Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Challenger: Some Backstory on Gwent and Dane’s Super-Rad Involvement with CDPR

Author’s note: I am posting this a month after the event took place. (Today is January 16, 2018; the competition occurred on December 16 and 17, 2017. So, happy New Year! I hope you had a sweet and peaceful holiday. Thanks in advance for reading.)

Well, hey. Welcome back.

Rather awkwardly, I left you hanging in this magnificent place without a guide:

Moszna Castle
My bad. So, I should probably explain, first, where I am; then, I should tell you why I’m here. It’s a little strange, perhaps, for this PhD student of Italian Studies with no real ties to Poland apart from working as the English-language editor of a Polish academic journal to be in Poland, let alone in a remote town about 40 minutes from any type of city centre.

With Moszna Castle at my back, on two occasions, I simply walked until I found paths winding through a park and wooded area. It truly was a peaceful, tranquil place.

These types of apparatuses were literally off the beaten path and were all rusty and weirded me the eff out.

Ah... A castle at sunset is definitely magnificently elegant and less creepy than a castle at twilight.

Please allow me to explain.

As I mentioned in this blog post, about a year and a half ago, my husband, Dane, quit his full-time job to pursue his dream of writing a book. While he researched and attended writing classes and wrote, he had the idea of creating a podcast. He had always fantasized about being a broadcaster of some sort, having grown up watching Major League Baseball and having looked up to and admired the commentators narrating the plays over the radio.

That was one of the first things I learnt about Dane: he listened to baseball on AM radio—“like an old man,” I thought at the time. But over the years (we’ve been together since 2013), after learning from Dane about baseball and coming to understand the abstract plays described over the airwaves, I, too, have grown fond of baseball on the radio—and in person! In addition to Dane’s wish to emulate his broadcasting heroes, Dane also has a natural talent for public speaking, excelling as an orator throughout his college years and earning continual praise in his previous career in advertising for his enthusiastic, clear, and professional presentation skills.

Dane on Day 2 of the Gwent “Challenger”

Dane with his co-caster, Miguel

Lookin’ super slick for the camera on Day 1

All that said, Dane began a podcast in the fall of 2016 on a game that hadn’t even been released yet, an online game based on The Witcher franchise, created by CD Projekt Red (CDPR). There was a lot of hype and expectation surrounding the release of this game called Gwent, which had actually been a game within The Witcher, one that was beloved by fans and was to become a standalone online competitive card game. The first few episodes of the podcast were recorded solo by Dane until he was joined by a new friend, whom he’d made online in the Gwent community, a jovial American dude named Josh “Greyboxer.” They recorded one episode a week for about a year, accumulating a humble but loyal fanbase of dedicated listeners, a wonderful community that continues to grow with each of Dane’s CDPR appearances. Mere months after the podcast’s inauguration and the release of Gwent in its closed-beta form, Dane and Josh were invited to Warsaw, Poland, to CDPR studios, along with a small number of other content creators. At that point (almost exactly a year ago, to the day!), it was a gigantically flattering honour and privilege, but Dane did not know that that invitation was more than a one-time opportunity, or that it would lead to much more than just a great story. (Indeed, as I update this post on January 16, 2018, Dane is preparing for his late-night departure today for Warsaw, as he will be casting another Gwent tournament this weekend.)

Four months later (May 2017), with several months of full-time Gwent streaming on Twitch.tv under his belt, along with some experience playing in and casting Gwent tournaments hosted by community members, Dane was en route to cast his first official Gwent tournament in Katowice, Poland. This was badass on its own, of course, but what was truly the icing on the literal cake was that this tournament, the first Gwent “Challenger,” had its final day culminating on Dane’s birthday. The CDPR crew and the participants in the event gathered in a room to surprise Dane with a cake and they sang “happy birthday” to him, Dane beside himself with joy. This was above and beyond.

More than half a dozen events later, both official (by CDPR) and licensed (like “Gwentslams” hosted by Lifecoach and Wifecoach in Vienna), this benevolence, generosity, kindness, and professionalism have proven to be trademarks of CD Projekt Red and the Gwent community.

As I type this blog in our room in Moszna Castle in Poland, with the second “Challenger” wrapping up and tensions high ($35 000 USD is on the line for the two players facing off in the finals, with a $100 000 USD prize pool for all eight participants), I, too, am a beneficiary of this generosity. With Dane as one of the four commentators/(shout)casters of this event, and with my teaching schedule having opened up on December 7, it was the first time and the perfect time for me to pack my bags and head across the ocean to witness Dane in his element. I didn’t know what to expect, in this land that is still foreign to me, and my expectations have been far surpassed.

Let me leave you here for now, for your own sake, since you’ve been kind enough to read and view this far down the page. In my next post, I’ll start with some linguistic ponderings, namely some thoughts about how nutso-bananas the Polish language is. Ha! But, for now, it is clear how I got here.

See you soon,


P.S. Here are a few specifically Gwenty/Witcher-y photos, though I will share some more in an upcoming post.

As they were getting the competitors’ area set up

Nilfgaardian knights, as seen on screen (but they were actually just around the corner from the viewing room at the tournament)

This is displayed in the castle. “Witcher School” is held twice a year, I believe, at Moszna Castle. Cool, eh?

Some of us in the viewing room during the event

Dane before getting all snazzied-up for the camera

Some mysterious potions and elixirs...


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Proceeding through Prossedi: Food, Family, and Fantastic Territories

My late paternal grandparents were born in Prossedi, Latina, this town of just over a thousand inhabitants. Perhaps it housed many more before its citizens were drawn to neighbouring towns and bigger cities to be closer to amenities, work, and culture. Still, this paesino has two bars; a handful of shops for food, clothing, and household necessities; a pizzeria; a bed and breakfast; at least two churches; and maybe the best restaurant in all of Italy, run by my cousin and her husband.

Sure, sure, you may call me biased, but each time I go there, the staff blows my mind by creating things off-menu for our vegan preferences. After being vegan for 14 years, I’ve endured my share of half-assed meals lacking even the minimal amount of inspiration or creativity (pasta primavera and grilled veggies are the usual stand-ins), not to mention any source of protein; worse still, there have been situations in which a salad or French fries or the free bread offered were the only vegan options, with chefs insisting nothing else can be done. To be clear, this is usually the case in Canada; in most traditional spots in Italy, there is something for everyone, since the ingredients used are fresh and unprocessed and the fat of choice for stir-fried veggies is good old olive oil.

But a mark of true skill is that of the chef concocting culinary works of genius in a relatively short amount of time (ratings on the Osteria Persei TripAdvisor page often feature the “slowness” complaint, but what were these diners expecting at a proud “slow food” restaurant?) with the freshest ingredients on hand for a clientele brimming with anxious curiosity. (Check out my last blog post for images of the wondrous meals that the Osteria Persei cooked up for me and Dane in 2015.) Long breaths of time separate each course, allowing diners to savour the nuances in the flavours of their food, calmly sip on a glass of local wine, and take in the paesaggio that graces their eyesight. On most visits, I’ve eaten outside, as the restaurant has a spacious and marvellous terrace overlooking the valleys of Prossedi, but the intimate interior is equally satisfying, decorated with care and intention by the proprietors. Wine bottles line the wall, as do cookbooks and annual directories of “Slow Food” restaurants, in which Osteria Persei is listed and celebrated.

On this most recent visit, I did not eat a full meal, as I had just indulged in my great aunt’s fabulous cooking at her humble home just a few steps away; rather, on this occasion, I merely accompanied my cousin to the restaurant and spent time at a table with her between her bouts of aiding her staff to welcome, seat, and cash out customers. During my four-hour stay (that sounds like a long time to sit in a restaurant without eating), I got to taste a Malvasia white wine from 2009 (my cousin said that you don’t normally age white wines, but after smelling and tasting it first, she served it and it proved to be a real treat), pour some rocking local olive oil over some house-made bread (the deep green hue of the olive oil was pleasing to the eye and to the palate), chow down on ciambelline, and chase the latter down with my favourite beverage of all: Italian espresso.

Before the end of the night, as dinner was winding down, my cousin poured a number of the guests, including myself, a glass of white vin santo, or Italian dessert wine (vin santo literally means “holy wine”). It was delightful, and we got into a conversation about Canadian ice wines, as that was the closest comparison in my experience. My cousin explained that the way that this wine was made was similar, but given the different climates of Italy and Canada, instead of making vin santo with frozen grapes, vin santo comes from grapes that have dried on the vines late in the season and whose sweetness is intensified in the process. (For more information, check this web site: http://www.yourguidetoitaly.com/italian-sweet-dessert-wines.html). All these luxuries with which I was regaled aside, the best part of that evening was calmly observing the hustle and bustle of the restaurant while being surrounded by the boisterous, festive talk of the patrons, who were in town to take in the annual Sagra della salsiccia (literally a sausage festival—or sausage party, for a more amusing variant).

Despite being vegan and, thus, not wishing to consume the celebrated food at the sagra, I was still very happy to visit the piazza where the festival took place with my great aunt earlier that evening. The piazza, normally quite tranquil in the winter, burst with boisterous activity: locals and people from farther away came together, huddled in their winter coats. It doesn’t get very cold in this part of Italy—they don’t really even get any snow—but it was abnormally cold on this weekend. The temperature hovered above the freezing mark that day, with the next days having highs of close to 15 degrees Celsius.
It was not only sausage that was being offered: stalls of merchants sat behind their wares, which ranged from socks and other apparel; personalized and personalizable gift items; locally-produced tartufo and olive oils; and artisanal baked goods. It was this last set of goods that caught my eye, especially since, thanks to my late Nonna, I was quite familiar with the ciambelline being sold, which are, by default, vegan. These were much smaller than the ones in which my Nonna specialized (some of which, by some fluke, still reside in my freezer, her craftswomanship eternally preserved). The merchant urged us to sample them, and they were exquisite: this variety nearly melted in my mouth. I was sold—well, travelling with family, I should say that my great aunt was sold, because she didn’t even give me a chance to protest at her quick decision to buy them for me. (This happened every time on this trip, even when I asked my cousin to lead me to a grocery store so I could procure a few jars of Valsoia chocolate-hazelnut spread [I got two and one is already half done]. When we got to the cash, she grabbed them from me, saying it would be silly to make two bills. My relatives need to visit me in Canada so I can return their immense generosity!) When it came time to pack the cookies at my departure, my great aunt insisted that I store them with great care, as they are delicate and fragile.

This is a variety closer to the kind my Nonna made, in terms of size and ingredients. Mbriachelle is a dialect word that means, if I understand correctly, “little drunken ones” (ubriacarsi in standard Italian means “to get drunk,” and the -ella ending makes it diminutive and cute). They have this name and connotation because they contain wine!
These are the teeny fragile guys. Ciambelle al vino means “doughnut-shaped wine cookies.”
Now, let’s go back to the restaurant, a similarly hopping establishment but one that was much more intimate… (I warned you that we’d be hopping back and forth in time. Please bear with me.)
Sitting amongst the patrons of Osteria Persei but not actually being engaged in conversation with them was freeing, in that it allowed me to take in the culture in a way I haven’t been afforded before. I usually visit Italy with a companion (relatives or my husband) or am talking directly with family members; here, I was “a Canadian cousin visiting for a few days,” just a brief curiosity to those to whom I was introduced. When my cousin was working, I, entirely rapt, merely sat, listened, absorbed, and observed while culture cordially caressed my ears, lovingly tousled my presuppositions, and warmly and affably flowed around me. There was something magical about the experience—nay, spiritual. It was almost as though those four hours were spent in introspection and meditation, where I felt I could see reality, taste reality, feel reality, and be reality completely and utterly. It was a pure experience, and it might have been the best night of my short stay there. 

It was an important experience planned with intention in many ways: as I mentioned, I organized this trip in order to spend time with my paternal family and, in particular, my great uncle who is ill. Also, five years prior, I was in Prossedi for the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing; this year, I was there for the tenth, which had been haunting us on the calendar as soon as we flipped the page to December—to our own dismay and heartbreak. Halfway across the world, in a land so beloved by my father, I remembered his life, his passion, his joviality, his endurance, his magnificent spirit, surrounded by people sharing our blood and the values and traits passed down to us by my grandparents. My grandmother, who passed away in May of this year, always loved to hear stories of my visits to Prossedi, and her love and pride followed me like a distant companion as I crept around the stone-paved walkways of this magical town. With every glass we raised, my dad, my Nonna, and my Nonno were in my heart and on my mind.
My little cousin made me a Christmas tree! She is a perfectionist and was dissatisfied with the amount of space at the top to write her long name, so she tried again at the bottom. This kid draws all day!

Espresso and vegan cornetti all day. My dad notoriously consumed four or five espressos a day here, so I think he would have appreciated my indulgence. 

On the morning of my departure, I raced upstairs in the bed and breakfast to sneak a photo of the area where Dane proposed to me (there is usually a table where this wooden structure and umbrella-holder are).

Prossedi after the rainfall

My Nonna once told me that, when she was little, she and her sister would slide down the banister of this church as a way to amuse themselves. I love imagining this simple joy. 

There was time for me to paint with my buddy’s son during my visit to Rome, so that was cool. I’m typically kid-phobic, but this little human seemed to like me, so we got along pretty well, though I would have suggested that he paint this flower in another colour, had he welcomed my opinion.
A miniature model currently on display of the historic centre of Prossedi. The clock reflects the beginning of the piazza; through the archway under the clock is the way to the bed and breakfast and the Osteria.            
And this is where I am now:

Aaaaaaahhhh. Sun-drenched Moszna Castle!

Pretty pretty colours at sunset!

Nilfgaardian knights and the bard setting the scene for the Gwent Challenger
Okay, so, it’s very different. This whole castle might be able to eat the entire historic centre of Prossedi… four times? Well, you can look it up, if you like. That said, kicking it in a massive structure of stone is not so different from the repurposed church that housed me in Prossedi a few days ago, I guess, in terms of the chill that it inevitably keeps inside, the stories that the walls tell and also hold secret, and the long, winding staircases that open onto exciting foreign territories…
But it’s certainly very, very different and super friggin spectacular, to say the least. I’ll elaborate more in my next post. Right now, we are 20 minutes away from the opening of the second Gwent Challenger, and Dane is starting the show off. I will catch you so soon!
Until then, stay rad, my friends, and keep warm and smiley. Thanks for reading.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Proceeding through Prossedi and Mulling over Moszna (Part 1)

Well, buona sera and dzień dobry to you!

I rejoin the World of Blogging almost at the same spot where I left it: Prossedi, Latina, in the region of Lazio, in Italy.

I say “almost” because I’m not actually in Prossedi anymore, though I was there until just a few days ago. Now, I write to you from my spot at the windowsill in the Moszna Castle in Łącznik (from what my cell phone location tells me…), in the south of Poland. From this spot, I can see a family of cats strolling around the parking lot of this enormous structure; I can see a lonesome horse slowly meandering in a gated enclosure; I can see, through the naked branches of a sparse forest of trees the movements of what appear to be either donkeys or… deer? (Edit: I confirmed up close that they were a type of deer.) The sky is filled with gloom, but, in the distance, pale blue and sun-tinged clouds proffer bright contentment. (Edit: I walked in the sun before the early sunset [the sun appears to begin to set as early as 2:00]. Photos to come in a dedicated blog post, but here’s a taste.)

I guess I might have to jump back and forth in time a little bit. I’m in Poland now, as I said. Dane and I arrived here on Wednesday, landing in Warsaw, where we spent the night in what I think to be a swanky hotel (it takes little to impress me, though, so maybe it was just a normal hotel). Dane has been coming to Poland about once every two months for the past year, as he quit his advertising job after our honeymoon (yeah, we got married, eh? Like I said: I’m gonna have to jump back and forth in time), started working on writing a book, inaugurated a podcast on the online competitive card game Gwent, began streaming his game-play on Twitch, forged important and cherished relationships with CD Projekt Red (the creators of The Witcher, whence Gwent came), and, finally, was hired by the company, along with three other people, to be, essentially, an e-sports commentator/caster for Gwent competitions hosted in Poland, events known as the Gwent Masters.

Needless to say, he’s been busy.

Thus, since I finished teaching at the university on the 7th of December (I’ve got about a year left of my PhD!) and Dane needed to be in Poland on the 13th, I figured I’d tag along to meet all the characters and personages that have played essential parts in this truly exciting journey of the past year; now, there are faces to the names I heard Dane talk about all the time. I’ve been in their company only for the last few days, but it’s already become clear why this community is so tightly knit and supportive: they have fun, they’re passionate, they’re totally dedicated to the game, and they are, truly, very kind and encouraging to one another. I feel fortunate to have this exceptional view into this community thanks to Dane’s employment and expertise. (As I type this and the clock strikes eleven, eleven peals of bells echo in the distance from a nearby church.)
Since I was heading over the ocean, I could sneak in a visit to my family in Prossedi. My great-uncle has been ill, and I hadn’t seen the family since Dane and I were there last and got engaged, so I checked in with them to make sure I was not imposing, and they invited me to stay in the bed and breakfast that my cousins opened up just over two years ago. It is a place of magnificence (if you are heading to Italy and want an authentic Italian experience only slightly off the beaten path [it’s just over an hour away by car from Rome], I highly recommend this spot, and not just because it’s my family. Their tagline on their web site says it best: Un paese da favola con tutti i confort della modernità, that is, “A fairy-tale town with all the comfort of the modern age”). So, I stayed in Prossedi for four days and met up with Dane—or McBeard, as his fans and colleagues know him—in Warsaw.
Before I continue, here are a few shots of my experiences in Prossedi and surrounding towns, including Fossanova (where the nearest train station and a medieval historic centre are located), Rome, Sabaudia, and Latina.

The view, through the screen, from my room at the Locanda Persei

One of my favourite views in Prossedi. On my left is San Nicola Church; on my right is the exit of the Locanda Persei bed and breakfast.

The immaculate cloister of the abbey in Fossanova. That certainly is a lemon tree in the foreground!

Medieval abbey in Fossanova

Medieval architecture in Fossanova

Vegan stuff is eeeeeeeverywhere now! This was in Rome.

Priverno-Fossanova train station. It was pretty deserted as I waited to embark to head to Rome.

The Tyrrhenian Sea as seen from Sabaudia

What I think is a brilliant ad for Illy espresso in Fiumicino airport

Vegan croissants are available at all bars, apparently—even in the friggin airport!

I’ll pick this back up in separate blog posts, so that I don’t leave you with a monstrosity of a novel like I did last time. Plus, since I’ll have full days over the weekend to myself while Dane preps and casts the Gwent Challenger, I’ll have lots of time to write (though I do have lots of work to do…). I’ll catch you this weekend!

Cheers and hugs and four church bells at 4:00 pm (I wrote this in pieces. Heh),


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Welcome to my yearly blog post, wherein I talk about nuptials, food in Paris, Zoe, Facebook silliness, and gratitude. (YAY!)

Hey, hello there, what's up, how's it goin'.

It's been a while, eh? Unlike my more prolific blogger friends (I'm looking at you, K!), I have allowed myself to fall into a bit of obscurity, having remained silent long enough for my browser to not autofill "veganinsub” as I started typing my own blog's URL. (To be more precise, I haven't blogged since June 10 of last year. Woopsies?)

I guess that's to be expected in a year of thesis-writing, teaching two full-year courses, planning a modest wedding, organizing my sister's bridal shower with my mum, adopting a dog (holy shit! My blog has never seen our dog, Zoe!), training said dog, going to physio appointments, drinking a lot of coffee, attending Osheaga, presenting at two conferences, biking everywhere, meditating, going to Montreal, publishing in an academic journal, getting a part-time job at a much-loved vegan restaurant in Toronto, quitting said job, crying with joy at concerts like a loser, spending hours upon hours at cafés with study buddies, attending my first kirtans (!), and finally landing a TOTALLY AWESOME translation gig.

Now that I type it all out, maybe, just maybe I have a good excuse to not blog, but... it's not a great one. But… maybe I should follow the lead of the aforementioned prolific blogger friends and give some tidbits every so often instead of dumping all this out. We'll see what happens, I guess.

Then again, my silence also coincided with my willing absence from social media after the attacks in Paris of last year. (I'm sorry to get all serious very abruptly.) I couldn't bring myself to share anything online or to read anything on social media because it didn't feel like what I or anyone was eating for lunch or where I found myself sipping coffee or "what your favourite colour says about you!" really mattered alongside tremendous and brutal loss of life. I mean, lives are lost—human and non-human—due to human and environmental atrocities every damned day, and in larger numbers than what occurred in Paris, but, shit, man… I don't really know if it was because a metropolitan city like Paris was targeted, much like Toronto or Montreal, that made it feel like "too close to home"—or maybe it was because Dane and I had just been there in May... ?

Maybe it was the fact that it had happened on Friday the 13th, when I had, that very day, just urged my students to "let go of superstition" and taught them that "13" is actually a lucky number in Italy, and, thus, I somehow felt, later, like I'd let my students down or deceived them (I know: it's ridiculous)… Maybe (and I'm just thinking about this now) it was because it had happened in a venue that I often frequent—a concert venue—a "sacred" space for art and community and sharing and love, not unlike a place of worship for the faithful, really.

Anyway, the events in Paris affected people in different ways, and I don't mean to insinuate that I am special for feeling or (re)acting the way I did, especially since that kind of malice manifests in myriad manners all over the world every day and my reaction means nothing when placed alongside... the heartbreak of Syrians being forced out of their homes, for instance. Some of us don't always know about or react to the news—myself included; but, once we know, sometimes the helplessness causes us to act, and, other times, it causes us to retreat in retrospection for a while.

All this to say that that's why I was silent (self-righteous side note: I also went the whole year without clicking "like" [or whatever these other new-fangled buttons are; they were a surprise when I "came back" to Facebook!] on a photo or post on Facebook. Try it! Write a comment instead on someone's post, or share an emotion. It makes interacting on Facebook much less passive and more fun and active and interactive :) Check out this article that I happened upon a few weeks ago for more on this), but, I've been creeping back around over the past few months, and especially in the last weeks, after Orlando… 

So… hey, what's up. removes her serious hat and sets it aside

We have even more reasons to come together and talk to each other and hug and love and sing and pet dogs and—ZOE! STOP EATING GRASS. gets up and claps her hands to get the dog's attention So, before I go on, thanks for reading this and for being patient throughout my rambling, and thanks for hanging out for a bit while I get some things off my chest and let you know why I'm writing today (trust me: it's not all that interesting, so you can jet if you want. [Peace]). And feel free to let me know in the comment section how you've been doing or link to a post on your own blog so I can keep in the loop : )

Okay. So, I got engaged, as I mentioned in my last post, so that's nifty. Yay, Dane! Thanks for liking me! Dane and I will be married on July 9, and that is very soon. (As my Nonna Libera would say: "oly boy" [in case you don't get it, it's a charming combination of "holy cow" and "oh, boy." Hahaha. Oh, Nonna...) That'll be right around the time when, one year ago, Dane and I welcomed an energetic little half-poodle, half–Jack Russell named Zoe into our home. She's six now and is the snuggliest and cutest little pain in the arse. (As I type this, she just bolted from beneath my patio chair to chase a squirrel.) She is a loudmouth and she is, unfortunately, leash-reactive due to her lack of socialization with other dogs as a puppy, but she is my buddy and I love her and we snuggle and she lets me kiss her snout and that's nice. I will let her face show you her silliness and sweetness.

See? Hehehe…

So, there's that… Zoe is a good friend. (EDIT on June 23: We went for a run together for the first time today and it was grand!)

I mentioned in my last post that a bunch of things happened that I wanted to write about, but I never got around to it (I apologize for misleading you when I said, "Stay tuned for more." How silly of me…). Well, our Euro-trip was sick—in the good way, of course. Dane and I had never travelled extensively together before, and it was great to see how we were always on the same page when it came to plans and meals and sights and meals and…

Speaking of meals, when Ingrid Newkirk walked into Saveurs Végét'Halles in Paris, I couldn't eat. She was sitting next to us with another influential individual in the vegan and health scenes, and I told Dane that I felt sick and that if I didn't say hello I would vomit. Hahahaha. (Sidenote: When Dane had asked me to marry him, I told him, "I think I'm going to be sick" before I actually said, "yes." So, apparently, when I'm really overcome with emotion, my insides get a little messed up.) Dane convinced me to wait to say hello, and we did, after our meal. I was even scared to go to the bathroom, lest they left before I said hello! They were both so kind to talk to us (ahem: me) as non–freaking-out humans. Ms. Newkirk even gave me some végé pâté (!) and her companion was kind enough, too, to take a (blurry) photo of us. 

Oh, in case you were wondering, I didn't actually puke before, during, or after our meal. But, holy shnikeys, I was beaming. (And, in case you were still wondering, I wasn't actually sick when Dane proposed to me either. Somewhere below is a photo of the view surrounding the area where he proposed, in Prossedi, Italy, in the birthplace of my paternal grandparents.) And, finally, because it bears being said, though PETA (Ingrid Newkirk is the President of PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has some questionable practices and a few of their campaigns hurt my heart and they are reviled by many (for good and bad reasons), it must be acknowledged that a great number of their advocacy campaigns regarding veganism are effective, and it was because of one of these campaigns, at the Vans Warped Tour in 2003, that I went vegan. So, it was rad to meet the woman behind the organization that spearheaded my vegan lifestyle and brought me to good health.

Okay, so, I put my serious hat on again without telling you; I'm sorry about that! removes it 

This started off as a vegan food blog, so maybe I’ll spare you all the logistical details of our trip to Paris, Prossedi, Naples, Borgo Grappa, and Rome and the wonderful and precious moments spent with loved ones, showing you the food photos instead. Here goes!

This one might not be self-explanatory, so allow me to say that every visit to Paris merits a picture of a Gare du Nord sign, because of the line in Jimmy Eat World's "Polaris": "As the train approaches Gare du Nord, as I'm sure your kiss remains employed, am I only dreaming?" Mm.
The formatting and placement of these photos is all weird, and I don't have the time to (figure out how to) fix them, so I apologize for posting things out of order. This meal was our welcome-home meal at Bloomer's at the end of a long flight that found us poorly nourished (see far below, where we tried to sate ourselves with just salad, jerky, bread, and wine). We felt like we were on some serious drugs while we hobbled around jet-lagged in our favourite vegan restaurant in Toronto, bags and all. We even accidentally bonked heads when foolishly trying to take a selfie. Spatial awareness suffered, indeed, after the flight.
This is where Dane proposed to me : )
In Prossedi, this is where we had breakfast every morning. (This is the spot where I took the photo of where Dane proposed to me.)
Pizza in Naples by the water
I could eat cicoria ALL DAY. (If you have a keen eye, you may see this dish lurking in other photos/meals, too.)
My cousin, at her restaurant, prepared a mind-blowingly scrumptious vegan meal for us. That is, indeed, fried motherfriggin polenta back there. FRIED POLENTA.
The tastiest crêpe ever, in Paris. Holy shnikeys. Thank you, Loving Hut Paris! (If I remember correctly, I was mumbling passionately and incoherently as I was taking this photo. It may or may not have been the best thing I've ever eaten, and I am not one for hyperbole [usually].)
Oh—my bad: it's coffee and baguettes all the time.
This is the meal I barely managed to eat while Ingrid Newkirk dined to our left. It was delightful; don't let all the boring brownness fool you.
Come on, Air Canada. You can treat vegans better! (They can't take credit for the jerky; that was ours. They can, however, take credit for the free wine. YEEEEESSSSS.)
If and when you go to Rome, RUN to Universo vegano. Bring a receptacle in which to gather the remains of your blown mind.
*incoherent sounds indicating excitement about tastes*
*more of the aforementioned sounds*

Hungry yet? :D

Then, the final reason for my writing today (and then I'll leave you to your day; thanks for getting this far!)... No, wait a second: I really, really, really do intend to update you once again after our wedding, because I'm sure there will be cool photos and stories to share, including from our honeymoon, which we'll be taking in the city of—aha! Suckers. Hahaha. I need to keep you coming back somehow! So, I'll tell ya when we come back at the end of July—precisely a month from now, actually. Mamma mia…

Where was I... The reason why I felt compelled to write today was that I was overcome with gratitude on my run yesterday, to the point of tears. "WHAT A LOSER!" you're thinking. It's cool; I thought that, too. "What a LOSER!" my mind echoes. (Aaaand a bug just flew up my nose. [I'm sitting outside.]) No, but, really. I don't know if it's the amalgamation of all the events occurring simultaneously, or my already-full plate of work with an added serving of last-minute wedding stuff (I should be translating right now instead of posting here—and, earlier today, I should have been translating, but I was working on wedding stuff…)—heck, I could have been moved to tears because of being overwhelmed, but I'm pretty sure it's because I felt happy and honoured and loved and supported and grateful.

Let me explain.

Getting married is a funny thing, and not just because it's a perhaps-outdated custom that costs an arm and a leg and maybe the other arm and it shines a bright light on two individuals who maaaaaay not be so comfortable with that much attention, yet they still do it anyway (*cough cough*). It's a funny thing because, yes, you invite people to attend and they're happy to attend a party because they care about you and stuff, but, really, they're coming together to celebrate your love and your vow to share your life with another human being and to see you beam at your beloved in the moments in which you formally declare your promises to one another. These people are dropping everything to celebrate love. Now, there's no way that that is outdated; that's the frakking coolest part about modern nuptials, and that's the part that had me on the verge of tears on my run.

Living in a city of literally millions, it's easy to get lost in the hubbub and to revel in it, too, while also feeling LOST in it and isolated by it. I've been feeling all of that a lot in the past several months, but this wedding has helped me feel so much love, because people keep telling me and Dane, "We're so excited for your wedding!"—and that blows my mind and really moves me! Heck, I even feel like I'm imposing on people for my birthday, let alone a wedding that costs people money and time off from work, and I have the opportunity to practise letting go of that guilt for asking people to come out for my birthday every year. Having people excited to witness your dedication to another human being and share in the festivities that accompany this expression of loyalty and the food and the music and the togetherness—that's exceptional. And we get to do it once. And my heart is so full and so thrilled and so humbled. Even though our modest little wedding hasn't happened yet, thank you to those of you who will attend, and thank you, too, to those of you with whom we will celebrate in our next meetings and who have wished us and continue to wish us well.

Apart from that, I feel very lucky, these past few days, to have been in one-on-one talks with some meditation teachers about new habits and resources and meetings and retreats, and these are people whom I've never met or whom I've just met. It's fabulous and humbling—for me, at least—to interact with these people who are giving or offering me their time when I'm just another name in an almost infinite inbox of endless e-mails. Right now is a precious moment (I type as the wind blows the leaves of the trees in our urban backyard), and it's easy to run away into the future with excitement, but… I'll allow myself a little savouring here, and a little excitement there.

I hope you're excited, too, with whatever you have on your plate and whatever is on the horizon. It's summer! It's warm! Hooray! But, seriously: I invite you to tell me, either via e-mail or in the comments, what's making you smile today (I tried this on Facebook and people just clicked "like." Hehe. Maybe I'll have more success here, but there's no pressure either. [Also, to those who clicked "like," I like and love you all the same. smiles big at you]). And please forgive me for all this (over-)sharing. I feel sometimes like this type of blog or even, I don't know, open letters are really vain, and maybe they are, but they're outlets, and they're most useful for the writer, even if no one reads. I know this is my blog and this is the right venue for sharing, but... well, thanks for allowing me to share and for meeting me in this Internet nook. You rock.

We'll talk soon (or I'll talk at you with my eighteen-hundred words). :-) Keep well and keep smiling and keep rocking, and thank you for reading!


Kris / Vegan in Suburbia