Tuesday, June 28, 2005


It is so hot here right now. It's the kind of sticky heat that makes you want to stand under a cold shower all day and makes it impossible to concentrate on anything.
The lab, of course, is not air conditioned, so Professor Western allowed us not to wear our lab coats today. The temperatures reaches upwards to 30 degrees, despite our sorry attempts to lower the blinds against the mid-day sun. Most of us stay quiet now, and dart out of the lab whenever possible to head down to the Phytotron, or the office, which has a fan. The guys definetly have it worse than the girls do though-- shorts aren't allowed for fear of chemical spills, and close-toed shoes are mandatory. Nobody said anything about skirts however, so you can be sure that every girl at Steward will be wearing one to try and cool off. It was a strange lab day. We have meetings at 9:30 every tuesday, and this time a doctorate student on exchange, Minako, explained to us what she does. Then Rebecca did her presentation: she basically does what I do, but has to write a paper about it, and will get school credit for her work. It was an excellent presentation! She explained everything so much better than I could have, and when Professor Western grilled her, she answered every question perfectly. I'm so impressed, now I really want to try my hand an indepent studies as well (perhaps next summer?).
This was Rebecca's last day, which was really weird. I saw her come in, find her way around the lab, and now she's going... She says she'll definetly come back in late August though. I'm glad I'm leaving soon too, I don't want to start feeling like an old barnacle stuck to the lab...
On a completly unrelated note, Lopa and I noticed that girls in Montreal are insane. Honestly, it's too trendy here! I wore shorts for the first time yesterday and felt terribly self conscious, until it hit me: nobody wears shorts in Montreal. They all wear skirts, all day, every day. Who does that? Why can't people here look like slobs every once in a while? And I'm leaving to France, so I expect the situation isn't going to get better!
Anyway. Mom and Dad seem to have disapeared. Did you guys get my email? Are you still alive? I'd really like to try and plan the rest of my summer.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Haha, honestly, if it wasn't for RHJ, I don't think that I would ever update here.
Last friday was Saint Jean-Baptiste day, which is THE Quebec national holiday, appearantly. Now, I've asked many of my Quebec-er friends, and none of them could rightly expain WHY it's a holiday, or the Quebec one at that. All I know is that we get the day off and the Old Port gets closed so that there can be a parade. It's scorching hot now, but the walk down to the Old Port was well worth it! A bunch of musicians, magicians, artists and artisans had settled all across the middle of the main roads of the Old Port, and they looked like lost islands among the floods of people. Plus next week is Canada day (yeah!), so we get another long weekend.
I missed the parade because I had to go swing dancing (it'd been two weeks... I'd have gone insaaaane if I hadn't gone), so I have no idea wheter is was any good or not (I'll assume it was; Quebec-ers know how to party!). The swing dancing, however, was well, well worth it. Now that the summer has rolled around, it seems as though there are alot less newbies on the dance floor (except for me, of course, haha), so chances are you're going to be dancing with somebody amazing! Plus, I've discovered that wearing my swing skirt really helps too: it's so twirly that people can't see all the mistakes I'm making beneath it. Moo ha ha!
Every saturday, there's been a fireworks competition. Certain countries compete against each other (last night was France, the week before was Australia), and the show is accompanied by a musical score and everything. Again, the action goes down at the Old Port. We rushed to get there last night, but parking the car was hellish and we only managed to catch the tail-end of it. Ugh!! The exact same thing happened last week. We decided to actually plan ahead from now on: next week, or perhaps the week after, we're going to drive to the beach (there's a small beach on the outskirts of Montreal, you can even metro there, but I've never been), spend the day there, then picnic and watch the fireworks from there. Sounds like a plan!! I'm excited, but we'll see if this actually works out.
On a random note, I might be going camping my last weekend here, with some Quebec-er friends. Hmm, I'm not sure if I should though, because not only is that weekend the jazz fest, but it's ALSO the swing fest, and there are some people I would want to say good-bye to.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Well now that I think about it, there isn't that much to add on the fire. It was really creepy because I was in the phytotron when it happened.
A word on the phytotron: it's a very isolated, very loud (because of the humm of the growth chambers), very cold-warish room. It's at the end of this out-door ramp that connects the south and the west buildings of Steward Bio, and to access it you have to punch in a combination into the door. So anyway, there I was, staking plants (easily the crumiest thing to do ever), when lights start flashing and a very shrill alarm starts going off. Rather confused, I stumble out of the phytotron into to corridor, which is completly deserted. I seriously had no idea what was going on; I'd never participated in a fire drill, and the alarm going off could mean that plutonium was loose in the building for all I knew. So I head over to the ramp, which, because it is made of glass, gave me a very good view of the courtyard below. That's when I saw a conglomeration of people down below: some had grabbed their bags and coats, other stumbled out in just their lab coats. That's about the moment I decided to leave the building!
Once outside, people tended to group together according to their labs. We learned that a worker was welding on the 6th floor (there's contruction going on at the moment), when a spark caught the insulation and a fire started. We couldn't see any flames, but when they finally let us back into the building an hour later, we could definetly smell the smoke! I'm glad no one panicked, and that everything went smoothly. We had to wait an hour outside while they extinguished the fire, but we distracted ourselves by telling lab horror stories. It seems that everyone had one, be it chemical spills, explosions, or fire...
Anyway, right now I'm enjoying my last weeks in Montreal. On one hand, I really want to be back with my family and just sleep, and on the other, well, Montreal rocks. I'm rather torn. Also, I've gotten addicted to the T.V. show 24. Again! We're watching season two... Jack Bauer is such a badass.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Au feu!

Urgh! I had written a nice post and it got deleted.
I don't have the courage to write it all up again, but the gist of it was this: there was a fire at the Steward biology building on friday afternoon.
Pretty crazy. No one got hurt, and the damage was minimal. I'll rewrite it later. :P

Monday, June 13, 2005

You know that your sleeping cycle is messed up when...

....you go out to eat some poutine at 5 A.M.
...waking up at 3 P.M. is early
...cereal at 4 P.M. is perfectly normal
...the sun rising is an indication that it's time to go to bed
...you only truly start waking up at midnight

My (future) roomate Sarah came up from Ottawa today, and she didn't let any of us sleep as usual. It was a great weekend, what with Hawaiian swing dancing, midnight festivals, dinner as the sun rises in an empty park...
I'm beginning to think that being awake during the night is better anyways, it's so much cooler! But now, alas, the weekend is over, and I have to go back to waking up at noon (hehe, I'm exagerating, I do wake up earlier). Our lab's AC is broken at the moment, and it's sweltering. All of us just look for excuses to go work down at the phytotron, which is niiiice and cooool.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Of pain studies and hidden talents

Recently, I've been signing up for every psychology study that I come across, because I am but a poor, poor starving student that could use the moolah, and also because they keep me occupied. The most recent one was a study on pain and depression. Hmm, I told myself, I am neither depressed nor particularly in the mood to undergo physical pain, so, logically, I signed up. The procedure was the following:
1. Change out of street clothes into a hospital gown (drafty!)
2. Attach heart rate monitor

3. Get blood pressure taken
9 friggin' times (once, when I was little, I'd accompanied my mother to the supermarket and slipped my hand in one of those infernal machines accidentally. It started eating my hand, and I never really got over my fear of them)
4. Get my sensitivity threshold measured. This was done by poking certain areas of my body (knee, shoulder, palm, etc.) with very thin metal rods. There were several rods of different widths, and I had to close my eyes and tell them whether I could feel them poke me or not. Apparently, I'm remarkably consistent in my answers (it's another useless gift I'm graced with, apparently...).
5. Get my pain threshold measured. This was measured by applying pressure to 16 sensitive areas on my body (two of which were on my ass) until I said it hurt. They removed the pressure right away. Again, I'm remarkably consistent in my answers, whether the pressure was applied on my right or left side. The examiner asked me if I was ambidextrous! Another sign that left-handed people are intrinsically superior.
6. My pain tolerance was measured. I had to dunk my pain in cold water (4.5 degrees C, which doesn't SEEM cold, but oh man, is it ever) and keep it there until it hurt. Then, once I stated that it started hurting, I had to keep my hand in the water as long as I could tolerate it. YOUCH!

7. Answer questions (this was probably so they could measure how depressed I am. Actually, the study only asked for women who frequently felt 'low mood', so I'm eligible. Kind of.).
8. Collect 3 saliva samples. One in the morning before I get out of bed, one before I eat dinner, and one right before I go to sleep. Hmm, okay.
Overall, it was pretty fun. It's good pay, and the examiner was a woman, so there was no awkwardness there. Next study on the list? Facial perception! There's another really interesting sounding one where scientists take an MRI scan of your brain while you smell your sister. Darn it! Why does my sister have to live in Congo? Ruin all of my fun ;).
Other than that, I've been pretty busy in my lab recently. Both the teacher and the graduate student went to this 'Biology Retreat', so I've taken over Andrej's project, because it has to be done on particular days. What I'm doing is preparing tissue samples for electron microscopy. So I'll be choosing seed pods ("siliques") exactly 13 days after pollination, for example, and place them in fixative and prepare them to be viewed in the microscope. The reason we're doing this is to get a better picture of how seed development occurs after pollination. Nifty! I hope I'll be able to look at the tissues too. The Electron microscope is new though, and everyone is itching to get their hands on it.
It's so hot here now. I don't understand how a city can be so cold and so hot just six months apart. The humidity is so thick that it seems as though the sun is hidden behind a grey film. I can't wait until the summer thunderstorms begin! Beata and I braved the heat yesterday to go look at all of the Ferrarris parked on Crescent street in honour of the Grand Prix coming up soon. Several streets were blocked off (again!) to better display these cars, and you wouldn't believe what a festival they managed to make out of them.
There's a Hawaiian-theme swing dance party tonight at the Cat's Corner. My costume? Dress as tackilly as possible (as I am lacking in the grass skirt and coconut bra department)! It should be fun. There's plenty people that I know at the Cat's Corner :-)

Monday, June 06, 2005


I haven't been swing dancing in more than two weeks now. Ok, to most sane people, this may not seem like a long time at all, but this is actually the longest I haven't gone dancing since I went home to Madagascar in December (and even then, I managed to snatch a dance or two at some stuffy dinner). So around 8 o'clock tonight, I learned that the Jello Shots (the best swing band in Montreal--I've seen them several times) were playing at this venue called the Jello Bar (completely unrelated to the actually band!), a small bar with lava lamps and nifty furniture that makes it look like it has remained unchanged for the past four decades. It was too late to convince any of my friends to come dancing with me, so I decided to brave it alone. Feeling oddly nervous (not only because I was alone but also because I haven't danced in two weeks), I walked all the way there, paid the cover, took a deep breath and stepped in. Well! The band was taking a break and not a single couple could be seen on the dance floor. Warily, I walked around, looking for anyone, ANYONE familiar. No bust! What's worse is that the only seat available were tables, or large couches. Everyone had either come with a date or in a large group, and people were lounging around chatting softly to on another. So I panicked. I whirled back (at least my swing skirt had some use!), went to the front, asked for my money back, and ran home. Uh. It's crazy; all of a sudden my heart was beating and I felt scared and alone, as though I didn't know a single soul in Montreal. Now I'm home, and my body still feels like dancing but I'm too ashamed to go back. I'll make it next week!

Sunday, June 05, 2005


And so the season of festivals in Montreal begins. Seriously, I don't think that I've seen a group of people as eager as Montrealers to shut down the main roads of their city down for some nice partyin'.
This year, le Festival Mondial de la Biere (that's the Beer Festival for the rest of you) kicked it off. It took over an entire intersection, and various numbered tents were put up, each representing a different type of beer. Elated, Andrej (my lab partner), his friend April, Lopa (also my lab partner, but from class) and I headed down to check it out. The number of people that congregated to celebrate beer was staggering: the crowd consisted of pimply (and underage) adolescents, old wizened Quebecois, and of course, the students! All squeeze, jostled and mingled to create an energetic and smelly atmosphere. The premise behind the festival was this: dart through the mass to the very end of then tent to purchase coupons, then (impossibly), try to reach a tent where, breathlessly, you manage to slap your coupon down on the counter and snatch a beer. Finally, navigate out of the chaos without spilling said beer to try and taste it. Whew! It was exhausting, and, in the end, not particularly enjoyable. Quite soon, we decided that there were far cheaper and quieter places to acquire beer in Montreal.
Dazed, we wandered over to a bright and happy place: the arcade. I'd already convinced Andrej to try this game called Dance Dance Revolution, and now it was Lopa and April's turn to try it out. We basicaly made fools of ourselves, but all in good fun. And soon as we slipped off of the pads, a svelte Asian teenager hopped on and proceeded to make us all look terribly uncoordinated (seriously, he was amazing).
We then wandered over to a pub and played cards, foozball, and finally settled into a conversation. All of us being total nerds, some of the jewels of the night were:
"I couldn't stand my old lab partner. He just couldn't titrate properly." --Lopa
"Plants. They are the PINNACLE of model systems." --Andrej
"I can't believe that girl wanted a recommendation letter. She actually made a centrifuge EXPLODE!" --April
It was funny. April is a PHD student, and Andrej is obtaining his Masters, and both of them T.A. a class that Lopa and I should be taking next year. All year I've been hearing the students' side of the story (which T.A. grades easily, what classes have a hard midterm...) when all of a sudden I'm listening to T.A.s talk about the same class. It sounds so different! Scary. It's like they're real people. :P Anyway it ended being a great (albeit random) night. I hope that I'll have more like it. I doubt I'll splurge on another festival until the Jazz festival though (the dancing!! I can't wait).
Well that's it for now. I notice that it seems as though I live a life of pure debauchery, but I really don't. I just chose not to write about the boring stuff, i.e. working at the lab or studying for the MCATs (gulp, not until next summer, but it's never too early to look into it), etc.
Thanks Red Handed Jill for linking me!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

(Relative) freedom!

Okay! So exams are over! Again!
Ah, the magic that is summer school. Somehow a semester's worth of material gets crammed into one month of intensive classes, to the detriment of the students' sanity (but sanity is so passe anyways). So my final was yesterday and MAN am I ever pooped. I mean seriously, if I didn't have my lab at the crak-of-dawn hour of 1 P.M., I don't think I would have ever left bed this morning. Uh. This is why I'm glad I DO have a lab job, it will keep me for slipping down the slippery slope of laziness during the month of June (at least I hope it will).
So I celebrated end-of-summer-school-finals by going to this nifty pub called St. Elizabeth. Its claim to fame is its small back terrase: a small courtyard which is delimited by three 10-story buildings, and somehow, they've gotten vines to climb up the whole ten stories. It's dizying to look up, and to improve the effect, there are soft green lights all over. It feels as though you're in some kind of pre-raphealite painting! I ended up going with the most impossibly random group of people: two friends from class, friends from rez, a friend who was graduating, etc. I forced everyone to play the card game President, and they loved it :)
Now here is where it gets weird: out of the blue, we bump into Charlotte! I'm so glad I got to see her, because she left early this morning, and I would have never gotten the chance to properly say goodbye. So Charlotte came to St. E's with a childhood friend, who had older triplet sisters. It turns out that Chay (my brother's very close friend from Montreal, who ALSO happens to be my swing dancing teacher) was there celebrating one of the triplets' graduation! It gets better: another one of the triplets was my frosh leader (she's awesome, I still see her now and again), and the graduating triplet (the one that Chay knew) is going to Madagascar to work this summer!! So naturally she was very excited to have someone (vaguely) familiar that she would be able to contact once she arrived there.
Uh!! Decidement, le monde est tres, tres petit! It was the most mind boggling night. And who says that Montreal is empty in the summer?!

OK, my battery is low so I'd better jet. I will try to update more often, but quite frankly there really isn't anything interesting for me to talk about :-)