shocking that I may be culture shocking so quickly

I am tired. Each evening the symphony of insects eases me into slumber, and each morning the tropical vegetation awakens my senses. As soon as I walk through the station compound, though, I feel I have entered an altered universe. I don’t know how … Continue reading

a field trip to the Arctic Ocean, Tuktoyaktuk

Just as the Mackenzie River delta, the largest in Canada, and second largest in North America diverges in more than one direction, I could write in two directions. Should I tell about my husband’s location or the colour of the water? … Continue reading

what to do in the Land of the Midnight Sun, Inuvik

Seven year old Madelyn remarked, “We don’t do much here, mom. We get up, watch cartoons, do studies, play in the common area, sometimes go to the pool or library, do more studies, eat, read and go to bed. Same thing every day”.

Except for the afternoons at the beach”, I added–though few, because as my usually super optimistic child recounts: “It’s gloomy here.” The ‘beach’ is right behind the hospital. There is a lovely walking path all the way around, but not beach as in sand, rather beach as in gravel.

I can’t resist as I go on: “And do you remember the four seat Cessna trip, one hour chartered flight to the Arctic Ocean, and the guided tour around Tuktoyaktuk?”

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And like that wasn’t enough, “Oh yeah, and caramel steamers at the local café? A super expensive fast food dinner at the The Roost Restaurant? Making bread almost every morning together?” She still wasn’t convinced.

You and your sister get to independently prepare breakfasts on the stove: scrambled eggs and french toast anyone?” It runs counter to my naturally controlling self, but I figure if I get out of the kitchen and leave my kids to their own devices, my kids will learn to cook. Yes, the kitchen will be a disaster, but if I stay in the kitchen, they will only learn to watch.

But that’s just food mom. We can do that at home.”

Yup, we can. But we don’t normally eat this much stuff out of cans. You get to learn to open cans more…” An argument that would only convince for another month or so.

Woo hoo!” sarcasm intended.

How about attending the ice cream social at the Baptist church? Playing with that missionary family that’s heading to Alaska? Or all the playground visits mixing with the, as you call them, ‘non-blond’ kids?” Meeting new kids on a playground is a great way for both kids and mom to meet new friends.

Yeah that was fun.”

How about trips to the gift store, the book store and every other store in town?” Every. single. store. You want to know what people are like in a new end of the world? Head to the grocery store and people watch. Don’t stand in the middle of the produce aisle and stare, mind you. But you’ll get a quick sense of people as they fill their carts with frozen pizzas and Fritos and Cream Soda. 

“Even grocery shopping is an adventure. Do you remember how exciting it was the first time we went to the Northern? “Wow, mom, look how much diapers are!!” Zachary is on the countdown to diaper training. Who can afford diapers at $75 a box?

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We attended a festival day, Parks Day, at Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School and watched aboriginal drummers and dancers. We made visits to the biggest greenhouse in North West Territories, and the Roman Catholic Igloo Church. A lady came from northern Canada and taught us to make muskox wool out of muskox fur at the Northern Arts Festival.” Where is northern Canada if Inuvik is south?

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I think we’ve found a few things to do!

the gondolier

The twenty year veteran Gondolier whistled, I just called to say I love you, as we floated down the Sansiere san Polo.

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This boat really is romantic, travelling between the water corridors around the Grand Canal tipping to the hard right when floating under the bridges at high tide.

Venice is not a tiny island; it is 114 islands and 450 bridges.

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Before 1800 there were no bridges. It originated when Romans were fleeing the Barbarians on the mainland. It is easy for me to get lost, which really doesn’t take much. Even Jim got lost, which is really hard to do since he has an inborn GPS.

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Today the city is populated with 70,000 permanent residents; that’d be about the same size as our hometown.

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This town makes Toronto look unicultural.

We have the Bay and Sears, while Venice has Gucci, Prada, Armani, Armani Jr…better get school shopping done, hee hee.

What our towns have in common is industry, primarily government, if you consider that industry (BTW I really don’t). There is also tourism, he says. No kidding. This very city’s tourism makes the entire country of Italy look like a village.

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The gondolier explained different buildings that individual families lived in these massive homes. He knew the architectural periods, which ones housed scuolas, which were apartment buildings, which ones were too cold and too rotten to inhabit.

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He explained to me that this church was named after Santa Lucia. He had to prevent himself from rolling his eyes when I asked who she was, one of the major patron saints.

He explained that Angelina Jolie filmed in that building for Accidental Tourist. The Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice, is obviously situated here. Popular place!

If you want to eat well, ask a local. The gondolier directed us toward the Il Migliore.

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Prosecco (a bubbly white), risotto with scampi, crunchy bruschetta, and zuppa de verdure were divine.

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Atmosfera: sitting alongside the canal, fishing boat resting beside me, Hispanic quartet of accordions, mouth accordion, and guitar playing When the Moon Hits the Sky, like a big pizza pie…ah, yes, I AM in love.

the jewish ghetto of venice

No one wanted to plan for pesce…the Adriatic sea offerings. But when in Rome… The cuttle fish ink pasta wasn’t in any of our repertoires. The antipasto plate was perfetto: sardines, escargot, octopus, oysters, something resembling an oversized shrimp that covered the length of my plate, calamari (not breaded), and octopus, of course. There was also a mound of tripe? in the center of the plate…if you like fishy-flavoured connective tissue, this is the fish for you. My favourite was the white fish mush…I asked what they called everything, but I didn’t understand all his explanations…But the cod? mashed in a slurry: molto bueno!

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We had to wait till seven, as this is Italian custom (and the ristorantes aren’t open). Combine the fish plate with the verdura—which really was the funghi plate, and the kids were a little underwhelmed at our final dinner in Venice. Papparedelle was an easy winner. With an afternoon gelato around our typical dinnertime, we can accomplish a late dinner though. With all the walking we’ve done, I actually don’t think our waists have absorbed the consequences. The vacanza di camminare.

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Instead of a game of Where’s Waldo, the kids have been seeing a common thread from our culture: Rick Steves’ guidebooks. Take a glance at the book someone is carrying, and you know what country they’re from. They are everywhere. Rick Steves should be proud.

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Today we headed to the museum of the Jewish Ghetto. The holocaust has always been of interest to me, but listening to the tour reminded me I didn’t have my history straight. When the tour guide talked of Napoleon leading the Jews into a few months of segregational freedom, my mind was whirring.

Hannah saddled alongside me: Napoleon wasn’t in World War II mom.

Venice was the site of the first Jewish Ghetto (or foundary) in Europe, in 1516; consequence of the Spanish Inquisition. Gates and bolts were formed around this tightly housed neighbourhood of low-ceilinged apartments on the Easternmost side of this island. Ghetto residents could only leave for short periods with an armband of a yellow circle or heart. For a very few short months, Napoleon Bonaparte declared equality for all mankind; some left that ghetto.

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Twelve years later, they were allowed to build their synagogues; we stood in three of them. They are as ornate as any Catholic duomo, but the Roman Catholic church didn’t give them permission to use the gold that their churches used. There were tiny frescoes crowning the windows, stories in the Book of Exodus. To this day, weddings still take place in the tiny synagogue, reminder that God will maintain his people, no matter how many persecutions they face.

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There was no ghetto in World War 2, of course…not in Venice anyway; 1,200 Jews were already living in Venice at the time. Twenty five percent of them, 246 of the mentally ill, sick or uncared for, were deported: they first travelled to Bologna by train, then sent to Auschwitz. Only eight returned home.

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Today, 504 Jews live in Venice.

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The best place to purchase books for the kiddos on history or science is in these museum bookstores. Of course, this one is primarily Italian, but there is a small section of Inglese, where I found the Jewish approved Diary of Anne Frank. Hannah and I are both engrossed in this adolescent tale. A very different flavor from the recent adolescent hit, Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

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Probably I didn’t get enough museum exposure when I was a kid, hence the passionate interest. My curiosity piques as I see the world through my children’s eyes.