Saturday, September 16, 2006

Two exemplary days from my week: Tuesday - badminton at the Knox Presbyterian Church, Wednesday - sushi and karaoke on Bloor. There's lots of fun to be had here, if you're looking. The big event was Pemma's birthday, and with a smattering of her co-workers and some Waterloo-ites, things got a little crazy. Daif? Say you were to walk into New Generation and hear "For she's a jolly good fellow?" That was us.


New Generation Sushi, Toronto


Karaoke, Korean style

There are more pictures over at oceanpark... with an evening that ranged from "In Da Club" to "Under Da Sea," "Do Re Mi" to "Downtown" (and a free-stylin' "My Sharona"), I promise you, none of them are embarrassing.

*******

In addition to hunting down as many places to play racquet sports as possible, I'm also looking for a choir (or two) to sing in. I'm still occasionally struck by all the options. In some ways that old schism hasn't gone away--big city versus rural country--but I love how Toronto is redeeming itself. Each time I move to a bigger city I empathize a little more with "those people" who in the past have learned that I am from Elm Creek (population: 325) and burst out with "but what do you *do* there?" Not much, I guess! But there are those "even in Toronto" who are looking to connect with people, and not just things.

More to the practical point, I'm working like a fiend, and positively loving it. My contract at the Princess Margaret Hospital has me writing software to help clinical pharmacists make changes "at the bedside" to the medications prescribed by a patient's doctor. They may read this, but the people I'm working with are smart, driven, and laid back, which is one wicked combination in a place to work. Technology in healthcare is pretty exciting at the best of times.

*******

And in the "food-for-thought" category (aka "lots of big words"): Biology Under Attack by Barbara Ehrenreich, a cell biology PhD. who pulled an Orwell (passing as a low-wage worker) with Nickel and Dimed in 2001. The article only really gets going about halfway through: search for "arrival of the intellectual" if it you want to skip to the good stuff. Granted, you probably have to care about "social theory" and not take the implication that "religious creationism equals dogmatism" too personally.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

And the ball stops rolling... right here, this very moment: baked potato in the oven, steak on the grill beside the corn cob, "The Boy Least Likely To" on my headphones, the computer resting beside my camera and a copy of "Napoleon: A Political Life" (so sue me, I read _Les Mis_ on the way to Halifax and now look at me--non-fiction!)...

And I'm a software developer at the Princess Margaret Hospital living and working in downtown Toronto.

You have to remember, I'm still in Lithuania. Not physically of course, but I continue to be blindsided by it at odd moments: passing certain senior ladies, turning the corner to find an Eastern European boutique selling tight jeans and printed sweaters (the salespersons' accents surprisingly comfortable), and meeting a plethora of Ukrainians and Belarusans where I never would have picked out that "w" in village before. This is funny because Ali is recently back from Bangladesh, and she's busy sniffing out every salwar kameez within fifty paces. We make an odd pair, strolling down Yonge street, trying to take it all in.

Earlier this morning, I could have looked you straight in the eye and told you it was June. It's not. Ali landed in Toronto on July 9th, and after some quick transition time we hit the road to Halifax for her friend Drew's wedding. The trip was over too soon, but I loved the introduction to Peggy's Cove and the Nova Scotian countryside (...and Victor Hugo ;-] ). For those of you in the know about my own personal P.E.I. curse, well, still unbroken: I have not as yet graced those reddish shores. But the trip was worth it nonetheless, and my multi-lingual nostalgia was refreshingly assuaged by our very own Quebec. I may still occasionally get Upper and Lower Canada confused, but hey! Canada has a history! (Note: this is apparently good to remember when living in Toronto, as you may suddenly find yourself on the border between Little Portugal and Little Argentina during World Cup action, where (as in most of the city) the ratio of foreign flags to Canadian is 99:1... and the rest say "Go Leafs Go." :-] )

So I still find myself reacting to the city in various ways, but surprisingly (not so?), many of them are positive. Foremost among these happy things are the job and living arrangements that I've managed to procure (or have procured me?)... but perhaps a little more background is an order.

As you may remember, I spent May and June pouring time and stress into the job search amid the guilty pleasures of a reunion tour. Silly me: everything was waiting for me the whole time--I just didn't know it yet! After drawing blanks for almost two months, sometime around the end of June I decided to drive to Toronto and hope for the best... no real plans beyond a list of phone numbers. After a brief side trip to an extended-family picnic at Happy Rolph's petting zoo (...don't ask :] ), I showed up at the doorstep of one "Justin Liu," my trusty backpack and equally trusty ThermaRest in hand. He welcomed me in and said, "Hi. By the way, you have a house and a job."

Long story short: I had interviewed with Justin's team at the Princess Margaret back in May. I didn't get the job, but on the interim a new one-year contract had come up--and they'd already interviewed me once. So by the time I opened Justin's door, all I had to do was sign the papers. Oh, and Justin's housemate had just decided to move out, which is how I found myself moving into a new place, mid-lease, the day after I got back from Halifax and the day before I started my new job.

So, one (or two) humbling miracle(s) later, I'm settling into life in the eye of the metropolitan storm: The Annex, a quiet neighborhood just north of the University of Toronto, right smack in the downtown T-Dot. No one GTA and outward seems to believe me, but it's really nice here. I'm splitting the upper floor of an old Victorian with Justin--the second-floor balcony is ours:


157 Admiral Road.

In addition to this, my walk to work takes me through quiet streets shouldered by some positively wonderful old ivied houses--


on the way to work...

as well as some decidedly Torontonian backdrops:


a little further on.

All told, not a bad introduction to the place! And that's a snapshot of the pieces :) I don't have any furniture yet; I've been running around parking my car everywhere I can find a nook; I'm balancing groceries and paycheques and wish-lists until I can find my feet. But what little money I have left after Lithuania is the direct result of the generosity of people who believed in my being there, and this gives me a profound respect and thankfulness for where I find myself now, however long I stay.

Now I just have to start adding in a few evenings: soccer (Zwei LinkenFuss? If Dave ever goes?), ultimate, maybe a choir with the legendary Steve and Louise... and life is building towards a glowing autumn--though at 50 degrees Celsius after humidity it's clear summer isn't over yet (of course, in *Tennessee* it might as well be February ;-] ).

My humble apologies to everyone who has been trying to track me down recently--the phrase of the year is definitely "off the grid"--but one of these days I'll get a phone number and try and do something social again. Until then, feel free to drop by 157 Admiral any time between 6pm and 10pm weekdays, any time at all on weekends. I may still be sleeping on a ThermaRest, but I can probably spot you a couch. :)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

So after assorted travels and many family and friends, I have officially landed in Toronto. Soccer today I hear... do we refuse to let the rain cow us?

Since I clearly need a break already, it's up to Ottawa for Canada Day, but on my return I think it's time to find a place to settle in. I'll write more once work and home are finalized.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wow, I haven't had that much sports fun in a long time. Oilers with the overtime win in Game Five: a beautiful thing. Sometimes the simple stuff is just so great.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Off the grid. On the dole. On the road. Couch-crashing. Jet-lag. Consecutive all-nighters. Sunflower seeds. Fields and the big sky. Photos of Lithuania. Missing it. Loving it. Oh the joys of Canadian beef and barbecue. Heck, multitudinous family and friends too.

For all those fine people who have not (yet) recently suffered through the stories and scheduled interruptions of a visit by yours truly: a brief Mayesian synopsis. It's been pretty much ups, downs, and turn-arounds, but I think things are finally starting to settle out.

*******


The Leave-taking

Yes, May 1st, and my final sight of Klaipeda, already three kilometres behind me. I left first thing in the morning with Jen and a few other faculty members; we took the van to the Vilnius airport, flew from there to Frankfurt (where I had met Jerilyn on my way in), and then it was time to board the international flight back to Canada. I'm usually only nostalgic long after the fact, but I'll admit I was forlorn like a puppy and taking many pictures. Then there was the moment of truth, wherein I nearly broke loose with my credit card and went for it... but who could pass a sign like this without being just a little tempted?


Cue blindfold, pick.

For those as yet unfamiliar with my tale of woe, due to government bureaucracy, a bum radiator, and some unforeseen health issues (not my own), I found myself jobless, carless, and homeless on return. Bievenue a Canada! But I've always been blessed with good friends, and I still had my trusty pack... so I scraped together my remaining twenties and was off to Waterloo. Very strange taking the bus, I might add.


Not Waterloo

Wait, that's not Waterloo! No, the above crazies are Rose, Nathan, and the indefatigable Vaughn at the Sherwood "cottage" (pictured in the background... long story). And that was only one weekend among many in Waterloo, Toronto, Beamsville, Winnipeg, and Elm Creek--playing ultimate, Settlers, poker, "talk-all-night," "drive-very-far," and "not-sleep." Sheesh, talk about a reunion tour! Needless to say, the rest of May was a blur, and my editor says to cut the details.

But it was great! An honest count puts me up over well, many friends, all willing to eat something, talk, and maybe run around a bit. I couldn't have asked for a better return to a country still coloured by the filter of last year--people, I sincerely appreciate your caring friendship. And for those of you truly starved for stories, well, Vaughn has a rational account of one among many of the month's adventures--this one concerning the latest in an illustrious history of 20+ hour drives to Manitoba... just don't believe everything he says :)

*******

So now I'm gathering my wits in the guestroom of my parent's house, finally able to unpack my stuff and put it in a real closet after almost a year, falling in love with Manitoba all over again. The stresses are different here, you know? The last week has been back-to-the-grindstone job hunting, so reality has once again been met, but I've also had a few just-abouts... and one of these times something will stick. I still plan to throw everything in the back of my (now fixed!) car and head Toronto way in the near future (i.e. next week), so if you know of a place to either work and/or sleep for the next year or two, please let me know!

Plus, if I haven't visited you yet, send me an email; I'll see what I can do. The list already includes Grand Prairie, California, Colorado, and Tennessee... what can one more city/province/state/country hurt? Exactly. Peace out team! I leave you with art a la Sherwood.


Etching

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Home again, home again, jiggity jig. Good times all around. A few hours to Vilnius, a few hours to Frankfurt, a few hours to Toronto, and suddenly Grandma's putting thirds on my plate and I'm waking up at five in the morning to plan my next lesson. Except it is suddenly, blissfully, already done. All of them. For months.

It's a good feeling :)

So instead I'm just easing back into the familiar. Have to find a job, a house, and a charcoal BBQ grill (mmm... all-beef patties) somewhere in the next two weeks, but it's all good. True to rumour, I found myself surprised by little things on the return: the guy wearing a cowboy hat, the guy wearing socks 'n Birkenstocks, the lady behind the service desk who smiled and spoke English... habits and pieces of a former life in a new light. But with the rest, relaxation, and dangerously high, no, MENNONITE levels of food going on, things feel pretty wonderful. Rejuvanating, really.

I'll get things sorted out in a bit, i.e. internet access and pictures, but until then, yup, I'm safe, yes, I really do miss everyone, and sure enough, saltibarsciai would taste so amazingly good right now. Course, I also don't have to clamp a ticket or make up some sort of pantomime (or butcher a third language) in order to russle up a bit of supper due to the vacant fridge. And today, that's O.K.

So I'll be back around here in a bit. Hope spring is finding you well, and that the switch to new stuff etcetera--should you be finding yourself in such a situation--is going swimmingly.

ciao,
jp

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ten short days.

For those of you not up to counting, that puts my flight home on April 30th--yup, I set foot back on Torontonian-Canadian soil at 7:45pm (ahhh... 12-hour time). I'll forgo all the usual "this seems surreal," but if you could assume for me that it's there? Many other things remain to be done, of course, but that's April for you.

The plan is to be BBQ'ing and eating non-ketchup-tasting pizza somewhere around Southern Ontario for the summer. I have a few job leads, but nothing definitive... maybe Ottawa, likely the T Dot or Waterloo. So please, if you know of someone I could interest in a resume (the Penner Special), drop me a comment or an email. I've got soft. dev. and information management (tech. writing) down... but will switch career paths for food. Okay, not quite, but I might be interested.

Also, I hope to visit you at least twice and snatch a frisbee from out your grasping hands times innumerable. Plus, if you mangle sentences as badly as I've begun to, we can be friends.

Back to work, but keep Canada warm for me, eh?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Whoa, something to blog about, and it just kind of happened to me.

All right, so this post is going to be personal, as in, you might learn something about me. Sorry. But recently I've been working on this new plan whereby I try to do work all of (well, most of) the time, and "save up" my pointless internet exploration... for Friday afternoon, during which the (morally and lawfully legal) sky's the limit. It's fun! I'm done classes early, I usually just want to turn my brain off anyway, and it means I can waste time productively!

...or something. Right, so it's amazing how boring the magical interweb appears when you sit down and say "begin." But that's kind of the point, and besides, despite your best efforts, one or two collaborative bookmarking sites will usually be enough to get you going. With the imposition of a few ground-rules, like "no repetition" to avoid infinite time sinks--for example: clicking through pictures, posting comments (anywhere), and pretty much any kind of news but especially the odd surreal weird (life will continually outdo our ability to keep up, and yes, I spent a year reposting fark entries [can't promise the ads are tasteful--ed])--you can find yourself in some pretty interesting places, reading some pretty informative and interesting things.

Of course, Sir Net is the king of niches, and so anything I reveal here is going to "niche me," but I've already warned you about this so away we go:
  1. Start with a standard, eternally-making-the-rounds article, usually a reprint from 1993, often the type of straight-forward satire piece that stands the test of time:

    How to Deconstruct Almost Anything

  2. Marvel at the smooth writing, the witty perceptiveness, and the peculiar relevance of the intersection of literary criticism and computer engineering (here we go already!).

  3. Take a moment to find something to disagree with for superiority purposes (e.g. "clearly, the author fallaciously overgeneralizes literary criticism from an overtly reductive view of deconstruction"), note the irony, then accept the author's olive branch of "fine, there's some content in literary criticism." Nod with satisfaction at the successful completion of yet another brush with what could have been a conflicting worldview.

  4. Pause, get a crazed "I used to be in CS" look-in-your-eye, then hack the planet by removing parts of the URL to bring you to the main page, and *then* navigate through the (clearly pathetic) homepage until suddenly you find yourself at *that* talk about cyberspace, from (even earlier!) 1991, and realize, stunned, that his resume backs up every word.

  5. Spend some delightful minutes reading the rest of his opinion pieces, realize that once again someone has been you before you got there, and resolve to give up both the internet and your dreams for the sake of something more immediately tangible.

  6. (Upon return to reality, raise doubt in yourself as to whether you might not have already posted this before... vive la Derridean differed meanings of differance!)
Anyways, I know I've just made most of my audience cross their eyes and roll them at the same time (impressive!), but this kind of stuff *is* my druthers, and I'm now an official Google reader subscriber to The Habitat Chronicles, because who doesn't like statements like "our intuitions involving identity break down in the face of the scale of global civilization and the technological affordances of the Internet" (the promised part II of A Contrarian View of Identity)?

Regardless, if you didn't enjoy with some sort of primordial glee the depths of "Godel, Escher, Bach" (should we really have to link things anymore, especially when odds are someone's already biased it into Wikipedia?), you can relegate this "Chip" and, indeed, my entire post, to the land of overinflated internet ramblings.

Though if it's Friday afternoon, you may as well make yourself comfortable.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

I know... I've been remiss. Although I wonder: since the dawn of blogs*, how many entries have begun with apologies? A flaw in the medium? The carpenter and his or her tools?

That's right Jared, spread the blame.

*******

So here's what's on my mind. You may not be aware of this (especially those of you who aren't geographically here right now), but Lithuania shares a border with Belarus. Belarus is currently in the throes of the re-election to another five-year term of one Lukashenko, and though the ballot is over, it was to a great extent rigged. Now everyone has to figure out what to do and think about that.

Some question the effectiveness of the resulting active protests of the opposition party. What's the point? It isn't going to change anything! Others deny a problem exists: one Russian newspaper has a quotation from a Lithuanian daily (Respublika) entitled, "The Byelorussians Do Not Want Freedom."

Even though these events are close at hand, I find myself an outsider: I know students with friends who are being arrested (Suzana especially is being quoted for her thoughts), and the conversation swirls among LCC staff and faculty (Mark, for instance, points out an American NSA press statement), but I myself have no direct connection to the conflict.

*******

In fact, in terms of current events, I am likely more closely linked to the news that several members of a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation kidnapped in Iraq were recently released, though one of the hostages, Tom Fox, was tragically executed (see the CPT press release). I have several close friends (Natasha, Chris) who have participated in both short- and long-term CPT delegations, and find myself irresistibly drawn to the arguments surrounding the use of non-violence in the context of Iraq.

On this front, my friend Vaughn points out two more editorials: Cal Thomas suggesting that the death of Tom Fox was useless because the odds of change without violence were "zero to none," and the anti-violence response of Dave Miller, a CPT member in Hebron at the time of the kidnapping.

*******

Frankly, I often find it hard to see my way through the dust that gets kicked up around political issues. Frustration and apathy are not just a temptation (or someone else's flaw), but an honest, valid problem that often colors these conversations for me (perhaps providing a necessary function at times?). More to the point, the manipulative arguments and constant rehashing of the obvious exhaust me.

But to not enter the conversation in any way is, in my opinion, to shirk responsibility. And that's what connects these two events for me--the protests in Belarus, CPT's peace-building in Iraq: I think it is important to take steps toward what you believe in, whatever the odds or limits of the effect. Not blindly, but with as much of an awareness as you are able. Not to change the world, but simply to stand up for your place in it.

I personally have a profound respect for Christian Peacemaker Teams. And I believe the protests in Belarus showed laudable integrity in the face of a possible escalation of violence.

*******

Over and around these things, my time here continues to be both stretching and rewarding :) The LCC board of directors met this past week, the still-in-the-process-of-being-created tradition of the "Parade of Stars" roared by on Friday (Anna and I were the hosts), and the business department continues to wrestle towards the resolution of LCC's accreditation goals. Also, a few extra classes this week (no hard feelings Jerilyn, but I'm coming after you ;) and the epic adventures of Rushdie's Midnight's Children (20th Century Literature) await. Plans for May remain up in the air, but hey, maybe a Frisbee is up there too.

And finally, March break pictures, in which Adam Feiner and Mike Turman cross the Big Wet to take on Vilnius, are up over on Flickr. Stories within stories, but at least the slate is clean again.

Hey, who *is* that guy?


Mike at Forto Dvaras

Monday, February 13, 2006

Latvian Bobsledding

Eurosport has been covering the Olympics with traditional media excess recently, and with some spare time and a television together in my apartment over the weekend, my sense of connectedness with the world has reached unparalleled heights. Perhaps because of this new, zen-like state of being, I remained unphased as the luge broadcaster confidently filled his audience in on the "secret training facility" (he used those words) that Russia constructed in Sigulda, Latvia, in 1986. Instead I replied, with a British accent of my own, "Yes, well, from my *own* personal experience, I would have to say that the bobsled section of this particular track is, well, short, but technical, and not without merit despite a certain lack of je ne sais quois."

Though I suppose my experience may have differed somewhat from the Olympians'.

*******

You see, the weekend before, Thor, Jerilyn, Sarah and I rented a car and made the trip to Sigulda to see the bobsled track for ourselves. Upon arrival we became privy to the effects of "luge inflation"--a.k.a. "screw the tourists." As a result of these effects, there were two models we could choose from: the "real" bobsled, or the... luxury model. For 21 Lats less ($45 CDN), we could take the, well,


Our Bobsled.

Not that this puppy couldn't fly like a wildcat, but I have to say I would have preferred the orange one. Now, some might argue against the authenticity of our "wild speed adventure," but hey, the laws of economics are made of sterner stuff than you or I. Thor *did* strategize his way through to a third option... luckily, we managed to stop him before the security guards had to.


Thor, unleashed

Unfortunately, even though I stealthily took a video of the entire one minute, nine second affair (causing my right hand to reach temperatures of near absolute zero), I traded the long hours required to figure out how to post that sucker on Blogspot in and emailed two friends instead. You know who you are. And yes, I'm still behind. Keep 'em coming.

*******

But one does not travel to Latvia for one minute and nine seconds (unless one does). No, we stayed the night and saw what had to be seen! And actually, our lodgings turned out to be just as cool as the bobsled track.

Get Thor to tell you sometime about his first experience with this hostel, and I promise you will come away with a sense of harrowing dread. The story includes--not a word of a lie--a stormy night, a power outage, a cablecar, an axe-wielding groundskeeper, children screaming, and an open steel door with signs reading "QUARANTINE." During the day, however--and for the duration of our trip--things are much more serene. In fact, at first glance, you likely wouldn't think "hostel":


Wait, is that a hostel?

And indeed, you would be partially right, because the dormitory rooms are on the first floor of a children's rehabilitation center. The Krimulda baronial estate provides long-term clinical care for children, in addition to housing paying guests for cheap. What this meant for us was a wonderful stay, with a beautiful view over the valley, and a hearty breakfast which we shared with the other inhabitants. A plucky bunch, it must be said, with some of them mighty fast on their crutches:


Our Fellow Guests

The entire area surrounding Sigulda is itself definitely worth the visit, with caves, castles, and some guy who has a ski slope in his backyard complete with half-pipe and a groomer. It was getting a little cool outside (-32 celsius, my camera batteries lasted exactly fifteen minutes), but we took our time exploring the ruins and pathways at a brisk walk. Plus, after bartering our car rental company into giving us another day, we spent an afternoon touring Cesis, the second-oldest city in Latvia (the first stone castle getting started in 1206), and the birthplace of the Latvian flag.

*******

Another fine adventure had on a bit (okay, a lot) of penny-scraping and some canny interneting--a short weekend long on good times. We stopped by the Latvian cities of Jurmala and Leipaja on the way home, and generally had ourselves a grand old time eating pepperoni and stopping by the odd makeshift, backwoods snow-rally. And that was pretty much it.

Oh yeah, and we went to Estonia for supper. I'm not exactly sure *why* we're holding up mustard, a gravy cup, and a coaster with the Estonian, Spanish, and Latvian translations of important phrases including "Would those lovely ladies at the table over there like to join us?", but we are. Enough said.


Cabman's Pub, Valga, Estonia

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

So here's how it went:

21:33 - arrive home, unlock door, enter, shut door, lock door
21:34 - remove shoes
21:35 - enter bedroom, remove outer jacket, remove inner jacket, store keys/wallet
21:39 - enter bathroom, brush teeth, resolve to floss, fail to floss, exit bathroom
21:41 - open fridge, remove iced tea, close fridge, open cupboard, remove glass, close cupboard, pour iced tea, open fridge, remove elephant giraffe, remove elephant, replace iced tea, close fridge, drink iced tea
21:42 - grimace, swish, spit
21:43 - place glass, greet couch, stretch
21:47 - stretch
22:03 - stretch
22:10 - yawn
22:12 - notice "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" on the coffee-table and despite a will of steel and certain knowledge of impending doom throw caution and sleep-related responsibility to the wind and resolve to read the back cover
01:02 - finish book, finish iced tea, finish blog entry, call it a night

And that's it really. Didn't quite stay up all night, but I can recommend the book, which is by Mark Haddon, and which is a fun read with just the right hint of sentimentality.

*******

You know those Mensa intelligence tests? They always make me feel dumb when I stall out on question three (usually something about UGAINA and whether it's most likely a river, city, or plant) and then have to go lie down because my head hurts. Intelligence is kind of a funky thing that way: "what does it mean really?" and all that. But I came across this other type of Mensa Test the other day and it was kind of fun. Besides, it called me a genius (26/33) and who doesn't like that? Of course, the next day they put up Part 2 and said a bunch of things about cultural bias and now I'm just a "sharp mind (probably a genius)," which is internet testing for you. Anyway, it's fun with words, so if you're into that sort of thing, enjoy.

*******

I realized yesterday that I've been away from Canada for just over 5 months already. It's extraordinary how much your perspective shifts. It's not that I've been dramatically enlightened by the experience... but I do feel looser, as though some things have come undone that I didn't know were there. A loss of certain cultural points of reference. An outside look at Canada's "footprint" on global events. It's enough to reassure me about my place here, to let me finally shake off the rust of the transition and get down to business.

A Conservative government? We'll survive.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Austria indeed. So now I'm left with the uneviable task of unburying myself from almost one full month of unanswered email, among other things. The end of a landmark semester, Christmas, New Year's, and the start of another term have all come and gone, carrying with them the people and places in between. I could almost let it go at that, considering the pull of looking back and the pull of looking forward are almost at an equilibrium here, today, on January 23. Though I believe I've promised a feature-length presentation. Well, a highlight reel will have to do. In thirty seconds, the ghost of Christmas past:

Christmas 2005:


Christmas 2005

Travelling:


Two travellers

Prague:


Charles' Bridge at Night

Austria:


From an Austrian Train

Schloss Mittersill:


The Schloss Street Boys - Rowing Away

And... done! Which pretty much covers our adventures, during which Ali came to visit on her way to Bangladesh, and during which we spent many hours folded up into bus seats in order to see as much as possible while spending as little as possible. All in all, a quality holi-dee.

*******

But wait, what about the action? What about the part where Ali finishes her job in Toronto in mid-December and with an ocean to conquer decides to do it all in one valiant run? The part where I wrap up a semester with muted heroics of my own and after a week in Lithuania, we cast off on a valiant expedition to find the lost castle of Schloss Mittersill (a Christian retreat centre in Austria) via Prague? Because I remember that part! It's cinematic brilliance! Prague is fascinating! Victor, our Canadian Study Abroad co-conspirator, buys absinthe! I buy chips! Ali buys--wait, Jared and Victor are already leaving! So much for the Christmas market!

Right. Well, go watch Speed again. Because learning about what to do in a hostage situation is more important than the fact that New Year's at a castle in the Austrian Alps is a lot of fun (and you weren't there). Because it turns out that Ali has all kinds of "family connections" with the peeps at Schloss Mittersill, and so with style and panache we could turn up our aristocratic noses as they rolled out the red carpet...

Fine, so mostly we just slept, ate, read by the fire, and spent some quality downtime (including Uno on steroids) with fascinating people from all over. There was also one, carefully calculated, precisely precisioned day of downhill skiing; the weather could not have been more perfect. Transportation to and fro went a bit awry, but what ski-story would be complete without an elderly non-English-speaking Austrian ski instructor and a hitched ride long after dusk?

*******

Yes, the whole shebang was glorious. And for cake-icing, a heavy Austrian snowstorm conjured delayed trains, a bonus day in Vienna, and another bonus day in Warsaw. In truth, Warsaw was a bit of a bleak return after the sunny days we spent at the foot of the Alps, but despite this, the older sections of town were well-worth our somewhat freezing and abbreviated walking tour:


Warsaw, Poland

And then it was all over, and we were waking up at 4:30am to drive Ali to the airport in Latvia and I was teaching classes with "English" in front of them instead of (well, as well as) "Business" in front of them and students were asking me who Michel Foucault was and grades needed to be changed and people were starting the first season of "Lost" again and Ali was landing in Dhaka and I was hitting snooze for the seventh time and suddenly we were four time zones and sixty degrees celcius apart and no, I still haven't answered your emails yet. Sorry about that. (It sincerely does mean a lot to me, and makes being so far from the comfort of the familiar just that much more possible.)

*******

So yeah, a great couple of weeks. Looking back, that first semester was a great experience: stretching at times, extremely educational (on both sides of the academic fence, I hope), and full of great people. Looking forward, I'm really glad I'm here for a second term, and with a schedule that isn't quite so "ow it hurts me," I'm looking forward to staying up past 10:30pm every once in a while. Though connecting that number with "bedtime," even only mentally, still makes me wonder at how much can change in a couple of months. Which is why I'm staying up all night tonight and blogging my experiences real-time. Wait for it...