My Yorkville: a guide by Ava Lee

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I know that with its glitz and international corporate residents it may seem strange that I refer to Yorkville as a neighbourhood. But it’s always been one. Originally it was the self-governing Yorkville Village until it was annexed by the City of Toronto in 1883, and it has somehow retained at least some of that charm especially on streets like Scollard and Hazelton where houses as old as the village are crammed side by side and high rise development has been generally spurned.

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I live on the north side of Cumberland in what used to be the second building east of Avenue Road. The Four Seasons Hotel was the first until they ripped it down and left nothing but a gaping hole. I liked the Four Seasons, especially during the days when it was the hotel of choice for the movie stars attending the Toronto International Film Festival. Occasionally, the lines of limos and the sidewalks crowded with cameras and gawkers were a bit much, but there were compensations, and for a girl who spends a lot of time in places like Hong Kong and Bangkok, crowded sidewalks are no rarity.

As for the compensations, well I sat next to Kim Basinger at Akusa. Like me, she was by herself – which looking back was rather odd – and the two of us had a little chat until she asked me what movie I was in Toronto to promote. When I said I wasn’t in the business, she lost interest in me.

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Akusa, for those of you who don’t know it, is a Japanese restaurant on the north side of Yorkville Avenue, just west of Bellair. It’s on the basement level of a building, and you have to go down steps to get to it from the main street. I’ve been going there for as long as I’ve lived in Yorkville and I’ve never had a bad meal.

My other run in with a star took place at the Dynasty Chinese Restaurant when it was still on Bloor Street on the second floor of the Esplanade. I was there for dim sum with my friend Mimi when a clamour broke out at the entrance. It was Gong Li with an entourage. She sat four tables away from us and I tried hard not to stare too much. She looked absolutely stunning from that distance, and five minutes later I found out she looked stunning from any distance because I bumped into her as I leaving the washroom and she was entering it. I mumbled something worshipful in Mandarin. She just smiled.

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When I found out the Dynasty was going to close that location I was quite upset. It was the only Chinese restaurant in easy walking distance that served good dim sum. Then to my delight, I discovered it had moved right into the village and was now on Yorkville Avenue, just west of Bay Street.

I had no such luck when the Cumberland Cinemas closed. They were almost directly across the street from me and – except during TIFF – I could go on a whim a few minutes before screening time and expect to get a good seat for the eclectic mix of mainly independent and foreign films they showed. Now the closest movie house is the ManuLife Center at Bay and Bloor. It’s only a ten minute walk, but the movie selection is more mainstream, and it is always more crowded. Normally when I go there, I include a trip to the LCBO to get some wine, and I always stop in at the Indigo book store. Indigo is large, and is part of a chain, but the service in that store is so terrific that despite its size it feels like a cozy neighborhood operation.

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One of my definitions of a neighbourhood is that I can get anything I need within walking distance. And I can. There’s a Whole Foods store on Avenue Road, just five minutes northwest from me, and another five minutes to the east on Bay Street there’s Pusateri Fine Foods. Between the two of them there isn’t any food – except for my Chinese staples like ten pound bags of fragrant rice – that I can’t buy. And next to Pusateri’s, on the corner of Cumberland and Bay, there’s a Starbucks and my supply of VIA instant coffee.

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Whenever I go to that Starbucks, I invariably go north to Yorkville Avenue and then east towards Yonge Street to visit the Yorkville Public Library. I don’t know how this gem of a Beaux Arts building has survived. It was built in 1907 with money endowed by Andrew Carnegie. I always stand outside for a few minutes to admire its façade – two pairs of columns, Doric capitals, a bracketed cornice and stone quoins. It reminds me of several buildings on the Bund in Shanghai, but in miniature form.

Thousands of visitors treat Yorkville as a tourist destination. They can’t see past Bloor Street’s Mink Mile, the boutiques, art galleries and antique shops that dot Cumberland, Yorkville and Hazelton Avenues and Scollard Street, and the patio restaurants that pop up like dandelions the moment the outside temperature is bearable. But I have been living in Yorkville for so long now that it I don’t only think of it as the place I live, I think of it as my home and my neighbourhood.

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About Ava Lee

Ava Lee is a young Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who specializes in recovering massive debts that aren’t likely to be recovered through traditional methods. Independent, intelligent, and creative in her methods, Ava does whatever needs doing to get the job done. Ava’s motto is: “people always do the right thing for the wrong reason.” Her challenge is to always find that wrong reason.

Even though she’s petite, it’s a serious mistake to underestimate her physical abilities. She is well trained in martial arts and uses her abilities to get her out of dangerous circumstances. She is also accustomed to working alone, to the point of obsession, which becomes interesting when she is forced to negotiate with powerful and unfamiliar alliances.

When Ava isn’t travelling the world solving crimes, she lives in Toronto’s exclusive Yorkville neighbourhood.

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Meet Ian Hamilton, author of the Ava Lee novels, at the Yorkville Library

IanHamiltonApril 29, 6:30pm
Yorkville Library
22 Yorkville Ave
Toronto, ON
Free event, everyone is welcome.
For more information, please call 416-393-7660.

Minds at Work: Frontier College’s Labourer-Teacher Program Loses Funding [guest post by Nadia Bozak]

978-1-77089-325-2_lIn the acknowledgements section of my new novel, El Niño, I state that a portion of the sales will be donated, in perpetuity, to Frontier College’s Labourer-Teacher (LT) program, which strives to assist migrant labourers in this country through literacy initiatives.

“In perpetuity” might have to be adjusted: I just learned that this long-standing program has had its funding revoked by the Ontario government due to what seems like a bureaucratic sticking-point (funds from the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities are designated for programs in Central Ontario; someone just noticed that the program is located mostly in Southwestern Ontario.)

Ed Dunsworth, a former LT who I interviewed while researching El Niño, emailed me with the news. Ed’s message came on the day I received the first copies of my new book, and I was still revelling in the sensation of being able to touch, in distilled, material form, the countless hours of labour contained therein. That the Labourer-Teacher program was under threat reminded me that part of the job of artists and writers is to bring some degree of visibility and, perhaps, understanding to people who are marginal and forgotten within our contemporary democratic society. In the case of El Niño, some of those people are migrant agricultural labourers, those invisible, labouring bodies who enable North Americans to have their 5-7 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables each day.

“The Labourer-Teacher program,” as Ed explains, “has brought literacy and learning to Canada’s marginalized working populations since 1899, sending young Canadian instructors out to mines, railroad construction sites, lumber camps, and farms. In recent years, Labourer-Teachers (LTs) have worked throughout Southern Ontario with migrant farm workers primarily from Mexico and the Caribbean. LTs work the same jobs and live in the same bunkhouses as their co-workers, offering classes in English, computers, and other literacy skills during off-hours. The vital importance of the LT program has only risen in recent years with the rapid increase in the number of migrant workers in Canada, who are grossly under-served by government and non-profit services.”

Now that the program has lost its funding, a group of 100 former LTs has united to save it. A fundraising event, including readings by several Toronto authors, is scheduled to take place in Toronto May 29th (I will keep you informed as to dates, etc).

Stompin’ Tom Connors, “The Ketchup Song” – a time before we imported folks to work our farms.

For some time I had been planning to write some type of non-fiction piece about my visit to Leamington, Ontario (the home of a recently nearly-closed Heinz Ketchup factory), where so many migrant agricultural workers are based, as well as my time in Yuma, Arizona, itself a vast agricultural zone (thanks to irrigation) whose farms and packing plants (such as Dole) employ mostly workers from Mexico (just over the border) as well as many, many Mexican-Americans. My Yuma experience is what really informed the writing of El Niño, whose character Chávez labours on farms and at a poultry plant as he travels across the lands north of a contested border in search of the woman he helped cross the desert. It was massively revelatory to see firsthand the source of North America’s cheap, abundant produce. This area, the “salad bowl” of our continent, exists thanks, first, to the damming and irrigation that turned a desert into a green house and, second, due to the close proximity of a massive amount of working poor in Mexico and Central America (many of whom make untold sacrifices to work the fields of the US).

Something that rarely comes up in discussion of migrant agricultural labour is the idea that, as consumers of food, we are necessarily and physically connected to those “other” bodies that plant, pick, and pack that which we feed ourselves each day. Everything we eat comes from somewhere; there is a deeply human and very intimate dimension built into to the cycle of food production and consumption, even if industrialized.

Maybe I read too much Marx in graduate school. But I cannot look at a material object of any kind without also seeing the labour-power, and thus the humanity, embedded within.

Each anonymous worker who assembled your cell phone or packed your dozen eggs into Styrofoam has a life and a story. I love to hear about disruptions to this sanitized anonymity: like the story of the Chinese labour camp workers who smuggled SOS messages into Halloween decorations only to be uncover by consumers in the United States. Once, in a canister of dragon tea my brother sent me from Shanghai I kept finding these long black human hairs (at least four of them) coiled up with the bunches of dried leaves. Yes, it was very gross. But I appreciated imagining the woman with the long, loose ponytail who said “Screw you,” and did not put her hair net on. The connection she forged with me was as intimate as it was infinitely remote.

The Clash, “Straight to Hell” – an enduring condemnation of injustice. One of my favorite songs by one of the best bands of all time. Brings tears to my eyes.

The 2012 garment factory collapses in Bangladesh made us confront our own complicity in perpetuating the vast gulfs of inequality that define the neo-global world. What kind of tragedy needs to happen in Canada for us to realize we live just down the 401 from groups of migrant labourers who have little or no freedom of movement here in Canada, whose safety and well-being depends on the whims of the farmer who can send them home if they complain? Take a trip to Leamington on a Friday afternoon when the workers come to town with their pay cheques. Grocery store produce will never look the same again.

When we talk about migrant labour we are only talking about bodies, physical vessels capable of performing work. The Frontier College LT program recognizes that the migrant worker is not just a body; he or she is a mind, an intellect. Getting into that mind and intellect was part of what motivated me to write El Niño. While I hope to be able to give a portion of my book sales to this program in perpetuity (and not shift that pledge to another worthy group as I may have to) I also hope that readers of my book will make the connection between food consumption and the systems of exploitation that keep prices low and groceries stores bursting with a gluttony of choices.

I hope also that, as when I hold my finished book in my hands, I will always have the same respect and appreciation for every other material object I encounter, for there are always, necessarily, human lives hidden, invisibly, inside.

 

More information:

Follow Nadia Bozak at her new website: nadiabozak.com

No More Betrayal [guest post by Sofi Oksanen]

Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in blatant violation of international law, is a highly symbolic expression of power. In an exclusive article for the Swedish newspaper Expressen, Sofi Oksanen exhorts the West to put a stop to Putin’s colonialism.

I wake up every morning wondering if today is the day when eastern Europe is going to be sold out again. I check my mobile, and when I see it hasn’t yet announced anything too alarming, even if the news isn’t exactly cheering, I switch on my computer and go through the news headlines, still wondering if it’s going to happen today, or tomorrow.

The day when I will only be able to cope with the news by concentrating on observing my own reactions and those of the world around me, because it is the duty of a writer to remember the moments when the pages of history turn.

A new age has already begun. The inter-Cold War period – 1989-2014 – is over.


The last time eastern Europe and the Baltic states were sold out to the Soviet Union and its sphere of influence under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a manoeuvre which contributed to the Soviet empire reaching its greatest strength. An unpaid workforce was locked away in the slave camps of the gulag. Now Russia has made clear in both word and deed that it intends to restore the empire to its former glory. Brezhnev’s doctrine has been updated and adopted by Putin:

Russia believes it has the right to intervene in the actions of independent states if they appear to be moving too far towards the West, and if Russia considers itself to have authority over the area in question.

The Russian Duma is currently pushing through a law which would facilitate the annexation of regions that were previously Soviet, and the peoples of eastern European and Baltic countries are wondering if they have once again put their faith in the West in vain. For the past decade the West has paid little attention to eastern Europe, except as asource of cheap labour and profitable production facilities.

The illegal annexation of Crimea is of great symbolic value: this is the first region since the Soviet period to have been taken from an independent state and incorporated into Russia. It is also a test, an exploration of western tolerance and morals: will the West dare to stand by its promises – or will it betray eastern Europe again?

The fallen empire’s counterattack began back in 2005, when Putin declared that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century. The way history is taught is one of the methods by which this thesis is promoted, its retrograde content motivated by geopolitical interests. This version of history is intended to reawaken Russian national pride and act as a reminder that belonging to the Russian empire was beneficial to the peoples of other nations.

The former vassal states themselves take a rather different view.

For years people in the West have politely applauded Putin’s speeches about his country’s “democratic development”. Putin himself has defined his societal model as “managed” democracy. This sort of government is no democracy, but the West fell for the explanation, as it did for other euphemisms from the FSB (today’s KGB) that were intended to calm the rest of the world while the elite in power in the Kremlin made preparations for Putin’s brave new world.

The Soviet Union was rehabilitated, and journalism became a suicidal career choice. Since 2012 Putin’s elite have been repatriating their assets from the West in order to guarantee the independence of those in power.

 

One of the founding principles of the European Union is that we should at least try to learn something from the past. The Eurasian Union promoted by a clique within Putin’s elite is diametrically opposed to this. It is based upon the choicest bits of Stalinism and National Socialism, the lessons of whose propaganda are consistently followed. And this way of exercising power has an inexhaustible budget.

In 2005 the English-language television channel Russia Today was set up to serve the Kremlin’s propaganda purposes, with an annual budget of more than 300 million dollars. Because the channel’s programming looks like news, everyone believes that it is news, whereas in fact it is focused on disseminating Russian “truths” to the West, as former employees have admitted.

Only with the Ukrainian crisis has this propaganda become so shameless that it no longer makes any attempt to disguise its intentions to the West, as it had previously. This is a considerable change.

 

In the West, editors are used to presenting the opinions of various parties in order to come up with an article that comes somewhere close to the truth. But this is the wrong way to go about things when one of those parties is blatantly lying. Acting in this way also means that the western media are indirectly repeating the message promoted by the Kremlin’s siloviks [literally “people of power”, used to denote senior politicians with a background in the security services].

At the very heart of Kremlin’s policy is a war of information, full of claims and counterclaims, because this is the cheapest way of waging war and conquering territory without tanks. Fear, provocation, projection and propaganda: the Kremlin’s elite are masters of these. And these are the weapons that are always used to justify occupations, both to native populations and the outside world.

 

To Russia, the annexation of the Crimean peninsular, legally part of Ukraine, was a simple nut to crack. The invasion didn’t lead to any Russian casualties that could have brought mothers out onto the streets, and they managed to present the West with a narrative in which the annexation was rendered understandable, seeing as a large proportion of the region’s population is Russian-speaking.

The majority of these arrived in Crimea as a result of Stalin’s mass transplantations, whose purpose was to mix up the populations of the Soviet Union’s vassal states and russify theregion. Similar areas can be found in various parts of eastern Europe. And now these people are being exploited by Putin’s gang. But the fact is that the original inhabitants of Crimea, the Tatars, have already been forgotten. Their experience of Stalin’s population policies culminated in genocide.

At the time of writing, the doors of houses occupied by Tatars are being marked with crosses. Does that sound familiar?

Russia has been trying to destabilise the independence of eastern Europe and the Baltic states for a long time now. Back in 2008 Putin described Ukraine as an artificial state. Russia has called into question Ukraine’s right to inviolable borders, and through a skilful construction of lies has managed to make it look almost like a Russian state. There’s nothing new about this strategy: this is what happened to the young Austrian state in the 1930s, and led to the Anschluss in 1938.

 

The Baltic states have had tolisten to this sort of rhetoric from Russia for years now. The rest of the world knows relatively little about these countries – just like Ukraine. Consequently the Russian agenda – to question their right of self-determination – is by no means an impossible task.

In what passes as the Russian media, there have long been stories about Russians being kept in concentration camps in Estonia (vintage of lie: 2007). It is also claimed that the children of Russian tourists could be kidnapped from hotels in Finland, which is historically regarded as belonging to Russia (vintage of lie: 2013).

When this sort of thing is being pumped out into the ether year after year, it is hardly surprising when a majority of the Russian populace gradually begins to adopt a suspicious attitude towards the West. And this is precisely the point of it. This way people can be mentally mobilised for war and previously amicable ethnic groups goaded against one another.

 

Imaginary enemies are exactly what Putin’s clique needs in order to maintain their popularity and preserve the assets they have acquired for themselves by highly questionable means. Any loss of power would expose the corruption that allowed them to accumulate such wealth. Which is exactly what happened to Ukraine’s deposed President Yanukovych.

For the time being, the Russian leadership is concentrated on a small group of siloviks, and Putin – the richest man in Europe and Russia – is its outward face. The educational background of the group’s members differs from that of western politicians, and has its basis in the FSB and KGB. There is no higher status within the Russian power hierarchy. In the days of the Soviet Union, at least the Party used to be above the KGB.

Anyone who still believes that Russia is using its “compatriot policy” to protect the interests of ethnic Russians outside the country’s borders is advised to do a quick reality check and remember how Hitler made use of ethnic Germans. Everyone who has ever visited Russia knows how little those in power really care about Russians. And it was Russian actions under the guise of “humanitarian aid” that left South Ossetia in such a wretched state.

 

The Kremlin is not particularly fond of the variously coloured revolutions in neighbouring countries. So people inclined towards Moscow are installed in the governments of countries riddled with corruption. While he was in power, Yanukovych managed to arrest historians investigating Soviet crimes, and personally expressed his doubts about the Holodomar, the catastrophic famine that was actually an act of genocide instigated by the Soviets in the early 1930s. His policies also included limitations on freedom of speech, and homophobic propaganda. Yanukovych acted as a Moscow-inclined leader is expected to act. But the people protested, and spoiled Putin’s well-progressed plans to quietly unite Ukraine with Russia.

 

It’s time for the West to say no to Russia’s intention of expanding its territory beyond the country’s borders, and this cannot be done by diplomatic dialogue. It is impossible to negotiate with an adversary who consistently lies about their goals. Russia has already shown that it adopts a diplomatic façade merely to buy time to transport heavy weaponry to the border. To buy time to push through laws supporting puppet regimes.

The West has tried to understand the policies being put into practice by the Kremlin, but there’s really no need to understand colonialism. It is simply greed, and it has to be stopped.

Or would we try to show understanding if Queen Elisabeth II decided to revive British colonialism? Would you try to comprehend Angela Merkel’s thinking if she threatened to restore the German Reich? What if German television started to broadcast children’s programmes in which stuffed toys were shown preparing for war? What if Germany were run by people trained by the Gestapo? How would you feel if the Germans regarded Hitler as one of the greatest men in their country’s history, the way Stalin is regarded in Russia?

What if Germany declared that Europe (or “Gayrope”, as the Russians call it) was governed by a homosexual conspiracy, as has recently been claimed in a Russia bolstered by anti-gay propaganda legislation? Does anyone remember who it was who claimed that western degeneracy was the result of a Jewish conspiracy?

No-one would tolerate this, not even for an instant. You know that there is no way you could ever explain to your grandchildren why you let it happen.


Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish-Estonian writer and one of Europe’s biggest literary stars. This article was originally published in Expressen, and has been translated by Neil Smith.

Anansi is publishing Sofi Oksanen’s novel, When The Doves Disappeared (translated by Lola M. Rogers), in 2015.

Meet the Massey Lectures App

Hello world.

Uncover the full legacy and history of the Massey Lectures Series, from 1961 to today. Learn more about selected Massey authors, their lives, achievements, and beliefs. Explore the complex web of themes within the Massey universe, and hear unique thoughts and insights from the lecturers themselves. And then contribute to the conversation yourself.

 

Download the Free Massey Lectures App

 



 “The Massey Lectures series is so unique and special. The Massey Lectures iPad app further engages with the audience and livens up the conversation, supporting the original format beyond what it was capable of before.”

— Renowned author Lawrence Hill, 2013 Massey Lecturer

For more than 50 years, the annual Massey Lecture series, broadcast on CBC Radio’s IDEAS, has brought contemporary thinkers with unique perspectives and experiences to a national and international audience. Notable Massey Lecturers include Northrop Frye, Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Stephen Lewis, Thomas King, Margaret Somerville, and Wade Davis to name but a few.

During the week of the rebroadcast of Lawrence Hill’s Massey Lectures, Blood, on CBC Radio’s IDEAS, House of Anansi in co-operation with the CBC and Massey College, and with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation, unveils its first iPad app. Now available for free in the iTunes App Store, the Massey Lectures iPad app lets readers explore some of the most complex and thought-provoking topics of our age, and reveals the depth and breadth of Canada’s preeminent public lectures series in a totally new way. The app includes nearly 200 hours of text, audio lectures, interviews, talks, and exclusive footage.


Massey Sets

For the first time, the audio and text of selected lectures are brought together in one specially priced package available for purchase within the app. Each selected Massey Lectures e-book is illuminated with vibrant images and videos and includes the five-hour audio lectures. At launch, the app adds nearly 40 pieces of additional video and audio content. Also available for the first time are curated bundles of books and lectures that are divided by connected ideas across lectures called “themes,” such as “Constructing and Deconstructing Identity” and “Rationalizing the Truth.”


Watch the app in action

 


About the Massey Lectures Series

 

The Massey Lectures Series was created in honour of the Right Honourable Vincent Massey, former Governor General of Canada, and was inaugurated in 1961 to provide a forum on radio where major contemporary thinkers could address the important issues of the day. Each year a noted scholar or public figure is invited to give a series of topical lectures. The Massey Lectures are co-sponsored by CBC Radio, House of Anansi Press, and Massey College in the University of Toronto. For more information, go to cbc.ca/masseys.

05_Collection

The Massey App is created by House of Anansi in co-operation with the CBC and Massey College, and with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation. The Massey Lectures iPad App was concepted, designed and developed by Critical Mass, a global digital marketing agency.

 

Join us on Twitter this Friday at 4pm for #Publidash

Publidash

The golden era of long boozy Mad Men-style publishing lunches may be over, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still know how to get down. Publishing professionals still throw good parties…they’re just on twitter now!

This Friday at 4 p.m. EST we’re getting together with Coach House Books, ECW Press, Invisible Publishing, and The Porcupines Quill for a little Balderdash-style competition amongst friends.

It works like this

  • Each publisher will bring along one author for the game.
  • Each author will lead one round of Publidash. He or she will pick an obscure word and announce it with the hashtag #publidash.
  • We indie presses will DM the author with our short twitter-friendly definitions.
  • The author will tweet each false definition and the real one anonymously. And that’s where you come in.
  • You have 10 minutes to vote for your favourite #publidash definitions. Favourite the one you think is right, and retweet the one you think is funniest, or most clever. The definition with the most favourites will earn 2 points, and the definition with the most retweets will earn 1. We’re playing for bragging rights, and this is how we’ll try to earn them.

You could walk away with a really great haul

Every vote you cast gets you one ballot in a draw for a pack of books by the participating authors

978-0-88784-236-8_l  bookreview1_46862  41EDSG+5B1L  RU-REVPROOF  9780889843561RH

This is how you play

  1. Follow the hashtag #publidash at 4pm on Friday, February 28
  2. Favourite  the definition you think is correct. The publisher whose definition earns the most favourites will get two points.
  3. Retweet the definition you think is the funniest. The publisher whose definition earns the most retweets will get 1 fan favourite point.
  4. Each round you vote on earns you one entry in our draw. There will be five rounds, so you can earn up to 5 ballots.
  5. Stay tuned for the announcement of the winner of our draw at the end of the game!

Here’s what the publishers are playing for

Bragging rights. Bragging rights and this badass Publidash trophy illustrated by man-for-all-seasons Evan Monday.

Publidash-Trophy

This whole thing started with a clandestine late-night twitter meeting. We’ve captured our tweets on Storify to show you how: The genesis of #Publidash

The Inconvenient Giraffe – guest post by Sarah Boston

Giraffe - The Wilds - Cumberland, Ohio

“Giraffe – The Wilds – Cumberland, Ohio” by Todd Fowler is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I’m trying to understand why they killed Marius, the two-year-old giraffe from the Copenhagen Zoo. I am a scientist and veterinarian, and I thought there must be an explanation that makes sense. Maybe the general public wouldn’t understand, but with my extensive training in the ways we exploit, dominate, and kill animals, I believed I could put on my utilitarian, emotionless veterinarian hat and comprehend this tragedy. I thought I could understand why a healthy young giraffe would be killed with a captive bolt (humanely, but horrifically) and then dismembered and fed to lions in front of a large crowd, including small children. But the truth is, I can’t fathom it. The whole thing is grotesque and deeply sad.

Marius was only put in this position because of irresponsible giraffe parenting. The zoo allowed his inbred giraffe parents to have unprotected inbred giraffe sex, just like they would in “nature.” Somehow, allowing this behaviour to go on was more important than surgical sterilization and a responsible breeding program. There is nothing natural about zoo sex. The argument that zoo animals are better off being allowed to reproduce so that they can continue with these natural behaviours is flawed in this unnatural setting. Allowing animals to have zoo sex as a pacifier for the lack of environmental stimulation and inadequate space is a cop-out. Marius was the predictable, inconvenient byproduct of his environment and he was deemed useless as a genetic repository. Then he started getting bigger and he wanted to have inbred giraffe sex of his own. It was basically turning into a giraffe orgy/family reunion in Copenhagen and the only answer to this animal husbandry challenge was to kill Marius? That’s not good enough.

Who gets to decide what Marius is worth? The zoo lost the right to decide this alone when they gave this cute baby giraffe a name, invited us to meet him, and asked us to love him.

His caretakers — and I use this term loosely — decided that Marius’s life was not worth living. They decided that a life without testicles, sex, and baby giraffes would lead to behavioural problems and it would be too hard for them to deal with. They decided that relocating him was not possible. This is because his life was not worth the effort or cost that would be involved in relocation. Who gets to decide what Marius is worth? The zoo lost the right to decide this alone when they gave this cute baby giraffe a name, invited us to meet him, and asked us to love him. Zoos prey on sentimentality when it suits them, but they can’t have it both ways. A zoo is not natural. They can’t pick the natural parts they want, like unplanned reproduction in captivity and occasional giraffe snacks for the lions, and shut down the natural will to live (likely stronger than desire to reproduce) and the need for a meaningful life. Also very natural is the human desire to connect with animals, to observe them, anthropomorphize them, and love them. It is not a switch that can be turned on and off when it is convenient. The decision to cull Marius went from bad to absurd when his dead body became a spectacle for small children. In these images, one small boy pulled his hat over his face to shut out the cruelty in front of him.

How is Marius any different from a beef cow? Cows are bred and raised in captivity and killed in the same fashion as Marius was for meat. Well, one subtle difference is that he is a baby giraffe. He is sacred. It may not be fair or correct to categorize animals as the ones we eat, the ones use for sport, and the ones we love, but we do. Raising giraffes for meat to feed to lions is inefficient and unpalatable. Our society needs this structure to define our relationships with animals. Without it, it would be animal anarchy. If we blur the lines between these categories and view all animals as equal, we would either be in a situation where we are eating our family pets, or where we would have to free all animals that are managed for meat or entertainment.  We would have to own up to our cruelty. Marius’s death has forced us to examine our feelings about animals in a graphic way. We have had to dissect our opinions and reexamine our current structure.

Marius’s death has forced us to examine our feelings about animals in a graphic way. We have had to dissect our opinions and reexamine our current structure.

The zoo might also argue that they are the owners and stewards of Marius — that they are responsible for him, which gives them the right to kill him if they choose. But this is exactly the point: the zoo needs to be responsible for the animals that they allow to breed. Marius was brought into the world recklessly. It is inexcusable that they feel that they have the right to remove him with the flip of a captive bolt.


Sarah BostonSarah Boston, DVM, DVSc,
Dipl ACVS, ACVS Founding Fellow of Surgical Oncology

Sarah Boston a renowned veterinary oncologist and the author of Lucky Dog, a hilarious and heartwarming memoir that tells us what we can learn about health care and ourselves from our most beloved pets. She tweets as @DrSarahBoston.

Listen to this while you read Serafim & Claire – guest post by Mark Lavorato

Serafim & ClaireAside from my writing, I’ve also done work composing music for a few film projects over the years. While doing so I came to realize that I loved the process, and that mixing images with my music felt like a really good fit. So I recorded an album that would act as a kind of portfolio for potential film-score/documentary work. Below are two tracks from that album which I thought might be of interest to Anansi readers.


What You Do Not Understand

The first I composed while I was writing Serafim & Claire. I was living in Brittany at the time, housesitting a white mansion on a hill with a massive bit of land that I was left to take care of. I set up my writing desk right in front of this unloved grand piano. It hadn’t been tuned in years, and I didn’t have the money to pay to do it myself, so I found a wrench that sort of fit the piano pins and tuned it as best I could (which wasn’t fantastic, let me tell you). It was while steeped in the story of Serafim & Claire that I wrote the song.

Last Train

Train sounds create all the percussion in this song. It’s sort of an era piece. I think there are elements from the story that definitely come through in the music here.


Serafim & Claire was published today. Get it on our website or at your favourite bookstore.

You can buy Mark Lavorato’s album In Autumn on iTunes or at marklavorato.com.

Read what Mark has to say about stealing moments, fielding death threats, and writing about what you don’t know in his blog post Learning how to steal.