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
Let me tell you the story of a class.
When I met them in September, I was perturbed. I was more than perturbed. I dreaded Thursday mornings, when I knew that they would tumble through my door with raucous disregard for my precious routines and expectations.
You see, I expect my classes to line up quietly outside my door and wait to be invited in. I expect them to walk quietly, single file, to the blue line on my floor, and wait quietly to be invited to sit on the carpet in alphabetical order. I expect them to sit quietly while I read over my class list, study their (very similar) faces, and practice their (very similar) names. I expect them to remain still and silent until I can say every name without looking at my list. This may not sound like a stupendous feat to you, but believe me, it is, when you are new to a foreign school and you have four hundred nearly identical students that you only see for 50 minutes a week.
But back to my story. In September, we had to practice lining up outside my door over and over every single time the students came to class. It took five or six tries to walk to the blue line and get settled at the carpet. And it took an agonizingly long time for me to practice their names, because I couldn’t concentrate with all the hooliganism going on before me. At one point one of the students blurted out insolently, “This isn’t music! This is just names!” And, wearily, I agreed. Perturbed, indeed. Continue reading
“Qu’est-ce que vous voulez faire aujourd’hui?” asked the Artist. What do you want to do?
The two dignified women beside me knew exactly what they wanted to “faire.” Silhouettes. Watercolours. Realistic paintings of realistic people. Crap like that.
“Et vous?” she asked again.
“I’m not a trained artist,” I stammered, “mais j’aime jouer avec les coleurs.”
The three real artists in the room smiled condescendingly, and a little amusedly. Jouer? Play? What nonsense was this?
I woke up later than I’d planned. I’d best get moving if I want to experience artistic ecstasy at the Louvre, and still have time to lose myself in the ultimate flea market, all before 6pm. No time for dawdling. Where’s that market? Oh dang, I accidentally closed that tab. Google search… markets in Paris… oh, here it is. Marché St. Denis. Quick. Find it on the map. Find the Louvre. Find a route between the two. Hmmm. No simple route presents itself. That’s okay. I will ask the informative people at the Louvre. They are designed to be helpful. So one would assume.
And off I went. Metro. Louvre. Artistic ecstasy. Check.
“Excusez-moi? Quelle est la meilleur route au Marché St. Denis?” I asked, pointing to the place I’d circled on my map.
“I speak English,” replied the girl behind the tourist desk. Like I’d asked.
“What’s the best way to get to this market?” I asked again.
“I went there once,” she said, coolly. “I didn’t like it.”
Did I ask what language you speak? Did I ask if you like flea markets? Of course you don’t. You’re a snooty, polished Parisian who works behind the information desk at the snootiest, most aristocratic cultural destination on the planet. Just tell me how to get there, already.
She told me. I went. I was beside myself with anticipation. Continue reading