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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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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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The song of the unwound road April 20, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, explore, learn, life.
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the road goes ever on

My recent (ahem) invitation to change my blog title (read my previous post for more on that) has given me a chance to think about what this blog has become, and where it is going.

When I first chose the title “Exploratorium”, I had no idea what I was going to write about, or if I was going to have anything to say at all. Stories about this and that gradually coalesced into a random collection that reflected different interests of mine, and gradually the category titles started to show a pattern: environment, nature, science, communication, technology, world… Well, maybe pattern is too strong a word, but what I think holds all these subjects together (besides “stuff you learn in school”) are the twins of curiosity and imagination. To use a road metaphor — since this is now my blog identity — curiousity makes me wonder what’s around the next corner, and imagination accompanies me on the way.

The point of life is the journey, not the end. The journey is the act of learning, listening and looking along the way. The pilgrim steps into the labyrinth, following an ancient path with many corners, walking toward the centre and walking away, the path unwinding as the physical movement becomes a spiritual practice. This is a journey of body and spirit.

So I’ve come to think about “explore” in a different way, as a path to a deeper understanding about life. And as I let my curiosity and imagination lead me around the next corner, I’m also finding out more about myself and my own capacity for compassion and change.

And thanks to all who have been so kind and encouraging. It’s been heartening to find some friends to travel with as the road unwinds around the next corner.