Thursday, July 31, 2014

Three Three

All day I've been trying to figure out how to capture what it means to be thirty three. I feel like it's not much different than turning eight, or thirteen or any other age. With a summer birthday I was often at my grandparents house in Edmonton for my big day. I remember waking up on those hot summer days, stretching and then remembering BAM! It's my birthday. I'd lay there for a bit and wonder if I felt any different. Any older. Not really. Then I'd get up and look in the big round mirror. I didn't look any different than yesterday either. So then I'd shuffle out to the kitchen and the only thing that made the day different was that Grandma would give me a big happy birthday hug and each person, as they woke and found their way to the butter yellow kitchen, would add their good wishes and hugs. 

That's pretty much the same as today. It as just another day. I swept in the morning, did some dusting, and let a parade of repair people through the gates. And periodically throughout the day I'd check Facebook where I always had a host of new birthday wishes waiting. They're coming in from all over the world and in multiple languages. That is how I know I am loved. The fact that these people took a few seconds out of their day to send me some good wishes. I appreciate each and every one. 

I don't feel any different today. Yes 33 is closer to 35 which sounds closer to 40 but this next year is going to be exciting. I'll be graduating in June and starting, as Meredith and I decided "the third half of my life." More chapters in this book of life. Bring it on. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

#32 Watch all the movies on the AFI Top 100 list

The American Film Institute has published a number of Top 100 Lists. #32 on my list of Trucs a Faire is to watch all of the ones on the "100 Years...100 Films" list. That's the original list and even though it was published in 1998 and there has since been updates, that's the one I'm going with because it's the one I was referring to when I started my list in 2006. I don't watch a lot of movies in general and rarely during the school year so I tend to make the most progress on this list in the summer. I think I have a note somewhere on when I watched these movies but that doesn't matter so much. The point is, if they have an X beside them, I've seen them and some of them, like "The Sound of Music" I've watched multiple times. My most recent viewing was of "The African Queen" and I was pleasantly surprised. It's a pretty simple story but quite enjoyable. I'll try and remember to post updates of my progress from time to time. For now, as of July 28, 2014 I've watched 43/100 movies on this list.

# MOVIE YEAR
X 1 CITIZEN KANE 1941
X 2 CASABLANCA 1942
X 3 THE GODFATHER 1972
X 4 GONE WITH THE WIND 1939
X 5 LAWRENCE OF ARABIA 1962
X 6 THE WIZARD OF OZ 1939
X 7 THE GRADUATE 1967
X 8 ON THE WATERFRONT 1954
X 9 SCHINDLER'S LIST 1993

X 10 SINGIN' IN THE RAIN 1952
X 11 IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE 1946
X 12 SUNSET BLVD. 1950
X 13 THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI 1957
14 SOME LIKE IT HOT 1959
X 15 STAR WARS 1977
16 ALL ABOUT EVE 1950
X 17 THE AFRICAN QUEEN 1951
18 PSYCHO 1960
19 CHINATOWN 1974

20 ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST 1975
21 THE GRAPES OF WRATH 1940
22 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY 1968
23 THE MALTESE FALCON 1941
24 RAGING BULL 1980
X 25 E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL 1982
26 DR. STRANGELOVE 1964
27 BONNIE AND CLYDE 1967 28 APOCALYPSE NOW 1979
29 MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON 1939

30 THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE 1948
31 ANNIE HALL 1977
32 THE GODFATHER PART II 1974
X 33 HIGH NOON 1952
X 34 TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD 1962
X 35 IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT 1934
36 MIDNIGHT COWBOY 1969
37 THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES 1946
38 DOUBLE INDEMNITY 1944
39 DOCTOR ZHIVAGO 1965

X 40 NORTH BY NORTHWEST 1959
41 WEST SIDE STORY 1961
42 REAR WINDOW 1954
43 KING KONG 1933
X 44 THE BIRTH OF A NATION 1915
X 45 A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE 1951
46 A CLOCKWORK ORANGE 1971
47 TAXI DRIVER 1976
48 JAWS 1975
X 49 SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS 1937

X 50 BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID 1969
X 51 THE PHILADELPHIA STORY 1940
52 FROM HERE TO ETERNITY 1953
53 AMADEUS 1984
X 54 ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT 1930
X 55 THE SOUND OF MUSIC 1965
56 M*A*S*H 1970
57 THE THIRD MAN 1949
X 58 FANTASIA 1940
59 REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE 1955

X 60 RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK 1981
61 VERTIGO 1958
X 62 TOOTSIE 1982
63 STAGECOACH 1939
64 CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND 1977
65 THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS 1991
66 NETWORK 1976
67 THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE 1962
X 68 AN AMERICAN IN PARIS 1951
69 SHANE 1953

X 70 THE FRENCH CONNECTION 1971
X 71 FORREST GUMP 1994
X 72 BEN-HUR 1959
X 73 WUTHERING HEIGHTS 1939
74 THE GOLD RUSH 1925
X 75 DANCES WITH WOLVES 1990
76 CITY LIGHTS 1931
77 AMERICAN GRAFFITI 1973
X 78 ROCKY 1976
79 THE DEER HUNTER 1978

80 THE WILD BUNCH 1969
81 MODERN TIMES 1936
82 GIANT 1956 X
83 PLATOON 1986
84 FARGO 1996
85 DUCK SOUP 1933
X 86 MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY 1935
87 FRANKENSTEIN 1931
88 EASY RIDER 1969
89 PATTON 1970

90 THE JAZZ SINGER 1927
X 91 MY FAIR LADY 1964
92 A PLACE IN THE SUN 1951
93 THE APARTMENT 1960
94 GOODFELLAS 1990
95 PULP FICTION 1994
96 THE SEARCHERS 1956
X 97 BRINGING UP BABY 1938
98 UNFORGIVEN 1992
X 99 GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER 1967
X 100 YANKEE DOODLE DANDY 1942

Friday, July 25, 2014

Epiphany Island

I guess I haven't blogged about it yet but my first few weeks here in France were rough. They were rough last year but I blamed it on the fact that I had already been travelling for six weeks and had only spent one week of the past five plus months in Canada. I like France but the bottom line is, it's a foreign country and even though I understand and can communicate in the language, it's not my mother tongue so fully expressing myself is difficult. Also, my job is housework. I don't like housework at the best of times and even though I get to do it in a beautiful place, I still don't like it. So PMS and homesickness and missing Canada Day and the start of summer and the fact that my parents were on vacation so I couldn't just Skype with them whenever I wanted, resulted in me feeling very alone and unhappy for the first few weeks I was here. I reached out to a few people but the general consensus was "You're in France. You're not allowed to complain." Or feel any emotion other than ecstatic happiness apparently. That was frustrating in it's own way.
Anyway, the third week I was here I went to Île Saint-Honorat on my day off. It's the smaller of the two Lérins Islands which are both just off the coast in the Bay of Cannes. I visited the larger one, Île Sainte-Marguerite, last year and this year I made it to Saint-Honorat. It was a crazy hot day and even though I stopped and bought lunch at the Monoprix and an extra bottle of water, I probably still could have had more liquids. The island has been home to monks since the fifth-century and they cultivate six types of grapes for wine and olives for oil. There are a number of small chapels dotted around it and the main church in the middle.

I wandered around taking in the peacefulness of the place and generally avoiding all other humans because I wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone.

I picked a spot overlooking the channel between Saint-Honorat and Saint-Marguerite for my picnic lunch. I also read a bit of the book I had with me and took a short nap under the trees. At some point during my time of reflection I realized something really simple. Something that everyone else probably realizes but something I needed to recognize as an attitude adjustment.

I don't HAVE to do my work here in France.
I GET to.

That's it. That's my big epiphany. I know a lot of people are probably thinking...yeah so. What's the difference. Or, how did you not realize that before? But that's just the point. I didn't and once I did, it was like the clouds lifted and the sun shone through. I guess it's because this is my second time here (and by here I mean in France at this job). The first time everything was new and exciting. I was constantly learning and discovering and I was dazzled by the beauty of this corner of the world. This year the shine has worn off. The sparkle is gone and while I'm glad I came, the romance is lost and it just feels like hard work. Still, I realize I am extremely lucky to be able to do a job like this, not once but twice.

I probably won't be back. Not to work anyway. And if I do it won't be next year. I need to spend a summer in Canada. I think deep down I maybe didn't want to come back this year. Or if I did my motives were wrong. I came back because it was easy. I mean I had the job given to me. Mine for the taking. All I had to do was say yes. That's way easier than applying for the jobs I want post graduation. Coming here was guaranteed. Plus it looks great. Not only to future employers, which was my rationale, but to my friends. And that's where my motive was wrong. I came because people were jealous that I get to be here and that's wrong. In the weeks leading up to leaving, I wasn't excited. I wasn't looking forward to leaving. I was already missing everyone back home. I booked my ticket and packed and came out of duty. I had committed and there was no backing out. But I would have been perfectly fine to stay in Canada. And that's why this epiphany was so important. Because my day on this little island where people have been reflecting for over fifteen hundred years, I realized just how lucky I am and I adjusted my attitude and I've been a lot happier since.

The pictures of me in this post were taken after my little revelation. Yeah I could fake a smile before but now these ones are genuine. Genuinely happy. Genuinely content. Genuinely in love with life. And ready to tackle the duties I have for the next five weeks that I am here, because I get to. Not because I have to.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild

In June Meredith had a grad party. They watched the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. It takes place on the French Riviera and she called and asked me if I had visited the town of "Beaumont-sur-Mer" last year while I was here. With a bit of Googling we realized that Beaumont-sur-Mer is a fictitious town created for the movie but that yes, I have either been to or passed through many of the places where the filming took place.

When I arrived in France and actually had time, I watched the movie myself. I recognized a few of the locations and made a mental note to try and check out some of the other places. A few days later the family I work for announced they were going sightseeing and asked if I wanted to go with them. I took them up on the offer at the last minute and we headed towards Cap-Ferrat which I thought sounded vaguely familiar. I didn't know where we were going but since I was just along for the ride I didn't think very much of it. I figured it would be good to see the area and then maybe when I had a day off I could go explore the area on my own.

 Well it turns out our destination was the Villa and Gardens of Ephrussi de Rothschild which was one of the specific filming locations for the movie!!! It's not the main house (that's a private villa according to Wikipedia) but it was still used in the movie. How cool.

The villa is gorgeous. Aside from the fascinating history and the dancing fountains that do a choreographed water show every twenty minutes, the gardens are gorgeous. It was a super hot day but we had fun exploring this beautiful spot together. I definitely understand why they used it in the movie.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

#28 Visit Great Britain

Number 28 on My List is "Visit Great Britain." I realize that, like with many of the things on this list, it's pretty vague and unspecific. Therefore, even though "Great Britain" has a lot more to explore than just London, I'm officially crossing it off my list. It's like learning French. It will be a life long pursuit. But, even though this was only my first visit to London, I managed to see quite a bit. I took a number of walking tours so I feel relatively familiar with the downtown area. I visited the Parliament, Westminster Abbey, The Monument,
and the National and Portrait Galleries. In general I liked the city. There's tons to see and you'd never be bored. However, I also found it extremely expensive and rather overwhelming. Plus I was annoyed with having to use the pound. I do want to go back and explore some more. Maybe it will be better next time when I know better what to expect.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Divided Identities: Reflections on D-Day


Juno Beach, Normandy, France
A year ago today I was on the beaches of Normandy. Like many others before me I made the pilgrimage to site of the D-Day landings to see the area where so many soldiers lost their lives. For the Allies that was a day of victory. The day Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was breached and the push inland began. My friends and I were staying in Paris so we rented a car and drove to the coast. We had to be up before 5am in order to make it to the airport to pick up our rental car and make it out to Courseulles-sur-Mer, also known as Juno Beach, where the Canadian memorial ceremonies were taking place.

Eric, Heidi, Heather, Caitlin and Brendan.
We had spent the previous two weeks touring other First and Second World War battle sites, cemeteries and war memorials in the Netherlands, Belgium and the North of France. Flanders, Ypres, Passchendaele, Theipval, Beaumont-Hamel, Vimy Ridge, Dieppe, the Scheldt Estuary, we had seen literally thousands of grave markers and hundreds of thousands of names engraved in monuments. We had even toured two German Cemeteries to give us the contrast of how the “other side” remembered.

Throughout this time I was reminded of why I am proud to be Canadian. Why I wear a maple leaf and can proudly sing “God Save the Queen.” The Canadian contributions to these wars are undeniable even if my professors at Georgia Southern University had omitted any mention of it during my recent exchange. But under it all I was unsettled. Being Canadian, and being on this tour, meant embracing my British roots. It meant focusing on the “ready aye ready” aspect of my country’s response to the declarations of war and being ready to serve for God and King. It meant presenting a paper on the experience and sacrifice of my great-great-great uncle Edward Shannon Grant who was killed during the infamous last 100 Days of the Great War. It meant suppressing the other half of me. The German/Eastern European side that didn’t quite fit with the Allied view of how the events of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 had played out and I wasn’t sure how to deal with that so I just ignored it.

Juno Beach Centre, Courseulles-sur-Mer, Normandy, France
June 6, 2013 was a cool clear day. Being the 69th anniversary there were a respectable number of visitors at the Juno Beach Centre. Veterans and dignitaries, tourists and locals, we all gathered together to remember. We arrived with plenty of time to secure a decent seat and seek out our Professor who was also there with another tour group. After the ceremony which was similar to the familiar November 11th Remembrance Day ceremonies back home, we toured the museum and then made our way down to the beach. We joined in the reception and visited a bit before heading out.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
Our next stop was Omaha Beach where the American ceremony was just ending. The contrast between the two sites and the approach was striking. The American Cemetery is perched high on a cliff above the beach where as the Canadian centre is just steps away from the sand. The American Cemetery reminded me a lot of Washington, DC and even had a mini reflecting pool. The guide we talked to explained that for many French and other Europeans, this cemetery is the closest they will come to the United States and the goal of the design of the area was to give them both a feel for the American style of memorialization and to be a tribute to all of the fallen. A little bit of American on French soil for the soldiers that are buried there and for those that visit.
Me on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France

On the beach we took off our shoes (or in my case boots) and waded in the water. I imagined the waves lapping stained with the blood of the fallen and tried to imagine what it would have been like to be there on that day in 1944. A bit further down the beach were a couple of German soldiers also with their boots off enjoying the sand and surf. I joked with them that their boots were going to get wet and we started chatting. They were university students in Hamburg and had signed up for a tour where they would go and lay commemorative wreathes at a series of cemeteries in Northern France. We chatted a bit about travelling and the sites they were visiting. I wanted to ask them so much more. What was it like to be representing the “losing side.” Is that how they saw it? What did they feel about their countries involvement in these wars? How did it feel to come to these places and know that young men their age were buried there. Of course I couldn’t. It wasn’t the time or the place but I still wonder.
La Cambe German War Cemetery

They had mentioned that there was a large German War Cemetery close by so after we finished at Omaha Beach, we headed out into the countryside to find it. After a few wrong turns and a stop at a small museum for directions, we finally found La Cambe. It was massive. Over 20,000 graves all in flat black stone with a large mound of earth in the centre. We each split off and wandered the site lost in our own reflection. I recorded in my diary that the idea of “sacrifice for God and country” that was so prevalent in the Commonwealth cemeteries was missing there and instead there is just an intense feeling of sadness.
The memorial in the center of the La Cambe cemetery
In the visitors centre we looked at pictures of German War cemeteries all around the world. France, Belgium, Egypt, Italy, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada…wait KITCHENER??? There’s a German War Cemetery in our hometown? Wow. We made it back to Paris that night and I received news that my sister-in-law was in labour. A day of remembering the dead and a new life was about to make its appearance. Cue the Lion King.

German War Graves at Woodland Cemetery, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
A year later here I am finally sitting in that cemetery in Kitchener. The orderly row of stubby stone crosses spread out before me in a similar style to the ones all over Western Europe. In that weeks following my visit to Normandy I was able to visit Germany. I went to Bremen and then to Bremerhaven (the port of Bremen) where in 1953 my maternal grandparents had boarded the Beaverbrae to leave war torn Europe and make a new life in Canada. I visited Gockenholz and Beeden-Bostel. The tiny settlements (I hesitate to even call them towns considering how small they are) where they had lived and farmed in the years following Germany’s defeat and the church where they had been married. I spent almost a week in Berlin exploring and soaking in answers to the questions I had wanted to ask those soldiers on Omaha Beach about how Germany remembers. How they remember, acknowledge, and move on. How they talk about the events of their history but don’t dwell on them instead looking to a better tomorrow. And I found a way to reconcile the two sides of me. To acknowledge that without these massive conflicts Europe wouldn’t have been torn apart and my Great Grandparents wouldn’t have been forced to flee Estonia and then Poland. That Grandpa Bergner may never have left his little town in the south of Germany and found himself working for a farmer in the north where he met a tall handsome woman named Elsa. And they wouldn’t have needed to come to Canada, sponsored by the Lutheran church as refugees, repaying their passage by working on a sugar beet farm in Alberta. And ultimately moving to Edmonton where my parents were able to meet and have me.


So I sit and I look at these stones and I am thankful that even though I had family on both sides of the conflict, they were protected and now I can sit in a town that used to be called Berlin, and is now named after a British Army officer, in a country I am proud to call my own, and embrace my divided identity: the British side and the German side and all the other parts in between. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

New Theory

As I get closer to my university graduation the big question on everyone's minds seems to be where I am going to live when I'm finished. They all want to know where I'm going to end up. I admit it's been frustrating me a lot. I don't KNOW. I have some ideas of the type of job I want to have but I'm lost as to where I should be. I like Ontario a lot but I don't feel like it's my forever home. BC will always be where I'm "from" and I know I would be welcomed back there any time with open arms but I don't really feel like it's where I need to be in the near future. I'm not sure where that leaves me and the idea of picking somewhere else to live hasn't been all that appealing lately either.

Recently I've realized something. I don't HAVE to decide. I don't have to live in one place. I can continue to be nomadic and live here and there for as long as I want. A few of the jobs I have in mind are shorter term opportunities which would entail moving a lot. I'm very much okay with this. I'm sure a lot of people aren't and won't be but I'm not living their life.

I had lunch today with a friend who is in the process of completing his Phd and starting to look at life after school. All he wants is a secure 9-5 job where he has guaranteed income on a bi-weekly basis. It was interesting to explain to him that I DON'T desire that. I had a secure job and I left it for this adventure. Financially it's probably not been the best decision I've ever made but I know it's been the right one for my mental stability and I honestly can say that I love my life and I'm ready to embrace the next adventure. Whether it makes people comfortable or not.