Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How Ireland nearly did my head in

Generally, guided tours aren't my deal. Something to do with not being a herd animal, and something else to do with the risk inherent in entrusting my life and happiness to a potentially overzealous herdsman whilst crammed into a minibus with any sort of mammal for hours at a time. Very few scenarios can push me to a guided tour, like fear for my life, for example – as was the case in a Salvadoran national park at night – or a desire to see more of Ireland than Dublin pubs through the creamy blur of Guinness goggles, which is exactly how I found myself on a minibus just a few days ago.

In the spirited stereotype of a city with a best friend from London – the one who insists on being referred to here by her exceedingly ridiculous pseudonym, La Perla Esperanza – I reasoned that an organized outing might not be quite so abysmal as I feared if it meant we'd be able to enjoy a little Irish countryside. Within moments of our departure, however, we knew we'd made a terrible, terrible mistake.

Our guide was also our driver – an arrangement we later realized was the only sure way to guarantee his personal safety. Otherwise, surely there was risk of mutiny, with passengers shoving the microphone dangerously far down his throat, or up the alternative, if we thought doing so wouldn't put us at risk of death by gruesome highway pile-up.

For seven hours, this man babbled. When he didn't have anything relevant to say, he filled what should've been peaceful moments left to appreciate picturesque pastures and gently rolling hills in quiet reflection, with personal opinion and brash commentary concerning all matters from biofuel to gender roles. When he ran out of opinions, he resorted to nonsense, which eventually degraded to gibberish – evidence, I believe, of a clinical disorder.

"Dublin isn't a big city," he said. "You've all been to Manhattan. You live there, probably."

"I'm not sexist, but..."

"Red and yellow are warning colours. Warning colours, people. Red and yellow."

"What do you know collectively about dogs?"

"I'm your fairy godmother without wings."

Then he announced the country of issue of every foreign license plate we passed.

"Let's just get out," I said to my friend before we'd left city limits. "We could just get off the bus right now and catch a city bus back." She laughed, but I was serious, if not panicky, and more than willing to cut my losses at the 25 euros we'd paid and just make a run for it. She's got resolve, though, and encouraged me to develop some – we stayed. Precisely two hours into the tour – the exact amount of time it took the last lubricating vapours of the previous night's whiskey to dissipate – I began losing the will to live.

Usually, I'm quite good at coping with annoyances – or, as a therapist once called it, completely disassociating – but my normal capacities were compromised, my ears couldn't process the flood of constant and pointless anecdotes and misinformation. We went manic, our eyes rolled unrestrained in their sockets, and we laughed so as not to cry. OK, maybe I cried a little.

"Shuuuuuh-uuuuuh-uuuuuh-uuuuut up!" was the sound of my every exhale.

"No!" was our collective response to his every rhetorical question.

By hour six, we were at the tipping point, another minute of asinine chatter and I might not have recovered. We needed silence like we need oxygen. The damage done was very nearly permanent.

Ironically, it was herd animals that saved us, allowing us a few moments of respite when they were needed most. The guide had begun playing a selection of easy listening Irish tunes, the worst versions available in all of Ireland, alternately inserting clips of the Braveheart soundtrack, and ranting that Dutch drivers are especially bad, when a flock of sheep loomed into view. "There's Ireland for you," he rolled his eyes, and stopped the minibus full with its mostly catatonic passengers. "Go take pictures," he said, like it was our idea, and that the idea was really, really stupid.

So, we did.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

From London with love

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I like him as much...

I'll share more details when I return from Ireland in a few days, but for now, I've exhausted myself setting the stage with the previous entry, Cabbie love. (See below.)

What I can tell you for certain is this:

I like him (the man I met on the internet via a best friend who ridiculously wishes to be known in my blog, from this day on, as La Perla Esperanza) as much as can be entirely inconvenient to like someone who lives on the opposite side of the North Atlantic. He's fantastic.
Cabbie love

"I got my wife and family for $1400," my cab driver shouted over the wail of a siren, turning around so I could see the full breadth of his grin.

"That's quite a bargain!" I shouted back, and we shared a laugh that drowned out everything else.

He was driving me to the airport, where I was to barely catch a flight to London. Within the first few blocks, I'd already excitedly informed him that on this trip, I'd be meeting a man I suspected might be among the best I've ever had the excellent fortune to meet, but that I'd met this particular man via a best friend, via the internet. My story prompted him to share his.

"I'd been wanting to marry a nice Lebanese girl," he explained. "You understand." He shrugged apologetically, as though I might be offended for failing to qualify as a contender in his search for a life partner. "Of course, I understand," I said, though I couldn't relate. I've never been on the hunt for a 'nice Canadian boy', I've simply been holding out for someone truly great.

When his brother called from Lebanon to offer him the number of a worthy future sister-in-law, my cab driver was more than intrigued. For four months, the two spoke over the phone for hours at a time. "Everything is a lot to learn about someone. It takes a while," he said. Boarding the plane to go meet her, he hadn't seen so much as a picture. All he had to go on concerning her looks was what his brother had said: "She's not ugly."

Having perused and reviewed and obsessed over hundreds of pictures of my current interest, I just couldn't imagine at all how he must've felt. His situation speaks loads for the weight of personality, I thought.

Not surprisingly, his friends thought he was crazy for entertaining the idea that she might actually be right for him, that she'd return to Canada with him to live, and that she might actually be anything less than horrendously malformed or psychotic. "They told me I was just wasting my money on a plane ticket," he said.

Then, he started yelling. "You have to take chances! Look at me! Look at me!" He was now flailing his arms and laughing like a lunatic, and I thought his friends may have been right about him after all. "I took a chance, and I won my life. I have a wonderful wife and three kids now."

Crazy or not, I'd never been so glad I'd struck up a conversation with a cabbie. I couldn't help but fantasize that my meeting with the English boy would go as well, especially when he said, "I'll never, never forget how I felt when I first met her." He became silent and looked ahead at the traffic, reflecting for a moment before laughing again, not because something was funny, but because he'd won big. Really, really big.

While I recognize that advice is really little more than nostalgia, I'm willing to accept his. "I'll tell you what to do," he declared (at this point I'd been doing little more than egging him on for a while). "Go to London, meet this man, and fall in love. If he's a good man, and he respects you, keep him. You'll figure out how. You really don't have anything to lose."

At the airport, we were both all smiles. He helped me with my bags and we shooks hands for a long time, moments short of hugging. We wished each other all the luck in the world for all the chances we love to take.

"I'm going to tell people your story," I told him.

"Please do," he said. "There should be more stories like it."

I boarded the plane thinking $1400 really is a bargain.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Clover, 11:11 and other people's birthday candles

I'm willing to use any tactic I can to make what's about to happen as fun as is romantically possible. And it's about time I update and tell you all about it.

Remember when I admitted to you that I met an English boy on the internet? And then I went on to describe that, despite how wonderful he is, I'm totally embarrassed about how we've met? And then I dared you all to heckle me, but you just egged me on instead?

Well, thanks. I'm all packed for London.

[Here's the original post.]

We're both ecstatically terrified. We meet on Thursday afternoon, in the historic centre of the city, for the first time in person. It's not a blind date, not at all, but I've also never watched his mouth move when he speaks to me, and I've never even laid a single dirty finger on him. I do plan to, though, if he lets me. And, he really should let me.

Over the phone, I sometimes have trouble understanding little bits of what he says, but not as much trouble as I let on. Certain words sound particularly silly, and I like him to repeat them, for kicks. Certain things he says to me make my whole world spin a bit, like an amusement park ride, and I make him repeat those, too.

I really do like him as much as is possible to like someone I haven't yet met.

I'll let you know if I like him as much as is possible to like someone I have met, too.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Skanky half-naked bush-dwellers

The first time the security guard caught me in my underwear, he made me put my clothes back on. The second time, he was a little more lenient.

"You're not allowed to be here," he said. I was standing knee-deep in a pool of water, just below a mini-waterfall – a scene suitable for low-budget porn, on the island built for Expo '67. It's been party central for 41 messy years and now plays host to all Montreal-area music festivals, including Osheaga.

"Oh, great," I sassed. "I suppose you're going to tell me I'm not allowed to take my pants off either."

"Put your clothes back on," he said, straight-faced and ever stoic. I pretended I didn't understand what he was saying while my friends attempted to distract him, but he out-waited me and I gave in. Being under-dressed put me at a disadvantage in this stare down; otherwise, I totally would've won. Out of respect for his authority, I waited for quite a while after he'd gone before stripping off again.

The way I see it, it's the promoter's fault for planning an outdoor concert rife with the devil's music on an island park with hidden brooks and ponds that look entirely swimmable in the dark – even if you've seen their filth and reeds in the daylight (hours earlier), back when you still knew better.

Besides, between the excitement of seeing Iggy Pop thrash his leather-draped skeleton around the stage for an hour and my roommate's bottomless flask of whiskey, we're lucky we weren't involved in anything worse than petty nudity and illicit swimming. I mean, of course, aside from that very unfortunate incident of theft, in which we were implicated, not as thieves, but as skanky, half-naked, bush-dwelling whores.

To our credit, we'd been on relatively good behaviour all night. Most of the night. Or, at least some of the night. Not until the final band played to the dwindling crowd – and we were saying hello and good-bye to people we'd lost much earlier in the day – did our reputations take a sharp and exhilarating turn for the worse.

It was then that an old friend joined us, along with the young mother of his child – a woman with whom we share a tumultuous past and who has only fairly recently softened enough to concede that she might actually like us, or, that failing, at least started making efforts to fake it. We settled in together at a picnic table by the water.

Whiskey banter filled any and every gap in conversation and we did our best to appease everyone, but it was proving somewhat challenging. The young mother, on this rare night out, wanted nothing more than to go home, and our friend wanted nothing more than to hang out just a little longer. Understandably, she won the battle of wit and will and he agreed to leave as soon as she returned from the washroom. As she walked off, he ran to the bushes (presumably to water them), and we decided it was a good time to escape for a swim.

Following the short path through the bushes to the water's edge, we peeled off our skirts en route and then realized we weren't alone. Polite as ever, we cleared our state of undress with the amorous couple we'd interrupted, and only then did we pare down to the basics. We hadn't yet made it into the water when our friend – the one with the girlfriend whose jury was already out on us – rushed over.

"Do you have my girlfriend's bag?" he asked, somewhat panicked. He'd left it on the table and in the few moments we'd been gone, someone had stolen it. Somehow, it seemed rude and insensitive to hop into the water while he was still registering his misfortune, so we just stood there in our underwear in front of him. "We don't have it," I said.

"Shit!" He stared at us in disbelief, and he was still staring at us in disbelief when his girlfriend, the woman who had only recently started pretending to like us, rounded the corner and saw us there, mostly naked, with the father of her child.

She yelled for the passing security guard (about the missing bag, not us), and that was when he, once again, saw us clearly intending to swim. Thanks to her distracting aura of billowing anger and hatred, however, the young mother inadvertently saved our all-but-bare asses, and he let us be. I'm sure she'd take back that favour if she could.

"COME!" she barked at our friend, and he rightly ran to her side and they left. Snap! I suspect we're the last people to have seen him alive. We thought about that for a moment, and we thought about how many different ways the story could be retold, concluding that in no version did we seem like anything but skanky, half-naked, bush-dwelling whores. Still, our consolatory swim was glorious.

"Why isn't everyone doing this!?" we shouted, revelling. "They must know something we don't know," I joked, as we drifted away from shore. It was meant as rhetoric, but in saying it, we realized it might be true. Racing back to shore, we spit out all the filthy water we'd taken on while laughing about how, the trouble with drunken public swimming is that it sobers you up just enough to realize you're an idiot.

When we got home, soaked-through bottoms and all, my roommate wrote an email to another mutual friend, our friend's band-mate, as a preemptive defense for our role in the night's events, however they may be relayed. It read something like this:

"I didn't steal that girl's bag. The rest, unfortunately, is true."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The real thing

I've finally found what I've been not-so-secretly looking for all my life. It's the sort of thing that either is, or isn't. That you find or you don't. And now, I have it. I really might be the luckiest girl in the world.

On quite a few occasions, I've thought I'd found it – stomach-flipping sure I'd found one – only to look a little closer and see that one part was missing, one essential bit, the kind that changes everything. That's the difference between magic and the ordinary.

Very early on, I've been faked out by a few sneaky tricksters and opportunists, but they couldn't hold it together for long and always revealed themselves as the grade school con artists they were. I've fallen for their trickery, I'll admit that, but only because my hopes were high and my primary character flaw is that I'm willing to forego most things for excitement and adventure. I could probably still be fooled into believing you had one for me, too, but only because my primary good fortune is that, despite my high hopes, enough has gone right for me that I'm not entirely jaded – but dishonesty is no foundation for luck OR love, and tricksters' names I don't recall.

In the park yesterday, lazing in the grass with some best girlfriends, I realized I'd really found one, and the moment was cathartic for more than just me. "I stopped believing they really existed," said my friend, Cathy (a catch who couldn't be caught, not until recently, and she's barely admitted she's fallen for a certain worthy and talented rising Canadian artist), "...but you finally effing found one."

"I know," I said, smiling [insert adjective for a huge grin, overwhelming sense of fulfillment and renewed hope for the world]-ly. "Yet, there it is."

It happened exactly how I'd heard it happens, where and when I least expected, and right in front of my face.