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.

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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