Human Flow

The worst humanitarian crisis since 1945.

You need to remember that the people you see in this movie are unwilling and unwitting pawns in a global chess game.

Ai Weiwei, the director of this stunning, extraordinary film, says, “We all bear responsibility.” With all due respect, Mr. Weiwei, I don’t see how the ordinary man or woman in the street can bear responsibility for the death and displacement of 65 million human beings. In 2003, ten million ordinary men and women marched world-wide to join their voices in one simple global message: NO to the Iraq war. In vain. The illegal invasion of Iraq was the pivotal point, the precipitating event that would go on to destabilize large swathes of the Middle East. The rest, as they say, is history.

Here’s history today:

the North Point Surf Resort, abandoned hotel in Barbados

better pool empty

When I was a child I stood on the cracked floor of this derelict, olympic-sized swimming pool. I was with my mother, my father and sister, and from Rockley Beach we had driven to the northern tip of the island for the afternoon. That moment, that place, and that pool has haunted me ever since.

Mystery surrounds this hotel. No-one seems to know who owned it or why it was built in such an isolated area. Barbados’ north coast is spectacular: wild, rugged and windswept with the Atlantic Ocean waves crashing against the cliffs. Here’s a photo of that same swimming pool in its heyday.

pool one 

Over Christmas we escaped to Barbados and discovered paradise. I have perfect recall of the Air Canada DC-8 jet, gleaming white on the tarmac, and me stepping out of it. Eyes squinting against the unaccustomed glare, I can still feel the trade winds caressing my cold-chapped skin as I descended the metal staircase. It was a day before my tenth birthday and my family had travelled to this sun-drenched little isle for the holidays. Speeding along the littoral road in a taxi, we caught sight of the sea and gaped like country bumpkins out on a day trip. The island sky was vast with bold cloudscapes and there was a glittering brightness in the air.

The Sweet Life was a plantation-style guesthouse with a frangipani tree gracing its front lawn. From our rooms we threw open the shutters and gazed onto a garden brimming with blooms that burst with energy from the sun. Gecko-lizards flickered across pathways and vanished into the jungle-like undergrowth. Intoxicated by the perfume and the heat, we shed our clothes and like pale pilgrims from the North ran to frolic on the sands of Rockley Beach across the road.

Bajan boys, shimmying nimbly up the trunks of coconut trees, slashed open the giant shells and offered us the water to drink. I had never seen a fresh coconut before. I had never seen a black person before. We stared enrapt as flying fish catapulted themselves out of the ocean, and with a neat flick of the tail pirouetted back down into their immense aquarium. That evening we feasted on jug jug and spicy fishcakes while a steel band playing tinny music plinkety-plinked beside a shimmering pool. Drunk on the voluptuousness of the tropics and too many rum punches, Dad joined the limbo-dancing contest on the beach and wrenched his back. The next day he lay, subdued under a fig tree on the hotel lawn, while my mother, sister and I went into town to find me a birthday cake.

In bustling Bridgetown a new language floated in the air. We wandered the city center and heard the Bajan dialect spoken by the citizens, their lilting voices mingling with the smells and sounds of the marketplace. We rented a sun moke and roamed the northernmost tip of the island. There was a cliff hotel, its setting dramatic but eerie as Atlantic waves crashed violently onto the rocks below. We stood on the floor of the empty swimming pool then roamed the neglected property; a compass rose was etched into the crumbling patio tiles near the abandoned bar. Despite the heat we felt chilled. Imagining the ghosts of former guests to be present, we could almost hear the chatter of voices and the clink of ice cubes in glasses as they sat smoking in lounge chairs, playing Mah Jong and sunning themselves like sleek, contented reptiles. Shivering, we returned to Rockley Beach and hurled ourselves at the waves.


pool two with compass

Another old photo of the hotel in its heyday, the compass rose etched into the patio tiles near the bar. That’s where I stood, years later.


Two weeks later the DC-8 jet lifted off with a powerful thrust and within seconds we were aloft, northbound to our snow-blanketed Canadian tundra. With the sound of Calypso music ringing in our ears, we quit paradise.

Copyrighted Material



The last time I was in Barbados was with my parents in the 1990s. It’s time to go back.

I just found this video on YouTube and watched it, transfixed. It’s hard to believe the remains of this hotel are still there.

the hidden passages of Paris

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 135

When I first moved to this city, I lived in the 9th arrondissement and worked in the Paris bureau of the Reuters news agency. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the hidden passage located near my apartment snaked through the city and led directly to my place of work. Fresh from North America, I was utterly charmed by the historical aspect of these late 18th-century and mid 19th-century conduits. I imagined myself in an Emile Zola novel. In fact, Zola wrote about the passages in his novel, Nana. Here’s a brief excerpt (published in 1880!)

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 106

“One December evening Count Muffat was strolling in the Passage des Panoramas. The evening was very mild, and owing to a passing shower, the passage had become crowded with people. There was a perfect mob of them, and they thronged slowly and laboriously between the shops on either side. A perfect stream of brilliancy emanated from white globes, red lanterns, blue transparencies, lines of gas jets, gigantic watches and fans, outlined in flame and burning in the open. And the displays in the shops, the gold ornaments of the jeweler’s, the glass ornaments of the confectioner’s, the light-colored silks of the modiste’s, seemed to shine in the crude light of the reflectors behind the plate-glass windows.”

Here is the Passage des Panoramas today:

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 105Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 112

Each passage has its own character; some a bit shabby and run-down, others well-tended. Here’s the Passage Verdeau, near rue Cadet in the 9th arrondissement, that was my starting point when I walked to work all those years ago.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 136Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 130

There used to be a restaurant-deli in the Passage Verdeau called Le Stube which sold divine German pastries (strudels, poppyseed cake, Sachertorte, etc.), pastrami and Black Forest ham sandwiches on rye, hot dishes of sauerkraut, bratwurst, etc. I once had a delicious potato and herring salad followed by warm cherry strudel and a double espresso there. They used to sell those irresistible Niederegger marzipan chocolate-covered loaves that I love. Sadly, Le Stube is no longer there.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 127

Here’s the next connecting passage. It’s Sunday, so this bookseller’s shop is closed. For several years, twice a day, I walked this route, dawdling in the shops on the way home, never tiring of its appeal.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 120Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 116

Exit the Passage Jouffroy, cross the boulevard Montmartre, and into the next stretch of passage. For anyone wanting to come here, the nearest metro station is Grands Boulevards.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 107Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 103

Further south, on the other side of the Bourse (the stock exchange) is another, independent passage called the Galerie Vivienne. This is the most elegant and well-tended of the glass-roofed shopping arcades. At Christmas-time it’s all lit up with fairy lights. Notice the gorgeous mosaic tiled flooring.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 092Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 099Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 077Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 098

This is a great shopping area. Inside this passage and outside on the rue des Petits Champs heading towards the Place des Victoires are dozens of small clothing boutiques. There’s a shop inside the Galerie Vivienne called Nathalie Garçon which sells original one-off pieces. Directly across from it is another shop that sells exquisite scarves.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 086

Further up is a second-hand clothing shop called La Marelle where I’ve bought and sold many shoes, handbags, clothes and accessories over the years. You can pick up a gorgeous pair of Prada shoes, a Fendi handbag or items of clothing with Miu Miu, Hermès, YSL labels and other luxury brand names, depending on what’s in stock.

This lovely-looking restaurant (below) is overpriced and a bit precious.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 094

Instead, I recommend the Bistrot Vivienne at number 4 rue des Petits-Champs, just at the entrance of the Galerie Vivienne. It’s much more down to earth and serves delicious, hearty meals and good carafes of wine. Remember the movie, Something’s Gotta Give, with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton? The Parisian brasserie where they and Keanu Reeves ate at is Le Grand Colbert, located just around the corner at number 2 rue Vivienne.

If you’re a wine lover, you must visit LEGRAND wine merchants. From their website: A wine cellar, gourmet grocery store, a bistro, a tasting bar — visit Legrand’s many ideal spaces in which to share our passion for wine. You can have a meal there, drink a fabulous glass or bottle of wine, and buy some sweets afterward (and a few bottles of wine, bien sûr!)

Before you click on this in-depth link below of these shops, I just wanted to add that there’s a lesser known passage, very chic, that I haven’t been to yet, but intend to explore. It’s tucked away in a backstreet near the Louvre, and it’s called the Galerie Véro-Dodat. It’s a hidden gem, I hear, with a good French restaurant inside called the Restaurant Véro Dodat. (P.S. There’s a Christian Louboutin boutique inside this gallery, so it must be très chic indeed.)

 Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 088

me, Soso, and taxidermy


Soso and I have our familiar routine which includes going to the Red Park then to the Gare Saint Sauveur across the road. A converted train station, the Gare Saint Sauveur houses art exhibitions, an excellent bistro and all sorts of seasonal events. This season they’ve installed a skating rink and a toboggan run. Sledding and tobogganing is called “la luge” in French. Saturday we went to the cinema to see the movie, Coco.

Here’s the Red Park which isn’t its real name. Winter in the north of France can be grim. It wasn’t too cold, but it was gray and damp during my weekend in Lille.


For the first time ever, we visited the Lille Natural History Museum. Founded in 1822, it houses zoological and geological collections. Here’s the north-facing wall. There’s a lot of brick in the north of France that I like. In the rest of the country, you don’t see much brick.


The place was packed, not only with small kids and parents, but with large dead stuffed animals. All museums in France are free on the first Sunday of every month. I guess that’s why it was packed.


Never in my life have I seen such a large collection of stuffed animals, there were rooms and rooms of them, filled with birds, flamingos, rodents, big cats, even a giraffe, a polar bear, lions and tigers. This is what I learned about taxidermy: the earliest methods of the preservation of birds were published in 1748 by Reaumur in France. Frenchman Louis Dufresne, taxidermist at the National Natural History Museum in 1793, popularized arsenical soap in an article in Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle (1803–1804). This technique enabled the museum to build the greatest collection of birds in the world.


After awhile, Soso announced that he was hungry. So we headed back down the street, across the park and towards the in-house bistro of the Gare Saint Sauveur.


It’s an inexpensive, kid-friendly place that serves delicious food. Soso had fish fingers and chips from the kids’ menu. But not before spearing half a dozen olives from the glass in front of him. I warned him that too many salty olives will make him thirsty afterwards. “Mais, j’aime les olives!” he said happily, and continued to spear more.

I had a pork-vermicelli-coconut-cashew stir-fry with white rice and salad. With a small glass of white wine for me and a fizzy grenadine drink for my companion, the bill came to only 24 euros. No dessert. Afterwards, we went back outside to the skating rink and toboggan run. All entirely free. Lille is a Socialist city run by the popular Martine Aubry, mayor since 2001 and daughter of Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission and Minister of Finance of France from 1981 to 1984. Many family and cultural events in this city are heavily sponsored.


Back home for a hot bath followed by a game of BANANAGRAMS using letter tiles. 


On the 5 o’clock Sunday train back to Paris, I conked out.

coconut milk and red rice pudding with mango and lime juice


We’ve just emerged from a Siberian cold snap that swept across Europe. They were calling it the “Beast from the East.”

From Radio France International – “As temperatures drop to as low as -10°C in the east of the country, the authorities have ordered 3,100 emergency accommodation places to be opened, 500 of them in Paris.

Police in Paris report that most homeless people have gone to shelters, apart from migrants, many of whom are unaware of the arrangements or may fear deportation.

The cold front has been dubbed “Moscow-Paris”, coming as it does from Russia, where the thermometer was expected to fall to -35°C in the centre of the country.

The authorities warned old people to stay indoors and parents to keep babies at home.

There were a few days when the sunshine was radiant and the sky was blue. I did enjoy wrapping up and walking vigorously to work. I felt like I was back in Canada, except there was no snow and the streets were clear.

So last Sunday, craving tropical fruit and rice pudding, I made this dessert. If you don’t have red rice (who does?), you can use regular rice or tapioca. I guess all rice puddings, and puddings in general, are what you call comfort food.


I also made some muffins. I love puttering in my kitchen, cooking and listening to the radio or podcasts.


Yum. This dessert is best when eaten warm. Don’t forget to sprinkle lime juice over it.

Here’s the recipe link below. I like that there’s not too much sugar in it. Two tips: use organic coconut milk with no preservatives in it, and make sure the rice is fully cooked. You can also use tapioca instead of rice (but that would be a different recipe.) I’ve also added Melissa Clark’s trad rice pudding with raisins. I’ve made it many times and it’s perfect.

poop ‘n scoop, French style


LONDON. The British scoop, why can’t the French?

Do you poop ‘n scoop? Or, rather, does your dog poop and you scoop? Because only a minority of the French do, and I wonder why that is. Do they consider it beneath them to stoop?

Here in my building, we’re in the midst of a battle with a teenage boy and his dog. It used to be an adorable puppy, but now it’s a full-blown shitter. Does he have any parents? (the boy, not the dog.) Does he have any sense of civic responsibility? (again, the boy, not the dog.) And who’s to blame? The boy, the dog, or the parents? (if he has any). Or maybe the government is to blame. The French blame their government for everything, it absolves them from personal responsibility.

Last week I came home from work – in the rain and the dark – at about 7 pm. On the walkway in front of the door of my building was a massive pile of excrement. Because of the rain, it had started to liquify and was spreading like diarrhea all over the tiled walkway. It stank to high heaven. People were coming in and out of the building and slipping and sliding (in the dark) on this stinking mess. I was so disgusted, I went up to my apartment, wrote on a sheet of paper: CECI EST ABSOLUMENT DEGOUTANT, LE PROPRIETAIRE AUSSI, went back downstairs and stuck it on the inside of the glass lobby door. (This is absolutely disgusting, the owner too.)

The next day I ran into the kid and the dog in front of the building. “Was that you, or rather your dog, that shit in front of the building last night?” I said, in French. (Est-ce que c’était toi, ou plutôt ton chien, qui a chié devant l’immeuble hier soir?) Of course he denied it. That was last week. Tonight, I came home from work at around 6, ran upstairs to get my shopping caddy and my winter coat (a cold front from Siberia is on its way to Western Europe; this weekend and next week is forecast to be freezing), went back outside and who do I run into on the opposite sidewalk? The kid again. His dog, caught in the act of flagrant délit, was doing a crap in the middle of the sidewalk. I walked by with my caddy, and in a rare and remarkable display of self-restraint, I didn’t say a word. The kid, however, saw me coming and pulled a plastic bag out of his pocket. Good for him, I said to myself as I headed up the street, he’s becoming toilet trained.

But, no! An hour later I walked down that same sidewalk, my caddy filled with groceries, and there was a big pile of merde in that same spot. Fresh. From that dog. The kid never picked it up.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just one example of the recalcitrant attitude of many French people, all ages. When they think no-one’s looking, they perform all sorts of uncivic acts.


And it’s not just dogs who do their business in the street. Two Sundays ago, I was standing in front of my window talking to a friend on the phone when a municipal street-cleaner, directly across the road from my apartment and standing on the sidewalk, looked both ways, didn’t see anyone, unzipped his fly and urinated into the street.

“You’ll never guess what I’m looking at,” I said to my friend on the phone.

I’ve just looked at a website for the City of Paris and burst out laughing. Under DOGS AND THEIR OWNERS, it says – Dogs have natural needs and it’s up to their owners to ensure that sidewalks don’t become public dog toilets (I’m translating). Pour cela il y a une seule solution : ramasser les déjections !  For this, there is only one solution: pick up their droppings! It is not very complicated. You only need a pair of rubber gloves and some paper towels. 

Rubber gloves? You mean, like, my bright pink dish gloves?? I’ve just had a mental image of men and women alike, strolling with their dogs down Parisian streets wearing brightly-colored dish gloves. It could become a fashion trend!

Here in France you see motorcycles with vacuum cleaners attached to them, they’re called motocrottes. (the polite term for dog doo is crotte de chien.) Three motocrottes cost around 36.000 euros. Brigades of them drive around cities, sucking up dog dirt. No wonder taxes are so high in this country. The French would rather pay high taxes for a motocrotte than stoop behind the derrière of their poodle and do the dirty work themselves. That’s the truth of it. Why they believe they are superior to the rest of us is a mystery I’ve been pondering for over two decades.


Next blog post: as a pedestrian, do you stop at red lights? Of course you do. I only ask because the French don’t. They truly believe that a red light does not concern them. (French pedestrians see green light, even when it’s red: study)

In July 2011, I was in Calgary, Alberta. I haphazardly crossed a city street and was immediately stopped by two policeman who issued me a ticket for jaywalking. When they asked me why I did what I did, I was completely stumped for an answer. I wasn’t used to people asking me (especially policemen) why I did certain things … especially things like crossing a street. “Because I live in France,” I blurted out. They just stared at me. I felt foolish.