Eating my way through Europe: Calgary Layover

I’m heading to a week long meeting in Zurich, and it’s totally for work!! Really!

But with all of the work comes a bit of free time, and with that free time I will be eating my way through the best the Netherlands and Switzerland have to offer. What better way to see a city than with my stomach? 😉

My first stop wasn’t in Europe though. I have a short layover in Calgary where I’m enjoying exotic Canadian food.

That’s right. A teen burger, poutine and A&W Root Beer with sugar. None of which is available south of the border.

So good! But also, two days worth of calories in under ten minutes. Let the food coma commence in 3…2…zzzz….

Making fun of Canadians

This happened pretty close to Canada Day; I thought it might be more appropriate to hold onto it a bit longer though.

Me: A Canadian guy I know was complaining that americans were making fun of him.
Guy: How do you make fun of a Canadian?
Me: You know, the accent, size of country, etc. The same way Aussies make fun of Kiwis, or the English make fun of the Scottish, Welsh and Irish.
Guy: Wait, so do you have sex with sheep too?
Other guy: They use a moose.

Related – here are a few Cartoons about making fun of Canadians.

Back from Adventure

I think when one starts creating Venn diagrams to describe life’s problems, they may have crossed some kind of mental breaking point. In any case, I’m back. Both physically (from an exploratory journey to NA) and mentally (from a brain imploding what-am-I-doing-with-my-life adventure).

The trip was really great. Not only did I get to spend the better part of a day with a couple of friends – mostly eating and playing with rubber balls – but I talked with 9 different people about possible job opportunities within my current company. I also got a few insightful opinions about opportunities in general.

Last year, after having been here about 8-10 months, I’d asked a few folks about opportunities within the company in other areas. They were super standoffish to the point of being rude. I guess there’s some unwritten rule about ‘thou shalt not so much as talk about changing jobs within thine first 12 months.’ Now that the barrier has been breached, the tone of conversation couldn’t be more different. Each of the people i talked with were super open to change, and were all really keen to talk about best fit from a team perspective.

It’s going to take me some time to sort out what makes the most sense for me – I think I need to carefully balance a few different factors: is the change a good career move? is taking an easy path a cop-out that I’ll later regret? Should I work on a project I don’t like because it has high exposure, or work on something I’m good at that will probably flop, or work on something that’s boring but looks good on a resume, or work with people who are super interesting. Blah. I think I feel another Venn diagram coming on. One thing that we did determine is that one of our geographical options – Seattle – is probably off the list.

Anyhow, does this mean that I’m moving to NA?

Well, not just yet. There are some opportunities here as well that I want to explore. Plus, we just signed a 6 month extension to our lease.

On thing that has been kind of surreal about the whole experience was the timing of the trip in relation to what our plans were last year. Originally I had asked for a sabbatical from my prior employer. They turned me down. Had they agreed, then I would have been taking the same flights through Vancouver, but without the return trip.

Off to San Fran

Its a long trip from Sydney to San Francisco – nearly 18 hours – fortunately we took a short coffee break on the way.

I’m in NA for about eight days for a conference. Which really feels too long. It’s harder to get excited about these business trips when you like where you were much more than where you are going.

Xavier (which my iPad corrects to Clavier) turned one yesterday and we had a pretty awesome time of things at the zoo. On the flight out, there were three other kids all about Xavier’s age. They cried, of course, but having lived with a baby for a year now I wasn’t so much cursing their cries as I was missing my kid. MY kid wouldn’t cry, I thought. Which I eventually conceded as untrue. But, if he did, then he would get over it quickly by playing a game of steal-daddy’s-glasses, or drop-soother.

So, I made faces at other people’s kids instead.

I remember helping out a “spirited” lady in Victoria who warned me that as you age, you start to lose your mind. A sure sign of which was when you started thinking that small dogs and babies were adorable, instead of kickable. I guess I’m old. That at least explains the hairline.

Updates from Sunny Sydney

It’s been two months since I last wrote anything – and it seems that so much has happened in that time. I may try to capture a few of the events in more detail, but to start, here’s a very light roundup of what’s been going on, and some quick updates from down under.

First was leaving France. It was a whirlwind for both of us. There was a lot to do, and then a baby on top of that. Overall, the move was swift and relatively well executed (not that we had much to do with that). Over the span of three days we managed to go from having an apartment, to being totally packed and living in a B&B, to travelling 25 hours by plane with 8 suitcases, a baby and a cat, to landing in Nevada. 

We had a very nice Christmas break with our Family. Winter in Reno is interesting. It’s a desert that’s high in the mountains. So, it’s very dry (no snow), but still very cold. It can change in temperature by about 20 degrees between midnight and lunch time.
The view from my inlaw’s backyard
We spent a lot of the holidays eating, and drinking, and shopping. Overall, very therapeutic.

We also managed to fit in a short trip to Vancouver where we got to catch up with some friends, and a lot of family. I even got to say good bye to a few colleagues in person when we were near the old Vancouver office for a drink.

Being able to spend Baby’s First Christmas with family was amazing. I’m so glad we got as much time as we did between jobs (three weeks total) to chill with friends and family before travelling out this way. France felt far away; Australia is much further.
This was a lucky shot – most of the time he was chewing on the boxes

As for Sydney – so far, things are going pretty well. The weather down here is lovely – high 20s and sunny most days. Much of the city is a little on the urban ugly side, but the downtown core, the parks, and the waterfront are all great.  I haven’t learned to surf yet, but it’s still on the agenda. At the moment, we are staying in the center of the city, which looks a lot different than Paris. 

We have a nice view of Darling Harbour from our hotel window
Oddly enough, I’ve been hearing a lot of French when I’m walking around the city. It’s nice to hear it. I realized in the first week we were away that I’d actually forgotten a lot of English. The first time we went into a Starbucks in Reno I ordered “Un Cafe de la semaine s’il vous plait.” The lady just looked at me for a while, until I realized what I’d done. So I instead said “Oh, sorry, I’ll have a cafe de la semaine, please.” It took me another week before I was ordering just ‘coffee’ again.

One downside though is that the cost of living is fairly high. To go out is comparable in cost (maybe a little less when you factor wage into the picture). But things at home are higher priced. Beer, for example, is about 7 or 8 dollars in most bars (which is fine), and 3.50 a bottle in the grocery store (about 3x more than I’m used to). Most things are running about a 20% markup, but some items like liquor, makeup or imported large objects (cars, furniture, etc) may be up to 150% more expensive. That said, there are way more options for things than in France, or even Canada. It’s definitely more free market than any other place I’ve been, including the US.

So, there’s the roundup. X isn’t leaving a lot of time for updates at this point, but I’m going to try to schedule a little bit of time on the weekend for a quick update while he naps. 

Canada Votes!

So, on Friday the government fell. This means we are up for an off-season election.

This means that in the next 18 months I’ll get to watch three pertinent federal elections: Canada, US, and France. I’m stoked! Politics are my reality TV.

Anyhow, one of the really interesting things that’s come out of the election so far is the Vote Compass. It’s an awesome tool from the CBC and some researchers over at UofT that helps give you an idea of the political party that is most aligned with your personal feelings on a fairly wide spectrum of topics. It covers everything from military budgets, to social programs, to the economy or the legalities of Marijuana.

If you’re an eligible voter, give it a shot and see if it lines up with your default choice.

If you’re not Canadian, it’s still worth trying out just to learn a little more about the Canadian political system, and how it fits into your world view.

Steven Harper can play the piano

I was browsing the ‘Top News Stories of 2009’ on the CBC, and found a picture of Harper in front of a Piano. How did I miss this news story?

OK, so it’s definitely a publicity stunt (“Look, I can play piano! How can I hate the arts if I can play piano?”), but it’s a good one. I hate to admit it but I like the guy a little more after watching this.

(There’s a worse version sans advertising over here.)

On Poppies.

A discovery that we made this last week is that Poppies and Remembrance Day are not commonly associated in France. Or really anywhere other than the Commonwealth.

Our lapels had an empty spot until the night of November 10th, when Sarah stopped by the Canadian Embassy in the hopes that they had imported some for the expats in town. With our poppies firmly attached to our lapels, we spent two days fielding the common question: Nice brooch… where’d you get it?

To which we were able to share a bit of Canadiana in response.

I’d go on here about it, but I found a nice summary on the CBC this morning that I think is worth putting up.

Why the poppy?

The association between the poppy and war dates back to the Napoleonic wars, when a writer saw a field of poppies growing over the graves of fallen soldiers.

During the Battle of Ypres in 1915, Canadian Lt.-Col. John McCrae was inspired to write the poem In Flanders Fields on sighting the poppies growing beside a grave of a close friend who had died in battle.

The poem was a great inspiration in adopting the poppy as the Flower of Remembrance in Canada, France, the U.S, Britain and Commonwealth countries.

The first poppies were distributed in Canada in 1921.

Today the volunteer donations from the distribution of millions of poppies is an important source of revenue for the Royal Canadian Legion that goes toward helping ex-servicemen and women buy food, and obtain shelter and medical attention.

And of course, the referenced Poem.

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

John McCrae

Visiting The Ontario Museum of Art

Between breakfast and the post office, I stumbled across the Ontario Museum of Art. A friend had recommended it the night before, so I figured I’d pony up the 18 CDN and pop in for a few hours to see how we stacked up. I have to say, it was a spectacular collection, and I would definitely go again if given the chance.

As for sharing the highlights, Ontario, or perhaps just Canada as a whole, has ridiculous copyright laws surrounding works of visual art that prevent people from taking pictures of the artwork itself*. While I understand that this in some way protects the artists intellectual property, it also makes it hard for people to share their experiences at art galleries with their friends. Basically, I’m forced to use words to describe things that are, largely, indescribable by their very nature of being great works of art (or just really cool).

Here goes nothin.

There were four pieces that I really appreciated, as well as one collection. Most of this was in the contemporary area on the top two floors of the museum. All of these are unknown pieces by unknown authors because I didn’t have a pencil and I was finger-wagged every time I tried to take a picture of a plaque.

The first piece, was actually an installation. Most of the time, I have mixed results around installations, because they involve more interaction than I’m really want to have. While wandering around near the back of the top floor, I heard the fainy sound of bagpipes. I looked around for a bit to try to find the source and caught the gaze of an older woman doing the same. We started a short conversation about where we thought the sound was, and then went to investigate. We wandered over to a window and looked out over the city of Toronto, and chatted for a bit about each of the areas we could see below. We gave up on the bagpipe noises after a minute or two, turned around, and discovered a hidden set of speakers behind a pole. Later that day, I caught other people looking for the sound of a marching band, a protest, and our phantom pipers. I thought that this piece was really effective in how it caused me to interact with my space, and with the people around me.

The next piece falls into the cool category. There was an 8 foot cube sitting in the middle of a large room. The cube was covered in what appeared to be geometrically patterned black fur. Upon closer inspection, I found that it was actually a box with magnets running in patterns along the inside, and it had been covered in a think layer of iron filings. The filings stuck out nearly 4 cm’s in places, and gave an almost irresistible ‘touch me I’m fluffy’ feeling.

The third piece, also on the same floor, was designed to represent the intersection of First Nations culture with Western culture. It was designed by an artist from Fort St John, I believe, and was a set of four totem poles that had been sculpted out of golf bags. I was super impressed with the level of detail you could create for an eagle’s face out of a set of club covers.

The fourth piece was actually an archeological dig that was occurring out back of the museum. As the story goes, the museum was built on some land, called ‘The grange’ and included a heritage home as part of it’s property. A few years ago, a collector in the boston area heard that the museum was renovating, and sent up a diary from property’s butler from 150 years back. He said that he felt it might be interesting to read before making any structural changes to the building. In the diary was a map of the original property, with 30 odd X’s marking something that was never described. After some convincing, the Museum asked an archeologist to look into one of the X’s and a small wax ball contain a human blood sample was found inside of the wall. The museum secured some funding to look into more of the map, and has since uncovered 20 or so more items, each carefully sealed in wax and hidden inside of the structure of the building. The person who buried the items was thought to be the Irish maid servant, Mary O’Shea – the most perfect Irish name I’ve heard next to Patrick O’Malley. The dig is still going on, and the museum allowed tours through the area, the dig, the office, and into Mary’s workshop, which was hidden behind a wall in the cellar. No one knows why the items were hidden – perhaps she was just ‘touched’ – but it’s certainly a very cool exhibit to be able to walk through.

In addition to these pieces, the museum also contains a stunning collection of work in the contemporary section from artists in the 80s struggling to represent the feeling in Toronto during the early years of the AIDS crisis. In the case of these pieces, it was the collection as a whole, not any particular piece, that was worth seeing again. As far as ‘art that evokes a feeling’ goes, this is probably the best collection that I’ve seen.

Whirlwind wedding in TDot.

Last weekend I flew out to Toronto on a whirlwind trip to catch a good friend’s wedding. Brian had originally asked me to participate in the wedding party, but unfortunately I didn’t have my visa when I was asked, and had no guarantee that I’d be allowed back into France if I were to leave it. As soon as I got my carte sejour back in February I eagerly booked the trip at the last minute. In an effort to reduce the late booking premium a little bit, I picked a flight that left Saturday morning, and returned the following afternoon. This meant that I only had to find a place to stay for one night, and could skimp a little on the food. Breakfast and lunch would be provided by the airplane in both directions, and dinner would come during the wedding.

The morning flight out was surprisingly nice. Unlike the 14 hour craziness of going to the west coast, I only had to spend 8 hours, or 3 1/2 feature films (Australia: Fantastic – go see it; Quantum of Solace: OK; Largo Winch: OK; X-Files: meh.) on a plane. My flight left about 10 am here, and arrived around 1 pm in TDot which would have been plenty of time were it not for my perpetually broken internal compass. Somehow I ended up at a hot dog stand, Cafe Crepe and a Tim Hortons well before I got anywhere near to my hotel, which was conveniently (read: cheaply) located in Chinatown above an all asian grocery shopping mall.

With only 15 minutes between check in and the ceremony, I didn’t have much time to get ready. Just enough time for a quick shower and I ran out the door with my unwrapped gift. I made it to the wedding with only a few short minutes to go, and located the nearest top-hat wearing wedding authority in the hopes that he could direct me to my seat. We talked for several minutes before I discovered that he was a musician, not an usher, and didn’t have much more of a clue about where we were supposed to be than I did. The spot we randomly selected turned out to be a pretty good choice, as it put as both near the only other person that I knew who was not in the wedding party; Annie. I hadn’t seen her in at least 5 years, and we caught up over Indian food between the ceremony and reception.

I won’t spoil the ceremony by describing it in any level of detail. Needless to say, it was beautiful. The theme was scottish, and included a Kilt for the groom, and 4 red-headed bridesmaids, and matching bride. There was an open bar following, and a good selection of tunes for dancing that lasted well into the night.

The following morning, I got up pretty early, and had to find a post office so I could mail some Birthday gifts Express Post. Nothing was open until 1, so I killed time at the Ontario Museum of Art. More about that later. Breakfast was rad. The upside of having a cheap hotel in Chinatown, is that you are near to the cheap food in Chinatown as well. I popped into a bakery down the street just in time for the hot-out-of-the-oven Bar-b-q Pork Buns. That, and some more Timmies, made up the bulk of my Sunday diet.

Some touristing and travel later, and I found myself on a plane back to Paris. I had specially selected the seat second from the back of the plane so that it would be quiet, and I could recline the seat to sleep. When I got to where I was meant to sit, I found an old french guy snoring in my place. The flight attendant looked a little put out that I wanted to sit in my seat, and carefully explained to me that they had moved the old guy there because his seat, the one behind mine, smelled too terrible to let him sit there. I asked him where I was to sit then, and he looked even more put out. He went in search of a better place for me, and came back with a different flight attendant instead. She sniffed the seat and deigned it worthy afterall, and I was invited to sit in the stink chair for the flight back. All things considered, it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be, and I slept most of the flight back anyhow.

My flight arrive back in paris at 7 am, which left me plenty of time to make it home for a shower, and onto my usual train for work. The trip was quick, but I’m now convinced that reasonable travel can happen in a weekend. This is good, as I think it just opened up all kinds of weekend forays around the Ile-de-france area.