OPENING NOTES

January 29 1996

OPENING NOTES

January 29 1996

OPENING NOTES

Speak to a Canadian doing business in Cuba and the “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” of the Havana rumor mill begins. The main subject: the construction work under way at the former U.S. Embassy in Havana, abandoned by the Americans in 1961 after Washington broke off relations with the Communist state. According to one Canadian, who met contractors from California in a local bar: “The windows went in a few weeks ago.” Could a Washington ambassador be far behind? The official answer may disappoint those attempting to read a softening of U.S. policy on Cuba. A spokesman for what is now the United States Interests Section of the

Swiss Embassy, says the 1950s structure merely needs to be renovated, battered as it was by storms and sea air near the Havana boardwalk. “It does not have any bearing whatsoever on the state of relations between the United States and Cuba,” says the official, one in a line of Americans who have been permitted to work on the premises since 1977. The U.S. Congress approved funds in 1991 for the renovation: first a fence around the compound, then the removal of asbestos, and now wiring, plumbing and air conditioning. As for reports that a network of bugs and other surveillance devices had to be removed along with the asbestos: no comment.

‘Enhancing’ hockey the high-tech way

Hard-core fans watched with emotions ranging from bemusement to horror last week when Fox Broadcasting Co. unveiled its latest gimmick to sell hockey in the United States. The Los Angeles-based network introduced a doctored puck that, on Fox broadcasts, appears to be surrounded by a translucent blue halo. When players shot the puck faster than 120 km/h, it was illuminated by a red comet tail. And because the special pucks are brimming with diodes, transistors and infrared emitters, Fox was able to provide instant calculations of exactly how fast they travelled. The development seems fitting, coming from a network that last season “enhanced” NHL broadcasts with cartoon robots. But the league says the multicolored puck is no joke: its surveys indicate that more U.S. viewers would watch hockey if the puck were easier to follow. Says Steve Solomon, the NHL’s chief operating officer: ‘We think this is acceptable experimentation.” And the experiment may not

be confined to the United States. John Shannon, executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada, says that he can foresee the technology being used on Canadian broadcasts in some form. “It’s not perfect,” Shannon says, “but it has loads of potential.” What’s next? How about a Canadian invention: special timelapse photography that actually speeds up baseball games?

Westray on stage

As miners directly involved in the 1992 Westray mining disaster took the stand at the provincial hearing into the matter last week, other Nova Scotians were also preparing to tell their version. On Jan. 23, the theatre troupe Two Planks and a Passion, based in Canning, in the Annapolis Valley, goes into rehearsal for the national tour of Westray: The Long Way Home. The play, based on the 1994 book Calculated Risk: Greed, Politics, and the Tragedy of Westray by Halifax newspaper reporter Dean Jobb, was written by the troupe’s artistic directors, husband-and-wife team Ken Schwartz and Chris O’Neill. They focused on how five fictional characters cope with the reallife tragedy that killed 26 people. Actor Josh MacDonald, who plays a rescue worker named David, says it is an approach that helps to make the story more universal. Says MacDonald: “This country is made of many communities, and in sharing our story we recognize how similar the challenges we all face are.”

The show is scheduled to open on Feb. 15 in Wolfville, N.S., the first of 27 stops in communities as far-flung as Tumbler Ridge, B.C., and Labrador City, Nfld. It was first staged last spring when it toured Nova Scotia for two months. That was when it came to the attention of the Toronto-based United Steelworkers of America, whose national office has donated $8,000 towards the tour, while locals have sponsored 11 individual performances. “Even though it is about people and not politics,” says O’Neill, “corporations have been very nervous about supporting the show.”

Picking tenants for their diet

With a vacancy rate of less than one per cent, Vancouver landlords can take their pick of prospective tenants. Many classified ads make the regular stipulations—no pets, no smokers. But others go much further. In her recent ad for a one-bedroom basement apartment in her twostorey home, vegetarian Diane RaeWazny noted {■ that meat eaters need not apply. She says she does not like the aroma of cooking meat wafting through the house. “It makes sense to look for someone who is a vegetarian because

the heating and air circulation is shared.” she says. “It is a compatibility issue too—you want someone with the same lifestyle.” Which raises the question: are landlords declaring meat-free zones stepping over the line? According to the B.C. ministry of housing, it is illegal to discriminate against prospective tenants. Still, a ministry spokesman notes that that does not apply if the owner also shares the building. But with many desperate would-be tenants, the legalities are a moot point RaeWazny says that some would-be renters—attracted by the trendy west-side Kitsilano address and relatively reasonable rent of $580 a month—have even offered to become vegetarians. “But” she says, “I tell them it’s not that easy to change your whole way of life just for an apartment” A meaty issue indeed.

The radio comeback of Kim Campbell

Since leading the federal Tories to a historic trouncing at the polls in 1993, former prime minister Kim Campbell has dabbled at university lecturing and media commentary, but has kept largely out of the spotlight. That should change in April when Doubleday Canada publishes her autobiography, Time and Chance. And Campbell, 48, who never much masked her disdain for journalists, will soon try her hand at another public venture: as a radio host and interviewer for the British Broadcasting Corp. In May, BBC’s Radio Four will air a three-part series called Diverging Dominions, looking at changes in the former British colonies of Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Campbell’s interviews and research will take her coast to coast, talking to Asian-Canadians in Vancouver and die-hard monarchists in St. John’s. She has also put in a re-

quest for an interview with Jean Chrétien, but the politician who now holds the Prime Minister’s Office at her expense has yet to agree. Series producer Rosie Goldsmith says she has enjoyed working with Campbell. “She’s incredibly difficult to get a hold of, but ^ she’s great when you get I her,” adds Goldsmith, who u suggests that Campbell is I “trying to reform her life I and make a bit of a come~ back.” Goldsmith hopes to £ sell the shows to Canadian radio as well, with the hook that each of the segments will be hosted by a former prime minister of the country—no minimum term in office required.

Edited by BARBARA WICKENS