My impressions of SOLAR, a novel by Ian MacEwan.


I always wondered what an “unreliable narrator” in fiction sounded like. I think the protagonist of SOLAR might be an unreliable narrator, although the main character described everything from his point of view, so was he really unreliable? Was he not just honest about his feelings and thoughts?

This character, Michael Beard, a nasty little character, would be even more awful as a person if the author had made his deliberations obvious lies, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. As it is, I had already trouble to finish the novel about Beard and his machinations, due to this character’s cerebral personality, his rational mind, and his unethical conduct, among others, his duplicity and his lies to the people in his world. I put the book aside a few times in disgust.

Because as a writer, I have to become an accomplished reader of literature in a broad variety of genres in creative writing, I forced myself into giving the novel another try—three times. To give myself a break from MacEwan’s novel, I was reading another book at the same time, a story written in the completely different genre of magical realism: Luis Alberto Urrea’s novel, The House of Broken Angels.

I struggled through and finished MacEwan’s novel yesterday. The novel’ is written in the third person, of the voice of the main character, Michael Beard. He is what we now would call the typical #metoo male, a member of the group of males whose bad behaviours accumulated into the #metoo movement. Beard is a white-privileged male, full of himself, abusive and exploiting women, unable to really allow any charity towards women or men, or even have a bit of empathy for his wives, and with just possibly only the tiniest speck of attachment to his three-year-old daughter after failing to coerce his lover into an abortion. Especially because the character Beard was described as an unattractive and fat man, I could not suspend my disbelief that such a toady pig was able to attract the interest of these beautiful women—very beautiful, and not even professional entertainers/call girls—except his last lover.

I am not sure what the benefit was for me of reading this novel, except how to learn to exactly and precisely use language to express an idea. I am not sure if the emotional work reading it was worth it. I have known many like this type of man and do not like them, have no affinity with them, and do not want to spend any time in their presence. During my dating time, I met them and they didn’t get a second date. I don’t care if they are talented, rich, or famous. Who needs them?

And yet, Michael Beard was able to fuck a large number of women and marry/shack up with five, without so much as losing half of his assets in divorce proceedings. That makes me identify the character of Michael Beard as an unreliable narrator, as in real life he would be quite poor after 5 divorces/separation agreements, let alone have his lovers want him so unapologetically and desperately. It is his DREAM world if truth be told. I read one other novel by him and had the same experience: Enduring Love.

SOLAR is meant to be a satirical work about one man’s greed and self-deception, the flap states. Maybe it is satirical for a man to read about Michael Beard, the embodiment of a man’s desires, but I’ll pass any other of MacEwan’s works from now on. Life is too short for that aggravation. Ans yet, he is a well-liked and prolific author, I suppose with mostly male readers, but I might be wrong.

I would like to hear what you think and welcome your comments.



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The new Rowcliffe Park is open at 6 am till 11 pm. I have planted the garlic and watered my five-by-eight-foot garden this morning by seven-thirty on this beautiful Sunday morning, with only one other gardener working in the community garden. We have a brief chat and I say goodbye to Ursula. As I make my way to the gate and onto to cement walkway intending to walk back to my condo on the other side of the park, a man on rollerblades whizzes by on the trail with his black lab running free on the field beside him. I call out to him, “You are supposed to have your dog on a leash.”


As he speeds off he calls back but I can’t hear every word, although I understand from the tone he doesn’t agree with me.

The concrete park trail loops in a circle around the perimeter of the new park with a soccer-field-sized grassy field in its centre. I continue walking as the man blades and his dog runs ahead of me, the distance between us increasing fast. Another dog walker enters the park, a young lady with a beige, fluffy lapdog. I decide to follow the man and have a word with him about the dog rules of the park. Ahead of me his dog squats. The man picks up its product and then takes off his rollerblades, and puts his dog on its leash.

While he is doing that, I catch up to him, and I walk the path with him.

“Can I ask you how come you have your dog off-leash in the park, while you are walking past the off-leash park?”

The man is looking at me with a scowl on his face angry and barks, “How can I do that on my blades?”

“Well, you’ll have to put him on the leash when you are rollerblading through the on-leash park,” I insist.

He doesn’t see the logic and replies petulantly, “Why would I do that when there’s nobody in the park?”

As if he is a child, for goodness sake.

“There is always somebody else in the park, and the rules make sense,” I reply.

Fact is, about every five minutes I see a resident entering the park to walk one, or two dogs, as I sit and watch during the day from my third-floor deck overlooking the park entrance. Since I moved into my building, I already met the various owners with their 5 dogs on my unit’s corridor, and that only represents half of my floor and I haven’t even met all of my floormates yet. There is another wing on the other side of the elevators. Let’s just say for a rough estimate, they have 3 dogs, that makes in total 8 dogs on my floor. On four stories, that adds up to 32 dogs for my building. Two buildings of each 4 floors, roughly make already 64 dogs in my Mission Group development only. There are a number of apartment buildings adjacent to the park, probably with dog owners as well.

Another fact is, that runners use the walkway for their work-out, and bicyclists, roller skaters, skateboarders, and mothers with toddlers and strollers, and many residents walk the trails in the evenings. Not all may like dogs. An unleashed dog is more threatening than a leashed one, especially a large dog or of the more dangerous breeds. He was able to not even complete one round on the circuit before a girl with a dog on a leash entered the park.

Anyway, to get back to the conversation, the man gets louder and exclaims, “But I put him on the leash when I saw her.”

I reply: “That makes no difference, she was already on the trail. You should take your dog to the off-leash park for a free run, and if you want to rollerblade leave your dog at home. Those are the rules. There are a lot of people with dogs here and the rules are put in place for a reason.”


“Why would I want to pass up on a little bit of fun with nobody around, and what are you going to do about it?” He gets louder and louder as we walk along and he keeps walking along with me. He was calling me nobody. Wrong decision.

I decide to take up the challenge with this child-man. Nothing changes when bystanders keep their mouths shut. It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it. The rest of the residents here seem to prefer to turn their heads away. That didn’t work so well during the years prior to and during the Nazi takeover, when millions were carted off without so much as an attempt from the regular citizens—their neighbours—to stop the Nazis in Germany. Too stark a comparison, you object? Well, look at what is happening in our neighbouring country down south where many and mostly white male Republicans stay quiet and look the other way. Enough said.


“There are rules that everybody needs to follow and you too. I have seen you before letting your dog run without a leash. I could report you to the city for breach of the dog bylaw. The other day, I just about stepped on a big turd in the middle of the field,” I stubbornly go on.

“That’s not from my dog,” he shouts. “I always pick up, I even pick up for somebody else. And how can you report me? You don’t know me.”

“That’s very good of you,” I say generously. “At least you show some community spirit with picking up for others. Good for you. I do that too. I clean up here when people leave garbage behind. Still, you need to stick to the rules. And by the way, I can find out where you live by following you.”

Oh, Oh, that made him really mad.

Now he is considering whether he should hit me with his rollerblades. The dog beside him on the leash lets out a low growl. The man is white with dirty-blond sparse hair, between 25 and 30 years of age, and of similar size of my five feet and a couple of inches, as his eyes are at my level, and he keeps solid eye contact with me. As we keep walking next to each other, he regains but his eyes are wonky with anger.

“What about I follow you home,” he says, proud of himself for having thought of that reply.

“Why would you want to do that? I’m not breaking any rules,” I reply calmly.

Then he loses it. “You, cunt, you, miserable cunt, you spoil it for everybody,” he yells.

“Oh, so now we are getting into name-calling. It won’t make a difference to me.” I reply without any idea how to end this spat.

“Yes, I am calling you a cunt, and you are making me,” he yells.

Once more I reply before I turn to my stairs going to the upper level of the development. “If you won’t leash up your dog, you’ll be in trouble.”

He turns around and makes the distance between us greater in a hurry to get home, as I go up the stairs to my building.
I exhale a big sigh of relief. That problem is solved, for now. As I am rounding the corner and enter the back door of my building using my fob, I ponder about this man-child’s responses. I wonder why these man-children—white males, like all the other men with their dogs off-leash where they shouldn’t be—are so hell-bent on breaking the rules that others seamlessly apply to their lives.

What makes them so special that they think the rules don’t apply to them? What made this man so angry when a woman of a certain age reminded him of his unexceptional status as one of the many users of the park? Did he never hear no in his childhood, or too many times so he couldn’t breathe? Was he abused and fighting free of that past or just an omnipotent child with an inept parent who couldn’t set boundaries? Who knows.

I put my past job as a social worker behind me and am now just a community member with a voice, and not willing to hand over my one-person-power to anybody. When bullies are not stopped, their improper conduct will continue and may even escalate. As a responsible community member and a consumer of the park’s amenities, I do my citizen’s duty and don’t rely on others to do that for me. Stubborn you say? Yes.


The off-leash park is the yellow (clean woodchips) area in the background.

I go home hoping that this sensitive soul with his special dog needs eventually finds out that he could teach his lovely black lab to run beside him on the leash like I’ve seen other men on bikes do. Well-aware of the Bystander Effect, I am glad I didn’t cave or cower to his belligerent conduct.  We will see if, and how this confrontation will change his behaviour in the next while.


The person in the photos is on a cell phone, as doggie is waiting for the frisbee to be thrown.

Since that day I have been paying closer attention to dog walkers and noticed that four out of six dog owners leave their dogs unleashed when they take it out in the park for their business. Rush hour is at 4:30 pm. None of them continue on to the off-leash park, only a few steps down the path. Why should they? The whole park is open to them, or so they seem to think. Will holding a leash make them less manly than pretending they can control a dog with their voice? And they must think the new park and all that gorgeous green space and flowerbeds are just constructed just for them.  And yes: these a..holes are all male and white.


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The trend for developers (also encouraged by town councils) is to build more high-density structures and encourage living inside city centres to accommodate the residential growth, instead of sprawling out into the suburbs. The benefits of this energy-efficient and more European life-style are well-known by now.


View from the development (my third-floor deck) across to Rowcliff Street.


For me, the move to my new condo offered the option to rent out (as I overwinter elsewhere), the benefits of the environmentally responsible construction standards (LEED), and the cleanliness and low maintenance of a brand-new flat. I am delighted that I could afford a new place for the first time in my seventy years of life. For most Canadians, not such a big thing, but as a European-raised person, housing is an altogether different ball game. I lived in urban, century-old, brick or concrete houses that are renovated endlessly, and mostly rentals fall under extensive rental subsidy programs, administered by municipal cooperatives.
A bonus benefit is my cost of living here in my Central Green unit: half of what I paid at my 30-year old condo, and I gladly gave up my gas stove for an electric one and the swimming pool. The latter was only usable during 3 months of the year anyway and at certain times of the day, when most residents and their (grand)children were watching TV, in bed, or not yet up.


So, how is living in this very high-density part of the city on a daily basis?

No age restrictions make this Central Green development indeed an experiment. As far as I can tell, residents are mostly young urban professionals, young couples with children, and many singles and couples—retired folks, and about a third have up to 2 dogs of any size. I see a variety of non-white residents or from other nationalities. Although most seem to be owners, a number of residents appear to be renters, sharing rooms. The odd penthouse seems still empty for most of the year, possibly used as a pied-a-terre for a rich owner, and some units seem to be used as Airbnb rentals, although technically, a short-term rental is against the strata bylaws. We have rather strict bylaws, a plus, in my view.


I like quiet environments. Considering the many people living in the roughly 300-plus residences in 5 four-story buildings within almost touching distance, the neighbourhood is surprisingly quiet. With the sunny season here and the adjacent 2-acre park completed, many people are using it now, and the city’s existing off-leash dog park is operational again. I am surprised at how quiet their recreation is. Of course, there’s always the odd misfit who likes to stir things up, but recently, strata management has hired a person for the three Mission Group buildings to coordinate a unified approach to any problems occurring.

In spite of being on the corner of a very congested main highway leading right through the city, the traffic is less of an acute noise problem here than at my former home when sitting on my deck. Certainly, during the daytime, the general din of a city with all of its noises hovers in the air but can be easily ignored. The drawback is the more frequent noise of sirens from ambulances and police cars racing by on Harvey, but knowing they are on their way to saving someone or catching a suspect, makes it alright. Inside my unit, all is quiet.


A reluctant driver, I now park the car, as I can walk everywhere for my daily needs. In case of future disability, my new condo has no stairs inside my unit, has double elevators, and all amenities are accessible by wheelchair.

After my immigration to Canada, I lived in freestanding houses and even on a lovely acreage once or twice. What your neighbours do, doesn’t affect you that much in that situation. Only once before, my home was located in an apartment building, where I was chased out by all the (elderly) smokers living around me, who thought I shouldn’t complain as they lived in a free world and they had the right to spoil my environment. It drove me batty! That selfish attitude about smoking is a no-no in my new development, where an all-inclusive no-smoking bylaw is in effect prohibiting smoking everywhere, even on decks/patios.


So, all of this sounds great, right?

Living closely together in Central Green, I have definitely discovered more about the polite, quiet and respectful born-Canadians. Full disclosure: I am a naturalized Canadian citizen but was raised and lived half of my life as a Dutch citizen, and culturally am still more Dutch than Canadian. Before now, I had an inkling about born-Canadians and their habits from observations here and there but these impressions were more anecdotal, defying a distinct pattern.
The pressure cooker of living close together makes me (and others) alert of when another breaks the rules. You can look away, or take note. I value rules and abide by them, now that I am past my youthful, rebellious behaviour when rules are broken to learn one’s boundaries, but I will still protest rules that are not valid or unjust. For example, I can’t ignore it, when somebody in another building loudly plays his music sitting on his patio with his rock music blaring into space for the second day in a row. Even with my doors and windows closed, I couldn’t hear the dialogue of the episode of Big Little Lies I was watching.
It reminds me of my days living in my three-story block of a densely populated blue-collar neighbourhood in Amsterdam. One reacted and communicated readily with neighbours and others in the street, even sonce topping a man hitting his girlfriend on the sidewalk, but not here in Canada, where I have to suffer through it and be quiet. Confrontation is so not-Canadian.
Of course, when I gently confronted the noisy man by handing him a pair of earbuds while stating that not everybody likes his music, and that didn’t have the desired effect, I filed a complaint through the formal channels with the management company.


The red building shows the back of the Friendship Centre’s supported living apartments.

Maybe I should make a distinction between the older and the younger Canadian generations because minor changes between generations are how society progresses and sheds old, redundant attitudes. For the first time in a long while, the baby-boomer generation is pushed aside by the younger, larger generation of gen-X-ers and millennials, and they may affect a major, societal shift in Canada. On the other hand, generations do not differ that much from each other, and the children as they mature generally adopt most of their parents’ values and attitudes. As a person of a certain age, I can confirm this for my own mixed Dutch-Canadian family, and I witness my poor child’s struggles to be either or both. So, for the purpose of this blog post, I will not make a distinction between generations.



This is part of my family, the youngest girl is me; my elder brothers had left home by that time.


I should limit my generalizations to the circles I know best: white, middle-class born-Canadians. My experiences with the members of First Nations, non-white Canadians, and recent arrivals to Canada were different. They were willing and eager to debate the issues in their worlds with me.


The Rowcliff community garden with Kariss’ apartments behind it.


What’s the use of generalizations?

a. As with any generalizations, there are exceptions to the rule. You, reader, might be the exception. I do not mean to insult anybody, these are just my observations.
b. In Canada as an overwhelmingly Christian nation, the Bible is a familiar guide for behaviour. One of the admonitions of Mathew points out that we cannot see the log in our own eye but see the speck of sawdust in the other’s eye. In other words, hypocrisy rules. Although I realize I might not make any friends with expressing my observations, Canadians who recognize some of the generalizations below may appreciate becoming (more) aware. What you do with that is up to you.
c. My own motivation for writing and generalizing is to heal myself and develop further as a person by analyzing the reasons why I sometimes feel a stranger in this land after some negative responses to me and my Dutch ways.


The adjacent development in the background: Kariss’ supportive living units and another townhouse development of Mission Group next to it.


Human social behaviour is an expression of underlying beliefs. (

• Canadians may consider a rule, bylaw, or posted signage merely a suggestion for behaviour. They seem to think that a bylaw can be breached if they so desire or when more convenient to do so. This seems to apply especially to white males. The surprise on their faces when I dared remind someone of a strata rule is priceless. (Some of the bylaws: no smoking inside including on patios/decks, and outside we have a no-smoking bubble of 7.5 m. (CG2) or 10 m. (CG1) around the building, no dogs off-leash, pick up after your dogs, garbage in the appropriate bins, no (barking) dogs left alone in a unit, quiet time is from 10 pm to 7 am.) One person questioned my authority to speak up with: “Are you working here or something?” I replied, “No, I live here,” to which she had no reply. I saw: a resident of my building walking up to the back door and put their smoke out by the entrance in the cement planter box. Others let their dog poo by the back exit and didn’t it clean up. I found dog poo in the garage more than once. I heard dog waste was found in the elevator too.

The brand-new Rowcliff Park adjacent to the development has posted pictograph signs at its entrance as well:  an outline of a dog with a diagonal red stripe through the image, which I think means dogs must be on a leash, an image of a cigaret with a red stripe, (no smoking), and an image of a pup tent with the red stripe: no camping.
A couple let their dog run off-leash on the park grounds, even with the presence of the separate, fenced, off-leash dog park adjacent, imagining to be the Duke and Dutchess of Rowcliff, and the park established just for them. I almost stepped on a big turd when I crossed the sports field, walking to the garden this morning. I know who it was, and this male also regularly smokes while walking in the alley within a couple of meters from homes to their ground floor unit. Others smoke on their decks or as they enter the park. It’ll just be a matter of time before tents will appear in the park.
I stopped a boy of around 8 years old from beating on his pup. His parents are never there and gave the boy the responsibility for letting their puppy of mixed bulldog/pit-bull breed out on his own all week. That’s all we need: a mean pit-bull.

So far, nobody has hit me yet after delivering my comments, although my daughter begged me not to tell the loud neighbours, who were drinking and smoking on the patio across the walkway, to turn down the music. The overall strata rule that nobody is allowed to interfere with another resident’s enjoyment of their unit, more than captured that situation, I explained to her.


Adjacent to the Mission Group townhouse development is an older rental building visible, and next to it is the Friendship Centre’s supported housing development (green and red) and to the right, the Central Green 2 building with a gap between it and the Central Green 1 building, with a view toward Knox Mountain through the gap. Behind Central Green 1 & 2 are two rental buildings from Al Stober Development adjacent to Harvey/Highway 97. In the distance, the tower of Mission Group under construction is visible on the corner Lawrence/Ellis across Harvey.


• Canadians seem reluctant to individually take responsibility for their community, and leave it to hired staff to enforce the rules, instead of reminding others. Go along to get along, is the motto. Their behaviour is much like Americans, but politer: each out for their own interest—ultra individualists. I saw that play out in the community garden. I was disappointed finding out that one (male) member of this small gardening community took the garden soil out of my plot next to theirs in my absence, instead of taking a few extra steps to get it from the excess heap, with my plot ending up short of dirt. After day 1, the composted heap for general use was left behind in a mess, as people just dug into without care and spilled much of it on the newly graveled path, from where it cannot be easily removed without picking up pebbles—unsuitable for the garden. We are now on day 3 after the plot allocation. We will see how that sense of community develops—or not—throughout the growing season.


The Rowcliff leash-free dog park.


• Canadians are very sweet, sensitive people, priding themselves on their politeness and their ability to accommodate others without aggression. I admire them (us) for that. The other side of the coin is that, in contrast with the louder and more aggressive Americans, Canadians also appear to feel self-conscious as the “lesser” cousin. One of the results of a perceived lack of competency or the aversion to conflict might be a lack of ability to assert themselves, and they appear to be somewhat repressed, risk-averse, with a lack of passion. I’ve heard Americans say: boring. The Canadian motto is: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.


URBANA the last and third building of Mission Group at Central Green, corner Richter and Harvey, still under construction.

• If Canadians feel uneasy or are challenged in some way, their discombobulation might come out as a display of passive-aggressive behaviour. Ever so politely formulated, the rebuke is nevertheless clear and final. If not able to ignore the object of their uneasiness, a Canadian will switch the subject of conversation as a favourite strategy, rather than stating that they don’t want to discuss the issue further, or engaging in a direct confrontation. Taking their share in an interesting debate on a controversial issue is a skill that not many possess—or like—and as a rule, walk away from.

• Canadians consider politics to be a private affair, keeping their leanings a secret. Their prescription for the polite company is: no discussion about politics, sex, and religion. This social dance Canadians perform so well, in fact, prevents the exploration of different views. To most, a debate seems to make them uncomfortable, it’s unfamiliar territory. It is very hard to get to know a Canadian. Their deepest beliefs and desires remain a mystery, as polite chitchat about their travels become the preferred strategy in social situations. Of course, liberal use of alcohol may put a dent in their armour, and then surprises can happen. This is one of the things I miss most of my country of birth, where debate and political awareness is highly appreciated and practiced.


• Canadians live segregated in silos—groups of like-minded of similar economic or social status. Beyond their silo, life may become more complicated and could challenge their social skills. This segregated way of life is how this nation of immigrants and refugees survived their deprivations and dangers as they settled in groups in the new country—safety within the group. The early settlers passed on this unspoken attitude of self-protection from generation to generation. These separate silo communities live together as a collection of sub-communities, each living politely next to the other without a wish to mix: “never the twain shall meet”. (Rudyard Kipling, 1892, lamenting the gulf of understanding between the British and the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent.)

• More than any European nation, modern Canadians still frequently move to where the work is and then are forced to find a new silo to fit them. They are good at that, and they seem to readily suck up the losses of leaving nurturing relationships behind that goes with frequently packing up and moving. Like political emotions, grief is suffered in silence. Canada is a diverse nation according to the mosaic model, in which cultural differences are seen as a strength—as long as the “others” keep their culture within their own silo and only let it out on Canada Day at the multicultural fair.

I left my home country voluntarily to be with my Canadian boyfriend. Somebody recently asked me if I would ever want to live in The Netherlands again with its more generous social safety network and free extended health care, subsidised rental housing, multifaceted treatment for mental illness and addictions, a nurturing, rehabilitative justice system with few people in jail, and its history of receiving refugees—all things I sometimes talk about.  The question forced me to think. Periodically, I have evaluated my life in Canada as an immigrant at significant milestones in my life, most recently at my retirement, three years ago. After a minute, I came up with the usual answer: no.
Why not?

Many reasons why I wouldn’t return to The Netherlands.

1. Of course, my former stomping ground of Amsterdam has changed during my absence of over three decades in ways I may not even be aware of. My old neighbourhood adjacent to the centre went through a phase of becoming the place to settle for new immigrant families from Turkey and Morocco and is now turning into a gentrified, hip neighbourhood–expensive. Without any urgency qualifications, I would end up on the bottom of the waitlist for a subsidized rental home, and a home purchase would be out of my financial range. It would take years to get a home allocated as a new immigrant.

2. From a tolerant type of folk, the political climate changed into many Dutch now freely expressing anti-foreigner, neo-fascist attitudes with its abhorrent political party becoming prominent as the second biggest in the country. As a morally engaged person, the battle against that intolerance would be on for me, and life would be more difficult for me.

3. I would have to adjust again to the small spaces and too many people living close together, literally on top of each other. Not just in 5 high-density apartment buildings as my current home, but a whole city full of them, block after block, street after street, never quiet, never without people with little breathing space. It wouldn’t be easy for me falling back on my lightly-used coping skills of asserting oneself between so many people, whose lives intermingle with mine without a choice. Many Americans and other foreigners living in the city bring their own attitudes and cultural biases to their host country, and not always nice ones. During my last visit, I asked a passing runner in Dutch if I could ask her something (the way to the Zoo), and when she called out “no” as she ran by me, I knew her American accent was not the only thing she had brought with her. A rude refusal like that had never before happened to me—anywhere in the world.

4. I appreciate my current solitude and the option to remove myself from the company of others as I desire. My need for social interaction has changed over the years and into retirement, as automatic work relationships fell away. I would miss the Canadian reserved approach that prevents others from intruding into my private lives. My relatives all live back in the old country, except for my daughter. The current schedule of once every two years seems satisfactory—absence makes the heart grow fonder—and some old friendships I carried for three decades are finally petering out. I am not sure I am ready for their demands for more socialization. Resettling is hard and making new friendships is even harder, especially when children have grown up and work has fallen away. Much more effort is required to meet new people, and I of course would miss my Canadian daughter.

5. Life is relatively cost-effective for me in the way I spend it between Mexico and Canada. That would no longer be the case with a move to The Netherlands and Amsterdam. Enough said!

In conclusion, my exercise in writing about my high-density living experiences brought up some interesting questions for me. The first half of my life I lived in The Netherlands, the second half in Canada. In a nutshell, should I just observe the customs, surrender to the Canadian polite way of being and keep my mouth shut? As somebody with an internal focus, I am bound to use my new circumstances as a catalyst for personal growth and development, in particular in the area of social competence. I take responsibility and am accountable for my own success or failure as I strengthen the intrinsic value of my personal improvement. As a socially and ethically engaged person, not always an easy way of being, but that’s just me.
To be continued.



PS. I would welcome your comments.

Posted in apartment and condo living; smoking, architecture, Babyboomer, Dealing with aging and dating, environment, Exercise; old age; aging gracefully; yoga practice ; wholesome life, Gardens, Global immigration, Green living, growing your own veggies., High-density living, Kelowna event, Mental health, Mixed gardening, Pubic Relations, Retirement, single women, Smoking, Strata Living, the Netherlands, travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment



It was a clear and hot day, and I felt like a walk early in the morning before the sun would get too hot. I live in a new development on Richter Street/corner Harvey Ave. I need to learn all of its nooks and crannies yet​ and see what’s like at different times in the year and in various types of weather. The ‘hood is fairly quiet in the morning on weekends. I live within walking distance of the lake and City Park, so I cut through the oldest neighbourhood of Kelowna, from Richter through Marshall Road, across Pandosy, ​and along Riverside to CityPark​k, along Hot Sands Beach—the front of Okanagan Lake, through the Japanese Garden, and down Pandosy. I stopped for an iced coffee at the Pulp Fiction shop, corner with Lawrence.






In case the deer have nibbled​ your cedars….




The military making an appearance at the car show.















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Photo Globe & Mail.


What is D-Day and who still knows about it in Canada, let alone in the USA, Britain, France, and Germany? And why is that so important?


Good questions. The Globe and Mail published two articles in its weekend edition about the 75-year anniversary of this event, which turned the tide of the battle of the Allies against Hitler and his Nazi regime.


It seems irrelevant to think back of the past, so long ago, and the old divisions in the world and long-dead soldiers. Anybody who saw the movies Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers will have some idea what happened, and that there was a bad war, once.

Between the Raptors, Trump’s shenanigans, the failing trade agreement between America, Canada, and Mexico, the China problem, environmental degradation, Genocide of Indigenous Peoples—there are just too many issues in the present competing for our attention.


Although I am not trying to deceive you, like AG Barr with his summary of the Muller report, here’s a summary of the articles, although it’s best to read them yourself.

The author Jerry Amenic wrote a dystopian book on the premise that nobody knew any more about the World War II after the last veteran of that war had died, but the publisher rejected it on the grounds that premise was unbelievable. So, to prove the publisher wrong, he set out with a videographer to interview students at a Toronto university and asked them questions about the Holocaust.

From The Globe & Mail, Jerry Amenic:

“On June 6, 1944, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division penetrated further inland at Juno Beach on D-Day (on the coast of Normandy, Northern France) than did the Yanks or Brits at the four beaches they tackled.”

“The biggest military invasion in history, D-Day turned the tide of the Second World War. The 359 Canadian dead and 715 wounded were among 10,000 Allied casualties that day, and next week is the 75th anniversary. It will be the last one with actual veterans, which means there will soon be no more witnesses and that can be a dangerous thing.”

“We all know the words Lest we forget, but I fear that young people today know little, if anything, about D-Day and the Second World War. This became obvious to me when I taught college. They just don’t know. But when the last combatant is gone, knowing what happened and why it happened will be crucial.”

“We asked them about the Allies. We asked if they knew about Churchill and FDR. We asked about D-Day. With few exceptions, these kids knew practically nothing. The video we made has gone viral around the world. When I asked if they knew what happened on D-Day, their responses ranged from, “It happened in England,” to “It was a place where a lot of bombs went off,” to them just shaking their heads.”

“Two weeks ago, I attended the funeral of Milton Berger. He was 94. Milt was a long-time Toronto city councillor and we met when I was a young newspaper reporter covering municipal politics. He was also the father-in-law of a close friend. Milt was said to be the first Holocaust survivor to serve as a politician in Ontario. When he was 17 he was sent to Auschwitz.

“Lest we forget? It’s time for us to wake up and ensure that our young know why we have the freedoms too many take for granted. Having them not know disrespects those who made the sacrifice – such as the men at Juno Beach – and may even foretell a future that we don’t want to imagine.”

Roy Macgregor wrote the second article in the G&M..He interviewed a 94-year-old veteran of the World War II, Mr. Fred Turnbull, who said

“It’s one of the major events in history,” Mr. Turnbull says. “It saved Britain and possibly the whole Western world.

“I don’t think people know enough about it.”

“It was a nexus point for Canada as a nation. [France and Poland] aren’t there. Here’s Canada. We’re a junior ally. We’re not colonial. We’re there – and this was the beginning of the end for the Germans.”

“It was the greatest seaborne invasion in history. The Germans knew it was coming, but neither where nor when. The natural presumption had been around Pas-de-Calais, the shortest distance over the channel, but the military planners working under the allied command of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower chose instead the sandy beaches along the coast of Normandy.”

“The Americans would take Utah and Omaha beaches to the west, the British had Gold Beach in the middle of the 80-kilometre stretch and Sword Beach to the east, with the Canadians assigned to take, and hold, Juno Beach between the two British targets.”

“The sheer numbers involved are to this day overwhelming to consider: 155,000 soldiers, some 11,000 planes, 50,000 vehicles and 5,000 minesweepers, battleships, carriers and landing craft, one of them carrying 19-year-old Fred Turnbull whose task was to lower the ramp, leap over the bow and steady the craft with rope while the soldiers stormed ashore under fire.”

“All the training helped you not to think about how scared you were,” Mr. Turnbull says.

“All around him mortars were exploding, machine-gun fire ripping into sand, water and men. Somehow, Mr. Turnbull got in and out unscathed.”

“The thing that bothered me most was the noise,” he recalls. “And the confusion. We just wanted to get it over with.”

“Some 14,000 Canadians landed that day shortly after dawn. The invasion had actually been in the planning process for many months, the Americans eager to attack but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill arguing for a delay so they could plan and practice down to the smallest detail. And they needed a break in the weather.”

“Someone said it was the most important weather forecast in human history,” Dr. Cook says.”

“Six Canadian regiments landed along Juno Beach: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, the 1st Hussars, the Queen’s Own Rifles, the Fort Garry Horse and the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.”

“Another 450 Canadians were dropped behind enemy lines by parachute and gliders. The air force sent Lancaster bombers and Spitfire fighter planes. The extensive naval operations involved around 10,000 Canadian sailors. But it was the ones charging off the landing craft who were in the most and immediate danger.”

“The soldiers took quite a beating,” Mr. Turnbull remembers.

“They did indeed. The Germans forces, under command of General Erwin Rommel – the infamous “Desert Fox” – were well fortified and prepared. The Allies suffered 10,000 casualties, 4,414 of whom were killed. The Germans, at first with such a protective advantage, had 4,000 to 9,000 casualties.”

““Remembrance Day nearly died out. But then it came back. I think it goes back to 1995, the 50th anniversary of the Second World War when thousands of veterans went back and we all sort of woke up and said, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re a country of peacekeepers, but who are these warriors? Who are these people who served and liberated? Who are these old men who are standing at the graves of young boys and crying? Who are these French and Dutch civilians weeping in joy? What have we done?’”

“Nothing less than what Mr. Turnbull says as, 75 years later, he stares down at the same harbour that once brimmed with convoy ships.”

“We had a job to do – and we did it.”


So far the articles in the G&M.

These days, military attacks take place using drones and distance targeting, with little hand to hand combat. Those who come back from war are often scarred for life. We need to realize that the soldiers gave their lives, and even as their bodies survived,  their minds might drive them to desperation and suicide. We should be grateful.

The D-Day battle was the beginning of the push to defeat the Hitler Nazis. It took another year of battle before my country was liberated, it happened to be the Canadians who did that in The Netherlands. An estimated 60 million people died and many more were dragged and displaced, scarred for life by this war.

If the Allies (a collection of countries who could poorly afford another war after World War I), had not waged this long and brutal war, we would now live in a dictatorship under fascism.  In the Netherlands, May 4  is a serious and all-respected event, Remembrance Day, with 5 minutes of silence in the country, followed by May 5th to party and for celebrating the liberators. The Canadians are highly respected and loved, with enduring ties to the Dutch.

Continue reading

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Thoughts on The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tatooist of Auschwitz, and the difference between race and religion.



On the recommendation of my writing coach, I read the novel as a primer on how to write a story that will appeal to readers. This novel has been on everybody’s lips who is interested in World War II. This assignment was because I have been trying to write a novel about my parents’ experiences during that life-altering period in their lives before I was born—World War 2.

I began work in 2016. The first year I exclusively spent on reading, reading, reading, everything and anything I could lay my little hands on. My novel is now in the stage of pre-publication as a manuscript.

My greatest fear in putting the story down was the enormity of the project and the many mistakes I would undoubtedly make. I didn’t want to romanticize the harsh reality of the time or exploit the death of millions that put World War II in people’s mind. I doubted that I could pull it off to write this story as a new writer. All those fears materialized when I read The Tattooist, which in my opinion is well written, but indeed trivialized the horrors of the place and made it go down as a romance for avid readers.

In this time of increased anti-Semitism and the political reality, in which some politicians attempt to foment feelings of hate against “the other” in our society—just like the Nazis did in 1930—I think it is extremely important to understand one’s own society, where you come from, and who you are now. This is the reason why I delve into the book and want to add my review to the many other voices.

Below I quote parts of Allison Wood’s review in The Guardian from Dec 7, 2018.

From The Guardian (Alison Flood): Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz attacked as inauthentic by the camp memorial centre.

The novel is the story of how the Slovakian Jew “Ludwig ‘Lali’ Eisenberg (who changed his last name to Solokov) fell in love with a girl Gita Furman, born Gisela Fuhrmannova he was tattooing at the concentration camp, has been one of the year’s bestselling novels.

“The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum concluded that the novel is “an impression about Auschwitz inspired by authentic events, almost without any value as a document”….. “Given the number of factual errors, therefore, this book cannot be recommended as a valuable title for persons who want to explore and understand the history of KL Auschwitz.”

“A spokesperson for her (the author’s) publisher told the Guardian on Friday: “The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a novel based on the personal recollections and experiences of one man. It is not, and has never claimed to be an official history. If it inspires people to engage with the terrible events of the Holocaust more deeply, then it will have achieved everything that Lale himself wished for.”

“Paweł Sawicki, editor-in-chief of Memoria, Auschwitz Memorial’s magazine, said numerous historical details of the camp are wrong. But Sawicki took issue with Morris’s response. “Can ‘a story’ be told without paying attention to the reality of the story? If this would be a completely fictional story, we could say that the author does not know much about the history of Auschwitz. This book, however, tells a story of a real person, his real tragic experiences, and this puts much more responsibility on a person who tells this story to the world,” he said. “The number of different errors in the book – not only in simple basic facts but also in the depiction of the reality of Auschwitz – can sometimes create more confusion than understanding. It turns a real story into an interpretation – very moving and emotional – that however blurs the authenticity of this true experience. We believe that the survivor’s story deserved better.”

“Sokolov’s son Gary told the New York Times that it bothered him his father’s name had been misspelled “Lale”, rather than “Lali” in the novel.”

So far what others said.

My main objection is that the writer has bought into the Hitlerian theory that Jews are a “race” in themselves. This is a fallacy and factually, incorrect. Hitler spread this lie, so he could identify, isolate, and eradicate “the other” without much resistance from the European world in which Jews lived.

When Ms. Morris writes down Lali’s thoughts on page 185: “How can a race that is spread out across multiple countries be considered a threat?” the question for me is whether Mr. Sokolov really was thinking that, or was the thought the authors’ interpretation, using poetic license—a writer’s prerogative?

The fallacy in this line is that Jews are adherents of a religion, just like Catholics, or Muslims, and not a separate race. Originating in the Mediterranean—the tribes of Israel from the Palestine region—Jews are the brothers and sisters of Muslims of the region. Like any religion, Jews also have intermingled with people of other races, with people who adhere to a different religion, and people who are atheists.

The author apparently has no idea (like so many who have no grasp) on what the Jewish religion is or who Jews are, and she mixes the concepts of religion and race, just like Hitler and his propaganda machine did. If you have seen the cartoons and the Nazi propaganda on posters of the time, you will get the picture. It is important to understand this fact and its consequences. What you believe, is what you get.

The people that held on to their Jewish religion have spread throughout the world. Modern times have divided the members of this religion into several factions and given names to these groups: Ashkenazy (Hebrew) from east-German descent, and Sephardic from middle-eastern descent. Those ancient people split off from the ancestors of today’s Middle Easterners more than 20,000 years ago, with a founding group of about 3,500 to 3,900 people, according to the study I quoted from (

There are just a few races (if we still even want to use these classifications) and none of the progeny of any race is pure anymore, due to the intermixing over many centuries.

From the internet, I quote:

“The mid-20th-century racial classification by American anthropologist Carleton S. Coon, divided humanity into five races:

  • Caucasoid (White) race.
  • Negroid (Black) race.
  • Capoid (Bushmen/Hottentots) race.
  • Mongoloid (Oriental/ Amerindian) race.
  • Australoid (Australian Aborigine and Papuan) race.”

So, if you consider their original source—in the Palestine area and/or east Germany—Jews are Caucasian, but if you believe Hitler, they are non-Caucasian: meaning NOT of the same race as the Germans.

The poor morons within the various hate groups of our current time have no clue that their hatemongering, fascist thought is based on ignorance. But what else would one expect of Trump and his neo-Nazis?

By the way, why call them neo-Nazis? They have shown themselves to be real Nazis, in other words, fascists.

Jeez, and again that hateful man props up……

I would welcome your comments.






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My trip to the city of Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico

In the last couple of days, the Boeing 737 Max – 8 was grounded pretty much everywhere, after the same plane type fell out of the sky last week, the second plane that it happened to. I guess maybe it was a reason why my flight back home was overly full.



On my way back to Canada, I was keeping myself occupied during the flight, while a six-month-old cried his heart out two seats from mine and I started writing this piece. My plane was full of gringos—white people/North Americans—who had spent their vacation in Mexico and were on their way back.

I observed from the very start that this family likes attention:  from the moment the pretty mother of three came onto the plane and noticed that a few of her seats were occupied by a couple, who had read their seat numbers wrong. The purser had to come and sort out the situation, and with much joking on his part, the seats were vacated for the mother, her husband, and her three kids. At the take-off, the baby started crying. Normal procedure, so far. Kids have smaller ear tubes and they don’t know how to unblock their ears. He settled down soon after.


The lady seated beside me, dressed in summer clothes and with a deep tan and perfectly manicured nails, had come onto the plane pretty happy from too much drink. She soon sank into a near pass-out sleep with her fleece top wrapped around her.

About an hour into the flight, the baby started up again, this time he was inconsolable. The mother apparently didn’t know what to do, and the kid worked himself into a frenzy. I hadn’t known that a child can scream this loud. I considered pushing the call button to purchase the sound blocking earplugs from a flight attendant. My neighbour slowly opened her eyes and I observed the fake eyelashes separate slowly. I could feel her pain.


After about ten minutes, an unrelated, elderly lady got involved and offered to walk the boy. She took him from the mom and started talking to the munchkin in a friendly tone, while walking a few steps in each direction in the aisle, back and forth, away from the mother. It did the trick. Peace, again. What would the world be without experienced grandmothers? She returned the now quiet baby to his mother.


Back to the subject Morelia. When I started living in Mexico for part of the year, I promised myself to take trips deeper into this country. With a wonderful climate, generous and friendly people and with many ancient cultural sites, natural wonders, and a clearly documented history of colonization to explore, the options were unlimited. I have to admit that tracing and uncovering the origin of European domination outside of Europe has become a bias of mine. I cannot leave well enough alone, as some of my friends will know. Stirring the pot, they might say, poking the bear, my Indigenous friend would say. I would call it tourism beyond the surface, digging below the superficial.

Maybe I am indeed somewhat of a rebel, but it is mainly my curiosity that drives me, and above all, the thirst for knowledge and understanding how the world came to be. How did we end up in the current (political) world and what makes people different from each other? It is important for me to know what the inhabitants of other countries experienced, which may influence how they stand in the world.


I like the places where I can see the thousands of footsteps that wore down steps of ancient sites, the faint traces of a mural, a part-statue, or an artifact that has survived earthquakes or centuries of being buried. Mexico is full of these, from the Aztecs in the south and the Maya beyond that territory, who left many traces of their existence, and many sites are not yet discovered. The tribes before them left indicators of their existence as well. Many Indigenous peoples with their own languages (NOT dialects!) inhabited Mexico, according to an estimate, during the 1500s around 20 million inhabitants existed in Central America.



Oh, boy, the mother of the little crier wants the seating arrangements rearranged so hubby can look after the little boy (and the other two children). The baby has started screaming again and big tears are rolling down his red cheeks. Daddy’s not doing a great job, and the boy reaches for his mommy, seated behind the dad. Sure enough, baby gets his way. Mom reaches over and takes him back. One-naught for him. This is how you make criers, mom.


Babies are masters of the power struggle: their need is stronger than yours. This is natural and right. It’s up to mom to distract or find ways to sooth and meet the needs of the baby. I noticed he has no bottle. Mom is holding a cup with a spout. He seems too young for that and I suspect he needs more comfort. I heard her say: “He was already crabby this morning.” Hmm, maybe teething? She is loudly talking to the boy with a piercing voice. My neighbour has given up snoozing and starts reading her Kindle. She hasn’t spoken a word yet to me.















So, about Morelia.

I am downloading photos, illustrations for the blog post. The baby whines now. He knows he has success with making noises, and the cost-benefit ratio for him have improved as time goes by. The flight attendant just gave me another Granville Island pale ale, free of charge. He knows without words exchanged that I need it.


I seem to not get to the rest of the story about Morelia. The flight is bumpy and I need to stop. We are flying over deep ravines and gullies with snow-covered mountain tops, I suspect Nevada. I will finish off the post after I get home. We are advised to stay put and keep our seatbelt on. An elderly couple is getting up and a couple of the flight attendants call out to stay put. The woman is waving a food container around. “We’ll pick up the garbage when it’s safe to do so,” the attendant closest to me calls from the back of the plane. “Please stay in your seat with your seatbelt on.” An awful smell reaches my nose, I think it’s a dirty diaper.


The “buckle-up” sign beeps off and all of a sudden, the aisle is filled with people chatting and standing in a long line-up to the toilet, all the way to the middle of the plane. It starts to get bumpy again and the seatbelt signs beep on, and the intercom sends everybody back to their seats. One senior-aged woman in the line-up complains: “If you have to go, you have to go, seatbelt sign or not. We are not teenagers.”


I have to think of my flight attendant-daughter who has to keep such an ornery planeload in line. I feel your pain, sweetheart. A planeload of half-sauced tourists on their way home is no fun! We must be flying above Idaho now, but it’s dark and I can not see.


IMG_1361 2





I was unable to book my seat beforehand and I am seated in a window seat on row 20, in the far back, so am trapped. After a bottle of water and one and a half pale ale, I really need to go. The time will come that we’ll have to wear an astronaut’s diaper-system for flights if this stuffing of planes in tiny seat continues.  One more hour to go. I cannot last that long. After a while, I reluctantly touch my sleeping neighbour’s arm and have to repeat my request before she understands. She wakes up her spouse, sleeping next to her, and they get out into the aisle.

IMG_1357 2

When I return, relieved, the people behind our row—two senior women who look alike and an elderly man—the women glare at me. There is no smile. What’s their problem?

The baby is wide awake and gets entertained, and as soon as he squeaks, he gets passed on, from daddy to mommy and back. He is having a ball. I feel for the parents for when they will be back in their everyday environment and baby must be broken again from the power play he has won during this flight. The rest of the flight he screams in bursts and whines.


Finally, we land at the Kelowna airport. The deplaning goes fairly orderly, but the man seated behind me could not wait until I had wrestled the carrier with my cat from the row, and he pushed himself past my butt. “Oh, you in a hurry?” I say and let him pass.  “Yes, I am,” he said.

We all catch up with each other in the line-up, standing around before the customs agents. “You got a dog in there?” the angry-looking woman asked me. She calls to her husband in front of me. “Let that lady with the animal go first,” she admonishes. The man falls back obediently. She is chatting up everybody in the line-up now. “What a lovely boy now,” she calls to the family sitting on the bench in the hall getting organized with all their many cabin bags and children. The man grumbles to me: “Before you know it she’ll know everybody.” “Is that right?”

I declare my three bags of Mexican coffee and the bottle of tequila, get a pass and escape the airport, my suitcase already sitting beside the carousel, and soon am on my way in a taxi. At home, Mimi was very happy to be let out and pushes out of the carrier when I open the zippers. She had peed on the doggie training pad and that was all.

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This blog post is dedicated to the Indigenous population of Mexico. One cannot admire the city without reminding oneself of all the lives destroyed during its rise to fame.


The Mexican city of Morelia in the state of Michoacan is an old city, established in the 1500s after the Spanish conquest of Mexico by Charles I during the Spanish colonization of the Americas from 1519-1521. As we all know, both North and South America were not empty lands for grabs. The myth that the Europeans “discovered” America, is old, FAKE NEWS and should by now have disappeared from all history books.

The Spanish conquered  a huge area that included territories in North America as far north as what is now British Columbia in Canada, the territory that is now American, (Oregon, Washington, parts of Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida) and the current Mexican territory (including Chiapas, still mired in an battle for independence), all the way into South America (currently the nations of Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua). The Spanish also conquered the Philippines, Guam, and a number of other island nations, including Formosa what is now Taiwan.


In 1521 after the fall of Tenochtitlan—the great Mexican city built on the water—now called Mexico City,  the main event of the Spanish conquest did not properly end until later, as its territory continued to grow to the north. Cortez tricked Moctezuma into “collaborating” with the Spanish. The Viceroyalty was officially created on 8 March 1535, the first of four such viceroyalties in the Americas.  The Vice-Royalty of New Spain (Virreinato de la Nueva España) existed from 1521-1821, three hundred years under Spanish reign. The first Vice-roy was Antonio de Mendoza y Pacheco, and the capital of the viceroyalty was established on the ancient Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Morelia only became its capital after Patzcuaro obtained that title for a number of years. The competitors for the title squared off,  and Morelia with De Mendoza won. The game of Playing Politics is as old as the world.



From Wikipedia:

Human settlements in the Guayangreo Valley in which Morelia is located have been dated back as far as the 7th century. Artifacts found here have shown Teotihuacan culture influence on even earlier cultures in this area. In the 12th century, the Purepecha arrived in the valley. They dominated it politically for the rest of the pre-Hispanic period but did not build any major settlements here. Between the 12th and the 15th century, Matlatzincas moved into the area with permission of the Purépechas, who were based around nearby Pátzcuaro Lake. The main Matlatzinca settlement was where Júarez Plaza in the city is today.



The Spanish pushed into the Guayangareo Valley between 1525 and 1526, headed by Gonzalo Gómez. In the 1530s, the area was evangelized by Roman Catholic priests of the Franciscan order, such as Juan de San Miguel and Antonio de Lisboa.


Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and a number of encomenderos, who were granted the special status in 1541, first named it Nueva Ciudad de Mechuacan (New City of Michoacán). Our guide explained that the king sent 62 of his noblemen with their families to Morelia and rewarded each of them with a piece of the land with the right to use the Indigenous people that lived there, who were then considered free labor for anything that the encomenderos wanted them to do.


The last Spanish king reigning over Mexico was Ferdinand VII and he lost the territory in the Mexican War of Independence in 1821. In 1521 the population of Mexico was 20 million people. After the Spanish were done with Mexico, this number had shrunk in 1821 to estimates of between 5 and 6.5 million.


“The native people of Mexico experienced a series of outbreaks of disease in the wake of European conquest, including a catastrophic epidemic that began in 1545 which killed an estimated 5 million to 15 million people, or up to 80% of the native population of Mexico, followed by a second epidemic from 1576 to 1578 killing an additional 2 to 2.5 million people, or about 50% of the remaining native population. Recent research suggests that these infections appear to have been aggravated by the extreme climatic conditions of the time and by the poor living conditions and harsh treatment of the native peoples under the encomienda system of New Spain.



Encomienda was a Spanish labor system. It rewarded conquerors with the labor of particular groups of subject people. It was first established in Spain following the Christian conquest of Muslim territories. It was applied on a much larger scale during the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Conquered peoples were considered vassals of the Spanish king. The Crown awarded an encomienda as a grant to a particular individual. In the conquest era of the sixteenth century, the grants were considered to be a monopoly on the labor of particular groups of Indigenous, held in perpetuity by the grant holder, called the encomendero, and his descendants.



This was pretty much what Hitler and the Nazis did in the Second World War: all forced labor came from the captured and deported Jews in camps that were contracted to the production companies, and from the residents of occupied territories, carted off to labor camps, or laborers were just picked up from the street and sent to the ammunition and equipment factories.




Two of Moctezuma’s daughters and her younger sister were granted extensive encomiendas in perpetuity by Hernan Cortes. Doña Leonor Moctezuma married in succession two Spaniards and left the encomiendas to her daughter by her second husband. Vassal Inca rulers (who collaborated with the Spanish) appointed after the conquest also sought and were granted encomiendas.



In 1574, the Viceroy of Peru investigated the encomiendas. He concluded there were 32,000 Spanish families in (all of ) the New World, 4,000 of whom had encomiendas. They oversaw 1,500,000 natives paying tribute, and 5 million “civilized” natives.

The phrase “sin Indios no hay Indias” (without Indians, there are no Indies – i.e. America), popular in Spanish America especially in the 16th century, emphasizes the economic importance and appeal of this indentured labor. It was ranked higher than allocations of precious metals or other natural resources. Land awardees customarily complained about how “worthless” territory was without a population of encomendados.



If you have seen the movie “Roma” of Alfonso Cuaron, you know that the habit of indenturing the Indigenous population is still very much ingrained in the upper classes in Mexico, and until today, the Indigenous populations are clearly still at the bottom of Mexican society.


Until the new population rebelled against the exploitation and the strict societal laws based on racism. Most were now of mixed heritage, born from Spanish nobleman from Spain (the highest in status), the Spanish first-generation born in Mexico,  those who mixed with the Indigenous (Mestizo), or with the black slaves that were working the mines and the plantations, (Mulatto). Under the leadership of Padre Hidalgo, stationed as a priest in Dolores but who had studied in Morelia at the College (where he had met a poor, but brilliant Mulatto man, Morelos, called for a rebellion: the Grito. Padre Hidalgo (whose image or statue you see everywhere in every Mexican state and town), joined by Jose Morelos started up his call for resistance in Dolores, and on their trek through San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato to the capital.

IMG_1344They were caught and executed as traitors to the country.

Miguel Hidalgo declared slavery unworthy of the new nation and called for its abolishment, see below.




In 1847 the North Americans attacked the country. Morelia was the origin of the battalion that fought under Governor Ocampo.




Hidalgo and Morelos leading the rebellion. Below their feet you see the Indios carrying the heavy building blocks for the magnificent buildings that now line the city streets. Is it fair to get UNESCO status without mentioning and memorizing the lives it took to build it?


How the tribal structures remained, but the Indigenous were converted to Christianity.

From Wikipedia: The Spanish Crown granted a Spanish person a specified number of natives from a specific community but did not dictate which individuals in the community would have to provide their labor. Indigenous leaders were charged with mobilizing the assessed tribute and labor. In turn, encomenderos were to ensure that the encomienda natives were given instruction in the Christian faith and Spanish language, and protect them from warring tribes or pirates; they had to suppress a rebellion against Spaniards and maintain infrastructure. In return, the natives would provide tributes in the form of metals, maize (corn), wheat, pork, or other agricultural products.



In many cases, natives were forced to do hard labor and subjected to extreme punishment and death if they resisted. However, Queen Isabella of Castile forbade Indian slavery and deemed the indigenous to be “free vassals of the crown”. Various versions of the Leyes de Indias or Laws of the Indies (compare: in Canada the still-existing Indian Act) from 1512 onwards attempted to regulate the interactions between the settlers and natives. Both the Indigenous and the Spaniards appealed to the appellate court, Royal Audience for relief under the encomienda system.


Encomiendas had often been characterized by the geographical displacement of the enslaved and breakup of communities and family units, but in Mexico, the encomienda ruled the free vassals of the crown through existing community hierarchies, and the natives were allowed to keep in touch with their families and homes. This seems insignificant, but compared to Canada, where the children were forcefully removed from their parents at a young age to “kill the Indian in the child” to be educated in religious boarding schools.








The story goes that Morelos’ mother was highly pregnant and traveled from church to monastery to nunnery, but nowhere did she find mercy and a roof over her head. She was an Indigenous woman. She finally arrived at the building that is now called The House of Morelos’ Birth, where she delivered the baby, and after that, was turned into the streets again.

There are now over 200 building of historical value in Morelia, built around that time, for which the city was designated a UNESCO Worl Heritage site in 1991. The cathedral, completed in 1744, is an outstanding example of Spanish Baroque architecture and holds a remarkable 4,600-pipe organ, the focus of an annual organ festival. The colonial governor’s palace is also an imposing structure, as is a 3-mile (5-km) aqueduct, carried on arches, and was built in 1785.

I will show more of Morelia in subsequent posts. Stay tuned. I’d love to hear your comments and please, rate this post at the top; thank you.




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Straddling the new year, soon taking the plunge, and out with the old one.



Time to catch up with my blog posts. I finished my first week in Mexico this winter. It is always different each time, but never exactly what I anticipated. This time it was quite busy from the first day on. My transit went great and no problems this time with the requirements for bringing a cat. The direct flight to PV of five hours was full, mostly with retired people, snow birds. It shocks me every time when it smacks me in the face I am part of the silver wave.


I stayed one night with my best friends, wintering over in PV to give Mimi a break. This time I took it easy for the last leg from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara to my casa in the village by the lake on the next day. I booked a flight, instead of a long bus ride. It lasted all in all 4 hours: fifty minutes in the air, plus time going through the check-in and security, and the cab ride to my place. 10 am to the airport, home in Ajijic at 2 pm.

My plan was to possibly make a trip somewhere else in Mexico while I am in the Chapala area, so only booked one way. I didn’t want to be tied down to a return date. As it happens, more people travel with their pets nowadays. Each plane is only allowed to book 2 pets in the cabin and I knew that all direct flights end in early April. That was too early for me last year. That time, I booked a flight home to Canada around March for departure in May. I had to fly through Calgary, with an extra 2 hours tagged onto the flight. Not so nice for Mimi, stuck in her cage without drink and a bathroom.


I was going to improve on that this time around. As I was booking my flight home yesterday—I thought this was early—I found out that there’s a reason why people book return flights all in one shot on the same day: predictability. All pet spaces for all of April and most of March on direct flights were taken. So, I will have to come home this time really early: in the second week of March. I learned my lesson now: don’t be doing things differently. There’s a reason why people become sheep. Next time I’ll be in the herd.



My first day in my village was a day in which I had to do something I didn’t look forward to: attend a prayer service for a friend who unexpectedly passed away a few days earlier and had already been buried. I had to attend, because it is respectful to the survivors, and it is expected. I wanted to go, as the family has been very generous and friendly, and welcoming to this gringa. At a previous funeral, I had observed that the casket wasn’t closed until the very last minute at the panteon—the cemetery, where the family says goodbye with a last kiss or touch, as the casket sits on a cement pedestal before the lid is screwed shut and taken to the site. The friends have already dug the hole the night before, or in early morning.




The Mexican custom is to bury people immediately after an all-night wake the next day, or the day after. Then nine days of prayers—novenasat the home of the departed take place in the late afternoons, where the neighbours, family and friends take part in, and afterwards eat a bite at the deceased home. It is custom for the guests/mourners to bring flowers, food, or/and money to help with the costs. It was good that when I arrived, the prayers were already in progress. People were occupying the chairs, set out in the street along the sidewalk. Most seats were occupied, and many more people sat inside the little casa. The lady closest to the door gestured for me to go inside to meet the bereaved spouse in the middle of the prayers. With a hug and my lo siento—I’m so sorry—we met and I handed over my tokens of support. Nothing else needed to be said. I went outside and sat through the prayers on a chair. I am one of those people who tears up involuntarily at funerals and memorials, so also this time. I find it shocking and cannot easily comprehend that someone is not there anymore. The event of death is incomprehensible. One day here, next day gone. We usually live our lives as if life is endless.


A handmade sign on the wall announced a church service would take place on Sunday in the temple of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and everyone was invited to accompany the family in it. It struck me that all people at the novenawere serious, but also matter-of-fact. This is the difference with my usual world. Death is an uncommon social thing in our North American lives and is kept away from us. Here in Mexico, death is a part of life and can be seen everywhere. Although the grief is just as sorrowful, it is socially allowed to talk and to grief openly with extended prescribed times for mourning. It is keeping the family very busy, with evidence of wide support from the community. The effect as I see it, is more acceptance and going through the shock at a death of a loved one, and less resulting trauma.



At the end of the novena I slipped away. I hadn’t had anything to eat besides breakfast that day and was very hungry. I went into town to eat at a simple place without walls where I had never been before. Two tables were occupied: a few Mexican young people, and one other gringa. I had a delicious hamburger and a beer. I fell in bed and was asleep in no time, my Mimi next to me on the pillows.


The next day I got in touch with my other resident friends. My social life had started. At a shared dinner I was offering my condolences to another mutual friend for an unexpected death of a loved one: to a mother of my age who lost her son. We could talk about it and again, the heaviness that death seems to have in Canada, was absent here.

The nights are cool right now and the average temperature is around 15 degrees. Without heating in the house, you really need a good blanket on your bed. As soon as the sun shines in the morning, it warms up and by eleven is it balmy and twenty-two degrees. The cucarachas are absent and the house is clean and dust free. Mimi remembers where she last saw a cucaracha (more than a year ago) and sits in front of the wardrobe. Disappointed, she leaves after a while.


Properties are selling now. The realtor I saw today together with a friend said that everyone is buying, Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans. Values are up too. I had an evaluation from the realtor today, but decided it is not the right time yet to say goodbye to my casa. I first must leave my tourist status behind, or else I will pay a hefty capital gains tax to the Mexican government. He gave me some good advice and number of a contractor to call to address a minor problem with the rain water seeping between my wall and the neighbour’s wall, causing dampness inside at some spots. One shelf of my kitchen cabinets has a termite colony. I ripped out the shelf and got rid of the wood. Just to be sure, I also contracted an exterminator to drill holes to underground where termite colonies build their nest.


I didn’t witness it, but a local youth sitting on the stone bench next to the Virgin across my home pointed out to me that there was a problem somewhere with the roof, but I couldn’t understand him. Later that day, I noticed my internet wasn’t working. I went outside and the cable lay on the cobblestones in the street. One of those damned large trucks must have snagged it. I managed to explain to the non-English speaking service person of the Telmex help centre what the problem was and he got me an English-speaking service person on the phone. Three days to fix it. Indeed, it was fixed on the third day.


Netflix is a welcome entertainment for me at night. I saw a few great movies. The one for anyone to see who travels to Mexico, is the latest movie of Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, currently in the theatres in Mexico, but already on Netflix: Roma. It will break your heart. Although it depicts an earlier generation, the class differences are still relevant and exist in the present time. You’ll recognize it, once you saw the movie.

Another movie I saw on Netflix was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Why is it that movies about the Nazi atrocities fare so well when narrated from the point of view of a (German) child? The movie made its point with a sledgehammer.


Sun is up at 7 and so am I, as Mimi wakes me up. Sundown is at 6 pm. Most social activities were in the daytime, although may end after dark. I went to a movie today in the local theatre: Aquaman. A bit short on story and character development, but somebody went to town on costume and set designs. I am not sure how movie theatres can survive: only at the most four other people besides us attending. It was in English with Spanish subtitles.

It takes about a week before I feel at home again. Things change in town, with more restaurants popping up, others closed. More deaths fell in the city from gang activity, and policemen were targeted in the next town over. We will see how the new president AMLO fares with the promise to deal with the “troubles”. It seems that ever more gringos flood the town. The hills and protected natural areas are now in development, unless the voices of the locals and their supporters can stop it. Also here, tourism and migration from gringos to Mexico threatens the Mexican way of life and the environment. I try to fit in with my neighbourhood and am grateful for my neighbours, friends and the roof over my head in this sunny, beautiful town. Wishing you well in the new year.



La montana es mi casa.   The mountain is my home.


IMG_1015.jpegThis exhibition (on the plaza in Ajijic) offers a connection with the concerns of the people of Ajijic with conservation of their mountains and its environment. The threat against them and their life is real.

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At eight I was a devout little girl who swallowed hook line and sinker what I was taught in my parents’ small congregation of ultra-Christians. By age 12 I had lost all belief in fairy tales, including the bible, and had started to forge my way into the world as a critical thinker.



What really put doubts in my mind if I could believe adults was an event for the Saint Nicholas celebration, for short Sinterklaas. That year on December 5th Sinterklaas came to visit our home with his helper to hand out gifts. I was getting more observant and the thought was taking hold that I had heard those voices before. Afterwards, I commented to my mom how much the voice of Sinterklaas’ helper, Black Pete, sounded like my brother’s. “Is that right? I hadn’t noticed,” she said. The next day I discovered in my parents’ bedroom the book of Sinterklaas, from which the good bishop of Myrah had read to us about the good things—and especially the bad things—everybody had perpetrated over the year. The old man had been shaking his head, and his hands shook too, just like my friend Phyllis’ father, who—I now understand—had Parkinson’s disease. Then the penny dropped. I ran downstairs and asked my mom: “Was Sinterklaas Mr. Klaassen? And Pete Gus?” She laughed. “What makes you think that?” I told her. She then admitted that Sint and Pete were dressed up and don’t really exist, and the charade was an excuse for creating funny gifts and writing cheeky rhymes for one another.

Below a photo from a spoof on the Sinterklaas celebration at the addiction treatment centre. I am the black female Sinterklaas with the blond wig to the right.




That awkward time when your front teeth are missing and your mother cut your bangs.


It was the start of my loss of trust in anything that sounded magical or miraculous. I won’t bore the reader with the details of the next five years, other than that I started to scrutinize every statement of any adult, the stories in books, and definitively in the bible. I scrutinized the rules and started seeing the hypocrisy among people in our congregation. My conversion started with discovering that adults are imperfect, can and will lie, and are sometimes unfair.


As soon as I could read, I started reading books after bedtime under the covers with a flashlight, reading everything I could get my hands on. Especially interesting were the books of my eldest sister—eight-years-older. I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover at ten years old. Angelique of the Angels gave me a great education about female power exerted through her beauty and smarts, and through sexual favours, of course. Although the complete lack of sex education of children was the norm then, I started to understand love, physical attraction, and the beauty of equality from books. The idealist in me was taking shape, in spite of the reality of observing my elder sisters going through their adolescence, and my parents’ extremely controlling response, almost as bad as the father in the Rapunzel story. Only now I understand that their parental need to control may have been their way of dealing with their own traumas, in the aftermath of the dangerous war years.


My hunger for my own experiences rapidly increased. As I grew older, I continued exploring my own sexuality with a number of boyfriends. Unable to broach the subject with any adults, I got sidetracked, and started failing in school, where my presence was a mere nuisance to teachers. At my Christian high school, gender-discrimination was the norm in the 1960’s. The worst of it was my chemistry teacher, who refused to learn their names, calling every girl in the class simply Dora, but he loved the boys and knew them all by name. If he even spoke to a girl, it was with derision; they were becoming housewives anyway, and he went further by targeting me—a lively sort of student. As soon as I opened my mouth to chat with my neighbour, he would send me to the principal. This pattern continued throughout the year, leading to my suspension. I started skipping school. The VP wanted to pray with me. I politely declined the favour.


In my last year, my boyfriend was four years older, a poet and unemployed. Shortly after I went on the birth control pill— introduced 1968—I started running away from home. Birth control and medical exams were free for members of the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform. My mother had found the package in my room and went berserk. Like so many girls of my generation, I became the proverbial adolescent running away from home under the influence of a boyfriend. Make love, not war. Under great self-constraint, I stopped running, I managed to graduate, left home soon afterwards, and moved to Amsterdam together with my “unsuitable” boyfriend.


Those years have long gone. I participate responsibly in society like everybody else. I became obsessed with acquiring factualinformation. I work hard to match my decisions to the facts, constantly checking the integrity of my beliefs by reading a number of newspapers, watching different news channels online, and trying to debate world issues with my mostly reluctant Canadian friends. We can’t control the news; it happens. My escape from all this reality is to write stories, making it all up: disasters and happy endings, created from what is contained in the vast archive of my head. Doris Lessing said it aptly: “There’s no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth”.



Writing fiction takes me back to my childhood love of books. It allows me to take all I have learned, mix it up, and create a new narrative. I assign imaginary people with the roles that must be played as I want them to be played in the story. I can use all of my gifts. With my somewhat unusual experiences of living within various cultures on different continents, and understanding several languages, my frame of reference is different from the mainstream. Some of my friends noticed they cannot verify my words. More than once I heard: “You’re making that up” when I related a fact. “How do you know that?” requires me to be accountable about what I know, and I gladly explain.




I first wrote creative non-fiction stories about the people around me and their adventures, staying close to facts. That opened the gate to sharing my vision and world view. I ventured into fiction, “making it all up”.

Before I could fall into the abyss of feeling useless after my retirement, I was well on my way with my second novel.

My third novel—a story about World War II—is finished in two languages, which I am currently shopping around. To my delight, I am well on my way of becoming a novelist. Life is good. Creating is the life-giving force that allows me to live many lives, all within one lifetime. I can highly recommend it.

2017-10-26 12.08.27

 An event will take place on October 11 at 6:30 pm at the KELOWNA REGIONAL LIBRARY  on Ellis Street. I hope to see you there. GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL will be available. Cash only. 

MEET THE AUTHOR: Johanna Van Zanten.



Link to Amazon:


Link to Readers’ Favorite


Link to Bookbaby:

Link to KIRKUS review:

Review by Barbara Morrison, blogger




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