the canadian experience
i have survived four weeks in halifax, nova scotia. it was rough going, but i did it. although canada is not known for its rich cultural tapestry, i still found my stay to be a fairly stimulating experience.
the halifax airport resembles a miniature golf course. there are small replicas of the lighthouses and boats that dot the local landscape, though they’re rather old and noticeably hollow. they’re rather ungainly, so i have no doubt they would be difficult to put through. my plane arrived late due to a ninety minute delay at the newark tarmac, so i could not take a shuttle bus in town. after being raped mercilessly by a $53 cab ride, i had at least reached halifax. my hotel had given my room away, so they stuck me in their conference room for the night, free of charge. i didn’t really care since it had a door that could close and a fully functioning bathroom. since i would be staying in a hostel for the rest of my stay in halifax, i relished my last remnants of privacy. i moved the conference table aside, rolled out the cot and kicked back and relaxed in my complimentary luxury. i viewed an excellent movie that night entitled to the last man. it’s a touching story of 5 men who live together and have sex. i recommend it.* (for those who care, yes, my porn was comped, too.)
i transferred to the hostel next day where i would stay for the following four weeks. i’m proud to say that i survived a month-long stay in a hostel. my stay was surprisingly non-arduous. although there were some de rigueur hazards of a hostel stay (renegade mice, endless snoring, a top bunk that can barely support my weight) most of the other visitors were surprisingly kind and cheerful. by now i know all the employees personally and we’ve somehow managed to live together for a month without growing to hate each other. the hostel is located between the homeless shelter and the bathhouse, kitty-corner to low-income, governmental housing. i have been repeatedly informed that my neighborhood was a shady area and that i wasn’t to walk alone at night. compared to the states, the projects there looked like a fucking brownstone and to this day i still have no idea what the hell everyone was talking about.
i went to halifax to take a course called CELTA. it’s a very demanding, month-long course designed to teach people how to teach english as a foreign language. since my slapdash babysitting work in korea barely counts as experience, i came to this with only the slightest clue as to how to teach. i’m proud to say that i have conquered my CELTA. this was no small task; by golly, i feel like i’ve actually accomplished something.
my day consisted of a 10 hour day at school and an average of two hours homework at night. what’s more, given the shitaceous, milwaukee-esque character of halifax public transportation, i walked to and from school (45 minutes one way) nearly everyday. since hostel life is invariably noisy, i had to wait until 11 pm to study. the course, in collusion with the endless halifax rainfall, was an awful strain on my body. i frequently worked until 3 am or later and i was constantly sick. halifax threw everything it had at me (even a run-in with homophobia- this in tolerant canada?) but in the end all these distractions were to no avail as i was undeterred in obtaining my CELTA regardless.
despite the rigors of my schedule, i managed to sample a bit of halifax’s surprisingly vibrant nightlife. halifax is a small city; i spent my first week there wondering where downtown was only to later learn that i lived right next to it. yet despite this, halifax had a surprisingly high amount of whimsy. this town is a lot like a colder, rainier madison. i was fortunate enough to stay during not one, but two city-wide cultural festivities. the city hosted its annual nocturne art festival. it’s a late night gallery bonanza with the clever subtitle art now, sleep later. every gallery in town stayed open until twelve at night and a lot of the art work was surprisingly good. art movies were projected on the sides of buildings, experimental video displays beamed out of window sills and there were artisans and minstrels of every stripe bursting out of every corner. if the whole town didn’t reek of pot, it would have had the whimsy of a gilmore girls episode. i saw a band of hippies play with fire for an hour, deftly maneuvering flaming torches and hula-hoops with nary a dread burnt. there was a lot of artistic cock rendering and human-mannequin art was everywhere. of all the artwork, the clear town favorite was the life-sized semi-mummified mermaid. it looked like an aged ariel had washed up dead on the harbor and then transfixed onto a gallery window sill. it was just as amazing it sounds.
there was a second festival during my stay called the halifax pop explosion. there were pitchfork media-esque indie bands of all persuasions playing continuously at every pub in town. at the time i was in the thick of my academic drudgery and i was beset by man problems, to boot. i couldn’t attend but i was told it was a pip.
it was a very busy month, but in the end i experienced all this and obtained valuable certification, as well. my stay had the added blessing of meeting nearly everyone i worked with. i met a lot of great people there and i left with the hope that i would meet several of them again. i still can’t believe all this happened. canada is deceivingly magical.
many of you probably met jennifer. she is a very dear friend of mine who frequently saved me from lunacy during my year in korea. i had wanted to host her in milwaukee for some time and a re-shuffling of both our schedules made this a reality. most of all, i just wanted to see my friend again, but i wanted to show her the best of my home town, as well. i was a little nervous; this grrl has been to asia, europe and the states. i wasn’t sure if milwaukee could stand up to all her previous travels. i’m damn proud to say that it did.
in the span of a week we did a lot, a whole lot, and still had sites left over that we didn’t get to. our small city has a surprising preponderance of shit to see. i even managed to treat jennifer to a bit of culture shock. canada and the united states are essentially sister countries, but there remain a few salient bits of regionalism. more than anything, jennifer had trouble acclimating to the massive amounts of food that we eat. on a trip to comet, she was astonished by the massive girth of her turkenstein sandwich. “i am not a python. how am i supposed to eat this?” with the aid of an especially pleasing beermosa, she conquered that sandwich. she would later remark that it was the best sandwich that she had ever had. we ventured to mama mia’s in ‘stallis. this is a challenging restaurant for non-fatties, but thankfully i was there to provide essential guidance on how to navigate a mama mia’s dinner while avoiding nausea. i explained to her that, like the sun, it is best not to stare directly into the garlic bread basket. at this point she had been in wisconsin for nearly a week, so this potentially puzzling bit of advice was all too apropro.
all of this of this paled to our trip to white castle. there was trouble from the start. pulling into the restaurant, jennifer remarked of the signage, “a sack of hamburgers?!? i never, ever want to eat a sack of hamburgers.” she inquired about the briefcases of sandwiches that the other patrons were carrying. i told her i’d explain later. after ordering a medium soda, she was stunned to receive a liter sized receptacle for her drink. she was also stunned that she had the option to refill this beverage at will; in her country, free refills are a luxury only dreamt of. she found her meal mostly palatable. although she was noticeably uncomfortable to receive her food in sack form, she heroically struggled through her meal until finally exclaiming, “i can’t stands no more.” (like most people, she was uncertain as to how i managed to eat so much food.) our white castle trip was surprisingly frutiful. at the end, she remarked, “this tiny restaurant is sending me into a tailspin of culture shock.” it was at this point that i divulged the full details of the infamous crave case, including a detailed retelling of my good friends' experiences finishing one. after that it was some time until her appetite returned.
jennifer left for portland last wednesday morning. i miss her already. i greatly enjoyed my staycation. i’m a little sad that it had to end.
i had an exceptionally eventful 6 weeks. now i have to figure what the hell i’m going to do next.