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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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.

Summer Sanctuary

Summer Sanctuary

In a few months this will be my view. I work as a teacher in a high school from September to June every year and I have been doing this since 1983. I have started teaching the children of the students I taught years ago! I love teaching and I love working with students. I still try to learn and improve my teaching practices every day. But, let’s face it, 30 years of teaching takes it’s toll. I have tendonitis in my shoulders from years of writing on the blackboard/whiteboard. I have tennis elbow from carrying books around. I have arthritis creeping into my hands from all the computer work. I have arthritis in my ankles exacerbated from years of standing in front of my classes and walking around to see how they are doing with their work, and I have arthritis in my neck and upper back worsened by years of bending over papers and marking. Yup, it’s official. I’m tired. But, there is something wonderful looming on the horizon! Last summer my husband and I flew to Sicily and bought a house. Nothing fancy, just a tall, four story stone house about 150 years old. It sits on a hill in a lovely mountain village, but if you are facing the right way you can get a glimpse of the Mediterranean. People I work with were talking about me in the staffroom when I wasn’t there (I have my spies, muahahahaha!) saying things like “Is she crazy?” “She’s really lost her mind this time.” “They are going to lose their shirts!”. I should say, there were people who were excited for my husband and I. From those people we heard “That’s wonderful! I wish I had the guts to do that!” But it didn’t take guts, it took a dream. A wonderful dream that Nick and I nurtured until we could make it possible. And so, this summer, and a few summers after, we will be spending summers in Sicily. Once we retire we will spend much more time there and I will sit on our terrazza, looking at this view and sipping il cafe’ every morning.