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Posts Tagged ‘Globe and Mail’

Did I choose the wrong country?

In aging, behavior, business, cities, Crime, culture, immigration, life, news, urban life, US, work, world on July 26, 2012 at 12:05 am
Globe

Globe (Photo credit: stevecadman)

How interesting to see that Canada — where I was born, raised and lived until 1988 — now has a higher per-capita wealth than the United States; $363,202 in assets to the average American’s total of $319,970.

From the website Daily Finance:

Indeed, the crash in U.S. home prices means that Canadians own real estate that is on average worth $140,000 more than that held by Americans. They also own twice as much property and have nearly four times as much equity in it after mortgages are taken into account.

One small bright spot for residents of the beleaguered U.S.: Americans still have greater liquid assets than Canadians. But even this statistic serves mainly to underscore the magnitude of the housing market catastrophe.

Public policy may be in part to blame: As The Globe and Mail points out, “Canadian leaders rejected mortgage interest deductibility,” making it somewhat harder for citizens to get so deep into mortgage debt. Moreover, subprime mortgages — those ignes fatui of the American economy — did not catch on in Canada the way they did here.

All of which leaves our “thrifty, socialist neighbors to the north” — who have long eschewed both the dynamism and the risk of the American system in favor of higher taxes, greater regulation and a sturdier social safety net — looking pretty clever right now.

Having survived three (so far) recessions in the U.S. since moving here, I’ve often questioned my decision. But I’ve also met some of my professional goals here, and more easily in a nation whose population is 10 times larger, than would have been possible at home, where about ten people in my industry got the best jobs and clung to them for decades.

I’ve married two Americans, one wretched, one not. I’ve survived being a crime victim here twice and the subject of a $1 million lawsuit from a minor car accident. Instructive!

Canadians are generally much more risk-averse, which I find boring and annoying (if, yes, more fiscally prudent.) Americans, for better or worse, are generally excited to try new things and less freaked out by failure. I like this a lot, and it’s one reason I came and stuck around. But it also assumes — which isn’t true for so many people here now – you can actually afford to fail.

Without a toxic mortgage I kept my home and built equity; the U.S. mortgage interest tax deduction (thank heaven) was a real help to me as a single freelancer.

The “American dream” of home ownership is typical of a major difference between the two nations — because it has long been such a powerful part of how Americans view their lives, no politician (even if it would have been wise to do so) dared mess with it.

And so bankers made out, literally, like bandits, selling the most appallingly toxic mortgages to people with no clue what they were getting into.

Canadians don’t have a “Canadian dream”, at least none I’ve ever heard as part of the standard cultural conversation.

The CDO crisis, fueled by greed on both sides and fed by the oxygen of enormous profits on one side and the illicit thrill of actually buying a house with 0% down, almost left the financial system here DOA. If you want to watch a real thriller, which really explains it, rent the terrific films Too Big to Fail and Inside Job.

While Americans, once more, are this week mourning the latest massacre of civilians attending a film near Denver by a deranged shooter armed with four guns, urban Canadians in Toronto are also confronting a shocking level of gun violence; ironically, Jessica Ghawi, a young sports reporter, had just escaped a shooting in June at Toronto’s Eaton Centre, a huge downtown mall, when she was killed in Aurora.

I wrote my first book about American women and guns, which one critic called “groundbreaking and invaluable”, my goal to understand, and explain, why Americans are so deeply attached to private firearms ownership.

But another recent shooting in Toronto claimed the lives of two people and when I went to check that story, yet another shooting had occurred since then.

So — which country is the better choice?

It’s an ongoing question for ex-patriates like myself, some of whom have husbands or wives or partners and children and jobs they value in the United States (or vice versa.) After the horror of 9/11, many of my Canadian friends urged me to “come home”, even though I’d already lived in the U.S. since January 1988.

While he loves Canada and would be happy to live there, my husband has a great job in New York City, which offers a pension we will both need. As an author and freelance writer, I can, theoretically, work from anywhere.

Both my countries have strengths and weaknesses.

The reasons we each choose to move, or stay, are multi-factorial: friends, work, climate, proximity to (or blessed distance from) family, excellent medical care and insurance, history, geography, a spiritual community, a landscape we love, a sense of history or shared culture…

Here’s a recent radio interview with Paul Martin, former Canadian Prime Minister, with Brian Lehrer, one of my favorite interviewers, on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. He does a great job explaining the differences in public policy-making between the two countries.

If you’ve left your native country to try another, how’s it working out for you?

If you’ve moved to the U.S., do you (ever) regret it?

Do you plan to move elsewhere?

Why?

What’s Queen Elizabeth really like? I spent two weeks with her

In behavior, culture, History, journalism, Media, news, women, work on June 3, 2012 at 6:03 pm
Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As millions of cheering loyal subjects (and the deeply curious) this weekend celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, some of you must wonder — what’s that life really like?

As Queen Elizabeth celebrates 60 years on the throne — and 1,000 boats are floating down the Thames today to celebrate —  here are my personal memories of an unforgettable two weeks spent chasing her.

In 1984, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip took a two-week tour of Canada, from New Brunswick to Ontario to Manitoba. I was 26, a brand-new reporter at The Globe and Mail, with six months’ daily newspaper experience.

This would be front-page news every day, and the paper has five daily editions, so I would have to meet multiple deadlines for my editors in Toronto — whether I was an hour ahead or behind in time zone. No pressure!

The Queen, as you would expect, travels with a large entourage of ladies-in-waiting and equerries. Not to mention a serious and determined contingent of security. In charge on that tour was a dapper Glaswegian, in a tweed jacket with suede elbow patches. He was tiny but ferocious, yet managed to keep a sense of humor as he tried to keep dozens of annoying reporters and photographers at bay. One day, as we all pressed forward behind the Queen on walkabout, he walked backward, his arms outstretched toward us.

“You need a whip and a chair!” I joked.

“I could use the whip,” he said. My. (I later bought him one and gave it to him as a going-away gift at our final party.)

The two weeks were an insane and exhausting blur of 14 to 16-hour days. It was also the first time the press corps — men and women of all ages from every outlet, from the CBC to Time -- was, at each event, literally penned into a very small space with cords around it.

This was also long before cellphones or the Internet and an era when the fastest possible laptop showed (!!) barely 4 sentences at a time, attached to a telephone handset with clips and took forever to download.

Not to mention trying to find a phone on deadline…I raced into a hotel lobby once and commandeered the phone in the news-stand. Another time I ran frantically to the nearest private home, banged on the door, begged for a table to write on and a phone from which to transmit, in the middle of which the man of the house (a judge) came home and wondered why a crazed blond stranger had taken over his phone line and kitchen table.

Or the house at which I banged on the door and promptly fell flat on my face as they opened it.

Good times!

Every day, the Queen’s staff gave us a little printed piece of paper with the exact words to describe her clothing; not “light green” but “eau de Nil.”

The greatest challenge of covering a Royal Tour? There is no news. Cutting ribbons. Smiling. Accepting bouquets.

So every reporter at home reading my stuff was inwardly sneering at how mundane it had to be while every one of us on the tour were desperate to find a scrap of information that no one else in the huge pack, all traveling on the same buses or planes, could access. (When the Queen’s aircraft takes off, yours must leave a few minutes behind….it’s called the “purple corridor.”)

So when I reported that a government minister touched her on the back and shoulder (you never touch Her Majesty!) it made front-page news in Britain and created a huge ruckus.

Then I wrote a later story about the oddness of being feet from a reigning sovereign whose face was on the stamps and currency I’d been using since birth — and how she is really just another human being. On that one, (having said [yes] that she had visible veins in her legs, i.e. she’s human, too), I got plenty of hate mail and calls.

One man suggested I be drawn and quartered.

In Toronto’s harbor, the press corps was invited to drinks aboard Britannia, then her yacht. I still have the engraved invitation, on thick white gold-edged card: “The Master of the Household invites…”

We were all nervous and excited. The equerries were drop-dead gorgeous in their uniforms and poured very strong G & Ts. Then we were all formed into little semi-circles into which the Queen was guided to say hello. When I was introduced, she looked past me and said “Pity we haven’t had time to read the newspapers.”

As if. She had been furious with some of my work and this was the most British diss of all. “Stories? What stories?”

Her jewelry was astonishing. Her tiara…oh, yeah, those diamonds are real!

Her detective, who I met only at the final party, had remained invisible. When we met, I’d had no idea he had, of course, been there the whole time. Short, quiet, modest, James Beaton had in March 1974 saved Princess Anne from a would-be kidnapper and taken a bullet to his body for her.

Good heavens! I’d never met a real hero before.

My favorite memory of all?

Starved for any scrap of color or detail my competitors couldn’t match, I peeked into the rear seat of the parked car in which Her Majesty had been driven to an event.

There sat a small suitcase with a very large red cardboard baggage tag.

In large black block type, it simply read: The Queen.

Getting Invited Back For That Country Weekend: Tips

In behavior on May 15, 2010 at 7:27 am
Morris 16' canoe

Image via Wikipedia

This is all so true. If you know anyone with a cottage — Canadians’ version of a country house — listen up!

From The Globe and Mail:

Back in my early 20s, I won the Canadian girlfriend lottery. That is, at the time, I was involved with a woman whose family owned a cottage on what is – or so they said – “the second clearest lake in Ontario.” It was at this rugged setting that I, a cottage newbie, got to know her parents and siblings.

If you’ve managed to land a girlfriend-with-cottage yourself, first of all I want to say, congratulations. Your summers will be infused with cool air, refreshing swims and an endless landscape of trees. Also, you’ll be forced – I mean, have the opportunity – to bond with your girlfriend’s family in an unnaturally intimate setting where they are seasoned natives and you are a visitor with no escape.

In my case, by the end of the first summer I had learned the ways of the North and was able to earn the family’s respect and approval. But there were mistakes made. So that you may learn from those who have trod this prickly path before, here are some things to avoid from myself and a couple other former cottage initiates.

His listof errors includes sucking up too much and misplaced machismo. I’d add, wondering aloud why there is no…anything citified…you miss. Wi-fi,say. Or television. Fresh croissants. Or walls not made of crumbling particle-board.

The Canadian tradition of the cottage, (not to be confused with the social competitiveness of scenes like the Hamptons), means happily and uncomplainingly settling into someone’s family’s long-held traditions, from food to dress. I’ve stayed at friends’ cottages, and loved it, but it does have its own brand of etiquette. Try to have sex, really quietly, in a house with very thin walls, some of which may not even reach the ceiling. (Thus the “bunkie”, a mini-cottage on the same property.)

You’ll need to know, or graciously learn, things like gunwhale-bobbing (pronounced gunnel), which means standing atop the end of a canoe, one foot on each side, and pumping your knees up and down to make it go — of course — quickly forward in a straight line. Or how to water-ski. How to not turn blue or let your teeth chatter audibly when the lake water is icy, but your hosts find it “refreshing.”

Cupping your hands to make an excellent loon’s call? Not bad. But can you drive a motorboat or land a canoe at the dock not with a thud but a graceful J-stroke?

There’s a whole magazine, and a really good one, to prime you, should you ever be lucky enough to get invited to someone’s cottage.

It’s called Cottage Life.

Redheads Re-Found — Facebook's Mid-Life Discoveries

In behavior, Technology on May 12, 2010 at 8:24 am

I heard yesterday from someone I never thought I’d encounter again. He’s had a Big Star career, with degrees from Sciences Po and Oxford and ran a national newspaper — and found me today on Facebook.

“Didn’t you used to be a redhead?” he asked.

Well, yes, for about six months in my 20s, when we both worked at The Globe and Mail, both ferociously ambitious. We weren’t close friends or even distant friends, but such is Facebook and such is life that, like some odd comet circling the heavens every 235th year, people are now finding me again after 20 or 30 years, and vice versa, of late.

While some people, maybe those in their teens or 20s, collect “friends” to reassure them of their popularity, I — like others in my cohort — see it as more useful professionally. I recently spoke on a panel of fellow career journos, about 15 of us, many of them in their 50s, 60s or beyond, to a room full of publicity seekers. We were asked how many of us are on Facebook and almost all of us raised our hands, eliciting a gasp of surprise from the audience. I expected it, no matter what my colleagues’ age.

I’m happy to re-connect with real friends but am also smart enough to recognize the value of the additional social capital of friending people I’m not so fond of or, sometimes, don’t even know. But they know people I like and trust, so, occasionally, I add them. The guy who emailed yesterday had 1,500 friends, among them a writer I need to know.

Et voila.

One of the first FB rediscoveries was also a redhead when we first met, in college, a tall walking muscle of a man hoping to make the U.S. Olympics rowing team. He was gentle and kind and sent me a bouquet of red roses so enormous that I said to the delivery boy “I’m not dead!” We met on a college exchange program, he an American, I Canadian. He was, still is, a lovely man, now on his second (long and happy) marriage. The last time I saw him he was a new Dad, married too young to the wrong woman, and he knew it. It is good to know he is happy and thriving.

Also thanks to FB, I’ve re-found my best friend from when I was eight, now living a four-hour drive away, another lost redhead. We’re both dieting, fighting terrible arthritis, trading memories — some wildly inaccurate, some true — of one another’s parents.

It’s like finding a fly in amber, staring back into those pasts and comparing notes on what we then felt, but were often too young to know or to say. Turns out we know, in common, yet another redhead (I am not making this up; my ‘red’ hair came out of a bottle!) named Kate who knew Becca in Grade 8 and who I met in college and later again in New York.

It’s a little disconcerting — always the case — how much older/different the men look. I wouldn’t have  recognized a few of them. The women, without Botox or surgery, look great and fully themselves.

Who’s been your best (re)-find? Who ‘s found you that you’re happiest about?

Men, Talking About Their Feelings?

In culture, men on October 9, 2009 at 8:42 am
Winged Heart Couched Embroidery

Image by peregrine blue via Flickr

Real men don’t share their feelings. Or do they? Globe and Mail writer Micah Toub, whose book about being the son of two therapists is out in 2010, thinks guys might be more into therapy if it were couched in guy terms, like coaching and action.

OK, dudes, your relationship is down for the count, on the ropes. Maybe you’re taking too many mulligans (see do-over) or do-overs (see mulligan). Be direct. Tell her how you really feel. Girls hate dekes! If you really want to win her heart, no bunts! We’re looking for a gamer. And, while some of us enjoy a little incidental contact, no one wants to be your slump-buster. Personally, I love a guy who can handle an audible. If you really need our attention, freeze the puck.

You slept with her room-mate? Not sure there’s a hail-Mary pass for that.

Lifting The Veil On Afghanistan's Women

In Media, women on September 21, 2009 at 9:04 am
BURKA DOLL

Image by the_moog via Flickr

As a woman and a reporter, I’m forever fascinated by how other women live around the world and deeply envy those female reporters who travel as foreign correspondents. One of my former employers, The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national daily, is running a detailed multi-media series, with photos, interviews and profiles of Afghan women. It also includes the backstory, from six female reporters, of what it’s like to work there for a Western woman. Who knew they don’t sell tampons?

Check out their powerful intimate look at the women of Kandahar.

Why I Read The Obits and You Should Too

In Media, women on July 25, 2009 at 5:13 pm
The gravestone of Col. John Hart in the North ...

Image via Wikipedia

Morbid? Not really. Deeply curious, ever seeking wisdom about what makes up a life, whenever it ends, I read obituaries. They’re the profiles written past deadline.

As someone forever seduced by others’ stories — whether covering Queen Elizabeth or interviewing convicted felons — I read the obituaries. Not just the official ones, which, if you read The New York Times, are almost always about men.  I also read many of the paid ones, the ones in a font so small it’s almost illegible. That’s where the heart-breaking stories appear.

The Globe and Mail, one of the papers for whom I’ve been a reporter, runs a regular column called Lives Lived, obits written by friends, family or colleagues, often about civilians, non-celebrities,  the kind of people we all take for granted and know only as a high-school teacher or next door neighbor. I find these tributes lovely, and often deeply moving in their detail. Here’s one about a woman whose husband ran a taxi company. More than anything, more so than taxes, death is the ultimate democracy.

Today there are two women, 47 and 48, whose death notices in The New York Times, my local paper, hit me hard.

Rebecca Lipkin, a fellow journo I never met but who clearly had a kick-ass career as a broadcast journalist and news producer for WABC, ABC World News Tonight and ABC Nightline, worked in the U.S. and London, where she died at 48 of breast cancer. She was not married and had no kids. She could be me. She could one of the many  ambitious, driven, talented women I know and have met along the way of my journalism career who perhaps kept postponing love or domesticity for the surer gains of work, who consider airports and international carriers the equivalent of the family minivan, whose life is spent chasing the next great story and making sure it’s told well.

Rynn Williams, 47, a poet, and mother of three, died at her home in Brooklyn “of accidental causes.” She could be any one of us. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, accidents are the fifth leading cause of death for Americans, with 121,599 who died this way in 2006. (The top four, in order: heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease.)

I read obits because so many strangers fascinate me. I read obits because I want to hear what others say about them and how they are remembered by those who knew and loved them best, not just those wealthy, powerful or famous enough to have a reporter call up and formally interview their colleagues or family. My favorite paid obit, so far, was of an older woman who died in Florida, clearly a woman of means who had not worked. “She’d shake the ice for anyone,” her family wrote. I can’t forget this detail, of a woman who so loved to entertain that a cocktail shaker helped define her sense of generosity and fun. I wish I’d known her. So often, I read an obit of a non-famous, non-wealthy person I’ve never heard of and think: “Wish I’d met you. What a cool life. How loved you were!”

Below Rynn Williams’ obit today is that of Molly Wolff, 89 who died only three months after her husband, Louis. “During the last years of his life, she never left his side, singing to him and holding his hand late into the night.”

That’s great writing, the kind of telling detail every would-be journo needs to read and remember. That’s a woman to celebrate.

What would your obit say about you? What would you want it to say? Who would you most like to write it?

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