19 Nov 2011

Gente di Mare

You've either got it, or you haven't. A sandy beach, that is. Unfortunately, both my native land and adopted city are firmly in the second set. Maybe this is part of the explanation for the ongoing attraction that sun, sand and salt exert on me, while simultaneously commanding my respect. As Umberto Tozzi put it in his tear jerker Gente di Mare:
A noi che siamo gente di pianura
navigatori esperti di città
il mare ci fa sempre un po' paura
per quell'idea di troppa libertà.
In what I had thought to become a year with no summer, I have in fact had the chance to dip my toes into four different seas, and to observe four different cultures, all very much oriented towards, and characterized by, the big blue. Take the Mediterranean, whose rich and centuries-old culture is so evocative of relaxed, authentic and passionate pleasures that the term today graces anything from barbeque sauces to perfume bottles. Consider Chile, where determined surfers, swimmers and fishermen defy the frigid waters of the Humboldt current, because the richness and appeal of 4000km of shoreline are just too tempting. Imagine the tropical wonderland of Hawaii, where crystal-clear, warm waters invite weary mainlanders to taste island life. And look, as I do today, at the overdeveloped retiree paradise of Florida's Atlantic coast, where flocks of Canadian snowbirds flee to every November, to spend the winter months in their Martha Stewart-themed condos.

Wherever I went, the four oceans not just provided for a temperate climate and a soothing soundtrack of waves crashing on shore, the wide horizons also seemed to have a dampening effect on the human psyche. I have witnessed businessmen alight from a cab in a rush, see the water, and deflate onto a park bench. Fishermen leaning against their boats after the day's work was done, having a cigarette. Surfers, merrily smoking a different product. Pensioners, up bright and early to see yet another Florida sunrise (how fortunate, psychologically, that the sun sets in their backs). And, four times in as many months, a certain landlocked city-dweller approach the salty water, careful at first but increasingly exuberant, and immerse himself in what truly is an infinity pool - and an equally endless sense of liberation.

Who said anything about a year of winters? There is always another shore, another ocean, another summer to discover.
Noi prigionieri in questa città
viviamo sempre di oggi e di ieri
inchiodati dalla realtà...
e la gente di mare va.

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5 Nov 2011


It's been about a week since I've returned to Montréal from Chile (with a little side-trip to Spain thrown in for good measure), and with a bit of both geographical as well as temporal distance, I can now look back on my time south of the equator.

Quite an experience it undoubtedly was. Culturally, linguistically, meteorologically and professionally, Chile was markedly different from what I had been used to, creating an interesting personal challenge. As time went by, I started to adapt to the new circumstances and learned to appreciate some of the Chilean ways - from the more fluid notion of time (sacrilege to the Swiss) to the importance of relationship over speediness (counterintuitive to the Canadians), it was rewarding to see that different means can lead to equally good ends.

With their warm, cordial attitude, my Chilean colleagues quickly became my friends as well - which was particularly important as during my five months in the country, I did not have the chance to reach out beyond my work mates. It was this the curse of the assignment: Long enough to feel a bit lost, but not long enough to build a proper social network as a cure.

As such, it was with mixed feelings that I left the country: Sad to leave new friends and further interesting destinations behind, but equally happy to return home. And during the past week, Québec got me with a vengeance. From colorful slang swearing about the poor roads the buses trundle on (corruption, you say??), ritual throwing up of hands at the first snowflakes, lavish selection of autumnal delecacies at the local marché, to hallway talk about the lackadaisical performance of the Habs - it all felt warmly familiar, and it put a smile on my face as I transitioned back into my Canadian routine.

So tonight, I will pair some fromage lait cru québécois with a nice bottle of Chilean carménère, smear manjar onto some biscuits, marvel at photos taken in the past five months, including the one now etched into my brand-new Canadian Permanent Resident card, and it will be...
le bonheur, ¿cachai?

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