Coming to Terms With Gatsby: The Poor Boy Done Good, or What Have I Become?

“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.” ~ The Great Gatsby

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The world we live in is constantly moving; we are expected to keep up, to push harder, and remain on top of change. As celebrities like Philip Seymour-Hoffman kill themselves, Justin Bieber gets arrested for childish stunts and drinking cough syrup, and Bob Dylan lip-syncs a bad Chrysler commercial, I have to ask myself just what our lives are about in 2014. What can anyone hope to accomplish in an era when an overnight war can occur in EVE Online that costs the loss of virtual starships worth $500,000 in real-world money? What is the real anymore, anyways, anywhere?

June will find me in Bangalore, India. I will be participating in a Leader’s Quest workshop wherein participants will explore what it means to live in one of this planet’s most poverty-stricken, yet forward moving countries. We will examine not only the business relationships between corporations and people on the ground, but also attempt to gain an understanding of that that all means to an increasingly global world; a world where corporations are empire, governments are filled with clowns like Rob Ford, and people are left to either climb the ladder or fall off into the abyss. We can join forces with the corporation that best suits our personal aspirations, so that we may rise more quickly and reach the 1% before we are too old, too tired, too dead.

Which brings me to Gatsby….

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F. Scott’s Fizgerald’s literary character, Jay Gatsby, is one of my favourite examples of how we can strive to become a person different from the rest while keeping our eyes on what we are really in the game for. Perhaps you are in it for $100 bills (like Jay-Z asserts in his rap on the recent movie soundtrack) or just maybe you seek a love like Daisy. Regardless of the reason for cloaking your intentions, selling your soul, pandering your time to the gods of business, we each make a decision to become someone else. The best of us know when to either walk away or go all in; the rest of us are left on the highway strewn with the bodies of forgotten singers, politicians and actors.

So when you read about poor Justin Bieber or question Miley’s tongue to twist movements, or even reflect on why Indian call-centre workers leave the countryside to sit in cramped rooms for 17 hour shifts only to spend their money on Cristal and shiny objects at the nearby dance club, think about yourself. What have you sold? What have you done lately that meant more than the consumption of things you do not need?

For my own part…I still love Gatsby. I can always imagine myself one day owning a lavish mansion like the one I am standing in front of in New Orlean’s Garden District (Anne Rice’s former home). I can imagine owning a closet full of beautiful shirts on perfect hangers with space to breathe. I can hear the roar of my Porsche 911’s engine as I sink into the leather seats. I taste the finest Californian Cabernet Sauvignon next to my Kansas City porterhouse in New York City. I feel the weight of my silver rings as I strum the perfect G chord in Madison Square Garden where I play a few covers with Jack White the Third to close the show. I may only ever imagine such luxuries, but then, as Lorde asserts, I will always be “driving Cadillacs in my dreams.” Dreams are what keep us human, and make us better than greedy animals at the trough. Gatbsy had dreams, and so do I.

The imagination is what gets us through the mindless meetings, the drive-thru waits, the subway car that never comes and the random salesperson chatter when you just want to see what is new and now. What does Gatsby teach us? Why to never surrender your imagination, Old Sport. Never give in, never give up, never, ever give way.

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Eating Deeply in the Deep South: Memphis and Nashville

Food is foundational to everything else a traveller will experience in the southern United States of America. After food, music fills in the cracks to build three unique cities that I love. At the end of December we set out to Nashville on a flight from Toronto; our purpose was to experience as much music, food and fun that we could fit into the span of eight days. The journey would require a rental car, $600 in cash, a sense of humour, the acceptance that weight would be gained, beer would probably be consumed in an even ratio to the music heard, and a spirit of adventure to guide us along the path to enlightenment. Plans were few, experiences were open-ended.

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The first place we hit: Loretta Lynn’s Kitchen in Hurricane Mills. Why? The billboards just led us here – to a dive diner that seemed like countless others I had grown to love as a child in the 70s. The Kitchen was certainly from the 70s and had seen better days cosmetically. However, like Lynn herself, what is served up is a heaping plate of southern comfort. We clearly needed to go with the lunch buffet option, if only for the fried chicken and turnip greens.  The food was typically classic, southern homestyle cooking, and unlike the hundreds of fast food joints, this place felt real. Not for the faint of heart, but perhaps for those with a large appetite. We were off to a stellar start.

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Next up was Memphis, which was about four hours drive from the Nashville Airport. Memphis is not what you might expect from the birthplace of Blues, the home of Elvis Presley, and where Beale Street has you walking on a mythical strip of Americana. Memphis is a city in decline. Sun Studios, Graceland, The Lorraine Motel, and Beale Street are all great reasons for Memphis to be alive and kicking, but frankly the downtown core is empty, Beale Street is a parody of itself, and Elvis’s spirit has left every building in this town. Still, I loved it there. I loved it for the farmer’s market where we bought bread, milk, arugula and green beans (note: I also had to tell a man that his uncle, Dave Nichol, was now dead). I loved the Madison Hotel where we stayed. I loved the time we spent talking with people and listening to the Plantation All-Stars play an afternoon set that leaked into the night at Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall. Memphis has soul, but you can tell why it also owns the blues.

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We ate barbecue at Central BBQ, a popular greasy place where locals and tourists head in droves. We went with a combo plate that we shared – American portion sizes will kill a witless Canadian – and it worked out well. How did it compare to the restaurant we live across from, Electric Mud? Nope, not even close to being as good, but still, well worth the eating and time spent. Overall, Memphis was a lot of fun. I even enjoyed playing some Gibson guitars made at the local factory. B.B. King and Elvis would have been critical, but some things cannot be helped.

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Driving back to Nashville was another four hours, but we took our time to stop for dinner at a Texas Roadhouse chain restaurant (white gravy on my fried chicken), and to visit a lookout where migratory birds congregate. One thing I noticed was how little one sees when hurtling down various interstate highways. If we had had more time, then I would have taken the smaller routes so as to experience a bit more of Alabama and Mississippi. As it was, our eight hour trek from Nashville to New Orleans and back would tax my driving skills and ability to focus; in another life I would have preferred to split the drive by spending a night in Birmingham, Alabama.

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If there is one place to eat in Nashville, then it would have to be Edley’s BBQ in the 12 South district of the city. We randomly came across this place on our four mile walk past The Gulch. After playing a few sweet vintage guitars, being too scared to visit Third Man Records due to the adjacent homeless shelter, and realizing the hipster profile finds its way everywhere, we were turned onto the 12 South area by a clerk who sold us rings at my favourite silversmith: King Baby Studios. What is great about Edley’s? Cool atmosphere, laid back counter service, and a truly amazing beef brisket taco and Nashville’s trademark “hot chicken”. We loved it here, and were tempted to stop in on the way to the airport, but resisted with all of our might.

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Nashville is a different place in comparison to Memphis. It is a big city, with a big city feel. We were here to hear Old Crow Medicine Show perform at Ryman Auditorium, to sample the country music along the strip of bars on Broadway Avenue and to spend two nights at the luxurious Hutton Hotel. On all fronts, Nashville is a good city. Not my favourite by a long shot, but the music we heard at Ryman and Robert’s Western World was truly world-class. We had a great time in Nashville…except for The Slider House. I have to say this was the worst place I have attempted to eat at in a long time. We arrived, sat at a table for 10 minutes before being spoken to, waited another 15 minutes for our drinks to come only to be told that the waitress “lost our order, and now the kitchen was probably closed”. No apology, no drinks, no nothing. I walked out in a way that would have made my grandmother proud. Avoid this place. We did better at the Checker’s Drive Thru and Take-out.

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On the road again, and tired from our travels; we stopped at one of the restaurants in the Cracker Barrel chain. What a pleasant experience. A nice roaring fire, the most polite service, giant portions of southern cooking and the feeling like you were back in the “good old days” before the I-65 killed all of little towns and diners along America’s great roads. As I said, eight hours is a long drive to do in an afternoon, but at the end of the road was New Orleans. New Orleans: the reward for all of the time we give to other things just to get back here as often as possible. God, I love that town. Why? That is a whole entry onto itself…

The South: Deep Rivers, The Woods and Houses Haunted

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The South is a different place. It is greasy, barren, and hollow, but is also bursting with energy, rich with music and pregnant with possibility. The American states that make up the Bible Belt are filled with contradictions which renew my faith in human nature with every visit. Poverty runs rampant, but there are beautiful buildings in various states of disrepair that harken back to a better era. Music is a business in the South, but it is also a way of life; a voice that rises above the Mississippi to soothe the poor and forgotten.  Food ranges from comfort foods like grits and white gravy to quintessential flavour of the Creole-influenced Oyster and Absinthe Dome featured at Commander’s Palace. For our eight day trek we drove from Nashville to Memphis and back again, and then onto New Orleans through  Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Total time in the car was about twenty four hours of driving spread over the week, and while it was reasonable, I would have preferred to take stopover breaks in a place like Birmingham in hindsight.

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The purpose of this particular journey was founded in seeing Old Crow Medicine Show play their sold-out show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Through our love of bands like Mumford and Sons, Whitehorse and Johnny Cash, we found our way to the song “Wagon Wheel” and felt that it would be worth it to spend time and money tracing American music through the blues, jazz, rockabilly and country genres. Memphis was our first stop. Even I have to admit that it was pretty cool to walk along Beale Street, up Union Avenue and hear Marc Cohn’s lyrics from “Walking in Memphis” ring true. Perhaps following the ghost of Elvis out to Graceland was misguided (between the lines for the parking to take a bus to get a ticket to get on a bus to cross the street it would have taken us hours to follow believers through Elvis’ house – the best I could do was hit a gift shop to pick up a small gift for our dog-sitter and friend, Jennie); still, it was important to at least see the house from the road as we drove by twice to exit what is generally a poor, seen-better-days area. The King left that building many years ago.

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Sadly, The King and The Killer also left the tourist-traps of Beale Street and Sun Studio. Do not get me wrong, it was a privilege and fascinating experience to see the buildings where so much of American culture seeped into the walls. My father  would have loved to see the place where Elvis recorded “That’s Alright Mama” and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded “Great Balls of Fire”, but today Sun Studios is a tour bus depot. U2 may have recorded a few tracks there for Rattle and Hum, but really it is now a cafe that sells t-shirts and tacky gifts for your enemies or Bingo partner.

Beale Street was a different story. I doubt that it was ever more than what it is today: a strip of bars that provide booze for visitors and venues to play for people to make a basic wage. Our first night had us listening to an older couple singing random songs at Rum Boogie Cafe for a largely transient tourist group who would go from bar to bar until they had “hear it all”. Cover songs for those who need to hear the familiar and feel that it is new. The second night was much different: by 3pm The Plantation All-Stars had hit the stage of the Blues Hall (also owned by Rum Boogie and with whom a bathroom is shared). This was the blues incarnate. It was greasy, funky, smoke-infused and fun. There were no $3000 Gibson guitars or even a single instrument that was not rubber-banded together, but these boys could play set after set of blues standards inflected with their personality. I should also mention that they were a fully black quintet playing for a mixed audience. People who were black stayed for the first few sets until the white tourists moved in to take over for the white band that played the main set. We left with the Plantation All-Stars, but not before talking with a bass player who was transplanted from Chicago in his search for paying gigs. He was playing a Squire five string bass with four strings borrowed from a friend while his was “in the shop”. It was blues at its best, and we felt blessed to find it among the tourist traps. B.B. King’s was best left for a t-shirt purchase and a walk-by.

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Our dive back to Nashville had us stopping into Duck Bottom Reserve for a beautiful view of the river and a passing doe running from the path. Nashville was a sharp contrast to Memphis: there was money, there were vintage guitars, and it was all about the music business. From our walk along Music Row to our night listening to bands at Whisky Bent and Robert’s, it was clear who were the Nashville players and who were just filler bands that bars hire to support the whims of tourists seeking the “real” country music. If you are looking for songs by Brad Paisley, Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, then you might be in luck. If you seek George Jones, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard, then the digging will be difficult. Still, we found killer players at Robert’s. From Chris Costello and The B Squad to The Don Kelly Band’s set, we heard some of the finest picking and showmanship imaginable. I learned a Bible’s worth of tips on how to play music for an audience who is filled with rhinos only in town for “the football/basketball” game. As we stood in Ryman, the Mother Church of Country Music, to hear OCMS play hits and a few classics with their opener, Dale Watson and his Lone Stars, we knew that we had found the best traditional Country music we were going to find in this town these days.

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The end of the journey was New Orleans. NOLA is a city where it all comes together and nothing is ever as simple as it seems. It is the birthplace of jazz, the melting pot of music and food. It is a city where slavery began and ended, but also where the mix became a gumbo and forced America to become something new. For me, New Orleans is also where my loves come together: jazz, food, vampires and voodoo all meet in this city, and no matter what tourism masks it remains a magical town. We made a pilgrimage to Anne Rice’s former First Street Mansion, to Preservation Jazz Hall, the French Quarter, the Garden District, Bourbon Street, Magazine Street, and even walked along St. Charles all the way out to Audobon Park and Loyola University. The trees grew deep and sprawled into the sidewalks, and the magic still continues to seep from the air of what should be an destination for any traveller wanting to feel alive in a way unavailable any other place in the planet.

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Our journey took us from one place to another, but each stop in The South was part of a bigger picture. On the trek I carried my Hasselblad SWC camera with a CFV 16 digital back. Not a simple camera to drag through dodgy areas, but sticking it into a bag that I paid little attention to seemed to protect the $10, 000 worth of gear inside from being swiped. Using a camera like this for travel photography is challenging, but after the West Coast Trail where I shot fully with film, I decided to try out the SWC with a digital back for this trip. Given the super wide angle of the camera lens (38mm in medium format), this is not a snapshot camera. The idea was to shoot scenes that represented the journey in a manner that would always remind me of the best moments even if they were not the ones featured in the shot.  The resolution is astounding on the digital back, and surpasses what I can scan with my Epson scanner. The challenges remain: expensive to break or lose, the mechanical shutter and the trigger cabe do not always signal the back to expose the sensor, the lcd screen is good for nothing other than basic exposure, the sensor is cropped compared to film, and with the SWC focus is tough as it has no mirror. Worth the hassle? I believe so, but I would never take this combination outside of a city or controlled atmosphere. It would require a completely different H5D or Phase One camera to even consider such work. Still…an amazing series of photographic moments from a perfect adventure through the deep south.

More photos will follow, as will more thoughts on specific restaurants and experiences we had along the way.

Studio Photography and Cookware Products

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Work is never dull when you love what you do. I may not always be enthusiastic to begin a photography session when turnaround times are short and my day job is hectic, but I never forget how fortunate I am to be a working photographer with regular clients who offer me a wide variety of challenges. The latest selection of products had me working three nights to capture white backgrounds for a catalogue, a collection of four hero shots for product boxes, and a follow-up to last year’s highly successful NatureTrust Pan campaign. Despite a few moments of frustration with a jammed camera and fitting products into the frame, I feel like this series continues to show my best work to date; cookies, bundt cake, spiral veggies and a sausage based meatloaf all made it from my oven into the image frame.

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 9.30.55 AMFor this session I solely used my Hasselblad 501 CM with a  CFV 16 digital back. As a studio camera, this combination gives me an amazingly smooth depth of field,  and dynamic range compared to my Canon dslr. The tough part is that it does take time to set up the shot in a square frame, especially larger items such as the cookie pan. A large part of my set-up involved choosing the right focal length for my lens; for these four products I moved between the Hasselblad CFi 80mm and the Cfi 120mm lenses. I may have also used a CB 60mm lens, but I forget exactly which shot it was used on. Overall, it was a few days well spent, especially when it comes to paying the costs for our upcoming adventure from Nashville to Memphis to New Orleans. During that time I expect to shoot with the Hasselblad, but am not sure if the back will use film or digital. The CFV is pretty terrible without full light, but on the SWC body it may deliver a unique collection landscape and places.

For My Next Trick: Christmas, Photography and The Deep South

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Time can simply slip away. The Fall was a time of work, illness and recovery. As I sit in the Faculty Room drinking a cup of coffee, reading a copy of Kinfolk Magazine and reflecting on how much my life has altered since the year previous, I cannot help but smile. Christmas is my favourite time of the year, and for the first time since I was a child I am really looking forward to the little things, the smells and sounds of family. Satisfaction will come from letting go of the digital world in favour of spending time cooking traditional foods, roasting chestnuts on a charcoal grill, setting a home-made pudding ablaze with brandy, roasting a goose worthy of Dickens [and then using the fat for Parisian potatoes; the debris will make a fine cassoulet to soothe the soul].

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Paderno has sent along a few boxes of cookware to photograph this week. It will be the first paying gig I have done this Fall, so my mood will be excited to work with the medium again. In fact, my entire weekend will be a flurry of activity as I wrap presents, invite friends to the first official dinner at the new place, photograph product, see a play and musical bands. All the while, knowing that shortly ahead lies smooth sailing until after the New Year. Like a long yoga stretch, this weekend will be painful, but will feel great immediately afterwards.

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I shaved my beard. For the past year I committed to growing a solid beard, and for the past year it felt right. Last night, it felt the time had come to shed my skin, to clean the palette for the next stage of life. It was a good experience, and I remain committed to growing my hair out. I think every man should know the power of what a beard and long hair feels like; I also know that settling in to either of those modalities long-term defeats their purpose: identity masks and enhancements.

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This will be my first Christmas without my father. I know it will be a hard time for my family on Prince Edward Island. I also know that ghosts will populate this time of year [Dickens made certain of that post Christmas Carol]. It will be what it will be, and perhaps the greatest gift that I can offer is to honour the idea of family even though I cannot be home with what remains of mine. This will be a year of music, candlelight, games, communal food preparation, and cozy moments reflecting over a warm hot chocolate.

Post-Christmas has us in Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans for a week. I love the south in the winter months, and by renting a car we can explore the landscape beyond the hotel/restaurant scene. Our time will be an odyssey from country music to blues to jazz; from BBQ to Creole. There might also be a gorgeous banjo in the works from Santa Claus; it might be a Wildwood Exotic made in Bend, Oregon by little elves. I am very excited about this possibility, and expect to spend a lot of time in the next six months working on little things.Dakota Tavern

Santa may given us an early surprise last week; Luke Doucette from our favourite band, Whitehorse, at Dakota Tavern. NQ Arbuckle was playing a gig, we felt like braving the cold weather to see a live show, and much to our joy fellow stable-mate from Six Shooter Records, Luke, rose from the crowd to play a blistering guitar solo. I may have embarrassed myself by mentioning to him how much I would love to photograph Whitehorse and that I saw them on a plane from Calgary this summer – but hey, I was polite and genuinely appreciative to say a few words to one of my favourite musicians. The show was killer; if you get a chance to see NQ Arbuckle, then it is worth the effort this cold, cold winter.

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The plum pudding was made last week: super-rich concoction of Grande Marnier-soaked fruits, eggs, challah crumbs and Balvenie Scotch. Tradition is just one of those ideas that can make our lives have meaning and ritual. While plum pudding has never been a tradition for my family on Prince Edward Island, the idea of it has always appealed to me, so as I construct new traditions with new family this holiday season I wanted a well-made pudding to become part of that.

The Mockingbird Session: Photography For Darren Eedens

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Getting down to business is difficult for the best of us; making a solid living in any business these days is starting to sound like a country song: “can’t pay my bills, no food for my table, hope you got a way forward cause I just ain’t able.” Fortunately, I am quite able to take care of the tasks required to make a go of it in the big city. I have been able to forge a superb career as an educator at one of the best schools in Canada so the bills do get paid on a regular basis. It never hurts that I also work hard towards becoming a better photographer just in case those bills slip out of control due to unforeseen circumstances. Photography is my art form that I could fall back on in times of need.

One of my favourite aspects of photography is that I am able to work with musicians. Music is a major force in my life, and I know how hard professional musicians have it in these days when bars seldom pay bands to play, and when the tip jar is filled at the mercy of a drunken audience. Musicians provide the soundtrack of our memories. My best memories have come from my past year of living in downtown Toronto, and many of my favourite soundtrack scenes have been scored by local banjo evangelist, Darren Eedens. Working on a new set of promo photographs with Eedens was last night’s business.

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Finding ways to shoot compelling portraits is always a challenge. The hard part is not physically taking the photo, but rather finding a way to convey the personality of the subject while still creating a mythical persona is the obstacle. Great photography takes elbow grease and a sense of humour.

For Darren’s session, I wanted to reflect the musician whose music brought me close to the love of my lifetime, while not being so personal that these shots could not be used for simple promo posters as he travels across Europe in the Spring. I needed a few shots where there is negative space that could be filled with text about a show, I needed a few up close portraits that could be used online or in a magazine, and I wanted a few 4×5 film shots for my portfolio and that would stand out from what millions of others in the business have in their kit.

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For my first few shots I simply wanted to make Darren feel comfortable with the camera. No small feat when one never knows what the other person is going to hope for, how he is going to dress, and whether photography sessions are old hat for the subject. These shots are good, usable and were generally easy to take technique-wise.

My second set were taken with the Hasselblad CFV 16 medium format back. As one can see from the smooth tones and photographic quality of the first shot, the CFV excels at portraits. I shot tethered to my Macbook Pro with an 80mm f.2.8 CFi lens, and was able to crank out one shot every three seconds with my Profoto D1 lights. It is the type of photograph that stands up against anything else in this genre. It has depth, the lines of the shirt and tattoos flow beautifully, and the eyes betray a million words of love gone wrong and riding the rails.

The third set was shot in 4×5 tim with my 1960s Linhof large format camera. I won’t have those developed until next week, but I expect them to be photographs on a whole other level. The best part of the night was a ten minute jam in the key of G with Eedens on banjo while I banged out a blues on my Martin guitar. The ProTools recording is absolutely beautiful, especially given that microphones were haphazardly set up and we had no plan to even play. Moments like that make work worth the effort.

I labelled last night the Mockingbird Sessions; mockingbirds mimic the songs of others in an attempt to find love. On our morning walk with the dogs we came across a pair outside of the studio, so the message was clear and fortuitous. All creatures sing for different reasons; some for love and others for money.

The West Coast Trail, Cod with Bacon, and A Touch of Pneumonia

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According to my doctor, I have both bronchitis and pneumonia. My day was spent in an antibiotic haze, and the simplest of actions left me pretty exhausted. Time in bed gives one time to reflect on what matters, what is beautiful and the fragility of our health. If I can be knocked down by bacteria for 6 weeks when I am at the peak of health, what can happen to people who eat only processed junk food from the microwave or who watch TV instead of going for a run? When I get sick I also remember other times when I have had close calls while on the road: unable to breathe from congestion in the Peruvian Amazon, unable to keep anything inside my body at the base of the Egyptian Nile, projectile vomiting from a camel in the Sahara and coming home with a parasite from India. Some guys have all the luck…and then there is me.

Tomorrow I might be told that a new travel opportunity is going to be given to me; I might be told that it is not. Regardless, as I lay in the comfort of my safe bed I am struggling with the idea of travel, its dangers, its beauty. For the first time in my life I have people and experiences that I fear losing should I become sick and not come home. It is a revelation to realize that I may not want to accept an experience at any cost. However, I also realize that courage is key to human happiness, that without risk nothing of value can be achieved, and that one could just as easily die while watching television as hiking through the wilderness or negotiating a third world city. What’s it going to be then, eh?
West Coast TrailToday, I crept from the bed to scan two photographs. I had a wicked headache and needed to do one thing to take my mind off of the body. When I look at the photographs that I have captured of our West Coast Trail experience, I feel proud that I was able to take risks and make it through the 78km without injury. I can see the beauty I saw for seven days, and I can see what I accomplished by challenging myself beyond my comfort level. New York City or Tokyo may be exciting, but the forest and the shoreline offer much more to our inner imaginations and peace.

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What do you feed yourself when riddled with infection? I needed comfort food and Coca-Cola. I hate drinking pop these days, but when I am sick like this I just need it to get through. To balance things out I opted to avoid canned soup or tuna sandwiches. I cooked a sumptuous dinner of celery root mash, bacon, mushrooms, green beans, and panko-crusted cod. Dinner may have wrestled the last of my energy from me as I prepared the food, but I know that if I am to make it through the first few days of antibiotics, then I need real food inside my body to support the bacteria warfare happening inside my lungs and head. I chose bacon and cod because my mother always prepared salt cod with bacon. I hated it unless there were gobs of Miracle Whip to kill the fishy flavours. To transform those ideas into something palatable I decided to coat the frozen cod filets in Japanese panko crumbs and bake them in the oven. The result is a clean flavour with substance that warms nicely against the comforting potato-celery root mash. I had a hard time stomaching the food due to the Biaxin, but antibiotics need time to deal with the bacteria, so I did the best I could.

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On other fronts, I have been exploring the history of the Dust Bowl era, the music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and traditional folk. Perhaps the ideals are a little hipster these days, but singing tunes like “Old Dan Tucker”, “Goodnight Irene”, and “Mary Don’t You Weep No More” has brought me a lot of joy these past few weeks. Like the cod dinner, there is something so uplifting about going back to one’s roots to re-envision what you came from so that it makes you happy forty years later. I will never forget listening to traditional music in our car every Saturday. The “Hoedown” played on the radio and I knew the music of Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Tanya Tucker, Loretta Lynn and others off by heart. The old-time tones of “Oh Susanna”, “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain” and “Tom Dooley” played off vinyl through our tube hi-fi system. I had music surround me even though no one in my family could play anything.

For Christmas this year I have asked Santa Claus for a very special instrument that I found at The Twelfth Fret in Toronto. Unlike any other instrument, this particular one felt like an old friend even though I have had no experience playing  one. I feel like this may be my last big personal gift for a while, as I have new plans for my near future, so I want to make certain that I get what I want while I can. If tradition and family are what makes us happiest, then perhaps this will become a big part of my contribution to that in the years to come. Until then, let us see how to conquer and vanquish the pneumonia.