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Adios, Abuela

As I might have told you, my mother and all her side of the family live in Argentina. I was born there but we moved out of the country when my brother was only a couple months old. I was not even two years old. Growing up we did not visit regularly. Some long-distance families keep visiting every year, back and forth between their native and adoptive countries, but we didn’t. It just happened randomly, Abuela would come spend a couple of months one year (I believe my dad paid her plane ticket), then some years later my mom, brother and I went to spend a couple of months there.

The last time I visited Abuela (grandma, in Spanish) and Argentina, I was twenty years old. That was 15 years and a half ago. I had not seen my grandmother in many years (six or seven years prior). Since I was learning to dance tango in Montreal, and had some money saved in my bank account (I was a very frugal student), all the reasons were there. So I paid my own plane ticket to spend Christmas, my birthday and the New Year with Abuela, my aunts, uncle, cousins, all that side of the family (family and familiar), that I so seldom see. Three glorious weeks filled with warmth, family, fun and humidity (summers in Buenos Aires are unbearably hot and humid). At the end of my stay I remember telling l’Abuela that I wouldn’t wait seven more years to come back. I would visit again in two years time at the latest. It wasn’t really a promise, but that was my plan.

However, a whirlwind called LIFE happened: I got married, my parents divorced, my mother moved back to Buenos Aires herself (she has lived in her current apartment for the past 10 years, but beside the pictures, I didn’t know her place). First, hubby and I didn’t have money at all, then when we did have a bit of it, we finally traveled to Brazil one year, to France the other, Argentina was next on the list, but… the twins were born! Then move number one, number two, three, four… Sigh. You get the picture.

A couple of weeks ago, instead of our weekly Skype chat with my mother, I found an email informing me that Abuela was in the hospital. At the age of ninety-three, she was dying. I cried so much the following two days that I lost track of time. She was the only grandparent that I had known. It seemed logical, yet unreal, that she was going. It was time. Same Time that passes by flying, or Time that stands still, now Time was a finality. D asked me if I wanted to go. He could take care of the kids while I went to spend a few days with my mother. After all these years, it seemed that the opportunity had arisen. I don’t know if I would get there on time, but I thought I should try to see Abuela one last time.

And so, leaving my husband and children behind for the first time, I flew from Brasilia to São Paulo to Buenos Aires, on a Saturday, and hugged my mother very early on a Sunday morning. I had not seen her since the twins were babies, in Saskatchewan, five years ago.

Very early the following day, we took the train to visit the clinic.

Abuela was paralyzed and couldn’t speak, but when I arrived she moved her eyes and tried to lift her shoulder. I stayed many hours at her bedside. I prayed. I sang hymns. I held her hand. It was peaceful. In the afternoon she seemed to be sleeping.

The following morning my mother and I went to see the house where I have my earliest memories. They will most likely sell it. At noon, we were just out of the house on our way to the clinic, when we received the call from my aunts that l’Abuela had passed away.

It was a sad vacation, but a happy one too. Everyone was telling me that she had been waiting for me. I don‘t know if that should be any comfort, but I am so thankful that I was given the chance to be one last time with her.

Bittersweet memories.

La casa de l’abuela.

Um dia de inverno em Brasilia

It’s winter break for the whole month of July. As usual, it seems, I didn’t know when would the children be off school, and for how long. Parents were not given a calendar at the beginning of school year, you understand, that would be too simple, too organized. What would be the point of it, anyway, if everyone in town (except the lone foreigner -me-)  knows everything about everyone?

On other news, we finally drove the whole family to Brasilia one day before the winter break. We all need to have our Canadian passports renewed before our other (Canadian) supporting documents expire too. Sigh. My Ontario driver’s license is about to expire in September and that stresses me out to no end because I’ve been REFUSED the exchange to the Brazilian driver’s license. Their reason? I don’t have the EXACT same last name on all my supporting documents; in some documents I have my maiden name, in some others I have my married name, and in others yet I have a combination of both. Apparently it’s all very confusing and showing the marriage certificate is not enough. I was told to show my Canadian passport with the stamp of entry into Brazil. Considering that I entered the country with my French passport and that have my permanent visa on that same passport, and that I have already shown all these documents (original and copies), the document they are asking for now DOES NOT EXIST. So yes, I am a little stressed about all this. If we stay in Brazil I will probably need to go through driving instruction all over again, but if we move back to Canada, could we please do that before SEPTEMBER??? Ha ha (?). Uh. (Frankly, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. It’s quite ridiculous.)

The two hours drive to Brasilia was uneventful. The countryside and the city are quite beautiful, but unfortunately, since it was our first time driving there ourselves, the beauty of our surroundings was a bit lost on us. Brazilians have had the genius idea (sarcasm) of not naming any avenue of their capital (except one, I think). So we were looking for the L4 bypass and the 234 entry and the C3 block. Nothing was clearly indicated anywhere, or when it was, oops we just missed it! We had planned our trip to the consulate thinking that if we didn’t succeed with the paperwork at least we’d know where to go for the next time… because I indeed foresee many more trips in the near future.

Our first order of business was to find a photographer to have our passport pictures taken (because there is no such thing as a photographer in our town) (middle of nowhere, I’m telling you.) Seeing on the map that there is a shopping mall right across the embassy district in Brasilia, I thought, well, there probably would be a photographer there, right!? (RIGHT!?!) Wrong! Who am I kidding, I’ve been living in Brazil for four years, I should know better. In all the Brazilian logic (or lack thereof), there was (obviously?) no photographer in that shopping mall. So we drove across the avenue to ask directions at the Canadian embassy (thankfully the guards were all very kind), then drove some more across the city center, got lost a bit, found another (bigger) mall, had our pictures taken, did some much needed “retail therapy”, had lunch (the kids were overjoyed with their very first Happy Meal, sigh, don’t judge ‘k?), and finally headed back to the embassy.

Got lost some more on our way there.

Somehow found our way again.

And then, we waited for the lunch break to be over in front of the embassy. The time stood still for a little while, we were in a bubble of happiness because the place was quiet, stress free, and the weather just perfect.

ô Canada!
across the street we can see the Paranoá lake
the artificial lake and the useless shopping mall
beautiful trees (and my favorite one)😉
the embassy is over there (electronics were not allowed inside)
trees, shades and the lake

The rest of the affair, paperwork, payment (sh*tload of cash) and all, went quite smoothly. The person in charge of the consulate services at the embassy seemed quite efficient and was remarkably trilingual (English, French and Portuguese). It’s so rare to find in this country that I had to point that out.

So after all was done, we drove back home. And now we wait.


Tempestade de gelo

Yes, it’s winter here, but no, there are no ice storms in Brazil, and definitely not here in the North of Goiás! We have been having cooler nights, around 15°C, and while I feel cold and need TWO thick blankets to cover myself to sleep comfortably, my husband still turns on the fan and covers himself with only one single thin sheet. He has always been warm blooded.😉

I have been cleaning up my old traveling trunk lately. It is full of memorabilia, namely old letters (do you remember the time we used to communicate long-distance through hand-written letters?), old fashion diaries, and many dolls I was keeping in case I had a daughter one day. After two tries that resulted in three boys, I think it’s safe to bet it won’t happen, so I have been giving away the toys gradually to the very few girls around us. As for the letters and diaries, I have been down memory lane… A strange place to travel. I remember my late teens and early twenties as if it were yesterday, yet it was almost twenty years ago! GASP. My mind was a very strange place by then. I was myself in essence, I guess, but my beliefs, my priorities and dreams have changed dramatically. Thank God for the person I have become, I was so confused by then, yet seemingly so sure of myself!

For the purpose of this post, I thought it might be interesting to copy, and edit a bit, an assignment I was given for an English class in college. From 1997 to 1999, I was enrolled in a 2-years pre-university program in Music in an English-speaking Cégep (Collège d’Éducation Général Et Professionel) in Montreal.

Here it goes.

Last year, on Tuesday, January 6, 1998, an ice storm hit Montreal island. Many neighborhoods had no electricity. The situation became dramatic especially for the population whose heating depended solely on the power of Hydro-Quebec. I interviewed three people of three different age groups who, twelve months later, still remember.

The first one who kindly accepted to answer my questions is Mounia. She is the youngest girl I know around me, a neighbor and my very first piano student. An intelligent twelve-year-old girl. I had to ask her the questions by phone in the evening of Saturday, February 13, because she was sick and the illness was contagious. The TV in the background.
– Where were you when the storm hit Montreal last year?
– I spent the Christmas holidays with my family in Florida, and when we came back the ice storm arrived the day just after.
– Did you miss power right away?
– Yes, almost, one or two days afte the beginning of the storm.
– Did you stay home?
– No, we went with my family at my uncle’s apartment on Queen Mary. We had electricity because the building had a generator.
– What did you do to spend time there?
– Nothing special; we played cards, computer games… Wait a sec’ Noelia, there is somebody at the door. (I hear her opening the door and tell ‘somebody’, “Yes, I’m still sick and it’s contagious.”)
– What do you remember the most about the ice storm?
– The tree branches with a lot of ice over them.
– Do you remember ever having been afraid?
– Oh no, except for the weather outside everything was normal.
– Do you remember a nice moment?
– (she coughs a little before answering) Yes! The funniest was the night before going at my uncle’s, we spent one night around the fireplace in the living room and we cooked marshmallows.
– How would you feel if we had another ice storm?
– I would not like to live through another one but it was fun because we didn’t have school. After they canceled some breaks and pedagogical days (to catch up on teaching days), that was less fun.
“Ha! Ha!” we laugh at her answer, then I thank her and hang up the phone.

My second interviewee is one of my best friends. Emilia is from Colombia, she is twenty years old. I met her Saturday evening just after calling Mounia at a Second Cup (a coffee shop) on Sainte-Catherine Street with a lot of noise and young people around us. We like that place because it is downtown and close to the ‘two-fifty-place’ (the cheapest movie-theater in English).
– Where were you when the ice storm hit Montreal?
– It was a Tuesday (on winter break) and I was home, coming back from work. But in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux we missed power after two days and we went to the house of friends of the family I was living with.
– How was it in that house?
– Well, it was warm there, and that was the most important. It was also a big house, but after a while we could feel tension because we were nine people in a house where they used to be four.
– What did you do to pass the time?
– We played board games and spent a lot of time talking in front of the fireplace.
– Do you think the situation helped you to get along better with relatives?
– Not really with the family I was living with at the time. (She is distracted one moment by people passing behind her, “Oops! Sorry.” “It’s OK.”)… But I met those people I didn’t know before, and I know that the family I was with stayed in touch with them as well.
– Did the storm affect your job?
– Yes. I was working at a computer shop in Snowdon and because of the power cut, we had to close it for two days.
– What is your most vivid memory?
– Oh… It was when I went to your house after work and you were practicing the ‘Valse Romantique’ by Debussy. Every time you play it now, I remember the view I had of your garden with the enormous branches broken by ice.
– Do you remember bad moments?
– Once we went to pick up some clothes back home and I remember that I took off my shoes as usual… (she shivers). Even the carpet was frozen inside the house.
– Did that affect you in everyday life?
– No, in the sense that I don’t think of it every morning when I wake up, but I think of it sometimes. I realized how people can be worried about losing things and how men can adapt themselves to many different situations. I realized that you might lose everything tomorrow, so I try not to depend on material needs.
– Would you be ready for another ice storm?
– I think that I would be ready psychologically because it wouldn’t be a new experience anymore.
– Would you behave in another way in the case of a new ice storm?
– Yes, for sure; I would try to do some volunteer work, to help other people.

(This is what I used to practice back then, I can’t remember if I ever finished it)

The third and last person I interviewed is my mother. She is presently in her mid-forties. I didn’t know exactly how she felt regarding us during the ice storm before I asked her these questions. She had the luck to leave Montreal on January first 98 to visit her family in Argentina. The interview took place in the kitchen at home after our Sunday brunch, February 14, 1999. The sun was shining outside, a cold and bright winter day. It was warm inside. The dishwasher had just started its usual work.
– What are you thinking about when I ask you about the ice storm?
– I can tell you that I missed an historical event in Quebec (irony). I was in Argentina under the sun of the austral summer, but there too, people were worried because the influence of ‘el corriente del Niño’ (the current Niño) was affecting all America. There were inundations in some regions of Argentina which are not usually affected, especially not at that time of year.
– But how was it going in Buenos Aires?
– Oh well, the weather was great, but the news I had there through the cable on television had me really worried. Do you remember how many times I called you guys? There were apocalyptic images: high voltage towers falling down like card castles, lodging centers seemed to be filled with hundreds of people sleeping on the floor. It was unbelievable! These images were for me as if my family was in country at war. (She nervously lights up a cigarette and starts smoking).
– When did you first feel relieved?
– One week after the beginning of the storm, when your father told me that my two kids were finally going to sleep warmly until the end of this situation.
– Which is your most vivid memory about the Ice Storm?
– When I came back home, around the 20th or after, I can’t remember… I could see enormous trees cut in pieces and long branches of 3 or 4 meters covered with a big thickness of ice in the backyard.
– Did you learn something because of the ice storm?
– I realized that the Quebec population is generous and jointly responsible. On the other hand, I didn’t like the reaction of some other people who were mad to have had their daily routine disrupted!

(The following may be some of the images my mom saw when she was in Argentina)

I do not remember exactly where I was when the Ice Storm hit Montreal last year, but I was indeed here. I live in NDG (Notre-Dame-De-Grâce), the Montreal neighborhood where the power was out the longest. Our streets had old trees and branches that had fallen on top of exposed power lines. It was a long and difficult work to clean up the streets and put the power back up. We missed electricity from the beginning of the storm; during the first night, it was out only a little while, then nothing during the remaining nine days.

I spent the first three days practicing piano as if nothing was happening around me. I was just wearing another pair of socks over the first pair and an extra pull-over. I did the same thing to sleep at night. Our house was holding out the heat a little while longer than most other houses in our street and neighborhood because, unlike the vast majority of Canadian houses, ours is not built with wood but rather with blocks of concrete. It takes longer to heat up, but also longer to cool down. My father had also lighted up the fireplace in the living room, though it did little to warm up the other rooms of the house.
The fourth day, my brother and I decided that we wanted to take a hot shower. We took the bus as usual to the metro; the metro however was not working anymore when we arrived there. So from there we thought that the closest pool would be in Westmount; unfortunately, we faced closed doors and no hot water there either. The buses were slow, and we didn’t know where to go, but many bus rides later, we finally found hot water in the sports center of the University of Montreal. It literally took us all afternoon to get washed and warmed!
At home, I was not able to practice anymore, for my fingers were freezing in contact with the piano. We had invitations from friends everywhere to go stay with them, but my father who was keeping the fireplace alight night and day, even if it was keeping us barely warm, insisting that this experience was “unbelievable, more exciting than camping.” He had always been special, in his own twisted version of optimism, but that to me was simply crazy. He was making me nervous; I was mad at him and cold to the bones.
After six days without power, my father finally let my brother and I go to the apartment of a friend of his cousin in Côte-Des-Neiges. It was a little apartment, but it was warm, and the people were nice. They were usually three living there; we became seven when, in addition to another couple, my dad brought us in. We spent time watching the news on television, drawing or talking. I spent a lot of time talking to my friends on the phone, more than usual because I felt extremely alone even if surrounded by so many people. I was also disappointed because I was unable to practice my music.

When everything became gradually normal, it was for me as if spring were already here!