Thursday, 15 September 2011

Back in the Swing of the Thing

I will remember today because it was the day I bought an umbrella in Vancouver. It's one of those fancy ones that opens itself when you press a button on the handle. It's black on the outside and silver-grey on the inside. Today is only the second rainy day since Matthew and I moved here, but in Vancouver that just means the second day of approximately five hundred rainy days until we return to Melbourne.

Last Saturday evening Matthew and I went to a local Shakespeare festival called 'Bard on the Beach' at Vanier Park, which is right on the point where English Bay becomes False Creek. It took about 25 minutes for us to walk from our apartment near Granville St to Vanier Park. Our performance was in the main tent. Behind the stage the tent had an open view from people walking their dogs in the park to all the way across the water to the city. As the sun set, it reflected boldly off a city tower for 20 or so minutes, and backlit the stage.

We saw As You Like It because I was studying it for university last week, and also because Matthew has been in two productions of this play (backstage for one, and playing Sylvius the desperate lover in the other). I had only just finished reading the play a mere two hours before the show, but even so, at the end of the evening I was still thinking 'what the hell is going on here?' It was totally daft, but we had a lovely evening out, in the beautiful weather.

During the interval we perused the merchandise stall, where there were lots of t-shirts with Shakespeare quotations. But my favourite was the shirt which read 'Bard on the Beach' on one side and 'It's In Tents!' on the other. As Matthew can testify, I regularly fail to laugh at his puns, and have been known to say miserly things like 'they are the lowest form of humour'. But I have been giggling at inappropriate moments at this one for five days now. I think it's hilarious.

Matthew and I walked home along 4th Avenue, which is a very happening place, and settled into a cake shop on West Broadway named 'Death by Chocolate' for a late night feast.

On Sunday, after pancakes and maple syrup with blackberries hand-picked by Matthew, we got our skates on again at the UBC Thunderbird Arena. I believe I am improving! Some things which increased the difficulty level:
  • a crazy conga-line of fresh-faced young Chinese students in miniskirts
  • lots of kids about as tall as my knees shooting out from nowhere all the time and going anti-clockwise in an otherwise clock-wise lap circuit
  • a weird old guy wearing a helmet covered in bright fluttering ribbons who would stop and give lessons to people who did not know him.
Amidst such perilous obstacles, I am proud that I have not yet fallen over! Matthew was having a hard time with his skates for most of the time, so he wasn't as graceful as previously. Instead of roaring around at top speed, he spent more time holding my hand and slow-skating me around the circuit. Very Romantic!

In Vancouver there is a craft supermarket chain called 'Michael's'. Although I have not hitherto been a crafty person, I am soon to become one. This store is the size of a large food supermarket but filled with everything from fake flowers to cake decorating to painting to picture-framing to beading to knitting to model-building... everything you can imagine, Michael's has. There is an entire 'bride' aisle! There is an entire ribbon aisle! Bliss!! On Tuesday evening Matthew and I walked to our local Michael's on West Broadway and (after a loooong time browsing) got a picture frame for our 'Cult of Beauty' postcard set which British Cousin Elinor gave us as a souvenir from her work at the Victoria and Albert Museum. We have hung it above our dining nook.

The postcards actually came in a set of seven, and as you can see there were only six spaces. This is good news, because it means we can revisit Michael's for an individual frame at a later date. I am already sizing up appropriate small walls in our apartment which might benefit from a postcard-sized sample of William Morris fruit-themed wallpaper circa 1862.

I started university officially last week. I have two seminars, each two hours long: Ecocriticism and 18th Century British Literature. I am also teaching a class in Canadian literature one hour a week, and taking a 'Pedagogy workshop' teaching certificate. The first week's readings for Ecocriticism included William Gilpin's 'Observations on the River Wye'. Such a gentle and meaningful introduction to the course! I spent several hours recalling our scenic, dare I say 'picturesque', road trip from Cardiff to Powys and up to Whittington, especially that cool and drizzly morning poking around the ruins of Tintern Abbey. In our class this week I was asked to read aloud from Wordsworth's 'Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey'. The class kind of ripped Gilpin to shreds and didn't seem too impressed with Wordsworth either, but I couldn't summon any truly negative criticisms, because I found the texts evocative and a true pleasure.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Zoe and Matthew in Seattle

We are back from our excellent road trip. Our border crossing in both directions was about an hour. The drive from Blaine to Seattle was punctuated by our first visit to Denny's (American diner chain). This is worth a mention because Denny's has the most extreme sickmaking menu I have ever seen. For example, its proudly-advertised 'healthy option' has 'only' 15 grams of fat. And that is a veggie burger. Which I ordered.

When we got to Seattle we had a breath-catching moment when the car was confronted with a very steep hill start. Thank goodness for 4 wheel drive! We settled into our little hotel right in the centre of town, and then went for a 'splore on foot. We quickly discovered the hills in Seattle are many and steep, and necessarily got our cardio on. The spectre of the shimmering water at the bottom of every East-West street was always confrontingly beautiful.

Of course, we discovered the first ever Starbucks and ordered a beverage to go, and then wandered with it along First Avenue and also Pike Place Market. The pedestrian traffic was invigorating, and while jostling through the late afternoon crowds we were sorely tempted to buy local artisan cheese, fresh-caught fish, and bunches and bunches of snap-dragons (my favourite flower).

For dinner, after our extreme lunch, we opted for Japanese. We were equally amused and horrified when our sushi rolls arrived battered and deep fried. I must mention that Matthew sneakily ordered tempura'd brie cheese for our entre, and also that the sushi contained cream cheese. Our hearts slowed during that meal.

But they sped up when we wandered around the corner to line up (briefly) for Hanson! We were ushered into Showbox at the Market in very good time, enough to enjoy a gin and tonic before the show. The venue was large, but intimate and strategically organised so that the stage was visible from every nook, cranny and terrace.

In usual form, Hanson bounced onstage a got down to business without so much as a hello. They opened with one of the newest, Thinking 'Bout Somethin', and then proceeded to play most of an earlier album, This Time Around (circa 2000). I found it a nostalgic experience, and wished that my dear fellow-Hanson-appreciateurs (Nyssa, Jane, Bec, Kate, and the other lovely ladies) were there to share it. It is my tenth Hanson concert. Overall they were punchy-poppy, heavenly harmonious and everything I had dreamed of.

I would be remiss if I did not mention, as indeed Matthew pointed out, that Taylor was sporting a fetching mustache. He was also wearing a cravat with an open-necked, pink, shirt. And of course his signature form fitting trousers. From Matthew's superior height he took some excellent photos:

I think it goes without saying that I danced my guts out for the entire show. Matthew also displayed some graceful and groovy moves. We left the venue with sore feet and pink faces.

We retired to our hotel and had a good eight hours, and then sallied forth for a bagel and a waffle close to the Market again this morning. Matthew did some studious close analysis of the local coffee and determined that he has tasted better, but that it was a welcome drop all the same.

On the way home this afternoon we stopped in at an American outlet mall and bought a nifty new laptop for me (Asus 14" Intel Core i5-560M in pleasant champagne colour) and also some sage green Converse trainers. All ready for a new year of university starting tomorrow!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Autumn, or as they say, 'Fall'

Matthew is singing 'Oh my Darling Clemantine' and putting his socks on. It is a perfect Autumn day, sky clear blue and Canadian flags fluttering gently in the breeze. This weekend we are off to Seattle for one night, to see Hanson, poke around Pike Place Market and drink Starbucks coffee without irony and with cultural relevance. I can't really thank Matthew enough for being such a massive sport and driving us across the border. Especially since Hanson is not his favourite band.

Since last we blogged, we have had some lovely adventures. Here are the highlights in vague chronological order.

1. Cousin Sophie took me to Lake Buntzen, which is tucked away behind a suburb called Port Moody. Gramma, Aunty Lorraine and Eleanor packed a lavish picnic and we went for a real, Canadian, outdoor (!) swim. Afterwards we went for a walk in the woods and spied some megafauna slugs, and after that we got icecream. Buntzen is surrounded by treed hills, and the water is clear and not too reedy. There is also a dog beach populated with a disproportionate number of bulldogs.

2. Matthew and I took our first step towards interior decorating and enlarged a Very Twee wedding photo for one of our walls. The real fake turf in the photo matches the mock fake turf rug. It's shaping up very tastefully in our apartment. Gramma also bequeathed us her terracotta SpongeBob. He is sitting cooly on our balcony under the dwarf banana tree.

3. We went to Steveston for the DragonBoat meet.Cousin Eleanor, Cousin Carolyn, and Honourary Cousin David's team, DragonBoat Z, totally won gold!! We had fish and chips on the pier, with peanut butter icecream for dessert, and cultivated some Canadian sunburn on our necks and legs.

4. Matthew took me iceskating at the UBC Thunderbirds Arena (to which I have free entry as a student). Matthew glided around like a swan, twirling and going backwards and then tearing around at top speed for a while. I happily did not cling to the edge like a wuss, but I recognise that there is room for improvement. We are hoping to make iceskating a fortnightly activity until I gain proficiency enough to skate in confidence among the locals. I am looking forward to (read: working towards) outdoor skating on a winter evening, when Robson Square downtown is open.

5. I discovered the Olympic Swimming complex at Queen Elizabeth Park. The wooden ceiling is very high, and the sauna and steam rooms are very clean. It's my new favourite spot. It takes about 45 minutes to walk there, so by the time I get there, if I don't really feel like carving it up with the laps, then I can head straight for the sauna and feel like I've deserved it. I imagine this will be an even more pleasant experience when the weather becomes cool, as nothing whets the palate for a sauna session like 45 minutes trudging through sleet. I am trying to convince Matthew to come for a dip; no luck yet but will report back.

That's about it for adventure, except of course for Intellectual Adventure. Since last I wrote, I have polished off Joseph Andrews and Tristram Shandy, and am about done with Robinson Crusoe. Or, I should better say, it is about done with me. I don't generally like to talk about books as if I have just consumed them like food. I am experiencing a much more complicated relationship with these texts than a product/consumer one. But it is a little early to articulate that relationship. Joseph Andrews and Robinson Crusoe have seriously ruffled my feathers. Suffice to say I do not wish to read any more about rape, racists, or cruelty to animals. Truly, if I wanted to avoid those themes, I should not have enrolled in 18th Century English fiction. Luckily, I have Ecocriticism to look forward to. Hopefully this should not so offend my gentle, white, feminine, leftist sensibilities.