Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Stereo types: Notes from a city, three weeks in.

At first glance I didn't think I'd be able to figure anything out. My only thought was sheer panic when I discovered that we really didn't bring enough clothes. Not by a long shot. I had organized for five outfits each, consisting of layers because we arrived here in spring. Summer is coming but the mountains are also RIGHT there, so snowy clothes but also things for a hot sunny seaside-walk kind of day.

Good luck.

Ruth has already lost one sweater, and Ben and I discovered that most of our regular wardrobe fell victim to renovating and construction on our previous house and none of it is city-worthy, for when you look closely you can see flecks of paint, some tiny holes and a lot of wear from spending winters up to our earlobes in hardware and tools. All of this stuff is better suited to the aisles of Home Depot and not trendy Hollywood North, oh no, not at all.

(Henry's only issue is that he averages a size a month in growth and is already out of two outfits completely.)

I learned quickly on to eliminate the prairies entirely from conversations when someone would ask me where I am from and talk about Nova Scotia instead. I learned that a cup from Starbucks in hand here doesn't make you stick out like a sore thumb, it makes you fit in. I learned that I can't afford to shop downtown much at all, unless I stick to mass-market chains because I have no use for D&G jeans or anything that cost more than $50, frankly. I mean, look at what I brought! Obviously I can't be trusted with nice things.

I also learned things about Vancouver that really surprise me. There are places that charge a mint to let a family explore and places right next door to those that are free. Both will be equally fun and equally impressive and equally busy.

I learned everyone here smokes.

I learned that everyone is from somewhere else and no one is fond of the real estate prices here. I learned how to walk uphill and how to navigate an elevator with a small perky dog, a coffee, umbrella, handbag, two children, a bag of groceries and the stupid key fob that must be pressed when the floor button is pressed with some sort of coordinated finesse or you'll end up stuck in the lobby for all eternity.

Which has happened so many times I am ashamed.

And people here love dogs and blondes because both are usually undeniably approachable and I learned that men who drive Rolls Royces and Ferraris are somewhat desperate after a certain age. And no one closes their blinds, EVER, but I may have mentioned that before.

I learned I should have packed a printer and fax machine and a third phone for when I'm waiting for callbacks and I learned that cats will shed for weeks after air travel. On everything.

I learned that no one blinks when a celebrity walks by but traffic will come to a standstill when a group of Japanese girls reaches the corner. Especially if they are in plaid skirts and high heels. Most of them seem to be but I don't see any private schools around here. And I would like them to teach me how to walk uphill in high heels because I can't seem to figure it out on my own.

I learned what DTES really looks like. Now that the Olympics are over, the tarnish has returned along with the people under the Shakespeare windows at the Carnegie Centre. When I am driven past them in my expensive new car I see people shooting up, I see people having bad trips, and people buying more bad trips. I see people organizing their belongings for the night on the sidewalk and I see men dressed like women soliciting for sex on the corner and then you blink and you're driving past Gucci, then Hermes, and then Coach.

It's ironic and frightening and sickening and suddenly part of my life as I lament the state of my wardrobe and fret over how long it took to get the money for the sale of my beautiful castle in a far away land. I can't help them. That much I know. I learned that the emotions that play through me when we drive through are not unique but felt by everyone.

I have learned I can't look at the pictures of my old house yet. I can't allow a second to poke around in the dark corners of my head to try on how I feel now that we've been away from it for twenty-three days. I am too busy getting to know this new place. A place where the pizza and donairs taste just like home and the seaweed smells exactly the same but a place where you can walk on the beach at night and not get mugged and mercifully also not get stared at for that tiny hole in the front of your favorite shirt (but only because it's night time and you're on the beach and all of the pretension has fallen away in favor of the awe of sunset over the water. And because you put on that jacket at the last minute. Face it, Bridget, you have a long way to go, style-wise.)

This is a place where you can raise your eyes to the mountaintops and see snow collecting there while down beside the water you collect sweaters from the children because they are sweating. I am learning. Sweaters before lunch, not after.

Tomorrow I have another list of things to get done, and I'll still be amazed by the fashion and the money and the people who smoke with one arm and hug trees with the other. I'll add to the weekend-list of things to see when Ben doesn't have to work and I'll continue to chip away at things like standing out and blending in and enjoying this new alien landscape where everything is beautiful except for the parts that are ugly. Vancouver is a human being. The water is her heart, the DTES is her worst day spent and the endless money is her passion. What a woman. What a place. What a strange and wonderful place.