31 Jul 2016

Patriot Day

Canada and Switzerland are an ocean apart - and exactly one month, when it comes to their national days. The Great White North celebrates confederation on July 1st (1867), whereas Switzerland cherishes August 1st as its - apocryphal - founding moment in 1291. 

2016 is the first year I can consider both of these events truly "mine", and it also marks the first time since 2009 that I took part in events for both of them. (Normally, I am on vacation during at least one of the days, but this year I was tied down.)

The Swiss event, the largest such celebration to take place in North America, was held on the last Saturday of July (since August 1 is not a holiday for expats in Canada) and offered the expected mix of folkore, pathos and culinary delights. Unlike the sole other time I drove to the picturesque town of Sutton for it, this year she came along, placing me in the role of a cultural interpreter.  Having to explain traditions such as jodeling and lampion parades forced me to reflect on them, and the way the Swiss observe their national day.

The comparison with Canada Day imposes itself, with memories of it still fresh. Granted, the two were not like for like, as the Swiss festivities were those of a sentimental expat community, and the Canadian ones in Montréal's Old Port arguably these of a sceptical separatist province.

Indeed,  the official act was repeatedly interrupted by loud demonstrators demanding more rights for First Nations people. While the jeering and booing visibly bothered the military band playing O Canada for the flag raising ceremony, the crowd generally chose to politely ignore the protesters, and the local MP addressing the audience ad-libbed a comment about Canada respecting everybody's freedom of speech.

Most striking, though, was what followed next. While the Swiss tradition may be to light a bonfire warning of foreign threats, the Canadians chose to celebrate by making more citizens. Across the country, a cornerstone of National Day proceedings is a special Citizenship Ceremony, where a lucky group of applicants is invited up on stage, and then sworn in to become subjects of Her Majesty in front of an applauding crowd waving Maple Leaf flags (helpfully handed out by government staffers beforehand).

In the inevitable speeches, Swiss politicians love to recall the story of William Tell and how the valiant Eidgenossen have resisted foreign invaders for over 700 years. Their Canadian counterparts invoke a history of immigration and multi-culturalism, and pride themselves in welcoming more people into their fold every year. (Only cynics would note the excellent opportunity to capture new voters before anyone else does.)

It was a touching and appealing message to listen to, and I would hope to hear similar words from podiums on August 1st. For there was a fine irony in hearing the Canadian politician say that the red and white of the Maple Leaf flag should evoke relief and compassion much like the flag of the Red Cross. Which of course was derived from the Swiss flag.

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11 Jul 2016

Halfway House

This entry is being written on the same keyboard, at the same desk, but in a different room of a new home. As such, the wish expressed in the last post has come true, and I am gradually settling into the new place.

The move went reasonably well, but not without hiccups and not without lots of sweat, for we picked the hottest weekend so far this summer to lift boxes. Still, it could have been worse: By avoiding the province-wide moving day of July 1st, we saved the extortionate surcharges moving companies add on "D-Day".

As it happened, the three Russians hired to manhandle my furniture did an excellent and speedy job. Sadly, the same could not be said for the Latino cleaners we had also booked for the day to remove the previous tenants' grime and the inevitable dirt from movers, electricians, cabinet builders and other assorted craftsmen that had worked in our new home in the preceeding days.

On that sunny Saturday in late June, the cleaners simply no-showed on us (some would say that disappearances without a trace are a Latin American speciality), leaving us very exhausted at the end of a long day, in a dirty house, and unwilling to start stow away our belongings in filthy cabinets.

Instead, we spent the next day moving more surplus stuff into boxes, and transporting these to charitable institutions and garage sales. At the same time, we scrambled to find alternative cleaners. Word-of-mouth eventually led to an energetic woman, who showed up on Monday morning to assess the work, and promised that her team would move in later that day.

Imagine my reaction, then, when I got a text message around 17.30 saying that the cleaners were stuck in traffic and were not going to make it. As the next best available date, they suggested July 11 - today. It would have been unthinkable to live in such a mess for that long, and so we eventually resorted to a shady cleaning business from the online classifieds. They did a mediocre job on Wednesday, and insisted in cash payment - but they got it done.

And with that, we were able to finally start "moving in" for real: Deciding what things go where, finding storage spaces,  filling wardrobe and fridge, and cooking meals without disgust.

The job is not done yetIn the two weeks since, we have relentlessly ticked of one after the other of the many smaller items still on the to-do list. Yesterday, the last Scandinavian flat-packs were transformed into furniture. Most of the boxes have been consigned to recycling. Lamps have been hanged, with curtains not far behind. The fight for bathroom shelf-space has ended in a draw.

To the author of these lines, with a perfectionist streak and two left hands, it was not a fun time. Nerves have been frayed, backs hurt, and far too much of a short summer spent with a frown on the face. 

But as we slowly settle in, so does a new routine. The sweat and treasure (no blood, fortunately) were an investment, then, and it already starts paying dividends: A few days ago, we enjoyed our first dinner in the finished dining room - an important waypoint on the journey from a new house to a new home.

It is a new chapter. It will require adjustment, nimbleness, and compromise. We are keen, and by now we are well rehearsed... in thinking outside the box.

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