Thursday, January 29, 2009

Just another pretty face

Chances are, if you're my friend or have anything in common with me at all, you didn't pick up the July issue of Clin d'oeil – Quebec's premier French-language fashion magazine. And you definitely wouldn't have read the article on horoscopes, fortune-telling and dating – the one I'm in.

To readers of the magazine, I'm just another pretty face. Just another woman turning to the stars for reassurance that her next boyfriend won't be deceitful, controlling, unfaithful, crude, inconsiderate, selfish or homosexual, like the last one.

They'll commiserate with this image of me, and join the ranks of what French-Canadians apparently call ésotérico-girly girls. You know, women with more faith in tarot cards, dice, clairvoyants and Rob Breszny's Free Will Astrology than their own instinct – the kind of women you'd never want to date.


While I didn't have anything to do with the actual content of the article, I'm its mascot. The illustrator commissioned for the feature, a close friend, asked if I'd be willing to pose as a reference model, so he could draw me. All I had to do was drink tea, play with props, and feign excitement and wonder at dating in the New Age. Feign excitement and wonder at dating? I've certainly done that before. This time I'll get something out of it, I thought, and volunteered for my own selfish reasons.

Firstly, although I was only slightly more qualified for the task than the standard wooden drawing figure, by virtue of having eyes and hands – I just wanted to be able to say, "Yeah, I've modelled." But mostly, I wanted to see myself through someone else's eyes.

My friend showed me some of the sketches before they were approved for print – over beer on his balcony, back when the world was sunny and warm – but it wasn't until yesterday, when I met him to say good-bye before I leave for London, did I remember to ask for a copy of the magazine.

And here I am, as he drew me. In the illustrations, I'm pretty. My nose seems smaller. My boobs seems bigger. And it seems I'd be willing to do anything for love.

In twenty days, I'm boarding a plane to Heathrow to be with a man I met via Facebook. So, if nothing else, at least that last part is true.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why we gotta fight?

Outnumbered by the band members, Ricky did what he always does – he ripped off his shirt. In most bars on Crescent Street, that would get you kicked out, but this one caters to the dregs of downtown – schizophrenic alcoholics, drug dealers and the university crowd. And Ricky, who falls into categories one and two, owns it.

Set to the right soundtrack, I'd argue the scene was wildly homoerotic. Five sweaty, dishevelled men surrounding one other, half-naked and panting. Anyone could mistake this potential brawl for a more invasive sort of gang bang. I'd never mention that to Ricky of course, so as to avoid having my pinky fingers mailed to my parents.

Anyone who knows Ricky, knew what was to come next. Some knew word for slurred word. Ricky, who is almost always in the wrong, has a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card, which is ironic because he's spent a lot of time there. To play it, he strips down and gestures toward his mangled torso.

"I've been shot three times and stabbed five!" he announces. "Why we gotta fight?"

The look on his face says, "We're all just people, so let's just chill out and be friends."

This particular night, after holding the band's drum kit hostage, he was playing that card again. The show was over, the dance floor was empty, and these guys were drunk and exhausted. Letting Ricky freestyle on their equipment until he drank himself unconscious or sober wasn't anyone's priority but his own.

While his words and face were friendly, Ricky's scars shouted, "You should've seen the other guys!" The band backed down thinking maybe no one ever saw those other guys again. They grabbed their gear and left.

I waited for my friend to finish up behind the bar, so we could get out of there, too. She poured Ricky a pint for his nerves, and I witnessed a road map of veins smooth into the contour of his massive head. I stole a few sideways glances at his eight uneven scars, and marvelled that he is still alive.

Shot three times? Stabbed five? At what point do you ask yourself, "What am I doing wrong?"

(I'd include a picture of Ricky at his bar, but I'd rather keep my pinkies. You'll have to settle for one taken in an Irish pub. The monsters there were smaller.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My happy place or yours?

When people tell me I'm crazy, it comes out in a sing-song tone. You know the one. I'm sure you've heard it from a few friends if you've ever met "someone special" on the internet, drunkenly applied the 5-second rule to pizza, or dated a girl with "DAN'S BEEF" tattooed on her ass.

It's how friends react when they're pretty sure you're screwing up, but glad you're taking one for the team. If not for the shit you pull, they'd be stuck talking about the weather and, oh I dunno, something important. Your friends might worry about you, but they also can't wait to tattle. It takes the focus off them, for the last time they effed up.

So what if you threw up that "perfectly good" ham sandwich, or if you missed your plane despite having "plenty of time" to get to the airport? Sure you woke up on a beach in Southeast Asia stripped of your trainers, passport and pride, but "that chick was really hot." I'm sure most of the time you're trouble-free, but no one remembers when things are just alright. That's why extreme sports and alcohol exist.

Oh, and working visas for the UK.

My friend Christina thinks I'm insane for moving to London. "It's damp and expensive," she says, far more crudely than that. She lives in Mexico where it's sunny year-round, and she's paying $50/month for rent (which she earns making jewellery). She gets water from a hose in the yard and her home is made of cement and sticks. See, she's actually crazy. She's also hilarious and happy. Maybe I'm nuts to sell all my shit and move to England, with nothing but a few good friends, a laptop and a working visa to my name. But I'd be more crazy not to.

I'm not so different from Christina. Our happy places are just really, really far apart.

(Meet Christina and her husband, Luis. Mel Gibson tried to recruit him for Apocalypto, but Luis didn't want to cut his hair. They used to live in a little hut on the beach in Mahahual, but then a hurricane ate it.)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Reason I love to travel #5

Travel has taught me that some blessings are extremely well disguised, especially in Guatemala.

Tempering any expectations of a smooth trip from the highlands to the islands, before departure we watched a mechanic crawl under our bus with a hammer and some duct tape. So, Cathy and I bought some "emergency" beer for the road.

Not an hour into the journey, when the engine caught on fire and the bus filled with noxious fumes, we were already glad we had. Waiting in the rain for the rescue bus was easier to bear with beer, if only because it made the locals laugh. With us or at us, we didn't care.

Later than sooner, the promised bus arrived, and we were finally back on the serpentine trail to Guatemala City. The next hour of the trip was remarkably hassle-free.

Then, traffic stopped dead. The sun went down, the driver turned off the bus, and we waited in the dark. Passengers began sharing food with hungry strangers, and I rationed my water. A few people gathered round to watch Cathy and me play Crazy Eights by the light of my head lamp; that's how bored they were.

We had no idea why we were stuck there, but we knew we'd missed our connection. We'd have to spend the night in the frighteningly dangerous and mostly filthy capital, if we ever got there. There was no remaining "emergency" beer, not even a working toilet. Our positive attitudes were positively tried.

Eventually, the driver announced the nature of the traffic jam. A mudslide had buried a major section of the road ahead and we were caught on this side of it. When we finally started moving again, on a single lane cleared by bulldozers, I saw the blessing in being off schedule:

Trapped on this side or that side of a mudslide, is a helluva lot better than trapped under one.

Monday, January 05, 2009

French-Canadian food: Ass ham

True, living in Quebec can be challenging for non-Francophones in terms of finding jobs and apartments, reading contracts, applying for grants, conducting business, dating, ordering food, and dealing with any public service over the phone, but for the hardy few who manage to overcome those minor inconveniences, there are occasional and wondrous rewards, like poutine.

This weekend, at a Normandin diner somewhere between Quebec City and Montreal, I discovered that the "poulet club sandwich" is an entirely different order than the "poulet sandwich club" and, therefore, my dissatisfaction was entirely the fault of my indisputable ignorance. I cut my losses and choked it down. You just can't argue with the facts.

My friends were smart to have kept it simple, each ordering the "gourmet" hamburger platter – a dish we've learned by rote. Simply scrape the coleslaw from the patty, add some ketchup, and it's nearly like the ones back home. Pay a little extra for cheese curds and gravy on your fries.

While none of us got exactly what we'd wanted, compensation for our troubles came with the bill at the end of the meal. Printed on them was a more accurate description of its quality. A "hamburger platter" to us, is an "assiette hamburger" to those at Normandin, or, in short: Ass ham gourmet.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Pee: The curse in the cure

As it turns out, my grade school bullies were right. I do eat worms and drink pee.

It's fair to suggest their twisted little minds planted the idea in my head. As a squeamish child, I'd never have come up with that on my own – not unless one of those stones they threw knocked me in the worms-and-pee section of my brain. It's possible.

To my credit, the acts didn't manifest quite as my bullies imagined. The worm was Mexican and travelled via souvenir mezcal to a Friday night in Montreal. The bottle housed only one worm, so, to my horror my friend Cathy sliced through its middle and offered me first choice of ends – a version of Heads-or-Tails impossible to win.

"Aaaaaaarghaaawwwaaawwwaaaaarrrrrrrgh!" I retched with the wrinkled grub in my mouth.

Though equal in size to two aspirin, it hadn't occurred to me not to grind its tiny leathery, jelly-filled body into a putrid alcoholic pulp before swallowing – not until I did just that. I feared I'd see that worm again.

It's a matter of perspective whether that's the most disgusting thing I've ever had in my mouth. I'd argue the virus (which has still has control of my sinuses) tops the list, but you might suggest pee as a fairly strong contender.

As I've explained to many a revolted family member and friend, I didn't actually drink pee – not intentionally – though a few drops inevitably escaped down my throat when I swallowed as reflex. It was the more palpable alternative to vomiting. The only way to avoid swallowing a little pee would be to not gargle it at all, which is what most have suggested.

Come to think of it, only two people have ever suggested otherwise, and neither was my friend. Still, they seemed to have my best interests in mind. Suffering the onset of strep throat while travelling solo through rural El Salvador, I was ill and desperate enough to try nearly anything – even pee.

"Do YOU gargle YOUR pee?" I croaked at my hostel-mate, an Austrian kiteboarder, from the nest I'd made in my hammock with all the blankets I could find. Over tea and sniffles, he'd spoken of pee's healing properties and I was positively scandalized.

"It really works," he answered, looking anywhere but back at me.

"Ewwwwwwwww!" I taunted. "You're a pee drinker!"

"It really works," he said again.

"Well, I could never do it," I announced, not realizing "never" would only last until the next morning, when I was sufficiently desperate.

I was still miserable in my hammock when a young Korean couple arrived later that night and, hearing me complain of an ever-worsening sore throat, suggested their grandparents' cure-all: gargling pee. No way, I thought and headed to bed, only to wake up, swallow some razor blades and think, Maybe way. Beside my bed was a plastic cup.

If I was going to do it, I intended to do it right, so I'd never have to do it again. The pee, as it was explained to me, should be the first of the day, so the vitamins and minerals it contains are as concentrated as possible. Knowing this, I procrastinated in bed for a long, long time that morning. When I could hold it no more, my decision was made: I would pee in the cup and think about it.

Battling three decades of cultural conditioning, social convention and a general aversion to pee in my mouth, I managed to rationalize the remedy, and cleared my head enough to bring the glass to my lips. Pretend it's tea, I told myself. It won't be so bad. But it was.

It was so bad, in fact, that sipping pee and vomiting in the sink seemed to happen in the very same moment. I don't think I expected it to be quite so hot, and it tasted nothing like tea at all. There was no turning back, though; I'd already crossed a line and there was plenty more pee for another try. And another. And another, until I finally managed to gargle.

"This better be worth it," I said to the new pee-mouth me in the mirror. I reloaded my toothbrush with minty-fresh paste a few times while I brushed and brushed and brushed and brushed, and pondered having lost my pee-ginity. Back in my hammock, I fell asleep to my newest mantra: "I am so hardcore."

Hours later, my throat was better. All better. "Shhhhhhhit!" I yelled, suddenly aware of the curse in the cure. Now the keeper of a terrible secret, with every instance of a sore throat, I'd forever be forced to consciously choose to suffer, or to gargle pee. The line of separation between the options is arguably blurry.

While I don't regret my decision to buck convention concerning pee remedies (and join the ranks of Madonna, Gandhi and British actress, Sarah Miles), at the end of the day, there's one convention I'd have been better of to heed. You know the saying: "What happens in *holiday destination* stays in *holiday destination*"? No longer are my grade school bullies teasing me about eating worms and drinking pee, but the torch is carried by my family and friends and others I've made the mistake of telling, which, as of now, is everyone.

Thankfully, half of you won't believe me.