Just forget the words and sing along

Friday, August 19, 2016

Thoughts for a Lazy Summer Afternoon

When I was a kid, my school had this thing called USSR:  Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading.  Every day, for the first 15 minutes after lunch, everyone would read.  It was a pleasant way to start the afternoon.  And it was one of those school assignments where there was no way to do it wrong.

Until I got to Grade 7.  A few months into junior high, my English teacher, Mr. Twerdoclib, asked me to stay after class one day.  It turned out he didn't like my choice of reading material during USSR.  For you see, I was still hooked on Choose Your Own Adventure books.  After having been my teacher for a few months, Mr. Twerdoclib couldn't understand why I was reading them.  "Your test scores show you're reading at a high school level, Mark," he said.  "Quite frankly, Choose Your Own Adventures are beneath you."

He then encouraged me to broaden my literary pallet.  "Read some science fiction, read some fantasy, read some mysteries, hell, even try some romance novels, just please stop reading Choose Your Own Adventures."

So I did.  Stopped reading Choose Your Own Adventures that day.  That led into the first time I re-read The Hobbit, and my first attempt at reading The Lord of the Rings.  Someday I'll finish reading The Lord of the Rings, but it still just bores me to tears.  For the mandated mysteries, I borrowed some of my mother's Agatha Christie novels.  A lot of my friends were dabbling in the Dragonriders of Pern series, so I gave that I shot.  Seeing that I was gravitating towards sci-fi and fantasy, Mr. Twerdoclib recommended the The Dark is Rising Sequence.  Made it through the first book, The Dark is Rising, but found it a little too confusing.  Since I had begun embracing Star Trek as my one, true fandom, I soon settled into a steady stream of Star Trek paperbacks.

But Mr. Twerdoclib's words still haunt me this day, especially that last bit:  "Hell, every try some romance novels."  And that's why, when I'm at the book store, or even my corner store, I find myself taking a moment to browse through the Harlequin romance novels.  Some day, I'll probably pick one up and give it a shot.  Because, hey:  Mr. Twedoclib said.

There's this phenomenon in Norway known as Slow TV.  NRK, the nation's public broadcaster, showcases these marathon broadcasts of the most mundane things.  They've featured twelve hours of knitting, eight hours of wood burning, and 18 hours of salmon fishing.  So imagine my surprise when I noticed that many of these marathon broadcasts are now on Netflix.

For the hell of it, I watched bit of the very first one, Berginsbanen -- Minnut for Minnut.  The Bergen Line is a very famous railway line in Norway, connecting the cities of Bergin and Oslo.  They have a camera mounted to the front of the train, and it's the entire 7-hour train ride.  Uncut and unedited.

As a guy who's always been fond of trains and rail travel, I found it to be one of the most relaxing things I'd ever watched.  It's such beautiful countryside.  It's actually pretty hilarious when the train goes into a tunnel.  The screen goes black, and all you hear is the white noise of the wheels on the rails.  Apparently, in the original broadcast, during these parts, they'd cut to some historical clips about the history of the railway.  But not here.  You're just on the train.  In the darkness.

I tell you, it's just amazing.  It helps that the Norwegian countryside is gorgeous.

I am reminded of the Travel Channel tried something similar.  They had a TV show about 10 or 12 years ago called Canada's Greatest Ride, which took you from one end of the country to the end by rail.  Just like Slow TV, the vast majority of the footage was filmed from a VIA locomotive, facing forward.  And to premiere it, for one week, they showed a marathon of all their raw footage.

That was actually...pretty boring.  When people think of going across Canada by rail, the first thing they think about is going through the Rocky Mountains.  I was so looking forward to seeing some amazing Rocky Mountain vistas from the rails.  But, for some reason, they decided to film the Rocky Mountain portions of the show at night.  So, all you saw, was darkness in all directions.  You only saw what the headlight saw.  Until you went into a tunnel.  Then that lone headlight would light up the tunnel magnificently, and you'd see an amazing tunnel interior.  And then back out into the darkness.

And I kept watching it to see if I'd catch a glimpse of train coming through my hometown of Entwistle  But it never came.  Finally, in one of the documentary segments, they explained.  Shortly after they left Jasper, their camera crapped out.  So they got no footage of Jasper to Edmonton!

I'd like to remake it.  Do it properly.  Full HD cameras.  Film it in daylight.  Start in Edmonton.  Head into the Rockies, through Jasper, down to Vancouver.  Then back into Alberta through Banff and into Calgary.  And back north to Edmonton to complete the circuit.

But until then, I've got my Slow TV on Netflix.  Might not dive back into the Bergen line, but they have some 1-hour episodes of Norway's shorter rail lines.

There was some good news out of Edmonton this past week.  A construction project I've been interested in and have been following for a few years was finally declared finished!

It's the brand new Royal Alberta Museum in downtown Edmonton!

They've been trying to get this built for about 10 years now.  Originally announced by Ralph Klein to celebrate the province's centennial in 2005, it got shuffled around and put on the back burner and such until it was finally made a priority 5 years ago or so.  And now it's here!

Click on that link above to see CTV's video.  (For some reason, the embed code won't work for me.)  It's just beautiful inside.  Sadly, though, it's not open for business yet.  Now begins the 1.5 or so year process of moving everything in and building the displays.  The original museum closed up back in the spring to being packing.

And that's the question now that some people are asking.  What's to become of the original museum?  As they say in the news story, because of the process of packing up and moving, there's no immediate plans.  It's still a perfectly fine building.  The only reason why the Royal Alberta Museum is moving is because they ran out of room.  Something like 80% of their collection is in storage because they have no room to display it.

The government did ask for estimates to demolish it back in the spring, and was immediately met with public backlash.  Last time I was there, I marveled at what a magnificent building it is.  It truly is a product of its time.  Built in 1967 as a Canadian centennial project, the entire building just screams 1960s "fortress of knowledge."  You can just picture steely-eyed missile men inside, smoking their pipes and planning ways to beat the Commies to the Moon.  So it really would be a shame to lose it.

When the project was first announced, and people started discussing what to do with the old building, I heard several good ideas.  Alberta is one of the few provinces that does not have an official residence for its Lieutenant Governor, so one idea was converting it into the Lieutenant Governor's mansion.  Another idea was the City of Edmonton has acquired so many artifacts over the years, that it may be time to build a City of Edmonton Museum.

But I think my favourite idea was the Natural History Museum.   What's always been a centerpiece of the Royal Alberta Museum was its wildlife gallery.  Some of the finest taxidermied specimens of Alberta wildlife, displayed in elaborate dioramas showcasing their natural habitats.  Before the gallery received a massive refurbishment in the mid-2000s, it really was set up like an art gallery, as you walked down row upon row of those amazing displays.

The Moose dispaly from my last trip to the museum

The Antelope dispaly from my last trip to the museum

The Bighorn Sheep dispaly from my last trip to the museum

The Grizzly Bear display from my last trip to the museum

So one idea that was floated was to keep all those dioramas at the original museum, and turn the whole thing into the Natural History Museum of Alberta.  That is one idea I could get behind.

But the point is, the original Royal Alberta Museum is too beautiful a structure to see demolished.  So let's make sure it gets preserved and reused into something wonderful. 

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