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A place to call home July 20, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, family, history, journey, learn, life.
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18 comments

A photo from the family archives: I’m in the red snowflake hat.

“Where’s your home?” It seems a simple question. I first heard it from a man who lived in a L’Arche community.

I’ve had lots of homes. I grew up in my parents’ home, built just before I was born. I lived there for 21 years (not including time away at university). They are still living there, although my two brothers and I have moved away.

Then I moved. Three apartments in Saint John, one in Woodstock, then Oshawa, Newcastle and Orono. A house in Port Britain, then an apartment in Cobourg. We are now on our third apartment in Toronto, the best place yet.

galley

Our current home in Toronto.

“Where’s your home?” It’s where my heart is, where my partner is, where my stuff, my memorabilia, my computer… where I can be myself. But that’s not a place so much as an idea. It’s wherever I happen to be living at the moment.

If there was one place I could call home, one place that I’m rooted in, no matter where I roam, I would have to say Saint John, where I grew up. I’ve lived in Ontario for nearly 20 years, but it’s not really my home. When people ask, I tell them I live in Toronto, but I almost always add: I’m not from here; I’m a Maritimer. Some part of my heart will always be in that rocky sea-and-forest landscape that I associate with my childhood.

Saint John 1

Saint John from the air.

One of the Maritime themes is that of people leaving — for Toronto, Calgary, other places — in order to find better jobs, better opportunities, a better life. Yet there’s a second half to that story: a lot of Maritimers come home again, or at least they yearn to return.

I left that “home” a long time ago. I’ve heard people say “you can’t go home again”. But is it true? Or is it just that everything changes, that home is never the same again?

The people I grew up with have moved away or moved on with their lives. The paths I used to walk, the stores I used to visit are gone, overgrown or redeveloped. What I think of as “home” is a place in time, so in that sense, I can’t go home. I can’t go back.

And the fact is, I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to be an awkward teenager again, or return to that stage of my life when I was just beginning to discover my interests and develop a sense of myself. I like who I’ve become, my work and friends, being able to make my own way in the world.

Yet there’s something else, some part of me that feels cut off, adrift. I felt that most keenly during my most recent visit, when my parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I was surprised to see how many people I recognized, and how many people knew me and greeted me, not as a former acquaintance, but as family. Until then, I had only thought of home as geography, a mix of woods and houses, the cool blanket of fog drifting in off the coast, the steep road we bicycled to reach the blueberry patch under the power lines…

So where is my home? Is it really a place full of memories, the childhood I’ve left behind?

I wonder if there’s more to that place than I had counted on, as if there’s a future as well as a past. How would it feel for me, the confident grown-up me, to return to this place that still pulls at my heart? Maybe all these years I’ve been living in exile, and it’s time to go home.

Where’s your home?

empty benches

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Paris is behind me now July 2, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, explore, journey, learn, life, urban, world.
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9 comments

along the Seine 1

Holidays are hard. Well, maybe not the holiday itself, but the post-holiday adjustment. I’m not talking about jet lag or laundry, but a kind of ennui that seems to last for weeks.

rue MontorgueilWe lived in Paris for 10 days. The five of us rented an apartment, bought groceries, walked everywhere, visited museums, took a couple of train trips, attended concerts and lunched at a café on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. I believe that the tight itinerary expertly researched by Lavenderbay (check out her daily Paris blog starting here) helped us to truly experience the best of the city. It was wonderful and exhilarating. At times it was overwhelming and exhausting, but it wasn’t hard.

The hard part was coming back. The hard part was getting used to no longer having fresh croissants for breakfast, or stepping out of the door to browse any number of interesting boutiques or market stalls, or being able to take one of a multitude of metro lines to another exciting destination. We live in downtown Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, but it doesn’t feel at all like Paris. It feels, well… disappointing, sleepy, provincial.

Chinatown - 5.24 pmI know that sounds harsh. But think about it: there are lots of cars and pedestrians at rush hour, but at most other times, all except the malls are nearly deserted. There is a city market, and a few other neighbourhood markets if you know where to look, but they are the exception and not the rule. It feels like most of the population is indoors — in their cars, at home in front of the television, shopping in a grocery store or mall… The part of Toronto that most seems like Paris is Chinatown. Does that seem as strange to you as it does to me?

Obviously, Toronto (and Canada in general) just doesn’t have the wealth of history, architecture, and upheaval. Canada isn’t centralized like France, where Paris is not only the capital but the cultural centre, the showcase and heart of the country. And Canada is too big and too under-populated — even in the city-centres — to support such an efficient transportation system.

metroWe might imagine improvements, though. For example, I could like to see what would happen if a large population centre actually decided to excel in public transportation, and invested in it, so that everyone who lived in that geographic area could travel quickly, on time and relatively cheaply. Imagine what our cities would look like if they were designed for people, not cars!

taxiAh, well. Canada is where I live and Canadian is who I am. So, what would bring a tourist here if they come from a city such as Paris? We pondered this question for a while, and decided that it was the space, the open vistas, the wild country, the untamed wilderness. Toronto is not a cosmopolitan city, it is merely a place where people live and work. There are some nice museums and art galleries, some decent culture and beaches. And we do have history here, it’s just different, it’s just spread out and diluted by this huge country.

This is the land called “big lonely” by the hobos who used to travel by boxcar during the Depression. This is the country that spans a continent, bordering on three oceans. This is an open country, not confined by history or geography, celebrated for its peaceful and liberal attitudes. Yesterday was Canada Day. I’m glad I’m home.

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