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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Government Client Service At Your Service

“Color me impressed with Service Canada- Adele’s
birth certificate took 2 days from the online registration to arrival
at my front door via courier. Now THAT is impressive.
Why can’t all gov’t agencies be that efficient?”
 – posted on Facebook by an optimist

Now there is a relevant question. Why can’t all government agencies be that efficient or, at least, sort of in the ballpark? The lack of thinking and motivation that goes into the bureaucratic process at all levels of government is staggering.
In Canada, every citizen has a Social Insurance Number. I was a teenager when the government decided that numbering us was better than simply using our names and I still remember getting my first SIN card. It was white plastic with black lettering and a red Canada flag logo proudly displayed in the upper left hand corner. Its purpose was strictly limited for dealing with the government in terms of taxation and Canada Pension payments.
Over the years, the SIN number became a broader form of identification. Banks required it when new accounts were opened. Credit card companies required it as part of the process of approving you for a new credit card and it was used to run credit checks, background and criminal checks.
I carried that card in my wallet for years from the time I was about 18 but a few years back it finally disintegrated. It had cracked in multiple places over the years and the tape I had used to try and hold the pieces together just wasn’t working anymore so I bit the bullet and went to Service Canada to get a replacement card. I needed it to get a new passport.
Service Canada is the arm of the federal government that provides a centralized point of contact for Canadians for a wide range of government services. This is meant to eliminate the need to go to multiple departments to get something done and to reduce government cost through a reduction in duplication of effort.
Service Canada offices are conveniently scattered in shopping malls and office buildings across the country and I had no difficulty finding one near where I live. So far, so good. I didn’t even have to pay for parking which is a pleasant change from most government buildings. (I personally find it offensive that we have to pay for parking to go into a government department that our money finances.)
I dropped Maggie off for work on this particular morning and zipped out to the Service Canada outlet. I parked and walked jauntily into the office and in that simple act fell down the rabbit hole and found myself in Wonderland.
Consider this information carefully. I was simply getting a replacement card for a SIN I already had been issued. My name and number were on file in the Service Canada data base. I had plenty of government issued photo ID including my driver’s license and health card so I wasn’t concerned about proving who I was. I should have been.
None of that identification was acceptable to prove who I was. I was told that I would require a copy of my birth certificate.
You could almost hear the carousel music starting up as the merry-go-round started to spin.
Birth certificates in Canada are produced by a provincial, not the federal, government. They are issued on cheap paper and you are not permitted to plasticize them in order to preserve their life span. Mine had worn out years earlier but because birth certificates are almost never used as a form of ID in Canada, I had never bothered to replace it. That was a bad decision as it turns out.
Now there was a time when you could drop by a provincial office conveniently located in your city and get a replacement birth certificate while you waited. That was, of course, before the provincial government decided t become more client-centric with the development of Service Ontario. Now, you have to deal with one centralized office to get your birth certificate and it was conveniently located in Toronto a mere 400 kms away.
I could use the handy online ordering system which would only take a few weeks but adding those weeks to the weeks it would take to get my SIN card and then my passport would take me far beyond the time period when I would need my passport. So, I opted to drive to Toronto to the Service Ontario office to get a replacement birth certificate.
I left at 3:00 in the morning and was the second person in line when the office opened for business that morning. (There is always a line at a government service centre.)
I had already filled out my forms and could tell that my service agent was appreciative of that. He and I hit it off right away. I handed him the forms and asked what identification he would require only to be told he didn’t require ID. Excuse me? I was about to be given a government identification document based solely on a form I had filled out and with no verification of who I was. Remember, it was this specific document that federal government required in order to give me a replacement card for what is arguably the most important identification card a Canadian is issued.
My application for a new birth certificate was handled in whiz bang time although they couldn’t hand me the replacement certificate at that office. It would have to be mailed to me but if I liked, for an additional $75 they could courier it to me in three days. This is a piece of paper they used to print out while you waited but under the new and improved efficiency of centralizing services, it now had to be mailed for free or couriered at extra cost.
The bottom line is that I received my birth certificate three days later with absolutely no proof of identity, used it to get a replacement SIN card without any other proof of identity and then used the SIN card to get a new passport. 
I’ve gone through more intensive identity checks to get a library card. 
It’s small wonder that identity theft is so prevalent these days. Government bureaucracy makes it all too easy with processes that are poorly thought out, procedures that are absurdly absurd by organizations more concerned with employee language skills than anything even closely resembling customer service, efficiency or security.
In this case, it was my own documents I was replacing but it made me realize how easy it is to create an identity or steal one in this country. With a false birth certificate you can obtain a SIN card and a passport. With those documents you can open a bank account in the stolen identity, obtain credit cards, get a driver’s license and a health card and depending on the age of the identity you’ve stolen, even get a Government of Canada pension.
Now that is service!

For Outstanding Achievement In Government Waste & Stupidity – The 2011 Teddy Awards

Service Me, please?.

Customer Service That Makes Your Head Explode

Warning – This Is What Will Happen If Marijuana Is Legalized

© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to others

Fast & Furious – CNN’s Soledad O’Brien Rides Again

On the eve of an historic vote by a congressional committee that could find the Attorney General of the United States in contempt of congress, a Fortune Magazine article has been published that challenges the entire narrative of the what has come to be called Fast & Furious.

It is alleged that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) engaged in a series of ‘gunwalking’ sting operations during the period 2006-2011. The program, was intended to reduce the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico and the hands of the drug cartels by by allowing some weapons to be moved (or walked) by gun runners. It is alleged that the ATF allowed gun runners and straw buyers to purchase weapons and traffic them across the border. This is called gunwalking.

Ultimately, weapons did fall into the hands of members of various cartels and two American border patrol agents were killed, as were a number of Mexican citizens. Some of these weapons were found at the scene of the killings.

Brian Terry one of two American
Border Partol Agents killed by
weapons from Fast & Furious

Congress, led by the Republican side of the house, has been investigating Fast & Furious, demanding documents and grilling Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States about the program. Democrats have accused Republicans of engaging in a witch hunt for political reasons. Republican supporters have accused the administration of a secret plan to take away American’s right to own guns.

Media commentators and politicians on both sides have had a field day slinging accusations back and forth and even the National Rifle Association (NRA) has jumped in to the fray. The NRA announced it would give any Democratic congressmen ‘a black mark’ if they didn’t vote to find the Attorney General in contempt of Congress. Personally, I believe he is in contempt but I think the NRA should put the intimidation tactics away. They have no place in a democracy. 

Now, a well-researched article by Fortune Magazine questions many of the assertions made about the program and that has touched off a firestorm in the mainstream media (MSM).

Some of the recovered weapons from the
Fast & Furious program
As can be expected and even predicted, the MSM on the left have seized on this article as a vindication of the Obama Administration while those on the right dismiss it as factually wrong or irrelevant. The reporting, in most cases, is so abjectly biased on both sides that it fails, by any standard of measurement to even imitate journalism.

Martin Bashir went so far as to suggest that the Congressional investigation had nothing to do with a dead American border agent. It was all about a conspiracy to take away guns from Americans. It appears that no spin is too absurd for the mainstream media to support their particular bias.

Nowhere was this more evident than on CNN where Soledad O’Brien once again proved that a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Ms O’brien, who is well-known for her lack of objectivity and ability to engage in anything even remotely resembling critical thinking, interviewed Katherine Eban of Fortune about her article on Fast & Furious. During that interview, Ms Eban restated, as she did in her article that five ATF agents told her that gunwalking had not occurred. Ms O’Brien played a video clip of Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States, testifying under oath that in fact, it had.
CNN”s Soledad O’Brien

Subsequently, Ms O’Brien interviewed Rep. John Mica of the House Committee investigating Fast & Furious. It was a mess. Ms O’Brien was less interested in uncovering facts than she was about using the Fortune article to discredit the committee’s investigation, the results of which might hurt President Obama’s reelection campaign. She clung to her bias like a fat kid clinging to a Big Mac and it was painful to watch.

Perhaps the most absurd moment came when she demanded to know from Rep. Mica, what evidence the committee had that gunwalking had actually taken place when five ATF agents denied that it had. The question was so stupid; I had to remind myself to breathe. She had just played a video clip of the Attorney General admitting under oath that it had. Surely to God, that admission, in and of itself, should be enough grounds for the committee to continue its investigation. Even Soledad O’Brien should be able to figure that out but to give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she wasn’t paying attention when her ‘people’ aired the clip.

Congressman John Mica of the House Committee
investigating Fast & Furious
That is what now passes for journalism today. 

I don’t know the truth about Fast & Furious and I suspect there aren’t too many who do. Clearly, people like Soledad O’Brien and Martin Bashir don’t either. They get their information from the media (or in Ms O’Brien’s case, Wikipedia) like the rest of us.

Ms Eban’s article for Fortune raises serious questions that need to be answered. She has presented facts uncovered during her six-month investigation that challenge some of the narrative put forward so far about Fast & Furious. Whether or not those facts will ultimately prove to be the whole story remains to be seen but her article  actually supports the need for the continuation of the congressional investigation.

Attorney General Eric Holder who testified
under oath that gunwalking had occurred
during Fast & Furious
Instead of grasping at the Fortune article as a vindication of the Obama administration and a condemnation of the Congressional committee, why aren’t Soledad O’Brien and other members of the MSM asking questions like; if the ATF agents are correct, why did the Attorney General lie to Congress? If in fact the administration did not engage in activity that led to the deaths of two American border agents and a number of Mexican citizens, why is it refusing to hand over documents about the case? Assuming that Ms Eban’s article is factually correct and that there was never an intention for the guns to fall into criminal hands, how did it happen? What were the causes of such careless inefficiency? Who is responsible?

None of these questions are being asked nor is the MSM asking why the administration is working overtime to prevent the release of documents related to Fast & Furious.

Less than 10% of the existing documents related to the Fast & Furious program have been turned over to Congress. The President has invoked executive privilege (again) and the Attorney General faces contempt of Congress motion. That seems a little extreme for an administration that believe it did nothing wrong. One would think that if there was nothing to hide, those documents would already be on their way to the committee by Zippy Delivery.

But they are not and it is the contradictions about Fast & Furious that are the elephant in the room, an elephant being all but ignored by the mainstream media.

Ms Eban has written that five agents told her that the ATF did not engage in gunwalking but another ATF agent, John Dodson testified that he and other agents were ordered to observe the activities of gun smugglers but not to intervene. 
“Over the course of the next 10 months that I was involved
in this operation, we monitored as they purchased hand guns, 
AK-47variants, and .50 caliber rifles almost daily.
Rather than conduct any enforcement actions, we took notes, we
recorded observations, we tracked movements of these individuals
for a short time after their purchases, but nothing more.
Knowing all the while, just days after these purchases, the guns
that we saw these individuals buy would begin turning up at
crime scenes in the United States and Mexico,
we still did nothing. …

“I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into
the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any
legitimate law enforcement interest.”

– from the transcript of Agent Dodson’s testimony before the House Committee

So which ATF agents are telling the truth? Who do we believe? Personally, I don’t know but neither do the MSM. Instead of trying to ferret out the truth, the entertainment news anchors simply toss out snippets of information that support their bias, their politics or simply their inability to actually act like journalists.

Whatever the truth about Fast & Furious, much of the mainstream media’s coverage and analysis of it, like so much else it purports to cover, is a disgrace. It is difficult to remember that American journalism was created and nurtured by people like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Conkrite and Mike Wallace.
If the shallow and biased commentary of today is the best that freedom of the press buys, it is definitely overpriced and we are not getting our money’s worth. With great freedom comes great responsibility and the news media has an obligation to report the news objectively, fully and to hold government to account. They do not exist to act as publicity arms of one political party or another.

MSNBC, Fox News, CNN and all the rest would do well to remember that although I doubt there are sufficient real journalists working for any of them anymore to ensure that will happen.

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien – The Erosion Of Professional Journalism Continues

Fortune Article: The truth about the Fast and Furious Scandal by Katherine Eban

MSNBC’s Martin Bashir: ‘Fast and Furious’ bombshell a day ahead of Holder contempt charge

© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to others

Violating The Oath Of Office

`“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute
the office of President of the United States, and will
to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend
the Constitution of the United States.”
This is the oath of office taken by every person sworn in as President of the United States. It is simple, straight forward and direct in its purpose and intent and is the oath taken by every president from George Washington to Barrack Obama. 
It is taken in public and is intended to insure that The President will not only lead by example but will protect the very foundation on which the freedom of the people and their nation’s laws are based.
Every democracy in the world requires a similar oath be taken by its incoming Prime Ministers and Presidents and virtually no democracy in the world has a political leadership that has not turned its back on, and violated, that oath.
On March 28, 2011 the President made this declaration regarding illegal immigration.
“With respect to the notion that I can just
suspend deportations [of immigrants
brought here illegally as children]
through executive order, that’s just not the case,
because there are laws on the books
that Congress has passed.”
This declaration was consistent with his oath of office. In June of 2012, despite the fact that the law had not changed, the President announced that he was unilaterally over-ruling that law and in that announcement reversed not only his statement of the previous year but contradicted his sworn oath of office. This decision was not done for noble or even necessary means to protect the nation. It was done out of expediency to gain votes from the Latino community for his troubled reelection.
With this one act, this particular law no longer applies to 800,000 illegal immigrants almost all of whom are Latino.
It is one thing for  any political leader to attempt to have a law revised or struck down by democratic process. because they believe it is bad law. It is something else completely to use Executive Privilege to try and circumvent and ignore existing law in order to attract votes from a particular racial or other constituency. 
Leading Democrats, many in the media and others who support Barrack Obama have tried to justify this action, to legitimize it but at the end of the day, it is the President’s own words one year ago that underscore  the truth. He has knowingly and cynically ignored his own knowledge of the law and his sworn oath to uphold it in order to strengthen his reelection chances.
Nothing changed. The promise of change was made.
The promise of change was not kept.
He will not face sanctions for it unless it is at the ballot box. His supporters will turn a blind eye to the fact that their choice for president has in the end, proven himself to be no better than all of those politicians who went before him. They will accuse critics of the president of racism. They will rationalize, justify and legitimize his violation of the immigration act because in their eyes, the ends justify the means. Winning is everything and even breaking the law is acceptable if it means defeating the other side. They will do this because they do not vote for something, they vote against something else.
These people are no better than those they oppose. 
How anyone can convince themselves that this is the path to a better, more open and just society escapes me. Many will, however, and that is the primary reason why our governments and our politics continue to degenerate into cesspools of corrupt cynicism. If Richard Nixon was president today and Watergate was unfolding, he would not face impeachment. Instead, his actions would be defended, rationalized and legitimized by members of his party, sympathetic members of the mainstream media and his side of a highly polarized electorate.

We cling to ideologies and those who represent them to the point that too many of us can justify anything done on our side, no matter how unethical, self-serving or illegal. The power to ignore and even violate the oath of office and to undermine our constitutions comes from us through our willingness to support those who lie to us and who treat our democratic governments with such disrespect.

President Obama’s election was more of mania than an informed choice. He was young, cool and promised change in which people could believe. He has not delivered.

His handling of the economy has been mixed at best, his health care reform has been challenged in the Supreme Court and parts, if not all, of it may be struck down.  He presided over the Fast & Furious scandal that violated the sovereignty of a foreign nation and which led to the unnecessary death of two American and countless Mexican citizens. He has not united the nation, he has divided it. He did not close Guantanamo as he promised, he perpetuated it and he did not change the  unethical and even illegal tactics and policies of the Republican administration that went before him, he continued them, expanded on many and as with Fast and Furious, implemented some of his own.
By any system of measurement, he has failed to live up to what he promised when he campaigned for president.
Now, like so many before him,  he is violating his own sworn oath of office in contradiction of his own declaration about this specific law a year ago. This president promised a new and better way of leading his country. In the end, when his reelection was on the line, he opted for the same cheap opportunism and dishonest politics of those he criticized. 
This isn’t leadership. It is expediency at the expense of leadership and the constitution, the laws of his nation and the integrity of his office. He has not only failed to live up to the promise that was Barrack Obama, he has failed to even try.
Those who are voting for Barrack Obama, or any candidate who has lied, bent the law for their personal benefit or proven themselves to be unethical, would do well to think about that before they cast their ballot. 
Sadly, as with most countries these days, I doubt many will and the continuing erosion of integrity in government and of our democracies around the world will continue.


The Courage To Lead

What Ever Happened To Integrity?

Government Takes Over Where The Mob Left Off

The Shameful  Disgrace Of The RoboCall Scandal

© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to others

Paris-Day 6: The Long Goodbye

We leave Paris today to return to Canada.
I woke fairly early and with a fair amount of dread over how Air Canada and airport security would conspire to make the return trip as unpleasant as possible. Fortunately, because I hadn’t packed my suitcase yet, it gave me something to take my mind off the impending trip and also gave Maggie something to worry about instead of thinking about flying the mediocre skies.
No worries. We’ have lots of time and we’re all going
in the same direction for a change.
We had organized a taxi the night before with a taxi driver we had come to know and who was not only reliable but fun. He showed up promptly on time with his customary smile and off we went.

It’s an hour by cab to Charles de Gaulle Airport Airport and the three of us discussed politics, social programs and taxation during the drive. I’m not sure why we talked about that but our driver was really enthusiastically into our discussion frequently looking back at us and waving his arms to express a point. At one point I felt it necessary to offer to  steer the taxi so that he could continue to talk with his hands unimpeded by by such mundane things as concentrating on driving.

I’ve never discussed politics with my eyes closed before but I did during that particular ride.

We were too early for breakfast at the hotel so after arriving safely at the airport, we checked our luggage, obtained our boarding passes and then went looking for someplace to eat. We were pleasantly surprised by the French Air Canada employee, who recognizing that I was walking with a cane, seated us in the middle aisle of the flight with each of us in an aisle seat and then blocked off the centre seat so that I would have room to stretch out my leg. It was a thoughtful gesture and uncharacteristic for Canada’s national airline.
We found a small restaurant and had our last café crème and croissant breakfast and then worked our way over to security.
Everyone sing along……moooooooo!
I believe that airline security personnel are all trained at the same place. They have no personality and only limited cognitive ability. We stood in line, snaking our way through the line until we reached an employee who’s job it was to point us to the next available security checkpoint. It amazes me that they believe we are either visually impaired and can’t see for ourselves which checkpoint is available or in the alternative that we are too stupid to figure it out. Perhaps I’m being unkind and it is simply a jobs creation program for the intellectually challenged.
Our ‘guide’ was a little overwhelmed by the responsibility of choosing the next available gate that had been entrusted to her. She had difficulty trying to figure out, without the help of passengers, which checkpoint to send people to as they came to the end of the line.
I dutifully emptied my pockets into a tray, removed my laptop from it’s case and sent all of that along with my cane through the x-ray machine. Then I hobbled through the metal detector and headed straight to the little mat where they wand you. I knew before the machine that I would set it off. Once again I was wanded, probed, frisked and inserted into the Star Trek transporter to be scanned.
Nothing. Damn, you could almost feel the disappointment among the security agents.
We head to our boarding gate which is conveniently situated a mere twenty-three miles from the security checkpoint. I’m moving so slow, Maggie insists on the wheelchair thing again and I’m too tired to argue. Besides, I figure that under the right circumstances I might be able to run over an airport employee. 
The regular friendly get together at
Passport Control
We go up elevators and down elevators, wheel our way along very long corridors only to go up more elevators and down some more. Clearly the departure side of the airport was designed by someone with a serious chip on their shoulder who has made it abundantly clear that providing convenience for the people arriving in Paris is more important than for those who are leaving.
Just when I’m beginning to believe we probably should have packed some supplies for the journey through the airport, we arrive at our departure gate. It rises like an oasis in a desert and we are grateful.

We sit and we wait and then, we sit and we wait some more. Eventually they call our flight and low and behold my cane gets us priority boarding although it took me so long to hobble down the ramp that the regular passengers caught up and quickly passed me.
One of the most interesting parts of the flight is
trying to guess what they’ve given you to eat
We take off forty minutes behind schedule but our captain assures us we will make up the time in flight due to reduced headwinds. What an optimist.

The flight itself was fairly easy although the meals that were served were unidentifiable. I was offered chicken or pasta but even though I opted for chicken, any resemblance between what I got and something that formerly clucked was purely coincidental. Later, we were provided with a meat pastry which was basically some kind of runny mystery meat in something only closely resembling a bread product. The obvious bi-product of Air Canada food is green house gas emissions and there is something quite disturbing about sitting in a plane for a number of hours surrounded  by a few hundred people with gas.
Nonetheless, having the empty seat between Maggie and I did help although my right leg was numb from the knee down by the time we arrived in Toronto forty minutes late. It appears the captain was almost right. We made up five minutes thanks to reduced headwinds.
Yum, Yum., microwaved bum.
We waited until almost everyone had exited the plane before we got up and left. We walked up the ramp and were greeted at the top of it by four Canada Border Services Officers dressed in blue SWAT combat uniforms complete with boots, black leather gloves and 9 mm automatics on their hips. 
They were positively drooling with anticipation over the possibility of doing a shock and awe on some traveller.
One agent checked our passport, while the other three stood with thumbs in their belts ready to pounce the moment I tried to attack them with my cane. I contrasted this over-the-top passport check with those I’ve experienced upon arrival in other countries, including the United States and have never seen a display of force like this. In a country like Canada it is both unnecessary and absurd. This is the first thing a visitor to Canada sees; four wanna be SWAT officers treating them with suspicion and mistrust with not a smile or a welcome to Canada between them. I understand the need for heightened security at airports but this is ridiculous.
CBSA officer in full SWAT-style uniform
complete with black leather gloves; 
the perfect fashion accessory for saying
Welcome to Canada.

The people on the plane had been through security, had their passports checked a half dozen times and were comprised primarily of tourists and Canadian citizens returning to their country. Did these fools think Air Canada had armed us while we on board the plane and were going to come storming up the ramp guns blazing?

“Flee the village! It’s over-tired tourists returning home in neck scarves,”

Four armed CBSA officers at the top of the ramp is just a touch extreme considering that even Air Canada only has one guy in a badly fitting blazer checking your passports when you board the plane pre-flight.

The simple reality is that the biggest security and smuggling issues are with airport employees in areas other than the arrival gates for travelers. This adolescent display of force is not only repellent to me but as a Canadian it is embarrassing. Canada has never had a terrorist attack at an airport but our border agents conduct themselves like we are living in the middle of Beirut in the ‘90s and they stand like storm troopers at a fascist rally so eager to check documents they can’t even wait until you go to a passport control exit counter.
Leather gloves – check. Gun- check.
Remember not to smile at travellers-check
Going to be another great day!

Maggie and I are cleared by the SWAT wanna be’s and allowed to proceed.

We hobble over to get our luggage which takes an eternity thanks to Air Canada’s crack ground grew and then wheel it down to customs where we are breezed through without even being asked if we had anything to declare. I suspect it makes getting contraband  into the country so much easier when all of the security is on a show of force at the top of the ramp when you’re exiting the plane and there is none when you wheel your luggage through.
I’m tired, sore and more than a little frustrated by the abject stupidity of the entire air travel process. It was designed by people who haven’t got a clue. But, it’s finally cigarette time and out I go. I find a quiet spot, plunk myself down and light up. It is heavenly despite what the anti-smoking crusade thinks.
We return to the terminal and I walk with Maggie to the departure gate which is only fifteen miles from where we are. We sit and wait for awhile and then our flight is called for boarding. Once again, I use the cane to get us priority boarding and this time I hobble more quickly. It doesn’t matter, there are already regular passengers on board. How do they do that?
We take off fifteen minutes behind schedule which pretty much suffices for on time with Air Canada and an hour later, we are in Ottawa. We sit in the plane out on the tarmac waiting for our gate because there is a plane now thirty minutes behind schedule still sitting where we’re supposed to park. Apparently nobody told them we were coming.
When we finally get to exit the plane, I take a quick look around for a beaver thinking that the next time we cross the Atlantic, we’ll use Canada’s national symbol rather than its national airline. I mean, really, how much more poorly could a rodent do than Air Canada?
We are over an hour late arriving and I’m tired and still feeling the after effects of the Air Canada cuisine; but we are home and we had a lovely time in Paris. 
We’ll go back but frankly, I wish they’d build a bridge between Europe and North America so that we could just drive over the next time. Failing that, a very large beaver with a luggage compartment and that can swim long distances will suffice (and we’ll  bring our own sandwiches).

I told you I was suffering from sleep deprivation. I’m becoming delusional.


Paris – Day 1: Les vaches disent moo!

Paris-Day 2: Cultured and Assimilated

Paris-Day 3: The Fleas

Paris-Day 4: Just Being There – The Latin Quarter

Paris-Day 5: Montmartre

© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to others

Paris-Day 5: Montmartre

Originally a notorious cabaret,
Chat Noir closed in 1897 .
The name and heritage
of the once famous nightclub
now graces a small hotel

Despite the fact that my limp is getting more pronounced from all of the walking we’ve done, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Paris but it is today that I have been looking forward to above everything else we’ve done. Today, when Maggie gets back from the last morning session at her conference, we’re off to Montmartre and if the Latin Quarter is Maggie’s favourite section of the city, Montmartre is mine.

In a city that measures its history in terms of centuries, Montmartre is old and has seen war and the arts in equal measure. Montmartre became known as the bohemian part of Pairs and was home to writers and famous artists like Lautrec and Cézannes.

It is dominated by the Basilica of Sacre Coeur and is the highest part of Paris offering panoramic views of the city.
Like everything else, Montmartre has become more commercial but it still retains much of its historic charm and if there are no budding Cézannes or Latrechs now, there are still plenty of artists clustered in the streets, selling their art and creating new paintings while you watch.
Basilica of Sacre Coeur

No canvas is too small and the palette knife is the preferred instrument for applying paint. For most of these painters, brushes take too long. There is every conceivable style of painting from abstract and impressionist to classic realism, from quite good to abhorrent. It is a blaze of noise and colour that matches the canvases of the artists in the street.

Most of the paintings are fairly mundane and are of the most well-known tourist attractions including the Eiffel Tower, The Arch de Triomphe and so on. Some are street scenes of people walking by brightly coloured cafes while others are highly stylized abstracts of God knows what.
Montmartre is still the outdoor studio to dozens
of artists who work while they try to sell
their paintings.

Interspersed between the scenic painters are the portrait artists. Some have a small stall where you can sit and pose while they render your likeness on paper; others wander the streets, pad in hand trying to entice tourists into stopping long enough for a quick sketch. The wandering artists tend not to be very good. We watched one particularly aggressive artist draw the portrait of a little girl and when he was finished, we wondered if we had been looking at the same little girl he was looking at.

There are the usual cafes and souvenir shops scattered around the streets and like the Latin Quarter there is music and laughter and crowds of people.
You’re kidding, right?

We wonder over to Sacre-Coeur and Maggie runs up the stairs to go into the basilica while I rest my leg by sitting on a convenient cement traffic barrier at the base of the steps. When she returns we decide we will need more cash but can’t find an ATM anywhere. In spite of my sore leg and back, I’m prepared to wander around until we find one because I hate asking for directions. Maggie is more pragmatic and asks someone for directions which initiates the great expedition.

There are no ATMs in Montmartre apparently and we are told that we will have to go down to the city below where there is one at the base of the stairs. Stairs? Are you kidding me?
Ah! The funiculaire, a  more
civilized way to travel up and down

Fortunately, there is a cable car, or funiculaire as it is called in Paris, that will carry us down and back up the side of the butte. We buy tickets, enter the cable car and descend. Sure enough, there is an ATM in a store right at the bottom of the hill and, sure enough, it is out of service. (I am convinced more than ever that Air Canada has its fingers in many operations)

We ask where there might be another and are pointed to go down more stairs, which we do, only to find ourselves in the garment district. Virtually every store sells cloth of some description or another. If either of us sewed, this might have held some interest for us but it tended to remind us the old garment districts in Montreal and Toronto so we weren’t all that interested. Besides, all we really wanted was to find an ATM, withdraw some cash and get back to Montmartre.
A view of Paris from Montmartre

We wander up and down side-streets with Maggie asking for directions at various times only to be always told that there was an ATM just around the corner. It became clear that ‘which corner’ was never actually established. I would have like to have stepped in to ask for directions but I’m a guy and we don’t ever ask anyone how to get anywhere. It’s not just a point of principle, it’s genetic.

Eventually, we do find an ATM, withdraw some money and start to retrace our steps. The temperature has dropped and Maggie’s feet are cold in her sandals so now we have to look for a store that sells socks.

Good luck. Scarves abound, socks are nowhere to be found.

We walk back to the funiculaire buy two more tickets and cable car it back up to Montmartre. My cane is getting a real workout so I find another cement traffic barrier and sit down while Maggie wanders off to look for chocolates for her colleagues back in Canada. It’s amazing how the little things intrude on those great moments.
Walking in the footsteps of famous artists,
singers and writers

We wander back into artist’s alley, as I called it, and watched a few more street artists at work. We had a café crème and, of course, bought some more scarves. I was no longer concerned about buying another suitcase to lug them all home, I was working in my head on a business plan to open a small shop in Canada that sells scarves.
Back in the Cambrone neighbourhood where our hotel is located, we have dinner. I start mine with an incredible French onion soup followed by a somewhat decent steak. Maggie has chicken and more café crème. We travel home tomorrow so we head back to the hotel earlier than usual to pack or more accurately, so that Maggie can pack. I like to save mine until the morning just to give her something to worry about.
Once the bohemian centre of Paris, Montmartre
is now a major tourist attraction

When we go to bed, Maggie is asleep in moments while I lay awake wondering how Air Canada will screw up the next day. It’s like anticipating a violent storm. You know it’s coming and there’s nothing you can do about and you have no idea how much damage will be done. You just know it’s not going to be pleasant.

My last thought, which I confess is a touch incoherent, is that Air Canada is a pretty poor representation of our country and maybe Maggie and I would have more enjoyable trip if we traveled home on a beaver.
A beaver? I begin to think that either my mind is going or I am suffering from sleep deprivation.


Paris – Day 1: Les vaches disent moo!

Paris-Day 2: Cultured and Assimilated

Paris-Day 3: The Fleas

Paris-Day 4: Just Being There – The Latin Quarter

© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to others

Paris-Day 4: Just Being There – The Latin Quarter

Day 4 is a working day at least for Maggie and the real reason behind the reason we came to Paris. Maggie is attending a conference at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as Canada’s representative where she will be making a presentation to representatives from some sixty other countries on human resources planning.

I have teased Maggie in my posts about shopping but I am inordinately proud of her. She is an accomplished professional who has never lost her genuine human side. She is the Director General of one of the largest directorates in The Canadian Government’s central agency although you would never know it to talk to her. She is unpretentious. Her staff loves her and so do I.
One of many cafes on Cambrone Square
one block from our hotel
Despite her professional accomplishments and the driven pace at which she works, Maggie has never lost her sense of wonder at the world around her. Simple things can touch her deeply or make her smile. I know this is true because I frequently make her smile and my sisters often told me, when we were growing up, that I’m pretty simple. (The word they actually used was simpleton but I’m pretty sure they meant it in the nicest possible way.)
While everything I have written about Maggie in earlier posts is quite true, especially the part about loving shoes and shopping; it is also true that she is bright, multi-lingual, highly ethical, thoughtful, has an unbelievable work ethic and a smile that can make a store-window dummy turn its head. She is modest about her accomplishments and generous in her praise of the accomplishments of others. She is loving, funny and doesn’t mind that I tease her and the things I write about her in my posts make her laugh out loud.
She is thrilled to be back in Paris where she lived for a year while attending university.
There is no artifice in Maggie, she is just a genuinely genuine person and there is never a day that goes by that I am not reminded of all the reasons why I married her.
The Latin Quarter lies in the shadow
of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral

But and I guess there is always a but, she does love shopping and takes particular delight in buying clothes, shoes and magazines. The woman is single-handedly doing everything she can to keep the publishing industry going. We have never been in a city where shopping wasn’t part of the itinerary and almost never leave a grocery store or pharmacy without a new magazine. 

I know it is going to be difficult for her to devote a full day in Paris to working while the sales are on around the city. I can’t help but admire her iron-willed sense of professional dedication, especially when there are so many purses and pairs of shoes calling out her name from stores across town.
The Sorbonne, one of many universities
and educational facilities in and around the
Latin Quarter

We get up early, have breakfast and then trundle Maggie off in a taxi to the conference. I take my time getting organized, kind of easing myself into the day as it were. I’m semi-retired now so my time is pretty much my own. My computer is not working so I can’t do all that much writing or go online to work the big blog so I have to look for other ways to get into trouble. I decide not to wander the city but rather to enjoy my neighbourhood doing simple things (perhaps my sisters were right). I have become, after all, Parisian and there is no dignity for a Parisian in racing around town like a common tourist.

I am reading the new novel by Hillary Mantel called Bring Up The Bodies. It deals with the trial and execution of Ann Boleyn as seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s private secretary. Along with being responsible for the executions of others like Thomas More, it was Cromwell who orchestrated the events that led to Ann Boleyn’s death. This book is a sequel to her earlier novel about Cromwell’s rise to power, Wolf Hall which I thoroughly enjoyed. (Ms Mantel’s book A Place of Greater Safety is the best book on the French Revolution that I have ever read.)
St. Chapelle was commissioned by Louis IX
to house Christ’s crown of thorns.
It was completed in April 1248

I limp up to a café and settle back to enjoy my book over a café crème or two. I’m limping quite a bit now so I stop at a pharmacy afterwards and buy a cane. I hate admitting that I need one because it reminds me that my body is not what it used to be but on the bright side, I think the cane makes me look distinguished and because it is black, it is also quite slimming. 

For lunch, I walk over to the rue du Commerce aided by my jaunty new cane and enter a small walk-in Asian fast food shop. 
What a delight this place is. It is almost like a buffet except all of the dishes are behind glass and you pay for each dish you order based on its individual weight. I make my selections and sit down to eat and read. The food was excellent, especially considering it was being served in a fast food joint by two older and quite surly Asian ladies who only smiled when you handed them some Euros.
After lunch, I stroll up Commerce for a bit and eventually make my way back to the hotel for the luxury of a mid afternoon nap. I love having a nap and have since I was a teenager. There is something almost decadent about stealing a couple of hours out of a day for no other purpose than to do nothing but sleep. It almost makes you feel that you are as immortal as time itself.
It is a peaceful, relaxing day and I needed that.
Shops, cafes, restaurants, history and people
make the Latin Quarter one of the most
interesting districts in Paris

Maggie and I expected her to be quite late from the conference. It ended between 5:30 and 6:00 and was to be followed by a reception. To my pleasant surprise, she was back just before 7:00 so we opted to take a taxi to the Latin Quarter for dinner.

The Latin Quarter is one of the oldest districts in Paris and is located on the left bank of the Seine, not too far from the Sorbonne and a number of other universities and institutes. It is full of shops, restaurants and cafes and is typically where you will find a large contingent of university students side by side with tourists, as well as a few regular Parisians like me. 
It is the Latin Quarter that was Maggie’s preferred hangout when she was attending university in Paris and one of her favourite parts of the city.
We wander around enjoying the atmosphere. There was a soccer game on and as with many bars in Canada during the Stanley Cup, most of the bars in the Latin Quarter were packed to overflowing with soccer fans cheering, drinking and singing their team’s song. There was a lot of laughter, music and good will floating around the Quarter for the entire time we were there.
Pointe Zero is located in front of
Notre Dame and is the point from which
all distances from Paris are measured.

We picked a small brasserie for dinner because they had seafood and ordered mussels to start with the intention of ordering something else later. We never got past the mussels. Usually an order in Canada is a dozen or so but these orders were four dozen each. It was a significant amount of work to eat them all but they were so good, it was worth the effort.

There were two couples at the table beside us who turned out to be Americans and we struck up a conversation comparing notes and exchanging experiences. It is one of the things I most like about Americans. It doesn’t matter where in the world you bump into them; they are almost always friendly and easy to get to know.
It stays light until after 10:00 in Paris which is an hour later than where we live and we were often fooled by it, misjudging the time as a result. Maggie had another early start the next day so after strolling briefly through one of the small side streets that was packed with souvenir shops and buying yet more scarves, we grabbed a taxi and headed for the hotel.
It was an uneventful day but one we both enjoyed because for the first time since arriving in Paris, we did the normal things we do at home. Paris was simply the backdrop and there is something special about simply being there while going about your normal life. 
Back at the hotel, we go to bed immediately. I have always admired how easily Maggie falls asleep. She embraces sleep with the ease of the innocent and like a young child; she was asleep within minutes of going to bed. 
Sleep is more elusive for me, especially when I have things on my mind. I lay in the dark sleepless for quite some time wondering how we were going to get all these bloody scarves back home without buying another suitcase. I fell asleep with visions of sheep wearing neck scarves as they jumped over fences and with an additional singular thought. 
No matter where you are in your life, sometimes just being there is worth the ordeal it took you to get there. 

Paris – Day 1: Les vaches disent moo!

Paris-Day 2: Cultured and Assimilated

Paris-Day 3: The Fleas

© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to others