Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wind, sun, creaking

Clouds rapidly pass over, golden sunshine reflecting on Lake Ontario, and the building continuously creaking, pushed by the wind.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tornados, Marihuana and Street Performers

Toronto has given us a fair number of surprises...

Not long after we arrived, there was an evening when a dark mass of clouds worthy of an apocalyptic movie approached from the lake and engulfed the city little by little (really, you could look up to the sky and see half of it lit up by the afternoon sun and half of it a swarming black storm). And right after it was (quickly) over, Toronto received the most beautiful of orange sunsets:

But, while I observed fascinated the orange skies, another surprise was touching down not far from us: a tornado! In Toronto!? Not downtown, more like in the outskirts, but still, the news was shocking (and exciting, I'm embarrassed to admit).

Another surprise (less theatrical than the tornado) was the area around Kensington Market. We bought a set of about 50 "City Walk" cards, supposedly made for people living in  Toronto, which show you interesting sides of the city in 2-3 hour strolls.   And the "Kensington Market Wak"  was definitely what I'd call interesting.

We walked by really colourful rows of old buildings housing vintage clothing shops and a fascinating store with books on anarchism, revolution, gender and race issues, ecology, and various items like pins, t-shirts, backpacks and stuff that went along those same themes.  Crazy.   We also came across a still functioning Synagogue as this was, originally, a Jewish Orthodox neighbourhood, but you could notice how wave after wave of immigration (from Latin America, from Asia...) made this place ever more vibrant and diverse.   Loved it.     But loved the next stop ever more:  Hot Box Café.  A tiny café.  With a tiny patio.  In which you ("you" as in any person that wants to, of course, not "you" as in "you the reader") can smoke pot/ganja/marihuana or however you name it (see why the "you" grammar explanation was in order?).   You can't BUY it there but, if you bring your own, and are willing to order something to eat/drink or pay a small fee (I think it was 3-4 dollars?), you're free to "relax".  I guess I can't say we didn't smoke any, but it was only as passive smokers (like with cigarettes).  And did I mention the food was very good?   Afterwards, we went through the weird experience of entering a shop with Mexican products and buying a thing or two in Spanish; except for the price tags, you could have sworn you were in Mexico.   We left the neighbourhood, not before spotting a car turned into flower-pot/garden, in the best of moods for seeing such an eclectic, diverse and colourful part of Toronto.

And barely a week later, we were attending our second festival! (the first one was a horror film festival shortly after we arrived in Canada)  It was called Buskerfest, three days of street performances with hundreds of artists from around the world with the aim of raising money for Epilepsy Toronto.   There was something for everyone: acrobatics, story-telling, living statues, puppeteers and things I'm not sure what to call.   And, on top of that, the weather was stunning.

So, not even a month after arriving, the city had offered us this much.   Not bad, not bad at all

Rain approaching

A column of rain making it's way across the lake. I'm amazed at how easily the lake's mood changes.

The sun wins

From morning storm to midday sunshine.

Sun-rays over the lake

Patches of sunlight filtering through the clouds.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Clouds over Lake Ontario

The wind sweeps away rain clouds over Lake Ontario. I love the lake's mood this morning.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fierté à Montréal (Pride in Montreal)

We started the day inviting our hosts for brunch at a nice, very French "brasserie artisanale & bistro" called Reservoir on a small and quiet old street. As much as the waiter made every effort to let me know that he found my French pronunciation beyond redemption and comprehension, we had a very enjoyable, relaxed brunch and, after that, we had a nice stroll down Rue St. Denis, all the way down to Boulevard René-Lévesque to watch the Gay Pride Parade. Me, I was dressed for the occasion: a black kilt from a shop on Rue Ste. Cathérine called Priape, boots, and a red T-shirt that said LOVE (which we got at a party at some nightclub in Singapore a couple of years ago).

It was really sunny. And very hot. The crowd was ready, waiting for the parade. The wait under the relentless sun was all worth it: there were bikers, carnival style costumes and music, transgendered people, homo-parental families (ALL the privileges of marriage are equally available tow ALL couples), queer jews, queer moslems, young people, leather bears, people with AIDS... we had to take a plane back to Toronto that same night, so we couldn't watch the whole parade. But what we did see, was exciting, loads of fun, eye-opening...

The parade went on, freely, with people representing diverse lifestyles and groups. In many cities this sort of free expression is unthinkable, even dangerous, not rarely branded as a "(corrupt) import from the West", as "alien to the local culture". But wouldn't this really mean that freedom and equality are alien and corrupt (!!) concepts "proper" to some Western cultures, completely dismissing the fact that their development was the result of the effort of countless people who actively fought against backwardness, close-mindedness and discrimination?

Kudos, Canada! Kudos, Montreal! Thanks for the amazing weekend, the friendly welcome, and the awesome, freedom-loving, progressive, open-minded, queer celebration. Vive la diversité! Vive la liberté!



Watching this parade was the most recent of numerous reminders of my "second class citizenship". I must obey the law and pay taxes just like everyone else. Yet if I approach any civil registry in Mexico and ask for my relationship to be registered just like numerous relatives, friends, acquaintances and colleagues have successfully done before me, I will be turned back. Period. And it doesn't stop there, the denial of my basic human right to marriage (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 16) leads to the denial of my partner's right to care for me if I can't look after myself anymore (and viceversa), to inherit what we've accumulated during our 8 years together, to jointly adopt a child, to receive the benefits (including, scarily, insurance) my job offers to married couples, etc. Socially, it even gives bigots an excuse not to invite partners to social events ("Sorry, SPOUSES only").

As it stands now, marriage is not a right in my country (nor in many others), it's a privilege. So, we should get rid of it altogether, or extend it to every citizen, or at least be honest and acknowledge that not all of us are the same before the law, that the state grants privileges to heterosexual people, and that the rest are second class citizens with curtailed rights.

In the meantime, I'll keep doing my own bit of personal protesting, by being completely open about my relationship and by calling things by their name when needed, even at the cost of making my blog's entry too long and less "fun".

"J'AIME... un mot qui ne connaît pas la discrimination."
("AMO... una palabra que no conoce la discriminación")

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

un anniversaire très fier (a very proud birthday)

My habib's birthday was coming. Montreal was close. One of my habib's dreams was to visit Montreal. Montreal's Gay Pride (la Fête de la Fierté) was going to take place that same weekend and we had NEVER been to a gay pride celebration, ever. And two friends of ours (one of which was my Chinese language exchange partner in Beijing in 1998) said we were welcome to stay at their place "à Montréal". We absolutely HAD to go.

That mid-August weekend was really hot, but that didn't stop us from exploring what is the second largest French speaking city after Paris. Since I had left buying a guidebook for the last minute (and, therefore, failed to find one), my habib decided we join a walking tour of the old town, starting at the Basilica of Notre Dame in Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal). Maybe as a sort of unintended punishment (especially considering my French is far from good) for my not having got a guidebook, instead of choosing the English or Spanish speaking guides, my habib chose the (Montreal) French speaking one.

And so we went, up and down, hearing the story of Vieux Montreal, seeing its first sky-scraper, its most famous hotel, its pious side, its pride in French culture. The guide was informative, just funny enough (without overdoing it), and thankfully his accent wasn't too strong (and even charming).

Afterwards, and for the afternoon stroll, we chose Rue Sainte Cathérine, the queer street of Montreal. It was BUSY and full of life in preparation for next day's Pride Parade. There were all sorts of stands for all sorts of groups and associations, performances, and a party at the very beginning of the area; the whole mix was intoxicating. I couldn't help remembering how Beijing's first and last try at a gay festival had been cancelled more than 4 years ago, and how Shanghai's first try at a gay pride had to go through without a gay parade (and then, where's the "pride" with no parade?) and without other key events (therefore degenerating in a sort of collection of private parties). I cannot truely convey how exhilarating the whole experience was for me, all this explosion of in-your-face unabashed shameless freedom.

To top off such a feel-good day, we had lunch at a vegan restaurant, Aux Vivres. I have tried a number of vegan restaurants in many different places. This one was GOOD. VERY GOOD. Everything we ordered was delicious, and abundant. So good was the food, in fact, we did have all we couldn't finish put in a doggie bag, and we finished it all up that same night when we came back from clubbing (what a fantastic way to sate the post-party hunger!).

Next day was the Gay Pride Parade. And it deserves a post all to itself.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

from Beijing to Toronto

On August 2nd, having said good-bye to friends, left our apartment empty, cancelled our mobile numbers, handed in all keys and access cards (it feels so strange knowing you can't even physically enter your former living or work spaces anymore), and nothing else in our possession but 4 suitcases, two laptops and two cameras, we left for Beijing International Airport. There, we said good-bye to China, to its modernity (the roof of the airport), to its chinglish ("don't enter the dangerously"), to its love-hate relationship with Japan (with a bowl of udon and a Kirin beer), and to many things which comprise a world, a world completely different from the one we left more than 4 years ago when we arrived from Lebanon, a world completely different from the one we were headed to: Canada.

Our first days in Toronto (a city which none of us had ever been to) were a series of continuous surprises, from the very polite and attentive way of Torontonians (in contrast to Beijing, you don't get a simple "no" for an answer, you also get an explanation of why it's a "no", and then on top of that you get guidance on other options!), to the walkability of the city (we walked, and strolled, and explored on foot like never before in Beijing), to the strange feeling of being somewhere really new (no 500 or 1000 year structures here), to the abundance of festivals and events (like the "Pilaros: Taste of the Danforth" one in the Greek part of town), to the gay-friendliness of the city (unbeknownst to us, the gay village was just a couple of blocks from our hotel, and in no time were we seeing same-sex couples walking hand in hand, and gay ads even in the subway!), and the much needed freedom of expression (like a group of Iranians and intellectuals staging a demonstration against last election's results in Iran).

This is a new chapter in our life together (from Mexico City, to Beirut, to Beijing, and now to Toronto). It's time to explore this side of the world. To indulge in first world western frivolity. To enjoy not so frivolous rights and freedoms (to begin with, NOBODY questions my relationship with my habib, our opening of joint accounts, or his right to a long-term multiple entry visa). We're very much looking forward to it.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

8 @ Dewata, Part VIII and last

Our next to last day in Bali, a Friday, was relaxed, beautiful, loving (hell, after the amazing previous day, how not?). There was just one tiny thing that didn't go according to plan: we tried to gosnorkelling, but the beach was a bit too far, the town we went to seemed rather cheap and touristy (especially when compared to Alila Villas, LOL) and visibility underwater was really terrible, so we called it quits after 15 minutes of unsuccessful snorkelling in rough water and went for some Balinese brunch. We asked the staff to make it "Balinese spicy, not tourist spicy", and the resulting wonderful food and great local beer quickly made us forget everything else. What a delicious lunch we had, honestly!

After lunch, we decided the best thing we could do was enjoy our villa. And enjoy we did. The service was impeccable, the pool delicious... the design of the villa was superb, it was open, airy, clean, there were so many wonderful details, oneof the showers was in a sort of zen garden which opened into the sleeping area... there were no rooms per se, but areas that blended into each other. Really awesome.

For dinner and sunset, we chose a cabana right on the cliff. We had seen it from afar but, when we walked there and peered into the sea beyond, we couldn't believe our eyes: the beauty of the cliff face, the limestone below, the waves... it was so peaceful. A completely beautiful surprise.

The next day we were leaving for Kuala Lumpur, to catch an overnight flight to Tianjin in China, to then catch a train back to Beijing. Fortunately, we had plenty of time to enjoy the resort at leisure before leaving: we had breakfast at our villa, with mimosas using the champagne Gustavo brought all the way from Beijing... we went for a swim to the hotel's infinity pool (another one of the wonders of the hotel), enjoyed the views of the cliffs from the pool, admired the local flowers (they only used materials and flowers native to the island), relaxed and cooled ourselves with sprays and creams the resort liberally provided all over the place...

...and finally, fully and completely satisfied, took a taxi to the airport, took the plane, and said good-bye to Bali and our anniversary trip, not without getting one last parting gift, some superb views of nearby volcanoes:

The trip back home was uneventful. And just one week before our next flight, this time to leave China for good, and move to Canada. Now that's what I call one anniversary trip to remember.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

8 @ Dewata, Part VII

The day of our 8th anniversary we took it easy: we got up late, had a slow breakfast, sipped some tamarillo and passion fruit smoothies, and then the driver from Alam Sari Keliki (where we were staying) took us toDenpasar (the island's main city), where a car from the resort where we'd spend our last two nights in Bali would pick us up.

And now, some background information. This was NO ordinary anniversary (yeah, I know, none are, but this one less than any others). It was the EIGHTH one. It was also our last Asian trip before moving continents. A worthy celebration required planning. More than a month before this day, after hours spent searching, comparing, reading reviews, looking at maps, checking finances and consulting with friends, I found IT: Alila Villas Uluwatu, a newly opened design hotel perched on cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean at the southernmost tip of Bali. I arranged for a special dinner menu at their most romantic cabana. I let them know it was our anniversary trip, so they'd take extra care with dinner and the room. I booked a "Health Concerned" style for the mini-bar. And a "Champagne and Berry Bath" for our day of arrival. And I didn't tell my habib a single tiny word about any of this. Or, more accurately, I lied and told him we were staying at a beach hotel on the eastern coast of the island. Best of all, I managed to keep my plans a secret until the very end.

Guilt (about lying to him) and excitement (about what I had arranged) had to be kept in check for the plan to hatch, and I played my part masterfully, if I may say. So, when the car that picked us up in Denpasar looked somewhat nicer than it should, when there was not just a driver but an escort, when they offered us wet towels to refresh ourselves and bottles of cold mineral water, when my habib saw there was a rather fancy magazine in the seat's rack, when we drove off in a completely different direction than we should have, when we were welcomed by the manager, didn't have to carry our luggage and were escorted by staff past a really nicely designed outdoor area to our door, my habib might have thought it was somewhat more than he expected, but he never doubted we were going to the other resort I had told him. ;-)

Finally, when our escort opened the door and my habib walked in, it all added up and it dawned on him: we were somewhere else. And this is the surprise he walked into as I screamed "Happy 8th anniversary!", hugged him and kissed him in his total amazement. (happiness faces like his at that moment - and the rest of the day - are some of the best rewards, ever)

And so, everything that had been planned more than a month in advance started unfolding as it should. There was a flower arrangement on the bed. We enjoyed some delicious and refreshing fruit mixes from the bar, snacked on dates, popcorn, cool cucumber and nuts, swam in our own pool, enjoyed the sun, relaxed in our own pool-side cabana... About one or 2 hours before dinner, the staff from the hotel prepared our "Champagne and Berry Bath": they filled the bathtub (which had views of the pool, of the cabana and the horizon beyond) with aromatic oils, and rose petals, placed a cold bottle of champagne on one side, two champagne glasses, as well as strawberries and a cup with chocolate powder to coat the strawberries with.

After the delicious bath, and maybe a bit too happy from drinking a full bottle of champagne, we headed to "Cire", one of the two restaurants of the hotel, for our anniversary dinner. They were expecting us and took us to the pool-side sunset cabana, with beautiful views of the infinity pool, the horizon, and the hotel. An incredibly gracious and charming host congratulated us on our anniversary, made small and pleasant chat, and wished us a nice dinner. Which it was. So nice, in fact, that, contrary to what I usually do, I completely forgot to take pictures of what we had and devoted myself to enjoying every single scrumptious and delicate dish, toasting to many things (including to the sweet Australian couple that told me about Air Asia, whose cheap plane tickets had made this anniversary trip possible), and being happy while the sun set.

As if that were not enough, after dinner we got back to our villa to discover not only how gorgeous it looked at night, but that the staff had left some sweets and tea to wish us a good night.

Because, you see, what's the point in working hard (both at the office and at your relationship) and saving money if you're not going to take some days off, splurge, and celebrate you're lucky, you're happy, and you're in love?