Discovering The World of Selfies

It has been months now since my last post.  When we returned from Sicily, I hit the ground running and I haven’t slowed down since.  But that hasn’t stopped me from taking pictures.  I have been playing with the camera on my cell.  It is surprising how good the pictures from an iPhone 4s can be.  And in doing this, I have discovered the world of selfies.  

Selfies are the pictures that people love to hate, yet almost everybody takes them.  I found an article recently that claimed the following:

“For a generation that is overwhelmingly narcissistic, we are pretty ignorant to what we’re really saying with our ”selfies.” Worse yet, we’re not even paying much attention to how selfies are damaging our relationships.

No really, they are.”

“This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, don’t seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves,” says Dr. David Houghton.

 

I would like to suggest that there other reasons for taking selfies than narcissism.  I believe that selfies can be a celebration.

For years I hated having my picture taken.  From my late 20s I started gaining weight.  The heavier I got the more my desire to have my picture taken diminished.  In this picture, I weighed about 273 lbs.  If you look closely in my face, you can see the discomfort that lies just below the surface.  At that weight, there was not a moment that I wasn’t aware of my obesity and how I appeared (or thought I appeared) to other people.

 

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Over the past few years, I have worked hard and lost just over 100 lbs.  But, I didn’t just work on the weight – in fact, the weight was almost incidental.  Instead, I focused my efforts on the issues behind the weight gain… so many issues that had created an eating addiction in me.  Slowly, the cravings to eat passed, my self esteem and self worth rose and, pound by pound the weight began to drop.  

Today, I enjoy having my picture taken and taking my own picture.  This is not vanity, this is gratitude for the new me – in a person who is happy and who is finding joy in her ability to me more active.

 

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For the first time in my life I own hiking boots; I own them and I use them.  My husband, Nick, and I, are planning to walk the Camino Portuges once we retire. We are walking now, and working out at the gym so that when we hit 58 and 60 we will be ready to backpack 350 kilometres from Porto, Portugal to Santiago di Campostella in Spain.

 

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I had always wanted to wear a little black dress.  For most of my adult life there was nothing “little” in my wardrobe.

 

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I recently travelled to London and Paris with a group of teenagers.  We walked 12 kilometres a day and I matched those kids, step for step.  I could not have done this even one year ago – maybe not even 6 months ago.  These selfies mark the wonderful time I had travelling with my students.

 

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So, I have invested some time and joy in selfies – and they will continue to document the life I have happily embraced!

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Cathedral Moments

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I can’t believe I haven’t posted in a month!  My apologies to everyone who follows my blog.  Nick and I have just returned from Sicily where we had terrible internet access.  Now that I am back on our Canadian WiFi, I really appreciate just how fast it is.

Anyhow…

While we were in Sicily we were fortunate enough to be offered a friend’s apartment in Ortigia for a few days.  (Thank you Linda!)  Ortigia is a very small island immediately off of Siracuse.  (see the map at the bottom of the post).  It is a lovely island.  Linda and her husband Bruno told us that Ortigia is the place where many of the celebs park their yachts – Steven Spielburg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Cruise, Steve Martin – and of course many anonymous millionaires and some billionaires.  We looked and looked and saw no celebs but did see some pretty amazing yachts from the Grand Cayman Islands and a few other places.

 

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This is an island made for photographers.  One of my favourite places there to take pictures was the duomo or cathedral.  The photo at the top was one of the pillars at the entrance to the cathedral.  It was so tall that it seemed made for taking the shot looking up.  Here are a few more shots of the cathedral.

 

Ortigia was a wonderful place to visit – baroque architecture everywhere.  However, the parking on the island is crazy and the tourists (including us) are everywhere.  I don’t think I would want to live there but I am very glad we had the opportunity to see it!

 

 

 

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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Perspectives on a Small Sicilian Town

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A few days ago, my husband and I arrived in Cianciana, the small Sicilian town in which we had bought our retirement home – we aren’t quite there yet, retirement I mean, but we have our plans all made.  The house we bought is 3/4 of the way up the hill on which the town stands.  You can see in this picture that we are surrounded by mountains and we look down on all kinds of interesting things in the town.  For example, there is the Sicilian-Argentinian lady across the way.  She was born here in Cianciana but grew up in Argentina and now spends 6 month here and 6 months there.  We can see into the top floor of her house from the terrazza on ours.  She is a widow now and for the first couple of days I was worried because she is elderly and seemed to be always alone.  But now I see that her son and daughter come and visit her as well as some of the ladies in the town.  We spoke to her two days ago.  She was so happy to meet us, but was disappointed that we didn’t speak Spanish.  Interestingly, in this town we get asked if we speak the following languages in this order:

  1. French
  2. German
  3. Spanish
  4. English

I took both French and German in school but I remember little of French and nothing of German.  I wish I had paid more attention in school!  (How many of us have said just that?)  So many times Nick and I are asked if we are American that it is kind of a treat to be asked if we are English all the time. “Siete Inglese? Are you English?”  “No, siamo Canadese. No, we are Canadian.”   “Canadese?  Mio fratello e’ in Canada. Montreal.  Canadian? My brother is in Canada.  In Montreal.    Si chiama Gaetano.  Lo conoscierli? His name is Gaetano.  Do you know him?”  It seems as if everyone has a family member in Montreal.  I had the same experience when I lived in Japan.  “You are from Canada?  My friend is in Canada.  He lives in Toronto.  Yuki.  Yuki from Toronto.  Do you know him?”  I should mention that we live on the west coast – thousands of kilometres away from both Toronto and Montreal, the two largest cities in Canada.  It’s unlikely we know either Gaetano or Yuki.  But, ya never know.

Anyhow, I digress.  One of the things that I noticed on our first morning on the terrazza was the tiled roofs of the houses on the streets below us.  They have interesting angles, shapes and colours.  I also noticed that many of them have rocks sitting on the tiles to, oh, keep them from sliding off and hitting people on the head I suppose.  Speaking of being hit on the head, I narrowly missed being hit by old cleaning up water as I walked home today.  A middle aged housewife tossed the dirty water out her 2nd (we would call it 3rd) floor window.  It hit the ground just as I was stepping onto the sidewalk and out of its trajectory.  Thank goodness because I had just taken a shower before I went out and God forbid that I have to take a second shower in one day!  But I digress again.

Back to the tiled roofs.  I took a number of pictures with different settings on my camera.  I would love to know what you think.

One:

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Two:

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Three:

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Festival of the Steel Phallus

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This is me at Kanamara Festival in Kawasaki, Japan, 1984

Back in 1984, I was less than one year graduated with a B.Ed. from the University of British Columbia.  Politically, things were tough for teachers and the best I had been able to do was to find work as a substitute teacher.  On a good week I would get two days of work, a bad week was nothing.  I began to apply for jobs anywhere in Canada – tiny towns, big cities, northern towns.  I even applied for a job in Fort McMurray.  400 miles north of Edmonton.  -54 in the winter.

 

 

I didn’t even get short-listed there were so many applicants.  Out of desperation I started applying all over the world.  On January 31st, I was hired to teach ESL in a language school in Tokyo and I had 2 weeks to get there.  The trip to Tokyo was long and extremely eventful and perhaps one day I will tell the story here in this blog, but for tonight suffice it to say that after much tribulation I arrived in Tokyo and was introduced to the staff at Berkeley House Language School in their Ichigaya campus.  I had fallen on my feet!  I began working with a great bunch of people from Canada, the US and England.  We were all far away from home, all in our twenties, all single, and all bent on having a good time.  Frequently, this meant drinking our brains out, climbing on the last train and regaling all of the tired Japanese businessmen with songs from home.  Now as I look back with the wonder of the 20/20 vision hindsight gives us, I realize just how freaking obnoxious we all were when we were drinking.  Not to say that drunken Japanese businessmen couldn’t be every bit as obnoxious, but we were, after all, guests in their country.  

Now, occasionally we would find some other way to occupy our spare time that was, perhaps, slightly less offensive.  In April, one of my coworkers asked me to join her for the Kanamara Matsuri in Kawasaki, just south of Tokyo.  It sounded fun and I had no plans for the weekend so off we went.  I had only been to one other festival – a rather tame and quiet plum blossom festival.  I assumed this would be similarly quiet.  Oh, not so Hiroshi!  We stepped down from the train platform to hear raucous crowds making their way up and down the streets.  We were pulled along in the tsunami of humanity heading toward the shrine. 

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Once we entered the shrine grounds we were surrounded by giant penises, tiny penises, wooden penises, steel penises, every kind of penis you can imagine.  Including very large wooden penises that women were supposed to straddle and shuffle there way from one end of the penis to the other (no symbolism there!) in order to become more fertile.  The front of the shrine was festooned with carved penises (or should that be peni?  I don’t know) and women were carrying giant pink penises through the street.  Food stands around the edges of the shrine grounds were full of all kinds of foods shaped into both penises and vaginas.  In fact, if you look at my picture above, you will see that I am holding a candied penis and vagina.  

I was flabbergasted.  Never had my prudish mother prepared me for this experience!  After a full day of enjoying the festivities, I returned to my little apartment with a golden papier mache’ phallus that travelled with me for probably the next 15 years.  That was 29 years ago but I can remember it as if it were yesterday (how often is one pulled across a giant wooden phallus by crowds of normally demure Japanese women?).  If you want to see what this festival looks like, click here – but don’t if your sensibilities would be overloaded by crowds of male members.

Beauty, Sorrow and Strangeness at English Bay

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English Bay is a beautiful part of Vancouver.  Anyone who has walked along its shore in the spring or summer sun can attest to that.  For me, English Bay holds lovely memories, but some strange and disturbing ones as well.  I will start with the saddest one.  My aunt and uncle owned a home in Kitsilano which is directly across from the English Bay beach.  When I was little, we would go to their house often and that always meant a walk with one of my cousins to the beach.  I would stick my toes in the water and kick and splash in the direction of English Bay.  I would wonder if it was possible to swim from one side to the other.  Those are good memories.  Sadly, my cousin John, named for my dad, got caught up in the drug scene.  It was the 60s and drugs were ubiquitous. One evening we got a phone call that John had been found dead of an overdose on the beach looking over to English Bay.  It was a long time before we went down to that beach again – years in fact.  And for some reason that I still don’t understand and my dad never explained, we stopped going to my aunt and uncle’s house.

But not all my memories of English Bay are bad ones.  The one and only time I was in a parade was along English Bay.  I was a member of a synchronized swimming team and we were asked to join the parade.  We all sat in our team swim suits in the back of a truck and waved to the people lining the street.  One time, I was invited to join a group of people in a million dollar condo that faced out towards the water.  We spent a very pleasant evening watching the Symphony of Fire – a fireworks competition that the city of Vancouver held every year.

Sometimes strange things would occur too.  Back in 1984, I was getting ready to head off to work in Japan for at least one year (I didn’t know then that it would extend to three).  I was scared to be dropping everything and moving to a country I had never seen before.  I was sad leaving family and friends behind.  And I was overwhelmed trying to pack up my life in the space of 2 weeks before I had to climb on a plane.  My very best friend in the world, Leslie, took me down to English Bay one afternoon, to go for a walk.  As we walked along the shore, I told her how I was feeling – it all came pouring out.  At the end of it, I had a wave of sadness wash over me because Leslie and I had not gone a week without doing something together – hanging out, going for a drive, visiting her family or mine, since we were 19 – four years before.  We were both sad that we wouldn’t see each other for at least a year.  As we walked in silence, I saw something lying on the beach in front of us.  We walked over to it and peered down.  It was a full set of dentures.  For some reason that just struck us as hilariously funny and we both laughed until we couldn’t breath and tears were running down our cheeks.  That broke the mood for both of us, and I was able to shake off the blues and to see the adventure that lay in front of me.

Something I also find strange is the Inukshuk that the city placed there just before the 2010 Olympics.  An Inukshuk is an Inuit sign post.  As far as I know, the Inuit people were never indigenous to Vancouver.  Perhaps the city was tired of totem poles.  I hope not – they are beautiful and indigenous.

I still visit English Bay when I go to Vancouver.  It is still lovely and sometimes still strange…when Nick and I were there a few weeks ago we spotted a sailboat washed up onto the shore.  It had been lovely weather for days – no storms or wind.  Yet there it was.  I took the time to snap a photo, but never knew the story.

Searching The Mountain For Boobies and Dingdongs

I mentioned in my last post that I grew up in Vancouver.  That is not entirely accurate.  I actually grew up in North Vancouver halfway up Fromme Mountain.  I know, I know…anyone reading this from North Vancouver will say “Actually it’s Mount Fromme.”  True, but as kids, we called it Fromme Mountain.  At that time there was very little development above or around where I lived.  Everyone had acreage, the forest encroached on our back yards, we saw bear and deer and raccoons regularly.  I grew up in a neighbourhood of large Dutch families.  This meant lots of kids to go exploring with and often with a bag of that delicious salty Dutch licorice.

When we climbed up past the tree line, we knew that if we hiked far enough (about 20-30 minutes) we would come to the nudist colony.  We would hide behind trees and try to catch glimpses of the naked bodies but, being too afraid to get too close, we rarely saw much of anything.  This didn’t stop us from hiking back down and bragging to everyone that we saw someone’s dingdong or someone’s boobies.  Not everyone would hike up there but those that did acquired a special place of honour in our large group of friends.

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