Thursday, March 30, 2006

The failed revolutionary; or, Vila goes to a demo

Morning. It is a perfect day for a demonstration, except for the fact that I am underslept, mildly hungover, and on my period. Like all good revolutionaries, I resolve to suffer for my cause.

I meet four of my colleagues at the main gates of the university, and, with the rest of the group that has gathered there, we begin to walk to Berri Square. As we do, I realize that I may be the oldest person in attendance. This does not bode well.

Despite the fact that there are, at this point, fewer than thirty of us, the undergraduate students that are leading our delegation decide that we will walk in the middle of the street. I suggest that it might be prudent to leave one lane open for traffic to pass, a suggestion they choose to ignore. Several minutes later, they are very nearly run over by a Mack truck.

We arrive at Berri Square to find approximately seven hundred students armed with red cardboard cubes and placards, a disproportionate number of which are written in English. A van containing a sound system is parked nearby, from which the obligatory mix of Public Enemy, Bob Marley, and the Clash is blaring. This does not make me feel any younger.

I survey the crowd and remember that I have not had coffee yet. I briefly consider getting one, but decide that having to pee every ten minutes while attempting to foment revolution would be marginally worse than going without. Marie-Marcelle suggests that we duck into a bar for a quick drink instead, but I’m not at all sure this would solve the problem.

In lieu of purchasing beverages, I decide to mingle. I am relieved to discover that there are, in fact, other people over the age of twenty-five in attendance. One such specimen has thin, grey dreadlocks and a bongo drum, which he is playing badly. I tell myself that it could be worse: at least I don't have bongos.

Turning my attention to the younger demonstrators, I notice that they are, on the whole, substantially hotter than their counterparts in my generation. Okay, I’m cruising now. I feel momentarily guilty about this, then remember that virtually every thirty-something man I know is having a fling with an undergrad. My guilt evaporates in an instant, and I make it a point to ogle the youngest CÉGEP student I can find.

After an hour or so of aimless wandering, the demonstrators begin the march to Jean Charest’s office. By this time, my lower back is killing me, but I bravely soldier on. In twenty minutes, we will have arrived at our destination, at which point I promise myself that I will sit my throbbing ass down.

As we turn north on Jeanne-Mance, we stop in front of UQAM for a spell of chanting. So-So-So! My God, I would kill a government official for a cup of coffee. Solidarité! Hell, I’d take out a whole ministry for an Advil. So-So-So! Oh, and a glass of water. Solidarité! Jesus Christ, is it possible that I’m too old for this?

Suddenly, the demonstration stalls. The police advise the organizers that we cannot march on Sherbrooke Street, and direct us to turn back to President Kennedy. However, the hot revolutionary boys are having none of it. They stand defiantly where they are as the organizers plead with them to turn back. The boys refuse. I, for my part, am almost doubled over with cramps.

Then the riot police show up. Holding shields in one hand and cans of tear gas in the other, they form a solid black line across the intersection of Jeanne-Mance and Sherbrooke. The hot revolutionary boys have only their surfeit of testosterone to protect them, which they wield like small, weak fists. A standoff ensues.

I spot a bench and sit gratefully down, watching as the crowd cleaves into two distinct factions. One stands at the intersection at the top of the hill; the other waits patiently at the bottom. The organizers engage in shuttle diplomacy between the two, walking up and down the hill with their megaphones. There is a hint of desperation in their amplified voices. Nobody moves.

It occurs to me that we may not actually make it to Jean Charest’s office. Also, that my uterus is about to explode. Someone mentions that the organizers have phone numbers for lawyers on hand in case anyone is arrested. I think about asking to borrow one of their megaphones and taking over, on behalf of every demonstrator on her period. I imagine my speech:

“You may have testosterone, boys, but I have cramps that would knock you on your skinny, revolutionary asses faster than a hail of rubber bullets, so put those limp little fists of yours down and get a fucking move on!”

At that moment, the riot police call the revolutionaries’ bluff. First, they form a tight black circle around the group, then calmly announce that they will all be arrested. The boys back down instantly. As they skulk backwards down the hill, they raise their middle fingers at the cops and froth with rage. I think to myself, pussies.

Finally, we arrive at Charest’s office building, whereupon we are directed to sit down and block the street. I couldn’t be happier to do so, although I anticipate having to ask a kindly anarchist to help me get up again. I decide to chance it. Almost immediately, the dull throb in my lower back subsides, and I am almost pleased with the universe.

At exactly this point, I become aware that a car has elected not to stop for the demonstration and is heading straight toward me. I scream and jump to my feet, as do several dozen other panicked demonstrators. In a flash, the car is surrounded by furious students who are swearing a blue streak and waving their placards in the air. I am one of them. After several minutes and a few well-placed dents, the car’s driver shifts meekly into reverse. Someone hurls a red cube at him as he does. It should have been a rock.

I head over to stand with Contrary-wise, who observes that Montreal demonstrations never seem to have an ending planned. This one is no exception. A couple of students give speeches, one in each official language, then everyone mills around for a while, wondering what to do next. One of the organizers recommends that the group march to another university where student council elections are being held. I take this as my cue to leave, and gently deposit my placard at the university gates. As I walk away, I face the awful truth: I am definitely too old for this.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Speaking of education...

Has it been a year already? It seems like just yesterday that we forced the Quebec government to back down on its pledge to cut $103 million from the provincial education budget. My, how time flies.

For those of you who missed it over on the Metroblog, a demonstration has been called to celebrate this very special anniversary. For the coordinates and other info, visit the Education is a Right website or click on the poster. Then come.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Didn’t you get the memo?

Surprisingly often, I am asked to justify why the government should continue to pay for post-secondary education. Knowing that anyone who would ask such a question likely won’t be swayed by principled arguments, I usually cite evidence of the economic benefits that an educated workforce confers upon society as a whole, and stress that merit, not privilege, should dictate the composition of that workforce.

As of today, I will respond to the question differently. From this point on, I will insist that a well-funded system of higher education is a society’s only protection against being led to war by cabals of incompetent oligarchs who are so corrupted by their own power that they deserve to be physically ejected from office.

Why do I say this, and why now? Because of the release of this classified memo, which was obtained by the New York Times and which proves, as did the Downing Street memo before it, that the Bush and Blair administrations were determined to wage war on Iraq regardless of whether it possessed weapons of mass destruction. Worse, the memo confirms that the two leaders seriously discussed provoking Iraq into a military conflict that would follow a preset timetable, and which, they claimed, would carry no future risk of internecine struggle.

Is this the jaw-dropping scoop that it first appears to be? No, not really. Although the details contained in the memo are, arguably, new, the possibility that the war against Iraq was based on an agenda that had little to do with terrorism, Al-Qaeda, or democracy should have been obvious to anyone with even a passing knowledge of recent history. Which is to say, it should have been obvious to anyone who had taken the time to read a few newspaper articles, or to watch a single television documentary, during the twelve-year interval between the first and second Iraq wars.

Education policy, like geopolitics, is fundamentally market-driven, and as a result the current trend is geared toward encouraging post-secondary training in science and technology (China, remember?) at the expense of the humanities and social sciences. However, a strictly science-based education will do nothing to expand a student’s knowledge of history, politics, or philosophy, and it certainly won’t provide them with the critical skills that informed citizens need to evaluate media discourses or political rhetoric of any stripe. How marvellously convenient.

Nevertheless, the consequences of this approach to both education and the world are palpably real, and will, in time, be felt by every single one of us. Flawed energy policies, skyrocketing oil prices, historic levels of government debt, to say nothing of simmering ideological conflicts that will be with us for generations to come, are all actual or potential effects of the present situation. Even if we presume to have no motivation other than radical self-interest, we are plainly shooting ourselves in the foot.

However, if we assume that we are also guided by some shred of humanitarian principle, then the present situation becomes completely unconscionable. It has to be said: we are, all of us, complicit in the deaths of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of our fellow human beings. These human beings are American, British, Polish, Pakistani, Afghan, but of course they are disproportionately Iraqi, and they have died and are still dying because we who are not Iraqi have given our governments license to kill them. Honestly, how many memos does it fucking take?

So yes, governments should pay for the education of their citizens, if for no other reason than because they clearly cannot be trusted to think on our behalf. And if we believe that a few dollars in tax cuts are more important than this, then we will get exactly the governments we deserve.

Girl drunk

I woke up today with a hangover that would have killed a moose. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I am not quite a woman of faith, but I am a firm believer in the therapeutic value of a bender. I don’t mean a quick pint after work, or a glass of wine with dinner, which health experts now blandly advise are good for us. No, I mean the kind of drinking you do when you mean to get blind drunk, and when nothing short of it will do.

This is the kind of drinking Arit and I did last night, after a perfectly civilized dinner that was accompanied by a perfectly civilized bottle of red wine. When the bottle was empty, I remembered that I had another squirreled away under the sink, which I had intended to drink after my synthesis paper defense. Since I never did get around to celebrating, I suggested to Arit that we open it, and she enthusiastically agreed. Soon afterwards, we were both thoroughly soused, and although I won’t presume to speak for her, my God, I needed to be.

Of course, the aforementioned health experts will disapprove, as they do of virtually all of the things that we humans get up to when we need to lose ourselves for a while. What they fail to understand is that we require moments of catharsis in our lives as much as food or shelter, and there is nothing even remotely cathartic about moderation. It’s also not very much fun, but that’s another rant entirely.

So, to wine, catharses, and dead moose. Je ne regrette rien.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


It felt like spring today. It wasn’t especially warm, but the wind had no bite to it at all, even without a scarf. I think this is how you can tell.

I decided to get a café au lait on my way home, which I shouldn’t have, but I wanted the taste of it and the little rush that comes. I will permit myself small pleasures in lieu of the other kind.

I can feel that I am different now, that something is irrevocably changed. I don’t know what this season will bring, but I suspect it won’t be like the last.

I do know this: there is nothing left that I need to do alone.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Speaking of death

Amidst the avalanche of press coverage that followed the death of Slobodan Milosevic, this death notice mysteriously appeared in the conservative Serbian newspaper Politika:

Thanks for all the deceit and theft, for every drop of blood that thousands shed for you, for our fear and uncertainty, for lost lives and generations, for the dreams we never fulfilled, for the horrors and wars that you, without asking us, led in our names, and for all the burdens you have placed on our shoulders. We remember the tanks in the streets of Belgrade and the blood on its sidewalks. We remember Vukovar. We remember Dubrovnik. We remember Knin and Krajina. We remember Sarajevo. We remember Srebrenica. We remember the bombing. We remember Kosovo. We have yet to begin remembering it. Dreaming of it. We remember those who died, the wounded, the victims, the refugees. We remember all of the lives you ruined.

Nada (Hope), Srecko (Happiness), Zivko (Life), Sloboda (Freedom) and Vesela (Joy).

Genius, no?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Bye, girl...

She really was beautiful, wasn't she?


Somehow, I made it through that awful day, and then two more. We’re adjusting now, Ivan and me. He still looks for her, as though she's hiding in the hall closet or under the bed. I am missing her too, but I can feel in my bones that she is gone.

Thanks for all your well wishes and for the comfort they gave. Thanks, too, to Arit and James, who were with me on the saddest days. I love you both with all my heart.

Tonight, I will wash her things and put them away. Tomorrow, I will try to let her go.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

And then, it changes

It’s cold again.

The trains sing like they always do.

I am putting my baby girl to sleep today.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Her fever has dropped but only slightly.

She’s lost half a pound since Thursday.

She’s not responding to the antibiotics.

The test results will be in in a couple of days.

I kept it together under James hugged me good night.

He said that I’ll get through this.

I said that I always do.

It just hurts like hell in the meantime.

I hope I didn’t get snot on his coat.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Eureka moment

For dinner today, I decided to make myself a tuna salad sandwich. I opened a can of tuna and began to drain it into the sink, then stopped abruptly. “I wonder,” I wondered, glancing quickly at Simone, who was curled up in a weak ball inside her cat carrier. “Hmm...”

I retrieved a small dish from the cupboard and poured several tablespoonsful of tuna water into it. I then placed the dish on the floor about a foot away from the carrier and waited.

A few minutes later, Simone cautiously emerged from the carrier. She walked slowly over to the dish and sniffed it a few times, then walked just as slowly back towards her carrier. Disappointed, I went into the living room and sat down to watch the news, leaving the dish where it was.

Then, during a story about the latest violence in Iraq, I heard the distinct sound of a cat’s tongue lapping. Turning towards the kitchen, I saw Simone crouched over the dish, heartily drinking the tuna water with its tiny flakes of fish. I was almost giddy with joy, but I restrained myself from cheering so as not to disturb her.

When she was finished, I poured several more tablespoonsful of tuna water into the dish, and added three small chunks of tuna to the broth. Again, I placed the dish on the floor and waited, and again, she lapped up all the water, but left the tuna chunks where they lay. Then, she went back into her carrier and fell asleep.

So, if nothing else, my cat will consent to eating soup. That’s something.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Hope so...

VIRGO: Your Weekend

We all want our days to be full of sunny weather, happy encounters and joyous celebrations. Some of us thrive on a little 'dark drama' but none of us want to lead a life in which this provides much more than the occasional moment of contrast. Life for you lately, though, has been a little too grey, overcast or uncomfortable. You're beginning to wonder what you're doing wrong. The answer is, 'nothing'. Life just gets that way sometimes. And then, it changes.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Simone still hasn’t eaten anything. She drank some water last night, but not today. The vet said it would take 48 hours for the antibiotics to start working. It’s been 55 hours since her first dose.

I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since last Sunday.

It caught up with me this afternoon, as I was trying, and failing, to pill her. I couldn’t get her to unclench her jaw, and after a half-dozen attempts she ran under the bed and I burst into tears.

Then Arit came over, even though she was tired and hadn’t had dinner, and she got the pill in just like that. Then we talked for a while and I loved her more than ever.

Simone just drank some water. Good girl.

When Phil and I first got the cats, we had them tested for FLV. Ivan’s test was negative. Simone’s was indeterminate. The vet wants to test her again after her fever breaks, but I’m not thinking about that right now.

Her next appointment is on Monday afternoon. That’s 36 hours away.

Friday, March 10, 2006


She has a fever and won’t eat anything. The vet gave her a shot of cat aspirin, and antibiotic pills for the next ten days. If she gets better, it’s probably nothing. If she doesn’t, it’s Feline Leukemia Virus.

She ate a tiny bit when we got home. Then I had to go to a meeting. Then I got drunk for the third night in a row, only this time it didn’t feel good at all.

She hasn’t eaten again since. She is lying on my lap, not purring.

I keep thinking: be well... be well... be well.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Simone isn’t well. I’m waiting for an emergency appointment with the neighbourhood vet, which has preempted a day full of Important Things.

I am, obviously, worried, and consumed by guilt.

I should have taken her in days ago, but I had a synthesis paper to defend and other Important Things to do.

I should have taken her for her annual check-ups, but there were always more Important Things to spend the money on, like groceries or the fucking hydro bill.

I should have let her drink out of my water glass yesterday, because she really, really wanted to.

I should get her into her carrier now.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

New and notable

I passed my synthesis paper defense yesterday. Today, I am painfully hungover and quite late for work, so I have invited Jonathan Cainer to comment on my behalf:

Virgo week ahead

You have lived through easier times. Have you ever, though, been in such a potentially rewarding situation before? You may think so. You may even think that there's nothing very satisfying about your current set of circumstances and it is unlikely they will lead to anything worth celebrating. You only feel that way, though, because you are fed up with a frustrating process. It seems as though this will never come to an acceptable conclusion. Ah, but it will. If you stick with it stoically and can manage to be gracefully good-humoured about a matter that secretly infuriates you, you may yet find that you start getting somewhere constructive - this very week.

Now, where did I put those painkillers?

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Having nothing better to blog about, I decided to look in on my Interactive Johari Window. The results, such as they are, are reasonably interesting, and, at times, downright entertaining (Aside to Nick: Relaxed? Are you kidding me?!), but this one in particular nailed me to the wall:

50% of people think that Vila H. is sentimental.

Yes, it’s true. Despite my feeble efforts to cultivate a tough-as-nails exterior, I am, unquestionably, a marshmallow. No, make that a Twinkie. A moist, schmaltzy Twinkie.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I certainly have my ironic moments, and I will occasionally lapse into bleak cynicism, but these are merely decorative flourishes meant to distract the casual observer from the telltale reek of romanticism. It’s sad, I know, but it’s the best I can do.

But Vila, I hear some of you saying (or at least I think I do, which will suffice), what’s wrong with being sentimental? To which I will emphatically respond: nothing, nothing at all. Unless, that is, you had either the poor judgement or the extraordinary bad luck to have been born a Gen-Xer, in which case it is a crime punishable by death.

Let’s face it: sentimentality is, among my tribe, not in the least bit cool. (Well, it is if it’s dressed up in the finery of twee, but that’s really more of a Gen-Y thing, isn’t it?) No, we Xers have spent a lifetime being trained in the art of ironic distanciation, and to retain any vestige of mawkishness is to fail this training in the most spectacular way. In lieu of a strategically reversed baseball cap, I wear the conical crown of the dunce.

Still, I can’t help but note that my generation’s drug of choice was Ecstasy, which is quite possibly the least ironic drug on earth. Seriously, have you ever tried to maintain an ironic distance while tripping on Ecstasy? Unless you are a robot or pathologically evil, you just can’t do it.

Beneath the apparent contradiction lies a perfect kind of sense, since Ex provides the Xer with an excuse to be sentimental, much as alcohol provides hormone-addled teenagers with an excuse to make the first move. In both cases, the drug frees the taker from perceived social constraints, and gives them an easy out afterwards. No, of course I didn’t mean it when I said you were amazing and beautiful and I couldn’t stop hugging you. That was just the Ex talking. Dumbass.

But I always had the sense that they really did mean it, and that this accounts for why they did so goddamn much of the stuff. What a relief it must have been to have dropped the ironic facade for a few short hours, and to have enjoyed, even briefly, a sentiment-driven connection with others. And how equally depressing it must have been to come down, only to return to an aloof and disconnected world.

Fuck, I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Sorry...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


It is, officially, the dead of winter, a time when even the most seasoned bloggers lose their spark. Some are reflecting upon their deepening malaise, and one has even resorted to a reader’s poll to chart his future course.

The less seasoned among us weigh our blogging options, and inevitably find them wanting. There is, most obviously, the weather, which is wretchedly cold and will remain so for another six weeks at least. There is work, which admittedly sucks but hardly merits public discussion. There is, finally, gossip, the broadcast of which is unfortunately circumscribed by ethical considerations.

What’s a blogger to do? Like marriage, a few lacy underthings might help to spice things up, except that it’s much too cold to consider abandoning my flannel pyjamas. Alternatively, I could make a brief foray into the realm of fiction, and regale you with the adventures of a thinly veiled but infinitely more exciting version of myself named Lola. But then, The Smoking Gun would unleash an exposé and I’d be publicly pilloried by Oprah, and frankly, who needs that?

Then there is politics, that inexhaustible well of spit and bile from which we all draw so deeply. The problem is, I wouldn’t know where to begin. The unmitigated disaster that is the war in Iraq? The burgeoning movement to reverse Roe vs. Wade? The inauguration of Canada’s first Conservative government in thirteen years? Really, what more is there to say than that Rome is burning and it quite probably deserves to.

Christ, I’d write about the movies if I had actually seen any lately.

No, there is no joy in Blogville tonight, only a blinking cursor and the faint hope of spring.