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Charlottetown, Days 1 and 2: A Rough Start to the Fun Part

My week in Charlottetown was packed with so much fun and excitement that it’s hard to remember it all, but I guess I’ll just start at the beginning of the adventure and see how far I get.

Thursday afternoon: arrive, exhausted, in Moncton, New Brunswick. I pick up my bags and head to the Maritime Bus counter, only to find out that the lady in front of me got the last Moncton-Charlottetown bus ticket package of the day.

Damn.

So, at this point, my options are a) take a $300 taxi to Charlottetown, b) call the hostel, cancel tonight, find a place to stay in Moncton, and catch the next bus at 9:20 AM the next morning or c) take a $100 taxi ride to Amherst, Nova Scotia, in hopes of beating the bus there and hopping on the Amherst-Charlottetown bus, for which there are still tickets, understanding that if I miss the bus, I’ve gone from being stuck in a small town in New Brunswick to being stuck in an even smaller town in Nova Scotia for the night.

I opt for C. Challenge accepted.

The lady at the bus counter gets a cab for me. I have a little over an hour to catch this bus, and it’s 45 minutes between Moncton and Amherst. The cab driver turns out to be this little old man called Joe who moves. And. Talks. Very. Slowly.

I’m. Screwed.

I put on my best Shirley Feeney and keep up high hopes that this guy doesn’t croak before we leave the parking lot.

But, am I wrong.

After we get past the second red light, he murmurs something like “that’s the one we had to worry about.” Then, it’s on to the highway, and we are flying. The fields of New Brunswick quickly become the windmills of Nova Scotia, and the first two things I see in the province are signs forbidding police scanners and importation of honey bees. Both are good to know.

Joe gets off the highway one exit too early and needs to ask for directions, and I panic a little, but then I see signs for the Anne Murray Centre and start singing “You Needed Me” to myself, and soon enough we are at the Amherst bus station which is actually just a gas station. And we are early. I give Joe a generous tip for his troubles and go to wait in the gas station with a banana and a Coffee Crisp at which point my dad calls me, asking where I am, at which point I answer “So here’s something funny, I’m in Nova Scotia…”

I end up spending a little longer than planned in Nova Scotia as the PEI bus driver arrives early as well, and the Moncton bus driver is a half hour late. I don’t remember too much about the two-hour ride back through New Brunswick, only that I woke up in time to watch us go over the Confederation Bridge, which is gorgeous in mid-afternoon, and soon enough we have arrived in Charlottetown, which is a little further away than I thought.

Once in Charlottetown, the bus doesn’t even stop at a gas station; we get out in a big, empty parking lot at dusk. Fortunately, two good things happen: one, I meet Matt, another traveler, who has come from Ontario and is staying with me at the Charlottetown Backpackers Inn (CBI), and two, that our bus driver has an incredibly loud whistle that can summon a cab out of nowhere. As soon as Matt and I have gotten in and introduced ourselves to the driver and each other, we are there. Matt covers the cab fare, and I should have probably covered my fingers better because I scrape some skin off of one while reaching for the clasp to shut the back after getting our bags.

CBI is a much different hostel than the one in Montreal. It’s much more hippie and friendly, with a comfy living room and communal eat-in kitchen. There are only seven bedrooms: a tiny, unmarked one on the first floor along with others marked 1 and 2, and on the second floor, 3, 4, 5, and a private room, along with three bathrooms washrooms. I snag a bottom bunk on one of the three bunk beds in Room 3 which will be home for the coming week, and Matt is in the bed above mine. Room 3 has a revolving-door situation of roomies, but on that first night, it’s us, Brian from British Columbia, Yuning from Taiwan, and Gil and Arnao from Spain. I don’t remember every single person who shared that room, but after Matt got a job at the hostel and moved over to the staff house, Kaj from Germany moved into the bed above mine, and then after he left, Illeana from Manitoba, who stayed there with her sister Jane. Room 3 is also where I met my dear Heloise and Jade, before they shifted to the girls’ room. There was a couple from Alberta who was there for most of the same time I was, as well as a Japanese guy called Leo.

That first day, I did not do too much. I rented a towel, and since I was just about out of anything clean to wear, I went down to a corner store to do laundry. I had about a load and a half’s worth of stuff, and was kind of reluctant to split it into two loads, when all of a sudden Yuning appears with about a half-load of her own clothing (she had gotten the idea from me) so I happily tossed a few of my items in with hers. By the time we were done, it was dark, so we went back to the hostel to hang out and meet more people. Around the kitchen table, I got to know Karen and Natalie, both from Halifax, who seemed to know more about Charlottetown and PEI than anybody in their right mind should know, but it just turned out they’d been there for a while, and by the time I left, I knew the same things. Karen brushed me up on my Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery knowledge, and Natalie filled me in on which shows to see. Karen said that I’d have to rent or find transportation to get to all the Anne sites, which were mostly in Cavendish, about 45 minutes north of Charlottetown. (Sidenote: Charlottetown, if you had a bus to Cavendish, it would sell out every day from the amount of people who want to go there. Then again, I guess that’s why you have the expensive tours). I go to bed, do some more research, and drift off to sleep wondering if I made the right choice with this whole six-night-seven-day stay in Charlottetown.

Friday morning: Wake up at 10:30 AM, having missed breakfast completely, despite my alarm going off and waking up everyone else (whoops).

At noon, I head out to explore what Charlottetown has to offer. I sit through a wonderful free show at the Confederation Center called “We Are Canadian” which is basically a 45-minute-long showcase of cultural dances from the many nations who live in Canada. It is fun except for this pink whale of a woman who keeps walking in front of me to get her wandering child. Afterwards, there is a short historical reenactment outside the Confederation House, depicting the circumstances surrounding the meeting that took place there which made Prince Edward Island effectively the “birthplace of Confederation,” where the premiers came together to create the idea of Canada as a nation. After that fun bit of history, I headed inside to purchase 91 dollars’ worth of theatre tickets: Bittergirl on Saturday and Anne of Green Gables, Canada’s longest-running and most iconic musical, on Monday. I keep telling myself, it’s for the island. Then, I wander upstairs to see a replica of the room where the Confederation meeting was held, and then to the art gallery for a fantastic exhibition on the mapping of Canada and the plotting of Prince Edward Island and some weird modern stuff which doesn’t really belong. After stopping for a Tim Hortons and a few Anne of Green Gables and Island-themed shops, I realize that I’m exhausted, and that in four hours, I have walked all of…one block. I head back to CBI, sit down on my bed…and wake up three hours later. Whoops, again. This day is just a giant fail.

Just when I go downstairs to the kitchen and lament to Natalie how much of a fail today was and that I probably won’t be able to get to Cavendish to see the Anne of Green Gables sites, along comes Avery. A theatre student from Georgia with whom I have a scary amount of common interests, she has the one thing that I don’t – a car – and Cavendish is on her list of things to do on her one day in PEI, so I hop on, promising that we can get an early start so we can find the graves of her ancestors first in a nearby cemetery. We are both hungry, so we head out to Merchantman for dinner and beer, where we see a fantastic performance thanks to the Island Fringe Festival: a one-woman show called “Busted” which is a hilarious piece about breasts and aging. Some delicious Cows ice cream makes a perfect coda to a night and I go to bed with newfound hope.

The bulk of this post was typed in Boston, but I have a whole lot more Charlottetown to go before I’m caught up to today (which, incidentally, is exactly a week from when this entry happened). Next time, stay tuned for my adventures on Saturday and Sunday, which include Cavendish and Anne of Green Gables/Lucy Maud Montgomery House, as well as the Farmers’ Market and the fringe caravan!

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Gettin’ Down in Charlottetown

So far, Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island has been amazing. Off to bed now, but stay tuned for:

  • Details on my epic journey here
  • My first day in Charlottetown
  • My second day in Charlottetown (and Cavendish, for Anne of Green Gables)
  • …and whatever tomorrow may bring!

Sorry for the infrequent posts, but having a fun vacation and being in Travel Mode just makes me want to go-go-go…

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A Post Within A Post Within A Post

At the moment: I’m lying in bed at my hostel in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. The train had limited wi-fi, and I spent most of the trip asleep, so I couldn’t post what I wanted to post there from where I wanted to post it. So here’s the post-within-a-post:

Post-within-a-post: As I start this entry, I’m still technically in the province of Quebec. I think. It’s just after midnight, Eastern Time, on Thursday, August 6, and I’m on a train barreling toward Eastern Canada. I just spent way too long putting off writing down anything because I was busy with the all too important task of beating my too-smart-for-its-own-darn-good computer at Five-in-a-Row on the normal level.

Picking up from where I left off… (post-within-a-post-within-a-post)

Sunday (after ATHE ended): I decided to head out for some geocaching and exploring of various places. At my first geocache, I stopped for a moment only to see two other geocachers finding the same cache on the other side of the sign.

From there, I headed uphill to Mount Royal Park, walking up the inclined street that cuts through McGill University (Rue McGill, je pense pas?) and man, that incline is no joke. It was almost vertical. I can’t imagine climbing that every day. Anyway, Mount Royal Park is a pretty oasis of green in an already pretty city. For a park at the top of a hill, it sure has a lot of steps. Of course, I could have taken the serpentine path around the hill to the top, but it was then that I realized that I was not wearing the correct shoes for dirt-walking, so up the shortcut stairs it was. Even though it was a shortcut, my dogs were barking and I was drenched in sweat by the time I got up to the top. After an ill-fated geocache search halfway up, I made it to the top, and the view was not to be missed. Atop the mountain was a chalet with food, drinks, and (thankfully) water fountains and bathrooms, which I made use of before enjoying the fantastic view of the city and taking fun panorama pictures. The walk down was less eventful, although I did get a little turned around, as I wanted to exit on the northwest side of the park, on Rue Rachel Ouest, rather than walk down the same incline again. Eventually, I found the right exit, but I probably looked like a complete idiot, lugging a backpack with a computer in it past all the joggers and bikers.

Eventually, I ended up walking towards my intended goal: Fairmount Bagel. Before I got there, I stopped for a quick Starbucks on Park and Laurier, where I ordered almost entirely in French (go me!) and sat for about an hour. Only a block or two away was Fairmount Bagel, which was different than I thought it would be. I had heard so much about Montreal bagels, and had tried one on the culinary tour, but instead of a real restaurant, Fairmount was basically a food stand inside a storefront. The line was long, but not as long as the ice cream shop next door. Eventually, I got three bagels, a muesli, a multi-grain, and a pumpernickel, none of which lasted until I got to the Laurier metro station, which is deceptively far from Fairmount bagels.

Back at the hostel, I met up with my newly changed slate of roommates. Ariana had gone home and Colton and Andrea were planning to head back to Saskatchewan the next day. Three newbies showed up to occupy the remaining beds: in Neal’s bed (the one above mine) was Vernon, a student and mailman from Melbourne, Australia; in Ariana’s bed, Faith, a retail manager from London, and above her, some guy who was only there for that one night and barely said a word to any of us. I was a little hungry, so Vernon offered to go out for some food with me. I ended up having “salad in a jar” which was exactly as it sounded, and pretty tasty for what it’s worth.

Monday: my first non-conference day. It was strange not waking up and needing to immediately rush off somewhere, but I ended up getting dressed anyway to see Colton and Andrea off. Faith had been traveling across the USA and Canada for several weeks and was planning on leaving Montreal the same day as me, and as we were both new to the city, we agreed to spend Tuesday doing something fun together, as it was supposed to rain all day, and even though the sky was somewhat gray, there was barely any rain.

Around 11-ish I left the hotel and wandered down to Vieux Port, the old port of Montreal, walking through some of the same streets I’d seen on the culinary tour. Once at the port, I saw a zip line park and an indoor labyrinth. The indoor labyrinth sounded interesting, the line was not long, and it was only $18, so what the hey. It was kind of a schlocky thing where you got a card and had to find your way through different areas to find four different stations. It probably would have been more fun had it been a little harder, but it was still $18 well spent. They told me at the beginning that it would take 45-60 minutes to complete, and even though I was constantly lost, I ended up making it out in 27 minutes. So I felt smart for a little while there.

The sky got a little grayer, so I ducked into a café for lunch, after which I found some more geocaches and ended up in Montreal’s Chinatown. Even though there was an impressive arch, the area encompassed maybe two blocks. The stores had some beautiful mementos; fans, teacups, and Chinese-style shirts that I was so tempted to buy (prices ranged from $15-$25 for men’s shirts) but I knew I had very limited space, so I regrettably didn’t buy anything. I then looked for a street fair that was supposed to be happening, but I guess I must have missed it. Anyway, I went and had a pastry and iced cappuccino in Tim Hortons at Place des Artes before heading back to the hostel for nighttime activities.

Our hostel had a “sister hostel” (can hostels have sisters? Isn’t family a human construct? Can inanimate objects have relatives?) with a bar a few blocks down Sainte-Catherine AKA pink balloons street, so Faith, Vernon, and I headed over for the karaoke they offered on Monday nights. Once there, I felt like a real backpacker; the bar was teeming with hostel guests in their 20s. Faith introduced me to a friend of hers from Japan whom she’d met in a hostel in Vancouver a few weeks earlier. Before the night was through, I had met travelers from the USA (oddly, most were from Maryland), Canada, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Faith and I beat Vernon and Brad, a Canadian, at a rapid-fire game of foosball, and I managed to get 2 karaoke songs in: my go-to tune (Stacie Orrico, “Stuck”) which is always fun to sing, and later Tina Turner’s “The Best,” which most of the bar sang along with, which was fun. Most of the song choices were completely tuneless rap songs, which was no fun, or this French girl who seemed to sing every ten minutes and chose mostly Amy Winehouse songs.

Tuesday: Up and at ‘em at…11-ish for a fun day with Faith. Vernon said goodbye as he was heading back to Australia, and of course, he left his coat behind, so guess who was a good friend and mailed it back to him the next day? (hint: it was me) We had originally planned to go to an archaeology museum, but the weather was so nice and sunny that we headed to St. Helen’s Island instead to see what was there.

St. Helen’s Island, or Ile Sainte-Helene, is a tiny island in the middle of the river with a surprising amount of attractions, and fortunately, we were only one metro stop away from it. Once there, I introduced Faith to geocaching, and we found her first four geocaches. She seemed to be really into it, which was cool of her. Our first stop was the Biosphere.

Built for Expo ’67, the Biosphere is a giant latticed dome that now hosts a science museum. It was honestly one of the best museums I have ever been to. The 360-degree opening show, about the environment, featured actual rain and snow falling on our heads. One of the most fascinating exhibits was the recycled fashion exhibit, one giant room full of mannequins dressed up in haute-couture outfits made completely of recycled materials. It was like being inside an episode of Project Runway. There was a dress made of melted-down plastic pill bottles, another made from aluminum cans, and tons more. One dress was made entirely out of car parts. I could’ve probably passed on seeing the dress made out of swept-up human hair, though. Ouch. The top floor had even more science exhibits and a great lookout point. I could go on and on about how fun much the Biosphere was but according to Microsoft Word, I’m on three pages single spaced so I better move ahead.

Next stop for me and Faith was Fort Stewart, a history museum on the other side of the island, less than a kilometer away. The building was beautiful, and there was a costumed soldier greeting us out front, which was promising. Even though the museum’s collection of artifacts was extensive, we agreed that the Biosphere was much better in layout and content. I have to say, though, that I have never seen so many maps in one place before. The collection of objects they had was truly impressive, from weapons to spice boxes to children’s toys from 15h-18th century Canada. They also had a great diorama of the city, with little videos you could watch featuring different sites in the town. The temporary exhibition was one about modern-day cinema and TV that was interesting, but seemed a little “out of place.”

After about 4 hours of sightseeing on Ile Sainte-Helene, it was definitely time for food, so Faith and I headed to the Underground City for sandwiches and a shared crepe. Overall, it was a pretty incredible day with beautiful weather.

(Post-within-a-post)

So, at this point in my writing it was about 2:30 in the morning Eastern Time, so I decided to see if I could try and get some sleep. After a few false starts, I managed to fall asleep and woke up at around 11 AM Atlantic Time (10 AM Eastern Time), so I think I’ve gotten more uninterrupted sleep on this train than I have all of last week. I didn’t intend to sleep so long and miss so much of the scenery, but at least we only have an hour or so left until we get to Moncton. When I woke up, we were having a brief stop in Miramichi, which is in New Brunswick, apparently, and we just left Rogersville, a town so adorable and tiny that by the time I got my camera out to take pictures, as my phone is at capacity, we had passed it.

(Back to post-within-a-post-within-a-post)

That brings me to yesterday, Wednesday, which seems already like a long time ago. Nobody new moved into our room, so it was just me and Faith for the night in Room 16. It didn’t take too long to pack up, but we took our time and both checked out at 11 AM. We said our goodbyes and then headed off to enjoy our respective days; the hostel kindly allows guests to leave their bags in a luggage room if they have evening flights (or train rides, in my case). So, I set off in a different direction than normal, north, just to see where I would end up. Walking up one street led me to the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood, which was a perfect spot to walk around and explore on this mostly sunny day. I say mostly sunny because in mid-afternoon, it was raining on every other block. And it was what I call “run-between-the-raindrops” rain, which might now have to be renamed “Montreal rain,” because it was so light and misty, and it kept stopping and starting. Honestly, it was refreshing to get a little cooler, even if it meant getting a little wet. I didn’t take a shower this morning (mistake) so at least I got a little rinse.

I found about 5 geocaches on my walk, including one of the weirdest ones I’ve ever found. It was called “Le Suppositoire Inn de Montreal,” which, if you couldn’t tell from the title, has something to do with suppositories. And sure enough, on the corner of Rue St. Denis and Rue, there was a large white sculpture which looked like an incredibly constipated person. The coordinates led right to his…um…posterieur…and there was indeed a hole, so…yeah. I stuck my head up the sculpture’s butt, then stuck my hand in to grab the geocache. And this was on a street corner, at about 1 in the afternoon, in broad daylight.

What is my life about?

At least it had a travel bug in it, a little navy blue elephant from Germany. I traded it for a gold Travel Ingot that I picked up awhile back in Eau Claire, WI, putting several hundred miles on that one. Then, across the street, I saw a sign on a door and I just had to go in.

Cat Café of Montreal.

So. There.

I wandered in, and it was exactly like it sounded: a café where people could eat and stuff, and eight cats just kind of hung out and slept and walked around you. And they had wifi. After putting on hand sanitizer and getting a menu, I set my bag down and explored. The cats were mostly sunning atop cat perches, on windowsills, or in baskets. The décor was not too silly; it actually looked like a regular café, except with a few more posters with quotes about cats than normal. Strangely, I was tempted to sit with a cat and watch some funny cat videos on YouTube, but for some reason, I just checked my email and got some reading done instead. As far as a drink, I wanted to get a “cat-puccino” but the waitress advised me to get a latte, because it was cheaper and she could draw a cat on the foam for me, which was tres jolie. After I finished my latte and petted all the cats (even getting a kiss from an adorable grey cat called Peace, which is a great name for a cat), I walked up the street and there was ANOTHER cat café. I ducked into a nearby vegetarian restaurant for a salad, and the woman there told me that the one I went to first was started by a husband and wife, and then when they separated, the other one opened the rival cat café, Coffee, Cats, and Happiness, just a few blocks away.

I don’t know about you, but I smell a musical about rival cat cafes and I think the world is just about ready.

After a few more geocaches up and down Rue Saint-Laurent, it was getting close to 4 PM so it was time to catch the Metro and head back. I must have walked in almost a complete circle, because the station where I ended up after my 5 hours of walking, Saint-Laurent, was exactly ONE stop away from my stop, Berri/UQAM, on the green line. After realizing that I had lost all the postcards I bought at some souvenir shop in Old Montreal for 50 cents each, I made a mad dash around Rue Sainte-Catherine to find somewhere with a few postcards to buy and send quickly. The first store I went to had postcards for a dollar, the next store had them cheaper but they looked like they’d been sitting there collecting dust for five years, so I ducked into a pharmacy and bought some dollar postcards and got in line at the post office inside Pharmaprix, the same one from where I sent Vernon’s jacket off to him in Australia earlier in the day, and hastily scribbled a message to Aunt Ruth and bought a stamp; barely made it by 4:55 PM. But at least it got done.

From there, it was off to pick up my bag from the hostel and head to the train station. I was pleasantly surprised to see Faith there, doing the same; she had done some sightseeing as well and her flight back home to London was leaving about two hours after my train, so we came back at literally the same time. After another hug goodbye, I gathered my bag and hit the road (well…the Metro) to le gare centrale (central train station) which was conveniently located at Bonaventure, the same station where the conference hotel was. I arrived and picked up my ticket at around 6 PM, and after getting a final muffin and iced cappuccino at Tim Hortons, I joined the incredibly long line near the end, but still managed to get a pretty good seat, and I’ve been camped out here pretty much ever since. The cars have two seats on one side and one on the other, and I was lucky enough to get a one-seat side, so I’m in Seat 11S.

(Back to post-within-a-post)

The ride has been pretty uneventful so far. I thought the train might have wifi, and it does, but it’s restricted to the car with the food stand, which is two cars back. Fortunately, I can walk in between them. I sat on the floor of that car for a while last night as the scenery faded to black, and got to know two girls going back home from Osheaga, Catherine from New Brunswick and Emma from Prince Edward Island, who assured me that I’d have a good time there. I don’t know anyone there, so I hope I do. I missed a lot of the morning scenery, but as I’ve been typing, we’ve being rolling through forests and marshland with interesting-looking green and yellow islands of reeds. The sky is beautiful and blue and I just want to get out and enjoy the sunshine. Fortunately, it’s 12:43 Atlantic Time, so that means we have maybe a half hour left go to until we arrive in Moncton.

(Post)

Good night.

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ATHE 2015: Broad Strokes

How did it get to be August so quickly?

ATHE seems to go by more and more quickly every year, and this time, it was gone in just about a blink of an eye. Probably because I was having so much fun, so here are some broad strokes before it’s completely lost to history and memory.

Day 13 (July 31): Awake a bit later than I wanted, but at least managed to make it to most of the 10:15 AM all-conference plenary, which was just as full of ideas and inspiration as the previous year’s was, after which I probably got something for lunch, somewhere. Then, at 2:15 PM, it was time for my panel, where I presented alongside Teresa as well as two people I didn’t know, Susanne and Michael. It went much better than I thought it would: 11 audience members and a very lively conversation afterwards. I didn’t stumble over my words as much as I thought I was going to, and that reminds me, I need to email Teresa. I had planned to go to another panel immediately after, but instead took a celebratory coffee break with Teresa and her husband Rick. Back at 5:45 for a panel on dramaturgy pedagogy led by LaRonika which included a Skype presenter whose plane got delayed, leaving her stranded in the airport in Toronto. Evening highlight was dinner at 3 Brasseurs with new friends Jenny from Yale and Sylvie, one of this year’s Dramaturgy Debs from Ontario.

Day 14 (August 1): Again, missed the 8:15 AM panel, but made it to the 10 AM all-conference membership meeting, after which was a reprise of my annual pop-in to the Religion and Theatre membership meeting and mad dash to Dramaturgy membership meeting, at which I got elected as a new Member-at-Large with Martine and Megan (yay! a position once again!) and brainstormed ideas for next year’s conference. It was there that I noticed that so many people were missing, and the mood was kind of subdued, but overall, it went better than last year’s meeting in terms of business that got done. Then, at 2:15 PM, I decided to take a break from the constant sitting and go to Joan Lipkin’s movement workshop that was an hour and a half according to the program book but actually went on for three hours (!) but it didn’t matter because it was fantastic. Sometimes you gotta take some chances and miss a panel or two. After a quick cheese sandwich for dinner, it was time for another dramaturgy panel, followed by a reading of a newly-translated French play which was incredibly funny, aided by the talents of Laura and Cindy. And then, of course, DNO, which was at the somewhat-more-expensive-than-I-thought Balsam Inn, where I sat and caught up with Dassia and Martine. Also, back at the hotel, I randomly met Penny Farfan, one of the editors of the book I reviewed in the entry called Ladies Who Write Plays.

Day 15 (August 2): Final day of ATHE 2015 😦 Even though I was dead tired, I managed to make it to a 9:45 AM dramaturgy panel, which Laura thought was “admirable, considering I’d already finished my panel days ago” (thanks Laura!) followed by a panel on Asian performance which lasted a bit too long and then…ATHE was over. I managed to extend it as much as I could by hanging out in the lobby with Bryan while he waited to catch his flight back to Chicago, but all good things must come to an end.

And so began the “playing tourist” phase of this leg, which will be up later tonight or tomorrow, along with general thoughts about the lovely city of Montreal!

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ATHE, Je Suis Ici!

I’m typing this from a bed in a hostel room in a completely different COUNTRY from my last entry. How crazy is that?

Montreal is beautiful, historic, dizzying, crazy, awesome, sexy, weird, hot, classy, and so much more. I’m staying in an awesome hostel room with six beds, and at the moment it’s just myself and Ariana from New Jersey, who’s here for a music festival. We had two other roommates last night: Neil, an aerospace engineer from England who left this morning for Toronto, and Julie, a kick-ass coal miner from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory with the quintessential Canadian accent complete with sayings like “up the ying-yang.” She also left this morning. There is free breakfast, wifi, and lock-boxes here; it’s a few Metro stops away from the conference hotel, the Fairmont, but it’s all I really need for the duration.

ATHE is, of course, ATHE. This morning I went on a culinary tour of Old Montreal which I’ll write about in another post, then I went to lunch with Christine from California and Krysta from New York in the underground city. Then, Debs panel, and after that, back to the hostel for a quick shower and change. I missed the keynote, but came back just in time for the reception, where I reconnected with so many people, some of whom I had not seen for years. Finally, I went to dinner at a Mexican place with Laura from Northwestern and a group of her friends, and even though they’re still out, I got about 3 hours of sleep last night and I have a paper to present tomorrow (yikes!) so I came back to hopefully get a little more work in and a little more rest in.

Stay tuned!

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A Tisket, A Tasket, A Sto:lo Story-Basket

At long last, I have actually finished reading a book. Yes, really. And not even one for school, which is all I seem to be reading lately, well given the fact that I’m in grad school, it’s kind of inevitable. But today, at Michelangelo’s Coffeehouse on State Street, the book was indeed finished, a feat several weeks in the making. In a turn towards nonfiction, I present to you my review of Indigenous Storywork: Education the Heart, Mind, Body, and Spirit by Jo-ann Archibald aka Q’um Q’um Xiiem.

Also, in an effort to bring more international culture into my life, I’m officially counting this as the first country in the ever-popular Read A Book from Every Country contest that probably exists but I just made up. This book represents Canada, and the Sto:lo Nation.

Indigenous Storywork is not a book of stories. It incorporates a few stories, such as two involving the character of Coyote, among others, but is more focus on Archibald’s process of developing a technique for storytelling,

A symbol for the Sto:lo Nation

from start to finish. On page 11, Archibald provides a helpful chart of her context for all Indigenous storywork. The four concentric circles represent the four levels involved in identity and in the germination of the story. The outermost circle is the nation, and continuing inward, we see the community, the family, and finally, the self. At compass rose points are each of the elements of the human that are in play when telling the story: intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Discovering the stories is an exciting process, where she realizes the power of the characters and how they can touch lives from young to old, and how they can be used effectively as teaching tools to keep First Nations traditions alive as well as impart valuable lessons. She encounters many roadblocks, though; she deals with the issue of language, translation, and preserving content; intellectual property rights (who do the stories belong to?); focusing on individual/tribal experiences rather than lumping her work into just “First Nations” scholarship; and the ever-present dilemma of keeping the stories faithful and sacred to the storytellers, possibly risking their extinction, and passing them on, which preserves the stories but puts them in the hands of those who may not use them properly, and for whom the meaning may get twisted. At the end of the book, Archibald compares her work thus far to a “story-basket,” citing the Sto:lo tradition of a basket weaver giving her very first basket to someone who needs it. As the “story-basket” is presented to the reader, it leaves her book open-ended, as if this is just the beginning.

For a book, it was pretty dull, but as a monograph, it was quite lively. Archibald writes, as others have noted, without jargon, and it is easy to identify with her feelings and emotions as she tracks down various elders and experiments with educational programs. As far as actually telling the stories, Archibald has basically described a more theatrical approach to storytelling, using things like sense-memory rather than rote reading. She also talks about the relationships between the elders, the words of the stories, herself as researcher and herself as storyteller, and makes it clear that each have a different role with one another and all are important in the storywork process; it is a venture that requires collaboration, which in turn requires trust.

On a macro level, Archibald is dealing with issues that are present in so many cultural contexts, especially the debate of keeping things sacred by holding them close, or sharing them and guaranteeing preservation but risking defilement, a pretty basic colonial/postcolonial issue. This is where I have not so much a disagreement with the author, but sort of a suggestion/solution. In one chapter (actually, in two) Archibald talks about the search for a story about plants, and getting shut down by the elders due to concerns of mentioning the names of sacred plants and their usage, and the harmful effect that the stories might have on children. For me, this is an example of self-censoring. Surely, the elders know what is and is not appropriate, and by volunteering the information, they themselves are choosing what to share, with the knowledge not that it can or may be shared, but that it will be shared. Archibald also mentions the cycle of tracking down elders and asking for permission, a practice that seemed necessary for the edification of the user but a nuisance for the elder who told the story. I mean, could you imagine calling an author, editor, and publisher, every time you wanted to cite something or use it in the classroom? Archibald does consider this, but is hesitant to accept it. My argument: reality check, look at the big picture. No one is going to be around forever, and even though it’s lovely to keep people involved as they’re still living, there must be some contingency plans laid for when the storytellers eventually leave this earth. Recording the story via text, audio, and video, signing an agreement, and seeing that it’s properly archived should be enough to eliminate at least one, if not all, of the middle-men, and expedite the process. Yes, a story is special, but that’s why there is an agreement in place, as a precautionary measure, to give the story the rights to assert itself, which is basically what Archibald wants. It would eliminate a quarter of the book, at least, but it seems like the only viable option.

The most notable sections of the book for me were when the author, instead of questioning herself, interacted with elders from various First Nations and engaged in dialogue with them. On page 50, Archibald gleaned a lesson in reciprocity from elder Vincent Stogan aka Tsimilano, one which she calls “hands backward, hands forward” teaching. This lovely passage encapsulates what she means.

My dear ones,

Form a circle and join hands in prayer. In joining hands, hold your left palm upward to reach bask to grasp the teachings of the ancestors. Put these teachings into your everyday life and pass them on. Hold your right palm downward to pass these teachings onto the younger generation. In this way, the teaching and knowledge of the ancestors continue, and the circle of human understanding and caring grows stronger. (Archibald 50)

Here, Archibald encourages symbiosis, in which the student is also the teacher. Every word heard from the ancestors will be passed on; at least someone in the circle will relate their experiences, even if just to one another, continuing the cycle of learning. Tsimilano’s performative act of embodiment makes the student a vessel for information, a conduit between past and future. This inspired Archibold to pay more attention, and to tell stories in short spurts of comfort rather than in their completion, which is discussed in later sections of the book. Overall, Archibold relays to the reader a sense of giving and receiving, and that storywork is as much about speaking as it is about listening.

In the spirit of collaboration and listening, don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what Jo-ann Archibald has to say:

 

Oh, and apropos, not only was this the first day in the recent past where my blog views have gone up rather than down, it’s also the first day for visitors from Norway (velkommen!), Serbia (добродошли!), and Bosnia & Herzegovina (dobrodosli!) as well as visitors from 30 countries. Keep on coming, write a comment or give me follow?

Works Cited

Archibald, Jo-ann (Q’um Q’um Xiiem). Indigenous Storywork: Educating the Heart, Mind, Body, and Spirit. Vancouver: UBCP, 2008.

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Book Review: Mary Russell, The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt

Greetings from Munster, Indiana, where I am on the first leg of my trip back home, hopefully arriving tomorrow evening. I drove myself and my dad three hours and ten minutes to this Hampton Inn in the Indiana-based suburbs of Chicago. 10-11 hours to go tomorrow, and I hope I get to relax for most of it.

What do you know, I finished a book. I initially got it for a project and it came all the way from UW-Milwaukee. Since it’s due in January, before I get back, if I wanted to read it for pleasure I either had to a) hurry it up and read it in one day, or b) return it to the library, sadly never to reenter my hands, a title forgotten among the legions of books I have yet to read.

So in a turn toward the nonfiction market, I present The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt, by Mary Russell.

Cover of "The Blessings of a Good Thick S...

The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt‘s interesting and unusual title comes from a quote from Mary Kingsley, a nineteenth-century woman traveler to Africa. It is quite appropriate, given that the book is about female adventurers. I’m not talking about suffragettes – these were women who risked their reputations and their lives to pursue their dreams of travel and exploration, most of them doing so in a time when it was not considered ladylike to travel unaccompanied, without a man. There are an immense number of women travelers mentioned, but I’ll give you the highlights:

The book begins with the story of Egeria, a fourth-century pilgrim to Jerusalem. The theme of women exploring in the name of religion comes up a lot, with the great Hester Stanhope coming to mind, traveling through the Middle East dressed as a man. Over in Tibet, you had Annie Taylor who just wanted to live her life cloistered away in a city where she could just be religious and not have to worry about anything else, and the sad story of Susie Rijnhart, a Canadian adventurer who lost everything in Tibet, including her husband and son, but found her way back home to Canada and then had the courage to go back AGAIN – and of course, she didn’t make it this time. These were the first two Western women to see Tibet, a feat in and of itself.

The only sections I didn’t care for were the ones on mountain climbers and on more contemporary women, women that the author knew personally when she wrote the book in 1986. It just didn’t seem fair to group her friends with the likes of Mary Kingsley and Hester Stanhope.

What I always find interesting are not the women who survived the dangers, but the women who died exploring, making them legends up until the moment of her death. Everyone knows about Amelia Earhart and her fateful round-the-world journey, but few know of her frenemy Amy “Johnnie” Johnson (not to be confused with the original Pink Ranger, Amy Jo Johnson) who set some flying records of her own. Later, her plane crashed into the Thames Estuary in England under mysterious circumstances and her body was never recovered. Alexine Tinne, who did some crazy exploration in Africa, getting further than anyone of her time, dragged her mother, her aunt, and two maids along with her – all of whom died somewhere along the way. Stupidly brave Alexine went back to Europe, and, nonplussed, moved on to her next mission: crossing the Sahara. As the story goes, she was killed by a Tuareg member of her party, stabbed in several places, and left to die in the desert. Her body was never found. Mary Kingsley was buried at sea, in the South African waters on which she died. Therein lies the lesson I took from the book. You get the feeling that these women didn’t do it just for the fame, the money, the notoriety – but because they were passionate about the world around them, and because “it was there.”

But then, there’s Sophie Heath, a flash-in-the-pan aviatrix from the 1920s who survived risky flights and stunts only to die of injuries she sustained after falling down the stairs of a bus in London.

Oh well. Stabbings in the Sahara, somersaults on an airplane wing, slippery steps on a bus – we all gotta go sometime.

But if that last thing happens, make sure my obituary includes all my adventures, and make some up to impress the world. It doesn’t matter what they are, as long as they’re earth-shattering. Surprise me.

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Happy Canada Day!

Long day, so I just wanted to have a few minutes to sneak in a post about Canada.

I have been there three times.

1) Montreal – I only saw the inside of the airport, as we connected there on our family trip to Israel. Same on the way back.

2) Niagara Falls/Toronto – A disastrous family road trip that we took as a family pre-father/son road trips. I don’t remember it being so awful, because we did a lot of fun things and went to cool museums. Apparently, my sister and I drove our parents crazy most of the time by fighting. The ride back home (which we stupidly did in one day) was especially rough on the two of us, and I believe we had to be separated. That was pretty much the last big family vacation until my sister and I were both in our 20s.

2.5) Alaska/British Columbia border (spitting distance to Yukon Territory) – We took the scenic White Pass and Yukon route trains once we got to Skagway, AK on our 2004 summer cruise (me, sister, dad, aunt). The train briefly crossed the border and then made its way back. It was riveting.

3) Victoria – On the cruise back from Alaska, we stopped in Victoria, BC on the way back. My sister wanted to stay on the boat for some Internet chat thing and my dad stayed with her while my aunt and I explored the town on foot. I have more memories of Victoria than of Toronto, and Victoria is a very charming place.

Happy birthday, Canada.