Sunday, June 17, 2012

On the Go

Well,  it's been a couple of months since I last wrote and they've certainly been busy ones!

At the start of April, I had a great week zipping between Toronto's various cinemas to see a variety of documentary movies.  HotDocs is now officially my favourite film festival here in Toronto, even knocking the Toronto International Film Festival out of the water.  I really enjoy the snapshots I see into different lives and alternative ways of thinking.  This year my favourites were Radioman about a formerly homeless guy who wears a radio around his neck and crashes movie sets in the US.  He's been in over 100 films as an extra and has befriended many of the top movie stars.  I also enjoyed Ping Pong, about a group of pensioners taking part in the over-80s world table-tennis championships.  Dreams of a Life about a young woman who died alone and whose skeleton was discovered in her flat still watching TV made me cry and Meet the Fokkens, about seventy-year old Dutch twin sisters, Louise and Martine Fokken, who had worked as prostitutes for 50 years, was hilarious.

Shortly thereafter I was off on my travels again for work.  A rather fleeting, spur of the moment and  busy trip to South America to attend some education exhibitions and meet with various government and university contacts.  First stop was Quito in Ecuador.  A new country for me and although I only had a couple of days there, I really liked what I saw.  I hope to go back for a holiday at some point.  A deeper exploration and trip to the Galapagos Islands is calling!

Quito is high up in the Andes and you certainly feel the altitude for the first few days.  I stayed in a really traditional and reasonably-priced bed and breakfast called Hotel Boutique Portal de Cantuna in the old town, which was a nice change from the standard Hilton-type business hotels.  It also meant I actually saw some of the charms Quito has to offer in its squares, churches and steep streets as I meandered back and forth between meetings and events.  The views were amazing and food delicious!

After Quito, I headed even further south to yet another new country for me, Chile.  The view from the plane as we flew down the length of the Andes mountain chain was amazing but I have to be honest and say I wasn't bowled over by Santiago itself.  Again, I was only there a couple of days and just scratched the surface but it didn't grab me as a city I have a strong desire to return to.  There were a lot of wild dogs roaming the streets, non-artistic graffiti everywhere and it felt as if many years of muck had been left to build up everywhere.  I found a couple of nice restaurants, one in an old barber shop and a Peruvian one that my former student, Juan-Carlos, took me to.  The Chilean wine, of course, was delicious!  The trip was, however, productive work-wise and it was interesting to check out the city in the spare time I had.

It was heading into Autumn in South America so coming back to a full blast of summer heat in the North was quite welcome, especially as we had a long weekend here.

I spent a lovely, hot, sunny day out in the wine region of Niagara at Peller Estates with my friend Leslie.  The estate was hosting a Food Truck event and we spent the day lining up to try various dishes, drink the wine and bask in the sun - not a bad way to spend a Sunday!

The next day, I was able to kick summer off in another of my favourite ways by taking to the water on Victoria Day itself.  I joined some friends for an evening sail out to Ashbridge's Bay on Lake Ontario to watch the fireworks.  It was a lovely evening and on the way we were taken aback by the sight of boatloads of marines and harbour police racing towards us as they escorted a coastguard boat out.  We were a bit miffed to be pushed out of the way by them so as they past gave our best two-fingered 'royal' wave only to discover later that Prince Charles and Camilla were actually on board - ooops!

The following week, I headed south of the border again to attend the NAFSA conference in Houston, Texas.  A busy week and it was incredibly hot and humid when wandering outside.  I found Houston to be quite a strange place with very few people to be seen in the downtown area.  It's definitely a car city.  However, I enjoyed the many receptions that took place and, in particular, the one at the Houston Space Center, where I got to see various bits of space mission memorabilia, real rockets and even touched a piece of the moon!

Following the conference, I decided to take advantage of being in the US deep south and headed east to New Orleans for the weekend.  I had a fantastic weekend and thoroughly enjoyed exploring this fascinating city.  I stayed in a gorgeous mansion house B&B, the Avenue Inn,  on St Charles Avenue so took the rickety old streetcar (named Desire?) downtown each day.  I enjoyed exploring the French Quarter, learnt about Louisiana's history, tried southern-style cuisine and listened to some amazing jazz at the Preservation Hall.  I saw Brad Pitt's house and also heard about and saw the results of his foundation that is building new homes for the people who lost everything in Ward 6 when the levee wall broke during Hurricane Katrina.  He's building 150 homes and is half way there having hired many different architects to create homes that suit each family's demographics, are eco-friendly and built to withstand the forces of nature as much as possible.  Each home must also have an escape hatch in the roof in case the flooding happens again as this is where many of those who died were found as they were unable to break through their roofs.  The legacy of the flooding remains and many houses still bear the Katrina tattoo used by rescuers to search for survivors but there was an overwhelming feeling from people in New Orleans that the city is now well on its way to recovery and is, in many ways, more vibrant than it was before.

I also spent a very hot and humid day out in the countryside visiting two plantations, Laura and Oak Alley.  Two contrasting but fascinating plantations.  It was really interesting to see where Louisiana's sorrow, the slave trade, had existed and learn about the lives of the people at the time.  It certainly wasn't all mint juleps and hoop skirts!

I came back to Toronto and am looking forward to a few months of being in one place although I thoroughly enjoyed all my travels.  Unfortunately, due to my South American trip, I'd missed taking part in the Sporting Life 10K alongside my teammates so was delighted when last weekend, a couple of them joined me so that I could complete my challenge in memory of my dear friend Helen.  I'm proud to say I did it and would like to thank everyone who supported me in raising over $950 for children with cancer to enjoy some fun time at Camp Oochigeas.  My team raised over $8,000 in total and I'm hugely proud of our overall achievement.  Next year, we're all planning to do it again and beat our times!  Thank you so much for your support.  Here's me with my lovely U of T English Language Program colleagues, Bibian and Barb (who did the 10k route for a second time!), at our finishing point: