Thursday, November 8, 2012


Dawn is just breaking in a clear sky, beautiful colour and light emerging to the east. I’m feeling especially lucky that the sky is clear, for I’m in Vancouver, where November is often overcast, rainy, and generally a gloomy time outdoors. Yes, there is the ocean, there are mountains, the grass is green, but usually the clouds hide all sight of mountain spectacle and the dim light and short days tend to lower people’s spirits.

And so instead I’m heading into two full days of good weather, and specatacular Vancouver views. It’s a great last stop for this intense and busy book tour I’ve been on since September 21. I’ll be doing some media each day and then in the evening I’ll be at Barbara Jo’s Books for Cooks, always a pleasure.

It’s been a long time, perhaps five years? maybe even six? since I was last in Vancouver. I’m staying with my good friend Cassandra, whom I met in law school many years ago. She’s thriving, and has, with her partner Doug, so transformed her house in Kitsilano that I wasn’t sure I’d come to the right place. Apart from all the other changes of colour and arrangement, the most striking thing is the lighting. It’s wonderful, beautifully judged, and each room feels just right. I’ve been lying in bed (early waking because of jet lag) thinking about how very unsatisfactory the lighting in my Toronto house is, and wondering how to set about improving it.

For one thing, I need to move into the new fluorescent bulbs, which means finding those with a good colour balance, one that feels comfortable to me. And I also need to figure out fixtures and light placement. My house has lots of gloomy patches somehow, or at least it feels that way in retrospect now that I’m in this very pleasingly lit environment.

Of course I’ve known for a long while that my lighting needed seeing to. But I’ve been avoiding taking it on. This house in Vancouver is like a wake-up call.  I’ve learned from Doug and Cassandra that inexpensive attractive light fixtures and fluorescent bulbs do exist; that’s what they have. It all means much better lighting with less eletricity use.

I feel like I’ve been living in the dark ages, clinging to my antiquated big old halogens and old-style light bulbs too, guzzlers of energy. I’ve been wary of fluorescent lighting, mostly because I think of fluorescent lighting as harsh and cold, very unappealing and glaring.  

Frankly though, it’s just another example of my fear of change and my somewhat mindless clinging onto what I am familiar with. I was reminded of this pattern of behaviour when Doug and I were talking last night about digital photography. (He’s a very fine photographer, who worked in the fashion industry for years.) He reminded me of how frightened I was of digital photography, before I switched from film (slides) to digital four years ago. His question was “can you even remember what it feels like to shoot film?” And the answer is “not really, no”.

There I was for a number of years digging my toes in, resisting digital and clinging to slide film, thinking nothing could match its fineness and clarity. I was wrong, for digital images have now surpassed film in all kinds of ways. Beyond that of course there’s the ability to tweak them, to transform them, and there’s also the wonderful ease when I’m travelling of not having to lug around bundles of film, and of being able to check exposure etc as I go along, rather than getting home with fears about what disasters I’ll discover once the slides are processed. And disasters there were, from scratches (a small piece of grit can get in the back of the camera) to light metre malfunctions, to problems with film processing (I lost a whole trip’s worth of Vietnam slides because of processing errors, for example).

And so here I am now after four years of digital, finally comfortable with it, and luxuriating in its flexibility. The photos in the Burma book were all shot with my digital camera in the last four years, and they’re a testament to the new technology.

I need to remind myself of this, or have a good friend remind me. For this tendency to avoid moving into the new, to instead cling to the known and familiar, isn’t very useful. I see friends with smart phones, and am still resisting; and of course, there’s that ill-lit house of mine... Time to shed more light on things!

POSTSCRIPT: The latest news is that President Obama will be visiting Burma sometime this month, as part of his trip to Southeast Asia. Great news. Here's hoping he can press for resolution of constitutional and ethnic conflict issues, for example those in Kachin State, the simmering and volatile Rohingya/Rakhine problem, and more. He's not superman, but he does have considerable authority...

1 comment:

Charlie Costello said...

Congratulations on the book and the nod from Suu Kyi. You book looks great too, I have seen mention of it here in Berkeley, CA as well. I have just finished a book from my trip to Burma last Dec. 2011-Jan. 12 titled, "Burma Bikes: a journey within" and although it is self published at the moment, I hope to get a publisher soon. Have a great day and I look forward to gerat things from the country of Burma over the coming decade. - Charlie C.