Writing Again, Finally, Kind Of

I've always wanted to write, write fiction that is. I took a class last fall to get me back into the groove. The class did succeed in forcing me to write but I've fallen back on the empty page again, now that the class is over. Here's the first piece I wrote for the class...

    Mother's Beloved Shop

   Elliot’s mother's old pastry shop occupied a small lot on the corner of Clive & Barrow. It was an elegant French shop. Its window panes were shaded in a light blue color while the top half of the glass was covered with stylish cursive lettering that spelled out its name in red. Small triangular-shaped chimes hung from the front doors, belting out a cheery melody whenever a patron walked through them.
Once inside, you were immersed in the many odors that made up his mother’s creations. First, you could all but taste the freshly-baked croissants with your nose. As you turned in search of them, you would pick up the scent of strawberries and bananas emanating from the cream pies that were carefully placed on the only window sill facing the busy thoroughfare that was Barrow Street. Just as you were about to head towards the window for a better look, you would be pulled away by fragrances coming from behind the glass counter that housed the most sought-after items: danishes, miniature cakes, fruit-filled rolls of all kinds.

Three wooden rectangular plates used to cover the leftmost edge of the glass counter. Each plate contained an item that Elliot’s mother wanted to highlight on a particular day. If you were lucky enough to enter the shop on Tuesdays just after a fresh batch was made, you would have been able to savor a scoop of mousse au chocolat. Once in contact with your tongue, the mousse would refuse to melt but surround it instead, allowing you to taste chocolate from every direction. To cleanse your palette, you could then gulp down one of his mother’s signature drinks, which were always poured into small glass cups.

  If you had stepped behind the counter, you would have noticed how spotless everything was, how no crumbs made their way beyond the dishes on which the pastries rested. On the counter top behind the display case, rolls of white wrapping paper took their place next to knives of all sizes, from small ones used to split a warm croissant to larger ones that cut the many pies on display right down the middle. Boxes of different sizes and colors, some half-opened, others flattened, used to line the back of the counter top.

It was on one particularly clear night that Elliot found himself again in his mother's pastry shop, several years after she had sold it off in order to avoid financial ruin. He broke in by picking the lock, took in the scents, and sat down on the window sill, indifferent to the fact that he was in plain view of passersby. It had changed somewhat but the new owners had managed to preserve the essentials. He reminisced about how he toiled in the shop on each and every Sunday and how much he loved the work. He remembered how that girl in the blue dress, the one who would come in by herself every so often but would leave empty-handed, gave him his first kiss. Most of all, though, he cherished the memories of his mother, of how this was her labor of love and how much it pained her to have to part from it.

  Then, just as assuredly as he broke in, he lit a match and set fire to his mother's beloved shop.


The Helen of the West Indies

On February 7th, I left the rough-and-tumble world of NYC for the peace and serenity of Saint Lucia along with a very good high-school friend of mine. We booked a 7-day stay at an all-inclusive resort near the northern tip of the island. The 7 days were filled with swimming, snorkeling, hiking, zip lining, eating, and just plain relaxing.

Some highlights:

-The trip only really got going when we were about an hour away from Saint Lucia, maybe about 30000 feet up in the air, when the flight attendant informed us that "the pilot has requested that you put on your seat belts. We have no more information at this time." This spooked everyone until the pilot came on and let it be known that "we've got a cracked windshield and that, while [he] believes that there is no structural damage to the plane, the company has requested that the flight be diverted to San Juan, Puerto Rico."

-After some back-and-forth between clueless AA and US Airways counter clerks who had a tough time using ancient airline booking systems, we spent almost a full day visiting Viejo San Juan. Puerto Rico is definitely worth another visit sometime in the future.

-Worrying about when to book a tennis court so that you don't miss your reservation at the restaurant by the sea, all the while making sure that you don't lose a spot on a Land&Sea excursion, is a worry I'd love to have every other day.

-Being the only two single people on a resort filled with mostly British families or married couples was not as awkward as it could have been.

-Peeing on a sea urchin sting is still the remedy of choice, it seems.

-A Brandy Alexander is my Peach Schnapps.

-The word of the week was most definitely "pressure cooker", especially when said in a thick and sexy Caribbean accent.

-Almost nothing beats lying on a beach chair and watching the waves come in and out.

Misplaced Cynicism

I'm used to President Bush arrogantly pushing his views across and I'm all too familiar with Israel's political leaders preciously guarding their own seats while the country suffers, but I did not expect docile Canada to wake me up from my honeymoon with politics.

Everything starts when the Conservatives present an economic update that they should have known would have the opposition up in arms. To counter the upcoming recession and to allow them to keep the country's books in the black for a little while longer, they decide to do away with subsidies for political parties! Interesting move considering that the Conservative Party is the only healthy party financially and the Liberals are scrounging for cash. To add fuel to the fire they propose to eliminate federal employees' right to strike for the next several years. I'm sure they knew that that was going to go down well with their left-of-center fellow members of Parliament!

The opposition parties cry foul and threaten to bring down the government unless Harper backtracks and provides some kind of stimulus package like other countries have done. Seeing his hold on power disappearing, Harper caves in and agrees to move up the budget . The opposition, smelling blood, plots to take over the government.

Here's what I see from my perch here in NYC....

You've got an arrogant man, Harper, who thought that he could capitalize on the weakness of the opposition to ram through something that the majority of the Commons and therefore the people oppose. I'm not going to take a stand on what he's actually proposing because I believe that it's beside the point. He called an election in hopes of getting a majority but did not get it; therefore, he must govern accordingly.

While Harper deserves the blame for starting this mess, he did give the opposition a way out. He caved into their demands. They, being greedy politicians who only care about themselves, decided to bury him instead. It feels like a bloodless coup to me.

In the other corner, you've got a man, Dion, who is on his way out but is trying to hold on for dear life. He signs an agreement with the NDP, the only real winners in this coup, while allowing the BQ to hold onto his family jewels. So, you've now got a potential coaltion headed by a man who will be replaced in May and supported by a party that wants Quebec to secede. What nonsense!

The country voted, not two months ago, and the Conservatives got the most votes. They didn't get a majority but they got the most votes. They should be left in charge. If the opposition wants to overthrow them, they should trigger another election. That will definitely lead to more apathy from the voters but that is the right thing to do. Another option would be to let Harper stick his tail further between his legs and continue governing, wounded. I think either option is better than what is currently going on.

I now cede the floor. Take it away....

Letting My Cynicism Go

I have a love-hate relationship with politics. I follow it religiously but refuse to trust a word that comes out of any politician's mouth. I am mostly up to speed on who's in charge, who's running, and what they've done. However, since I don't believe them, I rarely dig deep into their promises because I believe them to be empty.

This US election started off no differently. I paid attention to the primaries but only through reading about the results. If I were able to vote I would be a Democrat. So, I hoped that the Republicans would pick a horrible candidate and that the Democrats would pick a "winner". McCain was definitely not a horrible candidate, far from it. On the Democratic side, the horse race dragged on for too long and I was worried that that would favor the Republicans.

Between Obama and Clinton, I wanted Clinton to win only because I didn't believe Obama's hopeful speeches and I thought that as an "insider" Hillary would be able to push through some of her ideas. Despite this, a part of me wished that Obama would push her as far as he could because the idea of a black Democratic candidate excited me.

When Obama had to repudiate his minister, I decided to watch the speech on YouTube. It was incredible and I was moved, but I pushed it aside. Then, after Obama won, I didn't watch either convention but I listened to his acceptance speech. Again, it was moving and inspiring but by then I had decided that he was just a naive newbie who talked a great game but wouldn't be able to back it up.

At the same time, Old Man McCain was not the same McCain I had read about. He prostituted himself to get votes from his own base and selected what I disrespectfully call The Ornament as his VP pick. He also used the same tactics against Obama that he was subjected to by Bush. Therefore, those facts, compounded with my Democratic leanings, Obama's debate performances, his biography which I learned about, and his smarts pushed me to support him.

Last night, I was glued to my 13-inch TV for the whole evening. I was so happy that Obama won and was really amazed by the fact that the US now had a black President. I never thought that the US would elect a black man and here they proved me wrong! That chipped away at my cynicism. Then, Obama, in his eloquent way, spoke and used the example of a 106 year-old woman to trace the ups and many downs of 20th century America. It was brilliant. He also made sure to temper his supporters' expectations a bit. I decided then and there to give him a chance.

... All this gibberish from someone who followed the Canadian and US elections and will be following the Quebec and Israeli elections, but will not have a say in any of them.

Tales from Gate 78

I sense a pattern...

March 16th, 2007
I'm all hyped up and a little bit nervous about my upcoming solo trip to Costa Rica. I wake up as early as the bus shuttle to LGA will allow and head to the airport for my 8:30am flight. As I sit at the gate awaiting to board, I take in the weather forecast which calls for freezing rain around midday. With ominous clouds above my head, I take my seat on the flight and try to contain my butterflies as the plane fills up.

At some point, a little after 8 o'clock, the pilot comes on and informs us that we cannot take off due to ice pellets. He tells us to sit patiently and wait for a window of opportunity. By 10 we are still sitting on the tarmac and I strike up a conversation with the two guys sitting beside me. While they are heading to Cincinnati, where I will be boarding my connecting flight, I tell them about my ultimate destination. They both strongly suggest that I head to Brazil instead, where the women are smoking hot and every married man is forced to reconsider his marriage vows.

At around 2:30pm, after about six hours on the tarmac, which is about 2 hours less than those poor saps who sat like sardines on a Jet Blue flight on St Valentine's Day, our pilot informs us that we will be heading back to the gate.

I trudge through the melting snow and mud and return home, dejected and frustrated. I spend 4 hours on the phone trying to rebook my flight to no avail. At around midnight, I officially cancel my trip.

June 9th, 2008
After a great weekend in Chicago where I listen to Blues and walk the avenues, we arrive at ORD at around 4:30am on a Monday morning. Just as we are about to line up for our boarding passes, I notice that our 6:30am flight to JFK has been canceled. Our boarding passes indicate that we are booked on the 6:10pm flight back to New York, a full 12 hours later. With our workday in jeopardy, we inquire as to what can be done. We are told that we can put ourselves on standby for all flights before our 6:10pm departure.

For the next 10 hours, we shuffle from gate to gate, from standby list to standby list. At around 4 o'clock, my friend's name is called and he boards that hour's flight back home. I rush to the counter only to find out that I'm not on that flight's standby list. To make up for that mistake, the lady at the counter puts me at the top of the next flight's standby list. Therefore, I return home at 9 o'clock, having lost a vacation day.

June 14th, 2008
On a sunny, clear day, I make my way to the airport for an afternoon flight to YYZ. I board the plane on schedule with the sun shining brightly above me. As we taxi down the runway, the pilot informs us that there are 14 planes ahead of us. While we wait, the sun disappears and it starts to rain. We sit on the tarmac for about as long as the flight itself before we are told that the flight has been canceled.

I return home, jump into bed, and wake up at 4am in order to catch the next available flight to Toronto. Once I arrive in Toronto, I make my way to North York by bus shuttle and public transit. That takes about an hour longer than the duration of flight.

August 15th, 2008
I am sitting on the shuttle to EWR when I receive a phone call from my mom. She asks me how's it like outside before she tells me that a tornado alert has been issued for Manhattan. It turns out that the tornado doesn't get past The Bronx so Manhattan is safe.

By the time I line up at the security station, it's raining. Just as I sit down to eat my caeasar's salad, we are all told that our flight to YUL has been canceled. So, I walk back through the security station to rebook my flight.

I return home, jump into bed, and wake up at 4am in order to catch the next available flight to Montreal. My father picks me up and hands me over to my friends and we head directly to the St Sauveur water park. It's sunny and warm on that day and the next.

August 18th, 2008
I arrive at the airport at around 4 o'clock for my flight back to EWR. At 6:00pm, with 10 minutes to go before departure and lightning punctuating the dark sky, the lady at the counter informs us and the crew that we are now in Code Red. About an hour later the flight is officially canceled. I return to my parents' place having lost another vacation day. I make it back to NYC the next evening, with barely a cloud in the sky.

I rest my case.

Scandinavia : The Summary

As you may well have gathered, I spent two weeks touring Scandinavia with Porter between June 17th and June 30th. It was a great extension of our Great European Adventure '06. While the trip itself was fantastic and I was eager to live it, posting about it has led me to several failed, half-hearted attempts at transferring the contents of my journal to LiveJournal.

While I still can't get myself to break the trip down into 13 nicely summarized blog entries, what follows is a whirlwind summary of the trip itself.

Iceland: Striking
The most striking & most unique destination on this trip. Remote both geographically and culturally.

Norway: Beautiful
It had the most beautiful landscapes I saw on this trip. Traveling through the fjords is a must.

Denmark: Fun
It was the funnest part of the trip. We spent almost all of our Danish time in Copenhagen, a livable, lovable, fun-filled city.

Other tidbits:
-Scandinavia is frack'n expensive! They don't seem to want you to try their local cuisine because it can easily be out of your reach.
-Scandinavia is not as cold as you think!
-They all speak English, on top of their own language and their neighbor's language.
-They love hot dogs, especially the Icelanders. Unlike our hot dogs though, theirs are made of lamb.
-While I loved the Danes' danishes, as Porter's pics can attest, I'm slowly becoming more and more offended by the term Danish to describe these delectable pastries. What other food has the same name as its people?!?
-I conquered one fear dating back to 2006 but failed to conquer another.

With three trips to Europe in the past three years, it's time to turn the page. I'm attacking the Far East next!

Israel, a Waste of Time

I got back from the Holy Land yesterday. I had an amazing time there. I hadn't been back to my homeland in 8 years and a lot has changed there since then. My parents arrived there a week before me. It was my father's first time back since we left in 1990. He barely recognized his country! My arrival was supposed to be a surprise for the rest of my family there but I ended up being surprised. I was told that that my parents would pick me up and that my father would be holding up a sign saying "Doctor Schaffhausen". The name comes from the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and the reason for it was that I have always wanted someone to wait for me at an airport. Usually, I walk out of the airport in Montreal and wait for my parents' Ford to show up.

I ended up being surprised because I didn't see my father and his sign. Instead, I first spotted my grandfather, then my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandmother. My parents brought up the rear with my father holding up the "Doctor Schaffhausen" sign. Let's just say that I was disoriented!

I was in Israel from the 27th to January 5th. I had a great time seeing family and touring the country. It's so small that I managed to stand on the country's northern tip, drove within several meters of Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, and touch the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

From the minute I got there, this one expression was uttered constantly by almost everyone: what a waste of time.
A sample conversation:
A: How was the show last night?
B: What a waste of time!
It means the opposite of what it literally means.

Some highlights:

* I flew to Israel through Milan. On my way from Milan to Tel Aviv, the flight attendant asked for a doctor because one of the passengers in another section of the plane was experiencing chest pains. No doctor appeared but the man's chest pains subsided. On the way back to New York, the woman in the row in front of me fainted as she got up from her seat. I rushed to a flight attendant who checked her pulse and held her head up. She fainted because she was allergic to the pasta she ate.

* While Israelis do celebrate New Year's in many pubs and clubs, there's no TV coverage of the event. So, instead, my grandparents counted down to the New Year through Russian TV. At midnight Moscow time, which was 11pm Israel time, we toasted to the New Year. At midnight, I scanned through the channels looking for Israeli coverage but found nothing.

* We drove through the Golan Heights and visited Israel's northernmost city, Metulla.

* I met one of my father's only relatives, a cousin twice removed. He was a parachutist in the Israeli army and he fought in several of the country's wars. He gave us a tour of the area just to the north of Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. We drove through Sderot, a town located one kilometer from the border with Gaza and which is constantly being hit with rockets fired from the Strip. Several rockets hit the town a few hours before we arrived and after we left.

* I visited Jerusalem which I find to be a very beautiful city. The city has a municipal rule which states that all buildings must be built using Jerusalem stone. Wikipedia describes the stone as "usually golden or pinkish in hue, although some varieties are grey or off-white".

* My parents drove me to the neighborhood where I grew up. I saw the old apartment where we lived and the kindergarten and elementary school where I studied. The neighborhood has changed dramatically but the apartment building and elementary school still remain. We also ate at this restaurant that my parents used to frequent once a month while they lived together before I was born. Long live nostalgia!

* Israel is obsessed with shopping malls. So, we saw several of them while we were there. We also visited several markets, which are shouks in Hebrew. They are made up of lots of stands with lots of cool stuff and everyone's yelling discounts to try and get your attention.

Babysitting a MacBook

I'm writing this entry from "my" new MacBook. Actually, it's my brother's new MacBook. Despite the loonie being above parity against the greenback, Macs are still more expensive north of the border. So, last night, smack in the middle of the release of Leopard, I walked into the Apple Store empty-handed and walked out with a MacBook.

Specifics: 13.3 inch screen, white (a beauty!), 120 Gigs, 1 GB of memory, 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor.

It would've cost me $1299 + tax, but thanks to the Spanish class that I'm taking I'm still considered a student! So it ended up being $1299 tax included.

I hailed a cab right outside the Apple Store and rushed home so that I could see the MacBook in the flesh. It's beautiful! I chucked aside my laptop PC and have been dedicating all my time to the MacBook.

On Tuesday I head home to deliver it to my brother, but until then it's mine. I feel like a surrogate mother. Since I've already cradled the MacBook in my arms, it'll be that much harder to let go of it come Tuesday. I might just have to put up a fight.

While it is taking time to get used to, I've already forgotten about my real laptop. I might seriously consider switching when the time comes to part with my laptop. Or maybe, just maybe, I'm getting another case of "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence".

Back From The Dead

I'm not dead yet, but my Livejournal has certainly been.

Well, it's been a little over six months since I last posted. So, I thought, what the hell, I'm due for another post.

Let's see... For a start, I never did go to Costa Rica. The weather that day grounded all flights out of NYC and I tried to re-book the flight for several hours before giving up. Luckily, since I got travel insurance once again (!!!), I got back all the money I spent on the trip. I then took that money and went to Europe instead.

I left for Europe in the middle of June and returned on July 2nd. I started out in Paris, then flew to Vienna, then took a train to Prague, and finally took another train to Berlin. On Canada Day, I flew into Paris from Berlin, spent my last day there, and then flew back to NY on the 2nd. I spent 3 days in each city and each city was great in its own way. I also stayed with friends everywhere except for Prague. I spent the days alone and met up with my friends during the evenings. I'm glad I had the guts to go on the trip on my own! It was a great experience, but I must say, two definitely beats one!

What else? Well, I've now been in NY a little over a year! Last week, I had my 1-year review and I'm very happy with how that turned out. I'm still enjoying my job and loving the city.  I also decided to stay put in my apartment for another year. I still have this dream of moving a block away to this tower where I would pay through the nose for my own place and my own doorman (!!).  Hopefully, that dream will be realized come next summer. This dream will include a real living room with a nice comfy couch facing a big-screen TV. Right now, I've got a 13-inch TV from 1991 that sits atop this holder that's sticking out of my bedroom wall. What can be called the living room is more like the space between our half-kitchen and my room.

Other notables... I cooked lasagna last night. Just thought I'd mention it. Also, I actually bought the last Harry Potter book. It's the only one of the 7 that I own. I couldn't put it down, I'll say that much.

And that's all for now.

Making A Dent In The Map

After I took that picture of the shower curtain as the world in my bathroom, my housemate stuck blue arrows on the map to indicate where she has been. She's placed arrows on multiple locations in the US, some in Canada, others in Europe, and one each in Hong Kong and Bali. She's also using red tags to indicate locations she's planning to go to. Currently, she's highlighted Brazil, where she's going this week, and Israel.

In an effort to compete, I myself am going somewhere too. I took the plunge and I will be venturing to Costa Rica at the end of March. It's an adventurous guided tour kind-of deal. The group has at most 12 people not including the guide. So far, there are 9 people on this particular tour including me.

From the descriptions, it looks amazing. We spend two days at the base of a volcano, two in the rainforest, one in a national park, another one whitewater rafting, and a final day on the beach. Needless to say that I'm making plans to purchase the best kind of travel insurance possible, for fear that another tumble will befall me.

On Friday, the travel company sent me this envelope that included a hat and some documentation about the trip. I can't wait to get going!

What's also great about this is that once I'm back from Costa Rica, I will still have 19 vacation days!

Aquí vengo, Costa Rica.