy getting swarmed. You’d better enjoy it because you are there for three years and it won’t stop. Your fellow Canadians can’t give you the traditional fist in the mouth, but even if they are not the biggest readers, they know how to put you in the Inferno.

What do you do in a national capital with no gay bar? What if the nearest ballet is 2,000 kilometres away in Moscow? As the Grand Old Opry would have put it, you have heart aches by the dozen, troubles by the score.

Forget about looking out the Embassy car window. You know where you hell is. Even if you are in a place with only one, crumby, sleazy gay bar, you have seen the portals of Paradise. Forget the family folks Canadians and have a cocktail.

You Can Go Home Again, Presuming You Know Exactly Where Your Home Is

Expat life can leave you Canadianly ungrounded. It’s a syndrome. They send you back to Ottawa for a few years with no reverse gasoline money meter. (Talk about hard!) If your family and friends happen to reside where your Canadian headquarters is, they barely remember you, they’ve gone on with their highly domestic lives, and they haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about.

However, I always used my Twilight Zone approach. I never accepted the excruciatingly dull metropolis of Eastern Ontario as “home”. My psychological home remained the Winnipeg of my youth.

Nowadays you can keep in touch. CBC Manitoba is available on the Internet. You can buy a subscription to the digital Winnipeg Free Press. You can gently, gently transition yourself from the hippie Winnipeg of 1968. You can still go home and deal with the sad reality that downtown Winnipeg just isn’t as run down as you fondly remember. Maybe it will be again, in some futurist, grubby sort of way. The home town blizzard will still sting your face. Winnipeg’s mosquitoes can be relied on to give you some welcome home bites.

If your idea of happiness is not a forty ounce bottle of Scotch, you need to know where your home is, in a non-abstract way. It isn’t some Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, politically correct, “Canada”. Your home is the block heater, the snow plow and and an excellent excuse to consume a lot of carbs, because you are freezing to death.

In the meantime you transcend, you look forward, you keep the reversing gasoline pump in mind, and listen to classic disco and Nashville music. You ignore that knife sticking out the back and dialogue on an egalitarian basis with the locals, the people you actually came 10,000 kilometres to meet. Enjoy learning from British people how to expat with a smiley face. You will triumph over that cabana, that dire Holiday Season Party, and those pitiable, inadequate, office substitutes for the good, old-fashioned Canadian fist in the mouth!

Martin Levine

What are the best life lessons you’ve learned from traveling the world?

January 6, 2018

I spent my career in the Canadian foreign service. I travelled a lot but it sure wasn’t for pleasure. You go some place that they send you and then you have to stay there, sometimes for years, processing visa applications.

To the extent I learned anything, I was left with some views about the meaning of reality.

Don’t Panic, It’s Just Life

Here you are, arriving in a national capital, in the developing world. You are posted there for three years. The embassy driver picks you up at the airport and you start the journey into town. You have jet lag. You are tired. You are 10,000 kilometres from home. You are anxious about your fate. And, when you look out the embassy car window, you may have the initial feeling that you have landed in hell. It’s really, really, really poor. It’s 40 C. (105 F.) with maximum humidity. The billboards sell cigarettes (Canadian gasp!) and the advertisements are in some weird alphabet you can’t read. The road is lined with scrawny palm trees. If your new home is not so terribly democratic there are military checkpoints here and there, soldiers waiving submachine guns around rather carelessly.

Then that feeling, arises, you ask G-d, why did he do this to you? You beg him, if this is a nightmare, please, please let me wake up.

Before you get completely hysterical and tell the embassy driver to take you right back to the airport, you need to get a grip on yourself. It’s a job. You aren’t rich and you are going to make a lot of tax free money working overseas. Once you are inside the Embassy, processing your visas, you are in just another Government of Canada bureaucratic office, doing your civil service thing. The Embassy is going to allocate you “staff quarters”, nicely furnished, and frankly way better than the apartment you could have afforded in Ottawa. You have the diplomatic community so if you want you can hang out with other people who are just as disoriented as you are. I don’t drink but diplomats get to buy their liquor tax free. That bottle of Smirnoff in the diplomatic store isn’t going to cost you much more than a two-litre diet coke back home. Once your car finally arrives from back home (Unless you are buying a tax free BMW from the local diplomatic dealer) you will get to prance around with diplomatic licence plates. And, scrawny palm trees means no winter.

Then you ask yourself, is life always hard, and you know, yes it is. Is your current situation existentially worse than, for example, repairing diesel locomotives outdoors in mid-January, in a railyard just outside of Saskatoon?

Watch CNN, Do Not Be on CNN

My ex-wife, my infant son, and I were living in a very nice staff quarters, in a gated residential village in Makati, the business district of Metro Manila.

Most Filipinos I met were really nice people. However the Philippines occasionally has political stability issues. A particular manifestation of this problem was that a group of rebel soldiers decided to hold a coup attempt, in Makati, using our pleasant little village as a no mans’ land, to shoot across.

Tracer bullets look pretty at night. Mortar shells make a type of fireworks. However there were so many bullets whizzing overhead that my ex-wife had come in from hanging up the wash.

The Canadian Embassy had organized an evacuation convoy, most of the Canadian embassy staff living in another residential village some distance away. The Embassy had made group reservations at a nice hotel, on the seashore promenade, in Manila proper. However we were the only Canadians in our village. We got in the car, dodged the gunfire and made our own way down to the hotel. We actually got there first and got a nice room.

However the rest of the embassy gang eventually got to the hotel and, also, a thousand or so other, kind of stressed, people.

Then CNN showed up. People started giving CNN various shrieky interviews. It was painfully obvious that some of them had previously seen catastrophic films about the Third World, and were outright plagiarizing. My ex-wife had put the baby in the stroller and we had gone downstairs to the front of the hotel, to get some fresh, gunpowder-scented air. CNN wanted to film my kid, looking blase and unimpressed. However my ex-wife was a real party-poop and told CNN a flat no. Being British she had a BBC-based disdain for CNN. Also, she was concerned that her parents in Liverpool, seeing our baby doing his macho-Sylvester Stallone thing, might feel concerned. OK, I guess she had a point.

So what life-lesson did I learn from this Wild West shoot-up in the Western Pacific? Watch CNN. Do not be on CNN. If you are appearing on CNN with regard to anything other than a major sports event or to promote your tell-all book about silliness at the White House, you are doing something very, very wrong. You need to stop, immediately, ask yourself how you got there, admit you have made a dreadful mistake and do something else.

If you want to learn about military coup attempts and generalized pandemonium in the Third World, watch it on Cable TV at home in Winnipeg. Then, have a cup of tea, shovel some snow and go to bed. That’s absolutely as much information as you need. In the real-life situation the people are nowhere near as attractive as on cable and are very highly unlikely to be thinking about having sex with you.

Ironically, a few weeks earlier, Chuck Norris had been using our residential village as a movie set for a movie about, guess what, military violence in the Third World. Thank you very much Chuck, you are a great role model.

Money Talks and Everything Else Walks

Was it Cyndi Lauper who said that money changes everything? A very smart woman.

I have been to England, I have been to Paris, I have been to Moscow, I have been to Detroit and Seattle. I have learned the prime rule of life everywhere, money talks and bull—t walks. Call it Pounds, call it Euros, call it Rubles, call it Greenbacks, but it’s all the same.

One arrives in a certain country that one has never seen before with certain expectations, like it’s really religious. Well yes, but religion doesn’t pay your bills (unless you are a person of the cloth or a TV evangelist) And no, neither will anarchism, socialism or some type of quasi religion.

In every country I have been to, the prevailing belief system has had to wrap itself around money. If I can quote another very wise American lady, “Money makes the world go round, it makes a happy sound.” Even terrorists need to make some dough, in fact, a lot of it, because explosives cost.

And with that money need, cynicism creeps in. People who are well-fixed and secure give everybody else lectures about morality. Then they are off to the gambling casinos of London, England, while you are praying for money to feed your kids.

I am not saying that some people in any country are not charitable, caring and kind. However, being charitable costs money. The professional fund raiser and their sizable cut, is right behind.

You Can Take the Boy Out of Manitoba But You Can’t Take Manitoba Out of the Boy

There I was, a young man, living the diplomatic life in London, England, in the 1980’s. Glamorous, eh!

After the first week, not so much. You had to eat. A supermarket in London is only marginally different from one in suburban Winnipeg. Rely on fish and chips for nutrition and you are going to put on a lot of blubber.

You were not one bit more handsome than the day you left Manitoba. The nightclubs of London featured generous supplies of posers, and doubtless still do, but you don’t have what it takes to pose. It is just as hard to scratch that itch as it was in Winnipeg, or maybe worse. To top it off, in all of London, there is hardly one secluded outdoor place to pee, when the damp chill is messing with your bladder and you need immediate relief.

You spend eight hours of every weekday in an office. You were working in an office back home. There is that pile of visa applications. It’s still just you, processing applications, in an office.

Add on the sore feet from walking. Add on a toothache and funny feelings in your prostate gland. Add on a boss from hell.

This was my London of the 1980’s. Like anywhere else, anytime, glamour isn’t a substitute for a positive attitude. Lose it and London can feel like 1984. Except the Spice Girls were watching you, instead of Big Brother.

Winnipeg is Paradise

As Judy Garland said, “there is no place like home”.

My Winnipeg does not have a high status reputation in Canada. I used to have that attitude. Winnipeg was grubby, rundown, and for Canada, had a serious crime rate. However some of the stay in Winnipegers bit the bullet. Winnipeg still needs work but it is better than it used to be.

So, here’s me, the world traveller. I have seen this, that and the other thing. Since I got sent off to work in places that were a lot less than the Garden of Eden, I had to face certain life realities. The world is not an easy place, partly because the human race messes up so much, messing with each other and Mother Nature, who is seriously starting to push back.

There are so many poor places. There are so many badly polluted ones. There are so many, many places where no one has any idea of progress or a morally repugnant elite will not allow it. There are so many places where the police are thugs, the military brutalize their own people and everybody is looking for an excuse to hate everybody.

And, my Winnipeg. There it is, free medical care and professional social services. The Winnipeg Police Service will read you your rights. There’s employment insurance. There’s multiculturalism and human rights. R20 insulation addresses Winnipeg’s super-chill issues. A block heater and a battery blanket can smooth out your “will the car start” anxiety. Winnipeg isn’t huge. Commuting is not a prison.

Basically, Winnipeg is a situation where a well-functioning snow blower will address some of the most significant problems in your life.

I know there are some other Winnipegs are out there, where life is both bearable and improvable and life is not a load of fear. However, my travels around the world have taught me that, what I took for granted, is actually precious and rare.

Martin Levine

My Weekend: Despair in Hounslow

November 2, 1999

To: MySister@WinnipegManitoba

From: Me@NewDelhiIndia

Subj.: My Weekend: Despair in Hounslow

I stopped in London for 36 hours on the way to Delhi. This meant that I had to cram in the

despair, anguish and misery that I normally have three weeks to experience into just a day and a

half. It was hard work but I got the job done.

I arrived at the Sheraton Skyline at about 11:30 a.m. The Skyline is an airport hotel but since

Heathrow Airport is huge you still have to take a bus several miles to get there. There are

coaches that take you to the airport hotels for two pounds and fifty pence. I skinned my knuckle

picking up one of my two suitcases so was bleeding at the hotel reception. They were very nice

about it and gave me an antiseptic disposable wipe and then a plaster, as bandaids are called in

Britain. After a while I stopped bleeding.

The Skyline and several other hotels are on a barren stretch of Bath Road, which was the main

road west out of London until they built the motorway. The Skyline is nowhere near a tube

station (None of the airport hotels are.) But after a huge amount of walking past airport hangars

and service buildings I found one. It cost me three pounds and ten pence (About $7.50) to ride to

Piccadilly Circus, which is next to Soho’s gay district. I spent the afternoon doing my normal

regret and shame tour, walking forever. I had dinner at Subway, a six-inch tuna sub, crisps and a

diet Coke . After that I stopped for pastry and a cappuccino. I would have liked to have done my

normal London Saturday night gay disco, look at the young folks thing, but this would have

meant not getting back to the Skyline until about 4:00 a.m, after a lengthy ride on the night bus.

Instead, I went to Bar Code, a popular two-level gay pub, just a few minutes walk from Piccadilly

Circus. Bar Code closes at midnight so I put in an evening of nervous glances there. Night bus 97

leaves from Piccadilly Circus and goes right past the Skyline, an hour and a quarter later. It is not

as full of louts as the N5 night bus to Golders Green. However, no young Italians and no young

au pairs either.

I was up at about 10:00 a.m. Checkout was at noon but the flight to Delhi not until 9:55 P.M.

This opened up a window of opportunity for a miserable afternoon. The question was where to

spend it? My feet were too sore from yesterday evening so I did not want to walk all the way

back to the tube station. I decided to pick a local destination but needed lunch first. The hotel

restaurants are all exorbitant. However, just down Bath Road I found a bowling alley with a

McDonald’s inside. I had the fish filet combo and watched the Brits do their Saturday afternoon

family bowling, some fathers still having access to their children.. Hounslow, the service

community for Heathrow, seemed like a sad place to spend the afternoon so after lunch I took the

111 bus and was there in twenty minutes.

British town centres are extremely standardized. Like every other one I have been to, Hounslow

has a pedestrianized high street next to an indoor mall. They like to give the indoor malls fancy

names, to disguise the obvious fact that they are just American-type indoor malls. Hounslow’s is

called the Treaty Centre. As usual on a Saturday afternoon, the pedestrianized high street was

packed. They even had a busker and a Ferris wheel.

Hounslow is partially a South Asian area, not ideal if you are in a complete panic about a flight to

New Delhi the next day. A plane passes by on final approach into Heathrow every minute or so,

engines howling, reminding you of the inevitable. It was windy, mild and on the verge of rain, a

typically London day. I walked through the high street taking a few pictures to send to Bernard,

who will hopefully feel a bit of guilt upon his return from holiday. I phoned La Karina hoping for

a torrent of abuse, but she was away on holiday. I left a message.

I was looking for a replacement watch, as my current one had stopped accepting time changes.

This, plus my swelling bladder, drove me into Woolworth’s and then into the main body of the

Treaty Centre. I peed in the mall men’s room and then carried on walking about the Centre, my

feet ever sorer. After a while I could not walk any more. I stopped at a coffee shop next to the

Hounslow Public Library and the Paul Robeson Theatre. I wondered what an Afro-American

communist tenor had to do with Hounslow. Maybe he took the bus there too.

On my third try the teenager at the counter understood that I was asking for coffee, I guess

because they are not used to Canadian accents in Hounslow. I sat down in the non-smoking

section feeling completely horrid. However, I had remembered to take my morning medication and after a while started to cheer up. Two middle-aged butch lesbians came to sit at the table in

front of me. The mall played music by Gerry Hall and then Abba, who were India’s favourite

group when I lived there twenty years ago. I thought about my youth, erections that didn’t need

Viagra and gay denial. After a while my digestive tract started to clear of the foul kosher meals I

had had in Canadian Airlines’ business class. I drank the tepid British coffee and felt better. The

coffee shop’s toilets had been vandalized, but Debenham’s department store is next door, and

theirs were still functional. I decided to look for a watch at the airport duty free.

On my way back to the 111 bus I stopped at a sandwich shop operated by two young South

Asian women. I had an egg mayo sandwich, more crisps, another diet coke and a vegetable

samosa. I was ready to handle things. I returned to the Skyline, picked up my luggage without

bleeding anymore and went back to Heathrow Terminal four, to check in for India. Hounslow

can build up your self-confidence.

It is the middle of the night in Winnipeg, 1:20 P.M. here in Delhi. I hope you are sleeping well.



My Trip to Islamabad

My Visit To: MySister@WinnipegManitoba

From: Me@IslamabadPakistan

May 22, 1999

Subj: My Trip to Islamabad

I decided to do this set of flights without pills and booze. Blacking out, having a seizure and nearly dying was kind of fun the last time but you always want to move on and do something different. Also, while blacking out would have been a lot better than being conscious I was afraid that if I did it again, Air Canada would bar me. I could not help but notice that they had given me the nearest seat to the washroom, I presume so as to shorten my stagger, fall down and collapse range.

On the way from Toronto to Manchester via Glasgow I sat next to a buxom Scottish girl in tight blue jeans. I was ready to hum Amazing Grace but my seat was miserably uncomfortable and I couldn’t focus. I settled for dozing and fantasizing, waking up occasionally to see the young Scottish girl sleeping with her legs spread.

Air Canada’s kosher food was surprisingly good for economy. Between Glasgow and Manchester they served me three large kosher meat sandwiches. As the plane was bouncing around like crazy I arrived in England feeling even more nauseous than I otherwise would have been. Of course Manchester is the venue of some of my most miserable experiences and being there again on the way to additional miserable ones was horrid.

Ryder Government Travel had booked me into the airport Post House Hotel, a 105 Pound per night clip joint. The Post House defeated all my attempts at denial about being in England again. I gave in, watched boring TV about 12-year olds having sex, unpacked, wondered what Bernard was doing and realized that I had forgotten to bring a toothbrush. After a bit I closed the curtains and went to sleep. I woke up after three hours to the realization that it was not a bad dream and that I was really in the UK. I took a shower then went downtown to get a toothbrush, have dinner and hang out in the gay village. From downtown I mailed postcards to Bernard and to my boyfriend in London.

I thought I might have difficulty remembering downtown Manchester but I found the gay village immediately, arriving first at a sadistomasochistic lesbian bar called “Chains”. I looked about in the sad drizzle for the most promising bar for an evening of poignant regret. I quickly narrowed the choice down to Via Fossa, which recently had been rated the best gay bar in the UK, and the bar at the next door Rembrandt Hotel, which I have been to before.

I figured that I would try Via Fossa since it had good references and lots of lesbians (The Rembrandt is pretty much a men’s desperate cruising bar.) Via Fossa really is mixed and upmarket, full of young, well-dressed posers. Some of the young lesbians were extraordinarily pretty. I noticed that the young gay men and the young dykes were chumming around together quite happily, mixed groups coming and going, no Ottawa politics and attitude despite being next to Manchester University. However, there were some other sad, aging queers there, so a suitable place for Tuesday evening Dirk Bogarde action. I reasoned that this was all good preparation for my next trip to London, in a sickening and perverted sort of way. Also, their choice of music was good. Via Fossa was really too busy for a proper melancholy but I tried my best.

Finally, the prettiest lesbian couple in the bar left. I decided to do a split evening so moved next door to the Rembrandt. The upstairs floor there has its own quieter bar with plenty of windows. You can enjoy the breeze and wallow in shame.

After a while I was joined by Robert and Andrew, a drunk gay couple. Andrew explained that he had been raped and tortured for two days by his former lover. Robert, an ex football hooligan who is now HIV positive, was trying to help him through his traumatic memories. As usual, both took me for being Irish. Andrew explained that, since being raped and tortured, he was afraid to come out to the gay bars. I explained to him that it was quite common for young gays and lesbians to be raped and tortured and that he really should try to get over it and not isolate himself. Both Andrew and Robert felt I was a good listener. After a while they went home to have anal intercourse. Robert assured me he would use a condom. The bar played Celine Dion music intermittently. I stayed until closing time, moving downstairs just as the bartenders were cleaning up after a gay men’s bitch fight. I took the train back to Manchester Airport.

It is warm here at the Cyber Café. The young Pakistani men are constantly irritable because they have no sexual outlet. The occasional pretty girl in a sari drops by and drives them mad.

When is it that you’re going to Nashville?



My Weekend: Kicking The Dog

To: MySister@WinnipegManitoba

From: Me@IslamabadPakistan

June 17, 1999

Subj: My Weekend: Kicking The Dog

On Saturday it got to 42 C. (108 F. ) in Islamabad. The heat

dominates everything.

On Thursday evening I had a talk with Mr. Pal, the Manager, about

various deficiencies at The Horizon. The breakfasts are shit.

The air conditioners are not properly serviced and make too much

noise. TV reception, both cable and antenna is poor. The choice

of channels is meager. (Five or six of the twelve or so channels

in Urdu and Hindi, one all Koran all-the-time.) The staff, who

don’t seem to have much to do, watch cricket incessantly on the

big screen TV in the lounge. The Japanese guests slurp their

food, talk too loud on the lounge, etc. Mr. Pal responded like a

kicked dog but the breakfasts are better and he fixed the TV

antenna so that the better of the two video channels that The

Horizon gets is more or less visible. I miss dance music very

much. You have to find out at what time of the day the two video

channels show it. Everything that happens here seems to confirm

to me how lucky I am to be a sad, aging fag in Ottawa. I hope it

teaches me to savour every night I spend in a gay bar and be more

appreciative of the other homosexuals around me.

Because of my ability to project negativism and depression I have

been able to develop some interesting relationships with the

other guests. There is one Japanese lady, apparently an aide

worker, who eats breakfast at the same time as I do, who I have

taken to thinking of as Madame Butterfly. I took a dislike to

her for trying to hold business meetings with some Pakistani guy

in the lounge at 7:00 P.M. when my laser disk film is about to

start. I complained vociferously to Mr. Pal and made him kick

them out of the lounge and go upstairs. (She’s probably afraid

the Pakistani guy will rape her if she takes him into her room.)

She had been trying to say hello to me at breakfast but I have

made a point of scowling angrily at her and then ignoring her.

Give her day a good start. She’s no raving beauty but she has a

cute rear end.

I chose the laser video double bills on both Friday and Saturday

evening. One of my two selections on Friday evening was “In The

Sweet Hereafter”, an acutely depressing Canadian film by Atom

Egoyan about the aftermath of a schoolbus crash in a small town

in rural Northern Ontario. (Based on a real schoolbus crash in

rural Quebec.) The protagonist is an aging lawyer in enormous

psychological pain because his daughter has turned into a

hooker-druggy and tested positive for AIDS. The principal

characters in the village all have horrible squalid lives,

poverty, adultery, incest, etc., just like the Ottawa Valley. I

really enjoyed it and it cheered me up a bit. There is a sort of

inverse relationship between the prosperity of a given country

and the level of morbidness of the films it turns out. Virtually

all Indian films are jolly.

On Saturday I went with The Hoser and one of the High

Commission drivers to Murree, a mountain resort about 40 miles

from Islamabad. Murree is about 7,000 feet above sea level, so

is only 25 C. there when Islamabad is 42. It takes two and a half

hours to drive there because the mountain road is twisty turny

and full of dangerous traffic, Pakistanis passing on blind

curves, immensely overloaded trucks, dead animals, etc. As it

did last Saturday, the twisty-turny road made me feel nauseous.

The countryside mostly consists of reddish-coloured rock, steep,

denuded hills covered with scrub, the air full of dust and

pollution. The driver, like most Pakistanis, does not use

deodorant (They couldn’t possibly afford it even if they cared.)

and his B.O. dominated the car. I had bought a liter bottle of

mineral water with me, drinking from it every few minutes to

compensate for the immense loss of body fluids from perspiration.

At Murree it became possible to open the car windows, the air

temperature having dropped to a level at which you could more or

less breathe. Murree is an old British Colonial Hill Station,

where the Brits would move their administrative centre to at the

hottest times of the year. If you have seen “The Jewel in the

Crown” you can’t think of much else. The streets are mostly

choked with traffic, but there is a main drag called The Mall

(That’s what the Brits in India normally called the main drag in

the hill station. ) which they have pedestrianized during the

summer, because the traffic would otherwise bring it to a

complete halt. The Hoser, the driver and I walked up there (It is up a

steep hill.) while I wondered whether the thin air, lack of

exercise and aging would kill me. When you get there The Mall is

full of dubious hotels, probably-unhygienic restaurants and

crappy souvenir shops. There is an old Anglican church there with

a tiny Anglo-Pakistani congregation, an intensely sad and

poignant remnant of British India. At my request we went to see

it. (The Hoser, who goes to church, didn’t seem to have any idea of

the significance.) They have a young watchmen or whatever who

let us in (I tipped him 10 Rupees.) The church is one of the

saddest monuments to futility I have ever seen. Along the walls

are plaques for Brits who died in the area. The church had been

built in the 1850’s and 1860’s, so lots of plaques. There was

one for a Brit who had died in 1867, of cholera, twenty days

after Confederation. Because the church was empty, quiet and

cool, the sense of haunting was very intense. I was thinking that

if the Brit had chosen to be colonial in Canada instead of India,

his descendants would probably be giving me orders at the office.

The same question as when I was on temporary duty in Israel in

1980. Are Jews just Wogs?

The Hoser was keen to have a view of Kashmir. The driver drove us

another three-quarters of an hour or so on narrow, winding,

precipice roads to the Chelum River, which forms the boundary

between Punjab and Azad (Free) Kashmir (The Pakistani part.) At

that point the Chelum is a narrow mountain river, full of rapids,

flowing through a gorge. Better off Pakistanis were there for a

family day out, wading in the river. We stopped on the Punjab

side of the bridge that crosses into Azad Kashmir. The Hoser knows

nothing at all about the history of British India, Partition,

etc. (In other words, he hadn’t seen a Jewel in the Crown.) The

driver and I explained a bit and told him that the fighting was

still some distance away. It was very hot there and the narrow,

bumpy road had made me especially nauseous. After a few minutes

we left, the driver putting an Urdu language tape on the car

radio-tape player, a Pakistani lady warbling love ballads.

Despite being nauseous I was hungry. It took another

three-quarters of an hour to get back to the Pearl Continental

Hotel on a mountain-top near Murree, the only one where white

people and rich Pakistanis go. There we had an expensive,

poor-quality lunch. (We treated the driver.) There were a lot of

young Pakistani women with nice bodies in the restaurant,

together with self-conscious looking white families who had

probably all seen The Jewel In The Crown. The bathrooms were

clean. I urinated a couple of times, checking my urine for

colour, in the event of incipient renal failure. It took about

two hours to drive back to Islamabad. Just before getting back

to The Horizon we stopped at the laser disk video place. I

selected two films for the Saturday evening double bill, one a

slasher (Mr. Pal was horrified.) the other Gattica, a bleak but

compelling film with a really good music track. The film is

about the near future, when most babies are born after their

parents have selected the most desirable genetic characteristics

and children born through natural fucking face social and job

discrimination. Mr. Pal thought that one was very good. (He

doesn’t have much to do at night other then sit about,

supervising the staff who look bored and extremely stressed and

watching the big-screen TV with the guests.)

After my double bill we watched a film called Paradise Road on

the Star satellite movie channel, the only one The Horizon gets

that isn’t heavily censored. The film, done in 1997 and featuring

Glen Close, is about Japanese war atrocities against white female

prisoners in the occupied Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) during

World War II. The film is quite good and I was quite wishing

Madame Butterfly, who came in a bit later, had been there to

share it with me. Then I watched an hour and a half or so of

dance and other videos, the Pakistani staff looking on in pity.

There are a few Norwegian guys staying at The Horizon right now,

several of them really cute but straight as far as I can tell.

They came back from somewhere or other quite late and at Mr.

Pal’s suggestion decided to watch Gattica again, in their rooms,

making a lot of noise. This didn’t bother me at all as they have

nice bodies.

On Sunday morning I found the newspaper, which you normally have

to go down for, shoved under my front door. Mr. Pal has returned

a table that should have been in my room. My air conditioner has

been serviced. Breakfast, at least for the moment, has improved.

The staff are not watching as much cricket on the big screen TV.

Mr. Pal looks frightened. A Jewel in the Crown. They don’t

understand. Jewish people are here to help.

Have a good week.



No Sex in Ann Arbor

From: Me@DetroitMichigan

Sent: March 8, 1999 1:11 PM

To: My Sister@WinnipegManitoba

Subject: No Sex in Ann Arbor

A snowstorm arrived in the Windsor area around 8:00 on Friday night, and lasting until about 5:00 P.M. Saturday. The total snowfall was about 20 cm., which is a calamity by Windsor standards. The snowstorm added massively to the stress of the weekend.

Despite the incipient snowstorm, I could not face being alone in my hotel room on Friday evening, so I went to the Happy Tap anyhow. Until about 10:00, hardly anybody was there. However, a 50th birthday party for one of the local queers had been planned in advance. The Happy Tap had purchased a huge number of balloons, scattering them all over the floor. Throughout most of the evening there were irritating popping noises as people walked on the balloons.

Despite the miserable weather the normal crowd showed up, starting at 10:00 (By then the DJ is rolling.) By midnight a whole bunch of young folks were there. I watched an Irish-looking girl in a clingy, knit dress tease a fat, lipstick lesbian, letting the lesbian dance with her and fondle her. The Irish-looking girl laughed when she was facing over the fat girl’s shoulder and made expressions to her tableful of friends, sitting next to me.

My friend Mike showed up for the birthday party and stayed continuing his seduction of me, not realizing that I was already prepared to give in. The snow continued to fall and I grew more and more worried about being trapped in the side street where I had parked. However, once I swept 9 or so inches of snow off the car, it moved quite nimbly over the ruts and I crawled back to the parking garage at the Quality Inn. Windsor doesn’t clean its roads the way Ottawa does. They wait for the snow to melt.

It was still snowing heavily on Saturday morning. I did some house cleaning in my hotel room and watched the weather channel. I read some Internet materials about Islamabad, plus the Islamabad mission report that I had obtained from Foreign Affairs Headquarters on Friday (Total Delhi revisited. No gay bars.) In the afternoon I went out to take pictures of the snow to send to Bernard, finishing up a roll that I had started on the way to Leamington last Sunday. I took the film in to B-Way on Ouellette Street and then walked up Ouellette to Shoppers Drug Mart. On the way I stopped at a couple of used bookshops looking for Urdu dictionaries. However, in Windsor, used bookstores specialize in Harlequin romances.

The snow tapered off around 5:00 P.M., leaving a bright, cold evening. At about 6:30 I struggled back on the rutted streets to the Happy Tap. I drove around the block several times looking for a parking space that I would not get stuck into. I finally found a good one, on Wyandotte Street, only a couple of hundred feet from the Happy Tap’s windowless front doors.

The Happy Tap was again quiet until about 10:00 P.M. Three middle-aged Michigan queers came in, too early for the nude male dancers, one of them hitting on me shortly after walking in the door. Mike showed up around 7:00 and carried on courting procedures, inviting me to dinner. I was wondering whether to tell him he had made his case.

I finished up the evening with Mike assuring me that he and his friend would not try to have sex with me when I came over for dinner. Cutting to the chase as my lesbians would say, I asked him if he didn’t find me attractive. He assures me that he does.

The next day was bright and sunny. Further to my program to eradicate my fear of Americans, I drove to Ann Arbor, the college town for the huge University of Michigan. Ann Arbor is the closet I have ever been to visualizing a place before seeing it, solid yuppie-student, lesbian-run bookstore downtown, two lesbians taking pictures of each other in front of a Japanese comic shop, many posh frat houses, student restaurants downtown selling expensive things with bagels and challah. If you had little money, a not-nice body and limited social skills it would be a nightmare, lost among 80,000 undergrads. I walked for an hour or so feeling progressively more distressed and was very happy to get in the car and leave. I hope Bernard never has to be in a place that lonely and alienating. Maybe there is a point to being Orthodox, at least so you have somebody else to hang out with.

I drove back along local roads to Dearborn, headed for last week’s diner and Gigi’s. Suburban Detroit is again almost identical to the parts of Buffalo where Sarah and I spent time together, very distressing. Gigi’s was closed until later in the evening but the diner was open. I ate there and then made my way down Warren Avenue into Detroit proper, heading towards Windsor and Franky’s karaoke. As it turns out, I was very lucky to have driven back to the Interstate on Ford Avenue the weekend before, as Warren goes right into horrific parts of Detroit’s inner city. I drove through Detroit with the doors locked and the windows rolled up. I made it to the tunnel entrance, past my weekday bus stop, through the tunnel and on to Franky’s. Mike and his friend appeared, our arrangements now taken for granted. The slender blonde karaoke girl knows my name now and let me sing two songs. When I left she was singing “I’m a Barbie Girl” with great conviction.

Sunny here this afternoon but more snow tomorrow, the Windsorites already moaning.

Have a good week.

Subject: My Visit to London: I Get Laid

Date: Sun, 27 Dec 1998 10:42:08 -0500

From: Me@OttawaOntario

To: MySister@WinnipegManitoba

That was actually the easy part. I know a gentleman in London my own

approximate age, who I met at the Two Brewers last summer. We had

already made arrangements to “have it off” or “shag” as Brits, both gay

and straight, would say. He’s a good person and fun to be with.

Everything else felt troublesome, maybe just because my attitude was not

the best. I did not tell you when I was outbound, but I had a rather

difficult experience on Air Canada, on the way to Europe in October.

Wanting to get some sleep on the overnight flight between London and

Heathrow, I took my sleeping pill early, at Ottawa airport, before

boarding the plane. Then, at dinner, on the plane, I drank a mini-bottle

of red wine, hoping it would knock me out. It did, but not the way I had

anticipated, sleep a few hours and then wake up on the flight path over

Windsor Castle. Rather, after dinner, I started to feel ill. Expecting

to puke, I got up out of my seat, and tried walking down the aisle

toward the lavatory at the back of the plane. I say tried because I

immediately fell down, hitting my head on one of the aisle seats. I

staggered up, and managed to make it as far as the loo. I was about to

put my head in the sink, and that is all that I recall until I opened my

eyes somewhat later, flat on my back next to the galley, with four or

five stewardesses looking down on me.

My initial thought upon waking was that the stewardesses were angels,

and that the Eternal One in his mercy, had forgiven me for my filthy and

shameful lifestyle, and allowed me to go into Paradise. This seemed

like a good deal, particularly if the stewardess-angels put out, but

after a few seconds I realized it was still Air Canada, not Paradise,

and that I had some explaining to do, unless they were to divert the


The stewardesses, plus a nurse from the Ottawa General Hospital, who

happened to be travelling that day, were especially concerned because I

had turned blue, had an eye-rolling seizure and peed my pants, my blood

pressure so low as to be almost non-existent. Also, this being Air

Canada, they had to write up a report.

Lying comfortably on the nearest row of seats, and receiving more

attention from good-looking women than I do in an average year, I had to

decide my spin-control strategy. In reality, I knew exactly what had

happened, the mother of all panic attacks, assisted by a poor strategy

for overcoming jet lag. However, how could I explain to the

stewardesses that my seizure was principally a means of expressing my

utter horror of setting foot in Germany, combined with the customary

fear of the upcoming visit to Britain, plus my general malaise about my

socio-sexual lifestyle? Instead, I convinced the ladies that I would

never again combine booze and pills on Air Canada. I avoided being put

off the plane in Iceland, and convinced the gals I was a charming loser.

The stewardesses were honestly concerned about my continuing on the

connecting flight to Cologne, fearing that I would collapse while

changing terminals and this time really snuff it. However, dropping

dead sounded like a really attractive option at this point, particularly

as I would be kicking off only a few miles from Bernard’s unknown

residence in northwest London. I was thinking of the wonderful legacy

of guilt I could transfer to Bernard, and as I rode the shuttle bus

between terminals, really did hope for the final spasm. Unfortunately, I

survived to check in for the British Airways flight to Cologne, feeling

vile but alive. (My blackout and near-death experience was a nap after

all.) However, I do attribute some of my success in Germany to the

blackout, which in retrospect I consider a legitimate act of protest and

mental purging, even if it scared the shit out of Air Canada.

The blackout did colour my subsequent experiences in Germany. I was a

little concerned that Air Canada would be reluctant to board me again.

However, after several abject letters and faxes of apology, plus praise

for the stewardesses, Air Canada was prepared to agree it was an

“isolated incident”. From my point of view, the blackout reminded me

that dropping dead voluntarily was a lot nicer than being taken away.

This thought gave me strength as I dealt with things like trains leaving

German railway stations, the last remnants of Oktoberfest, etc.

The day I left Bonn, it snowed. The taxi driver who took me from the

embassy to Cologne/Bonn airport was a pleasant, young English-speaking

man. We talked about Canada as the snow settled into the pine trees. He

thought Winnipeg was in the United States, but I assured him it was only

an hour’s drive from the border. Watching the snow falling on the

autobahn, I thought some more about being taken away. However, the

young taxi driver took me to the airport instead. I gave him a good


The Cologne/Bonn airport has a new terminal under construction, but for

the moment they are using the cruddy old one. There was not much to do

except change money and watch the snowy darkness and gloom descend. The

somber night seemed to be going as planned, except that, just before

boarding., my name was announced and I was asked to return from the

gate. I was wondering what being taken away was going to be like.

However, as it turned out, my heavily-stuffed Samsonite had burst, after

some aggressive handling from British Airways. Two pretty stewardesses

plus a handsome security man escorted me down to the baggage area. The

German baggage-handling staff very apologetically taped and tied the bag

and then the stewardesses escorted me on to the plane. Departure would

have been delayed on my account, but de-icing took an extra

three-quarters of an hour, and I did not make as much commotion outbound

as I did coming in.

We arrived late at Heathrow. Dropping dead was starting again to seem a

credible option. British Airways gave me a new suitcase and some extra

tape for my battered Samsonite. The two suitcases and I struggled into

the city centre on the Paddington Express. When the three of us

disembarked at Paddington Station, we had to cope with the nighttime

world of the Anglo-Saxon, drunken louts trying to feed coins into the

Underground’s ticket machines, classes of schoolgirls dressed up as

pixies for a Christmas pageant, no German guilt, no German shame, just

Anglos on a Friday evening. The suitcases and I made our way onto the

Circle Line, hoping to change at King’s Cross for the Northern Line to

Golders Green. However, King’s Cross was closed, no reason given

Instead, we jumped off at Baker Street, struggled on to the Bakerloo

line to the Embankment station, up and down numerous stairs and finally

on to the Northern Line train, full of Friday night louts, male and

female both. However, London is now numbingly familiar, in the true

sense of not noticing it the way you wouldn’t a sore tooth. The three

of us unloaded at Golders Green tube station and did our final roll down

Golders Green High Street, toward Mrs. Sturtz’s bed and breakfast. I

had little or no interest in Golders Green High Street. My only concern

was the precious letter about visits with Bernard, that I was hoping to

find at Mrs. Sturtz’s.

To my utter relief, when I arrived at Mrs. Sturtz’s, Zehra, the Young

Turkette, was waiting. Zehra, kind and understanding soul that she is,

was holding the precious letter in her hand. If anything makes it

worthwhile not snuffing it, it is people like Zehra.

Zehra issued me the key for room 6, my usual. The letter, my suitcases

and I made the final effort, struggling up to the safety of the room. I

opened the letter, reviewed the schedule of visits with the most intense

relief, and went downstairs to chat with Zehra. I slept well.

My first visit with Bernard was at the Palace Theater in Watford, for

pantomime, Jack and The Beanstalk. We had been to the Palace before,

last December. It and Watford had been very alienating, me, Bernard,

Helen and the Anglos. Last December even my bladder was in a state of

fright, wanting to go every ten minutes, in the event of needing to

flee. However, this time the Palace, and Watford, had completely lost

their strangeness. Perhaps this is because I knew where the toilets

were. However, Watford is too domestic to sustain fear the second time

around. Also, after Germany, it was very noticeable that people in

Watford speak English. If you have a problem you can ask for help.

Having some time before the panto, I wandered around Harlequin Centre,

Watford’s massive downtown mall, and then went next door to the Old

Market. I had a coffee there and chatted with two nice ladies about my

domestic problems and the decline of the family. I found the loos long

before I was desperate, and met Bernard and Helen at the panto, with the

assurance that I knew where to pee. Bernard is now getting a bit too old

for panto and we are Jewish anyhow. I was almost sorry that on this

visit to England we would attend our last ones. I had learned that all

pantos feature drag queens. Bernard himself seemed almost blasé and

Helen rather tired. Neither was demonstrably impressed to see me.

The panto was over about 9:30. Helen and Bernard vanished into the

darkness. Helen now has developing cataracts and can not see to drive at

night, so they have to rely on lifts. I took the train back to Central


My idea was to proceed directly to the Two Brewers, my favourite London

gay bar and disco. I got off at Clapham High Street tube station, with

high hopes of seeing the Two Brewers after renovations that were

supposed to have been finished in September. However, I was most

distressed to find the Two Brewers still boarded up, renovations delayed

and in progress. After several minutes of profound disappointment, I

recalled that I had identified a stand-bye gay disco in the event of

just such a problem, the Black Cap in Camden High Street. The Black Cap

is on the Northern Line, back north towards Golders Green. I rode the

tube north and spent the remainder of the evening in the company of

effeminate young men and aggressive, horny lesbians. The Black Cap even

has a few advantages over the Two Brewers. The number 5 night bus stops

at its door and then, about half an hour later, across the street from

Mrs. Sturtz’s. By contrast, the Two Brewers requires a first night bus

through Lambeth, to Trafalgar Square, a lengthy wait among drunk

teenagers in the square, and then the night bus north to Golders Green.

Also, the Black Cap has more lesbians. I would have liked to make The

Oak, in Green Lanes, my favourite, but it is simply too far.

The crucial gay bar issue covered, I had some things to attend to the

first few days. I got postcards for Little France and the rest. I

stocked up at Sainsbury’s supermarket for general necessities and

Grodzinski’s kosher bakery for bread. I again exchanged glances with my

very Orthodox brothers and sisters in Golders Green Road. I renewed my

relationship with Andrea, Mrs. Sturtz’s lightly-depressed young Romanian

manageress. I bought Bernard six ink cartridges for his computer, a

Mecanno set and 2500 sheets of paper. I contacted my gentleman friend

and arranged for our schedule of homosexual relations. The routine all

seems so normal now.

The main source of newness in this trip was adjusting to the Black Cap.

The Black Cap is much more focussed on pick-ups and narcissism then the

Two Brewers. On a weekend night the air virtually hums with lesbian


The Black Cap has its disco on the ground floor and the pub upstairs.

During the summer there is a pleasant back patio. However, in December,

the homosexuality is densely packed inside, young queers either standing

at the bar or crowded together at the tables. The disco has a very long

bar, then, on the way to the back end, a dance floor, a stage, the

D.J.’s booth and the restrooms. The dance floor is lined with mirrors,

and the young gays check themselves frequently, to reassure themselves

of their seductiveness. Next to me one young lipstick lesbian, very

pretty indeed, dark eyebrows, clear skin and a tight black sweater over

her young breasts, carefully examined herself head to toe, and then

threw herself a loving kiss. This was not arrogance, as other young

women had been throwing themselves at her feet all evening. Really, it

was a celebration of success.

I have a strong rapport with my London lesbians, as I do with my

Hulloise ones. Another lipstick girl came to stand beside me at the

disco, and quickly lit and smoked a marijuana cigarette. She turned to

me and smiled. My young lesbian friend said “There, the deed is done.’,

and went off to find herself a woman.

The disco at the Black Cap does not open until about 10:15 P.M. This

gives plenty of time to sit in the upstairs pub and exchange nervous

glances with the other men. Camden Town is an Irish area so the Black

Cap is a home for London’s Irish gays. They are no strangers to guilt.

Rather, Ronen, an Irish gay chap I met the first evening, explained that

a lot of Irish lesbians are piss-artists. Two Irish dykies obliged us

with a drunken brawl. Ronen, a decent man with a regular boyfriend, was

trying to help a chubby, very drunk lonely guy, arrived only a few

months ago from the Irish Republic. The newcomer wanted Ronen in bed,

but Ronen told him he had found a friend rather than a lover. We agreed

this was more important.

On another evening I met Thelma and Liz, two young lipstick girls who

had come to London from the Home Counties, the surrounding region of

towns and villages. Thelma, who had managed a pub, was wondering why I

was drinking cider. I explained about my Canadianness, my bisexualness

and my Jewishness. Since they were nice girls I told them about

Bernard. They were kind and supportive. Thelma explained that she had

slept with men before, but was now happily settled down with Liz. I

tried to explain about not celebrating Christmas. Everything else was

easy for them to understand but this gave the most trouble of all.

The Black Cap has a few Asian customers. Ronen introduced me to Aftab,

one of his Asian friends, small, intelligent but rather effeminate. We

flirted anyhow, over the course of several evenings, but despite a lot

of pawing, nothing developed.

My second-last evening I met Amanda, a butch Irish lesbian, and her

effeminate roommate Pete, a tiny little Scottish guy in a leather

jacket. We spent a pleasant hour or two slogging the English, fellow

Celts all. However, Amanda disapproved of my bisexuality and they went

off to another part of the pub. A bit later I saw them in the disco,

kissing passionately before Amanda went off to look for a woman and

Pete, a man.

I suspect every lesbian-oriented gay bar has a Chantal, not necessarily

the most masculine woman but the one with the greatest presence. Every

evening I was at the Black Cap there was one young woman there, a

somewhat mannish, but still compelling girl with startling eyes. She

seemed to have her pick of the lipstick girls, kissing them passionately

at the bar and on the dance floor. Our eyes met the first evening. We

somehow recognized each other as opponents, just like Chantal and I, and

avoided each other every evening. One night I saw her help a very drunk

Jamaican, who had been left out in the rain at closing time, by the

security staff. I never learned her name.

I made it to The Oak only once. They now have a big screen TV but are

otherwise the same. I spent only a couple of hours there, before going

on to the Black Cap, and expected a quiet evening. However, there are

times when you feel that the Eternal One has pulled you out to play a

role in somebody else’s life. The man sitting next to me was a bisexual

Irishman with a 17-year old fiancee in Metro Manila. I startled him by

telling him I had lived there for two years. He wanted to sponsor the

fiancee. who has rheumatic fever, for immigration to Britain. I further

astonished him by explaining about the sponsorship provisions. Such is


I has several visits with Bernard, two shopping excursions, three kosher

restaurants and the two pantomimes. Other than that Bernard is well, I

can not say much. Bernard talks a lot about Star Trek. He does not

self-disclose and Helen is always around. I suppose we will have to

settle up later in life. In the meantime, the visits are difficult. I

could sense my frustration and then my feeling of guilt, growing.

My guilt was made worse, because, as much as I wanted to concentrate on

Bernard, I could not put down my lust and loneliness. Riding back from

Watford, after the first panto, I found myself sitting opposite a very

young, very pretty woman, off to London for the evening, with a few of

her girlfriends. The young woman sat a foot or so away from me. She was

dressed all in white, a white imitation leather jacket, a bare midriff,

a tiny white miniskirt, white pantyhose, and because the skirt was much

too short, from where I was sitting, a white par of panties. I was as

horny that night as I had been in Germany. My feeling of loss after

leaving Bernard and the lonely, chill darkness outside the train, made

things worse. After a few minutes the youngster was driving me to real

despair, not able to think a protective or decent thought about a young

girl, my attention locked on her panties. In desperation, I started to

hum “Amazing Grace”, and reminded myself that Scotland was only a few

hundred miles behind me. This worked. The young girl, her hair decorated

with sprinkles, heard me hum, looked alarmed and tried her best to pull

her little skirt down. I found myself thanking Scotland.

The second panto, my last evening with Bernard, was at the Wylotts

community center in Potters Bar, an insignificant commuter town north of

London. Facing me on the train up, another beautiful young woman, svelte

body in slacks, brunette with flashing eyes. This time I was prepared to

be under control, even when the young woman uncrossed her legs and

revealed that her zipper was open, and more white panties. She recrossed

her legs without any need for Amazing Grace.

The evenings I spent with my gentleman friend were oases from lust. We

gay dated together at a local restaurant, chatting openly in this

sophisticated part of London about our lifestyle. On one of the dates,

two young women sat at a table next to us. I think they were Straight as

one of them, another pretty girl. was looking on saucer-eyed in horror.

To myself I said, “I don’t need you. I like men too”.

My loneliness was also relieved by three quasi-dates with La Karina,

even though she would rather die then let me touch her. Our final date

was a walk in Regent’s Park, where La Karina had never been before. La

Karina is coming back to Canada to stay, maybe Montreal, maybe Ottawa.

I have asked her to stay with me and promised her a double lock for her


Oddly, an experience in Lambeth taught me a bit about surviving

loneliness. After my last date with La Karina, I was off to see my

gentleman friend, in South London. However, I was too early and rather

hungry. I had to change trains at the Elephant and Castle tube station.

There is a shopping centre there. I thought I would stop and eat

something. Lambeth is a sad place, and the shopping centre at the

Elephant and Castle downmarket and simple. However, it is also

multicultural, safe and clean. People of all types were there,

Jamaican, Latino, South Asian. I ate fish and chips and mushy peas in

the ground floor coffee shop, looking out into the centre corridor. The

shoppers smiled. The waitress was friendly. Loneliness is in the eye of

the beholder.

Wylotts Centre is made of concrete blocks. As at the Palace Theater,

Bernard, Helen and I seemed to be the only non-WASP’s. However, Potters

Bar is down market of Watford, and the ethnic thing seemed sort of

dampened. I waited for Bernard and Helen in the coffee shop, watching

one woman lovingly stroke another’s coat. The pantomime was Alladin,

Alladin being a woman in male drag. After saying good-bye to Bernard and

Helen I took the train back to London, and then the tube back to the

Black Cap, packed with Saturday night gays and lesbians. When I returned

to Mrs. Sturtz’s I found a message from La Karina, asking me to call. I

called back and left a message telling her I loved her.

The next morning Zehra, who now knows about my lifestyle, kept me

company until the minicab came, driven by a Turk who gave Zehra a kindly

hello. On the plane back to Canada I sat next to a self-consciously

beautiful young woman. I kept my dignity and did not have to hum

Amazing Grace.

Mild here. Have a good week.