Thursday, September 16, 2021

Reflections on Yom Kippur 5782

I grew up in an orthodox Jewish family in Toronto. Yom Kippur was a very special day. In accordance with customs and tradition we did not go to school or work on Yom Kippur. But it went further than that. We did not do any work and for reasons I could never understand we did not turn on lights...we didn't even tear toilet paper! (We tore off sheets beforehand.)  From the age of 10 I started to fast for part of the day. By the age of 13 I fasted the whole day. 

The thought that one day I might be posting a blogpost on Yom Kippur would have probably have given my mother a heart attack.

These practices continued until I moved to England in 1968 and experienced a very different Yom Kippur. Although I was living in Manchester, I went to London and spent the holiday with my cousins. Two distinct recollections are that older men wore hats in the synagogue, not just yarmulkes. But more importantly, after the synagogue service ended and we 'broke our fast', we went off to a big party. Jewish kids often met their life partners at the celebrations following Yom Kippur.In subsequent years I have enjoyed memorable Yom Kippur holidays in Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto. While I have continued to fast each year, other traditions have developed. Since 1968 (with one hiatus) I have kept a diary and every year, in the afternoon between services I would review my diaries from past years. (It is generally the only time I review them, other than to check out something specific.)

Three years ago I enjoyed a most memorable Yom Kippur. Just before the holiday, I had been invited to give a talk in Moscow, and eleven days later was scheduled to give a talk in Kazakhstan. Rather than return to Canada, I decided to spend Yom Kipper in Eurasia, but couldn't decide between Azerbaijan or Georgia. Azerbaijan was appealing since I discovered a community called Qirmizi where everyone was  Jewish 

However, since I was concerned I might not get internet service and hence be able to use Google Translate, I decided to go instead to Tbilisi Georgia. I booked into the Tiflis Palace Hotel because it was close to the Grand Synagogue and had a most remarkable day. You can read about it here

This year, Yom Kippur is also quite unusual. While the synagogue I currently attend Or Shalom is holding its service in the Jewish Community Centre, as it has done for years, attendance is limited and the service is also being broadcast over YouTube. (Services were previously held on Zoom, but sadly, one was 'Zoom Bombed' and so YouTube is being used. It's not the same since you can't see the congregants. Furthermore, many of the people I am accustomed to seeing in synagogue including the Wosks and Wassermans were not there for last night's service.

At any rate, I will now head off for services. As I finish this, I can't even try to imagine what my  Yom Kippur traditions might be like ten or twenty years from now, assuming I am still around. That said, this is still a special day for me, and while I did feel a bit guilty sending off a couple of important emails before sitting down to write this, I will try to enjoy a day of reflection, and atonement, which is what this day is about. 

Wishing any Jewish readers well over the fast! 

Monday, September 13, 2021

O MERDE! O SHIT! A temporary exhibit at Quebec City's Museum of Civilization

While in Quebec City, on the suggestion of my friend Michael Seelig, I visited Moishe Safdie's Museum of Civilization.  It is an impressive space, reminiscent of some of Safdie's other galleries with some interesting permanent and temporary exhibitions. However, one of them was most intriguing, an exhibit on feces. Yes feces. Here's some more detail from the website 

Feces, excrement, turd, dung, caca, dump, stool, shit, defecation, bowel movement or crap… Call it what you will, poop is a taboo and misunderstood topic. Often referred to with rawness, it's well acquainted with comedy, but rarely is it addressed seriously… Yet, there is so much to be said and learned about this universal organic matter! Everybody has to go, regardless of their social ranking, their gender or beliefs!

In these times when food, nutrition, well-being and body consciousness are overflowing the media, poo is altogether "flushed" from cultural and social discourses.

What about diving in headfirst to better understand its social history, the issues at play and how it can be put to good use?

Although its name might change, reactions triggered by poop are basically the same for most people: disgust, denial, dread or disinterest. Nevertheless, fecal matter is part of us and our daily lives. Stools can tell a lot about our health, our eating habits, and even more about how we relate to our bodies and intimacy. Furthermore, it is also the root of sociological and environmental issues we wouldn't even imagine. Did you know that a large part of human population does not have access to sanitary toilets? That some women in developing countries risk their lives every time they need to defecate? Understanding poop and how we deal with dejections can lead to understanding how we live as humans.

You'll discover all of this in the five zones that make up this bold exhibition. As you move from one to the other, the way you look at what is turning out to be the world's most underestimated and inexhaustible resource changes. Get wind of the issues surrounding its management, right here in Qu├ębec and around the globe. Learn about sanitary crises and issues, as well as hope surrounding the possibilities of reuse of human waste.

A strong corpus of ancient and contemporary objects, gathered from the Museum's collections as well as foreign lenders, embodies the circuit's intellectual and nuanced scientific discourse. There, among other topics, you will cover history, anatomy, intestinal microbiota, anthropology, as well as contemporary ecological, social and environmental issues. Let's not forget its representations in the Arts! Because, believe it or not, shit can be inspiring!

If you are in Quebec City do check it out. It is on until March 2022. 

Golfing in Quebec City

The Chateau Frontenac still dominates the city's downtown

Over the years I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to travel to different parts of Canada. From 1972 to 1981 I worked for CMHC and worked on projects in all 10 provinces. Some weeks I would travel to two or three provinces, not unlike politicians during an election campaign. One of my favourite places to visit was Quebec since it was so very different from the rest of Canada. In order to work there, it was necessary to improve my French, and I therefore started language training classes. When I moved to Vancouver in 1974, CMHC agreed to allow me to continue my classes, which upset many architects and developers who were told I wasn't available to discuss their project since I was "at French". 

In 1977 I left Vancouver for Toronto where I looked after two major projects, the St. Lawrence Market area redevelopment (similar to South Shore False Creek which I had been managing here), and Harbourfront, a 92-acre waterfront redevelopment with similarities to Granville Island. Following Cabinet approval for the Harbourfront redevelopment strategy, I was transferred to Ottawa where I worked on three Quebec projects: redevelopment of the St. Pierre Street Warehouses, Le Vieux Port Montreal, and Le Vieux Port Quebec. By then I was designated 'bilingual' 

In 1981 I left CMHC and returned to Vancouver where I joined Narod Developments. My first major project was the planning and approvals for the redevelopment of he BC Packer's Lands on the Steveston waterfront in Richmond. While this did not require me to speak French, it did require me to learn how to play golf, since that was an integral part of Narod's corporate culture. While I have enjoyed golf for forty years, I was not very good at it, and never below a 16 or 17 handicap. But this brings me to golfing in Quebec City.

As I wrote in 2018  approximately 5 years ago I became a member of the Canadian Seniors Golf Association, a national organization that recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Every year, the group travels to another city for an annual tournament (well, every year except for last year) and this year the tournament was held in Quebec City. While many members were reluctant to travel, I decided to register since it had been 40 years since I was last in Quebec City and had fond memories of past visits. The CSGA had organized a few hotel choices, but unfortunately the Chateau Frontenac wasn't one of them. I decided to stay at the Chateau Laurier, since I was surprised to see there was a Chateau Laurier in Quebec City and wanted to see how it compared with the venerable Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. It didn't. 

To minimize the chances of getting ill on the plane, I decided to book seats at the front where there was greater separation space between passengers. There I found another BC golfer, Peter Butler, a long time member of the CSGA who plays at Point Grey. Unfortunately, our flight to Toronto was delayed due to chaos at YVR security, and our baggage did not get onto the flight to Quebec. While initially I wasn't concerned since there was a later flight, I should have been concerned. 

Although some  on the next flight saw my golf clubs come off the plane in Quebec, they were not delivered to the hotel as promised. Similarly, our luggage remained lost. I went onto the Air Canada 'delayed baggage tracking site' which indicated my clubs and baggage were on their way to the hotel. However, Peter and two friends had planned to play golf on Sunday so they went to the airport to find their clubs. While their clubs had not arrived, they found my clubs in a semi-secured baggage area. Since there was no one around, they took my clubs with them to the golf course.

Eventually the other clubs and luggage did arrive, but what I learned was that the Air Canada delayed baggage tracking system is useless, and it makes no difference whether you're in Business Class or Economy when it comes to getting delayed luggage. While  I can appreciate that Covid-19 has impacted the airports and Air Canada's operations, Air Canada needs to do a better job of tracking luggage.

That said, the golfing trip was most enjoyable. Quebec City was full, and while people wore masks, and you had to sign into restaurants, you wouldn't know we are still in the midst of a pandemic. We played two courses, Royal Quebec and Cap Rouge, and while the venerable Royal Quebec, founded in 1874 was in better condition, I thought Cap Rouge was much more interesting and enjoyable to play. 

After the tournament, I went and stayed at the Manoir Richelieu, a beautiful Fairmont Resort property where the G7 world leaders conference was held a few years ago. I stayed one night but should have stayed longer, but that's another story.

Next year, the CSGA is off to Georgian Bay. All being well, I'll be there. In the meanwhile, a few photos for those of you who enjoy golf and travel. Cheers

This is not a sign we find in Vancouver!

Quebec City is a wonderful place to eat. Before heading off for dinner with my colleagues, on two occasions I stopped off at nearby restaurants for an appetizer!

Quebec City is truly a city of culture. I enjoyed this piece of public art which was somewhat reminiscent of a piece in Vancouver that's being restored.
Fortunately, Peter Butler discovered a wine-dispensing machine in the hotel lounge while waiting for his golf clubs to arrive

Perhaps the most impressive hole in Quebec. Number one at the St.Laurent course.

The Manoir Richelieu Fairmont Hotel by night.

Many Quebec City streets are very reminiscent of what one sees in Europe. 

The Clubhouse at Royal Quebec was an impressive structure that has been renovated over the years

Since we rarely see Bloc Quebecois election posters in the west!

The Legislature Building

Par is Normale!

I visited Baie St. Paul on the advice of former Supreme Court Justice Beverly McLachlin. She was right. It's a lovely town. I just wish she had warned me it it can be difficult to find decent last minute accommodations.

The driving range at Manoir Richelieu is quite spectacular!
Some follow CSGA members. They were all better golfers than me!

Saturday, August 14, 2021

French food in Vancouver - The French Table

Vancouverites have an amazing assortment of ethnic restaurants to choose from. I recently came across this list, which although somewhat out of date, does provide a tiny overview of what's available.  If you want to know why I say  it is somewhat out of date, just look at the French Restaurant listings: 


Bistro Pastis. 2153 W. 4th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V6K 1N7. Phone: 604-731-5020; Fax: 604-731-5039.

Cafe Salade de Fruits. 1555 W. 7th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V6J 1S1. Phone: 604-714-5938.

The Chef and Carpenter Restaurant. 1745 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 1C9. Phone: 604-687-2700.

Hermitage Restaurant. 115-1025 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC V6E 4A9. Phone: 604-689-3237.

Le Crocodile Restaurant. 100-909 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2N2. Phone: 604-669-4298; Fax: 604-669-4207.

Lumiere Restaurant. 2551 W. Broadway, Vancouver, BC V6K 2E9. Phone: 604-739-8185; Fax: 604-739-8139.

Those of you who enjoy French food like me know that Bistro Pastis has closed down, The Chef and Carpenter has closed down. Hermitage has closed down, and Lumiere has closed down. My favourite Metro French restaurant La Regalade (in West Vancouver) has also closed down. 

However, Cafe Salade des Fruits (despite its odd name) is still with us, and I go there as often as my cardiologist will allow. But there are at least two more French restaurants that are not on this list: Au Comptoir which I sometimes frequent, and another where I ate a year ago, and then a week ago, and where I am returning this evening. 

That's The French Table.  Located at 3916 Main Street, at 23rd, it is the pride and joy of Herve Martin, who formerly owned and operated the now closed Hermitage. Here's an online description about Herve (seen above holding a bottle of the 'house wine' from the family winery in Chamilly, France:

Former Master Executive Chef Herve Martin of Hermitage Vancouver is proud to present his newest eating establishment, The French Table, a classic French Restaurant in Vancouver.  Nestled cosily in the Riley Park area on Main St & 23rd Ave, it’s a twist on the former Hermitage Restaurant which was a downtown Vancouver staple on Robson Street for 24 years until 2011. After the developer announced new plans, Herve re-located to a bustling up and coming area that’s ripe for suburban French cuisine.

The French Table still carries the tradition of its former self, especially with the outstanding first class servers, whom he successfully carried over. You will find clean lines and an open room when first stepping inside. Unlike the traditional white table cloths, Herve cleverly designed its’ logo under the glass tables bearing The French table signature. You can select from a menu created by Master Chef Herve Martin and served in the traditional French style. The critically acclaimed wine list boasts one of the best selections of Burgundy wines in Vancouver and is highlighted with exclusive wines from the family winery in Chamilly, France.

Herve’s immense international cooking experience started when he was the personal chef to the Late King of Belgium. He has earned the “Les Freres Trois gros” 3 star Michelin in France and the equivalent version “Freddy Girardet” in Switzerland.

Herve headed the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, after which he opened the Five Sails French themed restaurant in the Pan Pacific where he was instrumental in hosting the jazz nights and special menus.

I won't pretend to be an expert when it comes to French cuisine, but I was so impressed with Herve's knowledge about food and wines, I decided to post this review. If you like French food, I highly recommend you check it out. Have the creative take on escargot to start, and let me know what you think. Bon Appetit!

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Father's Day

While I am looking forward to spending Father's Day with Claire and Georgia and their partners and children (well, actually just Harriet will be with us. The other is still 'on the way') I am also thinking about my dad Sam Geller. I wrote about him here and those who knew him can understand why I would still think of him so fondly on Father's Day.

My dad and I shared many things in common-an appreciation of good humour, the ideas of Edward de Bono, Stoic philosophy, and nice ties immediately come to mind. But there were also many differences. He wasn't very interested or concerned about material possessions. He didn't regularly check his investment accounts or care too much about the price of real estate. 

He also tended to see the positive in everything and everyone, rather than be as critical as I often am. As a result, I like to think that my sister Estelle Paget and I benefitted greatly from the years spent with my dad. I just hope my kids will feel the same way long after I am gone. Somehow, I think they will. 

Although they will be relieved not to have to hear the same old jokes and stories over and over again. Happy Father's Day to all those who were fortunate enough to have a good father, and those who didn't, but are trying to be good fathers to their kids.


More than a sports story. Canadian shares lead in US Open Golf Tournament

Normally I am playing golf on the weekend. But this weekend (for personal reasons I need not go into) I am watching the US Open Tournament on TV, and am glad I am. Yesterday, a couple of nobodies shared the lead. Russel Henley of US and UK golfer Richard Bland. For a while, both played well and it was exciting to watch these 'journeymen' achieving a level of fame and attention normally reserved for Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau. At the end of the day, Henley managed to stay on top. Sadly, Richard Bland didn't. 

However, Canadian golfer Mackenzie Hughes has now joined Henley and South African Louis Oosthuizen at the top of the leaderboard. Win or lose, and the odds are he will lose given all the other more experienced players only a few strokes behind, this is a major accomplishment for Hughes. It is also a matter of great pride for Canadian golfers. I therefore expected this to be a news item on this morning's CBC news. But instead we learned about an accomplished swimmer.

I don't want to take anything away from a swimmer, but hopefully CBC will realize this is more than a sports story and Mackenzie Hughes will be on the national news before his 12:55 pm start. Good luck Mackenzie, (and you do need luck in golf). Sally and I will be cheering you on this father's day.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Staycation #3 City of North Vancouver-Seaside Hotel

If you haven't been to the City of North Vancouver waterfront for a while, you should head on over. There have been some remarkable changes in recent years as the 2014 waterfront master plan is being realized. Much of the credit must go to former Mayor Darrell Mussato, former planners Richard White, Gary Penway, Emilie Adin, and no doubt many others. (Gary Penway tells me that Heather Reinhold is one of the people who also deserves credit and recognition.)

While West Vancouver awaits its first new waterfront hotel, the City of North Vancouver has two relatively new hotels on the central waterfront at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue. While some of you are no doubt familiar with the Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier, I suspect you have never heard of, or most certainly haven't stayed at Seaside, the North Shore's newest 71 room boutique hotel designed by Oregon's ZGF architects & Dialog, which opened in October 2019, just in time for a pandemic.

It was developed by Gary Mathieson , President of Quay Property Management Inc who for the past 27 years has owned and managed the Lonsdale Quay Public Market and the Lonsdale Quay Hotel which I venture to guess is a property you don't often think about. It is managed by The Executive Group, a Vancouver-based hotel branding, management, and development company. (You may recall they are also associated with the property we stayed at for Staycation #2)

Once the Wallace Shipyards, the area has been redeveloped with new waterfront walks, shops, restaurants, the Polygon Gallery, and other public spaces including some great water features. 

On a weekend afternoon, it is absolutely delightful, and other than Granville Island, (and perhaps the Olympic Village) there really isn't anything quite like it in Vancouver. Indeed, while many of us are proud of Vancouver's continuous and beautiful waterfront walkway and bikeway system, when you think about it, and compare it with Singapore or many other Asian or European waterfronts, it really is quite sterile. I mean, while there are a couple of restaurants in Coal Harbour and around False Creek, it's hard to find the level of activity found along most other waterfronts. (eg. How many ice cream vendors are there? other pop-up retailers?)

The North Vancouver central waterfront is a great place to visit, or preferably spend a night or two. For one thing, you can be there in 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver since it is adjacent to the SeaBus terminal. You don't need to take your car, and you probably shouldn't since it costs $32 to park overnight! (Although if you want, you can drop off your luggage and park further away and walk.)

There are many nearby restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention Happy Hour. I must mention Happy Hour since from Wednesday to Sunday, the Seaside Hotel offers $1 shucked oysters ($2 for premium Kusshi) an excellent spicy tuna on fried seaweed and other creative appetizers, along with very reasonably priced (and surprisingly good) wines. 

For dinner we couldn't decide between the hotel restaurants, one of the restaurants in Lonsdale Quay, the very attractive Pier 7, or a restaurant along Lonsdale. We chose the latter and ate at Fishworks Seafood restaurant I first went there years ago for lunch with Emilie Adin, the City's former Director of Community Services, (to make amends for criticizing aspects of the City's housing policy including excessive minimum suite sizes!) I remembered it to be very good then, and it is still very good. 

I couldn't decide between the bouillabaisse or paella, and chose the latter. It was so good, I will head back soon for some of the other dishes. Prices are very reasonable for the quality.

Unfortunately the Seaside restaurant was not open for breakfast but it didn't matter. There is a beautiful Artigiano's overlooking the waterfront, but we went over to the Pinnacle Hotel for eggs benedict and an omelet. While the restaurant was almost empty, the food was very good, as was the service. (After all, for a while we were the only ones there!)

While I could go on about all the things I discovered, I will conclude with just a few thoughts. It has been many years since I visited the Lonsdale Quay Public Market. If I recall correctly, it was developed by my old friend John Evans while working with Intrawest and opened in 1986.  I expected it to look tired, but was completely wrong. It has been substantially renovated since I was last there, and I found many of the shops most delightful. For those of you who miss Dunbar's Cheshire Cheese's steak and kidney pie, there is still a Cheshire Cheese there serving a steak and kidney pie!

I must also comment on the Seaside Hotel. While I think the registration lobby needs to be reconsidered, (since there really isn't a registration lobby, just an area I assumed to be a small shop), the hotel is very, very well done. 

The interior design is most unusual, but attractive. While I often despise hotel carpets (somewhere out there is someone who designs all the world's awful hotel carpets and should be stopped), these carpets are interesting and good. Natural wood is used as a feature along the hallways and within the rooms, in addition to some creative wall coverings. I liked the overall look very much.

Sally found many of the features in our room to be reminiscent of many high-end European boutique hotels. While compact, especially compared to the suites we have been staying in, it was beautifully appointed with sheer and black-out blinds operated by a switch. (It took me a few minutes to find the switches; they're by the front door) and lots of electronic gear including a desk top tablet, plug-ins, bedside light switches, even a useful night reading light (which I will now install at home). My only complaints were the large sliding door on the bathroom that was hard to keep closed, the very fashionable desk chair that wasn't as comfortable as a more conventional and adjustable desk chair (but it looked great!) and a thermostat that I couldn't figure out how to use. I could have phoned the front desk, or looked for instructions, but didn't.

Because there are so few tourists coming to Vancouver, the hotel rates in most Vancouver area hotels are an unbelievable deal at the moment. (Just check out rates at The Exchange and other top quality hotels) The standard room rate at Seaside for Sunday night was only $149 plus taxes and I felt guilty paying so little. 

So to conclude, Covid-19 will be with us for a while. The Americans are not coming, at least not yet. So pack an overnight bag, take transit down to the SeaBus and go and stay for a night, or two. If available, the corner rooms with two windows are very good, and there's a suite that I didn't see but is probably wonderful. I recommend a water view room if available, although as an architect, (who lives on the water) I sometimes prefer a city view so I can study the surrounding buildings!

If you don't want to do this, at least head over for a tour of the award-winning Polygon Gallery and Happy Hour at Seaside, or one of the other nearby restaurants. I can guarantee you'll thank me for the suggestion. And congratulations to all who have been involved with the transformation of the North Vancouver City waterfront. It's very well done. A perfect spot for a Staycation!