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Entries in large things (19)


Maracaña: O jogo bonito

Maracaña, 1950. Reinforced concrete stadium built for the 1950 World Cup, Rio de Janeiro.

In his 2004 book, Stades du Monde: sport & architecture, Angelo Spampinato listed the Maracaña stadium in Rio de Janeiro as one of the legendary temples of football. Built between 1948 and 1950 for the 1950 World Cup, it was deliberately designed to be the largest stadium in the world, seating 183,000 with standing room for 220,000.  The World Cup that year opened with Brazil-Mexico (4-0) and ended calamitously with Uruguay-Brazil (2-1).  

For 2014 the bottom tier was rebuilt, a new roof added and seating has been reduced to 79,000 with the loss of the Geral, the standing terraces. This took $735 million of Brazilian public money and then the running of the Maracaña was effectively privatised, turned over to AEG, owners of LA Galaxy and the O2 arena in London, on a 35-year contract.  A bit of controversy there.  An adjacent indigenous museum and a school were demolished.

The Maracaña is heroic in volume and history: Pele's first and thousandth career goals, thousands of match upsets, despair, elation, rock concerts, two masses by Pope John Paul.  Its original engineer was Paulo Phiheiro Guedes, working with a team of architects.  Evidently, as stadia go, it is very flat, just five storeys from pitch to the top of the top ring.  Most of the renovations are hidden: new media centre, locker rooms, auditorium, boxes. There are 1000 new parking spaces under the stadium, another 13,000 spread about the neighbourhood. Visible are new seats and the extended roof which now covers all the seats and is fitted with photovoltaic panels.  

Estadio Maracaña, opening after three years of renovations, April 2013Estadio Maracaña is one of twelve FIFA World Cup stadia, but of course its expansion is also part of the preparation for the 2016 Olympics. The World Cup is the preliminary scrubbing of Rio, which will continue for the next two years.  China was able to remove great chunks of old housing and historic infrastructure as it gives itself licence to do so.  Brazil is doing the same, without the licence.  The people are becoming obstructive, there will be delays. 


on food and survival

Apartheid-era prison diets on Robben Island

Watching the archival photos of the sharecroppers and tenant farmers of Gee's Bend during the 1930s it is obvious how thin they were.  And when Mandela was released, he too was terribly thin, and stayed so.  What did they all eat?
There are many images available of this typed-up sheet of the specifications for 'Coloured/Asiatic' and 'Bantu' food allowances posted in the museum that is now the Robben Island Gaol. Clearly everyone takes a photo of it in shock. None of these racialised words exist anymore, but the intent is clear.  

I calculate that Mandela existed on 700 calories a day and Ahmed Kathrada on perhaps 750 calories a day for 27 years.  These are generous calculations, not taking into account the quality of the food.  Neville Alexander was released in 1974 after ten years on Robben Island and wrote a dossier on conditions there, Robben Island Prison Dossier 1964-1974 published in 1994.  The food conditions are in Addendum Seven, p137.  How did they survive on a diet so nutritionally bereft of value?  Evidently the metabolism slows, organs shrink, many die.  

For Alabama, I quote Harvey Levenstein writing about Depression conditions in Paradox of Plenty, part 12, 2003:   'In Alabama sharecroppers scrape by on their historic diet of the three M's: meat (fat salt pork), corn meal, and molasses.  Shrivelled gardens stop producing green vegetables and fruit is but a memory.  When rations run out before Saturday payday, people simply go without eating.'

Those shrivelled gardens had been root crops and greens: the slave tradition had been leftover plant material – turnip and beet tops, dandelions and collards, discarded cuts of meat, plus, if allowed, foraged food, none of which was available to the South African prisoners. 

The monotony of the food on Robben Island must have been appalling, as were the three M's.  Would this mean one never cared much about food again, or would it mean that with prosperity one ate all that one could?  It could go both ways.


Nelson Mandela

18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013: a twentieth century life, in all its cruel outlines, and where this turned out to be training for political grace.  

1966: Mandela sits and sews inmates' clothes in the yard of Robben Island prison


Vija Celmins: drawing, 1982

Vija Celmins. Drawing, Saturn. 1982. Graphite on acrylic ground on paper, 14 x 11". McKee Gallery, NY


oil: moving it

Nov. 26, 1939: Oil transported by tank cars. Though oil had been shipped in the United States since the 1860s, dozens of commodities made their way around using tank cars in the 1930s. During World War II, tank cars almost exclusively shipped oil as part of the war effort. Photo: Wood Aerial Surveys. NYTimes Archive.

It was always explained to me that the US Interstate system was primarily a Department of Defense project, meant to extend to all corners of the country with a military-specification super-highway connecting dispersed military bases, plants, installations and depots, rather than concentrating such facilities in one or two key sites in the country.  This was a response to the fear that Chicago during the Second World War constituted a key target as the nation's railways all converged there: take out the Chicago railyards and transportation would be frozen.  Chicago wasn't bombed, but the cold war and the threat of larger weapons with greater reach kept the threat alive.

Above is an image from 1939: oil transported by rail.  Oil is essential to the prosecution of war.  And as Al Gore said in an interview yesterday on CBC oil is oil, once it is on its way, as a commodity, it doesn't matter where it goes (I paraphrase).  He pointed out that when Alberta bitumen gets to the Texas coast, it will be sold on, and that is the critical factor for approval of the Keystone pipeline.  This isn't a great fit with the desire for energy security, which is how pipeline projects are sold to us – no more reliance on dodgy sources in the middle east or the Gulf of Mexico, North America can find and refine and consume its own product.  Gore was suggesting that the raw bitumen is extracted in Canada, refined in Texas and then exported, a different proposition entirely.

On the map the Keystone pipeline appears to go right down I-29 to Kansas and then I-35 to the coast.  I remember this route, there is a little jog on I-70 through Topeka to get from I-29 to I-35.  So not as straight as the proposed pipeline route.  Whatever.  Perhaps rather than going through farmers' fields and disrupting their herds, woodlots and endangered species, the pipelines should go down the already disturbed landscape that is the Inter-state highway system.  Those freeways are like culverts with huge gravel verges, surely a pipeline could fit alongside them.  We might start to think of the interstate system not as a transportation network but an industrial-military network of channels carrying vital resources for the defence of the country.  This actually seems more likely than the Interstate as a traveller's joy.


mega-quarry woes

Melancthon is 120 kms north west of Toronto. This area is classified as Class 1 agricultural land, boasting a rare and unique soil called Honeywood Silt Loam which grows a multitude of vegetables, especially potatoes, and serves as a source of local food production for the Greater Toronto Area

Melancthon Township, Ontario, potato farms.  2011 a US-backed company applied to the provincial government for a limestone quarry.  2400 acres, a billion tons of Amabel dolostone 58 metres deep.  Big protests: farmers, First Nations, ranchers, environmentalists.  Big problems with water, as 58 metres is well below the water table, water, 600 million litres a day would rush into the excavation and have to be taken away.  To where and how?

Yesterday, project abandoned.  The Globe reports that 6 years ago a purported potato farmer started to acquire land, and last year the mega-quarry was announced.  The spokesperson for Highland Companies which owns the land and will continue to farm it, said the problem is that they didn't engage the local community or explain well enough the benefits of the mega-quarry. 

This is how CAPP always puts it and why they run a massive campaign on how wonderful oil sands development is on Canadian television channels: if the public objects to any kind of resource-extraction development such as the oil sands, or in this case, a mega-quarry, it is because the public doesn't have the right information.  Then throw in how many jobs have now been lost with both the quarry and related industries and well, the public is a fool.

The Suzuki Foundation didn't think it such a good idea; they aren't exactly ignorant, and the local website the map above comes from lays out some very convincing information. And it might be that the public does have the 'right information' but doesn't like it, or believe it. Must the equation be money/jobs vs environment, even if that environment isn't wilderness but is already engaged in some other industrial capacity, such as agriculture?  

It shows what a player limestone is: roads, building, development – a mega-industry with mega-installations. 


Maracaibo: oil city

Riccardo Morandi. construction photo of bridge over Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela from - The Concrete Architecture of Riccardo Morandi by Giorgio Boaga & Benito Boni. Praeger, 1966

Maracaibo was isolated from the rest of Venezuela across a large lake and closer therefore to Colombia, until  El Puente Sobre el Lago was built by the Jiménez regime of the 1950s.  A competition had been set in 1957, and won by Riccardo Morandi, an Italian structural engineer, who designed it in concrete. It was the longest prestressed concrete bridge at the time, 8.67km.

Maracaibo is the oil city of Venezuela; the lake is attached to the Maracaibo Basin, part of the Gulf of Mexico and the site of Venezuela's oil reserves.  In 1964 part of the bridge collapsed after being hit by an Esso oil tanker. There wasn't a resultant oil spill, however there is no such thing as failsafe oil transport.

Puente Sobre el Lago de Maracaibo visto desde el paseo del Lago

The Esso Maracaoibo II, the tanker, had been the US Navy gasoline tanker, USS Narraguagas.  It had been bought by the Compania de Petroleo Lagos in 1947, so the US Navy must have been decommissioning its support fleet after WWII.  It ferried crude oil from Lake Maracaibo to a refinery at Aruba.  At the time of the accident it had 236,000 barrels of crude on board; an electrical failure occured and the tanker drifted, smashing into the bridge and a 248m section collapsed.  Seven people, in four cars, fell off the bridge and died. 

Hace 44 años el Esso Maracaibo se estrelló contra las pilas20 y 21 del coloso sobre el lago 259 metros de la estructura se desplomaron El capitán español Avelino González Zulaika no pudo controlar el barco debido a una falla eléctrica . Ocho meses y una semana se tardó la Creole Petroleum Corporation en reparar el Puente Rafael Urdaneta. Hasta 1985 el Esso Maracaibo estuvo navegando aguas venezolanas.


equinoctal weather

The aftermath of the 4 March 1910 avalanches at snow shed 14 in Rogers Pass, British Columbia. Revelstoke Museum and Archives, Photograph #268

It is curious that the days this week are the same length as they are at the end of September which, unless there was a Labour Day frost – once typical now rare, is still full of the heat of summer.  In fact September is our summer.  

On the eastern slopes of the Rockies, our highest snowfalls are in March and April, and although there are avalanches in the mountains all winter, there is a tide of them in the spring.  It has to do with warm Pacific storms on the coast which continue east precipitating heavy warm snow onto cold mountains.  The snow pack is made top-heavy and it topples.  

The CPR line was put through Roger's Pass in 1884, and remained open despite avalanches by using a system of timber snowsheds and small tunnels.  In 1910 there was a terrible avalanche disaster in the mountains when, on a very warm March 4th, a first avalanche buried the tracks and then as the work crews were digging it out a second avalanche from the opposite slope hit them, killing 62 men.  It was after this that the 5-mile long Connaught Tunnel was built, opening in 1916.  The surface rail line on that particular section was removed.

However, when the Trans-Canada Highway was put through Roger's Pass in the early 1960s, it generally followed the original CPR line, taking it through the avalanche area.  The highway is often closed; it was last week.

Can't plan anything these days, but clearly one never could.


wood matches and plastic lighters

The remains of an albatross © Photo: Chris Jordan -

Went to buy some matches yesterday, looked all over the supermarket, none to be found.  Asked, told that all 'smoking paraphernalia' was over in the gas bar.  Trudged through the slush to the gas bar, asked for a box of matches: what a strange request.  The girl had to find a ladder to get them from a locked top shelf.  I could buy two huge boxes or ten little boxes, no the packages can't be divided.  
I said, this is winter, we light candles and kindling; matches aren't smoking paraphernalia, they light fires.  Here is the answer: people use disposable lighters or, for candles, those long butane filled wands.  

Which is better for this world, a match made of wood or cardboard, or a lighter made of plastic, metal and lighter fluid?

Midway Atoll is located in the North Pacific Gyre, one of five floating continents of plastic litter and chemical and organic waste.  Midway is an albatross colony: pieces of plastic, about the size of disposable lighters evidently look similar to squid, the main component of an albatross diet.  This plastic is eaten and then regurgitated to feed albatross young.  Who die.  The corpse decays and as it was stuffed with plastic, a tidy collection of matter incapable of decay is left on the beach.  

Plastic never goes away, it just gets smaller and smaller and thus is ingested by smaller and smaller animals.  Who die.  And while we seem to be able to sample the debris in each of the oceanic gyres, there is so far no solution for its collection.

The photo above is by Chris Jordan, who has made a film about Midway.  I heard about it on Radio Netherlands' Earth Beat a few weeks ago. 


hubris titanicus

Adding the cladding. Todd Architects and Civic Arts/Eric R Kuhne, Titanic Belfast, 2011

Wreaking triumph out of disaster.  From Todd Architects' description of the Titanic museum:

Titanic Belfast, the iconic centrepiece of the Titanic Quarter regeneration – 75 acres of waterfront to the south side of the River Lagan and adjacent to Belfast city centre. Designed with leading international practice Civic Arts/ Eric R Kuhne & Associates it is a multi–functional world–class tourism and leisure attraction, housed within a dramatic sculptural form, overlooking the birthplace of the world famous ship ‘Titanic’. With financial backing from government and Belfast City Council completion is targeted for the first quarter of 2012, to coincide with the centenary of the launch.

Oh, why not.  Valourise the iceberg that knocked the Titanic to pieces. 

What sort of narrative is going on here with the architecture?  Of course an iceberg offers a more contemporary museum-buildings-as-dramatic-sculpture look than piles of rusty steel plate, but isn't the whole Titanic brand a bit tainted?  a bit emblematic of a doomed over-confidence?  The 'world famous ship Titanic' was only world famous because it sank.  Its sister ship, Olympic, ploughed the seas in dazzle paint throughout WWI, and continued as a working ocean liner until 1935, but didn't sink and isn't famous.

It has its fans though:


Hal Foster on the Shard

But what does it mean?

Hal Foster, who recently wrote The Art-Architecture Complex, talks about Renzo Piano's Shard, a blindingly tall building next to London Bridge station.  It is a post 9/11 tower, cognisant of the National Institute Standards and Technology report into the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers.

That it might be used as a wayfaring marker to orient one's way through the city is such a weak point: this is the language of marketting and branding. London is so dense and its mega-buildings with nicknames so relatively new, one wonders how anyone found their way to work over the last 500 years.



Approaching dust storm, Fort MacLeod, Alberta. 1930s. Glenbow Museum Archives NA-2928-28So, is this weather, or the result of a war with the land?  Literally tons of soil blew east from the centre of North America dropping on the east coast and the Atlantic Ocean during the 1930s: a drought combined with very poor farming practices that stripped the prairies of the indigenous grasses that held the soil and moisture in place with their roots. 

It made excellent mulch, evidently.  Of course it would; fine topsoil, perfect for planting seedlings.  The process of getting it spread all over your fields however was catastrophic.  


Jompy 2

Quite a beautiful graphic.  Makes the task clear.



James Hart Dyke. Contact, 2010For the centennial of the British Secret Service, James Hart Dyke was commissioned to shadow MI6 for a year, recording the sense of espionage work.  He is an architect by training, a painter in practice.  After years of watching Spooks in all its precise television definition, these works of Hart Dyke appear as mysterious renderings of banal streets, hotel rooms, landscapes.   The whole series can be seen on his website.

Who knows how many transactions happen on the streets we walk down every day, how many simultaneous lives are being conducted in the cities we take for granted just because we live there.  


Pearl Roundabout, Manãma, Bahrain

Pearl Square, or Pearl Roundabout, or Lulu Square. Manama, Bahrain. photo: google mapsBahrain, a Portuguese colony in the 16th century, then Persian, ruled by the Al-Khalifa family since 1783, independent only since 1971.  Oil is its industry, Manãma its capital with a population of 162,000 in the city, 345,000 in the greater area. 

Now from the google maps images it appears that there is a highway system running through what is a rather small city to equal Toronto's.  Again, as in Cairo, the main area for protest is a huge traffic island, which, when filled with people would halt road traffic at an important nexus. 

Traditional squares were walled by buildings of influence: the church, the state, the security services – the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, for example.  These were the sites of power and thus sites of protest.  These recent uprisings are located in a different political geography; traffic circles, in Manãma's case surrounded by haphazard development.

Manãma also appears to have one of those figurative coastlines that increase ocean frontage.  This isn't the Corniche of Cairo and neither is the violence.

Manama, Bahrain. Google maps


Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer. Zim Zum, 1990. oil, crayon, shellac, ashes, sand, dust and canvas on lead 3.8 x 5.6 m. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Yesterday after thinking about the large Gursky photographs and standing around in galleries looking at very large things I thought about Kiefer.  So I wrote the post below, and now find it has sucked all the light out of the day.  Too much Sturm und Drang for me.  I'd rather be looking at Ocean III.  However.

The first major Anselm Kiefer exhibition I saw was at the Saatchi Gallery in conjunction with several Richard Serra pieces – great slabs of steel balanced on their corners against the wall.  Someone had been injured in the installation.  Seeing the Kiefers was something like when an earlier generation first saw Mark Rothko's enormous, ambiguous colour fields at the Tate.  Kiefer's paintings cover whole gallery walls; one cannot get enough distance from them, one is completely humbled by them.

Much is written about the symbols and myths of German history and the Holocaust in Kiefer: Zim Zum, above, is from the Kabbalah and refers, roughly, to destruction and creative rearrangement.  And there appear to be many debates about whether a German can do anything with German myths and not be a closet Nazi.  Kiefer's work is both textual in that it insists on working with both Teutonic and Jewish history, and in its messy application of straw and mud, paint and dust, often to make great ploughed fields that appear to be totally barren, devoid of life, incapable of resurrection, work shouts out about the destruction of Germany.  It helps to know that Kiefer studied with Joseph Beuys. There is a sensuality that is not romantic in this work – perhaps it is the sensuality of melancholy and despair. 

I've never seen much renewal in Kiefer's work, although the symbols of such are supposedly all there in it.  This is one of the issues with text-based work and criticism: the work becomes the vehicle for another kind of project whereby the physical painting is cast as a cipher to a larger, off-canvas discourse which can change with political rapidity.  Meanwhile, one is left standing in front of a 3 x 5 m work which is unbearably, unrelentingly dark.  I think this has to be taken seriously as an end point: war destroys, and whatever replaces whatever is destroyed is never enough.  


Andreas Gursky

Andreas Gursky. Ocean V, 2010. 
Chromogenic Print 
366,4 x 249,4 x 6,4 cm. Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin.

Andreas Gursky is showing his series Ocean I-VI at Sprüth Magers Berlin right now.  The images are large – all around 2.5-3.5 m x 3m+, and originated in the kinds of views on flight monitors that show whatever the plane is flying over.  These are all images of the oceans, the land shows as busy little fragments around the edge: peripheral and of no great mystery compared to the seas which show as deep and silent.

Gursky apprenticed with Bernd and Hilla Becher, and something of their stillness underlies all his work.  While Ocean I-VI might look like straight satellite images, and indeed the bits of land are from satellite photos, the oceans themselves have been constructed.  There are no clouds or storms, their proportions aren't geographically correct – they take cartographic licence as all maps do.

These pieces of water all have names, but Gursky has called them simply Ocean I, Ocean II; just as land doesn't have all the political and economic markings we understand as constituting land inscribed on its surface, neither do the oceans have pink dotted lines floating on them marking 250-miles limits, or large letters floating across them saying Pacific Ocean.  Really, maps as we know them, are very crude. 

Gursky has, for many years, done large photographs of large things: immaculate and perfectly regimented crowds in North Korea, flattened screens of social housing projects, any repetitive elements that are so vast in number that they become a kind of colour field, which of course is the thing that pulls him away from the often near-identical photographs of Ed Burtynsky.  Repetition and the small shifts in detail in like objects were at the core of the Becher's work: I doubt they were wildly interested in water towers although they photographed hundreds of them. Their project was photographic, setting the camera in a precise and repetitive relationship with the subject, removing all the seductive elements the camera so easily exploits: colour, sun and shade, fast-frame capture of birds, wind, people.

Much is written about Gursky's work as a critique of capitalism: here are capitalism's excesses, with Burtynsky, Gursky and Polidori as a club going about documenting all its evils.  I'm not sure this is quite how it is, or all that it is.  There is a photographic project here, rather than a documentary project.  Oceans I-VI is not documentary, it is a construction of a mystery, of inaccessibility, of understanding something one can only see in the abstract; the near-impossibility of clicking out of the abstract into some sort of existential, phenomenological present, which can only be found at the scale of standing with one's feet in the water at Departure Bay and thinking 'this water goes to Japan'. 


Salish Sea

Thinking about the flatly named Park Bridge of yesterday's post – maybe there was a Mr. Park connected to the CPR or Golden but it is hardly a name to capture the imagination – yesterday on CBC there was a repeat of Paolo Pietropaolo's radio documentary on the Salish Sea.
This is the new name for the waters known as the Johnstone Strait, the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Georgia for George III, named by George Vancouver, happy coincidence that.  Juan de Fuca was a Spanish explorer who was in the area in 1592 looking for a northwest passage.  Peter Puget was a lieutenant on Vancouver's expedition in 1792.

The Johnstone Strait is bordered by Queen Charlotte Strait and is towards the top eastern end of Vancouver Island.  James Johnstone was another member of Vancouver's expeditionary fleet and was the one who ascertained that Vancouver Island was an island.  Queen Charlotte was the queen of George III and also the name of one of the ships of George Dixon who surveyed the Queen Charlotte Islands, known now as Haida Gwaii.  Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca are within US territory, the rest are in Canada.   The Strait of George is sometimes known as the Gulf of Georgia, thus the Gulf Islands, which extend into US territory and are there known as the San Juan Islands.

This whole waterway shall soon be officially known as the Salish Sea, surrounded as it is by the Salish peoples.  The naming of the Salish Sea removes the political markings on the water delineated by colonial names.  The old names are all related to land ownership.  Salish Sea is about the sea, not the land.  One of the Salish chiefs called in 'our highway'.  Interestingly it includes, within this name, the watersheds of the streams and rivers that feed it, thus extending way into the land confounding our usual notions of a sea as being something like a salt water lake.  The Salish Sea defines a very precise bioregion, reminding us that colonial political boundaries almost inevitably sliced apart all the natural divisions of the land and people.  The naming of the Salish Sea is a rather miraculous decolonising act, and one that is, equally miraculously, supported and promoted by all the governments within its territory. 


the Dominion Grid

an image that everyone on the prairies has: incoming weather, driving in a straight line, fall fieldsThe Dominion Survey turned land into property in the tradition of the Enclosures Acts in Britain, where land commonly and traditionally farmed was enclosed by fences and walls by often self-appointed land-owners.  The Dominion Survey prepared the ground for the CPR and western settlement. Land held for millennia and used in accordance with constantly re-negotiated peace treaties, all of a sudden within a few years in the 1880s, was ruled off into one-mile squares, 6 mile sections, 36 square mile townships.  Road allowances were made at the edges of the sections and the first nations were bundled into reserves.

Metes and bounds, the survey system that measures land between this rock and that river, this mountain ridge and that path at least acknowledges that land has form, and in determining reserves in eastern Canada often the boundaries were negotiated according to an organic and aboriginal understanding of land use.  Not so for the Sarcee Reserve, now the Tsuu T'ina Nation, which was given three townships sitting in a row, a 36 x 6 mile rectangle running from 37th Street in south Calgary to the mountains.  Rivers and streams cut into this block and out again.  One could perhaps understand the same area being defined by the watershed of the Elbow River perhaps, but not this indifferent and random assignation of land. 

If you can measure land, you can draw it and if you can draw it, you can sell it.  Is this not at the base of survey systems?  I grew up with a western Canadian and an architect's love of the Dominion Grid, its absolute rationality that was nonetheless full of errors, correction lines that occur because of the curvature of the earth, delightful incongruities as a road slices over a hill and down a valley, standing on an escarpment and seeing the road go to the horizon twenty miles away.  Old Saskatchewan farmers could still reel off the legal description of homesteads they'd left in the 30s:  Section 22, Township 26, Range 2, West of the 4th Meridian.  I thought all this was magical, and in some sense still do.  But I also see it as a commercial project.  The CPR was given astounding bonuses for building the railway connecting BC with eastern Canada: $25 million (about $500 million today), 25 million square miles (exactly half the land) in a 50-mile zone either side of the main line and a monopoly on rail connections to the US.  Why does most of Canada live within a hundred miles of the US border?  Does the CPR have something to do with this? Are section roads straight?

CPR land was evenly dispersed, effectively limiting the size of a homestead (obtained free from the Canadian governmnent) to one section.