Monday, 14 December 2009

La Fête de l'Escalade 2009

Geneva during la fete de l'escalade

One of my favorite times of the year in Geneva is the celebration-filled week of the Fete de l'Escalade, the annual festival comemmorating with joy, pride, solemnity and song, the victory of the Genevois over the invading army of the Duke de Savoie (les Savoyards).

On December 12 1602 the forces of the Duke de Savoie, launched an attack on the city-state of Geneva. The troops marched along the Arve River at night and assembled at Plainpalais, just outside the walls of Geneva, at 2 o'clock in the morning. The original plan was to send in a group of commandos to open the gate door and let the other troops in. The Geneva citizens defeated the men by preventing them from scaling the wall (a climb in French is an escalade). The night guard Isaac Mercier raised the alarm, church bells were rung, and the Genevois were alerted. The populace fought alongside their town militia. The duke's 2000-plus mercenaries were beaten.

According to Genevois legend, Catherine Cheynel, the wife of Pierre Royaume, ("Mère Royaume"), a mother of 14 children, seized a large cauldron (marmite) of hot vegetable soup and poured it on the attackers. The Royaume family lived just above the La Monnaie town gate. The commotion that this caused also helped rouse the townsfolk to defend the city.

The story of L'Escalade is told in a song called Cé qu'è l'ainô, written in a Franco-Provençal dialect around 1603 and has become the "national" anthem of Geneva.1

1 Wikipedia

Friday night was spent escorting J and his schoolmates on a torch-lit cortege through our village and back to his school steps where the children gathered next to a piano and serenaded us with the anthems Cé qu'è l'ainô and Ah! La Belle Escalade. My little citoyen Genevois sang his heart out; makes me cry everytime. The evening ended with a dinner of traditional vegetable soup made by the kids during the day, raclette, saucisses, frites, wine, and the ubiquitous smashing of the chocolate marmite and distribution to we Genevois of chunks of chocolate and marzipan vegetables

We spent the rest of the weekend at Marc and Nat's apartment in the Vieille Ville where the celebration is centered. For these 2 days, the old town is majestically turned back in time 400 years and populated by chevaliers, townsfolk, blacksmiths, fusiliers, and steeds living as they did and where they did at the time of the attack.

The blacksmiths hard at work in the Place de Bourg du Four

A secret passage through the old town is opened during these 2 days of the year below the old La Monnaie town gate. J loved going through it, especially at night, in the dark, when it was lit by torches.

Inside the secret passageway through the old town

Marc and Nat don't spoil this kid much...

The previous weekend, both J and I ran in the annual Course de l'Escalade, a running race through the twists and turns of the old town. I twice ran through the elegant Place de Bourg du Four and past la cathedrale St. Pierre with its' clanging bells. About 20,000 people participate every year in various races throughout the day. The smaller kids ran 1.7 km, while I ran 4.7. It's a short race but remarkably memorable with spectators lining the sides of the historic route cheering us on as we grunted up the steep but picturesque hills.

Here is J running in his first Course de l'Escalade. About 10 seconds into the video, you will see him in the middle of the screen, green fleece, black pants. You might have to hit the PLAY arrow a couple of times.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Things you Definitely Don't See in Canada in December

I took Murphy for a walk this evening after dinner. She needed to stretch her legs I told C2 and J, and I fancied enjoying the Christmas decorations adorning our Swiss village on a quiet, warm early December night.

We wandered through our village's square, past the giant Christmas tree decorated by the little kids from our village jardin d'enfants (pre-school), and through the orchard of trees dripping with icicle lights and shooting stars. We ambled down the main street, and paused in front of the Auberge Cheval Blanc (aka 'the lovely place to eat' as J has dubbed it) to admire the candles softly glowing through the windows and the pretty tree shining on the terrace.

Then I realized that I wasn't alone. Less than a foot away from me, Mario the chef, was quietly plucking olives from the tree growing in the restaurant's garden behind a low stone wall separating the Auberge from the street. We exchanged polite "bonsoirs", he offered me an olive which I accepted with thanks, and then I carried on as if this was something a Canadian girl experienced regularly. He didn't hear me chuckle in amazement.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Culture Clash

For us North American expats, lunchtime is an interesting anthropological study. For example, lunch during the school week is pretty laid back, a tuna sandwich, some fruit, a yogurt are standard fare. On the weekends, we might upgrade the sliced bread to a baguette, and add some cheese and olives. The emphasis on all of the aforementioned is 'cold lunch'. As in most Canadian households, dinner is the hot meal.

Not so in Geneva! Lunch is the big meal of the day and it's usually multiple courses. Salad and bread, followed by soup, a hot meal, and dessert. And never never never is milk offered as a drink, no it's always l'eau de robinet (tap water) and if you're really lucky sirop, which is a sickly sweet substance added to sweeten the l'eau de robinet.

Consequently, J has learned never to spontaneously invite anyone home for lunch from school. I need at least a day to ensure adequate groceries and time to prepare a large meal. I will never forget when J's copine (girl friend) Olivia looked at the sandwich plunked down in front of her 2 years ago, looked at me and moaned 'mais je ne mange pas des sandwiches pour diner!' (but I don't eat sandwiches for lunch). I was mortified.

So yesterday morning while getting dressed for school, this conversation occured with J:

J: Can I invite a friend for lunch?

Me: Oh sorry bud, I'm going grocery shopping this afternoon, I don't have any food in the house to make a hot meal.

J: Oh, okay. Can Adam come then?

We Canadians gotta stick together eh Cindy?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Detoxing Diary

I am now in the middle of a 5-day detox. My life is absent of some of its' small joys: morning toast, nespresso coffee, cookies, evening glass of wine. I'm not sure exactly what prompted me to initiate this and to corral 11 of my friends from around the world to join me. In general, I eat healthy and largely organic, and am pretty fit thanks to regular running and weight training. I try not to indulge too plentifully in the inexpensive and fantastic wines available when living adjacent to vineyards.

Maybe it's living in the time of swine flu where kids are dropping like flies in J's class. I am working hard to strengthen all of our immune systems. We are taking vitamins C, D, multivitamins, omega 3, sirop du pere michel (a particularly vile concoction of essential oils and trace minerals) in addition to lots of fresh organic fruit and vegetables. Maybe it's my suspicion of the negative impact of cow milk and gluten on my family; we've moved to goat and soy milk. And lastly, maybe it's the knowledge of the coming assault of food and drink in the lead-up to the Christmas holidays.

So I thought I'd see how I felt after 5 days of eliminating specifically wheat, dairy, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, red meat, and fats while consuming lots of healthy lean proteins, legumes, nuts, oats, rice, fruit, vegetables, water, and green tea; and continuing to exercise. And since misery loves company, I managed to convince a group of friends that it would be good for them too.

It's halfway through Day 3 and most of us previously caffeine-addicted souls seem to share the same common complaint thus far. We all have headaches which we are chalking up to acute caffeine-withdrawal. Everything else has gone pretty well, cravings are largely in check, aside from a cookie craving that naughtily beckoned me most of yesterday evening. I find that I have good energy during the day especially in the mid afternoon when it normally wanes. Or it may be that I'm keeping busy so that I don't gravitate toward my usual tea and biscuit. I'm also sleeping great which is a bonus.

In any case, it's an interesting experience and can't be anything but positive health-wise. Maybe now I won't feel so guilty indulging in my mum's Christmas shortbread or my sista-in-law's peppermint chocolate chip cookies in a few weeks.

Friday, 13 November 2009

My Brother, the Superhero

Today's posting is in honour of my big brother who celebrated his 40-ahem-something birthday this week. He is one of my heros, having served honourably for 25 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in addition to leading Calgary's ERT force for many years. He's also just an all-round wonderful person who has managed to stay happily married for 27 years, raise 3 terrific children into near adulthood and is always there whenever I need him.

It's nice to see that J feels the same way. Today while walking to school:

J: You know Uncle Phil is like a superhero!

Me: Yes, he's a pretty great guy, why do you think so?

J: He made his hair invisible.

Love you bro!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Where Is Tim Horton's When You Need One?

I spent 2 cold, soggy hours sipping tiny, tepid cups of espresso standing in icy rain watching J play in his first tournoi de foot (soccer) yesterday. It could have been the same as watching my eldest nephew Justin, currently competing for the national university football (soccer) title in Toronto but it wasn't. It could have been the same as watching my niece Renee, a former elite national level Ringuette player, but it wasn't. Or it could have been the same as watching my 15-year nephew Jordan play football (soccer) with fire in his belly, but again it wasn't.

You see J is something of a sports mystery to me. From infancy, he was climbing like a orangutan up anything scalable. "Oh what an athlete he's going to be" everyone proclaimed. He could cross monkeybars with ease by age 2, and was riding a 2-wheeler by 3. He loves mountain-biking, mountain-climbing, and skiing, and is really good at all of them. He dislikes baseball, detests hockey school, and spends the last hour of football training yelling at me from across the field "Is it over yet?" When I told him at the beginning of the year to pick a team sport for the winter, he suggested tennis. See the pattern??? A team player clearly he is not.

I wasn't much of a team player myself, even now I prefer running with my iPod than a friend. Neither was C2, he ignores friends at the gym, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. But still, when I look at the brotherhood of friends Justin has built from his early days playing with his Foothills soccer club in Calgary, I lament that J may not have that. Even much of the strong and loyal social network that my brother and sister-in-law enjoy was birthed from the shared experience of watching their children compete in team sports. Not that I lack friends or social networking, far from it but you get my point.

I will encourage J to find his passions in life and will enthusiastically support them no matter what they are. Still, is it wrong to secretly want J to have a tattoo over his heart pledging brotherhood forever like Jus's?

So, yesterday's tournoi was comprised of 6 teams playing 4 mini matches. J was fully engaged for the first two. By the fourth, he was picking up leaves and playing pretend sword fights. Sigh.
My life as a Tim Horton's commercial isn't looking promising.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Lost in Translation

Today's lunchtime conversation between J and his friend Olivia, in between giggles, burps and other bodily noises that they find so hysterical during a meal...

J: "J'ai envie de jouer avec ma copine Ciel"
(I want to play with my friend Ciel)

Olivia: "Ciel?"

Me, half-listening while half-heartedly tuning out above-mentioned bodily noises:
"C'est une nouvelle copine a l'ecole?"
(Is that a new friend at school?)

J: "Non Maman, CIEL!"

Olivia: "Ciel?"

Me: "who???"

J: "MUMMMMMYYYYY, Skye, Skye, Skye"

Me: "Ah"

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Traveller's Tales Part 2

Trafalgar Square

We're back from our week in London. Had a great time and as always, it was very difficult for both J and I to say goodbye. Sheila and I have become so used to easily planning visits and anticipating the next one but this one was tinged bittersweet since we are on the bubble of our expatriate experience. We're coming up on 4 years and are likely on the downward slope of our time in Geneva. I cannot imagine watching months and possibly even years pass without our families interacting. Our children are SUCH good friends and I abhor the thought of them losing the easy familiarity that they have built.

London Transport Museum - Covent Garden

This trip was particularly memorable since it's the first time that we took the kids into central London to really experience some of what that remarkable city has to offer. We spent one morning travelling to Covent Garden by tube to the London Transport Museum. The kids had a great time climbing around double-decker buses, old trains, and learning how the London Underground was built; some of the stations date back to Victorian times - amazing! We also walked around Trafalgar Square and climbed on the lions circling Nelson's Column before hopping onto a traditional red London double-decker back to Victoria rail station.
Millennium Bridge looking at St. Paul's Cathedral

We spent another fantastic day riding bikes near the Thames Barrier to the awesome O2 arena where we watched 'UP' in 3D. After the movie we caught the London Clipper, a catamaran which races up and down the Thames stopping at such memorable riverside locations as Greenwich, the Tower of London, and London Bridge. We jumped off at Bankside and walked over the Millennium Bridge joining Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to magnificent St. Paul's Cathedral.
In the Crypt at St. Paul's

At St. Paul's Cathedral, we climbed hundreds of narrow winding stairs to the Whispering Gallery and further on to the Golden Gallery for an amazing view of central London. We then descended into the crypt to see the final resting places of Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. After leaving the Cathedral, we recovered with a pint at a snug pub across the square before catching the Clipper back to the O2.

On the Clipper looking at HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge at sunset

Our few days sped by much too fast as they always do and the next thing I knew we were boarding our Easyjet flight back to Geneva. We have been so lucky to have the freedom to visit each other as often as we have throughout the last four years and so I am grateful if still a touch melancholic.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Traveller's Tales Part I

It's the October break in Geneva this week, also known as 'La Semaine des Potates'. That's the week when children are supposed to help their parents harvest the potatoes and other Fall vegetables. As the average school child in 2009 is no longer living like Laura Ingalls, most head to sunnier climes.

J and I have spent every October break since moving to Geneva visiting with my best and oldest friend Sheila and her family in London. We have the whole Easyjet journey from Geneva into London Gatwick to East Croydon rail station down to a science. Today whilst striding down the long corridors of London Gatwick's North Terminal, J turned to me and announced with aplomb and the insight of a veteran traveller...

J: "Mummy there's three things I don't like about flying."
Me: "Oh what's that?"
J: "Blowing Up, Throwing Up, and Blocked Ears!"

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, 28 September 2009

La Grande Classique AKA a Pretty Perfect Party in Paris

Impressive alliteration aside, it was a most memorable weekend. My friend Cindy, otherwise known as 'she-who-got-me-off-my-butt-and-running-seriously-3-years-ago' and I spent this past weekend in Paris as part of a blisters be-damned, sore backs be-ignored, tight-hamstrings be-stretched all girls shopping, eating, site-seeing and oh yes running junket.

We joined up with a group of 8 other women from near or around Geneva and grabbed an early TGV train to Paris' Gare Lyon Friday morning. After a quick 3-hour and a bit journey, we settled into a charming boutique hotel in the 16th arrondissement with a wicked view of the Eiffel Tower perfectly framed between the twin palaces of the Trocadero.

After a bistro lunch, we split up for an afternoon of walking and shopping on avenue Victor Hugo and rue de Passy. I didn't know the 16th arrondissement very well with the exception of having had dinner at La Table du Joel Robuchon last April so really enjoyed exploring this part of Paris close to the Eiffel Tower. We later reconnected with the other women and had a fabulously raucous dinner at Restaurant La Gare on rue La Muette also in the 16th.

Saturday dawned sunny and warm and 4 of us from our group of 10 spent much of the day wandering Saint-Germain-des-Pres, the Latin Quarter, Les Halles and Ile St. Louis. That evening, all of us had a considerably tamer dinner at the charming brasserie Le Coq in place Trocadéro. Earlier to bed that night in order to awake bright and refreshed for the real purpose of the weekend. Although truth be told, does one really need a purpose to visit Paris???

Still....we ten joined up early Sunday morning with 20,000+ other running addicts at the base of the Eiffel Tower to run in the 32nd annual Grande Classique, a 16km route from Paris to the gates of the Palace of Versailles. Can you imagine the spectacle of standing for over an hour shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of others in their running kits singing, dancing, and watching the early morning light glisten off of the immense girders of the Tour Eiffel towering over our heads waiting for our turn to move through the start line.

The race took us on a roughly 90 minute run out of Paris into Issy Les Moulineaux, up into the hills of the Cote des Gardes and the route Royale, through the forests of the Meudon, onto the long avenue de Versailles, up the slight incline of the avenue de Paris and into the finish near the gates of the Palais de Versailles.

It was a marvelous experience, a strong and positive run, and a great memory. After returning to Paris on the RER, we showered, and treated ourselves to a late lunch, a cold beer, and a giant profiterole as reward for a good day's effort. Cindy and I returned that evening to Geneva by TGV and were home by 10:00 pm.

Katherine, Cindy and one giant profiterole

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Happy Birthday Murphy

C2 and I have been married for 15 years and for 11 of those years, we have been blessed to share our life with a dog. Not just any dog, but a very special yellow Labrador who has contributed to the quality of our lives with her unconditional love, unfettered acceptance, and pure joy in ways that I cannot even begin to articulate. Murphy is a constant. She is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives; a continual background presence that we would be lost without.

Today she turned 11, getting up there in dog years, and as every day with her at this point is a gift, we celebrated with a cake that she could eat (vanilla almond with a cherry sauce center), sang her happy birthday and smothered her with hugs and kisses. Ya ya, I can hear the groans and the "oh puhlease's" being uttered. Whatever! You have missed something very special in life if you have missed sharing your love with a dog.

Murphy was born in Kingston, Ontario and we had her flown to us in Calgary when she was 8 weeks old; we were smitten and imprinted on each other instantly. From then on, she was our constant companion, accompanying us everywhere, and slept pressed against one of us every night; a comforting presence.

In her youth, she mountain-biked with us enthusiastically, though I could have fallen off a cliff in her haste to stay close to C2's wheel. We eventually had to stop biking with her when her knees began to wear and tear. To this day, she is a fantastic hiker and rambler, rarely tiring, and approaching every climb with the enthusiasm and vigour of a puppy; her heart full as long as she can keep an eye on all of us.

She vacations with us, provided we don't have to take an airplane, and has travelled happily from Geneva to Genoa, Lago Maggiore to Levanto, Lugano to Locarno, Burgundy to Provence, and throughout the Haute-Savoie. She loves ski holidays and chasing J up and down the tobogganing hill adjacent to our chalet. When we do fly, she is back in the loving care of her godparents, Marc and Nathalie who cared for her with such love when we business-travelled for years in Calgary.
Perhaps nothing has endeared her more to us than the relationship between her and J. He adores her and as an only child has depended on her for companionship, comfort, and security for all of his 6 years. The summer J was a newborn, the three of us walked to Annie's restaurant in Fish Creek Park religiously everyday. We would share a blueberry muffin and listen to the prairie dogs squeak at her. I have wonderful memories of that first summer.

She has taken ear-pulling, tail-pulling, toddler squeezing, teasing, and chasing with good humour and great patience. She has helped to teach J empathy and a love of animals. He is the first one to throw his arms around her during thunderstorms, and to throw a tennis ball for her outside.

I wouldn't trade all of the vacuuming, inevitable blond hair on my black clothes, muddy paw prints on my white floor, sock stealing, or poop-picking-up for a dog-free household for anything in the world. She has made our lives richer and our hearts bigger.

Happy Birthday Murphy-Murph!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

A Saturday in the Life of the Swiss Family Hendricks

This past Saturday was a rare one with absolutely nothing scheduled. We took advantage of this rarest of occasions by indulging in a few spontaneous activities.

We finally cashed in the 30 CHF bon, J received from promotion last June at a bookshop in Plainpalais. He chose a book on planet earth and the solar system.

Then we went to lunch at our favorite pizza joint, Da Paolo's on rue du lac facing the jet d'eau, sheesh, feels like only yesterday, J and I were sharing a pizza margarita....clearly no more.

We saved the crusts to feed to the swans

After lunch, we spent a couple of carefree hours at 'Baby Plage' on Lake Geneva. It's a bit of a misnomer, but Baby Plage is a charming beach/playpark right on the lakeshore. Its' main attraction is the original swings, tree climbing apparatuses, and bridges all made from recycled bicycle tires. J has never tired of exploring all of it.

This is the old chap that makes all of the swings

We capped off our day with a pot of mussels in our back garden, cooked the way only C2 can and a crisp bottle of Sancerre. It was a really good day.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Weekend in our Swiss Village

One of the greatests parts of our Geneva experience has been living in a typical Swiss village. One of the greatest ironies of our Geneva experience is that within the last couple of years, our Swiss village has become populated with increasing numbers of anglophones. Funnily enough, rather than inhibiting integration into village life, this fact has facilitated it by making us all feel a little less isolated.

This new reality was never better demonstrated that this past long pre- la rentrée scolaire weekend (back to school) which was spent attending back-to-back aperos, dinners, and brunches without ever starting my car. So in detail...

Thursday was another hot day with temperatures peaking in the mid-30s. At the end of the day, J heard his name being hollered over the high hedgerows in our back garden and we wandered over to our neighbours, recently returned from summering in Romania. J spent the next couple of hours in their pool while Ioli and I caught up. I must admit, my French language skills have somewhat suffered in the last couple of months.

A couple of hours later, I made my way over to my South African friend Leigh-Anne's for a ladies-only champagne evening under the stars. Lots of lively conversation and lots of laughs ensued between we Canadian, American, South African, British, Swiss, and Finn women - it was a great party. Cindy and I staggered home together around 2:00 am.

Friday was the last day of a weeklong football camp for J, and Cindy scooped him up for the afternoon to play with her guys. She called later in the day to invite us over for a pizza and red wine evening. It was a gorgeous warm evening, and again we had lots of lively conversation and lots of laughs. C2 was in Zurich for the day but J and I meandered home under the stars around 11:00 pm.

Saturday dawned bright and warm again and I spent most of the day working in the garden. My geraniums are spectacular this year! Around 6:00, the three of us walked down the road to Jawahara and Bijoy's house for an amazingly prepared Indian dinner. Mmmm, my mouth is watering remembering that meal. Yet again, lots of lively conversation and lots of laughs. We wandered home admiring the stars in a clear sky around midnight.

Sunday morning, I dragged myself out of bed at 8:00 for a 12k run. I would not normally be quite so motivated quite so early on a Sunday but I'm training for the 16K Paris-to-Versailles race in late September and am adhering to a training plan. I could have run later but...wait for it..yep at 10:00 am, C2, J and I walked down the road and around the corner to our new American and Romanian friends, David, Lavinia, and their little son Dacian (see earlier blog about Kentucky, Transylvania and a Bottle of Palinka) for a champagne brunch that went on for several wonderful hours. Needless to say there was much lively conversation and lots of laughs.

All in all a pretty terrific weekend in a pretty terrific place with some pretty terrific people!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Best Love in Life is to Live a Great Life

Or so was our collective assessment after a wonderful day yesterday spent in the company of our Swedish/Dutch friends Elin, Ard and their two kiddos Thomas and Julian.

Early in the day, we drove up to the village of Bernex in the shadow of the Dent d'Oche mountain in the Alps of Haute-Savoie, France. It was a really hot day in a very hot August this year in Geneva and the sun beat down on us from a sky absent of clouds. We started our hike around 11:00 following a twisty rooted shaded track along a river.

Close to 2 hours later, we had gained about 350 meters in elevation, reached the top of our climb and were greeted by a fountain flowing with icy, fresh, delicious Evian water. Bernex is just north of the town famous for its' pricy bottled water, and we were gulping it in by the mouthful. We also had an amazing view down to Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) about 13 kms away. We lingered for a while, enjoying the views, eating wild raspberries, watching the kids and Murphy play.

Eventually, we began our descent and about an hour later arrived at an auberge near the trailhead that beckoned us like an oasis in the desert. Hot, thirsty, hungry, and tired, we were seated at a table under fragrant baskets of flowers and protected by broad leafy branches.

Glasses of ice-cold beer were quickly delivered - heaven! We spent a delightfully memorable 3-hours in this garden paradise eating fluffy omelettes prepared with French perfection, spicy boeuf tartare, and chevre chaud salads. All the while, our kids connected with other children at the stream that bubbled alongside the restaurant, and Murphy snored under our table.

We eventually and reluctantly left around 5:00, returned to Elin and Ard's house in Anthy-sur-Leman and cooled off with an early evening swim in lac Leman followed by a late barbeque. We spent the day in the company of our family, our dog, and good friends. We explored part of this magnificent region we are blessed to live in, and we ate with gusto surrounded by splendour. What else do you need in life?

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Best Laid Plans

I just knew it was too perfect a summer, something just had to go wrong. The whims of fate are funny that way, they lull you into a peaceful sense of security that all is well and then WHAMMO! I know, I know I sound ungrateful and I'm sure I will sound more moany as you read further on but humour me, I'll get over it in a few days and I need to vent.

It has been an idyllic few weeks, long walks with J and Murphy, strolls into town, swimming in Lake Geneva, our Italy trip, a few wonderful days last week with Sheila and her family at their house in the south of France, and looking forward to a couple of weeks reuniting with our good friends and my much-loved family at the end of August in Calgary and Victoria. J and I had spent lots of time picking out the perfect gifts for his Grandma, his cousins, aunt, uncle and friends.

So I hate to fly, so it's a long trip, it's worth the effort. J and I actually have a really good time on the 12+ hour plane journey, we eat smarties, watch movies, fight over the childmeals, and talk about all that goes on at an airport and on an airplane. He's a great and seasoned traveller and loves his far-away family to pieces. He adores staying at Grandma's apartment. He throws the garbage down the shute and accompanies her 16 floors down to the laundry room. He redecorates with gusto, everyone knows that wooden horses belong in the bedroom not the hall! He loves Uncle Phil's waffles and Titi's pizza. Adores being teased by his cousin Justin but not his cousin Jordan. Worships the ground Nee-Nee walks on but hates mean old Leo the cat. All the things, little and big that make up a family and family connections.

So you can understand my concern when last Saturday night (4 days prior to departure for Canada), J developed his first-ever ear infection. Otitis externa, the pediatrician at the emergency room advised us Sunday morning. Bad case but should clear up within a few days. Fast forward to Monday night, and hours of screaming in pain and little sleep.

First thing Tuesday morning and a visit to his regular pediatrician confirmed diagnosis and severity and issued new antibiotics and pain meds. Last night more hours of pain-filled screaming. I've never seen J in such agony, and me caught up in concern for him, leaping to my usual worst-case scenario of mastoiditis, and begging the whims of fate for a fast turnaround. 8:00am this morning, it was make or break to leave for the airport and J was on my lap writhing and crying in pain.

Bottom line, we didn't get on the plane. I'm so disappointed I could cry, he's so disappointed, he did cry.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Summer Sojourn to the Sea

I am still floating along in an Italian reverie, so lovely was our annual holiday in Levanto. This time, we invited our friends Marc and Nathalie to join us on our summer sojourn to this most perfect of Italian Rivieran towns. Marc and Nat are fellow native-Montrealers though we only met after both couples had relocated to Calgary and discovered our mutual love of yellow Labradors. I have previously blogged about how thrilled we were when they moved to Geneva with the Royal Bank of Canada.

Still for all of the years that we have known each other, we have never holidayed together. Factor in one high-energy 6-year old (J), one anxiety-ridden Labrador (their Ben), one Labrador afraid of Ben's red collar (our Murphy), two previously self-avowed non-beach people (Marc and Nat), and it would be difficult to predict the success of the holiday. Well it was a smash success!

It is hard to put into words why we are so passionate about Italy, and so particularly attached to this part of it. It's the soft ochre tones that cause Levanto to glow at sunrise and sunset, it's the passion of the small restaurant owners who take such pride in their seafood, and who delight in offering limencellos at the end of a perfect meal, it's the easy days spent on the beach, wondering through town for a foccacia lunch with an ice-cold glass of white wine, it's the gelaterias open until the wee hours of the morning, it's the coconut man on the beach hollering 'Allo, coco bella coco' and rinsing perfectly sweet crunchy slices of coconut in fresh water before handing it to you with a smile and a 'grazie'. This year it was also the glass of champagne shared with old friends on the balcony of our apartment watching the sun set over the Mediterranean.

I like this picture though blurry because it captures some of the colour of Levanto

We hiked Cinque Terre again for our 4th year, and I experienced one of those perfect life moments. The temperature was well into the 30s with little breeze, and we had walked from village #5 Riomaggiore to village #4 Manarola. We had eaten a fanastic lunch at the same restaurant in Manarola that we had with my family last year. We were not far into our walk to village #3 Corniglia when we really began to heat up, the dogs were panting heavily and our energy levels were waning.


All beach access in the villages prohibits dogs so on we soldiered. About 10 minutes later, we encountered a small cove with cliff divers and a small path that wound down to a ladder into a little grotto. Well we sprinted down, Nat, Marc, and J stripped down to their skivvies (clever me was wearing a bikini under my clothes), and we threw ourselves into that amazing water with abandon; Murphy and Ben were in close pursuit. The water was utterly delicious and we frolicked for a long time. That perfect moment was only marred when Marc stepped on a sea urchin and received multiple spears into his foot...he is still removing them.

The little grotto we discovered outside of Manarola

Together we 5 also explored more of the coastline near our own beautiful beach by boat, and we found another lovely little grotto at which we spent two long leisurely afternoons swimming and snorkling, and feeding bread to fish. At times it felt like we were swimming in an aquarium.

The little grotto up the coastline from our beach

J was in heaven indulging in two of his favorite Italian pastimes, pesto and puffo. Pesto, of course being the dish which traces its' birth to Levanto's region of Liguria. Puffo, on the other hand, is the most vile blue flavour of gelato, sigh a waste, when he could have been having strachiettella or bacia flavours. His cousin Jordan would have been proud.

Me and Nat

Marc and Nat got our passion, they understood it, they shared it, and they were as enraptured. So reluctant were we to bid goodbye to each other at the end of our trip that we all trouped back to our house in Geneva late Saturday and C2 whipped up a seafood risotto that would have made the restaurants in Levanto proud.

Related Posts: