Monday, December 31, 2012

Why Translation Matters

I come to Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman as an armchair translator. While I certainly appreciate and admire the work of translators, I am not a professional and perhaps for that reason I cannot see the reasoning behind so many five-star Amazon ratings for this book. That said, for those who are interested in translators and translation studies--likely a very small number who take a passionate interest in the subject without pursuing a career in the field--I myself cannot say that I was moved to rave about Why Translation Matters.
Grossman is an award-winning translator of Spanish literature into English. My own studies of literature and indeed of translation focus on French and German. I spent albeit one year of university doing nothing but translation: from English to French and vice versa, and also from English to German and vice versa. Grossman reminded me of the joyous discoveries of translation I made while in these courses.
Some of my professors were adamant in their belief that the role of the translator is not to enhance the original text, but to translate only what was put in front of you. I can agree with this statement up to a point, but such a standpoint and its limitations lends itself to the translator's downfall of literal word-for-word calquing. I always found such translation instructions terribly restricting. I much preferred to try to capture, as Grossman idealizes, the mood of the sentence, the entire atmosphere around the original language and then the experience in the language of translation.
Grossman captures the feel of Cervantes and seventeen-century Spanish in her chapter on translating Don Quixote. She approaches the novel with the question of what voice to capture it in English:
"Would I, in short, be able to write passages that would afford English-language readers access to this marvelous novel, allow them to experience the text in a way that approaches how readers in Spanish experience it now, and how readers experienced it four hundred years ago?"
I myself wonder how translators of older English works translate them into the second language. How does one translate the works of Shakespeare into French? Should the translator use the French of the late sixteenth century? Or modern French? Grossman had to face this dilemma and after a consultation with Spanish writer Julián Ríos, she realizes:
"All I had to do, according to Julián, was translate Cervantes the way I translated everyone else, meaning the contemporary authors whose works--Ríos's included--I had brought over into English."
As an amateur translator I am awed by those who translate poetry well, and am practically on the floor if the translator has managed to make the translation rhyme. Grossman is well versed in poetic structures and foreign traditions and possesses intimate analytical detail in her knowledge. Her points on syllables and meter were the most interesting. Since English has by far more monosyllabic words than Spanish, she has had sometimes to flesh out her English translations with words to maintain the rhythm while not detracting from the original poem. Grossman explains with care when she added filler, or rhythm words to her translated poems.
Grossman often bemoans the current state of affairs in regards to the dearth of English translations of novels in the United States and United Kingdom. I must distance myself from this statement because as a library worker I see plenty of them in the fiction collection, and since I do have a background in European literature (reading not only French and German, but also Finnish, Romansch and easy-level Breton) I am always on the lookout for English fiction translations from any language. I in fact actively pursue translations in the catalogue, by using the appropriate search terms. Grossman avoids putting on a woe-is-me attitude in expressing, several times in her brief 138-page work, incredulous shock and dismay that book reviewers rarely mention the names of the translators whose work made the books accessible to them in the first place. She will be happy to know that I always credit the translator in any of my book reviews.

While I am certain that I would have sat spellbound as I listened to one of literature's premiere translators such as Grossman present the lectures she shares in Why Translation Matters, I unfortunately found most of the text to be a slow read. When Grossman conveys emotion in her translation analysis, the read flows like a successful translation. I am sorry not to give Why Translation Matters a favourable review, but I will definitely seek out Grossman's translated works of Spanish classics.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton

As Billy Tipton was dying he forbade his son to call an ambulance. He did anyway. As Billy lay on the floor, paramedics attempted to revive him. "Son, did your father have a sex change?" a medic asked. Billy Tipton had taken his secret to his death: that he was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton, and had lived for over fifty years as a man. Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton by Diane Wood Middlebrook tells his story. What would possess a woman barely into her twenties to masquerade as a man for the rest of her life? And even more incredulous, how could she deceive everyone, including five wives?

I had first heard about Billy Tipton after his death, when he had become the talk show topic du jour. Friends and relatives, among them any of his five ex-wives, went on the record to say that they had no idea that Tipton was a biological woman. Dorothy Tipton grew up in Oklahoma City in a musical family and mastered several instruments. Her passion was jazz and she hoped to become a professional pianist and sax player, but in the 1930's, women weren't members of bands. The only women one saw in bands were singers. Dorothy had a solution to this blatant sex discrimination: if she couldn't beat 'em, she'd join 'em. She adopted the name Billy, naming herself after her father and brother, and from 1935 to her death in 1989, became both professionally and privately Mr. Billy Lee Tipton.

Her secret was known however among family members, some of whom disowned her. Two of Dorothy's cousins, Eilene and Madeline, were in on the masquerade from day one:

"'And Dorothy really tried to find work. She went looking for a job and just couldn't find one.'
"She couldn't find one, but the cousins were there the day Dorothy finally figured out what to do about that. 'Some way or another Dorothy heard about a band that needed a saxophone player,' Eilene recalled. 'Back in those days you know they didn't have girls traveling with bands--it was just frowned on. Anyway, she wasn't helpless and appealing-looking like you'd expect a woman to be. So she said, "Well, if I can't go as a woman, maybe they'll take me as a young man!" She took a piece of old worn-out sheet and wrapped it around her chest and pinned it real tight. I never will forget the big safety pin we used in it! Some way she had picked up some clothes. Dressed as a boy, she got this job and left with the band.' Madeline added, 'That's what I admired and loved about Dorothy--she was so innovative! She didn't cry or go around asking for help, she took responsibility for herself, and here she was, just a kid. She chose it out of absolute necessity."

The disguise worked, and the new Billy Tipton became famous touring the American northwest and western Canada with jazz bands and later as the leader of his own trio or quartet. But the questions only multiply: how did Dorothy fool so many people? And five wives? The answer is so complex that one can't give a few sentences and explain it all. The piano- and saxophone-playing of Billy Tipton was legendary, and musicians were in awe of him. His skills on the piano and saxophone brought him the respect and admiration of his bandmates, and although there were rumours about Billy's sexual orientation based on his obviously feminine external appearance, these rumours were immediately put to rest. How disrespectful to talk of our Billy that way! Shame on you if you thought it made any difference. In the jazz world of the 1930's and 40's, if you played as well as Billy did, it didn't matter what you looked like--as long as you were a man. Billy Tipton was a leader both onstage and off, and ingratiated himself with his fellow musicians by always looking out for his fellow band members and lending them money if they needed it. Thus Billy was seen as a caring and generous man who would stick his neck out for you, and you'd be a fool if you persisted in teasing him.

In order to be more convincing in her masculine persona, Billy had to be seen with a female admirer. It solved the problem of dealing with crazy women fans at concerts, for if he had a steady girlfriend or wife on his arm, women fans would be less likely to want to rip his clothes off, exposing her secret. It also killed any rumours about his sexual orientation that were always swirling wherever he travelled. As Billy evolved from a small-town pianist to national jazz bandleader, his choice in women evolved as well. From his first wife, a mannish cross-dressing lesbian to his second (a pixyish singer) to his third (a voluptuous Rita Hayworth lookalike) to his fourth (a call girl) to his fifth (a burlesque artist and stripper), Billy's women became more stereotypically exaggerated as feminine. The more famous he got and the greater exposure he received, the more womanly his wives had to be.

These women accepted Billy's excuses for his disguise. He told them he had to constantly wear tight binding around his chest in order to keep his ribs in place following an accident. I can see the plausibility of this excuse: after Andy Warhol was shot and nearly killed, he had to wear a girdle around his torso for the rest of his life. Billy also claimed that a car accident rendered him sterile: that explained to them in advance why he could never father children. In interviews Middlebrook conducted with his ex-wives, they claimed that they engaged in sexual intercourse with Billy, yet over the duration of a conjugal relationship, wouldn't a wife ever want to see her husband nude? Even if he had to leave his chest binding on? One of Billy's wives claims to have felt his erection through his pants, but this could have been a prosthesis, and he could have used a dildo for intercourse. But still, sterile or not, is it not normal for a married woman to be curious about her husband's nude body? These are questions Middlebrook raises, yet the wives are evasive. They feel that the author's questions are too personal and prying, or they claim that the love and affection they received was all that they wanted, and they were not concerned with the physical side of sex. I can read D-E-N-I-A-L between the lines, and the wives are not being entirely open and honest with Middlebrook.

This reaction leads Middlebrook to wonder if any of Billy's wives were themselves closeted lesbians. In mid twentieth-century America it was common for lesbians in relationships to comprise a "femme" and a "butch". Were Betty, the Rita Hayworth lookalike, Maryann, the call girl, and Kitty, the stripper, all femmes to Billy's butch?

Middlebrook devotes some space to explaining the different clinical classifications of hermaphroditism, in order to disprove the doubts of skeptical readers. It is unfathomable for any of us to understand the extent to which Dorothy had to disguise herself in order to pass as Billy. As he gained fame, his tangled web grew larger and grew more barbs, ready to snare him at any moment. As her cousin Eilene explains:

"Mother always thought she should change back as soon as she got a job and could change back. But I think she was talented and good-looking and had a great personality, and once the ball started rolling, I don't think there was any turning back for her."

Billy was born female; she was not a hermaphrodite or anywhere on the spectrum of intersexual. As a woman, she menstruated, yet explained the blood stains in her underwear as caused by hemorrhoids, an unfortunate side effect of having to sit long hours behind the wheel travelling from gig to gig, and also from sitting while playing the piano. Upon one wife's shocking discovery while packing supplies for their life on the road:

"Betty remembered that the first thing into the trunk was Billy's collection of jazz records, which were nested in a big cardboard box and surrounded by boxes of dishes, pots and pans, extra bedding, first aid supplies, spare cans of motor oil, and a big box of sanitary pads--useful for filtering oil, Billy said."

When Billy retired from touring and accepted a job in an entertainment booking agency, he realized that setting down roots was detrimental to maintaining his secret. Whenever rumours about his true identity started to spread during his life on the road, it was only a matter of time before he and his band would be off again. Settling down was a risk, so late in life he and his fifth wife decided to start their own family. Billy and Kitty adopted three boys, and created an instant traditional nuclear family: a perfect solution to anyone who doubted Billy's manliness or virility.

Suits Me became most interesting as Middlebrook told of Billy's final years. Billy's two cousins, who had been in on his cross-dressing secret from the very beginning, were not afraid to ask him questions that anyone would have had. Billy was always welcome at the homes of his cousins Eilene and Madeline, whose own families looked to Billy as the coolest aunt/uncle who lived--and was still living--an incredibly fascinating double life. They had heart-to-heart talks:

"But Billy told Madeline that she was content. 'She was determined to be happy. That was the night she told me, "Some people might think I'm a freak or a hermaphrodite. I'm not. I'm a normal person. This has been my choice."'
"Yet Billy wanted to keep the secret from her boys. On that visit, Billy asked Madeline to promise that if she got sick, Madeline would come and get her, take her away from Spokane to die. 'Then, after I die, you have my body cremated so I'll just disappear.' And Madeline agreed that she would."


"You don't know what fear she lived under that she'd be found out."

The tangled web would not release Dorothy from Billy's persona. However in her final years, as her ulcers and emphysema worsened, Billy made the following admission to Eilene:

"But at the motel, when we had a chance to talk, I asked her if she was ever going to change back. William [Billy's youngest son] was still at home, and she said when she got him grown she was going to disappear and change back."

Billy never had the chance. He died with his secret intact. Middlebrook has written a scholarly biography of the double life of Billy Tipton, and Suits Me is intelligent and honours the woman who gave up her female identity in order to play the music she loved.

Billy's second album was Billy Tipton Plays Hi Fi on Piano. A collector's item now, I picked it up for a dollar at a charity store:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Library At Night by Alberto Manguel

Alfred A. Knopf, 2006

"Solid libraries of wood and paper, or libraries of ghostly flickering screens, stand as proof of our resilient belief in a timeless, far-reaching order that we dimly intuit or perceive."

This book is about libraries, but it is much more than a "natural history."  Manguel writes about the history of libraries, but also what they mean for us and our civilization.  The book uses the design and construction of Manguel's own personal library as a framing device, from which he launches off on a magical exploration of what libraries mean to him, and perhaps to all of us. 

He discusses how books are organized on shelves (the Mississauga Library System uses the popular Dewey Decimal System to organize its collections).  But chance also breaks books out of a structured system and gives them new collected meaning - books left on a bedside table or in a pile have their own unintended relationships.  Libraries are also very much about their external and internal space - the overall design and shape of the building, the available space to place books inside, and use of the space for other activities.  Libraries empower their community through knowledge, and can be a repository of collected wisdom and identity.  What is chosen to go into a library collection also by extension defines what is absent by exclusion or removal.

There is even a chapter on imaginary books and libraries, including H.P. Lovecraft's "Necronomicon" and other forbidden tomes of the Cthulhu mythos.  I feel though, that two important mythical libraries are conspicuously absent in this discussion - the great library of Celeano (a Lovecraftian library that happens to reside in outer space), and the library of the Dreaming (from Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics), containing every book ever written, and every book ever imagined or dreamed of, even if they were never actually written down.  That library has many holdings from this imaginary novelist! 

The title of the book refers to an idea expressed by the author that during the day, the books in his library retain their rational order, but at night, they become more furtive.  "Unobserved in the late hours, my eyes and hands roam recklessly across the tidy rows, restoring chaos. One book calls to another unexpectedly, creating alliances across different cultures and centuries. A half-remembered line is echoed by another for reasons which, in the light of day, remain unclear…the library at night seems to rejoice in the world's essential, joyful muddle."

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you enjoy libraries?
  2. Do you have a library at home, or elsewhere?
  3. What are the essential characteristics of a good public library in your opinion?
  4. What is your favourite library building that you have visited?
  5. If you could design your own library space (at home or elsewhere), what would it look like, and what would be in its collection?
  6. What role do libraries play in society?
  7. Manguel discusses the library's place in history, culture and world events. How did you feel about reading these sections? Would you champion libraries as he does?
  8. Think of books you have seen on a display shelf in a library or book store.  Did you notice any unintended relations between the titles displayed?
  9. How do you think the internet age has affected our pursuit, access, and organization of knowledge?
  10. "It is likely that libraries will carry on and survive, as long as we persist in lending words to the world that surrounds us, and storing them for future readers."  How do you feel about libraries and their survival?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Role Models

Role Models is John Waters's tribute to those who have influenced him throughout his life. I had already read two of his earlier books, Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters and Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste, so I knew what I was in for: I was ready to laugh myself silly.

Waters describes himself as "a cult filmmaker whose core audience, no matter how much I've crossed over, consists of minorities who can't even fit in with their own minorities.". One can see how the people who have influenced him the most fit in with this self-assessment.

The first major influence on John as a little boy was "Clarabell, the psychotic clown on The Howdy Doody Show, whose makeup later inspired Divine's, had been my role model.". One can't miss the similarities when comparing the two:

The chapter entitled Leslie is perhaps the most serious piece of work Waters has ever written. In it, he talks about his twenty-five-year friendship with Leslie Van Houten, the member of the Manson family who was sentenced to death for her role in the LaBianca murders in 1969. Waters makes a very convincing case for the parole of Van Houten, who has been incarcerated for over forty years. He also apologizes for exploiting the Manson family murders in his early film career:

"I am guilty, too. Guilty of using the Manson murders in a jokey, smart-ass way in my earlier films without the slightest feeling for the victims' families or the lives of the brainwashed Manson killer kids who were also victims in this sad and terrible case."

This was quite a revelation from Waters: that of guilt. Waters has visited Van Houten on a regular basis at the California Institute for Women and is convinced that Van Houten has been mentally rehabilitated for decades and is in no danger of reoffending. The most surprising thing of all is Van Houten's sense of inner peace in all this. She seems resigned to live her life to the fullest, even though she may never be granted parole. I never thought I'd ever say this, but Van Houten's lawyers should have John Waters testify in her behalf at her next parole hearing. Waters never sweeps the LaBianca murders under the rug, and often identifies with their orphaned children, and how they must feel if they were to see their parents' murderer released. Nevertheless, it is a very convincing case to parole Van Houten, and made me review my own opinions on the matter.

Waters also talks about personalities from his hometown of Baltimore. One of them was the stripper known as Lady Zorro, whom he describes as "[having] a real rage she brought to the stage, which added a demented hostile sex appeal. An angry stripper with a history of physical and sexual abuse with a great body and the face of a man. Now there's a lethal combination...Zorro was so butch, so scary, so Johnny Cash. No actual stripping for her at that point [at the end of her burlesque career]; she just came out nude and snarled at her fans, 'What the fuck are you looking at?'".

Waters fondly remembers a Baltimore bar owner named Esther Martin: "the real reason I loved Esther right from the beginning was her mouth. No one in the world cussed more! She gave the phrase 'cursing a blue streak' a refinement that seemed almost noble. 'That motherfucking cocksucking son of a bitch' was used as a prefix to almost every name she uttered...Just a mention of Esther's foul language makes each sibling go into hilarious imitations of their mother's tirades. 'As my dear sainted mother would say'--Dick laughs and then mimics Esther's voice--'You're as worthless as a cunt full of cold piss.' 'Shit and fall back in it!'". I tell you, reading Waters's reminiscences about Lady Zorro and Esther had me laughing so hard during my work lunch breaks I could barely eat anything at all.

In the chapter entitled Bookworm, Waters writes about five of his favourite fiction authors. After I read this chapter I researched these authors and looked for their books and criticisms. Waters writes about one of his favourites:

"Try reading any novel by [Ivy] Compton-Burnett. She was English, looked exactly like the illustration on the Old Maid card, never had sex even once, and wrote twenty dark, hilarious, evil little novels between the years 1911 and 1969."
The chapter on art, entitled Roommates, was surprisingly boring. It would not have been so tedious to plow through if only Waters had included some photos of the works he was describing. There is nothing more boring to read than pages and pages of descriptions of paintings. Waters did make me laugh at this remark:

"I knew about Richard Tuttle's minimalist troublemaking and respected his early hostile establishment reviews, such as 'Less has never been less than this.' His bare plywood slat pieces nailed flat to the wall with just one thin side of the depth of the wood painted white were so beautiful, so simple, so plain, that I felt exhausted just imagining how complete the artist must have felt when he decided the work was finished."

In the final chapter, Waters tells of his childhood education at Catholic schools. I again felt like laughing so hard I could barely chew:

"I hated my Catholic high school, so I certainly never went back to a reunion, although I did get to comment to The Baltimore Sun, on the school's fifty-year anniversary, that the Christian Brothers and lay faculty there had 'discouraged every interest I ever had.' A friend who attended the reunion that year said he heard me called 'faggot' and 'pornographer' by some of my pissed-off fellow classmates who had read my criticism, but I didn't mind. The only reason to attend any school reunion is to see how the people whom you had wanted to have sex with then look today. And I had already looked up those people's addresses and driven by their homes to stalk them years before."

And when talking about those wacky saints he learned about at school:

"Of course, there are some saints we do take very seriously. Saint Catherine of Siena is without a doubt the most insane of these and we have no choice but to honor her daily. Reading Holy Anorexia by Rudolph M. Bell, the best encyclopedia of deranged saints ever written, we learn that in Catherine's time (the 1300s) she was known as 'a person of considerable reputation for outstanding holiness'--in other words, nuts! At the peak of her career she 'urged the holy hatred of oneself' and advised others to 'build a cell in your mind that you can never escape.' She was a 'bottom' for God."

and I am still laughing over the poor girl who could never succeed here:

"Catherine organized a group of fellow child masochists who flagellated themselves daily. Well, I can understand that, too. I had a Horror House in our garage and I'd charge the neighborhood kids twenty-five cents to enter. After they gave me the money, I'd tell them to wait, and I'd go inside and then yell, "Okay, come in!" The little ticket buyers would grope their way into the darkness and I would squirt them with a fire extinguisher (my dad's company sold them) and then kick them in the leg. They loved it. They even came back for more. I also used to play 'school' as a kid with the little girl who lived next door, and I was always the teacher and she was always the student. Every time we played I failed her, yet she still eagerly agreed to play every time I asked, fully knowing the results."

Role Models is John Waters's most serious written work. Without his name on the cover, one would never believe that the chapters on Leslie Van Houten, art, Johnny Mathis or Little Richard was written by him. If you love Waters's humour, and need a laugh like the original "Hairspray" on the printed page, this book does not disappoint.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Tunguska Fireball: Solving One of the Great Mysteries of the 20th Century

"At 7.14 a.m. on 30 June 1908 a huge fireball exploded in the Siberian sky. A thousand times the force of the Hiroshima bomb, it flattened an area of remote Tunguska forest bigger than Greater London, forming a mushroom cloud that almost reached into space. Six hundred kilometres away, the Trans-Siberian Express rattled wildly on its newly built tracks. Tremors registered in distant St. Petersburg, and the unusually bright night skies seen across England over the next few nights prompted letters to The Times."

So writes Surendra Verma in the introduction to The Tunguska Fireball: Solving One of the Great Mysteries of the 20th Century. I first learned of the Tunguska explosion in a TV program many years ago and have found it fascinating to research.

This book analyzes possible causes for the explosion, and includes photos taken of the vast destruction, including the odd occurrence of both flattened forests as well as forests of tree trunks standing as bare as telephone poles. Something catastrophic happened in Siberia, yet over a century later, we still don't know what burned through the morning sky.

The two main theories are that a comet disintegrated in the atmosphere or an asteroid exploded about eight kilometres above the Earth. No impact crater has been found so there is a lack of terrestrial physical evidence. The author spends a good portion analyzing these theories and the scientific talk gets quite techy and over-my-head at times. The tech talk is countered by the oddball theories that always abound whenever a scientific mystery remains unsolved; one chapter is entitled "Opening the X-Files" wherein Verma devotes a fair share to crazy talk about exploding alien spaceships, Tesla's death ray and aliens beaming lasers at us.

Verma bored me with his scientific talk, but I suppose such talk is necessary in order to explain the physics behind certain theories. I read and reread these passages in an attempt to understand them, yet since I do not have a background in astronomy or physics in many cases I just had to read what he wrote, accept it, and move on. Verma's mock trial in the final "Whodunit?" chapter, where he weighs all the theories with witty lawyerly defences, was just plain annoying.

I liked the bibliography and sources for further reading, and will be sure to check out the scientific and academic web sites on the Tunguska explosion.

Monday, December 3, 2012

28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope

In the summer of 2009 Michael Bryant, the former attorney general of Ontario, was driving along a major downtown Toronto street when he and his wife were confronted by an intoxicated and mentally unstable cyclist. The cyclist, Darcy Sheppard, a bike courier who rarely greeted a new day without a hangover or a glazed look of being stoned, found it perversely amusing to harass motorists. The confrontation between Sheppard and Bryant was brief--only 28 seconds--but by the end of this encounter Sheppard was dead and Bryant was in the back of a police car, handcuffed and a national news story the next day. 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope is Bryant's account of those 28 seconds, and the aftermath.
The library however classifies this book as a biography, so when I saw the special biography sticker on the spine I knew that the story would not start (barring a brief prologue) with the night of the fatal encounter. Of the book's 337 pages, Bryant doesn't discuss the encounter with Sheppard (euphemistically referred to as "the 28 seconds") until page 121. 28 Seconds starts with Bryant's early years growing up out west, then his legal education in Toronto. As Bryant was moving up in legal circles he relished media attention and loved being the centre of boisterous scrums:
"Pit bulls were inherently dangerous dogs, I believed. Let's actually try to eliminate the problem, not appease a host of voices. The issue came to dominate the media coverage of the government. It didn't matter what we did. Three syllables--Pit! Bulls! Banned!--were the story. I was getting a lot of ink, and loving it."
Bryant was a media whore, no question about it. He loved when his name and picture appeared in the paper, and his young children idolized him when they saw their super daddy on the news. While he was moving up in the provincial government he was also submerging himself deeper and deeper into the bottle. The subtitle of this book refers to addiction: his own alcoholism as well as Sheppard's wasted lifetime on drugs. I found it incredulous that Bryant could have functioned as an MPP as well as attorney general while being so often off the wagon. His colleagues however would subtly inform him that his drunkenness on the job was starting to show. Bryant writes of his addiction recovery program (likely Alcoholics Anonymous yet he never refers to it by that name) and sobriety, which, as all recovering alcoholics attest is a constant, daily battle.
At first Bryant was crucified by the media, the public and especially by the cycling community. He was immediately charged and jailed, and upon first glance it looked as though this was a case of the rich and powerful literally running over the poor and marginalized. He was tried by public opinion and found guilty of murder by road rage. Every left-wing space case, especially those who would eventually bring ridicule upon themselves as part of the comical Occupy movement a couple years later, was ready with tar and feathers to send Bryant clucking.
28 Seconds outlines Bryant's defence in second-by-second detail. Bryant, who by now was several years sober and thus not driving drunk, was unfortunately only in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is all he is guilty of. Sheppard, who had a history of harassing drivers along the same stretches of downtown streets, blocking traffic and confronting individual cars, risked his life every time he grabbed onto the driver's side window and tried to scramble inside. What driver would sit there and let it all happen? Bryant and his wife were terrified and acted as any reasonable people would: they wanted to get the Hell out of there as fast as possible.
All of the evidence (eyewitness testimony, forensics and plenty of video evidence from the ritzy stores lining Bloor Street) shows that none of Bryant's alleged road-rage brutality ever happened. One is so quick to pounce on Michael Bryant because he is so convenient an easy target. Bryant is a heroic figure who deserves praise for his brutally honest encounter with a madman.
In writing this account of the 28 seconds that would change his life forever, Bryant makes it painfully obvious that he is falling over backwards to try to understand the man who died. He talks about his own drunken state of mind and sees where he himself once was, and can at times even put himself in Sheppard's place. For this Bryant is a better man than I am. His sympathetic approach to understanding Darcy Sheppard is one I do not share. I see a drug addict who got his kicks by playing with fire--and finally got burned. That I myself am a careful cyclist who obeys the laws makes Sheppard's behaviour all the more abhorrent. I have no respect for him.
Bryant was wholly exonerated of all charges nine months after the 28 seconds. That he was the former attorney general of Ontario gave him no preferential treatment, not that he should have received any. In fact, Bryant himself knew the legal process and what steps were likely to occur next. He also understood that as former attorney general, the legal process would have to be raised to the highest level of transparency to show that it was not doing him any favours. Bryant knew over the course of the nine months between charges and exoneration that any other person involved in the exact same situation would not have been jailed and charged so quickly.
Since Toronto is the location for the 28 seconds I knew exactly what places he was talking about and what roads he followed as he recounted the run-in with Sheppard. I even knew the ice cream store he visits because it's a local landmark, where I myself have been many times. So I have a warm spot for all the Toronto details he fondly shares. His remark about Toronto streetcars, however, is not my own experience:
"Compared to other world-class cities, the transit in Toronto at times can be embarrassing. The 'streetcars' look like museum pieces: old--really old--beasts of metal that rumble along tracks laid out on certain main thoroughfares, like the one near our house."
Is he talking about Toronto's old PCC streetcars? They're rickety. The modern ones--though thirty years old now--hardly fit his description.