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 we eat in inuvik

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When we take a tour of the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, we discover that in the land of the midnight sun, where permafrost endures throughout the year, things grow, really grow, very quickly…in raised beds of course. Because the northern hemisphere is tipped towards the sun in these summer months, this northerly part of the northern hemisphere is bathed in sunshine. When the old hockey arena is converted into a community greenhouse, it makes for a lot of square footage to grow typical farm garden fare.

After our tour, I bought a fundraising community recipe book, and was eager to discover the northerners recipes for muskox and bison. To my surprise, I discover an international recipe book. How could that be? Inuit and Inuvaliut First Nations primarily populated this area not that many years ago. Along with Canada’s major urban centers of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, Inuvik has become a multinational territory now.

I can find a recipe for Portuguese Chick Pea and Spinach Soup, Won Ton Soup, Vietnamese Salad Rolls, Tabouli, Jahb-Chae (a Korean stir-fry), Poutine, Dum Aloo, Cabbage Rolls, Tuscan Ravioli and even Green Onion Cakes. North West Territories is an international mix. Tis a long way to travel, but for those searching for anonymity, you can find it here.

In my new recipe book, I find a recipe for Fireweed Jelly, Yukon’s territorial flower. And two recipes for bannock, of course. I can also find Teriyaki Muskox, Moose Meatballs, Muskox Hamburgers, and Moose Roast.

When I was at the Northern (the grocery store), I asked where to find fish? Surely I’d find something in the freezer aisle. I’d tasted a delicious Arctic Char back in Dawson City. Do they sell beluga? Or is that just for the Tuktoyaktuk residents? A roll of the eyes from the cashier, and a sharp comment, “Over there”…she pointed toward the Mackenzie Delta. “You want fish, you fish”. Okay, so we won’t be eating fish this summer.

That’s okay, because I can find home packaged plastic baggies of muskox hamburger. Gotta try muskox when you can. Have you tried a muskox ball? An awful lot like regular meatballs, minus the fat. Sorta tastes like moose, but gamier, but definitely as lean. Thankfully the cashier didn’t suggest I hunt for my muskox since the only muskox we’d see was standing upright, stuffed, at the visitor center.

Recipe for Muskox Hamburgers…

Mix 1 lb. ground muskox meat

1 tsp minced garlic

pinch of salt and pepper

one large egg

one cup oatmeal

2 TBS Montreal Steak Spice

Well, that sounds familiar!

Thank you Murray Arsenault. The burgers were delish!

What did the kids think of the burgers? They didn’t even know.

first day in Inuvik

The road turned from gravel to pavement and a huge sign welcomed us into this most northerly town. We curved up the road to the left and there was the colour-blocked hospital sitting atop the hill. A quick stop at the hospital to pick up keys to our summer abode, we instead discover a room was booked for us at the Mackenzie Lodge – after nine days in hotel rooms, we have arrived, and will stay in a hotel room. Our promised two bedroom apartment has become a two bed room.

Unpack the van, reorganize the room – that’s Hannah, Madelyn, and Rachel’s bed (each takes a turn at the end)–luckily they’re all under 9 and small enough for that, and that’s Zach’s corner (the foldable travel crib with two blankies) and this is our bed—my husband closest to the bathroom so he can wake, dress and go to the hospital without waking the rest of us. This would be our new dining room table—the classic hotel ‘desk’ with a small upholstered sitting bench and chair. The kitchen is a bar sink, microwave and bar fridge—thankfully I didn’t leave home without my “kitchen”—a backpack style picnic bag filled with matches, a towel and cloth, scraper, peeler, and anything I absolutely need in my kitchen back home. Was I ever smart to bring that now!

Perhaps there could have been some planning, some forethought for our arrival and accomodations since we did request final arrangements for our summer locum five months ago. Renovations were still being completed on the hospital dormitory style building.

When the hospital cafeteria is a sought after, less-expensive dinner option than any restaurant in town, you know you’re in a northern arctic town. The profundity of pizza pops—even at the cafeteria—cannot be a good sign for this town’s version of healthy eating. But who can avoid it when healthy choices are so darn expensive. Almost a hundred dollars for hamburgers and French fries for two adults and four kids under nine.

We’re making the best out of this though—exercise room down the hall is well-used for an hour and a half during Zach’s nap and the leather sofas in the hotel lobby have become our public sitting room and study zone. Ideal? Mwahaha. Make the best of this? Flexibility r us.

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.

murano, burano and turcello

I’ve brought a wool blanket and stuffed it into my backpack for the boat tour to the Murano, Turcello, and Burrano Islands. We pull our soaked sock feet tied in plastic bags and cover ourselves with the blanket, enjoying the view.

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When we arrive at Murrano, we are shuttled into a showroom, where the glassmakers demonstrate the creation of a glass unicorn. I am feet away from third degree burns. It is warm and toasty; I might be interested all day.

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I am asked if I would like to visit the private showroom upstairs. The girls are with me, Zach off sight from this glass wonderland. As we climb the stairs, I see hand-blown glass, grand chandeliers. There are giant vases and sculptures in all colours. Not something I can bring home in my backpack. He tells me they ship all over the world, at no cost. If I were a collector, I would purchase the Noah’s ark set for Zach, or the Under the Sea dolphin set for Madelyn. In efforts to downsize, this room is not for me. But I smile politely and buy things with my eyes, to store in my memories.

Turcello is my favourite island: I could live here. The water placid and glassy, the overcast capturing this world in an ornamental globe, sitting atop my fireplace mantle. The gelato is really good. The museum is closed, the shops are closed, but there is a playground with trampoline and tire swings, and the children are happy.

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Buranno is as charming as I’m told. Smartie-coloured homes like Inuvik, Northwest Territories, but Italian-style. Enough shops to amuse the tourists, pizzerias, gellaterias. We must get another gelato. The best gelato yet, Nutella-flavoured, stracciateli, chocolate fudge with Nutella. This island is known for its lace, tatted lace, lace runners, baby dresses, tablecloths. It reminds me of our gift opening day. Gift after gift of doilies. It is refreshing that somewhere in the world, this is still appreciated.

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At the end of these five hours, we are all tired. We just want to cuddle in a warm apartment and sleep. First, an hour walk home in the rain.

the merchants of venice: us!

Venice, we are no longer “Under the Tuscan Sun”. You pour down pleasures of aquatic plentitude upon us. We are now Under the Venetian Rainclouds.

This side of Italy is expensive. Where Firense’s gelato was twice Rome’s price, Vennezia requires water taxis everywhere, ten times more than a New York taxi. They say there is a family price available, but they’re talking two adults and two children. We have been told a few times: you make too many children, and for those offended by that notion, keep in mind that there are very few children here.

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The cost is always directly related to demand, of course. 10,000 tourists depart cruise ships to Venice every day! There’s a reason there are endless knickknack shops of Venetian masks and Murano glass and postcards and calendars of the Pope. And why my lot is tired of the crowds!

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Even on this pouring rainy day, Saint Mark’s Square is a lake of umbrellas, which makes for a rainbow of colours. The kids were eager to walk along the ‘tables’ conveniently placed throughout the square, to access the other side of the Duomo. High tides occur every six hours. Venice is familiar with flooding; glad we got to see it before it goes the way of Atlantis.

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When our triple layers were soaked through, we purchased “I love Vennezia” plastic ponchos from the train station. We made a trip back to our Jewish Ghetto apartment to change our socks, tie our feet in plastic bags and tromp out again, to a water ferry toward San Marcos and a guided tour of the Grand Canal.Italia 2013 166

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We learned that Lord Byron lived here. He didn’t like boats, so he swam everywhere. That’s an alternative I suppose.  A little tricky for a mom of four, unless you’re a duck.

We learned that Wagner (pronounced Vogner), musical writer and performer, when not performing could be found at the world’s oldest casino in downtown Venice. No after-hours outdoor activities for us.

The kids were most curious to learn about a man that was hung from a downtown square for having served great soup—finger food meant something different to this fellow. He was discovered to have stewed human body parts; a finger was found. I am less fond of this tidbit of trivia.

Hannah says she misses home for the food. The pasta? The cioccolota? The gelato? Perhaps the simplicity of home.

I am not there yet, as I could really live on this food. Last night we went to Turista Centrale…okay, that’s not the name, but it was right beside the famous Rialto Bridge, cheap tables with plastic chairs, a menu with HAMBURGERS and polish sausage on it, with pics, so you can just point. AIY. And to my embarrassment, each of the kids ordered hamburgers or hot dogs. This is a sign that this trip is nearing an end!

not under the tuscan sun

Not Under the Tuscan Sun any more…that thunderstorm last night sounded like it might take our nine year old casa down the mountain.

But the final quiet day preceding it in Toscana brought us to an art showing (a group from United States were touring France and Italy), took us on another hike around the farm, reading a few more chapters of the Castle in the Attic with the kids…and prepping for the next day’s travel.

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There’s nothing more boring, yet more mind blitzing, than sitting in a foreign train station, Siena to be specific, for a few hours on a rainy day AND trying to fend off creepy Italian twenty-something pickpockets. Hannah says we should buy knives…they’re eyeing dad every move he makes, watching our bags, following us into the bathrooms and around the station. I know our reactions are too subdued for fending them off with knives, but still we are on high alert.

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I won’t overwhelm you with a half dozen toilet stories, but I could. Okay, I won’t, but these stories mark a most unpleasant addition to an already unpleasant day.

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Trying to find something to amuse the kiddos, in Italian…

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Things you can buy in the train station…play automatic guns, AK 47…

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We had nothing to do but wait, so we found somewhere to sit, in a pizza shop. What we did find in the Firenze station was THE BEST PIZZA we’ve eaten in Italy, in a chain restaurant named Alice. I don’t prefer a white, baked pita crust for my pizza, and they seem to be everywhere here. The toppings are sparse, and I like my funghi, but I do not like my canned funghi. Of course their salami or prosciutto offerings are divine. I think the best pizza I’ve eaten the last few months is (call me crazy) Pizza Hut (aren’t they proud?) OR a little café in Kaslo, in the British Columbia Kootenay mountains.

This was a truly boring day. A long day, filled with nothing. We do so little, yet we feel so tired.

Arriving at the Santa Lucia train station downtown Venice, we head to the church next store to meet the Italian fellow letting us our Jewish Ghetto apartment across the bridge. Another adventure begins…