Islands and dreams

Trip Start Jan 09, 2004
Trip End Jul 14, 2004

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Monday, February 16, 2004

Yesterday Marie and I decided to have a leisurely Sunday stroll in the city. The University of Calgary is located in the city's Northwest, which about 8 train stops away from Downtown.

Here, the city is 'downtown'. For a while I couldn't hear people say that without thinking of a drunken Ian singing that song, the only song he is prepared to sing at any occasion, "where the neon lights are pretty..." but now I use the term as comfortably as I do 'the Bay' at home.

So, we decided to go downtown. As UofC students we haven't really had that much exposure to downtown, as university life is centred in the NW district and its various pubs and clubs. The university pub, the Den, morphs into a disturbing cesspit of RnB and post-teenage hormonal overload on weekends, as I discovered on Friday night. Thus I understood the reason we do tend to venture into the city on weekends, albeit under the cloak of night.

So for both Marie and I it was more or less the first time we were venturing into the city during the day, and a beautiful day it was. Despite being the beach bum that I am, I'm actually enjoying the fresh winter days, when snow is piled up on the sides of the path but the sun is shining in a flawless blue sky. If you wear a couple of layers you don't feel the cold at all, and it's particularly tolerable when I consider the stinking, unescapable heat you guys are sweltering under at home right now.

I got off the train at Marie's station, and she showed me her home which is conveniently located in a cul-de-sac directly behind the station. Marie is French, and she came to Calgary as her parents had friends here, so she is staying with a French family here. We exchanged greetings as the family dog jumped all over me, and got some advice as to where to go, given we had no specific plan or direction.

The option we chose was Princess Island Park, off 3rd Street. We walked from the C-train for blocks and blocks and ended up at Eau Claire, an indoor market which is coincidentally the only place I have been to in the city during the day. I was a bit disappointed but we wandered around for while.

We had agreed to find a nice Café to sit down and have lunch, which I was dying to do as I haven't done so at all since arriving in Canada, and I used to go out to eat several times a week in Australia, despite attempts to save for this trip. So we decided to press on and lo and behold we reached a frozen river, and a bridge, with what seemed like nothing much on the other side.

We crossed the bridge and joined the dedicated runners and Valentine's Day couples on the paths through relative wilderness. I saw squirrels, which is still a novelty. In the distance was a building, and on closer inspection it was exactly what we were looking for! The River Café, a rustic-looking restaurant which betrayed its image through classy food and service. We were promptly seated at a table and given an extensive wine list. Presenting a Western Canadian wine list to a native Frenchwoman and the daughter of a McLaren Vale winemaker is a bit of a joke, so we deliberated at length before deciding on a Sicilian merlot.

We ate lightly and discussed our grand futures, which in Marie's case in the short term consists of moving to New York this summer to do an internship in a law firm (where I may visit her if Montreal doesn't entertain me for a whole month), and possible rendezvous with her Ecuadorian boyfriend, studying in the US. I deliberated over a possible change of plans landing me in Milan for some months, which may or may not transpire depending on the will of the Gods, or rather some oil company executives - a convoluted story which will only be told if things fall into place.

I discussed my alteration of mid-to-long term ambitions, from reporting at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin to doing a Masters in Peace Studies, Conflict Resolution and International Relations at Sciences Po in Paris. Now I've put it to paper, as it were, I'm committed!

Old friends are great because you generally have inherent shared values, from the same past experiences and similar backgrounds. Rachel and I, for example, have seen our paths diverge significantly over the last 8 years, to the stage where I'm lucky if I see her for three weeks in a year and often don't know what exactly she is doing amidst her field to pay the rent. Nonetheless we can talk indefinitely about any topic under the sun, particularly those which don't otherwise get much light, and I know she'll relate no matter what has happened in between our catch-ups.

New friends are fantastic because they represent a world of opportunities. Your past is what you make of it and usually the aspects shared are those which you see as positive for the future. When those shared characteristics match up with someone else's it makes both of your planned futures more concrete. Telling people at home who have no interest in international relations whatsoever about my grand ambitions can feel like throwing the dream against a brick wall, and hearing a dull thud as it slides and hits the ground, to be picked up and nursed into health again. It may not be that they don't care or believe you can do it, but if it seems that alien and incomprehensible to others I can start to feel a little uncertain myself.

Sharing these ideas with Marie, she understood and bounced back with her own plans to traverse the globe and make a difference. Just having a friend in France who wants me to visit makes the plans more realistic. Talking with her reminds me there's a whole world of people out there already doing what I want to do, and there's only a few minor differences between where they are and where I am now.
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