Silver Linings

Early morning departure from Horseshoe Bay

This week I visited my cousin Donna who lives on Vancouver Island. The scenery on the BC Ferries ride between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo is a bargain at 16.50 CAD.  People on Alaska cruises pay thousands of dollars for the same vistas of the Gulf Islands.  I sat inside because on deck it gets too blowy for my liking. However, halfway through the sailing, I wished I’d braved the wind. Excited passengers started scrambling around, extending their arms and pointing fingers – for sure they had spotted an Orca! According to them – one of the whales had breached to the stern, then again on the starboard side of the ship. It is an awesome sight.

Donna waited for me in the arrivals area, and after big hugs, we drove down island to our favorite café in Genoa Bay. While we feasted on the catch of the day, we were entertained by the antics of enormous sea lions barking and jostling for the sunniest spot on the rocks. And at times, we could scarcely hear one another for the racket of gulls swooping overhead – obviously, they expected to be fed lunch on board the fishing boat we saw puttering towards the dock.

At Genoa Bay

I do love to shop, but the clapboard store had a limited selection and neither the fishing lures nor the canned corn beef called my name. We spent a bit more time strolling along the beach, and then drove to Donna’s new house in Duncan. She moved in the same day I arrived in Canada, and I felt special to be her first overnight guest.  On the way, I read a handmade sign: SLOW DOWN – BABY DEER ON THE ROAD. Donna did take the next turn slowly, yet she had to brake hard when a fawn skidded down the bank and tumbled onto the asphalt. My breathing stopped until he righted himself and scooted back into the woods. A few minutes later, I spotted an American eagle with a wingspan of at least two meters circling above the forest. From Donna’s deck, we had the day’s final “fauna sighting” – a rabbit jumping along the retaining wall above the lawn.

“Primadonna” and I talked non-stop through the afternoon and evening – we never run out of things to say.

Thursday morning, Auntie Alice and my cousin Dani arrived at 9:30 for a drive up island. Again – more deer, eagles, and a black shape disappearing through the cedars that was surely a bear.  Vancouver Island is like Wild Kingdom!

The landscape is obviously different in Canada and Mexico, but punctuality is another distinction.  For my return to the mainland, I got to the ticket wicket for the 3:15 ferry departure, at 2:58. “You just made it,” the attendant told me. “Passengers must be here 15 minutes before the scheduled departure. If you’d arrived just 2 minutes later, I would not have been able to sell you a place on the next sailing.” Sure enough, as I scurried to the gate, the metal gate clunked behind me. I felt grateful. Had Dani hit one more red light during our race to the terminal, I would have been standing on the other side of the barricade, watching the boat pull away from its berth.

I dozed and listened to Leonard Cohen all the way back across the water, and when we landed, I hurried to catch the bus to North Vancouver.  We made good time until the transfer point and then accidents on two bridges caused a gridlock. I had to wait an hour and a half before my bus came by.   For the punctual Vancouverites this caused major aggravation. But for me, the inconvenience had a silver lining. There were lots of Latins in the crowd and I got to speak Spanish for the first time in a month. ¡Que felicidad!

The bus finally came after 1 1/2 hours, but it was crowded!

 

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My Tale of Two Booties

We see change and contrasts all around us.  And since arriving in Canada, this has been constant for me. The flowers and trees, food and drink, the clothing, entertainment – everything is different to what I am used to.

But transformation and changes keep us on our toes.

Now, speaking of toes…mine will be having a variety of different experiences over the next six months. For now, my sassy Merida sandals are the popular choice. My red polished toes enjoy the cool breezes. However, looking ahead, I decided I’d be wise to prepare for the inevitable, and when I saw these “Black Beauties” on the sale rack, I snatched them up. I think they are just as funky as the glittery sandals, but they sure feel different. They are the first pair of boots I’ve bought in decades. They are sturdy and roomy, they have a good tread and I can wear at least two pairs of warm woolen socks to keep my tootsies from freezing. My feet will like tacos!

As my friend Mary pointed out, this is just one of the accommodations I’ll have to make when the weather gets cooler. She says my tailored leather blazer is not going to be nearly warm enough. I’ll let you have a peek at me in my parka when I purchase one.

For several years the changes staring at me from the mirror have been worrying. More weight, more wrinkles and more sun damage have made me cringe – but I have avoided doing much about the results of too many delicious meals and too little sunscreen.

I find my latest footwear purchase is a good simile for the shift in my thinking. Black rubber boots don’t sound nearly as appealing as strappy gold sandals, but I thought ahead and have a couple of funky, fun “friends” to help me through the weather that’s waiting in the wings. And cutting back on my carbs and revving up my exercise are the allies to help me effect the physical makeover that needs to happen.

Change is the only constant in our lives… Gotta’ zip up my boots and jump on board!

The day after…

 

The Canadian flag – made up of Canadians

I have lived most of my life in Mexico, where outpourings of love for country are common. On festive days, music blares, tequila flows and food is consumed with absolutely no concern for the heart’s arteries. All ages dress up in crazy costumes and silly hats, hugs and kisses for everyone – I love it!

Canadians are known for wearing maple leaf lapel pins and flying their flag on the front lawn. In the spirit of solidarity, they are fiercely devoted to their own musicians, celebrities, and Tim Hortons. They can get worked up at hockey games, but otherwise, Canadians are as prudent as their politics.

Not yesterday though! To celebrate Canada 150, I saw a fun-loving, collective show of patriotism such as I never imagined could take place in this country. The same funky clothing and headgear (but red & white, not tricolor), loud music, uninhibited dancing and fireworks all along the horizon – I had such a great day!

Canadians of all ages enjoyed the party

 

Canadians of all backgrounds too…

 

The RCMP in my home town of North Vancouver saluted the country from the Capilano Suspension Bridge

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – “This is Canada… this is home!”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CANADA

Today’s table centerpiece

Today is Canada’s 150th Birthday

At some point during every one of my Canadian parochial school years, we studied the history of the “birth of our nation”. However, the facts have grown a little fuzzy over the ensuing years, and today, on the 150th anniversary of the confederation of Canada, I took a walk through Wikipedia and refreshed my memory.

The name, “Canada” comes from the Iroquoi language and means settlement, village, or land. The French used it first in the 16th Century for a colony they established along the St. Lawrence River and the northern shores of f the Great Lakes.

In 1791, the French colony of Canada and other French colonies became British colonies, called Upper Canada and Lower Canada.

In 1841 these two were joined and became known as the British Province of Canada.

On July 1, 1867 the British North American provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Canada united and became the Dominion of Canada. We commonly call this “the birth of Canada” or “Confederation”. This event marked the beginning of more than a century of progress toward independence from the United Kingdom.

Confederation created Canada’s first four provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec. The other provinces and territories entered Confederation later: Manitoba and the Northwest Territories in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, Yukon in 1898, Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905, Newfoundland in 1949 (renamed Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001) and Nunavut in 1999.

I have lived away from Canada for 41 years. I have been happy in Mexico and I believe I adapted well to the language, customs and culture. But I suppose “we are who we are”. Childhood leaves an indelible mark, and my identity has remained Canadian.

I will now be living in Canada for six months each year. When I entered the country three weeks ago, I worried that my motivation would be questioned and for sure, I thought my bags would be thoroughly searched. None of that happened. When I told the Immigration officer I wanted to re-establish my residency, he smiled and said, “Welcome home!” He stepped out of his booth and walked me over to Customs. “This lady is a returning Canadian,” he told his colleague. “Oh that’s great,” she said, stamped my declaration, and I was on my way out through the sliding glass doors and into the waiting arms of my sister.

Today I will wear red and white, pin my maple leaf broach onto my lapel, and I’ll watch the fireworks at Rocky Point Park with my long-time friend Mary.

In Merida, my husband and children will get together with friends and have a barbeque to mark the occasion.  I am not with my family today, but my love of Canada is a part of them.

Canada is not the only great country in the world, but it is certainly one of them. I am proud to call myself a Canadian.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CANADA!

Knitting on Island Time

 

View of the Salish Sea

In British Columbia, the light lingers until late at this time of year. In fact, last night when I tucked into bed slightly after 11 pm, I could still see well enough to make out a small skiff sailing towards the harbor. It reminded me of a teenager sneaking in through his bedroom window – long after curfew.

I am on Pender Island at a knitting retreat. Yes – a knitting retreat. No – I do not knit.

The house I share with 15 others is perched high on a precarious-looking bluff. I tread carefully around the edges of the property – I am scared of plummeting down the craggy chasm – but photographing the view is worth some degree of risk. The Salish Sea swirling through evergreen Gulf islands – and on the eastern horizon, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington – must be one of the world’s most stunning panoramas.

Sailing the Salish Sea with Mount Baker in the background

My aunt is the coordinator of the “Knitting on Island Time Knitters’ Retreat”. That’s right – Auntie Alice who many of my Merida friends have gotten to know over the years

She founded the annual event 17 years ago, and now her daughter, Dani is her energetic accomplice.  Christian Bock is the chef whose delicious entrees and baking are probably putting a pound a day onto my hips. He is a family friend from Freiburg, Germany where my grandfather attended university at the turn of the 20th century.

The Knitters’ Circle

At the retreat, I knew I’d see my friend Marianne who lives around the corner from our college in Merida. But what a surprise to meet Leslie from Alberta – she and I have a mutual friend who also lives in Yucatan. Then there’s Cheryl, another of the participants – she lives in my old North Vancouver neighborhood – just five houses away from where I grew up. Talk about six degrees of separation.

Before I came to Pender Island, I wondered why on earth a group of women who knit would travel such a distance to spend a week with one another. Besides the ones from Mexico, Alberta and BC, there are women here from Oklahoma, Alaska, Washington, and California – they have knitting in common – how much can there be to talk about?

Well, after four days, I no longer ask that question. It turns out that knitting is much more complex than I imagined. There are special wools, yarns, fibers, needles, hooks, and spindles used for each type of knitting. The women discuss these topics for hours on end. Some of the participants even spin their own yarn. They happily spend all day discussing the merits, attributes, and foibles of their craft.

In an effort to help me understand the complexities of knitting, Cheryl lent me a book – “The Knitting Goddess” by Deborah Bergman – I was hooked when I read the first lines on the inside of the dust jacket:

Beautiful knitting begins with beautiful stories.

And at that moment, I understood. I realized that story telling is at the heart of knitting. As the women talk about their experiences with various materials and patterns – secrets unfurl and wisdom is shared. And they knit this into every one of the sweaters, scarves, socks, pot holders, baby blankets or whatever they create. Each piece is unique – it can be anything from warm and fuzzy to coarse and scratchy. Just like stories.

Knitting seems to promote gentleness and peace. It fosters communication and understanding. It appears that these knitters are onto something – maybe our world’s  “leaders” need to take up knitting?

Musing and Moving

Friday, two weeks ago, I sat in the middle of my bedroom floor, surrounded by piles of clothing, books, art supplies, cosmetics and documents.  What would I need most during my six months away from Merida? Of course I had a vague idea of what my daily activities would be, and what the weather would be like – but still – nothing felt sure.

Friday, a week ago, Jorge and I visited Mexico City’s Soumaya Museum – a collection of art and culture, created by gifted artists throughout the centuries. Earlier in the week we had seen the Convent of San Jerome – the cloister where Sor Juana Ines dela Cruz wrote some of the most timeless literature of the XVII Century. We also made a trip to the Dolores Olmedo Museum, which houses works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. I felt overwhelmed by so much accomplishment.

This Friday, I have my back propped up against the outside wall of my sister’s cabin at Allison Lake. I can see a path that I know winds and climbs all the way around the lake.

Friday, a week from now – I will be on Pender Island at a knitting retreat – and I don’t even knit!

I seem to spend much of my time musing – about the past, where I am right now, and about the future – maybe I should just let go of all the wondering? Maybe I should get moving?

Time to close up my computer,  lace up my runners – and hit the trail around the lake.

More to come!

Credit: Painting by Chris Sampson

Kamloops

           The view from my bedroom window

Hello Everyone!

I only had time to post once while Jorge and I were in Mexico City, and I hope this first post from Canada finds you well – wherever you are. I’m waking up in Kamloops – it’s not even 5 am, and already fully light outside.

I know I’m going to enjoy this space that my sister and brother-in-law have lent to me. The steep flight of 18 worn, wooden steps up to the apartment brought back memories of Amsterdam! But after Barb and I lugged up my two 50 pound suitcases and several bags of groceries, I realized the climb was not at all difficult.

The dining / living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom (with a claw-foot tub) take up the whole top floor of a 1930s vintage house – so I have quite a bit of space to ramble around. The peaked ceilings and irregularly-shaped rooms are charming. My two tall bedroom windows face north-west, so I have a view that fans over the town’s rooftops, and out towards the sage-colored hills. There is a lot of bird song. The temperature is cool and dry.

I live right in town so I have easy access to the shops, library, and community center.  Just down the hill, there’s a beautiful river path, and a bit later on today, I plan to go for my first walk there.

Writing and painting will be a focus for me over the next few months, and of course, I’ll have lots of sister time with Barb. We will both love this.

My Merida cell phone seems to be working well, and so I am able to talk with everyone back home. Skype, Whatsap and Facetime are other good options for staying in touch.

I must say, I feel a bit like a fish out of water. I have lived in Yucatan for most of my adult life, so this is a huge change. But as my good friend Jose says – We move slowly.

El Claustro de Sor Juana Ines dela Cruz

In 1651, Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana was born in San Miguel de Nepantla. Juana learned to read and write at the age of three, and unable to handle her precocious daughter, Juana’s mother sent her to live with well-to-do relatives in Mexico City.  Her talents in literature and music, as well as her beauty caught the attention of the Spanish Vice-regal court, and Juana was invited to be the maid-in-waiting to the Viceroy’s wife. Juana impressed the court and professors with her knowledge, her debating skills.

In XVII century Mexico the Inquisition was powerful and much-feared. There were only three paths open to a lady: become a wife, become a courtesan, or become a nun.

Because she was illegitimate, she was deemed unmarriageable. Nonetheless she was devout, so the courtesan role would not fit. That left only the third option – and indeed, she spent 26 of her 44 years as a nun. On the day of her final vows, she took the name, Juana Ines de la Cruz.

Her order of contemplative sisters lived at the Convent of San Geronimo, less than a kilometer from Mexico City’s Zocalo – the Main Square. She constantly defied the authority of the Catholic Church by writing – poems, prose, plays, essays and letters – that today are recognized as the most brilliant, but subversive literary works of the colonial period. As a woman (and a nun at that) she was not supposed to write at all). She died in the convent in 1695.

368 years after Sor Juana’s death, the cloister is now a liberal arts university that bears her name – Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana. I think she would be pleased to know that her former prison is now a place of enlightenment and learning.

Jorge and I visited the university’s on-site museum that features several portraits and sculptures of – La Musa – The Muse.  Her resting place, her cell, confessional, and even her blue-tiled bathtub can be viewed. A section of the convent that sunk over the centuries has been excavated and covered with thick acrylic panels, so visitors can tiptoe over top of the foundation of the former kitchen and annexed patio.  Later, as we strolled along the worn garden pathways and under the stone arches, I tried to imagine what it would have been like, to be an exceptionally intelligent woman, forced to conform to the laws of ignorant, misogynist clerics.

Sor Juana was Latin America’s first feminist, and she quickly shot down the theological dogma and cultural constraints of the Spanish colonial society. At the time, the secular and religious leaders proclaimed women to be intellectually inferior. Sor Juana insisted that she (and in fact all women) had a God-given, intellectual right to read, study, write, publish, and teach.

In her convent cell, Sor Juana had as much liberty as the times would allow. The space was large enough to house a telescope, thousands of books, scientific and musical instruments. After compliance with her strict religious observances, she would escape to her sanctuary to study, and of course, write—poetry, plays, romances, dramas, letters, and songs.

Much to the dismay of her clerical critics, Sor Juana’s work was smuggled out of the convent and printed. She became extremely popular in New Spain and even Spain itself. Fear, manifested by envy and resentment spurred the Archbishop to launch a campaign that he hoped would break her spirit.  Self-flagellation, penance, and mortification of the flesh became daily requirements. She was forced her to renew her vows and then sign the document with her own blood. After that, the Archbishop removed her books and writing tools:

The plague of 1695 claimed Sor Juana’s life, but her work lives on.

In a thoughtful mood, Jorge and I joined our author friends, Michael Schussler and CM Mayo for lunch at the Zèfiro Restaurant. We enjoyed a delightful meal and of course we talked about Sor Juana and her legacy. Thanks to her and others like her, we have the freedoms we have today.

Authors’ and journalists’ rights of expression are constantly challenged and questioned by society, and we auto-censor as well. If I had even 1% of Sor Juana’s bravery and conviction, my writing would be riskier. Maybe this is one of the changes coming into my life?

 

MEXICO CITY

Jorge and I are spending a week in Mexico City prior to my departure for Canada on Saturday. This city is so amazing and over the next few days we plan to visit:

The Cloister of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. This is where La Musa – Mexico’s best known colonial writer lived and wrote her most beloved poems and letters.

The Dolores Olmeda Museum, which houses a superior collection of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo original paintings.

Cloister de Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz

Xochimilco, the floating gardens of Mexico City – always the setting for a good time

The Soumaya Museum  the museum built by Carlos Slim to honor the memory of his late wife. It showcases their personal art collection.

In the coming days, I will do my best to post a few pictures and anecdotes about our visits…

My Heart is in Two Places

This spring has been unbelievably busy and I’ve not had the chance to do much writing. I hope I can get back to blogging and other projects soon, but BIG changes are in the wings. In fact, until winter rolls around, I won’t be “Writing from Merida” .

I plan on spending the remaining six months of this year in Canada, and if the sun, the moon and the stars all align – winters in Mexico and summers in Canada will become my annual pattern. Some people have told me this shocks them because I have always been a staunch supporter of Mexico.

And I am still a staunch supporter. In 1976 I left Canada to marry Jorge, an amazing man from Yucatan. He taught me about the history, culture and geography of this unique country. We built a home, raised our children and founded a college in Merida. We have a rich, meaningful life here, but as I’ve already said, it is time for “Changes in our Lives”.

I will miss the colors, the music, the food and the flair of Mexico. I will miss my friends, my neighbors, people I know in the markets, and the countryside. Most of all, I will miss my family here.

Not all of them fully agree with my choice. Jorge would prefer I stay here full time, and he doesn’t want to spend half the year in Canada. He will join me there for two months this summer – maybe more as he gets used to the idea?  Our grown children are now building their own lives – they don’t want me to go either, but we will stay in touch by phone, facebook, and whatsap. I have to say though, my eyes fill with tears when I think about not being able to read, play, paint, read, laugh, sing and swim – whenever I want to – with my darling granddaughter, Emma.

I keep reminding myself and others that I’ll be back before we know it. But still, there’s no way to ignore the facts. This is a HUGE change and many wonder why I am making it.

The reasons are complex. I love Jorge, my family, friends and my home – I am truly grateful to have lived four magical decades in Mexico. Nonetheless, full immersion in a country where the language, culture, climate and politics are so different to what I grew up with – has not always been easy. Up until recently, with Jorge’s support and the insights he shares, I have always been able to deal with any challenges that come along. But now we are older, and my priorities are different than when we were young.

When I married Jorge at 24, health care was the furthest thing from my mind. At 64, it is an important consideration. IMSS, the national health care system in Mexico, provides basic coverage but it does not meet all my needs. At my age, I cannot purchase private insurance.

I am fortunate though – even after such a long time away from Canada, I am still a citizen, and therefore eligible for Canada’s health plan. To receive this benefit, I must reside in Canada six months each year. I think the Canadian government is more than fair, and I am  appreciative. I have kept up my relationships with my Canadian family and friends, so I don’t think living there will be hard.

However, as happy as I’ll be to live closer to my loved ones in British Columbia, I know there will be days when I’ll wish I had never left Mexico. As I check items off my to-do-before-departure list, the consequences of my choice weigh heavy.

Yes, change is complicated, and because I am no longer a sweet young thing, I can’t let fear or uncertainty dictate my actions. I have to follow what seems like the best course. I wish Jorge would be flying up to Vancouver with me, but he wants to live in Merida, where he grew up. He is respecting my decision, and I must respect his. Forty years ago, at our marriage ceremony, my aunt read from The Prophet, by Kahil Gibran, and this stanza stuck with me:

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”

This is not the first time Jorge and I have swum against the current – it gets harder as we get older – but we do have a lot of experience. Truth be known, we have been swimming upstream for most of our lives.

So, we’ll see how it goes – this time.

My new blog is (appropriately) called:

CHANGES IN OUR LIVES

https://changesinourlives.wordpress.com

Go to the link, and scroll all the way down to the end of the posts. When you arrive at the footer, you’ll find some general information about me and my writing. You’ll also see the FOLLOW button – click on it if you wish to receive an email alert each time I post.

I look forward to hearing from you.