And so we’ve come full circle

August 20, 2012 - Leave a Response

When I was a kid my oldest brother, who’s 6-17 years older than the rest of us, used to take care of my younger siblings and me pretty often. This was generally a good thing, since Dillon’s commitment to adult supervision was slightly more lax than my mother’s. Famished from hours of unsupervised troublemaking, we would eventually make our way into his field of vision for the sole purpose of demanding food, at which point he would gladly serve up Dillon’s Dill Pickle and Egg Sandwich: fried egg, white bread, mayonnaise and sliced dill pickles. It was a masterpiece. Once eaten we would disappear again and revel in all the usual things kids do when lacking in adult supervision (discovering matches, permanent marker, self-serve haircuts…)

Last night Dillon’s twin sons turned 7, which got me worrying that they were leaving the cute days behind and entering the age of annoying kids who play with matches (this is at least partially true, since they greeted me with “where’s my present?” which is not any cuter the second time it’s asked). But they’re still adorable, and innocent, and completely ignorant of the realities of public transportation:

The twins at 6, Cameron and Connor

“Why didn’t you come to my party earlier aunt Emily?”
“Sorry bud, my bus in Montreal was late…”
“So did you take a airplane?”

Here I should note that I travelled 130 kilometers to visit them.

Being so close I get to visit my niece and nephews more often. Running after them is exhausting, so on my last visit my niece offered to make me something to eat.

“How about a fried egg and pickle sandwich?” she offered, and then proceeded to execute the thing perfectly, just like her father had done for me when I was her age. Delicious. Then we went off to play with matches while her dad wasn’t watching.

Big sister


Do Germans like Surprises?

August 10, 2012 - 4 Responses

When I arrived in Montréal a few months ago I had one friend: Anna. Wonderful as she is, I wanted to meet more people, so I attended a few CouchSurfing Events.* I’ve done some CouchSurfing elsewhere in the world, where you always get a good mix of nationalities, so I was pretty shocked that in Montreal about half the CouchSurfers are from France. Since coming to Québec allows French people to experience the greater world without having to debase themselves by learning some other language (like English, qui n’est que du français mal prononcé), the French are grossly overrepresented  in Montréal. This wasn’t a problem for me, since I adore the French (especially when I get to spread lies about their lack of language skills on the internet), so I was already half-way to friendship heaven.

 Add to this a mélange français a fair number of Mexicans, Spaniards, Germans, Berlgian, I’m-not-Chinese-I’m-Taiwanesian, and a Greko-Canadian etc etc, and you get a veritable petit groupe d’amis.

Jesús’s Surprise

Last week we shocked Mexican Jesús (who is convinced I’m named Amy), by throwing him a surprise party in Parc Lafontaine. Thoroughly pleased with the result and the ensuing happiness, we aimed to recreate the fun this week with yet another surprise for German Carolyn’s birthday, except this time with more nudity and a piñata.

We were all rather excited until Brazilian Antonio pondered whether Germans actually like being shocked, asking if we should “tell her to schedule some time in her agenda for the surprise?”

And so I consulted the ever  useful Xenophobe’s Guide to the Germans to find out if Germans actually like surprises, though the results are rather inconclusive:

“The Germans do not care for public displays of eccentricity,” and also, “In Germany, life is serious. Even humour is no laughing matter, and if you want to tell a joke you may want to submit a written application first. The Germans strongly disapprove of the irrelevant, the flippant, the accidental. Serendipity is not a word in their language.”  

 Unfazed, and having already convinced Simon to undress and enter a giant gift box, we went ahead with our plans last night. And here’s what I learned:

The question isn’t whether German’s like surprises, but whether you can actually surprise one of them.

Upon seeing the gift box, Caro immediately declared: “I bet someone is going to jump out of there,” which I’m sure was a little disappointing for Simon, who was crouched inside wearing nothing but a tie and a smile.

Also, we had planned to surprise Caro at her apartment after a concert at the Olympic Stadium, but before we had even left she began inviting people over to her house anyway, meaning she was already expecting most of us to be there. Then she proceeded to bicycle home like a maniac, beating half of us there. Entreaties to “Slow down Mädchen” were ignored, and I am disappointed to say I’ve never seen a German race through so many red lights in an effort to spoil a week’s worth of her friends’ careful planning.

Do German’s like surprises? I have no idea. A Canadian-Italian-Spanish-Swiss-Belgian-French-Taiwanese group proved incapable of out-organizing one.

Caro was however thrilled by the whole evening (which she insists she didn’t expect). For her birthday I gave her the right to brag that she can bicycle much faster than I can, which is probably true anyway.

Ende gut, alles gut?

*CouchSurfing is a social networking site that allows travellers to get to know locals, either by crashing at their place or simply by meeting up for drinks or sightseeing. It’s totally free and based on reciprocity: I hang out with people in Montreal and they will host me when I, inevitably, end up in Istanbul, Sydney or Caracas one day.

Weird shit Americans say to Canadians: Post 1 of 5000

August 5, 2012 - Leave a Response

“Canada? Really? I visited a friend in Vermont just last summer. And Bill doesn’t your old college pal live up in Montana? What’s his name again?”

“Tommy. Right, he is up in Montana. Right near Canada.”

So goes many a conversation with an American, who, bless their friendly souls, always go through pains to pretend I, the Canadian, don’t come from some lost-backwater-frozen-skating-rink of a country they can find on a map simply because they know it’s slightly less awful than Alaska, while clearly thinking that I come from some awful frozen wasteland that, were they to give it any consideration at all, might actually be worse than Alaska.

This may not be the case everywhere in the USA, but in the South (my experience being of the Floridian variety), people seemed to go through pains to think of the most northerly place in the US they’ve ever visited, or a friend has visited, or had heard had running water and electricity. Were they afraid we didn’t have anything else in common? Were they afraid that letting a Canadian steer the direction of the conversation would inevitably lead to a rant outlining the endless benefits of state-run health care?

Bill actually turned out to be a pretty nice guy, really. From Indiana. Which is funny, I pointed out to him, because I was on a plane once sitting next to someone from Michigan. And this guy was really worried about getting cut off from his health insurance company…

Shit Americans ask Canadians

There are no Sorries in Salsa Dancing

July 18, 2012 - Leave a Response

And yet I can’t stop saying it. I’m gliding along, following my Guatemalan instructor, Mauricio, when I accidentally miss a simple step. “Sorry,” I blurt out.

“Don’t say sorry.”

But I’ve never been able to get the cross-spin-turn step (not actual name) down. I couldn’t do it back in Ottawa, and I’m not any better in Quetzaltenango. I can do all the other easy steps: the basic step, turn, open, spin, cha cha cha, throw in some jazz hands, spin-turn (not actual names). Somehow I always mess up the cross-spin-turn. Stressing myself out, I move threw the whole thing too quickly, ending by plopping myself down like an elephant, with flourish, in front of my flawless isntructor.

“Sorry,” I blurt out again, without thinking.

“Don’t say sorry,” Mauricio reminds me while switching out with anther instructor. Erika, my second teacher, will be working on making me sexy.

Lesson 1: After a spin, lift your fingers, slightly pinched, as though you’re holding an egg.

I attempt it, knocking my neighbour in the head.


Lesson 2: Pull arm over head, sweeping hair over face while seductively wiggling hips. With less room for disaster, I manage this one quite well until I catch a glimpse of my gyrating self in the mirror and burst out laughing.

Erika: “Don’t say sorry!”

Just then a beginner American student with two left feet looses his balance  and crashes into me. He returns to his partner seconds later, without a word of apology. I imagine he’s an expert dancer by now.

I want to quit so bad

June 9, 2012 - Leave a Response

It’s midnight, the hour when the self-doubt that’s been gnawing at my toes all day finally makes its way up into my chest.

It’s midnight and because I spent the evening rediscovering ice cream, uploading pictures onto facebook and watching medieval themed dramatic television, I’m still up, still working away at LSAT questions.

The LSAT, for those lucky enough to live under rose-coloured rocks while wearing really hard glasses, is a test all Anglos in the USA and Canada must pass in order to be considered for admission to law school.

I aced it. 94th percentile. No big deal.  I destroyed that test faster than an Albertan oil pipeline can destroy pristine wetlands. (Though, not by much).

Except that then I had to go bragging off in all the wrong places, like to Kaplan test prep company, asking them for a job, also noting my outstanding employ of metaphor on my CV.

I got the job.

So now it’s past midnight and I’m desperately trying to care about some author’s critique of an art critic’s understanding of pre-WWI European painting’s possible reaction to social upheavals as a political rather than aesthetic movement.

And I’m starting to fear that I may not be smart enough for this. Maybe I can just wing my way through tomorrow’s lesson, relying on my wit and metaphorical abilities to hide the fact that I haven’t prepared.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow morning, when an empty carton of ice cream will lie, shamefully, in the trash, and the self-doubt will have returned to my toes – where they both belong.

Monkeys Could Do This

June 2, 2012 - 3 Responses

My last boyfriend was good at exactly two things.

Folding laundry, and putting the duvet cover back over the duvet.

Being able to perform exactly two domestic tasks ultimately proving itself to be insufficient – we broke up.

So now I find myself having to fold my own laundry and put the duvet cover back on myself, wishing I had actually learned his techniques, rather than perfecting my eye roll through his laundry lessons.

So master his skills while you can ladies, because there’s no point being free and single if you’re trapped inside a duvet cover, choking on duck feathers.

Extensive study of photographic record has thus far failed to uncover secret laundry folding technique

Leonard Cohen Pick-Up Lines: as Sexy as CanLit gets

April 26, 2012 - Leave a Response

I recently came across a website claiming that Canadian literature is “sexy.” The maker(s) of the site aimed to prove this by including pictures of Canadian authors looking all hot and bothered. Unfortunately for them, and my eyes, Canadian authors aren’t really a handsome bunch (no, Stuart MacLean, I’m not into vinyl, and I doubt you are either).

Even more concerning was the complete oversight of CanLit’s sexiest: Mr. Leonard Cohen. Indeed, Cohen’s work probably accounts for 95% of the most salacious things ever written by a Canadian (sorry Margarets I, II and III).


Since I feel no need to catalogue all the filth available in CanLit to support my groundless claim, I instead include a much more practical guide of not-entirely accurate and not-at-all exhaustive list of Cohen lines that can be used to chat-up anticipated love interests (warning: may only work efficiently on graduate students in English, and others who spend most of their time drunk). Enjoy, and good luck.



“I prefer handsome men, but for [you] I will make an exception.”

“I need to see you naked, in your body and your thoughts.”

“Let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone.”

“Like a knight from some old-fashioned book, I have saved all my ribbons for thee.”

“Be my homeward dove and dance me to the end of love.”

“I got you like a habit.”

“What’s your name when you’re naked?” (not Cohen, but a great line anyway)

“Dance me to your beauty like a burning violin.”

“If you want a lover, I’ll do anything you ask me to. And if you want another kind of love, I’ll wear a mask for you.” (Actually, anything from I’m your man will do)


This is as far as I got listening to Cohen on a bus trip but am happy to keep adding any suggestions.
(and really?

The Guatemalan Shoeshine: Not much of a defense

February 24, 2012 - 3 Responses

The shoeshine is the perfect massage; you get the pleasant pressure sensation of a more traditional rub down without any of the awkward skin-to-skin contact stuff. It costs 50 cents, and afterwards you can strut about like a champ because you got the shiniest shoes on the Guatemalan block.

So why do my friends suddenly pretend they don’t know me when sit down for my weekly primping? Why do they walk away, giggling nervously, when I asked them to take this picture?

Shoeshine, Antigua, Guatemala

It’s my last night in Guatemala, and I want to remember this.

“Please take a photo!” I yell after them on a busy street, as things start getting awkward for real.

Is it weird because there is a brown man literally kneeling at my feet? Are my friends uncomfortable because I’m going to pay him (including a generous tip that doubles his regular fee), only a third of what I would pay for bus fare back home in Canada?

I convince myself they’re just jealous, as they refuse to look at me, pretending instead to stare at their sneakers and sandals, incapable of understanding the joys of a leather soul.


and after

Israel, Fuck Ya!

February 22, 2012 - Leave a Response

*This title was dictated to me by a young man of rather obvious nationality.
* I was later told to change it to “Israelis, fuck ya,” because, according to him, “we have soul, we are persons.”

I have met so many Israelis during my trip that they warrant their own blog post, if not their own teeny tiny country.

Let us begin with Dor, who has a girlfriend named Seashell. Having recently finished three years of military service, Dor has taken up carving horrifying effigies into avocado pits while bumming across Central America, one of which he gifted to me. When not carving, Dor is a staunch defender of the Hebrew language, explaining away the need for superfluous words, like one for feet.

One of Dor’s early creations, when he was still perfecting the art of avocado pit carving.

“It’s not funny. It’s entirely reasonable,” he insists, explaining that in Hebrew you just refer to that foot appendage thing as “the palms of my legs.”

Dor’s bosom buddy is Yoav, a photographer and musician who isn’t particularly good at pulling up his pants after using the toilet, but is who is most definitely, definitely, Jewish.

Yoav and Dor heckled me over my lack of haggling skills at every opportunity, especially after I almost paid $4.20 for a pair of sunglasses when the Guatemalan market man would have “obviously” gone down to $3.75. In the hostal Yoav learned the diddy “America, fuck ya!,” which he took to signing at every opportunity, like during breakfast, or after exposing his man bits to his scribbling Canadian roommate.

“You wrote that it was 15 inches, right?” he asks as I doodle in my travel journal, “no wait, make that 20.”

“What exactly did you do in the Israeli army?” I ask him, changing the subject. “I was a tank commander,” explains Yoav, “I went around attanking things.”

I’m almost positive that’s what he said.

Weeks earlier I met Smadar and Omer, a honeymooning couple who spent the evening teaching me an obscure, traditional Israeli card game name “Taki,” which quickly revealed itself to be nothing more than Uno wearing a Kippah.

By the time I got to Mexico I was quite good at recognizing the Israelis, since they all wear the same sandals. And if for some reason I met an Israeli without the sandals, they always had a perfectly reasonable explanation for why they weren’t wearing their nation’s heritage on the palms of their legs: “they were stolen” or “I lost them” or “they broke.” Never did I meet an Israeli who just flat out didn’t own a pair. (Note to Palestine: the sandals may just be their kryptonite. Note to my new Israeli friends: just kidding.)

Yoav models the Israeli sandal on the palm of his arms.

At this point you may be wondering how I made so many Israeli friends, given my political correctness. Strangely, it wasn’t my love of the sandals, nor my fluency in German.

In the back of my journal I’ve kept a list of all useful expressions in other languages: “Chuchumanga,” for mocking Americans, “wuggende, wuggende, wuggende” for befriending Danes, “Snyggt Skägg” for charming handsome bearded men and “am Arsch der Welt” for explaining where in the hell Tikal is located.

After a few too many Mexican margaritas with Israeli Noa I wrote “Yesh li tzitzi ve moach, yesh li hakol” in my notebook, but forgot to include the translation. It wasn’t until the end of my trip that Dor and Yoav explained how I managed to make so many friends with that one saying.

Because apparently it means: “”I have titties and brains. I’m the whole package”.” Fuck, ya.

A Fool’s Celebrations

February 18, 2012 - 2 Responses

I have good reason to celebrate and lots of time to decide exactly how. 

I could, of course, quit my job and backpack across Central America.

I could visit the Mayan Ruins at Tikal, and climb the thousand year old temples that peak through the jungle skyline. I might even lose my way, and stumble across monkeys, lemurs and wild turkeys in the forests of the lost world.

Then again, I could also buy a one way ticket to Belize, and spend my days waiting for the sunset and my nights lounging in hammocks, waiting for the night to turn back into day.

I could become a Swiss German magnet, and befriend them all until I start rolling my R’s too. 

I would snorkel with sting rays, and a hundred turtles and a million sharks. If I could I might even put my hand out to touch the shark on it’s warm, fleshy belly.

My Valentine’s Day would consist of inviting myself along to a honeymooning Israeli couple’s romantic lobster dinner. We would all have a rather pleasant time and things wouldn’t get at all awkward until I invite myself over to their hotel room for a hot shower. They oblige, naturally.

I could take up residence with attractive sweaty men in my hostel room. They would deal with the steamy Carribean nights by sleeping in nothing but the tightest of underwear. 

I would make Danish friends and we would dance to a Belizean rock band’s version of American pop music. 

Unable to sleep at night, I would spend my days hammocking and starring out at the ocean with a lazy dog named Lady. 

But that’s what I did last week. So how am I supposed to celebrate getting accepted to Law School at McGill?