Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Conviction Kitchen: a peek inside a TV shoot

A friend of mine, who’s working on the reality show Conviction Kitchen in Vancouver, invited my husband and me to a free “friends and relatives” dinner on location last week. All we had to do was pay for our drinks, tip our servers, and be willing to be interviewed on camera, if we desired.


Gee, I couldn’t turn down a free meal and a chance for more exposure. Although I had never heard of the show, I was immediately curious. The premise of Conviction Kitchen, which will air its second season this fall on Sunday nights on CityTV, is that 24 previous convicts get a second chance. (The first season shot in Toronto.)


The show is the brainchild of business partners and chefs Marc Thuet and Biana Zorich. Thuet, a fourth-generation chef, overcame a troubled youth to cook at top kitchens around the world. He spent three years learning from Anton Mosimann, official caterer to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales (Prince Charles).


Upon arrival at Delilah’s Restaurant in Vancouver’ s West End, where the show is shot, my husband and I signed a waiver, then waited on the sidewalk to enter. Delilah’s has been a popular spot in the city for years among local film industry types. Its plush interior, hand-painted low ceiling, and rich paint tones evoke the atmosphere of a classy speakeasy.


When we walked in around 7:30 p.m., the stools at the martini bar were full of people immersed in laughter and animated talk. Seated at a table for two, my husband and I watched a twenty-something camera operator and sound man move around the room, extending a boom mike over tables and following the maitre d’ as she interacted with guests.


At one point, a young man strode purposefully through the restaurant and headed for the kitchen, quipping “F—k her” as he passed our table. I figured that this sudden drama was a pre-planned wrench into the evening, gauged to get customer reaction. But people seemed barely to notice. My friend told me later that this was someone genuinely irate who  arrived unanounced at Delilah’s. He wanted to receive payment for previous training or some such.


Our waitress had blue-streaked hair, which I complimented, and offered the table trick of lighting a match inside a folded match cover with one hand, which impressed me. We had the fixed friends-and-relatives menu: a mixed salad (with canned rather than fresh beets, my husband noted), excellent salmon with an aioli sauce, and delicious cherry pie.


Later, I was asked on-camera what I thought of the evening and the unscripted incident. I replied that it added gritty reality to the night and I preferred it to someone remaining prim and proper. Overall, it was a fun night, even though the film folks seemed disappointed that we didn’t have complaints about the food or activities. They need conflict to make good drama, right?

July 27, 2010 at 9:56 am Comments (0)

Typos: a chuckle or irritant?

As a long-time writer and editor, I am horrified by common abuses of the English language and punctuation, like the far-too-common error of spelling the possessive form of “its” with an apostrophe. Yet, I also find great humor in unintentional typos or mistranslations, especially when travelling. Here are some of my favorites from menus and signs in India and Nepal:


child beer (rather than “chilled”)

biled potatoes (rather than “boiled”)

Please don’t pluck the flowers

You look good from hotel view


Some quaint terms posted on the Internet include these foreign gems:




                                                    (Apology to photographers: no photo credits provided)

However, you don’t have to travel to another country to find such groaners. At an apartment complex in Vancouver, BC, I saw a notice advising residents to go to “the area of refuse” in case of a fire. For years, Jay Leno has offered outrageous headline bloopers, sent in by people across North America.

Do you have any favorites? Please share them.

July 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm Comments (0)

Nine Creeker readers; nine jailed journalists


Author Gillian Kydd (right) and yours truly at the July 17 Gumboot Cafe readings

                                                                                                                          — George Smith photo

From the traffic mayhem of eyelash mites to erotic prose and historical fiction, nine Roberts Creek writers read an eclectic mix of creative prose July 17 at a fun launch/benefit.


Think globally. Read locally!, a special evening organized at the Gumboot Cafe by Jane Covernton, was a wonderful opportunity for an overflow crowd (about 60) to hear the voices and visions of these local writers:

  • Joanne Bennison: journalist, screenwriter, and young adult novelist
  •  Myself: “who likes to write true stuff best and is working on a scandalous family story”
  • Jane Covernton: self-published fiction writer who launched her third novel, The Modern Age, that evening
  • Rebecca Hendry: author of the novel Grace River, who has published short fiction in numerous Canadian literary magazines
  • Caitlin Hicks: an international playwright and performer and writer of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and comedy; her film Singing the Bones, produced on the Sunshine Coast, is celebrating its 10th anniversary
  • Gillian Kydd: author of Secrets of the Creek, a mystery set in Roberts Creek
  • George Payerle: author of two novels and two books of poetry
  • David Roche: an international performer and author of The Church of 80% Sincerity
  • Robin Wheeler: author of fiction and nonfiction books such as Gardening for the Faint of Heart

Each of us had 10 minutes to read, after drawing numbers from a hat to determine our order of appearance. (George was kind enough to swap with me so that I became #3 instead of #8.) It felt great to share in such a community-minded event with fellow writers and hear what each of us is working on. A number of writers stretched beyond their familiar genres and read new material. Some shared local content, from Gillian’s Secrets of the Creek to George’s comical account of a night at the Roberts Creek Legion.


Donations at the door raised $211.25 for PEN, the international organization that supports writers jailed for their published material. The event honored Dawit Isaak, co-owner of an independent newspaper in Eritrea and one of nine journalists imprisoned since 2001. Four of the reporters have since died in jail. As a symbolic gesture, Jane displayed an empty chair, bearing Isaak’s photo, next to the speaker’s platform.


Many thanks to Jane for organizing this event as a grassroots local occasion with a global rights-to-writers action, and for providing a book-sales table, sound equipment, stage, advertising materials, etc. Thank you to all the writers who participated, to Joe for allowing us to hold this event at the Gumboot, and to all the friends, family, and community members who attended. I hope that this becomes an annual event.


July 25, 2010 at 11:25 am Comments (3)

Woolly public art: better than tea cozies


                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photos

I was delighted last week to spot two offbeat, local examples of public street art, otherwise known as “yarn bombing.” While walking down Cowrie Street, the main drag in Sechelt, BC, I saw a different hand-knit woolly cover stretched over two brown-and-yellow metal posts. These fuzzy, striped sleeves covered unsightly chipped paint and added a jaunty, colourful spirit to an otherwise drab street scene. Hurray for fun and creative self-expression in public spaces.


Yarn bombing is a cool, new form of craft-making, whereby mostly urban women fit knitted or crocheted concoctions over public structures. A parking meter gets its own snug sweater. A tree branch gains a crazy-coloured, woollen branch. Pink, knitted pom-poms dangle from a red fire hydrant. Done anonymously, this donated art  adopts the stealth-application style of graffiti artists.


I first discovered this quirky form of street art at a BC Book Prizes reception in Vancouver, where I saw the book Yarn Bombing: the Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti by Vancouverites Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain. I loved the concept and marvelled at the prankster-style patterns included in the book for knit and crochet installations. (Prain co-founded a “stitch-and-bitch” group called Knitting and Beer.)


I’ve since learned that there’s an international “guerrilla” knitting movement called Knitta. which began in Houston, TX in 2005 — hardly the hotbed of radicalism.


It was great to see some whimsical soul add a local angle to the movement here on the Sunshine Coast. Besides, the posts were right next to several other wonderful examples of art in public spaces: artist Jan Poynter’s hand-painted images on BC Hydro’s otherwise-boring  transformer or relay boxes.



I admire the prolific pranksters in yarn and wool, especially since knitting and crocheting never caught on with me. As a teen, I crocheted a blue granny-square afghan, but it took me ages to transform my initial efforts from too-big circles into evenly sized squares. As for knitting, I think I produced one of those boring, de rigeuer scarves for a home economics class and that was it. I don’t think such activities are designed for impatient people like me. 


I just found out who created the Cowrie Street yarn additions and it’s someone I know. What fun. I’m not telling.  This year’s Gibsons Landing Fibre Arts Festival is hosting its own version of yarn storming. The festival is inviting people to decorate Gibsons with their own knit or crocheted creation. Participants are encouraged to make something functional such as hats or scarves that can later go to those in need. Otherwise, people can feel free to “liberate” the fuzzy public art creations after the festival.


For more information and guidelines, contact festival co-sponsor Unwind Knit and Fibre Lounge at 886-1418 or email info@unwindknitandfibre.ca, using  “Yarn Storming'” in the subject line. There will be related photos in the entrance of the festival and a people’s choice award.


Sadly, this might be the last year of the Fibre Arts Festival due to a current lack of committed volunteers. Festival organizers have announced that they won’t hold the annual event next year. Be sure to enjoy this year’s festival, held August 19-21.

July 21, 2010 at 7:37 pm Comment (1)

Trinidad, Cuba: a post-9/11 view

Photo used with permission from Adam-m.ca


Under a backlit street of penetrating sun, residents in Trinidad, Cuba appear and disappear within the shadows of open doorways in a silent prelude to darkness.


It is mid-October 2001, barely a month after 9/11. At this seemingly post-apocalyptic time, most world travelers are too afraid to fly here. In this south-central town of 50,000, my friends and I see almost no other tourists. We feel grateful for this reprieve: no belching tour buses, no jarring crowds, no kamikaze camera hounds.


The town’s languid feel, in the steamy heat of hurricane season, is a welcome sanctuary from the fear and frenzy of CNN. The television news, available here via satellite at our oceanfront hotel, has positioned the United States on a metaphorical abyss, following the fiery demise of the World Trade Center and its 3,000 dead. Engulfed in the search for Osama bin laden, Wolf Blitzer warns of the impending anthrax crisis. His tiny image and impassioned coverage on my hotel-room screen appear oddly surreal in this land of smiles and siestas.  


Yet, beneath its perfect-holiday atmosphere, Cuba bears a collective pain of its own. Sure, this island nation, rich with salsa and jazz, offers the calendar gloss of white-sand beaches, delectable mojitos, Hemingway nostalgia, and photo-pretty 1950s sedans in gleaming colours. But the first Spanish invaders brutalized and enslaved Cuban people, even feeding some live to their dogs.


Cuba continues to suffer under the U.S. embargo imposed in 1962, resulting in a lack of medical, educational, and mundane supplies like soap, notebooks, and guitar strings. The country bears the highest suicide rate in the Western Hemisphere, and inaccessibility to food at various periods has resulted in needless deaths, bringing many past urban residents to near-starvation. (Our informal group received government permission to import and transport medical supplies for distribution in remote clinics.)


Understandably, with few tourists present, the locals in Trinidad are desperate for our business. In Trinidad’s main town square, a genteel enclave of colonial homes and palm trees, street vendors display homemade wares: toy cameras and planes made of pop and beer cans, open-weaved tops and tablecloths of lace, lively street scenes painted in a flourish of colour.


Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, Trinidad remains a living museum of its heyday in the mid-1800s, when the surrounding area produced a third of the country’s sugar. Founded in 1514 by Cuba’s first governor, Diego Velasquez, Trinidad was the third settlement ever formed in this fiercely independent Caribbean nation. An early haven for smugglers, the town and its region later became a focus for the importation of slaves and goods, shifting to cattle ranching and tobacco-growing for its wealth. When 50 small sugar mills started northeast of the downtown core in the early 19th century, sugar cane became the area’s crop of prosperity.


The 2000 Lonely Planet edition of Cuba describes modern Trinidad this way: “Its baroque church towers, Carrera marble floors, wrought-iron grills, red-tile roofs, and cobblestone streets have changed little in a century and a half.”


The must-see building off the town’s main plaza is Museo Historico Municipal, a mansion that wound up in the hands of a German sugar plantation owner in the 19th century. He reportedly gained control of huge sugar estates by poisoning an old slave trader and marrying his widow, who also died mysteriously. The building’s neoclassical décor and its outstanding view of Trinidad readily evoke the power and privilege of Cuba’s former ruling class. Today, in Castro’s economy of agrarian collectives and nationalized companies, this refurbished symbol of colonial grandeur remains an antiquated testament to comparative wealth.

Click here for a published account of my Cuba trip.


Here are a few travel books on Cuba:

Cuba (Lonely Planet Guide), by David Stanley, 2000

Cuba: A Concise History for Travellers by Alan Twigg 2000

The Reader’s Companion to Cuba, edited by Alan Ryan, 1997

The Rough Guide to Cuban Music by Philip Sweeney, 2001

Travelers’ Tales Cuba, edited by Tom Miller, 2001

July 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm Comment (1)

Ecology flag: Who created it 41 years ago?

Ecology 3ft x 5ft Printed...

I woke  up this morning with an intuitive prompt to write about the ecology flag, which I remember as a ‘tween in the 1970s. (That was when I wore white go-go boots and paisley, bell-bottomed pajamas and thought that I was cool.) The image intrigued me back then, even though I didn’t fully understand its significance.


The symbol first appeared in the Los Angeles Free Press (hurray for alternative media) on November 7, 1969, according to Wikipedia. Creator Ron Cobb, then a political cartoonist for the Free Press, put it in the public domain, bless his heart. One Internet source says that the Paramount Flag Company in San Francisco made the first ecology flag in August 1967, but I can’t verify that. If it’s true, perhaps Cobb adopted it for publication.


The yellow symbol is a combination of the letters “e” (for ecology, earth, evolution, empathy, and so on) and “o” (for organism, oneness, om, oracle, etc). Cobb was inspired by the circle or mandala as a universal symbol of timeless unity and harmony, by the yin-yang symbol, the concept of equinox, and the ellipse, “the transcendent unity that pervades all dualities.” (You can find out more details about the symbol and its meaning on Ron Cobb’s website.)


The ecology flag reportedly flew for the first time on Earth Day 1971 as a 4 x 6  green-and-white banner. Like her namesake Betsy Ross, who stitched the first U.S. flag, Betsy Boze (now Betsy Vogel) sewed the flag as a 16-year-old environmental and social activist in Louisiana. However, C.E. Byrd High School in Shreveport denied her permission to fly the flag. Like any effective advocate, Boze refused this “no” and sought and received authorization from the Louisiana legislature and governor John McKeithen to display the flag in time for Earth Day.


Kudos to Boze for seeking out state power to support her cause. What a great tribute to one woman’s vision and determination, especially at an age when many contemporaries were more focused on acne angst and dating gossip.


I’m sad that the flag didn’t gain widespread use, and that Cobb limited his symbol to a facsimile of the U.S. flag. The concept of ecology spans far more than one nation’s borders. If he was truly thinking “oneness,” why not choose a more universal concept?


Even though many had ecological concerns in the 1960s and 1970s, it has taken 40 years or more for mainstream thinkers, politicians, and businesses to reflect environmental awareness. It’s sad to me that it took this long but hey, I”m grateful that at last, caring for the earth has become part of mass public consciousness.

July 16, 2010 at 7:40 am Comments (0)

Gumboot Nation a soft touch on violations

Sometimes you just have to take the law into your own hands, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Here in Roberts Creek, BC, aka Gumboot Nation, we’re known as cheeky eco-activists who care about clean air and our community. Therefore, if someone leaves a car idling, we figure they’re disturbing the peace, so to speak. If they park in a bike lane, they’re risking the safety of a cyclist who has to swerve onto the road into traffic to get by the offending vehicle.


That’s when a fun but fervent citizen’s action comes into play. The offender will receive one of two tickets indicating a violation notice against the Nation of Roberts Creek, issued by the Department of Good Vehicle Operation. Each comes complete with a gumboot image and notification of the infraction: “You have left your car idling” or “You have parked in the bike lane.”


The ticket for idling reminds the motorist that this action

  • “increases greenhouse gases
  • shortens the life of your vehicle
  • irritates people
  • costs you money.”

The ticket for the parking infraction provides a cautionary note: “Failure to change our habits may subject us all to a grim future” and offers this call-to-action: “Do your part! Help make Roberts Creek pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Walk, ride a bike, take public transit.”

“I have found that people who are ‘bad’ do not have a sense of humour about it,” says Donna Shugar, chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District and a Roberts Creek resident. “They are quite affronted. Perhaps that is brought on by guilt!”


I love that residents have chosen education and soft censure in response to these violators rather than resort to angry words or revenge. As a form of direct action, these tickets harm nobody and can actually make people healthier through smiles and laughter. Who says you need to get tough on crime? The soft touch works.

July 9, 2010 at 12:49 am Comments (2)