Archive for November, 2007

Monitoring my (former?) personal effects

November 30, 2007

One of the current banes of my family is the lack of progress UPS has made with my computer monitor. I was able to tuck my Mac Mini tidily into a suitcase for the trip here, but the monitor couldn’t be packed and so Bob shipped it a few days later. I haven’t seen it since November 3.

In the meantime, packages continue to arrive at my office. These were sent via postal service and both USPS and Canada Post seem to be perfectly happy with the manner in which Bob has completed each customs form. These completed forms, which are pasted to the front of the package, of course, have come to delight my coworkers. Todays read: “Gift: women’s shoes, used.” How pathetic. But if one read further, there was an even more complete explanation: these used shoes, a gift, had been owned by me previously. Gift??

But UPS and the monitor. Last week, I began to wonder if it would ever appear and I didn’t have the tracking number so I asked Bob if he could pursue it at his sending end of the line. Wednesday he was able to trace it as far as Fredricton, New Brunswick–at the same time that a commercial broker in Montreal contacted the Halifax Regional Municipality’s Procurement Office about the computer monitor that was in hock, addressed to me.

Thursday I talked with the Procurement Office, pretty embarrassed that I had now somehow been brought to their attention, but they were quite nice and helpful, providing me with names and phone numbers at the broker in Montreal. The broker answered right away and I went through the whole tale with her.

“You’re selling this monitor?”

“No, it’s mine. I’ve had it for two years and I’m just trying to move it to be with its hard drive.”

“Oh, so it’s a personal effect. We don’t deal with personal effects. But I can try to find it for you.”

There followed a brief silence and I assume a computer search.

“Well, it’s either in Fredricton, Montreal, or Syracuse, New York. UPS still has it and you need to contact them and demand that they deliver it to you.”

Demand it??

Meanwhile, back in Berkeley, Bob continued to work the case, too, after he received a phone call back from the original UPS shipping site saying that he had to produce faxable evidence of his relationship to the addressee of the monitor if he wanted UPS to go and look for it.

So, it’s darn lucky we had to get our marriage certificate reissued only in September and it’s still findable.

Obviously, long before this point, I have come to regret not just leaving the monitor for later transport and getting one here. There’s even a Mac store about 6 blocks away. However, it is open only the hours that I am at work and exactly those hours.

So, on the one hand: monitoring easy. On the other: monitoring hard. Oy!

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Inglis Street

November 29, 2007

Inglis is an east-west running street in Halifax’s South End; it forms one side of the corner on which my apartment building sits. About three or four blocks east of my building, Inglis and Barrington—an equally major artery running north-south—meet in a near-right angle, merging into each other. Just south of that point, is a kind of ragged “corner” to Halifax proper: the giant grain elevator, the train tracks leaving town. This adds to the kind of creole of those last three or four blocks (depending whether you count on the north or south side of the street) of Inglis.

One block up from the merge with Barrington, Mitchell Street runs south of Inglis for a short single block. This seems to be where the giant tractor trucks that haul containers from ships to trains bed for the night. However, on the corner, facing into Mictchell, is a dignified old brick house, built about 150 years ago and unblemished by any exterior alteration to its facade. It has a gambrol roof above its third floor and I wonder if it was designed with a ball room in its attic, as I remember some similarly aged houses in Boston were.

Across Mitchell is the petrol station. Gas is sold in litres here so I still haven’t worked out the comparative pricing. However, the gas prices are regulated to the degree that they all change together, station to station, apparently on Thursdays. I’m told that there is a talk radio figure who makes his guesstimate of the new week’s price some time early Thursday morning, to be borne out later that day (or not).

Along the next block, there are old row houses on the south side, and new condos which echo the same architecture on the north side. One of the old ones houses Schooner Books, an antiquarian dealer. Another is named Bishop’s Row, and seems to be broken into half a dozen flats, but, again, the exterior has been untouched by modern artifice while still being kept well painted and neat.

That brings us to S. Bland Street, down which, to the south, is the local curling club. There’s also a Unitarian church in one set of row houses and then a free standing once-was-mansion cut up into flats, one of which seems to be accessed from the street-facing tornado cellar door. While it looks like a cavernous descent into that particular abode, the impression now is certainly mixed as a wreath hangs on the door, about 8 steps below street level but almost on the sidewalk.

Then it’s across Brussels Street to “my” block. I do wonder what sat on the land where my building now is because the corner yard is regally marked off with large granite pillars that must have once held iron fencing.

Immediately across Inglis, where Lucknow Street comes from the north and ends, a large plaque discusses the Victorian street scene, detailing who lived where in the houses just northwest of my place. They, too, remain as they must have appeared 125 years ago (or more), although the advent of Christmas decorations (all puns intended) has electrified them for the season.

Just another block west on Inglis, on the south side, stands a grandiloquent mansion, replete with three-story round tower, the top of which sports tiny glass panes and must have once housed hothouse flowers. It seems to be a B and B these days. I remember walking in the area last summer and that this place had a lush side garden. When I found the apartment to rent in September, I didn’t notice that I had been in the immediate vicinity before (It was a dark and stormy night when I made the rental). Perhaps that is why it’s been relatively easy to feel at home in the neighborhood: I’d been here before, however briefly and without thought, then, to calling it home for a while.

Not endorsing donairs

November 28, 2007

This morning’s Chronicle Herald ran a front page article about the health department questioning the safety of donair meat. Every pizza joint in town offers donairs, in addition to pizza, and only occassionally sub sandwiches. One place near the corner of Argyle and Bishop is particularly proud of having introduced donairs to Halifax.

Today’s article describes in lurid detail the exact makeup of a donair. A cone of ground beef is cooked on a spit. (Meatloaf on a spit?). Slices are taken from the outside in response to orders, placed on pita and doused with a sauce composed of canned milk, sugar, and “various spices.” Now, clearly my vegetarian/pescetarian status is part of what is getting in the way here but the thought of ground beef doused in canned milk and sugar leaves even my imagination cold…..

Although the middle of the day took me to Sackville, an hour away by local bus, I made it back to downtown to pick up my long awaited cheques. It was 5:30 by the time I got to the mall-located bank and the bank proper was closed (only just) but the lobby receptionist was there and had my cheques. She also answered a question that had never occurred to me until I opened yesterday’s mail:

I received a refund cheque (!) from the phone company [I passed my credit check (cheque?) and therefore got my deposit back] and on the back it indicated that I should endorse it dead center. This running counter to everything my mama ever taught me, and the ever-constricting grid marks provided on American checks (that’s defintiely CHECKS!), I felt I had to ask. The receptionist told me: “Oh, you endorse them wherever you want on the back. Anywhere’s fine.” Hmm.

My trip to Sackville earned me a nugget of science history info: it seems that one of Sackville’s own, a man named Fenerty, is to be credited with inventing paper production that relied on wood pulp. I cannot verify this online tonight, but saw many photos of him today. He looks the usual grim-faced 19th century man-needing-to-pose-a-long-time-for-the-camera, although he is credited with his invention taking place when he was still a teenager.

So, donairs or wood pulp paper? Which is the more noble innovation?

A fine day for transit

November 27, 2007

A warm storm blew in during the night and this morning was a rage of wind and thick rain. I walked to the ferry because standing and wating at any of the bus stops along Barrington (where there are no bus shelters) seemed a less pleasant option. The wind blew my umbrella inside out at least 20 times and yet it survived. No one else seemed to be battling his or her umbrella along the route–and yes, there were other pedestrians–so Canada must make hecka strong brollies.

Although the umbrella helped keep me relatively dry on the head and shoulders and my rain coat reached my knees, my calves were sodden, underneath the corduroy, by the time I got to the ferry. Oh, well, mama said there’d be days like this….

By noon, I was still dampish between knee and ankle but the rain had stopped. My plan for the afternoon was to visit a branch I haven’t reached yet. According to my calculations, it is only a bus ride away but my coworkers were so appalled by the idea that I would take that means that I allowed myself to be talked into a cab ride instead, an effort on my part to keep the peace rather than to avoid trammelling strange waters.

The cabby was grumpier and more protected against his passengers (by voluminous amounts of plexiglass) than any I’ve ever seen. And I’ve ridden in cabs in Oakland, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston–not little backwater comparisons.

The branch visit was delightful and I decided I couldn’t stand a second cab ride in one day so I caught a nearby bus. There was a bus shelter at this point and it even had a display board with routes and schedules–both unreadable due to some hurricane force that had wended into the copy holder and crunched the posting into a good approximation of a roller coaster model. Oh well. When a bus came along tht said “Bridge,” I took it–the bridges in Dartmouth (which is where I was) go to Halifax so at least I’d be headed in the right direction.

When I was a kid, my mother tried to teach me a few things about travelling in new cities. Her most important rules were oft repeated (and so stuck): “If in doubt, eat at Woolworth’s” is now useless advice (except in Britain). But: “If you don’t know where anything is, get on a bus and take it to the end of the route.” Now, I’m sure she seasoned this maxim with appropriate add-ons that wouldn’t have one haring toward the outskirts of town, but I no longer remember the details.

In this case, the advice worked like a charm: the bus went to the Dartmouth side of the Angus MacDonald Bridge and there indeed I could catch a bus across that then headed to Spring Garden Road, just about 10 blocks from my apartment. Home again home again jiggety jig.

Laws of the land

November 26, 2007

People here point to Pete’s Frootique (http://www.petesfrootique.com/hfx_location.asp) as the entity that broke Provincial resolve to maintain Sunday closing laws. Apparently, the law forbid stores over a certain square footage of floor area to be open that day of the week, and enterprising Pete circumvented the intent, though not the letter, by cutting up his grocery into 40-square-ft increments. Cashiers desks ring the place so there is no distinct grid system or funnel. This gourmet grocery cum importer reminds me of a cross between Trader Joe and the Rockridge Market–and defies any such comparisons. Yesterday, I found udon, chocolate covered ginger sticks, and Fairy dish soap, to say nothing of eggplants (the very first I’ve seen here in Halifax).

Locally, the business seems to be referred to simply as “Pete’s” and each time I hear this reference spoken, it excites visions of Peets (http://www.peets.com) in my small brain, but…not quite.

When it comes to coffee here, “everybody” frequents Tim Horton’s (http://www.timhortons.com/), called just “Tim’s,” of course. These are located with a frequency tht gives Starbucks’ ubiquity in the States a run for the money of how many in a block. There’s a major drive-through one about five minutes walk from my apartment and the traffic snarls there can be ugly at 7:30 in the morning.

While Tim’s doesn’t involve laws, to my knowledge, there are some well-defined rules. One is, you tip the person who has just poured your $1.15 cup of coffee. But before you get to the step where the pouring–or tipping–can happen, you have to order in code. This is basically a doughnut shop and the hot drinks are three: coffee, tea, hot chocolate; no lattes, no semifreddos or mochiato floats. But you must recite the number of sugars and creams as you announce the size you want. The order behind me today was “Small single double with milk” which, at this stage of my inculturation, I am pretty sure translates to a small coffee with one sugar and two glugs of dairy product and in this case that product should be milk rather than cream.

On a more serious note, however, Nova Scotia has passed an law in response to the USA PATRIOT Act. The Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act (http://www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/legc/bills/60th_1st/3rd_read/b019.htm) addresses the perceived need to “protect the personal information of Nova Scotians from disclosure outside Canada.” To whit: what you carry across the border in the way of data may be threatened by US Federal snoops.

Canadians prize their privacy, perhaps more than Americans in real terms. When I opened a checking (oops, chequing) account, I was informed that I didn’t even need to get my checks imprinted. It was suggested by the bank officer that my first initial and surname would be as extensive an identification as could be expected in the preprinted department. (On the other hand, it now being more than two weeks since I ordered the cheques, I called to inquire today about their expected arrival. One pays rent here by presenting post dated cheques for each month of the term of the lease so my landlord expects several; the bank officer knew this and so I didn’t explain why I needed them, just that I did. “Oh,” she offered. “They should be here by Wednesday but if not, I can phone your landlord to explain.” Privacy schmivacy.)

And now the explanation of the techno-clumsiness that has pervaded here for the past three weeks: for some reason, my laptop’s software will not cooperate with the linking feature for urls within my postings and so I had given up these directions. But in the interest of Pete’s, Tim’s, Peet’s, and protecting personal info from American snoops, I have taken the awkward step of simply adding the links “long hand,” so to speak. Someday my “real” computer will arrive and then I promise pictures, too.

Informative Twila

November 25, 2007

The unabated social whirl of my weekend continues with Sunday supper with Twila: spaghetti, cheese-loaded garlic bread, and Coors Lite beer. She’s getting ready to move on to her long-promised new job in Ontario, where she’ll be working and training (simultaneously!) as a dental assistant. She’s excited and talkative and I am happy to listen to her Newfie lore.

Among the things I learn:

A wonderous new expression. She tells me about her boss passing along a daughter’s old winter coat for her (as Twila’s are still in Ontario, along with the future job). “It fits me like a smack in the mouth so I’m happy.”

The price of cigarettes. Locally, it’s only $12 for a pack (!) but in Newfoundland, it can be $80-100 for a carton of ten packs.

Housing prices in Newfoundland. Twila’s sister bought a 5-bedroom house for $50,000 and upgraded it all sorts of ways, including the installation of a jacuzzi (hey, that guy was from Albany, California!). She got $80,000 when she put it back on the market, even though it has only an acre of land.

Difficulties finding cheese curd. Twila has “been longing for a good poutine,” but hasn’t been able to turn up cheese curds at the market; “I can’t figure where they’re putting them and I didn’t want to go all the way to KFC. They have a good poutine there, but the closest one’s on Quinpool.”

Come Home Week. Last summer, Newfoundland sponsored a celebration intended to bring back locals who had left for other parts of the world. Apparently it was quite successful. The line to get INTO the bar in Twila’s hometown was a three-hour wait and then it was another hour and a half to get a beer. The potato truck ran out of fries first and then gravy.

So, tomorrow I ahve to find some curds (follow the spider?). it’s true: I shall miss Twila.

Looking at the neighbors

November 24, 2007

Picturesque but non-sticking snow floated in the air this morning. From the sidewalk, I could see that whoever lives directly below me has decorated their picture window with cut paper snowflakes. It’s a fitting bit of winter for a day on which I’ve agreed to go along with some of my new coworkers to see the “Holiday Open Houses” sponsored by the Junior League, an outing they apparently take each year, more for the opportunity it affords to see how people are decorating more generally than the specifically Christmas gegaws.

The first house is in a neighborhood that Bob first pinpointed as one of interest for our move. From the street and living room, it appears to be a traditional bowfronted place, probably about 100 years old. But then the dining room and kitchen and a back parlor addition all share a great space with minimal walling. The bookcases in the back parlor have nothing on them but Christmas stuff and I find it depressing.

The second place, near Point Pleasant Park, isn’t memorable (for me; there are dozens of women trooping through and I am sure it struck some pleasure centers). The third, however, is breath-taking:

Situated on the Northwest Arm, right up on the water and with its own little dock and boathouse, it has great Georgian rooms and lots and lots of stuffed bookcases. Yes, I know this is supposed to be a holiday decoration tour, but that’s always been a hard sell for me. There are books lining walls of the entry and across the lintel leading to the living room, where there is another wall of books—and a window looking out onto the water. There’s a robin’s egg blue sitting room just off that and the dining room beyond that is a true room, not a once-this-was-a-room-but-now-the-walls-are-gone. The fact that the Christmas stuff here seems to have been designed for those not in the spirit delights me: it runs to black feathers and some black and blue sequins. Outside, there’s a gazebo, a small pond, decks at various levels. My companions remark that it has all the comfiness of a waterfront cottage, expanded several-fold and with track lighting.

The immediate neighborhood reminds me a bit of Pacific Grove, along Lighthouse, as one heads into Monterey. There’s the juxtaposition of solid old houses and 1960’s daring. Both the scale—no large lots here on the street side—and the proximity of the water add to the dejá vu.

I’m relieved to get back to the South End, which is only a five-minute drive away. Here the houses are crowded up to the sidewalk and rise in the air like well-leavened loaves baked in deep, narrow pans. To step out the front door here is to be in public immediately. There is a generous sprinkling throughout of true high-rises, as well as a couple of fine but funky apartment hotels built just after balloon architecture was invented in the 19th century. A few triple deckers, and businesses that harken back many decades keep the timeline variegated. The South End Diner and the Olympic Confectionary are straight out of the Twenties or Thirties, ground floor tenants in big multifamily houses. Each one sports a hand-lettered menu in the window and through the doors of each I can see stools on which customers sit to eat their fish cakes and beans, bologna, or scrambled eggs and ham. I’m guessing holiday decorations may appear in these places, too, but that will be next month and they will never make the Junior League’s hit list.

The spirit of being the new kid

November 23, 2007

I probably know about 273 librarians well enough to judge where they would each stand on this. If I were to line them up according to likelihood of being named poinsettia point person for any occasion or system, I would put myself third from the end of the line. (Actually, the librarian who, in my mind, would come in last place passed away several years ago, so that makes me the penultimate in line now).

But that is what I now find that I am. And as my friend Elizabeth would say, my CanDoPig bests my Scrooge. (See “Those Can-Do Pigs,” by David McPhail, or, alternatively, “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens).

Happily, I have inherited a process and a formula for poinsettia acquisition, not merely the job title. Decisions are based centrally by number of floors to be poinsettiaed, and locally by aesthetic desires for small, medium, or large plants. How librarian-like! It seems that we can apply cataloging practices to decoration as well as to the ordering of knowledge.

To further that aspect of the assignment, I created a spreadsheet (using the Christmas Chocolate template someone else has designed; that one uses a formula involving number of staff, of course, rather than building size). This should take some of the romance out of the holiday spirit, but it doesn’t—or maybe I am still back a holiday from the rest of Canada and so it’s just that I’m seeing the details as novel rather than negotiation.

And then the staff newsletter comes out and I see myself in living color on the front—wearing a headdress of felt reindeer antlers (the jingle bells on them aren’t very clear) and brown deer ears. It seems that Christmas spirit isn’t to be negotiated here so, as the picture shows, what can I do but smile?

Thanksgivings past

November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday: the combination of volatile–or at least unpredictable–weather, the abdication of the commercial world, the gathering of people who don’t gather much more frequently and so have interesting communication lines to learn as well as stories to share.

Last year, I spent it in Ventura. In addition to a wonderful feast and good company, there were a few surprises: beautiful sunny weather that wasn’t hot, the chance to walk along a beach and even see a dead sea lion, and finding that there was still a place that hadn’t heard about taking license with business naming. The main street was lined with used good shops raising money for charities and the shops were named for those charities: the Abused Women Shop, the Retarded Children’s Store. I have heard that in the year since, the shops have been renamed and are no longer so blatant in their cause declaration.

As I recall, the tensest Thanksgiving I’ve lived was in 1973. My brother drove to Los Angeles, from Sacramento, to cart me off for the long weekend. It’s never been a short car ride from LA to Sacramento, but this was in a Ford pick up truck (circa 1966) and we didn’t know each other much at all. The only topic of conversation I remember was his trying to convince me to transfer to UC Berkeley. And I remember being self conscious that I had to be polite but not cave. After a night in Sacramento, we drove on for another four hours or so, to Eureka. That’s where his in-laws were hosting the Thanksgiving dinner. And that day was fine, in spite of my being both a stranger and family.

For many years of my childhood, we celebrated the day with friends of my mother, a retired couple named Hill. Their house was furnished in a most spectacular fashion; E. L. Konigsburg could have made a novel of the possibilities. There was a Chinese gong in the dining room. A kind of great hall had been added to the original house and it had a shelf running around all its walls. The shelf, which was a good 6 feet from the floor, held dozens of cuckoo clocks.

Mrs. Hill clearly was the model creator for such Thanksgiving spreads as depicted by Norman Rockwell. I don’t remember any specifics beyond the shrimp cocktail–only that it went on almost endlessly, apparently effortlessly, and with an annual consistency that was itself mesmerizing.

One year, when I was about 15, we ate Thanksgiving dinner at home and invited a couple of my friends, a brother and sister who were trying to avoid dinner with parents who had gone on a drunk. What I remember of that dinner isn’t the menu at all, but the fact that absolutely no one seemed appalled that the meal was served on a tableclothed card table, with a piano bench serving as the sideboard. My mother never did develop an interest in furniture.

For some years in the late 1970’s, I do remember the food as well as the celebration. That was the era of baking little pumpkin pies and taking them on the Green Line into Boston’s more rural suburbs to find a wooded area for brunch. Then, later in the day, after other food groups had been consumed, there would be the spectacular ice cream turkey (chocolate on the outside, strawberry within) from Brookline’s Ice Cream Factory (sadly out of business for at least 20 years now).

One year, when I was living again and briefly in LA, I spent Thanksgiving with pneumonia, not quite miserable enough to be unaware that I was “missing” the holiday.

For some years when my son was young, we celebrated the day communally, with another family. Then there were the couple of years when we had it at our house and I actually had to roast a turkey, a feat I hadn’t tried in in more than 25 years and, not being a meat-eater myself, wasn’t excited about doing. We quickly downsized to drumsticks and a turkey breast, lest I kill us all with undercooked fowl.

And this year, in spite of it being a nonevent locally, it’s really been okay. I’ve realized that Thanksgiving Day, for me, has become my time to sort back through the past year and expect the new, a kind of New Year with lots of side dishes. The sides may be missing this time around, but the conversations were fine today, and there were new sights to see and people to meet. I wore my turkey socks. And I ate an apple at lunch as homage to the Waldorf salad on tables below the 49th parallel. Hey, wait, Halifax is well below the 49th….

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

Klunk, part II

November 21, 2007

Klinq did return my phone call but the news was mixed. Because I have no idea what was ordered to be sent to me, by whom, or even IF any such order was placed, they won’t be looking into that end of the confused delivery. The news for Wilmette is a bit better: because the magical 8-digit order code required by Klinq for them to find lost or misguided orders appears on the packing slip, they will send her a new deskside/bedside carafe.

Then we negotiate how I am going to get the one I now have in possession back to them. My name is taken, but my surname seems to be a challenge and requires me to spell it 16 times; she’s not having trouble understanding the individual letters but rather the syllables I presumptuously declare they form. I’ve already told her that the box has arrived in Canada, but she seems to be cool with sending me a return label and having me get FedEx to pick it up.

And then the penny appears to drop. “CANADA?!” she interrupts me to shriek. “Did you say that you’re in Canada? Well, just forget it! Just keep it! Consider it a Thanksgiving present. Oh, my goodness. You’re in CANADA?!”

I don’t need to reply because she has disconnected with so much haste that I might have just announced that I’m a stalker calling from the next cubicle over. Oh, well. And now I have a pewter deskside/bedside heart carafe…..