Friday, October 29, 2010

First Day in London

Decades ago, I attended a day-long workshop with Ursula Franklin, the renowned metallurgist, professor emeritus and Canadian peace activist. One of the concepts she talked about that day was what she called: “the domain of ignorance”. Initially I thought that she was talking about that place where I spend so much of my time but then, I realized that what she was talking about was a much more interesting “domain of ignorance”.

Just to be clear, my “domain of ignorance” is more like Winnie the Pooh’s. Lots of times, I think about fairly important stuff and then I immediately click into: Nobody knows, tiddly pum ... and so on. Then I end up wondering about where the next pot of honey might be. But even so, Ursula’s idea still stuck with me.

Simply put, imagine if a circle could be drawn around everything we know about a particular topic, in my case say, the story of Thomas Jackson and all the people around Creggan, South Armagh who ended up in Hong Kong in the late 1800s.

In Ursula’s picture, it is the circumference of this circle that is worthy of our exquisite attention, because it is the line between what we know and what we don’t know. It is here at this place which she calls “the domain of ignorance” that we find both the most remarkably fertile ground for new thought as well as the need to be humble.

But here is the tricky part. The more we learn, the bigger our circle becomes and hence the bigger its circumference aka our “domain of ignorance” gets. In my case, both of them are increasing exponentially. This is scary. When I talk like this, I start to feel as if I am channelling Donald Rumsfeld: “There are the known knowns and the unknown knowns” and blah blah blah blah. Like Rumsfeld, I too can end up sounding like a blithering idiot.

Last week, I was at the Vancouver Writers and Readers Festival – great good fun and a total tonic for the soul. At one of the panels, Myrna Kostach and Denise Chong both talked about the utter intoxication of research. They had both experienced times when the research itself was so much fun that they wanted to keep doing it forever. To hell with writing the damned book.

I am grateful to both of them for saying this with such fervour and believe me, I am taking this to heart as I head into another six weeks of immersing myself in the archives of England and Ireland..

Today, most of the day was spent setting up mobile phones, internet and such but I was also in the Kensington Library and lo and behold, they have the 2002 Canadian Whos Who. I have never seen it anywhere else, so natch I had to take a picture of an entry that amused me:

[Okay - for some reason I can't upload the image right now. I don't understand why but I will try another day. Needless to say, it is my own entry]

Enough for now. In another blog, I will share what I think are the most important things for me to focus on for my upcoming research during this trip – and why these questions matter. By putting them out there in full public view, I figure I will have to deliver. Yes?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Leaving Vancouver

I am already at the Vancouver airport and curious about whether I can both create and post a blog while I wait. My second ever blog. Here goes.

Clearly, I have made it through security with checked baggage that contains a few dozen ordnance survey maps, four pounds of assorted documents, two diaries, and one change of clothes. When it came to jettisoning non-essentials, the clothes lost out to the research materials. It was no contest.

How do I manage to not be too repulsive as I live through six weeks with only one change of clothes? Well, over the years, I have perfected the method of jumping up and down in the shower on top of my 2nd pair of corduroy slacks to first wash and then rinse them. It helps to be singing the right song while you do it. Something not too fast, since slipping in the shower is a possible risk and I am getting a little long in the tooth for that. What is required is a song with a good beat that just keeps on and sounds great when I sing out loud in the shower. Funeral by” JT and the Clouds” comes to mind. Jump on one foot for a few lines and then shift to the other.

If you haven’t heard  JT and the Clouds, then check them out at:  His songs have been in my head since I heard him last summer singing with Po Girl.

Okay, enough of that topic.YVR is worth a moments attention.Clearly, the Vancouver Airport made good use of the $15.00 a trip they shook out of our pockets for years by installing the most exceptional artwork I have ever encountered at an airport. 
The Spirit of Haida Gwaii

This is one of many artworks, but every time I spend time with it, I see something I missed the first dozen or so times. What Bill Reid, the sculptor of this piece,  said about it also fits with some aspects of what airport travellers face:

Here we are at last, a long way from Haida Gwaii, not too sure where we are or where we’re going, still squabbling and vying for position in the boat, but somehow managing to appear to be heading in some direction; at least the paddles are together, and the man in the middle seems to have some vision of what is to come.

Here's hoping that as I fly off across the great pond in a few minutes with KLM that I too will be heading successfully for my vision of what is to come.
Okay - enough for now. Time to put this all away. One last thing - note to Vanessa: I did 11,327 steps today. Ta dah!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The quest for the Silver Bowl

This is my first stab at creating a blog so I suppose I should start at the beginning - my reason for starting it.

Back when God was a cowboy and I was a child, one of my favourite jobs was to polish a silver bowl, a bowl that my father always said had been given to one of our ancestors by the Emperor of Japan. He always referred to “the Emperor” and so it never occurred to me as a child that there might be more than one. There was simply “the Emperor” and “my ancestors”.

When I was growing up,  my parents didn’t own their own house nor a television, let alone a car or most of the other trappings that the middle class families around us took for granted, so this story of the silver bowl made my own family life feel a little less tawdry. The more I rubbed the bowl with Silvo and a rag, the more the chrysanthemum design -- supposedly the official flower of the Emperor -- fired up my imagination.

Following the story of this bowl has taken me to the stories of a dozen or more young men who were the sons of Irish tenant farmers in the mid-1800s. Raised during the famine, they ended up at the forefront of international finance in Hong Kong, Japan and China. Without them, there would likely be no bank called HSBC to make it into the 21st century.

I have started this blog so that friends and family can track me on my quest - especially when I am away from home. Since I am not a single focus kind of gal, I will probably also talk about some of the restaurants and hotels that I find along the way - especially if I have a great time. And perhaps I will talk a bit about books I am reading and other things that simply catch my fancy as I live my life following the story behind the silver bowl. 

For starters, here I am interviewing Molly Malone in Dublin in the spring of 2009. She did not seem to be amused. Cockles, cockles was all she said. Mind you, the throngs of tourists that gathered and snapped photos as I nattered on, meant that somewhere I may have become a minor international hit.
Photo credit: Kinga Hay.