Our lost together locations

Friday, January 8, 2010

An Unexpected Travel Advisory

Hello there Fearless Readers (or Dawn, Ray, Andrea and our parents!)

I wasn't planning on writing this blog post, but then again, I wasn't planning on doing a lot of things in the past couple of days.

The travel advisory isn't about drinking the water in some country, or not traveling to some country because of disease or war. Nope, it's about knowing that in some countries, or some restaurants in some countries you need to prepared for free food.

It's NOT FREE!!!

(Truth be told, this wasn't the blog post I was referring to when I said I wasn't planning to write it. Truth is that it's just after 8:00 AM in London, and I'm hungry and I'm thinking about food. It's something I do a lot. Think about food. I love to think about food. Meals past, meals present, fantasy meals, ideal meals, best meals.....)

Well, the "free" food I'm referring to is the food you get at the start of a meal in Spain, Portugal, Italy and also Indian/South Asian restaurants. In Spain, you might get olives and something else. Ask how much they are, as they're rarely free. In Portugal, again, it's olives, cheese and something else. Again, rarely free. In Italy it's bread. Bread at the start or bread during the meal.

Folks, READ the menu! Look for couvert/cover/service/bread/pain/pane on the menu and it will often tell you how much things are. If you're not sure, ask.\

"How much is this?"

Last night was the three lovely sauces we got upon sitting down at a GREAT Indian restaurant near Whitechapel Station on the Tube in London. Whitechapel of course makes me think of the line from the Beastie Boys "Slow and Low" and "White Castle fries only come in one size". And also "Harold & Kumar go to White Castle". But that's me. So the three sauces came and so did four popppadoms.

The poppadoms were on the bill.

No biggie. But ask so you aren't surprised when the bill comes. And the food at Tayyabs was REALLY good and REALLY reasonable. Not cheap. Reasonable.

Back to the unexpected blog post.

As you may have figured out, we're in London. It seems our bags will meet us in Tel Aviv at Anne/Arie's. Jodi's aunt/uncle and two AMAZING people. If you were at the wedding Arie is the mastermind/creator of our ketubah (wedding document or Jewish pre-nuptial agreement).

We were supposed to fly easyjet to London's Gatwick from Milano's Malpensa at 4:25 Thursday afternoon. When we checked just before leaving our hotel, our flight was set to go. Upon arriving at the airport, we found it was cancelled.

Our choices were to change our flight or cancel our flight. Both options were to be done online. No other way to do it. To say that travel has changed in the electronic age is an understatement.

So we pulled out the netbook, paid 10 euros and tried to change our flight to later in the day. No luck. Only chance to fly on easyjet from Milan to London, where we had a room booked, was to fly out Friday night. We really wanted to be in London (as we are meant to fly to Tel Aviv early Sunday morning) to meet friends, do some things in the "English" world and enjoy a city we've been in twice already on this trip. Still, no guarantee that the easyjet Friday night flight would go from Milan to Gatwick.

We searched a site that we've looked at before (edreams.com) and found a relatively cheap flight on British Airways from Milan Malpensa (Terminal 1 versus 2) and Heathrow versus Gatwick (more runways and therefore a better chance of flying, PLUS if we were cancelled with BA, we'd get put up in a hotel and fly out the next day, versus being stuck with no options.) But we didn't want to book with them, because if the flight didn't go, we weren't sure if we would have any "standing" with British Airways.

So, we cancelled our easyjet flight, but we're not 100% sure we're going to be get our refund because we first tried to change our flight and didn't just cancel it. We looked on BA's website and found the same flight that we found on edreams.com for a little less, and we booked it.

We then moved all our worldly belongings from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1, and looked for the British Airways counter. After walking all around, we finally found it. Now when I say walking around, I mean walking around. It's a fair-sized terminal, and we walked up and down it twice. With our rucksacks (mine is just over 20 kilos (45 pounds for you Imperial folks - and while I'm at it...if the Americans were so pissed off with the British that the American Revolution happened, when are you still using their units of measure?!?!?! Just asking yo! And Jodi's is a few kilos less.) and we each have a carry-on bag.

The British Airways counter was near the guys with guns. We found out later that El Al was near the BA counter, and that means there's heightened security. So there are guns. I should be more used to guns, since I've seen assault rifles of differing forms in Gatwick when flying to Amsterdam and all over Italy. Guns, guns, guns. Tonnes of guns. And let's remember that I'm heading to Israel, where I will see more....anybody? GUNS!

Back to the counter. We picked a good time to stand in the VERY short line, because ten minutes later it was a VERY long line. About 40 people long in fact. There was one guy sitting at the desk/counter. One guy and a lot of people. He got heckled a little bit, and BOY did he ever shoot back a long and deadly stare. He could have been a teacher. Or a librarian.

We got our boarding pass and our luggage was tagged, but couldn't check it in because it was too early. We were then meant to fly out at 7:45. So, we sat down and had our lunch. Yep, we made a lunch. Buns we bought in Venezia, with basil olive oil we bought in Siena (?), with cheese we bought in Siena, with prosciutto we bought in Milano. I also found it necessary to buy a 500 mL bottle of peach San Benedetto iced tea, a 500 mL bottle of Chino from San Pellegrino, a 660 mL bottle of Nastro Azzuro beer, a 660 mL bottle of Moretti beer and a litre bottle of milk (lactose-free milk it turns out, since I only was able to make out "milk" and "partially skimmed" in my not-so-good Italian).

We still had our rucksacks, so I was able to use Jodi's Swiss Army knife to open the beer instead of having to use my teeth (which I wouldn't) or try to find a counter-top to do the macho/cool guy bottle opening trick that I'm not too good at, for obvious reasons. I usually break the bottle neck, and that's really wrong at the best of times, but especially when you're in an airport and there are guys with guns nearby.

Long and short of it, we ate our lunch, drank some beer, drank some chino (Keeno, for those of you following along at home!), ate some yummy cookies that Jodi wanted. Nutella filled chocolate chip nuggets of goodness, checked the web/email/British Airways and Heathrow sites, and checked in our luggage around 8:30, and FINALLY flew out at about 10:20.

We landed in London around 11:30 local time and waited a bit to be granted a stand to be let off the plane. They've been backlogged because of the awful cold, snow and ice in London/England, and it's been devilishly awful. The captain was AMAZING, as he chatted along the flight, telling us if he was going to go right or left at certain points, and informing us a lot while on the ground about the situation we were in. Truth is, we were some of the lucky ones, as we were ACTUALLY able to fly in to Heathrow/London! We were off the plane after midnight, I do believe.

We then had the pleasure of standing in the customs line at Terminal 5 for well over an hour. I don't know if you've been in this line, but about 1/4 of the way along there's a sign that reads, (something along the lines of) "You're 45 minutes away from the front of the line". We finally got through around 1:30, and headed to the baggage area.

Which is when we found out that the bags weren't coming off the plane, and had to leave the baggage area. There were cops with guns. I thought the Brits didn't have cops with guns. As with so many other times on this trip, I thought wrong.

So, there we are. Our carry-on luggage - which doesn't have our toiletries! - and the clothing we've been wearing all day. In both our cases, the clothing we were wearing wouldn't quite qualify as "spring-time" fresh, and was washed using soap. As in handsoap, not laundry detergent.

At the best of times, to get from Heathrow's Terminal 5 to Bow Road Station would be a long trek. Jodi figures about 90 minutes to 2 hours. But, the Tube (subway) stops running at 11:30 pm.

We then waited in line for a taxi. A long line. In the cold.

Around 2:00 or so.

The cost of the cab from Heathrow to our hotel near Bow Road Station?

90 pounds, or about 150 dollars CDN.

So, no bags but a bed.

Thanks to my friend from Toronto (Mariza), who lives in London (until the end of the month, when she moves to Athens, Greece with her fiancee), and Skype and the British Airways customer service woman from Ireland, and the front desk fella at the hotel.....we were able to figure out that we would/should go shopping for clothing/toiletries while in London.

UNIQLO (Japanese clothing store we love) and BOOTS (formerly in Canada, for those of you old enough to remember)!!!


So, we had super duper South Asian lunch down the street from the hotel (Bengali "fast food" heaven!!!) and super duper South Asian dinner (with Mariza and Ilias) at Tayyabs near Whitechapel Station. So we've been well fed. In fact, the leftovers from lunch are going to go well with some green onions and mushrooms for breakfast.

We went shopping and I got new socks, underwear, jeans (Jodi likes 'em!), shirts and a hoodie from UNIQLO, and new toiletries from Boots. I certainly got things I wanted/needed and in some cases, things that I needed and would have bought in London regardless.

Still need to get a few more things, like another bag to travel with, since we have lots of liquids that can't go on the plane, but we're doing well. Mind you, I wouldn't normally be walking around in a city in my hiking boots, but....can't win 'em ALL!

So, that's our story from here.

Oh ya. I've been craving GOOD beer since we were in Belgium and wanted to get a pint or two of real ale from The Little Driver, across the street from our hotel. Jodi wanted to get home, so we popped into the Co-operative (one of my FAVE stores!) and got some bits and pieces for breakfast, licorice allsorts, gum and two bottles of beer. SO GOOD!!! I can't wait for the real ale tonight, PLUS we're going to Vinopolis (Mark, we're actually going!) on Jodi's brother's suggestion, and I'm psyched for that too.

Borough Market is something that's been suggested by quite a few people, so it's on tap for today. We fly out STUPIDLY early tomorrow, so we're not going to be doing much, other than dragging our asses out of bed and getting to the airport.

THOUGH, with the snow that's expected today/tomorrow, we may not be flying out tomorrow.


It could be worse. We could be on easyjet.

"Sorry. Your flight has been cancelled. You have to rebook or get a refund. Online."

To think how f**ked we would have been without the netbook.

Thanks again Joe and Alessandra!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Things I've learned/realized/appreciated in 3+ months away

Things I've learned/realized/appreciated thus far, while away for three-plus months.

The best licorice allsorts and wine gums are in the UK.

Getting socks on a British Airways flight is a good thing when you're in Bologna, Italy three months later and need socks. Navy blue or otherwise.

You appreciate a good meal, whether it's unexpectedly on an airplane, train, you make it, it's made for you, or in a restaurant that you didn't expect to enjoy so much.

Good airplane landings should not be taken for granted.

The UK has some REALLY good food. Marks & Spencer has good deals on lunches (sandwiches, crisps/chips and drinks) but their drinks have "nasties" - artificial sweeteners that make them taste....nasty. Pret a Manger (now in NYC) and Wagamama come to mind has SUPERFLY! Pret's drinks don't have "nasties", and it's where I got the term "nasties" from!

Russell Peters may joke about the Indians running after the English when they left (wanting to feed them!), but some of the best curry I've had has been in England (Shampan in Brick Lane, The Wee Curry Shop in Glasgow and Melati in London come to mind), though it was top-notch in Lagos, Portugal too. Probably 'cause there are so many Brits there!

I like Uniqlo best in NYC. The Paris store was expensive and PACKED, and the London store wasn't as big and fabulous.

I don't like bunk beds and I don't like dorm rooms.

I like museums that aren't in the "salon style" (Louvre!) and LOVE free ones (London in general).

I love Robert Mapplethorpe and am thankful to have seen his work side-by-side with Michaelangelo's, as I found it inspiring and life affirming.

I appreciate well-dressed people, especially when I'm carting around a rucksack!

I appreciate good/sexy beer, since I haven't had any since Belgium - which seems like a lifetime ago!

I appreciate cheap flights from Ryanair and Easyjet, and CERTAINLY appreciate the more lax weight restrictions on Easyjet (20 kg for checked luggage, versus Ryanair's 15) and British Airways (20 kg as well).

I appreciate having brainstorms (I've had one or two while away) like buying a bag in Gatwick in order to meet the weight restrictions imposed by Ryanair.

I have a new appreciation for football. Not American football, but "soccer". I want to play when we're back at home. Great game. No, I don't have a favourite team. I suspect my favourite team will always be the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I appreciate a Netbook, Flickr and an external hard-drive, in order to hold the thousands of pictures that we (me) have taken while away, and Facebook to share them with friends/family easily.

I appreciate good tours. Walking tour in Edinburgh ("free" - pay what you think the guide is worth. GREAT idea!), Belfast Black Cab tour, distillery tour at Glenmorangie, Porto port tours, a good sherry tour at Tio Pepe (Uncle Joe) in Jerez (versus the interesting tour at Sandeman's that was...interesting) and a fantastic tour of a Brunello winery in Italy.

I appreciate the work that Stonewall UK is doing for gay/same-sex rights in the UK and LOVE my new t-shirt.

I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about mom's mom's family ancestry and the chance to see where my grandmother grew up in Shettleston, (Glasgow) Scotland.

I appreciate that all we've used McDonald's for while away is a bathroom and photo ops.

I appreciate a good clean room and a good bed.

I appreciate Jodi being healthy.

I appreciate a good cup of tea. BOIL THE FREAKIN' WATER IF YOU'RE GOING TO CALL IT TEA!!!

I appreciate an "Irish Shopper" recycled plastic/reusable shopping bag that we've had since Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

I appreciate my hate/distrust for industrial meat, produce and Wal-mart more and more every day.

I appreciate a good meal, but not paying a lot for it is even better.

I appreciate things of beauty, but a) I want to be able to photograph them (Michaelangelo's "David" and The Sistine Chapel come to mind - and I did photgraph both of them!), and b) am getting sick of churches, but still think they're beautiful.

I appreciate being on a farm, but think that being on a farm should mean that you're not burning plastic period, let alone for your family/children to breathe in. That is, instead of paying to have it picked up with the garbage.

I appreciate children that aren't annoying, parents that parent when necessary and people who aren't obnoxious when drunk in public. "VIVA JOE!!!"

I appreciate good transportation, that runs on time (Italy!) with informative signage (every country except Italy).

I appreciate, for whatever reason, that the UK drives on the left side of the road while the driver is on the right side of the car, but think the car rental agency should inform you what to do if you can't get the ignition to turnover. THANK YOU to the Germans for the assistance at Loch Lomond. And for those of you reading this, it's the "other" side of the road, not the "wrong" side of the road. Mind you, it's not the "right" side of the road either, and that's a pun. I try not to be punny. That's dad humour.

I appreciate good food prices.

I REALLY appreciate good wine prices - Spain, Portugal, France (Pyrenees mainly) and Italy.

I also really appreciate good scotch prices in France and Spain. Well, almost everywhere except....Scotland.

I appreciate the good coffee we've had in Spain, Portugal and Italy, but especially Italy.

I appreciate Starbucks, but mainly for their WiFi in the UK and Northern Ireland.

I appreciate farmers' markets and so should you. If you don't already.

I appreciate that I didn't have my credit cards and/or cash in my wallet when I lost it, or was pickpocketed, in Milano.

I appreciate home cooked meals. Thanks to Alex, Jon, Deb and Maya!

I apprecite unexpected coffee and pastry - thanks Andrea in Naples (which our server in Siena called "Nipples", and it was his hometown. This made me giggle.) for that.

I appreciate the sane driving in Toronto after being in Naples and seeing the insanity that is the norm.

I appreciate being a pedestrian in any city except Amsterdam.

I appreciate modern art and don't like boring old s**t.

I appreciate that the Glasgow city council has hired translators to aid in interpreting what Glaswegians are saying. In English apparently. Which is sad, since it's the language I speak. Mind you, my Italian accent is pretty good.

I appreciate all the places we've been, but wonder what some of them are like in the summer/good weather. Some I don't ever want to see in the summer with the insanity that I'm sure runs amok.

I appreciate/expect free WiFi if there's WiFi in a hotel. Sorry, that's just me.

I appreciate English language TV and am amused (and frustrated at times) when I see English language TV shows dubbed into the local language. I ESPECIALLY appreciate when they're closed captioned with the local language and I get to hear the English.

I appreciate when I don't have to listen to the f**kin' accordion, which has been pretty much every city/country we've been in.

I appreciate a lack of exposure to lousy street performers, especially the "statues" who expect to be paid for standing still.

I appreciate that beggars in Toronto don't approach you with a cup and expect to be given money for no reason at all. Begging in the name of a saint is even worse. In my eyes.

I appreciate HelpX and Jon/Deb for potentially saving our time away.

I appreciate the doctor in ER in Barcelona who gave us Valium. Not that I've used it, but to have it was reassuring.

I appreciate Corinne in Lyon for being so generous and potentially saving our time away.

I appreciate the generosity of Pedro, who just reinforced how beautiful the Portuguese are. Or maybe it's just the Portuguese I know, and/or Marcos' family!

I appreciate our e-doctor panel of Rachel, Brigit and Zarya for saving us for good, while in Spain.

I appreciate that Jodi likes overnight trains, but the coffee served with breakfast is not enough to overcome the bunkbeds, narrow aisles and constant freakin' jostling. THOUGH, I'm sure the people standing on lonely small-town platforms in Lisboa and Madrid appreciated my mooning them!

I appreciate guide books, but hate when restaurants/bars I REALLY want to go to don't exist. Or, when the really well-reviewed places are impressive to high-school/college students who think having access to a microwave is a chance for some "fine dining".

I appreciate Jodi's sense of direction, since I'm a wee bit spatially/directionally (NOT like Emily's issues with left & right though!) and it's been a saviour. Not to mention her already existing ability to speak French and newfound ability to speak Portuguese, Italian and Spanish. Oh, and she speaks Hebrew too, which will come in Handy in Israel!

I appreciate grocery stores, but farmers' markets make me much happier. THOUGH, farmers' markets rarely, if ever, have wine for between 1 and 5 euros that is some seriously good s**t.

I appreciate small towns. I appreciate big cities. I appreciate places in-between. I'm a big-city kinda guy though. I love to people watch, and that's hard to do when there aren't any....PEOPLE!!!

I appreciate family and families. I also appreciate parenting when done right/appropriately. I can't begin to count how many times I've said, "If I would have done that when I was a child...." while away.

I appreciate all the churches we've seen (this is my second time sitting down to write this, so there may be some repetition. Deal with it!) but the Gaudi was my fave - though we only saw it from the outside. Jodi was sick in Barcelona, and I didn't want to pay and then leave. Kinda like Eddie Murphy in "Delirious" when he's talking about the black family and the haunted house. "Okay, gotta go!"

I appreciate that people are willing to try and communicate with an Anglophone, through whatever means they have readily available. This has been a delight. That and the fact that Jodi seems to understand every freakin' language under the sun.

I have enjoyed listening to all the native languages being spoken while away, but Portuguese makes me giggle and Glaswegian is just "royally" messed up! I like to pretend to talk most of the languages we've heard while away, but by far Italian is my best accent, Portuguese is my favourite to pretend I know (well, next to Italian!) and while I'm not good in Spanish, I think I'm better in Spanish than French. Which I took from grade 4 - 10. Go figure.

I appreciate that every freakin' town/city has had an Irish pub and Chinese restaurant. We've even had Chinese in Sintra, Portugal and Bologna, Italia.

I appreciate that people like fried food, and we've had some, but generally speaking not too much. The Spanish seem to like to fry a lot, as do the Portuguese. Oddly though, we didn't have much fried stuff in the UK, where they'll fry a lawn chair or hammer if someone will eat it and/or pay money for it.

I appreciate a good sandwich, and ANYONE who knows me knows this. I've had packaged sandwiches in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, bocadillos in Spain and panini in Italy.

I miss my bed at home.

I miss my slow cooker. (Thanks again Mark & Ray!)

I've appreciated all the native alcoholic beverages, but especially port in Portugal.

I've appreciated passion for food and drink, much like I have, and I firmly believe it's contagious and that food should be more than merely a means to cease your hunger or enable you to continue on with whatever activity requires calories/nutrition. Food is life, life should be passionate, and therefore, food should be passionate.

I appreciate books and magazines in English, even if I end up finding them in a pile near a garbage dumpster in Firenze, Italia. It's great when you can get UK Cosmo, Elle, Penthouse (a few good stories/articles - pig hunting (feral (wild) pigs (not sexual at all, though he was REALLY into it!), the real Sopranos from New Jersey and some other little blurbs of interest, National Geographic (no nudity) and Stars & Astrology (or some other goofy title like that).

I appreciate free publications. In English. I will read just about any free publication that has news and other stuff in it. I don't read free classifieds though. UNLESS they have Companions/Singles Ads in 'em. Then, I'll read those. I suppose that's about where I draw the line.

I appreciate public transit that alerts you to the next stop. There have been lots of examples of this, and a few where we had to scurry off at the last second. "And don't you do that again!" Like I'm going to miss the stop again? Well, I might, but Jodi wouldn't!

Every city's cathedral/basilica/duomo was the first/biggest/tallest/longest/best at something. Just look around or ask someone, and they'll be more than willing to tell you why it's best. It's like local cooking in Italia or football (the real deal!) anywhere (A-N-Y-W-H-E-R-E!!! in the UK and/or Europe!).

I appreciate "free" breakfast. We paid for the room, it's not "free", it's INCLUDED!!!!

I appreciate good Indian food. Lagos, Portugal and Mijas, Spain come to mind. Probably the large numbers of Brits that are there.

I appreciate public nudity. I haven't seen any as of yet. Other than inappropriate butt cracks on women bending over, or homeless men that is.

I appreciate tasty food, but can do without some of the salt that seems to be so prevalent in Portugal and Spain.

I appreciate a good movie, whether in English or not. "Scarface" (Pacino) was great in Italian, and "Cobra" (NOT Stallone) was funny and all in Spanish.

I appreciate a good trivia night, ESPECIALLY when the questions can be answered by non-Europeans/Brits.

What the F**K is up with gypsies?!?!? They were camped, YES CAMPED, on the platform in Tunes, Portugal for a few hours. I just don't get it. I appreciate nothing about gypsies. Except that this culture seems to have given us "Snatch", and I loved Brad Pitt in that.

I appreciate Wally & Gitta Rice. They're great people, and I wouldn't "have" Jodi if not for them. I appreciate that they put up with me. I think they appreciate that I put up with them. (Kidding!)

I appreciate that I have a spatial issue, which tends to rear it's ugly head when I'm driving (I also have a habit of walking into door frames, but usually with my right shoulder. Mind you, that's not the shoulder that's giving me issues right now. That's the other one, the left one (for those of you playing at home. I think it has to do with the pickaxe work in the Pyrenees. I suspect some physio is in my future!). Not really just driving, but turning/parking/reversing in tight situations. My brother knows this from 1987 when I scraped up Plymouth Scamp in the Branson parking lot. The Rices know this from the Alhambra parking lot. Goldcar in Malaga, Spain knows this as well, but really didn't seem to care about it. As long as the under-carriage, windows and roof were fine, they were fine with whatever other body damage occured. If renting a car, try to see if there is a "GOLDCAR" in business there. That's G-O-L-D-C-A-R!!!

I appreciate a shower with warm/hot water. There seemed to be a shortage at times in Mijas and Roma. Oh well. I ended up cutting my head in Mijas, and used the sink in Roma for my audience with Benny.

I appreciate when people aren't drunk and yelling "Viva Joe!", when I'm out to dinner in a "nice" restaurant. Though, to be honest, it was amusing to see the drunk dude, who looked like a cross between Roberto Benigni and Gilbert Gottfried, toast the newly 25 year old Joe. SEVERAL TIMES!!! It ceased to be as amusing as eat toast went on.

I appreciate it when Jodi understands that we don't have to do all the same things together. UNLESS I don't speak the language or will get lost. Then we do.

I appreciate that every language/culture seems to have a version of John or Joe.

I appreciate that people consider it cold in Italia when it's not. But the herd of fur coats isn't necessary. No matter what the temperature is.

I appreciate that people consider the Pope to be an important figure, but the high school football pep rally atmosphere at the weekly Wednesday papal audience was SUPER DUPER weird. The Mexican high school boys biting each other was entertaining though. The girl beside us writing in her dictionary about hating traveling with her parents and that she was broken was sad. But entertaining nonetheless.

I appreciate/love good gelato, and there's been tonnes in Italia. I'm psyched to go home, since I know there are some really great spots in Toronto. Though it's not the same.

I would GREATLY appreciate it if people would learn how to use their (digital) cameras, since EVERYONE seems to have one now, so that they DO NOT use their F**KIN' flash when taking pictures in musuems/churches where it says "NO FLASH" and even shows a picture of a camera, with a BIG BOLD "X" through the flash part of the camera if you do not read the language, or the four others posted. In case you didn't know this, you are destroying the artwork of the world with your reckless and inappropriate use of THE FLASH! YES, YOU!!!! YOU!!!! YOU!!!! (Can you tell this pisses me off more than a little bit?)

I appreciate Maya for saving us in the awful weather that messed up our HelpX and miss how much Sarah enjoyed the attention she got from me. If only more women were like Sarah (the German Shepherd)....well, I won't finish that sentence.

Why is it so hard to find dill and/or cilantro in Italia and/or France?!?!?! ARGH!!!

If I see one more Nativity scene AKA presepe I'm going to scream!!!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Product of My Environment

(A tip of the cap to MC Serch and PM Pete Nice AKA 3rd Bass, for the post title)

I feel like this is a relevant/necessary post.

January 14, 1970 will be my 40th birthday.

My father was 40 when I was born.

I have always had an issue (resented is too harsh a word) with my father's age, but I'm not sure if it's his mental or physical age that I've had the issue with.

Obviously, I didn't know my dad when he was 20 or 30 or 40. From what people tell me he was a little bit wild 'n crazy and a whole lot of smart. As everyone reading this knows, we all make decisions in life that affect us later on. In my dad's case, he chose to dropout of high school and never went back. I suspect there have been times when he looked back, but that really hasn't been a conversation we've had. I'd like to have it in person when we're back in February. I even tried to convince him to go back to school (high school or university) when he was in his early 60s, but he declined.

Those of you that know me, and I mean KNOW me, know that I can be a "boy". I giggle in staff meetings when people bring up having "yard duty, stair duty, basement duty" because they usually say "doodie" instead of "duty". I think it's funny when people burp or "bum burp" (fart, and one of my new fave expressions thanks to Martin and Tamara!), though I think it's all about time and place really. Mind you, I seem to do it everywhere. Just ask Jodi. I have been inappropriate my whole life, and sometimes it's not having the editing function needed, while others it's just about doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. As I've gotten older, I've aged more like a (fine?) wine (whine?) versus a vinegar. Or at least I think this to be the case. But for those of you who may find my behaviour sour, I'd like to think of myself as a well aged balsamic, in that there's some sweet in the taste, and it's not all acidic/sour.

Oh, and I love naked women. I think they're GREAT! But as my friend James says, "EVERYONE loves breasts!"

I have never played catch with my father. I've played catch with my mom a few times. I've played catch with Jodi's dad, and Wally is in his 70s. I've heard that my dad rode his bicycle to Hamilton from Toronto one day, but I don't remember seeing him on a bicycle.

Don't get my wrong, my dad has given me a lot. Maybe more than he'll ever know. He has been a kind, loving father and husband. A man who made sure his children and wife were provided for, no matter what he needed to do. We never went hungry, always had a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. We were taught right from wrong, and whether or not we chose to follow this was not his (or my mother's fault)!

My father has always had a love for music. Opera and classical often filled the house on the weekends when we were cleaning or lazing around. The blues and jazz were a close second. Without these things, I would be sorely lacking in culture. This was the base for me to fill in the blanks on where rap/hip-hop came from, and to know who Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters were, when I stumbled across their London Sessions with The Stones and Clapton, among others.

I know that my s**t disturbing side is thanks to my dad. For better or worse I suppose. For those of you that like this about me, it's him. For those of you that don't, it's him. Deal with it. He's got a sense of humour too, in a "dad" sorta way.

My dad grew up in Toronto's Kensington Market, the son of Polish immigrants and his first language was Yiddish, or Jewish. (Not Hebrew, for those of you unsure of this distinction.) As a child, I fondly remember going downtown with my dad to Chinatown for lunch or dinner. Sometimes we'd even have the pleasure of going to Sam The Record Man, where my dad would seek out Sid Sniderman (Sam's brother), who he knew from "the 'hood" and they'd kibbitz and we'd get a discount. (Yes, my desire/ability to score a bargain also comes from Stan The Man AKA my dad!)

I've always eaten Szechuwan or Cantonese "authentic" food because of my dad. It was never "gwai lo" Chinese for us, and I have always (ALWAYS!!!) turned my nose up (yep, I'm a snob and damn proud of it!) at Ho Lee Chow (now out of business on Davenport!!!!) or food court Chinese. Unless it's been in Markham, where it's heavenly. I learned how to cross the street "Stan Style" in Chinatown. It involves sticking out your arm like you're at a crosswalk, and walking. No, there isn't a crosswalk, but like my friend Saul says, "If you go, they have to stop."

In theory this works, and thus far in practice as well.

We have driven from Yonge/Steeles (AKA Home) to Finch/Weston Road for a hamburger. (Really only relevant for Torontonians, and even then, most wouldn't know how far that is. Trust me, it's far to go for a hamburger.) We have gone from Home to Knob Hill (R.I.P.) at #7/Woodbine because mushrooms were on sale. Now some of you might better understand why I go to T&T in Thornhill or Trader Joe's in the U.S.!

One major thing that I have to give my dad props for was his analysis of Wal-mart. When they announced they were coming to Canada, he said that they come to a city/town, set up outside of the city centre and one-by-one the local shops go out of business. I argued with him (as I was much more conservative/pro-unfettered capitalism and consumerism) and told him how wrong he was.

He was right.

I was wrong.

Wal-mart sucks ass.

I have "kitchen talents" because of my father. He would do one of two things. The usual was to take what was around in the fridge, pantry and freezer and make something. This "something" was usually good, rarely bad ands sometimes GREAT!!! But he never remembered how he made it, so subsequent attempts to recreate it would usually far short. Or, the second, was to find a recipe and make it. He wouldn't always follow the recipe, and the deviations would often result in HEAVEN!!! Refer to the first one for what would often happen when he tried to recreate them.

I'm not so good at following recipes, but thanks to Jodi getting on my case about it, I now try to write stuff down when I'm creating things, or what changes I've made to a recipe, that in theory I'm following.

These are things that I would consider to be mainly positives.

Ah, the other side.

My father is a quiet, conservative man who has watched the past twenty years sorta pass by. In the early 90s, he was working at Pascal Furniture, selling....furniture. They went out of business, and he was suddenly out of work. He worked at a few places for a couple more years, but the momentum/way of life that he had when at Pascal - the routine, the people, getting out of the house - was gone.

He started watching "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air", "Family Matters" and "Oprah", and spent more time on the couch or in "his" chair, than anywhere else. He had dealt with physical issues - his back, hips and legs - for a few years, and this started to get worse. In large part probably owing to his not being overly active, but his diet being that of an active man, his weight didn't help, as he began to be less able to get up and go, and do things.

For a man who could do the "muscle dance" (I can do it. In fact, pretty much anyone with a bicep can do it. Ask me, and I'll show you how!), who painted/wallpapered the whole house, did the hardwood floors when the carpet was torn up (I helped!), and any manner of other super duper handy things, it's hard not to be able to do what you once could.

The work room has gone "dark" as the handy items don't get used any more.

My dad and I agree on less and less as we both get older. I suppose it's natural/normal, but I also think it's part and parcel of who he is, as to who I am.

I have consciously spent the last half of my life trying not to be my father. I have become outspoken on issues that I consider to be important for me, and "my world". I want to be an agent of change, and don't tend to accept status quo as good enough on several levels. Whereas my dad would shrug his shoulders if encountering something, I speak up. I yell. I try to rally the troops. I live my life with some sense of righteous indignation and look to smote "evil" with wrath. (Now I'm channeling Samuel L. Jackson in "Pulp Fiction".)

I purposely try to stay connected to my friends. The people who augment my existence, complete me on several levels and make my life better. Like the fresh ground peppercorns (change your peppercorns/spices every year at the very least for a better "spice" experience!) I want to be connected to them. Being away from home for three-plus months hasn't meant being away from them, thanks to Facebook, email and Skype. Oh, and thanks to Joe and Alessandra for the great Netbook wedding gift, it's been even easier! Sure, I miss getting together with my folks, Saul, James, Marcos, Emily, Steven/Noam, Jen/Noam, Martin/Tamara, Jean, Daniel, Meredith/Asa, the Montreal, Ottawa and NYC crews - to name but a few, and time with my siblings, Julie and the nephews/niece.

I am passionate about life and living, because I have seen my dad seem to lack the passion that he once had. The passion for life that I've heard about from people who knew him "back when". I suspect this is normal for many as they age, to lose aspects of their life that they consider important, as other things become more important. Or when you're just not able to do what you once could. I can't see that happening with/to me. I sense that I'm too connected to the things that make up who/what I am to lose that grasp on them.

I don't know what lays ahead for me. No one ever really does. Life has a habit of throwing some unexpected curveballs, or high-inside fastballs. Not to mention that when you try to throw that heater down the middle, sometimes it's "just a bit outside".

In twelve days I turn 40. Jodi and I are talking about having children. There's a possibility that I could become a dad at the same age my dad was when I was born. This does not scare me in the least. Only death scares me. Heights freak me out, but only death has the ability to put it's cold, harsh hands on my psyche and make me sweat. It's not all that much different from the kids in "Fame".

"I want to live forever....."

But I know I won't.

I do know that when I lay my head to rest, and they put me six feet under, I don't want to "go" with regrets about what I could have said, could have done, could have been.

I was concerned that my dad was going to die the weekend of our wedding. Truth is, I was more than concerned. I was fairly certain of it. I had a sobbing phone conversation with my brother, while driving home from seeing my mom in the emergency room in the hospital when my dad was taken in by ambulance. I was concerned that my dad would not see one of the most important days of my life. For those you that were there, you know that it wouldn't be an easily explained day/experience, and I'm thankful beyond words for the sacrifices that my mom and other people made in order for my dad to be there.

Like many people I went to junior high and high school with, I'm an under-achiever. I'm okay with that. As Jake Duncan says, "I'm a classic gifted under-achiever." I enjoy life, I enjoy living, I enjoy the people in my life (generally speaking, but we can't always remedy ALL the people we don't want around - after all, that's called homocide, and illegal pretty much everywhere!) and most of all I can look in the mirror and like the person I see.

All-in-all that's because of my dad. I've both embraced and rejected who my dad is. Thanks Stanley (no middle name - he was the oldest and said his parents couldn't afford a middle name!) Kruger.