Category Archives: life

O Canada: 7 Things I Love About Canada

Happy Canada Day (plus one) to all of you!

maple leaf

Copyright Siri Paulson, 2011

I’ll be the first to tell you that Canada isn’t perfect. In fact, we Canadians sometimes have an inferiority complex. But we also tend to forget how great a country we live in, or at least we forget to stop and celebrate it.

Here, then, are just a few of the things I love about Canada and Canadians…

7. The way we say “sorry” constantly. I bumped into you? Sorry. You bumped into me? Sorry. I swear we say it more often than “eh”.

6. The cleanliness of our cities and streetscapes. Having travelled widely, I can tell you…it’s unusual. Some places don’t have traffic lights, or clear sidewalks, or garbage-free streets. I’m grateful that we do.

5. Our quiet national pride and patriotism. We’re not much for flying flags and strutting our stuff, but if you ask us? We’ll tell you that we believe in this country of ours.

4. Our diversity, and our commitment to being an accepting nation. Here’s one very small anecdote: Yesterday there was a street party in my neighbourhood because Argentina won their match at the World Cup. Last week Mexico and Brazil both won matches the same afternoon, so we had TWO street parties, alternating, for blocks. Yes, multiculturalism is our thing. We’re also cool with different religions and different sexual orientations, and that makes me proud too.

3. Our health care. And our other social services. Again, these are far from perfect, but when we look at some of the alternatives…we’re grateful.

2. Our wide-open natural spaces, from the prairies to the forests to the mountains to the tundra…and the ways we have found to (mostly) use them without destroying them.

1. Our people. Canadians are known for being nice. We take pride in it. And hey, as a defining national characteristic, that’s not bad!

 

Your turn! What do you love about Canada? If you don’t live here, what’s your impression of Canada?

 

Exploring Jodhpur, The Blue City

Click to enlarge!

The Blue City. Click to enlarge!

It’s time for another travel post! I love sharing these with you because it means I get to go over my photos and reminisce. Hope you guys enjoy them too.

Today I’m revisiting Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. It’s known as the Blue City…for obvious reasons. (The state of Rajasthan also has a Pink City (Jaipur), a Golden City (Jaisalmer), and unofficially a White City (Udaipur).) And yes, the riding pants are named after the city.

My travelling companion and I took the train from Jaipur, sharing a compartment with an elderly woman, her daughter-in-law, and her young grandson. We were glad to be with them because the stop announcements were nonexistent, even in Hindi. Signs in the stations are generally in both Hindi and English, so you can get on the right train at the right platform, you just can’t necessarily get off at the right stop unless you happen to spot the sign going by.

View from the train

View of rural Rajasthan from the train — looks pretty dry, doesn’t it?

A man from our hotel met us at the train station. We almost walked right past him because we’d gotten so used to ignoring people trying to sell us stuff. (Later, back in New Delhi, we projected such an air of being experienced travellers, or something, that nobody at the station even bothered to approach us.)

We’d been travelling through some very intense places for the past week, so we spent our first day in the Blue City just relaxing at the hotel. Like many hotels in Rajasthan, it had an open-air restaurant on the roof — obviously this is a place that doesn’t get rained on much!

Both our room and the restaurant had nice wicker furniture, but the hotel wifi was stronger in the restaurant, so we spent a lot of time upstairs, hiding in the shade from the intense semi-desert sun.

We did leave the hotel to go to dinner down the street. On the way we found dodgy sidewalks, lots of motorbikes, and the alarming fact that after dark, all the local women disappear off the streets. I didn’t notice at first, but every single person we interacted with in public throughout northern India — at hotels, at restaurants, in stores — was male.

(Rajasthan is known as a backwards state, even for India…and it gets more so the farther in you go. Just as a surface example, we hadn’t seen any women in Western clothing after leaving New Delhi and Agra, larger cities where women have more freedom. In fact, we started seeing women with veils over their faces — not opaque veils but sheer ones that matched their saris. This part of India is heavily Hindu and partly tribal, so it’s not a Muslim thing, but I bet it comes from the same impulses.)

The next day we set out to explore the fort (of course). Jodhpur is dominated by Mehrangargh Fort, dating to the 15th century and every inch a fortress. I mean, just look at this:

Mehrangarh Fort, Jaipur

(Lots more pictures behind the jump!)

Continue reading

Touring the Forts and Palaces of Jaipur, India

Amber or Amer Fort

Amber or Amer Fort

Picture a city in the dry lands of northwest India, surrounded by arid hills. This was once a land of many warring cities led by rajahs — hence the name of the state, Rajasthan — and they’ve left their mark.

Each city has a fortified palace, sometimes several. Most are in excellent condition, preserved by the dry air. They are empty of furnishings, but they look as if their owners have just moved out and may yet return.

In the meantime, they are a favourite haunt of tourists, both local and international. (Read my post on the best of Rajasthan for more.)

Jaipur, the Pink City, location of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Rajasthan. For one thing, it’s the closest to New Delhi. For another, the city and its surroundings are host to not one but seven forts and palaces…

(Click through for lots more photos!)

Continue reading

Winter Elegy

My father passed away eleven years ago this week, at the tail end of an unusually frigid winter much like the one we’ve just had.

I don’t know which season was his favourite, but he relished each of them. He didn’t fear or curse the cold — he took us cross-country skiing and walking in the snow whenever he could, until that last winter that he spent sick, in and out of hospital. We drove on icy roads and trudged in winter gear from the parking lot to visit him.

I wasn’t thinking about it then, but I suspect that’s when I began to hate winter.

For a long time he didn’t know it would be his last, only that he was very sick…and he was never sick. But he knew the possibility was there. He was not afraid.

When I was young, I used to love playing in the snow. Building forts, sledding, pretending I was an Arctic explorer or a princess in an ice castle (the budding writer at work). Later I tried skating and snowshoeing. Cross-country skiing was always my favourite, the clean sound of the skis in the snow, the glorious sensation of flying, the sleeping trees and pure white all around. I’ve done some of those things since he died, but nowadays I mostly just trudge.

On the day of the funeral, the winter finally broke, with a sky of clear Alberta blue, meltwater running in the cemetery. I like to think it broke for him, but then he didn’t mind the snow. Maybe it broke for us.

Even now, at this time of year I get melancholy. I still like a clean snowfall, crunchy snow and a clear winter sky, but as the season wears on, it wears at me too. I wait out the last cold days, just enduring the late-winter storms. Waiting for March to pass and spring to arrive, and life to come again.

 

The Best of Rajasthan, India

One of the most popular tourist destinations in India is the state of Rajasthan. Fortified palaces, arid landscapes, rich curries…all conveniently close to the capital of New Delhi, where most international travellers first arrive. I spent six weeks in India last year, with a good chunk of that in Rajasthan — and I still just scratched the surface of what this state has to offer.

Arch in Udaipur

Arch in Udaipur

Here, then, are the do-not-miss experiences:

1. Trains

Riding the train in India is quite the experience — it is by turns exciting, confusing, stressful, and fun. (For more, see Guide to Train Travel in India.) But if you’re going to do it, Rajasthan is the place to do it in. Most of the major cities are a reasonable six-hour ride apart, with signage and announcements in English as well as Hindi.

If you’re really pressed for time, try riding the Golden Triangle — New Delhi to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) to Jaipur (which will give you a quick glimpse of Rajasthan) and back to Delhi. These are all fairly short rides, with no worries about security on overnight trains, and you’ll get a little taste of the vast Indian train system.

2. Forts

The forts of Rajasthan deserve their own post. For now, I’ll just say that if you love old architecture or are a history buff, these are not to be missed. (For a quick primer on Indian forts, see Visiting the Red Fort in New Delhi.)

There are many fine forts (really fortified palaces) to visit, each with unique charm and character. If I had to pick two to recommend, it would be Amber Fort near Jaipur, with its gorgeous surroundings, many courtyards, and beautiful decor…

Amer Fort near Jaipur

…and Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, with its towering walls, intricate detailing, and museum showcasing items from the time of the rajahs (most of the other forts are simply empty):

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Did I mention this was my favourite part of Rajasthan?

More pictures after the jump…

Continue reading

Me and the Taj Mahal

This week I’m back to travel blogging. I’d like to tell you about one of the most amazing experiences from my three months in Asia — visiting the Taj Mahal.

Of course, I’d seen the Taj Mahal in photos many times over. But seeing it in person, actually being there, took my breath away. It left such a deep impression that the only way I can convey the experience is through a story…

(And my own photos. Click to enlarge.)

You wake to darkness, well before dawn. The rickshaw driver you hired yesterday, a small imp of a man named Shabbu, told you that dawn was the best time to go. So here you are, getting dressed in the dark and stumbling downstairs in the pitch-black guesthouse because the power is out, again. It’s February and cold. You’re wearing all your clothes.

Shabbu drives you through streets empty of traffic, but not of people. Early-rising locals drift through the predawn mists, wrapped in odds and ends of shawls. There is an echoing absence of sound, of the constant honking you’ve grown to expect in your short time in India. It looks like the apocalypse.

Shabbu lets you out near the great walls that surround the gardens. You cannot see the Taj Mahal beyond, only the lineup, other foreigners waiting. The line is long and dawn is coming. You start to worry about missing the moment of greatest beauty.

Finally you reach the head of the line. There is a security patdown — segregated by gender — and then a scanner for your bags. You have your small laptop with you, unwilling to leave it in your room at the guesthouse. They explain you can’t bring it in. Only the camera. There are lockers down the road. You’re turned away.

You panic. Stress turns to tears. But you go, as you must. The lockers are guarded, after a fashion, and you leave the bag because there is nothing else to be done.

Back at the gates, the lineup has dissipated, everyone already inside. You push through, cross the outer courtyard, pass through the immense gatehouse, and catch your first sight of the Taj Mahal.

And nothing else matters.

Taj Mahal 4

It emerges from the dawn mist, pearly pink and ethereal, almost shimmering.

You lose all your words.

You’ve rented an audioguide but you can’t listen, eventually turning it off. All you can do is drift closer, speechless, eyes fixed on the most perfect, beautiful, glorious building you’ve ever seen.

Taj Mahal 3

There are other people around, other buildings in the complex, reflecting pools along the long straight path from the gatehouse, but they don’t matter.

It takes you a long time to reach the Taj Mahal. You keep stopping to gaze, to take pictures. Finally you reach the base of the marble pedestal upon which it sits. You don slippers they give you to protect the marble.

(Indian visitors ascend the pedestal a different way. Slippers aren’t included in their — much cheaper — entrance fee, and they must pay separately if they wish to go up. This is a little alienating, this segregation, though it makes sense that they’re charged so much less. Westerners are unbelievably wealthy in comparison.)

Taj Mahal 6

Up close, the building is even more beautiful. The curve of the arches is perfection itself, but now you can see that each arch is lined with Arabic writing inlaid in the very marble. You can’t imagine the level of skill required. The arches soar higher than you expected, but the building itself is smaller.

Taj Mahal 5

You enter the building.

It’s immediately clear that this is a tomb. The interior is a small octagonal room, full of hushed echoes. At the very centre, protected by a marble screen, sits the cenotaph or “empty tomb” of Mumtaz Mahal, the woman beloved of the emperor Shah Jahan, for whom all this was built.

Beside her cenotaph sits the emperor’s — the only thing that disturbs the precise symmetry of the garden and the building. (In the tradition of the Mughal Empire, their bodies lie in an underground crypt where they will not be seen.)

Outside once more, you circle the building on the marble pedestal.

Taj Mahal 8

It is symmetrical, identical in all four directions, down to the slender minarets on each corner of the pedestal. On the far side you discover the Yamuna River, still hazy with morning mist.

Taj Mahal 7

You linger still, because now you discover something else. The Taj Mahal changes as the light shifts. You circle it watching the shadows in the arches, watching the marble change to golden yellow and then pure white as the sun rises overhead.

Taj Mahal 9

The dawn crowd has dissipated and the tour buses on day trips from Delhi are arriving by the time you finally tear yourself away. You walk away slowly, still half dreaming, glancing repeatedly over your shoulder to catch a few last precious glimpses.

Taj Mahal 1

You will never forget.

If you liked this post, you can find more tales and photos from my travels here.

Housekeeping and ROW80 Update

Hello, all! I had an unexpected Internet outage over the weekend, and my connection was only restored yesterday. It’s good to be back.

First, a couple of quick housekeeping notes…

The latest installment of my fantasy serial “Still Waters Run Deep” is now posted at Turtleduck Press. In case you’ve forgotten or are new here, this is a story loosely based on Thailand. The current installment is the second-to-last one, so it’s a good time to start reading if you haven’t already. Part 1 is here. The whole thing is free…enjoy!

Second, this week I’m blogging about being a late adopter, also at Turtleduck Press. There’s a good discussion happening in the comments, so please do come on over and weigh in if you have time.

ROW80 Writing Updates

Once again, Real Life was seriously distracting (more about that below). I logged 2.25 hours of writing, consistent with what I’ve been doing throughout most of January. (My total for the month was just under 11 hours.) It’s really not where I want to be — so resisting that self-talk is getting harder. I need to figure out how to get self-talk working for me instead of against me.

This week I’ve logged 0.5 hours so far. More tomorrow, I hope.

Renovation Updates

I mentioned I had an Internet outage. That, and other technical problems tangentially related to the renos, pretty much ate the weekend…and thus, all my writing time. I’m getting really frustrated. Must find a way to write more (and stop talking about writing more).

However:

  • flooring has been done (full disclosure: not by us)
  • paint colour is chosen and painting has been done (also not by us)
  • living room, dining room, and porch have been decluttered (by us!) and they look great — still awaiting some nice decor touches, but at least they have more space now
  • junk (from above rooms and elsewhere) has been taken away
  • much research has been done on curtains, blinds, and similar
  • another trip to the home improvement store has happened

Woot woot! Renovations aren’t finished, and there’s still a lot to do, clean, choose, buy, and so on even after the renovations themselves are done, but I think now we can slow down. Which means more writing ohgodIhope.

I’m also hoping to get back to doing Monday books-movies-and-media posts here on the blog, because I’m having Thoughts about things other than my own life and I’m lost without the ability to natter on about them. But in the spirit of Project: Making Space, I need to remember that blogging is an “extra” and writing fiction isn’t.

So I’m upping my goal a bit and aiming for 3.5 hours this week. I’d love to hit 15 hours for February. It’s still far from where I want to be, but at least it’s headed in the right direction!