Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When in Rome...

We were sitting in the piazza just in front of the Duomo in Milan when someone on a bike approached my son and asked him for money. My son was 6 years old. Needless to say, my son was not only unsure as to what the man was asking for - Liam didn't speak Italian, he was also frightened. The latter was due to the fact that when Liam did not reply, this stranger on a bike became very agitated, and began to gesture wildly, as Italians are often wont to do. I approached the man on the bike and asked him to leave my son alone. He then began to swear at me quite loudly, which then agitated me. Now, having seen this fellow scare my son, and then try to do the same to me was more than I was willing to let go. I responded in like, which was not the best way I could have dealt with the issue, and my tirade brought about two responses. The guy on the bike screamed louder and then finally rode off, and my wife let me know in no uncertain terms how she felt about the whole situation. The moral of the story is to make sure your wife isn't around when you start swearing in a foreign language that she understands... no, just kidding. The moral of the story is that you should take the high ground, be an example to your kids, and keep your wife happy by walking away.

This particular blog entry was inspired by an article on MSN about scams that people will pull on unwary travellers. I have travelled several times to Europe, and I lived in England for a couple of years. These experiences have taught me a few things. For example:

Again in Milan, my son and I were walking out of a market stall by the Duomo and a rather tall fellow walked up and offered to give Liam a free bracelet. I put my hand out to gesture no and before I knew it he had tied a bracelet on my wrist and was cutting off the extra string with a pair of nail clippers. Once he had done so, he then asked for a "donation" for his starving family in Africa. Liam, bless his soul, wanted to help out and pulled out his change purse which was full of coins, (low denominations) and the guy told him that he would take the whole thing. I handed the fellow a few coins from my pocket and told my son to put his money away. I learned that from that point I would just say no, and keep my hands at my sides. By the way, I still have the bracelet.

Once, while I was in Napoli, I was leaving the Circumvesuviana, a train that has stops around the volcano Mt. Vesuvius, and entering the train station at Napoli. I went to pull out my ticket for entrance into the statione and discovered, when I put my hand in my back pocket to get the ticket, that there was already a hand in there. I was surprised because I didn't feel a thing, and I thought I was savvy enough to be aware of being pick pocketed. The person on the other end of the hand pulled it out of my pocket and walked quickly away.

At a train station in Rome, one enterprising fellow grabbed one of our suitcases and started running. He yelled back at me to follow him and that he would find us a place for my family to sit on the train. I am a big fellow. I was wearing a backpack and I was more concerned about our belongings than any innocent people I might have barreled into while trying to keep up with said belongings. My wife and son did their best and managed to keep up with us and apologize to everyone in my wake. True to his word, the man with our bags did find us a berth on the train. The people who now found themselves sharing said berth were less than happy, but after some polite banter and a fast paced game of scopa, we won our place in their hearts and had an enjoyable trip. What about the guy who found us this place on the train? He demanded several hundred euros for the service, but walked away with only ten, which I still felt was too much for a service that was not requested, nor required.

Travelling is, in my opinion one of the best experiences that a family, or couple, or an individual can have. You meet new people, experience different foods, music, and cultures, and you walk away with memories that make wonderful stories.

Monday, December 15, 2008

'Tis the season to... muse.

It's less than two weeks until Christmas, and I am slightly bemused at how many people are surprised that it is less than two weeks until Christmas. I remember how, when I was much younger, the build up to christmas was often more exciting than the actual event. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the opening of presents and the eating of food, but once it was all done, well... it was all done. I always seemed to feel a sense of bathos, (an abrupt, unintended transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace), which usually began on Boxing day and lasted until sometime within the first few weeks of the new year. The older I got, the more I became consciously aware of this feeling. I still feel it. However, since I am now firmly enmeshed in the world of adults, which is distinguished by the need to earn a living and be responsible, the feeling is less intense, and far more brief.

I guess, upon reflection, it is understandable why people are surprised when Christmas arrives. Even though the season is festive and music, food, clothing, etc tend to be centered on the holidays, there are a few mitigating factors for the lack of awareness that leads to the biggest holiday surprise of them all, that Christmas has come and gone. First, since life continues whether or not there are holidays, said life must be maintained, which means work and responsiblities are major claiments on our attention. Second, I don't know about you, but I have never been able to nail down an actual date as to when the holidays actually begin. It seems that the tired old statement that the holidays seem to start earlier every year may have a modicum of truth to it. This is important to our discussion in that since the holiday festivities all start far before the actual day, we become inured to the Christmas spirit in the same way that we form calluses. We begin to become desensitized to the Christmas spirit and all that it represents, and it often becomes a burden to be endured instead of a joy to be experienced.

I don't want to sound like I am one of those who have left Christmas behind with their childhood; far from it. In fact, on some visceral level, I still believe in Santa Clause. I love hearing my children talk about Christmas, and Santa, and the birth of Christ, and what they want as well as what they want to give, etc. I love the carols, and the colours of the season. I love it that for even a brief amount of time, people are more aware of others. Although this awareness should encompass a global democratic, rather than just local ones, and it should span the whole year instead of a few weeks, the fact that it is there at all is, in its own way, a miracle.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Day 4, A Thursday

Today is the last day of school and I am here providing crowd control and not much else. A few of the kids are talking about the year just ending and the year to come in September. I started thinking... it seems to me that we spend our cognitive lives in the past and the future, but very rarely in the present. Is it because the now is so fleeting? The past will always be there, whether we remember it or not, and the future, although not guaranteed, is waiting for us to catch up with it. I guess what I am saying is that we seem to plan for the future, and relive the past, but we do these things in the present.

I was reading this blog entry to another teacher and a student who was listening yelled out, "Who would read that?" It's a good question.

Working with kids has been great for my perspective. I feel that I have gained a somewhat clearer view on what really matters. I often hear people say to me, "How can you teach? I could never do it." My response, if only to myself, is... how could I not.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Day 3, A Wednesday

I'm out at one of the schools that I sub for; there are only two days left in the school year. I sometimes watch these kids and I sit in awe. For example, I just saw one kid trade an ipod for a keychain. Needless to say, I had a few questions: Is the ipod stolen? Is it broken? Why would you trade an 80 gig ipod for a keychain? The answers were: no and no and it's a really cool keychain. Today's journey is starting out very interestingly.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 2, A Tuesday

Yes, I know that a little bit of time has passed since my last blog. However, that's the nature of my journeys... there is no set anything; they happen when they happen.

Today was the last day of soccer season here in the community of Malmo in Edmonton. It was bittersweet; I will miss the guys, and I will also miss the title "Coach Mike". This particular journey was a good one and I feel that my life has somehow changed because of it... more on that as it develops.

I had an interesting discussion with a colleague today. I mentioned that if and when we (humans) all leave this earth, the planet will reassert itself, and other than a few scars, life for our planet will continue on in its entropic journey while we become no more than a distant memory. He commented that we will always be here and that nature and man will learn to work together in harmony, etc., etc., etc. I mentioned that our views were not mutually exclusive, that in fact, it is more a question of time. Who knows?