Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bike paths and ski trails

In Montréal we pride ourselves in being an open cosmopolitain city but when you get right down to it, it is pretty much like any other big american style city, many roads, many cars and not much in the way of safe paths for walking or biking.
Last week I was staying in Gatineau, the little city on the other side of the river from our nations capital, Ottawa. I was amazed by the amount of green space and bike paths that exist in that one small town. The picture on the left is a picture of Parc Gatineau bike path. It's also used as a cross country skiing trail when there is enough snow. This is only one of the many bike paths that crisscross the city, not just a sign saying that cars must share the road with bikes, but real bike trails just for bikes. The bike paths not only crisscross the city but they also join up to each other and to the kilometers of bike paths in Ottawa. In Ottawa the same thing is the case, all along the Ottawa river there is a green space that has a bike path that stretches its whole length.
What do we have in Montreal? An autoroute that cuts off the city from the St. Lawrence River. There are bike paths, the canal Lachine path being one, but it is not joined to any others. To get to the bike path you must go down Lakeshore road with the automobile traffic. Lakeshore road not being in the best of conditions, this sometimes can be quite perilous especially when you share with buses and trucks. Even getting down to Lakeshore road is dangerous since you have to cross over autoroutes, where cars won't give you any chances as they get on or off the autoroute...(cloverleafs)
On the southshore, off the island, there are also many bike paths, but to get to them from the island is to say the least a rather dangerous undertaking since getting across the bridges is almost impossible. The only really safe way to cross is the "Estacade" (a kind of small bridge that is used to break up the ice before it gets to the bigger bridges) but that is kilometers out of the way. In Gatineau-Ottawa the bridges all have a dedicated path for bikes, nice and large not squeezed between the railing and the cars.
We are always talking about how people take their cars to work instead of using their bikes or the transit system. Well if you have an alternate system that works then people will use it. If there are safe paths then people will be more likely to use their bikes. In Ottawa there are there are thousands of workers who bike to work. In fact all the government buildings have bike racks, enough for all the workers who wish to bike in. They also have showers and a place to change. Quite a different mentality.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Thoughts on Christmas and kids

It was the last day of school before the Christmas vacations, so today was very relaxed. We had a basketball tournament between the classes. For the tournament they got themselves organized and even wrote a theme song in English (their second language). My homeroom won the tournament by 2 points. The kids were ecstatic, group hug, cheers, the whole nine yards. It's funny because we were certainely not the favorites, but our team spirit won the day.
Often these days kids get a bad rap, but it's stange that all the kids that I teach (and have taught) are good kids, not perfect, but good hearted and willing to do their best for something they believe in. (I can count on the fingers of my hands the really bad kids and I've been teaching for 30 years.) This year, secondary 2 (grade 8 for the rest of you) wrote over 400 Christmas cards for Amnesty International political prisoners throughout the world. So there is hope for the future, maybe they'll do a better job than my generation and there will finally be "peace on earth and good will amoungst men".
So as that famous poem says, "Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Joyeux Noël (the film)

Saw a great film on the weekend called Joyeux Noël. This little gem of a film got a nomination for the Oscar for best foreign film and it is really worth seeing. It takes place during the First World War on December 24-25 1914, when the British, French, and German troops declared an unofficial cease fire and crawled out of their trenches to celebrate Christmas. This really happened, it has been well documented. The story really brings out the futility and stupidity of war and shows how the most enthusiastic proponants of "kill the enemy" are all people who stay safely way behind the lines. I won't say anymore because I don't want to ruin the film for you, but if you want to see a great little film rent or buy it at your nearesr DVD place of purchase. I got mine at Costco. It is really worth it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Montréal winters

Winter has finally come with a vengeance. When I left for school on Thrusday it was raining and the temperature was about +2 degrees C, when I got home the temperature had dropped to -11 degrees C. That's what I hate about winter in Montréal, not the cold, not the snow but the variations from damp, wet to freezing cold.
To the contrary of my sister Jazz, I like winter sports. I like the cold, clear days of winter where the temperatures hovers in the minus teens. The air is like champagne, the snow is dry and squeeks under our boots. I am a great fan of cross country skiing (nordic, not downhill). I love the sensation of flying over the snow on my skis, of the stinging sensation of the wind on my face and the sun in my eyes. There is no sensation like it especially when you have the exact combination of wax, temperature and snow. Unfortunately in the last couple of years we have been having yo-yo weather. We get a nice drop of snow and then the temperature warms up, it rains, sleets and the temperature then drops drastically. What happens to the cross country ski trails? They become ice. It is possible to cross country ski in icy conditions, but it is a pain in the keaster. You have to use klister, a gooey kind of wax that sticks to everything and is a real pain to clean up after.
What I would like is a real winter, nice and cold, with plenty of snow, no sleet, rain, and damp. I can live with the cold, in fact I prefer cold dry weather to overly hot weather, but this type of winter, the kind that can't make up its mind is awful. You can't do warm weather sports, such a bicycling or inline skating and you can't do winter sports cuz there's not enough snow and what there is has turned to ice. :o(