Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Alright. I admit it. My photoshop skills are rough. But this image was inspired by a headline from the New York Times today:

"Bernanke Is Pessimistic, but Bush Urges a ‘Deep Breath’"

Fret not, fellow Americans! Our economy is taking a turn down the shitter, but all will be fine if we just BREATHE a little! Let's hope that Unkie George doesn't just pass out, or do something like learn to read, with all that oxygen going to his brain for the first time in his life!

In all events, I'm in a chipper mood because I'm in Montreal! What a great city! I got a sublet for the month of July and I'm smack dab in the middle of downtown. I'm living on Bishop Street which is one parallel street over from the celebrated Crescent Street (the reasons for which it is celebrated are unknown to me, especially as it looks a lot like MOST of the streets surrounding it, but all the guidebooks suggest that it's something special). I'm studying French at the YMCA and that's just three blocks away. Classes run from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and in the mornings it's grammar and in the afternoons, conversation. I'm learning all sorts of things that I should have learned ages ago and I'm finally developing a base on which to attach the many colorful French words and expressions I have learned over the years. This means I can now use slang and vulgarities in the passive voice, the past conditional and the plus-que-parfait. Si tu n'avais pas ete un connard saoul le hier soir, tu n'aurais pas eu la guelle de bois ce matin. (If you hadn't been a drunken bastard last night, you wouldn't have had a hang-over this morning.)

Like most YMCAs, this one that houses a language school is also home to a fitness center--one that is very well-equipped and well-maintained. They offer dozens of classes, a lap pool, an indoor running track and an impressive array of resistance training equipment. They've got a class I've been to twice called "Boot Camp Circuit Training". The first time I went, we went outdoors, climbed a million stairs, then the height of Mont Royal four times (I only did two), played tag, did a bunch of push-ups, then worked with resistance bands in pairs. Last night, I went back for more torture, but this time we stayed indoors. We ran, hopped, jumped, did a lot of push-ups, worked with weights and stretched and by the end of it I managed to bruise my right thumb in a wheelbarrow race (oh! it was so much easier when I was 8!) then scrape open AND bruise my left shin leaping over a step that was clearly too high for my 26-inch inseam. Awesome!

Aside from studying and working out, I have settled into my neighborhood and found a health food store, a Chinese supermarket and a very good western supermarket. I've been cooking a lot and I find that making my own food makes me feel more at home.

Other interesting events:

Ingrid, a girl I met in France in March recently came to Montreal with her boyfriend. It was her first trip to North America. We met up for lunch and we both came to the conclusion that my French is improving and no, no one but the Quebecois can understand the so-called French spoken here. This was very reassuring as I find little difficulty getting around France, but can't always understand basic conversation here.

The Montreal Jazz Festival was in full-swing when I arrived. I didn't get out to too many of the events, but I did see a silent film that was part of series shown in conjunction with the festival. It was "Underworld", from 1927, and it is considered to be one of the first films of the gangster genre. Being a silent film, there weren't any words spoken, but there was live music accompaniment which was pretty cool.

Last Friday, my school hosted an "International Lunch" whereby all students were invited to bring a dish representative of their home country. My school hosts an enormous number of South Americans and Mexicans, but there are also some students from Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Japan and Korea. My contribution to the event was six Spam musubi, cut into small pieces, then two cucumber and avocado rolls, cut maki style. To keep it simple, I told them it was "Hawaiian sushi". The Korean students seemed especially appreciative of the Spam musubi.

That evening, I was killing time on Facebook when I saw my old roommate from my time in London (circa 2000), Ryan, a Canadian, come online. I wrote and told him that I was in-country and he invited me to his "birthday weekend" at St. Sauveur Water Park. His brother lives in Montreal and I caught a ride up with him. His brother, Deryk, is an academic. He's working on his PhD in management and the conversation up to the water park went into the cerebral very quickly. It was really kind of nice, especially after an intellectually lonely and stifling year in Kona. The water park was wicked, too. (As Ryan best described it, "It's not just water slides. It's water slides that you have to take a ski lift to and wear helments for!") Ryan was with his girlfriend, her sister and another couple, and we all had an excellent time. Apparently, in Canada, going to a water park is kind of a big thing that everyone does during the summer. Given the length and intensity of the winters here, I guess I can see it, but you don't really see a lot of Americans in their 30s get excited about water slides.

I have a new student. I lept into the elevator at school one day (literally, the door was closing, so I ran and jumped in) and the woman inside was a bit surprised by my action. She was clearly Chinese so I smiled at her and asked her where she was from. "China," she said simply. "Where in China?" I pressed. "In the north", she said. "OH! Ni shi dongbei ren" I said ("You're a northeasterner!"). We got to talking and it turned out that she was from Dalian, the first city I lived in in China. I told her I was a teacher and then, on the spot, she asked me to give her lessons. Never one to turn down easy money, I accepted her offer. I now teach her twice a week for an hour and a half each time and we focus mostly on pronunciation (liaison and intonation). She's a very nice lady. She and her 12-year-old daughter came to Canada three years ago when her husband got a job here.

It's really quite nice to have the Chinese connection. Michelle, my student, has shown me how to get around and where to buy food at the best prices. Also, last Friday, she took me to a tofu factory run by a Chinese lady who grew up in Taipei. Apparently all Chinese people know this place that is tucked away in a very residential area. The factory produces all sorts of soy products, including soy milk, and for less than $5, I walked away with a brick of firm tofu, a bag of fermented soy beans and a litre of soy milk. The proprietess, an absolutely glamorous middle-aged lady who wore red lipstick and kept her black hair in fingerwaves under a discreet hairnet, was also very proud to inform me, in a mix of Chinese and English, that her operation produces strictly organic products and had the certificate on the wall to prove it. She also doesn't believe in waste, so when customers come directly to the factory for tofu, they have to bring their own containters. The woman who came in after us, followed by a rather patient looking laowai who clearly spoke no Chinese, brought in a giant silver dish that looked like it was going straight back into the kitchen once it left the building. Hooray for being Chinese!

On Sunday, I went and saw David Sedaris speak at Indigo Bookstore. He was brilliant, as expected, and I was chuffed to be able to attend such an event, free of charge, just by virtue of being in a major world city again. The place was packed, but as I was on my own, a security guard led me to an empty seat in front of the stage! Sedaris read a bit of his new book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, then he took questions from the audience. Someone asked about his writing process and he mentioned that he often gets people in graduate writing programs at his readings. He says that he always tells them: "Don't waste your time with grad school! If you want to be a writer you should become a prostitute! And there are two very good reasons for this. The first is, when you're young, people will want to sleep with you. Even the most homely 25-year-old can find a 50-year-old who will want to sleep with them and who will pay for it! Second, being a prostitute will get you into all kinds of adventures and you'll have plenty to write about when you're old and withered." This I found rather amusing. And it reminds me of something I read in an interview with Hemingway. When asked what he "would consider to be the best intellectual training for the would-be writer", he said, "He said, 'Let’s say that he [would-be writer] should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.' I have so much to do before becoming a writer...!

David Sedaris also shared, the exact details of which he found in a little blue notebook he kept in his breast pocked, that the night before he had met a woman whose mother's name was Jackie Chan and whose father's was Dick Hornballer. (To which he responded, "Why didn't he just go by Richard?") I liked this story because this is the kind of stuff I note, as well.

So that's the current run-down. There may be more henceforth.

2 comments:

Brian said...

Hey girl,

If all women looked like that, I'd be gay.

Representin' Ota-licous style,

Da Mayor

Christian said...

Still reading your blog from time to time. Interesting stuff as always. Good to see you are still experiencing life on the go. I'm off to India next week, SEA next month and Australia during October. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, let me know :)

Be good,
Christian