Monthly Archives: February 2008

Montreal

Montreal is cool. Even when the temperature is minus 40, there’s something in the city that always warms my heart. When I was 19 I went there to spend four months. I ended up staying two years, and was really sad I could no longer stay. I ended up moving to Toronto, thinking that it would be just as cool. But it wasn’t. It’s hard for a city to be as cool as Montreal.

When I lived in Montreal, people would often tell me that they’d seen me walking all by myself with a big smile on my face. I was much grumpier in Toronto. I don’t know whether the difference was in the actual place, or in my life circumstances; whether the external or internal landscape.  But there’s something about Montreal that makes me at easy within minutes of my arrival, no matter how stressed I am on my way there.

I lived in Toronto for much longer, and made more friends there. But Montreal always made me feel more at home. I wonder whether I would have decided to return to Brazil if I’d stayed there. There’s no way to know.

The closest friends I had when I lived in Montreal actually lived in Campinas, Brazil. Even though they were so far away, they were the people with whom I shared all my adventures and new experiences in Canada.

It’s then an interesting coincidence that about the time last year that I decided to return to Brazil, independently of one another they both ended up moving to Montreal. I must have said good things about the place. 

I wonder what it would have been like if we had manage to live in Montreal all at the same time. This was all that I wanted when I lived there. But who knows: maybe we needed to go separately, so that each could get most out of the experience.

Impossible to know. But I was happy to spend a few days in Montreal in this winter visit to Canada. Montreal always makes me nostalgic, and now that my friends from back when are living there, the feeling of nostalgia was even more intense. There’s no way of knowing what would have happened if what actually happened hadn’t happened. Subjunctives are merely subjunctives, and the variables are many. But to see people who knew me back at a time when I walked down streets with a broad smile on my face and to walk those smile-inducing streets did me a lot of good. And I mean it not in the subjunctive. I mean real, actual, tangible good. Which is one of the best kinds of good.

Irritations

The first week back in Canada was complicated:

1. The weather was particularly bad, with two snowdays in one week. I agonized over meeting with my supervisor after 6 months away. Then 2 hours before the meeting the university was closed because of the snowstorm. The meeting was thus postponed to the following week, which gave me another 5 days to agonize over it.

2. My winter clothes were in a box in a garage in a lovely house outside of Hampton outside of Oshawa outside of Toronto. In my obsession with planning and organizing, I had neglected to make arrangements with my lovely friend who so had been so kind to store my stuff. It turned out that the week I arrived, she was in the US skiing with her family.

3. Because of the acne medication, my skin reacted very badly to the weather, and to the new boots I bought because of item 2. I bought tons of skin lotions, but instead of soothing my skin, they seem to flare it up some more. In the meantime, friends complimented me on my “tan.” Eventually I just got tired of explaining that it was a reaction to the cold, and just started smiling and accepting the compliment.

4. When my friend came back, I went to see her, and took the oportunity to go to her garage and filter through my boxes, selecting items that I needed most. I couldn’t carry them all back with me to Toronto, but at least I got the most urgent items first (including my old boots, since my feet were killing me), and packed a couple of suitcases for her to bring me next time she drove to town. Turned out that the boxes, the books, the cold, the dust, the exercise triggered my allergies, and I spent the following two days in bed with a bad sinus reaction.

5. When the opportunity came for my friend to drive to town with the extra-heavy suitcases I had packed (she usually takes the GO train, which is faster, cheaper and more practical), a heavy snowstorm made her turn around after four hours in the highway. So my suitcases monopolized the trunk of her car for a few more days, which made me feel super embarrassed for all the inconvenience I was causing.

6. In the middle of all this, while I was still recovering from the sinus, there was a minor flood in the house where I’m staying, which caused me to be even more embarrassed. As I tried to explain to my friend afterwards, when everything was back under control but I still could not stop apologizing and feeling terrible, she said something that really made me think: “Ester, stop apologizing, everything’s fine, nothing else you could have done. Besides, stuff is just stuff. People are important, not things.”

People are important, not things. And it was at this point that I took the deliberate decision of stop worrying so much about things that are not under my control (see items 1-6). Part of the difficulty was that my skin was irritated and that made me irritated. So I just stopped taking the acne medication, and that has taken care of that problem. The weather has improved. My friend managed to bring me my boxes from Oshawa. The sinus have healed. The new winter clothes look good (though  I don’t know what will become of them once I return to Brazil). I’ve met the supervisor and now have to meet the rest of the committee, which is never pleasant, but I’m trying to think of it as a a dentist appointment — nobody enjoys it, but most people survive. (Of course, anesthetics make the whole thing much less unpleasant. But it’s a morning meeting, and maybe it wouldn’t look good if I had a drink before the meeting). 

As Bob McFerrin would say: 

“In every life there’s some trouble.
When you worry you make it double.
So don’t worry, be happy”

Now, that’s some advice!  

Back in Toronto

Six months are up: time to go back to Toronto see my thesis committee.  Anxiety marked the days — maybe weeks — leading up to this trip. People asked me whether I was excited; I searched and searched within me, but no, that was not what I was feeling. Maybe preemptive exhaustion: I already felt tired just to think of the trip. Truth was, I didn’t really want to go.

I arrived in Toronto on an extradinarily windy Wednesday. The trip itself was uneventful (unlike the one six months before). The seven-minute walk from the subway station to the place where I am staying almost killed me. I wasn’t appropriately dressed, having left all of my winter clothes in Canada. Sure, I had a horrible blue jacket on, which, though extradinarily ugly, is extraodinarily warm (its ugliness struck me a couple of winters ago, when I decided to stop wearing. Honestly, I couldn’t believe that I had worn it for so many winters — I could scarcely believe why I bought it in the first place. Maybe because it was super warm, but still… I think my taste for clothing has changed in recent winters).

Beneath the warm’n’ugly blue jacket, a couple of layers which were definitely not warm enough. Sweaters were also stored in my friend’s garage. I didn’t think it would be so cold, and this wasn´t just me: everyone I met said that was the coldest day they had had in a while.

The 7-minute-walk took forever: I had to stop twice to hide from the cold wind, and give my body time to recover.

My face suffered the most: for three months I had been taking some acne medication, which removes all the oil from the skin. This is good in the sense that without the natural oil all the acne-producing bacteria die. But it is bad because without the natural oil the skin loses all its protection against the elements. In Brazil, I didn’t go anywhere without sunscreen. But this morning as I arrived in Canada after travelling for some twenty hours, I had forgotten it. And the tan produced by this seven-minute walk was quite remarkable.

After braving the wind, I got to my friend’s house.  She left me the keys and a note she’d be home in the evening. As I took my clothes off to take a shower, I found out that my whole body — arms, legs, belly — were as red as if I had spent the whole day on a nude beach. Without sunscreen. 

It’s 9am. I need to go buy good body lotion, and I need to go get my winter clothes from my friend’s house. And I need a nap.

Nap won.

Presidential race and gender

I have always been fascinated about the children’s literature of Brazilian author Monteiro Lobato. So much so that about this time last year I was seriously considering including it in my doctoral dissertation — or maybe even devoting the entire dissertation to it.  But in order to do that, I thought it would be a smart idea to read his work for adults and his correspondence, which I did last winter. All of my blog entries of February and March 2007 were devoted to reporting my impressions as I read through Lobato’s adult work (not be mistaken for his mature work, which was entirely dedicated to children). 

The last post of this series describes my impression of the book that made me completely give up on Lobato’s work as topic for my thesis. Its title could be translated as “The Black President: a novel set in the year 2228.” It was written in 1926, and it describes a presidential race in the United States in a very very distant future, in which, for the very first time, the two main candidates were a black man and a white woman.

Lobato moved from Brazil to New York in 1922 and was surprised about the overt racism he encountered (not that there wasn’t racism in Brazil, but it wasn’t as overt). The feminist struggle for universal suffrage also made an impression on him (in Brazil, women were only allowed to vote in 1932). The combination of the two gave rise to “The Black President” a book that made me sick to my stomach, for all the racism and sexism it contains.

In my post of a year ago, I said that what impressed me about Lobato was his frankness: he always wrote what he thought, no matter how controversial. Reading “The Black President,” I realized that while this made for some of the best writing I’ve ever read, it also accounted for some of the most offensive writing I’ve ever read.

But another thing about Lobato that always amazed me is how he seems to anticipate situations and discussions that were only to come to the fore decades later. There is definitely something eerie about the way he imagined the dynamics of race and gender in the context of American Presidential elections, and what we read in the news these days. The similarities between 2228 and 2008 disturb me immensely — but I keep trying to remind myself that fiction is merely fiction, and that’s all.