20 Nov 2009

South Side

Around this time of the year, as the days get noticeably short and the first snow is only days away (in fact, we were lucky so far in not getting any), Canadians endowed with the necessary means embark on a great traditional voyage: They are heading south, in pursuit of warmer climates and lower prices, which take the sting out of the winter season. With the US Dollar again hovering around parity to the Canadian loonie, it is not just my boss who's scouting foreclosure-scathed states like Arizona, Florida or Texas for investment opportunities. Many Canadians (co-)own timeshares in the States and retreat there November through March, earning themselves the affectionate nickname "snowbirds". (In fact, when I was spending a few days on Florida beaches this time last year, I was amused to hear so much Quebecois around me. Now I know why.)

While admittedly not quite as glamourous, we have moved south this week as well. My team at work, formerly known as "the east wing" for its location, has been relocated two floors up and to the other end of the building. We're not yet across the railroad tracks, but we're bordering them and yes, we're on the south side! Gotta' think of a gang tattoo and special handshake now - although maybe our new neighbors from finance and legal would not appreciate that... :-)


With the excuse of adjusting to the Candian way of life, I've actually taken one of the few trains running on said railway tracks today, and it has whisked me - once again in less time than expected - to the transborder gates at Montreal airport. Forget about the east wing or the West Wing, I am heading south myself. This weekend, it's AC to D.C.!

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11 Nov 2009

Royal Legion

You would think that flowers mostly bloom in spring. So I was puzzled when over the last week, more and more red poppies started appearing. Interestingly, their natural habitat seemed to be the lapel of middle aged Canadians' coats. Their bright red made for a pleasant spot of color, now that the trees have gone bare. One of my local colleagues eventually filled me in on the purpose of the Poppy Appeal, organized by the Royal Canadian Legion. In a tradition shared with other Commonwealth countries, Canadians raise funds for the support of their war veterans, using the poppy as a symbol. Its origins are traced back to the famous WW1 poem "In Flanders Fields", written by Canadian soldier Lt. Col. John McCrae in 1915. In total, during the two world wars, the Korean war, and more recent operations such as the present Afghan war theater, over 117'000 Canadian soldiers have died in battle. In their honor, November 11 (the date of the WW1 armistice in 1918) is celebrated as a holiday, and I rather unexpectedly found myself with a free day at hand.

Some overseas visitors, however, had a rather more busy day: Rememberance Day marks the end of a 10 day Royal Visit to Canada by the Prince of Wales and the Rottweiler Duchess of Cornwall, honoring veterans in Ottawa today. They toured the country east to west, probably surveying the best places to have tea and biscuits, in anticipation of mum's visit early next year for the Olympic Games. The visit largely went well and without much brouhaha (Canadians are friendly), except of course for the hefty protests in Montreal (Québecois are not Canadians).

And what will I remember of this day? Setting off the fire alarm by accidentially incinerating breadcrumbs inside my stove burner...

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6 Nov 2009

Marathon

Thanks to the über-sporty personality of my dad, I've had plenty of opportunities in the past to witness large endurance events first hand, including extreme ones such as Powerman or the legendary Trans Swiss Triathlon. They would usually see me spending inordinate amounts of time waiting in obscure locations (school gymnasiums, neighborhood air raid shelters, random stretches of country road), stoically staring past never-ending streams of masochistic athletes, stumbling past me with suffering expressions on their faces while flaunting the latest in high-tech gear. This rather drab experience was interrupted, at unpredictable intervalls, by a flurry of activity as the one athlete with a family connection made an appearance, forcing me to put aside my bratwurst and Rivella, in order to supply him with highly artificial concoctions rich in nutrients enabling continued suffering. It was not great.

So, when heading down to New York last weekend to see said athlete and his no less racy spouse, it was more the welcome family encounter than Sunday's marathon that I was looking forward to. Indeed, the two days of socializing and casual sightseeing were positively wonderful, and well worth the trip (which, on new Star Alliance partner Continental, was much smoother than my ill-fated Philadelphia adventure).

Soaking up the Big Apple's vibes, though, it became clear that the New York Marathon was not your typical fringe event, but very much a proud showcase of this city's amazing diversity. Spectator guides were distributed, and the local media was full of listings of course-side festivities. Intrigued, I set aside my original plans of seeking refuge in a museum, and instead picked two interesting neighborhoods to intercept the runners. My first stop was roughly half-way along the 42km, in South Queens, where the Hispanic and European middle-class residents held bake sales, gallery open days and Halloween recovery parties as 45'000 runners flooded by. Many proudly sported their national colors or advertised a cause ("Survive" seemed not to be good enough).

While the course then led the runners uptown and through the Bronx, I jumped on a Harlem-bound subway train, and emerged around 135th street, in an area where only a few years ago, I would not have dared walking. This time it was fine, but clearly different from Queens. African-American families, still all dressed up on their way home from church, lined 5th Ave, enthusiastically clapping and cheering on the runners, at that point struggling past the 35km mark. Street-side gospel and rap bands performed, and 10 year old junior gangstas in bomber jackets and sneakers offered high-fives to sweaty middle-aged Europeans wheezing by. None of the apathy and boredom of my childhood experiences could be sensed here, and I was almost disappointed when my flock of runners showed up right on schedule - this was actually fun! Not to mention a prime opportunity to shout encouraging stuff at strangers in every language I felt I knew. Most runners smiled back at me, and all of them were too exhausted to mind my botched Swedish / Austrian / Québecois / Castellano...

Oh, and for those who care: Yes, my family athletes did cross the finish line. And as you know, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!

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