My life normally provides me with more than enough inspiration for blog posts. I am simply one of those people to whom strange things seem to happen. However, I saw this on my Facebook feed and had to share it. Oh how I miss Korea! 😀
I went to my storage locker today. It’s a bit like having a mini-Christmas; there are surprises in every box! Granted it’s all mine, and in theory I should remember what’s in there but I don’t. There are boxes I mailed home from Korea years ago. Boxes that were packed up when my grandparents’ house was cleared out after they died. Boxes of things from university. Boxes from when I lived in Japan. Boxes from when I lived in the UK. It’s a treasure trove, and I feel like bursting into that song from the Little Mermaid every time I go in.
“Look at this trove, treasures untold, how many wonders can one cavern hold?
I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty, I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore…”
(I’ve left out words, I know. I can’t remember exactly how the song goes. 🙂 )
My most exciting find today (apart from 7 pairs of striped socks, and another pair with chickens on them) were these:
Padminton rackets. I had forgotten I owned them. While I was in Korea, the other foreign teacher and I were voluntold to play on the teachers’ padminton team. It was of course, utter mayhem as we had absolutely no idea how to play, and everyone else took the game EXTREMELY seriously.
Padminton is a cross between ping pong and badminton. It has a modified ping pong paddle, and everything else – net, birdie, lines on the court- is like badminton.
It is a surprisingly fun game, although incredibly frustrating since the birdie never goes as far as you want it to go. If anyone is ever in Ottawa, and wants to play, let me know! 😀
I always thought the name was silly though – padminton. Why only use the first letter of badminton? Why not pingminton, or badminpong?
In my mind, the word ‘spring’ conjures images of cherry blossoms, and tulips. Of not wearing my long underwear every day, and being able to shower without fear of catching pneumonia. Of blue skies, pussy willows, and green grass.
Spring in Ottawa is not like this at all. While there are birds in the trees, blue skies, and a distinct lack of a thermal sub-layers, there are also great piles of dirty, melting snow. I expected them of course; 80000 tons of snow won’t disappear overnight. I had simply forgotten how unattractive they were.
The melting snow is handy in a way; sidewalks, curbs, and lines on the roads are now visible, and I don’t have to clamber over snow banks to get to the bus stop. The temperature now hovers around +1C; balmy after so many months of snot-freezing weather! Even the creepy, squishy lump masquerading as my lawn has begun to glow green with the promise of grass! You may laugh but I found myself tearing up at this evidence that winter was finally ending!
Something else I had forgotten about spring in Canada. It smells. We’re not talking this:
We’re talking putrid, rancid, rotting smells. Ottawa may be the capital of Canada but if you look at a map, Ottawa is surrounded by forests, fields, farms, and suburbs.
The forests, fields, and farms are redolent with the smells of thawing, rotting organic matter. Not necessarily a bad smell, simply a pungent one. It’s a different story in the suburbs.
The stereotypical definition of the suburbs implies that everyone has 2.4 children, a minivan, and a dog. Where I live, people have whole-heartedly bought into this vision of Utopia. It seems like every second house has a dog, including mine. Dogs who visit the dog park to frolic with their canine friends. Dogs who poop in the backyard all winter long. I gather this is normal dog-owning behaviour in Canada. Why pick up poop when it is going to freeze, and be covered by snow and ice? Even stranger, dogs inexplicably like to play with these frozen poop-sicles. (Can you tell I’m more of a cat person? 😀 )
While I do see the point of this logic, I wouldn’t want to pick up poop in -30C weather either, over the course of the winter, the dogs have created an ice cream sandwich of sorts with layers of frozen poop, ice, and snow. Now the ice and snow are disappearing leaving poop-sicles as far as the eye can see. It’s like an archaeological dig. Poops-sicles in the back yard, the front yard, and in the dog park. Sneaky poop-sicles along the road, and by the bus stop. All melting in odorific splendour in the warm spring sun.
The dog parks are more lakes than parks these days, creating a melting, poop-sicle filled swamp.
For dogs, this may be a season of frolicking and feasting, but I have to say, I’m looking forward to summer. I think. Every season reminds me of things I had forgotten about Canada. What will summer bring? It couldn’t be worse than melting poop-sicles, could it?
Last weekend my cousin’s son (my first cousin once removed?) Charlie, invited me to go curling with him. It was ‘Bring your Parent to Curling Day’ at his curling club, and both of his parents sadly had other plans. I was pleased and surprised that he had thought of me, since I have the athletic prowess of a sea cucumber.
When he invited me I thought, ‘Why not? How hard could it be?’ Hadn’t my grandparents played while drinking? The English teacher in me immediately popped up: did I play curling? Or did I curl?
I had watched the Canadian curling teams win gold in both Olympic and Paralympic curling, and I felt that made me a bit of a curling expert. Curling seemed to involve lots of standing around looking at rocks, followed by someone sliding a rock down the ice while everyone yelled, followed by more standing around looking at rocks. It seemed fairly straightforward.
We arrived at the curling rink bright and early, and it was soon very clear that I was the only non-parent there. Charlie took off to commune with the other boys, leaving me to introduce myself to the other parents, most of whom inexplicably identified themselves in relation to their child.
“Hi, I’m Bob’s Dad.”
“Hi, I’m Suzie’s Mom.”
If only I knew who Bob and Susie were.
I made up my own names for the people on my team. There was Hot Dad, French Mom, Bald Dad, Mom-who-clearly-wished-she-was-anywhere-else-in-the-world, and Kind Dad. Kind Dad was my partner, and he helpfully explained all the rules as we went along.
Our first lesson was on throwing the rock. I was handed a broom (which looked like a lint brush on a long handle), and a slider (wasn’t that some sort of hamburger?). I suspect my broom may have been made for children, while my slider was made for giants.
The slider was a shoe-shaped thing with a large elastic on one side, and a very, very, very slippery surface on the other. It was also 18 times too big. I wrapped the elastic around my shoe, then around my ankle a few times, and stood up. And immediately found myself flat on my back.
“New to curling, eh?” Kind Dad asked, chuckling. “First rule of curling: Never step onto the ice slider-first.”
I would definitely remember that. He helped me up, and we slithered our way down the ice to where Charlie waited impatiently. I wondered about curling etiquette: could I rub my bruised bottom or was that a curling no-no?
“Watch me,” he told me with the confidence of an 11-year old boy who knows exactly what he’s doing. “This is called Ready, Set, Curl. It’s easy.”
Right. I shuffled over, put my foot in the rubber thing, and once again found myself ass-over-tea kettle on the ice. Again, and again, and again.
“Don’t put all your weight on your slider, Carrie!” Charlie told me, exasperated. “It’s not hard, why do you keep falling?”
“Try using your broom for balance,” Kind Dad suggested, swatting his giggling son who clearly thought I was well worth the price of admission.
I clutched my broom but privately thought that I was more likely to impale myself on it than do anything useful with it. I tried again.
Ready! Crouch down, with the rock in one hand, and the broom in the other. I could do that.
Set! Lift my bum inelegantly into the air while bringing slider-foot back. I wobbled precariously.
Curl! Push off gently while swinging my slider-foot forward. The combined momentum should carry me gracefully to the red line where I would release the rock, and send it smoothly down to the other end of the rink.
Only what I did was fall flat on my face, sending my large, granite rock directly at Hot Dad, and French Mom. They sadly weren’t at the other end of the rink, they were right beside me.
Finally I managed to send a rock in the right direction. It didn’t go very far but I figured that since I neither fell over nor took anyone else out, I could count it as a victory.
“Now let’s learn to sweep!” Charlie exclaimed excitedly. “C’mon Carrie, hurry!”
And down I went. Hurry? On the ice? With a slider? It was beyond my meagre abilities.
Let me mention here that a curling rink is cold. I knew it would be cold, it’s supposed to be. But I hadn’t realized just how cold it would be. Especially since my inner layers were now damp. Insidious slivers of ice had worked their way in every time I had fallen; I even had ice under the waistband of my pants, and inside my socks. Clearly when I fell, I fell with style.
I watched Charlie and his friends demonstrate sweeping, and hoped my medical insurance card was in my wallet. Sweeping involved hurrying down the ice in front of a moving rock while quickly rubbing your broom over the ice while everyone else on your team yelled. The idea was to stay close to the rock but to not touch either it or the other sweeper’s broom. It looked like a recipe for a broken bone to me. Bald Dad and Kind Dad must have agreed because they told me to watch them for a few minutes.
My one attempt at sweeping ended when I tripped over the moving rock, and took Kind Dad down with me, our brooms tangled, and the rock on a whole new course. I also managed to cut my finger through my mitten. The coach decided it was time for hot chocolate.
As we left, I thanked the coach and the other parents for their help, and patience.
“See you next time?” asked Kind Dad.
I will invest in knee pads and wrist guards first though.
It is astonishing. I have been back in Canada for nearly 6 months now, and yet my love life (or lack thereof) is still a source of intense interest for my Korean friends. I received this email yesterday, from a Korean friend.
“Carrie~~~ I miss you~~~
I am so hope at you going out some men!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I hope you would get married soon ^_^ ㅎㅎㅎㅎㅎㅎㅎㅎㅎ
Carrie ~~ Happy new here ~~~ ^_^”
How to respond? Gee, thanks? Happy New Year to you too! I hope I married soon too? Perhaps I’ll send a picture of the enormous snow drifts outside my door, and tell her that Canadians only go on dates in the summer. 😀
When I was in high school, I thought I was invincible. That’s the only explanation I can think of for my absurd cold-weather behaviour. I lived in Montreal, and Montreal in the winter is COLD – eye-wateringly, snow-crunchingly, snot-freezingly cold. And yet I wore neither hat nor scarf, and wouldn’t have ever dreamed of doing up my coat. Ever. I regularly stood at the bus stop with wet hair (which would freeze solid), and I have no recollection of ever wearing mittens. I was cool.
It’s astonishing I still possess ears, a nose, ten fingers, and ten toes. Perhaps I was kept alive by the size of my sheer stupidity. I have no idea. I get shivers just thinking about it.
When I moved back to Canada last September, I dug my meagre stash of winter clothes out of storage, and pondered them while cataloguing what I remembered of Canadian winters. Surely if I hadn’t succumbed to pneumonia as an idiotic teenager, I’d be fine wearing lots of layers, mittens, hats, and scarves. I would look like a homeless person but I’d be warm. Right?
As November became December, and the weather became cold, and then colder, I began to doubt my Canadian citizenship; I was freezing. Was I missing some crucial gene that made it possible to stand at the bus stop without hopping around like some crazed frog to stay warm? How did everyone just stand there, discussing the weather?
As a side note, Canadians love to talk about the weather. I’d forgotten how hilarious it is. I suppose every culture has its own conversation starter. Ours goes something like this:
“Morning. Cold today, eh?”
“Sure is. Think it will snow?” [Peer intently at the sky together.]
“Hard to say. Probably will though.”
As the winter progressed, I realized there were so many things about Canadian winters that I had forgotten. Or perhaps I had never learned them; I’ve only spent slightly over half my life living in Canada. I realized I was in trouble the day I managed to zip my hair and my scarf into my coat zipper. I had to get the kind stranger sitting next to me on the bus to help free me from my own coat.
It was time to re-learn how to be Canadian.
I needed to find out how to properly arrange my pants so that they fit comfortably into my boots. I learned quickly that while walking to the bus, snow blows into the folds of your pants, melts on the bus, and then freezes once you get off the bus. I discovered that if I put my hat and mittens on the seat beside me on the bus, they will stay there when I get off the bus.
I had to buy boots. It was like buying a car. I had no idea there were so many options! Did I want boots with linings made from wool, acrylic, polypropylene, or Zylex? (Zylex?) Did I want waterproof or water resistant? Arch support? Traction? Weight? Temperature rating? I wouldn’t have been surprised if the salesman had offered me voice-activated rear windows.
I learned the difference between frostbite and frostnip. Why do such painful things have such cute names?
I am still trying to learn how people don’t burst into flame on the bus. How can they wear a Canada goose parka with the hood up and not evaporate? How do you dress so that you’re warm at the bus stop where it’s -30C, and yet not melt on the bus where the heat is cranked so high there are hula dancers in the aisle?
I learned that bus stop benches are only for the summertime.
I learned the snowplow only comes after you’ve shovelled the driveway.
I’ve often heard it said that to truly understand a country, you need to live there. I agree completely with that sentiment, and yet it’s a little difficult to carry out. I’ve reached a rather advanced age, and have only managed to live in 6 countries so far. And so I resolved to visit people who lived in other countries to make their authentic experiences my authentic experiences.
My brother and his family have lived in Northern Italy for almost two years. I booked my ticket and began to dream of the authentic experiences I would have over my Christmas holiday. Authentic pizza, authentic spaghetti, authentic wine, perhaps a pair of authentic shoes…
My brother picked me up at the airport in Milan. His car was an Alfa Romeo, low to the ground and bright yellow. Awesome. I settled in, feeling like every heroine in every silly romcom set in Italy. It wasn’t until we pulled onto the highway that I realized just how small the car was. Large cars and transport trucks from dozens of different countries surrounded us. My brother drove like an Italian, gesticulating wildly while swerving in and out of traffic, waiting until he was millimetres away from the car in front before pulling out to pass. I felt like I was in a bumper car, or as the Brits more aptly call them, dodgems.
Next on the list of things tourists don’t see was the local petting zoo. In actual fact, it was a working farm with a few random animals. One enclosure held goats, sheep, chickens, geese, rabbits, and emus. Overly friendly emus as it turned out. One cheeky emu ate the mitten right off my niece’s hand. As we led my tear-stricken niece away, I wondered if the emu would lay woolly pink eggs for the next little while.
A few minutes of playing in the Trojan Cow soon had everyone smiling again. And then it was time for another authentic Italian experience: hot chocolate. Oh my. Hot, sweet, and so thick it had to be eaten with a spoon. Perhaps I should reconsider living in Italy…
The next morning, I woke up with a stiff neck. By dinner time I couldn’t move my head. Time for another authentic Italian experience: the ER, or pronto soccorso.
My brothers very kindly came with me to act as moral support and translators. After so many years in Asia, I was used to being immediately recognized as English. It was strange to no longer be visibly foreign.
Relatively quickly, I was called by the nurse.
“Venga!” she told me, looking harassed.
Venga? Wasn’t that a pop group from the 90’s?
“Follow her!” my brother hissed, prodding me. Oops.
We entered the emergency room, and sat on a bench. I looked around, amazed. Although there were curtains available to pull around the beds, nobody had. Clearly privacy wasn’t an issue in Italy. I would have rubbed my eyes had my arms been able to reach that high. I thought for a moment we had stumbled into a dinner party. Everyone was dressed to the nines. Two elderly ladies tottered by in heels, pearls, and matching sweater sets; Prada and Gucci bags hung carelessly over the edges of gurneys; and even the gentleman beside us with his arm wrapped in a blood-stained towel appeared to be wearing Armani.
Needless to say, I was not sporting anything Italian. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I was wearing shoes. I couldn’t remember putting them on, and I couldn’t bend my neck far enough to check. I knew from the sympathetic looks I was getting that I still had snot smeared across my chest from the lovely cuddle I’d received from my niece earlier. And my unwashed hair was haphazardly pulled back with a large green and yellow polka-dot bow belonging to my other niece.
Were Italians just naturally stylish? Did their mothers pop them into Versace onesies the second they were born? Or had they dressed up to come to the ER? Even the medical staff was stylish. The scrubs seemed to fit better than any scrubs I’d ever seen, and the nurse who had brought us in had been sporting make-up and false eyelashes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a trendy nightclub.
I was sent for X-rays, and I admit I was relieved to be met by a perfectly ordinary-looking man. He told me to take off my glasses, and then proceeded to give me instructions on how to properly align myself for x-rays. At least I think that’s what he said. And since he took my glasses away, all I saw of his explanatory gestures was a big blue blob with little pink blobs waving around.
“Does he know I can’t see him?” I asked, glancing towards where I had last seen my brother. “And that I don’t have any idea what he’s saying?”
My brother explained my predicament in Italian, and the x-ray man sighed heavily. It was a sigh that spoke of a lifetime of disappointment and despair. A sigh that told me he’d rather carve his own heart out with a spoon than explain to me in English how to arrange myself for optimum x-ray results.
“You. Here,” he muttered, forcibly putting me in place. “No move!”
“Don’t move!” my brother translated helpfully.
Finally we were brought by another heavily made-up nurse to see a doctor. I tried to pay attention but I was mesmerized by the giant panettone calendar behind his head. He seemed disappointed that I had nothing more serious than a pulled muscle, and sent us away with a long list of drugs.
We left the hospital thinking the adventure was over. And yet, the joys of deciphering the prescription awaited! “Sirdalud 2mg x2” Right. Siralud was the medicine, but did I take 2? Or did I take it twice a day? And what was it exactly? There was also powdered codeine that fizzed like an anti-acid, and tasted awful. But again, how much should I take? And when?
I was in my teeny Japanese kitchen, washing dishes, and probably howling along to the radio when I reached over to grab a dirty pot. There was something a little crunchy on the handle, and I looked down to see what on earth it could be. There, in the palm of my hand was a behemoth, a colossus, a leviathan – a cockroach of epic proportions. Perhaps he was a friend of the Zombie Cockroach come to seek revenge.
I resisted the urge to throw my hands up in the air and scream. I’d tried that last time and it hadn’t helped. Made me feel a bit better but it had done nothing for the cockroach.
My heart in my throat, I carefully flicked beast into the dirty pot where he scurried around madly trying to find a hiding spot amidst the lumpy stewed tomato remnants. Frantically he tried to scale the walls of the pot. Apparently he had forgotten his species could fly.
Desperately I scanned my apartment for the can of bug spray.
“#*@*%$!” I muttered under my breath, as I held the pot out as I could. “Where the (*&#$*&#$ is the !#(*&@# spray???”
And then I remembered. I had used up the remainder of the bug spray on the Zombie Cockroach. What to do? First things first, I put the pot in the middle of the floor, then put a lid on it. Then I found a large bowl to upend over the pot. And then I upended my empty garbage can over the bowl and the pot.
I needed to scrub every last particle of cockroach off my hands; I was still in shock that I’d actually held the monster in my hand. Goosebumps erupted as I remembered the soft brush of each of his wee disgusting feet.
As I scrubbed, I came up with a brilliant plan. I would take the pot on to the balcony and shake the cockroach out into the night. Perfect. Feeling secure in the enormity of my intelligence, I grabbed the pot (and its offensive inhabitant) and rushed to the balcony. I opened the door, went out and attempted to shake out the cockroach.
Sadly, I’d forgotten to dry my hands first and so the pot slipped out of my hands and flew out into the dark parking lot. There was a muffled “thud” from somewhere in the bushes near the neighbour’s house.
Oops. There was no way I was going out into the dark to fetch my pot. Who knew what happened to gargantuan cockroaches when they were exposed to the night air? What if they grew bigger, or worse multiplied?? What if he had friends out there?
I decided to retrieve my pot in the morning.
The next morning, I had forgotten all about the pot. As I sat reading the paper and drinking tea, there was a knock on my door. I opened it and there was my neighbour with my dirty spaghetti pot dangling from his outstretched hand. He looked very confused.
“Carrie-sensei,” he asked. “Your pot?”
“Um… yes…” I muttered, mortified.
“Here,” he announced, handing me the now thankfully cockroach-free pot.
“Thank you!” I said cheerfully, deciding to brazen it out. “See you later!”
That’s the best thing about being the only Canadian in town- if I do something dumb (which happens more often than I care to admit) I can pretend it’s a Canadian custom and no one knows the difference.
I have often been asked about the name of my blog, and I assure you, there is a story. I didn’t just decide arbitrarily to hate cockroaches, even though they are vile little creatures.
Long, long ago, I studied biology at university. My lovely Animal Physiology lab partner Willard and I decided to do a research project on cockroaches. I don’t know what possessed us. I’m sure there was a logical reason but I can’t imagine what it might have been.
Our professor took a jar of cockroaches out of the fridge, and told us to pin the bugs to our dissection trays right away. Stupidly, we thought we would just cut the heads off instead.
And that’s how we learned that the little buggers could fly, even without heads. After we discovered that a cockroach could be cut into 5 separate pieces, and each piece could survive for days, we decided to switch to using crickets for our project. There’s a reason it’s Jiminy Cricket, not Jiminy Cockroach!
My first encounter with a cockroach outside of the lab happened soon after I had arrived in Japan. Let me paint you a little picture. It was about 10:30 pm, I was in my PJs, turning off the lights in my cozy little apartment, closing the curtains, and feeling a pleasantly sleepy. My glasses were off because I was just about to get into bed; everything had a lovely, hazy fuzziness to it.
I reached up to turn off the light above my stove when something skittered out of the fan. The fact that I could see this scurrying creature WITHOUT my glasses should give you an indication of how big it was. I can barely see my hand in front of my face without my glasses.
My heart was pounding like a marathon runner’s as I quickly found my glasses and came back to check out my uninvited guest. He sat there proudly, the king of his small domain. His brown metallic skin glistened in the dim light, and his long antennae quivered slightly in the breeze. I stopped dead, and stared in revulsion and horror. He stared back serenely confident on his perch atop my baby oranges.
A cockroach. A really, really big cockroach. In my apartment. I could hear the voice in my head getting hysterical. Oh my gosh. Oh my GOSH. OH MY GOSH!!! It’s a bloody, great $#*$# cockroach!!! What the @$#*%^# do I do now?????? I had trouble killing them at university, even with an entire lab full of scalpels at my disposal.
Normally I like to scoop up bugs gently, and throw them out the nearest window but nothing short of a cattle prod was going to work with this guy. Keeping the monster in my sights, I slowly inched my way towards the enormous can of bug spray my predecessor had thoughtfully left. I had wondered why it was such a large can…
Slightly suspicious, he followed me with his beady eyes, his antennae twitching in my direction. I stood back, took aim, held my breath, closed my eyes and sprayed. I opened my eyes to discover that I apparently had the non-cockroach-killing kind of bug spray. Mr Cockroach glared at me, took flight, and dive bombed my head. No wonder they say cockroaches would probably survive a nuclear bomb!
At this point I’d like to say that I remained calm, and using the essential skills I learned in my biology labs, I wrestled the monster to the ground, hog-tied him and threw him out the window without breaking either a sweat or a nail.
Sadly, I have to admit that I screamed like the proverbial girl, idiotically threw the can of bug spray at the kamikaze cockroach, and ran in circles shrieking and waving my hands frantically above my head. After a few minutes of pure, mindless terror and idiotic behaviour, I started to feel a little embarrassed, and stopped to assess the situation.
The cockroach sat once again on my baby oranges, only this time, he didn’t quite look so sure of himself; I was pleased to notice that he had developed a bit of a twitch. On my hands and knees, I slowly retrieved my can of bug spray and took aim again.
This time there was no flying, just really fast running, again directly at me. But I was ready for him. I chased him around my apartment spraying bug spray and hollering, “Die, you stupid #$&*^@ bug, die!” And suddenly to my complete and utter astonishment, he did. He was headed towards my bedroom at full tilt when suddenly he flipped on his back, twitched a few times, and stopped moving. I prodded him fearfully with the broom but there was no response.
Feeling quite pleased with myself, I turned to pick up a piece of newspaper to squish him in. When I turned back, he was gone.
PANIC!! I ran into my room, slammed the door and stuffed a blanket in the crack under the door so that the cockroach couldn’t sneak in while I was sleeping… not that I thought for one second that a mere door would stop the cockroach who was clearly a member of the living dead.
I then faced a major dilemma. Did I leave the light on so that I could see the zombie cockroach coming for me? Or turn the light off so as not to attract more undead cockroaches?? In the end I opted for light off but I put a flashlight and the can of bug spray right beside my futon.
Let me just remind everyone that I slept on the FLOOR. My sleeping arrangements were charming and rather nest-like but they did make me easy prey for all sorts of many-legged creatures who wanted to share my warm bed. The upside was that I could hear them coming, each tiny foot making a loud tap tap tap as they skittered across the floor towards me.
The next morning after a long and restless night, I spent about 10 minutes searching my apartment for the corpse of the cockroach. I refused to believe that I had emptied half a can of bug spray on something and it was still alive! But there was no sign, the cockroach had vanished. I took that as further proof that it was an unnatural sort of cockroach.
I put my lunch in my backpack, and headed off to school. In the staffroom, I opened my backpack, took out a book, and choked back a scream when I saw who was sitting on the book. The undead zombie cockroach.
I played it cool. Glancing around, I surreptitiously flicked him off my book onto the floor where he slowly and laboriously began to drag himself across the floor towards me, twitching every few steps.
Dropping my book with a loud clatter, I channelled my inner Scarlett O’Hara. I clasped my hands to my heart, emitted a girlish, quavering shriek and said: “Oh my! There appears to be a REALLY large cockroach on the floor! How ever did it get there?”
Instant pandemonium. The poor bug didn’t stand much of a chance after that. Between the burly gym teacher, and the strapping young kendo coach, the monster was defeated.
Thus began my long, and not-so-loving relationship with cockroaches. I don’t know if I’m just lucky, or if the cockroaches are seeking me out to revenge their relatives that I chopped up in my lab. Whatever the reason, wherever I go in Asia, I find cockroaches. And I really wish I wouldn’t because I really hate cockroaches.
When I left Asia, I thought my international travelling days were done. But then I remembered the United States. Not that I had forgotten about the US; it’s a large and rather vocal country. But I had forgotten how close it was. The nearest border crossing was a little less than an hour away. It wasn’t Thailand but it had definite possibilities.
And so when a lovely friend of mine suggested a road trip to Ithaca, New York, I jumped at the chance. Ithaca is in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, and is home to Cornell University, Collegetown Bagels, and our goal: The Moosewood Restaurant.
The border guard at Ogdensburg, NY clearly thought we were insane.
“You’re going to Ithaca to go to a restaurant?”
“You’re going to drive all that way for a restaurant?”
Indeed. Perhaps he would have been less suspicious had we told him we were going Leaf Peeping.
Leaf Peeping is apparently the New England term for looking at, and taking pictures of the Autumn foliage. It sounds a bit illicit. I can just picture inebriated locals at a New England tavern, dressed in plaid and flannel, drunkenly propositioning each other.
“Hey baby. Wanna go leaf peeping?”
Actually, that sounds a bit like my Canadian University. Hmm.
According to the always reliable Wikipedia, Leaf Peeping is an official New England term. When one participates in Leaf Peeping, one becomes a Leaf Peeper. And it gets even better. Apparently, when Leaf Peepers congregate to Leaf Peep, their gathering is known as a Leaf Peepshow. You can’t make this stuff up.
Upstate New York is gorgeous. Rolling hills, quaint little towns, busy farms, and lots of leaves to peep. We had arrived at the tail end of Leaf Peeping season but there was still lots to see.
It is also an area of opposites. Ithaca is a bustling prosperous town, and Cornell is one of the loveliest university campuses I’ve ever visited. But to arrive in Ithaca, we drove though areas of intense poverty.
New York state was once a hotbed of manufacturing. In the late 1800’s and late 1900’s, New York state’s industries grew in leaps and bounds until it was America’s richest state. Not any more. Gorgeous, palatial, turn-of-the-century houses with extravagant windows and wide wrap-around porches were crumbling and decrepit, their owners obviously unable to afford the upkeep. Old-fashioned redbrick factory buildings sat abandoned and vandalized. Along the roads between towns sat tiny, ramshackle houses with plastic tarp windows, their residents clearly engaged in subsistence farming. Do we have places like this in Canada? I don’t know.
We arrived in Ithaca in time for a rainy wander through Cornell University, and a quick visit to the university book store. We didn’t buy anything but if you ever need Cornell-themed goods of any sort – shot glasses, scarves, pens, golf balls, notebooks or chopsticks – I can tell you where to go.
Dinner was of course, at The Moosewood. For those not in the know, The Moosewood is a famous vegetarian restaurant. They also publish amazing cookbooks. The fact that I could order anything on the menu was worth the four-hour drive. This is a big deal to us non-meat eaters.
The Moosewood cleverly caters to all kinds of vegetarians, from the hard-core vegan to the pescetarian, and the menu changes daily. Amazing.
The restaurant is small and cozy. The wait was 45 minutes, and the number of people willing to wait is testament to the amazingness of this place.
Our waiter was slim and reminded me of a garden gnome. He flitted over with our menus, and explained the specials before prancing off to see to other customers. Somehow it seemed appropriate that the waitstaff at a vegetarian restaurant would be somewhat fey.
I ordered the coconut-lime cashew-crusted salmon with mashed sweet potatoes, buttered green beans and mango aioli. My friend ordered spinach boreka with roasted cauliflower.
Do not be fooled by the simplicity of the presentation. I’ll admit I was. We drove four hours for this? I thought when my dinner arrived. I could not have been more wrong. It was astonishingly delicious. My tastebuds grabbed maracas and formed a conga line. There was, as the saying goes, a party in my mouth.
I was contemplating licking my plate when our little waiter floated over to whisk my empty plate away. Perhaps he could sense my plate-licking aspirations. I’ll bet it happens a lot at the Moosewood.
We decided to try the carrot cake for dessert.
Decadent cream cheese icing, spicy carroty goodness – oh my. There were a few mystery crunchy bits that made me wonder if the kitchen elves had forgotten to wash the carrots. Or perhaps pebbles were all part of the organic vegetarian charm? It didn’t matter. I left nothing but smudges on my plate.
We had planned to go to Target after dinner but we rolled back to our hotel to collapse and digest instead. 😀
The next morning, in spite of my vow to never eat again, we went to Collegetown Bagel for breakfast. Huevos Sonora must be Spanish for delectable. Eggs, salsa, avacado, roasted red peppers, and a red wrap. This picture actually looks a bit creepy but trust me, it was spectacular.
I am so glad that returning to North America hasn’t meant the end of my culinary adventures. And I’m so glad that North American culinary adventures rarely involve anything still moving! Or barking…. or with six legs….