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Thursday, December 27, 2007

DOLLS



Me (age six) and my baby sister with my doll buggy
in the snow, Lloydminster, Sask.

NOTE: This was written a couple of years ago. I haven't checked on what kind of dolls are currently popular with little girls. When I was a child I much preferred paper dolls, which I found a very creative form of play, building cardboard houses for them and designing extra costumes for them or cutting out my own from Sears catalogues. It was my little sister who adored dolls the most and perhaps this is what gave her the early experience of being a 'mother' as when she grew up she had a large family and now has many grandkids which she loves having around her. She even has an expensive collection of porcelain dolls on display. I've still got my old dolls though, nostalgic treasures from my childhood.

The other day I paid a visit to the toy department of a big department store. I was hoping to see Santa Claus, to let him know I haven't been naughty. But the old fellow wasn't in, so I decided to browse around and see what sort of new toys he'll be leaving for the kiddies this year.

I wandered into an entire section of Toyland devoted to that voluptuous high-fashion super-model doll, Barbie.

On a wide screen video, three middle age women -- Barbara Cartland types -- were showing off their Barbie collections and gloating, in sugary terms, over how many of these dolls they own. (One had several hundred). They were gushing and gooing over their Barbies like obsessed, doting mothers doting over little girls made up to look like Dolly Parton...those kids who are exploited and displayed in kiddie beauty contests.

As I listened to their prattle, I looked over the shelves and racks of Barbies, her playmates and accessories to see just was IS going on these days in the world of dolls. Aren't dolls supposed to be the 'perfect gift' for every little girl? And aren't dolls meant to be played with? When I heard one of these wanna-be beauty-queen 'moms' gasp "Oh, we NEVER take them out of their boxes!" I almost choked. How can you play with a doll in a box?

I remember when my daughter, age five, got her first Barbie for Christmas. Barbie was still new then, and just as popular as she is now, only back then Barbie was made for little girls to play with. Moms, like me, had fun making all her delicate wardrobe. I recall the pleasant hours I spent that Christmas sewing cute little outfits, designing fur-trimmed coats and glittering evening gowns, and knitting tiny sweaters. I had as much fun assembling Barbie's wardrobe as my daughter did playing with her. It didn't cost me a week's wages either - just the pleasant time I spent sewing and knitting.

Back then, Barbie had a little sister, Skipper. She was my favorite. I made her wardrobe too. She was about my daughter's age, a little more suitable for a child than her big-breasted older sister Barbie. I looked for Skipper on the shelves of Toyland, but she wasn't there. Instead, there's a bevy of newcomers, none of them as cute as Skipper. Did Skipper grow up and elope with G.I. Joe, I wonder?

There's a tiny tot in the new collection. What clandestine things have been going on between Barbie and her long-time boyfriend Ken, when Toyland's shops are closed for the night? I see Barbie’s wedding dress, but does anyone remember an actual wedding?

Yes, ever faithful Ken is still around, showing off his array of trendy costumes and disguises. Ken even has his own car, boat, RV and sports equipment to keep him occupied. perhaps he even has a secret girlfriend on the side, because Barbie is so popular and busy. She has all kinds of toys and accessories for herself too, including her own house and furnishings.

There's no end of Barbies. They come in every colour and style, from the old fashioned '50's version to the deluxe year 2000 model. Prices range from affordable to exorbitantly pricey. One of these fancy-dressed Barbies is priced at over $1500. Barbie isn't a little girl’s doll anymore. She's a super star. To be politically correct, in keeping with the times, she now comes in assorted colours. There's a whole range of ethnic Barbies wearing national costumes, priced about $80.

Then there is trendy tattooed Barbie, cheerleader Barbie, Barbie the baseball player and aerobic exerciser, Barbie the nurse, secretary teacher, movie star, fashion model, and soap opera diva. Even Cinderella Barbie and Princess Barbie. Barbie loves Frank Sinatra and is posed in a stage-prop box beside a man-doll likeness of the famous singer. (I wonder if he sings.)

I am overwhelmed by this extravaganza! What became of dolls that wear baby clothes and cry "Mama" when you tip them over, and close their little eyes when you tuck them into their cradles? Where is cute little Baby Wettums who peed on your knee when you fed her from her tiny bottle? And remember the rag dolls grandma made with braided wool hair and checked dresses covered with crisp white pinafores? What ever happened to good old Raggedy Ann and Andy? Remember Chatty Cathy, the first real 'talking' doll? The Christmas my daughter got her from Santa, my son overheard us playing with her and realized Santa was a hoax. Now Chatty's been replaced by that goofy red-haired Tickle-me-Elmo critter and weird Furby, another pair who caused a sensational buying frenzy by ADULTS who price-gouged and went nuts in their quest to obtain these dumb toys as gifts (or for collections). Just as a couple of years ago rag dolls were replaced by that ugly stuffed Cabbage Patch Doll, another ridiculous 'fad' perpetuated by ADULTS.

When we were kids, my sister and I got dolls from Santa that were real DOLLS. Our Mom got great plasure making their wardrobes, just as I enjoyed sewing clothes for my daughter's dolls. I wasn't much interested in playing with dolls, prefering instead the paper variety that stimulated a lot of dramatic play. But my little sister was crazy about dolls. During the War, Dad sent her a life-size baby doll from Belgium. His name was Peter. He had baby-soft skin and blue glass eyes that moved as if he was really looking at you. Dressed in a real baby's layette, Peter could pass as a newborn. One day my sister took baby Peter for a walk in his little pram. A frantic neighbor rushed to our house to report that Jeanie had 'kidnapped' somebody's baby. Mom tried to explain that it was only a doll, but the neighbor was convinced Jean had taken somebody's baby because she said she heard it crying. She didn't know my sister could do a perfect crying baby impersonation.

You can't put Barbie or her runty little side-kicks in a pram or a doll's cradle and pretend they are real babies like little Peter. You can't feed them and they won't pee on your knee. But amazingly, Barbie's popularity never wanes, perhaps thanks to the collectors who are willing to pay outrageous prices just to have a fancy doll to show off in a display case. Even my sister has a collection of dolls -- china dolls, babies included, who live on the shelves of a display case in her rec room.

Once in awhile I unpack the little girl doll with the Shirley Temple dimples that was the very last doll Santa brought me one Christmas long ago. She's still wearing her original yellow bonnet and dress, though she's lost her shoes. Her auburn hair is slightly moth-eaten, and she's showing her age. She reminds me of a time when dolls were dolls and little girls played at being Moms. Wasn't that the purpose of dolls in the first place? And isn't that what used to make them the perfect gift for little girls to find under the Christmas tree?



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Friday, December 14, 2007

CHRISTMAS IS 'ACOMIN'....

Christmas tree in the main square,
Santiago de Chile, December 2006


Christmas is 'acomin' and the goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, then a ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny, the God bless you!

Yes, it's that time of year again and everything is getting to look mighty festive around here in spite of the rain and gloomy days.
I was looking at this photo and reminiscing how last year in early December, I was visiting my friend Cecilia in Santiago de Chile.
They were putting up this immense Christmas tree in the Square in front of the Cathedral. At first it was just a skeletal frame-work. The men who were in charge of decorating it had to climb up very high on ladders or on the frame to wrap around the garlands and lights. It took them several days to complete it and this was the final results. A very pretty, very tall tree.

The other week I was in downtown Vancouver passing by the Art Gallery and saw a similar sight, although that tree was probably only half the size as the one in Santiago, and the men had a cherry-picker machine to lift them up to put on the decorations. I saw it once it was finished but somehow it didn't look as impressive as the Santiago tree did.

I've celebrated Christmas in Greece where there was a big artificial tree put up in Syntagma Square with lights covering it, but not the greenery that we see in the Santiago tree. My first Christmas in Greece back in 1983 was a bit disappointing, as they don't celebrate the holiday in quite the same way we do. But I made the best of it and bought a little laurel plant at the market which I decorated with tinsel and a few small ornaments and tiny string of lights.

I haven't had a real tree for Christmas for the last couple of years, just a small gold ornamental tree. But this year, because I needed a new big plant, and my cousin is coming for the holidays, I decided to buy a 'real' potted tree, a Norfolk Pine, quite pretty. I'll put some lights and decorations on it and it will take the place of the usual fir or pine tree. Trouble is, it isn't fragrant. So I think I'll buy some fresh boughs from the tree seller to give the room the essence of Christmas. Maybe some mistletoe too, though I don't know who will come to kiss me under it. At any rate, it will be a nice Christmas, as usual. Already my apartment is beginning to look very festive!
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

JUSTICE?

WEDNESDAY, December 12, 2007

It's time to get on the soap-box again. This week there have been several trial events that have had country-wide (if not world-wide) attention. After ten months of grueling trial, some of the details of which were too gruesome to comprehend, the infamous serial killer, Willie Pickton, was finally sentenced: life on each of six counts of second degree murder, with no chance of appeal for parole for 25 years. He still has to face 20 more counts of murder so it seems very certain he'll never walk free again in his lifetime.

The police, and others including victim's families were disappointed as there were many pages of evidence unadmissible to the court in order for a 'fair' trial, he was only found guilty of 'second degree' murder (because the jury couldn't find proof for intent to kill).
Unfortunately, some of that unadmissible evidence may have swayed the decision. The day after the sentencing, the newspapers ran copies of letters Pickton had written to a pen-pale in which he states that "God put him on earth to rid the world of evil doers..." At any rate, most people feel it is certain he was not in on this alone and it's just unfortunate the police could never pin anything on the other culprits -- namely his brother. The whole things has been a hideous tragedy, and yesterday when the families read their victim's impact statements, the were lots of tears, as well as rejoicing for justice done on behalf of the victims. Pickton had nothing to say. Witnesses described him as 'dead', stone cold, icy and unemotional. His defence lawyer wouldn't let him speak in court. And, strangely, there didn't seem to any sign of his 'supporters', including his brother or other family members. Was 'justice' really done if these other suspects are never called into account?

The same day, another court room scene unfolded with the sentencing of two youths (part of a trio) who attacked another youth, beat him, sprayed him with pepper spray and took an ax to him, rendering him a quadriplegic for life. They were tried as 'adult's rather 'youth' but still, the one lout got only 3 years less 1 year already served and the other got 20 months of community service and house arrest. This kid was smirking and laughing the courtroom so now there is to be an inquiry into the lenient sentencing. The mother of the victim was angry, as can be well expected. Her son is suffering and incapacitated for life and these thugs get away with it. The third one is due to be sentenced later this week and lets hope they throw the book at him -- as they should have with these two. Is this 'justice'?

Then there's the arrogant S.O.B. Conrad Black who still refuses to admit any wrong after bilking millions from investors and walks away with a mere 6 years prison term. His team of high-paid defense lawyers claim they'll appeal and get him off with an even lighter sentence. Money talks, obviously. And certainly there are a lot of his 'victim's' who will cry 'injustice' here.

Sometimes it makes you wonder, about our court system. In all three cases it seems that the victims were let down although at least Pickton will never go free again. It's just hoped that the next long trial, for the 20 other victims, will go ahead as planned. These women deserve justice.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

MAKING THE PUNISHMENT FIT THE CRIME

This is my weekly rant. I've had these things on my mind for days and finally got the time to put it all down. It's all about taking responsibility for one's actions. Making the punishment fit the crime.

All too often lately it seems like people who break the law, steal, drive drunk, (often resulting in other innocent people's lives being taken or having them maimed,) shooting off guns so innocent people get killed (this city is rife with gang warfare and in spite of Canada having gun laws -- it seems that far too many goons are carrying them and innocent people are getting caught in the cross-fire), and biggest of all, the notorious murder case of the Pig Farmer which I wrote about for awhile until it got too gruesome to bear.

It was good to see the other week that a man who purposefully shot an innocent young man, a talent artist and skate-board enthusiast, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to a life term with no chance of parole for 10 years. It's about time these characters faced the music. All too often they are getting a light term for one reason or another.

But in the case of the police officers who blatantly tasered an innocent immigrant at the airport a few weeks ago, it seems like the buck has been passed. Even the airport staff who, on camera, were seen to turn their back on the man who had been stuck inside the luggage area of the airport for 10 hours after a 14 hour flight, are all being absolved of their responsibility. That airport itself has made countless excuses why nobody was on hand to interpret for the Polish man, or why a computer check (which would have taken a minute) was not done to assure his mother who had driven miles to meet him, that he was in fact in the airport. Instead they told her he had not arrived. It's sickening the way they are trying to evade responsibility in this drastic, tragic matter. Now they cops are planning a trip to Poland (at tax payer's expense) to 'investigate' the Polish man -- to see if he had mental illness or was a substance abuser -- another ploy to skip out of being held responsible for their rash actions. They lied all the way through with this, but too bad for them, someone had filmed the entire episode so the whole world could see what really happened. It is a national disgrace!

Now we are waiting on tenderhooks for the verdict to come in on the infamous Pig Farmer, Willie Pickton, who has been on trial for the gruesome deaths and dismemberments of six sex-trade workers whose remains were found on his farm and in his living quarters at the farm. (He still faces another 20 charges). The defence lawyer has tried to dispute the graphic testimony of several witness saying they were delusional drug addicts. I don't think anyone would make up the story of seeing a body hanging on a meat hook. Besides, how could he came to be 'innocent' when body parts were found in a freezer right next to his trailer. The guy is a bit slow, but nobody is that slow! Yes, I believe there were others in on this with him, but he hasn't spoken up to accuse them. Yes, maybe he's going to be the fall guy for these other people who unfortunately the police haven't been able to get enough evidence on. But...the fact remains personal effects and blood of the victims and other things were found inside his trailer and on his property. Doesn't that make him guilty?

It will be interesting to see what the jury finds. They've already been deliberating five days, going through hours of tapes and evidence to review the case. It must be a terrible thing to serve on such a jury. And even more terrible to be one of the victim's family members who are waiting hour by hour at the court house.

Let's just hope that whatever the verdict, the punishment fits the crime.

Friday, November 23, 2007

THE RECITAL

Yesterday my friends and I were treated to a piano recital performed by my friend Patrick who has been visiting from Germany. This is the third time he's performed for the members of my Memoir writing group, the second real 'formal' recital, held at the luxury condo building in the West end where my friend B. lives. Above is the view from B's 11th floor window looking out over Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park. What a fabulous place to spend a pleasant Thursday morning!

The building has a luxurious lounge, which B. says is never used. Here's the little group of us relaxing before the recital begins. It's a perfect place to hold such an event with good acoustics and, as you can see, very beautiful surroundings. Posh! B. provided wine and nibblies which made it even more special while we sat back on the comfy couches and listened to Patrick play.

Patrick played a half hour selections of Baroque music including Bach. He's an accomplished pianist but his real passion and skill is as an organist. He plays the pipe organ at a church in Germany where he lives. We feel really privileged to have him perform for us. A real treat!
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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

WIND-BLOWN

My city, Vancouver's famous Stanley Park is 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of primordial forest located within the city in the West End area, a short walk from downtown. The peninsula that was purchased and turned into parkland dates back to 1886 so the Park is very much part of this city's history. Few other urban areas can claim this exceptional "Fresh-from-the woods" quality that Vancouver has. Stanley Park is a wilderness area set in the heart of a metropolis. The park is surrounded by the waters of English Bay and Burrard Inlet and a sea-wall walk extends right around the circumfrence of the Park which is a favorite for afternoon strollers, bikers, in-line skaters and joggers. Near the Park's entrance is a monument to Lord Stanley, a former Canadian Governor General, after whom the park was named. There are roads through the Park which lead around the Park or to the Lions Gate Bridge across the Inlet to the North Shore.
A causeway leads to deadman's Island, a former Indian burial ground. Brockton Point takes its name from the chief engineer of the HMS Plumper, the first ship to first survey this area in 1859. (See my travel blog about The Admiral's Island: Keats Island @ http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com )




There are several good beaches where you can sun-tan or swim in summer, and at Second Beach there is an outdoor pool (my favorite place to swim.) As well there are cricket fields at the Brockton Oval Sports Field; an Aquarium; flower and rose gardens which are glorious in summer; an outdoor Theatre Under the Stars where you can watch musicals performed in summer; playgrounds, a water park at Lumberman's Arch; and various concessions, tea-rooms and restaurants.

The Park is rich in history. Lumberman's Arch was originally the site of a Salish Village. Portugese and Scottish ship jumpers later integrated with the Native women and a village was formed at Brockton Point. The poet Pauline Johnson used to paddle her canoe in the Lagoon, which she named Lost Lagoon because when the tide was out, the water receded. There's a monument to her at Third Beach.
The painter Emily Carr used to paint in the Park and held painting classes there for a time. Prospect Point was the site of an early semaphore station which failed to prevent BC's first steamship, the SS Beaver from capsizing on the nearby rocks back in 1888. Trails leaved through the trees to Siwash Rock which Indian legend holds was once a young man who was turned to stone as a 'reward' for his unselfishness. The Hollow Tree is one of the park's most famous landmarks, an immense red cedar tree that was already hollowed out when the first Europeans arrived more than a century ago. At Brockton Point there is a disply of totem poles respresenting various coastal Indian tribes.

So it was with great sadness that we witness the destruction of much of our beloved Park last winter in a hurricane-force wind storm that took down 10,000 trees -- many of which were old-growth trees centuries old, unreplaceable. In addition the damage to the sea wall was so severe that parts of the park promenade have been closed up until just a couple of weeks ago. Walking through to observe the destruction left everyone teary-eyed and speechless. How could one force of nature destroy another that was so beautiful and treasured?

Imagine how just two days ago when another fierce wind storm swept across the city that we were all so terrified that more of the Park would be destroyed. Fortunately, it wasn't nearly as strong a storm as the one last winter, though the weather-men warn that there could be more to come like it. We can only pray that our park will be safe from further harm.



Wind damage along the west end of the park and sea-wall.
Where you see the bare spaces, was one towering cedars and fir trees,
now all destroyed and gone forever.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

I LOVE AUTUMN

View from a friend's apartment
Autumn in the West End


"I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadowless like silence, listening
To silence

Thomas Hood 1791845 Ode: Autumn 1827 st 16



In the neighborhood where I live the streets are lined with trees and at this time of year it's very colorful. I love walking through fallen leaves. It reminds me of my childhoods in Ontario when we used to build forts and pretend houses and rake the leaves into big piles, then jump in them.

These are the colors of Autumn: red, brown, yellow, ocher, orange, purple. I enjoyed walking around the city taking photos of the autumn colors. But very soon the trees will be bare. Winter is creeping up very quickly. I'm thinking of that song When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall...There's something very melancholy about that song, but it's beautiful just the same.
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Thursday, September 27, 2007

HERITAGE BUILDINGS IN THE DOWNTOWN EAST SIDE


These are some of the heritage buildings that are in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver where we went on the "Sins of the City" walk. It's a shame more of them haven't been restored and kept. The unfortunate thing about this city(which is still a 'young city') is that they haven't taken care with these old treasures and especially in the Downtown East Side, many of them have been let go to ruin.


This is one of the lovely old buildings in Chinatown dating to the turn of the century. Fortunately several of these buildings in Chinatown have been or are being restored as they are part of the city's heritage.

This old building has special memories for me. This building is in the Guiness World Book of Records as the 'narrowest building in the world'. Back in the '50's when my ex husband used to do painting and decorating he was doing work for Jimmy Wong, the jeweller who owned and lived in this building. These bay windows jutting over the street is where the living quarters were. (The jewellry shop was downstairs). When you sat on the couch your knees almost reached the window, that's how narrow it is! We were invited to share Chinese New Years with Mr. Wong and his French-Canadian wife. I was amazed to find that right under Pender St. in front of the shop was where the basement 'rec' room was located. It was all set up with mah-jong tables and on each table was an expensive bottle of whiskey. We sat down there and I was completely entranced as I watched the players move the tiles around 'click-click-click' as they gambled the night away.

Now the shop is a real estate office. I like going by there and remembering the time I celebrated the Chinese New Years under the street with the Wongs and their friends.

This building is in Gastown, which was the original site of the city back in the 1800's. This is a flat-iron building and it is the old Europe Hotel, once a very elegant hotel. I'm always fascinated by these flat-iron buildings which apparantly were popular at the turn of the century.
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Saturday, August 25, 2007

SIN IN THE CITY

Saturday, AUGUST 25/07

It's been awhile since I wrote here because of holidays (see my travel blog at
http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com ) and because I'm immersed in full time writing on my novel these days (see my writer's blog http://wynnbexton.blogspot.com )

But today I went on an interesting walking tour that kind of ties in with both my interest in history and the subject of 'crime' that I had previously written about on this site.

My friends and I went on a tour around the Downtown East Side, the area of town where this city had it's beginnings. As it was a tour titled "Sin in the City", we began with a tour round the Vancouver Police Museum. It's been a long time since I visited this interesting small museum and it's well worth taking the time to drop by and have a look at the crime history of our town.
The building itself is a heritage building that used to be the City Morgue and Coroner's Court right up til the late '70's. The tour includes the coroner's work place with the gurneys used to conduct autopsies on the dead. One famous person who once occupied one of those tables was the actor Erroll Flynn who died suddenly in the city back in the '50's. He was in the city trying to sell his yacht and the night he died was in a west end apartment partying along with his very young teen-age girlfriend. I was working in the news library at the Sun during that time and recall vividly the scandalous reports that circulated at the time of his death. Flynn had a huge reputation for philandering in particular with young women. In fact, when I was 10, I found out the facts of life because of him. But that's another story!

From the police museum the Sin in the City walking tour took us around to various places in the area that had notorious reputations from the time the first settlement sprung up on the shores of Burrard Inlet, which was mainly a stopping off port for loggers, to the later years, even including the 1970's when there was a huge protest riot in Gastown between the police and marijuana smoking hippies that led to the current relaxed laws on soft drugs like 'weed' in this city.

From the early days when the first saloons were built in what was then called "Granville" when there were mainly only men living in the settlement, to the street of bordellos on Alexander Street where all the madams plied their trade, we enjoyed the shady history of the city.
At that time all the houses of prostitution were contained in one area and easily patrolled by the police. The girls worked indoors and were reasonably safe. But an interfering well-meaning woman Bible-thumper began a campaign to close down the 'houses of ill repute' and laws were passed against their operation, thus putting the girls of the oldest trade in the world, on the street. This brings us up to the current time when, over the last few years over 60 women have gone missing from the downtown east side, and a pig farmer from the suburbs in now on trial for the deaths of at least 26 of them.

I haven't been writing here lately about the Pickton trial as I found the subject was becoming too disturbing. To recap what has transpired since my last posting about the Pig Farmer's Trials, several witnesses were called by the Prosecution who described in graphic details things they had seen on the farm or heard Willie the pig farmer say about how he had killed the women. The only trouble is, these witnesses were known to be serious drug users and the Defence argues that their testimony is unreliable. Like perhaps the woman who said she saw one of the bodies hanging from a meat hook in the slaughter house was just 'hallucinating'.
The Prosecution has rested its case and starting next week the Defence takes the stand trying to prove that Willie is innocent of the killings.

This area where we were touring happens to be the same part of town where the missing women plied their trade.

We also went to the old Japan town and China town where race riots broke out at the turn of the Century and where opium dens and gambling was prevalent. Up on Hastings St. we stopped at the door of a notorious bootlegging joint from the '50s that had been operated by a well-known mob figure. That story brought back more memories of the days I worked on the crime files in the Vancouver Sun news library, and the scandal at the time when it was revealed that our Chief of Police was taking pay-offs from this mob person and the whole police force was corrupted.

Down in Chinatown we saw some of the heritage buildings that still stand there, some which are undergoing renos to restore them. We saw secret alleys and an alley that used to be a market area where secret doorways allowed opium users to escape from police raids. Lots of interesting details were pointed out and the old story of the Chinatown tunnels was explained. One of the buildings there which is in the Guiness World Book of Records as the narrowest commercial building in the world, happens to have once been occupied by a Chinese jeweler who was a friend of my late husband. Mike used to do painting down in Chinatown and once Chinese New Years we were invited to a party at the jewelry shop (which is now an insurance company). So I have been inside this unique building, part of which was the jeweler's living quarters, barely wide enough for a couch - - and down under the road where his 'rec room' was located like a secret room hidden under the busy street. That New Years we sat down there around a half dozen tables where mah-jong and card tables were set up with bottles of expensive whiskey on each table and stacks of poker chips and money passing hands. I was fascinated by it all and every time I pass by that building now I remember that night back in the late '50's when we were guests there.

The tour ended up in Gastown at the famous statue of Gassy Jack, the old entrepreneur who built the first saloon there on the 'skid road' where logs where skidded down to the shores of the Inlet for transportation elsewhere. Because this is where the saloons were located and the loggers who hung out round there liked their booze, that's where the term "Skid Row" came from.

It was a fun tour and a real insight into the shady past of our city. I've always enjoyed these old stories and look forward to the tour they have at Hallowe'en which includes a tour of the old morgue, a cemetery and some haunted houses.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

LILAC TIME!

"Go down to Kew in lilac time (it isn't far from London!)
And you shall wander hand in hand with love in
summer's wonderland."
Alfred Noyes 1880-1958 "Barrel Organ" st 5


Finally, some lovely sunny WARM weather! I just took a neighborhood stroll along with "Baby Blue" my little Soni digital camera, to take some photographs especially of the mountains which are so clear today they look close enough to reach out and touch. They are still covered with plenty of snow which make them even prettier. Along the way I noticed so many flowers blooming in gardens and all the trees are sprouting their rich new greenery. But most of all, I noticed the lilacs. I love lilacs, especially their sweet fragrance. I saw one variety, curly white tinged with rose, and several other trees with the traditional mauve shades. I had to take some close-up photos and breathe in their fragrance. It's so energizing to have a day like this -- at last! -- after months of rain and cold. So far this week the weather has been perfect, albeit a bit chilly at night. (I got fooled yesterday and wore sandals and a light cotton jacket so I nearly froze while waiting for buses to get home late at night.)

I hope the good weather persists as I am soon off on my holidays -- Six more sleeps! One week from today I will have arrived in Venice, my dream destination. For certain it will be sunny there, and in Greece where I'll be heading on May 22. I am longing for a swim in the sea and a day basking in the hot Mediterranean sun. Imagine me a week from now sitting in St. Mark's Square sipping a cold drink and watching the passing throngs. (Maybe chasing the pigeons, as I was told this would be something I should really try to do!)

Meanwhile, I will try to relax as I've been feeling stressed out lately with a sore back and too much to do. I'm sure more of this sunshine and the sweet smell of lilacs will be a good tonic though, and by the time next week arrives I will feel much more rested and prepared to make the long flight. The thought of a cruise down the canal in a gondola as my reward makes it all the more exciting!

"I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds and bowers:
Of April, May, of June, and July flowers..."
Robert Heirich 1591-1674 "Hesperides" (1648)






Thursday, April 19, 2007

SOME THINGS ARE INCOMPREHENSIBLE

You read the details in the news about that mentally troubled young man who wrecked such havoc on the Virginia campus and you just can't comprehend it at all. Who would have imagined, in spite of the warning signs, the many red flags, the times he was sent for psychiatric treatments, that he would still be on the loose and create such a horrific deed. I shake my head and wonder...

United States is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. (Probably Iraq is worse at the moment. Much of it caused by who???) If I lived down there I'd be bailing out fast. It's bad enough here but at least we have gun laws though with the easiness to obtain them across the border it's creating more problems here.

I can hardly bear to read the news these days what with daily mass bombings in Iraq and now this horrible carnage of innocents on a college campus. What's next? Is there no end to his? It seems each year it gets worse and worse. This is like the decline of an Empire, the corruption and violence and utter degredation that is happening in USA.

Who are the young people's role models? Those hedonistic druggies like Paris Hilton and Britany Spears?What has become of the morals in that country? Why is violence such a big selling commodity. (just check out most TV shows and movies these days!) No wonder the fundamentalist Muslims have so much fodder for their anti-American rants. Where is the respect for life? the respect for family? the respect for our brothers and sisters?

I have been writing about the Pig Farmer but even that is sickening me. And this unbelievable event is the last straw.

I can't bear to write about this hideous stuff any more. So unless there are some outstanding turns of events in the Pig Farmer case I'm switching gears and not going to post anything about it. The whole state of things in the world is horrifying. How can people turn on other human beings in that way? What is happening to us?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

WHO REALLY DID THIS?

Who really committed this gruesome crime? It seems more certain all the time that Willie did not act alone. The more DNA evidence that is presented in court, the more it ties to other persons besides Willie. It seems obvious he was not the lone mastermind or exector. Several of the DNA samples point to Pickton's friends. The police deny the Hells Angels were involved. But there are still those rumours that have abounded since this case first broke. And now, more than ever, evidence points to other people who were known to frequent the pig farmer's property.

APRIL 11 "Victim's DNA found on see-through top, jury hears." The defence points to DNA of friends of Pickton found on several items.
APRIL 12 "The list of items bearing DNA of missing women grows."

An RCMP lab worker testified that 30 more items including a mattress and blood stains contained DNA of thre eo fhte missing women; some also contained Pickton's DNA but some of the items, such as a dildo attached to a revolver contained more than one person's DNA and "Pickton was a minor contributor".

It is known that other people frequented the farm and more than three other men's DNA were found inside Pickton's motorhome. One man in particular, Pickton's close friend Pat Cassanova's DNA has been found on several places along with stains belonging to one victim as well as on the freeze where body parts were found and in the workshop. A rosary positively identified a belonging to one of the victim's also had DNA on it of a woman, Dinah Taylor, who was known to frquent the farm. Neither Taylor nor Cassanova have been charged although police say they are still under investigation.

Pickton agrees that the remains found on his farm were those of the missing women, but he denies killing them and has pleaded not guilty. He is facing 26 counts of first degree murder. Only six of those charges are being tried at the present time.

Monday, April 02, 2007

SIFTING THROUGH EVIDENCE

Monday, April 2/07

One thing I find interesting is the way investigations are carried out these days -- all the high-tech stuff, DNA etc. Imagine how it was in the 'olden' days (not that long ago) and think about how many people might have been wrongly convicted because they didn't have these slick methods of detecting things. They have done a couple of years of research and testing on evidence from the Pickton farm and each day the court is in session you hear more testimony from witnesses who collected and tested this evidence. Here's last week's reports:

Evidence continued regarding exhibits found on the Pickton farm including lint from the dryer, fingernails and other minute fragments which were all tested for DNA. More evidence was also found in the three story farmhouse where Pickton's brother lived. Light sensors were used in the framhouse to locate stains (such as blood), hairs and fingerprints. Several items were found in Dave Pickton's bedroom including sex toys, lubricants, restraints and a rifle. The Defence has focused on Dave Pickton as well as several other individuals who had access to the farm where the Crown alleges the six victims were killed. Dave Pickton has not been charged in the case but has been extensively investigated by the RCMP task force. Willie Pickton admits that the remains of the six women were found on his property but he denies killing them.

Another person of interest investigated and not charged, a person by the name of Pat Casanvoa, a friend of Pickton's, had a band saw seized from his property and checked for DNA, blood and tissues samples. A suspicious waxy-fatty substance was found on the saw. He has also not been charged in the case.

A number of items were found in Pickton's workshop, some in a duffle bag, which contained guns, jewelry, leg irons, handcuffs and some DNA from these match the profile of victim Brenda Wolfe. A number of other items were seized from Pickton's slaughterhouse including plexiglass with blood splatters on it and a clump of blonde hair found in an orange plastic bag. (Victim Andrea Joesbury was a blonde.)

Some of the exhibits tested have not had the results determined as yet and will no doubt be brought up later on in the trial.

Friday, March 30, 2007

A CAUTIONARY TALE

I should be writing more upbeat stuff, but I do that on my other two blogs. This blog, for the moment, seems to have become a place for investigating and commenting. My crime-reporter instincts have taken over. The latest story that came to my attention was a horrible incident that happened over in Victoria when a beautiful 22 year old University student died from an overdose of GHB, a date rape drug, after takeing a swig of what she thought was water from a Gatorade bottle. GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is put into liquids to induce a feeling of intoxication and often memory loss. A lot of people are using it to mimic the effects of alcohol and it's become popular among young adults. It's colorless, odorless and sells for $5 to $10 a dose. Unfortunately, a number of people have died following overdoses and the police have reported a number of sexual assaults where victims were drugged.

Some clubs here in my city are banning water bottles, vials and liquids and surveillance has been increased. A bartender warns: "If someone wants to buy you a drink, be at the bar when the drink is poured. Watch your drink. Leave it with a friend if you go to the washroom. Y ou wouldn't leave your purse. Don't leave your drink!"

I once had my own experience with a drug like this (or rohipnal) when I first went to live in Athens in 1983, so these drugs have been around a long time and were very popular in Athens. I found out that a number of other girls who had drank at that same bar where we all congregated had been slipped date rape drugs. And just a few years ago the same thing happened to a friend of mine when a group of us were having a full-moon night picnic on Philopappou Hill in Athens. I wrote this story about it because I wanted to warn other people to be careful. It was submitted to an anthology for first-time backpackers to Europe, and was accepted. Lonely Planet was going to publish the anthology. I signed a contract and waited. But, next thing I knew they broke the contract (no kill fee) saying their target market didn't want to publish the story as it might 'discourage' travel. So here it is, and if you are unaware of the dangers of this insidious drug, this cautionary tale is for you.


ONE FULL MOON NIGHT IN ATHENS: A Cautionary Tale
(What my Mother told me: “Don’t take candy from strangers!”)

The first night of the July full moon in Athens. My friends and I have gathered at our local taverna with plans to view the spectacular full moon from the Acropolis, while enjoying classical music played by the Athens Symphony.

A strange young man enters the taverna. He is dressed in sandals, short tunic and carries a homespun wool bag. His hair and beard are long and blonde. He is an apparition of someone from Biblical times, like a modern-day version of John the Baptist. Mike, a British painter who has is studio in the area, says he has seen this odd character many times. He thinks the young man lives in one of the caves on Philipappou Hill, near the Acropolis.

The young man appears to be a deaf mute. He does not speak, and gestures to Anna, the taverna owner, indicating he wants food. She gives him a souvlaki and he leaves. But we are curious. We wonder where he has come from, and how he makes his living here? Clearly, he is not Greek. Who is he?

The second night of the July full moon. Anna Britt, a Norwegian classical scholar; Vesa, a Finnish architect; Lena, a Danish girl studying Greek, and myself, a writer from Canada, decide to have a picnic up on Philipappou Hill to celebrate the moonlight. The hill is opposite the Acropolis. Footpaths wind up through the pine groves to the crest of the hill where there is an impressive monument to Philipappou, a Prince of Syria who was exiled to Athens by the Romans and died here in AD 116.

From the crest of Philipappou Hill we have an eye-level view of the Parthenon all lit up with golden floodlights. In the brilliant, star-studded sky, the beautiful moon beams down flooding the hillside with a soft silvery-blue light. We sit at the base of Philipappou’s monument and share our snacks: a bottle of wine and a bit of brandy, some crackers, cheese and olives.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, truly like the appearance of a an apparition, the strange young man we had seen at the taverna the night before, is standing in our midst.
We are stunned speechless, as his appearance is so sudden and eerie. But because we are also still curious about him, we invite him to share our food and drink. He refuses the food, but snatches
the bottle of brandy out of Vesa’s hand and quickly drinks down what is left of it then smashes the bottle on the rocks. We are startled by this abrupt, rude action. He takes a bottle of ouzo out of his bag and offers it to Vesa. Vesa, who has been drinking the brandy, refuses. I have been drinking wine and decline the offer too. Lena is pregnant, and doesn’t drink. To be polite, Anna Britt takes a couple of sips of the ouzo. then hands the bottle back.

We invite the young man to sit with us. We want to know all about him. What is his name? Where does he come from? Where does he live? He squats down, not speaking but evidently capable of hearing everything we say to him. It doesn’t take long before we grow suspicious of his ‘mute act’ and wonder if he merely belongs to some odd cult and has taken an oath of silence. Anna Britt takes another swig of ouzo and tries another angle to engage him in conversation. He says nothing, but occasionally laughs in a derisive manner, laughing at us. His attitude is arrogant and rude. We are beginning to feel very uncomfortable in his presence.
I decide to challenge him about his inability to speak. He knows exactly what I’m saying and laughs. Anna Britt says she is feeling dizzy and decides to lie down on a flat slab of marble. He finds this very amusing. Our suspicion increases. We are feel uneasy and wish he would leave. All the other moon-watchers have left the hillside. We are alone with this weird guy. Anna Britt say she is feeling nauseated and tries to get up. She can’t move. She is very frightened, almost hysterical.

“What was in that ouzo?” she asks the young man.

He laughs maniacally and as suddenly as he had appeared, like a disappearing ghost, he is gone... poof! Vanished into thin air.

Anna Britt tries to move, but her limbs seem to be paralyzed, and she begins to retch violently. She is conscious. but now we are certain there was something potent in those few sips of ouzo she drank from the young man’s bottle.

I volunteer to run down the hill to find help. Halfway down, I meet two Greek men and explain what has happened. We race back up the hill. They try to help Vesa pick Anna Britt up. She is crying, and vomiting every time she moves, but somehow, even though she is a dead weight, the three men lug her half-way down the hill to the parking lot. One of the Greeks runs down to the street to find a telephone, and calls an ambulance. We are so thankful for their help. Without them, we would not have got ten Anna Britt down the hill.

The ambulance arrives, but the drivers appear to be helpless. It is Vesa, and the other Greek men who tell them what to do. “Put a cover over her. She’s in shock!” (By now Anna Britt was shivering even though the night was very warm.) We asked if they had equipment with them to pump her stomach. They did nothing but cram her and us into the back of the small ambulance and drive off to an unknown destination.

We arrive at a hospital, but we have no idea which hospital or where in Athens we are. Nobody speaks English and even with our elementary Greek we get no straight answers. We are deposited in the emergency room. There are several nurses lurking in the office drinking coffee and smoking. Nobody rushes to help us. Eventually a doctor comes. By now we are frantic, because Anna Britt is clearly in serious distress. We explain to the doctor what has happened. Can she pump Anna Britt’s stomach, please? Obviously she ingested something toxic and it needs to be flushed out of her system. The doctor’s response was simply: “We have strong drinks in Greece.” (Referring to the fact that Anna Britt had drunk some ouzo.) We try to explain that Anna Britt only had at most five sips of the ouzo. That she was not drunk. That we were not ‘stupid tourists‘, we were scholars, living in Athens while we researched and studied.
This did not impress the doctor. Anna Britt continued gagging and vomiting. Her limbs were still paralyzed. There was nothing she could do, the doctor said. We would have to wait until she ‘slept it off’.

I decided to phone the tourist police. I still had no idea of what hospital we were in. A man in the waiting room talked to the police officer and explained. The police officer said that we must make a report the next day.

Several hours had passed by now. Anna Britt was not improving and the doctor and nurses were doing nothing to help her. We are more than frantic. What if she dies? What shall we do next? I decide to phone Mike.

Four o-clock in the morning, Mike drives across town to the hospital. We tell him what happened on Philippapou Hill. He speaks sternly to the doctor and tells her she must do something, that this wasn’t simply a matter of ‘too much ouzo.’ Mike has lived in Greece for many years, and is fluent in the language, and whatever he said had some impact. With that, they put Anna Britt on an IV. But it isn’t for several more hours that she recovers enough so she can move without vomiting and get off the gurney by herself. She is weak and shaken, but she is alive.

The next day, Anna Britt and I set off to make the police report. First we visit the tourist police office, as I had been instructed. They sent us to another precinct downtown. When we began to describe the weird young man dressed in Biblical clothes, the police officers simply laughed at us and dismissed us.

“Too much ouzo. We have strong drinks in Greece,” was their only response.
Frustrated, we stop by the tourist information booth at Syntagma Square and report our dilemma. The woman says Anna Britt should inform her Embassy.

We go to the police station in our district. The officer in charge is cordial and invites us to sit and chat. We explain who we are and why we are living in Athens. “How interesting! Would you like to talk about archaeology?” he asks. He is not interested in taking a police report of last night’s incident. He suggests we talk to the officer in charge of patrolling Philippapou Hill.

By now it is nearly six p.m. and we have been roaming around Athens since early morning trying to make a police report. We go to the place where we are told the Philippapou patrol will be waiting. But when we start to describe the weird young man with the unusual Biblical costume, and explain that he lives somewhere on the hill, is obviously making a living out of doping tourists so he can steal their money, the officer snickers, waves his hand, and dismisses us. He is not the slightest bit interested in what has happened or who this dangerous young man might be. He lights up another cigarette and lounges over to the kiosk to buy a coke.

Completely frustrated, we give up our quest to make a police report. We return to the taverna where our friends are waiting. Word has gotten around about our terrifying experience. The general attitude of the Greeks is a shrug. “Serves you right!” is the basic message.

Anna Britt contacts her Embassy. There is nothing they can do unless a police report is made and charges laid. The entire episode is dismissed. The weird guy in the Biblical costume with his drug-laced ouzo is still at large somewhere on Philippapou Hill.
We all agreed on one thing: When we were children, our mothers warned us: “Don’t take candies from strangers.” It might be an old-fashioned adage, but it’s still true. And it’s something that, even though we are now adults, we still need to keep in mind.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Date rape drugs, and other ‘knock-out’ substances have been in use for several years, often in bars around Athens, as well as in cities other parts of the world. Victims are not only young women, but men too. Travelers, be aware when accepting drinks from strangers, no matter where you are, that this could lead you into a dangerous and compromising situation.

This is a true story, and that is why when I read about the young woman who died recently I knew I had to retell it. I'm meeting my friends in Athens this summer. We're planning a birthday party on the Pnyx Hill. We'll watch out for strange guys wearing Biblical clothing, and we won't accept any drinks from strangers.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

TRIAL SUMMARY: How to get rid of an addict

The trial of the pig farmer was recessed for a week, and this past week the court only sat for a couple of days. The media has been gentle with its readers by posting the trial coverage on back pages, usually with a warning of the content and as well, a brief summary that can be read by anyone without it being distasteful. This trial is due to go on for at least a year, so rather than bore my own readers with too many shocking details, I'll only post trial reports on occasions when there is something outstanding to discuss.

This week's summary stirred up a number of unpleasant memories for me, personally. Back in the early '50s my boyfriend became a heroin addict. He stayed addicted for his whole life after that. We had a short-lived reunion in 1990 at which time he tried to pretend he was 'clean' but in fact only a short time went by when I realized he was using even though he'd had a serious near-death experience from an overdose. I recall hearing him talk about 'hot-needling' people to get rid of them. Reading this latest report of the Pickton murder trial reminded me of that.
Jim died a few years later from a brain tumor that had gone undetcted because of his years of addiction. I found out about it when the reporter who was covering the story of how I wrote my play "The Street" called to set up an interview with him.

SUMMARY OF THE PICKTON TRIAL

The RCMP officers who investigated and videotaped two properties co-owned by accused killer Willie Pickton and his brother, noted striking similarites between what was found on both pieces of land. Large amounts of women's clothing were found buried in the yard of the family's 7 hectare farm and a second property nearby. Besides the buried clothing, bags of decomposed clothing was found outside a motorhome on the main property.

The defence laywers allege that many people had access to the Pickton proerty, including three friends of Pickton who were arrested but not charged.

Officers also reported finding a syringe filled with windwhield wiper fluid tucked inside a stereo console inPickton's office. Allegations have been made, during a videotaped police interrogation of one of Pickton's friends, that the accused once boasted to him that a good way to get rid of a drug user was to inject her with windshield wiper fluid. This friend alleges Pickton said it would look like an overdose because the victim would already have track marks from drug needles.

It was also confirmed that a fingerprint found on a box on top of the freezer which contained missing women's remains, belonged to Dave Pickton, the accused's y oung brother. Other prints found on various items belonged to Pickton and one of his female friends who was arrested but not charged in the case.





Thursday, March 22, 2007

SO THIS IS SPRING?

THURSDAY, March 22

Yesterday was the first day of Spring. Okay, the cherry trees are in bloom, there's early flowers in the gardens, I hear, occasionally, happy little birds twittering in the naked branches of the trees. But it's been raining non-stop and the forecast is for much more. On top of it, it's bitterly cold and utterly miserable. So this is Spring?

I absolutely had to force myself out of bed this morning and give myself a stern talking-to about heading out to the pool for waterfit. But the time I got here, waiting in the rain for buses that were late because of traffic snarls, I missed most of the session but did manage a couple of lengths and soaked in the hot-tub awhile. Then, feeling somewhat more relaxed, I went to the change room for my shower.

Oddly, I've been writing lately about violence against women by MEN. But today there was a disturbing incident happened in the women's change-room at the pool that made me see there can also be violence against women by women. A bunch of us seniors were toweling down and changing when this shaven-headed, tattooed person (woman) dressed in men's clothes, barged into the dressing-room ranting at the top of her voice about "stupid useless women!" and continued carrying on in the most disgusting manner, shouting insults, degrading commentaries, hassling and finally threats against us other women who were her captive audience. It didn't stop there, as she was getting ready (for a gym workout) she began singing loud, rude lyrics to some made-up or possibly real song, again degoratory and insulting to women. Another woman told her to stop, that what she was doing was harrassment and degrading to the rest of us. This set the bully off into more tirades and threats. When I spoke up to support the first lady, the bully threatened me too. "I'll take you out and...." If this had been a man, he'd have been put in handcuffs and taken out and charged. Someone must have complained, as a pool attendant (female) came in and spoke to her, calmed her down somewhat, but this creature was a time-bomb ready to explode. Everyone in the change room was upset and frightened, not knowing what to do.

When I got dressed, I went out and told the desk clerk I wanted to lay a formal complaint. Frankly, people who behave like that ought to be barred. We women go to the pool for our waterfit classes and expect to be in a safe environment. This was far from 'safe'. It was downright scary. I've seen this person before, in the gym, strutting about like Rambo.
Not even the men in that gym behave in such a bullish manner as she does.

Anyway, when I was writing the complaint letter, who should appear on the stairway from the gym and come over to the desk, but the culprit. It was so weird that I wondered if she somehow knew I was there making a complaint about her. I was frankly worried as I wouldn't want to meet this person alone anywhere. She's dangerous! I hid the note from her view and heard her say to the desk clerk "It was only words from a Stones song. If they want to blame someone, let them blame the Stones!" And, thankfully, off she went to the gym. But I'll watch out for her in future, because surely she would put two-and-two together and figure out it was me who was writing the formal complaint against her. I gather from the desk clerk (who is famliar with her) that she probably has a mental-health problem and was off her meds. Still, this kind of behavior should not be allowed. It's bad enough hearing about violence against women by men, but when it's woman against woman that's even more shocking!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

SATURDAY, March 17/07

The Pig Farm trial has been in recess all week but other things have come out in the news regarding violence against women and I thought I should to write a commentary on it. Besides the shocking revalation of all the Native Indian women who have gone missing, 26 of whom Willie Pickton is charged with murdering, in the last several months there have been a number of terrible incidents involving Indo-Canadian women who have been murdered by their husbands.

This is becoming a horrific and shocking thing that is happening all too often and has shaken up the Indo-Canadian community here. The latest was the arrest of the husband and brother-in-law of a lovely pregant mother of a 3 yr old and beloved school teacher, who had 'dissapeared' after attending her prenatal class, and later whose body was discovered burned beyond recognition on a beach outside of the city. From the beginning I strongly suspected the brother-in-law because she had recently kicked him out of her home after he had been charged with harassing and assaulting a girlfriend. Now they have arrested both her husband and the brother-in-law for her murder. This is all so tragic. As is the trial of the missing women from the Downtown East Side.

One of the questions raised in conversation about that case is "Why did the police ignore for so long the tips that were given to them in regards to the missing women, many of which connected their disappearances to the Pig Farm?" The police are culpable in this case for letting it go on so long before anything was actively done. By then more than 60 women had gone missing from the DTES. Most of them were Native women, prostitutes or drug addicts. Is that why their disappearance was ignored? Aren't they human beings like the rest of us who have not had to live such unfortunate lives?

I noticed in the paper yesterday that there has been a movie made "Finding Dawn" which takes its name from the search for Dawn Crey, number 23 among the 60 missing women. She was one of the People of the River, the Stolo from the upper Fraser Valley. Her remains were found on Pickton's farm but there wasn't enough DNA to include her as one of the 26 women he's charged with killing.

This movie is seen as a catalyst to help combat violence against women. The film maker, Christine Welsh, was invited to be part of a screening in the Dag Hammerskjokld Library in the U.N. in NYC as part of the 51st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Welsh takes Dawn's story as a starting point for a journey into the native women who have gone missing or been murdered in Western Canada in communities such as Saskatoon or along Highway 16, the Yellowhead in northern B.C. (Known as the Highway of Tears).

"Finding Dawn" she says , is more about the living than the dead, and how native women are organizing to combat violence against native women. It won the Amnesty International Film Festival Gold Audience Award at the 10th annual festival in November in Vancouver. Welsh said that it was important to show the film at the U.N. event because it brings the issues of indigenous women in Canada to an international audience. She said that the screening at the
U. N. was an emotional one for the 60 people who attended -- especially those who didn't know the story of the missing women or of Pickton's trial.

The trial will resume next week. And so will my occasional commentaries on this historic case.

Friday, March 09, 2007

MEMOIRS OF A PIG FARMER

FRIDAY, March 9/07
Memoirs are a popular genre these days. I've been instructing a memoir writing group for the past few years, and as a result have collected a few stories of my own. I encourage people in my group to not only write their memoirs, but if they want to get family stories recorded, it's a good idea to tape them, in particular interviews with parents, grandparents and other family members. I was glad that I had asked my father to do an oral history some years ago. I have three tapes of his life story and the best part is having his voice telling those stories. I do wish I had asked him for his notes, though, as his story is well worth recording in writing.

Imagine what a surpise it was to hear that Willie Pickton, the Pig Farmer accused of murdering 26 of the women who had gone missing from the downtown east side, had made an oral history of his life. Yesterday in court, the 55 minute tape dubbed "Bob's Memoirs" was played and here is some of what was revealed, a rare glimpse into his life. The tape was made on December 28/01 and was evidently recorded for an unidentified woman named Victoria.

"Bob's Memoirs"
On the tape Pickton talked about his childhood. "It was a hard life but there was always food on the table," he said. He said he always wore hand-me-downs. The family had a farm with hogs and cows. When he was 12 he bought a calf "pretty as a day is long" but three weeks later the calf went missing. "I went everywheres looking for this here calf and I couldn't find it anywheres," he said. He later checked the barn and discovered they had butchered his calf. He was offered $20 consolation because the calf had 'brought a good dollar" but he was so upset he couldn't talk to anybody for 3 or 4 days.

He said he went to a one room schoolhouse but after 1964 only went to school two days a week, working 5 days for "long, long hours." He was a meat cutter for almost 6 1/2 years but got fed up with cutting meat. Once, on a trip to Detroit he was offered a job as a model for $40 an hour, which he turned down because he "just wanted to know more about what the country was like." He said he "had a good time and met a lot of people" on this trip.

His family bought the pig farm in 1063 which he and his brother were running at the time of his arrest. On the tape, he expressed a desire to 'go out and start a new life". He said he wanted to "slow down" and buy his own place, find somebody and settle down. He said he'd keep the wishes of his future partner in mind when planning a house. "When you get together with somebody else, I mean it's not just a one-way stream, it's a two-way stream."

He said he wanted to build a house with 4 to 6 rooms, a "spiral staircase" and a tennis court and swimming pool. "Not that I do swimming or anything. But the problem is you've got to build it for the year 2,000. We're becoming a sophisticated country now. Everything is computerized - no more adding machines are being used anywhere. And you've got to have fancy this and fancy that."

He also complained about how people wanted favors from him. "If I ask them to give me a hand, nobody's around. But if they want a hand, they know where I am....it's about time for them to start living on their own, someday I'm not going to be here. I'm going to be somewhere else."

Yes, Willie. Now you're in jail. And where are all those so-called 'friends' of yours?
An interesting fact: they have kept saying this man is 'slow' but some of the things he said on the tape sound reasonably fluent and sensible. I don't think he's 'stupid'. Simple, perhaps. And no doubt wiley as a fox.

THIS WEEK IN COURT: An anthropology student took the stand Wednesday to testify how she had worked on the Pig Farm from April 2002 along with other anthropology students to help sifting through soil to find objects, such as the fragments of human bones found in the screening machine. Ten anthropologists were hired to help police in their search for evidence. Besides the many fragments of bones found, the student reported finding the fragments of a human jawbone with three teeth. (There was no information as to whose bones they were.)

Apparantly, the defence alleges some of the "evidence" was contaminated by the police. Evidently on some property also owned by the Pickton brothers, a number of items were found, some inside a bus parked on the property. These were items of clothing and other personal things some with blood stains on them. They also found I.D. belonging to one of the women friends of Pickton who is a 'person of interest' in the case. There were 52 vehicles parked on this property and a number of buildings including the Pickton brothers' so-called "Piggy Palace" where they held parties, a partially constructed house dubbed "Willie's house", a smoke house and a slaughterhouse. 2,300 pieces of potential evidence were taken from this peroperty but not all was sent for testing.

The police inspector denied knowing that some of the evience found had been contaminated by officers involved in the search of the property, including ingerprints ona revolver. The jury was warned that this was heresay evidence.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION?

"Company, villanous company, hath been the spoil of me."
William Shakespeare 1564-1616 "King Henry IV " III, iii 10

When I was a child, my parents used to always drill into me 'You'll be known by the company you keep!" This adage was made clear to me when I was about 10 years old. I had accompanied a playmate to the five-and-dime store one day. After we came out of the store she began to brag and showed me the things she had stolen. I was scared and horrified. This was the first time in my young life that I found myself in the company of a thief. What if she'd been caught, and I was with her? Surely I would have been found 'guilty' the same as her. Needless to say, I never again when 'shopping' with this girl and was more cautious over who I associated with.

The same thing happened to my daughter when she was about the same age. A school chum of hers apparantly stole some things from another girl's locker and somehow managed to stow them in my daughter's locker in order to hide from being caught. When the items were discovered (they checked my daughter's locker as well as her friend's) she was accused of being the thief. I'll never forget how upset she was. When I learned of this I questioned her, of course, because I wondered if somehow she'd been in on it, although I could conceive of her doing such a thing. She broke down sobbing and said "Even you don't believe me, Mommy." And then I knew for certain she had no knowlege of the stolen items being stashed in her locker. After that betrayal she was more careful to chose her friends.

We all have to learn from these 'mistakes' in choices. But some people obviously never do.
In the Pig Farm Murders this week it was brought out that several of Pickton's associates were being questioned and/or under surveillance because of their association with him. Most people don't believe he committed the murders on his own, that surely there were others involved, including his brother. Are they guilty by association?

THIS WEEK'S COURT REPORT:
Long after Robert (Willie) Pickton was arrested, in Feb. 2002, other "persons of interest" were targeted and questioned about the disappearances of women from the Downtown East Side.
Photo lineups were held, as well as surveillance and collection of DNA samples on potential suspects and witnesses.

The Pickton property was a bee-hive of activity with hundreds of people comign and going in the five years prior to the search warrant being conducted. Many people were there to do business, others to attend the parties held in "Piggy's Palace" by Willie and his brother Dave.

In May 2003, DNA was taken from a woman known to frequent the farm. She was shown photos police were interested in. One image was Pickton's, other were his brother and one of his friends. Pickton had evidently bragged to this 'friend' that junkies could be killed by injecting them with a syringe filled with windshield wiper fluid.) In addition, two women's pictures were identified. These women were arrested but not charged. Another "person of interest" was placed under surveillance after he had told police how Pickton killed sex-trade workers.

The Crown continues to insist that the murders were the work of "one man" (Pickton) although the task force continues to investigate his brother Dave who lived on the same property and was the one in charge of his brother and their business. Three other people have been arrested but so far not charged. One is a woman who will testify that she saw Pickton butchering a woman inside the slaughterhouse.

Pickton has been charged with killing 26 of the missing women. The task force continues to look for the remaining 38.

"This pitch, as ancient writers do report, doth defile; so doth the company thou keepest."
Shakespeare "King Henry IV" Part I. Act ii.




Friday, March 02, 2007

HOW AN ALERT R.C.M.P. OFFICER SOLVED AN OLD MYSTERY

I'm not a mystery or suspense writer but I enjoy reading about real-life cases. This Pig Farm murder case is shaping up to be the type of thing books are written about. And I can see more surprises in the near future. It's going to be interesting to see the outcome. My bets are on there are way more than one person (Willie Pickton) involved in this. I wonder what surprises the investigators and police will present to the jury? It's already been announced that the brother is under investigation for some of the many murders. That isn't such a surprise, though. It seemed pretty evident that he must have known and probably been in on it.

WEDNESDAY, March 1
An unsolved murder mystery dating back a dozen years has surprisingly become part of the Pig Farm investigation. Back in 1955 an RCMP officer in Mission B.C. was investigating the discovery of half a human skull, cut vertically but with unusual cut marks that didn't touch.
In 2000 the same officer was working on the investigation at the pig farm and found 3 more skulls, identically cut, reminding him of the unsolved case. Eventually other human bones were found on the farm that matched the DNA of the unidentified skull, a woman known only as "Jane Doe".

This officer should be commended for his dogged determination to eventually solve the Mission case. At one time he and his family actually moved near the site where the skull was found and he never gave up searching for clues.

Officers who attended the autopsies of women's body parts found in the freezer at the farm noted the way pig parts found in the freezers had been severed excactly like the human hands and feet. Pickton told investigators he often butchered pigs.

Today's trial disclosed that Pickton's brother Dave is still under investigation. He is the "brains" of the two brothers. Willie is noted as "slow" and is said to have always been under the dominations of his younger brother.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

DREAMING OF VENICE AND LOST LOVES

WEDNESDAY, Feb 28/07

It seems a little incongruous to be writing about exotic places and romance in the midst of my postings about the pig farm murders. But a little respite is necessary to provide a break from the darkness, like a ray of sunlight shining through storm clouds.

Lately I've been daydreaming about my trip to Venice. We're leaving mid-May to spend several days in that fascinating old city before heading by ferry to my second home, Greece. It's been fun watching videos and browsing through books about Venice, and planning what I want to see there. You can read some of my travel plans on my travel blog at
http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com

Recalling other lovely vacations I've had, I had been looking at some photos that were from my trips last summer. Some included my good friend Rosie when I visited her at Vernon, by the lake. Looking at the pictures prompted more happy daydreams of summertime and sunshine. And reminded me of how much I miss my friend.

That night I slept well and in my dreams I was visited by one of my lost loves, Hakki. It's been nearly 30 years since I last saw him. He was my Turkish lover who I spent a magical time with in Istanbul. I had met him here in Vancouver where he was in port on a ship he worked on as first engineer. We spent time together here and when he flew home to Turkey he'd invited me to visit him there. It was a beautiful romance. He was one of the most excellent men I've ever met in my life, and I will never forget him.

In the dream Hakki and I had a reunion in a large empty hall that sort of resembled the Sunday School hall of my dad's old church. In the dream he looked a bit different - his hair was longer and fairer. (He was a dark-haired man, olive complexion). It was a passionate reunion and even in my sleep I could feel the closeness of him, the great desire I always had for him. But just as we were about to be overcome by this erotic passion, a man (who seemed to be the pastor) came out of a room (like an office) and disrupted us. Later in the dream we were with other people who included my friend Rosie. We were watching a game of some kind (maybe soccer?) and he wanted to change places with the man next to him so he could see better, so he moved away from me. I remember feeling hurt, but realized he wasn't 'rejecting' me but just trying to enjoy the game. In the last part of the dream he was in bed asleep and I was sitting beside him gazing at him (he was such a lovely man!). I whispered something to him. He opened his eyes sleepily and smiled at me. End of dream. I woke feeling as if we had really spent time together and that warm, happy feeling stayed with me all day.

Later that evening, when I got home from my classes, there was a phone message from Rosie. I haven't seen her for several months and when I had been looking at the photos I realized how much I miss her. She said she was coming to town and asked if we could get together.

I have always been interested in the analysis of dreams. I thought about my dream of Hakki and the message from Rosie and remembered that she had been with me the night I met him. I had been depressed at that time after a breakup with my partner of five years, and she had convinced me to go dancing with her. At the disco a handsome dark-haired man asked me to dance. The moment we met I felt something for him and even before he told me his name, I knew it (although I thought "Akim" -- which later he told me was a name his grandmother called him.)
That night, meeting Hakki, changed my life.

So the connection, buried in my subconcious, had come back to me when I was thinking about Rosie.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

HISTORY IS MADE ON THE PIG FARM

Almost every day I ride the bus through the Downtown East Side where the missing women used to live and ply their trade on those desolate mean streets. I remember a time when I was a twelve-year old when I used to go down to that now infamous corner every weekend to the Carnegie Centre public library and museum. And later, when I was a teenager, fresh out of high school working as a copy-runner for the newspaper. I used to walk through there nearly every day, often going on errands to the police department. Those were the days when I wanted to be a crime reporter.

Now that area is so run-down and dangerous it is heartbreaking to see what is going on there. Buildings have been allowed to become run down to the point where they are uninhabitable, the homeless crowd the streets: cast aways, drug addicts, street people of all kinds. It's a blight on the city.
But what is being done to solve the problem? The BC Government just proposed $365 million for emergency shelters, rent supports and housing up to the year 2010 when the Olympics is going to be held here. They've also increased the income assistance by $50 a month.

Sounds good on paper, but the facts are "shelters" are just that. They are not 'homes'. And the extra $50 awarded to welfare recipients to cover expenses hardly covers what rentals are these days. This totals their monthly income to $375 a month plus support increases of $235. Total $610. for an employable person. Rents are at least $420 a month (and that's for a roach and bed-bug ridden room in a downtown east side hotel). That doesn't account for food, bus fares and daily living costs. And now the downtown low-cost hotels are evicting tenants so they can 'renovate' and raise the rents higher in order to cash in on the influx of people expected during the Olympics. This leaves an even more serious lack of affordable housing for the DTES residents creating more homelessness, more despair, more women like those who went missing, cast out onto the streets vulnerable to those who prey on them.

BACK ON THE PIG FARM:
FEB 23/07
The trial of the pig farmer continued this week with more disturbing evidence. The jury was warned about the troubling evidence and so in writing it, I will try to report it with as much tact as possible, without the graphic details.
The police officer who cried on the stand last week had good reason to shed some tears, as we all should over this hideous crime. When she investigated two garbage pails tucked away behind a wall and the pigpen, they were found to contain two halves of a human skull plus a hand and foot identified as belonging to victim Mona Wilson. There were also buckets containing animal remains. Pickton had bragged to an undercover cop that he disposed of bodies the same way as he did the pig remains ...by sending them to the rendering plant. (**alarms went out when, early in the investigation, police visited the rendering plant the Picktons did business with.) There were also freezers in the slaughterhouse containing butchered pigs.


The following day's testimony included reports of the police finding more inhalers and other papers belonging to Sereena Abotsway, a variety of saws, blades, knives, a nail gun and cartridges. There was also evidence (personal belongings ) found at the "Piggy Palace" nightclub the brothers operated on the property, and in parked cars, and near the house occupied by Mr Pig Man's brother as well as on some other property belonging to the brothers. They also found sex toys hidden under a mattress and in the closet of the brother’s bedroom.
More gruesome evidence was found in freezers.

Can it get much worse?
A CSI expert who was working at the scene made some very disturbing discoveries in two buckets in a freezer which contained the remains of Andrea Joesbury and Seerena Abotsway. The hand bone of Georgina Papin was found under the ground in the pigpen and Brenda Wolfe’s jawbone was found in a trough outside the slaughterhouse.
These remains all belonged to six of the twenty six women Pickton is charged with murdering. Because the electricity had failed on the farm, the detective had looked into the freezers where they found the thawed remains in a state of decomposition.

The detective related his findings to an unsolved case in Mission several years before where a half a skull had been found, sawed vertically just the same as those found in the freezer and pails on Pickton’s farm. The skull’s DNA matched that of a heel and rib bone found on the farm. So far this woman is unidentified.

The findings (there were many more) were so overwhelming the CSI expert ordered a massive search of the farm, hiring a small army of archaeology and anthropology students who manned conveyor belts looking for unusual items in the sifted soil.

The farm was divided into 216 grids, each measuring 20 sq. miles which were excavated to retrieve 383,000 cubic meters of soil during the search, which continued for more than 20 months. It became the largest crime scene investigation in Canadian history.