Monday, April 28, 2008

The Other Man


Some women spend ages complaining they have no man in their life. If they'd like to give me their contact details I would be happy to provide them with one. I have a spare, you see. There are 2 men in my life here in London. One is my lovely boyfriend. I don't write much about him because I can't think of anything bad to say. Gushing never makes for good writing. It's far more interesting to read about the misfortunes and weird antics of others. So, for the sake of my readers, I turn my attention to 'the other man' in my life, my flatmate.

Almost 31 years old, tall, with eyes so dark you have a hard time finding the pupil, my Peruvian amigo embodies the essence of all things Latino. I should know, I've done a lot of research on the Latino man... fieldwork mostly. I first met him 5 years ago in Strasbourg, France. We went for a beer one afternoon after class and he proceeded to tell me about Peru. "You know, Cait," he said, "my grandfather was the last of the Incas." I was very impressed.

"Really?" I asked, eyes wide with appreciation for his heritage.

"No," he replied, laughing, "not really. My God, you gringas will believe anything!" Our friendship began there.

Four years later we discovered we'd both be in London for our Master's degrees. We decided to live together. That decision has made this year much more interesting than it would have been had I taken a place in the university residence.

It is a bit like living with a child. He doesn't cook for himself, and has to be reminded of everything. He has a terrible tendency to say exactly what he thinks with no filter between his brain and his mouth. When I came home from Christmas in France, decidedly a (teeny) bit more rotund due to gorging on cheese, it did not escape his notice. "Dude, what did you do with my flatmate?" he asked, pointing at my small belly, "did you eat her?"

I had hoped to improve my Spanish with him around. But he won't teach me properly, and now we speak a mixture of Spanish and English. A 'Spanglish' of sorts. I remember trying to ask him to help me extend my vocabulary. I pointed to the small crocodile on his name-brand shirt and asked, "Cómo se llama esto en español?" His response?

"Lacoste."

He sings in the shower. Mostly Frank Sinatra, or whatever song happens to have inspired him from the night's dancing before. It is loud and off-key, but it makes me smile.

He is very charming, and usually has more than one woman after him. Some of them send him chocolates, which he gives to me. He doesn't really like chocolate... they obviously don't know him very well.

But I know him. I know he is possibly the only Peruvian to dislike spicy food. I know that he dances like a gringo. I know that he uses my iPod and computer, and naps on my bed when I'm not around. I know he likes the 'pull my finger' fart trick. I know this because I taught it to him.

He is the only person who calls me by such interesting terms of endearment: 'gringuita', 'gordita', 'pollito' (little gringa, little fatty, little chicken). He always brings the newspaper home for me to read when he is finished with it. I could train a dog to do that, but then I'd have to pay for it myself.

We will probably part ways this October, given that neither of us know what to do after we graduate. Even if we both stay in London it is unlikely we'll share a flat again. I won't have to cook 4 extra servings of food, or constantly put the seat of the toilet back down. I won't have the extra comments on a bad hair day to deal with (ex: "carajo, Cait! you look like crap!").

I'll have to give up the other man in my life. And I'll miss him very much. So if you're looking for a man in your life, I have one for you. He's ready to go to a good home, if you're willing to love him, cook for him, tell him to shut up on occasion, and hear him sing in the shower. You'll have lots of fun with him, I promise. Just pull his finger and see what happens!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rats With Wings


I love animals. I've been a cat owner, a dog owner, and as a child I was a pet-sitter of various other creatures (much to the chagrin of my parents). On a school field trip to the local farm/ petting zoo, I was the only kid to pet a chicken. Like all little girls at some point, I desperately wanted to be a veterinarian and later an equine veterinarian. I competed successfully in hunter jumping and show jumping, owning 2 horses of my own.

With that in mind, imagine this: you're walking down a lovely street in (insert name of favourite city), Europe. Or South America. Or even North America for that matter. So you're walking down this street, the sun in shining, making the buildings even more lovely, the parks greener. You're soaking up the rays and smiling to yourself. You pick up your pace. But wait a minute! Your path seems to be obstructed by slow-moving winged rats. Pigeons! Pigeons all over, in the trees, on the sidewalk, on the grass. What do you do? Well, most people would press on, nonplussed by these giant pests.

I prefer to aim a smart kick in their direction. That's right, I kick at pigeons, and before you go report me to PETA, keep in mind I never said I manage to make contact. I hate pigeons. I hate that they poop all over, that they carry disease... but most of all I hate that it takes them ages to get off the ground, and as they do so above my head they make a horribly loud flapping noise with their wings. Yes, I fear the flapping. I have flapophobia, and I feel perfectly justified in using my own methods to rid my presence of these fat, grey, flapping banes of my existence.

But there's no getting rid of them. They are everywhere, in every city, and in every country I've ever been to. The one saving grace of London is that it no longer has many pigeons in Trafalgar Square. On my first visit to London in 1997, the population was at its peak of around 35 000 pigeons. Thousands and thousands of pigeons would flock around tourists and locals to be fed. I remember watching, horrified, as they completely covered one older woman from head to toe. Call the fire brigade! Call the police! Call Scotland Yard! But she was SMILING! Ew. That image will haunt me forever.

Eventually, due to the droppings, the disease, and the police discovery that one man had been secretly trapping them and selling them (probably into the human food chain), the mayor decided to take drastic measures, imposing a large fine on anyone caught feeding them. That, combined with some trained falcons, managed to rid the square of the vermin. And how did the people react to this? Some of them actually set up an organisation to SAVE the pigeons! How very British... it conjures up all sorts of lovely images of Mary Poppinsish scenes. "Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!" They have this crazy idea that people should (insert British accent here) 'feed the poor pigeons'. Um, I personally don't think the pigeons need your help. And I seriously doubt the falcons managed a mass-pigeonicide. Probably most pigeons were scared off by the falcons... and instead of starving, they probably found food the natural way, by eating dropped garbage.

"You don't need to kick at them!" My boyfriend used to tell me this as we walked around downtown. Now he doesn't bother. Instead he just rolls his eyes as I press myself against him and cringe, waiting for the beating wings to pass me by. And when I kick at them, I know he looks around at others with an apologetic look, as though to say, "sorry my girlfriend is crazy." Oh yes, I can feel the British 'look of distaste' as I kick at their precious pigeons. But I don't care. And I bet if Mary Poppins had been around Trafalgar Square in 1997, she would have got one look at the crazy old hag covered in birds and droppings and taken her tuppence elsewhere.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Brief Introduction

I've lived in France, Brazil, and am currently living in London, England. I guess it sounds like a lot of places considering I'm not yet 25, and I'm always a bit surprised (and obviously pleased) when people find this so impressive. Okay, I admit it. I shamelessly promote this fact about myself. But in a way, I always want more. More countries, more experiences, more stories. Don't get me wrong, I love Canada. In fact, I ALSO lived there for the first 20 years of my life, and a few months here and there for the last 5 years. It has made me who I am... I think. Well, my Canadian blood (by which I really mean immigrant blood) gave me my blonde hair anyway.

I think it was this blondeness that created my sense of adventure, and I wanted to share it with the world. Living in Montreal as a small child, people would stare at my hair. My parents tell me that little old quebecoise ladies would come up and stroke it, murmuring 'mais elle est blonde, blonde, blonde!' It instilled in me a sense of being exotic, my hair was my 'thing' that set me apart. It made people happy. It probably gave me a bit of an ego... but I'm very humble now (see: shameless self-promotion above).

From the time I was old enough to have a sense of awareness about 'different countries' and 'far off lands', I wanted to move away. So much so that my constant tantrum refrain became 'I'm moving to Australia!' My mother's attempts to amuse me consisted of spinning a globe and telling me to close my eyes and place my finger on it. The globe would stop, and wherever my finger landed was to be my new 'home'. I can't remember all the countries I went through, but one fact remained: I never expected to stay in Canada forever. Even my parents didn't expect it.

I started with baby steps, moving across the country (by this time we were living in Calgary) to attend a small, maritime university. It was different, it was quaint... and it got really boring after my first two years. I signed up for an exchange to Strasbourg, France, and my life changed from there. In Strasbourg I continued to meet interesting people from all over the world, one of whom I became quite close to; a Brazilian man who, by his looks anyway, was God's gift to women. I became hopelessly infatuated with him, and by proxy with Brazil. This was how, after finishing my bachelor's degree, I ended up living in Rio de Janeiro. Which then brought me to London at the hands of a very expensive Master's in Latin American studies.

No doubt in this blog I'll include the occasional old observation of France and Brazil (especially when I get lazy about updating). Of course my time in London will also feature. Who knows where I will blog from in future? Who knows if 'blog' is even a verb? For now, I'll leave you with this brief introduction, and hopefully leave you wanting more.