Wednesday, December 4, 2013

language part 2 - musica

one of the best ways to fall in love with a language is to listen to it's music.
but i've actually been having a bit of a problem with this.
i do enjoy a lot of latin-american music, but there's some days that you just don't feel like listening to love songs or marc anthony (especially if your neighbours are enjoying him for you on repeat)... and salsa all day every day just gets a little over-stimulating.
and in the meantime, recuperating from the constant adjusting that happens outside my door, has driven me to create a haven of familiar sounds in my home... but alas this works against my purpose of gaining some momentum in the world of spanishness.
so, in an attempt to immerse myself further, i've embarked on an extensive search for some fresh spanish-speaking musicians who have the elements that i love. soothing tunes, great imagery. lyrics i can really delve into.
and this week i struck gold with these guys. vetusta morla.

i've always had a thing for this style of writing, layers of meaning, possibly incomprehensible, but delicious nonetheless (therefore, my undying love of crowded house). these guys definitely have something good going. and i love that the guitar work is simple enough to learn... :)

ive spent the past few days wandering around my apartment singing snatches of this song, finally breaking through the wall of english.

in fact, i've become so enamored with this band's poetic style, last night i got inspired and wrote a whole song of my own in spanish. (set to brazilian music of course- there has to be compromise somewhere). all the ideas that i'd stored up for a long time, which couldn't find a home in english, just came pouring out. turns out spanish is full of fun alliterations which lend themselves very well to lyrics. and there's a freedom in trying to express yourself in a new language... not tied down to preconceptions about how things should be structured.
this could be an exciting new branch of songwriting...
letting the words roll off my tongue is the happiest part.

singing is still much easier (and more confidence building) than stumbling through a conversation... *sigh*. i feel like i'm an awkward teenager all over again.
the strange part of language is it's comings and goings. some days, it's crisp and clear in mind, ready to use, sentences flow freely, i know how to say what i want.
other days, it's more like sailing through a thick fog. totally confused as to where i am and where to go.
the inconsistancy is the hardest part. but we all have days like that in english too, right? or times of day...
(see post about mornings. it still applies.)

but i'm enjoying the breakthroughs that do come (great relief), and finding a few new things to love and make my own.

little ways of making the hard work just a little more... fun ;)

peace out.

(coming soon, a new album of love songs by sail. written entirely in spanish. guest appearance by marc anthony.)

(i wish...)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

tea in macas

so the month of rain has arrived in macas. aside from making it a little difficult to hear my little students answer questions (they live on a top floor which is only covered by a tin roof, you can imagine what that sounds like), or being challenged as to the best time to do laundry, i'm actually enjoying this. having a nice dramatic thunder storm roll through every day is definitely an interesting change from hot, humid and sunny.

not to mention that everything becomes even more intensely green, if that's at all possible.

ecuador is starting to show her face a little more to me, or maybe i am showing mine. either way, we don't always agree. i think she's sometimes too pushy, and she retorts by saying, well don't be so passive then. still, we'll work things out. (not sure why ecuador is a she... i guess its the matriarchal vibe, despite all that machismo)
i'm a teeny bit resentful, but can already tell that living here will teach me to develop that extra oomph that you just don't need back in good old mannerly (and it's true, apologetic) Canada. this will probably serve me well in future life.
assertiveness training 101. while remaining friendly, of course.

one of the beautiful things however (as i've probably already mentioned) is the kind of hospitality that is shown here. it has nothing to do with great table settings or spending days cooking a feast, or having the best wine. it's more about offering what you have. a simple glass of water, juice, a little fruit or a cheese sandwich. something to make some else's day a little easier, and making them feel like a part of your family for a while, no matter who they are. it's one of my favorite things about this culture, and i hope is something that i can bring with me wherever i go, and shake off the western (or is it northern?) perfectionism and accompanying anxiety attached to 'having guests'.

today was a lovely day to be on the receiving end.  i got to taste some freshly smoked meat (right from the front yard, mmmmmmmmm) and drink tea made from the leaves of a local tree. i also got sent home with a bag of bananas and cinnamon and a little recipe for breakfast (cook sliced banana in milk with a stick of cinnamon, just for a couple mins. a nice relaxing food to start the day). amidst all these generous gifts i managed to squeak out that i would one day make some beef stew with beer and try to return the favor. but there's no way to win... you just have to accept it with gratitude.

ecuador is probably packed with more surprises. some good, some unsettling. is this an appropriate time to say 'life is like a box of chocolates'?
more things to get used to and decide whether to roll into my personal life vocabulary or leave to the side and just accept it as a part of someone else's.

still a long road ahead. one step at a time.

peace out.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

comfort zones

the past two weeks have been all about ditching english, leaving the comfort of my apartment behind, and getting out into this new world in which i find myself.

some days it's not easy. especially when i've woken up again from vivid dreams of all the places i've lived in the past, and for a moment, don't know where i am. i'm used to this sensation happening for the first few days of being in a new place, while the senses adjust. but not every morning for a month and a half. it's a little disconcerting.

and i have to admit, other than shopping excursions, meetings, service and the odd fiesta (which seem to happen quite regularly here) i have been spending a lot of time cocooning again. the thing is, i really enjoy spending a day just puttering, cooking a few things for the week while listening to vinyl cafe, or catching up on my favorite british tv shows. the problem is that it's not at all related to what's happening outside my front door. so everytime i leave the house, or try to speak a few words with my landlady, it's like a little shock.

 i think it's natural, when all around  is new, to perhaps more stubbornly revert to familiar things. but i have been learning the value of letting go of them
for a while (at least, spending so much time there), and just enjoying what's in the here and now. allowing a few roots to grow.

one day this came in the form of hanging out at someone's house for a couple hours, waiting for lunch to finish cooking, listening to the little familial interactions, watching spanish tv. aside from learning how to make a pretty delicious dish (a soup of little balls of grated plantain, cheese, onion, butter and salt, chucked into a veg stock and boiled until thick and creamy, yumm!) it was getting a glimpse of everyday life here. everyday life for people who's families live all in one building, who's kids run freely in and out of the house to play in the yard or streets, who always have a few pots of something boiling on the stove, and are always happy to share at least a glass of freshly blended juice.

today it was an impromptu tour of the city given by a friend whose culture has a great knowledge and appreciation of nature. she took me to all the parks in the city and attempted in spanish to explain things about the trees...(of which i understood about 20%... enough to know which fruit grows where and appreciate the variety). we talked to the warden of the biggest park, who generously pulled down a few pods of guava for us to eat (google ecuadorian guava, super cool), and i filled my water bottle with seeds to grow later. we walked past all the main buildings, and she explained what happened in each of them and all the city fiestas. today i felt like i finally had a grasp of this place, and found a few special corners that i could make my own. and most importantly i felt that i am not just passing through, but am really here to stay awhile.

so macas... here goes. the next phase of our relationship.

(and here's hoping that my somewhat unhappy relationship with mosquitos will come to an end... apparently after a while they tire of new blood. it had better be true.)

finally, here is a picture of the elusive volcano sangay, who is surrounded most days by cloud. but if you get up early enough, or keep an eye out on an extra clear day, you can catch a glimpse of her.

Thursday, October 31, 2013



After the whirlwind of Quito, I had some time to process on the overnight bus to Macas. I was feeling a lot of hesitation, doubt. Would it be as amazing as I'd remembered? What exactly was I doing in Ecuador anyway? Did I think I was some kind of conquistadora?

By the time we hit the jungle the light was starting to creep over the horizon. Silhouette's of trees emerged, alien forms against the sky. Then I remembered. This is what I had loved. As it got brighter, I saw the green rolling hills, wooden shacks dotted alongside the road, families huddled together in paradas with bags of things to sell in town. As the scenery rolled by I started to feel more and more reassured. This was the right decision, I had come to the right place.

I spent an hour sitting on my bags waiting for my friends to come pick me up. Time to look around, soak it all in. The center of Macas early in the morning is a pretty bustling place. People throwing bags of grain into the back of taxi's, ready to sell in the tiendas. Clusters of plantain wheeled around on bicycles. Uniformed schoolchildren pouring out of buses. The town itself looks a little bit scraggly... worn at the edges. It's not a tourist town by any means. But the location... along the edge of a wide and rocky river, and set in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery in Ecuador (maybe I'm biased) is what sets it apart. Its tranquillity compared to the bigger cities makes it a pretty ideal place to start a new life.

And so it began, two weeks ago. I landed in the middle of a push to finish building the new Kingdom Hall, so there was a lot of activity. I had work right away, kitchen duty, sanding, painting, digging holes and shovelling piles of dirt into wheelbarrows... tumbling with a bunch of people into the back of a transport truck to go for lunch. All the while struggling with getting-to-know-you conversations in spanish. Whew! That week finished up with a huge fiesta out in the campo, the afternoon was full of dancing and food, and then we wrapped things up with more food (lots of rice and meat and salad, and some delicious spicy sauce with onions). In this area of Ecuador they seem to dance in rows opposite each other, no contact. Which is ok, saves you from being stuck with a lousy partner. Although here, there's not too much risk of that. Ecuadorians love to dance! Yay :)

So, the following week was more construction, which was completed on Thursday. The Wednesday morning a group of us went out to a small river to collect stones for the garden. It was an idyllic spot... all hung over by trees, down a dirt track... the stones we found were black with white stripes running through them, worn smooth by the water. Beautiful.
Also got to fully test out my new rainboots, and they are indeed waterproof. Could use a little more traction for riverbeds though, haha.

Anyhow. Although it still feels strange to be here, on the other side of the world almost, in a completely new environment, culture, language... I'm still seeing the potential of a pretty awesome life here, and when I sit in on a Bible study, or have my own (two kids who speak english and are visiting from the states for a couple months), that's when everything becomes focused, and I feel most at peace with this decision. There is so much to do here. And this place gives me everything I need to be able to do my part.

Learning spanish is the next challenge, still at the baby conversation stage, with much effort. But I'm taking lessons right now, two or three times a week over skype, which is helping a lot. The teacher I had last week was great, he clapped and roared enthusiastically everytime I got something right. Now if that isn't an ego boost I don't know what is! This week my teacher is much more sedate and structured, so I'm learning more details. She speaks slowly, corrects me more, and is filling in a lot of the blanks. And since the first thing they ask is why I moved here in the first place, I get to talk a lot about how we teach the Bible, and do our meetings. :D

Another thing I love is the pace of life. I find myself enjoying little domestic things much more. Like buying food. There's a decent supermarket in my town where I buy meat, dairy and grains, but the smaller tiendas and markets are where the fun is at. My friend recently introduced me to a weekend market that happens in her neighbourhood. We went at night when the trucks were pulling in from the country, full of fresh produce, and wandered from stall to stall, chatting with the vendors. I went home with bags full of fruit and veg and some fresh honey, and spent less than $10!

Here are the other things I love so far.

Having breakfast every morning looking out on the huge tree in my backyard, and the hills in the distance.
My landlady's dogs who now greet me with wags and grins instead of scary barking.
Lots of lightening storms!
Drying clothes in the sun on the rooftop.
Walking down dirt roads.
Making new friends with incredibly patient, loving, and helpful people.
Understanding the odd joke in spanish.
Chivalry is alive and well.
People have nice happy energy.
Naranjilla juice. mmm.

There will be much more to add to that list in the days to come.

Til next time...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

here we go...

so i made it, luggage and enthusiasm intact, to quito on monday night.

i will always love that first sight of the city, flying over hills of streaming lights, pooling into valleys...
quito just goes on forever, or so it seems from above.
we landed, a little buffeted by wind, at the new airport outside the centre.
it was slightly more tame than landing at the old airport, which bounced you between a couple mountains and came awfully close to taking along some poor old womans laundry with the landing gear.

i was met by friends, a very welcome sight after the long journey. and also as i was feeling quite conspicuous standing next to a cart piled high with luggage. 'here comes the newbie' it screamed. i was looking enviously at the sensible girl who had compacted everything in a smaller, wheeled, suitcase. too late for packing regrets now. after all, i should be proud to have squished all my life belongings into two (heavy) suitcases.

so we drove back to my friends place, and to be honest everything after that has been something of a blur.
i did have a plan of sorts, to register my visa downtown on tuesday, then quickly travel down to macas and get started on settling in. the ecuadorian government of course had other ideas, and told me to come back on monday to pick up my passport. hm.

my friend is kindly letting me crash at her casa in the meantime, and like i say, the past few days here have had a dizzy sort of feeling. quito always does that to me, and it's not just the altitude. there's just so much of everything... tiendas, streets, hills, stacked concrete houses, people, black smoke from buses, sprawling markets, fruit, music, stray dogs, etc.
on the ground it's just as huge as it looks from the air. its easy to spend an hour getting from one section to another, jumping in and out of buses, taxi's and trolleys. all the while trying to be as aware as possible of your surroundings and wallet.

just a little overwhelming for an already city-exhausted girl.... but at the same time the whirlwind has been a blessing, pushing me every day out of my comfort zone and into the heart of things. there have been a few moments of feeling totally in my element, which gives me hope for the times when everything feels strange and upside-down (the adrenaline junkie in me completely loves flying down the hills on the bus at impossible speeds to soca music).

i've been really blown away by the spirituality of people in ecuador. my friends are in a group that is learning creole to teach the bible to haitians, most of whom are on their way to brazil. but it's been such a treat to be meeting so many interesting people with a hunger to understand the bigger picture. and actually having the answers to give them. that is something i am coming to appreciate the value of more and more. and i'm getting a glimpse again of the kind of joy you can feel when your life is full of this kind of busyness.

now, about leaving canada...
there was so much love and positivity in the past few weeks, and it's true that love is a far greater motivator for change than anything else. feeling supported in so many ways by friends and family gave such a needed boost to be able to tackle this project.
not to mention the hugely exciting and helpful spiritual events that happened just before leaving. assemblies, meetings, and... new bible revision??? amazing.


so here we go. these are the first days. when the overwhelmed-ness dissipates, i'm looking forward to sharing more of the fun of ecuadorian life. (and some new pics!)

hasta la próxima!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sunday morning.

It's Sunday morning in a little park off rue Notre Dame. I have walked by here many times over the years and never stopped.  Today there are two pianos on a low platform, one covered with flowers in pots, the other half-draped with a white tarp. Chairs arranged loosely in front.

I decide to settle in with my book and see what happens.

First, a mother with two children approaches. One of the boys plonks away discordantly for 5 minutes, then leaves. (future jazz musician, I think). Next, a family with a toddler cheerfully comes to strike a few notes.

Along the side of the park, under a jungly mural of a waterfall, a woman sits, talking on her cellphone. Now, emboldened, she walks over and cautiously starts to play. With the first few notes I'm caught by surprise emotion. Tears well up and quickly overflow.

The music is slow, meloncholy, wistful. Under the open sky and shadow of maples, on the rich sound of a old upright, it is easily the most beautiful thing I have heard. I try to hide my face from the handful of onlookers that have stopped to listen.

She plays for a good ten minutes. A young man eagerly circles. When she is done he takes her seat. He launches into a much larger classical piece, playing to the extremities of the piano with gusto. A family from Philedelphia parks their car and gets out to watch. They applaud and beg for an encore. He grins and goes back for a passionate version of Moonlight Sonota. More people gather on the sidewalk.

He gets up and bashfully walks away amidst more applause, "I'm done now, have to shake the nervousness from my hands."

"A perfect moment." says a woman who has curled up in one of the chairs. I agree silently.

The park grows quiet now as the watchers begin to dissipate. There are only three people left, talking amongst themselves. This is my shot. I walk over to the bench and drop my bags. There are two songs I can half-remember, one from Amelie and another by Patrick Watson. I play these a little nervously, and gaining courage, enjoy a few more minutes of experimentation. Letting the notes and chords roll out into the air. It is exhilerating, playing outside. 

I finish, and without looking back, pick up my things and start walking again down Notre Dame. My hands are shaking. I understand what the man was talking about. And the woman in the chair was right.
This was a perfect moment.

Friday, August 30, 2013


the main thing on my mind right now is home. carving out a little place for myself in a new environment. of course, the first thing that comes up, is stuff. what we fill our spaces with to individualize them and create comfort.

after the exhilaration of seeing all my furniture walking out of the house, even getting rid of many sentimental items, what is left?

i have to admit. i am having a stuff-related panic. which i wasn't expecting.

currently i am sitting in a pile of the remaining privileged items, obsessively reading all the blogs i can get my hands on. expats, travellers, what they thought was absolutely essential to bring to south america.
in reality, we need very little. it's amazing how we adapt, and 'things' in general are an illusory comfort. travelling is about losing the stuff and gaining memories and experiences. but tell that to my 'ohmygoshi'mmovingtosouthamericaforthefirsttime' addled brain. and to be fair, there are a few things it's handy to have with you before leaving.

apparently electronics is a big one (far too expensive over there), and good footwear.

therefore i have spent more time than is healthy combing over online department stores. some things i do not regret, ordering a nice lightweight pair of rainboots for trekking on dirt roads, and a set of compact but great-sounding
computer speakers. hopefully the next purchase won't disappoint, a small e-reader to replace the large suitcase that would consist only of books.

also on the list, a few essential oils (also compact and multi-purpose, mostly in keeping me sane, thank you lavender), and a big bottle of grapefruit seed extract, which apparently can last for years and is good for anything from fighting infections to cleaning your vegetables. so with that, a few favorite photo's and letters, my laptop and camera (obviously), a couple sets of sheets and towels, my clothes and guitar, i should be ok. (at this point it may still sound like i'm packing light, but you should feel the weight of that suitcase.... haven't even started on the other one!)

while i was travelling around, meeting many people who packed up their lives and moved to ecuador, i found it interesting to observe what each person did to make it home. one couple bought a super fancy washing machine and imported the contents of their kitchen. another couple kept it really simple, but took time to cook and enjoy some pretty posh-looking meals. a couple who had lived there 20 years built a massive western-style log house on a hill, and one girl i met was living in a one-room apartment tucked into the back of a building, cooked on a tiny burner, and was happy as a clam with her music collection (girl after my own heart!). my favorite was the couple who seemed to choose their apartments based on great views, so even if it was basic, it felt luxurious.

 i've been thinking a lot about what i want my home to look and feel like, where i will put down my bags at the end of the day and breathe a sigh of relief. will see what the final shape is. but after settling down and recuperating from moving stress, i'm looking forward to doing what i love again and home being more about people and purpose. 'stuff' will naturally settle back in its not so important place.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

well-being for nomads

I have been doing a lot of writing in the past couple months, but mostly of the theraputic journalling variety, which i will not be sharing with the unsuspecting public. however. now i have some time, am tucked into the sofa with a handful of delicious strawberries, and enjoying some classy tunes (see above, it's a treat!) i'll write the blog-friendly version.

it's been 2 months living in the temp apartment, getting a head-start with the spanish community here, and enjoying the much quieter environment off the island of montreal.
being in between is a vulnerable place. ironically the biggest obstacles i have been facing regarding this move to ecuador is not the nay-saying of others (barely heard a peep!), but rather my own fears, doubts, low energy levels, etc.
having the time and space to take care of myself and being forced to re-examine things on a deeper level has been the best gift. seriously. when these opportunities come up in life, don't run away, squeeze all the wisdom you can out of them!

used to being able to summon the willpower and energy to attack my favorite projects with gusto, i was somewhat startled when this time my body said 'no'. loud and clear. then the cowardly part of my brain jumped in and paraded out a long list of reasons why i should stop being a nomad, stop trying to learn all these new things, and just settle down already. thankfully with some coaxing i stopped listening.
and simply learned to pace myself.
it may be much slower than anticipated, but if the goal is worthy, and attainable with a few adjustments of expectation, why give up?

i've been learning again how to spoil myself a bit. spending hours in the sun like a cat, having delicious healthy food on hand at all times, reprioritizing goals with a spiritual perspective, taking long walks in the huge park behind my house, workout video's on youtube, doing my nails, learning a few new techniques on guitar, lots of reading....
basically giving my body and mind the rest and positive energy it needs. so when the big move goes down... i won't be trying to crawl out of the planes's emergency exit. and will be starting a new life with some basics already in place.
for those of us who love to travel and experience new things, it is very theraputic in itself. but to be able to keep going for longer periods of time, and to have something left to offer, we need to continuously expand the repertoire of healthy ways of being. and stick to it. every day is it's own entity. forget the outcome, focus on the effort you can reasonably sustain. enjoy whatever progress you do make in projects, life.
i've been slowly learning to let go of unnecessary self-imposed or perceived pressures. just do what i can. and believe me, it's a much more satisfying place to be.

thinking about making a big move or travelling solo... all the fears that go along with it. a good part of addressing that fear is knowing that you already have the habit to take good care of yourself, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. you have more freedom to go out and enjoy life, and much more to offer to the people you inevitably meet on your journeys. it all filters down.

so, 2 months left. it's now becoming a real event. with a deadline.
and i can say absolutely honestly now, i can't wait to live it.
signing off....

Monday, April 22, 2013


so i started drawing again recently. there's something about being in a state of flux - on your way to somewhere, but not just yet - that brings out the need to create. maybe it's a way to let out all the emotions shaken to the surface. a way to stabilize, deal with the uncertainty of what you're heading into. for me creativity is this narrow window of time, like a wormhole in a sci-fi movie. coming and going as it pleases.

this current transition comes from the shift of seasons, from passionately ridding myself of all excess belongings in preparation for the big move, and from a whole lot of new perspective and values. shedding as much north american culture as possible to take on a new one.

recently i spent an evening with the patrick watson album 'adventures in your own backyard'. perhaps it triggered the nostalgia of being a child, the happiest moments spent sprawled on the floor with paper and crayon, oblivious to the world around. so i picked up a pen and started sketching a scene from home.

it's an old wharf, constructed of rough logs stacked one on top of the other, and filled with large stones. behind, the dark mountains fall into the lake. this was the place to swim and dive in the summer (avoiding the waterweeds) when the normally glacial water had warmed. sometimes i would go alone to have some peace - walk the dog, or just sit looking out on the lake. we would have picnics there or lie in the sand. if there was an escaped log washed up on shore i would paddle it out, pretending it was a boat. would never go very far though, the lake was deep and green and i was always a little leery of what might be living in it...
at a point further back on the beach, i remember my parents skating on a sliver of ice after dark, one of the rare winters when the lake partially froze. this place is so familiar i could probably trace it's geography with my eyes closed.

now i have no pretensions about being a talented artist. i have always been more comfortable creating pictures with words.
however, there's something so engrossing about drawing a landscape. you have to pay close attention. it's lines and details pull you in as you try to place them on paper, and in that moment you are completely connected to it.

this happened a couple years ago as well, i was in the middle of another transition - moving back to montreal from scotland, finishing my 4th month of couch-surfing. visiting BC was the last stop before finally getting settled in an apartment.
it had been a long time since i'd been home, maybe 3 years. it was so surreal so come back, see who and what had changed, friends getting married, having children, structures being torn down and built, but the one thing that hadn't changed were the main features of the landscape. the shapes of the mountains, the curve of the shoreline. so one afternoon i found myself at a lookout point over the town, replicating the scene below.

i am wondering if this is where the urge to draw home comes from... in the midst of chaos, feeling the strong need to be connected for a moment with something deeply familiar and unchanging. we're funny that way, humans.
we cannot live without movement and change, but deep down, we all have a need to be rooted to something. a feeling of security. for me part of that is my mountains and water.

thankfully there's a lot of that happening in ecuador. maybe one of the reasons why i feel like it`s going to be ok to live there.

(and if you want to see real art, check out some of these incredible paintings from the 2009 BP Portrait Award!!!)

Monday, March 25, 2013

yes, it's morning.

i have spent most of my life under the misapprehension that i was a morning person.

when i was a kid i would occasionally slip out before sunrise for a nature walk before everyone was up, enjoying the cool air, the tranquility, the freshness of grass and leaves...  returning to unimpressed parents who were somewhat alarmed at waking up to their child missing, again.

even in adult life i have been capable of rising early, with a smile, able to hold a conversation. in contrast, i have many friends who are decidedly against mornings, and can get quite angry if forced to interact in any meaningful way before 11. because of this, i felt that i was safely on the other side of that line.

when i moved in with the latest roommate, i quickly discovered how mistaken this belief was. here was a true morning person, in all her glory. day after day she was alert, efficient, enthusiastically chatty, effortlessly multi-tasking, even *shudder* humming cheerfully as she darted around the apartment, then out the door at 7:30. all while i was standing confused in the middle of the kitchen, or slumped at the table. i wasn't sure how to deal with this at first, tried to keep pace, but couldn't. it was not physically possible to move my mouth in the necessary ways to formulate words, let alone ideas, at this velocity. then i tried avoidance, moving to the shower as quickly as possible, gaining a few more minutes to re-orient.
finally i had to admit that i was just not a morning person, at least not anymore, and request an embargo on early morning speech. 'you can talk at me, i don't mind' i told her one day, 'but don't expect an intelligent response.' she agreed.

things are more maneagable now, although i sense she is still not completely at ease with this non-verbal, sluggish presence at breakfast.
perhaps in the back of her mind is the reputation that many non-morning people have for unpredictable irritability... is she calculating the odds of me chucking a piece of toast at her head? i will never know. but that is the price you pay for admitting what you really are. there will always be preconceptions to go with it.

when we are not on the same schedule, i am inevitably jarred awake anyways, as the walls between me and the kitchen are almost nonexistant. there are sounds you cannot completely avoid making in the morning, dishes clattering, doors opening and closing, etc. i used to feel vaguely resentful for this uncomfortable launch into the new day. but now i just roll over for a few more zzz's with the happy knowlege that i can begin again on my own terms.

here's how it goes. i wait until the apartment is quiet. i stretch, move slowly out to the kitchen, put on the kettle, and sit. no thinking, planning, multi-tasking. just immersed in a  good cup of tea enjoying the trees outside. then, read the days text. make a light breakfast. do more reading. perhaps some soft music, lately it's been antonio carlos jobim (the perfect antidote to waking up to fresh snowfall in march!). all of these things gently nudge me to a state where i can  look forward to my day with positivity, motivation, kindness. write lists, cross things off them. be a productive human.

in all my flexible free-spirited life i have never been one for ritual. but if this is a way for me and mornings to be on good terms, i'm going to hold onto this one.

Friday, March 22, 2013

language therapy

confession: (not a surprise to those who know me) after years of living in a militantly french province, i never really learned french :S
came close when falling in love with the music of daniel belanger (even bad google translations of his lyrics can take my breath away), but in the end, not even he could convince me. it's nothing against the culture here, but i always felt like i was going to move on, so didn't want to invest in such a difficult language. also, i could survive without it. resulted in taking on some very interesting jobs...

i used to love languages. as a child i had a go at italian, german, spanish, and later on, thai. would usually manage to get down numbers 1-10, rooms of the house, random pieces of furniture, members of the family (and the all important 'where is the bathroom?' in thai, still waiting to use that).

i don't know what changed. the language path in my brain is well taken over, and requiring a good amount of hacking in the undergrowth to find again.
these are the three stages that inevitably happen.

1: euphoric enthusiasm. accompanied by vivid imaginings of effortless conversation in new language after just a few lessons. quickly followed by...
2. despair. after above delusions are shattered and the realization sinks in how much work will have to be done to achieve the desired fluency, the undertaking becomes huge and threatening. if not a gifted speaker in the first few minutes, why bother trying! after talking myself through that, the most difficult stage sets in.
3. procrastination. always a battle. i guess it comes down to schedule, motivation and self discipline.
will let you know how that some point....

another challenge is speaking. i'm fairly shy, even in my native language. and when an opportunity comes up to strike up a conversation with a spanish speaker in montreal (frequent these days) i will often go blank, and scuttle away before anyone picks up on the tiny amount of spanish in my brainwaves.
but ask me questions in french and i will reply in spanish noooooo problem. (?)

there are some people out there who just love languages, want to speak to anything that moves, and add a new language to their repertoire every year. bored with portuguese, lets try mandarin today! *tears*
i will never be one of these people. but i'm allowed to be jealous....

the thing that helps is that i actually do love spanish. it's a fun language to listen to, fiery and fast, full of emotion and yet guided by some pretty great logic. the perfect mix. i kind of love the music too, it gives me permission to feel all sentimental and mushy. a refreshing contrast to the general cynicism of the northern hemisphere. some words that pretty much sum up spanish music: 'corazon', 'amor' and 'quiero'. throw in 'no entiendo' for good measure. oh and 'baila'.
dancing.... now that's a whole other love :)

i've heard that surrounding yourself with as much of the language as possible will assist the osmosis process. in the meantime, while waiting for The Morning i wake up speaking full sentences from previously watching spanish 'Sesame Street', there are resources for some good ol-fashioned work. the series 'Practice Makes Perfect' has great books, makes learning the written form simple and fast. also, a friend recently introduced me to this website that has a sneaky way of getting you to learn languages by designing it like farmville. except no escaping cows. or whatever farmville has that gets people addicted. if you can get human weaknesses (ie, addictive personality, competition) to work in your favor... i'm all for it!

this is just the beginning of what will likely be a loooooooooong process. future spanish teachers, be warned!

Monday, March 18, 2013

musings on montreal.

despite the name of this blog, i have been a resident of montreal for 7 years and counting. not exactly the definition of a nomad, unless you count numerous apartment moves and a jaunt to scotland...

anyhow, after committing myself to live at least a year and a half in ecuador (and the plan is not to come back, but keep moving through south america), i have been going through a process of cutting ties. mostly physical - selling furniture, cancelling lease... but along with that it's been frighteningly easy to cut the emotional ties too. scenes that i used to love are now looking old and worn, shops and cafe's starting to lose their appeal, and the lifestyle.... well don't get me started on that.

how does that happen... a place that once thrilled you, a lifestyle you'd always aspired to live, an atmophere that you thought was home... almost becoming repulsive? how do you fall out of love with a place? is it like falling out of love with a human? realizing that they have taught you all they can... and staying together will just be unhealthy and/or irritating for both of you?

perhaps seeing montreal yet again under sheets of ice and scurrying from place to place to avoid losing limbs to frostbite has skewed my viewpoint....

however, i was downtown the other day, and thinking that it had been a long time since i took a good look around, and appreciated what the city had to offer. this was my soundtrack.

so i set off down the streets, and opened my eyes. this is what i saw. the row of old, almost broken down buildings on st catherine full of grafitti, juxtaposed against the huge sleek glass concordia buildings. almost every face you pass on the street has lived another life on the other side of the world. houses almost bursting their stone foundations, painted in bright colors, detailed woodwork made with love and skill that disappeared years ago. i could go on and on... clearly most of my lingering love for montreal is wrapped up in the architecture. not a surprise, montreal was my first sighting of things on a grand scale, buildings older than parts of canada, and as a dreamy 13 year old, i was impressed. some things will always stick with you.

now here are the things that i've stopped loving, or never did to begin with. never got into the club scene - hate crowded spaces. enjoying the terrace scene in the summer is a nice idea... but gets terribly expensive. besides, so many of those places are about seeing and being seen... a kind of show. the shopping is great, but can quickly turn into an obsession with appearance... ok, so i am kind of hitting on my issues with the general lifestyle.
there is the buzz of city life, exciting as a teenager, but as a somewhat sensitive and intuitive adult, the incessant pace seems unnecessary and exhausting. and last but not least, all the favorite haunts have either closed, moved, or changed so much that the original charm has been lost. (Griffintown anyone???)

that being said, montreal still has some very beautiful people that are grounded and maintain their connection with what's meaningful. (these people also take frequent trips to the country to decompress....) i have learned more about how to live a balanced life from people here than i have in all my years at home. montreal was where i came to get my feet under me when i was 18 and living on my own for the first time, and after moving back from scotland, feeling homesick and reeling from some personal losses. montreal has always been there to cradle me, then toughen me up for whatever is next.

these days it's been a lot of tough love... which makes me wonder about what's in store....
right now, coccooned in my apartment, it's about escape. escaping in my mind to my future home, escaping through music to other (warmer) parts of the world like senegal and mali. and this time it's not about being a discontented person, it's just the knowlege that there is so much more out there to experience and be immersed in... we have this mistaken belief in the western world that our standards and lifestyle are what the rest of the world should strive for. but taking a step back..... if all humans are equal, that would mean that each group of people has something equally important to offer in how they live their lives.

i will never be comfortable with living in one place, for this reason. there is just too much to learn. and to give. everywhere.

so, montreal: we've had some amazing times, lots of milestones happened here, i will always love you for the friends you've given me. and thanks for being a stepping-stone to other things. couldn't have done it without you. but now... it's time to move on.

PS: i really really hate your winter.