From West Coast to Country Western

The country western culture is foreign to me and there is no better introduction to a new culture than total immersion. At least that’s my favourite strategy. I was of the “anything but country” variety for many years before I started dating a born and raised Calgarian. This year will be the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede so it seemed like the ultimate introduction to this integral part of his upbringing.

When I imagine the Stampede, the picture in my head is a toss up between a lawless, raucous street festival and an urbane city fair with partners swinging partners doe-see-doe.  Of all the stories I’ve ever heard about the Calgary Stampede, I have heard very few adjectives used to describe it.  Usually people tend to stop short at “It’s just so –“ or  “You’ve just gotta – “.  These types of descriptions, while leaving plenty of room for my imagination to run wild or “stampede” with visions of what to expect, may or may not be preparing me for what to actually expect on my summer vacation next week. From the information I have managed to gather, there are a couple aspects of the Stampede that seem to be especially community building in nature.

 

I am so looking forward to the prospect of an entire city taking part in a weeklong theme party.  I am a costume party enthusiast to say the least. It’s hard to imagine all of Vancouver getting dressed up in any one costume besides Canucks team wear but I do like to imagine everyone dressing up as fishermen for a week while for the most part going about their daily routine. Or if during the Olympics, instead of just wearing red mittens, we had all dressed up like the ancient Greeks. I have also heard tell of a special Super Hero Day in the Brazilian Mardi Gras celebrations when everyone dresses up as super heroes. From what I gather, it’s the nostalgic feeling of dressing up that really makes the Stampede more than an urbane city fair and more of community cornerstone.

FREE PANCAKE BREAKFASTS! Get everyone together and give them free pancakes. The genius of this simple idea should not be understated. I have written before about the strong power of a shared meal. People are much friendlier when they have full bellies and even more friendly when they have recently been the given something for free. Friendly people are catalysts for community building. Perhaps the way I phrased it the first time should be corrected. The real idea here is, “if you feed them, they will come”. Notably, this concept was a smash hit over the Canada Day long weekend in Vancouver with the first ever Food Cart Festival drawing in huge crowds and selling out their street eats.

Of all the adjective-less descriptions of the Stampede that I’ve heard, there has been a consistent excitement present in all of them. That excitement is undeniably contagious. I have my best outlaw gear at the ready and I’m raring to go to my first rodeo.

From Weekly to Daily Gumboots

“And so with love in their hearts, anxiety in their heads and girding in and around their loins, Vancouver’s coolest and multi/inter-dimensionally-qualified twitbloggers of the interscape take their community building project to the next level. These folks are world changers; and you should use their ideas from everywhere to build community today.”

- Barack Obama, 2009

Okay. So maybe Barack Obama didn’t really endorse the transition of the Weekly to Daily Gumboot. But, hey, embrace the creative world of magical realism, suspend belief and accept the fact that 81.2% of our facts and findings are made up. After all, we embrace it! The trick is figuring out what side of the 19.8% your interpretation of our data, sources and “research” you think is made up. Hey, at least we’re honest about our subjectivity!

gumboot copyMoving on…

Though, we really did get a glowing endorsement about our “employing” Mike Boronowski to backstop a much sexier version of The Gumboot while Kurt Heinrich and I motivate our contributors to provide daily content or suffer the consequences of punishment by catapult. And here it is:

“Kid, just because it comes out every day and because you have your own website – or whatever you just said it was – doesn’t mean it’s not bullshit.”

- My Grandma, Betty, last night on the phone

Well said, Betty. Media consumers need to be mindful of what they take-in. And, hey, there’s a lot of information out there. We here at The Gumboot think it’s important for you, the reader, to know where your information – and our ideas – come from. So, since you might not be 100% familiar with The Gumboot (weekly or daily versions)? Allow me to provide a bit of a synopsis on how we got here:

The Historical Time Line of The Daily Gumboot

5000 BC – Year 0: Egypt and Mesopotamia build communities around beer (a form of currency and central component of many herbal remedies) and either the biggest non-French example of public works projects by employees of the state or, well, slavery.

600 – 1000 AD: Romans combine entrepreneurship, militarism, butter, salt, and ham to create a variety of cheeses and proscuittos that Kurt Heinrich strives to re-create in his kitchen each and every weekend. He also defends himself and his cheese if necessary.

1491 AD: People around the world who aren’t from Europe get this really weird feeling and start to wonder whether or not it’s a good thing that their communities exist in such beautiful places chalked full of delicious natural resources.

1500 – 1650 AD: Shakespeare and some other dudes make writing cool; first blog is published in 1603 to passively-aggressively commemorate/mock King James I’s ascent to the throne.

1650 – 1724 AD: The Golden Age of Piracy provides many ideas and concepts (health, democracy, gender equality, education, environmental stewardship, business, fashion, multi-culturalism) that continue to drive our society today.

1725 AD: University of Glasgow Professor, Francis Hutcheson, creates a mathematical formula for benevolence. The very same formula we here at The Gumboot apply to each and every one of our articles.

1729 AD: Jonathan Swift writes about eating children as an effective way to deal with poor communities and a lot of people take it the wrong way. For the record, people still take it the wrong way.

1812 AD: The British musket-and-cannon their way to a draw with America, yet somehow this “war” is remembered as the one time Canada beat the US at something; our national communities have been dealing with the ramifications ever since.

1848 AD: Soccer (based on supercool Chinese foot-to-ball techniques) as we know it is invented; things get a little ridiculous in all communities but the ones north of Mexico and east/west of everywhere else.

1861: The community of Merville, BC is founded by Sir George “Gumboot” Merville, who, incidentally, got lost with his crew on their way to Cape Horn with a delivery of sheep for the Falkland Islands. Friends of sheep and people who don’t ask questions, they inserted themselves into the landscape quite nicely and built a small, but vibrant, community based on the wild mushrooms that grew in the muddy middle-region of present day Vancouver Island. In the 1920s some re-settled First World War veterans arrived and invented a bit of a different story about Merville. Still, to this day it’s referred to as “the gumboot capital of Canada” for a darn good reason. Somewhere, George is smiling.

1880 – 1987 AD: The fusion of warfare, industry and government makes killing people and destroying things pretty darn efficient. Yet, somehow, the vast majority of people on Earth found time to dance, sing, create, love, give directions to misguided tourists, and not kill each other. In fact, there are a lot of songs, poems and paintings about such things. Technology and human innovation, it turns out, are viciously and beautifully double-edged.

1988 AD: Al Gore collaborates with a Soviet spy named Sputnik, the British Post Office, some nerds at UCLA, and a supercomputer named “Dennis” to invent the Internet. Seriously.

2003 AD: John and Kurt graduate from Bishop’s University with meager writing skills, a penchant for Egyptian beer and a blossoming friendship based on history, pirates and ideas from everywhere. After their proposed Fox sitcom fails spectacularly, they go their separate ways.

2005 AD: The environment – Gaia, I think her name is – demonstrates her/its anger and fury. To quote Paul Hawken on why this might be significant, “When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”

2005 – 2008 AD: Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart coin hilarious phrases like “truthiness” and “twitblogging the interscape,” while Rick Mercer and George Stroumboulopoulos combine razor wit with Canadian humility to lampoon every region of this country from Dildo, Newfoundland to Yak, British Columbia. All master the world of Web 2 before their time (maybe even its time).

December 2008 AD – the present: A descendant of Otto von Bismarck asks John what his family has ever done for the annals of history. John starts on a story of his great, great, great grandmother’s service to soldiers during the Boer War but is quickly interrupted. The question is re-framed and answered and the point is taken. After a few Egyptian beers, a game of soccer and a spirited discussion of whether or not cleeted gumboots would be good for West Coast soccer and/or the First World War, The Weekly Gumboot was born.

So that’s how we arrived at where we are today. Pretty simple. Pretty straightforward. All of it steeped in truthiness and histortical findings. Speaking of honesty, we also have a few values and ideas that define The Daily Gumboot’s mandate:

  • Keep it positive: building communities is hard when we throw stones at each other, or when/if you get hit by them (this metaphor works when it’s not a metaphor, too); focusing on what we have in common as well as finding the humour in our differences is a refreshing change from fear-mongering and finger pointing.
  • Collect ideas from everywhere: everyone and every idea deserves a voice and a venue; so, we strive to find stories about communities from all around the world – ones that are tucked away into the most obscure and unknown and distant places of this planet…like Calgary!
  • Make ideas actionable: it’s one thing to have a good idea, but it’s an entirely different thing to deliver on it; in our Five Ways to Build Community segment – as well as our interviews with community builders from around the world (or the West Coast if our funding falls gumbootsthrough) – we will provide useful tips on what you can do to build community in your, um, community.
  • Be educational edutaining: recent findings show that people learn more when they’re having fun; we hope you have fun with it as you explore our understatedly educational blog.
  • Make it fresh, snappy and sexy: this is where the “publishing witty and provocative ideas every day or almost every day comes in” part comes into play; again, Mike Boronowski gets credit for our new, sexy look.

So there it is. Thanks for taking the time to visit The Daily Gumboot. And, hey, just because we might not post a fresh twitblog each day doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop by for a visit each day! Some of my posts might even take you a day or two to consume and digest…

Stay classy. Keep it positive. And, most importantly, have fun with it!

Your pal,

John

Editor-in-Chief

Sauerkraut, Perogies and Old Gents

Sampling the fare of different ethnic communities around town is a personal goal of mine this year.

Sort of like a mid-year New Year’s reunion.

It all came about after dropping off our two South America-bound correspondents at the airport. On the way back I drove by the Vancouver landmark “Deutsches Haus“, which sits plumply (yes, a building can sit plumply – especially a German/Bavarian Building) off 33rd and Victoria.

Driving buy I realized it has been a long time since I sunk my teeth into Bratwurst, Spaetzle, Currywurst, Blaukraut, and the old fried favorite – Wiener Schnitzel. What better way to celebrate the German community its heritage in Vancouver than to round up a posse and head down to Deutsches Haus to see what tasty times await.

It’s also neat to do so, not at the latest trendy eatery off Main or Broadway, but rather in a den that local Germano-Vancouverites (that word has now been copyrighted by your’s truly) keep coming to decade after decade. It’s kinda like the Legion experience for those of you have ever frequented a Royal Canadian Legion and had the honor of chatting and sharing beers with some of our veterans in their home away from home.

It also wet an appetite to explore similar old school ethnic bastions that I know are hidden across the city, and which are rally points for dozens of other communities.

A few months ago, I visited one such place in Strathcona during Vancouver’s East Side Culture Crawl. That day we hit up the a Ukrainian church basement and filled up on buttery homemade perogies (assembled, I like to dream,

painstakingly by old, thick and boisterous Ukrainian grandmas who while surviving Stalin, famine and the 5 Year Plans, managed to perfect the best perogie recipe in history), rich sweet and sour cabbage rolls, and hearty and salty Ukrainian sausage. It was a blast, made even better by the diversity of community that turned out and the great hosting of the local Ukrainian community.

The French cultural centre is another great example of delicious French cuisine imported to Vancouver (though its a bit more high class than the aformentioned examples – not a big surprise right?). There you can wander around the community centre and see what theatre, shows, and films are coming up until you’re seated by a dainty francophone hostess who sketches out le menu du jour from memory and helps you select which entre to enjoy (will it be filet mignon or a salad de fruits with fresh baguette?oooooh the hemming and hawing). All this can be enjoyed for an incredibly reasonable price considering the quality of the meal and experience.

I’m looking forward to see if the Germans can measure up to the Ukrainians and French when it comes to tasty food and unique atmosphere. I’m hopeful they’ll knock the sox off both of them, but knowing the culinary history of the German people, Im not willing to put more than a handful of change on it.

And if you have any suggestions of delectable restaurants that host and represent a cultural community in the Lower Mainland, let me know. I’d love to try em.