Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Last night in Lille, feeling weepy and generous

I just said goodbye to Theo and Ivan!  FOREVER!  

Or maybe just until Christmas.  Or maybe FOREVER!  Up there, in the picture, Theo and I are looking out over Lille from another friend's 20th-floor apartment.  That was Saturday, after we had spent all afternoon baking at the seaside.  If you look closely, you can just make out Theo's farmer's tan.

In France you don't say "at the beach."  It sounds too close to "at the bitch," especially when French people say it.  Instead you use the highly refined, 19thC-toddler-in-a-sailor-suit term "at the seaside."


I leave in the morning.  I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that part of my heart is breaking a little.  Luckily another part of my heart is cracking the champagne and blowing noisemakers to celebrate the pending homecoming.  Balance!  I learned that from Gandhi!  

At the seaside, we fly kites.

And accept licks from cute random dogs.   And boys!

Just kidding!  Boys have to reverentially recreate my image in a flattering sand sculpture first.  So far, no boy has succeeded.  

Monday, June 1, 2009


I should never have read this.    

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Come & Dance With Me

So I'm going to start this one off with a little story which doesn't involve pirates or cowboys, like most good stories should.  But it does have an epiphany at the end, even if that epiphany is about as large and as consequential as a grain of rice.  BUT: it's a true story, and it explains these dance pictures, in a very roundabout way.  That's my hook.  

One of the first times that I can remember spending a whole night away from home (not counting summer holidays with my grandparents, and that time I went camping with my aunt and almost hyperventilated from crying so hard because of homesickness ... to the point where the guy in the next tent yelled at us to keep it down) was a night I spent at my friend H's house.  It turned out to be a big night for me, though I didn't realize until much later.  

H lived out in the country, like me, and we went to the same little public school, and we must have started sharing our morning snacks or whatever it is 8-year-olds do to bond, because one day towards the end of June I was invited to take the school bus home with H and spend the WHOLE NIGHT at his house.  Our parents encouraged it.  They called each other and wrote our names together on their fridge calendars.  Oh!  The anticipation!

Riding on a school bus other than my own was a rare and savory experience.  I remember studying my classmates with pity that day, because all of THEM had to take their OWN bus home.   And then, as if the school bus ride wasn't excitement enough, when we got to H's stop I spotted an incredible multi-story turreted tree-fort in the field across from his house.  I wondered if Rural Route 20 had led us straight to Heaven.

We got off the bus and went right to the tree-fort where we played a complicated action game that somehow incorporated both Darkwing Duck and Treasure Island (hey, there are pirates in this story after all!).  But before I had even perfected my ARGHH! he shouted from the ground that it was time to go to his house.  I was lured away only after promises that we'd come back after dinner.  How naive we are in youth!

We went inside and he took me to his room so I could put my overnight bag down (guess we were still too young for gender segregation).  First unpleasant shock of the visit: in his room hung the unmistakable yellowy smell of pee.  The mattress made a pfffffft noise when I set my bag on it.  With all the polite subtleness of childhood, I flung back his blanket and saw the proof: plastic sheets.  I hope I didn't make things worse for him by actually asking out loud if he wet the bed.  He saw that I saw, and we were both embarrassed.  He left the room.  I paused a moment to consider what the night might be like, breathing in the pee-air.  Then I carefully picked up my bag again and put it on the floor.

Second unpleasant shock: dinner was preceded by pre-dinner chores, which I understood only after a lot of explaining and gesturing.  In the Findlay family, chores were done on Saturday mornings.  Saturday was a day for chores.  Not before dinner on a weeknight!  I watched dubiously as H began to clean the bathroom.  Was he SURE this was what his mom wanted?  Did he have to clean the bathroom EVERY weeknight?  What's more, I never had to clean the bathroom at home.  It belonged in a category of chores that I was thankfully considered too young to do properly, like folding underwear.  

But clean the bathroom he did.  And then we were allowed to eat dinner, which apparently wasn't as momentous as cleaning the bathroom, because I don't remember it at all.  

Then things got a little hairy.

After dinner, I waited eagerly by the door to go back to the tree-fort.  But H didn't want to go to the tree-fort.  He wanted to play Battletoads on his Nintendo ES.  Which I remember because I thought it was the most repulsive-sounding Nintendo game in the history of everything, which I told him.  And then he told me that Darkwing Duck was the dumbest cartoon in the history of everything PLUS INFINITY.  Which was cutting pretty deep.  I felt my last hope playing in the tree-fort slip away from me, but I couldn't let the Darkwing comment go unchallenged.  Before we knew it, the tension had escalated so steeply that we were banished from each other's company for a cool-down period.  

My holding cell was the kitchen.  I sat on the floor beside an open cupboard that held a box of Froot Loops, which gave me hope for breakfast.  After a while H's mom came in and gave me a drink of Coke in a plastic Canada's Wonderland cup.  Normally I was only allowed Coke on Saturdays (a big day in our family, apparently), so this gesture put me in a generous, forgiving mood.  H's mom sat down on the floor across from me.  A fat beagle with miasmic farts wandered over and licked her legs from ankle to shorts' hem.  I remember the spoosh sound of that dog's long tongue as she told me that H couldn't go play outside again because he had something called asthma, which gets bad in the evenings, especially when it's hot outside like it was then. Asthma was a foreign concept to me and for a long time afterwards, years even, I thought it had something to do with bedwetting.

Plied by Coke and the threat of a phone call to my parents, I finally conceded to playing Battletoads.  Which wasn't as repulsive as I thought, and about five hundred years later, when my parents FINALLY gave me a Nintendo (which they bought used from my friend Amy, because like every other kid in the universe she had upgraded to Super Nintendo by then), I had that game.  

Here's the epiphany: that night at H's house was the night when I really started to understand certain irrefutable facts about the universe, such as:

1.  Some kids' parents let them drink Coke in the middle of the week and eat Froot Loops even when it's nobody's birthday...

2. ...on the other hand, some kids' parents ALSO made them do chores in the middle of the week.

3. Some kids' parents had already taken them to that far-off magical place called Canada's Wonderland.

And, most importantly:

4. Some people have invisible problems, like bed-wedding/asthma.  Problems that the other kids at school would never know about, unless they were invited for a sleep-over.  And even then only maybe.  

I looked at H after that day and wondered what other invisible problems he might have.  And then I started to look at all the other kids in our class and wondered about their invisible problems.  And then I began wondering about all of the adults I knew, like my bus driver, or the town librarian, or the guy selling candy in Stedman's.  Did they all have invisible problems that nobody knew about, except the people who slept at their houses?  My wondering went on and on and on into forever.  Forever PLUS INFINITY.

That little moment of awakening on the floor of my friend's kitchen happened about 17 years ago.  And I still feel just as baffled by the concept of invisible problems going on in other people's lives. The million private little battles being waged by everyone every day, from perpetually wetting the bed to worrying about an illness to rethinking a romance.  It could be anything, at any time, taking place where no one else can see it.  

It was probably a big deal for H to invite me over, since that would mean showing me his invisible problem.  Since then, I've been invited into the private worlds of many other people, and it's a fantastic kind of intimacy with a very brave message attached: I trust you with this.  


I am now going to stretch this epiphany wayyyyy out to unreasonable limits by turning it into a metaphor, thus justifying these photos taken during a brief but wholehearted dance party with my friends Ivan and Theo yesterday.  Negotiating your own invisible problems, and then taking into account those of the people you love and want to protect, is a dance so complex that even "So You Think You Can Dance" champions must often fumble their moves, despite the best of intentions.  

I am going to take swing lessons.  I've wanted to take them forever but there's always been something more important to pay for, you know?  But I will take them.  If I learn to swing dance, I will be even happier than I am now.  I will be able to handle stress with grace and proaction.  I will be a better cook, gardener, pet owner, writer, friend, and, eventually, girlfriend.  All I need are swing lessons!

I'm thinking about all of this because in two weeks I'll be back in Canada, which makes me nervous, because it means facing all kinds of challenges.  And whenever I think about it all, I find myself applying a very unreasonable kind of logic.  For example: the first thing I need to do is find an apartment in Ottawa.  Which has ballooned to the point where I believe that if I can just find the perfect apartment, I will be fantastic in my new job, I will be mature and farsighted in love, I will be successful in writing, etc.  All I need to do is find the right apartment!  Easy!

But I know that's not how it works.  One final, tiny story: down the road from our farm was a family with a beautiful old collie named Lady, who clearly suffered from the heat of her thick coat every summer.  So to solve that problem, the family shaved her coat right off.  Refreshed, happy dog, right?  Except that Lady got so sunburned that she nearly died.  It's easy to find one solution to a problem and believe that it will fix everything.  BUT, that makes it easy to be shortsighted and naive, which leads to even more challenges.

Finding an apartment in Ottawa will only solve the problem of not having an apartment in Ottawa.  Which is sort of disappointing.  

On the other hand, coming home will mean seeing people that I am really, REALLY excited to see. (People... and cats.)  Which makes all of the invisible problems so totally worthwhile. 

Last words: even if taking swing lessons leads to nothing more than knowing how to swing dance - well, that will be COOL PLUS INFINITY.  


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's not easy becoming your future.

So my good friend Jen used to participate in a regular research expedition that involved strapping herself into an experimental airplane and launching herself into outer space.  Or almost, at least.  She even blogged about it once.  There was a lot of throwing up involved. Throwing up, and swearing on several graves never to do anything so irrational and uncomfortable again, all equalized (I think she'd agree) by a rush of euphoria.  The kind of euphoria that only comes from tottering around on unsteady legs, gloriously in tact despite having volunteered, completely unnecessarily, to sacrifice solid ground for the sake of experimentation.

This is roughly what my year in France has felt like.  

Somewhere in Holland, trying to watch the road and not the tulips 
(occasionally failing)

I've got a map and a yellow hi-lighter and when I trace out all the adventures I've had since I arrived last September it looks like a glow-worm had quadruplets and then the quadruplets each had quadruplets.   

I just got back from spending a week in the Alps near Italy with "family" who first gave me a home in France ten years ago.  I need to write about in on paper before I can blog about it on a screen, but to sum it up in six words or less:  Thibault grew up, but not too much.  

I fly back to Canada in less than a month.  It's hard to get a grip on that statement.  Back!  To Canada!  In less than a month!  You know how sometimes when you repeat a word over and over and over it starts to sound like nonsense?  Same goes for whole sentences.

Back.  To Canada.
Less than a month.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thinking Man, you never looked so handsome.

On a blogging and email hiatus for a bit while I show my ma around the best cities in the whole world.  And YES, I am allowed to make such definitive statements despite having seen only about O.O1% of the world's cities.  Why?  Because this is a blogtatorship!  

And also, how could these cities NOT be some of the best?  Consider the evidence:

Cats in Paris!  And some nice buildings and sights and food.  And cats!!!  Handsome French ones with a vague resemblance to a certain phenomenal cat I know in Canada.

Climbed up Sacré Coeur in Montmartre with mom, which I've done a few times before with various combinations of important people, though never with someone quite so important as my mom, nor quite so willing to climb that brutal winding staircase for a thousand breathless minutes to get up there (after jumping the turnstile at the bottom - God will smote us!).  The view is fantastic, and the graffiti is almost as rewarding.  Thousands of declarations of love painted on with white-out, and several hundred prayers scrawled over the stone, mostly begging the Lord to spare innocent souls from the brutality of the French finishing exams at the end of high school.  

Another point of evidence: endless liquid dinners in Lille with two of my most favouritest men in the world.  Okay, maybe Lille wouldn't make an objective list of the World's Best Cities, but to me, personally?  It's a tie for Montreal.  

Baby ducklings in Bruges!  (Yes, it's Belgium, but my love for France is so huge that it dribbled a little over the borders...)

The photo below is taken from inside the Close at Bruges, where we were shushed several times by earnest-looking nuns.  Just as we were leaving, we noticed a joyful and well-hydrated wedding party push their way in.  The things nuns have to deal with these days!
All of this is just a TINY taste.  So far we've done Paris, Bruges, Bologne-sur-Mer (northern beaches, with England like a hazy rope of licorice on the horizon), and Lille.  Tomorrow I'm taking her to ground zero of this whole love affair: ROUEN.  Tingly fingers just thinking of it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Not easy!

Tearjerker alert: Lara left yesterday morning to go back to the U.S.

After Annabelle and I dropped her off at the train station, I allowed myself the whole morning for moping and taking everything far too seriously.  And then I got out of bed, went "running", took care of basic personal grooming needs, and got down to the business of planning for my last few classes.  If I sound self-congratulatory it's because initiating all of that activity took super-human strength, given the weight of knowing that Lille is now without its Lara. 

What we'd look like as a pair of Dutch farmers:

Over the weekend Lara, Annabelle and I drove to the Netherlands to see some tulips, which were so numerous and colourful that I doubt my overwhelmed retinas will ever recover.  I'm having trouble uploading photos so I will have to post all about that in a few days.  For now, here is one shot taken from inside Keukenhof, the fantastically enormous flower gardens in South Holland:

You know how sometimes when you spend a LOT of time with the same couple of people, even the best among us can't help feeling a little tense?  Well, with L & A, I never felt like that.  The more time we spent together, the goofier we got, and the more roving and unintelligible became our jokes.  It was heaven to meet these two goof-balls and go roaming across the continent with them, and it's annoying how we all have to split up now.  Thank goodness for Skype and for the fifty thousand emails we've already sent each other, even though it's only been two days!  

See you in September, BG!    

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's been evening all day long

I slept like a bear through much of the day, and then got up and went to a comedy show tonight so hilarious & insane that the actors themselves could hardly keep straight faces, and in the midst off all that tearful laughter I looked at my friends and realized that I have to say goodbye to France exactly two months from today.

An impossible (and somewhat inconvenient) truth.