Thursday, June 17, 2010

City of Goodbyes

The last vacation The Ex and I took was to Paris. The fact that it was the weekend before I left for New Zealand is neither here nor there. As I’ve said before, our divorce was weird and I think going to one of the most romantic cities in the world to “celebrate” our divorce just proves that we aren’t your average former couple.

The Ex had never been to the city on the Seine before except to fly through so it was a chance for him to gain a new country and for me to revisit a place where I made many happy memories as a teen. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the Musé D’Orsay (probably my favourite museum on the planet) but I did take him up Montmartre to see the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, a church I have long felt to be far more special and beautiful than the over-hyped Notre Dame.

Our day included a walk along the Champs-Élysées and a photo op at the Arc de Triomphe, which I think completely underwhelmed The Ex who rose to the occasion by cracking jokes whose punch lines all included the word Vichy. In other “crimes against Paris” not only did I not take him to the Louvre (don’t get me started on the postage stamp-sized tourist Mecca that is La Jaconde), but we also failed to visit the Eiffel Tower due to time constraints.

All through our walks along famed streets, past cultural icons, and through neighbourhoods that existed long before Canada even had a constitution, we both knew our time was short. This was the last day we would spend together before I boarded the Eurostar for London and we both hit the restart button on our lives. With our 12th wedding anniversary less than a week behind us our feet guided us to the last romantic meal we would ever share.

Located a stone’s throw from Les Invalides, Il Vino is a restaurant I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone visiting the City of Lights. The concept of this Michelin starred eatery is brilliant: diners order the wine of their choice and the chef presents the perfect meal to accompany their selections. There is an "à la carte" wine menu but The Ex and I both opted for different prix fixe menus that would guide us from starters through dessert.

I should note here why The Ex chose the menu he did: his first course wine was Sula! All of you in India are probably doubled over in laughter that we came all the way to France to drink this unspectacular Indian wine. When the sommelier brought over the bottle, The Ex and I both started laughing as he described the attributes of this imported wine. When we explained how we were familiar with the selection, he looked more than slightly abashed.

My prix fixe was a guessing game from beginning to end: the wines were poured and I was left to guess what I was drinking. After each course, our sommelier/waiter would come over to find out how I had fared in the wine version of blind man’s bluff.

From the excellent service to the exquisite food, the entire meal was pitch perfect. Perhaps my favourite part of the meal was the fact that had I been offered a menu with my courses as options, I wouldn’t have chosen most them. I would never have thought to order a tartare of ahi tuna and yet it was not only the perfect companion to my Chenin Blanc, but also the delicate flavours were a revelation to my palate.

Six glasses of wine later, we were both more than tipsy as we made our way back to the hotel. Neither of us spoke about what was about to happen as The Ex helped me pack my suitcase for the adventure that lay ahead. Instead, we discussed his business meetings that had obstinately brought us to the French capital.

Things were changing for us and yet we knew some things would always remain the same. As we parted company the next morning, I’m not sure which of those realities scared us more. Perhaps only time will tell.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I awoke from my nap, cocooned in the soft blanket the airline had provided me. My body was curled into a ball at an odd angle on the flat bed and as I stretched and tried to awaken my limbs, I felt my toes hit the wall of the seat in front of me.

I looked around to see how long I had been out and noticed that most of my fellow passengers were still slumbering. A quick peek behind me showed where the few wakeful souls were gathered: the bar.

After making myself mildly presentable, I ambled toward the back of the A380 in anticipation of a snack and a perhaps even beverage or two. I popped a canapé into my mouth and asked the flight attendant who was currently playing bartender for a screwdriver. Orange juice, I reasoned, seemed a good way to start my morning and the vodka would help remind me that it was nighttime where I was headed.

With a generous serving of Grey Goose in hand, I looked around at my fellow passengers and searched for an opening. No matter how shy I felt like being, this trip was designed to break me out of my shell and just because I hadn’t arrived in New Zealand
yet was no reason to cower behind my usual reserved façade. I evaluated my choices: the parents from first class with their toddler, a group of business travelers chatting about their jobs, or two Indian gentleman who seemed to be conducting business in the corner.

I made up my mind quickly and jumped into the middle of the group who were, I think it is safe to say, a little off put my forwardness… at least to start with. Several hours and one bottle of Grey Goose later I felt I had known this group for at least an entire day. We laughed over travel nightmares, compared notes about tourist hot spots in Nairobi, encouraged each other to continue for, “One more round!” and at the beginning of the second bottle of vodka even started sharing pieces of our life stories. I realized that the intimacy of the business bar on the plane had been fully achieved when we started talking about people who had returned to their seats behind their backs.

I knew we would likely never see each other ever again, in at least two of the cases, was rather disappointed by this. These mile high friends were only fleeting but I vowed to myself that the dare I made myself to start talking to them would not be a figment of the dream I awoke from but rather a new stepping off point from which I would not look back. Making friends of strangers was not as difficult as advertised, I told myself. It just took a little courage and a couple of shots of Grey Goose vodka.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sun Dial

I always found it odd how the setting and rising of the sun seemed to dictate everything from children coming home from the park, to dinner time, to simple moods. When I lived in Kenya, it was the height of amusement for me to look at the clock at 6:25 p.m. and look outside the large windowed doors in my living room to a fully bright city. Literally five minutes later, dusk would have fallen and night would chase it a minute after that. Like clockwork, the sun disappeared every night at almost the exact same time year round.

It was comforting in a way. When The Ex was out of town, I would set my internal clock so that the disappearance of the sun meant dinner was ready to be eaten. When he was in town, I knew that shortly after sunset he would return home from the office. Half six meant nighttime in Nairobi.

Needless, to say, when I returned home to Toronto for a visit after living in Kenya for a year, I was in for a culture shock of the solar variety. During one of my first nights home, my sister-in-law stopped by to chat and I said that I would order dinner from one of my favourite Canadian chains whose food I had been craving. We sat in my parent’s living room and chatted while I dutifully waited for the sunset to tell me it was time to order and eat.

I finally noticed how hungry everyone seemed and looked outside the bay window to the still bright street, frustrated that it was obviously much earlier than my jet lagged self would have thought. When my sister-in-law pointed out that it was nine thirty, I was shocked. “It’s still light out!” We laughed at consternation over the sun’s non-equatorial habits and eventually made due with food from the fridge.

Several years later, this phenomenon would come to amaze me again. Sitting on the 59th parallel, Oslo, Norway is the furthest North I have ever lived and when we arrived during the cusp of winter, darkness embraced the city while children were still in school. By the time The Ex joined me from Cairo it would be fully dark by 2:30 p.m. Although I had been warned about the dangers of this seemingly perpetual darkness to people who endured the lack of sunlight day in and day out, I was smitten with it. I called friends and family and shared with them the daily progression of the sun’s waning.

Months later, both The Ex and I were at once in our awe at the reverse process. In May when I left Oslo, the sun didn’t set until almost eleven o’clock at night causing us to eat a rather late repast more than once. At the time, I was having difficulties sleeping and I was often still awake when the sun rose several hours later. The night before I left, I saw the first rays of light break across the city shortly before four in the morning.

My arrival in Auckland, New Zealand was like returning home from Nairobi all over again. Suddenly, instead of living in a perpetual state of daylight, the sun had returned to its once “normal” habits. My first week there, I peered at the clock in my room in the morning and saw it was still dark outside and was shocked to see that it was almost 8:00 a.m. One day early in my stay, I watched the night creep through streets at 5:30 p.m. and was pleasantly shocked.

My days of endless sun were over. It seemed like a metaphor for so much that was going on in my life at the time. Even though I had run away to the other side of the planet to escape the realities of life I knew were waiting for me, the orb of fire and light was still there to remind me that normalcy and reality were inescapable.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I want to make it clear up front that I too could be 5’10”, gorgeous, blonde, slim, athletic, and have incredible fashion sense, but I choose not to. I prefer to stand out from the crowd and be unique in my brunette, short, chubby brilliance. After all, in a land where the “ugly girls” are at least a seven and still rate a wolf whistle, it’s hard to compete.

Over the past many years, I have travelled around the world and seen some of the most beautiful women on the planet. Ethiopian women far and away top the list for me, while friends who visited me in Kenya put the local women in Nairobi in highest esteem. In India, I saw some true beauties but also a lot of women who put a lot of effort into achieving that “natural” look. Most European women I’ve seen also fall into that category.

Perhaps that’s why Norwegian women vex me so much. In any other country, they would be hounded by modeling agencies but here they’re just average. Yes, I lived in a country filled with Heidi Klum lookalikes. Isn’t that just great for a girl’s ego?

It never ceases to amuse me that in North America people joke about the “Swedish Hot Tub Team.” Obviously those men have never met the world’s genetic lottery winners – Norwegian women.

Yet it isn’t simply their tall, gorgeous, blondness that people notice. (And I have yet to meet a man who doesn’t drool over those qualities.) As a woman, what I notice is the fact that Norwegian women have an innate sense of style of fashion that I will likely never achieve even if taken in hand by Stella McCartney herself. Women there pull on a pair of casual leggings, a long sweater, and tie the outfit together with a pair of knee high boots with a casual elegance that appears to be second nature. I’ve seen women elsewhere try to pull off the fashion statements that Oslo’s inhabitants seem to wear with such grace but it simply doesn’t work. You can tell the also-rans are trying.

People more cynical than myself might point out that there are a lot of salons in Oslo that specialize in colouring hair, or that women are that thin because lutefisk just doesn’t taste that good. Women with a more salacious eye than I would also observe that the population distribution of hotness in Norway is spread equally between the sexes. But I think I’ll just bask in my uniquely short stature, brown hair, and complete lack of ability to match clothes knowing that I’m unique duck in this flock of swans.

Author's Note: It was only after writing this post I discovered that I didn't actually have any photos of hot Norwegian women in their natural habitat. Sorry boys!

Sunday, June 06, 2010


It’s amazing how alone you can feel in the world until the walls come crashing down and you suddenly realize that people were there surrounding you with love and affection the entire time.

When The Ex and I split up, we decided to take the coward’s way out and tell people on Facebook – also known as the fastest way to spread bad news since the Pony Express. We never wanted people to feel they had to “choose sides” and this was a way to tell both sides in one fell swoop without actually having to tell anyone.

The people who reached out to me after that one brief keystroke struck me to my core with their friendship. From offers to slay dragons in defense of my honour and cyber hugs of sympathy, to offers of places to stay and shared stories of hard times, the love I felt from friends around the world warmed my broken heart and helped put it back together.

I always knew I had good friends but when my darkest hour was upon me my friends showed me the way toward the dawn and for that there will never be enough words of thanks or love. For the hugs, phone calls, emails, messages, posts, nagging, laughter, threats, knights in shining armor, and friends and family around the world: thank you. Your thoughts, wishes, and words meant (and mean) more to me than I can ever express.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Runaway

I know I’ve been gone for a while. I hope some of you are still around to read this: I’m sorry I disappeared. I didn’t mean to. Heck, I was still writing blogs in my head for at least some of that time. I simply wasn’t able to connect my thoughts to my fingers long enough to put a concrete and complete thought on paper.

Some of you may know, although many don’t, that my situation has changed. Despite the description in the sidebar (which I really need to change), I am no longer one of two on an adventure around the world. My husband and I have split up and I am now busy trying to wander the world in search of myself by myself.

Lest I get ahead of myself, allow me to clear something up: I’m not going to clear anything up. I spent 15 years of my life (dating and later married) with the man I called my best friend. Although we both inadvertently burned, bombed and decimated the bridges of that friendship he is still someone I care for and I will not dishonour him by ever speaking of what happened between us.

This separateness is new – only a few weeks old – and I miss having someone to call with something I know would amuse them. I miss the shorthand and second language that come with 12 years of marriage. I miss my friend and that is why I’ve run away from home.

After we left Egypt for Norway in November I thought I was starting a new phase of my life. Now, a few months later that new phase has been flipped and turned and rocketed into a newness I’m not yet accustomed to. Rather than returning home, as I probably should have, to start over, I decided to do the last thing a scaredy cat like me would ever do – I set out on my own.

I am currently in Auckland, New Zealand pulling my head together and enjoying the Kiwi scenery. From here I plan to head to Australia to see old friends and from there who knows. But I know that I’ll be doing it on my own and that’s scary for me. Sure I’ve travelled (and many of you have read about those travels) but I’ve always done it with someone. My wanderings have always been planned in quite some detail. This trip isn’t that. Heck, I’ve already inadvertently gone over budget and I’m not that far into this quest of self.

I plan to try to document my travels in this blog and hope that you’ll stop by once in a while to see where I am. Some of my posts will be about my new adventures but I also intend to write about my life Before. After all, I have six months of Norwegian wonders to catch you up on too.

There’s a song on the “Pricilla Queen of the Desert” soundtrack that has the following line: “I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me.” Yup, that’s me in a nutshell. I’ve travelled all over the world and tried to be everyone else’s perfect version of me. This trip is about finding out who I am when I don’t have someone telling me first. I’m ready to find ME.