Category Archives: Great Big Shiny West

Halloween I miss you

Halloween was the very best sort of fun back in the day. Handsome would come home from work, roll up his sleeves and dig out all the soft, pulpy pumpkin flesh. We would lay out newspapers on the kitchen floor and scoop out the insides of two or three very large pumpkins. Then a small Trooper and an even smaller Princess would carefully draw the face with black Sharpie and Handsome would pull out the sharpest knife and start to carve. By the time we were finished it was dark and the perfect time to drop little candles into the belly of the gourds. Costumes would be donned, and then coats to cover them up since it was Montreal and already far too cold. Then hats and makeup, boots pulled up, enormous trick or treating pillow cases slung over shoulders and off we’d go. Handsome and I both wanted to trick or treat. There is nowhere better than our old Montreal neighborhood for house hopping, even people from the burbs would drive over, spill out of minivans and use our roads to collect good loot. So we’d take turns. One of us would stay behind and hand out candy, one of us would take Princess’ hand and guide her up the stairs to each house, prompt her to say ‘trick or treat’ and ‘thank you’ in the smallest voice and then onto the next house. Then home to switch and the other would do another road. We always shared Halloween with the same friends, ate the same blood red spaghetti sauce, drank the same red wine.

A Trini Halloween was fun, as everything in Trinidad was. It was all rum and candy and loud music and it quickly turned into a street party, a lime. Not coats needed there, the teenagers loved to wear the skimpy costumes, to laugh the loudest, come the last. All my students would turn up and show off their imaginative outfits, and share candy with us.

In Uganda we carved a Watermelon, having no pumpkins on hand and Princess had a party. There was no Trick or Treating but we couldn’t drop the tradition. There was still dress up and candy and costume. Then last night, our first Bahrain Halloween and…nothing. We live in the wrong neighborhood for Halloween. I heard there were some parties, some costumes and even some trick or treating over there where the majority of expats live. But it all feels a bit half hearted. So I miss it. And I miss home and our traditions.

So I feel a bit sad today. Halloween I miss you, cobwebs, chilly night, tiny children in oversized witch hats, over eager parents, pumpkin carving, too much candy, non-stop door bell ringing, scary noises, ghoulish over priced decorations, ridiculous merchandise, hand made costumes, competitive parents, many little spider men, princess tiaras; the lot.

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Velvet and chocolate

I miss Europe. The ‘other’ world, Third, Second, Developing, what ever you want to call it doesn’t always fit so well. And of course it is that unease, that ill fitting life that makes me wide eyed ( though not so bushy tailed) most of the time. We grow by leaping, or falling, through the hoops out of our comfort zone. But every now and then, I long for the Great Shiny West. And it is not all about shiny shoe shops and the perfect cappucino, nor is it a longing only for order and tameness. No. I think it is a yearning for a beauty that feels familiar.

I come from both a literature and history of art background. So keep me a way from a museum, a film house, a gallery or a good second hand book shop for too long and I start to show symptoms. Like wise I need interesting architecture, a sense of history that seeps out of bricks and monuments, alley ways and cobbled roads. Like a nun who I presume does not miss sex, having never had it, I am fine for a while without it. But then I get a taste for it, as I did in Berlin and I am all lust filled once again, with nothing to press against a wall.

So I turn and look around  for a different beauty to satisfy me.

I found a cafe that is a delicious cross between Toulouse Lutrec Paris and Arabia.  It’s all velvet and tinkling crystal and chocolate.

It helps.

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From here to there and back again.

How odd the journey is. One minute you have sand on your shoes and the next it shuffles through fallen leaves. Long ago we had time to process and feel the passing of time and place; the long boat journey with head leant over sea, salt in the hair and on the tongue, or body swaying in time with a train as most of Europe passes as a mere smudge against a window. I love the train and was thrilled by any trips taken across countries and landscapes. I remember falling asleep somewhere outside Miton Keynes and pushing up the blind of my sleeper to see the moon scape that is the Scottish moor. Listening to some teachers say they had a train to catch home to Holland, I felt the pangs of jealousy.  And I have always wanted to take a boat from Southampton to New York, the other direction wouldn’t satisfy my romantic grasp of the situation; I want to see the Statue of Liberty looming like a beacon of hope out of the fog. But who has time to travel? We need to get there as fast as we possibly can, forget about the journey.

The airplane is too fast, my mind arrives behind, dragging along like some lost luggage.

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Last look at Berlin

We stumbled across the most extraordinary jumble sale/rummage sale/garage sale while lost some where in the East. We saw two mannequins propped against a most gracious old building. They looked as if they had been tossed off the set of a horror movie and indeed their pasts turned out to have been equally dramatic. Turns out we had walked into the sale of the Opera House. Sets including fabulous chandeliers, fake harps, velvet chaise longues and even a large ship were for sale alongside lace, tuile and chiffon ball dresses. They entire sale was housed in a slightly crumbling but romantic space complete with spiral staircase, velvet rouched curtain and yellow walls. It was like walking into a Lars Von Trier meets Versailles set.  In my mind it summed up Berlin. Under the skin of practicality and organized decorum lies an artistic soul that burns and trembles. I wondered if it was because of or despite the fanatical order that such creativity is allowed to ferment.

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Oh Berlin

I had never really wanted to go to Berlin, funny really. It didn’t stand high on my list next to Rome or Madrid or Amsterdam. So I was gently surprised and impressed. Yes it was chilly, in both senses of the word, I certainly saw no German warmth from any bus drivers or waiters, and yes everything was in German, a language I cannot comprehend so I was in the dark a fair bit, but it hardly mattered. Brushing my hand along a fragment of the Berlin wall one moment and peeking behind it to see a huge temple of Capitalism where the East once stood was simply extraordinary. How this city has transformed, rebuilt and redefined itself in the past 20 years is impressive to say the least. Not only does everything work but it works well. The architecture is brave and startling, modern and fit for a new Germany. The shops sparkle and the people click their beautiful boots with purpose. The food was excellent and tasted fresh, not in the least bit processed or fixed in a speedy and lazy microwave. In fact every bite I ate and every sip of divine coffee seemed made for a discerning and picky clientele with high standards. The city was extremely clean and easy to walk; after eating their curried sausage people actually put the rubbish in the bins provided. Yes I am amazed by the obvious because for the past 4 years I have seen more than enough simple folk treat the sidewalk and street as their own personal bin.

Here are some photos taken from my trip. My only regret is that I took the tiny Leica point and shoot and not my lovely big Canon.

It turns out I missed this iconic little green guy’s 50th birthday by three days!

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Berlin

I had the opportunity to go to Berlin for some professional development last week. While I did, indeed develop professionally, and benefitted from the stimulating environment of sharp, bright and experienced teachers; there were many conversations around red bottled tables; I also developed within from a hop over to Europe and The Great Shiny West.

Within moments of arriving I feel the pulse of Europe. It’s in the orange and grey, the efficiency, the shined shoes, good cappucino and bright alarming adverts. I know I am somewhere with a penchant for good design and a trained work force, with years of efficient practice and expectation behind them.  Everything works and I find myself charmed by German efficiency.

I notice the little things: that the toilet in Frankfurt airport is Villroy &Bosch, that the arrivals and departure signage harks back to the flippy train signs of yore. I notice that all the men have smart belts and shoes, haircuts are purposeful and glasses chosen with some care. The font on all the signs sings the subtle but sure message that I am somewhere different.  Moments ago the silky but guttural sounds of Arabic rang through my ears, now it is the guttural but lilting German that takes some time to digest. And then I notice what else is odd, at least to me, transplanted person from desert lands. Everyone is white. Pale, caucasian, sun starved  And people are wearing clothes, that I can see. There is no Thobe to hide beneath, nor the comfort and anonymity of an Abaya.  Here the display is open for show.
I inhale the changes and look with my interminable stranger’s eyes.

I walk the leafy neighbourhood near my hotel and am drawn to shop windows, the creative and unusual display. It is the difference, the shock of the new that hits me and I walk with eyes upturned toward the changes. Berliners and Europeans walk past their ‘ordinary’, not feeling the charm and delight of an autumn leaf crunched underfoot, nor the curled stoned adornment that rests proudly atop a door frame.  I breathe in history with every step, feeling a city charged with everything that has come before. There is a collective awareness of history at every corner and it lends a special pulse to this city.

I returned to Bahrain with a loud and sandy thump. I do indeed live on a desert isle and this week I feel a million miles from the centre of the world.

 

More Berlin photos to follow….

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October, really?

How can it possibly be October?

Really.

July 1st I arrived in London, after a difficult and boring week in Bahrain with no car, no furniture and no idea. I was starting my summer, my long awaited trip back to the Great Shiny West and I was filled with positive and sunny thoughts about reunions, sushi, shopping and Canadian Lakes. The thought of moving to Bahrain had been firmly pushed to a dusty corner of my mind and I was set to live my summer as a happy sunshine girl.

August 1st and I was in California, sipping creamy white wines and looking across and over mountains, sniffing the Pacific and staring at sea horses in a world famous aquarium. I was wrapped up in family and there was a glow about the day, despite the fact that the summer was slowly dying.

September 1st and I was in Bahrain. Furniture was here and unpacked, I had a car and had learned some roads and ropes. Eid was in full swing and Handsome was off work. We headed to the beach, excited, but knowing that school and new starts were looming. Within a few days I would be starting a new job, meeting new colleagues and the dust of life would begin to settle. September 1st was the last of the in limbo days.

October 1st. Here we are. Working, schooling, driving… a routine has been fixed and the fears of new starts have assuaged. Trooper has found her feet and has three different social occasions set up for the weekend. There could have been a fourth but I drew the line. ( Love that line, arbitrary and random as it may seem.)  Princess has had her second sleep-over, having found the perfect girl friends. They have turned into peas and slipped into their pod. I have been warned that by the end of this weekend I will want to hire a driver.  Handsome has returned from one business trip and is soon leaving for a second, followed swiftly by a third. He is happy. I am starting to figure out the mechanisms of a new class room, a new flock of kids; the navigation of a different and sometimes strange culture. It has been a tumultuous month of change and adjustment and learning. But the uniforms are less scratchy, the 5,30 am risings are less painful and the days slightly cooler. I am yet to find a circle of friends, I think you need yummy mummy coffee time to do that in such a short month. But there is little space left after work and I am more than content to fill that space with books, family and wonder.

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