At long last, the horror of not writing outweighs the horror of writing. Well, to be precise, I have a new problem now. The everyday things that made good blogging material in Ukraine have less potency here: “We got in the Civic hatchback and drove to the strip mall. Alex was looking for a legal DVD movie. I went to the post office and sent my postcards. The clerks were friendly and helpful. We drove to other stores and got what we needed and went on our way in minutes. I watched the debates that night and fell asleep. We went out to eat on Friday night and understood the menus…” etc, etc. Actually, one thing that was profound for me was watching Family Guy with my 1st cousin Alex*. Being bombarded with Peter’s complete intercultural and interpersonal insensitivity was almost too much for me after six months of taking the politically correct stance on everything and bending over backwards to adapt to a different culture. The shock didn’t last very long, though – after a day or two in Kitchener, I was almost back to my old self. What finally killed the shock was playing Star Wars DVD Trivial Pursuit (Saga Edition) and, of course, winning. I cannot possibly imagine pursuing such an activity in Ukraine or any other emerging democracy that has yet to develop an appreciation for peanut butter sandwiches. And that’s probably a good thing.
* - Ordinarily I wouldn’t say “1st” cousin, but this Alex needs to be distinguished from my 2nd cousin Alex, and I stay with both in the span of this blog.
(Right now I’m really trying to put Ukraine behind me. Many of my thoughts are sadly laced with bitterness. I imagine pretty soon I’ll just remember the good things – if that happens, I can only hope I don’t come across an opportunity to go there again! =)
And now for the short version of the past week. Going back to January 8, our landing was uneventful, but in fine AeroSvit tradition we all applauded. Here in the West that carries the connotation that there was something difficult about the operation, absent that it can even be construed as sarcasm. But I like the idea of applause just because. We were on a twinjet flying against strong headwinds and because of ETOPS regulations we didn’t stray as far as we otherwise could have from airports or remote landing strips. In that sense it was a 10.5 hour endurance test.
Still, I hardly even noticed the time. There wasn’t even a movie – after five minutes of National Treasure with Cyrillic titles (and I didn’t even plan to watch this nor Pretty Woman) the playback stopped and we heard a message saying that the system broke down and appropriate parties were sorry for the inconvenience. Speaking of announcements, I discovered that it paid to listen closely to the Russian announcements as well as the English, as they weren’t translating everything. My seatside companion, a University of Toronto history and poli-sci major coming back from a 2-week educational mission to India (yes, he flew AeroSvit via Kyiv!), in addition to asking me what the announcements were actually about (in English we’d just hear “prepare for… [mumble, mumble] – STATIC”), engaged me in some pretty good historo-political chats. It’s great to listen to experts. Anyway, among that, Oksana’s visits, the icy mountains of Greenland, and my muted yet irrepressible excitement about returning to Canada, there wasn’t any opportunity to lament the length of the flight. I didn’t even sleep, which is just as well because by Toronto time it would have been like going to bed at 8 or 9am (we took off around 0545 Toronto time and arrived at around 1420).
So as I said, we landed, and we taxied to Terminal 3. This was exciting for me as I’d never before been in T3. We took a very long walk into customs from the middle of nowhere. There were many different levels of screening – many more than when I arrived in T1 with Lufthansa back in March ’05. Perhaps it was the airline I was flying. There was even a somewhat presumptuous announcement: “Please have your permanent resident cards ready.” (“I’m a citizen!” I mouthed unwisely.)
I needed to get my cell phone going again ASAP, so I tried during the customs declaration lineup. (It was well I did, there’d be no service in the baggage claim area which is where we all really needed it!) The kind guy at Telus got me back up and running on a different plan, and better for me, because I didn’t have the heart to tell him, “Hey, I’m stumbling through the airport as I always am for this, please disconnect/reconnect me NOW.”
The baggage claim area was a nightmarish zoo. Unlike T1, there was only a standard-height ceiling, so it felt rather closed in. A plane in from Florida had a cargo door jam (“Americans! We can speak in English! Excuse me…”), complicating the present congestion and delaying some people for up to two hours. I couldn’t believe this: what happened to my country? This would NEVER happen in Ukraine – never! Or the chaos would at least be harder to spot, and people wouldn’t waste energy complaining.
I was lucky; I got my things in somewhat less than an hour and was (carefully!) making my way into the arrivals area with my six months worth of things. And if I thought the baggage claim was nuts (and it was – I’ll never forget it), the arrivals area was PACKED (I guess we can call the concept “packaged nuts.”). Picture the match inhabitants of fifteen matchboxes, all with the same nervous-hopeful expression, all facing the same direction and holding small paper signs. I took one look and headed straight for a parking garage, where I finally met Uncle Bill after some deft elevator maneuvers.
Ontario at last! Ontario license plates! Smooth pavement! Grade-separated interchanges! 12-to-16 lanes of moving traffic! And growth… growth, growth, GROWTH! Traces of new Toronto suburban developments have been found in Mexico. Even Kitchener is becoming difficult to distinguish from the general mash – if you blink, you’ll miss the interceding “countryside.” It’s exciting and somewhat alarming.
And then I had my few days in Kitchener: relaxing, getting in touch with people, planning, relaxing, filling out forms… Everything was blissfully easy and splendidly quiet. I could access a modern computer with a leather swivel-chair – I encountered John from PEI on MSN at the Ostroh cybercafé just in time for him to curse the kids running amok that made it impossible to get any work done. Yeah, I remember that… and I thank the heavens above that that’s not my problem anymore!
I took a side trip down to London on a Greyhound bus – in order to get the $20 “sameday return” special, I needed to leave Kitchener at 12:20pm and get back before that (10:10am) the following day. This meant taking the Boonie Route both ways. On the plus side, we saw “Stonetown” St. Mary’s, which was small and gorgeous. Also in the same day I was able to see Shakespeare, stop in Stratford, then visit London and walk along the River Thames. We just won’t tell my European friends that I mean Ontario, right? =)
(My friend Brooke is quite fond of Shakespeare, especially the antique stores. For me, it didn’t look like there was much there, but the undisputed highlight was the “Shakespeare Truck Depot” with the ecclesiastical phrases on its signboard. (Generally speaking, this was a fairly conservative area. There were too many churches to count, and the Christian Heritage Party lawn signs outnumbered the Liberal and NDP’s!)
London was nice. It reminded me of Halifax, but without the hills. I really enjoyed walking along the river and visiting the museum*. I watched the joggers in the park. I saw a really fetching woman stop to let a family of ducks cross the pathway – she returned my smile oh god why didn’t I make up an excuse to speak to her? Well, I’m only in town for a few hours.
* - Which had admission-by-donation and really interesting self-serve lockers: you deposit two quarters… and get them back when you return!
I joined Ross & Laurie for dinner and Jeannie was over, and John and his daughter Becky (both of whom I hadn’t met) came by. I made the mistake of trying to show off to Becky while attempting to engage a discussion of her interests, and I fell flat on my face. Becky is an Honours music student at the University of Western Ontario. In an attempt to be funny, I confused a cello and a double bass before sharing an anecdote about Tchaikovsky that turned out to be almost completely wrong in light of modern scholarship. (Actually, I think I just confused Tolstoy’s story with Tchaikovsky’s, which is even funnier. I should just shut up while I’m ahead.) Maybe I should have tried to keep the conversation in areas where I have some knowledge, because she didn’t look like she was interested in speaking with an “Oh, wow!” person – actually, she would have been less interested in doing the same for me, so I guess it was all useless. I’m really happy to have met her, though.
I also really enjoyed listening to Ross’ stories. They get better when Laurie’s in the kitchen. To top it off, Ladan and two of her youngest came over (Anissa and Skye – it had been three and a half years since I’d last seen them, and they’re a lot taller now). Along with seemingly everybody else in the family, she will also be going to New York – not only for Grand Aunt Muriel’s 100th birthday, but also to pick up Nassim from her Bahá’í service in Guiana. Of particular consequence for me, she will be driving. So now I have a ride from Burlington (an $8 trip on the GO Train) to NY! Talk about lucky! No semi-expensive overnighting on the Greyhound for me! We leave Friday morning (the 20th) and I believe we come back on Sunday the 22nd. (Ruth-Ann and her son Alex, whom I’m staying with now, are also going, but they’re flying.)
Early Friday morning (the 13th, no less) Ross drove me to the bus stop and I headed back to Kitchener. That night, Uncle Bill and Aunt Jesse took Alex and I out to jb’s Mongolian Grill for supper. The mini-review (middle of this page) I wrote in 2002 still applies – what a place! Then we went to William’s Coffee Pub (we liked the name and the coffee was good), where Judy (Meghan’s mother – sadly, my 2nd cousin Meghan (whom you CPAers may know) was in Hamilton, just back from a long working stint in Australia) and Steven came to meet us. I guess if I had to come up with a theme for my post-Ukraine journeys it would be “cousins.”
On Saturday morning I packed my bags, said my goodbyes, and Uncle Bill drove me to Ruth-Ann’s doorstep here in South Leaside. On Saturday night I went all the way down to the neighbourhood of Islington & Lake Shore to meet Brooke and her boyfriend Nyron. Brooke has a beautiful new townhouse now, which she shares with her cat Sprite. (Normally I don’t notice cats, but to her credit she certainly does, and Flash here at Ruth-Ann’s is an aggressive male who knows no boundaries. My first encounter with him had him drinking my white cranberry juice. A few days later I cooked a mini-pizza and got on the phone; when I came back I discovered he’d eaten all the toppings.)
The three of us watched some anime before hitting the streets in search of a bar. We were in Polishtown, so it was cool to be able to read signs advertising private parties and their dates – the signs weren’t meant for the likes of us, and yet I could read them. We pulled into the one place that wasn’t hosting such a party and Brooke treated me to a Żywiec. Yum, it was authentic. Later a homeless drunk came up and swindled me out of some change – Brooke and Nyron didn’t flinch, they’d seen it all before – then the owner got mad and gave us another round as an apology. So now I had two Polish beers, which was almost too much for my poor body to deal with. She also kept brining us nuts and fuzzy corn chips. Really nice folks – Brooke said she thought she found her new place.
We chatted a lot about our mutual friends and acquaintances back in Bedford. That brought back memories. It felt really good to shoot the breeze with her; it was almost like being home again. Actually, with the rose-coloured glasses of idealistic memory, it was probably better.
Nyron drove me back to Islington Station and after leaving the subway I ended up taking a Blue Night bus for the first time. How the nights fly by! I’m really lucky – this house is only a 10-minute walk from a 24-hour bus route (Eglington East).
I didn’t do very much on Sunday or Monday. It was cold and I had no one to meet. But today is Tuesday – glorious Tuesday, and I’m meeting Michelle at 1900. First I need to get a haircut and put my ballot in the mail. It was scary for me how quickly the political climate changed. Just weeks ago, it looked like there was nothing to worry about. Let’s hope certain right-of-centre parties with doorknob-like leaders don’t get the chance to form a majority until they get their policies in line with us progressive folk.
[Almost caught up; I’ll write the rest on the bus!]