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Archive for January, 2011

”What’s for free darling?’

Lately, that’s what I ask Ed when he’s logged on to Craig’s List.

Last week has been, among other things, about counting our blessings. We have an empty flat to furnish, a shrinking budget and a firm intention to get most things second-hand. So far we have done better than we expected.

We have been transfixed by the Craig’s List free stuff ads, bidding on anything local. Also, on Friday we found out that in the back alleys of Kitsilano, people get rid of all kinds of good stuff.

We thought that thrifts were the best place to find decent second-hand stuff, but it turns out that, for the big things, Craig’s list and back alleys are the way to go. Our flat is now half furnished and we will be able to move in possibly on Wednesday.

So here’s a little inventory of the free stuff we got this weekend, just like that, ‘por nuestra cara bonita’ as they say in Spanish:

  • a sofa: from Craig’s list. It did cost the guys some effort and sweat to walk it to our new flat, but we now have something to sit and chill on. I will have some upholstering to do.

  • an armchair: one of our back alley treasure. We found it, looking rather dignified, right by a dumpster. I want to paint it dark grey and make some cushions for it.
  • a mirror: probably my favourite find – back alley again. It’s a nice and heavy wooden frame mirror. I really couldn’t have dreamt of a nicer one.
  • a shower curtain: Ashley gave me a shower curtain she never used.
  • a futon: a lovely French woman was giving away a bunch of stuff on Craig’s list and she gave us a real – and really clean – futon mattress. She had rolled it and protected it carefully for us to transport easily. She was a bit perplexed when Ed told her that it would travel on our bike. It was tricky but it made it there eventually.

  • a side table and a stool: also from the French lady.
  • a box spring: from Craig’s list
  • crockery: a previous tenant had left a box of crockery in the storage room. We have got glasses, bowls and plates.

Still on our list are a dining table and chairs, a TV and DVD player, a rug, lamps, a small dresser, a shoe rack and a bedside table. Somehow I’m pretty certain that we’ll get there this weekend  as it is the last of the month and people are moving out.

I could make a social comment about our disposable world. Instead I’ll take the freebies, give them a good and caring home, and I’ll strongly recommend this documentary on planned obsolescence. Some of it is in Spanish but it’s perfectly watchable as a lot of it is in English.

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Well, everyone likes a tale with a twist, commercial fiction lives on this formula: disenchantment, epiphany, transformation, major setbacks, and happy resolution. Characters have got to earn their happy endind by flirting a bit too closely with disaster.

Yesterday, I was thinking of Humphrey Bogart in The Barefoot Contessa. His character, a disgruntled screenwriter, says : ‘Life, every now and then, behaves as though it had seen too many bad movies, when everything fits too well – the beginning, the middle, the end – from fade-in to fade-out.’

So here we are in our real life facing a twist that we didn’t see coming at all. Life after all seems to be the most cunning storyteller.

It was Friday and I was rather chirpy in the kitchen, making mango chutney. I knew that Ed was coming back a little later than usual, as he planned on buying a few bits for the weekend. So I didn’t expect him too early. The fragrance of the onions, tomatoes, mango and spices was filling the flat and I stirred the golden mix from time to time, pretty pleased with myself.

I heard Ed’s steps in the garden. I went to open the door anticipating that he would struggle with shopping bags. When I saw that he was carrying his tool bag and my eyes crossed his, I knew instantly that things were not right.

‘I got the sack’, he said, with a sad smile on the corner of his mouth.

Just like that.

The emotions flowed in their course: first shock, then indignation, disbelief, stupor, guilt, anxiety and so on, until we reached the final stage early on Saturday morning; resignation.

‘It’s not the end of the world.’ he bravely added later.

It did feel like it in the moment. The end of the little world we had crafted for the next few weeks and months. Back to uncertainty, our aspirations were blown away like cherry blossom petals on the pavement in spring.

It’s always amused me that our English-French cultural difference is the most striking in times of crisis. Ed stays cool and it’s his main task when the shit hits the fan: keeping his composure. Not showing weakness in the face of adversity. For me, it’s a blend of French existentialism, pessimism, socialist outrage and overreacting. In others words I’m a nervous mess. On Friday, the Titanic had sunk into our kitchen sink.

We irritate each other in our radical attitudes. He prompts me to stay cool and my jaw clenches. I’m fuelled on drama and he wants me to sober up! Sacre bleu!

We ate our butternut squash bhajis with the chutney in silence, our heads buzzing. I stayed up late reading the horror stories in the British Expats forum, about the sometimes harsh reality of the job market here.

Ed had posted about his premature redundancy and 19 people replied. A lot of them explained how this happened to them a few times. One was quite enlightening:

“Wow. You have described my past experiences exactly. I knew it had to be a North American thing. I am a plumber who is returning to Calgary in a couple of weeks. I have been let go from a few jobs like that. Mostly always on a Friday. Always the same reason. “We have no work.” After 2008 everything slowed down a bit and that is the year I also became a journeyman and I guess too expensive to hire.  I always found another job easily afterwards, but it seems like they would hire me telling me how busy they will be for 5 years blah blah blah. Get me to help finish a project, then out I go. No warning. So three months here, four there. ”

I read a whole thread about ‘disposable employees’, painting a grim picture of employers’ behaviour in Canada. Tales of disappointment, contained rage and bitterness. Conspiracy theories about why the Canadian government lets in so many immigrants. Some posts actually recommended people against coming here at all.

I read them avidly trying to find one with which I would relate most and that would sooth the anguish. I started realising that one word was creeping up in the comments of the people who had a good experience here: luck. A lot of senior members of the forum simply stated that sometimes, it just boils down to being lucky or not.

You can hardly construct any kind of scientific theory on this observation, maybe statisticians, some chaos physicists or even the psychologists of risk  would be willing to give it a shot.  Astrologists might have their ideas about the ‘being at the right place at the right time’ phenomena. I could also draft a catalogue of luck cliches – you make your own luck, etc. – and it wouldn’t make it a bit more convincing. But at this stage, in this gamble we have taken, it’s all about keeping those fingers crossed.

We will see what the next chapter has to reveal. Diderot’s Jacques The Fatalist would say that it’s all written, Sartre would argue that our fate is the sum of our decisions, but I’ll stick once again with Sinatra who sings Luck Be A Lady Tonight.

So hang in there, dearest readers, it’s not the end of this story yet. We’re not close to a moving denouement and whatever happens, you can rest assured that there will be a sequel, a spin-off or a French adaptation.

Just wish us luck!

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It’s been a while since my last post and there are various reasons for that. First of all, our landlord was on holiday in Mexico and the wifi box died just before Christmas, leaving us incomunicado until their return on the 1st of January. Now I’m catching up and this post is longer than usual, but you have a print button on this page!

Then, well, we’ve been busy. Our lease for the flat here ends this month and we had to find a place pronto. It’s an interesting approach here when looking for a flat. You physically need to go around the neighbourhoods you’re interested in, in search of ‘2 bedrooms’ signs. Then you call, then you visit.

We saw a couple of flats and went for the second one. It made us nervous to decide so quickly, but it looked like the best flat we could find within our price range and criteria. Good places get snapped up very quickly and when you get to the end of the month only the leftovers and the pricey ones are on the market.

Living Room

One of our main requirements was to have loads of daylight. After three rainy winter months in a basement flat with mainly artificial lights, we feel we’ve earned the right to the real deal. The other one was an outdoors space. We need a bit of fresh air after our cabin fever winter. Also, we wanted a guest room. This stems from a few months on the road in the summer, couch surfing, we thought that it would be good to have some space for our friends to come and visit. Last but not least, good location was critical, and I’ll explain why in a bit.

We found all of this in our new flat. There’s a balcony, for summer barbecues, plenty of daylight, and a small guest room. The flat is tiny –  45m2 – but we just really liked it and the location is fantastic, in Kitsilano, 2 blocks from the beach, 3 blocks from shops and restaurant, and yoga studios. This mean we can practically walk everywhere, which is a priceless luxury in this part of the Northern hemisphere. Walking in North America seems to be reserved for the homeless, students, eco-warriors, and backward Europeans like us.

This is what I like about Vancouver, although it’s a big city and transportation can be a real ordeal, there are a few real neighbourhoods where you can find the village life we are used to in Europe. Kitsilano is the most attractive one because of its proximity to the beach, the outdoors swimming pool, the views of the mountains on the other side of the bay and the non-franchise shops and restaurants – that in itself makes any place in North America special. This is where most people want to live but can’t afford to if they have a family or if they want a bigger space.

My theory is that you will enjoy your weekends a bit more if you are in an interesting neighbourhood. Where we are now is miles away from anything, in Point Grey. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong and we go for fantastic hikes in the Pacific Spirit park.

However, going anywhere requires courage, patience, motivation, a pair of reliable hiking boots – for the very steep hills-, a good sense of humour, more patience, dedication, delusion, will power, a bus timetable – that is probably sold on ultra-secret black markets somewhere by scruffy cats wearing eye patches, because we  haven’t found one yet – and on slush- fest days like today a bag a salt if you want to make it home with all your limbs.

Halfway Up Our Golgotha

We never see anybody else walking to the bus in our millionaire’s row neighbourhood. I’m sure that the people who live on the steep hill street and see us from their kitchen window go up and down everyday, and now have come up with imaginary names for us. They probably say, ‘Look, here are Emilie and Arturo, again. I wonder if they have found the dodgy pirate cats market yet, otherwise if they ever make it up there, they’ll wait for the bus for at least 20 minutes. Somebody should tell those poor crazy Eurotrash sods.’

Anyhow, location was key in our choice. It has become even more exciting as now all  4 of our friends will be in Kits as well. Graham, one of them, suggested a house-warming. What a great idea: the 6 of us in our empty flat barbecuing Whole Foods sausages and bison burgers in the dead of winter.

Pine Tree from the Balcony

We have no furniture here. We are going for the second-hand option as much as possible. I find it so difficult to find crockery NOT Made in China – i.e. that ‘might contain lead’ – but I’m determined and armed with patience. Otherwise, it’s actually quite easy to get stuff for nothing or almost nothing here. I browse through Craig’s List everyday, and there are tons of IKEA futons and tube TVs for free. People dump them for flat screens. Tube TVs, says Ed, are actually more eco-friendly.

We can’t have pets in our new flat. It’s too small for that anyway. We realise how much we miss pets here. Fortunately, Ashley and Simon have the sweetest cocker spaniel called Mac – who has travelled all the way from Scotland. I wish Charlie would come on a holiday from time to time and scratch our new second-hand IKEA futon like in the good old days. He’s too busy trying to learn how to meow something that sounds convincingly like ‘Pata Negra’.

Mac

The feature that captures most of my imagination is the guest room, and it’s because I know that some of you will cross the pond, or the border and visit us this year. I’m glad to say that my cooking is improving and that I’m mastering the art of brunch with whole wheat pancakes, eggs benedict and Canadian farm bacon. You can walk to the beach, stroll on 4th street, or get a yoga pass for 23 dollars a week, if you’re in the mood for a good stretch. Also, for the two-wheel junkies, cycling is ideal, but get ready for the hills!

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