Bogota, far below us
The Brit enjoys travel (which is just as well, all things considered) but getting the Canadian out of Kingston, let alone out of Canada, is like pulling teeth without anaesthetic. However, the Canadian has a brother and sister-in-law who teach in Bogota, Colombia, and they had been urging us for some time to visit them. Imagine the Brit's delight and amazement when the invitation was eventually accepted!
Sunset over Florida, from the plane window
Not without a little difficulty, arrangements were eventually made through a travel agent (who initially didn't know where Bogota was) and we were booked on a direct flight from Toronto on 29 November, returning overnight on 7 December. Copious lists were drawn up, suitcases unearthed and dusted off, currency obtained, plentiful supplies of cat food and litter purchased, a hotel booked in Toronto for the night before we left, and a wonderful cat-sitting service put in place.
We drove to Toronto on the 28th and settled into the hotel, which had recently been refurbished, both anticipating the sleeplessness that usually accompanies the first night in a strange bed. But within minutes of lying down on the new, firm, Kingsize bed the Brit and the Canadian were deep in slumbering bliss. It was the most comfortable bed in the world! (The Travelodge on Dixon Road, for anyone who's interested). We left the car at the hotel while we were away and took the courtesy bus to the airport the next morning.
There were no queues at the Air Canada check-in desk when we arrived at the airport and we felt rather pleased with ourselves for having got there a little ahead of time. The checker-inner stared long and hard at her computer screen. She stared long and hard at our tickets. She stared back at her screen. "I don't understand why your travel agent didn't assign you seats," she said, "but there aren't any left now. The plane's full. I'll have to put you on stand-by." She instructed us to go the departure lounge and wait for our names to be called; we'd get further instructions at that point. "But what if no seats become available?" we wailed. "Don't even think about it" she said. "When's the next flight?" we asked. "Don't even go there" she said, and handed us boarding passes with Stand By printed on them in ominously large red print.
I had a feeling that the Canadian's dislike of travelling was being reinforced.
We sat dejectedly in the departure lounge and watched as it slowly filled with people. People carrying valid boarding passes. People looking happy. A gimlet-eyed Air Canada staff person, with a smile as artificial as her tan, positioned herself behind the desk and started moving papers from one pile to another and back again. She fiddled with her computer screen. A few people walked up to her with questions and were waved imperiously back to their seats. "Should we tell her we're here?" wondered the Canadian. The Brit looked dubiously at the gimlet-eyes and reminded the Canadian that we'd been told to wait until called. The barrier was removed from the entrance to the aircraft access tunnel and travellers who needed assistance or who had young children were invited to board. The Canadian and the Brit looked nervously at each other. People in rows 1 - 8 were called. People in rows 9 - 20 were called. The departure lounge was emptying fast. The Canadian and the Brit exchanged another glance and made a decision. Gimlet-eyes would have to be approached. She took the proffered Stand By boarding passes, held on to them, and made the by now recognisable imperious wave back to a waiting seat. We waited. The lounge grew emptier. And then - she called our names! Was this going to be "you'll have to wait until Saturday" or was it going to be a happier outcome? We moved towards her. "I've issued you with new boarding passes, you can go through now" she said - and her smile almost looked real when she saw the obvious relief and delight on our faces.
A quick look at the treasured passes showed that not only did we have seats, but we were sitting beside each other. Triumphantly, we entered the plane. "Row 4" said the Canadian, as the Brit wasn't wearing her glasses and couldn't see a damned thing. We found row 4. "Can't be this one," said the Brit, "we'll have to move further up." There were no more row 4's. We came back. The Canadian spoke to the steward. The steward looked at the passes, looked at the row, smiled and nodded. The Brit's mouth dropped open. The Canadian beamed from ear to ear. We sat down. No, we sank down. We sank down into the luxury of a six-hour flight in First Class.
Today I can make my application for Canadian citizenship, having been a permanent resident for three years! It appeared to be a very straightforward process requiring merely the completion of the application form, taking copies of relevant documents, paying the exorbitant fee and having two photographs taken. The photographs have to be signed on the bottom, in a very small white space that the photographer has left for you, adhering closely to the dimensions stipulated by the Canadian government, in its infinite wisdom. No part of your signature may fall outside this white space, there has to be clear white space above, below and to each side of it.
No reason for this photo, I just like it
I have been practicing, practicing, practicing for three days now, trying desperately to get my large and unruly signature to become compact and neat while still remaining recognisably my own.
My fear is that I may be denied citizenship based solely upon my inability to achieve microscopic handwriting, despite having a clean record, a working knowledge of Canadian politics, history and geography, being morally upstanding and a regular all round nice gal.
The Lake in the Mountain
A routine trip to a neighbouring town in a quest for cheaper cigarettes turned into an excursion this afternoon. An excursion into the small, quiet town of Picton in Prince Edward County. There I was introduced to the phenomenon of the "Lake in the Mountain". Not exactly a mountain - southeastern Ontario doesn't go in for such peaks - but a phenomenon nonetheless. At the top of a fair-sized hill we parked the car and gazed down, way down, at Lake Ontario to our left. To our right, at the top of this fair-sized hill, nestled a lake. It was a strange sensation to have water below you on one side and water above you on the other. Looking out over Lake Ontario we could see the inlets of Hay Bay, Adolphustown Reach and, I think, Long Reach.
Looking out over Lake Ontario from Picton
We took the Glenora Ferry from Picton back to the mainland and drove through quiet agricultural land - farms, orchards (lots of orchards), crops and livestock - and all the while the clear, deep blue waters of the Lake shimmered at our side. There was a serenity about the area and a real sense of community.
Lovely old tree trunk
Colours of the Lake
Red-winged blackbird in full song
Spring has finally reached south-eastern Ontario and for the past few days we've basked in warm sunshine. So warm, in fact, that it's felt more like early summer than spring. One day we were bundled up in layers and warm jackets and the next we were out walking in T-shirts. Where, oh where, have the four distinct seasons gone?
In this fine weather we've been walking down by the lake, which has now lost all its ice covering and is a deep blue under the cloudless sky. Close to shore it's green and crystal clear.
Today we went to a conservation area called Lemoine Point. Collins Bay, an inlet from Lake Ontario, was to our left, and to our right a marshy area covered in bullrushes. As we walked, we became aware of a cacophony of sound which filled the air and had no discernible source. Frogs! Hundreds and hundreds of frogs, ribett-ribetting their little hearts out in the rushes and frolicking in the marshy ponds. We also saw a woodpecker, the lovely red-winged blackbirds (which are entirely new to me) and some wonderfully gnarled old tree trunks.
Once again, my apologies for large photos if you're on dial-up and choose to click on any of these thumbnails.
Yet again a disturbed young man, backed by the seemingly sacred constitutional right to carry a lethal weapon or two, has laid waste to other young men and women, and himself, in an American educational institution.
Surely it's time for this ridiculous second amendment to be laid to rest, or amended. People in the US are no longer fighting frontier battles, or the British, or anyone else on their soil - except their young people, one against another. Perhaps if more money was put into social welfare, education, health services and other life-enhancing programmes there would be fewer feelings of frustration, anger, hatred and helplessness amongst people that can trigger such drastic action. Is there no one on the American political scene with the balls to say "no" to the NRA?
Much is being made of the "failure" of the Virginia Tech police to shut down the campus after the first shootings in the dormitory. From the reports that have been coming out, it would seem that the
police and university authourities acted quite rationally based on the
information they had at the time. Retrospect is a wonderful thing, but it's never there when you need it! There has even been talk of suing the university. Do people really think that a cheque for a few thousand dollars will make up for the loss of their son or daughter? Are they putting a price on their child's head?
Where I think the university did fail was in not following up on the concerns expressed by Cho Seung Hui's teachers. His English professor, in particular, recognised that he had serious problems and did her best to get him help - but it appears that her efforts fell on deaf ears. I hope this is something that will be looked at good and hard in the investigations and enquiries that will no doubt be established in the weeks to come.
We've heard very little about Cho Seung Hui's parents. They too have suffered the loss of a son, but I doubt if their presence would be welcomed at any of the memorial services or vigils that are taking place. As sure as eggs are eggs, there will be someone with hate in his heart and a constitutional gun in his hand ready to take revenge and visit the sins of the son upon the parent. I hope, for their sakes, that they are under protection, and that they are being offered counselling for bearing what must surely be the greatest pain of anyone involved in this sorry saga.
How the settlers brewed it
How it's brewed today (non-commercially)
From pail to pan
How the native inhabitants brewed it
Ahhhhh, maple syrup! A quintissential Canadian product (after all, we have the maple leaf on our flag) and yet it's also produced in the northernmost states of the US (particularly upstate New York and Vermont, according to our informative guide). A fascinating walk today in the Little Cataraqui Conservation Centre's maple syrup producing area was both enjoyable and educational.
According to legend, it was the random hit of a tomahawk into a maple tree trunk that introduced the native inhabitants to the delights of the maple sap. Who knows what might have happened to the course of syrup history if his blade had struck an oak tree. However, these ingenious indigenous people led pipes made out of sumak from the maple trunk down to hollowed-out branches or small trunks in which they had gathered the sap. They then heated stones in a fire and, when extremely hot, put the stones into the sap. Thus the liquid was boiled and syrup ensued.
The later settlers gathered the sap in pails which they attached to the tree trunks and poured the sap into cauldrons which they boiled over log fires.
Still later, and today in small, non-commercial concerns such as the one we visited, the sap is boiled in longer, flatter containers.
In commercial production, the trees are tapped into by a series of interconnecting tubes which drain their sap into a central reservoir, thus saving people from having to carry individual pails from the trees to the processing centre.
Only a certain amount of sap can be taken from each tree and this is determined by the diameter of the trunk. But there is a limit of four pails on any one tree. I'm not sure how this works out when the commercial tube system is in place. Our guide explained it in terms of human blood donation, which made sense.
***once again, dial-up users, big picture alert!***
Lovely turquoise ice
A seagull coming in to land
Spring is finally on its way and today was a balmy 7°C for our walk around the Olympic Harbour in the sunshine. The ice in the Lake is breaking up and revealing beautiful turquoises and patterns. It was so nice to be outside without being bundled up in heavy layers and thick jackets.
Which brings me on to another of my "noticing different things about Canada". People here wear sweatshirts and jackets which proclaim "CANADA" in bold letters. This is never done in the UK! The only people in the UK who wear clothing with slogans proclaiming "LONDON" or "ENGLAND" or any other part of the country are tourists (or, in the case of "England", football fans). When I lived in London I wouldn't have been seen dead in a T-shirt or sweatshirt that said "Leicester Square" or "London" or somesuch - it would have sent the message that I was not a local. When we went to Newfoundland a couple of years ago I bought a fleece jacket that had a discreet "Newfoundland" insignia on the front and I find that when I wear it people stop me, with a big smile, and ask if that's where I'm from. The first time it happened I was horrified! My Britishness leapt into play and I thought "Good grief, if that is where I was from I wouldn't own such a thing!".
But there seems to be no such feeling here. There's none of that self-effacing, underplaying oneself, head down stay in the background don't let anyone know who you are or where you're from syndrome. I am from "CANADA", it's on my jacket dammit and I'm proud of it. And that's the way it should be.
***dial-up alert*** I think these photos are large, so if you click on them be prepared to wait!
A rear light caught behind ice, with water trapped between the car and the ice causing a distortion
The ice hadn't fallen off this tyre
On Thursday we were threatened with a violent snow and ice storm overnight. Many of the eastern US states caught it, and it raged into eastern Canada too, but in our little corner of the Lake we were somehow protected from the worst of it. We awoke on Friday to find that freezing rain had struck and the cars in the parking lot outside our apartment provided an opportunity to catch some interesting pictures.
This piece of ice had fallen off a tyre and you can clearly see the tread marks left behind
An almost full moon tonight (it won't be fully full ... fullyful, I like that ... until Saturday) so I decided to see what my new toy would make of it. I'm not too impressed with my attempt. For a start, I really should have used a tripod instead of relying on my notoriously shaky hands and resting my elbow on a railing; but I think I would also need a longer lens to get a good shot. This was taken with a 200mm, but a 300mm or more would be awesome. It will be interesting to try the experiment again in the autumn, though, with the huge harvest moon.
The mate wonders if we're bringing bread
Don't they know there's no food to be found on a frozen lake? Don't their poor little tummies get cold, sitting there patiently waiting for a thaw?
A mallard and his mate