Stopping Non-Consent

You were my friend. That was not consent.
I agreed to meet up. That was not consent.
I dressed up. That was not consent.
I opened the door. That was not consent.
We shared a meal. That was not consent.
We talked about sex. That was not consent.
You chose a quiet place. That was not consent.
You took off your clothes. That was not consent.
I pushed you away. That was not consent.
You lifted me up. That was not consent.
You stripped me. That was not consent.
I struggled to get away. That was not consent.
You pinned me down. That was not consent.
I said, “No.” That was not consent.
You said, “I don’t care.” That was not consent.
I said, “Stop!” That was not consent.

I have bruises. This has to stop.
I have flashbacks. This has to stop.
I’m worried. This has to stop.
I cry. This has to stop.
I panic. This has to stop.
You told me I was rude for ignoring you when I saw you again. This has to stop.
I blame myself. This has to stop.
I am ashamed. This definitely has to stop.

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A Week in Montpellier

J’ai passé une semaine à Montpellier. C’était génial!

I spent a whole week speaking almost exclusively in French and it was amazing. What a workout for my brain that has not had a full, adult conversation in another language for a while. But by the end of the week, I felt completely comfortable again, I had started to adopt the local accent, and even had trouble finding words in English when I had to use it (not that this is a new fact for people who know me… =P).

I did notice that when I started off the week, my brain seemed to have only a “European language” mode, as opposed to a specifically “French” mode. I would say an entire sentence in French, then follow it up with a “por favor” to finish my request (probably remnants of March Break Cuban Spanish lingering there). Every now and then, a German or Italian word would slip in, and surprisingly, I was even getting the two words I know in Dutch confused as well. It made conversations more interesting, to say the least. I found it funny that English was not mixing, nor were Cantonese or Mandarin. Hence calling it “European language” mode and not “foreign language” mode since it localised which were acceptable. Strange how our brains work. Or maybe just my messed up one.

Anyway, along with the zoo and my previous adventures around town, I happened to luck out on the fact that it was La Fête de la Musique while I was there, as well as many other festivals and special occasions. I stumbled upon some cool spots, such as Le Jardin des Plantes (France’s oldest botanical garden and herb institute), where I took a number of photos:

Purple flower in the garden

I found the entrance to The Secret Garden!

Feeling back at home in Canada for a moment

and a little farmer’s market with the best grape tomatoes and cherries I’ve ever had. Seriously, I was talking about these tomatoes for days to anyone who would listen to me rave on and on about them.

Cherries! I ate all the tomatoes before I thought to take a photo

I visited the Prefecture, passed through the mini-Arc de Triomphe onto the fancy shopping street a la Yorkville in Toronto, and saw a modern art exhibit inside a church. What a weird juxtaposition of gorgeous, old stained glass and incomprehensible stuff on canvas.

I’m in Paris? No wait, it’s not that tall…

Rue Foch, the Montpellier version of Yorkville in Toronto

I don’t understand modern art

I finished off the week with the Montpellier SwingJammerz Festival, which was awesome once I managed to find the first venue. I may have spent three hours wandering around a really sketchy industrial area in a suburb somewhere because there was a last minute cancellation of the original location for the dance of which I was unaware because I didn’t have Internet. Of course, I don’t have any pictures of the weekend since I was too busy dancing (as usual)!

My proudest moment: I got comments on how I had a québécois accent (I’m sure all my Montreal/Quebec friends are laughing right now) at the beginning of the week, how I spoke very fluently in French around the middle of my stay (and where was I from because they couldn’t place my accent), and didn’t get any more comments about my speaking abilities and was even asked directions multiple times by the end of the week. Yay, I became a local!

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I’ve always relied on the friendliness of strangers

The locals of Montpellier are extremely friendly (and don’t necessarily speak English like in the major European centres). When I had planned this trip, I figured it would be a lot of Alcina time, since I was travelling alone and I am not often comfortable approaching strangers and new people. However, I was saved that initial awkward sidling moment because locals would stop me and wave me over to talk to them out of the blue.

According to travel websites and logic, one should be wary of people who approach you, because they’re going to steal your wallet or otherwise take advantage of you. I didn’t find this to be the case at all (though I am naturally trusting), except for the many petitioners for the blind. Most people wanted to know what I was up to, gave great suggestions on places to eat and drink, offered directions when I asked (though I mostly didn’t and just wandered a lot – my favourite way of exploring a new place), and told me their life story. I met quite a few travellers at the hostel from all over the world, places like South Africa, New Orleans, Australia, and Berlin. It’s one of the reasons I love staying in hostels; I make friends with people from so many different places and cultures. It was especially fun trying to speak in all of the languages.

Hostel common room, where many a good story was told

Found the most delicious marshmallows while out grabbing a drink with a new South African friend

My best stranger meeting was at the zoo. I had spent two days completely wandering all of Montpellier proper on foot, so on my third day, I decided to hop on a random tram and see where I ended up. I found out there was a free zoo, so I figured, why not? I had just entered the park when this guy sidled up to me and asked if he could join me. He didn’t look threatening (though “Paul Bernardo was also very charming and this zoo is quite wooded and isolated in parts” did at
least pop into my head – I’m trusting, not stupid), so we wandered the park together.

First (and cutest) animal we saw

It took us a while to actually see an animal. The first ten minutes or so we were just wandering trails, looking into seemingly deserted openings. But then we saw the most entertaining otter, and it made up for all the empty pens. The most fun part of the zoo was turning a corner and freezing in the middle of our conversation because we both thought a rhino had escaped from its enclosure. Turned out to be a pretty realistic (especially from far away, out of the corner of our eyes way), life-size wooden carving.

Ahh! It’s a rhino!
My new friend Omar from the south of France

I got invited to go down to the beach, which I had been planning on doing at some point by myself, so I went along for the ride. [Safety first, girls: I texted Boy name of guy, license plate, and where we were going – though I found out later that the text didn’t go through… *sigh*] It was a quaint, little beach town. Very standard and what you would expect on the pier. But I touched a new body of water! Mediterranean for the win! [Photographic evidence of my actual touch didn’t turn out…]

Picture of the beachside instead

All in all, lots of fun meeting new people. Montpellier was absolutely wonderful!

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Getting to Europe

I left for Amsterdam last Monday on a KLM flight from Toronto. All I can say is, I never knew just how much I love Air Canada. I’ve flown almost exclusively AC, and I’ve generally been very happy with my flights, even the really long ones to Asia. KLM is terrible, and that’s putting it mildly. I’m not sure I would even fly with them again for a free flight. It was THAT bad. Let’s see what went wrong:

1) Don’t use their mobile check-in/boarding pass feature. They send you an e-mail telling you to be environmentally-friendly. Great, I think. Along with the fact that I don’t actually own a printer, I enjoy all the apps on my phone that allow me to carry it and only it. Except every KLM staff that I encountered didn’t know what to do with it. They had never seen an electronic boarding pass before, let alone have the scanners to actually use my boarding pass QR code. I’m surprised my luggage made it to the same place I did.

2) Beware the random seat downgrade at the gate! Half an hour before the anticipated boarding time, I was called to the gate via PA. I’ve always wondered what those names being called were about, so I was excited to go up to the counter. It’s not a good thing. They had randomly changed me from my seat (that I had spent half an hour choosing) to another one that was “the same” and I had no choice in the matter. I quote that phrase because I was told several times that it was “the same” seat when I questioned why I was being moved and what the new seat was like. Here’s what “the same” means to KLM:
-moving from a comfortable, 2-seat row with slightly larger chairs to a cramped, 4-seat row with the smallest chairs I’ve ever experienced. I am a tiny person with short legs and I barely fit in it (the headrest of my chair to the back of the person in front of me’s upright seat was three hand spans, and I don’t have big hands)

KLM is horrible

Me making as much room as possible in my chair

-notice also that they moved me to a seat that had a bulkhead at my feet, so that my carry-on actually spent the trip seven rows ahead, where I didn’t have access to the things I had planned on using during the flight
-moving from near a window to the middle of the cabin. For someone who makes it through the take-off and landing by staring out the window and willing the plane to transition from ground to air and vice versa smoothly? Not okay.
-being far away from the engines to directly behind the wing. Anyone else sensitive to noise?
-being far away from the toilets to directly in front of them. This meant that my seat didn’t recline (wonderful when the person in front of me reclined and turned my three hands spans of space into two), I was constantly being nudged by people waiting for the washrooms, the door hit my chair every time it opened or closed, and I spent the whole overnight flight listening to the constant sound of flushing. Not to mention I don’t think they’d cleaned it since the last flight. Gotta love the smell of stale urine for eight hours.
And I didn’t even blame KLM for the crying baby just in front of me or the very large man who took up his own seat plus half of the ones on either side of him who encroached on my personal space the whole trip. Neither of whom would have been anywhere near my original seat fifteen rows back.

3) Daylight and the night sky are not the same. Does that sound obvious to you? Every overnight flight I’ve been on has had extremely dim lighting so people can sleep. Makes sense to me. So when it was 2:00 a.m., I finally called a flight attendant to ask when they were planning on dimming the cabin lights. To which she responded that the 60-watt bulbs spaced a foot apart all up and down the plane was already night lighting. To give her credit, she did offer to sell me an eye mask, and then gave me a complimentary one when I said that it was ridiculous for them to have it so bright and then try to charge people for something they shouldn’t have needed in the first place.

4) 10:30 =/= 10:50, nor does 11:35 = 12:15. Everyone remembers those math sheets where you had to write what time the analog clock face displayed. Someone clearly failed. We were rushed to board our plane at 9:45, even though we weren’t scheduled to leave until 10:50. The cabin was hot and stifling and they were playing static-y music on the radio, which we endured for 45 minutes. We ended up leaving twenty minutes early (how does flight control even manage that? Aren’t there a lot of planes out of Pearson?) and then getting a good tail wind and arriving even earlier in Amsterdam. Which might be good for some business people (who are randomly arriving in the middle of the workday?). For those of us who had made time specific plans to be picked up because we didn’t have phones that would necessarily work in Europe, I suddenly wondered what to do for 45 minutes. And why I’d had to rush through dinner before the flight when I’d thought I had half an hour before we were even supposed to start boarding.

5) Dinner generally happens in the evening, sleeping tends to happens at night, and breakfast is that first meal of the day. Drinks. Drinks are fantastic on a plane, because it tends to be really dry. Love drinks. Alcohol? Also fun. Though dehydrating. Alcohol as the only drink option with dinner? Think of the children, people! Dinner at 2:00 a.m. Toronto time/8:00 a.m. Amsterdam time? Not going to help my body adjust to jet lag. That said, this was the first time I’ve ever had airplane food that had a ton of flavour. Horseradish and raw onions are definitely Flavour (note the capital F)! Breakfast was served at 5:00 a.m. Toronto time/11:00 a.m. Amsterdam time. Maybe on Sundays. I do like a good sleep in. If I’d slept at all. The drink cart came by again in between those meals.

This was meant to be a warning blog of Do’s and Don’ts (or really just one big “Do NOT fly with KLM), not a complaint. I already filed one of those with KLM. I only bother to fill out those surveys when things are either really fantastic or truly terrible. If you’re just mediocre, I can’t be bothered to spend my time telling you so.

So, we’re now in Amsterdam at hour 30 of no sleep (or more if you factor in the fact that I only slept five hours Sunday night. I arrive at the airport and the bus is surprisingly easy to navigate into the city centre. I meet up with Boy’s roommate at the appointed time and place and we make it to the apartment. Woohoo! I get settled in (after making it up the incredibly steep and windy staircase that is normal for Amsterdam) and am planning on taking a nap after double checking everything for my train ride that is set to happen in a few hours.

Death Stairs
Stairs in Amsterdam were not made for short people like me. Eight of them equals my height. Luckily Boy’s roommate helped me get my suitcase up the stairs.

I make sure that my hasty packing in Toronto didn’t mean that I forgot something for Montpellier and then proceed to look up where the ticket counter is at the train station to pick up my tickets. At which point I freak out. Because the confirmation e-mail said that I could pick up my boarding tickets at the station… in Belgium! What?!? Excuse me? Why would I go to Belgium to pick up tickets for a train from Amsterdam to Paris? I try to go to the website to prove that the e-mail is just misinformed and find that I can “only” pick up my tickets at thirty or so approved stations… still in Belgium. I have no phone to call SNCB, plus I disagree with the 0€30/minute fee for calling in for help anyway. I try looking up Centraal station information, since I’m sure this is ridiculous and stupid that I would somehow have to get to Belgium (by train? But the tickets can only be picked up at my destination) to get my boarding passes. But I can only find information on local or regional trains. Remember I’ve had no sleep for a while. I message Boy, who assures me that I can just print them from the e-mail. Because apparently when he’s booked tickets, he’s been given the option to have e-tickets. I did not. When I booked mine, I had to pick them up at THE station. Which any normal person would assume would be the station of departure. He doesn’t know if there’s an SNCB booth at Centraal and then tells me that he thinks the ticket booths are closed already. Thanks, Boy. That’s really helping to calm me down.

So I go old school. I walk to the station and go in search of a real person who can help me out. Because there’s no way I’m getting to Belgium and back before my train leaves in an hour. I stand in various lines, and keep getting redirected to another queue (I’m not just standing in the wrong line for no reason – the signs are all in Dutch and I’m just looking for a person behind a counter). I finally find the right service centre, for international trains, and I am given a number to wait in line when I notice these little self-service kiosks that speak English (and any number of languages other than Dutch that I do speak!) Win! I poke a few buttons and out prints all my train tickets for the whole return trip to and from Montpellier. Holy crap, that was easy. Why in the world would you tell me I could “only” get my tickets in Belgium when I could print them out myself from a self-service kiosk at Centraal? I still don’t get it, SNCB. Why?

Now that the panic attack is over, I explore Centraal station, which is actually pretty cool. It’s full of little shops and restaurants. It even has a mini Albert Heijn (a grocery store chain). I get on my platform after a lot of searching (my train leaves from Track 15A. There’s a Track 15 and a Track 15B, but no 15A) and get on my train.

I meet up with a friend in Paris, crash at his place for a couple of hours, expertly navigating the way from Gare du Nord to his place and then to Gare de Lyon very early the next morning with no incidents (and not even following the instructions from the transit website because that night bus didn’t show) and get some breakfast at the station. Maison Paul. Gourmandise. Deliciousness.

Pastry. Custard. Warm.

I arrive in Montpellier, get to my hostel (which took a little bit of finding because it was in an alleyway behind some garbage bins), lock up my luggage in a locker and go out. Because I’ve made it! In spite of the craziness and a total of 52 consecutive hours of no sleep, I’m in the south of France! Awesome.

Distance de Toronto?

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Euro Adventure 2013 Has Started!

My whirlwind tour of Europe has begun! Since I don’t generally work during the summer anyway, and Boy is currently working in Amsterdam for a year, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally explore Europe.

At first, I was just going to go over and see what happened and where I would end up. I knew I would be based out of Amsterdam, since the main reason for coming over was to see Boy. I knew I wanted to finally make it to Herrang (a Mecca for swing dancers – camping plus dancing, in Sweden!). Other than that, though, I didn’t have specific plans. It was not so much that I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but rather that I wanted (and still want) to go everywhere. However, the logical part of my brain knows that it’s not possible to do everything in two months. So, how did I decide my itinerary? By planning using the only way that makes sense – finding swing events and taking my tappin’ toes to the music!

Now, my eight weeks are jam-packed with events. I’m looking forward to journaling again. Life got a little crazy and I missed putting thought to paper (or now, iPad). Excited to start writing about all my adventures. I’ll even try to post pictures (if I can figure out how… going to Europe doesn’t make me any more technologically savvy [Editor’s note: Case in point, this would be my second time typing out this post because I accidentally deleted the first one trying to add a picture to it. Fail!])

Stay tuned!

Standing near the beach at Palavas les Flots

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The Different People of the TTC

Since I moved to my new apartment, the TTC has been working pretty well (and yes, I just crossed my fingers so I wouldn’t jinx it). Even my Facebook friends have noticed that my status updates have fewer references to our lovely transit system. Now that I’m not grumbling and annoyed every time I get on a bus or train, I have more time to notice everyone around me. And what I’ve noticed is that people are weird. I don’t know if that is a normal occurrence on big city vehicles or just here. They seem to fit into two broad categories:

I’m talking about those people who never grasped the concept of personal space and what is and is not acceptable behaviour in public.

a) Sidlers – The whole bus is practically empty and a person walks onto the bus and goes all the way to the back to sit right beside you. Whether they then ignore you the whole trip, or try to strike up awkward conversation, it’s uncomfortable, both physically because you are now squished into a slightly-too-small seat, and socially because you are now squished into a slightly-too-small seat.

b) Mouth Breathers – Just the name pretty much says it all, but in case you haven’t experienced the horror of saliva slowly condensing on your cheek while the person beside you wheezes and horks a symphony of sounds inhaling and exhaling, try taking a crowded bus during flu season.

c) Starers – There are the surreptitious, out-of-the-corner-of-their-eyes peekers, the flat-out oglers, the I’m-staring-just-off-to-the-side-at-your-ears-so-it’s-okay focusers, the evil-eye givers, and the lost-in-space eyeballers. To you I say, “Go read a book!”

d) And last, and definitely the worst of the class, the gropers – They can almost get away with it during rush hour when buses are packed, but even then, to bump into me gently with only your hand sliding across my chest or my behind… Not cool. Not at all.

These are the people whom, after approximately thirty seconds, you want to physically toss off the bus, Hollywood-bar-style, just to see them bounce on the pavement.

a) Mr. Headphones – I realize you’re deaf and trying to blend in with the crowd so no one will suspect your deficiency, but you would do a better job of the whole charade if I couldn’t hear your horrible taste in music at blast-off decibels from across the length of the bus.

b) Chatterboxes – I’m a loud talker. I’m the first to admit it. But I try really hard in public areas to minimize the volume so as not to disturb other people. Not these Chatterboxes. They like to yell across the aisles to their friends and carry on a conversation. And they never like to talk about interesting things. They like to force the whole bus to listen to a play-by-play description of their night with their head hanging over the toilet. You’d think the hangover would be enough to silence them.

c) Students – I hate to overgeneralize, but I don’t think I am doing so in this case. From pushing me and the little old lady in front of me over in order to get on the bus first by butting into a well-established line, to knocking me over with their oversized backpack while roughhousing each other off the same vehicle, students are annoying the whole two stops they’re on the TTC. [With apologies to the one sensible girl I’ve encountered, who in the same five minutes, told her friends to stop fooling around and pushing onto the bus and then suggested walking the two blocks to their school so people who actually needed to go farther than two stops could get on and they wouldn’t be late for school waiting.]

d) Obstacles – Yes, I’m still talking about people. Most often, these are the people who get on the bus and stop as soon as they’re in, blocking the path to the rest of the bus, which then remains empty. Sometimes, they’re the idle wanderers on platforms, somehow managing to consistently weave in front of you as you try to walk a straight line to the exit. More than occasionally, they are the people who insist on walking slowly in a horizontal line along stairs or other tight areas. I feel bad when I have to yell “Excuse me!” and push my way through all of you, even though you deserve it. Move, people!

And this doesn’t really count, since it’s only ever happened once, but whoever stole my January Metropass out of my pocket right at the beginning of the month (and the TTC driver who refused to even make an announcement to try to help me get it back), you are the most annoying!

[Update: Totally jinxed my luck. =( Now, how do I undo that?]

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Snow vs. Slush

[Side note: It’s really hard to blog without internet… There should be a few more than usual in the next couple of weeks as I get them online]

We’ve only recently started to experience winter weather and the temperatures have still been yo-yo-ing.  A few weeks ago was the first snowfall of the season and it was an exciting time as all the anticipation of a year’s wait finally broke. Of course, there were the usual comments. The heavy snowfall came on suddenly after a gorgeous morning of blue skies and sun, so there were also the harmonic grumbles of people caught without their down coats and winter boots.

Right now, there’s a glorious layer of snow on the ground, and I had the luck to be leaving rehearsal late last night when the precipitation had stopped and everything was that perfect blanket of white (except my car, which I’d parked just before the snow stopped – bonus!).  I’m hoping that the prettiness will last this time, though it’s already warmer and sunny today. My fingers are crossed that we’ll avoid the aftermath of a nice snowfall plus rising temperatures: the dreaded slush. Here’s a handy comparison of the two:

SNOW: White
SLUSH: Various hues of brown and grey

SNOW: Euphoria, as in I feel like I’m in a Winter Wonderland!
SLUSH: Dismay, as in Crap, that car just drenched me from head to toe in frigid, side-of-the-road slush.

SNOW: “I can be used to build all kinds of things, like forts, igloos, ammo for snowfights, men (and women). You can eat me (if I’m not yellow) or at least use me to chill your beer. I’m great for winter activities, like skiing and snowshoeing. Find a toboggan and I’m a whole afternoon of fun. Just fire up that imagination and have a ball!”
SLUSH: “I used to be snow…”

SNOW: *crunch*
SLUSH: “Haha, did I just get in your boot? Oopsies!”

DANGER RATING (Scale: 0 = newborn kitten to 10 = fire-breathing dragon)
SNOW: 1 to 2 – “I may be slightly cold, but even in packed ball form, I’m pretty harmless.”
SLUSH: 14 – “I’m slippery on my own and turn into frozen sheets of solid ice easily. I stain all clothing and footwear that I touch. I feel many times colder than snow. I like to hide in crevices and then jump out to surprise you. I’m filled with all the germs you can think of since I only travel on the bottoms of shoes and tires, so I try to use any vehicle I can find to help me get into your mouth.” Seriously, we were safer with the fire-breathing dragon. At least it could get some raging flames going in the fireplace to keep us warm… and to roast marshmallows!

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