Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Oh great luggage goddess

Just hung up with the lost luggage folks who still can't locate my bag.

Trouble is I'm leaving London via a different airport tomorrow, PLUS my missing bag has my phone in it. My only phone. My mobile/home phone. The phone I need to call the bloody baggage people when I get back to Canada!

Normally I wouldn't pack something as essential as this, but it didn't work over here and I was busy vomito-ing my head off while I was packing.

Oh ya, and the bag also contains my new ass-hugging Citizens of Humanity jeans. I knew vanity would get me sooner or later.

Good vibes everybody.

The Stomach Turins

Well, it looks like I got my big experience, but sadly it involved a debilitating tummy bug, thwarting the last day of the gelato tour.

I haven't been this sick in years. In fact, I'm still not feeling 100%.

I managed to make my two flights this morning, but only because my 3 a.m. taxi driver to the airport knew of an all night Pharmacia.

I had to use my best miming skills (although, how hard can it be to mime vomito?) to secure a box of what I presume to be the Italian version of Gravol.

I really didn't care what it was, I just took it.

Oh and then the clincher -- my luggage is lost.

Think positive luggage finding thoughts for me.

In other news, there appears to be a film crew at my hotel. I hope they're not here for me. I look like hell.

Buddy, Mommy's coming home.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Next stop on the gelato tour

I did my presentation at the Milan office this morning.

It was hard to tell whether they were staring in rapt attention – hanging on every word – or simply trying to make out what I was saying. I spoke slowly, in any case, and they seemed to laugh in all the right places.

You have to love meetings in Italy.

There was espresso in a little silver carafe, tiny little cups and saucers, and an assortment of croissants and pain au chocolat. If I lived here, I’d easily weight 500 pounds.

Turns out that Marco, the Managing Director, hails from Turin. That’s the next stop on my itinerary.

Marco’s a short, bald little dude, who’s all dressed to maim in his Salvatore Ferragamo suit. He only came up to my chest – which was pretty handy for him, since that’s where he kept his eyes through most of our conversation.

I’ve noticed that Italians are very proud of where they come from. It’s fundamental to their character. Each region has a specialty and each town or village is famous throughout the country for something or other.

If North Bay was in Italy, it would be famous for producing a Tim Hortons on every corner and a race of bush-whacking lumberjacks from hell.

At any rate, Marco spent most of this morning’s meeting sketching a rather spectacular map of his home town, Turin.

You could tell he was dying for me to stop talking so he could start – a universal trait he shares with Managing Directors the world over.

His directions were worthy of the best Italian trip planning. Things like: “Here you will sit, drink the coffee, eat the chocolate and look at the church.” Or, “Where to eat: Porto Savomma. Taste: Agnolotti.” Or, my personal favourite, “Have a huge experience visiting Porta Palazzo Market.”

Now I can’t wait to get to Turin to have a huge experience.

Turin’s at the foot of the Alps – which I saw for the first time today, on a little cross-border expedition to the designer outlet mall in Switzerland.

This was a true designer outlet mall – not the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee variety, but rather the home of Georgio Armani variety. All the big brands were represented – from D & G to Gucci to Missoni to Armani. Some pretty spectacular merchandise. But half off a 3000 Euro Armani coat is, well, 1500 Euros. Oh well, at least I got to see Lake Como and Lake Garda on the drive up.

Today’s flavours on the gelato tour: pistachio and rum butter.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Venice is for Lovers

I need to stop going to the most romantic places on the planet by myself.

Today it was Venice.

In highly traveled tourist destinations, like Venice, my strategy is to always to go in search of more authentic experiences.

This is how I found an incredible restaurant for lunch.

It is possible to come to Italy and not eat. But why would you?

The cast of characters at “Lania 40”, a small hole-in-the-wall on one of the city’s less-travelled canals, consisted of a single waiter who was exceptionally virile, yet mildly hysterical; an extraordinarily talented, yet petulant chef; a somewhat lazy woman (who appeared to be the owner’s wife) and was subject to almost constant ridicule and verbal abuse from the waiter; and the owner himself who, despite a busy restaurant, continued an almost one-hour long personal conversation with his buddy.

The place was magical. There wasn’t a word of English being spoken anywhere.

The food? Nothing short of magnificent.

I had a simple insalata mista (green salad) and Tagliatelle with shrimp and porcini mushrooms.

For the rest of my life, I’ll remember every bite.

When I left, I tried to pay with a credit card, but the waiter said, “Signora, you have cash? Cash we pay no tax. We hate-a the tax.”

So, when I pulled out the cash, he looks at me and says, “I love you.”

So I guess I did find love in Venice after all.

Today’s gelato flavours: cookie and tiramisu.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Da Vinci Code

I want to have sex with every man, woman and child in Milan.

Everyone’s so bloody good-looking and fashionable that it’s hard not to feel like a dancing bear in comparison.

Have I mentioned I have a terrace?

I think I’ve landed one of the best hotel deals in Milan. The rate is varying between 79 and 99 Euros per night – including breakfast. This is a phenomenal deal for this city. In fact, it would probably be a phenomenal deal for Toronto.

Today part of my 3,000 km walk included a visit to the Museo Nazionale Della Scienza e Della Technologia Leonardo Da Vinci. See what I mean about the vowels?

One of the reasons I chose this museum is that it contains an excellent reproduction of The Last Supper – painted some time in the mid 1600s. (Leonardo was painting The Last Supper while we were stripping birch bark off trees and trying not to die of scurvy.)

The actual Last Supper is located in a church down the street from the museum.

Admission to the original is only with a timed ticket and tickets sell out months in advance – primarily to Americans who have read The Da Vinci Code. (I’m putting money on the fact that more Americans have read The Da Vinci Code than have read The Declaration of Independence.)

SO and I saw the original the last time we were in Milan, so I’m not that fussed about it.

Today’s flavours on the gelato tour: Fig and Macadamia Nut.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Viva Italia

Everything sounds better in Italian.

While you’d normally be rather irritated by that your train from the airport was 10 minutes late, you’re positively jolly about it if the announcement is made in Italian. It sounds like they’re doing you a favour.

While the Dutch are crazy for consonants, the Italians are all about the vowels. Put an “o” an “a” or an “e” at the end of just about anything, and you’ve got yourself lesson one in rudimentary Italian.

It also helps, when excited, to wave your hands around madly, like a swarm of gnats has suddenly descended upon you.

Eleanora and another Italian girl – who was more Donatella than Donatella – spent a lot of the trip in from the airport complaining about Dutch food.

“It has no spice,” Eleanora said bitterly. “No salt…yes, it’s good for you and you’ll live longer. But who wants to live without salt!”

They then proceeded to debate the relative merits of Italy’s regional specialties. I’m a vegetarian, but I found myself salivating for parma ham. Go figure.

It feels really good to unpack. Five nights here feel like a lifetime after my journey so far.

Here’s to a little dolce vita.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Today I had lunch with the Director of Information and Development for the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos.

Now THAT'S an interesting job.

He's an American dude who lives in Quito, Ecuador.

Part of our lunch time conversation involved a discussion of what is being done to address the indigenous rat problem on the islands. (Not enough, apparently. They're big MFs.) This is slightly different from the regular lunchtime conversations I usually have about Britney and her underpants back at the office.

We shared a table with a heavily accented Scottish fellow who was presenting a talk on Major Gifts Fundraising.

He looked a lot like he could have been fast friends with either Collin or Justin -- the gay as larks decorating pals from HGTV.Interestingly, his name was actually Collin.

Tonight I'm having dinner with the Brits from our sister agency. Then I'm hoping to find some Australians. I'll know they're Australians, because they'll still be here at the conference at 3 a.m.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You're in the army now

It looks like I have yet another opportunity to create an international incident.

The sleepy little coastal town a short distance from Amsterdam -- NOORDWIJK -- where more than 900 fundraisers from around the world have descended, is also hosting the big 8 country NATO Defence Ministers meeting you've been seeing on TV.

It's serious business. It appears that most people didn't get a job at NATO when their career in stand-up didn't work out.

The entire town has been blockaded. There is troop placement everywhere -- including uniformed forces, anti-aircraft tanks and an aircraft carrier off the coast. They've taken over entire hotels.

Maybe I'll run into Conoleezza Rice at breakfast.

Apart from the surreal carnival atmosphere of the NATO conference, I've been enjoying every minute of the Dutch part of this trip and the conference.

I'm at the hotel now, but it's been a long day. 14 hours. With all the sessions and hobnobbing I've been doing, I feel like I've been working harder here than I do back at the office.

But it's good tired. Tired that comes with the added benefit of an excellent cheese selection.

In a nice little coincidence (are there really any coincidences?) discovered that Eleanora -- a fellow writer from Italy, and one of the only two people I know in Milan -- is on the same KLM flight as I am on Friday night. What good fortune.

Good night, Canada.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hello from the land of excessive consonants

Well, good news. I didn't embarass myself or our nation during yesterday's presentation at Rapp London.

In fact, I think I did rather well.

I'm pretty sure I won them over in the first few minutes when I pulled out the Maple Leaf Cookies and the bag of Hallowe'en candy. Never come between a Brit and his or her sweets. It could get ugly.

Today I'm in Amsterdam.

The Dutch appear to have an unusual fondness for putting six or seven consonants in the same word. While the English sound smarter with their accent, the Dutch just sound tired of using so many consonants. Maybe that's why they legalized pot smoking and gay marriage long before any of the rest of us. They needed something to look forward to while they were busy constructing sentences that were impossible to pronounce.

When in doubt, I usually just add "en" to the end of sentences, ie. Where is the toileten? It seems to work nicely.

I narrowly missed seeing Tom Cruise in Leicester Square last night. He was there promoting his new movie and I was there getting a last minute ticket to see Shadowlands -- the story of C.S. Lewis's great love affair. They made a movie of it, which I've never seen, but I'm sure it's Terms of Endearment for the Narnia set. The play was really good, and managed to keep me awake, despite the jet lag.

I'm like a fly strip for gay men. Took my seat in the theatre and discovered the guy next to me was a gay-as-a-lark travel writer from San Francisco. Really interesting guy. He was at the end of his month-long trip around the UK, writing stories for a couple of travel pubs. He's looking forward to Bush being out of office. Thinking Americans always are.

I wish Buddy could type. I'd love to send him an email.

Monday, October 22, 2007

London, baby!

Are English people really smarter than us, or do they just sound that way because of their accents?

Had a great discussion about the relative merits of English culture with my Canadian friend Sean and his German girlfriend, Sandra, yesterday.

Sandra made a delicious homemade curried parsnip and apple soup...which was so kind and completely unexpected, given she's caring for a four month old. Turns out she's into fundraising, too, which gave us plenty to talk about.

It was great to see Sean again. He's looking more and more like Dylan Thomas as he gets older.

They own a cute two-storey Victorian townhouse in the South London suburb of Nunhead (which is funny, in it's own way.) Their little pied-a-terre is worth about 400,000 GBP (more than $800,000) if you find yourself complaining about Canadian house prices. When they moved in, they had to install hot water heating. The place had NO heating.

Sean's spent a lot of time on their back garden -- time he should have been putting into his dissertation, according to Sandra. But I think this is the way graduate school goes. I joined a tanning parlour and dyed my hair a shade of purple with a product called Zazu, when I was writing my thesis.

Anyway, I'm currently in the lobby of our offices here -- in an area of the city called Hammersmith, on the banks of the Thames. Getting ready to do my presentation. Hoping to sound smart enough!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Shaking hands

This is me shaking hands with the man who is famous for shaking hands with the devil. Meeting Romeo Dallaire was one of the high points of my life. When it was done, and my co-worker had snapped the shot, I couldn't stop the tears. What a great way to kick off a trip that will include spending a concentrated period of time with people who are working for and in organizations that are trying to do right by our little blue-green planet.

Think We. Pass it On.

Today is International Me to We Day.

Me to We is a social movement. You can read more about it in the book published by those incredibly over-achieving kids, Marc and Craig Kielburger - the founders of Free the Children. It's about living our lives as socially conscious people, engaged in daily acts of kindness. It's about finding meaning in a material world.

EVERYONE I've met from Free the Children is full of the piss and vinegar of well-intentioned youth. They really believe they're the generation we've been waiting for. You've got to respect that kind of passion. When I was their age, I was watching 7 hours of TV a day.

Anyway, happy Me to We Day. Stop looking at your navel and do something nice for somebody else.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Blurr of Gratitude

About four out of five nights in the week, I cart my little iBook home from work.

Up until now, I've been using the the shoulder bag that work provided. It's standard issue and meant to be slung over one shoulder. Trouble is, the computer's heavy and feels even heavier the longer you carry it.

After many months of this, I was beginning to feel like my posture was better suited to playing crazy organ music in the rafters of Notre Dame.

Couldn't really imagine carrying my computer and my purse and enough clothes to last me two weeks on my whirlwind trip to Europe.

Enter KM. What an excellent researcher she is!

After I told her that I was looking for a bag -- and I really wasn't "looking" anywhere, I was simply talking about looking, which is what I do when I procrastinate -- Ms. K. started sending me links to suitably ergonomically designed computer bags. Cute ones, too.

She even, quite cleverly, suggested that I measure my computer to ensure that it actually fit in the new computer bag. (KM is an engineer. She thinks of these things. I simple look at the colour.)

Of the many she suggested, I decided on the one above (it's called Blurr) which KM, in her generosity, actually purchased at MEC for me...and delivered over coffee, yesterday.

Wow. Who does that?

She also made me laugh when she showed me that she had cut out a piece of paper the size of my laptop and inserted it into the backpack to ensure that it would fit properly. That's why we trust people like KM to build bridges, and we forbid people like me from owning power tools.

Anyway, I wore my cute little Blurr home last night, and to work this morning. It's fashionable and functional. And it makes me feel like an eight year old French school girl. This is not really a bad thing, since French school girls probably all smoke Gitanes and eye each other's husbands.

Anyway, word to KM. You really took the weight off my shoulders.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Early Adopters

I had dinner at my boss's house last night.

Shelley's husband, Carl, is an account director at our digital agency and a classic early adopter.

He's got a sparkling new i-Phone (downloaded some pirated software and broken the code so he can use it in Canada) and the most incredible home theatre system I've ever seen. They have actual theatre seats (complete with cup holders) and a HD projection screen, which makes the picture look larger than the VIP screening room at the Varsity.

In classic hyper geek style, we watched the beginning of Star Wars on it. Cue C3PO noise and light sabre swooshing.

So, after a glass of wine, he invites me to play Wii with him. Oh my god. No really, oh my god.

We played tennis, and it was like an actual tennis match.

I could get so addicted to this! Once I figured out the timing, I made him play me until I actually won a match -- it's the only child rule.

Wii could get addictive for me.

Once, when we lived in Ottawa, I could incredibly addicted to something called Apeiron. I used to fall asleep with my clicker finger twitching. Stephen finally had to delete it off our system or I'd still be playing it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

OK, I'm back....

Woke up this morning simply feeling grateful for the gift that is the new day. The simple pleasure of breathing in and out. The pink streaked sky at sunrise. The toasted goodness of my muesli breakfast roll, smeared with almond butter. It's almost never the big things that bring's the little things, strung together like Christmas lights.

I'm leaving on Saturday for a whirlwind European adventure.

Two nights in London, three in the Netherlands, five in Italy, and back to the UK for one before flying home. Business in every port but pleasure, too, especially on the gelato tour of Italy.

Look for EU blogging updates. I'll have my laptop and hopefully one of the 16 adapters that I ordered from the MAC store will work in one of those unruly European plugs.

Peace everybody.

Monday, October 15, 2007

First things first

Today I'm just putting one foot in front of the other.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Finian's Rainbow

I don't know what made me think of him.

When I was sick and working from home the other day, I thought of SL. I knew him for about 7 of of the 8 years I worked at CARE. We travelled together in Kenya. Partied together in Ottawa. He might have visited me in Australia. We even slept in the same bed one night.

Over the years, we've kind of lost touch.

Where aid workers are concerned, SL is the elite. You'll find him wherever the world is going to hell in a handcart. His specialty is complex emergencies.

After the genocide in Rwanda, SL was among a group of CARE aid workers sent to find the refugees. Yes, find them. Hundreds of thousands of people were lost in the Rwandan forests for days after the killing began. They were too scared and scarred to come out. When they emerged, SL was there to meet them at the border of Burundi.

He's lived in the Somali refugee camps of Northern Kenya, dodged bullets in Liberia, and reconstructed tsunami-ravaged villages in Bandah Acheh.

He's seen things I don't even like to think about.

We lost touch over the years, but I'd heard he was living in London. Maybe that's what made me think of him. I was preparing the presentation I'm giving in London in a few weeks.

So I googled him...and I found him. Not only that, he immediately returned my message with one of his own.

He's still doing what he does, but he's also getting his PhD in war history at the same time. Another of life's tortured over-achievers.

He's invited me to his South London home when I get in on Sunday. We'll catch up, and I'll get a chance to meet his four month old son, Finian.

The news about Finian just blew me away.

SL doesn't come by happiness easily. I guess you wouldn't in his line of work. But babies are, by their nature, a sign of eternal optimism.

Maybe there's hope for SL yet. I guess I'll see.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

One of my two favourite jokes

A couple - John and Mary - have a son named Rupert.

Rupert is perfect in every way, except for one. He's never uttered a word.

From the time the child was about three, John and Mary have taken him to a series of ear, nose and throat specialists, desperate to discover the source of their only child's problem.

On this day, the family has returned from yet another specialist.

John has his head in his hands. Mary is busying herself making hot chocolate.

"What are we going to do about Rupert?" she says, as she places the mugs before John and Rupert.

Suddenly Rupert pipes in, "This cocoa's cold."

"Rupert!" his mother squeals. "You can talk!"

And then, after a moment she says, "Why haven't you said anything before now?"

"Well, up until now everything's been okay," he says.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lard on a burn

My Mother considers illness a personal weakness.

She comes from the mind-over-matter school. This works well for some things (like anxiety, for example) and not so well for others (like acute lymphoblastic leukemia).

When she's not ignoring the illness, she employs a variety of non-traditional healing methodologies that have included putting lard on a burn (I'm really not kidding here) and my personal favourite: the hot drink. This consists of about 4 ounces of Crown Royal, a teaspoon of sugar and boiling hot water. Who knows if it works. You just wake up four hours later.

My Mom (and my grandmother for that matter) also claim to be able to stop bleeding, simply by thinking about the bleeder. (When I saw the French Canadian movie C.R.A.Z.Y., I couldn't believe it. This was my Mother's family!)

If none of these things work, my Mom simply gets mad at the patient.

Some people really miss their Moms when they're sick. Not me. My Mom used to make me go to school!

Anyway, I'm taking a sick/work from home day today. Hi Mom.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The lightness of being

It's rarely the big things in life that leave us awash with feelings of happiness and contentment.

It's a closet, well-organized, income tax - long avoided - finally completed and submitted, laundry done, folded and put away. I sometimes spend more energy avoiding than I do accepting. I think a lot of us do.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Evening - WTF

So I was all set for a perfect evening.

A glass of Diet A & W Root Beer, a few squares of dark chocolate (it has anti-oxidants, you know, and is therefore good for us), and a happy cat on my lap.

So I fired up the DVD player with "Evening" - a promising chick flick with a stellar cast including Vanessa Redgrave, Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close and Toni Collette. I thought it was a good cry waiting to happen. Meryl Streep was even in it, but I couldn't force myself to make it to her entrance.

It's one of those irritating films where they go backwards and forwards through time every 5 minutes.

We know we've gone backwards because everyone is smoking. People smoked a lot back there in time -- which probably explains why Ann, the main character, is dying in present day. All those cigarettes and highballs back in the fifties can take their toll on a person.

Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I was smoking and drinking, but it was hard to get up with the cat in my lap.

I was decidedly tired from the week, but I had a hard time keeping track of who everyone was. And, once I figured it out, I didn't really care about any of them.

Dull, dull, dull.

Anyway, I turned it off and went to bed, forgetting entirely that The L Word is on Showcase on Thursday nights.


Even at its worst, The L Word is head and shoulders above Evening. Now I wish I could go backwards in time.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

No end in sight

They advertised it as "probably the most important film you'll see this year" and they were probably right.

No End in Sight was the meticulously researched film chosen to open this season's Doc Soup documentary series at the Bloor Cinema last night. It is a searing indictment of the Bush government.

For those of us prone to long rants about the state of the world and the ineptness of governments in general, you'll find plenty to be disturbed about here.

This movie makes me want to invade Washington. Check it out:

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Finding my muse

Over the years of writing for a living, I've devised a few little tricks to help me along when desire or inspiration wanes.

These can include anything from beginning in the middle, to stream of conscious, to crafting and re-crafting the same sentence over and over again.

Mostly what helps is relaxing, since my best work always and unequivocally comes from a place of peace.

Along the way, I've also picked up a few totems that I can look to (or throw) when the big idea is still a glimmer in my eye.

There's the small pink flamingo I keep on my desk -- a gift from a Kenyan co-worker. He bought it for me on a work trip to Lake Nakuru in 1994 and I've kept it on my desk ever since.

Then there's the Buddhist paraphernalia -- a photo of the Dalai Lama, my Zen Day by Day calendar, an OM Mani Padme Hum banner (written in Tibetan) and a postcard (which many years ago was an ad for IBM) featuring a giant bolder and a group of Tibetan monks staring at if willing it to move. I'm sure it did...immediately after the photo was taken.

Directly above my desk is the shrine that Barb and I erected while she still worked here.

There's the picture of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt -- Shiloh be thy name. Simply by virtue of being the progeny of Brad Pitt and springing from the loins of Angelina Jolie, Shiloh is subject to worship.

Also in the shrine there's another shot that I love. Barb's indicated on the shot that it's her on the left (in the superstar sunglasses) and me (quite rightly) examining my navel on the right.

I love this shot for a lot of reasons, but primarily because it looks like Barb and I have been working together since infancy.

The truth is that Barb and I work together so well because neither of us has ever completely escaped childhood.

My voice mail message at work says, "I can't take your call at the moment. Please leave your name, number, a detailed message and tell me something you've never told anyone else and I'll return your call."

Barb is the ONLY person who always tells me that thing she's never told anyone else. I've found out a lot about Barb this way.

Everyone needs a muse like Barb. So I give to you, a little of what Barb gave to me yesterday.

Don't say I haven't warned you. The Peanut Butter and Jelly Song.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Double double

Tim Hortons is the Vatican City of Northern Ontario.

During my 2.5 days in the Gateway to the North, I took my Mom out for coffee about 5 times. We never visited the same Tim Hortons twice. If you're looking to meet anyone in North Bay, for any reason, chances are you'll head for your local Timmies. I think the build the drive-thrus a little bigger, too, to accommodate the four wheelers.

In case you're wondering, this is our standard order. Small black with sweetener for my Mom and cream and two sweetener for me. We also split three old-fashioned plain Timbits between us. There's something oddly comforting about this routine.


Let's send our most positive thoughts to the besieged monks of Burma. Courage my friends.