In 1989 in Winnipeg, I walked in my first Pride March. There were only about 300 of us who walked on that day 20 years ago. It pissed rain the entire way from Vimy Ridge Park down Broadway Avenue to the Manitoba Legislature (the original parade route in the early years of the Winnipeg march). People yelled abuse at us from their balconies as we went by and drivers waiting in their cars flipped us the bird.
Since then, I've walked in a lot of bigger and better Pride Marches, but there's always something special about your very first time, isn't there!
[Watercolour painting entitled "Rainy Day Blues" by artist Debra Halprin]
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York police raided a gay bar located in a seedy hotel called the Stonewall Inn. Police raids and harassment were standard procedure in those days and fear of exposure made gays an easy target. But for whatever reason, this particular raid proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. A riot broke out which pitted the police against an angry crowd of white, black and Hispanic gay men, a few butch lesbians, a bunch of queer street kids and assorted drag queens. The police were trapped inside the Stonewall Inn and had to be rescued by the Tactical Police Force. A series of riots occurred over the course of the next couple of days and at their peak involved two or three thousand people.
The Stonewall Riots marked the beginning of the modern GLBT rights movement in the western world. There had been previous, scattered acts of resistance and attempts at political organization, but this incident was the spark that ignited a full-fledged movement.
A year later on this date, the first Gay Pride March was held in New York to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. And since then, the month of June has always marked the celebration of LGBT Pride. It's been 40 years now! Look how far we've come! Imagine how far we will still go!
My little sister eventually attended Vacation Bible School too. One year they made a lovely plaque of the Ten Commandments. This involved gluing a copy of the Ten Commandments onto a 5 x 7 piece of wallboard and then gluing small rocks all around the border. I think the kids picked the rocks off the gravel road themselves. Then the whole thing was -- you guessed it -- shellacked and voila! beautiful Christian art of which any home could be proud!
This photo is the closest thing to it that I could find on the internet and quite frankly, it's not all that close. Oh well, you get the general idea anyway. My sister's Ten Commandments plaque hung on our kitchen wall for years. Then one day, my parents swore that it just mysteriously disappeared. Probably ascended to Heaven in a mini-Rapture is my guess.
One year at Vacation Bible School, we each made a burnt matchstick cross. For safety reasons, the minister burnt all the matchsticks for us. First, he took a big box of wooden matches and opened it a tiny bit, with one match head sticking out. Then he set the box on the cement steps of the church and lit the match that was sticking out. FOOM! The whole box went up at once and at that precise instant, the minister closed the box to extinguish the fire before the wooden matchsticks were entirely burnt up. That's how we got the effect of wood lightly charred at one end.
Then it was our turn. Using a pattern, we cut a large cross out of cardboard and fashioned a hanger out of string on the back. Next, we carefully glued charred matchsticks to the front in a particular pattern. Once dry, the cross was shellacked and voila! beautiful Christian art of which any home could be proud!
I can't believe I was actually able to find a photo of a burnt matchstick cross on the internet, but here it is! This is exactly what the end product was supposed to look like. Unfortunately, my cross didn't, because I got mixed up while following the pattern and some of my matchsticks started going the wrong way. But my parents loved my burnt matchstick cross anyway. So much so that they gave it pride of place out in the garage!
Every summer when I was a kid, my parents sent me to Vacation Bible School. Not because they were particularly religious -- they just couldn't afford to send me to a real summer camp. Vacation Bible School was my *free* substitute. And what the hell difference did I know anyway?
Vacation Bible School was run by the local evangelical church for one week every July or August. At the time, I assumed they hosted VBS out of the kindness of their hearts, but now I realize it was part of a "get 'em while they're young" strategy.
I just loved VBS! We got to do all kinds of fun things -- singing (but no dancing), making crafts, listening to Bible stories and putting on a concert that our mothers attended. There was also a coveted prize for Bible memorization. Thanks to VBS, I still have a voluminous knowledge of Bible verses, committed to memory in a vain attempt to beat the perennial contest champion. She had an unfair competitive edge because her parents were Holy Rollers who made their kids read nothing but the Bible. Eventually the day came when she was too old to attend VBS and then -- sweet, sweet victory! -- the first prize pencil case was mine!!
There was only one thing that I didn't like about VBS. They always gave us a daily snack of cookies and Kool-Aid. But in an attempt to keep their costs down, they never put any sugar in the Kool-Aid. Or perhaps sugar was considered sinful, I don't know. Anyway, I hated drinking that flavourless coloured water. But nowadays, after Jonestown, I look back and feel much better about it.
"Straight Americans need an education of the heart and soul. They must understand -- to begin with -- how it can feel to spend years denying your own deepest truths, to sit silently through classes, meals and church services while people you love toss off remarks that brutalize your soul."
It was cocaine that led to his downfall. Somewhere along the line, he had acquired a drug addiction to go along with his taste for alcohol. Then he was arrested for drug trafficking, which he probably did to help pay for his own habit. I assume he went to prison for it since trafficking pretty much always carries jail time. In any event, he was not able to quit his addiction.
It was the classic downward spiral after that. He lost everything -- his profession, his home, his family, his dignity. He literally ended up on Winnipeg's notorious skid row. There were reported sightings of him picking up cigarette butts off the street.
He died of cancer two years ago today.
The Winnipeg Free Press did a major story on his life and tragic descent. His mother summed up his life as follows: Trouble was his middle name. How sad is it when that is what your own mother says? I think what actually sums up his situation is that sign he once had in his office: Illegitimi Non Carborundum. But it wasn't the bastards out in the world who ground him down. It was his own internal demon bastards that destroyed him.
I do feel somewhat conflicted about his sorry life. There are those who think that his downfall was self-created and well-deserved. However, I can't help but feel bad for the man, although I know there are plenty who don't.
When I was just starting out in my chosen profession, I worked for a man who kept a sign in his office that read Illegitimi Non Carborundum. It was "pretend Latin" for Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down. Fighting against the bastards of this world was what he specialized in. I wanted to fight bastards too, so I was delighted to be working for him.
He had arrived in Manitoba as a veritable Golden Boy -- highly regarded in progressive circles, full of political and professional promise. The tarnish set in over the years, as he disappointed some people, used others, became known as a bit of a bastard himself. It also became apparent that he was an alcoholic, albeit a highly functioning one.
Eventually he was a bastard to me too and our professional paths parted. For the next decade or so he carried on as before, fighting his battles, acquiring and discarding girlfriends, having a couple of kids, enjoying the status symbols of his success.
Then I started to hear disquieting rumours (even in Alberta where I now lived). He was unreliable in dealing with his partners and clients, mean to his staff, erratic in his personal behaviour. He couldn't seem to hold things together.
Today is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. We celebrate the longest day of the year and the shortest night. I hope everyone is outside today doing something fun in glorious sunshine! Solstice blessings to you!
The. Best. Perogies. In. The. Entire. World. That's all you need to know. Handmade by authentic North End Winnipeg Ukrainian Babas. Boiled and then panfried to a delicious golden brown. Served with fried onions and sour cream. A one way ticket to heaven. [The above photo is of actual Alycia's perogies]
Alycia's waitresses were pretty authentic too. Once I was there with a friend and I didn't finish all the kolbassa on my plate. The waitress said, "Aren't you going to eat that?" When I said I was full, she took my plate, scraped the kolbassa onto my friend's plate and said, "You look like you could eat it for her." You don't waste food in a Ukrainian home -- it's a sin.
A few years ago, Alycia's Restaurant changed hands and passed to a new generation of owners. And of course the Babas are all gone now. It breaks my heart to say it, but Alycia's perogies are not what they once were. But I'll always have my memories. And my 20 pounds of extra flab.
Another fabulous North End institution is Alycia's Restaurant. It is a monument to all things Ukrainian. In its various small rooms, you'll find tables covered with beautiful Ukrainian embroidered tablecloths (protected by plastic, of course). Every square inch of wall space is plastered with Ukrainian decorations -- paintings, embroidery, pysanka, poppies, wheat weaving, etc. In the foyer is a big gumball machine (every black gumball is a winner!) bearing a hand-lettered sign -- Ukrainian VLT.
On a little table near the entrance, there's a small shrine to the great Canadian comic, John Candy. He ate at Alycia's every time he was in Winnipeg. Apparently he also had their perogies shipped around the world to wherever he was on location. When walking past his photo to my table, I always tried not to think of his untimely demise from obesity.
The fabled North End of Winnipeg is home to a couple of my favourite restaurants, one of which is the Kelekis Restaurant on Main Street. I've had many a cheese dog there, accompanied by their famous shoestring fries. Mmmmmm, cheese dog and fries . . . .
The Kelekis family represents a classic immigrant success story. They started off with a simple hotdog and chips wagon and eventually built it into an established restaurant where "everybody who is anybody" came to eat. The restaurant itself is nothing fancy -- it was probably last renovated in the 70s and looks its age. There's counter service in the front and table service in the back. Those two areas are separated by a huge map of the world with pins in it showing where all their customers have come from. One wall is taken up with a large mural illustrating the Kelekis family saga. Another wall is covered with framed autographed photos of all the Winnipeg, Canadian and American celebrities who have eaten in the restaurant over the years. Back in the day, any performer who came through Winnipeg on a concert tour went to eat at Kelekis Restaurant afterwards because, in those days, it was the only restaurant that stayed open into the wee hours. Things are different now, of course.
In the summers, it is a beautiful drive to go down River Road a few miles north of Winnipeg. The road meanders beside the Red River, past the big acreage homes of the wealthy, past one of the oldest Anglican churches in Manitoba (St. Andrew's on the Red), until finally it comes to Captain Kennedy Tea House. This is a restored heritage home that functions as part museum, part tea house. It has beautiful rock gardens which you can enjoy while waiting for your name to come up on the waiting list for tea. The food is homemade and yummy, served by young women in period dress.
This photo does not do any justice at all to the Tea House and rock gardens, but it's the only one I could find on the internet. I've spent so many pleasant afternoons there with family and friends over the years -- very special memories of time past and people now often departed.
The Chocolate Shop has been a fixture on Portage Avenue since the First World War. It was always a fun place to meet friends for lunch because you could get your tea leaves or tarot cards read there. Tarot readings were too expensive for me in my student days, but an occasional tea leaf reading was within my means. The Chocolate Shop had nice desserts and the decor featured this lovely stained glass transom.
At the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard in Winnipeg sits one of the last remaining Hudson's Bay Company flagship stores in Canada. It is a huge stone building occupying one square city block. And on its sixth floor is found the Grande Dame of Winnipeg eateries -- the Paddlewheel Restaurant. Its decor is meant to evoke the early history of Winnipeg's mercantile past. A simulated paddlewheel steamship takes up an entire wall of the restaurant. Sculpted clouds of paddlewheel steam adorn the ceiling. Other walls are made to look like river scenes and warehouses. Artificial greenery completes the illusion that you are dining outside on the paddlewheel dock. In the restaurant's heyday, the big paddlewheel turned slowly and majestically in its pond of real water.
But the Paddlewheel Restaurant's heyday is long gone now. The Bay serves up its mediocre cafeteria food to only a few customers these days. The big paddlewheel has stopped turning and now rests motionless. The last time I was at the downtown Bay a couple of years ago, the store seemed empty and forlorn. The Hudson's Bay Company is owned by Americans now and its stores have all moved to shopping mall locations. I fear for the continued existence of Winnipeg's flagship.
Recently, the Paddlewheel Restaurant was featured in a movie -- it played the role of a weird and creepy nightspot in Guy Maddin's surreal 2007 film, My Winnipeg. In this revisionist docufantasy, the "Paddlewheel Nightclub" purveyed booze, gambling, salacious Golden Boy Man Pageants and orange jello to the citizens of Winnipeg. A strange, if fitting, homage to this iconic location.
I love The Charge of the Goddess, written many years ago by Doreen Valiente and adapted by Starhawk for modern use. My favourite lines are these:
Let my worship be in the heart that rejoices.
For behold, all acts of love and pleasure
Are my rituals.
This is the second greatest value which I find in Goddess spirituality -- it is sex-positive in a completely non-judgmental way. The only constraint on sacred sexuality is that it must always occur between people who legally consent. Any sexual act that occurs without legal consent can never be said to involve love or pleasure.
Mainstream patriarchal religions condemn and control people's sexuality in order to advance their own power agendas. Over the centuries and still today, many crimes have been committed against people and their sexual expression in the name of God. Organized religions have twisted and warped our views about all forms of sexuality.
There is no greater freedom than turning your back on these lies and understanding in your heart the sacred nature of all sexuality. It is healing to know, understand and practice this truth.
I am old enough that my basic socialization occurred in pre-feminist times. It took me years of struggle to unlearn the awful lies that were taught to me as a child and adolescent. Lies of male superiority, female inferiority, our "proper roles," what we girls should and should not do, expect and not expect. Lies that society enforced by abuse and even violence if disobeyed. Lies that were created and sanctioned by God Himself.
The greatest and most fundamental lie, the lie which made all the others possible, was that only male imagery could possibly represent the Divine. It was the ultimate form of exclusion -- the world's Central Truth bears no resemblance to YOU but instead shares ALL the characteristics of the Dominant Group. It was forced colonialism of our souls, really.
So for me, the single greatest value of the Goddess Path is its central use of female imagery to characterize the Divine Mystery of Existence. Goddess spirituality affirms the inherent sacredness of women's lives, bodies and experience. It does so in a way that is direct, unmediated and unapologetic. Women are entitled to relate to the Divine Feminine with no sense of "otherness."
The imagery of Goddess spirituality is a cool and soothing balm for my soul. I never tire of it.
For the past two or three decades, GLBT activists all over North America have put an inordinate amount of time and energy into trying to get various levels of government to issue Pride Proclamations during the month of June. In Canada, the fight often resulted in formal complaints to various Human Rights Commissions, with mixed results. I well remember the bitter struggles both in Winnipeg and Edmonton to obtain Mayoral Pride Proclamations, now routinely issued without controversy in both cities, I'm happy to say.
So I was thrilled to read that Barack Obama has just issued a Presidential Pride Proclamation in the U.S. to mark the 40th anniversary of Stonewall and the modern LGBT rights movement. It's a wonderful document and you can read the full text of it here. Bill Clinton used to issue Presidential Pride Proclamations too, so Obama is not the first President to have done this, but it is still a welcome recognition of the lesbigay community.
Surely this is one of the most iconic and evocative images of the 20th century --
Citizen v. the State
Freedom v. Oppression
Lone Hero v. Overwhelming Odds
Individual Bravery v. Collective Military Might
Hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the massacre of Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. What a terrible thing that was, and continues to be. The Chinese government still doesn't admit to the massacre and has blocked internet access within China to any websites about it.
We salute you, brave Chinese guy with the briefcase, whoever you are and wherever you are today!
It's not just Great Britain that has a Poet Laureate, you know. The City of Edmonton has one too. Our PL gets appointed for a two-year term and is expected during that time to produce a few poems about our City and preside over the City's annual Poetry Festival.
Our first PL was Alice Major, whose latest book of poems is a fun retelling of the Canterbury Tales set in a modern Edmonton office tower. For City Council, she wrote a delightful poem about potholes (which are a big deal in Edmonton, believe me). Our second PL was E.D. (Ted) Blodgett who is a professor emeritus of comparative literature at the University of Alberta and a two-time winner of the Governor General's Award for Poetry. For the City, he wrote some lovely poems praising a particular city park, which will be permanently displayed there on plaques.
Our third PL has just been appointed and he is an inspired choice. City Council chose a young local rapper, Roland Pemberton, whose stage name is Cadence Weapon. According to the Edmonton Journal, he is (at 23 years of age) "one of the hot young turks of Canada's hip-hop scene." The appointment's been getting a lot of press right across Canada. Everyone's very enthusiastic about our new PL and why shouldn't they be? What better way to acknowledge how poetry is expressed by the next generation and how poetry is still very relevant to everyone's experience? He will encourage people to think about poetry -- and Edmonton too -- in a fresh new way!
I wish all of City Council's decisions were this good!
[Illustration of Cadence Weapon by Pete Nguyen of Vue Weekly]
It's June at last and summer is finally here! You'll notice a couple of themes running through my blog this month, in addition to the usual motley assortment of random thoughts:
(1) Pax over at Chrysalis is spearheading "International Pagan Values Blogging Month," during which pagan bloggers are encouraged to write of the virtues, ethics, morals and values we have found on our respective paths. What are they and how do we carry them forward in our own lives and out into the world? So I'm planning to write perhaps two or three posts on that topic, scattered throughout the month.
(2) June 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, the event which sparked the modern gay and lesbian rights movement. So I'll be blogging on that topic too. And to celebrate GLBT Pride this month, I'll also post at various points over the next 30 days some of my favourite quotations from lesbian and gay writers, as well as other assorted queer tidbits.
[The above picture is "June" from the medieval illuminated manuscript known as Les tres riches heures du Duc de Berry]