Archive for December, 2010

Love by Sandra Le

Every year I notice how it can take time for the Christmas spirit to really kick in. December comes and you think ornaments, presents, biscuits, tree and gourmet menus, but you still feel like you’re faking it. However it blooms slowly and then one day it suddenly happens, and you’re almost overwhelmed by the cheer.

Yesterday, we had one of the best presents we could wish for, Ed received a job offer for a site starting today. After a few weeks of uncertainty and trying to keep that chin up as best we could, it just happened, when we least expected it, as most good things do.

It felt like suddenly everything was coming together and the adventure could really begin. However today, I find that this thought is slightly unfair. We have been living quite a fantastic adventure since we left London in August. It’s always easier to be grateful when things work out according to plan, but what really makes it all worth it is the wait and the patience we’ve had before that. This is the real adventure, the rest is anecdotal. The ‘happy ever after’ is just one line of a 15 pages story. It’s just that everything shines brighter under the spotlight of achievement and we tend to instantly value success more than the hardship that preceded it. That tip of the iceberg  oversimplification: ‘it was so tough but we’ve made it’.

I had a brilliant yoga class three weeks ago and the teacher was bright, funny and inspiring. She had read an article about how we tell stories when we live a traumatic or memorable experience. Just after it happened, we tell the story for the first time. This narrative becomes the template for all subsequent times. After ten years, we still tell the same story and exaggerate it slightly more each time.

This is how we sometimes create our own narratives, we capture the facts in the emotions of the moment and no longer have to question either the emotions or the facts. I wonder how we will retell our first months here. We could probably stick to the November was a difficult time to arrive here story: businesses were slowing down before Christmas, the weather was grim, the odd were against us, etc. but suddenly it all worked out. Just another Cinderella tale.

Yes, it has been challenging at times but it was very normal, the uncertainty made it look worse than it was. An expat friend in San Francisco reminded me yesterday that it took him 7 months to find work.

Picture by Inigo Garcia Ureta

We read a lot of the stories in the British expats website. The other day a woman who had moved to Calgary was posting that she and her family wanted to go home after only 5 months. She was telling a Dickensian story of their experience here and said that they were seriously thinking of going back to the UK. The interesting thing is that lots of people got back to her and things got really intense on the forum. We could feel people had real strong feelings on her story.

Most people told her that 5 months was not enough to decide to go home and we agreed with this. When I moved to California 12 years ago, I hated it most days for over 6 months. When I had to go back to Europe after my one year visa had expired I was truly distraught, I didn’t want to leave. When we move to a new country we tell each other a lot of stories about what we are doing here. But I think it’s healthy to question them and see what kind of emotions really come with them.

My cat Charlie has travelled a lot because of my lifestyle. He hates travelling, he resents every bit of each trip, and every new place he goes to, but he has a feisty attitude to life. He’s a stubborn little beast, and anywhere he goes, after a week or so, he rules – that’s why he was kicked out of the cattery in August. Emigrating is not his thing at all, but he adapts and always finds a way to get what he wants, by sheer determination of getting his bit of tuna and the best spot on the sofa.

Picture by Inigo Garcia Ureta

I always thought that emigrating was my thing, which made me feel quite smug, when a few weeks ago, I was so homesick I would have jumped on the first plane back to Europe. Since being here I’ve wanted to feel at home, to look at the horizon, see the mountains and feel full of pride: ‘isn’t our city wonderful?’ I faked it most of the time, I knew I wasn’t quite there yet but tried hard, closing my eyes very tightly like little children make a wish before blowing out their first birthday candles.

This week I’ve being feeling that I didn’t have to fake it that much and try that hard any longer: I really like it here. Now we can rest safe in the knowledge that we will be able to stay for some time and there’s so much we haven’t seen yet!

and a bit of Sinatra to celebrate joy:


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What often happens when you start again from scratch, is that you’re friendless in your new place.

The other day I was thinking of how I’ve met my friends in other places. In France, my friends are people who used to be neighbours or who I went to school with. In California, I met my friends through my lecturer’s job at UCSB. In Madrid, my friends were my flatmates and people who I worked with. In London, I met almost everybody through work.

It’s a known fact that the way one makes friends really varies according to age. Also the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to meet people, because by the time they are in their thirties, most people don’t need new friends.

When you emigrate and you’re not in the work market yet,  you need to ‘date’ again. You meet total strangers for a drink. You chat about a bit of everything avoiding platitudes as much as possible, and somehow you kind of hope they’ll like you. Then when you part, comes the time to exchange email addresses and phone numbers and you suddenly find yourself oddly nervous. It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where Jerry is friend-dating Keith Hernandez, the baseball player.

This process seems rather unnatural, slightly forced, because we always remember our friendships as being more organic. This makes one feel rather desperate and needy. If you don’t play the ‘dating’ game, however, your social life might be close to non-existent and you’re likely to get cabin fever very quickly.

The obvious approach is ‘meetup’, it’s a friends ‘dating’ site. It is probably easier to meet like-minded people if you have a quirky pastime like Napoleonic wars re-enactment. The meetup option is quite simple in theory because you join groups based on activity, sport, or nationality. Here you’ll find mostly outdoors meetup group: snowboarding, skiing, kayaking,  diving, you name it.

Our first meetup, a week after arriving was a British expat one. You go to the overpriced imitation of an English pub, you wear the name tags, and you hold your pint trying to look cool as opposed to needy and desperate. You even make a bit of eye contact and smile, and above all you avoid being too cynical about it all – which can be a bit of a personal struggle.

In our British expat group, the organiser – a Canadian-British chap called Fil – shows some good matchmaking skills. At our first meetup, he introduced us to a Scottish couple and we ended up talking to them for most of the evening. They’ve moved here 2 years ago from Aberdeen and have had similar experiences. They also arrived in November when it was pouring with rain most days and that the job market had ground to a halt. Now they have their jobs and know the ropes, but they hadn’t forgotten the vulnerability and the uncertainty of the early days. So they are showing much patience for our new immigrant’s rants and they give us tons of little local tips.

We’ve seen them a couple of times since, and  they have invited us over for Christmas at theirs. This is the kind of thing that means the world to you when you’re a fresh immigrant. In my various emigrations, I’ve always tried to organise Christmas with the international crowd. Flights are dear around Christmas time, and not a lot of people can afford the luxury of spending the holidays at home with the family.

I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends in Europe are people who have lived abroad. We have this in common; having been uprooted and planted somewhere else. Emigrating changes you profoundly in many ways, and it’s one of the best ways to practice your adaptation skills. It’s a very humbling experience, through which you will invariably rediscover that old friend: gratitude. You learn to be more appreciative which keeps cynicism at bay – although occasionally it does feel good to scratch a sarcastic itch.

This afternoon, I’m going on a yoga date with someone I’ve met through yoga blogging. Blogging oddly enough is a great way to meet new people. It is a community where you end up finding out lots of like-minded people all around the world.

I’ve started feeling better about being here with the merest hint of a social life. Call me cheesy – and I’m prepared to take that hit – but wherever I’ve lived, what really made the place work for me was the friends I’ve made there. You really know how true this is when you leave after 1, 3, 6 years and you organise a leaving do. Aren’t they the best and the worst at the same time? All your friends are there and this is the last time you’ll see them for some while.

Who knows how long we’ll stay here, but this Christmas I will be toasting friendships old, new, and yet to be.

And again some related music:

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As promised, I’m following up on Send in the Santas.

This is going quite well here. Our Christmas ornament hunt in thrift stores is proving rather fruitful.

In addition to Hawaii Santa, we now have Startled Reindeer, Tipsy Snowman and Angel Face.

Tipsy Snowman

Tipsy Snowman looks like his only job every year is to jazz up the eggnog with a bit of aged Cognac.

While I’m at it, here’s the funniest joke I’ve read on a friend’s Facebook status: “Two snowmen. One says to the other ‘can you smell carrots?”

Startled Reindeer

I think I bought this in the thrift because it looked rather lost. He looks like he’s just been told the truth about Santa Claus.

Angel Face

What can I say about Angel Face? She just couldn’t seem more eager to bring some Christmas cheer and joy to anyone’s home.

Well, there will more soon hopefully but in the meantime, feel free to send us pictures of your very favourite ornament!

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Most people I know who have emigrated, have asked themselves that question at one point. It can happen on the first jet-lagged sleepless night, it can be a week later, two weeks, a month. It just tends to happen at a low point, when you have lost the enthusiasm that has brought you here in the first place.

I never fail to remember Bruce Chatwin, who knew that feeling very well, and who was himself quoting a letter of Rimbaud in Egypt: ‘What Am I Doing Here?’. One only truly asks oneself this question in situations like this. Why leave everything you know behind and start all over again where nothing is certain and no one awaits you?

So here we are, in Vancouver and it’s been more than 5 weeks now. It seems longer than that, and it’s probably because we have spent a lot of our time here waiting. Waiting for the bus, for the rain to stop, for the snow to melt, for a phone call, for an email. Emigrating and job hunting are an endurance race, and the adversaries are frustration and pessimism.

We had a lot of that last week as we went through our ‘we-hate-it-all-here and it-was-better-at-home’ phase. The city, the country even, conspired against us – and we hadn’t leaked any diplomatic gossip in the public domain. Our rants about it all became increasingly comical and we started speaking in absolutes about all kinds of minor inconveniences. The bus was ALWAYS late, it ALWAYS rained when we wanted to go out, companies NEVER replied to job applications, shops ALWAYS played the same cheesy Christmas music. Then, there were all our little fixations: the price of dairy and meat – chicken in particular -, growth hormones,  and our eternal lament about cheese.

Our love affair with Vancouver had turned bitter and England suddenly felt so sweet, so perfect. We reached a climax in our constant indignation on Friday morning when shopping for food. In less than a month, we have created shopping routines. Routines are reassuring when everything is unfamiliar. One of my favourite was to go to Parthenon, a European deli, to stock up on decently priced Italian cheese, Swiss chocolate, spices, and all the things that become a real treat when you live in North America.

Our heart sunk when we read the sign posted on Parthenon’s glass door. ‘Closed until further notice’. Our favourite deli had been the victim of a criminal fire. It was the end of our little world as we had newly fabricated it. I was haunted by visions of devastating flames melting the gorgeous gorgonzola and the almond chocolate, grilling the salami, pastrami, and the chorizo. We started to imagine some kind anti-deli organisation committing crimes against European delicacies.

When we realised the intensity of our reactions, we understood how homesick  we were and that the cultural shock was striking. It had nothing to do with Vancouver, Canada, its weather or cheese. The truth was that we were missing home, family and friends and that we felt like outcasts.

By admitting to this, we suddenly started to feel much better about the place. On Saturday, the weather was the best we had ever seen here. We walked along the beach somehow liberated.

Honestly, homesickness is a bastard. It is a real sickness, it makes your stomach ache and it poisons your soul with negative obsessions. Most of the time, you just can’t help it and sometimes the best you can do is fight it with humour. It’s good to remember that as with all sicknesses – a bad cough, a migraine, a heartburn – it will just go, and inevitably it will come again. It’s all part of the process.

We’ll have some bad days and we’ll wait for the buses under the rain, but they will be no worse than bad days in London. When the sun shines again however, we remember exactly what we are doing here, it’s because it’s possibly one of the most beautiful places there is and we have a lot to discover in this country.

Here is a guy who thinks that in Canada ‘you can blame just about anything on the weather’:

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Send in the Santas

I’m realising that Christmas is approaching and that it will be the first we will be spending in Canada, far from family and friends. Everything here is new and unfamiliar and our flat is only temporary, so Christmas feels as distant as Europe is.  So I’ve decided we should try and emulate the Christmas spirit anyway by hunting for kitsch and cheerful ornaments in thrift shops.

Here’s the first one that I found today: Hawaii Santa. It’s unexpectedly exotic and really sweet at the same time. An exotic Santa seems  most appropriate for us now in our strange new environs.


Hawaiian Santa and teddy bear

I’m really pleased with my first acquisition and feel that somehow I’ve set the bar a bit too high but we’ll see what other gems await us in thrifts, and I’ll make sure to post them too.

I’m imagining  that, in your Christmas box, you have some really special ornaments. Some that you’re happy to find again, to unwrap,  hang on your tree, and  bring you Christmas joy.

So here’s an idea, dear readers: maybe you’d like to share them with us and bring us some cheer. If so, do send pictures of your favourite decoration and maybe a story that goes with it, and I’ll hang them all in a post for Christmas Eve, on a virtual tree.

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One of the many reasons why I’m pleased to have changed country again is because of the music. Of course, there is no need to travel these days if you want to discover music from anywhere, but moving to a new place gives you a great incentive to listen to new stuff, and have a theme in mind. The thing is that being a nerd by nature, I’ve started studying the Canadian music scene several months ago, and there are lots of good blogs and initiatives that really helped feed my curiosity. I’ve found out about plenty of brilliant artists and, to my huge relief, there is much more to Canadian music than Michael Buble.

First of all, there is Canadian Blast which describes itself  as “a site where the community of music professionals from around the globe can pursue their ongoing relationship with Canadian music.” They’ve made a lot of free mp3s of Canadian artists available on the web, which is a great taster of the quality and diversity of the Canadian music industry at the moment.

The other blog that I follow is The Line of the Best Fit. They are great for all types of music news, but also they have a whole section called ‘Oh Canada!’ counting 13 compilations of Canadian music also downloadable for free.

I’ve downloaded, listened, sieved through and made a first rough selection of my favourite artists so far, some like Tokyo Police Club I’ve become obsessed with, some I’ll still have to listen to a bit further. What I’ve come to understand is that it is an endless task as there is so much good stuff going on here.

There’s a lot of good folk music that’s for sure and some sound a bit more country than other, but also some very good pop and indie.

Here is a small selection of what I’m listening to:

Tokyo Police Club –  my favourite band this year, from Newmarket, Ontario. I haven’t found any unconvincing song in their latest album Champ, it’s just perfection.

Yes NiceOnly Because You Can’t – A young band from Vancouver that Ed saw at The Railway Club in October and found them so good live that he bought the CD. He compares them to LOVE and their indie sound is very much reminiscent of 70s dreamy psychedelia.

Dan Mangan – Robots also from Vancouver and local enfant cheri – his gig here is sold out for three days – he sounds a bit like Mumford and Sons but less melodramatic. I can’t get past Robots because it’s such a perfect little tune.

Jason Collett – From Toronto, one of the guitarists of Broken Social Scene. In his Love Song to Canada, his tongue-in-cheek ‘You can blame just about anything on the weather’, never fails to make me smile since I’m here!

Joel PlaskettRollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’ folk singer from Nova Scotia, who seems to have a predilection for the number three, title of his latest triple album, and his songs titles ‘Deny, Deny, Deny’, ‘Through, Through, Through’, ‘Precious, Precious, Precious’, etc. His folk-rock tunes are upbeat, and his ballads are more on the country side and he sounds a bit like Tom Petty, so listen, listen, listen.

Hannah Georgas – another very talented Vancouverite pop-rock singer, she’s got a knack for composing nice pop tunes and is best known for her song The Beat Stuff.

Culture Reject – Very interesting band based in Toronto and produced by the small label White Whale Records. Their song Inside The Cinema is a real earworm for me because of its monotonous, trance-like quality.

Other bands on my playlist on Grooveshark include: Pale Air Singers, Kathryn Calder, Said The Whale, Hard Drugs, Bruce Peninsula, Timber Timbre, Woodpigeon, Fanshaw, Amelia Curran, Rah Rah and Tegan and Sara.


Click here to listen to Canadian Playlist #1

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