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Zen: The Westmount Way.

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terms of endearment.

so i'm on the phone with my parents, and my dad is asking all his usual ticketing questions about my itinerary for this "Operation-Pickup-Cat" excursion back to Italy.  incidentally, this has turned out to be a trip which he and my mother conveniently keep forgetting about.  even though it's been on the cards -- oh, let's see -- since i left Rome, and even though i don't recall ever giving them the impression that said cat was going to magically fly across the Atlantic of her own accord.

and all of a sudden he switches from questions about flight dates and layovers, to say (and i quote verbatim):

DAD:   "And where do you propose to stay while you are there?"
(really.  he used the word "propose".  i felt like laughing at him, like hanging up, and like i was fourteen -- simultaneously.)

ME (because i am cruel):   "I haven't decided yet -- probably with a few different people."

[PAUSE]

DAD:   "Is the cat in Rome?"

ME:   "Yes.  The cat is in Rome."

DAD:   "Ah.  Okay."

and in my head, i am saying (because I may be cruel but i'm still South-Asian, and the commandment is way too deeply ingrained: "THOU SHALT NOT ANSWER BACK, GET SNARKY WITH ME, OR BE IMPERTINENT) -- "Don't worry Dad.  I packed up and left the country.  I have an apartment here.  I am working.  I have bought an espresso machine.  Even if your twenty-nine-year-old daughter does shack up with her Florentine ex-boyfriend while in Italy (which -- for the record -- she definitely isn't planning to do), I think you can sleep easy that she can't really change her mind and decide to stay at this point.  She MOVED to Canada, remember?  That's why he's an ex-boyfriend.  Hell-O."

sigh.

anyway, i hang up and try to decide whether i am amused or just incredibly annoyed.  i tell a friend in Rome, and she has less trouble with articulating her reactions:

"Ok that pisses me off...where do you propose to stay in rome...like you really lived here for how many years and people don’t love you enough to offer you a place to stay without ulterior motives?  What the hell did he think you did for the time you were here live in a fantasy world where no one cared a rats patootie about you? (ok too much wine...i am shutting up but damned if I can figure out your family any more than my own dysfunctional one.)"

and i can't help but smile.  thank goodness for rats and their patooties.


[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[sunday 27 august 2006 at 09:53:19] []

if you need something to be angry about.

spend your morning reading about Raed Jarrar's latest round of fun with air travel.
then, really.  use his link, and write to JetBlue.


[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[friday 25 august 2006 at 09:48:53] []

oh what a tangled Web we weave.

over at the LOOSE wire blog, Jeremy Wagstaff ponders some interesting points about the security hole that is opened up by those friendly little vacation autoresponders we see so much of in summertime.

he tells the story of a security-topic list-serv that prompted dozens of "reply-all" autoresponses -- all detailing the names (and non-availability) of top folk in sensitive / government positions...  that's pretty serious.  and i do agree about the general risks in telling a potentially large and unknown group of people:
A - that your house (if they put some effort into finding it -- whitepages, anyone?) is empty.
B - the names and numbers of others in your company (as he says, all "useful information to identity thieves or social engineers wanting to steal your password").

but it also made me wonder what we should do instead.  i don't know about you, but i get *pissed off* if i've emailed someone for a legitimate, mutually relevant, business reason (and in Italy this used to happen a lot, before i stopped bothering to get anything done in August), and i don't hear back from them for several weeks...  true, there are cases where you don't know them well enough and you may not have the right to expect a response.  but a lot of times (and especially in client-services), it's a bad thing to let someone think you're wilfully ignoring them...  so what's the alternative?

if it's something generic (like a sales role), it's easy enough to have emails re-routed to the next "rep" on duty -- which is what they did at the Cortonese real-estate firm i worked at.  but what about roles like the ones those security folks had?  a fella needs to take a vacation, and likewise, the relevant people who might be trying to get in touch with him need to know if he's not around...  should these automatically become the kinds of jobs where we never take a "real" vacation (at least not from the BlackBerry)?  or maybe we should maintain lists at *our* end, of all the people who'd need to be informed every time we stepped away from our jobs, and then do pro-active, conscious mailouts instead of a reactive, unconscious ones.  the alternatives aren't elegant.  people have enough trouble keeping their birthday calendars updated -- i doubt they'd be much better at maintaining current lists of who's on the "vacation-notify list"...  and it's certainly no fun to be forwarding emails to your stand-in while you're in Barbados...

he's definitely got a point.  even i have (after sending something to the group-list for UN consultant-types in Rome, and getting back the inevitable "so-and-so is out of the office" message), on occasion sniffed around -- to see what department those people were in, and whether i should squirrel away their email addresses for future job prospects...


[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[friday 18 august 2006 at 13:35:42] []

south asian sanity check.

yesterday i was complaining bitterly to a friend on the phone, about how much of a pain this whole going-back-to-Italy-to-get-my-cat thing is (of course secretly -- or maybe not-so-secretly -- i can't wait...  especially since Lynda pointed out that i'll be there for *both* the "Chianti Classico Festival" in Greve *and* "Vino al Vino" in Panzano...  evil cackle...).

so i was regaling my friend with stories about trying to get travel agents *here* to believe they can change tickets issued *there* (apparently the problem was that "there's no ticket" on which they can "make a change" -- it being an e-ticket and all...  i kept trying to point to my e-ticket printout -- the one that seems to work for GETTING ON THE ACTUAL PLANE; but no one could give me a straight answer about how this problem had not yet generated a solution ANYWHERE ON THIS SEEMINGLY ADVANCED CONTINENT...).

*anyway* -- in the end i decided to leave my flight the way it is (which is just as well for catching those wine festivals).  but -- as i was telling my poor friend -- the *new* fun problem is figuring out what ticket (and from where) for coming *back* to Montreal with said cat (since i'm going to Rome on the second-half / return sector of the round-trip ticket i bought there, in Italy):

ME:   "...and so i don't know how to stop this from being a recurring problem for the rest of my life -- or at least for whatever part of the rest of my life i'd like to spend making occasional trips to Italy...  tickets that originate there are ALWAYS going to be easier and/or cheaper to buy from there, but i need to be able to buy tickets from here because well -- i LIVE here now...  and i've looked into one-way tickets and you know it's true what everyone says?  they really ARE almost double the price of a WHOLE ROUND TRIP FARE...   how does that make ANY sense?"

THE FRIEND:   "um, could you please *not* buy a one-way ticket?"

ME:   "i know -- it really makes no sense -- i'm finding round-trip Rome-to-Montreal for around 700 Euros..."

THE FRIEND:   "no -- also, and more importantly..."

ME:   "...and i'm finding one-way Rome-to-Montreal for TWELVE HUNDRED Euros...  how does that make any SENSE?"

THE FRIEND (when i finally let her get a word in):   "also, because um, it may not be such a hot idea for you to try and get on a plane bound for North America, with a one-way ticket, and a Pakistani passport."

ME:   "..."

THE FRIEND:   "you know?  just maybe."

ME:   "oh."


[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[wednesday 16 august 2006 at 16:02:50] []

some ingredients are more important than others.

at least four people have asked now -- so here, here, here and here are the 4 (!) ceviche recipes i "sort of" followed, in bits and pieces (read: "casually butchered").  the first link eventually turned out to be the recipe i looked at the most.  but, in terms of how to make Good Birthday Ceviche *just* like i did...  well.  there are certain "steps" you may have to take:

(two days prior)
- have an argument with your best friend about the fact that *you* want to cook for your own birthday dinner.  win the argument.
- email another best friend in Italy to ask for her panzanella recipe.  proceed to be excited about your "Light and Simple but also Slightly Exotic" dinner menu.

(the afternoon before)
- ask the guy at the supermarket fish counter how fresh that salmon is.  when he says "fresh", ask if it's sushi-fresh.  when (alright, if) he says no, this salmon isn't the right texture for sushi, shake your head and say well it's not for sushi it's for something called ceviche (you must say this with the absolute conviction that he cannot possibly know what ceviche is, and that you are doomed before you have even started).  be surprised and chuffed when he nods immediately, and says, yes, for ceviche this is perfect.  walk away thinking that there are -- after all -- some culinary advantages to being in North America again.

(the evening before)
- resolve to be good about marinating the fish for at least twelve hours, as the first recipe insists, and therefore to come back from First Wednesday / YULblog and spend a quick half-hour cutting the salmon and squeezing the juice out of random lemons and limes.
- go to YULblog.  meet lots of nice folks, drink two glasses of red wine and leave (with good-ceviche-intentions still intact).
- go down the stairs at Mont-Royal with Steph.  about halfway down, feel your ankle twist under you.  pause, think about how you should be more careful -- you've still got a few weeks before the darn health insurance kicks in.  all seems well though, so keep walking.
- get home and wonder what kind of wine *was* that?  notice with some alarm that your ankle is starting to have tennis-ball aspirations.  and that it hurts.
- stick an ice cube in a bag (this is why people should always have frozen peas in the house) and rub it over your ankle till it melts (which is all of five minutes later, since your apartment is lovingly known as The Furnace).
- find your old ankle brace (weak ankles -- ahem -- "run" in the family), and put it on.  marvel at the fact that you spent three years in The Land Of Deadly Cobbles, and you have to come back to Canada to sprain your ankle.
- stick two pillows under your foot and fall asleep.  good-ceviche-intentions have melted away faster than that icecube.

(the morning of)
- wake up very hungover.  again: what kind of wine *was* that?
- call your best friend to tell her that this whole you-wanting-to-cook thing, maybe it's open to some negotiation.  you can't get up off your airbed (yes, i know, it's still an airbed), and even if you could, nothing in your throbbing cranium desires that you do so.
- about an hour later, accept the fact that you're not going to be allowed to sleep anything away -- let alone a hangover and a bum-ankle -- with phone calls coming in from random time zones every fifteen minutes.
- take an Advil.
- remind yourself (with difficulty), that it's not polite to yell at people who are calling you long-distance to sing the Happy Birthday song to you.
- when the Advil starts to kick in (thank goodness), get up.
- limp into the kitchen to consider your situation, and your salmon.
- put on some good cooking music, and wash your hands.
- take the skin off the bottom of the salmon (i wasn't convinced you actually have to do this part -- i just figured i'd be worrying people enough by telling them to eat uncooked fish, the least i could do was take the scaly part off...).
- cut the salmon into pieces -- roughly the size of sugarcubes, i'd say.
- drink some water, you must still be dehydrated from that wine...
- rummage around for a large enough glass container (with a cover) in which you can put your salmon.
- put your salmon pieces into this suitably non-reactive container.
- pour in the juice from two lemons, and about five limes.  when you're done, the level of juice in the container should be at least as high as the level of salmon.
- oh -- i almost forgot.  you should also have bought (from the aforementioned supermarket), those little cocktail shrimps-in-a-ring.  you *could* have bought fresh ones (and then deveined, skinned and cooked them up), but you're glad you didn't because you have a sprained ankle and a slowly-improving headache to contend with.  remember the self-help books: SET REALIZABLE GOALS.
- throw the shrimps in with the salmon, lemon and lime juice.
- mix things around a bit.  drink some more water.
- put your salmon-and-shrimp bucket in the fridge.
- relax and attend to your ankle.
- limp back to the kitchen every half-hour or so to mix up your concoction.  marvel a bit at how the salmon changes color.

(the afternoon of)
- slice up some spring onions.
- sliec up some red onions, too.
- dice some tomatoes (cherry is fine -- you can just quarter them).
- mince up a spoonful of ginger, and about four cloves of garlic.  if you're lucky, that best friend in Italy (the one with the panzanella recipe) will have given you a Microplane grater -- just for jobs like this.  think good thoughts about her.
- chop up two (or three, if you're me) jalapenos.  remember to wash your hands *immediately* after, and *not* to stick your fingers in your eyes.  argh.
- chop up some coriander (or cilantro -- whatever).  this is always annoying, but forge on.  the "base" recipe says a quarter-cupful, but you may want to adjust depending on how much your guests are "into" coriander.  anyone who's tried to cook curry for Italians will know what i mean...
- throw all this into your salmon-and-shrimp bucket, sprinkle over some sea-salt and fresh-ground black pepper, and mix it all up some more.
- put everything back in the fridge, clean up your kitchen, and drink some water.  notice that your headache is gone.
- continue checking in every half-hour to stir the concoction.  get ready for dinner.

(one hour before)
- put everything in a bag and catch the #90 going east.  when you arrive, empty half a jar of salsa into the concoction (i used hot -- but if you know me, you know my feelings about spicy food).
- stir everything up some more, and put it back in the fridge for a bit, while you toast some fresh tortillas, and set the table.
- it's your birthday, so have someone pour you a glass of good prosecco.

(at serving time)
- you could, at this point, put the ceviche in cutesy little martini glasses, like the picture in that recipe -- which looks fun.  or you could just put it in a great pot in the middle of the table, stick a ladle in it, and let everyone help themselves.  this is also fun, and slightly less pretentious.
- enjoy your food, and the folks around you.  you've gotten through another year.  heck -- you've gotten through the day.


[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[saturday 05 august 2006 at 14:05:11] []

a positive emotion, really.

so much hatred.

i was worried about the bitterness.  but i'm nowhere near being bitter yet.  being bitter requires you to be (or to have been, for a period) -- very, very sorry for yourself.  i don't feel sorry for myself -- not yet anyway.  i am too angry and disgusted and disillusioned with my immediate family, to feel sorry for myself.

i listen to the hesitation in their voices, as they try to speak to me on the phone -- bewildered at finding a person who, for the first time in her life, is not interested in talking, in telling them how she feels, in communicating with them.  in being heard.

with every awkward pause that hangs between us, every gap that i refuse to fill or enliven, i hear myself saying to them, with all the rage and hatred of a scream:

it's broken.  i hope you're happy now.


[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[saturday 05 august 2006 at 13:02:26] []

twenty-nine-point-one: small mercies.

there was no puddle-jumping in Prati.  and i have no idea if i'll feel like i used to -- for a while.  but still, there are things to be grateful for:
- like the fact that Rest-Ice-Compression-and-Elevation -- it actually *does* work on a sprained ankle.
- that i live in an apartment with so many windows, i don't have to turn on a single light, till eight o' clock in the evening.  anywhere.
- that, even in this new place -- where i am not even sure i can be happy (yet) -- i get to  spend a birthday evening with people i truly care about.
- cellphones and Skype, and friends who remember.
- making my first panzanella; making my first ceviche.
- knowing every word to the soundtrack for Gigi.
- wishlists on Amazon, and my friend Lena.
- the way a two-year-old blows out the candles on your cake.


[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[friday 04 august 2006 at 21:54:55] []

as inconsistent as the Montréal Power Grid (but maybe a little less annoying): the Random Shiraz Selection -- #5.

consider printouts -- always good for reading by candlelight while you wait for the lights to come back on...

1.  from The Guardian -- "The call that tells you: run, you're about to lose your home and possessions".  what would *you* take, if you had an hour?

2.  two links here, that i've been saving from when i first found them, during this summer's early brouhaha over the smoking law.  the first is for Hour.ca, reporting on what one man might have had to gain from the many, many cigarette-vending machines that were about to be made very quickly redundant.  the second is for the Distroboto Project itself -- what it is ("DISTROBOTO machines are former cigarette machines which no longer sell cigarettes, but instead, sell art in the form of miniature books, crafts, comics, music, film, animation and more!"); where you can find working machines around Montréal (mostly Le Plateau); and how to participate.  now --  what did i do with all those doodles from last week's client call?

3.  from Stacy Schiff (i know, i know -- enough already with all the New Yorker links), on the rise and rise of Wikipedia:
"Apparently, no traditional encyclopedia has ever suspected that someone might wonder about Sudoku or about prostitution in China.  Or, for that matter, about Capgras delusion (the unnerving sensation that an impostor is sitting in for a close relative), the Boston molasses disaster, the Rhinoceros Party of Canada, Bill Gates’s house, the forty-five-minute Anglo-Zanzibar War, or Islam in Iceland.  Wikipedia includes fine entries on Kafka and the War of the Spanish Succession, and also a complete guide to the ships of the U.S. Navy, a definition of Philadelphia cheesesteak, a masterly page on Scrabble, a list of historical cats (celebrity cats, a cat millionaire, the first feline to circumnavigate Australia), a survey of invented expletives in fiction (“bippie,” “cakesniffer,” “furgle”), instructions for curing hiccups, and an article that describes, with schematic diagrams, how to build a stove from a discarded soda can."

4.  from the Scientific American; they've done a neat little job of explaining, discussing, and essentially driving home the current discourse on net neutrality.

as usual -- old, potentially out-of-date (and -- granted -- sorely misnomered) RSS posts are here, here, here and here.


[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Avenue Claremont, Montréal]
[wednesday 02 august 2006 at 12:32:31] []