Saturday, October 23

Slow Down

It's been a weird and wacky couple of weeks. And I don't mean that in a bad way what-so-ever. I've had that wonderful yet strange feeling of going from a very busy pace of life to quite the opposite. The first time I did this was years ago, going to L.A. after living in a tent in northern California for three months. This time was from Vancouver to a farm on the gulf islands. Granted, this isn't quite as extreme. But not having had access to the internet for the past week was refreshing, in a strange way.

To begin with, I rounded out my two and a half weeks in Vancouver with old friends. Two of my good buddies from Montreal, [cr] Dave and Bert, who are now living in Seattle, drove up to see me on the weekend of the eighth. Though I met both at McGill University in Montreal, Dave is now working for Microsoft (which is based out of Seattle), and Bert is doing his PhD at the University of Washington. We were joined by another friend, Steve, who is doing his masters at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Though they only had two nights to spare, we managed to have a most agreeable time. We were joined occasionally by people that we met at the hostel. One of which was a girl from France, very nice, and extremely friendly. What struck me about her was the way she spoke. Though her english was good, it wasn't quite fluent. Yet she had a perfect Manchester accent. Apparently, her father spent some time in England, and this was enough to rub off on her.

A few days after my friends went back to Washington State, Vancouver started to feel a little stale. It was the longest that I'd stayed in one place since I left Montreal, and though it is a nice city, it didn't feel like there was any reason to stick around. So I caught a bus, which led to a ferry, which led to another bus, which led to another ferry. All of this to get to a tiny island called Denman. It's my second time here. I think I've already told the story in a previous blog.

After getting here, I realized that I misjudged my finances a tad, and though I still had two weeks left before my flight to Halifax, I only had enough funds to last me for one. So I asked around, and found a farm that did WWOOFing. That translates to Willing to Work On Organic Farms. This particular organic farm was an orchid, i.e. an apple farm. The deal was that I would pick apples for five hours a day, starting Monday and ending Friday. In exchange, I could sleep in the rustic cabin [i.e. no running water or heat] for a full week, and get lunch and dinner each day, all free of charge.

It was my first time living on a farm, and though only for a short while, it was still a great learning experience. The only animals there were chickens, but it was the first time that I had seen a whole community of them running free. They had a very well defined hierarchy, with the sole rooster clearly in charge. A good example is feeding time. The smaller ones would be kept at bay by the larger, until they had had their fill. Then they were allowed to pick at the leftovers.

At times they really seemed to speak, in some strange way or another. Every time that one laid an egg, she would come out to announce her achievement. After strutting up to us, she would pace back and forth, clucking loudly for about five minutes. After it was clear that nobody cared, she would kick up some dust, and march back to the pen in disgust.

As an added bonus, I improved my fire-starting abilities quite a bit, mostly out of necessity. The nights are chilly here, and the only source of heat was an old-fashioned wood stove. I knew how to make fires before I got here, but in a very clumbsy way, and with lots of paper. Now, I can get it going with just one match, and only about three pieces of paper. It's possible to use less, but you'd need to do a lot more splitting of the wood into smaller pieces. In the end, the tricks were to dry out rotten wood to use for kindling (it catches fire much faster), and to build the fire in a pyramid shape, making sure to do so in under the vent. When the fire hits the kindling, blow like hell. And when adding more wood, each piece should be slightly bigger than the last, until you get up to pieces that are big enough that they burn slowly. All of this might sound like common sense, but it took me damn near an hour to figure it out. Hence the need to boast about the accomplishment.

One last thing that struck me about this place, and all of the gulf islands off of Vancouver, is that just about everyone that I've met is a hippy. The fact that I was on an organic farm should say plenty about the people that I was working with. The guy with whom I shared the cabin was pretty hardcore, complete with thick dreadlocks and laid back, passive demeanor. If I ever had to identify myself with one social group, it would have been the hippies, but lately I've been noticing how much that's changed. The first time that I was here, I fit in without any problems, and almost didn't leave. But this time, though I still had a great time, I don't really feel the desire to stick around...

Thursday, October 7

A Pause...

Well, I've been in Vancouver for a little over a week, and it's been nice to be in one place for a while. As an added bonus, the weather has been unusually good, mostly sunny the whole time that I've been here.

Most of the week, I've been hanging around the hostel here in Vancouver, which is a nice enough place, and very friendly. Everyone is easy to talk to, and most nights are either spent sitting around or playing games, as there's always someone around. I've been avoiding going out, as I'd like to stretch out my money as long as possible. Of course, almost everyone here is Australian. Sometimes it seems like more Australians come here than stay home.

Earlier in the week, I looked into getting a working visa for France. Pleasant surprise. The last time that I was in France there was no program for general visas at all. But since 2002 there have been 700 visas given out each year to Canadians. All well and good, but I'm not sure how many people apply, so it's still not clear whether I'll be able to get one. And I can't even apply until I get back to Montreal, as the French consulate here only handles applications for residents of B.C. I love bureaucracy.

Vancouver as a city has different points to it, both good and bad. Things are more-or-less laid back, especially for a city its size [1.5 million people, I think]. Life is much slower here than in Toronto, and as a consequence, I think I like it more here then there. Still, the number of crack heads here is completely out of control. I was walking around one of the nicer parts of downtown when one of said crackies started following me, and didn't let up for six blocks. He even followed me into shops. What was even more disturbing was his skin. Some kind of round scabby shit all over his hands and arms. I was thinking he had leprosy or something. When he first saw me he asked me if I could give him a $20 bill for two $10s [ie, would you please show me your wallet so I can mug you]. My mistake was looking him in the eye and saying no. Eye contact is bad... after ten minutes, and my repeatedly telling him that I was broke - ie no money in my bank account - he finally fucked off. Maybe I should have been more direct and told him to get the fuck away from me, but he didn't look like he was very stable...

One thing that surprised me about this city is the number of red neck bruisers. The hostel is on the main street in terms of nightlife, and every night there are about three or four fights that break out. And that would be on a peaceful evening. The one that I saw last night was more of a mugging, two thugs beating the shit out of some other guy outside a bar. Before anyone knew what was going on, though, there were about five cops on them. I guess the police are expecting this sort of thing, and plain clothes cops patrol the street all night. In the end, a cop was whipping one of thugs with a pair of handcuffs. Somehow this was mildly entertaining to us.

Since I actually have some free time, I've been nerding out on more political mumbo jumbo. The latest thing to catch my interest is the web site of Noam Chomsky. I'd heard of him before, but didn't get into most of his writings until now. It's nice to read left material that is almost entirely backed up by facts. Most of the liberal writers that I find, although more or less in line with my opinions, almost always embellish and skew the facts - which I find very annoying. For anyone who's interested, the url is

On one last political note, apparently there's a chance that Paul Martin's government will be overthrown tonight. He's turned a vote on an amendment to the throne speech into a vote of no-confidence in his government by the opposition. This could lead to one of the shortest governments, well, ever. As much as I dislike Martin, I hate the fact that there isn't an alternative to him even more.