Tuesday, April 29, 2008



I don't know. I'm having a much harder time sorting through and editing my Cuban photos than I did my South African photos. I don't know if it's because the photos suck or because I'm pickier or because I have less time now. I'm grumpy and discouraged. So far there are 19 photos I like out of the 1500 I shot, not including family shots. You can watch a slide show of them here. What do you think?

There are others I like, but I can't be arsed to edit them. Maybe I just need some time and distance. I'm trying to stay calm, but I could really use some kind words right about now if anyone feels like doling them out.




Sunday, April 27, 2008


I think coming home after a trip, sinking back into home's comforts and familiarity, is almost as nice as going away. We got back late yesterday afternoon and immediately I had a big fat cup of strong tea made with proper boiling water poured directly onto the bag and cold, real cow's milk instead of the hot powdered imitation. Cuba is not a tea-drining nation.

Not having any groceries in the fridge and not wanting to get right back into the whole cooking thing of home, we went out for Chinese, desperate for fresh, bright, flavoured vegetables that still contained some nutritional value and hadn't had the shit boiled out of them until they were gray and lifeless. And tofu.

They gave us fortune cookies, and I opened mine first: You are a traveler at heart. There will be many journeys.

Then Swee'pea's: The small steps you take will ultimately bring you great fortune.

And Sugar D's: With a little more hard work, your creativity takes you to great heights!

To which he said, "Well I guess I better get working on your site and make it work in IE.

We strolled home in the mild evening, and gave Swee'pea a bath. Afterwards, I laid down with Swee'pea and we cuddled, and apropos of nothing he said, Home.

It's good to be home and lying in our own beds. Now I have to start sorting through and editing my photos, of which there are something like 1500. I'm not quite sure where to start...

And don't worry... the story of the very fat taxi driver and the very flat tire WILL come, eventually.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I'm on vacation... please don't make me think of a title

Today I ate two lunches. The first, because I was hungry and the buffet wasn't open yet and the second because I wanted the buffet, including dessert. And I had more beer. I seem unfillable here in Cuba. Mmm... I can still smell the profiteroles.

We're back from Havana, and I'm so glad we went. For one, it made me appreciate the luxury of our resort far more than earlier in the week. It is a hot and busy city (I know, big surprise), and I loved every minute of it. I filled 3 GB of memory cards in the 24 hours (ish) we were there, probably at least 900 photos. I feel like I can just relax now. Coming back to the resort, I suddenly see the point of it, and we breathed audible sighs as we entered the relatively peaceful lobby. I'm so glad I followed my sister's good advice and didn't spend our entire week in Havana. (She lived in Havana for three years.)

Our taxi driver was a sweetie, pointing out all the oil fields on the way to Havana and other points of interest, like the Rum factory. He asked if we'd been to Cuba or Havana before and when we answered no, "Ohhh," he nearly sang, "Havana IS Cuba!" Which of course isn't really true but I can see his point. I definitely experienced the reported warmth and friendliness of Cuban people, and many of them DID like getting their photos taken (for the right price). I also loved how patient people were with our utter lack of Spanish. Even if they had no English at all, they would try to decipher my sign languge and the would take time to communicate back. I doubt I would do that with someone who didn't speak English... I'd just shrug helplessly and hope someone else would help them soon.

We stayed in a private house right on the Malecon, pretty much on the corner of the Prado with tons of ruined buildings all around it. When I had asked our taxi driver where he was taking us, he said he had an address on the Malecon. I figured he meant the Hotel Nacional, and felt both sad and relieved not to be staying in a private house. But we pulled up in front of a lone 50s high rise stuck between much older more colonial buildings and it had lots of Cuban kids hanging out on its steps. I shot a bunch of pictures, figuring we'd be moving on to the hotel, but no. This was our place for the night. Later, at dusk, boys played marbles in the alley beside it.

A series of old men run the rickety, slow and claustrophobic elevator, which we took up to the 11th floor. Sometimes they would turn the fan above on and off to amuse Swee'pea, but it just freaked me out. Apparently elevators are fragile and valuable things in Havana, so the casa owners pay people to run them so idiots like me don't break them. The apartment took up the entire floor, and its whole front wall was windows looking out to the sea. It was quite something. I'm not going to talk about the Cuban (read: seriously, seriously outdated but who can blame them?) decor.

Our guide was a young woman who graduated from university last year with a degree in translation and interpretation. She teaches there, officially, but unofficially, she makes far more as a tour guide. Our taxi driver was a mechanical engineer who also makes more as a cab driver. I used to feel a bit idealistic about conditions in Cuba. Sure, people don't have much material wealth, but they get free healthcare and education, so how bad could it be? Now I see that it's actually pretty bad. I guess it must be like receiving welfare-sized paycheques when you're working as an engineer or a doctor or professor (or a communications specialist like me). How much would that suck?!?

Anyways, our guide, D, had a cell phone, which was kept busy through much of our lunch. During a cell break, I asked her if she'd just gotten it since that's been on the news lately, and she said no, she's had it for a while because the line is in a foreigner's name. So some Cubans did have cell phones before, it's just that now they can actually have the line in their name. I thought she looked a little too well-versed with it. She was interested in our Lonely Planet guide because she finds the perspective of outsiders fascinating. She only had an outdated guidebook, so I gave her ours when we were done. She'll get far more use out of it than we will.

After lunch, Swee'pea fell asleep and Sugar D stayed with him at the apartment while D took me out shooting. On our walk through through narrow streets of crumbling buildings and people just hanging out outside (heaven!), she admitted that I'm like a hero to her. I was incredulous until she explained that a Cuban husband would never stay home with the baby while the wife went out. No way... he'd make them all stay home. She said she's going to start telling people, especially her fiance, about me, and we joked about me becoming some urban myth in Cuba, this amazing woman who left her baby with his father.

The next morning we went looking for breakfast, which was a bit stressful because we had to be back to meet D by 9. So we stopped at the first open place (many places didn't open until noon). It looked like a bar so I asked in my pigeon sign language if they served food. Yes, she said, a nice ham sandwich. So I explained we didn't eat ham and she said how about tortillas, huevos frijos? That sounded great so we jumped on it and asked for three, along with a cold milk for Swee'pea. Well, they brought us the eggs and a basket of bread and three hot milks, all disgustingly sweet and sort of caramel coloured, maybe with coffee? I tried to ask for a cold one for Swee'pea, because he doesn't like the milk hot, and they brough a cooler version of the same sweet drink. I didn't worry too much because this was going to be the cheapest meal ever, of that I was certain. They brought us two espressos, unordered, but Sugar D hoovered them up, so whatever. Then they brought the bill. $25 CUC!!! When lunch and dinner the day before, far more substantial, had been under $20 CUC.

I wanted to perpetuate the friendly and polite Canadian persona, but there was no way I was paying so much for stuff we didn't even order. I told her we only ordered one milk so she brought the price down to $20, which we just paid, chalking it up to part of the Cuban experience. I vaguely recall the guideback saying to always see the price on a menu before you eat, and make sure you know if it's CUC or Cuban pesos. Oops.

Did you know that toilet paper can only be purchased in convertible pesos here so only people who work in tourism can buy it? I didn't ask what people use if they only have Cuban pesos. I used to always cheap out on toilet paper, or even not buy it, stealing it from bars and restaurants instead. But a few years back my friend pointed out that we earned pretty good wages so surely we could afford the nice soft stuff. Ever since, I get the nice stuff. Yesterday I gave our host, Miriam, a roll of that soft stuff, which I'd brought just in case we found ourselves in a public bathroom without any, but which I could be certain wouldn't happen from now on. I also gave her a bar of soap and two pens and her eyes lit up and she exclaimed over it. I pointed out that it was nice soft paper (i.e. not for her guests) and she said, "Oh, for me! Thank you! Thank you!"

I'm sorry, but when someone lights up like that over toilet paper, conditions are not good. And she's surely one of the rich ones since her plumbing still works (sort of) and her apartment is in good condition. It was also good (if humbling) to experience true Cuban plumbing. Apparently, you can't actually put the toilet paper down the toilet or it blocks, which we found out the hard way, after blocking the toilet. And the shower... well it didn't shower, at all, until the showerhead fell off in Sugar D's hand and then it was a weak stream of water, kind of like a garden hose with no fixture thingie on the end and barely any pressure. The kind of conditions that I never would have agreed to pay to stay in until now.

I was really glad that Jorge set it up for us. If we'd booked it ourselves, we probably wouldn't have stayed there. For one thing, the neighbourhood was daunting to say the least (and my photos, when I'm able to upload them, will say more than my words) and I would have worried we were putting ourselves, and more importantly Swee'pea, into a dangerous situation. But Jorge told us it was safe, and I truly trust him. In person, he is even more trustworthy than on the phone.

When we first arrived, Jorge exclaimed (like almost all the Cubans we've met) over Swee'pea's red hair. "I know many, many Cuban women who pay a lot of money to have hair like that." And sure enough, I saw A LOT of Cuban women with cranberry red hair. Even our hostess had a shower cap covering a new application of cranberry dye. I wondered if it was the only colour they could get.

I do have more to say but I'm running out of time... guess I'll have to leave the flat tire and corpulent taxi driver on the return trip for my return tomorrow. Until then...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Only 3 minutes left of internet time and I can't think of a title!

Ack, the pressure! The Internet is so expensive here and I've already used 3 minutes just getting to this word. Yesterday, when I first tried to get on the Internet, the woman in charge of the two computers said it was lunch time and to come back in an hour and a half. I didn't think computers needed a lunch break, but whatever. I smiled and thanked her and went off to kill some time. When I came back after lunch, the woman couldn't find the pad of paper with the passwords on it. She felt around the desk, lifted things, opened a drawer, then told me, "It's not working... I lost it... don't worry. Come back later."

I'm so glad I read some guidebooks and negative reviews before we came, so I was prepared for the more relaxed Cuban version of service. Some of the reviews on tripadvisor were so negative, I thought, I never want to use that harpie tone to describe having to wait for something or eating bland food. The horror! Speaking of food, I am eating fairly well. They make fresh bread every day, which is great, and the desserts are also way too yummy for my own good. The meal in between is ok if a little unsatisfying, which makes me eat more dessert. I had profiteroles the other day for the first time, and seriously loved them! No wonder all those British chit lit books mention them.

The other day when I blogged, the woman in charge had a friend visiting her. The friend pointed to the paperback I'd brought with me and sounded out the words. Eat, Pray, Love.

"What is this word in the middle? Pry. What does it mean?" she asked.

"Pray," I told her, and mimed a praying pose, palms together in front of my sternum, fingers pointed up. She looked like she wasn't getting it, so I tilted my head to the side and cast my eyes down, trying to look serene, like the Virgin Mary or something. She got it.

I point to the book again and ask, "You already know Eat and Love?"

She laughs heartily. "Oh yes! Eat -" she puts her hand to her mouth - "and amore" her friend finishes for her. They laugh again.

Swee'pea is slightly more peaceful today. Slightly. He's been enjoying the beach and yesterday he went for a swim in the ocean. He's more recognizably ours now, still with meltdowns but mostly only when he's really hungry and tired. Last night we went to the seafood a la carte restaurant, and he was downright pleasant to dine with. The musicians immediately made friends with him and so did the server. He gets such great service.

This morning at breafast a server stopped to ask him "What's up?!" and held out his hand for a High Five. To our intense embarassment, Swee'pea grabbed an empy butter packet from his plate and handed it to him, saying thank you and looking quite pleased with himself. Sugar D and I blushed puce and told Swee'pea to give him a High Five and finally he did it. Oh yes, we're raising quite the aristocrat.

In the lobby yesterday as I was making the dinner reservation, a man suddenly started screaming at someone behind the desk. He screamed. His face went red. He gesticulated madly. I wondered if it might actually come to blows he was so out of control angry. The woman I was dealing with shook her head and said, "It's always the same with Russians. It's like they don't go to school. I don't know what it is with that country, but it's always the same. And not just here but at other resorts too. Always the same. A few nights ago, a Russian punched the manager on duty for no reason and broke his wrist." Now, I'm not sure whose wrist was broken, but you get the idea. Eventually the man stopped screaming and just stood around looking angry and menacing, so I left.

Tomorrow morning we're going to Havana. We'd been thinking about not going because Swee'pea's been so unpleasant, but I think I'd be more bitter about going to Cuba and not going to Havana than I would be if we had a horrible lousy time in Havana. I've been trying to make arrangements with a local tour guide who people raved about at the tripadvisor forum. But apparently I gave him the wrong room number and with my problems getting online yesterday, we didn't hook up on the phone until last night.

He sounds so lovely and he's making our accommodation arrangements and taxi arrangements and we have total flexibility about taking tours of the city. I feel so much better having him to help us. I can almost hear my mother questioning my trust since I just pulled his name off the web but there was not a single bad word about him and lots of good, and sometimes you just have to trust. I almost feel adventurous, because we don't know yet where we're staying. Jorge knows we have Swee'pea with us and he's first going to try for a good private house, but he warned that they're hard to get for a single overnight, so we may have to stay at the Hotel Nacional for A LOT more money. We'll just have to wait and see where the taxi driver takes us tomorrow.

I keep swinging between thinking I could get used to this all-inclusive resort business, not having to pay for drinks or meals, just wandering and lazing around, and feeling suffocated by the inertia and lethargy this place inspires. It takes such energy to get away from it, and then when we do, we do something stupid like forget the stroller, or like yesterday, get on the bus in the wrong direction and ride a hot bus for an hour and 15 minutes instead of the usual 15 minutes.

Sugar D and I have already agreed that in Havana I will get my own tour by myself to make photos so he doesn't annoy me (yesterday, Swee'pea was perfectly happy in the stroller but Sugar D stopped on - I swear! - every single street corner, wondering if we should stop and let Swee'pea out or get a drink or something. I was open to stopping for a drink or a bite, but then he'd decide not to - until the next street corner when he'd stop and wonder again.) I was also frustrated to come up against my old self-consciousness with my camera and I found myself paralyzed yesterday. I'd see someone or something I'd want to shoot, but I'd stop myself because I felt like a spectator at a zoo - oh look, there's a Cuban! On the porch of his crumbling abode! How Cuban!

Not sure how or if I'll get past this in Havana, but it doesn't help that so far Cubans only look at my camera with one of three expressions: curiosity, hostility, or resignation. In this sense, I haven't seen much evidence of Cubans' warmth or their reported love of being photographed. Maybe Jorge, our tour guide in Havana, will help? Or maybe it's just that one can't make sensitive photos of a place until one's been there for a while and interacted more with the people.

Anyhow, I'm loving the heat and sun and the ocean never stops surprising with just how turquoise it is. It's so... Caribbean! Today we walked outside and as I mused on the how idyllic this place is, Sugar D said, "Jeez, you'd think we were on some tropical island paradise or something." Exactly.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Where is my son and what have you done with him?

Hola! My world is warm and minty at the moment, thanks to my first mojito ever. Swee'pea and Sugar D are sleeping upstairs, after a very long and protracted battle with Swee'pea that sent both Sugar D and I hurtling over our own edges of sanity. It wasn't pretty. But finally, finally Swee'pea is sleeping. We have discovered that we can't take him anywhere if he needs sleep because he becomes this demon child we don't recognize who screeches at the top of his voice and when we tell him not to scream in the restaurant, he just screams louder, with an evil, knowing, maniacal grin. He throws anything he can get his hands on, and luckily so far Sugar D and I have managed to keep the glassware away from him. Not so with the many forks at the buffet restaurant, which Swee'pea hurled to the floor with a glorious, clanging crash.

I have only 20 minutes left to type, and there is so much I want to say. It's a beautiful setting, the resort is great (thanks for the recommendation, Sis!) and what I've seen of the culture is tantalizing. Today we went into town and I saw a middle-aged woman plucking the hairs from her chin on her front porch, right on the main drag. What a great place this is! I come from a place where people remove their hairs behind several closed doors and then try never to talk about even the existence of those hairs.

And the smell... somehow it smells just like South Africa! How can that be? After wracking my brains trying to figure it out - is it the trace of cigarette smoke that never gets stale because everything is so open? Is it the humid sea air? Is it the marble floors or the wood furniture? Then a lightbulb went on earlier today. It's the floor wax! Plus the cigarette smoke and sea air and sunshine and all that. Whatever, it's heavenly, and makes me want to live with this smell forever.

But I'm a little troubled by my frustration. We've only been here for about 30 hours (I think - I don't have a watch and it's impossible to find a clock in this hotel. I think it's a conspiracy), but I feel like I'd rather be here by myself. Sugar D keeps wanting to chill and sleep in the room, and Swee'pea has just discovered the satanic joy of running away from us full tilt. Twice, he's tripped and slammed onto his knees (which was kind of a good thing because we may not have caught him otherwise), and now he points to his knees sadly, "Booboo!" Last night at dinner he told everyone who smiled at him, and that was pretty much everyone who laid eyes on him. They're bewitched, but that's just because they don't have to run after him or try to get him to stop screaming and throwing things.

We've lost all our power over him. At home, if he's being naughty at bedtime, I just threaten him with lying in his room by himself with the door closed, and he settles right down. But here, I can't very well just leave him in the hotel room, though I seriously considered it. I also considered threatening him with sleeping in the bathtub, but I didn't do that either. At restaurants, I can't threaten him with leaving, because I want to eat, dammit.

On top of this, Sugar D's response to powerlessness is to give in and give up, whereas mine is just to try harder, even it means lots of unpleasantness and just doing the same thing over and over again (i.e. yelling). After a while, I feel alone in my efforts, and Sugar D feels just as frustrated but from the outside he just looks calm and unaffected. I am beginning to think that I never want to go on a family vacation again.

But other than that, everything is great. I'm sure things will get wonderful in a moment, and I'll feel silly and ridiculously self-pitying for having written all this, and then I'll blame the mojito.

What's going on in your part of the world?

Friday, April 18, 2008

bon voyage to me

Oh what a delicious feeling it is to have everything packed and we just need to wait for the appointed time to leave. Almost every item is crossed off every list, except a few last-minute things to make sure we don’t leave anything in our hallway. No more worrying, no more thinking ahead to the kinds of things we *might* need in Cuba, no more worst case scenarios…

This time tomorrow, we should be in Cuba.

I’m not even that sad that I probably won’t see my bloodroot shoots come up, wrapped in their big funny leaves like a self-conscious woman in a wrap who needs a few stiff drinks before she sheds it and then suddenly she’s this audacious beauty of glowing white fineness in a world where everyone else is still just getting their green on.

And I’m only a little sad that I’m probably not going to see my backyard turn purple with these strange spring ephemerals that pop up in April to feed the winter-beaten bees and then die, leaving nothing to show for their week of sweet nectar and raucous colour but tiny colourless bulbs in the dirt.

Instead, I’ll have to settle for azure waves, palm trees and sticky sand. Poor me.

(I’m hoping to post from time to time but not sure how frequent it will be. Definitely won’t be able to visit you though, so if something big happens to you, please email me.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

no more private conversations

At dinner tonight:

Me to Sugar D: If we go for a w - a - l - k after dinner, did you want to try out the b - a - c - k - p- a - c - k again?

Swee'pea: no no ba-pa

[translation: No, no backpack!]

-stunned silence-

Monday, April 14, 2008

summer clothes

Thank you for your encouraging comments on my last post. They are seriously helpful, and I’m once again looking forward to our trip. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning to get whatever drugs I can bring along and I’ve confirmed that my work benefits include emergency travel coverage. Slowly, to-do boxes are getting ticked.

Last week, I convinced Swee’pea to try some of his summer clothes on. The week before I’d pulled out his sun hat to see if it still fit, and he screamed and threw it across the room and refused to let it near him. Once or twice recently we’ve put short-sleeved pyjamas on him and while he liked them at first, when he discovered that the sleeves didn’t pull down to his wrists he wept until we took them off. I was worried that he would never adjust to warmer-weather clothes, certainly not in time for our trip.

Last week I could no longer postpone the trying on of Swee’pea’s summer clothes because my mom was coming to visit and we were going shopping. So I pulled out his old anti-UV suit and persuaded him to try it. It’s a bit snug but it still fits. Hurrah! Then I put on a newer (to us) pair of jean shorts, and he loved them. He refused to take them off. I tried to explain that these were clothes for Cuba and it was still too cold to wear them outside here. But he was adamant. “Du Ba! Du Ba!” he yelled. I couldn’t figure out what Du Ba meant and I asked him to point at what he was talking about. He pointed to the door. “Du Ba!”

“Outside?” I asked.


I explained again that we couldn’t go outside in those clothes, they were for Cuba, where it’s summer already.

And then the penny dropped.


Du Ba = Cuba

“Ya!” He said, and spent the next hour running around the house yelling, “Du Ba! Du Ba!”

* * *

Today at lunch I went clothes shopping for myself. Throughout the expedition, I tried to channel all the What Not to Wear I watched while laying on the couch this weekend. I could practically hear Stacey saying it’s all about accepting and accentuating what you’ve got, not giving up or covering up because you want to be 10 or 20 or 30 pounds thinner. I looked for shirts with an empire waist and I tried to find Capri pants that fit instead of baggy ones that droop my ass. I tried to go beyond my colour comfort zone of brown and orange and injected a little turquoise and khaki. All in all, I think I did reasonably well. I may not have any money to spend in Cuba but at least I’ll have clothes that aren’t ripped, frayed or paint-spattered.

As I drove back to the office, I rolled the window down for fresh air. Led Zepellin’s “D’yer Mak’er” came on the radio. Immediately, I was transported to a summer in high school, probably the summer before I went away to university. I remember spending a fair amount of time with a girl and her boyfriend, who had his very own car – a Chevette with a souped-up sound system and tinted windows. He drove us around and we listened to the same Led Zeppelin album over the muffler noise every time. It was that song, “D’yer Mak’er” that I most remember; that and “Dancing Days,” which back then had just been covered by a grunge band whose name I can’t remember right now (God, I’m old!).

"Oh oh oh oh oh oh, You don't have to go oh oh oh oh oh
You don't have to go oh oh oh oh oh, you don't have to go.
Ay ay ay ay ay ay, All those tears I cry ay ay ay ay ay
All those tears I cry oh oh oh oh ay, Baby please don't go."

Pulling into the parking lot, I felt just like a teenager on the cusp of a summer of freedom. I slotted between the white lines seeing an old open road and endless possibilities. I sat there listening while the song ended and remembered some sweet melancholy I felt that hot summer of unfulfilled desire, all potential and nothing realized. I didn't once think about the friendly cube farm that awaited.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

more fear of flying

I'm sick - again! Another stomach bug, this one bringing trips to the can and waves of abdominal pain so intense I just squirmed around in bed hoping somehow I could escape my skin. The last time I had that feeling of wanting to escape my treacherous skin I was in labour and virtually strapped to the bed if not literally. It was only when I decided to try to breathe through these waves of pain that I finally got some sleep early Saturday morning. Yesterday I still felt exhausted and weak and laid on the couch all day long, still in pain but not quite as bad as the night before. This morningI'm still in pain but much better: I've eaten two pieces of toast and I've spent more time upright than horizontal. Progress!

I was so sick, I've been thinking about cancelling our trip to Cuba, for which we're supposed to depart in less than a week. I tell you this not to win sympathy but to lead into the real issue: anxiety. People who have been reading me for a long time might remember that years ago I suffered debilitating panic and anxiety, which was mostly triggered by both acute and chronic gastrointestinal illness. To cope, I restricted my life to work and home. Even travelling out of town by car was too much for me to handle. I was terrified of getting sick to my stomach away from home.

Over the last few years, I thought I was pretty much past all that. I travelled to South Africa and mostly managed my fear of flying. I did have times when my stomach felt grumbly but I never let it panic me because I had years of it feeling grumbly from time to time without catastrophic consequences (i.e. vomiting).

But now my confidence is shaken. The only times I've felt slightly grumbly in the last few weeks have both led to nasty illness. The first time wasn't so bad because it'd been about four years since the last time I threw up, so I figured I had at least another year. I figured my dues were paid. But to get sick again in two weeks makes me think my system is weakened or fundamentally broken. Granted, I've been sicker (with an episode that was probably the real root of my panic), but what if I get sick again when I'm in Cuba? What if I'm gribbed by that intense abdominal pain when I'm on a plane or a bus? What if I have to vomit in a Cuban toilet? (I suspect the street would be more sanitary.) How will my system react to Cuba food?

I'm torn. On the one hand, if I'm constantly scared that every rumble or twinge means I'm about to be felled by illness, there's no way I'll enjoy Cuba the way I want to or make the images I want to. I know myself well enough to recognize that I could end up too scared to go to Havana and spend all our time on a sheltered resort. I'd feel very disappointed to come home without going to Havana, since that's really why we want to go to Cuba.

On the other hand, maybe this represents a great opportunity to really face my fears. Maybe it's easy to live without anxiety when you mostly feel ok, but quite another to keep exploring when you feel crappy.

Years and years ago, I fancied myself an intrepid world traveller who just hadn't had the chance to actually travel. After a year or two of not travelling, I realized that that's just not who I am. I like having a home and playing it safe, and that's ok. The last few months I've been looking at amazing photos from all corners of the world, thinking I want to do that, I want to make images like that. I've been imagining myself at a street photography workshop in Istanbul or portraiture workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Maybe I was that intrepid world traveller after all and it had just taken me a while to discover it. I wouldn't want to be away from Swee'pea a lot and I wouldn't want to make him tag along everywhere, but maybe a couple trips a year would be nice.

Now, though, I'm back to the homebody. I guess I'll wait and see how I feel in a few days. We'll probably go. I'm guessing fear isn't covered by the trip insurance I bought anyways.

(And deep in the back of my mind is this article about judging the World Press Photo Awards.

"Flicking through the 81,000 images originally submitted a sense of deja vu is inevitable. Again and again similar images are repeated, with only the actors and settings changing. Grieving mothers, charred human remains, sun sets, women giving birth, children playing with toy guns, cock fights, bull fights, Havana street scenes, reflections in puddles, reflections in windows, football posts in unlikely locations, swaddled babies, portraits taken through mosquito nets, needles in junkies’ arms, derelict toilets, Palestinian boys throwing stones, contorted Chinese gymnasts, Karl Lagerfeld, models preparing for fashion shows backstage, painted faces, bodies covered in mud, monks smoking cigarettes, pigeons silhouetted against the sky, Indian Sardus, children leaping into rivers, pigs being slaughtered."

See that? Havana street scenes are already a cliché, and here I am dying to get in on the clichéd action. It's only a little niggle really, because by the end of the article, the winners are all of clichéd subject matter. But still...)

I think some of my readers have travelled quite a bit. So I ask you, how do you handle the risk/fear of illness when travelling?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

new gallery!

Hey look! Sugar D finished my gallery. Isn't he amazing? I'm gonna try not to link over there again, so you may want to bookmark it or something.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


It’s a gorgeous morning when I walk to the drop-in centre. The streets are nearly empty, I guess because it’s still fairly early and Sunday, except for a sporty red car with Tragically Hip blaring out its open windows. Happy Hour… Happy Hour… Happy Hour is here…


The police come. Apparently they show up once in a while looking for someone. One officer comes in the front door and the other goes round through the back. I wonder if there will be a violent take-down, if guns will be pulled. They meet near the washrooms, and one officer goes into the men’s while the other goes back around the computers. I remember that a man I hadn’t seen before went into the bathroom, quite a while ago now, but he must have come out without me noticing. I only noticed him because earlier I found him and the woman he came in with a bit scary, especially when the woman rebuked him: if you do that they’ll be even more suspicious. Don’t do that! After a minute, the bathroom officer comes out and stands sentry next to it.

Sister Christine speaks to the policeman and the word indisposed, carefully enunciated, floats over to my ears. Guess that guy hadn’t come out after all. After a while, the man comes out of the bathroom, and the cops escort him calmly and uneventfully from the building.


Someone donated five boxes of candy canes, and Sister Christine asks me to put a couple out for people to help themselves to. Immediately, a man comes to the counter. He doesn’t look very old, maybe 35ish, and his blue toque matches his round blue eyes. He has reddish gold curls sticking out from underneath his toque, and stubble the same colour covers his jowls. “Are these for just anyone?” He is incredulous.


“Oh great.” He speaks slowly. “I’m going to take some for my room at the shelter, for when I can’t smoke, it will really help.”

“Oh, good idea.” I’ve smoked before. I know how much nic fits suck.

“I’m James,” he says, holding out his hand. I notice he has a silver ring on one of his fingers, and his hands are nice, big-knuckled yet smooth and hairless.

I shake his hand, “I’m Kate.”


Later, people line up for lunch before it’s ready. I start to go down the line, finding out who’s paying or using an account. It doesn’t really matter if people have money or not, but we like to have some idea of how many meals we serve. And some people like to pay for their meals.

I can’t remember the name of a man who got a coffee from me a little earlier, but I know he has a card. He’s wearing black skinny jeans and a short black blazer that ends at his waist, nipped in. His long brown hair is in a pony tail, and I tried not to notice the tremor in his hands. But it was obvious. As I reflected on the possible causes of his tremor, I noticed my own hand shaking. I worry it’s carpal tunnel, but I remember the days when it was really bad hangover.

“I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.” The long-haired man in black reminds me, and as I search for his card, he asks me how long it took me to grow out my hair. I find this a strange question and figure I must have misheard, but no. He asks again, and I heard right. It takes me a long time to think back. I cut it to shoulder-length right before Swee’pea was born, so it’s been about two years. It’s suddenly crazy long now.

“Wow. That’s a lot of growth in such a short time.” I feel bad for thinking about cutting it off last week.

James reminds me that he’s at the shelter, so he’s not expected to pay. “But,” he says, “I may not eat right now. I might eat in a little while. I’m on methadone, and I just took it, and sometimes it” – he rubs his belly with a pained expression and I can’t hear his exact words as they peter out, but I get the gist. Methadone can upset your stomach. I get the impression that if he didn’t time it right, he might even lose his lunch entirely. You learn something new every day.
We serve more people than I think I’ve ever served before.


Later still James comes up for a coffee. “Hi James.”

He looks a bit confused. “Pardon?”

Shit. Maybe I got his name wrong. “It’s James, right?”

“Oh.” He relaxes. “Yeah.”

“Did you get something to eat?”

“Oh yes, thanks… What’s your name again?”



Earlier, Sister Christine asked me to come with her to get kidney beans from the storeroom. We walked through the centre, passing tables and computer terminals, and she said good morning to everyone, asking one man if he was feeling better today (yes). As we passed the people on computers, she touched each person’s head as she said good morning, her hand resting longer than strictly necessary, and I imagined grace and love flowing through her fingertips into their hair follicles and spreading across their being. It looked like a benediction. I suppose maybe it was.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Letter to Swee'pea: 26 months

Dear Swee'pea:

Today you are 26 months old. Your favourite phrase this month is "My did it!" which can mean either, "I did it!" if delivered with a huge smile and preceded by "Yay!" or "I do it!" if delivered petulantly with a deeply wounded look. If I don't heed your wishes to do something yourself, you protest loudly, "No, MY!" You insist on doing almost everything yourself these days, even things you can't actually do yet. It's exciting to watch you master new skills, like putting your clothes and pyjamas on yourself, and to see your pleasure in them, but it's also excruciatingly slow.


Mostly, I've been pretty good about relaxing and letting you do these things yourself, if I do say so myself (it helps that we're all sleeping better, although we still have some pretty annoyingly sleepless nights). But we've had a few standoffs when you weren't able to do what you wanted to, but as soon as I tried to lend an unotrusive hand, you'd start screaming and slapping my hand away. Last week when I picked you up from daycare, you insisted on strapping yourself into your carseat. This is something that your dad and I can barely do, and you most certainly do not have the dexterity or strength to push those clasps together. So you grabbed onto one of the clasps and held it uselessly for a minute until I tried to gently guide your hand to put it into the clippy thing. You were having precisely none of that. You screamed and arched and wept over my help. I tried to take advantage and strap you in when you weren't looking but you busted me and just fought harder. Finally, you settled down and grabbed a clasp again, and again I got sick of standing in the cold parking lot and tried to help you get the job done, and again you screamed. And screamed.

A few other parents arrived, went into the building, got their children dressed, came back out and put them (quietly) into their cars and left, and you were still screaming, and not strapped in. I realized I had to be the parent. I had no choice but to force the straps over you and into their clasps. I mean you were screaming nonstop by this point anyways. So I wrestled your loud and squirmy body and got those straps done up.

When we got home, you were ok until we got to the front door. You insisted on opening the door yourself. Now you'd been opening the inside door for a while (with a small helpful nudge from my finger), which pushes inward. But you hadn't before attempted the outside door, which opens out towards us. You were adamant though. So you reached up on your tippy-toes to grab the handle, and just managed to wrap your hand around it. Then you pulled, but you'd had to stand so close to the door to reach the handle that your boot was preventing it from moving even an inch. You pulled harder in your frustration, to no avail. When I pulled you a little away from the door, you screamed and wept: "No, Mama!" You tried again and again and again, all with the same unsuccessful result. That door would not budge with your boot in the way. Eventually I managed to convince you to let me open the outside door if you could open the inside door, and you agreed to that. (We make a lot of deals these days.)

Since then, you've figured out how to open the outside door and you seem to have agreed to let me take care of the carseat straps. As long as I let you climb up and down into the seat AND close the car door when you get out. Every time you close a door, you always pull on the handle and declare it locked: "Dot."

Despite the tantrums (and there have been a fair number - last week, two of your daycare reports said you had to be reminded to use your words when you're angry and frustrated instead of just screaming), you remain a lovely boy. When I bring your juice or put food down in front of you, you always say thank you (doodoo, Mama). You say excuse me (me me) when I'm in your way. You bring me imaginary tea and snacks. You're not so big on please, in fact you're prone to bellowing your demands requests for food so loudly (of which there are many -- you have a very hearty appetite) that I wonder if I'm living with an ogre. But then you'll run full tilt to me and give me a big hug and I see that you're all sweet, two-year-old boy.

I've been so sick in the last month that I've discovered you quite enjoy watching cooking shows with me when I'm too tired to cook supper and your dad's not home yet. I also quite enjoy the cuddle and opportunity just to chill. When the commercials come on, you call out for the other cooking show (nana deedee do). You love it when the chefs use blenders or mixers.


We went to Grandma and Grandpa's for Easter, and you were slow to warm up to the easter egg hunt. It was so cold and snowy that the village had to move its hunt, which is usually on the library lawn, into the church basement. Because there weren't really any hiding places in the gymnasium they just kept chucking the little foiled eggs across the floor. The other kids were crazy for chocolate, running everywhere. Every time you went near an egg, an older kid would swoop in and take it away without even a backwards glance. It was quite frenetic, but once we started sheltering the odd egg here and there from the other kids, you got into picking it up and putting it into your toque (we forgot to bring a basket for you - can you tell we're newbies?).


The Easter Bunny came in for a bit but you didn't want anything to do with him. We also had a slower easter egg hunt at Grandma and Grandpa's home the next morning and you liked that better, I think. You especially loved that the Easter Bunny brought you your very own stuffed Big Bird (you're still addicted to Big Bird Goes to China). He's now replaced your leopard as number one sleeping companion.


All in all it was an exciting weekend that you capped off by vomiting on the floor during dinner, right before we left. Poor little tyke. You'd had a stomach bug the week before, and we thought you were finally recovered, but I guess all the excitement got to you.


I'm loving this age you're at. I love that everything is big to you. You say bye bye to the big school (bee doo) and we get into the big car. If we're lucky we'll see a big garbage truck (bee bobo da), big tractor (bee dada), or - if you're really lucky - a big fire truck (bee doda). Anything not big is yours. Your cousin is My Zoe (MA dee), I'm your mama (MA mama), your dad's your dada (MA dada). Today when I picked you up from school, you even declared a little girl my Lindsay (MA Deedee).

Last night I got a little lump in my throat when I folded your little clothes (which are nearly too small now), thinking about how much I enjoy having you in my life, seeing the sun glint off your eyelashes and illuminate your blue eyes, watching you lumber around in your boots that are a little too big, triumphant at having put them on all by yourself, even if they are on the wrong feet. Your dad and I exchange many significant looks over you, looks that say it is so good, so right, to be here in this moment, in this family.

I've become one of those annoying parents who beams at their child's shenanigans, the antics that probably annoy everyone else, the kind who thinks the sun shines from their child's posterior. But I figure, if your parents don't think you're the most special person on the planet, who will?


Love always and forever,

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Double Bind

I stayed up last night to finish The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian. Some things had niggled at me but I was engaged and enjoying the read. I'd meant to search it out when Metro Mama reviewed it quite some time ago (go there for a synopsis), but forgot until Kyla reminded me a few weeks ago.

(SPOILER ALERT - I'll try not to give out too many details but if you're planning on reading it, you may want to stop now.)

When I first started reading it, I found the prose kind of plodding and the narration somehow strange. I stuck with it, though, because of the subject matter that I knew was coming: photography, mental illness and homelessness. I did become more engaged and found the writing less jarring. As I proceeded, I felt a bit uncomfortable with the emphasis on Bobbie Crocker's diagnosis of schizophrenia, with all the well he was nuts so you can't pay attention to anything he says comments, and the use of psychiatrist's notes at the start of some chapters.

By the time I neared the end, I was well and truly engaged. I enjoyed the little twist that involved the psychiatrist's notes, but I felt cheated by the ultimate conclusion. It felt like one of those stories I used to write when I was kid, spending all kinds of time on character development until I got sick of them and didn't know how to get out, so I'd just say it was all a dream. It felt cheap. I was all set to recommend the book right up until the last few pages. But not now.

As Metro Mama indicated, the book was inspired by a real person, Bob "Soupy" Campbell, and his photographs that were found when he died. Bohjalian has posted a dozen of the pictures on his website, as well as the article he wrote following his research. In the end, I enjoyed the article, with its more human approach, much more than the novel.

Anyone else read it? What did you think?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ack! My other blog seems to have stirred up some controversy and now all kinds of Art Bloggers are weighing in. I feel WAY out of my depth, because all these folks are, like, you know, Artists. Who know about Art.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


What would you say if I told you that I haven't trimmed my son's fingernails or toenails since the first (and last) time back when he was a newborn?