When I was young, I went to Rome. On the last night of the trip, with an early departure the next morning, my friends and I thought it would be an excellent idea to buy a few bottles of wine and drink them outside the Colosseum.

Is there any smell better than the fragrance of a brand new car? It is seductive, on par with the most fragrant rose or the sweetest ice wine; it is the exhilarating aroma of a new beginning.

FROM THE ARCHIVE: One day I was grocery shopping with a friend when I picked up a bottle of corn syrup. “Don’t buy that!” she said. “It’s poison!” I know my friend meant well. She was attempting to save me from one of society’s greatest evils, a scourge apparently unmatched since the advent of the smallpox vaccine—high-fructose corn syrup.

In a calm, fluid movement, Riley Starks scoops up a Rhode Island Red chicken, holds it between his legs, and, almost imperceptibly, ends the bird’s life. Moments later, he hands a bird and a knife to me and says, “Your turn.”

It is midday in Marrakesh and the souk is bustling. I have paused to examine a store window when somebody says, “Congratulations, my friend. You have chosen the most beautiful rug in all of Marrakesh.” I turn to face a man in a saffron-coloured djellaba.

Lately I’ve been listening to “Virginia Plain”, the great 1972 debut single by Roxy Music. “But wait,” Bryan Ferry sings just before the song’s abrupt ending, “can’t you see that horse so lame? What’s her name? Virginia Plain.” It’s a good name for a racehorse. Ferry must have bet money on it, and then down the stretch it came up lame. A sad and poignant ending to a song about living that jet-set life. Except I got it wrong, apparently.

Have you ever read Snow Man by David Albahari? It’s really good. “Provocative insights abound,” The Georgia Straight raved. How about Matthew Kneale’s When We Were Romans? Terrific. “Intense … perfect voice,” said The Globe and Mail. Well, I said those things, and a lot more besides. For 10 years, I reviewed fiction and non-fiction here, there, and everywhere.

When the Winter Olympics climaxed earlier this year with the storybook gold-medal win of the Canadian men’s hockey team and the streets of Vancouver (my hometown) exploded with exhilaration.

Step out of a warm, muggy night into an air-conditioned little bungalow on a quiet side street. Inside is a holding area with a waist-high partition and behind it, a curved bench along the wall. Five young Thai women, wearing numbers for easy ordering, lean forward and smile.