Busy life

This past week gave me a taste of the pace of this semester. I’ve started my job as a teaching assistant and conducted five tutorials this week, attended the lectures for the course I’m TA’ing, worked at the CRRS, tried to do some work on my thesis, had meetings about the conference I’m helping organize, created the conference’s website (not up yet), co-organized a teaching workshop, and generally ran around doing errands. The week simply flew by! I really enjoyed the teaching, even more than I thought I would, and I’m now feeling more encouraged in planning my own course for the future.

Tonight we’ll be off to Nuit Blanche, dubbed the free all-night contemporary art thing. It starts at 7:03 pm and goes all night. According to the site: “For one sleepless night, experience Toronto transformed by artists. Discover art in galleries, museums and unexpected places. From alleyways and demolition sites to churches and squash courts, explore more than 195 destinations. One night only. All night long.”

The idea is pretty cool. They had it last year and it was a big hit. I’ve been told there was a really neat vibe in the city with people roaming from site to site checking out all of the different venues. I’ve had a nap this afternoon and will try to stay out for as long as possible…

What about you? What are your plans for the weekend?

Update – it was only after I posted this that I realized that the previous post also had “busy” on its title. Oh well, I guess that’s how my life will be qualified for now on… 

Busy Monday

Wow, what a day. I left home at 6:30 this morning and got back at 7:30 pm. And I feel I didn’t have a minute to spare! Here’s what I did:

7:00-8:00: workout at the gym

8:00-9:00: breakfast and reading for a presentation I have to do in a little over two weeks

9:00-1 pm: work at the front desk at the CRRS while doing Iter work. Didn’t even have a break.

1-2pm: meeting with the professor for whom I’m TA’ing and the other TAs.

2-3pm: lunch and check emails, sent out some conference-related emails (finally!)

3-4pm: run to the library and finalize my handouts for my first tutorials tomorrow

4-4:30pm: dash to the history department before it closes to photocopy handouts

4:30-5:30: get TA’ing tips from more experienced friend

5:30-6:30: retrieve material relevant to tomorrow’s tutorial from carrel and review it

6:30-7:00: dash to Hart House to empty locker of dirty gym clothes and to sign up for photography class (October 13-14th! yeeepyy!)

7:00-7:30: walk home, stop at liquor commission to buy some beer

7:30-now: enjoy a well-deserved English Ale with the mutton curry and palak paneer I made yesterday….

Phew! what a tiring day! And it’s not over yet… I still need to make a sheet with key points and questions for myself to use in tomorrow’s tutorial, which will be the subject of another post

On another front – let me tell you that my restaurant strike is holding on pretty well! I didn’t eat out a single time since last monday (an all-time record for me, I’m sure). Not only we didn’t eat out but I prepared really healthy meals each day and brought lunch to school. I also bought a nice stainless steel bottle and have drank over a litre of water today… So my goals are holding up!

Carpe Diem!

Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch has recently discovered he has incurable cancer and that he only has a few more months to leave. The guy is young – 46 years old – and has three kids under the age of five. Earlier this week he gave his farewell lecture to a packed audience at Carnegie Mellon University. The lectures were entitled “How to live your dreams” and are very inspiring. You can read his story here and access his site here. This shows us how short and frail life can be. Don’t hold grudges. Smile to strangers. Be nice to not-so-nice people. Hug your friends. Tell your loved ones how much you love them. Find a job you like. Enjoy each day.

International Car Free Day

Today was International Car Free Day. I first heard about this event the year before Alan and I went to Spain. A friend of ours work for city hall and he was saying that the government was trying to convince our municipal and provincial representatives to take alternative means of transportation to work that day. The whole event was a fiasco. Most politicians drove their big cars. When asked by the media why they didn’t take public transit to work, many answered simply that “it wasn’t convenient”. So much for all the rhetoric coming from the city that the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) is the “better way”. Both Alan and Perry – the friend who works for the city and who is a staunch cyclist – wrote to the city complaining bitterly for their lack of support and hypocrisy.

We were out all day today and didn’t see much going on to celebrate car free day. Has anybody seen anything in other parts of the city? At Kensington, some activists were making a banner so I don’t know if there was a demonstration somewhere else. Unfortunately, North America is pretty much a car society, one heavily invested on the automobile industry and whose way of life is still primarily based on getting around on private cars. That’s certainly one of the things I miss most from Europe – the quality of the public transit and the inconvenience that it is for most people to actually have a car. Because that’s really the ticket – it’s not about trying to convince people that they should leave their cars at home. It’s about making it inconvenient for them to take their car out. There should be no arguments or discussions about improving public transit and making it more accessible – it should be the number one priority for all levels of government.

I’ve heard that in Brazil, several capital cities closed many of its central arteries to traffic today, making streets open to people on foot, bicycles, rollerblades, skates… Now that would have been a fitting celebration to car free day: closing down Yonge Street to traffic! Maybe even a couple more streets, like College and Bloor…

Update:

Wow! looks like a lot more is going on that I thought! Jen P. pointed me in the right direction and here’s the outline of today’s events in TO marking car free day. I want to comment on the Parking Meter Parties (PMP). Basically, the idea is that you find a parking spot, buy a parking ticket, display it on your non-motorized vehicle and host a party on your parking spot. I love the idea!! It’s so neat! Here’s another link on parking meter parties.

Oh, and I love this car parked at Kensington:

Eco car

car free

Coffee at Louie’s

I keep saying that I LOVE going to Kensington Market for coffee on Saturday mornings. It has became our Toronto tradition. As I mentioned in a comment below, even at the depths of my comps’ blues, we still made it to Kensington every Saturday morning, summer and winter. So I decided to post here what  I like to have when I go there:

wet macchiato

It’s nothing more than a long espresso with a big of steamed milk. The small size means there is less milk than in the average latte/capuccino, which adds more punch to the coffee taste. It’s perfect in its simplicity…

Hebrew

I’m just back from my first private Hebrew class. It was fun but hard. It took over an hour of painstaking work to read a paragraph of text. But I’m starting to recognize some patterns… so there is a light at the end of the tunnel! It’ll just be very slow, painful work at the beginning, I think. Since the topic is Hebrew, I leave you with a picture of one of the main streets of the  medieval Jewish quarter of Girona:

Jewish street

Quitting cold turkey

This is it. No more of this “we’ll try to slow down”, “we’ll limit it to so many times a week”. Alan and I decided we won’t eat out for an entire month. Until October 15th, we can’t spontaneously decide to grab something to eat instead of cooking it ourselves. The only exception is being invited out, since we don’t really want to be a drag and say “sorry, we can’t eat out”. That’s the problem in living in a downtown location where we just have to walk outside the door to find a good restaurant. We ended up eating out more than our bodies and wallets could afford. I also blame it on the Spanish for infusing us with their habit of eating out 3-4 times a day. So Sunday I cooked a huge batch of spaghetti sauce to freeze, I made dinner last night for the next couple of days and so far it has been working. My body feels better already. Oh, and did I mention I cooked Beef Panang from scratch on Sunday?? My first Thai curry from scratch! I’ll post a picture here soon…

Sorry if I haven’t posted more often but the academic year has started in full force and I somehow managed to find myself in several different committees this year – I was elected secretary of the Graduate History Society and representative at the Program Committee in my department. I’m also helping organize the graduate students’ conference and a series of teaching workshops. All on top of teaching and writing (or trying to write) my dissertation and two papers. Oh, and did I mention I’m starting Hebrew classes tomorrow? Yeah, there’s that too. Looks like a busy year and I count on you to keep me sane!

Toronto International Film Festival

Every year, Toronto hosts one of the top film festivals in the world. If you know where to go, spotting a famous star is not hard. Since the festival usually happens in the first couple of weeks of september and it usually coincides with the back-to-school hype, I never really attended before. This year I decided I had to watch at least a couple of movies. I in fact watched three! I decided to watch only foreign movies, since the North American movies would be easy enough to find in the mainstream movie theatres or at least in movie rentals.

These are the movies I watched:

Barcelona, a map (Barcelona, un mapa) by Ventura Pons – I couldn’t miss a Catalan movie set in Barcelona, could I? Neither could Alan, so off we went to the movie theatre on a Sunday evening. You’ll find a synopsis of the movie on the link above. I really enjoyed the movie. It was psychological and intimate, and the story unfolded a bit at a time. It wasn’t until the end that you understood all that was going on. I like movies like that. But the big treat was to find out, just before the movie started, that the screening I was in was actually the world premiere of the movie and that the producer was there. Ventura Pons himself came to the stage, introduced the movie and after the screening he went back up to answer questions. It was really interesting. Particularly interesting was to witness the care he took in not be construed as a Catalan separatist, despite the fact that his movie starts with Franco’s speech against Catalan nationalism and outlining a program for the “hispanicization” of Catalonia.

Useless (Wu Yong) by Jia Zhang-ke – This was an interesting documentary on consumer society in China that seemed promising but which I didn’t enjoy so much. It starts by showing workers in a clothing factory, then it moves on to the work of a Chinese fashion designer that likes to think outside the box and push boundaries, and it ends with the life of workers in a coal mine in inland China. I don’t think the different parts connected very well. But overall, an interesting glimpse of Chinese life.

And along come tourists (Am Ende kommen Touristen) by Robert Thalheim – Very good. I really enjoyed this one. This one is about Sven, a young German guy who volunteers to do his civil service in Auschwitz. He didn’t really want to go, he had volunteered to work at a youth hostel in Amsterdam instead but couldn’t get in. The camp has now become a major tourist/education attraction and, as such, plays an important economical role for the small Polish town where it is located. It’s a fascinating movie for those of us interested in historical memory and commemoration. When I was in Europe, I felt, at times, the discomfort Sven portrays when faced at the business-like, facile way the past can be commemorated. In the case of the Holocaust, the case is even more difficult for surely the past must be remembered and Thalheim asks as the question: but how is it best to do so?

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All in all, it was a good festival. Alan has put his name down to volunteer next year. Should be fun!

PS: Did I mention the uptight guy that sat beside me at the movie theatre last night? I noticed that looked my way every once in a while but thought nothing of it. Until he finally leans over and says “do you think you’ll be finishing that soon?”. He was referring to my small bag of popcorn, which I always get when I go watch a movie (it’s some sort of Pavlovian response that has cinema = popcorn firmly imprinted in my brain). I merelly raised an eyebrow and stiffled a giggle. Come on! This is a movie theatre. Where people are supposed to eat popcorn. If you can’t deal with the noise of people eating the above-mentioned popcorn, clearly a movie theatre is not for you.   Honestly, some people are just crazy…

Wordless Wednesday

A casteller getting ready before going on to the main plaza of a Catalan town

Castellers

Don’t know who the castellers are?  Check here, here, and videos here (I always get goosebumps when the music starts). They were my favourite element of Catalan culture and the energy in the square when they succeed in putting together a difficult tower is ubelievable… My husband used to say that if we lived in Catalonia for good, he would have joined a group of castellers.

Premio Blog Solidario

Blog solidarioWow! I didn’t see that coming! Erin, from the blog A wandering woman writes from Spain, has honoured me with the Premio Blog Solidario. While I’m amazed that my blog, which is written in a very idiosyncratic, unfocused, all-over-the-place sort of way, should be mentioned at all for such a thing, that it should come from Erin, one of the smartest bloggers I know and a person I admire deeply, has made it all the more special and honourable to me. I simply love the way Erin gave up her high profile corporate job to pursue her love for a language. She won my endless respect – and that of countless Salmantinos, no doubt – by the way she embraced and cherished Spanish life and culture after moving to Spain. Her kind and generous words about my blog have certainly made my day today!

So now it’s my turn to pass this award on to bloggers I admire. I chose one blog in English and one in Portuguese:

Denise, from Sindrome de Estocolmo, for being one of the most engaged, open-minded, politically conscious, no nonsense persons I know. Her prolific blog has encouraged me to think more clearly and write more in this blog about more serious issues. It has forced me to more deeply engage with the world around me as opposed to simply observe it and babble on to Alan about it. I also love the way she builds bridges across cultures. From Brazil, she moved to Stockholm after marrying her great love, an American who had been living in Sweden for over twenty years. Her accounts of her early days in Sweden was what first attracted me to her site. Her open-mindness and positive attitude in dealing with the cultural gaps she encountered were amazing. She now lives in Washington, DC, and continues to show the same positive attitude.

Landismom, from Bumblebee Sweet Potato, for inspiring me to read more relevant books. I am always amazed at the amount of really good books she goes through. Although mainly a parenting blog, Bumblebee Sweet Potato also shows Landismom tireless social concerns and activism. Like Denise, she inspires me to do more. I deeply admire the way she strives to raise her young children to be well-rounded, engaged and inquisitive young people.

There are many other bloggers I’d like to nominate, like Daniel and Regina,  but I decided to follow Erin’s lead and limit myself to two. Denise and Landismom, feel free to pass this award to up to 7 blogs of your choice!

I’d also like to thank Erin again for introducing me to Tonicito’s blog (I was looking for a good spanish blog!), from which I discovered Jessica’s blog.  The former is from Tarragona but lived all his life in Barcelona, and now tells his adventures living in Austria, while Jessica is an American living in Berlin who dates a Catalan. Her trips to Catalunya and her efforts to learn Catalan are great to follow. As someone who studies Catalan history, I always appreciate someone who approaches Catalan culture with an open mind and positive attitude.

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