Obviously an old post…
Ah, the time-honoured tactic of writing to put off a far more unpleasant task– in this occurrence, packing.
There’s really not that much to pack. My mosquito net, my umbrella, three pairs of shoes. A year and a half on the road is hard on clothes. I have only four collared shirts left, for example– gave two away, spilled bleach on one and decided I hated another. Only three t-shirts– I had five, but two mysteriously disappeared. Only three pairs of trousers– gave one away, ruined another sliding down a concrete monument in Albania and cut off another after one leg was ripped off at the knee by a protruding gutter cover in Bujumbura. I decided I didn’t need four blazers– I kept the teal one and one of the black ones. Of course I picked up some clothes and souvenirs (an Albania car flag, a lei from a raki-soaked club night in Tirana, the carved bird Dieudonné gave me) along the way, but on the whole I embraced mnimalism.
My supply of books has also been greatly diminished thanks to my Burundian friends- all I have left are a copy of Kapuscinski’s “Autoportrait d’un reporter,”, my TEFL school textbook, a few phrasebooks and my Russian and French pocket dictionaries. I debated having the Russian dictionary shipped back, but I’ve taken it everywhere with me since I was 15, so it’s more a lucky charm than a resource.
There are a couple of scarves, belts and little treasures– a rock from Juno Beach, a Canadian flag my mother got at a secondhand store and very thoughtfully kept, a beaded ring that was a gift from Pierre, a painted rune stone my friend Jonas gave me before I went to Russia, a carved glass champagne flute I bought in Russia with Lena–it was actually part of a set of three and our friend Heather has the third one. A few posters that have been on the wall of each of my flats since I was at Carleton University residence. My “Tournée du chat noir” post-it-notes that were also a discovery of my mother’s. A tattered printout of a picture of Lena, Heather, our friend Irina and I in Kronshtadt, Russia. A photo of me hiking with friends in Chicoutimi, Quebec, another of Antoine, Marilyn, Greg and me besides Lake Tanganyika.
My friend Sophie shipped a few things back from Berne– my coat and boots, my drum, dishes, extra pairs of shoes, that sort of thing.
The only thing that’s clearly increased in number since I left Ottawa is the number of postcards; I’ve collected dozens. Athanase and Pascal got into them not long ago, like kids ripping off wrapping paper.
“Look, there’s Marseille! Pascal, look, London! That’s Lake Tanganyika… Is this building where the President of Canada lives? Where’s that?”
“That’s Tirana. A really wild city– you never know what to expect in Tirana. It’s not all that different from Bujumbura, you know, there aren’t any traffic lights in Tirana either!”
“Really? I thought bazungu loved traffic lights.”
“What is this?!”
Then I found myself in the position of explaining Course camarguaise to Burundians…odd to say the least.
A 3D postcard of Course camarguaise runners leaping over the red barrier to get out of the way of a raging bull…
An aerial view of Tirana, the huge Skanderbeg statue surrounded by red, orange and yellow buildings, a socialist realist surrealist skyline broken by the occasional minaret
An old postcard from 1951 that I found at a flea market in Berne– St. Petersburg, looking out at the Neva from beside one of the rostral columns– strange bright red obelisks with a nautical theme
Montreal at twilight
Les Arènes de Nimes
Bow Lake, Alberta. A postcard I bought at a little roadside reststop when I was making my epic cross-Canada bus journey from Ottawa to Kelowna to take my internship at the Courier. That was only about two and a half years ago, but even then I could not have imagined that I’d be where I am, now.
A postcard from the Amadou and Mariam concert in Basel that I went to with Adrian.
A postcard of a bull release in St Jean de Vedas, near Montpellier
St. Mark’s Church in Zagreb with its famous tiled roof, the seal of the city and of Croatia in vivid colours
A nativity scene postcard from Provence. “We give them away free to children,” said a nativity figure seller. ”
“And to children at heart?” I said.
I got the postcard.
A postcard of a lavender field in Provence that I got as a thank-you gift for writing a piece about modern art in the local expat magazine. My other two pieces were about beer brewing and Course camarguaise.
White Camargue horses frolicking around in the field
Postcard of a dancing gypsy from Stes Maries de la Mer, a small village on the French Mediterranean coast that is a world capital of Gypsy culture. Went there with Rob.
White Tara postcard from the Museum of Buddhist Art in Gruyères. Quite possibly one of the most serene places I ever visited during the whole adventure.
A postcard Stella gave me, with a Swiss Army knife slicing cheese and chocolate at the same time. It’s sad that we never went out for that glass of wine entre copines.
Flamingos from Camargue
Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles
Aigues-Mortes– a fortified city an hour or so outside of Nimes that I visited with Frédéric. Although we didn’t do much more than wander the streets and duck in and out of shops, that was a lovely day.
Park Guell in Barcelona, a brilliantly coloured mosaiced wall looking out over a surreal gingerbread house chalet.
A miniature mad scientist’s lab, and a monk painting manuscripts, from the Doll ad toy museum in Basel, Switzerland. The intricacy of the dozens of dioramas there would make your head spin.
Aerial view of Bern.
The sprawling medieval fortified city (bordering on tourist theme park) of Carcassonne. Roger took me there…
Sarajevo ’84 replica poster that I bought at the Olympic museum in Lausanne with Katherine from work. We went there to see a Canadian folk music concert, but decided to go at 11 in the morning and ended up walking around Lausanne, having a fantastic picnic by the lake, going to the Olympic Museum, having wonderful gelato and going pedal boating!
“La Fondue”- postcard I picked up somewhere in Switzerland, with a recipe on the back. Makes me think of the motorcycle trip with Adrian and the snowy evening we spent in the roadside inn dipping our fondue, which was heavy on the kirsch. When we pulled off the road we were frozen and famished; after a few bites of that we were the opposite.
Postcard from Normandy of a boat on the Atlantic, which I had the full intention to send to Chantal but just…didn’t.
Ticket stub from the Musée africain de Lyon (with a great collection of West African art). I decided to stop in Lyon the day after I visited Professor K in Mâcon. Ended up getting picked up at the hostel by a Moroccan girl whose friend was a stand-up comedian. Khadijah and I laughed for hours–I remember her ex was a Jewish lesbian who voted National Front– took me out to the show, and the next morning showed me around Lyon, especially the open-air book, art and food markets along the river. Sadly, I lost her email address, and I figure she lost mine as well.
Postcard with all the sights of Normandy. I wanted to go to Mont St-Michel, but Dad was entirely unmoved by that idea.
The false port of Arromanches, D-Day, Normandy, 1944.
Postcards from one of the modern art exhibitions I covered in Sète…an otherwise nude girl running through a field covered in a sheet.
A vintage postcard of the village of Gruyères, which I visited with Lena.
Black Camargue bulls in the field. Reminds me of the expedition to interview Guillaume the bull breeder in Saintes-Maries with Rob, and the fantastic meal of bull steak and bull sausage we had afterwards. And those mussels, ooohh…
A postcard of a public square in Havana, which Stella sent me as an advance welcome-back present.
A vintage postcard of the Jungfraujoch glacier, snow-covered even in July.
A vintage postcard of Lausanne, the artist has painted the city reflected in the lake. I got this the first time I went to Lausanne, with Erin.
Postcard from 1967 of Red Square, the queue outside Lenin’s tomb, and Gostinny Dvor in Moscow. On the back is handwritten, in elegant Cyrillic, “Memory of Moscow.” How it wound up in a flea market in Bern, only the flea market spirits know, but it goes a little way toward replacing the pictures of Lena and I in Moscow that I lost.
Another vintage postcard of the Jungfraujoch, which I had the full intention to send to Yves, but didn’t.
Postcard of the rolling green hills of some lost interior village of Burundi. Part of the Christmas present Pierre and Professor K put together for me.
The Latin Bridge by night, Sarajevo. Gavril Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand just next to this bridge, shoving Europe down its inexorable path to World War I. Sarajevo is a mix of Turkish, Communist and Central European influences, and some parts of it– I remember a beautiful, perfectly formed, snow-covered yellow mosque– are beautiful enough to take your breath away. I wish I had proper pictures of that city.
From the bottom looking up, Sagrada Famila cathedral, Barcelona. The columns that Gaudi designed look like trees– life-size trees carved in ivory. A cathedral and a majestic forest– you can see why people often compare the two.
A matador, in a gold outfit with heavy shoulder pads, about to put a big, black bull out of its misery.Not in Spain but in Arles. I got this the day Rob and I went to see the bullfight.
The port of Marseille by night.
A postcard from the early 20th century of the bright green Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, which currently houses the Hermitage Museum. I got this at the flea market in Bern, to remind me of a sight I used to walk past every day.
Postcard from an Afghan art exhibit at the British Museum. A present from Claudine, who writes: “I just want to tell you how sad I am you are leaving and proud of what you have undertaken; i’m sure your dedication and compassion will take you far.”
Postcard of the screaming neon sign of the Caveau de la Huchette jazz club in Paris. That was a memorable New Year’s Eve.
The dragons of Ljubljana.
Caen, the largest city in Normandy: Dad and I used it as a starting point for our D-Day expedition. A war-era picture of young soldiers standing next to the sign that marked the city limits. “Welcome Our Liberators.”
A multicoloured postcard reading “No to Homophobia” in Albanian. Picked it up when interviewing sources at the gay and lesbian community there; one of my most treasured souvenirs, I’d say.
Vintage postcard of Geneva. I had a handful, but sent most of them to Frédéric, who collects them.
Me, with my mother, in Aix-en-Provence, the day before Christmas. Posing next to a donkey which has a dog standing on top of it. We are street art.
Postcard of a mountain goat photo-bombing a picture of a glacier. On the back, encouraging messages from Claudine, Simon, Madame Aissatou and her daughter, Katherine, Robert, Sunny and other colleagues.
A funny postcard Sophie sent me out of the blue, with a Toblerone on it.
Ticket stub from the World Figure Skating Championships in Nice…
A crazy postcard of a dragon sculpture from the Museum of Naive Art in Lausanne. Another unforgettable legacy of the adventure with Erin.
Flowery, borderline erotic postcard from the only real lesbian club in Barcelona. I’m glad I didn’t have to explain that one to Pascal and Athanase.
Boats in the harbour in Sète. Also a picture of Brassens on this postcard.
A postcard of the Van Gogh painting of a café in Arles by night. I don’t know where I got this and I know I’ve been cartrying it around for ages…perhaps since the trip I took to France while I was in Russia.
Ticket stub from the bullfight I went to with Rob in Arles. It was especially for younger fighters. I remember the 21-year-old female matador, whipping black ponytail and determined look on her face, glittering outfit with gold shoulder pads, the twists and turns of her body feminine and masculine at the same time. I remember thinking afterwards…what is going through the head of a person who devotes his or her life, so much time and money, to something so individualistic. Doing what you love is noble, I decided, just as noble as doing something that helps the people around you…noble because so many people settle for neither.
And that’s not even all of them….