Thursday, July 15, 2010

You can't go home again

Oh, my darling Toronto, I've been gone not six weeks and what has become of you? I returned last Thursday for a week to find my favourite bookstore gone, one of my most frequented restaurants trashed and burned, my former employer 1.5 publications and 20 people thinner, and my friends jumping at any sight of an unmarked van. Oh yeah, and then there was that earthquake...

That some of this was no surprise made the other bad news harder to bear. I found myself a tourist in my old town, naked without the bill-paying and other demands on my time that stymied me while a resident (still easier than wandering rootless in New York, where I am just a tourist with a local phone number). I would have felt better if I could have dropped in on Pivot for (not that) old times' sake, but they're off for the month. At least the Scream Literary Festival went off without a hitch, and that people are still drinking and fighting as ever. Next year I shall attend as a member of the paying public, and my liver will thank me.

The fundamental point here is that I loathe change, when I am not its agent. That cities are alive is what I love about them, and a bit of death and decay only makes room for new growth (if only the new wasn't so often in the form of branded collaborations and pre-fabricated real estate), and none of this would have been any easier to take had I been around to witness it firsthand. So maybe it's not the change, but the insult to my ego that my old room won't be preserved just as it was when I left it. Sniff.

Thanks to Jenny, Aaron, Elisabeth, Luke, Lindsay, Allison, Em et al for couches, hugs, frisbees, one-speeds, slow dances -- all salves to the scabby little wounds on my heart.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New Yorkers pay more tax than Swedes

So Mr. O got his very first paycheque today. Considering we've been here for a month now, we were pretty excited about it. Let's just say that Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket wasn't all we'd hoped it would be.

New Yorkers pay 45% of their income in federal, state and municipal tax. That'd be okay if, say, in return people here received universal health care, or day care, or subsidized post-secondary education. Okay, to be fair, a monthly pass on the MTA is only $85, compared to $121 for a TTC metropass. And sure, there's a lot of grass to be mowed in Central Park, and all those bike lanes to be installed and then sandblasted off again in Williamsburg, and oh yeah, a few good wars to pay for. I am all for paying teachers and sanitation workers and judges and engineers, they do good and important things. But Iraq? Ugh, I feel so dirty.

But 45%?! Seriously? I thought this was the land of the cash grab, of laissez-faire and free markets? You know, pay less in tax and give that money right to the grubbing insurance companies -- I mean, private sector. Really, we made more on less in Canada. And the Medicare and Social Security contributions are money that, as non-resident aliens, I am quite certain we shall never see again, even if we require health care or social benefits. The next time somebody refers to Finland as a socialist state I'm going to shove a W-4 up his or her nose.

I feel a Michael Moore moment coming on, maybe I'll put on a fat-suit and go stand at the border with a bullhorn, shouting "It's all a marketing scam, you've been tricked!" But that's probably because I'm the immigrant who's been tricked; this is probably something all of you knew, saw it in a Michael Moore movie or something. 

P.s. I am really not in a Canada Day mood this year, but I am making a maple syrup glaze for the fish tonight. That'll have to suffice.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Reading Brooklyn

Brooklyn is famous for its writers, and my 'hood is no exception. Marianne Moore lived around the corner from me on Cumberland, and Richard Wright lived on Carlton (echoes of Toronto in the street names). Even the old beard himself, Walt Whitman, helped establish Fort Greene Park, where just this morning I was sweating in the hellish humidity. From that vantage point, Wally could see the Manhattan skyline, and no doubt the passenger ferries that scuttled back and forth from there to the rump of Long Island, immortalized in his Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious
          you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning
          home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to
          me, and more in my mediations, than you might 

Oh, Walt, you clever dog. Nothing extends the shelflife of a poem like a shout-out to your future readers. Your poem has outlived the ferry itself, replaced by the bridge of Moore's lesser-known poem "Granite and Steel," which now has a fancy bike lane and a new pedestrian park, in the construction of which no workers gave their lives -- a fact that doesn't detract from the appeal of the thing one bit, its equal parts rationality and romance intact:

Untried expedient, untried; then tried;
way out; way in; romantic passageway
first seen by the eye of the mind,
then by the eye. O steel! O stone!

More recently, my little corner of the borough has housed and homed the likes of Colson Whitehead, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jennifer Egan, Nelson George and Amitav Ghosh. While I can't say I've met these people personally, I probably wouldn't recognize them if I had, and besides, I prefer to read writers' work than see their faces. (For those who prefer the latter, there are some stalkerish Google maps that pinpoint the addresses of Brooklyn literati like the Foers, Lethems, Krausses et al, but you won't find a link to it here.)

To that end, I have been frequenting my local indie bookstore, Greenlight, and have left with goodies made in Fort Greene like Whitehead's The Colossus of New York (which, to those sensitive to cadence, is alternately waves and elephants crashing on the beach) and Sag Harbor, Egan's Look at Me, poet Laureate Tina Chang's Half-Lit Houses, Lorrie Moore's Birds of America and Anagrams (I know, I'm slow) as well as some other thematic curiosities like Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind.

Pop quid pro quo: Who are your favourite Brooklyn writers, or favourite novels/poems/stories of New York? I really have nothing better to do than to read them.

*My pretty 1960 paperback Rinehart & Co. edition of Leaves of Grass is marked New York - Toronto, further proof of Whitman's foresight.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Degrees of separation

Repeated immigration is an effective way to mark the passage of time. I know exactly where I was and what I was doing in November, 2001, September, 2003, August, 2007, and so on, and gauge everything else by those markers -- including how long it's been since I, say, watched a Eurovision Song Contest live on television. Caught up like the rest of Finland in the worldwide phenomenon that was Lordi, I had even gone so far as to break my moratorium on freelancing (copywriting is overpaid and makes you lazy) and pitch the continental explosion of unabashed nationalistic fervour and bad taste to a magazine back home (they didn't bite).

So I'm ashamed to say that what with all the recent excitement, I entirely forgot about Euroviisut (as the Finns say) until I cracked open my copy of the New Yorker (shut up) this morning to find a fucking hilarious article on this year's contest by Anthony Lane. A taste:
"A deranged Estonian pianist smacked his keyboard with one raised fist, like a butcher flattening an escalope of veal. A pair of ice-white blondes, one with a squeezebox, decided to revive the moribund tradition of oompah-pah--or presumably, because they were Finnish, oom-päa-päa [sic]. A Belgian boy came on to croon 'Me and My Guitar,' otherwise known as 'Him and His Crippling Delusion....A smirking Serb of indeterminate gender, wearing a tailcoat, sang flat, hiccupping now and then for dramatic effect. Order was at first restored by Marcin Mrozinski, from Poland, who was backed by five demure women in national dress, and then destroyed as two of the women tore the white blouse off the third, to reveal a sort of peasant boob tube. An old Eurovision trick, this: the mid-song strip, timed to coincide with musical fatigue."
I could go on. Of course, Lane is British, and states this from the outset, because while people there feel about it much like I imagine Americans feel about, say, White Castle, a disgusting yet irresistible part of their national landscape, it is absolutely verboten for anybody outside the EU to diss Eurovision. All the same, the Brits are EV snobs, and, oh, never mind. The whole point of this (just typed "pint") is to say that I'm realizing how this move to the U.S. feels like I'm one step farther away from Finland, where, by the time I left, I'd spent as much time as in my precious Toronto. Adding to the uncanny effect is the media buyout of this (June 28) issue of the New Yorker by Canadian advertisers, to draw attention north to the G8, an event that is, IMHO, even more ridiculous than Eurovision.

One of the things people ask when they learn I lived in a foreign-speaking country for that long is, How is your Finnish these days? While based in sheer interest (or politesse), surely, for me it's a humiliating question: given that I have occasion to use Finnish outside Finland approximately once a year, when addressing Christmas cards to family there, "my Finnish" is suffering. I've resorted to carrying around my Finnish-English dictionaries, each of which weighs approximately as much as a two-year-old human child, from apartment to apartment as penance, in hopes of maybe coming across a word that needs translating.

Even Mr. O is losing the Finnish fever that attacked him so near-fatally in our first years in Toronto (to be fair, he did admit he would rather have made such a move as a younger man, before he was so set in his ways). Over the last few months, with New York on the horizon, he made overtures to our future return to Toronto, or Canada in general, a permanent settlement which he once in an argument accused me of holding behind my back like a secret plot or an ace of spades. I offered to put it in writing that such plot did not exist, and that Finland was certainly a first choice should we ever have kids that needed to be educated, for instance. I mean, who could deny a child such a cultural cornucopia as the lyrics to Latvia's 2010 entry "What For?":

I've asked my Uncle Joe
But he can't speak
Why does the wind still blow?
And blood still leaks?
So many questions now
With no reply
What for do people live until they die?
Only Mr. God knows why
(But) His phone today is out of range.
In closing I'd like to announce that Mr. O got his SSN card yesterday, which brings with it many happy things including a paycheck and a large dose of relief that somehow motivated me to start up this blog again after thinking about it for weeks. We're going to celebrate by getting blasted on vodka and eating meatballs and herring with a good Finnish friend at a Nordic restaurant tomorrow night, in honour of Juhannus or midsummer, an unforgettable Finnish holiday. Kippis.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

After all that, aliens

As may be evidenced by my six-month absence from this blog, I've never been one to sit still. So after almost three years in Canada, we have up and moved to the one place I never thought I'd live.

It was a hard decision, really. We were getting pretty comfy in Toronto, moved into a three-bedroom place in the west end, had a few excellent projects underway, when Mr. O gets a call -- or tweet, as is the fashion these days -- from an agency in New York City. It was a great opportunity for him, a shop with a spotless reputation and a position that he'd been looking for all over TO and never managed to find. It also meant I could quit my admittedly solid, even promising but not perfect, full-time job and step off into the unknown, a prospect which, since I'd turned 30, had been lingering in the back of my mind but that I'd never have the guts to do without a good hard kick in the ass.

On the other hand, we were -- and are -- highly suspicious of the piss-poor health care system, unregulated work hours, and all the uprooting and postponing of our regularly scheduled lives that such a move would entail. I've been to New York often enough to see through the glamorous black patent sheen to the rats and poverty beneath. I am too old for clubs and too poor for fashion. And I had worked to build wonderful, amazing, inspiring friendships and a future in Toronto that make up for any non-Big-Apple-ness of that city.

I was and am incredibly proud of Mr. O for being recruited, and from the outset promised to support him if he decided he wanted to follow the dream job. Even if we didn't stay, it is the kind of thing that pimps a CV forever. Even my mom didn't say "Don't go." So after months of late-night debating, lurking on Craigslist, swearing at lawyers (behind their backs, natch), Skype courting, an intense day of in-person interviews, a botched counter-offer from a Toronto firm which shall remain nameless, a few surprise coups, one brief crying bout, two resignations, two permits and a tequila-soaked layer cake of farewell parties, we put our furniture in storage, packed up a U-haul, force-fed the cats some Baby Gravol and hit the road. In a torrential downpour. At 1 a.m.

The border was a breeze, deserted and creepy at 3 a.m. We had an inventory of goods, health certificates for the cats, a questionable liquor limit, but the staff were more concerned with staying dry to worry about scrubbed yessir kids like us. Thankfully too, because our ragamuffin cat Layla started puking in her carrier before we left Toronto city limits, and by the time we got to the New York border was drooling and moaning and foaming at the mouth like Cujo. (Nota bene: when the vet says test out the Gravol beforehand, test it out.) We eventually threw a jacket over the two of them -- Moyo was relatively unbothered by the whole thing! -- which seemed to help.

On the New York side, the frequency of Tim Hortons franchises made us wonder if we'd really left Canada. Weak and sentimental, I ordered one last small double-double in a sad, shuttered, pothole-riddled and totally soaked roadside attraction manned by a lobotomized teenage blonde. The magical disembodied GPS man carried us pretty much the whole way, despite a minor cock-up that took us on and off the toll-road a few times and right through the centre of Syracuse during morning rush hour.

The drive south from Syracuse was surprisingly scenic, winding through a valley where the Susquehanna river meets the Chenango. South of Binghampton the view was marred by the incredible amount of roadkill; I think I counted 15 dead deer from there through Pennsylvania. We waved hello to Dunder Mifflin and veered east again, blasting the radio and the AC to keep ourselves awake as the traffic got thicker and faster. We survived Jersey, made it through the Holland Tunnel, along Canal and across the Manhattan bridge to Brooklyn. Home. For now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Canada, manly monarchist country?

The current Canadian administration is obviously compensating for something. Its new guide for immigrants who wish to become citizens of our apparently overly femmy, tree-hugging land, Discover Canada, puts a heavy emphasis on characteristics most people had assumed had gone out with disposable dresses and EZ Bake ovens, stuff like The Queen and the (glory days of the) Canadian military. That oughta make them feel right at home.

I say we make our own guide, where the Queen lives at Church and Wellesley and the military is largely found recovering from PTSD in hospitals across the country, with substandard social and health benefits. Hey, if people are going to go through the trouble of moving here and getting a passport, the least we can do is be honest with them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

No pay no way

The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that sponsors are not automatically responsible for debts incurred via their immigratory (?) sponsored relatives social support, the Globe and Mail reported today. Instead, sponsors should be given a moment to explain themselves, in the name of procedural fairness.

I'm all in favour of fairness, but it's not like sponsored aren't warned ahead of time. I was beaten over the head with reminders about the potential costs of sponsoring Mr. O.

A way to reduce this cost to the governments (the benefits of immigration notwithstanding) is to provide new immigrants with an open work permit, so they can, you know, get a job while waiting 24 months for their papers to come through. Just sayin'.