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Archive for the ‘Exile’ Category

Excess Luggage

I feel quite bad that I’ve neglected my poor Budgie lately. Things have been rather busy since our return to the green pastures of La Perfide Albion.
Let me recap a bit as some of you might have missed an installment in our adventures, and this might be because I haven’t written about it yet in these pages. I started my teacher training at the end of January, two weeks after Ed lost his first job in Canada. Things were difficult and tense, not exactly the way we envisaged them. Our undying enthusiasm started wavering at this point of the journey, but we were determined to make it work, maybe so not to see all of our precious efforts there go to waste.

Sabrina (foreground) and Carla

On the 20th of February, I was sitting in the most entertaining anatomy workshop. In between the ankle joint and the metatarsals, I turned to my friend Sabrina and whispered ; ‘I think I’m pregnant’. Sabrina’s face was suddenly illuminated by her unique smile. Sabrina is Swiss German and aside from being a dedicated yogi, she’s a caterer, a surfer, a snowboarder but above all she’s the mother of two beautiful children. She was really excited by the idea and motherhood and pregnancy are among her favourite subjects.

That evening I took the test which immediately confirmed my suspicions. The following week, Ed and I had a lot of thinking to do: fast. His new job situation was precarious, I had no status in Canada, and hence no health insurance. After a couple of days of deliberation, we came to the wise conclusion that we had to head back to England. At the beginning we felt that we had been forced to give up ‘the dream’. Gradually though, as we were planning our return back to the UK, we started realising that the excitement was building: we were going to see our friends and family again, get married, eat good and affordable food, have more sunshine, but most importantly we’d have our first child, and that beat ‘the dream’ everytime.

I finished my teacher training with heavy pregnancy symptoms, helped by the reassuring words of Sabrina. A week after graduating from yoga school, we said goodbye to our friends and the wonderful yogi bunch, and took a plane back to England.

My story and I stand with it, is that Ed paid excess luggage fees because of that can opener that he refused to leave behind. I sneaked in a third passenger in the tiny pouch that had just starting showing. Women just know how to pack and that’s all I’m going to say about this!

England felt incredibly sweet and warm after months in rainy, cold, expensive Vancouver. My first trip to Waitrose could have been produced by Disney, as I walked along the aisles, eyes wide open like Alice in Carroll’s classic. When you’re a foodie in North America, all the bravery in the world won’t make up for all the pleasures lost.

Soon enough, we were able to meet and speak with our friends and this made home feel like home again. Three weeks have passed since we left the shores of British Columbia and we’ve had action packed days. We’ve moved temporarily into Ed’s parents second house in Essex, and we’re planning our wedding, going to doctor’s appointments, and looking for jobs.

Last week I saw the third passenger for the first time, in black and white swimming around his tiny pool. It was possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. He gave us a thumb up, signalling that everything was fine in his little galaxy.

Life otherwise has been weirdly bucolic in this corner of the English countryside. Each night we’re going to sleep to the sound of an owl and each morning Jumbo, the nasty and neurotic cockerel, sings his almost mechanical tune incessantly. The never- ending bird saga in front of our kitchen doors is comical and has replaced TV. We’ve seen new-born chicks, but also Bumble the dog running away with a chicken in her mouth and being chased by Jumbo, we shower the white ducks from time to time with the hose. We go for walks with Bumble to see the foal and his friendly mum in the adjacent field, and we feed them carrots and parsnips.

Also I’m cooking again after weeks of morning sickness and this is probably the most amazing kitchen I’ve cooked in. Next week I’ll spend a week in Normandy by the seaside at a friend’s place and when I return. we’ll finish the wedding preparations and if Jumbo keeps on harassing our duck friends, it will be coq-au-vin on the menu.

Friends here often ask us how it feels to be back. Even if everything is still temporary and we don’t know where we will live next, things seem easier. Our Canadian escape made us appreciate all the good things here, and we’ve come back calmer and more grateful, and for that it was worth going, that and the excess luggage.

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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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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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