Thursday, July 21, 2005

My frosh paper

A friend asked me to write an article for SUStenance, a McGill newspaper. It's going to be ready in time for Frosh, and they wanted me to include 'words of wisdom' or some rubbish like that.
Here it is-- any advice? Is it okay? Oh, and the computer I'm on has no spell check. Go figure. (Blogger's isn't working either for some reason, it's a cuuurse)


“These are going to be the best four years of your life,” my brother told me as he readjusted his tie, “...and frosh is going to be the best week of those four years”. I nodded, feeling my stomach twist into knots—I was leaving for Montreal in a week, and at the moment was feeling more nervous than anything else.
High school was over, my ‘last summer’ was nearing its end, all the necessary goodbyes had been said, my bags were packed and I was ready to go. But go where? My whole future seemed to be some great unknown. The city was foreign, I didn’t know a soul in Montreal, heck, I’d never even studied in english before! “Just do frosh” my brother would tell me, smiling at my nervousness. And so I landed the day frosh began. I lined up, snaped on my bracelet, and joined the roiling masses of other first year students at the gym. Almost immediately, I was sucked into a frosh group (group 22!). I discovered that I wasn’t alone, most people, in fact, felt exactly the same way I did. I was introduced to alcohol (of course), but I also got to know my froshees and frosh leaders. Ahh, what better way to forge friendships than by holding back your puking friend’s hair? Good times these were indeed!
I learned a few things from frosh: 1) Always drink liquor before beer. Always; 2) Always have a guy friend around to stave off the sleazy guys at clubs; 3) I didn’t necessarily need to freak out about the fact that “Cell metabolism II” was full for the winter term because university is cool that way: undoubtedly, about a week after classes begin, students will drop out; 4) Keeping in contact with friends is worth it. Who knew that, in mid-December, I would dig out my fellow froshee’s number to have a shoulder to cry on? Which brings me to: 5) Even though everyone seems like they’re having a good time, this isn’t always the case. Your first year is going to be tough, and it’s perfectly normal to have an existential crisis (or three).
Once classes began, I already felt a little better about my situation at McGill. Perhaps I wouldn’t be an outcast after all? I began to get to know my classmates (no easy feat in McGill’s gigantic classes a la Leacock 132!), and I noticed a trend: university isn’t high school. You think I would have clued into that a bit sooner, but I hadn’t! University was a place where nerdiness wasn’t only accepted—it was glorified (SUStenance has a whole slew of nerdy pickup lines. My personal favorite: “I wish you were x^2 and I was x^3/3, so that I could be the area under your curve”), you say something mind-utterringly stupid and everyone at McGill won’t know about it in 2 seconds flat; if you don’t like someone you can, well, avoid them; people are inclined to do goofy things like dress up like a ghost-buster in order to get elected. And University isn’t only about studying either: I was astounded at the number of people getting involved in the Science Undergraduate Society, taking salsa lessons or participating in the latests student protest (Hint: you should check out Activities Night at the Shatner building if you want to know what all the clubs in McGill have to offer).
Before I knew it, my first year at McGill was over. Despite being terribly overwhelmed and confused at the beginning (I mean come on—how much information did they try to inject into you at Discover McGill?), everything worked itself out (I didn’t even notice the transition from ‘pretending to be a university student’ to ‘being a university student’). And in the end, my brother was right: this has been the best year of my life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Hey, I probably won't be updating for a while. The internet can be pretty hard to come by in France, and I don't even want to think about how it will be in Poland! I am currently in Dordogne, which is awesome. I promise that I'll post about it at length when I'll have the time!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Coton de tulear

So my parents got a new dog! It's a coton de tulear, which are the traditional dog of the Malagasy Royal Family. They also happen to be adorable.
This is what ours looks like!

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We think that we're going to call him "Vaza", which is a slightly derogatory Malagasy term for foreigners. It means 'little white man'.
I just hope he'll get along with Amadeus, our cocker spaniel.

Ah, la France.

Well, there were no terrorists on the plane ride here so I'll chalk it up as a good flight.
I write to you now from Lyon, which is where the majority of my french family (including my mother) lives. It really is a magnificent city: it was first built by the Romans--who chose to make it the capital of Gaule-- then was constantly retransformed throughout the middle ages and the renaissance. When you walk into the old city, you can still see Roman architechture, window frames from the Middle Ages or delicate arch-ways dating from the Renaissance. It's quite impressive! Plus, it's the Gastronomical capital of France, which means: very good food!
Every year, I have the great fortune of going to one of the best Jazz Festivals ever: Jazz a Vienne. It happens in Vienne, this small town about 45 minutes to the South of Lyon. My mom (and all her family) was born there. The Romans were here too. The town is built on hills, and on one of the hills (facing the sunset), the Romans built this big amphitheater, which is still used today. Well my mother got five tickets for July 13th, so four cousins (Maxime, Francois, Henri and Johanna, my south african cousin whom I hadn't seen in 8 years) and I headed down to the theater to snatch places. And the theater was packed full-- 7000 people! The Jazz began at 8:30 and went on until the sunrise. Pretty amazing! It was Brazilian night, so although unconventional, it was awesome to just let loose and dance your heart out.
The next day was July 14th, Revolution Day (and the national holiday) in France. Jo and I came back to Lyon (exhausted), slept for the majority of the afternoon, then joined my mom, dad and brother for diner in the old city. After diner, we saw scores of people crowding on all of the city's bridges (Lyon is crossed by two rivers), so we followed the crowd and sat, waiting... waiting... all of a sudden, with a boom, the fireworks begin, and people all around us start cheering. A little girl behind us kept on making amazed comments (these were her first fireworks): "Ooh, ca clignote, la, et ca scintille comme the l'or. La! Des etoiles filantes! Du rose! Vert! Violet!"
Today I'm making my cousin Jo visit "les traboules", which are the old tunnels built by the romans. They can be found all over the old city.
Oh and by the way... I haven't managed to sleep well since my arrival here, which makes me 1)cranky, 2)too tired to reread this.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Au feu (again)!

For my last night in Montreal, I had dinner with my friends Ben and Emily. Ben (being chinese) was making chinese food when he set my wok on fire! He proceeded to freeze up into a corner as Emily screamed. I grabbed the wok and, being the genious that I am, tried to extinguish an oil fire by dousing water on it. Not smart.
The lesson learned? Don't quit your day job. I'll stick with biology, not fire-fighting!
France now has the inter nets! I won't be disconnected after all (although perhaps a little break would have been healthy? Naaah).

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Last day

Well, I leave tomorrow. Tear.
I think I beat a new record yesterday-- I went swing dancing twice in the space of 8 hours!
The first time was at a lindy-bomb. I went down to the Jazz fest and saw to my surprise that the Big Band concert hadn't been postponed due to the rain (it was pouring like it can only pour in Montreal-- check out Beaver's blog). The crowd was surprisingly large, and consisted mostly of people staring grimly at the stage while clinging on to their parkas or umbrellas. They looked like veterans. Well I soon found a small pocket of my swing-dancing friends, and when the music started, we just grinned at one another, threw away our umbrellas and started dancing our hearts out. It was so fun! My swing skirts got completely soaked (it's cotton, so that's OK), and I was having fun twirling and splashing everyone around.
The second time was at a club called Le Swimming. The Jello Shots were playing (again!), and it was the last event of the 1st annual Montreal Swing Festival. There were plenty of out-of-towners, which is always fun, because then people really strut their stuff and try to show off. They were doing all sorts of acrobatics! Everyone there was a sensational dancer, and I even got to do a few jumps.

Apart from that, last Friday was my last day at my lab. It was pretty anti-climactic, as Tamara (I mean Professor Western) wasn't in that day, and most people were off doing something else. I ended up doing my usual routine, then going down to the Phytotron one last time, and saying goodbye to my lab partners. Ah, well. I'll miss it! I am definitely going to try to volunteer at a hospital next year. But who knows--maybe research is for me after all?

Saturday, July 09, 2005


As I'm sure you're all aware, there was a terrorist attack on London last Thursday. My sister's blog pretty much sums up how I feel about it. I'm so glad that my brother is OK.
Ugh, it seems as though terrorist attacks have been hitting so close to home (literaly!) these past few years. I hate playing into their desires by feeling scared and helpless.
Sometimes I wish that my family could all live in the same town, so that I could just walk over, touch them and make sure that everything is OK. But until then, the internet will have to do.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Oh so busy

Wow. Last weekend was the best weekend ever. I had a hunch it would be when Sarah (my future roommate) and a bunch of other friends mentioned that they would be hailing from Ottawa/Toronto/wherever else they’re from. So I promptly asked my professor for a day off so that I could enjoy a four-day weekend.

The weather was sensational—scorching during the day but it’d cool off just enough during the late afternoon (the only time we’re awake anyway) for it to be lovely. All these friends were staying at my friend Geoff’s apartment, which was packed, so you can be sure that there was always something going on there. They’d come (officially) for the Jazz festival, which we took full advantage of. Seriously, we must have gone to, at the very least, three concerts every day. Most of which were great. There was this one artist, called Son of Dave (, who wowed us all. He was a solo artist, alone on stage with his fedora and harmonica. He had a little wicker shaker that he used for rhythm, and a loop machine: he’d play a string on the harmonica, all the while recording, and bam! He’d loop it, and play another (different) string, before looping that as well, and adding a touch of beat-box. My friend Sandi described it as “tripped-out harmonica blues-y funk”. Amazing. The funny thing is, although he’s incredibly charismatic on stage (he bit a microphone because it wasn't working), he’s quite soft-spoken and shy in real life. He underestimated the response he’d get at the jazz festival and only brought a handful of CDs—all of which sold out in a second, of course. Still, he was more than happy to chat for a bit and offer to sell us 45s. Hmm, no thanks.

Sunday stands out as the Ultimate Summer Day, easily. Sarah and I decided to meet at the tam-tams. If I haven’t mentioned it before, the tam-tams are a Montreal tradition. As soon as the weather allows it (which is… what, 3 months a year?), scores of musicians flock to Parc LaFontaine and start an impromptu outdoor concert. Most of them play tam-tams and portable drums, but you can find guitarists, clarinet players, cymbal players… anything under the sun. They play out a steady beat from mid-morning to late afternoon, following each-other’s lead in a truly spectacular performance. It’s all very unregulated and chill. It’s been a tradition for 18 years now, and a culture has developed around it. Now when the tam-tamers settle in the hill on Sunday, so do jugglers, street artists, dancing hippies, or normal people (like me), just looking for a bit of good music and sun. The beat is impossible to avoid: no matter where you wander to, you’ll always be able to hear the muted beat of drums (which is problematic if you’re on the phone!). Anyway, this was Sarah’s first time at the tam-tams, so I’d packed a picnic and we’d settled close enough to the musicians to watch the people dancing. All of a sudden, we hear moaning and groaning behind us. We look back up the hill and, lo and behold! There was a group of zombies migrating down towards the drummers. They looked great: torn-up peasant skirts or suits, pasty skin, drooling or oozing blood and twitching in a very zombie-like way. There were about a dozen of them. So anyway they zombie-down to the dancing area and do a zombie dance there for, say, ten minutes. The hippies around them are delighted. Then, as quickly as they appeared, they disbanded and were gone. Priceless. That night, I went to a BBQ with some friends, where I met a girl who mentioned that earlier that week, she’d received a “Zombies Calling” email from one of her friends, inviting her to join in on the zombie invasion. Cool!

On Saturday, we actually managed to watch the fireworks from a rooftop in the Old Port. It was such a good night; we all settled with blankets and a guitar and after the fireworks were done, we just played and sang. And didn’t even feel self-conscious about it. Later that night (or earlier that morning?), we trekked up the mountain to watch the sunrise. Sarah has a bunch of pictures of that night, and if she ever sends them, I promise that I’ll post a few.

Yesterday I went to a concert at the Jazz festival which I’d highlighted in my trusty concert-guide. Why? Because it was one of the concerts that had been selected to be lindy-bombed. A lindy-bomb consists of a bunch of swing-dancers meeting up at a concert and dancing their hearts-out. The one I went to yesterday was oodles of fun, even though the turn-out was pretty low. Only a few of the very best dancers turned out, and me. I got to dance with all of them! It was especially fun because the band was playing off of us dancing… the audience loved it. Good times, but it was so hot that after the concert was over it took a good hour and half for my face to un-redden! There’s another one tomorrow. I can’t wait. :-)

I leave on Monday. I’ve been working hard to enjoy the time I have left as much as possible; I think it’s working.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Canada Day

Happy Canada Day!
I had plans to drive down to the States with some friends and go to the beach in Vermont, but they seem to have fallen through. I notice now that it would be terribly ironic to LEAVE Canada for Canada Day, hehe. I'm still a bit dissapointed... I haven't been to the States since I left last August. I suppose I'm going to try and drop by as many jazz concerts as possible today then (I can make four, I've calculated).
Man, Andrej totally kicked my ass in the lab yesterday. He's started screening his plants (which is what I do all day, every day), but instead of screening roughly 30 plants a day like I do, he was screening 130. That is insane. When I walked in the lab, he was surrounded by racks and racks of teeny seeds, and I thought I'd walked straight into one of my nightmares. Guh. He jokingly challenged me to a seed staining race, but by the time I left the lab, he was still surrounded by racks-full of seeds and he had this price-less look on his face. "My god... How do you manage to do this every day?!!" It's all in the pacing. Ha!
Beata leaves today, so I spend the day with her yesterday. I really hope that I get to visit her in Poland-- we'd have such a good time! We went shopping for her random Polish relatives, whom neither of us knew. Beata's like that: we'll go grocery shopping and still manage to have a great time. We'll call each other every few days and not even say hello, just start the conversation with: "Do you know where I could purchase a grass skirt?" (me), or "How do you make that quiche of yours again?" (her). Her boyfriend, Scott, left for Poland for an entire semester yesterday. She's been working and bought herself a ticket so that they can still be together this summer, but next semester is going to tough! She made me promise to keep her distracted.
Anyway, I'd better get ready for swing dancing.