Just One Of Those Days

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This post is dedicated to my husband, Nick.  He is the best man who has ever been in my life.  Nick, happy anniversary.

I think most of us have one.  A day that seems to attract special occurrences – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always memorable.  July 31st, over the past few years, has become one of those days for me.  Let me explain.

I’m a teacher.  Part of being a teacher is having 2 months holiday in the summers.  Until 3 years ago, July 31st meant I was halfway through my summer vacation.  On July 31st, I was never ready to be on the back-stretch of my holidays.  July 31st also meant I still had 6 weeks left to get by on my savings for the summer.  I (and every other teacher) has heard a comment like,”Gee, it must be nice getting 2 months holiday in the summer every year.” or “Wow, what a cushy job – you only have to work 10 months a year.  Must be nice.”  (Oh dear, enough with the comments, I feel a rant coming on!).  What most people don’t realize is that teachers are not paid in the summer, so that cushy summer holiday often comes with stress over money by the time August rolls around.  So for me, this is what July 31st was all about for years.

Then three years ago, everything changed.  Three years ago my (then) boyfriend and I decided that it was time for us to make a trip to the country of his parent’s birth – Italy.  It was a wonderful, magical journey that took us from Trapani on the far west coast of Sicily, across the island and all the way up the boot to Milan.  We finished off with four days in Paris.  On our third morning there, we got an email that Nick’s father had died.  That was July 31st.  While it wasn’t really a shock, he had been declining for some time, it was still a very difficult day.  It was taken up with phone calls to Ottawa, frantic emails back and forth to our travel agent, all trying to make sure that Nick could be in Ottawa in time for the funeral.  When it was done and we knew that he could be there, Nick asked me if he could have some time alone.  My stoic Nick.  I took Miyuki and we went off to spend a few hours in Paris.

What a roller coaster of a day.  I left the hotel heartsick for my husband.  It doesn’t matter if you know that Death is on the doorstep, he still brings pain and anguish.  But I wasn’t out wandering alone – my daughter and her crazy sense of humour was with me.  We decided to go to the Moulin Rouge.  I talked about this in an earlier post so I won’t go into a lot of detail here.  That evening was, however, one of the best 1/2 days my daughter and I have spent together.  She is a wonderful girl and fills my heart every-time I am with her.

Fast forward one year.  July 31st two years ago.  Picture a white gazebo, hung with burgundy and white ribbons.  Through the ribbons, as they flutter in the breeze, you can see the sun glinting off a pristine lake.  In front of the gazebo stand two people, oblivious to everyone seated around them.  That was Nick and I on our wedding day.  We had chosen that day purposefully as a way of celebrating not just our life together, but also as a way of remembering people passed – Nick’s father and mother, and my father specifically.  It was the best of weddings; beautiful, meaningful, but most of all fun.  That day Nick and I pledged our loyalty and love to each other – to the persons we were meant to be with.  We had already been together almost 6 years, and, while I won’t say everyday had been perfect, we had been perfectly content that we were with the right person.  Since then, our lives have grown in so many ways.

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Fast forward another year.  July 31st last year.  Nick and I celebrated our anniversary with a phone call from our realtor, Joe.  The offer we had made on our house in Sicily had been accepted.  We were going to have our house in Italy!

Fast forward to this year.  Today is July 31st.  We have been in Cianciana for almost a month.  Everyday, when I walk to the bakery or the fruit and veggie store or the butcher, I am stopped by this neighbour or that, just wanting to chat or to say hello or to tell me “Il fa caldo!” (it is hot!) to which I reply “Si’, troppo caldo!” (yes, too hot!).  Last night, Nick and I went to our neighbours’ house in the country.  We sat outside on their patio, under a thick canopy of grape vines, surrounded on three sides by olive, almond and fig trees.  We ate pasta and chicken and potatoes, and they poured Nick glass after glass of their homemade red wine made from their own grapes.  We finished the end of the day sipping strong espresso coffee.  So, today Nick and I are celebrating our anniversary volunteering with the local community group that is hosting the annual harvest festa, or festival.  There will be stacks and stacks of food.  It starts after sundown and goes until 3 or 4 in the morning.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our second year as a married couple than to do so with our new community around us.

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An Unexpected Day

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What was your best day?  Of course, there never is just one best day.  There are a myriad of them because there are so many categories that these days can fit into.  When I look back, I think about the birth of my daughter, my wedding day with Nick, the convocations when I got both my B.Ed. and my M.Ed.  But this isn’t what I am talking about.  All of these days were wonderful and come galloping across my thoughts with regularity.  These days were planned for, anticipated, expected and enjoyed.  I, however, am thinking more about the unexpected day.  The one that just crept up on you, the one that just…happened.  My “just happened” day was on July 27, 2010.

Venice, Italy

On our travels through Italy, Nick, Miyuki and I stayed in a house full of students when we were in Padua.  Our main host was a brilliant young math student named Luca Lago.  Luca was a wonderful host.  He cooked for us, toured us around Padua and on our second day he took us to Venice.  Venice is an amazing, magical place.  I have described her before as the dowager Empress of the Adriatic and it is an apt description.  It is a city that should be on everyone’s bucket list and I feel blessed that I have been able to visit her twice.  

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The best way to visit anywhere is to go with a local, but in Venice this is profoundly true.  Luca took us up and down side canals and alley ways.  When we crossed the Rialto Bridge, when we stood in Piazza di San Marco, we were surrounded by tourists and Venetians alike.  Luca guided us off the main traffic routes and into alleys and across bridges that were quiet and isolated.  In spite of the bright sun, some of the canals were shadowed and reminded me of watching Donald Sutherland chasing down the alleys in the 1973 film Don’t Look Now.

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Around corners we found things to surprise us.  Musicians, people in costumes, masks in storefronts, unexpected bridges, hidden cafes.  

 

But every time we crossed by a canal with a gondola, Miyuki and I sighed wistfully.  We both wanted more than anything to ride in a gondola but we both knew that, at €100 for half an hour, a gondola ride was not going to happen on this trip.  Luca knew that we wanted the experience and that we figured we couldn’t afford it.  As we wandered into the late afternoon, Luca brought us back out onto the Grand Canal with a huge grin.  In front of us was a gondola tied to the side of the canal.  Luca pointed at the gondola and said, “Get in!”  When I began to protest, he waved my objections away.  “This gondola takes you from one side of the Grand Canal to the other and it costs just €0.50.”  €0.50?  That was less than 75¢!  We climbed into the wobbly gondola.  The gondoliers laughed at me and said in Italian, “No, sit here.” When I moved they responded with, “No, sit here!” gesturing at another seat.  I moved twice before I realized they were having me on, but it didn’t matter, I was sitting in a gondola on the Grand Canal.

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Look at the smile on my face.  For me, the trip from one side of the canal to the other is up there in the top five experiences of my life.    The canal water was only inches away from where we sat.  Motor boats sputtered past us, other gondolas crossed our paths, the sun beat down on our heads.  It lasted only ten minutes but it felt like a glorious, joyful lifetime.  

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I will never forget that moment.  And I will never forget that I shared that moment with my husband and my daughter and that our new friend, Luca, had given it to us.

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At The Moulin Rouge

 

 

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Back in 2001, in the innocent days before 9-11, 20th Century Fox released the film Moulin Rouge!  My daughter and I, always captivated by musicals, went to sit in the dark theatre, waiting for the movie to start.  We weren’t prepared for the pastiche-jukebox musical come MTV video come sensory overload that was the Moulin Rouge!  When the final credits rolled to a close, my daughter and I sat in the theatre with our mouths open, not wanting to believe that the movie was over.  The next day found us back at the theatre to see it again.  And again.  And again.  On our fifth and final theatre viewing, the theatre manager came into speak to the audience and introduce one audience member who was there to see it for the 18th time.  We weren’t the only ones to be enamoured with Moulin Rouge!.  I bought the film on DVD and we continued to watch it.  I can’t say how many times I’ve seen Moulin Rouge! but every time I see it, it still captures me.  That was four years before I met my husband, and Ewan McGregor’s smile and twinkling eyes had me drooling (actually, it still does but let’s just not say anything about that 😉  ).

Nine years later, Nick and my daughter and I were in Paris.  Nick wanted to have an evening to himself, so Miyuki (my daughter) and I made our way to the Moulin Rouge.  Now, granted it was over 100 years after the movie’s story took place, we were still hoping to capture some of the amazing feeling with which the movie left us.

 

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When we came up from the Metro, we saw the line to buy tickets under the windmill was more than two blocks long.  Instead, we wandered up and down the streets in the madness that still surrounds the Moulin Rouge.  The energy was crazy.  People were dancing, and running up and down the streets.  Pockets of singing and shouting were breaking out all around us.  French, English, Italian, German and other languages that I couldn’t place.  We made our way down past the end of the line, around a corner and to our surprise, found an Irish pub.  With part of our family coming from Donegal, it seemed appropriate, if a bit strange, to enter that Irish pub in the middle of Paris.

Miyuki and I sat and chatted and I treated her to her first Guinness while I sipped at my Coke Light.  It was a wonderful evening – one of those common experiences that a mother and daughter sometimes share when all history and power barriers have dropped and only a mutual enjoyment of our time together was important.

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Perhaps Moulin Rouge! was only fast moving images on celluloid, songs by other songwriters and a story that was simply fabrication.  But this film created a mutual experience that my daughter and I took with us to the streets of Paris, to create a memory that we both will always hold dear.

 

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