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Archive for the ‘Inventory’ Category

I’ve been meaning to draft this list for a while, but somehow I’ve been cautious and superstitious. I didn’t want to make my ‘like’ declaration to Vancouver and then a week later announce that we had to leave her, because things were no longer sustainable. It would have added to the heartbreak.

Now that we are used to this semi-permanent state of uncertainty, it is as safe as any other time to make this inventory. In any case, it will be good to have it somewhere in order to reminisce.

Also, it seems more mature to write a list of favourite things here after 4 months. The first month of expat life somewhere all is glitter and feathers, dazzling and exciting. Some things one might like at the beginning might change soon, but with time things settle and only the more relevant likings persist.

  • The French is rubbish: this makes me laugh a lot. It’s not about our Québécois cousins. By law everything has to be bilingual, all products come with English and French instructions. The thing is you feel that a lot of companies take this constraint half-heartedly and seem to be using google translator. This deliberate ill-will to respect the nation’s bilingualism on the part of companies cracks me up each time I flip a jar or a box and read labels. Then there is also the Québécois terms like ‘debarbouillettes’ (baby wipes), which are rather exotic.
  • wild things: we haven’t seen bears, we know they are out there in the mountains, but no furry encounter of that type yet for us. We are particularly fan of the bird life here. There’s the heron, whom I see from my window any cold and dry day. We used to see eagles quite often when we lived in Point Grey and now we catch sight of them enjoying the view from the height of the totem pole in front of the Maritime Museum. To see bigger wild things, we went to the Vancouver Aquarium where my yoga buddy Hilary works. My favourite sight there is their couple of otters which hold paws and swim together. We also do see the occasional skunk’s bushy tail, and the stiff moustache of a seal rise to the surface of the ocean from time to time.
  • it’s the 70s again: speaking of skunk, this rodent with a smelly bad rap has to compete with its vegetal counterpart: this city smells of weed, dude. Alcohol is expensive and grass has become a small industry. This is one of the reasons for the laid back attitude. In Kits, where we live the West Coast hippy spirit has survived and one sees all kinds of characters in the streets, thrift stores and at yoga. Last Saturday, we had a workshop with a woman dressed entirely in white, wearing a turban who told us that to save ourselves from the doom and gloom of the age of Aquarius, we needed to learn how to create fields of energy.  I felt quite lonely when I realised that I was maybe the only sceptical one in the room.
  • coffee shops: Vancouver has a well-known addiction to coffee. Although I’m a tea person, I do enjoy the coffee shops around Kits, some like Bennie’s on Broadway are nice and cosy and are great for a chat around the fireplace, hugging a cup of chai. Another of my favourites is the Arbutus coffee, it’s very much in the San Francisco style.
  • constant change of scenery: as they say a the tourist office, Vancouver is spectacular. The scenery is exceptional indeed, and we only have to walk for 5 minutes (or open a window) to see the ocean and the mountains. Whenever we can, we go for walks by the seaside. When I say “can”  I mean; whenever it’s not raining. The price to pay for the natural beauty here is rain, a lot of it. It’s hard to believe, but in winter it rains twice as much as in London and when it’s not raining, it can be overcast for days. Cloudy days can sometimes make you forget about the mountains. Then, one day, the sun comes out and the jewel that this place is shines again. You instantly forgive and forget the days of wet misery. Last Wednesday, with Ashley, we took Mac for a walk on ‘doggie beach’, and the weather was changing every 5 minutes, the light mutated constantly and the colours belonged to an illustrated story book. It’s great as well to stroll on the beach on the occasional snowy day. It snowed on my birthday and after brunch, we put on our hiking boots, to trample the fresh layer of powder on the sand. We stumbled upon the eeriest sight. A big rose bouquet, abandoned in a cardboard box on the beach, like a baby in a 19th century French  novel. It would make a good subject for a short-story contest and it still haunts me somehow.
  • yoga: I’m a big Semperviva fan. This is where I’m doing my teacher training until beginning of April and it’s quite an incredible place. 5 studios in Kitsilano, 150 classes a week, all kind of teachers and styles. Since we are in Kits, we check the Semperviva schedule like we would the movie listings. I doubt there is anything similar to Vancouver when it comes to its yoga community.
  • food: going out for food here is never boring. The variety of Asian food in particular is outstanding from Korean barbecues to Vietnamese pho or sandwiches, but above all the fast food here is sushi. It looks like there is a Japanese restaurant and a coffee shop on each block. Obviously also with all the hippyness and yoganess there are some very good vegetarian and vegan places, The Naam being everyone’s favourite.

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”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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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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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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