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Archive for November, 2010

When you live far from Europe, even if you’re trying to adapt to new ways, you try to recreate your own little European world as best as you can. For me, most of the time, this is a food related thing. I don’t exclusively feel homesick for France any more, as I haven’t lived there for so long, but rather a general European homesick, and my cravings can be Spanish as well as English, but also Italian. A good piece of gorgonzola, for example, is a taste of home; even though I’ve never been to Italy. It seems that anything from the Old World can treat episodes of homesickness when you are in the New.

SHOPS:

Like it or not, shops are part of our everyday life, and we all need some kind of treat from time to time. Mine are good tea, stationary, books, second-hand silk and chocolate.

  • MUJI: mucho sushi here but no MUJI, so none of their perfect little brown notebooks.
  • MARIAGE FRERES: the best tea shop I’ve ever been to.
  • OXFAM: my favourite one being in Chelsea world’s end, thrift shops are quite good here though.
  • PAUL: I would never have thought that I’d miss this quite generic French franchise, but now, I would pay good money for a decent pain au chocolat or a big pistachio macaroon!

BOOKS

I’ve had to leave all my books in England, and I had to favour yoga related books, because I’ll need them for my training. In some way, travelling light is practising non-attachment to earthly things, like that Guy Named Dave is doing with his 100 things challenge. Also, it’s true one fills one’s bookshelves again very quickly, especially with thrifts. I do, however, miss some of the copies I’ve left behind:

  • I forgot my Ginette Mattiot, the French food bible, my edition is battered but I always travel with it. I’ll have to find a new edition and it won’t feel the same.
  • My Joseph Roth books and the Lydia Davis copy that Raquel gave me this summer

PUBS

Another thing I would never have thought that I would miss is English pubs. I really do now, as here we can mostly find bars with $7 a pint on average! I miss the casual and cosy aspects of pubs and how you can meet your friends for a nice  and witty chat.

STUFF

In my previous inventory, I’ve listed some of my favourite objects I’ve been able to take with me, but of all we’ve left behind here’s what I find myself missing most:

  • my Japanese cast iron teapot, it had followed me everywhere and I packed it during my move.
  • Ed’s good Global knife.

FOOD

The list could be long but the most obvious on it is bread, butter, cheese, yoghurt, chocolate and wine.

I miss my friends tons of course, but I also miss a little black and white devil called Charlie. But I know he’s happy and enjoying his new life in Spain, and that’s the important thing.

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I really wouldn’t normally be the kind of girl to write a post on fashion, but two things have come to my attention since I’ve been here.

The first one keeps on amusing me. Before leaving England, as I knew my baggage allowance was tiny, I had several worries and wishes. One was bringing my wellies with me. Ed’s mother bought them this year for my birthday and because I was warned it rained a lot here, I knew I would really need them. I have started wearing them since mid-November, but it doesn’t rain as much as I thought it would.

When you are a woman, you understand very quickly when you are wearing the latest, most desirable fashion item. I’ve never really had that feeling in London, because it would take wearing a pair of Louboutin to be really noticed by the fashionistas. But since mid-November, I can feel the look of other women going down to my shoes and their face twist into an expression of envy, of ‘I’d die to have a pair of these’, ‘these are definitely making it to the top of my Christmas wish list’.

I noticed it a bit at the beginning, and then told Ed, who said, ‘I know, I’ve seen it too’.  Then, women started to admire and comment on my rubber boots. After a Yin yoga class last week, two women were looking at them and saying, ‘they’re lovely, I really want some’. For some reason, probably because I was a bit embarrassed by the attention, I said for the sake of conversation, ‘I got them in England.’ They gasped, ‘oh, they are the real ones’.

It reminded of a friend’s mother, who once said to me, as I was one the most uncool girls at school : ‘if other girls mock your outfit, tell them that it comes from Paris, it will shut them up!’

We stopped by a shoe shop one evening and realised that the retail price of wellies here is C$150, which suddenly makes them look a bit more exclusive. So I’ve been feeling pretty cool here, walking up and down Kits with my real Hunter wellies from England. As mentioned in my previous post when you’re new in a country, you struggle to integrate into the community, but by packing my wellies with me, I’ve found an easy shortcut to popularity.

The second thing I’ve observed is woolly hats, and it’s another accessory that makes perfect sense because of the climate. I’ve seen all sorts of woolly hats here, most of them look fluffy and comfy. They seem to have turned into some kind of comforter blanket that people wear on their head, to such an extent that a lot wear them indoors as well. I’ve seen yoga teachers doing that a lot.

I’m starting to have hat envy myself, I now fancy a whole wardrobe full of hats, all kinds, Andean, crochet, home knitted, cashmere, and with snowflake patterns.

Anyway, my friends, now you know what to pack whenever you come and visit us!

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We’ve now been in Vancouver for a little more than two weeks and it seems to be a good time to write about ‘first impressions’. At the same time, oddly enough I feel that I don’t really have many. Maybe, it’s because we have been travelling for several months now and the feeling of novelty has worn off in the process. It’s not that we are becoming  jaded, but unfamiliarity has become the norm in our new life since leaving London back in August. So, when we arrived in Vancouver, at the beginning it felt like just another new place. It took me time to realise that this is our final destination and that this is where real life was starting again.

Also, as mentioned before this is not the first time that I have moved to another country. The bit of wisdom I’ve developed from previous experience, tries to keep me away from the usual pitfalls. I’ve the best intentions of refraining from generalisation about the place, the people and the culture, as to me, it doesn’t always come from a good place. Generalisation, I feel, can become easily an outlet for things that have nothing to do with the country one is settling in. It rather has to do with the difficulties that one encounters and the feelings that accompany them: frustration, isolation, fear of the unknown, rejection, you name it. Xenophobia etymologically stems from fear, hatred is just the by-product.

Anyway, long preamble just to say that I don’t have black and white first impressions of this place, it might, and probably will, come later, in moments of frustration, fear, isolation etc. but for now, it’s not on the menu.

I could still point out a few random things that we have noticed, like for instance, people here are very friendly and chatty. You can’t look lost for too long here because somebody will inevitably stop and kindly offer help and directions, and then have a nice chat about anything. As we don’t really know anybody here yet, we’ve made the most out of those brief encounters, and always came out of them with a big smile and an “oh, people are so nice here”.

But our experience with people generally has been superficial as you would expect after so little time. In the first stages of immigration, you feel like you’re out of the game, you’re the newbie at school and you want to play but you feel somehow shy and inadequate because you don’t hold all the cards in hand and you don’t know the rules. So, you just observe and learn from the outside until you can get in. It’s like being a strange hybrid between tourist and unemployed and you’re neither in nor out.

It makes me think of ever so grumpy Elias Canetti, who in his memoir – published posthumously by his greedy estate, in English under the title Party in the Blitz  – was moaning about not receiving the warm welcome and due respect he thought he was deserving of from the Hampstead elite, when he was in exile in London. It amused at the time. You cannot expect people to roll out the red carpet when you emigrate somewhere, you have to expect to have to do all the work, that’s part of the game.

We went to a meetup of British expats on our first week here and met all sorts of people. One of them, from the corporate banking world, kept on saying, ‘it’s all about networking’. That’s what they tell you in any immigration help centres. Of course, it’s about networking, but the term makes me cringe as it sounds so pragmatic. I prefer solidarity, but this nowadays sounds communist and somewhat so uncool. Networking doesn’t seem cooler anyhow, very 90s. People probably say linking or linkage these days. In a trendy cafe in San Francisco, overlooking Dolores park, I overheard a conversation of probably Stanford graduates, probably Silicon Valley workers, probably Google employees, that kept on  mentioning that such and such had ‘friended’ them on Facebook and on LinkedIn. Friending maybe the term nowadays in our internet confusion between work and personal relationships. We could be grammar snobs, raise an eyebrow and suggest alternatives such as befriending, but how good would that be?

I had read a fair bit about Vancouver, and I feel that I know just about a bit more now than before landing here. The only difference is I have a first hand experience.  It is beautiful as everybody says, but this is almost exclusively due to its setting, which is quite spectacular and offers splendid views to enjoy one day after another, rain or shine.

Rain, while I’m at it, is a major preoccupation, and it’s not green by accident. It rains more here than in Aberdeen, said a lovely Scottish couple we met at that same meetup evening. So far we consider ourselves quite lucky, and the first week was actually gorgeous. It was as if we were having our own little honeymoon period with our new city and it showed itself in its best light; the peaks of  Grouse and Cypress – those who followed the winter Olympic games might be familiar with the names, it’s where most big competitions took place – on the other side of the bay; the pine trees of Stanley park on the nose of the peninsula, stopping the expansion of downtown, which is quite classy and relaxed for a North American city. However, I wouldn’t say that Vancouver is as charming a city as for example San Francisco that we have visited recently.

Also, we are very privileged because we are living for now in one of the best locations to enjoy the views, 3 minutes walking distance from Jericho beach and we are 15 minutes cycling from Kitsilano, probably the most interesting neighbourhood we have seen so far.

Kitsilano, aka Kits, is divided into two main avenues, 4th and 10th and it’s where you’ll do the groceries if you like organic, European, Asian, or South African  food,  it’s where you’ll dine if you like fusion sushi, and above all for me, it’s where you ‘yoga’, as Semperviva, one of the biggest yoga schools, has 5 studios in Kits and 150 classes a week.

My growing love affair with Vancouver is very much yoga-biased at this point. I’ve taken a newcomer weekly pass with Semperviva and I’ve been to 4 classes, all with very inspiring teachers, so far in 3 different studios. I remember people complaining at my leisure center in Hampstead when there were more than 25 people in the class. Here, some studios seem to have capacities of over a hundred people and I saw one Yin class on Sunday that was fully packed: 100 yogis all ready to let their muscles surrender to gravity. Needless to say that yoga is big here, and I call Kitsilano ‘yogaland’. After my first class, when I came home, I was high on endorphins but also on the excitement of having found my own little version of paradise. Yet again friendliness prevails and teachers do ask your name and warmly welcome you to town.

We haven’t seen much of the surrounding areas, or been to the mountains yet, but we can already see the peaks gathering snow from our side of the bay. We will have to wait  until we have a car to enjoy the wilderness that lies beyond Vancouver.

In the meantime, we go for walks in the nearby Pacific Spirit park, with its massive pine trees, cycle by the seaside on our old second-hand mountain bikes, and play frisbee on the beach. We cook tons of vegetarian dishes as meat has become an expensive treat – $25 chickens have been witnessed – and vegetables are tasty and much more affordable.

To conclude on a musical note and to introduce a post I’m drafting at the moment on Canadian music, here’s my song of the moment: Favourite Food by Tokyo Police Club.

Namaste!

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When you hop from one country to the other every few years, like I’ve been doing over the last decade, you have to travel light: 23 kg checked baggage, 10 kg carry-on and 10 kg handbag to be more precise. You have to pack wisely and anticipate what you will really need and what you will really miss. Having been warned about the long rainy winters in Vancouver, Hunter wellies were on the top of my list, then hiking shoes and fleece because of the mountains, and then the German Perfect pressure cooker because I simply can’t live without it.

I, of course, packed the jeans, sweaters, essentials, and all my favourite silk outfits because luckily enough, silk is feather light.

But what really comforts me in my new daily life are all gifts from the people who I care for, objects that remind me of them in my new routine, and make me feel grateful.

So, because of gratitude and because it’s somehow comforting now that I’m miles and miles away from everyone, I’ve decided to make a small – non-exhaustive – inventory of them:

  • Gaia’s make-up, silk blouse, perfume and jewellery
  • Veronique’s pink hiking socks, pocket Atlas, tiny picture of Bobbies in Camden and Indian scarf
  • Farida’s Japanese incense burner, candle holder, jade dragon and sand dollar
  • Charlotte’s multicolored necklace
  • Laurence’s photos
  • Sally’s cashmere scarf and mittens
  • Jerome’s pictures on the boat
  • Rhonda, Marta and Carmel’s travel journal
  • Alice’s blue wooden bangle with the bird
  • Christiane’s picture
  • Miko’s Japanese tea box
  • Heloise’s necklace
  • Cecilia’s book
  • Inigo’s sunglasses, bags and the ever so perfect Perfect!
  • MinHee and Misook’s Korean jewellery purse
  • my AAA colleagues’ broach and bracelet

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I realise that I haven’t posted for a while – access to wifi in California was sporadic – but now a few flights after my latest post, we’ve finally arrived to destination, Vancouver.

A lot has happened since leaving our dear van, Budgie, in Essex. I flew to San Francisco where for a week, with a bit of jet lag, I worked my way through the city uphill and downhill, hiking, cycling, thrift store shopping with my dear friends Farida and Christophe who is very much in love with the Dirty Harry town. He told me so many of its fascinating stories, anecdotal and historical, of its origins and building and subsequent rebuilding in the aftermath of the  big earthquake, but also more recently of the influence of all the new money born in the 90s out of the dotcoms and all the Googles, Facebooks, Microsofts and Apples, and of the fortunes made and lost, but mostly made. As we walked, cycled or drove, he explained the history of SF’s neighbourhoods: the latino Mission, the gay Castro, Chinatown, Telegraph Hill and its parrots, the gentrification of Noe Valley by the Google crowd, the Russian migration, the grimness of the homeless haunted corners of Tenderloin. He didn’t forget to mention the movies, the coffee in the Italian neighbourhood where Coppola wrote The Godfather and the iconic places in Vertigo, and how the cemetery had to post  a sign discouraging tourists from looking for Carlotta’s grave, and of course Dirty Harry and Portero hill which I climbed by bicycle.

Meanwhile Ed went on a reconnaissance expedition in Vancouver and found us a cosy little flat, one block from the beach, two steps from a big park in the swanky Point Grey, adjacent to trendy boho Kitsilano – where all the good yoga studios and organic shops are. I now call it Hampstead-on- the-beach. Ed then came to meet me in SF and we borrowed Farida and Christophe’s Subaru to drive all the way down to L.A. for Ben and Jessica’s wedding in Santa Monica.

Our first stop on this Californian trip was Boulder Creek near Santa Cruz. Never heard of it? Well, I’m not surprised as this small town is cosily hidden in the mountains where the most amazing specimens of redwood trees can be found. If you have a chance to do the SF to LA road trip, I recommend a night there before heading to the California 1 highway. Unlike many towns in the US, you won’t see any Starbucks, Safeway, Gap or any of the widespread franchises. Instead, on the only downtown strip,  you find an organic supermarket, a family owned taqueria, Los Hermanos, a friendly coffee shop, and then there is Mac’s, which is possibly the most insane and exquisite antique shop I’ve ever been to. To me Mac’s is not only an antique shop but rather a quirky museum of all sorts of everyday objects from the past century.

Another landmark of Boulder Creek is Brookdale Lodge, a famous getaway for the famous, the infamous and the outright crooked. In the 50s, it was the second most popular resort in California, attracting among others Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and the well-known jazz and swing bands of the time. There is still the viewing window on one side of the now empty swimming pool where women initially dressed as mermaids would cavort but later in the 50s, guests would pick the naked lady of their desire.

We were lucky enough to stay with Ed’s American family in a wonderful house overlooking the local golf course and surrounded by mountains and redwood trees.

Next was the One to Santa Monica, I had made the same trip 10 years ago with Farida and Christophe in their convertible Cadillac El Dorado at the time and the beauty of the Pacific coast had captured my imagination ever since. Unfortunately, on this occasion the weather was particularly foggy which spoiled the experience a bit. But we hugged the misty coastline with its turns, highs and lows accompanied by Salif Keita, in a dreamlike state and agreed with Ed’s cousin, Adam, who told us before leaving, that driving the One was like a trance.

We stopped at San Simeon to watch the seals and sea lions roll lazily on the beach, and behind us, lodged in the mountains, was Hearst castle, which inevitably brings to mind the eerie beginning of Citizen Kane. In the evening we  had dinner in Solvang, a theme park looking Danish village in the middle of Santa Ynes valley, and were served by waitresses dressed in worn out traditional polyester outifts with Skechers sneakers. We spent the following day in Santa Barbara where I used to teach and had a great Mexican lunch at my favourite place in Paseo Nuevo, and it still has no name.

In Santa Monica, I was awfully grumpy and walked down 3rd street promenade furiously, truly put off by the juxtaposition of all the GAPs, Apple Store, Urban Outfitters, and so forth, everything being somewhat too impeccable for my taste. One shop had a notice clearly aimed at homeless people, deterring them from sitting or sleeping on their sidewalk. Meanwhile Ed had a much more enriching experience and surfed the famous Malibu wave.

The wedding was the loveliest there could be, and at three in the morning, Ed and I ended up eating a slice of pizza from a tiny place that seemed – telling from the pictures that were hanging on its wall near the counter – really proud to also serve Ben Stiller.

We drove back to SF on the less glamorous highway 5 – stopping once again in Boulder Creek – and then spent a week seeking Vietnamese Pho because we caught a terrible cold on a rainy day. Christophe and Farida moved just before Halloween from their lovely flat in Telegraph Hill to the lively Castro where we spent our last couple of nights, seeing all kinds of extravagant characters in the streets dressed up as dark angels, convicts, ‘find Willy’ and many more.

Finally on Sunday Ed flew to Canada and I joined him on Monday, and soon I will write about our exploration period in Vancouver!

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