You fall in love with some places instantaneously. For some, it’s New York City. Others, Rome. For me, it was Amsterdam. All it took was a single stroll.
Falling in love is something one does without conscious thought, and, more often than not, without any expectations. For a city that was never on my bucket list, Amsterdam surprised me. It was a place I’d mentally pigeonholed as a city people went to for sex and weed. But like so many other sister cities with a rich and varied history and culture, Amsterdam transcended that narrow-minded view. I loved it from the moment I found myself lugging my suitcase down a warren of narrow alleys that were at once claustrophobic and thrillingly mysterious, feeling a little lost, wondering what was around the next corner, and finding rows of red-lit windows in the early hours of the morning. Without consciously meaning to, I had found myself in the middle of Amsterdam’s infamous red light district, struck by the realization that business never stops. I loved it. I loved the matter-of-factness of it all. There were cheese shops and crepe shops, sex shops and weed shops all within minutes of each other; flower shops, antique shops and a restaurant with an old carousel in the middle. It was weird, welcoming, unapologetic and wonderful. I loved what Amsterdam was trying to say: that humans love sex just as much as they love cheese, so why treat one with any more shame than the other?
Amsterdam is a city that marches to the beat of its own drum and allows everyone else to march to the beat of theirs. If there’s anything I can appreciate, it’s that. It’s an old city, built on commerce and art and I loved everything about it. I loved that it had charm. I loved that it had big fat french fries with mayonnaise and rich, buttery slices of apple pie that sat like a stone in your belly. That it had sweet little poffertjes dusted with icing sugar, and flavourful black licorice. Best of all, that they had FEBO, an automatic “restaurant” with all sorts of strange sounding krokets, and you never go wrong with whatever you pick even if you have no idea what it is, because everything in FEBO is just so damn tasty.
I loved that Amsterdam had cobblestone streets and little street-sweeping machines that came out at night to clean them. I loved that it was designed with not just longevity, but beauty in mind, its core shot through with bridges and canals that surprisingly do not smell like sewage. I loved its public transit, which was easy to understand despite being in a different language, that people bicycled everywhere, that it was equal parts familiar and not, that its residents don’t really use curtains, and peering into a residential alley is like being like a little human in the middle of giant dollhouses. Everything is open, if you don’t avert your eyes. I loved that windmills were just half an hour outside of the city.
I miss Amsterdam. I miss it whenever I’m out in the middle of a chilly night, walking through the streets of Toronto, breathing in the cool night air the way I was the other night. Something about that combination, a midnight stroll and a lingering chill takes me back to a night when A and I, ravenous and excited, once traversed the streets of an electric city, holding hands and looking for a FEBO.
The goal was to be stoic. To endure. To get through a single winter without a word of complaint. To brush snow off my shoulder like Jay-Z.
Welp, so long, goal. Because this me losing it. This is me reluctantly counting the days since winter started and once again being reminded that almost a third of a year is devoted to the one season that can kill you, while the weather pundits do their best to rain on my parade because CBC and the Toronto Star have predicted an ice storm this weekend and I can’t. I just can’t.
I can’t sit back and think people probably have it worse in Saskatchewan. That this is paradise compared to Greenland. That I know someone who lives in Norway and never even complains that it’s made of snow and the sun never sets. All the little mental tricks I employ to make myself feel better have worn thin, because it’s mid-April, I’m still wearing a goddamn winter coat and insulated boots to work and now an ice storm is brewing. All I want to do is stop wearing knits but the weather won’t let me and it’s driving me insane. There was snow on the ground yesterday! In April, for God’s sake.
I tried finding Canadian memes to cheer me up, but I’m beyond laughter. Any more of this weather, and you will find me huddled in a corner, incessantly rocking back and forth with my hands over my ears. Yes it’s that bad and yes I’m that far gone and now I’ve run out of words to say so I need to go and calm down somehow. I hereby delegate any further expressive duty re the impending ice storm to Miss Bianca del Rio, who says it better than I ever could.
Lately my weekends have been spent at home, doing nothing. Not that I’m forever out and about, but it’s very unlike me to let a month go by without at least attempting to discover something new. These days though, things seem to be rote. Even my food adventures are rote. I’ll visit my favourite bakery in Chinatown (I’ve found Hong Kong style bakeries to be closest in taste to Philippine-style breads), maybe drop by my neighbourhood jerk joint for oxtail if I feel like it, or hit up my secret go-to in Ossington – which I refuse to name because I selfishly don’t want it to get too popular – for Portuguese rotisserie chicken. I’ve slowly felt myself falling into a rut, which is not something one should fall into, not when one lives in Toronto. There’s so many things to do and to see, falling into a rut is almost inexcusable.
But there’s only so much adventure I can bring myself to do. I spent a year or two feverishly trying out new things, the goal being to find something I liked and could stick with, a huge chunk of the new things being places to eat at. Like where to go for brunch. (Check.) Or Cajun. (Check.)All-you-can-eat Indian. (Check.) Ramen. (Check.) Peking duck. (Check, check.)
So I sifted through the morass of my internal wiring, trying to see what was up. Is it getting older? Laziness? Predictability? If I’m being entirely honest, I think some of it is that. And then it hit me. The real problem is having too many options. I feel inundated with them. It’s Toronto. Turn a corner, and something’s happening. A new restaurant. A new Instagram-worthy little nook. Something. There’s always something, and I find myself with so many options, I feel paralyzed by my inability to choose.
Even deciding to stay in and watch something can be paralyzing. What platform do I use? Netflix? Hulu? Amazon Prime? And once I decide which one I want to use, another round of choices begins. Do I watch a TV show? If so, what show? Do I watch a movie? If so, what genre? And once I decide on a genre, what movie? It’s exhausting, like my life is suddenly a long-ass exam comprised mostly of questions with multiple choice answers.
It’s been said humans are only capable of making a finite number of good decisions in a day. Once we pass that number, the quality of our judgment starts to decline, one main reason tech titans like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg always wear the same thing any given day; it lessens the amount of choices they have to make, freeing them to hopefully save that mental energy to make better choices.
I don’t really know where I”m going with this except to say that’s what I came up with today. The inundation of all that’s possible and all that’s new has me paralyzed. I sometimes find myself with so many options, I’m wracked by indecision, struggling with the inevitability of regret, because I know no matter which choice I go with, I may end up regretting not choosing differently. And I don’t like regret. It tastes bad. Indecision tastes bad too, but it’s a little more palatable, so I end up on the couch refusing to make a choice. Which comes with its own taste, and its own brand of regret.
The human body is a machine susceptible to the long-term effects of constant use. We are all eventually going to be witness to and subject of an excruciatingly slow sort of wear and tear, physically breaking down, like an apple left in a fruit bowl too long. It’s inevitable.
I realized this up in Ottawa last month, when I spent the night with my cousins before my aunt’s funeral in Montreal. My other aunt, who is still living, made me laugh with her stories of her physical travails. She’s broken pretty much everything you can expect to break (hip, foot, arm), had a complete hysterectomy, mistook hemorrhoids for cervical cancer and she just got hearing aids. Getting into a car is a whole production, involving first a foot, then a leg, then hauling the rest of herself into the vehicle, cane hooked over her right arm, the whole song and dance made even more precarious when the driveway is iced over because getting old in the Great White North is a complete funhouse.
It’s not a feeling one gets in one’s teens or one’s twenties, when the body seems like Teflon and nothing seems to stick, but enter your thirties and things start happening. Suddenly, hair isn’t as thick, waists aren’t as trim, comfort begins to be more of a priority and the slow slide into questioning what you’ve done with your life so far begins. Up next, mid-life crisis!
I spent a good chunk of my Friday on a contact lens appointment. Because my body is as contradictory as I sometimes am, my left eye is far-sighted while the right sees things better from up close. It’s a balance that works out, but sometimes one eye overcompensates and I end up with a massive headache. I’ve been flirting with wearing glasses for the past few years but made the mistake of getting them whenever I was in the Philippines for a visit which means follow-ups couldn’t be done. And anyone worth his salt knows when it comes to glasses, follow-ups are important. It’s like losing your virginity. You never get it right the first time.
Anyway, I decided to bite the bullet and go for my first eye exam in North America. I’d already gotten a prescription last week and it made me see things from afar in wonderfully crisp detail, like the world was suddenly in high-def Ultra 4K. But it was messing with my reading, and words were blurring up close.
So I went back after a week for the mandatory follow up and that’s where I stopped being happy and started considering Lasik. If anything, I can see long distances, but I don’t quite care as much about that as I do being able to read. And somehow, after running what seemed like the gamut of lenses, I was back where I started, with busted eyesight and seemingly no answers. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s because I chose contact lenses? I have no idea. The one shining spot is I am apparently not ready for bifocals, which I was given to understand are for the olds. But that’s beside the point. The point is when you get older and the mind-body connection starts to fray, sometimes you find yourself standing in an optician’s office contemplating the merits of allowing lasers to sear a layer off your cornea because it’s just too frustrating to have yet another lens held up to your eyes.
But, I understand it’s a process, that sometimes you can’t just throw money at the problem. I know I’m going to have a few more weeks like this, going back and forth and figuring out what fits me the most. I can’t outrun it anymore anyway and really, it’s time. It’s time to accept the inevitable. All the eating of squash in the world isn’t going to be enough to combat the ravages of age.
First bionic ears, now enhanced eyes. I’m ready for my titanium hip, Mr. de Mille.
I was supposed to go see if Marvel could convince me to be a cat person today, but underestimated the depth of public interest in Black Panther. I tried, at least. Woke up early, went to the theatre and walked smack into a lineup of everyone wanting tickets and the show I wanted to see sold out. To be fair, I was there fifteen minutes before start time, and I didn’t pre-book because I wanted to live on the edge, but Black Panther is showing everywhere in the freaking city, you’d think there’d at least be a few seats left.
So instead of having a review, I have regrets. Because reasons. And because I had three days to watch it, but my couch wouldn’t let me. The Olympics wouldn’t let me. I wouldn’t let me. Sometimes I really am just too lazy for my own good.
Maybe it’s also my subconscious rebelling at the thought of me, a dog person, watching a movie about what is essentially a large cat with superpowers. And maybe it’s because when I googled Black Panther for showtimes, someone wrote about how there’s not enough LGBTQ representation in the movie, which was my cue to mentally throw my hands up in the air and give up on humanity.
I swear to the good sweet baby Jesus I’m sick of how there’s always something wrong with something. How there isn’t enough women. Or enough minorities. Or enough gays. Or enough lunch meat.
You know what there isn’t enough of? Sanity. I wonder if our parents saw us in the nineties with the baggy pants, exposed midriffs, beepers and the Alanis Morrisette and thought to themselves that the world was going to hell in a handbasket? Because they were right about that, just wrong about when. And how.
Can’t we just be happy? Can’t we just get along? Can’t we just focus on what’s there instead of on what isn’t, for one shining moment?
I hate it when long weekends end. I always get so emo. And godamnit I really wanted to see Black Panther.
I’ve always been one for a good throwback. I don’t know about you, but Rafael Nadal going sans sleeves and all body-ody-ody at this year’s Australian Open is making me feel things. The last time he went sleeveless was in 2008, tearing through the men’s draw in that swashbuckling pirate look. No sleeves, long shorts, and somehow he made it work.
He still does.
Nike has our dear Rafa revisiting the sleeveless look but ditching the long shorts. It’s decidedly more mature but somehow more compelling because he’s all grown up and filled out and who cares what’s going down on the tennis court with biceps like that?