Thursday, September 29, 2011

Newfs and stuff

Over the years I've noticed that every country or culture has another country or group of people they deem inferior to them. Without fail.

It's often in jest. It's like the rest of Canada and the Newfs. Or how Australians view Tasmanians.

I was talking about this phenomenon at lunch today and my colleagues ran away with it.

The Spaniard went on a long rant about the Portugese, which she followed by extolling the stupidity of a a tiny village in Spain where the local crop is strawberries.

The French woman went off on the Belgians. There was a lot of nodding about the Belgians. Apparently this tiny country of three distinct cultures and no common ground hasn't had a government in nearly year because no one can agree.

The Irish lad said that within Ireland the Kerry man is as low as it gets.

Then the Dutch woman started in on the Germans. Apparently they've never really forgiven them for Anne Frank.

She told us that one of the only jokes she can remember -- and see if you find this funny -- is this: "The Germans stole my bicycle. I wonder if they're ever going to bring it back." You know if you need to go back to 1945 to get the punch line that things are pretty ingrained.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Day in the Life

When they put global in my job title, they really meant it. This was how my day went.

I came in this morning to find a string of communication from India. I went back and forth with my colleague in Delhi, commenting on her fundraising program there and providing some guidance on creative. After a meeting with my boss at 9, where we went over the various country office priorities and he mentioned that he'd like me to join one of our New York colleagues on a film shoot in one or maybe two countries in SE Asia before the end of the year, I met with another colleague to discuss an opportunity with our Belgian office. Beautiful day, so lunch on a bench facing the duck pond at The Botanical Gardens across the street. Then back to my desk to compose a note to France and Sweden, requesting their assistance in translating some concepts we'll be testing in a number of countries. Don't forget to copy the UK on that correspondence and be sure to keep The Netherlands informed. Enjoy the banter between my English boss and our French colleague in Paris as they rekindle the long standing Ango-Franco rivalry. Assure them that they both wouldn't last a day in mosquito infested Canada.

Then some concentrated writing time with a focus to our global impact. What other organization can claim to have the means and the expertise to globally eradicate polio I ask you? Then fielded a last minute request to join a conference call with The Netherlands tomorrow before grabbing my backpack and getting on the bus back to France.

Life is good.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bust a move

It's possible that there is someone in Geneva who does not yet know that I've found a place to live but if there is, there's a good chance that that person is on a ventilator or, having been raised by wolves, is unable to communicate in the usual ways.

Yup. I'm pretty happy about it. I'm getting the keys on Friday.

It looks like I'll be camping out with a few borrowed odds and ends for a few weeks until my shipment arrives, but I don't really care. I'll just be happy to be in the same place for awhile. Sleeping in seven different beds in the last 30 days is beginning to take a toll on me. I need to nest for a bit.

Now I get to plan exciting things like negotiating which cable package bundle to choose - a task made all the more magical by doing it in a second language.

I'll need to buy a TV and a microwave. And I might even splurge out on combination washer/dryer (who knew such a thing existed) so I can avoid the stress of my laundry period. But the thing I'm most excited about is buying furniture for my deck. I plan to do a lot of sitting and staring at mountains.

If I'm patient, I can find some of the necessities second hand.

We have access to an active intranet site where Geneva's largely transient population sell their nearly new goods at rock bottom prices. The secretary in my department and her husband got a BMW for about $500 because the diplomat who was selling it left it till the last minute and was happy to get whatever he could for it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What genius?

What genius thought it would be a good idea to serve Daal to the vegetarian passengers on Air Canada flights? That's just what my pressurized bowels need while spending nine hours strapped to an airplane seat.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Heaven on the Seventh Floor

Yesterday I won the Geneva equivalent of the lottery. I got an apartment.

It could very well be a most ordinary apartment, but in my mind it has reached almost mythic proportion.

I certainly didn't get it alone. Hiring an agent - especially this agent - was the smartest thing I ever did.

He got us into Shangri-La first, and worked his magic behind the scenes to ensure that I was the preferred candidate.

He also made a series of kooky demands because he knows what it takes to land digs in this town. That is why the sweet taste of victory also belongs to the collective good energy of my agency friends and a former client who wrote letters of support. You know who you are.

So here's what your good energy got us, friends.

It got us a completely renovated one bedroom apartment on the top floor of a modern building in the heart of Geneva. It's about a 15 minute walk from my office. It's about five minutes to the central train station. About ten minutes to Lake Geneva.

Location, location, location.

The apartment is so recently renovated that we viewed it while the work was going on. New kitchen, new bathroom, new floors. No closets...but this is Europe. Closets ruin the aesthete. But there's a sizable storage locker in the basement.

And there's more.

It has a fireplace.

And there's more.

There are two decks, one of which has a beautiful view of Mont Blanc and the Alps. That's right, sun rising and setting on mountains.

And there's more.

It will be available in a week.

And there's more.

In a city where I could get 3000 Swiss Francs for a chicken coop, the apartment which I have been so fortunate to get is...wait for controlled!

Are you kidding me?

My agent sprang this delightful surprise on me today, when I was signing the lease. The apartment will cost me half of what I had budgeted for accommodation.

Philippe was clearly as delighted as I was. He made me promise that if I ever left that apartment, that he would sublet it. He knows it is a steal.

Now here's the thing that I have not said to anyone.

I get the keys to this beautiful apartment on October 1st. This was my Dad's birthday. And it was also the day he died.

I think he was helping me, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Workin' It

A few interesting facts about my new life in Geneva:

After years of working in an incredibly young work environment, I realized something the other day: Now I'm working with grown-ups.

There's a protest nearly every day in front of the Palais des Nations. They're usually orderly affairs but, if they are significant enough, we get a security briefing.

The executive assistant in my department both looks and sounds like Sofia Vergara.

This is Europe. People think nothing of standing inside a bus shelter while smoking.

It isn't unusual to hear conversations in at least six different languages on the bus in the morning.

Geneva has a reputation for being boring. When I asked my co-worker what the best thing about Geneva was, he replied, "The airport and the train station."

George Michael is coming in October and I can't find anyone to go with me.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eat your heart out

I've noticed something quite remarkable since I started working in Europe. People take their lunch breaks. In fact, people frequently take a full hour for lunch.

Perhaps this is why my co-workers looked at me strangely the first time I opened my lunch at my desk and started to eat while working. It would appear that this just isn't done. In fact, one of my co-workers was aghast that I would even consider eating alone.

"This is Europe," she said, "we eat together."

Our cafe is the heart of the building. When we're not eating lunch, it's a favourite for meetings.

The cafe is generously kitted out by corporate donor IKEA and serves the finest quality organic products. All that with a view of Lake Geneva from the terrace.

Every day offers two lunch specials - one meat, one veg - and a host of delicious sandwiches on crusty bread, a salad bar and at least 20 varieties of chocolate. The morning sees fresh croissants and pain au chocolat and there's always a dangerous selection of ice cream.

One of today's lunch choices was lake perch with basmati rice and mixed vegetables, topped with fresh herbs and chanterelle mushrooms. It was fantastic.

All the more fantastic because five of us from the department headed up to enjoy it together and lingered over it without rushing back to our desks.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kiss Kiss

There's a lot of kissing that goes on in Europe. The French call it gros bisous.

Yesterday I saw two distinguished businessmen meet in front of the Palais des Nations, greet each other an "Allo, mon ami", and then go in for a big double snog.

Try that on Bay Street.

Next time you're renegotiating your mortgage, butter up your broker with a gros bisous on the way in.

It doesn't really work outside Quebec. Ours is not a demonstrative nation.

Around here, where you're from determines the number of kisses you're likely to plant, too. The French go for two and the Belgians go in for three.

I think someone does four. Probably the Spanish or Italians - just because they seem to really know how to live.

The whole kissing protocol is knew to me, so I never really know how many to kisses to give or for how long. It can be dangerous.

I've come perilously close to knocking myself and others out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A few interesting facts about living in Geneva.

For apartments with communal laundry facilities, you're assigned a time for washing when you move in. That time could be 2 to 4 on Thursday afternoon. It's inflexible. People arrange with their managers to work at home on laundry day or dash madly out of the office to make it home for their window.

There are signs posted in apartment buildings requesting that men sit down to pee between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to avoid disturbing their neighbours.

If you see, like and can afford a large apartment, there's no guarantee that the landlord will rent it to you. They sometimes refuse tenants because they think the apartment would be better for a family.

Most apartments have few or no closets. IKEA does a thriving business in storage units. Often the criteria for renting an apartment will be to assume the previous tenant's IKEA purchase.

Tenants take their light fixtures with them when they go.

Three months rent is standard for a security deposit. Rent for a one bedroom runs somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3,000 CDN.

A storage locker is called a cave in French.

When applying for an apartment, you need to prepare a dossier. This includes copies of your passport, your work permit or an Attestation from your office, proof of three month's rent, and a third party letter of reference. They've yet to request a DNA sample, but I'm guessing it's because they haven't thought of it yet.

Lots of people live in France and work in Geneva. There are borders to the north, south, east and west of the city. When you cross the border, the currency changes from Swiss Francs to Euros. Only once in three weeks has an immigration agent boarded the bus I was on to check for papers. You need to carry your passport with you all the time.

My office has a spectacular cafe on the top floor with a cappucino machine, wrap around deck and a view of Lake Geneva. Also, they serve Ovaltine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Let's Book a Meeting

Our Lotus Notes system is shared with the entire network of offices. So, if you're not careful, you can book a meeting room in Baghdad. I'm told it happens all the time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New in town

I like to celebrate the small domestic victories of day to day life in a my non native country and language.

Things like negotiating a money-saving bus pass that will get me from my temporary home in Ferney-Voltare to every corner of Geneva.

Or the fact that I've found a baker with whom I can negotiate for half a loaf of delicious, fresh bread, knowing full well that a full loaf would become a brick before week's end.

Or the discovery of possibly the only 7 day a week late-opening grocery store in the entire region at the airport train station. Clearly no secret to the dozens of internationals I found happily shopping there on Sunday, a day when the Swiss go into lock down. Sunday is like Christmas minus the presents around here.

There's nothing quite like moving abroad to remind you that the way we do it, and imagine that that is how it's done, is rarely, rarely how others do it. Every day brings a load of new discoveries.

While I know how stressful that changing jobs and countries and lives is for me, I can only imagine what it must be like for families with children.

Here at the apartment hotel, I'm sharing the experience of being a new arrival with plenty of others who've made their way to this international hub from every part of the Globe.

Even thought I've only been here a couple of weeks, I find myself watching them unravel of the secrets of buying a bus ticket (trust me, the ticket machine looks like the dashboard of the space shuttle), have their pictures taken in front of the United Nations and slowly discover the thousand ways that this new life is so very different from the one they left.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Break out the cone bra

Finding a Cuban restaurant in Bratislava that serves a great Mojito is one thing. Finding a Cuban restaurant in Bratislava that serves a great Mojito beside fashion icon Jean Paul Gaulthier is quite another. What a wonderful life this is.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Great Apartment Hunt, Part Deux

I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but in some things I'm a fast learner. And here is what I've learned. Finding an apartment on my own might just be a job that is bigger than me.

The effort required to locate, book an appointment to see, locate on a map and finally visit a given apartment pales in comparison to the actual jockeying that occurs once said lodging is finally viewed.

I visited a place on Friday night. The landlord told me that viewings were between 7:15 and 8:30. I arrived a bit early - closer to 7 - and saw an African woman waiting outside the door. I took a chance and asked her if she, too, was waiting for a viewing. Turned out she worked for the same organization I do, and had for the past 30 years.

She's on another floor and our paths hadn't and maybe wouldn't have crossed for some time. Yet, there we were in competition for the same place.

Frankly, if anyone was worthy of actually winning the popularity contest that constitutes apartment hunting in this city, it was her. Her last posting was Baghdad. The one before was Rwanda. I think she deserves a nice place to live.

But deserving doesn't seem to matter -- at least to the 30 or so people who filed in for a viewing while I was there. That's right. 30 people. And, it goes without saying, the apartment wasn't even that nice.

So I took myself out for dinner and made a plan.

I've bitten the bullet and engaged a relocation agent. His name is Philippe. He's blessedly eccentric and comes highly recommended from my colleagues

It's a pricey option but is, I'm told, a guarantee that I'll find something quicker and, presumably, nicer than I'd do on my own. It still might be a wild ride, but it's bound to be more fun with Philippe in tow.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Citizen of the world

I've been here a week and I'm pretty sure the only legitimate Swiss person I've met is a guy I used to work with in Toronto.

Maybe once you get out of the vicinity of the building with all the flags and into the countryside, you'll find more yodeling and lederhosen. But this place is a magnet for people from all over the world.

Today a guy from West Africa stopped me to take his picture in front of the Jet D'Eau. You could tell he was as pumped by the whole thing as I was.

Stuff gets done here. Important stuff. And it's pretty cool to be even a tiny part in it. I think we both felt it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Great Apartment Hunt

What do you get for $3,000 in downtown Geneva?

I saw my first apartment tonight and the answer is decidedly, not much.

Less than not much, actually.

My first viewing was a largeish, 5 room apartment wedged above a dry cleaning shop and a pub. It was remarkable for being wrapped entirely in scaffolding, since workers were busily adding two additional floors to the building.

Like that'll be quiet.

So the search will continue.

In other news, I saw my first Saint Bernard. Should have asked it to find me an apartment.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Swiss Miss in Francey Pants

For the next week or so I'll be living in France and working in Switzerland -- a situation made all the easier by the proximity of the thriving little community of Ferney-Voltaire to the relative metropolis of Geneva.

From what I can tell from yesterday's market day, Ferney's 8,500 inhabitants are engaged solely in the business of baking bread, making cheese and crafting different varieties of tapenade. In short, they are good people.

Plenty of folks working in Geneva-- most of them EU residents -- make living in France a full-time thing, primarily because the cost of living and the cost of goods are so much less expensive here.

How much less? Let's just say that it wouldn't be unusual to spend $30 CDN on a salad for lunch in downtown Geneva.

This is one of the reasons why I'm glad I rented a studio with a little kitchen. That and the fact that having a kitchen allows me to troll the markets and grocery store aisles for new products -- one of my favourite things to do. I already have a new favourite brand of yoghurt.

Yet when it comes time for me to secure my own place, I'll need to look around the cantons of Geneva -- even though the cost of a one bedroom apartment will easily set you back $3,000 CDN a month.

I've already been warned. Geneva's .02% vacancy rate and captive audience of bureaucrats makes for slim pickings in the rental market.

There are often multiple applicants for the same unit and each applicant need submit a dossier containing proof of salary, a note from their employer and letters of reference. I'm thinking of adding a picture of my cat and a bag of Twizzlers.

Send good apartment vibes. I think I'll need them.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Moving on up

This blog is about to get interesting. Well, at least I hope it is.

On Monday I'm moving my Mom into a retirement home while I get ready to move myself across the world to the land of yodelling and dark chocolate to work for the organization with all the flags.

It's a big deal.

But anyone who know me, knows that getting to this decision has been one of the hardest things I've ever done.

I've been presented with my made-for-me dream job during a nightmarish time with my Mom. Middle stage Alzheimer's isn't for sissies. It's the biggest lesson in patience I've ever been taught.

Yet, no matter what I choose, it's not going to end well for my Mom. Staying here won't halt the inevitable, though it might ease it some. Moving her into a retirement home would have happened soon enough anyway. She can no longer handle even the most basic decisions.

Still, despite plans to return every 4 to 5 weeks, leaving the country fills me with such guilt.

Surprisingly -- or maybe not -- some of the most comforting words of reassurance have come from my hairdresser and the mother of a girl I used to work with. Funny how wisdom comes from different corners.

Somehow their perspective, their objectivity and their compassion have penetrated my anxiety and have helped me move forward, when I'd really rather wedge my head between the sofa cushions and weep.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

La La

The person I lived with, laughed with, loved with and finally fought with for four years died last night. She was 47.

You'd think since I write for a living that I'd have something simple and profound to say, but I have nothing except this song from one of her favourite singers.

The Tip

Just so you don't think that Alzheimer's is all loss and pathos, it can be funny, too.

Take my mother cornering her priest at the back of the church, handing him 5 bucks and saying, "Here. This is just for you. Buy something for yourself."

I love that she's tipping for services rendered.

Friday, May 27, 2011

When love comes to visit

So it turns to my Ma is in the mid stages of Alzheimer's Disease, too. This after the one-two punch of a severe heart condition and a brain tumour.

I'm re-discovering Alzheimer's ugly truth - that you lose the person you love long before they leave this earth. But I'm also learning that it can intimately acquaint you with love in forms you never thought possible.

If my Mom remembers one thing, I hope it's this.

Love is how I - a committed vegetarian - found myself making meat loaf for her, because I know she likes it.

It informs how I gently remind her that we need to take off all her clothes to take a bath, then stay with her to her soap up, because personal care is one of the first things to go in the middle stages.

Love makes me open the cupboard and quietly throw the food away because she's forgotten that that's what a fridge is for.

Love is what I feel -- well, love and the nervousness of a parent whose child is off to her first day of school -- when I arrange for her to spend Fridays in an adult day program for dementia patients. And pride is what I feel when she comes home brimming with excitement because she has made new friends who are "ordinary people." Translation: people just like her.

My Mom already forgets when I was born. Sometimes she grabs my arm and says, "My daughter" when we're out. I think it helps root her.

But I know the day is coming when she might forget who I am. I hope love comes to visit then, too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happy Lights

I have to admit to a gushing infatuation with my optometrist.

Aside from being ladylike in the Audrey Hepburn manner, she's tremendously intelligent, compassionate and caring. We often get into quite serious conversations about life, the universe and everything while she's staring down my coke bottle corneas.

Yesterday our talk turned to the weather. Okay, not serious, but the weather as it relates to mood.

You see, we've had a lot of rain and dark days around these parts recently. Several of my co-workers have admitted to feeling unusually depressed.

Seems that many optometrists, who spend their days in dark rooms, regularly suffer from seasonal affective disorder. It would be hard not to feel like a mushroom with your blinds drawn and the lights off for 8 hours a day.

That's when my optometrist pointed to her Happy Light. Twenty minutes with the right UV light can be an effective anti-depressant.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Well, the man known as The Dark Lord among some of my Facebook friends won a sweeping victory in last night's election and is back for a third term in office. Stephen Harper was third time lucky with a majority government.

Despite a mini groundswell of opposition from social media, sites like Shit Harper Did seemed only to preach to the already converted. While "Can this onion ring get more fans than Stephen Harper" got 158,781 fans, only 37,014 people were interested in debating the facts.

Whether it's true or not, the vast majority of Canadians appear to credit Harper for helping us sail through the global economic crisis mostly unscathed. And those that didn't, seemed more than willing to give Jack Layton and his platform of positivity a shot.

One thing's clear, there's going to be a Liberal leadership convention before too long. Michael Ignatieff's Liberals haven't had this few seats since Confederation.

The conservatives, whose campaign posters read, "Michael Ignatieff: He didn't come back for you", must be thinking, "He didn't come back for you. But he's leaving because of you."

Monday, May 2, 2011

No news is good news

Things are not going so well with my Ma these day.

I've been worried about her for some time now. Even moved her closer to me so I could keep an eye on her. But her memory has been fading, her mobility is growing worse and her personality has been changing.

Several appointments, an electrocardiogram and an MRI later, we finally have a diagnosis.

My Mom has severe aortic stenosis -- this is an obstruction of the blood flow across the aortic valve. But this isn't the only thing the tests found. She also has a brain tumour.

Each condition individually is quite serious and would require surgical intervention but together, with the added complication of her age (78) and Type II Diabetes, her doctor isn't very optimistic that surgery is even an option. While he's offering to refer us to cardiac surgeons and neurologists, he says that neither would operate on one condition without the other, which makes everything entirely riskier.

So....not good news at all.

The only up side of any of this is that my mother can't really comprehend what's happening to her.

She doesn't understand the diagnosis at all. In fact, the doctor said to her, "You remember the last time you were here and I told you not to eat so many cookies." She nodded yes. "Well," he said, "I think you can eat as many cookies as you want."

So her big take away from diagnosis day was: "The doctor says I should eat more cookies."

Sometimes the universe protects us.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A girl named Lionel

I've got another book for you but don't let the subject matter scare you off.

I promise you that it's the kind of book you call in sick to stay home to read.Or maybe not, once you see what sickness gets you.

Novelist Lionel Shriver, born Margaret Ann Shriver, has written an oddly life-affirming work about disease, dying and the obscene cost of medical care in contemporary America as seen through the eyes of searingly real and complicated characters.

The novel takes an unflinching look at love and loyalty in the face of almost-certain death...which includes our own, of course.

The protagonist, a likeable guy by the name of Shep Knacker, has spent his whole life saving and building a business with one goal in mind: the Afterlife. He's spent a large portion of his working life counting down the minutes until he can retire and move himself and his family to a cheap third world country where he can live like a king on a pittance.

Tickets bought, he's about to tell his wife it's now or never when she announces that she's just been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

The very best thing I can say about this book is that it's not remotely sentimental. You'll cry, of course, but not because you're manipulated into doing so. This isn't Brian's Song.

Shriver confronts the grim truth of mortality with brilliance and humour. And I promise you at least one moment where you'll say "Oh my God!" out loud to an empty room.

Don't be afraid to pick this up. Guaranteed good read.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What about love?

Love Etc. finished the Doc Soup season last night. The film followed five engaging love stories over the course of a year in New York City.

Young, old, gay, straight, single or married for 48 years, -- every story had a common thread: the search for and cultivation of love. When this film is released -- which I hope it is -- I hope you run out and see it.

I'm not one to be quoting scripture, but the stories reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13. If you're not the believing sort, you've probably heard it read out at weddings. The couples and singles in the film seemed to embody the verse at various stages. Here it is if you need a primer.

Love is patient,
love is kind and is not jealous;
love does not brag and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own, is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness,
but rejoices with the truth;
love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

The film reminded me of Young@Heart in its celebration of the heart truths of ordinary people and the things that bind us.

But, I haven't even gotten to the best part of the night, which was this.

It being the Bloor, the first seat I chose was broken. When I found an alternate, the woman I sat beside started chatting with me, then paused and said, "Didn't we live beside each other in Cabbagetown?" Yup. I sat beside my old neighbour. After the Doc, when audience members were invited to ask questions, I recognized a voice. It was the guy from work who I replaced at a radio record yesterday.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Life Brand

I recently reconnected with an old high school friend on Facebook.

We went to the same Catholic girls school. Our lockers were fairly close to each other and we shared the same home room for a couple of years. She was a terrific volleyball player.

We lost touch over the years, though another high school friend who stayed put in our northern Ontario town, gave me periodic updates on how and what she was doing.

When I was recently in Ethiopia, she emailed me to let me know her daughter was working at a medical clinic in Uganda.

Over the past few weeks, her status updates have grown increasingly more concerning. She's mentioned a variety of medical appointments, a diagnosis and a pre-op booking. She thanked all her pals for their support.

So yesterday I emailed her privately to say that while I didn't know what was going on, I hoped it wasn't serious and I was sending her my best wishes.

Turns out it's serious. Very serious.

After having felt distinctly unwell for the past 6 months -- pins and needles, frozen to the bone -- she received a diagnosis of Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy in February. It's osteoarthritis in the neck that causes pressure on the nerves and the blood supply.

Since her diagnosis in February, her symptoms are progressing.

She can't straighten the baby finger in her hand and has had an acute disk rupture in her back. Movement is becoming nearly impossible.

After consulting a neurologist in Toronto, she learned that if she didn't have surgery, she'd be paralyzed.

She wrote, "One thing I have learned through all of this is that you truly never know when your quality of life will be altered, so treasure your good health while you have it."

Her surgery is today.

Please turn your eyes upwards our outwards and say a little prayer for Robin.

Monday, March 28, 2011

How it's done

Since I travel often, and often to places other people avoid, I've long since been a fan of Trip Advisor.

If you're looking for a room in Nha Trang, chances are someone has something interesting to say about a cute little spot on the beach near the fishing boats or, more importantly, where you'd be best to leave the light on in the bathroom to keep the roaches at bay.

In the spirit of karmic payback, I regularly write my own reviews when I return from a place.

That's why I was interested to receive the following message from the CEO this week after hackers compromised some of their data. It's COMS 101 -- admit your mistake and move on -- but it's done particularly well. I'd be interested to know if they had any feedback on it. My favourite lines: "The reason we are going directly to you with this news is that we think it's the right thing to do. As a TripAdvisor member, I would want to know."

To our travel community:
This past weekend we discovered that an unauthorized third party had stolen part of TripAdvisor's member email list. We've confirmed the source of the vulnerability and shut it down. We're taking this incident very seriously and are actively pursuing the matter with law enforcement.

How will this affect you? In many cases, it won't. Only a portion of all member email addresses were taken, and all member passwords remain secure. You may receive some unsolicited emails (spam) as a result of this incident.

The reason we are going directly to you with this news is that we think it's the right thing to do. As a TripAdvisor member, I would want to know. Unfortunately, this sort of data theft is becoming more common across many industries, and we take it extremely seriously.

I'd also like to reassure you that TripAdvisor does not collect members' credit card or financial information, and we never sell or rent our member list.

We will continue to take all appropriate measures to keep your personal information secure at TripAdvisor. I sincerely apologize for this incident and appreciate your membership in our travel community.

Steve Kaufer
Co-founder and CEO

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reading to my inner child

My parents never censored or augmented my reading, so I grew up with fairly eclectic tastes.

Recently, one of my co-workers gave me a copy of Bridge to Terabithia.

It's one of the young adult novels I missed while I was likely reading the entire Happy Hooker series.

If you haven't read it, run out and get yourself a copy. For one thing, I guarantee you a good cathartic cry. I also guarantee a renewed appreciation for conveying complex concepts in simple terms. It's an art form -- like this nearly perfect sentence:

Sometimes you need to give people something that's for them, not just something that makes you feel good giving it.

Or this:
It's like the smarter you are, the more things can scare you.

Maybe all this perfection is why Bridge to Terabithia won the Newberry Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for Children. And it's probably why several generations of children -- and adults -- have responded to the timeless truth of its words.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't believe your own hype

I have to admit to being partial to seething insecurity over ego any day. It's just so much more pleasant to build someone up than to try to bring them down a peg or two.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ultra Sound Off

I thought ultra sound technicians were taught not to reveal anything about the test you were having while you were having it.

I guess the technician doing my Ma's electrocardiogram missed that class. Which might explain why she went on to talk loudly about finding her blocked aorta, speculating about the severity of the blockage and marveling that she hasn't (yet) felt any pain.

The technician also repeatedly remarked about my Ma's "big boobies". Nice talk when you're dealing with a 78 year old woman.

There's no telling what all of this means until we have the benefit of the family doctor's analysis to pull everything together. There are other tests before that happens -- including the unenviable task of getting my Ma to pee into a tiny cup.

Good times. Good times.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I've been thinking a lot about work/life balance recently. What free time is worth to me.

Over the past year, the number of billable hours I spend at the office has increased along with the non-billable hours I spend checking my hand-held.

I've become that girl.

Mobility is great, but it's created a culture of instant gratification junkies. Where your email sits beside me on the couch on weekday nights, pierces my Sunday morning, and joins me on vacation.

Workaholism is a socially acceptable addiction. In fact, it's encouraged.

This morning, on my walk into work, I was thinking about the guy who invented the atomic bomb. Story goes that once he'd invented it, he spent the rest of his life working for peace.

Just because we can, doesn't mean we should.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

God is in the details

I spent eight and a half hours in an editing suite yesterday. We're in the process of creating a 60 minute DRTV spot. And, I should hasten to mention, this isn't even the only job on my plate. Cue the sound of the world's tiniest violin.

Creating something of this scale is really an endurance contest. It's like running a marathon -- you need to keep your energy and your wits about you because, the second you lose focus, the whole thing could go to hell in a handcart.

Considering all the time and effort that goes inito producing movies, it's really a wonder how so many bad ones get produced. R

Sunday, March 13, 2011

And Everything is Going Fine

Long before there was reality TV or bloggers or people largely making a living out of being themselves, there was Spalding Gray.

This New York performance artist, was founder of the Wooster Group, actor and storyteller of epic proportion. He is perhaps the finest storyteller of his generation.

He managed to make a fairly lucrative career out of turning his life into a series of monologues.

If you haven't seen it already, you need to plant yourself in front your big screen TV and watch Swimming to Cambodia. Even if you haven't seen The Killing Fields, you'll find plenty about Spalding to be interested in. His timing is impeccable. I guarantee he'll have you hanging on every word.

I've followed him for years -- read or seen all 19 of his monologues. Read his novel, Impossible Vacation. And mourned his untimely loss when, after a slow and painful recovery from a car crash in Ireland, he ended his life in 2004.

That's why I was particularly moved by yesterday's screening of "And Everything is Going to Be Fine." Steven Soderberg undertook the task of splicing together a lifetime of archival monologues, interviews and home movies.

This is a film for Spalding junkies, like me. There's no outside voice to make sense of what we're seeing. There's no context for his considerable legacy.If this is your first introduction to him, I'm afraid you'd be lost.

But i loved it.

It allows us a rare glimpse into the private life of a very public man.

Seeing rare interview footage of Spalding with his father, pictures of his mother or home movies of Spalding exulting at his son's antics feels a bit like being invited into JD Salinger's house.

We've always imagined what it looked we're seeing it for the first time.

Everyone in yesterday's showing at the Bell Lightbox stayed until the final credits were over. I wonder if they all miss his voice as much as I do.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Buy your own damn kleenex

I seem to be the only person in my department who buys their own damn kleenex. And, judging by the speed with which it declines, many of my team members seem to be suffering from serious sinus issues.

While generous by nature, I find this pretty irritating.

If you've ever been a smoker, you'll recognize the type. The cigarette borrower. This is the guy or girl who claims not to be a smoker when, in reality, they smoke about about half a pack a day....of your cigarettes.

I'm not going to say anything. Nothing at all. But as the next wave of cold and flu action hits, I have a special gift for everyone. Hot pepper flakes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thanks for the memories

It's becoming increasingly clear that my Mother is suffering from dementia.

She had a doctor's appointment yesterday and I had complied a list of some of the troubling behaviours she's been exhibiting.

It's hard not to feel like a heel while rhyming off a litany of transgressions like:

Forgetting significant events in her life -- including my (her only child's) birth date.
Withdrawing large sums of cash for no reason.
Greeting complete strangers like friends.
Forgetting how to cook or that she's eaten at all.
Forgetting to collect the mail or leaving it unopened.
Forgetting how to do simple things like use the television remote.
Putting things in the wrong spot -- like opened soup in the cupboard.
Having difficulty carrying on conversations, often staring blankly into space.
Forgetting friends and phone numbers that she's known all her life.
Losing sight of me in the grocery store parking lot, and waiting patiently...behind someone else's car.

Unmarried and childless, I sometimes wonder who'll advocate on my behalf when I'm my Mother's age. It would be too easy to take advantage of someone like my mother. She has become a 7 year old in a 78 year old's body.

I mentioned this to my best friend and told him he'd better be ready. I'm getting all set to become a burden on him.