Tag Archives: canada

Notes from the Writing Trans Genres Conference

I like to write up my thoughts as I’m attending a conference or just after I walk away from it, while the plethora of conversations are still swirling around in my brain. It’s a little reminiscent of how I studied in primary school, by taking in as much of the school day as  Icould and then writing up my notes later. Maybe I need to move my fingers around to set the thoughts in place, I’m not sure.

I just finished up my participation in the Writing Trans Genres conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There were at least four generations of trans authors and thinkers there, maybe 250 of us, roughly. At least it felt like a quarter of a thousand. I didn’t do a head count and I didn’t ask the organizers. I didn’t want to miss even a moment of it—unlike truly humongous conferences like the Popular Cultural Association Conference or the BookExpo, where there is no hope of going to every panel, this was more intimate and almost comprehensible in scope, until people started talking. At that point there were so many ideas all in one animated stream that it took a lot of energy on my part to keep up with the conversation and concepts. But maybe I’m just an exhausted parent of two kids under the age of three. This conference was marked by several laudable characteristics not commonly found at conferences: Read More…

Spa Day in Radium

Radium Hot Springs, BC, with mountain in backgroundSo let’s say I went on vacation and while looking forward to a relaxing time in a hot springs pool, I injured myself in three different ways, thus negating the healing effects of 105-degree water and instead identifying new effects of walking with a limp. But let’s also postulate that in order to combat said accident-proneness, I agreed to get a Swedish massage. Well, that would probably be memorable, too.

It really started with the couches at the condo rental, up in Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia. Maybe they were from the dreaded IKEA store, where furniture looks great until it leaves the Swede-designed showroom. The middle supports in the loveseats that marked the boundary of the living room area were three inches lower than the parts of the cushions nearest the armrests. In other words, there was no way to sit on the sofas and keep one’s hips even. We took to lying across the furniture at odd angles, vainly searching for comfort. By the end of the first day a small spot next to the small of my back began radiating pain outward, an epicenter of activity that foretold of destruction, soon to follow. I noticed I had begun walking with a hitch as the muscles nearby had held some sort of summit regarding what to do, and had agreed to stiffen up in response to the sore area. I was on my way to a full blown back ache. Read More…

Where Trans People May Tread

Some amount of hay–I haven’t quantified it in any way–has been made over the disinclusion of Jenna Talackova from the Canadian Miss Universe pageant. The usual suspects that get trotted out in the name of “unfairness” after all, couldn’t be a part of the rationale for disqualifying her; Ms. Talackova’s presumed muscle mass didn’t matter in a non-physical contest, and her “male socialization” was moot given that by definition, the attributes sought after on the part of the judges would specifically be looking for gender neutral areas (as in the Q&A section) or feminine-coded areas, like how good contestants look in an evening gown or swimsuit. In other words, Ms. Talackova was either on equal par with the other candidates, or at a disadvantage, not an advantage.

Jenna Talakova, Miss Universe contestant

But no matter, she was out. Until Donald Trump himself, manager of the whole affair, reversed his decision. Through his attorney, Michael Cohen, he said:

The Miss Universe Organization will allow Jenna Talackova to compete in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada pageant provided she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions.

The application process does not make any mention of transgender inclusion or exclusion, so it’s interesting that there was any basis to rule her out in the first place. Read More…

Their Neighbors to the South

Having just spent a week en Canada, I am continuing to think about the small but notable differences I encountered while there. They may be little things, but they’re enough to remind one that one is in a foreign land, a land largely absent of GOP/Democrat partisan bickering, American Idol crooning (they have their own version), and conversations about whether evolution is a Real Thing or not. Read More…

Land of the Taxidermist

patinoire at west edmonton mallI’ve driven through large swaths of Canada several times now—if I’d stitched them together they would pretty much connect the east and west coasts, except for the fact that I’ve never driven into Manitoba. That said, I have not driven in Canada much at all and for someone used to watching out for bands of small, white-tailed deer, Canada is a bit of a different game. In the way that junior varsity basketball players against NHL left wing players match up. Which is to say that they don’t. Read More…

Electing to

Last week, the voters spoke and changed the landscape of a state for the foreseeable future. I was beyond excited to see my fellow countrymen and women take the time to consider the ramifications of their vote, get educated on the issue, and cast their ballots. One million strong. A mandate, even.

It is a special feeling to know one has backed a winner.

Kirsten is the newest California cow! Go Kirsten!

She was my sentimental pick because she’s from Saskatchewan, homeland of my own mother. This isn’t to say that none of the other eight choices would have done well as the newest addition to the Real Milk Comes from California family, but Kirsten has her own place in my heart. With a jouissance I ventured to the Real MilkTM Web site to relish in my skosh of glory and see Kirsten frolicking in the pastures of the Golden State.

But what met my retinas was not the heifer I knew and loved. Or thought I knew. This, this was some imposter cow! The election officials surely thought they could fool everyone, but I know very well that cows don’t change their spots, or patches, or whatever the hell they’re called. These spots were different!

Don’t take just my word for it, check it out on your own. Look at Kirsten’s audition tape, and then look at one of the clips after her win. Yes, the voice is the same, but the cow, the cow is different. That’s just plain creepy.

So now, my heart aches. Where is my beloved farm girl? Did a Canadian wolf get her and California has now gone to some clandestine cover-up to keep their so-called election intact? Did Kirsten opt out to seek her fortunes in the next misdirected balloon saga? Did she sneak away to LA early so she could see a plastic surgeon and have a makeover? California’s Real Dairy farmers, tell us what’s become of our small town girl turned starlet!

Did Gary Condit have anything to do with it?

Four stars of lucky hotelification

Susanne is a fan of the Hotwire Lottery, as she calls it. Hotwire, for those who know not of its business plan, is kind of like blindfolding oneself and playing Pin the Donkey, only instead of one giant jackass, one is attempting to get a good deal with any one of tens of hotels, all masked by the Web site so one can’t really be sure where one is staying until one has plunked one’s money down.

One of the things users can see is the star rating of the hotel, another, the general neighborhood where the hotel is located. There’s also the amenities list. One intrepid, rather persistent friend of ours spend considerable time comparing these indicators against the ones mentioned on various hotel Web sites, until she was 99 percent certain that she knew which hotel she was going to put money down. She was right, and when it came time for the conference, she and Susanne had a perfectly fine time.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Susanne and I were looking at places to stay in Victoria. Not having been there before, we were of course unaware that really, everything is located in the same neighborhood—the harbor. But one 4-star hotel caught our eyes, and we got a great price, something ridiculous like $61 a night. We giggled at our good fortune. Surely it would be a step up from the Hyatt in Vancouver.

The Congratulations! notice came up, joyously informing us that we would be staying at the Inn at Laurel Point at the “Inner Harbour” of Victoria.  The Web site is amazing, picturesque views of the building, the view one sees from one’s glass-bedecked deck, the gentle calls of birds and waterfowl playing as the music of the peaceful. It is a marketing moment of luxurious proportions. We pulled the lever of Hotwire Fortune and came up with a winner!

Now then, do take 10 seconds to look at their Web site. Note the strong architectural lines of the white building, but take note also that the glass-fronted terraces are only on one side. In fact, those two halves of the building have different structures, don’t they? It’s all white, but . . .


The backside of the building

The backside of the building

This white paint only goes so far. The dorm-like structure on the left here, is the same as the left side on the Web site, only from another angle. They only painted what would be showing in the picture on their marketing! Such crafty Canadians!

The whole hotel was this way. It was as if to get the 4-star rating, they had hired a swanky hotel improvement team/marketing consultants to go through and tell them what they had to improve. In our room we had: 

  • A brand new headboard, but old and chipped dresser, nightstands, and TV cabinet (the TV itself was so old it still read, “Trinitron” above the analog dial)
  • New pleather chairs a la cocktail lounger flanked either side of an old, round kitchen table.
  • A new alarm clock.
  • A very, very old ice container.

In the bathroom a beautiful and shiny toilet greeted the weary traveler, but didn’t have much space between the cracked countertop and hastily assembled shower. And the entire room smelled of my Aunt Edna’s, who had a penchant for plastic-covered furniture and vinyl. The woman never met a synthetic fabric she didn’t like. I wasn’t quite sure what was off-gassing at the hotel, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t me.

The $60-a-night “bargain” was looking a little worn at the edges. We decided it didn’t matter so much because really, we were only sleeping there, but plopping ourselves on the bed after the drive into town, I suddenly missed our Sleep Number bed at home. I thought a spring might push its way through the thin padding and walk out the door, in protest of its many years servicing ungrateful tourists, such as ourselves. It was like a topographical map, that bed surface. Unfortunately for me, Mt. McKinley was right about under my left hip socket. Susanne, being shorter, was mostly able to avoid Mt. Vesuvius in the southwest quadrant.

The other annoyances came at us slowly, revealing themselves bit by bit, like how Jack Nicholson gradually loses his mind in the hotel Overlook in The Shining. First, we noticed that the other wing of the hotel was indeed, much grander and more luxurious. They couldn’t even put in roll pillows in our room? Roll pillows would have broken the bank, is that it? There was the random ventilation system that spewed whatever aroma was being produced by the kitchen staff at the swanky restaurant in the lobby, right down our hallway to our room’s door. And then there was the parking garage. At a mere $10 a day ($8 in US money), it was an easy place to park. But the other hotel guests were so overly fond of their vehicles that they each insisted on taking up two and sometimes three parking spaces each. This is what comes of no DC Parking Enforcement. Every snob to himself. I almost missed the little smaller-than-a-SmartCar vehicles patrolling the streets, whipping out ugly pink tickets to the wealthy for parking like jerks, a smile crossing their lips because they and they alone have the power to make even the richest person in the District, furious with the pain of a $200 ticket.

So our time in Victoria would begin and end with the momentary frustration of the parking amenity. Most of our time, however, was spent tooling around the harbor and taking high tea at various locations. More on that to come.

Meanwhile, in the land of Walla Walla Freecycle, I feel I must mention an entry from earlier today, in which a couple about to be observed by a county official as part of getting authorized to be foster parents (aww) was looking for a first aid kit and a locking box. The first aid kit because the county requires it, and the locking box so that they could stow their HANDGUN. It’s the liberal in me, I know, but it’s also the snob, because what I hear in my head is: you want children in a house with a handgun, but you’re looking for a free lockbox? Did you spend all your money on the ammunition? What are they, hollow points?

Noodley legends

We like to ask for advice; there are columns in the paper, thousands of Web forums and chat rooms on every conceivable subject from pork rinds to rare, incurable diseases. Perhaps it’s part of the human condition to ask our neighbors about things we haven’t directly experienced. It creates community, sometimes, not just in a virtual Web browser window, but when we create support groups, go on themed vacations, join a club—we do a lot of advice giving and requesting, and then, if we get our first-hand moment ourselves, can appreciate how far away the advice of someone else’s experience was from our own.

And therein lies the rub. For one person’s touted recommendation is another person’s bout with mediocrity. Or there could be, in the case of a restaurant suggestion, a complete incompatibility between palates. It’s really a taste comparison; if we like the same 5 movies, maybe we’ll both hate the 6th. Your advice to go to so-and-so place for dinner might be anathema to me if I think that spiced crickets sounds disgusting but is your favorite appetizer. And then you might gently remind me that some of what I eat, such as corndogs, also can be just plain awful.* So one should have confidence in the taste buds of their friends.

What to make of the good friend with whom you’ve never actually compared culinary affections? It’s just a leap of faith that nobody would recommend a truly terrible venue and that there will probably be something on the menu that appeals. And that’s the pessimist’s approach. For those of us who are more risk-tolerant and/or optimistic, it’s a chance to venture into unknown territory and perhaps experience something new.


Legendary Noodle Restaurant

Legendary Noodle Restaurant

It was with this boldly go where we hadn’t gone before mentality that we ventured into the Legendary Noodle Restaurant in Vancouver, a favorite of our friend, Dex. She eats there often. We looked at fully four different kinds of noodle preparations. We started off sharing some steamed meat dumplings, which were fine if not a little pedestrian. Our food came quickly, which I’ve learned in the Northwest is a bit of an uncommon occurrence. Susanne had a noodle soup with beef, almost like a pho, and I had some noodles with beef, mung beans, and a light spice that was just hot enough to linger while not causing massive sinus activity. It was a little place, likeable in that hole-in-the-wall way. 

It was also conveniently located directly across the street from a patisserie. Unfortunately, we were too stuffed to put any more edibles into our stomachs. Fortunately, our friend’s housemate was having a gallery show that night, so the three of us walked around the corner to see her art. She was focused on painting animation-like pictures of Catholic schoolgirls. They looked very sulky. Some of them were against white, unpainted backgrounds. Some were sitting in trees. Many were set in dreary wooded locations. In a room in the back there was a silent auction with older pictures, namely giant robots in dreary wooded locations. I sensed a trend. 

After looking at the art for a while, we headed over to Sweet Revenge for tea and dessert. It was cramped, like visiting your Aunt Nellie who hasn’t thrown out the daily newspaper for 36 years and who has a penchant for collecting antique furniture. We found the remaining 4 square feet of space in the room and sat down at a low table that came up to our knees. I wondered aloud if this was the tea room for Liliputian royalty. 

Menus were carefully presented to us, lest the waiters knock something over. They were small men who looked like they had previously worked as circus contortionists, and they fitted their bodies around the furniture as they served the patrons, bending in strange ways like Keanu Reeves dodging bullets, but nary did they spill a drop of the drinks.


table of treats at Sweet Revenge

table of treats at Sweet Revenge

The cakes were very good, although one was a little on the dry side. A man at the next table (read, five inches away from me) asked which cake on our table was the favorite, so we pointed it out to him. There were six people at his table, Japanese tourists, and they were very excited to have cake recommendations from total strangers. How did he know I wasn’t a total smartass who had just told him to try the cake with the pickle juice in it? Such trust! It must have been because we were in Canada, and what Canadian would steer a tourist wrong like that? He’d never have had such faith in me if we were in Atlanta, I bet.

We finished our dessert and hugged our friend goodbye—but only for the moment, because we ran into her two days later in Vancouver’s Chinatown. I would have said small world, but well, I didn’t think it would have drawn the laugh. One must be selective about such things.

*For the record, I do not eat corn dogs.

Merriweather Blue and the not-so-long journey

Walla Walla is a stop on Lewis and Clark’s exploration across the North American continent, as is evidenced by the seemingly thousands of highway signs dedicated to preserving their memory. Because we had very recently purchased a new car just before our wedding and cross-country move, we needed to come up with a name for it, and well, Lewis and Clark now live on in our household, for we decided upon Merriweather Blue for the car. 

She’s been a reliable, fun vehicle to drive, with nice shocks and a comfortable interior. We enjoy trips in this car, possibly because Susanne used to drive a rather tippy Chevy Sprint, and I a Ford Escort that I pushed more than I drove. Everything is, after all, relative.

Pacific Ocean outside Vancouver

Pacific Ocean outside Vancouver


We piled into Merriweather B. in the middle of Seattle and made our way to the north of the city. Driving by Everett, Washington, was fun because I kept pointing out the amenities of the city as if they were my own. “Look, I have a middle school,” I would announce, pointing at some random building. “Oh, I’m working hard on road improvements using my citizen’s taxes,” I would say. Yes, it got old fast. But Everett was larger than I thought it would be, a proper suburb with all the sprawlish trappings therein.

Washington State pushed up upward into more rugged mountainous terrain and we started seeing snippets of snow alongside the road. Finally we came upon the border, and I mistakenly got in a lane that said, “Nexus Only.” Unfortunately for us, once I realized my error I could no longer leave the lane, lest I drive over orange divider cones and alert the Royal Mounted Police force/Border Patrol/Customs officials to my dalience from the rules. I sheepishly pulled up to the window, our passports in hand.

“I’m sorry, I think I got into the wrong lane. I don’t know what Nexus means.”

She looked at our credentials, very displeased with me.

“What are you doing in Canada,” she asked, tersely.

“We’re going to a conference,” I answered.

“Where?” She sounded like she was sitting on a chair of needles.

“Vancouver.” Hopefully she had heard of it. 

“And what is your business there?”

Was this a trick question? I thought it was a trick question. I looked at Susanne imploringly.

“We’re going to a conference,” she said. 

Say what? That’s what I said! Susanne didn’t know anything more than what I knew! Oh, crap. I count on her to have the right answers to this crap.

“What kind of conference,” was her next question.

I debated, in three nanoseconds, whether to say it was a conference for people who dress up as furry creatures in order to get aroused, then thought better of it.

“Political science,” answered Susanne, and the border guard frowned. Clearly we should have gone with furries.

She handed us back our passports and looked at me, with daggers shining in her eyes, saying, “A word of advice, if you don’t know what something is, don’t get in that lane.”

Well now, that’s extrapolatable to everything else. What a brilliant pearl of wisdom. I nodded, secretly cursing her in my mind, and we drove into Canada. With border patrol agents like her, I thought, Canada better start planning on spending more marketing money to keep its image as a country of nice people, Susanne notwithstanding.

Thirty kilometres outside Vancouver the sun ducked behind clouds, not to be seen for three more days. We made our way to the Hyatt downtown, and checked in to a fancy room devoid of anything complementary. Even the Wi-Fi cost $16 a day. It was like spending time with cheap, rich people, when you bring a nice bottle of wine over to their place and they keep it and open up some crap they bought at Costco instead, and you think to yourself, well, this is why they’re wealthy and I’m not. Yeah, it was kind of like that. But it had a nice view of the street below, and I think Vancouver is the only place on planet Earth where you have mountains and the Pacific across from each other like that. Well, maybe Japan is like that, since it’s been formed by volcanoes. But Vancouver is the first place I’ve ever seen with that kind of terrain, and I found it endlessly fascinating.

Our first evening in town we opted for Ethiopian for dinner, so we checked out Addis Cafe about 20 blocks away. Our Googled directions took us through a neighborhood that is called “Canada’s skid row.” This is funny for several reasons, including the following:

1. Canada has only one skid row.

2. It is this one.

3. Canadians know this because they’ve asked around.

4. Nobody has realized that “skid row” as a concept is like, 70 years old. We call them “crack neighborhoods” now.

While it seemed a bit rough around the edges, I am here to reassure every Vancouverian that really, it’s not a bad neighborhood. But okay, you wouldn’t want to hang around on the corner bleeding $50 bills.

The eatery was small, a row house-style building that was clearly focused on the food and not the ambiance. We ordered a veggie combo with wot and a lamb entree, and were greeted with a  beautiful plate of injera and really well done toppings. The wot was spicy enough to make its presence known to one’s tongue, but without so much heat that it upstaged anything else on the plate. The cabbage was crisp, well spiced, and a great compliment to the lamb, which was tender, rich, and free from gristle, always a possibility with lamb butchering. We also enjoyed the lentils, and the freshly made cheese. We also were delighted to converse with the chef, who was eager and beyond pleased that we’d enjoyed her cooking. She and the waitress were the only employees to be found. I highly recommend Addis Cafe for anyone looking for a low-key, affordable, and excellent meal in Vancouver.

Next up: The Legendary Noodle House and desserts at Sweet Revenge

catching up in pictures

Photos and videos from Friday:

I can’t seem to get an .AVI file on WordPress, so until I find a solution, please go here to see the video:


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