23 September 2013

Lakmé: Beauty for Eyes and Ears

What a lovely way to start the opera season in Montréal! I had fabulous company and we happened to be there on the day underscoring the 50th anniversary of Place des Arts, with shows in every performance space that evening. If we needed yet another reason to love this city, it was delivered by the realization that we were sitting in the middle of a space that 50 years ago was considered an iffy choice for an arts complex but that today is bubbling with cultural life in all of its spaces, in neighbouring sites and out onto the streets around it.

The other thing we got to see on the way in was the participation of an Indo-Canadian cultural group, present and giving a lovely air of authenticity to an opera set in colonial India. They lined the way into the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in resplendent saris set off by lovely genuine smiles. This was an excellent move on the part of the Opéra de Montréal.
This production is beautiful. From the curtain that greeted us as we took our seats to every costume and set detail, it felt rich and luscious and more than a little bit exotic. That, of course, was only the beginning.

You might be familiar with this duet, here drawn from a performance elsewhere in concert format. I remember it from an Air Canada commercial, I believe [UPDATE: totally wrong! It was British Airways!], which sounds terribly cheap, but should be credited with making opera a little more familiar and accessible, just as Bugs Bunny did on a couple of occasions.

Sopranos Audrey Luna and Emmar Char (Ms. Char is from the Altelier lyrique of the Opéra de Montréal!) sang it with such beautiful clear voices that I never wanted it to stop. At each point later in the opera where there were bits of the song heard in the distance, I just wanted it to come back to centre stage and go on and on.

The Bell Song (Air des clochettes) came in the second act and I have again drawn the video from a concert elsewhere. Let me say that Audrey Luna really did this beautiful song justice. What an amazing voice! The song contains little parts that reminded me of sections of the Queen of the Night aria — here she is singing the bells — but I found this song much more pleasant and less jarring in its transitions. So delighted to have heard it here with this soprano first.

The story (I do like to go on about the stories) is appropriately tragic. The little party of British interlopers who despoil the sacred place in the forest by treading in it, the man who stays behind to sketch Lakmé’s jewelry (an authentic colonialist would probably just have scooped it up and sketched at home!) and falls in love with her and her voice’s beauty. It cannot be, of course, and Lakmé’s father sets out to identify the man responsible for the despoiling of the sacred place who also dared to gaze upon his daughter.

The plot plays out, and our Gérald is stabbed in a crowd. We think he is done, but since when has anyone died quickly in an opera? Lakmé and her manservant Hadji rescue him and Lakmé nurses him back to health in the forest. He awakens and it seems like they will find their love and live happily ever after. But no, we are again reminded that this is opera. Gérald’s fellow soldier Frédéric finds him while Lakmé is away from the shelter getting water from a sacred well, the drinking of which from the same ivory cup will cement their love. Gérald is reminded of his duty to the army and his British fiancée and when Lakmé returns she can see the change on his face.

Her lover slipping away, if not yet physically, Lakmé eats a poisonous flower before they drink from the cup. They drink, and she weakens, even as she protects him from her father by informing him that they are committed to each other through the drinking from the cup. Lakmé dies, and rather suddenly for an opera, I must say!

The audience at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier applauded long and hard, but we mostly saved our standing ovation for Audrey Luna. It’s very impressive to see an entire room leap to its feet to pay tribute to a star, and for the crowd to hold back until her arrival on stage was no slight to the rest of the cast, but a recognition of her amazing talent.

A great start for the season.

21 September 2013

PR12E10 Supermakeovers

Ah, the superfan challenge, where the designers get to see if they can actually make clothes for real women with real women sizes. The superfans themselves are thrilled, snapping photos of Tim on the steps of Parson’s as they drive up on the double-decker tourist bus, and bubbling through their tour of the place, including mock runway walks. The designers are trying very hard not to show their disappointment and fear of sewing for real-sized women. Kates feigns excitement for the challenge, while Ken is at least honest about his fear.
They get matched with their superfans. Helen crows that everyone is jealous of hers because she is the perfect makeover opportunity (kind of a backhand compliment if I’ve ever heard one). Bradon worries that his is already too pretty, so he might be at a disadvantage. Not to worry Bradon: she is looking for that New York edge that will make her look like she “could cut a bitch.” The superfans are thrilled to be going with them to Mood!

Makeover means big hairstyle changes, so l’Oréal really gets its chance to hawk its wares. Every line of theirs is highlighted and pronounced to be the perfect thing for the dreadful hair problems of the various superfans. Then there’s that lovely moment when Helen’s model gets asked if she’s been cutting her own bangs. We know the answer is yes before she says it.

Let’s introduce the drama in the episode where you want things to go smoothly, like when you have guests over. Bradon and Alexander are to move in with Justin and Ken. They pack up and head over, knocking and opening the door, only to find Ken blocking the hallway with his ironing. He refuses to move…after all, it is very important that his raggy jean cut-offs be properly ironed! Alexander finally pushes the ironing board out of the way, slaps the iron to the ground and swoops in with his giant suitcase. In his own words: “I can throw drama too, honey.”

Ken’s mother would probably recognize that “other person” who then emerges, just like the rest of us do. Big old tantrum, and Bradon and Alexander beat a hasty retreat to their old room and lock the door. Group meeting time the next day! First, Tim talks to a post-tantrum contrite-ish Ken and they meet the whole group. Time characterizes both Ken’s and Alexander’s behaviour as unacceptable (they agree) and announces that Justin, Bradon and Alexander will be sharing and Ken will be off on his own to avoid conflict. Alexandria opines that they have to leave the drama behind, because they owe the superfans an excellent experience. We all cry…okay we don’t. The workroom is subdued and tense.

Tim comes for the check-in. He does the usual encouraging some of them, making helpful suggestions to others, and then terrorizing others with consternated pauses or remarks about to accommodate women who are not model-sized (Tim knows these women because he sees them every year for a couple of days). Tim agrees that Bradon will be challenged by his woman’s already-good-looks and that Helen’s is a wallflower hiding a bombshell. When the superfans come in gushing over their new hairstyles, some fittings go better than others. The designers hope that the judges won’t be mean to the fans.

A few comments on their own and others’ looks:
  • Ken calls his own a “couch dress”
  • Helen thinks Justin’s look is “so Vogue, it’s really triumphant.”
  • Ken, again, thinks that even though his fan is overjoyed the judges will rip him apart because the dress is simple and the colour is hideous (fan picked it).
  • Bradon is relieved to assign the bottom spots to Alexandria and Ken. Maybe Alexander, too, if he doesn’t finish.
  • Ken hopes Alexander doesn’t finish so he might be safe himself.
It seems to be Nina’s week off. Zac is there, but Marie Claire is represented by Senior Fashion Editor Zanna Roberts Rassi and the other guest judge is designer Erin Fetherston. The deisgners’ own comments are somewhat less colourful this time around as their looks walk down the runway, probably a symptom of their post-dramatic stress disorder:
  • Justin’s fan’s signature makes his dress.
  • Bradon has produced “wearable pieces, yet with refined and embellished edge.”
  • Alexander thinks his fan is owning the runway, but knows he has sent an unfinished garment out, and that’s a big no-no.
  • Dom is happy to see her fan look so pretty (yawn).
  • Kate thinks her fan Alta is “stomping it out better than any of the models” and Helen leans over to add “That top is sick.”
  • Ken is glad his fan looks so happy, but he still thinks his dress looks like a couch from the seventies (was that a bad decade for couches?)
  • Alexandria enthuses that her design is “okay”. Control your enthusiasm, A!
  • Helen thinks her fan looks as beautiful as she wanted to feel.
  • Helen and Kate are both just happy that their fans are happy. Dom joins in on that sentiment after she and Kate are both pronounced safe.
Now to that delicate judging act: criticizing the bad looks without the fans feeling it is about their bodies!

  • Justin’s: Everyone loves the signature embroidered on it as well as his accommodation of his fan’s body changes (she has lost a lot of weight and has extra skin) and her religion (she is Mormon and want to dress modestly).
  • Alexandria’s: The looks of disappointment on the judge’s faces as she explains her look tell all. That is, until Zac shares that he wrote down “maternity librarian” on his score card. Thanks Zac!
  • Bradon’s: Zanna thinks the shiny bits on the dress look a little plastic and he might have considered doing the whole outfit in leather. Bradon defends his choice by sharing that the fan didn’t want dominatrix, whereupon Zac demonstrated his cool edginess yet again by making a whipping motion and sound. Too cool for school, Zac!
  •  Alexander’s: Zac asked if he had finished, and A fessed up. Zanna found the suit boring and then Zac demonstrated how not to give a critique with a fan in the outfit, calling it “Oompa Loompa” shaped.
  • Helen’s: All the judges gush over the makeover and agree that she wanted a red carpet dress and she got it!

  • Ken’s: Here’s where I was really proud of how Heidi demonstrated that you can compliment the fan and still criticize the dress. H said she had the most fun watching this fan walk down the runway and that in that sense Ken did a good job. In a fashion sense, however (see how she did that, Zac?), the colour was not great, the lines were somewhat unflattering where they were placed and her boobs could have been much better shown off. I’ve never liked Heidi more than I did at that moment.
Zoom in for the closer look without the designers. Helen’s remains Oscar-worthy, Time loves the shiny pop on Bradon’s and Justin won points not only for his clever embroidered signature, but also for his seaming detail. For the bottom three, Zac thinks Alexandria’s looks “off the rack” and Heidi says there is “not much fashion” in Ken’s dress. Ken’s model pipes up to defend him on the fit (didn’t want to make a sausage casing and make her feel uncomfortable) and Zanna assures her that she is better than the dress. Finally, Heidi appreciates Alexander’s unfinished look for the shape and the amount of skin revealed, but balks at the flap of fabric on the shoulder.

Helen wins (that should help with her self-esteem problems…oh, that’s not her). Justin and Bradon are in, as is Alexandria. When they pronounce Alexander in, his reaction says it all: “Wow. Thank you.”

So Ken is out. He is still calm, reassures himself that it is a major accomplishment that a self-taught designer such as he could make it this far (true dat) and sharing how intimidated he was at the beginning of the competition. If it weren’t for his mother’s asking about the “other Ken” last week, we might have put his atrocious behaviour down to that, but no. He fake hugs everyone and expresses his “love” of them and then a little flair (not a flare) on the way out: a snap to mark his exit. Now who will bring the drama?

PR12E09 North and South

I am falling too far behind on my reviews! Still trying to do them in order before watching the next episode, so here goes for last week’s… The Belk challenge. Belk apparently being a big store in the southern US and supplier of the accessory wall this season. We find out about this challenge when the designers are given a “morning off” for a “southern” brunch (French toast is southern?), which is not really a morning off at all. When Tim announces the “Modern Southern Woman” challenge, Ken and Dom, southerners both, think they have it in the bag. Make way for the carpetbaggers from the north!
They go to Mood for fabric and a whole lot of them seem to be going for plaid, much to Ken and Dom’s annoyance. Dom’s cutaway comment is about people in the south actually living in cities, while Ken’s more quotable one is that the customer is “the modern southern woman, not Little House on the Prairie.” Back to the workroom where we get to see the usual unpacking of fabrics and then the thing I always find jarring, but which has become “designer” for me: the tearing of muslin…because it doesn’t merit cutting?

Tim arrives for the critique. The Belk guy does not accompany him, which must be a relief after Heidi’s visit last week. Tim rattles Justin by suggesting his idea looks a little Halloween and opines that the main colour he chose looks like coral on its own, but like orange when combined with the other colours. Tim wonders if Dom’s look isn’t “underdesigned” and calls Alexandria’s “hideous” and asks if she is “going all crazy quilt on us”. Hurricane Tim leaves to send in the models.

Harriet Tubman

If we thought Tim’s critiques were hard, the designers have their own comments on each other’s work:
  • “Helen’s gown is like the sixties threw up.” (Alexander)
  • “It looks like the dress Harriet Tubman wore when she received her freedom.” (Ken on Bradon’s)
  • “Jeremy’s look is just old.” (Bradon)
  • “I think it looks like a tablecloth.” (Dom on Bradon’s)
We get to see Ken skyping with his mother, who asks if that “other side” has come out yet (it has), Justin is making a dress with only two pattern pieces (apparently very avant-garde) and our hapless model is now paired with Alexandria (hideous crazy quilt). Lucky her.

Time for the runway show. The judges, in addition to the usual suspects Zac, Nina and Heidi, will be joined by John Thomas of Belk and Stacy Keibler of the new Lifetime TV show Supermarket Superstar, because I guess there’s some kind of contractual obligation to promote the network’s other programming. (I don’t know about you, but Supermarket Superstar doesn’t conjure up “fashion forward” for me.)

It’s always interesting to see what the designers say about their own looks as they go down the runway (in cutaways because the runway show is “anonymous”):
  • Ken: “Muy bon chic.” Mixing multiple languages you don’t speak is hip?
  • Helen: “No way I can lose with this look.” Because she’s on such a winning streak and expects it to continue forever.
  • Justin: “Keeping it simple, but bold in the colour” Tim saved you — in the workroom this time — from going Halloweenie.
  • Alexander: “Striking, vibrant, energetic…exactly what the Belk woman should be” confident, anyone?
  • Alexandria: “I chose some difficult fabric. I should have gone with something less pleated and had less structure and body.” No confidence there.
  • Bradon: “I take risks. That’s what my work is about.” Nobody does a plaid shirt dress like me!
At which point (after the three plaids in order) Ken is back with his own commentary on how terrible it is that they chose plaid and how they should be worried about this challenge. Back to the others:
  • Dom: “Exactly what a modern southern woman should look like.” Oh honey, I see a disappointment coming.
  • Jeremy: “My look is not only southern, but nationwide.” Has never been to the south and has no plans to go there.
  • Kate: “It’s everything Belk said they wanted. I’m really proud of myself.” Not sure I would be proud of just producing what you think the customer wants…where’s the design?
The “safes” include one of the plaids (Alexandria) and Helen, who is very annoyed at not being on top. Entitled much? Ken and Dom practice pained and angry facial expressions as the judges say nice things about those darned plaids and not-so-nice things about their designs:
  • Bradon’s: the judges ALL love it! Plaid-o-rama!
  • Jeremy’s: Zac says it is not Madame, because that would be positive and hates the jacket. Nina, however, only likes the jacket.
  • Ken’s: Zac calls it a “beautifully cut purple nightgown”, earning a frown from Ken and the when Heidi calls it unflattering he does another look. Heidi calls him on giving her a look and they have a silent stare off for a while. I expect him to cut one of the judges someday, probably Zac. John Thomas riffs on Ken’s assertion that it belongs at a formal wedding into “it went a little bridesmaid.”
  • Kate’s: everyone loves it, except Heidi, who thinks the model looks pregnant. John Thomas is sure they could sell that at Belk’s — well, the south does have higher rates of unwanted pregnancies, doesn’t it?
  • Dom’s: Stacy thought Dom’s wanting to “scale it back a little” might have gone way too far and Nina hated the colour, comparing it to hospital scrubs (good one Nina!).
  • Alexander’s: more gushing from the judges about the third plaid, its colour and movement.
The close-up look section gave us a couple more zingers from the judges, or at least from Zac:
  • Zac thought if you put Jeremy’s jacket on Heidi, you would have Air Klum, whereupon Heidi put the jacket on and did a flight attendant impression of where the safety exits are. Zac doubled over laughing at his own joke.
  • Zac thought Ken’s fabric was too heavy, calling it “sweaty Betty” fabric.
Bradon’s plaid shirt dress was pronounced “the clear winner” (Ken eye roll). Alexander’s plaid and Kate’s little miss southern maternity number were in as well. Backstage, bitter Helen consoled herself by opining that maybe all three of the bottom designers would be out. Luckily Helen is not a judge. No, the judges decided to give the bottom three one hour to remake or start over, with the help of another designer.

Jeremy (with Alexander) started over, making a bias-cut dress later described by one of the others (or one of the judges?) as a sheet with a hole cut in it.

Dom (with Helen) also started over with her pattern fabric and made something amazing for so little time. Some of the comments:
  • “Brava” (Zac)
  • “Edgy yet easy” (Nina)
  • “Classy but also sexy” (Stacy)
  • “A great coming and going dress.” (John Thomas)
Ken (with Kate) was the only one to remake the same dress, shortening it and making a big drapy sleeve on one side. Praise be upon him, from all quarters, even if Zac still doesn’t like him and tried hard to equivocate on the praise.

In the end, Dom is also pronounced the winner, meaning that her save me dress will also be produced and sold at Belk. That sort of cheapened Bradon’s win, but he’s probably just lucky that they didn’t take his win back! Down to Ken and Jeremy. Jeremy is sent home for being boring (true enough) and Ken is kept, either for the drama he is likely to produce (to the delight of viewers like you and me) or because the judges were afraid he might leap off the runway and cut someone. You know who. Next week’s preview promised the former (the drama), so I can’t wait to see that!

15 September 2013

PR12E08 Heidi Hose

Oh, Tim as a referee waking up the contestants with a whistle. I’m not sure why they are going to such lengths to put Tim Gunn into horrifying costumes well out of his character, but perhaps that was the price of the explicit Tim Gunn Save for the season. Please allow Tim to regain and maintain his dignity! Lovely cutaway comment by Alexander: “Tim and Heidi wearing active wear. What the hell?!!” The contestants all make attempts to outdo each other on the topic of just how unathletic they are. They all win.
We started out with an “athletic” competition…an obstacle course run by the contestants in teams of two. Tim took special care to point out that the teams were only for the obstacle course and would end there on the field (I guess the teamwork thing was really not popular with the audience either). The prize? First pick from the selection of Heidi Klum New Balance fabrics and an extra hour of workroom time at the end of the day. Dom and Justin win. We also point out that Helen, who won the last challenge, will have immunity this time, but it will be the last time this season that someone will have immunity.

When they get to the workroom, there are garments on their dress forms. Time explains that they are examples of items from Heidi’s New Balance collection for inspiration, but that the contestants are not allowed to cut them up! I suppose when you have spent weeks getting people to create fashion from anything that doesn’t move, you do have to be explicit about what cannot be sacrificed to the challenge. Everyone seems quite thrilled to be making active wear, which is a whole different animal from sportswear, which itself has very little to do with sports. I fear I’m starting to get the hang of all this fashion talk.

With Sandro well out of the picture, someone has to step up and give us some drama. Enter Ken. Exit Helen, to go talk to Tim about how disrespectful and inappropriate Ken is toward her, and how she is afraid he is going to stab her with those scissors. Everybody melts down, everybody takes time to criticize either Ken or Helen while keeping their own heads down, and then our referee, now dressed as himself, steps in to help smooth things over. Helen makes him put down his pin cushion before giving him the forgiving hug. And yes, Ken, we all believe that you won’t be doing that verbally aggressive thing again, wink, wink!

Lucky contestants, as Heidi participates in the mid-creation visit and critique. And I do mean that ironically. Some delightful and helpful gems she drops:
  • Helen’s outfit is boring; she really ought to get to work on the jacket part
  • Karen’s first look inspires all sorts of contorted expressions from Heidi and then she says the model will look like a trashy Martian
  • Ken’s looks like a scuba suit
  • Alexandria should charge on ahead with the drop-crotch (aka “poopy”) pants because Heidi loves them
  • Justin is almost unable to say anything because he is intimidated, star-struck and tongue-tied. His ASL interpreter had an easy time of that encounter.
They get back to work, some of them having to start all over again after Heidi’s lovely contribution to their creative processes. We even get to see a little life and opinion from the models, as Helen’s joins the joke after the pants do a hoo-hah peekaboo split (that would be in the front if you’re not familiar with the lingo) and Karen’s starts to express her opinion about the outfit (a big no-no). Karen’s comments on her model and on her look are funny:
  • “Girlfriend, don’t try to tell me what to do with my outfit!”
  • “Hashtag: I’m going home” (this Twitter device does not translate well to the spoken word)
  • “I’m in Worry Town.”
Runway time! As promised, we will get to see the treat of Michael Kors out-bitch usurper Zac Posen, as MK is back as guest judge. Before we get to the judges’ comments, we get some treats from the designers, with Ken opining that his garment looks good, but the model looks like she doesn’t want to wear it (watch your back, model!) and Jeremy calling the purple he used on his pants “hideous”. I laugh that our hapless model is the one stuck wearing Alexandria’s “poopy pants”. They should just give her the model prize for all the trauma she has been through. She will get her own laughs in, meriting an annoyed glance from her designer.

When Heidi tells the contestants that the judges are really all over the place this week she is not exaggerating. When we see a parade of stretchy leggings aping the colour swoops of Heidi’s own collection and someone calls that fashion, that person is exaggerating. (There’s my entry in the Bitchstakes!) There is definitely some bandwagon one-upmanship on the comments, especially for a couple of the looks.

Alexandria’s got the poopy pants treatment all around, with Heidi defending them and Tim pointing out that Heidi had encouraged her to run with it:
  • Nina: “It looks like she went running, ran into a bear and she had an accident in her pants.”
  • Michael: “Pleasure me pockets.” (This caused the model to laugh, annoying the otherwise calm designer.)
Karen having dared to make something that didn’t look like leggings with a skin-tight top got the “fat model” comments:
  • Michael: “She looks like she’s going to a buffet on a cruise and could put cookies in her pockets.”
  • Zac and Michael later compete in naming foods the model might be consuming (and hiding) in her outfit.
  • The model chimes in with her own dislike of the outfit (did she forget that her fate is tied to the fate of the designer?)
There are also a couple of comments about certain outfits being on sale racks or available on the home shopping channel (designer grimaces), but that is apparently a good thing this episode, because we’re all about making sales instead of making things “look expensive”. One of those targeted by the sales rack comment, Alexander of the tiny contrived eyebrows (there’s a scary clown role in his future!), did get a bit of a chuckle from Nina when he answered her “I don’t like it” with an “I can tell”. Good for him!

Zac, for his part, is trying to distinguish himself from Michael by being edgier, having lost the bitchiness contest. He does this by calling Helen’s jacket “Elvira at the gym…I can totally get into that!” and by commenting on Ken’s multi-strap back with a dismissive “I’m bored of harnesses.” He is apparently also bored with English grammar!

Helen’s thigh and ass-concealing jacket (Nina’s praise) wins and she makes a big display of false modesty for all to see. Karen is out and, with a nod to the bitchy critiques, says that it’s “not the way the cookie crumbles”. She has managed to mangle the idiom (that’s the way the cookie crumbles), so maybe her exit is a good thing.

14 September 2013

Values Village

I’m feeling somewhat guilty today, as I “Facebook participated” in the demonstration against the proposed Charter of Québec Values. As we all probably know, this means I signed up on Facebook, but here I am at home (and still in my bathrobe!) in front of my computer. I stand by my solidarity on this issue and give myself the task of writing in lieu of hoofing it over to the demonstration in person.
I want to share an experience that I had in the health care system that made me confront my own prejudices and which underlines my own thoughts about values. I have talked about this before (in case this sounds familiar to you), but I think this is the first time I have written about it.

The scene is an outpatient dermatology clinic, where I have been going for quite some time for various problems, including condyloma (anal warts). I assiduously follow up to ensure that I am treated and in the hope that the problems will not develop into things more serious. In the course of my frequentation of this outpatient clinic, I have seen many, many residents, students in training to become dermatologists, and they have come from a great many backgrounds.

I have had rather rough insertions of the anoscope by straight men uncomfortable with the prospect of looking at the gay man’s ass that have made me bleed. I have had the delightful experience of waiting for hours to be seen, only to find the resident who was supposed to see me paralyzed in his reading of my medical file, apparently not so sure he wanted to look for warts in the anus of a gay man with HIV. These experiences have shaped my expectations and my wariness when it comes to who among the residents will walk toward the waiting area calling out my name to go be seen.

In that context, I had to confront my own prejudices when the female resident wearing a hijab called my name. I thought to myself that this observant Muslim woman was not going to like me or the task ahead of her as she examined and treated me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I got in this visit was a professional who treated me with compassion and without judgment. I made a point of telling her supervisor that this visit had been the least traumatic and difficult for me, that she had done her job with the utmost of professionalism.

In the end (pardon the pun), what counts in terms of values for me is actions. I don’t expect anyone to accept being refused service based on the beliefs of the person rendering the service. That goes for someone who might not accept offering treatment to a person of the opposite sex (not my case), or performing the marriage of two people of the same sex. That would be not doing the job for which you are employed. That’s the value that needs to be defined — if it even needs to be defined — not the dress code of the people delivering those services.

The ridiculousness of the “dress code” approach is how difficult it would be to invoke, except in certain very visible cases. I have a friend who wears a series of bracelets that express certain Buddhist beliefs: no depiction of that on the Charter of Values website, and I doubt that anyone would really recognize the significance without disclosure. As I tried to point out in a previous post, how easy is it to distinguish between a scarf worn for religious purposes and one worn for fashion purposes? At the extremes, yes, it’s possible, but in between the lines are much less clear. We’re left to our preconceptions to discriminate against one and to let the other pass.

That is not only socially unacceptable, but legally unacceptable.

Religious neutrality of institutions? Absolutely. That means not making exceptions for the religions that happen to have been on the territory a bit longer. If it’s “our” cultural heritage, then let’s do a good job of preserving it in our museums, not in the places that we make laws or deliver justice. No signs on the walls, no prayers to start deliberations. But in that context, the outfit worn by the individual is very much less important than the actions they take. If we have values to be shared, they are about our actions and the inclusion of all, not about excluding people based on our own prejudices and expectations of how they might act, based on how they look.

I might have only “Facebook participated” in the demonstration today, but the good news is that I always make it to the polls to vote, and I always vote for inclusion and acceptance.

10 September 2013

La Charte des peurs québécoises

So now we get a peek at the broad strokes of what our minority government wants to enact. A Charter of Québec Values, they say, and some of those things are Québec values: equality of the sexes (at least in theory…I don’t think anyone can pretend we have that), neutrality of the state (well, at least from the 1960s when the Catholic Church began its decline until now, when it seems to get the heritage protection that no one else will get). Where are l’ouverture, l’accueil, la joie de vivre that I always thought were part of the Québec that drew me here? I see them in the streets, but not in this proposed legislation.

How about the rational decision-making that we see on other fronts? The federal government might abandon its references to research and scientific facts when it comes to health and the environment, but I continue to count on the professionalism of our government structures here to go with what is right, not which way the wind happens to be blowing. We all paid for the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation a few years ago and its recommendations were the result of a great deal of thoughtful reflection. What happened to those? First off, an immediate resolution to keep the crucifix in the National Assembly, symbol not of the founding of Québec, but of an unholy pact between the Church and the State in the 1930s that succeeded in repressing the majority population for decades. Now this, an affirmation of intolerance with large exceptions for the folkloric status of the once-powerful church.

I wonder how the Catholic Church feels about its relegation to cutesy historical status. I suppose that it will make do with it as long as its extensive urban real estate holdings — a part of our heritage — are not threatened. Personally, I’m not against preserving the relics of our history, but we put those things in museums, not in the room where we make our laws. Our government and all of its various levers ought to look like our society, and not just like the parts of it with which the majority identifies. Yes, it matters to maintain standards of equality in how we are treated by those who deliver our government, but it really doesn’t matter what the person delivering the service is wearing.

A couple of quizzes maybe?

Which of these head coverings symbolizes the greatest danger to our democratic values? (Hint: it’s the one that is worn by the lady who thinks that her lineage makes her better than the rest of us, bottom right.)

It’s kind of difficult for many of the other choices to determine what might be fashion and what the expression of religious belief. I am about as threatened by the transparent rain bonnet as I am by the hijab — no, scratch that: the rain bonnet is scarier in its tackiness!

I’d ask to pick out the facial hair that most strikes fear into xenophobic hearts everywhere, but it seems that we can’t really go by facial hair, since a broad variety of styles and degrees of it have penetrated all parts of our society, despite the fact that sometimes it is the result of religious belief, too. But then again, it’s way easier to regulate the women and exclude them from the employment and mixing with others that might make them really feel at home here, right?

Bouchard and Taylor called for the neutrality of institutions and the freedom of individuals. Let’s go with that instead.