Friday, December 12, 2014

Shovelling Out: Snowy Reflections and a Tribute to the People whose Paths We Serendipitously Cross

 I started writing this yesterday (December 11, 2014) after a poignant encounter with a woman down the street after a massive snowfall. When I got home from this experience, I received news that my paternal grandfather was preparing himself to head North—waaay North (but way less cold, I imagine)—to a place that we like to call Heaven. The serendipitous nature of the events of yesterday morning really struck me, and I’ll explain why at the end of this reflection (scroll waaay down now if you don’t feel like reading all of this), so I wanted to write them down. I’m still really struck and amused by the characteristics that amount to the “Nonna Archetype,” even as my heart hurts and my brain tries to focus on other things. I hope you enjoy this post after more than a year’s absence. It’s been a hell of a year—mostly in a good way—and I'll reflect on that here soon enough.

With love, warmth, gratitude, and best wishes to you and yours this holiday season,

Kris

***

The first four items tipped me off, but, after our visit, it all added up: there is a Nonna Archetype. It is not necessarily a Grandmother Archetype—actually, how could I know? I’ve never really known any type of grandmother other than an Italian grandmother—, but specifically an Italian Grandmother one. Though no other nonna can ever be as friggin loving, generous, beautiful, and hardcore as ones own blood-related nonna, it is comforting to know that there is a local nonna just down the street. These are the traits that, I believe, combine to form the Nonna Archetype:

1. her name, Maria
2. saying “Tanks God I found you” while we were halfway through shovelling the snow in her backyard
3. insisting that I put on some ciabatte (flip flops) as we entered her basement from the cold—and then saying that I should take them home because she never wears them
4. a picture of Padre Pio on her wall
5. items of black clothing hung to dry everywhere (not to mention the black clothing she was currently wearing), worn most often by Southern Italian women even years after their loved one has died
6. going to the freezer to get cookies she’d made
7. becoming visibly upset upon finding out that I couldn’t eat said cookies because they weren’t vegan
8. insisting that I take twenty dollars to “buy something nice” (and even though I refused and left the money on the table when I got up to leave, she asked if I’d taken the money and rushed to get it after I said I hadn’t)
9. giving me a package of Lavazza coffee
10. sending me home with homemade red wine—in a mason jar
11. worrying about my health—“you get bronchite!”—as I put on my wet boots, scarf, tuque, gloves, and coat, even though my house is literally across the street
12. her saying, “I lahva you!” as I left

***

I woke up this morning to the proverbial—or, rather, clichéed—winter wonderland. I saw all of my Montreal friends’ photos on Facebook of the massive amount of snow that got dumped on that city yesterday, and I knew that we were expecting snow here—but not that much.


After Dane left for work, I read some comics for a bit (dude: read Girls with Slingshots. It’s the best… probably especially if you’re a girl/lady/chick/woman/female) and coordinated to reschedule a dinner that was definitely not going to happen tonight, due to the weather. I mean, the only two people who were still willing to go were a Montrealer (me) and a Calgarian—both fairly used to living with and thriving amongst stupid accumulations of snow. Then, I resolved to meditate, but first I’d do some shovelling.

We by no means have a deadbeat landlord, but if the unraked leaves on our back lawn are any indication, this snow wasn’t going to shovel itself. (Edit: The landlord came by in the evening to tidy up the rest of the ten or so centimetres of snow. Sweet.) So, I put on my winter coat, mittens, scarf, and tuque—and then realized that I was still in my pyjamas. I put on some “real pants” and my boots and then headed outside.



I shovelled our tiny walkway and our steps, in addition to our backyard and the three-feet­-wide alleyway between our house and the neighbour’s. And, since the neighbour to our left is super kind to us and raked our walkway a few weeks ago, I figured that I’d return the favour and shovel his tiny driveway and steps. At this point, an older woman in a dark winter coat with a faux-furry hood carefully walked towards me, the snow still slowly falling and delicately accumulating around her.

“Hello!”

“Hi,” she replied. “Ross, he work?” (Ross is the neighbour whose driveway I’d shovelled.)

She said she lived just across the street, five numbers away from us. She had an accent that, somehow, I couldn’t place. We live in an area populated primarily by Portuguese and Italian families, but I’m not sure what Portuguese-accented English sounds like. She asked where I was from and I was amused when her reaction to my Montreal origins was, “Ah. Well, you’re still nice.” Hahaha. I told her my name and she told me hers, and she seemed content with my name being as biblically related as hers.

We discussed our neighbour’s whereabouts and speculated about why we hadn’t seen him in a while. It turns out that this lady would get Ross’s help to shovel or rake, since she is a widow of two years and has a big house to herself, and her kids visit only on weekends. I was coated in sweat under my snow-drenched coat and my nose was running in all directions (awwww, yeeeaaah. That’s a steamy image, eh?), but I said that I’d be happy to help her if she needed. She’d shovelled her driveway already, so it was only her backyard that needed care. Hey: I’m done school for the semester; what else did I need to do other than writing and sending Christmas cards and reading comics?


I walked behind her to her house and into her backyard. I did some more sweating but finished shovelling in under twenty minutes. *flexes* My arms were shaking from the strain, and she exclaimed, “Tanks God I found you” and proceeded to invite me in for an “Italian espresso.” Hmm. I was touched at this show of hospitality, trust, and gratitude, but all I really wanted to do was get out of my soaked-ass clothes and into a hot-ass shower.

But, she wouldn’t relent, and I know my manners well enough to know not to refuse an invitation to coffee for “five meenuts” from an elder. I followed her inside through the garage.

Fast-forward: we’re in her basement and she passes me a pair of old-lady flip-flops (with a wedged heel, and we all know how well I walk in heels…) to wear in order to keep my feet from getting cold. 


As I walk in, I spot a picture frame with a photo of Padre Pio in it. Hmm. She prepares the coffee in the stovetop Moka espresso-maker. We sit at her table and she grabs some cookies from her freezer, something my paternal Nonna does all the time. I ask her where she’s from, since she knows I’m from Montreal, and she says she’s Italian.

Cue singing angels and bust out the mad Italian skillz, yo.

We became instant friends and I ended up staying there for at least 40 “meenuts.”

She talked about her deceased husband, showed me a photo of him, empathized when I told her that December 12, 2014, is the seven-year anniversary of my dad’s passing, gave me coffee, asked about my family, showed me photos of her daughters and her grandchildren, excused herself for having her black mourning clothes hanging to dry everywhere, gave me a package of Lavazza coffee, poured some of her homemade wine into a mason jar, and shoved two ten-dollar bills into my hands so that I could “buy something nice.” It was a surreal but also a profoundly normal experience, if that’s possible to say.


I gave her my phone number, in case she needed a hand for anything between her daughters’ visits, and she pinned it to a basket on the wall, saying she’d call her daughter later to tell her about the new friend she’d made. I got up to leave. When I wished her a merry Christmas in case we didn’t see each other before then (Christmas really is only 13 days away), she scoffed and expressed her certainty at our seeing each other; I made a mental note to bake her some Christmas cookies. She conveyed her dismay at my soaked winter clothing in her garage as I awkwardly put on the articles and considered for a moment just putting on my boots and holding the rest of the articles in my hand—but this nonna would have had none of that. She urged me to get home fast, lest I get bronchite from the cold wetness (or wet coldness. Whatever). As I walked up her driveway, which had a fresh centimetre or two of snow on it already, she said, “I lahva you.”

***

All this from a stranger.

I’ve been living in this house with Dane, just down the street from this lovely, lonely Italian woman, for over six months, and I met her for the first time yesterday because of the Canadian climate. Think about it: something as mundane and unremarkable as the weather caused us to meet. If it hadn’t snowed, when would our paths have crossed? Regardless, she was a stranger—a stranger with a big heart, a common culture, a maternal drive, and a heavy heart. She opened up to me in a way that was unexpected but felt familiar. I am blessed to have both of my nonnas still very much a part of my life, but to happen upon this woman was a blessing at a time when I ached to have both of my nonnas closer than ever, though they live in Montreal and Ottawa, respectively.


Montreal Nonna <3 td="">
Ottawa Nonna <3 td="">
December 12 is the seven-year anniversary of my dear father’s passing; also, this December 12, my paternal grandfather is bidding his farewells to this plane, and his body is preparing to carry its energy to the plane inhabited by our “departed” loved ones, to be reunited with his beloved middle son. My meeting this woman down the street felt like a distinct blessing and distraction, though she clearly had her own burdens and baggage due to the loss of her husband only two years prior, but she opened her heart to me, a stranger. She was so thankful for the ear that she couldn’t help but utter an expression whose weight, perhaps, she doesn’t fully grasp in English, but her intention in saying those words was clear: thank you.


This summary of events that occurred yesterday is simply a reflection on the meaning and meaningfulness of those people that pass through our lives, who touch us for an instant, for moments, for days, or even for years. None of it is arbitrary—or, even if it is, we can be wise enough to find the symbolism, the “point” to it. Yesterday, this woman and I came into each other’s lives for a reason: to open our hearts to the other when we both really needed it, when we felt distant from those we loved but needed their love more than ever; We both needed each other yesterday and found kindred spirits in strangers.

I didn’t get to know my dad for long, since he passed away when I’d just turned 21, but he was there for those vital, formational years of my life, when my mind was still malleable, when my heart was naïve, when my soul needed her dad more than she knew or could articulate. Anyone who knew my father knew that he was a formidable force, a man wise beyond his years, a spry and energetic soul whose smile and whose laugh could rouse even the sourest spirit. I wish that I could have an adult relationship with him, but, even now, if I ask myself, “What would Daddy think of [X]?”, I know the answer because I knew him well—and sometimes I’ll do something now even if I know my dad would disapprove (I’m sorry about the nosering, Dad), because, well, that’s what kids do. Haha.


Now, as my nonno makes his way to my dad, I think of how I never really got to know my nonno well, because a language barrier separated us for most of my childhood. Nonetheless, I knew his love when I was growing up, and that’s really all that children need to know, I suppose. I learned Italian and continue to study it and have lived in Italy and met my nonno’s family there and keep in touch with them. My nonno and I made up for lost time whenever we all visited him in Ottawa or he poked his voice into my telephone conversations with my nonna.

It was really quite tender: my nonna would be on the phone in one room and my nonno, without ever saying a word, would pick up the receiver to listen in on our conversations from another room, and he wouldn’t ever say anything until my nonna and I started saying goodbye to each other. It would always make me laugh, especially when my nonna would jokingly scold him and call him furbo (“sly”). I guess that, if I know any one thing from firsthand experience about my nonno, I know this: he’s much more of a listener than a talker. Sure, he’d be vocal about us being too loud and was not shy about expressing his dismay about, well, anything or anyone, but you can’t say he wasn’t honest! 


I’m happy to know that, at the very least, he got to see that I worked hard—sempre forte is something he’d always say to me (“always strong”), usually when we were saying goodbye to each other, in person or on the other end of the telephone line—, which was eternally important to him. He seemed proudest of us as long as he knew we were working our asses off and getting paid. I’m content that he knows we’re all following our passions, that we’re living the lives that he left his family behind in Italy to help create—that his personal sacrifice was worth it. I’m grateful that he has lived a long life that allowed him to see the birth of his great-grandchild, to see her grow and blossom, to hold her. We all noticed his face brighten when his great-granddaughter shared the room with him. She added vitality and brightness to this often-grumpy but truly wonderful, strong, and benevolent old man’s gaze.

And we’ve come full-circle: though my nonno didn’t know his great-granddaughter for long, she sweetened his final year on Earth; and though my cousin’s daughter knew her bisnonno only for a short time and may not remember him or the tender moments they shared as she grows older, the miracle of photography and of video will allow her to witness the extraordinary bond that they shared and the special place in their respective hearts that each of them occupied.



We all cross paths for a reason; our hearts are touched in ways we cannot fathom or comprehend until, perhaps, we have a bit of hindsight. Thank you, Maria Down the Street, for comforting my heart with examples of hospitality “from the Old Country” when I didn’t know I needed it and for bringing to my mind and to my heart the values that have been instilled in me from both sides of my Italian family; merci, Papa, for forming the woman that I am today and for continuing to inspire us all with your relentless joy and your ever-glowing smile—and, of course, for giving Nonno the biggest and warmest of hugs when he reaches you; and, Nonno, ti ringrazio di tutto—di avere scelto il Canada come Casa tua, come il luogo ideale per creare una famiglia e un futuro con Nonna, e di averci insegnato i valori cari a te. Thank you for everything, Nonno—by coming here, to Canada, you really did provide, well, everything that we know and love and cherish in our lives, now and always.

Grazie, and until we meet again. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Decade Under the Influence of Veganism

Greetings and salutations, dear friends,

It's 10:43 a.m. on November 4—three days after World Vegan Day, approximately 60 days since I last wrote, two months and four days since my boyfriend went vegan, and just over ten years since I went vegan myself.


Oh, and I've written two research papers and prepared one oral presentation since I last posted here, and my boyfriend and I have been dating for seven months. Aaah... to measure life in numbers. How arbitrary—yet somehow meaningful.

I'm sitting in the library on campus, using a computer for strictly non-academic purposes (whoopseedoodles. Sorry, guys. Hey: when the urge/need to write strikes, I'll take it!). I accompanied Dane (the boyfriend) to work, zipped on over to the gym, kicked the elliptical trainer's butt (that sounds more violent than it ought to. Keep in mind that said trainer is a machine and that I stepped on it more than kicked), and, whilst cooling down and stretching, I was overcome by the desire to write and share and summarize and review. So, instead of walking straight home, I took a short detour east and plopped down into this chair--not without borrowing three books first, though (the PhD life never sees pauses).


Shudder.

So, hey! How are ya? As you may recall, the last time that I checked in was after a looong, unintentional hiatus. I recapped a whole shiteload of events and experiences, notably my return to Canada after living abroad for seven months. I won't bore you to pieces here with another recap; you deserve better than that. I did, however, conclude my last post with the recognition that there was a life event that I needed to mark, and I have hinted at it in my obsessive number-ranking at the beginning of this post: I went vegan ten years ago. 

Have I told you the story? At the risk of appearing self-centred and boastful, I have to admit that I really like to tell it, especially because it begins, without exaggeration, with "punk rock changed my life," or, more specifically, "punk rock made me vegan."


It's safe to say that I'm assuming the demeanour of a CBC fangirl more than a punk rock chick.

That really is the story, though. The seeds of veganism were planted just before bidding farewell to age 16, and I was 17 by the time that I went completely vegan. Now, people often ask me if I "went vegan overnight" or if there was a transition from vegetarian to vegan first. Well, I did go vegan overnight, namely because, sure, like most people, I'd always been somewhat aware of how meat made it to my plate, but I'd been blissfully ignorant to the experiences of dairy cows and egg-laying hens, amongst the horrid lives of other farmed animals, on factory farms. So, it's when I read about the dairy industry that I was absolutely horrified and I switched abruptly from omnivore to herbivore in my heart and, soon after, in my actions and eating habits.

But I went completely vegan only about a month after this switch in my heart and mind happened. Why is that? Well, as you probably know--given that it's likely that you, dear reader, are older than 17—17-year-olds can make some pretty silly and rash decisions, and I was no exception (maybe that's why a lot of my family and friends thought that this "vegan thing" was "just a phase." Then again, I have a very hard head, have "go big or go home" tendencies [thanks, Dad], and am not easily swayed when my convictions are set, notably when it comes to passions...). Anyway, my decision to go vegan coincided with my starting a new academic phase in CEGEP (Quebec's version of college, which follows grade 11 and precedes university; a teenager cannot enroll in university right after high school without completing a two- or three-year programme in CEGEP). I had seven courses per semester, many of which were at 8 a.m. following slumbers of five or six hours. 

Basically, I needed coffee.


There may be no sound more beautiful than that of a Moka caffettiera creating the divine beverage that we call espresso.

I'd never drunk caffeine in my life, as I was averse to soft drinks (I dislike the taste, or feeling, of carbonation), and I'd never liked tea or coffee. I wasn't about to start drinking Coke, so coffee seemed like the next best option--but it tasted awful. How could I remedy that?

Enter Tim Horton's Iced Cappuccino. There you have it, my friends: for my first month of "veganism," I was a victim to one of Canada's addictions. I was a vegan except I drank Iced Capps (note: I've contacted Tim Horton's on several occasions, asking the nationwide chain to start carrying soymilk. I've received only generic replies. I'll take my business elsewhere, but thanks anyway!). I felt that it was a necessary sacrifice. I needed to stay awake, but I also needed to stand up for animals--so 17-year-old Christina said, "Hey! It's all good. Forgo the cheese on your Subway Veggie Delite, but don't sweat the milk in your Iced Capp; you need it, man, and the animals'll understand."

I shake my head at 17-year-old Christina.


Hahahahahaha. I was fifteen in this shot, I think, but I beg you to laugh with me.

It was the night of the Nightwish concert (admittedly very not punk rock) that I was attending in mid-September with my best friend, Maritsa. We were at Lionel-Groulx station in Montreal, steps away from the Tim Horton's at the gas station. I needed coffee. We obtained coffee. And then I looked at it, I looked at her, and I looked into my soul and shook my head at it: I recognized my hypocrisy.

From then on, the Second Cup in the Alexis-Nihon mall across from Dawson College got a lot of my hard-earned cash obtained from working at Chapters. See, Second Cup (and the Starbucks at Chapters, I discovered) has soymilk and vanilla flavour syrup, so they made my life infinitely better and added about 200 calories to my daily caloric intake, but my teenage metabolism could handle it. Seventeen-year-old Christina was an unstoppable, glucose-filled, caffeinated vegan beast.


This was the day that I wrote an entire presentation in 20 hours and took advantage of one of the last days when it wasn't bitterly cold to sit on a patio. I rarely go to Second Cup these days, favouring the Green Beanery, for the most part, but I yearned for sun on this day, and the GB lacks a patio.

The Green Beanery makes my favourite soy cappuccino in all of Toronto—and they have killer vegan peanut-butter–banana muffins. Holy camoly.

And she hasn't turned back since. Ten years, baby, and I'm feeling fantastic (there's the "boastful"about which I warned you). No, I'm not pale or sallow or left wanting. Yes, vegan cheese has made tremendous leaps since I first bit into a piece of casein-filled rice cheese (yeah, I made that mistake for a few months). And it's made even more significant strides since I first bit into a piece of (to put it lightly) revolting vegan cheese. I feel like one of those vegan veterans of whom I felt utter awe when I was a vegan newbie, now when I talk to my newly-vegan boyfriend: "You have NO IDEA what it was like to live in a PRE-DAIYA WORLD. It was a dark place." And I lean in closer, whispering, "vegan cheese didn't even melt." He gasps in horror, and I cackle.

Well, not really, but you get the point.


GLORIOUS MELTY DAIYA!!! *loses her mind and runs out of the room yelling her obscene devotion to these beatific shreds*

Anyway, what I want to say is that I'm happy that, ten years down from when I told my Italian family that I was not going to eat Nonna's meatballs or fettine or "smooshies" or cheese or cannelloni anymore, preconceptions and misconceptions about veganism have changed dramatically--and for the better, of course. Sure, there are mistrusting vagrants that believe that we vegans are cranky, malnourished, and self-righteous creatures, but when I confront this stereotype, I point to myself and say, "Hey, I'm standing in front of you, am I not? I'm not dead and I've been vegan for a decade." And then I flex my biceps for maximum dramatic effect. And then I drop the mic, step off my soapbox, and walk away. Boom. ("Self-righteous" is sometimes an adequate adjective, it appears...)


I bet that I look extra threatening when I'm wearing apparel that's meant to protect me.

Where was I going with this again? Oh, yeeeah: punk rock changed my life. I don't really listen to punk rock anymore, but that's besides the point. Allow me to make a long story short, if you please: I was sixteen. I went to the Vans Warped Tour in Montreal in August 2003, two months after graduating from high school, with my buddies. We were there to see bands like Brand New and All-American Rejects and a few others whose names escape me. Merchandise booths dotted the landscape of Parc Jean-Drapeau, where the festival was held, and one of them was a PETA booth (I know what you're thinking, but despite how I may feel about their outreach tactics, I cannot deny that it's because of them that I went vegan). A dreamy older dude beckoned to me and my friends, and our adolescent selves obeyed, swooning as we cavorted over to him. He handed us brochures and we got free stickers (free stickers! Yeah!) and we went on our merry way afterwards, unaware of how one of us would be irrevocably changed from that day forward, just because of that short interaction.


Me, at the Warped Tour, two years later

I remember bristling at his "shoving his ideals down our throats" (all he did was offer free shit, really, and invite us to sign up for mailing lists). I remember feeling self-righteous (there it is again) and upset about the experience, despite how dreamy the skater dude was. I remember not thinking twice before I took a bite from my prosciutto sandwiches that I'd packed the night before. I'd shoved the brochures away into my bag and never gave them another moment of thought... until I re-discovered them a few days later while cleaning my room and emptying out my sand-covered bag.

And that's when I went vegan overnight.

***

So, that's my story, dear friends. This blog exists (hahaha. Wow. Re-reading that first blog post is humbling, to say the least) because of that experience that I had ten years ago at a punk rock concert. It's exciting to mark ten years of anything, but I have to admit that what makes this ten-year celebration most special and dear to me is that, on the month marking my decade-old decision to go completely plant-based, my boyfriend decided that he would give veganism a shot, just to see what it was like and if he could pull it off (he even started a blog to document his journey; it's funny, sweet, sincere, and full of wit, and you can check it out here). It helped that his choice serendipitously overlapped with the annual Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival on the first weekend of September--and what better way to witness the joys and delicacies of cruelty-free living and loving than through freely devouring vegan doughnuts and mothafrakkin Dunkaroos?!


Vegan Dunkaroos, man! I let Dane have a bite or two, and then I warned him that I was going to be a little bit selfish and have the rest to myself. He yielded to my gluttony, and yielded my soul to the charms of APieCalypse Now! for eternity.

It was unexpected to me, since I had never urged him to go vegan, nor had I anticipated that such a drastic change would be undertaken, even though he had expressed his thoughtful and compassionate desire to "eat vegan" whenever we were sharing meals and hanging out. His goal was to go vegan for 30 days, but he hadn't decided what would happen at the end of the two fortnights. He was just going to go with it. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this superstar has been vegan for two months. Pretty cool, huh?

I have a joke with myself (you know that you spend too much time alone/with books when you have inside jokes with yourself): I don't know whether I consider it a greater victory that I had a hand in turning Dane into an espresso-drinker or that, by my example, he decided to go vegan. (The espresso conversion [he had never been a coffee-drinker before meeting me] was definitely active and intentional on my part, I will readily admit; I never asked him to go vegan, though, nor did I ever push tofu on him in exchange for kisses. [I swear].) Suffice it to say that those—his drinking coffee and his observing a vegan lifestyle—are both extraordinary joys in my life.
Cheeeeeeeeese!

I fell in love with an open-minded omnivore that I didn't seek to change, but when he decided to try veganism on his own, I fell even more in love with him ("aaaawwwwww!" Vegan cheeeeeese!). Truly, though, the supreme excitement of all of this is that, while I rediscovered food ten years ago when I chose to abstain from the consumption of animal products, I have had the privilege and honour of rediscovering food all over again with him, as he adapts and thrives amidst his cruelty-free lifestyle.

And we are so caffeinated when we do this. Muahahaha.

We are beasts. We were also probably fairly caffeinated when we fought over this taquito from Hot Beans at the Vegetarian Food Festival. (No, wait! We hadn't succeeded in finding coffee! We fought over sustenance because our lifeblood was lacking!)

Ten's a good number. Here's to ten more years, for me, for him, for us, and for all of you who have chosen to make more healthful, ethical, intentional choices for yourselves and your loved ones, whatever those choices may be. Be sure to celebrate the large as well as the small victories, as the latter as just as important, and be patient with yourself and others. Change and the impetus for change can arise from the most unexpected of places. Just be sure to keep your arms, your heart, and your mind wide open when transformation chooses to strike.

With love, gratitude, and endless wishes to you of bountiful health and joy,

Vegan in Suburbia

P.S. As an ode to the music and lifestyle that brought me to veganism, the title of this blog post is a reference to a song called "A Decade Under the Influence," by Taking Back Sunday. Ten points for you if you picked that up before my rendering it explicit. :) Also, as you probably already know, the title of this blog was inspired by Green Day's "Jesus of Suburbia" (fast-forward to 1:52 if you want to skip the NSFW language at the beginning).

Friday, August 30, 2013

Homecoming

            It’s August 28 [edit: this was written two days ago]. Yesterday marked two years since I moved to Toronto from Montreal, yet I haven’t lived in Toronto that whole time. As some of you may already know, I moved to Toronto in 2011, did my Master’s here, went to Italy for seven months in 2012, and returned to Toronto this past January, to a new apartment and on my very own, to commence my PhD.

At the Toronto Veg Festival in 2011, only days after moving to Toronto from Île Bizard, in the suburbs of Montreal. (I miss my long hair. Sniff.)
I spend a great deal of time in this rad kitchen. It's been my dream, since going vegan, of course, to have a 100% vegan kitchen. The dream is finally mine!
I spend a lot of time on this couch, too, favouring it over the more practical desk—and I even favour my kitchen table over my desk. What is it about practicality that has me instinctively rebel?
Suffice it to say, however, that Toronto’s been home for almost two full years—or, at least my belongings have been sheltered by the grace of this fine city for that whole time.
            I’m sitting by the west-facing window of the Green Beanery, on Bathurst and Bloor.

This exact photograph is replicated at least a dozen times in my cell phone's photo album. I am completely enamoured of this vegan peanut-butter banana muffin from the Green Beanery combined with soy cappuccino. The breakfast of champions, I say!
The flashy, showy, tacky, yet somehow charming Broadway lights of Honest Ed’s blink from across the street between the silhouettes of passersby—late-summer tourists; evening joggers; excited children with relaxed parents (school starts soon, after all); poor, gentle homeless souls—and wary cars, speeding taxis, and the Bathurst streetcars all but spilling with human beings zip through the quickly darkening sky. Immediately facing my own computer at this café table is its MacBook twin, on which a very handsome, bearded, hazel-eyed baseball-capped man types in a focussed, intent, and serious manner.
            This man is my boyfriend of almost five months. And in front of him sits an empty cup that, only an hour ago, housed a delicious, frothy soy cappuccino (Dane even let me drink up the leftover foam from the cappuccino. What can I say? He's a keeper). This man, one month ago, stated that he didn’t "drink coffee or any sort of hot beverage"; now he craves them, and I make him espressos in the morning. I feel like a religious missionary who has successfully and with divine zeal converted the most militant and stubborn of atheists. We now share this zeal when we praise the coffee gods together.
            Boy, do things ever change fast. And beautifully. Change is good.

***

            Almost nine months—262 days, to be precise—have passed since I last updated this blog, my baby from the days when I was a suburbanite. I often feel like a big fake when I post under this name, “Vegan in Suburbia,” but the fact remains that I’ve spent more of my life in the suburbs than I have in the, er, urbs (fun fact, thanks to my learning Latin this summer [yeah, yet another language has inundated my monkey mind]: the word for “city” in Latin is “urbs,” so if you’re ever attempting cheekiness by backforming “urbs” from “suburbs,” you’ve good reason and a solid etymological background under which to do so—even though you may end up sounding like an ass).
            The last time that I wrote, I was in two varieties of the less-than-suburbs—you know, the (Italian) countryside, where you and your nearest neighbour are separated by either half a kilometre or thick walls of 17th-century stone. I hadn’t had sushi, Indian food, pad thai, or bagels in months—wait, that’s a lie: my mum, when she’d visited me, brought me six blueberry bagels from Tim Horton’s. Oh, bless her…

I guarded and hoarded these with my whole being.
            Towards the end of my stay in Italy, at which point I was extremely eager to return to Canada, I was having one or two anxiety attacks a day. I failed to pinpoint whence these crises came, and they caught me completely unawares each time. They wouldn’t last long, but they scared the absolute crap out of me. Though it’s impossible to diagnose the source of this panic that I suffered, I came to believe that I had apprehension about what awaited me in Canada—about what had changed, what had remained the same, how I’d be different, how I might react to all of these changes or disconcerting consistencies.

I was relieved to be back in Canada with dogs that were friends of mine.
            Everything was fine and, well, normal when I returned. My former world was relatively static. Actually, this is false: I returned to a Canada that had discontinued its penny; a Canada in which cell phones had doubled in size; a Quebec that had a separatist premier; a name to which two new initials had been added in my absence (my graduation had taken place in Toronto while I was abroad, but I still got to hoist those fabulous M.A. letters in my own heart!); two friends who’d jumped from engaged to married; a cousin and a high-school friend who’d gotten engaged; a sister who’d turned 30; a family that contained one member that had been diagnosed with and had defeated cancer within the seven months that I’d spent abroad.
            Like I said earlier, how swiftly things change, and how mercilessly.

***

            As for myself, I’d tested and challenged myself in ways that I had never and could not ever have anticipated. I won’t dump the dull details on you about my personal progression, but the ways in which I’d transformed hadn’t made themselves apparent, really, until weeks or months after my return.
             For instance, my fear of untended canines continued to grip me, only easing its terrifying grasp recently (see this post if you don’t understand why this animal-adoring vegan developed a devastating dread of dogs in Italy).
            (MR. CONDUCTOR, PLEASE ALLOW ME TO ABANDON THE ALLITERATION TRAIN. I’m on a more-or-less unintentional roll, but there’s gotta be such a thing as alliteration abuse, no?)

These doggies were gentle fluff monsters and not mean like the one that caused my fears to form. They followed me home one day and then always wanted to hang out with us. They were sheep dogs, though, and their farmer boss got upset with us, thinking that we were feeding them (we were not), thus causing them to return to us. No, they kept returning because we showered them with cuddles!
            Anyway, alliteration abuse and dread of dogs aside, my assimilation of and into Italian culture made itself apparent upon my return to Canada in funny ways—like when I would have an internal freakout upon seeing a Quebec or Ontario license plate on a car, or when I would see a person sporting a t-shirt with the Canadian flag, because neither of those visions occurred, ever, in Italy. I would be surprised when the water pressure was consistent and didn’t shut off arbitrarily. Additionally, the abundance of ATMs thrilled me, since we would have to drive ten or fifteen minutes from Labro to gain access to one. My ears would perk up when I heard English spoken in public places. I was impressed when the bus showed up on time, or at all.
            Becoming re-accustomed to food in Canada had its own surprises, too, since the quality of fresh produce in Italy is far superior to that of Canada, since the produce is frequently, if not exclusively, local and seasonal, and GMOs are never used. In Canada, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to purchase tomatoes from the grocery store until the beginning of this very summer, and even that was a less than satisfactory experience and very short-lived, so the only tomatoes that I have consumed have been sundried, canned, or from my Nonno’s garden. 

Nonno's tomato vines make tomatoey goodness
I had to hold back, while gallivanting along Toronto streets, from picking fruit off of trees that weren’t on my own property (untended roadside crabapple trees and blackberry bushes in Italy often bore the assault of our gluttonous hands).

Pomegranates on our property in Italy
            The funniest and most peculiar instances of reverse culture shock, I think, are the following two. First, I can’t begin to explain how confused I was about ordering coffee in Italian-style bars or coffee shops in Toronto. Sure, they looked like Italian bars and sold Italian coffee, but they were neither in Italy nor would they accept the Euros that inevitably still commingled with my Canadian change (pennies included. Old habits die hard). They probably would’ve understood me had I inadvertently ordered in Italian, but I felt awkward enough as it was. But where should I order my coffee: at the counter or at the cash? Did I need to pay right away or once my coffee was imbibed? Could I drink the espresso at the bar or did I need to be seated and they would bring my beverage to me? This crisis occurred in my brain unbeknownst to the bar staff, but it’s possible that my eyes betrayed the tiniest traces of panic.

How to avoid coffee awkwardness: make it at home.
            The second instance was when I had moved into my new apartment in Toronto, a charming and absolutely exquisite basement apartment located only two or three minutes from my old abode in Toronto. My landlords had found me on Craigslist (people, seriously! If you’re looking for an apartment, don’t just search the ads—post your own ad. It works!) after I’d posted an ad from Italy. They are two of the most lovely, generous, and supportive individuals that I’ve encountered, and my every interaction with them reminds me of how fortunate and blessed I am to have them—especially since bad-landlord horror stories seem to be the rule rather than the exception, unfortunately.

My landlords left this absolutely beautiful and thoughtful welcome package on my counter when I moved in, because they'd recalled that I said that I baked a lot (actually, in my Craigslist ad, I'd mentioned that they ought not to be surprised if they smelled brownies baking at 2 a.m.). Can you see why I love them?
            So, since I moved in in January, it was bitterly cold, as one can imagine any Canadian city east of Vancouver to be. Though my apartment is equipped with two old-school radiators, they just barely heat the entire space—unless the heat is on full-blast, in which case the upstairs tenants would be positively boiling, since they control the heat and, also, as we know, heat rises. Anyway, my landlords kept asking me if I was comfortable; if it was too cold; if I wanted them to purchase a space-heater for me. Upon hearing these questions, I would smile beneath my tuque, two sweaters, doubled socks, and sweatpants, politely declining their offer and insisting that I was “just fine.” 

It was cold, yo.
Well, I wasn’t just fine, and I also had not become re-assimilated into Canadian customs and expectations. I was used to such basic amenities as heat and running water to be inconsistent or nonexistent and out of my control in Italy; I was accustomed to dealing and coping with whatever circumstances were thrown my way, being resourceful with what was at my disposal. So, I hadn't thought of doing anything other than grinning and bearing the cold in my apartment. My mum pointed out this strange and illogical behaviour of mine.
            I ended up with a space-heater.

***

            Like I keep saying, a lot can change in the span of a few months. While all of those events and traits evolved and transformed both within and without me while I was in Italy, a period of time equal to that which I spent in Italy has passed since my last entry, and I find myself with many events to enumerate.
            I’m a PhD student now. I taught my first undergraduate class. I corrected exams and papers and stood in the way of a passing or failing grade for two dozen 20-year-olds, some of whom absolutely needed to pass in order to graduate (it'll take a while before I get used to that frightening amount of power). I chopped off all my hair and donated it.

Ta-da! Short hairs!
My student made my heart explode when he thanked me—and called me Signora, which is as formal as calling me "Mrs." (though I am unmarried)—at the end of his composition.
I took this photograph for my best buddy, Maritsa, because she had this inane idea for me to ask one of my students to photograph me while I was teaching. Instead, I opted to awkwardly take a picture of myself in my empty classroom writing nothing on the blackboard.
I got back together with an ex-boyfriend and we broke up after mere weeks. My cousin surprised me in Toronto, with his fiancée to whom he'd proposed that very night. My other cousin got married and had a mostly-vegan wedding (!!!). I had a chimichanga for the first time in my life and it was positively dripping with melted Daiya. I attended my first baseball game and enjoyed it immensely, and I've been to several more since (I even have a Blue Jays cap now, thanks to my love [I'm sorry, Matthew!]).

Usually, I'm stuck eating fruit salad or bits of cream-free marzipan as a dessert at weddings and other formal events. So, naturally, because all of the dessert was vegan, from Auntie Loo's, I made sure to have one of each at my cousin's wedding. Booya.
I love you. (The love is courtesy of Rancho Relaxo on College Street.)
Trying to look cool—the keyword being "trying."
My best buddy and brother, Matthew, scored us these seats at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. We watched his favourite team, the Dodgers, and the Jays play. This is why I apologised to him (above) for wearing a Blue Jays hat.
I composed a poem about zombie love, inspired by the above-mentioned breakup and the film Warm Bodies, and performed it at an open mic for the first time in my life (wine may or may not have boosted my confidence). The Universe, or Fate, or Serendipity, or Cupid, or all of the above caused me and the aforementioned handsome bearded man to cross each other’s paths. This moment of kismet occurred precisely at that point in our respective lives when our hearts were open to allow the other to walk next to us on our paths. Thank you, Dane. And thank you for drinking coffee with me.

Abundant laughter with Dane, as per usual, at my birthday brunch at Hogtown Vegan
            I learned Latin in three months (and I pray that I don’t lose it as quickly). I (unknowingly) took part in a hidden-camera game show with a dear friend of mine—and I also said goodbye to this same gem of a friend who moved to Vancouver to pursue bigger, better things. An article that I’d written about my recent time spent in Italy was published in T.O.F.U. Magazine (*cough* shameless self-promotion *cough*). I volunteered a whole bunch of times with the Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) and became reacquainted with that beautiful and compassionate community. I joined a food co-op, the Karma Co-op.

Studying Latin became my entire life from May until August. As a result, soy cappuccinos imbibed at cafés (usually the Green Beanery, but I switched it up on this day, heading to nearby Faema instead) were a staple of my diet.
The gorgeous spread of decadent vegan baked goods at a TVA fundraiser, held in front of their resource centre. Those doughnuts went fast (one of them went fast into my face).
I saw mothafrakkin Green Day in concert, in addition to The Shins, Amos the Transparent, Hey Rosetta!, The New Pornographers, and a slew of fantastic acts at Osheaga (where do I begin? JIMMY EAT WORLD, dude, and Mumford and Sons, and a little band named The Head and the Heart that actually caused me to sob during one of their songs).

I was seated preeetty far from the stage at the Air Canada Centre, but I could hear Green Day, so that's what mattered. Boom.
Jimmeeeeeehhhhhhh!
I MET JIAN GHOMESHI. I chanted and marched in an anti-GMO rally. I was visited by countless loved ones. I celebrated my 27th birthday with my sister, her love, my love, and dear new friends. I survived TORONTO FLOOD 2013 (hahaha: http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/07/09/toronto-floods-photos-show-submerged-streets-nearly-floating-go-train-as-surprise-deluge-hits-city/).

Heck yeah, you are!
Me and Mr. Ghomeshi. I babbled incoherently, naturally, as he signed my book. Holy swoonage.
The requisite outdoor-festival porta-potty shot, taken on the first day of Osheaga (my sister and I went for the full three days).
Cooking over candlelight during the power outages that resulted from the massive rainfalls. It turned out to be a very romantic evening for me and Dane, who kicked it and dined with me in the darkness. In case you were wondering, veggie burgers take about 45 minutes to heat in a cast-iron pan over three candle flames. Now you know.
             I know that I’m forgetting important events, or simply omitting them, but most of you have probably stopped reading (good for you. No one ought to suffer through such verbosity) or, for those whose eyes my words are still targeting, I’ll spare you the play-by-play of details that are of little consequence to you, but I'm grateful for your attention, as always.
            The second semester of my PhD resumes in under two weeks, and I know that I will be exceedingly swamped with academia. So, if my writing was sparse as of late, I can only dream about when my next entry will be. Then again, I do pride myself on counting myself amongst the Masters of Procrastination and, as such, I’m sure that I’ll find a way to sneak in a few entries here and there. And if I don’t, it’s probably because I’ve chosen to bake bread instead—or something with peas and potatoes or baba ghannouj. Seriously, I have a baba ghanniction.

Raisin bread
Rosemary and rock salt bread
Peas and nori and onions and rice, all destined for my primary face hole
Peas, onions, and potatoes. Say whaaat!
Does one really need anything else though? Dude: baba ghannouj and red peppers are where it's at. Sometimes, I mix in avocado, thyme, and rock salt. Don't tell anyone.
So, until next time, I bid you fare well. If you're starting school in any capacity, I wish you much luck, sanity, and productivity. I received some excellent advice, while I was in Italy, about how to maintain tranquillity and perspective while pursuing an education: "fly a kite at least once a semester." Allow yourself to do something peaceful but that produces no fruit, visible or otherwise. You owe yourself some time and space to nourish your soul and brain with divine silence. And if you're not going back to school in September but you'll be sharing spaces with hordes of new and returning students, I send to you wishes of patience and peace when you are veritably surrounded in trains, buses, streetcars, and bike paths. Send one of them a smile; they may need it.

And I am sending you love, gratitude, smiles, and the aroma of freshly-baked raisin bread.

           
Yours,

Vegan in the Urbia

P.S. Oh, snap! I just realised: September marks the ten-year anniversary of my going completely vegan (okay, now I feel like I have to write a follow-up post to mark this occasion. Hold me to it, okay?)! Hooray! To give you an idea of the emo kid that I was when I made this unprecedented (at least, given my personality, my upbringing, and my age at the time) and life-transforming decision, take a gander at this photo, taken at the Vans Warped Tour maybe one or two years after I'd made the best decision of my life.

EEEEEEEEMMMMMOOOOOO. (//_-)
This was in my self-righteous phase. Can you tell? I appear unimpressed.