An anglophone from the west. A francophone town. Hoo boy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An anglophone in hispanophone land.

I've moved again. Seeing as my life will be between two different places for the time being, it makes sense to me to split my writing between two different blogs.

So wander on over and take a look.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

adventure awaits

In just over 24 hours from now, I'm off on another "adventure".

Yes, plans have finally been more or less finalized (I say more or less because I still don't really know what I'll be doing once I get there -- at the very least I have a place to stay and a ride from the airport) and my flight leaves tomorrow around noon. I'll be down south for four months, and then back in Québec for the winter. I know, I know: winter in Québec. Next year I'll try to work it for winter in Panama.

For the first time ever in my life I'm all packed and ready to go. It's quite strange to not be running around last minute putting things together. On the plus side, I'm much less stressed than usual. But then again, it also gives me a lot more time to consider what happens when I get off the plane.

I've got an orientation first thing in the morning after I arrive and then for the first month I'll be doing a course in tropical biology. After that, my supervisor will be there and I'll be playing in the lab. And reading like mad. And enjoying Panama.

I'm sure I'll have many more interesting things to write once I get down there!

Friday, July 10, 2009

chez le dentiste

In the never ending list of things to do before I leave the country I went to the dentist. I have nothing against going to the dentist, but it's not really on my list of favorite things to do. And after all of my orthodontic work, I feel like I've spent more than enough time in the chair with people playing in my mouth. But you know, it's a good thing to do before you leave the country for months at a time. So I went.

And lo and behold, what did they find on my x-rays? Another wisdom tooth (or en français -- une dent de sagesse)! I've already had them out, and here my body is, producing new ones. So that brings my total up to three -- two removed, and one grown in the last two years. I'm sure they would have mentioned something about that at my last check*.

It must be because I just keep getting wiser.

* Because dentists like to take them out. I was glad that the dentist here wasn't too excited about it though. Yes, he said I could have it taken out, but the choice is mine. And if it's not causing problems it's not such a big deal.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grandescunt Aucta Labore*

And now I can say it officially. Congratulations and welcome to McGill. The official letters came in the mail yesterday, and now all that rests is some minor administrative hoops to jump through (registration, etc.). And the rest of that getting ready to go to Panama stuff.

For those of you who follow this blog that aren't in the loop, I'll be starting my doctorate in biology at McGill in September (actually in August), with a concentration in the Neotropical Environment Option (NEO) which is run through the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. What does that mean exactly? Well, I'll be getting a PhD from McGill, but the bulk of my research will take place in Panama with my primary supervisor. Other coursework will take place in Montreal with my co-supervisor.

So yeah.

I'm both excited and slightly terrified by it all, to be honest. Exciting things: new opportunities, new experiences, new contacts, new country, new language, and best of all -- doing something that interests me. Sorry English teaching. Terrifiying things: see exciting things. Except for that last one. Doing something I'm interested in is pretty exciting.

So, as of August 3rd I'll be in Panama, starting my first course in the program and getting my feet wet in Panama. I'll be staying down south until December, and then I'll be in Montreal. I know -- it would be nicer to be in Panama during Québec winter, but this makes more sense logistically (not to mention financially). Besides, like my Montreal based supervisor said to me -- I'm a Canadian girl. I can take it.

* For those whose Latin is rusty: By work, all things increase and grow.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

back in the TR

And we're back.

Back in stinky (literally) TR. Things here are as always, only muggier and rainier. I keep trying to banish the rains to the west of the country, but my powers must be on the fritz. Other than that, things are pretty quiet around here. The cats (and boy) are glad to have me back. I'm glad to be back too, but I think I'm experiencing withdrawal or something. We had a barbecue on the back patio the other night, but it was just with us. What's that about? No people, no playing cards, only one bottle of wine? I'm sure once I get deeper into my planning and lists I'll get over it, but it seems I miss spending time with family types.

For Canada Day yesterday we hid out from the rain in our fave local cafe with a few books, enjoyed a pint at our fave local pub, and sangria at a place near us -- it has our fave patio and okay sangria, but the food isn't too good and the service has been crap lately. The patio was full unfortunately. The crappy service made me cranky.

We did have a fabulous fireworks display, which the city has now moved so that we can see it perfectly from our balconies. Excellent. I'm told that these fireworks were much more intense than the fireworks for St-Jean Baptiste, but not as well attended. Does that mean some federal funding body is pumping money into Canada Day fireworks in Québec? I have to wonder, especially as they are cutting money everywhere else (cultural capital of Canada, festivals, etc.). Who knows. But there were a lot of Canada flags on the streets that I don't remember seeing last year...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Third time's the charm... almost

What with all the changes in schedules that have been going on around here recently*, we decided to get out of Dodge for a few days. Somewhere not to far, preferably with something interesting to do. We thought about going back to Ottawa, but we were there last summer. The idea of pubs and British-ness held sway though, and we ended up in Kingston. And yes, I was just there last month. And in January as well. But neither of those trips count, because the one in January was to move my sister out of storage, and the other was as a chaperone. So it was like I had never really been after all.

So we booked a place to sleep, hopped in the car, and drove to Canada's first capital city. We ended up in a lovely little B&B near Queen's University, not far from the waterfront.

We ended up spending our first evening in a walk-in clinic. Nothing serious, and I found it excessively funny that somehow I always end up doing something similar whenever I visit Kingston. I swear I've spent more time in the Shoppers Drug Mart there than anywhere else in Kingston.

We had a very relaxed mini-vacation: we spent the morning touring Fort Henry, and the afternoon touring used bookstores and local pubs**.

The next day we were back home again. Short and sweet.

* Me heading off to distant corners of the globe mostly.
** Katie -- you were right. The Toucan really is the best pub in town.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

quatre flashers

Every day, I am amazed by the new driving skills that I have acquired by living in Québec. When we first got our car, I was criticized for driving "too safely". I was a danger to those around me. Crazy moves like coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, shoulder checking, using my turn signals, obeying the speed limit, and leaving 2 seconds of space between myself and the cars in front of me -- all of these caused no end of trouble for the drivers around me.

But experience on Québec roads has taught me the error of my ways. Besides learning the correct way to drive (eliminating all those pesky old bad habits) I've also learned the correct way to park. And I certainly don't mean parallel parking. Maybe people do that in Montréal*, where space is at a premium, thanks to all those scary foreigners with their strange ways and customs. And food**.

No, here in la région, it's much easier to just stop your car wherever you are and turn on your quatre flashers. The four-way flashers. Hazard lights. Need to stop in the middle of a busy street? No problem. Quatre flashers. Double parked? No problem -- quatre flashers. Just stopping for a minute and don't feel like feeding the parking meter? You guessed it -- quatre flashers.

Based on a highly scientific study of parking habits in downtown T-R, conducted from our balcony, people in these parts have serious problems with parking. The spaces may be big enough to accomodate a tank, but it's still problematic. And that's not even counting having to figure out how to use the parking meter... True story: we were once stopped by a young woman who had apparently NEVER SEEN A PARKING METER and asked us how to use it. Not a question of what are the hours or something similar, but she actually wanted to know HOW to work the machine. So apparently, it's not just me who is learning things about how to drive in Québec.

* Where it is illegal to turn right on a red light.

** I'm dying for restaurant options that don't include bad Italian (overcooked spaghetti) or pub grub (variations on burgers, fries, poutine, and club sandwiches). Hello Indian? Thai? Chinese???

Sunday, May 31, 2009

j' heart montréal

In the middle of a torrential downpour I drove into Montreal yesterday. Usually it's Francis who does the driving in the city -- the excuse being that he knows his way around better, so there's fewer navigational problems. But he was already there. I was meeting him and one of his friends for breakfast. Miraculously, I survived, and thanks to our GPS, I even found the spot*. The weather even cleared up.

We had a lovely brunch and wandered around Mile End. We went to used bookstores and bought the best bagels in the world. We found my birthday present -- a used copy of the two volume Compact OED. Including magnifier. Completely unnecessary and impractical. The perfect gift. We had coffee, went to a movie (Star Trek -- quite good actually, and nothing like the terrible previews suggested), and finished with Reubens smoked meat sandwiches.

Now that's the way to celebrate the end of the session.

* I am totally exaggerating. Montreal is not the impossible navigational challenge I make it out to be. I just never have the opportunity to drive there. But the traffic? There is no exaggerating that.

Friday, May 29, 2009

fin du contract

It was my last day of work as an English monitor today, and I couldn't be happier.

Okay, so being an English monitor is actually a pretty great job. Go in, do activities with the students, and take no responsibility for anything. For the majority of people who work as monitors, this is a great deal. And you get a chance to experience life in another part of Canada, and improve your other official language. The pay is pretty good, and the benefits aren't bad (i.e. not having to deal with disciplining students, not having to deal with administration, not having to deal with parents, not having to be at school when there are no students, free trip to Québec City for "training", money for your flights home, etc.). And then there's all the other people who find themselves in the same situation, living away from home in a second language and looking to speak their mother tongue.

I feel almost like I didn't experience the intended purpose of the program. I already lived in Québec when I applied for the job, and will continue living here now that my contract is finished. I have a lovely apartment, a boyfriend, and a (small, too small for my liking) social network here, and my French was pretty good even before I started the job. So I didn't go out of my way to get to know my students, the teachers at the school, the community. I don't even live in the community where I was working*, so I didn't spend a lot of extra time there. Which is hugely different from my experience in Japan, where I may not have gotten to know my students either (what can I say -- I'm lazy, and they all had funny names, were they French or Japanese), but I became much more a part of my community. Let's put it this way -- there was not send-off for me today, and nobody cried.

So somewhere between the differences in culture, linguistics, and my personal living situation, I didn't have quite the same Odyssey as other participants on the program. But then again, I don't think I went in with the same expectations. I think I'll miss the steady paycheque most of all.

*This made it awkward to prepare a guide for whoever takes over my position next year. No, I'm sorry, I can't give you practical ideas about community activities you could join during the year.

Friday, May 15, 2009

la session achève!

I can't believe I haven't updated in such a long time! What can I say -- the end of term does that to you, especially when it makes you write long paper in your deuxième langue. It was an excellent challenge for me, and really gave me the boost I needed with my French, not to mention a good kick of the old confidence.

Well, I won't go bragging about my mad skillz yet -- I had a lot of help, and I had to ask for an extension for said term paper. Thank you gentle professor.

Not only has university finished for the year, but I'm also two weeks away from the end of my contract as an English monitor. A contract that has gone by extremely fast. I've been doing a lot of thinking about this past year, because eventually I'd like to write a juicy tell-all book about the strangeness of pretend English teaching abroad and nearly abroad (hey -- Québec is almost a foreign land -- they talk funny, and have whole other government institutions for my taxes, because everyone loves to do two tax returns).

Next up, I'll be -- hey! look over there! The patio is open and the 5 à 7 is about to start!
Bonne fin de semaine!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Three days in Kingston with Option Anglais

It was 5am, and I was up and getting ready to go for the day. Usually, I'm a late sleeper, but today I was getting a ride to Shawinigan to get on a tour bus with 59 students and three other teachers. Destination: Kingston, Ontario. Canada's first capital, home of Queen's University and known for its many penitentiaries. We'd be spending three days there to give the students a chance to visit a real anglophone community, and hopefully learn something along the way*.

Our departure was timed so that we would arrive in Montréal to pick up our guide** just in time for the morning rush hour. Oh joy! Having requested an anglophone guide for our English speaking tour, we were a bit surprised to find out that our admittedly very nice guide was not terribly comfortable in the language of Shakespeare. Nor that of Molière, according to the francophone teacher. Ouch. You know its not good when the tour bus of Secondary 2 students is snickering when the guide tells them when it is time "for to go" somwhere or asks them "are you understood?".

We had a very full schedule though: a tour of Upper Canada Village (a collection of turn of the previous century houses manned by guides in period costume)***. Like Heritage Park in Calgary, but on the shores of the St. Lawrence. After that, a quick cruise through the Thousand Islands, and finally on to the hotel for supper**** before a Haunted Walk of Kingston. Ooooooo... scary stuff kiddies!

The evening was less fun. Our hotel was out in the middle of fast food wasteland, so after the haunted walk, two of the teachers volunteered to take interested students to McDonalds for a snack. I stayed with another teacher to keep an eye on the students who opted for swimming in the hotel pool -- much to the consternation of the guides. Understandably, they were concerned about liability and accidents, having had a death in the past. We were more concerned with the students having something to do for the three hours before lights out. No mishaps, and we were off duty at 11pm when a security guard arrived to keep an eye on things.

The next day it was up bright and early again. After breakfast we were off to Bellevue House, and then on to a guided tour of Kingston. The students were less than energetic, and there were a few we caught sleeping during the tour. Not that I blame them. It's hard work travelling in another language!

Our last stop for the day was Fort Henry, where we were signed up as soldiers in the British Army, circa 1867. Uniforms, muster, inspections -- the works. Including guided tours and a scavenger hunt. And another evening of ghost stories... It was a great visit, marred only by the presence of a pack of princesses in our ranks. They lamented the "icky" food, the lack of showers, and the humidity (we had some light rain) that curled their hair. And do you believe it, there were no outlets for them to plug in their hair straighteners! They had to wait to plug them in on the bus the next day! Seriously. During the ghost tour they almost injured themselves (and my ears) with their screaming and panic. I (and the other teachers) was ready to slap them. Especially the ones who refused to eat because the food was "gross". They reminded me of the group of Alberta students who did a homestay in Japan while I was there, and reacted much the same way (much to the distress of their Japanese hosts). I guess it just goes to show that spoiled adolescents are, well, spoiled.

The evening was rounded out with a big show put on by the students, my favorite part of the trip I think. The students were given free reign to do whatever they wanted, and came up with some highly entertaining skits, songs and other entertainments. Even the teachers (myself included -- I gave an improptu Japanese lesson) participated. The evening wound down with a game of telephone, and then it was time for everyone to go to bed.

We slept in the "schoolroom" between the two girls dormitories. Well, I slept. The two other teachers didn't do so well what with the grandfather clock that chimed every 15 minutes and the heater that made noise every other 15 minutes. At least there were no ghosts!

We ended the trip with an hour of free time in Kingston and a quick tour of the penitentiary museum, before lunch at Swiss Chalet (holy nostalgia batman!) and getting back on the bus. Where we once again arrived just in time for rush hour in Montreal.

In all, it was a great trip and I think the students had a lot of fun (and maybe even got some English speaking in). In the words of our guide, "it was very fun to trip with you".

*One parent complained there was no reason to go to Kingston -- what was there to do there? Wasn't there more to do in Boston or New York? Keeping in mind that this is a group of Grade 7 and 8 students. Because you really want to be crossing international borders and dealing with passports with that age group. I blame a lack of knowledge of Canadian history (and tourism). I heard much the same question from francophone friends.

** No, the guide didn't come with the bus to Shawinigan. It's much more fun to go through the middle of Montréal to pick them up. Weird.

*** Another bump in the road here -- UCV wasn't actually open yet, so the buildings were all locked. So instead of a free visit, we had a guide. Not a grave problem, but not something that speaks well for the tour company organizing the trip.

**** Another problem: hungry, cranky teens; small hotel lobby; and not enough food for everyone. Well, according to the guides there was enough, but there were only drinks for half. If they understood drinks for 30, wouldn't there be food for 30? Hmmmm...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

but we didn't stop for ice cream

It was a very spring-like weekend around here. The weather on Saturday was warm and sunny, and we were at the Jardin Botannique in Montréal with la belle-soeur and her chum. In an effort to help people forget that there are still big ugly masses of snowbanks everywhere, covered in sand, dirt, and a winter's worth of garbage, the Gardens hold an annual "free flying" butterfly exhibit. Despite the crowds, it was good to get out and see some green growing things. The butterflies, despite being the main attraction, were the least fun part of the day. Due mostly to their being surrounded by people: parents and children with strollers, amateur (and not-so-amateur) photographers with their miscellaneous gear, and of course, the blathering idiots who make you wonder who let them leave the house without a brain. Well, it was to be expected for a Saturday afternoon. Next time I go to the Jardin Botannique, I'll pick a less crowded event.

Now I'm all ready for spring to hit those of us who don't live inside a greenhouse...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Icebreaking in Trois-Rivières

Unfortunately, you also have to listen to Rick Mercer. I find him extremely annoying, and fail to understand his popularity. But you can also see the Canadian Coast Guard hard at work, keeping the St. Lawrence clear of ice.

Ice breaking action. Yes.

The Martha L. Black is stationed just across from our apartment, and the "bridge" (better known as the Pont Laviolette) is visible just about everywhere in town. It's huge.

Last winter, they opened the ice breaker up for tours by the public for a few hours. I took some photos, and you can see them here, on my flickr site.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

re-enact this!

I swear, if I hear one more interview about the cancellation of the re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, I am going to scream.

Possibly for ice cream.

Which is difficult to get this time of year.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

perfectionism + second language = grrrrr

My first hand-in assignment / take home exam this term is for my course on legislative aspects of the environment. We had a week to work on it, and I was really good about getting a good head start on things so that I wouldn't be leaving it all until the last minute, as I am wont to do... So that part went relatively well. I found all of the necessary information, had all of the answers, and was not terribly concerned.

And then it came to the writing.

For starters, the assignment was not taxing in and of itself. A take home exam with all of the answers to be found in the course notes? The course notes that we had read together as a class? A grand total of four questions?

Ordinarily I'd be laughing. But then again, ordinarily, I'd be writing in my native tongue. That one where I can pull a four question regurgitation take home exam out of my ass in under an hour. Unfortunately, my French is not nearly up to the task. Oh sure, I can read, speak, understand, and all that useful stuff. But I avoid writing as much as possible. Well, that and answering the telephone at school (I think that's a hold over from Japan, where I answered the school telephone a grand total of one time over a two year period). It's one of the reasons for my doing a Certificate in French in the first place. I want to improve my writing and having to write for a course is a sure-fire way to force myself to write.*

So I wrote. Most of Sunday afternoon, and a few more hours on Monday evening. Which for me, marks probably the first time I haven't been frantically writing and revising up to the hour before the paper is due.

I had my in-house editor read it over, and asked specially that he not correct all of the errors, but highlight them so that I could fix them myself.

Terrible idea**.

Not that the help with the language wasn't wonderful and greatly appreciated. It was more that it made me feel like an illiterate idiot. I think the problem was and still is more that I know I'm not an illiterate idiot. At least not usually.

So, while rationally I understand that I will have to work hard and suck up that perfectionist streak to improve my writing and accept that no, I am not able to write perfect prose en français***, I really don't like it and it does not make me very happy.

* I tried setting up a blog in French to practice, but it was no fun! I never wrote a single post. Which defeats the purpose.

** Another terrible idea? Asking him to read over my stuff while the Flames of Calgary were kicking the asses of the Canadiens of Montreal. Hm. This could prove problematic if my dream of seeing both of these teams in an all-Canadian Stanley Cup final match-up comes true...

*** YET!

Friday, January 30, 2009

In the immortal words of my sister, "Is there any time you're NOT busy?"

And the answer to that my friend, is "no".

Oh, you mean you want specifics? Well, there was that whole "Christmas in Alberta" thing, which was a whole lot of fun (and surprisingly relaxing -- considering we spent all that time with the family, touring what is in effect a very large province). Then it was back to work, school and everything else. My work is, well, work. Francis is busy with putting together another new course (Medieval History), but he's more busier with going back to school and tackling his doctorate. I'm taking more courses, but mine are first-year undergraduate ones. This term it's Population Geography, Environmental Law, and Physical Environment. They rate a whole other post...

The sister came for a visit as well, for a whole week! It was great! It was just as well the Australian went home, because I think all of the snow and serious cold (we had a few -30 days) would have scared him. Next time he can come when it's summer. We had fun showing her around, throwing her into snowbanks and making her clean our house. Just joking about that snowbank one. We made a side trip to Ontario to clear her stuff out once and for all, and discovered that shipping to the other side of the world is pretty expensive.

We're also gearing up for more visitors. It seems all of Francis' friends have accepted that we live here, and they're just going to have to suck it up and visit «la région». As a result, we're fully booked until after February. Busy is good, right?

This weekend though, is a big one. We're going for our Christmas present weekend -- tickets to the opera on Saturday, and then the big hockey game on Sunday. That's right. The Bell Centre. The Canadians. The Bruins. Sunday. Sunday, Sunday. Did I mention how spoiled we are? Yeah. We're spoiled. A lot.

Hope your weekend is as good as ours.