I never told anyone about this, because it kinda scared me, but last month Sasha called me on my cell. When I was in Vancouver. He wanted me to work for him again. I told him that I wasn’t ready to fly 3500 miles at the drop of a hat to get paid $2/hr, but that maybe I’d call him when I got back to MTL. I’d figured he’d sorta forgot about me, but now I secretly suspect he’s been reading all about our day together on this website. I guess knowing that I can post his phone number and address on this website gives me the upper hand, for now at least.
should I call him?
Now I’m not the sort of dude that frequents book readings, but if Danny Wallace’s reading from his new book, Yes Man, is any indication of what to expect, I’ll start to.
Danny has that Robbie Williams celebrity status factor thing going for him: he can walk the streets of Anytown USA in comfortable anonymity, but as soon as his plane touches back down in London, it is immediately mobbed by a throng of screaming teenage girls. Luckily we were in New York. In a book store.
Danny read for about half an hour from Yes Man, the true story of what happened to him when he decided to say yes to everything, for like a year or something. I could review Yes Man, but I’ll save you the trouble: Just go out and buy it. The reading was cool, more improv stand up routine than masterpiece theatre.
The real treat came when Danny opened up to questions from the 75 person strong audience.
One of the stand-out moments was when a cell phone rang, belonging to a slightly bedraggled skinny middle aged woman half-hiding behind a pole who had just asked a series of questions, each more ridiculous than the last. Upon completion of the call, Danny asked “Who was that?–your travel agent?”
“No, that was just some guy who called me about some black paint. I need to paint something black, but don’t ask me about it.”
“You can’t say something like that and expect me not to ask about it. So here goes, why do you need black paint?”
“Well, I’m not going to tell you. That’s that. Hey, is this How to Start Your Own Country TV show you’re making going to be like that show with those two gay guys down in the Village?”
Danny attempted to hold back a chuckle, unlike the audience, and answered with an uncharacteristic, “No”
The lady looked up with all seriousness and said, “Good, cause I hate that show.”
Next up was a stocky fellow in the second row with an ample blond mane on his head and a superman t-shirt on his back. He innocently asked, “Danny, will we be able to see your new TV show here in the states?”
“Well, it will be broadcast in the U.K. first and then hopefully—are you a wrestler?”
It pretty much caught everybody off guard, but not the “wrestler”, who shrugged a blasé “Yeah.” as if it was nothing and continued his question, “But will we have to wait a long time before we see it?”
I’d contacted Danny a few days before, and we’d agreed to make a trade. For one red paperclip, he traded me a pack of 50 safety pins. And not just any old safety pins. Oh no, we’re talking top of the line Silver Lynx brand nickel and brass finished safety pins, sizes 00, 1, 2 and 3. They are fully satisfaction guaranteed-which is good, because when it comes to safety pins, I’m a very hard guy to satisfy.
Our business transaction complete, I asked Danny a question I’d never asked anyone before, “Fancy a pint?”
A short while later we sat in a local pub with pints in our hands among a group of ten or so. Perched at the end of the table was a room-dominating big-screen TV showing the Yankees game. I looked down the table and asked, “Hey Danny, did you see which network is carrying the game?” In the bottom right hand corner of the screen was the logo for the YES network. A simple bold YES.
Danny looked at the screen, paused for a moment, then turned towards me with a large grin and said with authority, “As it should.”
hey crew, I’ll be down in the Big Apple until Wednesday. I’ve got some meetings to attend and some trades to make and some apples to eat.
My cousin Diana sent me an email with the subject line: It had to be done.
bring ’em on.
Mark my words: this will change internet history.
This might not surprise you, but below is a picture of a paperclip. It is red.
This red paperclip is currently sitting on my desk next to my computer. I want to trade this paperclip with you for something bigger or better, maybe a pen, a spoon, or perhaps a boot.
If you promise to make the trade I will come and visit you, wherever you are, to trade.
So, if you have something bigger or better than a red paperclip to trade, email me with the details at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope to trade with you soon!
I’m going to keep trading up until I get a house. Or an Island. Or a house on an island. You get the idea.
Hey, if you like good music and funny pictures, go here:
I’ve known Colin for, like, 25 years or something but I just found out today he has a website stacked with all sorts of goodies.
His parents and my parents went to high school together. We grew up watching them slam beers at BBQs and stuff. A profound effect on each of our lives to say the least.
You can download good tunes and see pictures and much, much more. Oh, you can buy CDs and stuff too.
My girlfriend Dominique and I saved all spring and summer for a three-month trip to Europe. The planned highlight of our trip: picking grapes in France for the grape harvest. (Les Vendanges) From Canada, Dominique found us a job from at a French vineyard in and we booked a flight for early September. As the summer wore on and we continued to save for our trip overseas, mother nature threw a monkey wrench into our plans: a record-breaking heat wave was tearing through Western Europe. The owner of the vineyard in France called us to say that the hot weather meant an early grape harvest: if we wanted to participate in the vendanges, we would have to arrive in France by early August. Our attempts to leave Canada early were thwarted by the fact that no changes or refunds could be made to our low-cost airline tickets. We called the vineyard owner and explained our situation. He said he was sorry but we were welcome to come next year I we liked. We thanked the owner for the offer and started to look for grape harvest work that started in September. Our attempts to find work for later in the season were met with dead ends. WE both decided that after spending the spring and summer saving for our trip, we would still go to Europe in early September, vendanges or not.
The plane touched down in Lyon, France on September 8th. We made our way up to the hostel overlooking the city, exhausted from a combination of jet lag and excitement to finally be on the road. As we walked into the hostel and approached the front desk, we noticed a small piece of paper taped to the surface of the check-in counter. Scribbled hurriedly in French, the note simply said:
Travail pour cinq personnes:
Vendanges à St. Saphorin, Suisse
September 8? Work for five people? Vendanges? Switzerland? Urgent? Call Immediately!? Could this be work for us after all? We both thought the vendanges would all be finished by now and were surprised by Switzerland? Did vineyards exist in Switzerland? My vision of Switzerland as an alpine landscape dotted with mountains and St. Bernard rescue dogs simply didn’t mesh with growing grapes. Dominique quickly called the number and we were told there were two more week-long positions available and that we could start the next day. St. Saphorin was only 120 kilometres away and could be easily accessed by train from Lyon. Our trip had started out on an unexpected foot. In less than five hours in Europe we had already made plans to leave France and had found a job harvesting grapes!
By noon the next day we were aboard the appropriately named ‘Le Train Des Vignes’ (Train of the Vines) zipping along high above the shores of Lake Geneva. The thousands of acres of vineyards we passed through were going to fill thousands of bottles with Swiss wine. I guess the St. Bernard rescue dogs did need a vineyard or two to fill the wooden keg around their neck with life-saving brandy, after all. A cheerful Madame, greeted our arrival at the train station in St. Saphorin and drove us up the road, stopping at a massive four-storey Chateau overlooking sparkling Lake Geneva and the vineyards below. In the distance were the glacier-covered peaks of the Alps. If a handful of experts had ever sat down to agree where the best place on earth to harvest grapes was located, this had to be it.
Each morning began with a hot breakfast at 7a.m., we had an hour or so to wake up and then hop into the crew trailer with twenty other harvesters for the morning descent to the glistening dew-covered vineyards. The hot sunrise over the Alps quickly burnt off the moisture and by 10a.m. we shed our sweaters for t-shirts and hats. By mid-morning it was time for coffee break, or more realistically: chocolate and cheese break. Coffee and tea were there, but it was the giant bars of chocolate and delicious wheels of cheese that everyone looked forward to. Dominique had never liked the taste of chocolate before arriving in Europe but it took just one bite of some local Swiss chocolate to show her what she’s been missing out on all these years. After that, she was always the first one at break-time ready to peel the wrapper off the delicious choco-treats. Still full of chocolate and cheese, we all headed up the hill at noon for an hour-long hot lunch followed by an afternoon of work punctuated by yet another ‘chocolate’ break. By six in the evening we had collectively harvested several tons of grapes and were back at the dinner table again, drinking wine made from the grapes harvested by the vendangeurs of the previous year.
Dominique’s job was to cut bunches of grapes from each vine. Using a small set of garden clippers, she filled plastic containers left along each row and were picked up by ‘un porteur’ like me. My job was to carry ‘small’ containers of grapes to a ‘large’ container waiting on the closest roadway. Each ‘small’ container weighed about 35 pounds each and we carried three containers at a time on our backs using a metal rack. Had the terrain been remotely flat, hauling more than one hundred pounds of grapes would have been simple but the incredibly steep terrain made work difficult. Hauling grapes down steep staircases was tricky, but the real test came when grapes had to be hauled up staircases. We were called ‘les porteurs’ but I think of myself as a ‘wine and chocolate-fuelled Swiss grape Sherpa.’ Some nearby terrain was so remote and steep that neighbouring vineyard owners used helicopters to hoist and carry large containers of grapes from the vineyard to a central collection facility. Once the grapes left the vineyard, they were taken immediately to a collective processing facility where they were de-stemmed, pressed and put into containers that would eventually turn the juice into delicious wine.
Everybody in the vineyard was under the watchful eye of our chef de l`equipe (foreman) Thierry. His frequent shouts of “Caisse Vide!” (Empty Case!) implied that we needed to hustle and supply an empty container to people cutting bunches of grapes. His enthusiasm for his work was unmatched. Thierry had worked vineyards since before he could remember and paid tribute to his passion by commissioning the most incredible job-describing tattoo I’ve ever seen: On his upper right arm was a naked Venus figure wrapped in a bunch of grapes. Not to be outdone, three other locals by the names of ‘Pi-Loux’, ‘Pascal’ and ‘Gamel’ had made a lifetime of harvesting grapes and had Rudolph-like red noses to prove their expertise.
On the final day of harvesting, we all gathered to watch the traditional cutting of the final bunch of grapes by the vineyard’s owner, Mr. Légeret. He had presided over the land for more than forty years but this vendange was special for Mr. Légeret. It would be his last as the following year he would pass the vineyard over to his son, Christophe. With the final grapes cut, a cheer erupted and it the party started. The entire vineyard was a massive cuckoo clock and it had just struck noon. Everybody jumped into the trailer decorated in sunflowers, branches and leaves as the crew van pulled away towards the centre of the village. Songs and cheers rang out as our presence brought happy applause from the third floor balconies. Villagers came outside to acknowledge our completed vendange and join us in singing songs which I’d never heard before but managed to make up word and fit in well. Having completed our work and successfully entertained a few villagers, the victory party made its way back to the chateau for a harvest feast worthy of a king.
One of the massive plates of food was covered in grapes from the vineyard. The grapes tasted delicious apparently because of the hot summer. When I asked if the sweet grapes would make a good bottle of wine we were told that yes, hopefully, but it was a superstition to never predict excellent wine. The theory was that if you proclaimed that your wine would be a vintage or millisieme year, it would never happen. Were the grapes that we harvested good enough to produce a ‘vintage’ bottle of wine? The only way to find out was to return again the following year. Everybody who worked at the vineyard was invited back for the next year, many eager to literally taste the fruits of their labour. The following day everybody went their separate ways with a paycheque, a bottle of wine and a week of memories to last a lifetime.
There may probably be people at each vineyard who speak a little English, but anyone with basic high school French should be able to find work quite easily. The physical effort required harvesting grapes is roughly equivalent to spending an entire day gardening. If you think you’d like gardening for 8 hours a day, with two breaks for chocolate and cheese, an hour-long lunch, free room and board and be able to drink all the free wine you’d like, then working vendanges is for you! Oh, and you’ll get paid between $50 – $120 CAD per day depending on the vineyard.
copyright © 2004 by Kyle MacDonald
More info about vendanges can be found at: http://www.anpe.fr/actualites/affiche/juillet_2004/saison_vendanges_2590.html
Because of the relatively short season and large amount of labour needed to harvest grapes, work visas are not always needed – but a tattoo of a naked maiden against a backdrop of grapes won’t hurt your chances.
I take absolutely no credit for this story. Unlike every other story around here, it did not happen to me and I cannot swear to its truth or accuracy. A friend of mine named Mate (pronounced ‘Matt’) told me this one back in 1998 the same day the album Hello Nasty by the Beastie Boys came out. There aren’t that many ‘Goolies’ around these days, but the suburban legend lives on. Mate was working in the automotive department of a Canadian Tire when this guy came in and…
“I need an air filter for my car”
“No problem, I’ll show you where the filters are”
(they walk to air filter section)
“So, uh, what type of car you got?”
“I don’t know”
“Well, is it a domestic or an import?”
“Chevy?, Ford?, Honda?”
“I don’t know, It’s like a…. I don’t know, a ‘Goolie’ or something like that. Yeah, it’s a ‘Goolie’” (shrugs)
“A ‘Goolie’? I’ve never heard of that. Who makes it? Is it a special edition or something?”
“Nope, its just maroon coloured and pretty plain. It’s just a plain ‘Goolie.”
“Huh, well, I’ve got no idea what kind of air filter to give you for something like that…Is it outside in the parking lot?”
“Oh yeah, sure. It’s just outside”
“Let’s go see what it looks like.”
(they go outside)
“There it is right over there.” Says the guy.
Mate walks around the corner of the building to see the ‘Goolie’. The car he sees is a late 80’s Pontiac 6000 LE.
(The following is one half of an actual telephone conversation overheard at 6 a.m. in the lobby of an undisclosed Motel.)
“Good morning, Red Lion SEA-TAC. John speaking.”
”For what night?”
“Ok, and for how many guests?”
“Two Adults, great. Would you like a Queen-size bed…, two doubles.., twi…”
“Two doubles, June 7th, no problem. I’ll double check to make sure that’s available. Oh, it looks like we have plenty of rooms available June 7th. How long will you be staying?”
“Perfect. Two adults, two double beds. Arriving June 7th, departing June 8th. That comes to $89.53 after taxes.”
“And what name should I make the reservation under?”
“Thomas. Mrs. Claire Thomas. Great. Looks like it’s all set, I just need to ask you one last question before I finalize the reservation. Mrs. Thomas, are you from the city or from the country?”
“Are you from the city or from the country?”
“Oh no, it’s nothing personal. It’s just that we have two types of rooms. Some face the road out front and others face the forest out back. People from the country find that the traffic noise from the road out front keeps them awake at night while people from the city find that the noise from the crickets out back keeps them awake. The elevator sometimes makes a loud chime noise late at night, but that’s only at the South end of the motel. I’ll put you in the North-end.”
“The country? Excellent. I’ll book you a room on the backside of the North wing. I expect that a few crickets won’t be anything new for you. We don’t want the traffic to keep you awake.”
“That’s what I thought. Now there is one more thing I must bring to your attention. There is a police firing range just past the forest at rear, but I can assure you that we’ve never had any complaints because the police wait until after lunch to begin shooting.”
“Oh no, never any problem before. We just like to let people know in advance in case anything comes up, that’s all.”
“Okay then, your reservation is completed. Two for the 7th.”
“Happy to assist you today Ma’am.”
copyright © 2004 by Kyle MacDonald
I like to eat. Especially between sunrise and sundown.
You probably know the hollow angry feeling when you go hours without a meal, right? Have you ever observed a smoker who needs a nicotine fix? Okay, imagine not just yourself, but everyone in the city, no, make that everyone in the country, going without food or cigarettes from sunrise to sunset. Now take that vision and throw in some garbage, mud houses and the odd donkey. Welcome to Morocco during Ramadan.
By my second week, I’d managed well enough. An occasional hidden snack here or there, but for the most part the pattern was the same: starve until sundown and then eat like a king. I entered the town square as the sun decided enough was enough and the air-raid siren began to wail, signalling it was now time to put food in your mouth. I was famished. A wonderful smell hit my nose: barbeque. I walked straight up to the vendor, bought a sandwich and I bit in. Finally: food, wonderful food. Nothing could beat barbequed meat after a day spent fasting. I looked over at the vendor with a mouthful of hot meat and asked him: “What kind of meat is in this sandwich?”
“What type of meat? In this sandwich there is heart…and what do you call it, oh yes: fat”
I choked down my feed thinking how, under different circumstances, I would choke up my feed, and left the town square. A row of sheep’s heads smiled at me from the counter of the street side butcher shop and I noticed an official-looking certificate on the exterior wall just behind a long-tailed carcass hanging from a metal hook above the sidewalk. Dog? Likely. A customer brushed up against the skinned beast, allowing the certificate to come into clear view. Despite not being able to read Arabic under normal conditions, my mind was fortified from a heavy dose of heart and fat. I was able to read the certificate clearly. It said:
“The Moroccan School of Meat was established to ensure the quality of meat Morocco-wide. Its rules are few, but well-followed by all purveyors of meat from North to South, East to West.”
Rule 1: Meat must never be refrigerated
Rule 2: A mop and bucket is a labour-intensive cleaning method. A cat is automatic and self-cleaning.
Rule 3: All chicken’s feet/heads should be given to dogs. Dogs must march around the city streets proudly showing off their prize before eating.
Rule 4: All meat must be cut on wood. This wood must never be washed. Water and soap may cause the wood to rot, this will make future meat taste bad.
Rule 5: Chickens must be transported live and in an inverted position, held by their legs. If waiting for a bus, the chicken must be allowed to stand with one leg tied to a bicycle or other stationary object.
Rule 6: At least 4 cats must always be present on the street outside every butcher shop.
Rule 7: Public distaste for cow tongue is prohibited.
Rule 8: All blood from animal products must flow out of a butcher’s shop, across the sidewalk and into the street on its way to the storm drain. There must be ample room for no less than three thirsty cats or two thirsty dogs.
Rule 9: Heart and fat make a delicious combination.
Rule 10: All meat must be transported through crowded markets and be touched by several children before reaching a butcher shop.
Rule 11: All meat products will be hung from metal hooks over the sidewalk and must be inadvertently bumped by no less than ten people before being sold.
Rule 12: All sheep and/or goat heads must be transported by bicycle.
Rule 13: After arriving by bicycle, all sheep and goat heads must be displayed facing the street upon open-air counter tops with either their tongues hanging out or parsley/assorted garnish jammed between their teeth.
Rule 14: All fish heads must be left on the street in plastic containers. It is a crime for cats to eat fish head. Fish heads must be eaten by kittens.
Rule 15: It is impolite to laugh loudly if a tourist approaches your butcher shop, pointing to a piece of dead animal and asks: “What’s this?” Preferably, butchers should emit a small chuckle or a wait-until-they-turn-the-corner ‘knee-slapper’ outburst.
copyright © 2004 by Kyle MacDonald