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Chronicles of the Extraordinary. The tale of a never-ending journey, for two.

Free @ YVR

It’s 9:26 AM. Finally, Vancouver’s International Airport offers terminal-wide free Wi-Fi access. I’m sitting in the more modest Domestic Departure Terminal, gate B21. Westjet flight 506 is on time, bound for Montreal Trudeau International, aka good old Dorval airport.

Even though I’m still in town and I didn’t have to clear customs this time, Vancouver and the West Coast have already receded far behind the horizon and an imaginary but very tangible line now separates me from an old home, drawing me towards a new one.

My heart is heavy. British Columbia is an extraordinary place and will be dearly missed. But where I’m going, no time to cry; many more jewels await and my own star shines with infinite grace on the Eastern Seaboard.

We leave small pieces of ourselves everywhere we go, but take so much in exchange along with us, to keep us warm, to keep us amazed, and growing. Change is a blessing. It reminds me, always, of the uncanny ability of this universe to keep surprising me. I wonder how the other ones work…

"Everything will be alright
Everything will turn out fine
Some nights I still can’t sleep
And the voices pass with time
And I keep

No time for tears
No time to run and hide
No time to be afraid of fear
I keep no time to cry"

The Sisters of Mercy – No Time to Cry

Posted in: Always & Schtroumpfissime on July 11, 2009 | Show Comments(1)

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Approaching D-Day

Once again – as I have felt it so many times before – time is up to its usual tricks, reminding me that it might well after all only exist inside my brain… It coils itself tightly like a threatened snake, slowing down to a hiss until an eternity seems to hang in mid-air, waiting for the strike. The rhythms around me appear to dash ahead and lose their depth while I curiously raise a hand in slow motion and watch my fingers wave against a background of furiously blurred, meaningless activity. It is a time of distancing, of chasms created and boundaries leveled. A time for counting one’s cards and preparing to throw them on the table, bluff exposed and hopes at their apogee. Soon the jump will come and all bets will be off. There will be no turning back, nor one wanted. The deeper the dive, the stronger the narcosis, erasing layers of surface boredom, years of flatness and adding a dimension. Once again, this time for good, two routes intersect, two navigators plot a common position and one duo moves forward, and up. I am so ready.

"Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,

through the graves the wind is blowing,

freedom soon will come;

then we’ll come from the shadows." 

Leonard Cohen – The Partisan
(Adapted from La complainte du partisan
by Emmanuel d’Astier de La Vigerie and Anna Marly)

Posted in: Always on June 25, 2009 | Leave a comment

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June 12, 2009 – One small step, maybe, but one giant leap

One might notice that out of an old habit, I still resist the notion of spilling my guts on the blog, probably because of a wise inherent fear of Uncle Sam’s devious tendencies.

Today, nevertheless, is a brilliant day. After nearly two  years of meeting sorrow, patience, hardship, sadness, distance, isolation, hope, joy, suffering, deception, failure, success, Triumph and Disaster, and treating all those impostors just the same, Marie and I finally get our reward in the form of a stamp. Or a seal. Or a signature. Not sure which one yet, but it is grand and pompous and envied. It grants her an Unconditional Statement of Acceptance as citizen of the most powerfull (sic) nation on Earth and me the long coveted right to legally petition for an adjustment of status from pest to tolerated pet.

It is, yet again, an extraordinary date to be remembered. We’re almost there, it seems. I would say that we deserve there at least as much as some, and more than most. Love can finally be home. Comme le disait si bien mon paternel, "le temps ne respecte pas ce que l’on fait sans lui." Tout vient donc bien à point à qui sait attendre.

So now I’ll make one heap of all my whining and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss. I’ll throw away most of my pitiful possessions and get on a plane and a train and a cab. It’s time to start over. A new horizon awaits me. Awaits us.

Cost of the battle? Time. A helluva lot o’ money. Brain cells. One lost application file. Two missing bureaucratic photos. Could be worse.

But why is the rum gone?

Posted in: Always on June 12, 2009 | Show Comments(10)

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Thermal’s up, let’s catch a ride

No matter what dull drama stains our lives, no matter how dark a Mordor we seem to be painfully headed for, there always comes a light – be it a single fleeting ray through torn menacing clouds or a global, iridescent dome coating the world beyond even our dreams.

The trick, as with all perception-induced realities, is to not be fooled by either tone. Gloomy days and stormy nights will always brighten up and in turn darkness is bound to pay us yet another visit, some day. It’s written in the cards and clearly visible in the giant palm of our universe. I checked.

What’s left for wisdom to embrace is an obstacle course of great comic value, an endless oscillation between ups and downs and rights and wrongs. How we swing with or against it will define the albedo of our life and ultimately, our happiness.

It would seem now, after a year and a half of absence and waiting and doubt and setbacks, that dawn is about to shine in all its glory, a warm breeze finally blowing the fog away and drying rain drops off the easel of a masterful painting in the making.

The wind of change is upon me once again. Here’s my parable for it. My paraglider laid out neatly, I’m watching the signs. Far below, the lake surface changes as ripples run on its face like as many little smiles. Then the warm air rises to the trees and I follow its progress as leaves and small branches come alive. The bubble gathers strength and momentum and soon next to me the windsock begins to stir. It’s here. The thermal is here. Time to inflate. A pull on the lines and the canopy comes overhead, begging to fly. I stop it there, just long enough for a visual check, and then turn back and face the abyss. A few fast steps, weight forward to load the wing and we bite into the thermal.

I force myself to a second or two of patience and avoid sitting down into the harness too early – and too close to the ground – but I turn immediately to stay inside the lift band. The vario sings and I’m finally able to lean back, taking a turn into the brake lines and hugging the slope as I climb in a large S pattern towards a height at which I’ll be able to turn into the thermal and ride it up.

And there, way up there in the sun, Marie is waiting for me. We’ll be flying together. At last.

Posted in: Always on May 10, 2009 | Show Comments(2)

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A night on the Cape of Good Hope

It would seem the southern tip of Africa has two faces, one purely geographic and the other popularly romantic. Technically, the actual southernmost point is located some 200 km to the southeast of Cape Town and called Cape Agulhas.  An extension of Africa’s gigantic landmass, that cape is wide and rather boring looking – on a map at least since I haven’t been there.

But if like me, you are a dreamer and cherish fractured memories of the adventures of Tintin et les cigares du Pharaon or those stories of the Flying Dutchman, you’ll ignore
the previous coldly geographical truth and let yourself believe that in fact, the more famous Cape of Good Hope is as far south as one can venture in Africa without dropping off into the ocean.

Hanging from the bottom of the Cape Peninsula, the Cape of Good Hope is much sexier than Cape Agulhas. Slender or even narrow, cliffy, dominated by a white lighthouse, inhabited by herds of antelopes and part of the Table Mountain National Park, the Cape is so close to Cape Town it can easily be visited in a half-day excursion. It isn’t truly the southern tip of the continent and if one could see that far, the landmass of Cape Agulhas would loom in the distance to the east and the south but since it’s out of sight, it’s also out of mind.

The biodiversity on the Cape Peninsula is extraordinary, so much so that the Cape Floral Kingdom – one of six kingdoms worldwide to define geographical  flower arrangements, so to speak – is the smallest but richest of all six. One big flower bouquet at the foot of Africa.

Table Mountain National Park is a very popular tourist destination, as one could imagine, and even away from Table Mountain, the road going through the southern part towards Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope is a rather busy artery winding through a large plateau covered with fynbos and inhabited by baboons, ostriches, bokkies and mountain zebras.

Much less visited and almost forgotten by even the locals, however, is the road that branches off to the west and leads to Olifantsbos. All the way at the end of that road, away from the crowds and buses, a small sandy beach is home to a few families of baboons. And even further, beyond a locked gate and around a corner that makes it invisible to the civilized world, hides a wonderful cottage rented out nightly as self catering unit by the park administration.

This is where Marie’s parents had very kindly decided to take us for our last outing in South Africa. The following night would be our last in Constantia and then we were flying back home to North America. The four of us drove there in a howling southeaster that left Henri very worried about his early morning bike ride. He was bringing his bicycle in the back of the Kombi hoping to get a training ride done in preparation for the March 100 km Argus bicycle race which, at 75, he still rides every year.

We picked up the cottage keys at the Park  Headquarters on the main road and backtracked to the junction that marks the entrance to peace, quiet and magic. From there the nicely paved road stretches for kilometers in a straight, slightly descending line to a deep blue ocean. There are sometimes herds of ostriches and bokkies – bonteboks, elands, and hartebees – grazing on each side. The road then curves left and south, reaching the final parking lot next to a beautiful cove where we had a picnic last year. But we now had the key to a padlock guarding the gate to further privacy, a gate we left open for Marijke joining us later.

Waves were still crashing madly a few dozen meters away and the walk of a few braves along the beach turned into a challenge, sand flying horizontally and hitting one’s face with the loving softness of coarse sandpaper.

The cottage soon appeared, nested between a huge outcropping of limestone rising right behind it and the ocean, dark, foamy and insanely agitated by the gale force wind. We took possession of our new domain with pleasure and relief, careful not to let the doors slam. The interior was very nicely done and our room perfectly cozy. There was a smell, though, that instantly reminded Marie and me of our first trip to the area where a seal had been decomposing on the beach. It turned out to be a poor lizard that had managed to get squashed between the sliding window and its frame. The dead lizard removed, everything was peachy.

The wind was abating slowly and Marijke having finally arrived, we went for a walk up on the hill. Our map mentioned a WW2 submarine watch station which I wanted to investigate. On our way up, we found strangely shattered pieces of turtle shell on the path. Our only explanation was for birds of prey to have broken them by dropping them from up high. Who knows?

The fynbos here was as nice as everywhere else and the  girls soon got distracted. I left them behind momentarily to visit the watch station on the edge of the cliff and when I came back just a few minutes later, they had disappeared. Trying hard to suppress childhood memories of a spooky movie I’d seen about kids vanishing on an excursion around Ayers Rock, I looked for them for quite a while. Then I decided to head back down, following footprints I’d recognized on the semi-sandy footpath. The darlings were already back at the cottage, having decided I was nowhere in sight and could take care of myself. Women! I made a mental note to brief Marie better for our Everest attempt next year. Or the following.

Waves were still crashing madly a few dozen meters away and the walk of a few braves along the beach turned into a challenge, sand flying horizontally  and hitting one’s face with the loving softness of coarse sandpaper.

Dinner prep was launched. I’ve forgotten what else we ate because there were boerwoers and those alone require my full attention. The gale weakened during the night and when I woke up bright and early to go on a run, the sun was shining merrily and turning the day into a complete opposite of what the previous had been. Henri had already left on his bike ride.

I put my running shoes on and decided to carry the G10 along, hoping for some game to be around that early. The heat took me by surprise. Not a whisper of wind and already, no later than 7:00 or 8:00 am, I was sweating profusely. I ran slowly and took pictures here and there. I had been right about the game, they were everywhere! I saw a huge herd of elands in the distance, losing my count over 40.  Bokkies were crossing the road ahead of me, transiting to the beach. They never let me get very close, obviously much more wary of a runner than a car. I must have looked like a fearsome cheetah.

I could not have ran more than 4 km before I had to turn back with a side ache. I generally do well if I pick up a steady pace and don’t ever stop but taking pictures and getting excited every time I spotted an animal was quite exhausting. Still, what a wonderful, exhilarating run. 8km in the middle of nowhere, or rather the middle of the Cape of Good Hope, completely alone with the wildlife, with no other humans around for miles apart for the sleepy loved ones I’d left at the cottage – it was heaven. The air smelled of ocean spray and flowers were everywhere. Ostriches could have raced me and won, but my ego didn’t suffer. They are,  after all, the fastest running birds on Earth.

Breakfast soon followed my return, then a walk on the transformed beach. Turquoise water, calm oily surface, white sand and the cry of seabirds. It was perfect. We all reflected on how extraordinary it had been to see both weather faces of the place, in such a short interval.

At last, we had to vacate the cottage. We drove all the way down the tourist lane to the actual Cape and its lighthouse and had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the bay, far above the water. The weather was pristine, so was the ocean. Lobster fishing boats crawled way down on the scintillating surface. The world appeared endless and immensely magical. We were standing on the Cape of Good Hope. There was, in the end and at the end, a lot of it. Hope, that is.

Posted in: Always & On the road & South Africa on April 30, 2009 | Show Comments(2)

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New York, Easter

It was the Easter week-end. I had to get up at 3:30 am to get to Brooklyn around 7:30 pm. Such is the life of budget travelers.

When I arrived at YVR, Alaska Airlines’ computers were down. No ticketing, no check-in, no nothing.  I waited in a line that grew to a few hundred people – it would seem many of them were going to Hawaii. Yet I finally made it through US Customs and my plane only took off a half-hour late. Weather was bleak on the West Coast but I got a nice view of the Tsawwassen BC Ferries terminal and the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula shone in the sun as we were landing at Seatac. I made my connection.

Over at Newark, I jumped on the AirTrain to the main station and connected with New Jersey Transit’s train to New York’s Penn station. I like the train, it’s a very civilized way of commuting to and from the airport. No traffic, no mad cab drivers, no breaking at the last minute nor lane swirling, no TV ads, no fortune to pay.

At Penn, I emerged topside and walked over two  blocks east to the F subway line as the Empire State Building glowed in a beautiful sunset and thousands of people stormed the streets around Madison Square.

The F took me all the way to Brooklyn where I missed my stop and had to backtrack. The amazingly stupid thing with the New York subway is that you have to pay every time you exit and re-enter, even on a single trip in the same direction.

I walked briskly from Bergen to Henry street, passing by my little florist without stopping because I knew I’d be back and because at that stage, I couldn’t slow down even for a minute. Three flights of squeaky stairs, a deep breath, a cat miaow,  an embrace and I was home.

Marie beamed, the terrace had been hastily reformatted, there were flowers on the table, champagne on ice and a couple of very cute chickens in the oven. The big black cat purred and rubbed against my legs, getting more than his share of poultry. Time did its usual trick and managed to simultaneously come to a grinding halt while suddenly jerking forward and speeding up tenfold.

We walked and walked, and when Marie was busy with work, I walked some more, down from the Lower East Side through Chinatown and by the foot of both  bridges, and into Manhattan proper and around City Hall and then back up along Broadway. We revisited Central Park, walked around Brooklyn a bit, and also took a train north, leaving the Manhattan Island for the steep banks of the Hudson River.

There were ritualistic visits to Al di la and Sahadi’s, of course, Emiliano having sadly become rather invisible at the former but coffee being up to standards at the latter.

And, much too soon, I had to get up at 3:00 am again in order to get back to Vancouver, happy and sad, lonely but never alone, flying away for a moment and yet knowing that the distance will end, eventually. At last.

Posted in: Always & On the road & Photoblogs on April 20, 2009 | Show Comments(3)

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