A quick break…

School work is piling up (I kinda like that they call it school here!) and I feel like I’m on the home-run, about 5 and a bit weeks until I’m completely done here; and four presentations to do, two papers and three exams to get through! I’m trying not to dwell too much on the work because it makes me unnecessarily stressed out! Instead I’ve been employing the “run-away” tactic – I’m sure the best way to deal with things… not.

Yesterday Tara, Sofia, Claire and I walked the 15 km from St. Jerome the MOC house. It was a lovely day, if a little windy. The route had been groomed (meaning levelled out for skiers, I’m sure they resent us walkers messing it up!) and we walked along chatting and laughing and admiring the scenery and generally having a lovely time! (This is the route we’re planning on running for the Run for Ella – the Montreal ContingentI’m organising. I’ve realised I’m going to have to start training, walking it was hard enough!)

After arriving at the house we crashed for maybe an hour, drank hot chocolate and lazed about on the sofa. Then back up and out, this time with skis. We headed to the route that follows the river. It was so beautiful, the river mostly frozen over but with occasional patches of water showing through, snow covered trees and the air crisp and fresh. Cross-country skiing is awesome, it warms you up in no time and uses a different set of muscles from walking, so we weren’t too achy (Although I am today!).

Then back to the house, another half hour of eating carrots and hummus and chatting then a lift with Jen back to St Jerome where we ran to get on the bus and then sat there for 10 minutes feeling a bit silly for having rushed!

Once in Montreal, I popped home to pick up Africa (David Attenborough’s most recent documentary – thanks Lisa!!) and cycled to Tara’s. There we made pizza (it was so good! Nice one on the dough Tara!) and ate together before curling up on the sofa to watch a few episodes. I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up in the morning still curled up on the sofa!

It was a wonderful day, a much needed escape from the city and a day of not once thinking about school work or feeling guilty for not being in the library!

I hope you’ve all had equally lovely weekends!

XxX

A photo break...

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Pushing cars

On the walk through the snow from uni to the bus stop I came across a woman whose car was stuck in the snow banks on the side of the road. There were two guys pushing, without much success. So I helped push and kick the snow out of the way of the tires. After more pushing and kicking and the help of a few others, she got out. After high-fives and smiles all round, I looked down to turn my ipod back on. When I looked up, all of the helpers had disappeared and melted into the other people trudging along through the snow. It made me think of a flash mob, how at the end everyone disappears back into the crowd. We were a mini flash-mob of car-pushers! Made me smile.

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Another post from a bus station…

This time it’s thoughts from Chicago. First 8 hour stint on a bus down. Slightly gross coffee drunk from one of those nasty non-recyclable polystyrene mugs. Book finished (100 Years of Solitude – thanks Roland, it was a good recommendation!). Revision – nonexistent (I’m telling myself I’ll start after blogging). Guy snoring in the chairs across the way – check. The various assortment of people you always get in greyhound stations – check. Announcements over the Tannoy that you can’t understand – check.

This past week feels like a bit of a dream. An almost unreal interlude in the middle of semester, where although everyone was busy, life seemed to move at a slightly slower pace anyway. Or maybe it’s just that people in Minneapolis are better at pausing every now and then and enjoying a good breakfast, or the sunlight through the trees, or a walk in the park, or savouring frozen yoghurt, or watching a film for sixth time and still enjoying it as much as the first time.

I feel as at home in Minneapolis as I do in Bristol. And there are so many people there that I love I didn’t have time to see them all in the brief time I had there. I did have time to watch The Breakfast Club, to eat biscuits and gravy, to have frozen yoghurt twice in one day at different places (there is no bad time/weather/situation for frozen yoghurt, and it’s hard to have too much… a bit like peeps I guess…?), to go out for breakfast on consecutive days to two of the hippiest/hipster places in Minneapolis – good food, good people-watching, good company. We had time to spend almost an entire day at the Mall of Love (otherwise known as the Mall of America) shopping and trying on outfits and screaming our way down rides. I had time to draw with Luca, and to take Chicken the dog for a walk, to sleep until I woke up naturally, to bake a cake. As always in Minneapolis, there was time for a good cry, a ton of laughter, dancing, silly music, and always so much love.

And now, I’m sat on the hard metal chairs in the bus station kinda wishing I didn’t have to leave the purple house, but also with the knowledge that I’ll be back in two months – more or less. Which then makes me confront the reality that I will be leaving Montreal in 2 months(ish) and that feels weird too.

Anyway. I’ve got buses to be hopping onto. Catch you later.

XxX

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Reflections, thoughts, and some sweeping generalisations from a bus terminal in New York state

Americans are friendly. They’re open and chatty and loud and want to know where you’re from and why you’re here and where you’re going and they don’t feel the slightest bit weird about asking you. Canadians are friendly in a slightly more reserved, polite, willing to help but not too in your face way.

Citrus fruit is not allowed across the Canadian – US border. Why didn’t someone tell me before I bought a bag of satsumas to keep me going on this 36 hour journey?!

On the topic of a 36 hour journey, there are two responses to me saying I’m getting the bus from Montreal to Minneapolis. A slightly patronising “you do know how far that is, don’t you?” then “Have you been on a greyhound before?” And then the open mouthed disbelief. The customs official fell into the latter category. The game I play with myself which involves getting American customs officials to smile was made easier by the fact that she was in shock! Wait, make that three responses – the peeps in Minneapolis respond with excitement. Me too!

It feels very good to be done with uni for a week. Yes, there’s stuff to be working on, but for Thursday and Friday, I had two completely work-free, stress-free days. It was wonderful. And now I have a week of such days. Hooray!

Thursday also happened to be my birthday. It kicked off on Wednesday evening  with cake, presents, beer, and a bunch of lovlies. Then Thursday was laid back, a pot-luck in the evening with more lovely people, and finished off by busting some moves to some Motown. Glorious.

Being kind to strangers is easy. The guy sat next to me on the bus didn’t have the $6 he needed to pay the customs fee. Somewhat awkwardly he asked if I’d be able to spot him, he had Canadian dollars, but they don’t take them. It took absolutely no effort on my part, plus, it meant he could catch the bus (!) but the customs person looked gobsmacked that I was willing to pay, as did some of the other folk standing around. It was so weird. Were they gunna sit there and watch him miss the bus?

It’s almost impossible not to smile when looking at a child. I love watching people watching kids, and seeing them trying not to smile, but not being able to stop themselves.

I am SO SUPER DUPER excited about the fact that I’m heading to my second home and family in Minneapolis.

And on that note, I am going to sign off. Books to read, sewing to do, music to listen to, if I’m organised – revision for the midterm in two weeks to be looking at.

Have a good weekend!

XxX

A Thought Provoking Walk

Another lovely weekend done and dusted. I know I “should” have spent the weekend holed up in a library somewhere, but when else am I going to have the chance to walk for 15km in the snow with the company of Maeve? ( I hear you asking “when else will you get the chance to study at McGill?” The worst that happens is I fail… right?)

Whatever. I chose to not think about the rapidly approaching midterms and so Maeve and I caught a bus to St Jerome. Arriving at 3 and the bus to Prevost not scheduled until 4 and costing a hefty $5 (STUDENTS!) we decided to walk the 15km to the house. It was beautiful. Not a cloud in sight, not too cold, probably hovering between -2 and -5, it was mild, and a nicely flattened ski trail to walk along. What was that, walking on the ski trails is illegal? Whoops! Didn’t know that till we got to the house, and we weren’t caught, so no matter! We stopped at Tim Horton’s, hot chocolate and doughnuts and a blast of the spice girls that we sang along to. Then back out into the rapidly gathering dark to continue the walk. We didn’t have torches, but the snow reflected what little light there was and we were fine. Although only walking, we were both knackered, one beer when we got to the house and that was it, energy gone! Luckily it was a quiet group at the house, card games and guitars and flutes and not too much energy expenditure. A scramble onto the roof to dance to the Macarena and look at the stars and worry about falling off happened, complete with handstands on the chimney (not by me I hasten to add! I was struggling with standing on two feet, let alone my hands!), and then the evening ended with a bit of spontaneous swing dancing, which is always a pleasure! And then a lazy working day on Sunday and a ride back into Montreal, arriving feeling recharged and happy.

The walk took 4 hours (including the stop) so Maeve and I had time to cover all sorts of topics of conversation. The one that stuck with me happened just as we were getting to the house. We were talking about the religion class Maeve is taking, and amongst other things, Hasidic Jews. One of the articles she’d read had been about the roles different people play in the community, and how the women are not discontent with the role they have, even though to us it seems completely sexist and restraining. What I gathered was that for them, that was just what they had to do, and questioning it was not something that even crossed their minds, and as a consequence it didn’t occur to them to want anything else. Maeve and I got talking about how difficult it becomes to view it objectively. We have our white, middle class, western ideas about how women should be in society, and as everyone does, we think we’re right! But of course we’re not, we are products of our society, where questioning authority is encouraged (to a certain extent!), where, if you talk to the right people, feminism is something that’s awesome and a battle that isn’t finished, where societal roles are changing and have a certain amount of flexibility. Separating ourselves from that is hard. But unless we can do so, our opinions of anything “other” will be clouded by our ideas of what is right, and “normal” to us.

So, we talked about this, and then grappled with how far this could be taken. In countries where women have little to no rights, we look at the situation and say “how awful”, judging by our standards. We talked about how/if it is ever our right (“our” being western culture generally) to say “you’re being bad!” or whether that is the west asserting itself over people who are perfectly capable of looking after themselves. And perhaps the women haven’t risen up to demand more rights because they’re happy as they are. Or perhaps they’ve not risen up because they’re too scared. In which case, is it for us to march in and take control and tell people how to do stuff? We didn’t know. And then to take it to an extreme, what if mass murder was occurring, but it was something that was traditional and part of the culture. Where does it become ok for an intervention? We didn’t come to any conclusions. I got the impression that had the walk been 100km we’d probably not have been any closer to coming to a conclusion!

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Reflections on an Important Conversation

I’ve had a busy week, so this post is a few days old – it’s taken me a while to get round to re-reading it and checking it’s all ok. We got snow on Friday, it was awesome. The streets that were practically free of snow are now covered, it’s piled up on the sides of the roads and in drifts all over the place. I love it! Also, it’s accompanied by a slight raise in temperature, which is always welcome!

It’s interesting, the things that stand out in your mind. After a hectic weekend of spontaneous clubbing, early morning bus rides, ice hotels, carnivals, beers by open fires in cosy pubs, dancing in the cold and a whole host of other things, the bit that has stayed with me this week is a conversation I had with Manu and Pascale on Sunday evening. Two points specifically.

The first was that Manu suggested that as well as grieving for Ella, I was grieving death itself. This is the first time in my life where shit has really hit the fan, so part of the grieving is also that shit happens. Life isn’t always rosy and just dandy, as it has been till now. Sometimes it sucks, and we’re helpless to do anything about it. I hadn’t thought of it like that. As almost a loss of innocence. It’s stayed with me this week, and when I catch myself thinking of Ella or Brandon (who’s been on my mind a lot. I cooked from one of his recipes yesterday, tasty, but it made me sad) when I’m on the metro or walking between places – that’s when I do thinking – I think about that too. It seems to make sense.

We were also talking about a friend of Manu’s who is a social activist, and who gets around in a wheel chair. At some point in the conversation I said something along the lines of “wow, how inspirational” and Manu stopped me. She pointed out that the activism work that this woman does is inspirational, but the fact that she does it is not. She’s just getting on with her life. It’s very easy when people are not “normal”, and their lives, physically or mentally, are different to the “norm” – whatever that means – to label them as inspirational for getting on with their lives. Manu pointed out that by doing this we define the person by whatever their difference is. It’s stuck with me. Our need to label things is unhealthy and also obstructs what is actually going on, which in this case is some important and much needed social justice work.

Again and again I am reminded how much I value spending time with people older than I am, who have had more time to develop their values, ideas, and opinions on the world we all live in. And how those people challenge me to think more deeply about, not only the world I live in, but the WAY I live in it.

Dear Brandon

So, this one was written way back in December, but for one reason and another it hasn’t quite been the right time to post it. But this morning, this morning I’m missing Brandon. So here it is.

 

Brandon,

I hope you knew quite how much of an inspiration I thought you were. How, when I started my blog, I thought about yours, and your openness. Perhaps ironically, the first post where I was really honest and open about how I was feeling was talking about your death. Unlike the other bereavements recently, I’ve not been able to spend time with others who knew you – who knew your laugh, or who’d tasted your cooking – and it makes bereavement harder I think.

It’s interesting. We didn’t know each other very well. Sometimes I’m surprised by how deeply I feel your loss.

I want to accept this with grace, but I don’t think anyone was ready for you to go, and certainly the world could have done with you shaking things up a little more. I hope that, like you, I can do my best to change the world around the things I feel strongly about, to write honestly and openly, to push boundaries and challenge norms; to not accept injustice and to do what is in my power to put right wrongs.

I hope you know I loved you.
Maya