I was warned, when I first moved to Morocco, that I should not expect to accomplish more than one, or maybe two things on any given day. One could, for instance, go to the doctor or to the bank, but not on the same day. Or even the same weekend. You see, businesses close when they’re not supposed to be closed, or the roads to said businesses close, or the parking lots close, or the place you think you need to go turns out to be entirely the wrong place altogether. Street addresses, if they exist at all, are not always chronological (this I learned on a five-hour dermatology expedition). And, if you do manage to a) find, b) access, c) park near, and d) enter your establishment of choice, it’s entirely likely that whoever’s inside won’t be able to help you anyway. You need to go to the other location, they say, or bring some obscure document, or (most commonly) COME BACK TOMORROW.
The most delightful thing just happened.
I was late for lunch, because it’s the week before concert week, and I’ve been making up the classes that I missed last week when I was sick. Like, really sick. Vomiting sick. The only kind of sick that would keep a music teacher from her students two weeks before the first big concert of the year. So I forfeited the dearest part of my day (lunch, of course) to rehearse with the students who missed their classes while I was busy vomiting.
Therefore, when I finally had a few minutes to breathe, the cafeteria was closed. I was devastated. Yes, I had vaguely suspected such an atrocity might occur, but it was a chance I had been willing to take. I knew I had to risk missing those tantalizing beef kabobs for the sake of the concert cause. And the children, of course. The children.
So there I was at the cafeteria counter, gushing with gratitude when the kitchen staff agreed to prepare a plate for me (bless them bless them bless them), and I saw a whole pile of kids sitting around the picnic tables outside, with nary a teacher in sight.
“This is perfect!” I thought. “I have someone to sit with while I eat my lunch!” And so I did.
I sat down, right in the middle of all the little ducklings. They were stunned, but pleased. I heard some of the children calling out each other’s names in a rhythmic sort of way, and I mused out loud, “Hmm! Sounds like someone wants to bake a cake!” And I started to sing.
What does it feel like to fall out of love? Could it be happening to me?
French is supposed to be the “language of love,” is it not? We had a sweet, sweet honeymoon phase, French and I. Every day we seemed to know each other twice as well as we did the day before. I was blissfully unaware of my relational faux pas, and everyone else just thought they were cute. Every little sentence was a triumph. Every lesson brought new possibilities. And the grammar… Oh, the grammar! What passion we shared, those participles and I. The verb tenses! The day I first learned passé composé, and could finally talk about things that had already happened… Stories started sprouting everywhere!
It’s true, French and I did take a little break at one point. I spent two months sequestered among Anglophones over the summer, but I never stopped longing for the langue de l’amour. I signed out workbooks from the library and continued the relationship in a one-sided, long-distance kind of way. When I returned to the Moroccan Promised Land of language acquisition, I was disappointed to find that both my teachers had deserted me (as if I didn’t already have an abandonment complex). “I miss you! I love you! I want you back!” I wailed into my sorry little unilingual void.
Last week I tapped on my neighbour’s door to ask for a bit of flour. Because that’s what you do when you neither cook nor bake, but you find yourself craving cheese sauce, and that sauce needs thickening, and you know your neighbour has flour, because she gave you some the one and only other time you felt a need to cheese things up.
It’s pleasant, having neighbours from whom you can acquire flour twice a year, in exchange for several kilos of peanut and almond butter. It’s pleasant, walking in and being welcome in someone else’s home. It’s pleasant, chatting about how we’re really feeling about this juncture in our lives. Continue reading
A year and a half ago, with my sights set on Morocco, I trotted to the Peterborough Public Library and went berserk. First, I gave away about fifteen boxes of books, and then, I set about replacing them.
I signed out an armload of language and travel resources, fiction, and DVDs about North Africa, and devoured them all, in between spastic packing fits. But my most precious acquisition was a tiny, one-dollar purchase from the library basement: a slim, winsome copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince – en français, of course, because I fancied the idea of becoming fluent in French during my two years abroad.
Ha! Well, I exported myself from one continent to the other, and soon discovered that “learning French” is a bigger endeavour than I had expected – and that Le Petit Prince is not so little after all. Continue reading
Vienna, you very nearly failed me.
I approached you with the same wide-eyed wonder with which I’ve approached the rest of Europe: quivering with anticipation at the thought of having an Authentic Cultural Experience in a city Steeped in History like a well-brewed cup of tea – a classy, temporal tea made of Stately Buildings and the Important People who once inhabited them. Oh, I would imbibe this heady tea, I thought. I would establish a mystical connection with the legendary masters who created the music that has so inspired me all my life. I would enter and inhabit their lofty, artistic world.
Vienna! You tease.
What I got instead was a whole lot of kitsch: bewigged men in velvet breeches handing out glossy pamphlets advertising cotton-candy concerts in gaudy palaces; church cantors with nasal voices, leading quartets instead of choirs; museum exhibits with nothing but facsimiles and gift shops; and Strauss. Oh, the Strauss. And not the good kind, either. Waltzen-Strauss. Vienna, you and I both know that there’s more to you than triple time, treble clef trinkets and musical ties. But where to find it?
O, Canada! How do I love you? Let me count the ways.
I love the way your cars travel in placidly parallel lanes, staying obediently between the dotted lines, graciously allowing each and every vehicle its own personal space. I love how I can always tell with reasonable certainty whether it’s safe to enter your blessedly perpendicular intersections; I love how I can see your traffic lights no matter where I am, and people wave at me to say, “Please, you go first. I’d rather wait.” I love it that I have been here for thirteen days now and I haven’t heard a single honking horn or shrieking whistle. I love how your cyclists get their very own lanes, your signs tell everyone to share the road, and people are happy to take turns. O, Canada, I love your pretty roads. Continue reading