Saturday, April 30, 2016

April Cultural Roundup

Madama Butterfly
Madama Butterfly, The Met: Live in HD, April 2nd with Kristina Opolais and Robert Alagna

Old School by Tobias Wolf
Dreams of My Russian Summers by Andrei Makine
When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
M Train by Patti Smith

Hot Docs Films:
The Legacy of Frida Kahlo (Japan, 2016)
The Voice (Canada, 2016)
Spirit Unforgettable (Canada, 2016)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March Cultural Roundup

Tunnel Vision: The Story of Toronto's Subway at Market Gallery
Outsiders: American Photography and Film at AGO, March 13, 2016

Outline by Rachel Cusk
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

The Story of a New Name

The Story of a New Name - Book 2 Youth by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions, 2013) 471 pages
*** Spoiler Alert ***

Before we proceed, please read this review of book 1 ... 

When we left Lila at her wedding reception at the end of book 1, she has experienced a terrible betrayal. The shoes, which she worked so hard to create with the assistance of her brother and father, the Cerullos, have been given (or sold) to the dreaded Marcello Solara, the son of a Camorrista and a much feared loan shark in their Napoli neighborhood.

This abrogation of trust devastates Lila, who storms out of the wedding but she is persuaded to return by Stefano Caracci, the groom. She withholds her fury until their departure in the convertible leaving the wedding and gets into a terrible altercation with Stefano. The hostility climaxes with a devastating act of violence on their honeymoon. I'll say no more on that if you have not read the scene. 

Stefano's imperative is stark: subdue her now or forever lose his ascendancy as a male and as a husband. He warns her: 

"What are you doing, be quiet, you're just a twig, if I want to break you I'll break you ..."
How often I have heard those words. Not from a husband but from someone in my family more powerful than me, someone who intimidated me. The words chilled me, not because they were so strange but because they were so familiar. 

Lila confronts a brutal reality. For her this is the end of a certain fantasy because Stefano stood in sharp contrast to the brutality of the Solaras to request a favour. Now she sees that Stefano is merely a variation of Marcello or Michele Solara. As a wife she is expected to succumb to any, or all, of Stefano's demands. She is beaten, and often, as the text suggests through Lenu's horrified observations. 

But she exacts her revenge. When Lenu shares her worries about her boyfriend Antonio's imminent conscription (the simple mechanic Antonio serves as a poor substitute for the cerebral Nino), Lila drags Lenu along with her to the Solaras' café. Lenu understands how inappropriate and uncharacteristic this is - that Lila, a married woman, should ask a favour of these two who still covet the beautiful Lila - mortifies Lenu and makes her fearful for her friend. Lila's sole object is to humiliate her husband, whom she no longer loves nor respects.

Antonio is so angry at Lenu's perceived interference that he breaks with her and willingly enters the army. Still fixated on the studious Nino, the son of the lascivious Donato who tried to interfere with Lenu last summer at Ischia, Lenu languishes physically, emotionally and academically. Nino has gone to England to work and learn English (and has a fifteen year old girlfriend, the daughter of a professor) much to Lenu's despair. 

When she sees the girl, Lenu is chastened by the girl's beauty and a subtle perception that the girl belongs to a "higher" class than Lenu. How devastating is that realization of class difference ... she feels that she will never be as beautiful nor as prized as Nadia, the girl that Nino cares for, because of her "superior" origins. 

Whatever Lenu is experiencing, it is is soon eclipsed by Lila's troubles. Now pregnant, Lila forgoes returning to school and devotes her energies to managing the new grocery store that her husband is building. Angry and resentful about the pregnancy, Lila appears to be on a collision course with everyone in her life, feeling like a commodity bought and sold by her husband. Lila despises children, despises her pregnant body - correctly viewing herself as the means by which the Caracci clan might perpetuate a dynasty and that she is merely the instrument through which this is accomplished. 

Lila's antipathy towards the child is so pronounced that when she miscarries at ten weeks, those around her willingly believe that she has caused it. Both Lila and Stefano are vilified for this - Lila for the "refusal" to carry a child and Stefano for his inability to impregnate her - she is perceived as a witch, he as a weakling. 

Lila clings to Lenu ... she even offers to pay Lenu to spend the summer with her which Lenu agrees to only if they go to Ischia, an island off Naples, where the Napolitani vacation and where Lenu knows that Nino will spend his summer. Her instincts pay off and she indeed encounters him but becomes aware of a disturbing development: Lila ,who has forsworn reading and further education, becomes interested in both upon meeting Nino. In some twisted sense of rivalry, Lila appears to try and ensnare Nino, the one boy that Lenu truly cares for. Is this payback for the humiliation that Lila now feels before the more educated Lenu? 

Lila initially denies her emotional involvement but at every juncture Lenu witnesses their intimacy. On the eve of Stefano's return to Ischia (he comes only on weekends), Nino dares to read a letter from his girlfriend Nadia before Lila which throws Lila into a rage. She demands that he break with her and he, in turn, demands she leave her husband. Later, she confesses that she revels in the idea of Nino abandoning the professor's daughter for the shoemaker's daughter. Class consciousness permeates all, the girls cannot escape it - the engrained sense of inferiority, of otherness, of class resentment.

Lenu tries to convince Lila of her folly which prompts a long (a page long) feverish avowal of Lila's love for Nino much to Lenu's shock and dismay. Lenu is heartbroken by this betrayal but something has been awakened in Lila - love and sexual intimacy with an equal - and she refuses to abandon it.

When the lovers scheme to have one night together in Barrano, they make Lenu their unwilling accomplice, who is filled alternately with both hate and love for the innamorati. 

Lenu, crushed by Nino's new obsessive interest in Lila tells herself that "... men are all made from the same clay." Even the worthy Nino is a mere man susceptible to Lila's charms. The path of the two girls diverge: Lenu receives a scholarship and goes to university in Pisa; the now pregnant Lila runs away with Nino to live in secret, in squalor, as neither has money. But even Nino cannot withstand the volcano that is Lila and eventually abandons her and returns to his family.

Relief floods over the reader, when we learn of Lenu's scholarship and acceptance to the university. Escape Lenu, escape, we silently plead. We stand with Lenu when she looks at family, home, neighborhood, street, and wishes to flee from these sordid circumstances.

When Lila is discovered by a neighborhood friend Enzo, he persuades her to return to her husband. But this is a short-lived, fiery solution to Lila's dilemma ... and we are left with another cliffhanger about Lila's fate.

I have spoken of the lack of beautiful writing in this series. But Ferrante's (or the translator's) awkward phrasing do not put me off even when faced with lines such as these regarding the deflowering of one of the female characters: "... the nightime mass of x [you will read yourself who I am referring to] communicated to me nothing except a sensation of nothingness" - an awfully awkward way to say that the loss of virginity by the predatory male cited here meant nothing to the girl. Or a phrase such as this: " ... he behaved as if their hostility because he had sold himself to the Solaras were a gripe that made no dent on their friendship." There are many such instances as these.

But I forgive all, everything, every misplaced word and clumsy construction, because Ferrante taps into a source of anger in me that I cannot name or properly voice. And now, on to book 3. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend - Book One: Childhood, Adolescence by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions, 2012) 331 pages
                                                         *** Spoiler Alert ***

Who is this Elena Ferrante and why has she captivated so many?

I approached the series with some healthy skepticism – Ferrante's four part series has had a volcanic effect on the literary establishment. I engaged with some reserve and not a small part of jealousy. The language was not beautiful or elegant I quickly affirmed (I don’t know who is to blame for this – Ferrante or the translator Ann Goldstein). The scenarios are frighteningly bleak and many characters very unsympathetic but ... the scenes are so powerfully wrought and touch on the inequality of the young female in Italian society so profoundly that it is impossible to ignore or dismiss. 

It pecked away at me - it reinforced the many small and big things I had seen and experienced as a young female and adult in an Italian family: the lowered expectations for girls of a certain class, the disrespect accorded them, the inordinate emphasis on physical beauty and sexuality, the achingly painful aspirations of the two girls Elena and Lila who wanted more, so much more.

In the first novel of the Neapolitan series, Elena Greco, also known as Lenu, tells the story of a tempestuous friendship with Lila Cerullo (also known as Lena), which spans sixty years. Their beginnings in a poor Napoli neighborhood in the 1950s are humble but their aspirations are not. Already I am smitten ... I was known by both names as a girl - Lenu and Lena. This pains me somehow. It makes their travails much more immediate. I identify with both - the cerebral, bookish girl and the sexy, bad girl. 

The girls compete in all areas of their lives – Lenu, daughter of a porter, is bright but Lila, daughter of an equally impoverished shoemaker, is brighter and they both know it. This ignites a lifelong rivalry – profound, if largely unspoken – in intellectual achievement, their physical looks and love interests. At all stations of their personal development, Lenu feels dwarfed by Lila even while she witnesses the ugliness of Lila’s daily existence. Once when she defied her father’s wishes, Lila is unceremoniously thrown out of a window.  The shocking nature of the scene has a visceral effect. The lives and happiness of these young girls are worth nothing – if they are not valued as sexual beings, as wives and mothers, they seem to have no value at all at times. 

When Lila’s parents are unable to afford education for her beyond elementary school, Lenu is both distressed and relieved but at last here, academically, Lenu might shine and overshadow her friend. Lenu excels with the assistance of sympathetic teachers and a yearning, inquisitive mind. Thwarted by her parents, Lila and her brother Rino focus on the design of a pair of shoes that they hope to sell with the Cerullo name and become a thriving business that will sustain her family.

Lila develops into a rare if prickly, foul-mouthed beauty coveted by all the boys in the neighborhood and in particular by Marcello Solara, son of a Camorrista and loan shark - the wealthiest man in the neighborhood who runs a prosperous café. Marcello and his brother Michele Solara are rich, violent, dangerous bullies, universally feared and hated. She aggressively rejects his advances despite her family’s imprecations even while he courts Lila and the whole family with gifts and offers of financial support. Marcello even goes so far as to offer to buy the hand-made shoes that Lila has created.

When Lenu is afforded a chance to escape to Ischia for the summer to care for some children, she seizes the opportunity. At Ischia, she falls in love with Nino, a studious boy from her neighborhood who is the son of a poet and a reputed womanizer. Finally, she sees herself as desirable, worthwhile, but only because Nino has bestowed a kiss on her. Excelling academically will not do, a boy must validate her sense of self-worth. The summer is almost ruined by the advances of Nino's predatory father Donato - he has distinguished himself in the neighborhood by bedding Melina, an unstable, impoverished widow who has become obsessed with him. 

Ferrante’s eye is unsparing and unsentimental towards Italian family life. Lenu’s mother is dreadful – mean spirited, cold and physically repulsive - she initially objects to Lenu’s small summer adventure. If she is unhappy why should her daughter be happy? This last item might seem a small literary distinction but to have an Italian born writer cold-heartedly analyze the patriarchal nature of working class life and wade through the treacly stereotype of maternal love in Italian culture is truly revolutionary for this reader.

Lila appears to find a way out of poverty by accepting the attentions of Stefano, a local grocer, who displays courtesy and respect for Lila. With his attention (and money), she grows even more beautiful and the couple plan to marry.

The final scene of book 1 is the wedding of sixteen year old Lila and Stefano. Lila faces  a horrifying discovery – Stefano, whom she has exalted and loved above the rest, has decided to throw in his lot with the hated Solaras in some sort of business enterprise.

I admit that I was lukewarm on the plot until the wedding scene. Lenu observing Lila at the church:
"As a child I looked to her ... to escape my mother. I had been mistaken. Lila had remained there, chained in a glaring way to that world from which she imagined she had taken the best."
Lila is now trapped in her role at sixteen. Inspired by Nino's intelligence and seriousness, Lenu vows to escape her family, her neighborhood, her life. 

What follows for Lila is horrifying ... and must be discussed in book 2. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

February Cultural Roundup

Inside Out (U.S., 2015)
Twenty Feet from Stardom (U.S., 2014)

The Paper Men by William Golding
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Oscars 2016: Spotlight

Spotlight (U.S., 2015) directed by Tom McCarthy, 2 hours, 8minutes
Nominated for Five Oscars:
Best Directing
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Best Film Editing
Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

As a recovering Catholic, I am still very much interested in the workings of the Church. And … the ways in which it does not work. This is one of those stories – a faithful retelling of recent true events.

As the film opens, the Boston Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), meets with Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton) who is the head of the "Spotlight" team - investigative journalists given a long leash and lead times in preparing challenging stories at the Globe. The team includes Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James). [Side note: the actors met with the real journalist and trailed them for months capturing accents, walks, mannerisms, etc ...]

Baron requests that the team look into allegations that the Archbishop of Boston knew that a reputed pedophile Roman Catholic priest, named John Geoghan*, was sexually abusing children and did nothing to stop prevent him from having access to his congregation or removing him from the Church.

The team uncovers a pattern of sexual abuse of numerous children and the workings of Boston Archdiocese to bury this information. Connecting with a victim's rights advocate leads to a list of a possible thirteen priests and additional investigation then yields an ever-widening circle of eighty-seven possible abusers. The team searches for the victims to verify the story. This is the most difficult part of the film – witnessing grown men break down and weep in light of their revelations to the reporters. It uncovers the trail of substance abuse, shame, turmoil and self destruction that the secrets fostered in the men for decades. Some do not survive the shame of the abuse. 

The film handles the issue of sexual abuse discreetly, sensitively – no explicit re-enactments of the abuse just the powerfully wrought effects on the men. It also demonstrates the tremendous power of the church where even those victimized by the abuse sometimes turn with anger towards the reporters for allegedly maligning the Church.

The story also skilfully navigates the underlying distrust of the journalistic motives of the new editor Marty Baron because he is Jewish in the largely Irish American, primarily Catholic, milieu of Boston and Massachusetts.

The events of 9/11 force the reporters to set aside their investigation for a time. Soon after, Michael Rezendes confirms the existence of public documents that confirm Cardinal Law was aware of the issue and ignored it. (Regretfully I admit that although, I love Ruffalo but I am always, always aware that he is "acting". Here, he mimics some irritating tics that the real Rezendes possesses.) With these documents, the team plans to publish their findings in early 2002.

Sacha Pfeiffer also uncovers an early clipping published by the Boston Globe in 1993 that briefly mentions the possibility of the depth of the abuse. Robinson (Keaton), the Spotlight team leader, realizes that he was the reporter who wrote the story having been given, at that time, a list of twenty alleged pedophile priests  - a story he never investigated fully.

Once the story of abuse is printed the team is flooded with messages from witnesses stepping forward with their own stories. The team won a Pulitzer Prize for their work. 

For me, the implicit message is … who is to blame? We, all of us, believers and adherents of the faith, are all to blame for our blind acceptance of the authority and moral infallibility of the church’s leaders.

The film also resurrects our faith in journalism – one much battered by reduced financial resources of the news media which limits the scope of investigative journalism, a recent parade of unethical and/or plagiarizing journalists and the constant bashing of reporters by political opportunists like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz who play hard and fast with the truth and malign a free press. 

This film gives me a thrill ... in an All the President's Men kind of way.  

* In a "maybe there's a God" sort of news flash - this defrocked priest, accused of molesting 150 other children, was strangled by a fellow inmate in prison in 2006. The priest's killer was enraged after Mr. Geoghan arrogantly brushed off criticism that he had "destroyed all kinds of lives."

Monday, February 1, 2016

Oscars 2016: The Martian

The Martian (U.S., 2015) directed by Ridley Scott, 141 minutes
Nominated for Six Oscars:
Best Picture
Best Actor (Matt Damon)
Sound Editing
Production Design
Visual Effects
Adapted Screenplay

Matt Damon, in explaining the appeal of this film, has said that audiences often enjoy watching super smart people solve problems. If so, this is the film for you.

Set two decades from now, in 2035 ... the Ares III manned mission to Mars gets caught in a dust storm forcing the crew to abandon the surface of the planet. Astronaut Mark Watney (the ever likeable Matt Damon) gets lost in the storm and is knocked unconscious. Fearing that he is dead, the crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) leaves him behind.

When Watney awakens, he returns to the crew’s living quarters and begins a video diary. By his calculations, the crew would only be able to return in four years at the earliest. Watney, a botanist, calculates that he may be able to survive in the meantime by creating a farm with Martian soil utilizing toilet waste, hydrogen extracted from rocket fuel (which has been oxidized by burning), and leftover potatoes that had been saved for a Thanksgiving meal for the astronauts. I think you will be surprised how interesting it is to watch a sexy astronaut grow potatoes on Mars to a series of rousing disco tunes - these were favoured by his commanding officer Melissa Lewis.

Back on earth … in reviewing satellite photos of Mars, Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the Mars mission director, discovers that Watney has survived. A decision is made not to inform the Ares III crew which is on its way back to Earth on the Hermes spacecraft.

Watney establishes communication with NASA on earth (don’t ask me how but it was elaborate and ingenious). A space probe is prepared for Mars to give Watney additional supplies until Ares IV returns. A series of mishaps ensure the audience’s suspense – the tenuous potato crop is destroyed, the supply probe explodes after lift-off. Have no fear, the Chinese government, ever sympathetic to the West, is on the horizon with a solution to help retrieve the American astronaut.

Several plot factors are at work here that are particular to American cinema – the concept of international cooperation to save one lone, lonely but plucky American; a feisty crew defying the orders of NASA not to return to Mars despite the possibility of death, the ingenuity of said astronauts. The crew on the Hermes vote unanimously to return to Mars’ orbit to try and retrieve their comrade. They do, of course they do.

That’s what I love about the American spirit – effortlessly optimistic, narrowly focused, always successful in whatever hare-brained scheme they devise. And that’s what I dislike about it too. As if everything should work out merely because there exists this burning American desire to triumph against all odds.

I did enjoy the film - the effects were spectacular, the acting consistently good (although I think Kristen Wigg is wasted here – any “basic white girl” would do in this role). But what was the point of the film, the larger goal? That Americans can do anything? That the human spirit is indomitable? That even mere earthlings with good old American gumption can vanquish space? Yeah, I’ve seen that movie too. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Cultural Roundup

Ingrid Bergman: In her Own Words
Wolf Hall (U.K., 2015)
The Big Short (U.S., 2015)
Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (Sweden, 2015)
Straight Outta Compton (U.S., 2015)
The Danish Girl (UK/Belgium/USA, 2015)
Trumbo (U.S., 2015)
Carol (U.S., 2015)
Spectre (U.K., 2015)
Sicario (U.S., 2015)
A Ballerina's Tale (U.S., 2015)

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Western Light by Susan Swan
The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984 by Riad Sattouf

The Concert I Never Gave ... Eric McCormack, Winter Garden, January 23, 2016

Thursday, December 31, 2015

At Years End ...

I have not read half as much as I had hoped to read this year ... it was a challenging year and there was much to read and absorb. But here is the list ... and here's to another year of reading that engages, alarms and entrances!

Requiem and Poem Without a Hero by Anna Akhmatova
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis
Liza's England by Pat Barker
Undone by John Colapinto (Please see review here)
Where did you sleep last night by Lynn Crosbie
The Year of Magical Thing - a play based on the memoir by Joan Didion
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Don't Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier
The Sicilian Wife by Caterina Edwards (Please see review here)
The Cocktail Party by T.S. Eliot
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Trans by Juliet Jacques
Her by Harriet Lane
Go set a Watchman by Harper Lee
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald 
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel
Republic of the Imagination by Azar Nafisi
Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti
Sleep by Nino Ricci (Please see review here)
Sister Crazy by Emma Richler
Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto
Coriolanus by Shakespeare
Julia Child by Laura Shapiro
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Malaise of Modernity by Charles Taylor
All my puny sorrows by Miriam Toews
Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
The Day of the Locust by Nathanel West

December Cultural Roundup

Jennifer Lawrence as Joy

The Cocktail Party by T.S. Eliot
The Day of the Locust by Nathanel West
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (U.S., 2015)
White Christmas (U.S., 1954)
A Christmas Carol (U.K., 1951)
Sense and Sensibility (U.K., 1995)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (U.S., 1965)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (U.K., 1994)
The Martian (U.S., 2015)
Steve Jobs (U.S., 2015)
The Wrecking Crew (U.S., 2015)
Joy (U.S., 2015)

Riverdale Share Concert, Danforth Music Hall, December 6th

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Skirmish on Christmas

This is a reprint from a blog posted a few years ago but I think it's still relevant...

Let me say up front that I have a healthy skepticism about the purported "war on Christmas" that is allegedly, and perennially, being waged by atheists, non-Christians and general purveyors of the destruction of Christian culture in the Western world. The biggest (and loudest) proponents of this view are, of course, Fox News and Christian televangelist Pat Robertson, ad nauseum, every Christmas season.

This war is, at best, perhaps a skirmish rather than a war - its militants are armed not with nuclear armaments but some lesser weapon ... say, machetes or, possibly, bayonets. 

What Fox News fails to acknowledge is that the Christmas spirit, such as it is, is omnipresent, pervasive, sometimes annoyingly so, in a society so obsessed with materialism and ostentatious public displays of wealth. It not so surreptitiously follows you into the drugstore, on to street corners, into the workplace, into every retail outlet and coffee shop with merchandise to peddle. It is virtually inescapable for those who do not celebrate it.

One minister recently offered an astute observation as to the biggest threat to the true meaning of Christmas: the rampant consumerism and monetization of everything having to do with Christmas, and not the godless heathens (like me) who don't believe in celebrating the birth of Jesus.

On the other hand, the crusaders against Christmas are tragically repulsed by, and rail against, the appearance of a lone Christmas tree at city hall, artfully designed nativity scenes in malls and the singing of Christmas carols by children in schools. 

I completely understand the unease of those who feel religious prayers should not be conducted in public schools and imposed on all, regardless of their religious belief. I, unconditionally, support the removal of religious symbols in almost all public spaces - the judiciary, municipal, provincial and federal offices, etc ...

Here is the secularist Annie Laurie Gaylor's triumphant crowing when she and fellow believers (or is that non-believers?) managed to have a nativity scene banned from Palisades Park in Santa Monica:
They [the secularists] showed the Christian people of the city what it feels like to have a public park promoting views that offend your personal conscience. These views were on public property that were supposed to be owned equally by everyone.
I agree somewhat and yet ... I can't help thinking what [fill in the indefinite article and  expletive of your choice].

Christmas has taken a distinctly non-religious character for many Canadians, newly arrived immigrant or long established citizen. In an on-line poll conducted by Abacus Data in December, 2011 of 1,004 respondents who were asked if they celebrate Christmas - no fewer than 86% in any given demographic category (and as high as 97% in one category) said that they did celebrate it - regardless of gender, age, province/region, religious affiliation, status as an immigrant or education.

I suspect that many of us do not necessarily celebrate the birth of Jesus - we celebrate something else, a tradition of being with family, gift sharing and charity. As one smart ass noted recently on facebook: "Just 'cause I say 'Merry Christmas' doesn't mean I worship Jesus." Indeed not.

But say we do try and eliminate all vestiges of Christmas from public life ... why stop there? Why not remove all religious paintings from publicly funded art galleries, forbid the singing of Christmas carols on the street and public spaces, halt all St. Valentine's, Easter and St. Patrick's Day celebrations in public schools, all holidays that clearly have a historical, religious Christian origin? No Valentines shared between schoolmates. No Easter egg hunts at school. No images of floppy Easter bunnies bearing chocolate eggs. No images of shamrocks or leprechauns.

But wait ... why not abolish Family Day in Ontario too? Doesn't that discriminate against some people? "What if you don't have a family?" one hapless female whined to me when it was announced that we would have a civic holiday in February named Family Day. Why ... were you raised by wolves? I wanted to ask. She was miffed by the name of the day. Okay, let's call it "Do whatever the heck you want day." Feel better now, girlie?

What a soulless, boring, fastidiously politically correct existence that would be ... to wipe out all the charming little rituals and customs that have a religious origin because some of us are alienated by Christianity (or any other religion or concept). Why eliminate that which is beautiful, charming, fun and artful - the sacred music and Christmas songs, the iconic visual art of the season, the nativity scenes, the Christmas fables for children, the sharing of wonderful treats particular to the Christmas season - because it may offend or is not in accordance with our own particular religious views?

This draconian perspective that requires that we eliminate all that potentially offends or alienates from public life will have a much larger, deleterious effect - it will destroy the goodwill and intentions of those who do not wish to offend, who are not bigoted, but merely wish to celebrate a Canadian tradition - because, yes, Christmas has become for many a Canadian tradition not a religious one, irrespective of one's faith. It's embedded in our culture and history. It's a part of our culture. Canadian culture.

Please, remove that which is racist, ugly and distasteful in society ... oppose intolerance everywhere, in every instance, but does Christmas really fall into that category?