Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fàilte gu Alba - Dùn Èideann

Actually, I should start writing about Glasgow (where we flew into) and Stirling Castle (where we headed afterwards), but our first few hours in Scotland were sort of a disaster.  An incident with a rental car, a castle visit cancelled, a stressful drive and a nasty and expensive surprise at the rental company conspired to sour within 4 hours of arrival the excitement and happiness I had felt (see my previous post).   

So what does one do then?  Well, you count your losses, and then you make the firm decision to move forward and enjoy your trip no matter what.  And that's what we did: we hit Edinburgh (Dùn Èideann in Scottish Gaelic) with every intention possible of having a great start to our trip.  Ha!

Pretty here. Pretty there. Pretty everywhere.

Have you been to Edinburgh?  It's one of those cities where you can just wander and keep wandering and have no specific aim or goal an simply enjoy it because it's incredibly pretty, very dense, full of artistic events, and an absolute delight to look at from every angle!   And that's pretty much what we did for two days: walk, stop, admire; walk, stop, admire; repeat.  Well, we did some other things (to be mentioned below), but whether from Princes Street Gardens...

Or from atop Calton Hill (my favourite place to see the city! absolutely stunning! wherever your eyes went there was a view to discover!)...

Or walking down from the Edinburgh castle (and getting a message from [NOT]god saying "Worry not, what's done is done, and I don't care about you or anybody but hey, look at my sky painting! soooo pretty!!!")...

Or catching a glimpse of the cliffs of Salisbury Crags in the distance amongst all those gorgeous buildings...   

Or seeing Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile, from the distance, surrounded by countless picturesque buildings...

Well, you get the picture.   It's one of those European towns.  And incredibly, though the city itself is very old, plenty of buildings are rather new, thanks to the unbelievable wealth the UK had access to through its colonies... but that be another story.

The nooks, the crannies, the fog

(yes, it's one of those ultra long posts, sorry!)  We got a somewhat mixed weather.  Our first day there there was just a bit of a drizzle, and partially clear skies (hence the photos I could take above).  But our second day there was more rain, and plenty of fog!  So much fog, in fact, that you couldn't see the city at all from Edinburgh Castle!  But that same misty atmosphere added to the charm of the city, with its narrow alleys, the cobblestone streets, the towers...

I mean, even the drab New Town (which is new only in comparison to the Old Town; it's from the 18th and 19th centuries) looked slightly prettier in the wetter weather.  And sorry for using "drab".  I mean, the city is impressive.  It truly reflects the ideals of the time - order, reason, regularity.   As urban planning, it's quite the sight.  But that regularity, the similarity in patterns and colour, all that is... well, cheerless?  Which is why I was happy to catch this splash of blue from a couple walking in front of one of the buildings:

And this, one of my favourite photos.  We had just visited the National Gallery of Scotland (more on that visit below) and headed to the gallery's café which happened to have some tables outside.  It was drizzling, it was foggy, and enjoying a warm coffee, a warm pain au chocolat, and looking at ethereal-like buildings in the the distance across the park was, simply put, perfect.   I love those moments where movement stops, you stay still, relax, and absorb.

O Stout! O Whisky! (and other stuff)

This was my most unvegan trip of all.  Like, totally.  By far.   Among all the things I can rave about, the vegan unfriendliness is not one.  In Toronto, I can basically walk into any restaurant, approach any street food stand, and get something vegan.  And not just plain salad, you know? FOOD.   In Scotland... well, see what my very first meal was.   I took a look at the menu, I was starving, and plain ole fries was not going to cut it, so I gracefully admitted defeat and ordered a meat burger.   (I guess I was also in a mood of not making life difficult, after our morning experience, so that may have played a role)

But what Edinburgh couldn't offer food-wise... it more than compensated drink-wise!  Yay!  Finally, a place where people appreciate rich, thick, dark beer!  So along with my carcass burger I got to enjoy a nice local stout!  I forgot to write down the name.  But whatever, it was good.  Gooood.  And it was clear that wasn't a fluke and that I'd get to enjoy plenty more brews... at this other fantastic place!  Brew Dog!   This was on our second day.  And I loved the place!  To begin with, don't you love the blue dog?  LOL   Then, once inside, they had this sign that read "No Live Sport. No Football! No Shots! No Stella! But we do have boardgames."   The place was funky, so was the music, and the beer selection had plenty of funky names too, though we settled for, what else, a stout with some non flamboyant name I can't remember.  Brew Dog rocks, me says.

You know what else I had? Scotch Whisky.  You'll think that's quite unsurprising.  I'd agree.  So what do you say to Scotch Whisky... mixed in with your morning traditional Scottish porridge? huh?  Now that's something else, innit!   Our Bed & Breakfast (Ben Cruachan) had this choice with your porridge - cream, honey, or whisky.  Well I wasn't going to pass up trying it with whisky, right?  Plus, it was some sort of very light coloured, very soft one.  Not bad at all!  (Note: the whisky is poured over the porridge and mixed with it; it's not to be drank on the side; it's supposed to be MIXED IN).

So where food failed me (yeah, I had some vegetarian pakoras somewhere, too, but meh), drink failed me not.  Ha!

Of rainbows, skirts, and dolls 

You see, we visited a couple of churches.  And there was one thing that was rather curious about them:  their use of colour and some symbols.  I'm not sure if you can tell from this photo, but these winged beings were painted red, purple, pale blue, orange... they were quite colourful.  At first, because of the design, I thought this could be some Norse influence (just a fleeting idea, don't stone me).  Then we spotted a pretty colourful rainbow in another part of the church.  I just figured some very progressive priest had added that?  Still seemed rather odd...

But our visit to the National Gallery of Scotland (first photo) solved the mystery.  In the section for Scottish artists we came across a Celtic revival movement.   One look at that art and all doubts vanished.  There were rainbows.  There was colour.  And they were gay.  As in bright and colourful, mind you, though some did look a bit like a modern definition of gay...     

Related to that or not, what do you say about pastel blue seahorses with flowing rich golden manes at The Merchants Hall?

Another curious (or hot, or sexy, or weird, depending on your ideas) thing was that kilts are big in Edinburgh.  A kilt and jacket outfit can get so expensive some places advertised down payments of 600 British Pounds and 9 month plans to pay the rest.  Wow!  Whatever they might have cost, we probably saw men in kilts in every block.  And truth be told, some of them Scottish men can truly rock a kilt, like the piper in the second photo below (oh, btw, something more ubiquitous than kilts? redheads! it so happens that Scotland has the highest proportion of redheads in the world, at 13% of the population!)

Finally, and this probably doesn't quite fit here, but I didn't know where else to put it, there was the Museum of Childhood.  Apparently the first museum of its kind in the world, we went there to see some automatons (you know, self-operating machines/dolls).  And we did see them but, unfortunately, they sat quietly behind glass and none of them were operating.  At least we also got to see tons of what today seem to us like ultra creepy dolls.  It's really strange to look at the things children from previous times used to play with, really really strange.

All's well that ends well

See?  We passed the test and had two amazing days in super pretty and romantic Edinburgh despite our rocky start!   It was actually even better than I expected (food problem and all).  So on our third morning we headed to pick up another car and press on with our original plans to see the rest of Scotland!  Next stop... Drochaid a' Bhanna (Bonar Bridge), in the fabled Scottish Highlands!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fàilte gu Alba - Our 13th anniverary

"What an ugly photo", you must be thinking.  And yes, I myself don't think it's pretty either.  But when I took it, we were approaching Scotland, and at that moment I experienced a sense of wonder at a land that didn't look like I expected - it seemed... more? More intriguing, more rugged, more extensive... I'm always excited about travelling, of course.  Always.  But all of a sudden I realized I was feeling even more excited at this land that was surprising me even as we approached from the air...   

Ah, yes, of course.  Though nobody should need a reason to travel, we did have one - our 13th anniversary.  We've found trips to be the perfect anniversary gifts:  we both get to enjoy them, they're unique, we bond, we grow, and they're simply way, way better than anything we could ever afford to buy for each other.  And why Scotland?  Well, funny thing, work circumstances meant I couldn't plan in advance and my husband's plans to go to either Norway or Bolivia fell through (air fares had gone through the roof for those two by the time I could finally book things).   I was left looking for a destination we could fly to without breaking the bank, hopefully one that offered either great nature, great culture, or both.  And out of Ireland, the Açores, London, Vancouver and Scotland, Scotland came out the winner (with Ireland a close second, though).

This was an amazing trip.  It was gorgeous.  It was fun.  It was a great way to say goodbye to Canada (I count these destinations as part of our Canadian experience, as they're relative close and easy to get to from here).  And it was a good way to remind us that staying together takes effort, that making that effort is rewarding, and that we're pretty good together, warts and all.   

Ah, one last detail before I begin with the trip's posts:  Fàilte gu Alba, the title of the series, means Welcome to Scotland in Scottish Gaelic.  I enjoyed seeing so many bilingual sings and, as a language buff, I appreciate Scotland's efforts to preserve and promote Scottish Gaelic. So don't be surprised if I use the Scottish gaelic version of place names along with the English version.

Our next (first) stop...   Dùn Èideann! Edinburgh!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

trans* people, Toronto, atheism... and being Jewish?

I mean, years of learning about identity and the construction of the self thanks to Toronto's trans community, years of enjoying Toronto's rich Jewish culture and gradually developing an emotional sense of belonging, finally (finally!) cracking the puzzle of my partial Jewish family history, and then, then! finding there is a community that welcomes atheist and secular individuals within a framework of cultural Jewishness and a humanistic ethics?  There was only one option - unabashedly surrendering to one's willful and unconscious becoming of oneself.*  

*I took a long time to decide to publish this post. As I was happily crafting it, the current horrible situation in Gaza developed.  And then worsened.  Fearing this was terrible timing, I left it as a draft, unpublished.  I kept quiet.  But that felt like hiding, like feeling shameful of something that had made me very happy.  But stealing inspiration from some powerful words from a friend's post today, I can say there is nothing to be ashamed of by identifying as a humanist Jew who believes in freedom, social justice, and human happiness guided by critical thinking, abundant compassion and radical empathy, which are even more important than ever at this moment.  So there.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


A festival.

Of short home-made porn films, made mostly by locals from Seattle and Portland, and which are destroyed after the last viewing so people can get to be porn stars or pornographers just temporarily.

With no judging based on body type, gender or fetish represented.

With no commercial aim, without even the aim of pleasing the general public, the main purpose being personal expression and a communal celebration of that.

With 20 or so really diverse shorts, which can really take you out of your comfort zone.

For me, all this is what makes this event so valuable.  Whatever gives people new avenues for self-expression in a safe space.  And on top of that in a fun way?  Thanks Dan Savage for bringing "Hump!" to Toronto! 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Trade - WorldPride edition

WorldPride was over Sunday July 29th.  But that didn't mean the partying stopped.  It just became a bit more subdued, with more parties Monday, albeit starting earlier and of a more relaxed nature.  I dragged my tired self to one of them - Trade, at a bar called Black Eagle - a party on a rooftop to enjoy the summer sun, a brewski, in gym shorts, and in a sex positive atmosphere. 

Now, about that last part which may or may not have raised an eyebrow or two... There's something straight culture in general could learn from LGBT culture, or - to use Toronto as example - at least from urban North American queer culture: sex positivity.   Though the more conservative people might simply interpret this as pure, debased debauchery, sex positivity simply means that human sexuality and sexual exploration are celebrated and accepted, within a framework of consent, safety and freedom.  Seriously, does that sound unreasonable at all?

Anyhow, back to Trade.  Was it like an orgy? Did everyone have to engage in sex?  No.  And no. As hard as it may be to imagine for someone who hasn't been to sex positive parties before, the majority of people simply relaxed after a good many days of partying, danced to good music, chatted with old friends and made new ones, basked in a very pleasant afternoon sun, had a few cold beers, and some - just some - played with others in a consenting, congenial, sexy, laid back atmosphere.  Although something tells me that no matter whichever way I may write this, I'm sure it still sounds to some as the dirtiest, raunchiest, unhealthy, disgusting thing in the world...  

Still, I couldn't finish my WorldPride posts without some praise to this aspect of LGBT culture in Toronto which, frankly, seems healthy, liberating, fun, and simply essentially human.  Bravo Toronto, and thanks for an unbelievably good, fun, diverse, rich, inclusive, sexy, and meaningful WorldPride!

The End

Friday, July 11, 2014

bye bye Toronto, nos vemos en Madrid!

Yes, the WorldPride saga is almost over!   I didn't think I'd end up posting this much.  But I didn't think I'd be experiencing this much either!

So, after the Parade, we rushed to Dundas Square for the closing ceremony.  The place was - how unsurprising - packed!  The weather - gorgeous.  The mood - friendly, ecstatic, loving...  One funny thing?  I'm a lover of dark beer, you know, porters, stouts...  But my friend who was visiting loves cider.  So I ended up trying Canadian cider... it was perfect for the weather! Still discovering things right before I leave, eh?

As for entertainment, it was fun non stop.  I have no idea who Ce Ce Peniston and Robin S were. But, to begin with, they had everybody up and dancing.  And, additionally, Robin S is the Robin S from "Show me love"!  If you don't know what song I'm talking about, just google it and listen to it.  Within 5 seconds you'll recognize it!  Also, we welcomed Madrid as the next host of WorldPride in 2017!  Spain will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of its first Pride Parade, and given Madrid's lively scene, that should be a WorldPride to remember too!  ¡Felicidades Madrid!  

But you know what one of the best things was?  We knew there was a chance of some light showers - it was in the forecast.  But the clouds loomed darker than expected.  And what at first felt like tiny drops soon became bucketfuls of water pouring on us!   Why was that great? Because there's nothing better than to stand there, not giving a damn about getting soaking wet, while enjoying a performance by an artist - Rich Aucoin - giving it his all because his public is right there with him jumping up and down and celebrating diversity and enjoying the moment despite anything and everything.  So liberating!  And they even let people use a gigantic rainbow flag - that had been used as a backdrop for some parts of the event - as an improvised massive umbrella! Seeing that enormous multicoloured cloth unfold from hand to hand was fabulous! Loved it!  And wait, because it gets better!  What comes after the rain in the late afternoon?  Afternoon sunshine. And with it?  Not one, but TWO rainbows!  Yes!  A double rainbow!  Effing amazing, people.  EF-FING aMAZEing. 

And the show was far from over.  With both rainbows still above, though beginning to fade as night fell on us, we still had "Hedwig" (a fictional character from a glam rock musical called "Hedwig and the angry inch"), a stunning performance by Circus Orange with women clad in metal corsets putting electric saws to their bosoms and genitals to generate tongues of fiery sparks radiating from them, and the cherry on top the Pride cake:  Canadian sisters Tegan and Sara (ok, I admit, I had no idea who they were, but the vast majority of people around me did, and they certainly were crazy excited!).

And since no ceremony could be complete without them, WorldPride said farewell to Toronto with a show of fireworks.  Yay!

Now, just in case for those extremely few of you who actually enjoy video, here's a short one with clips from the whole thing, from Ce Ce Peniston to the fireworks!  If I may say so, it's pretty neat.

Now, we were not just going to go home because someone had said WorldPride was over, right? A quick walk back at the Church - Wellesley Village proved that the party, despite it being very late and a Sunday, was still pretty much still going on!  Granted, the stages were closing down. But the crowds still filled the streets, the music from the clubs still spilled unto the pedestrianized Village, and everybody was having the time of their life with what energy countless days of non-stop partying had left.  Which in our case wasn't very much, I'll concede! 

But we had a mission.  My friend was leaving the next morning and she had one more thing to try before leaving Canada - poutine!   If you're not Canadian or haven't been here, chances are you have no idea what this is strange thing that Canadians couldn't do without at their hockey games, for example.  No hot dogs? Probably.  No poutine?  War!   Here a photo of the delicacy, composed of French fries, gravy, and cheese curds.  Yes, cheese curds:

We headed back home.  And we caught a glimpse of the last few minutes the CN Tower was lit with the colours of the rainbow running up its length.  Until it stopped, reset, and began showing red and white patterns for Canada Day.  WorldPride was indeed officially over.  My best Pride ever, by far, unquestionably so.  A very fitting farewell to this city I've come to appreciate so much.  Respect.