My Week 100: Don’t Blame the Weatherman, Titus Can’t Catch

Thursday: Stormy Weather

On Thursday, T and I were driving back from town and the sky was really dark. Sure enough, the heavens opened up, and the resulting downpour turned roads in rivers, and parking lots into lakes. Literally. People had their basements flooded, and cars were floating in the streets. It didn’t last long, and the flooding was mostly due to backed-up storm drains, but on the news that night, the weather reporters were thrilled, having earlier predicted that a very large storm system might wreak havoc in our part of Ontario. Why “thrilled”, you ask? Because the week before, tornados had touched down in cities south of here and there had been NO WARNING from the weather people (we call them “Environment Canada”). In fact, the outcry was ridiculous, with people calling for an investigation into the most “egregious failure” of the year. Someone who describes herself as a professional stormchaser (WTF?) from Tennessee called out Environment Canada by tweeting, “Emergency personnel are being requested in mass amounts in Windsor due to an UNWARNED tornado. How does that make you feel @environmentca”. I’m not sure what “mass amounts” of emergency personnel look like, but to quote Donald Trump, I’m going to say “a lot”. And I’m sure Environment Canada feels pretty bad, thanks to all the mean tweets.

Anyway, the weather people defended themselves by claiming that 90% of our weather comes from over the border, and that Michigan hadn’t alerted us to any impending storm systems, that it had just “popped up out of nowhere”. Sure, blame the Americans. But frankly, the whole thing is silly, and is yet more proof that we’ve become irrationally obsessed with weather. The mere fact that there is an entire segment devoted to the weather on every single news show is evidence of that. And the first part of the segment is invariably reporting on what the weather was like that day. I don’t need to know what the weather was ALREADY like—I WAS THERE. Then we move to “the current forecast”, which I also know, because I’m looking out my WINDOW. Finally we get to “tomorrow” and the long-range forecast. But for all the technology, the radar, the system trackers, the low and high front graphics on the weather screen, being a weather person in Canada is a relatively simple task and these people are way overpaid, because, let’s face it—there’s not a lot of variation in the weather here:

News Anchor: So Bob, what’s the situation with the weather?
Weather Guy: Well, today it was f*cking hot. Tomorrow, it will also be f*cking hot.
News Anchor: You’re sure right there! What about the long range forecast?
Weather Guy: In a couple of months, it will be f*cking cold, with an increased chance of it getting even more f*cking cold.
News Anchor: Do your magic-y weather skills predict anything else for the near future, Bob?
Weather Guy: The only other thing on the horizon is periods of “when the hell is it going to rain?” interspersed with “when is this goddamned rain going to stop?” That’s about it, Nancy.
News Anchor: Thanks for those insights, Bob. We’ll get back to you later for a recap.

I honestly think we expect too much from weather reporters. Blaming them for sudden weather events is like blaming the sportscaster when your favourite team unexpectedly loses. You’d never do that—it would be irrational for newspapers to call the Blue Jays losing yet another pennant the most egregious failure of TSN Sportsdesk ever. Yet weather reporters get blamed for all kinds of things. For example, you’re having an outdoor birthday party and it clouds over then starts raining. Suddenly it’s open season on the weather reporter, with people running around trying to get the cake inside before it gets ruined, and yelling, “Was this predicted?! I don’t remember Bob saying anything on the weather report about rain! Now the piñata is all mushy! What the hell is this world coming to when you can’t even count on Bob for a good party?!!”

But you CAN’T count on the weather report. Weather reports are just filler in a broadcast, the same way that talking about the weather is just filler in a conversation. I asked Ken why he thought people are so obsessed with weather, and he said, “It’s something easy to talk about.” And he’s right. Consider how many times in your life you’ve had random and inconsequential conversations about the weather because you felt like you had to talk about SOMETHING or be seen as anti-social? This happens to me all the time in the elevator at work, when someone I barely know gets on. After “hello”, what the hell else is there to say, except “Can you believe the weather?” And the other person will say, “Oh, I know. It’s just terrible/gorgeous out there.” The weather is safe and quick, and makes us all feel that we’re capable of normal human interaction.

Again, though, I don’t think we need an entire network devoted to the continual reporting of the weather. An entire network, you say? Yes, because not only is every single news broadcast littered with weather teasers (“Coming up next: Sharon will have some exciting information on the current state of the weather. Find out here first!”), we also have The Weather Network, where you can satisfy your need to know about the state of the environmental nation 24 hours a day. Local forecasts, regional forecasts, national forecasts—hell, you can even find out what it’s going to be like in Madrid tomorrow (for the record—f*cking hot). My favourite, though, has got to be when, for want of anything else to talk about, there’s a “50 years ago today” segment, where the weather from the 60s is compared to the forecast today, and the reporter is like, “Can you believe it? The high on July 15, 1966 was 3 degrees lower than it is today. What a world we live in!” Even better are the segments analyzing the latest record-breaking temperature. You’d think it was the Nature Olympics, with the sun getting gold medals all the time like American athletes (or bronze medals, if the sun was Canadian). I guess if it wasn’t for global warming, there’d be even less for them to talk about, so yay climate change.

A hundred years ago, there were no weather reporters. Well, there was your crazy old aunt, who claimed her gouty toe could predict when a storm was a-coming, or the one guy in every town who hung out at the General Store chewing on a hay stalk and muttering ominously, “Pine trees are puttin’ out cones early. Gonna be a hard winter.” And they were about as accurate as weather reporters today, who, despite all the bells and whistles, still can’t always predict when a tornado will develop. I like the guy from LaSalle who said that he hadn’t heard about the tornado, but he looked out his window, saw it coming from across the field, and got his family into the basement. Then he went back upstairs and recorded the tornado with his cell phone. He predicted a tornado hitting his house better than Environment Canada did—The Weather Network should hire HIM.

Sunday: Titus can’t catch.

Every morning, I eat a bowl of Corn Pops. I do “adulting” very well, as you can see. In fact, when we were in Iceland, I couldn’t find Corn Pops, so I was forced to buy Cocoa Puffs, another very adult cereal, and would tease Ken and T by calling them “tiny bites of chocolate happiness for breakfast”. Corn Pops are actually very healthy though, containing fibre and stuff, and not as much sugar as Rice Krispies, if you can believe that. Titus also loves Corn Pops. Every morning, when he sees me get down a bowl, he comes running. It’s become part of our morning routine that I grab a few and toss them to him as a treat. The only problem is that Titus can’t catch for sh*t. I’ve never seen a dog so uncoordinated. It’s bad enough that when he gives you a high five, he’s more likely to slap you in the face then fall over—but his Corn Pop-catching skills are abysmal. This is what it’s like every morning:

Titus: Oh boy! Corn Pops! This is the best day ever!
Me: You say that every morning. Do you think you could try a little harder today?
Titus: With what?
Me: Catching them. You’re hopeless.
Titus: What are you talking about? There’s nothing wrong with my catching abilities. You’re just a crappy thrower.
Me: Are you kidding? I toss them straight at you. It’s your timing. They bounce off your face most of the time AFTER you’ve snapped your teeth at them. I’ll show you. Sit down. (tosses Corn Pops)
Titus: That one was too high…too low…are you TRYING to aim for the refrigerator?…wait, I wasn’t ready for that one…Ow, my eye!…What the—did it go under the cupboard?…You’re trying to make me miss on purpose…
Me: You’re not concentrating. Focus, for God’s sake.
Titus: Can I just play “dead” now? I’m exhausted.
Me: You don’t know how to play dead. You only play “wounded”.
Titus: But Corn Pops are sweet gems of deliciousness. If I close my eyes, I might miss one.
Me: You’re missing them with your eyes OPEN! Fine—Bang!
Titus (falls to floor): Ok, I’m good. Hit me with a Corn Pop…Oh sh*t—where did it go?
Me (sigh): I rolled it right between your paws. How could you miss it?
Titus (head under cupboard): I got it. It’s all good!
Me: I think I’ve proven my point.

titus 3

Advertisements

My Week 99: Jet Lag Grumpiness, The Tragically Hip

Jet lag makes me grumpy. I’ll be the first to admit that, or maybe the second, as Ken is well aware of the fact that I’ve been a little pissy this week. The poor guy has a bad cold and slept on the couch the other night because he was coughing and didn’t want to wake me up. My reaction?

Me: What the hell are you doing?
Ken: Um…whuh?
Me: How many times have I asked you NOT to use the couch cushions as pillows?! They’re expensive, and you’re making them all squishy!
Ken: But I—
Me: NO, Ken. You need to stop treating the couch like a flophouse. Use your own damn pillows. It’s not like you don’t have 6 of them all cluttering up the bed and sh*t.
Ken: *weak cough, sneeze* Sigh.

At any rate, I hope he forgives me for my pillow rant, although it’s true that he has like a thousand weird pillows on the bed that he just can’t sleep without—unless he’s on the couch. The fact is that I’m in a continual state of grogginess, thanks to the 6 hour time zone change, and as I get older, I find it harder to readjust my body clock. But Ken wasn’t the only one who felt my ire this week. I hope you’re prepared for this, because I’m about to vent. Here’s the list of 4 things that are REALLY grinding my gears this week:

1) Telemarketers who can’t even be bothered trying.

Twice in the last week, I’ve been the target of a completely uninspired, or blatantly bulls*t phone sales pitch. I’m not sure what’s going on—maybe it’s the brutal heat we’re experiencing in Canada, but people aren’t even TRYING. The phone rang yesterday. We don’t normally use our landline, but the caller ID said “C. Becker”, so I thought it might be, like, a normal human person. I answered the phone:

Me: Hello? HELLO? (sounds of talking in the background).
Guy: What? Oh hi. Mrs. __________? (mispronounces my last name)
Me: No, it’s _____________.
Guy: Haha. Right. Sorry. So….this is just the duct cleaning people calling.
Me: The duck cleaning people?
Guy: No, ducts. You know, like your furnace ducts and stuff. So, we’re having a promotion.
Me: Ah, sorry. We heat totally with wood.
Guy: No problem! Thanks!

“Just the duct cleaning people”. Is that seriously how a company expects to make money? And why the hell are their sales agents using their own damn phones? Anyway, I had his name and phone number on my caller ID, so the other day, I randomly called him back. Don’t worry; I blocked my number first. I didn’t get to talk to “Chris”, which is what I’m calling him, but I left this ominous message on his answering machine in my best Count Dracula voice: “Would you like your ducts cleaned?! Mwah hahahaha!!!” Then I hung up, turned around and realized that T was staring at me.

Me: The duct cleaning guy…
T: I condemn your actions.

But it still wasn’t as bad as the other day, when I answered the phone and a guy with a VERY heavy accent said, “Hello. My name is John Smith and I’m calling from Windows. There seems to be something wrong with your computer—“, and I said, “F*ck off” and hung up the phone. Then I felt terrible, because I’m usually really polite to telemarketers, but how stupid did he think I AM? Now I’m worried though, because when we were in Iceland, I wrote most of last week’s post on a netbook using Windows, and when we came back to Canada, the netbook crashed. All I could do was call up the post on Word, then retype the whole thing, which took me hours. So maybe that’s my karma for being all swear-y at John Smith, and now my Windows might really be f*cked up.

2) Olympic Sexism.

Like many people, I’m disturbed by the level of sexism in the current Olympics. There have been many articles written on the subject regarding women’s achievements being downplayed or overshadowed by constant references to what they’re wearing or who they’re married to. And while I agree with all that, I also think that there are a couple of sports in which women are their own worst enemies by not saying “Screw this.” The first one that comes to mind is Gymnastics. How can you seriously expect people NOT to make a distinction between the genders when you have such a different approach to the floor routine? The guys are all serious and badass and tumbling around, and when they finish a run, they take one weird swivel-y step to turn around. The women, on the other hand, look like they’re trying out for Little Miss Gymnastic Universe—they do their routines with perma-smiles, and shimmy their shoulders and shake their pre-pubescent-looking booties for the crowd in between THEIR tumbling runs. I don’t get it. At one point, I was like “Shouldn’t there be a pole somewhere on that mat?” These women are all INCREDIBLE athletes—why is it the expectation of their sport that they act like pageant princesses? Do they lose marks if they don’t look pretty and sexy? Dump the glitter and gyrating, and bring women’s gymnastics into the 21st century. And don’t get me started on the seeming necessity of the women’s Beach Volleyball team wearing bikini thongs compared to what the guys wear. They claim it’s comfortable and allows them to play better—maybe having sand in your lady parts is a great incentive to win. And just for the record, I’d have absolutely no problem with any of this if the guys were similarly dressed in thongs or glitter or whatever. In fact, it might make me MORE inclined to watch men’s Beach Volleyball.

3) Kidbashing.

This one has been making me grumpy for a lot longer than a week, but hey, in for a penny, in for a pound. Is it just me, or are other people sick as f*ck of all the childbashing that seems to be de rigeur in the last little while? My social media outlets are jampacked with “50 Reasons Why Being a Parent Sucks”, or “10 Things I Hate About My Kids” or “Why Being a Mom Is Crap”. From Twitter hashtags to nasty memes, this whole cyberbullying of our children has to stop. Being a parent is AWESOME. There. I said it. I’m deeply sorry that I don’t want to cash in by appealing to the frustrated parent in you all, but I actually LIKE being a mom. My son didn’t drive me to drink (I did that all on my own, thank you very much). He didn’t give me gray hairs (do I have any? I’ll have to ask my hairdresser), and I would never dream of embarrassing him by openly mocking what he does on the internet. Sure, I talk about him, but it’s with affection rather than mean-spiritedness. You know what he DID give me? Laugh lines. Because kids are hilarious. But you’d never know this from some of the negativity aimed towards parenthood lately. I actually read a post by someone who described being a parent as being akin to living in a barren wasteland with an empty soul. WHAT?? All I have to say to that is “Grow the f*ck up. Did you really think that your life would stay EXACTLY the same as it was before you had children? Did you think you could still ‘party with my ladies’, have your semi-annual girls’ weekend, or continue to hit the bars on a Friday night? If so, then hire a nanny and stop complaining.” I’m not wholly unsympathetic—I understand that spending time with the wee ones can be a little overwhelming at times, and when I was raising T, there were certainly occasions (few, I have to admit) where I needed to vent. You know who I vented to? My mom. Or a good friend. Or Ken. I didn’t share my thoughts and feelings with thousands of strangers on the internet where my momentary self-doubt would be archived forever, and where my negative thoughts about childrearing could be seen by my child at a future date. The worst part is that it’s making younger women fearful of becoming parents. I read an article the other day by a journalist who was considering having children, but after reading some “mommy blogs”, she was so scared off that she was re-thinking the whole thing. The most ridiculous thing I read lately was by someone who was so unhappy about being a mother, and the worst part was that her husband got to go out working and be with adults. But then he would come home and leave his underwear on the bathroom door handle, and ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE, she would have to put his underwear away. My first and only thought was, “Why the HELL are you picking up after a grown man?! Did you know that after a while, if you don’t pick up after him, he’ll have no clean underwear and will be forced to do his own laundry like an actual normal human person?” And now this poor guy feels like a dick because everyone on the internet knows he hangs his underwear on a doorknob.

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can rightfully complain about being a parent. It really is the best gig in the world. You get to spend time with someone who is NEVER boring, and you get to teach them all the stuff they need to know. When you repeat “Can you say Mama,” over and over again, you’re creating neural pathways and networks. When you say “No, that’s hot—danger!”, you’re developing logic and reasoning. And when you say “Play nice and share,” you’re contextualizing the social construct. You’re a f*cking scientist, that’s what you are. So start embracing your inner Ph. D.—the internet, and your children, will thank you.

4) People who try to screw you over on Facebook buy and sell sites.

Ken and I are still trying to offload a lot of the furniture we had at the cottage we sold recently. The best way has been by using local Facebook buy and sell sites, but it can be frustrating at times. Most people are great—they come when they say they will, they give you the money, and they take away your stuff. Then you get the people who take two days of constant messaging and questions like “Is it in good condition?” (no, I posted it because it’s a piece of crap) to finally arrange a time to pick up an item. THEN they suddenly want to know if you’ll take half the asking price. You say No, then they come over when you’re out and try the same sh*t with your unsuspecting husband. But he’s no dummy (because you told him what the price was and he knows better that to barter on his own) so they leave empty-handed, having wasted everyone’s time. People like that are jerks. Enough said.

5) Amid all the grumbling this week, there HAVE been some good moments. Ken and I repaired the broken down antique settee that I got a garage sale and it looks great. I made risotto for the first time and it turned out almost OK. I bought groceries and it didn’t cost me a small fortune as it would have in Iceland. I saw Lisa, my Lancome lady, and she gave me a lot of free stuff. Which brings me to the thing that made me laugh my ass off this week. I saw my parents yesterday, and I gave my mom some peach-scented foot lotion, Calvin Klein body lotion, and lipstick that I got from Lisa. She called me last night:

Mom: I hope you don’t mind, but I gave the lotion to your Dad.
Me: No, that’s fine…
Mom: He’s decided to become a chick magnet so he needs soft skin.
Me: I—what?

So ladies, beware. If you see a really cool old Scottish guy who smells like peaches, you’re in trouble.

Saturday Night: The Tragically Hip

hip2

Last night was the final show of the Tragically Hip’s final concert tour. The lead singer, Gord Downie, has incurable brain cancer, and rather than fade away, he’s going out in fine Canadian style by bringing the country together. You might have seen the memes about Canada being closed for the night because our national broadcaster, the CBC, was showing the concert live across the nation for those who couldn’t get tickets to be there in person. Free. No commercial breaks. 3 hours of song. So that we could all embrace the band whose music was the soundtrack to so many of our lives. Hundreds of thousands of people watching all at the same time, some at huge parties with massive screens, some at home with the people they love, watching a man give everything he had left to the nation HE loves. It was inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time. In a year that we lost Bowie and Prince, two other icons of our youth, it seems incredibly unfair that Gord Downie, man, machine, poem, should be lost to us as well. And when the time comes, we’ll miss him fully and completely. Just wait and you’ll see.

Here’s the link to one of my favourite Hip songs—Nautical Disaster.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8Fi46BFAF0

 

My Week 98: Iceland FAQs

Iceland FAQs

waterfall2

Ken, T, and I have just arrived home from Iceland. T really wanted to go back to Spain and practice his Spanish, but Ken and I were interested in a new experience. We were able to compromise, thanks to Air Iceland’s ploy to lure tourists into their country. They offer really cheap flights to Europe on the condition that you stop over in Iceland on the way there and back. This sounded like a great deal, and it satisfied everyone’s desires. So we were in Iceland for four days, then Spain for three days, then back to Iceland again for three more days. But Iceland has only recently become a major tourist destination, and if you’re like me, you probably don’t know a lot about it. It’s definitely a unique experience, but there were some questions I would have LOVED to know the answer to before we went. Therefore, I’ve decided to create a list of Frequently Asked Questions, a primer, if you will, to the Icelandic experience. Or at least from my own perspective.

First, let me say that we really liked a lot of things about Iceland. It’s very different from just about anywhere else, which is part of its charm. It’s visually stunning, and incredibly clean. You can drive around the whole island very easily, stopping just about anywhere to enjoy the gorgeous landscape. But it’s also a very quirky place, and if you plan to travel there, you definitely need to be aware of a few things. So here’s the list of questions that I would have wanted answered BEFORE we arrived:

1) OMG, should the water smell like that?!

We arrived from the airport around 11 pm, rented our car, and drove to the apartment we had booked through AirBNB. Bjorn, the owner, had left a key for us in a lockbox outside the apartment door. It was a really nice little place and we were relieved, because you never know when you’re booking things relatively sight unseen. It was late, and all we wanted to do was go to bed, so we’d be rested up for the next few days’ adventures. Ken went in the bathroom first to brush his teeth. When he came out, he said, “The water smells a little different.” I was like, “How different?” and he said, “Kind of like sulphur, but it’s not too bad.” Then I went into the bathroom and started running the hot water to wash my face. Suddenly, I was standing at the gates of the deepest part of hell, breathing in acrid fumes that smelled like someone had put a dozen hardboiled eggs in an airtight box and left them out in the hot sun. I called out to Ken, “I thought you said it wasn’t THAT bad! I’m dying here!!” Turns out the Iceland sits on top of a sh*tload of naturally scalding hotsprings which supplies 85% of the island with geothermic energy and hot water. The only downside is that it reeks. It clings to your skin for a good ten minutes after you shower, and it fills the air with what can only be described as “farts of death”. But it’s only the hot water—the cold water is just fine, and you can drink it straight from the tap. It tastes terrific and not like demonwater at all. But we didn’t know this at first, and we were really scared that there was a sewer line break or something, and that we’d end up with Icelandic dysentery. When we met our host the next morning, it was the first thing we asked him, and he explained that it was perfectly healthy and safe, finishing with, “You get used to the smell.” And it’s true—you do. In fact, it becomes kind of comforting and homey, like when your dog farts and you just look at him affectionately and say, “Oh Bowser, you’re so smelly, but I love you.” Plus, it might be nasty, but apparently the minerals in it are really good for your skin. Icelanders are EXTREMEMLY proud of their stinkwater and the best part is if YOU fart, you can blame it on the water, not the dog. Because your dog will NEVER smell that bad. It’s not everywhere you go though—some of the hotels must filter it out, which would account for the incredible cost (see question 3).

2) Will I be able to eat the food?

Well that depends on how hungry you are. Icelandic food is a little different. I don’t mean different like a little more spicy, or in a “using mayonnaise instead of ketchup on your fries” kind of way—I mean “pickled ram’s testicle” kind of different. I’m not a picky eater, but I have two problems that plague me when I travel: I can’t eat gluten (I have arthritis and it makes my joints swell) and I’m allergic to shellfish (I carry an epipen for that one). So any foreign country can pose a challenge, but I can usually find SOMETHING to eat. Iceland made it a little harder because not only do they have a LOT of seafood and bread on their menus, they feel compelled to weird it up. We finally found a restaurant in Reyjkavik called “Kol” where the menu had a couple of relatively straightforward items on it, and they brought warm bread up first. It came with some kind of spread, which was bright red and looked like pureed strawberries. Ken tried it and said, “It’s slightly sweet—try it and see if you can figure out what’s in it.” I thought it was supersalty and strange, then I got worried that maybe it had squid blood or something in it, so we asked the waitress. It was beet hummus. Why would anyone ruin perfectly good hummus by putting beets in it?! Maybe you like beets, but if you want to know how I feel about it, read My Week 48: Deathly Beets, and you’ll understand. And it’s not enough to serve your run-of-the-mill fish and meat. No, the Icelandic specialty is Minke Whale. I’m already unhappy enough that I’m not a vegetarian (screw you, bacon), but there’s no way I’m eating something that can carry on an actual conversation with another member of its species and is probably smarter than I am. Plus, don’t forget that I swam with dolphins last year, so I’m almost one of them. It would be like cannibalism.

But my favourite item had to be “Salted Cod and Deep Fried Cod Cheeks with Couscous, Carrot, Cumin, and Mussel.” Seriously, how many different aquatic forms of life do you need in ONE dish? And Cod Cheek? WTF is that? Do cods even HAVE cheeks? Wouldn’t they be really tiny and not even worth deepfrying? I know there are lots of people out there who LOVE eating talking animals, freaky vegetables, and baby sheep, and if so, then Iceland is the place for you. You weirdos. But if not, then there ARE restaurants that cater to the more timid among us, Our last night there, for example, we went to an awesome Thai place and the Massaman Chicken (yellow curry), Spring Rolls and Pineapple Fried Rice were fantastic.

Side note 1: Make sure you specify that you want your food cooked all the way through. Icelanders like to eat their fish “medium rare” and their beef while it’s still mooing. As we discovered.

Side note 2: Iceland is also supposed to be known for its fantastic hot dogs. I don’t know where this mythology developed or why. All I know is that we were all dying to try one, and when we did, they were simply pre-packaged boiled hotdogs, like any other storebought hotdog. Except they tasted kind of plastic-y. Oh well. They only cost $15 each (see question 3).

3) If I find something to eat, and it’s cooked properly, will I be able to afford it?

That depends. Did you win the lottery last week? Be warned—Iceland is unbelievably expensive, especially compared to Spain, which is often cheaper than Canada. At Kol, we had three main courses (two salmon, one steak), one glass of wine, one beer, and one milkshake. It totalled out at the equivalent of over $200 American. No appetizers—the asparagus spears that I wanted were $30—and no dessert. (Well, we got dessert but it was free to make up for the double recooking of my steak, which I had asked for to be cooked “medium” but kept being served bloody; dessert would have cost us another $60 otherwise). In comparison, on our last night in Seville, Ken and T each had homemade 14” pizzas, I had poutine with bacon and cheese, and we had wine and beer. The whole meal was not quite $25. Which is exactly what I paid for lunch at a cafeteria in Iceland which consisted of 5 meatballs, a scoop of rice, and a side of sweet potato cubes. Even the grocery stores are expensive when it comes to certain items. A block of regular cheese can run you 25 00 Krona (the Icelandic currency which makes you THINK you’re getting a lot for your money because of all the extra zeroes), which is just about $25, and a small bottle of Pepsi can run around 4 bucks depending where you are. Which just goes to show that it’s not about ripping off tourists—the cost of living there is just really high for EVERYONE.

And hotels? It’s enough to make you cry. One night’s stay at the Radisson in Reykjavik cost us $500 for a room that you might find in a Motel 6. It was the same amount that we paid for 3 nights in Spain for the three of us, or the same as one night in the most luxurious hotel in Canada. Check out Langdon Hall for a comparison. Our “hotel” near Hella was even worse. It was 43 km. on a gravel road to get to it, and when we arrived, there were three single cots; there was no TV, no wifi in the rooms, and no soap for the shower. I wouldn’t have cared if we weren’t expecting more for the price, but it was $425 for the night, and dinner at the restaurant there was $225 for three entrees, drinks, and two pieces of chocolate cake. A word to the wise—use AirBNB whenever you can, because it’s a lot cheaper than the hotels, and make sure your accommodation comes with a kitchen so you can cook your own meals and save a little that way.

hotel

4) Do Icelanders like tourists?

They seem to. But this tourism thing is pretty new to them, and they always seem slightly bemused by foreigners. It’s not obnoxious or mocking—it’s kind of charming, like they’re not entirely sure what to do with tourists, instead of taking advantage of us like other countries do. For example, most tourist attractions are free, and there are relatively few souvenir shops. The people are polite and pleasant, and almost everyone speaks English really well; in fact, they learn it in school. We were at a restaurant seated next to two elderly gentlemen—when they heard us talking, they struck up a conversation in almost fluent English with us. As Canadians, we felt very comfortable in a country that seems as friendly and polite as our own.

5) Will I have a good time?

Yes. If you appreciate beautiful scenery, unique geographic elements, and interesting things to do, then you absolutely will. It’s an amazing country. Even though I’m 50 years old and was still in recovery mode from surgery, I found myself compelled to clamber over rocks to walk behind waterfalls, hike for kilometres to touch a glacier, watch in amazement at geysers exploding (then run away when we realized the hot water was about to rain down on us), and make my way through lava fields just to touch the crystal clear water of a rushing stream. It’s a great country, and we now know how to explore it the next time without having to take out a second mortgage.

Now, here are some questions that are more particular to me:

5) Is there always that one guy who has to smoke?

Yes. You will find him at every tourist stop, standing in nature’s pristine beauty, blowing smoke into the crisp, clean air, then throwing his cigarette butt on the ground. He comes in all nationalities, shapes, and sizes, and he will annoy the hell out of you with his inability to get out of his car and NOT immediately light up.

6) If I go to a swimming pool, will someone steal my towel?

Yes. Believe it or not. This happened to us at the Blue Lagoon, the most popular tourist spot in Iceland. It’s a giant hot spring where the water is bright blue. It’s one of the few places we had to pay to visit and like everything else in Iceland, it was very expensive. The regular admission was $50 Euros (about $73) but we chose the “Comfort Package” for $75 Euros each (about $108), because it came with a rented towel. You couldn’t take your towels beyond the entry, where they had hooks and racks for them, but when we came out of the lagoon , both T’s and my towels were gone. Yes, someone jacked our $35 rented f*cking towels. The same thing happened to my brother at a public pool in Reykjavik. They had their OWN towels, and when they came out of the pool, they were all gone. He complained to the attendant, who just shrugged and said, “Yes, that happens a lot.” So maybe it’s better, and cheaper, to drip dry. Otherwise, I highly recommend the Blue Lagoon, which is superwarm and not too deep. They also give you silica mud to put on your face, and T used it to create a mustache, beard, and monocle, which made me laugh insanely, despite the theft of the towels.

7) What about those Icelandic men?

Every time we saw a guy wandering around, half-smiling and looking a little lost, you could bet he was Icelandic. A lot of men in Iceland seem perpetually baffled. By what, we were never sure, but it became a running joke with us. It started at the airport with an Icelandic man who wanted to bring two loose lacrosse sticks onto the plane with him, and seemed very confused when he was told he couldn’t. The female clerk gave him tape to wrap around them, and it took his whole family almost ten minutes to help him do it. From the airport to the city centres to the countryside, there were men who just randomly wandered around looking perplexed and a little helpless. Maybe in the same way that some women are said to have a “resting mean face”, Icelandic men have a resting “why am I here?” face. At any rate, they’re all very nice. Even if they don’t know where they are. You might not believe me about this, so go there and see for yourself. You’ll love it—if you can afford it.

NB: I didn’t say anything about Spain. Spain was as great as always, except hotter. If you want to know about Spain, you can read My Week 45: Adventures in Spain. It hasn’t changed:-)

 

My Week 97: Olympic Opening Ceremonies, Casual Conversations

olympic ringsFriday: The Olympic Opening Ceremonies

Ken and I, like many people, love the Olympics. Well, we kind of have to, because during the Olympics there’s absolutely nothing else to watch on TV, aside from reruns of Big Bang Theory and Murdoch Mysteries. Last night, of course, was the Opening Ceremonies, and I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but Canadian TV stations were doing a countdown all day, and interviewing athletes, their parents, officials, politicians, and anyone else with a remote connection to the Games, including the guy who designed the Vancouver Olympic Opening Ceremonies. The commentator asked him if he was secretly hoping that the Rio Ceremonies wouldn’t be quite as good as the ones he designed, but he was very gracious, saying, “Of course not—all these ceremonies are different and special in their own way.” I don’t know about you, but after watching the Rio Opening Ceremonies, I was like “I don’t know about special, but it was certainly different.” Half of that was Rio’s fault, but the other half sits squarely on the shoulders of the Canadian commentators—between them all, it was like watching “End of Days” narrated by two of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. I’ve never seen so much doom and gloom at what’s supposed to be a joyous celebration before. Let me run it down for you:

The Canadian broadcast started with a video about the Games—I don’t know who made it, but I think the person could use a few lessons on “tone”. It began with the juxtaposition between the shiny Olympic facility and the gravely impoverished people who live just “steps away”. Cut to pictures of small children half-clothed and playing in the dirt. It was like a World Vision commercial—I almost expected a 1-800 number and Sarah McLaughlin singing “In the Arms of an Angel” in the background. Apparently, Brazil’s economy is tanking, they are rife with crime and conflict, and their environment is a disaster, according to this introduction, which then attempted to end on a “cheery note” with the idea that the Olympic Games is a source of hope for all Brazilians. I was like, “I sure as hell hope so, since they just threw what little money they apparently had left on this thing. They better win a sh*tload of medals because that will for sure make up for the lack of housing, food, and clean water.” It was the most depressing start to an Olympic Ceremony I’ve ever seen, but Ken and I were hopeful that once the festivities got started, things would improve. Things didn’t.

It began with people dressed as giant tinfoil bags.

Me: Why are they dressed in tinfoil tents?
Ken: Maybe it’s all they could afford.
Me: Maybe it represents all the garbage in the water. Is that a giant crab puppet?
Ken: Spider? Not sure. I think the commentator called this scene “Peace for the Earth”.
Me: Oh. That’s nice.

But the “nice” didn’t last long. Indigenous people arrived and started dancing and creating traditional tribal huts out of long bungee type cords (I’d heard earlier in the day from someone involved in the ceremonies that they were long rubber bands from an underwear factory) when suddenly the commentator announced (a little too enthusiastically I thought), “And here we have the European Invasion!” Menacing looking sailors on giant ships appeared—apparently that was the Portuguese coming to Brazil. The Indigenous people let go of their underwear bands and the camera panned to the other end of the arena, where giant hamster wheels had appeared, followed by a train of people wearing heavy blocks on their feet. “And of course, the Europeans brought slaves with them!” announced the commentator excitedly. “Many Brazilian cultures were first brought here against their will!” Things were getting frightening at this point, and I was feeling too sad to keep watching. But then the Japanese appeared. In complete contrast to the rest of the group, they were wearing white robes, and dancing while carrying red and white flags. And they were smiling. “Brazil has the second largest Japanese population in the world outside of Japan!” the commentator informed us. I guess they were the only cultural group not brought there against their will, judging by the fact that they didn’t look terrified. (The Japanese Women’s Rugby Team was still smiling today, even though they got their asses handed to them by Canada, in a 45-0 game. I’ve never seen a team so happy to just be on the field. It was absolutely heart-warming and completely in keeping with the Olympic spirit). Anyway, things got crazy at that point. I was jotting down notes on my phone, which I think will best convey my utter confusion at this point:

Parkour dancers building a wall. Is that a plane? Did it really just fly out of the stadium? Ken’s asleep. Wait, it was only a video. Brazil’s “second most favourite song”? What’s the first? Why is Gisele Bundchen here? Isn’t she German? Check Google. No, she’s Brazilian. She’s walking a loooong way. Still not there yet. God, that girl can stomp a catwalk, even at her age. Wow, she’s STILL walking.

Cutaway from Gisele to dubstep and twerking. The commentators are quiet—maybe they’re not sure what to say. Cut to commercial. Damn you Proctor and Gamble, making me cry with your Olympic mom commercials. Multi-coloured Chewbaccas and Tickle Me Elmos. 1500 dancers. More commercials featuring Morgan Freeman.  Finally, a video—it’s an indictment of global warming. Ironic, coming from a country whose water is so disgusting that the plants the kids are carrying would die if you watered them with it.

Then, just as suddenly as it began, it all stopped. The announcement came: Greece!

The parade of nations had begun. Now, this was the part that should have been the most joyous, and it would have been, except the Canadian announcers kept trying to fill airspace with random facts about each country. And in keeping with the overall tone of the evening, the facts were mostly random, bizarre, or depressing. Here are some highlights of the things we learned:

Albania: “They had a wrestler thrown out during the last Olympics for using the same steroids as disgraced Canadian runner Ben Johnson.”
Argentina: “The Argentinians are not very popular in Brazil, you know.”
Benin: “Apparently, they’re the unhappiest people in the world.”
Bermuda:  “You know, they ALWAYS wear shorts.”
Bosnia: “I hear their Olympic Stadium is still lying in ruins.”
Bulgaria: “Their entire weightlifting team has been banned for doping!”
Burundi: “Looks like they’ve run out of bicycles.”
Canada: “Ooh, here’s Canada!”
Qatar: We got nothing about Qatar because the commentators were still talking about Canada.
China: “The only time they lost a diving medal was to Canada. HAHAHA!”
Comoros: “As an island nation, they’re particularly worried about the rising seas.”
South Korea: “They’re here in their special anti-Zika uniforms. Good thinking.”
Croatia: “Wow, they LOVE their water polo.”
Denmark: “She’s only the third woman in Danish history to carry the flag. They tried to stop her from coming but she appealed.”
Dominica: “They’ve never won a medal. They have two athletes here, so only two chances this time!”
Egypt: “Remember the scandal in 2012 when they got caught wearing fake Nike uniforms?”
Micronesia: “That’s one tiny country.”
Estonia: “They have blonde triplet marathoners. You can’t miss them!”
Fiji: “He started playing rugby using a coconut. You can’t write this stuff!”
The Gs were ignored while one commentator went off on a rant about the irony of the Environmental theme when Rio was “plagued by pollution.”

Iran: “You don’t often hear funny stories about Iran, but here’s one…”
Iraq: “All 22 athletes are men. Gender equity, anyone?”
Liberia: “The terrible Ebola crisis…”
Libya: “Never won a medal.”
Nepal: “One team member lived in a tent for a month.”
North Korea: “The mysterious North Koreans. Did you know they say that Kim Jong Un bowled a 300 in his very first game? They claim he’d never bowled before.”
Russia: “Systematic doping. I’ll bet they’re the cleanest team in Rio now.”
Syria: “Dreadful, bloody conflict…”
Solomon Islands:  “They have a lot of sailors. Ron MacLean has a boat. Do you think he ever takes Don Cherry sailing?”
Tonga: “Look at their flagbearer. He’s all oiled up. He looks hot. Or he’s a show-off.”
Turkmenistan: “80% of the country is covered in desert.”
Turkey: “THEY won’t be hosting the games any time soon.”
And finally Brazil: “They’ve never been off the podium for beach volleyball!”

Next, it was time for the speeches. Unfortunately, The Big Bang Theory was on, and at that point, god, I needed a laugh, so we switched channels. I know that the Opening Ceremonies is a time for a country to showcase itself to the world, and I guess Brazil has more problems than some people, myself included, were really aware of. Hopefully, an expose of the economic and environmental conditions that exist there will lead to some kind of action. And speaking of action, the games are now in progress, and it’s already apparent that the doom and gloom of the kick-off is already overshadowed by the quality of the athletics and the character of the athletes, which is always the point anyway. And I’m sure the Closing Ceremonies will be a little more uplifting—after all, Brazil is guaranteed a medal for beach volleyball.

olympic rings

Thursday: Conversations

Ken: Did you hear the latest? People are upset that Justin Trudeau was taking pictures with his shirt off.
Me: Wasn’t he out jogging in the forest when someone asked him to pose with them?
Ken: I know right? Someone said, “Oh, his father would NEVER have posed shirtless.” But I just googled it and found like 4 shots of Pierre Elliot Trudeau without a shirt on WHILE he was Prime Minister.
Me: I’m confused. If it’s OK for Melania, why isn’t it OK for Justin? The shaming must stop. Besides, Putin did it first. On a horse.

Ken: I think I know that woman. She’s a retired principal. I think I was at a workshop with her.
Me: I thought she must be a stockbroker, what with the aviator sunglasses and the Bluetooth earpiece. Does anybody else even use those things anymore? At any rate, that’s a gorgeous Mustang convertible she’s driving.
Ken: Wouldn’t you love a car like that?
Me: No way. It’s, like, unseemly at my age.
Ken: Why?
Me: It’s OK for a teenager. If you’re a teenage boy and you drive a car like that, everyone’s like “Wow—good for you! You’ve hit the big time!” If you’re an older woman, you’re just showing off. It’s ostentatious.
Ken: But you have a sporty car.
Me: It’s a Chevy. No one is ever like, “Oh my god, look at that Chevy hatchback!” Yes, it’s cute and sporty, but it doesn’t scream “I have more money than brains.”
Ken: It’s still a nice car.
Me: Convertibles make your hair messy as f*ck.
Ken: Jealous much?
Me: Sigh. Yeah.

Me: I don’t know how to finish my blog.
T: How about “See ya, nerds!”
Me: Right. I’ll be sure to try that.

See ya, nerds:-)