Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Conferencin' around Brooklyn

Toronto, Ontario, 23:49, June 9, 2015

Ho, boy.

First things first: hello! How ya been?

Second things: I’m newly engaged; I went to Italy and France; I met Ingrid Newkirk, Dr. Neil Barnard, Roberto Benigni, and Nicoletta Braschi; I presented at two academic conferences (and co-organized one of ’em) and am in the process of having two articles published; I visited Montreal for my sister's engagement party; I met my best friend's baby; and I hung out with three cool cats (and several other human cool cats) this weekend.

Stuff’s been happening, as you can see, but I wrote this other post about a month and a half ago, so I ought to share it.

So, here goes…

Do stay tuned for more.

Hugs and love,

Vegan in Suburbia

Brooklyn, New York, 13:47, April 24, 2014

It’s 13:47. Friday afternoon. I’m in Brooklyn, in a hip café. It’s not packed, but it’s bustling. I’ve been nursing the same soy cappuccino for the past two hours or so. Jessie Ware’s “Wildest Moments” just started playing. A bunch of males of different ethnicities quietly work on their laptops at tables scattered through the back room of the café. A man in his sixties is having a conversation with a woman of approximately the same age six or seven small two-seat tables away. We’re far from the entrance to the café, but the chilly air from outside appears to travel unimpeded to the back of the restaurant, sunny though the day may be.
            I’m in Brooklyn. I’d never been here before now. I’d been to New York State as a kid and went to Buffalo once in the past two years, but I’d never been to New York City. I’d dreamt, since going vegan eleven years ago, that I would visit for the purposes of culinary travel, but, excited as I am about food, I’m pretty psyched as it is just to be here. The city’s got a sweet vibe and I love the people. There are pockets of Toronto-like culture, but, for the most part, it’s pretty clear that I’m not in Toronto anymore.
            On a side, but also-related, note, they say, “to stay” instead of “for here” when talking about foods or beverages to be consumed on the premises, versus “to go.” Ha! (Forgive me for the linguistic interlude, but you’ve come to expect these by now, I imagine.)
            Yesterday, I presented at my first academic conference. As a teenager and as an adult, I’ve always feared public speaking (but when I was little, I relished the spotlight!). That’s not special at all: most people dislike speaking in public. Anyway, Dane does not understand this fear because he positively thrives and shines when he’s got the floor. Maybe it’s an only-child thing… But, anyway, I envy this ability of his, whatever its origins; he rocks as an orator.
            … Ah, yes: Café Madeline is the name of this place. They’re playing Jack White, I think, now. I just ordered a kale-and-mushroom farro dish that I’m pretty psyched about, and then I’ll be off to the second day of the conference.
            The conference. Yes. That’s what I was saying: I presented at a graduate conference at the Graduate Center (“-er,” guys!) at CUNY in New York City. I’ve always been the type to “go big or go home” (I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about that on several occasions in this blog. My wonderful cousin is similar and we call ourselves the “two-feet-in” kids), but, shit, talk about going big, presenting in motherfrakking New York City at the Comparative Literature Department and not even the “safe space” of my native department at U of T.
            But I digress.
            On my first night here, I saw the big Arc-de-Triomphe–looking structure in Washington Square Park that they sometimes show between scenes on Friends, and it was rad. New York is rad, man.
            Where was I? Conference… Farro-and-mushroom bowl… Conference.
            It was really cool—it is really cool. I presented a paper in which I compared a horror-romance, or undead-romance, trilogy written in Italian to Twilight. I don’t like to brag, but I’m kinda livin’ the dream, eh? (That is, if your dream is to read and write about Italian vampires and zombies.)
            I made the audience laugh—intentionally, that is. We were about 15 people seated in a narrow meeting room at a long table. I presented seated because I’d seen other people do so, so it felt appropriate. And what if my fly was down? (Fun fact: my fly was, in fact, down as I walked out of the washroom before my presentation, but I caught it just in time.) The moderator of the panel (two other people presented in the panel, “The Limits of the Human,” after me) was a wonderful Italian man and professor at CUNY—and he got his PhD at U of T! Small world, eh? Maybe I will teach at CUNY one day… He was lovely and very encouraging of me and my work.
            Anyway, it was a positive experience and, although it is rare for me to admit this sort of thing, or, rather, to feel this sort of thing, I’m proud of myself. I think that what I did was brave—brave for me, anyway: I had told colleagues and friends and family in the past that I would avoid presenting at conferences at all costs. But when this one came up and I saw that we could talk about vampires, I though, shit. How could I not send in a proposal? How could I ever fit my vampire talks into conferences on Dante or Boccaccio?
            So, it was a positive experience and I wasn’t horribly nervous, and that was a pleasant surprise and a wonderful relief. I made eye contact with people while I spoke and read, and I lost my place and stumbled a few times, but, nonetheless, I think I rocked it.
            I was asked a question or two that I could not answer fully or well, but it didn’t make me uncomfortable of displease me, simply because I’m not an expert in cultural studies or philosophy or literature. I focus on language, but I’m not an expert in anything yet either. I know a shit-tonne about vampires, but I’ve got some wicked work ahead for my thesis-writing and linguistic-analysis prep. Still, I’m happy with the way I conducted myself and I’m proud of myself (I fought the urge to write “kind of” in front of “proud.” I am allowed to be fully proud, right?).


            I wrote the above in New York, as you read. I’ve been home for almost a week and will be leaving in nine days for vacation. The last time I did this much travelling in such a short span of time was… in 2012, the last time I was in Italy. Jeebus.
            When I was in New York, I stayed with my dear friend, Liz, whom I met in 2011 and lived with in 2012 at the Art Monastery Project. She lives in Brooklyn now and is doing some wicked cool stuff with the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, as well as Impact Hub NYC. She was a spectacular, thoughtful, and generous host, and it was really special to hang out with her as though it hadn’t been two and a half years since we’d last seen each other. Also, when I arrived, two other dear friends from the Art Monastery were visiting, too! We had dinner together at Red Bamboo (I still regret not leaving enough room for dessert, but… that just means I’ll have to go back) and caught up and laughed and they encouraged me and supported me by asking questions about my research and showing enthusiasm for my work. I am still very grateful. I carried that love and faith with me the next day when I presented my work, and I’ve no doubt that the positivity gave me courage and added a little sparkle to my delivery.
            But they’re doing crazy awesome work, too! They’re working with the Art Monastery Project still and are looking for applicants… So, you wanna go to Italy? Go here! They’re also, you know, building a house and taking care of baby goats on a farm in upstate New York.
            And they’re excited about my work? Oh, they are blessed souls.
            I’ve not much else to report that matches the loveliness and magnitude of my New York trip [EDIT: So, a bunch has happened, like I said earlier. I pinky swear that I’ll update soon!], so I’ll end my post here. I’m presenting at another conference, at U of T, this time, next week, and then I’m off to on vacation. I’ll leave this short album of photos from my trip. Cheers, darlings, and be ever so well. :-)

One of my first views upon exiting the subway on my way to Brooklyn from the airport

In the area where I was conferencin'

We saw some slam poetry.

The aforementioned farro, spinach, avocado, and mushroom plate

This was one of the tastiest sandwiches I'd ever eaten. It was at Bliss Café. The staff was fabulous and super sweet.

Me & Liz <3 font="">


Complimentary items from Air Canada—save for the book, which I bought at La Guardia airport

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Chainlink cuddles: a short true story

A view of our 'hood
I’ve had kind of a rough week. It’s pretty personal, and, of course, these kinds of moments and periods happen to everyone, but suffice it to say that this week found me frowning about as often as smiling, a proportion that is rare for me (and thank goodness for that. Smiling is fun yaaaaay. Also, please forgive me for this apparent complaint; my lifes otherwise frakking rad. Finally, please don’t worry: I’m just fine.)

Is it fair to say that I’m better now? Yeah. And, sure, Friday sometimes is the harbinger of F**KING AWESOMENESS! but… sometimes, it’s just another day. And yesterday was just another day… until it wasn’t.

Some background’s probably necessary, right? I’ll back up from where and when I am, away from ella’s uncle café (the lower-case is intentional, because that’s how the name is stylized very prettily on the sign) on Bloor Street West, near Ossington Avenue, and rewind more than twelve hours.


Dane and I were seated at our kitchen table, talking about our respective weeks and their various challenges: his healing from having all four of his wisdom teeth removed; my work at the university and the strike and the tensions involved; physical and emotional exhaustion. It was this last point that had us start talking about our always-inconclusive and recurring conversation about getting a dog and what kind of dog we would adopt, since a dog’s presence would ease isolation and make all frowns turn upside down.

Thank you, Snapchat, for allowing me to draw on everything.
In my fatigued demeanour, I explained to Dane that a package had arrived at our door for me a few days prior, but when the postal worker rang the doorbell, I decided not to answer, because I hadn’t been expecting anyone or anything. So, I still needed to pick up the package from the post office where it had been transferred for pick-up at a later date.

I confessed to Dane (and, later, to my mum, who laughed a lot and said that I had “an amazing imagination”) that I had this secret hope that the package was a puppy. Of course, shipping a live animal through Canada Post would be cruel and awful and I’d never actually accept that to happen, so I explained myself: “You see, the puppy would be sent from whatever its origins were all the way to Toronto via a chainlink of cuddles from human transporters.”

You can picture it, right? One tight hug, then pass it on; one tight hug, then pass it on; one tight hug—you can see it now, right? Sure, these thousands of people probably have way better things to do than form a human chain to send a canine to a bummed-out PhD student in Toronto, but what are hopes and dreams for if not to be totally unrealistic sometimes?

It was at this point in our conversation that Dane and I heard barking and whimpering eerily close to our house. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t, for the tiniest moment, believe that my post-office dog had found its way to our very door. In all seriousness, though, the bark was way too deep for it to belong to a creature that could be cuddle-shipped across Canada; that bark belonged to a big dog.

The neighbour to the south of us has an adorable pug (I believe I’ve mentioned him before. His name is Puck and I’d be happy to hug his smooshed face all day), and although it is not rare to see dogs on our street, none of our other immediate neighbours have dogs. So, when we heard this deep bark so close to our house, we were surprised and perplexed: where was the dog? Whose was it? When could we I meet it? Though the sun is starting to set later these days, seven o’clock was too dark to see the depths of our yard (which we avoid in all seasons, really, because the former tenants and/or landlords weren’t especially tidy, so there’s a lot of construction nonsense that’ll need to be dumped come summertime). Anyway, it was really cold out yesterday, but, thankfully, the temperature had started to increase as the night went on. Nevertheless, I knew that it wasn’t normal for this dog to be outside for this long. We couldn’t just sit around with this dog freezing and possibly in pain and continue with our night.

I called my good friend, Barbi, to find out whom to call. She suggested Toronto Animal Services. They were closed, so I dealt with 311, and, boy, are they ever a wonderful and truly helpful bunch. Their hands were tied by permits and permissions and bureaucratic limitations, but they’re a compassionate group of people and they really wanted to help doggerino. (In case you’re unfamiliar with my pooch terminology, “doggerino” and “pupperino” [and, sometimes, “dawgy-dawg-dawg.” I know: it’s weird. Heck, my dog, Brandy, that I had when I was little, never got called “Brandy”; she was “Hadjabouti”—and still is!—to me. Juuust… don’t ask.] are words I use to affectionately refer to dogs. The end). I called 311 at 9 p.m., and then 10 p.m. They would try to send someone over from Animal Services as soon as possible, but their after-hours crew might decide to check in only on the following day, and since we thought that the dog was in the neighbour’s yard, they couldn’t come to “seize” (ugh. I dislike this terminology, but it’s what’s used) the dog without permission to access the neighbour’s property. They said they would call us if or when they would come by.

So, I went to take a nap while Dane played video games. He woke me up at 1:30 a.m. and the poor canine sweetie was still barking outside. My heart and Dane’s heart broke. In our pyjamas, Dane and I went outside to see if we could see the dog, to ascertain whether the dog was chained or stuck or hurt or if it was small enough that we could have it stay the night at our house until the following day.

I couldn’t see the dog in the darkness, so I whistled until the dog responded, but it didn’t. We were scared it’d jump out at us, but Dane soon spotted it to the right of our shed, and he and the dog made eye contact. It was a big dog, Dane confirmed. (Dane is 6’1’’ and I’m 5’1’’, so my ability to evaluate the situation was limited by my height. Of course.) Although doggerino wasn’t growling or making any sound, menacing or otherwise, the way they’d locked eyes without the dog’s reacting in any way made us both very uneasy and scared us enough to go back inside. We both have had unsettling experiences with strange dogs in our lives, so our legs moved a little faster than our brains. But we weren’t about to give up on this dog.

That was at 1:30 a.m. We called 311 again when we got inside. They were spectacular again, but still, their hands were tied since we didn’t know if it was a stray or if it belonged to our neighbours or whose yard the dog was actually in. This was frustrating to everyone—me, Dane, the operator—because the dog was clearly in distress, but no one wanted to ruffle anyone’s feathers; I say RUFFLE THEM ALL! Nonetheless, they said they’d get back to us as soon as they could have a team out to check out the situation. Dane and I went to sleep with the dog’s barking echoing in our ears, its whimpers filling the empty spaces created by the separated pieces of our broken hearts. (Vomit. It’s dramatic, I know, but we were distraught.)

I even had a dream about the puppy: Dane and I were able to get to the other side of the fence, but I got there first and had patted the puppy on his back, near his hind legs, and I instructed Dane to do the same, saying that that’s usually the first spot I pet when I meet a new dog, because it shows I’m a friend and, also, it protects me from its snout: should it feel threatened, my hand would be far enough from its face to be able to withdraw in time. Dane pet the dog and after the dog gently showed us that he, too, was our friend, Dane gave the dog a full-body hug. I’ve seen Dane do this in real life, and it turns my heart to mush instantly. It was sunny in the dream, and I don’t know how it ended.

I awoke at 7:30 a.m. to the sound of our smoke alarm doing a maddening test beep. Between its deafening beeps, I heard the dog barking.

I got up and actually saw the dog from the kitchen. He is a big dog. He’s a boxer. He’s beautiful. And he’s staring at me through my kitchen window, shivering as he stands there barking and whimpering. I wonder why he’s not sitting or lying down. I also realize that he’s not in the neighbour’s yard at all (our neighbour to the rear of us), but in a weird neutral zone between the two, separated from our yard only by a very short wire fence—the cheap kind people put around their gardens to keep rabbits or raccoons out. The dog was wearing a red windbreaker and clearly had a collar and a leash. This was no stray; this dog had people who cared about him.

I called 311 again and gave them the number for the file we’d opened the night before. They listened, patiently, and told me the same story that the other kind and compassionate operators offered the three other times I’d called. They insisted on receiving confirmation that the dog was accessible from our yard before they sent Animal Services over. I went outside in my pyjamas, the operator on hold, to investigate. I cooed to the puppy. He looked at me, silently shivering. I promised him we’d get him home and that he wasn’t along. His leash, as it turns out, was somehow frozen into the snow beneath his trembling body. I still don’t understand how he got there.

I went back inside, confirmed that the dog was on our premises, and the operator told me to call back at 8 a.m., when Animal Services opened, so that they could transfer me (and my file) directly to Animal Services.

Eight a.m. rolls around. I’m patched through. I speak to someone at Animal Services. He asks what colour the dog’s coat was. I assume he’s using “coat” in the sense of “fur,” but he’d actually been referring to the jacket the dog was wearing. (Hahaha.)

“It’s red,” I said after describing his gorgeous brown-and-white face.
“And it’s a big dog, right? Like, a boxer?”
“Yes! Very big.”
“Did you see his paws? Was he wearing black booties—with one missing?”
“Uuuuhhh… I didn’t see his paws.”
“Okay. This dog went missing yesterday afternoon at Dovercourt and Davenport. We were wondering how it never showed up. I’m going to give your number to the owners and they will contact you to pick up the dog. His name is Bentley.”


Holy shit, man. What a RELIEF.

First, what a relief—as awful as this sounds—that Bentley survived the night. Thank GOODNESS that the colder night was on Thursday; I don’t know how he’d have fared otherwise.

After I got off the phone with Animal Services, I took my cell phone and a bowl of water outside. I went to sit with the dog and reassured him that his family would be there soon. I offered him the water, but he just lay there, regal though shaking, looking at me as I tried to comfort him by using his name. My phone rang and it was an excited, audibly relieved woman on the other end of the phone.

“Is this Christina? You have Bentley? Thank you SO MUCH. We live at ##. Can we just knock on your door?”
“You’re so welcome! Actually, I’m just sitting in the back with him; you can come through the back yard. Be careful, though: it’s icy!”

As it turns out, she lives just a few houses south of us. She had been within reach this whole time and spent a sleepless night at home with her children and husband, wondering where their dog was.

Myriad thank-yous followed and they were on their way. Seconds later—literally—I heard a house door slam and a chorus of animated voices drawing nearer. Bentley noted this at the same time as I did and he stood up on his front paws to rest in a shaky sitting position.

“Your family is coming to get you, Bentley! You’re going to be okay. You’re going to be sooo warm sooo soon. It’s going to feel sooo good. You’re going to be warm. You’ll be with your family soon.”

The family, all five members of them, one by one entered our yard. Bentley’s echoed name preceded them before their faces appeared. My heart sank as, for a second, I worried that it wasn’t their puppy at all—but it was. It was! I backed up against the fence to leave the family room to see and access their dog. The woman who had called me, K., beamed with gratitude and grabbed my hands to thank me. “You have no idea what kind of night we had!” I could only imagine.

I chuckled as one of the boys, who was in his pyjamas like the rest of us, lost his shoe in the snow and had his bare foot exposed as he tried to regain his balance on one leg and replace his shoe on his wet foot. He was barely fazed, overcome as he was with happiness to be reunited with his dog.

K.’s husband leaned over the fence to pick up the huge dog (what an image: this dog who weighs about the same as I do, if not more, being cuddled and… passed along over linked fencing, much like my fantasy post-office dog). As K. and her family left, the youngest of the family, who is maybe nine or 10, looked at me and uttered the most genuine thank-you I think I’ve ever received. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget her sparkling eyes as she said this. Her mum looked at me as K.’s husband walked away cradling Bentley. She reached out with both arms and hugged me before I knew what was happening. She uttered a million thank-yous and said I’d made her day; I said she’d made mine! She walked away with her family and I walked towards our back door as Dane emerged, just missing the family. I walked inside and broke down as Dane held me.

I couldn’t get over how much the dog had suffered and how scared he must have been and how grateful the family was to have their dog back with them and how delighted I was that this dog had survived the night. I was overwhelmed.

And then we had pancakes.


It’s amazing how quickly our fates change, isn’t it? From talking about dogs to taking steps to try to save a dog’s life… From freezing in the unforgiving cold to being cradled by one who spent a sleepless night worrying about your whereabouts… From locking eyes with a homeless, trembling canine to sharing grateful, sparkling glances with a child who’s taking her dog home… From starting your day with pleasant exchanges with human strangers to having said (former) strangers insist that, if you need anything, just knock on their door.

They came back later, our neighbours, while I was at ella’s uncle, while I had already started typing this story. K. called me to ask which unit was ours because they had brought over a token of gratitude and wanted to make sure that they rang the right bell. I expressed how sweet that was—imagining a bottle of wine or muffins or something—and that we were on the main floor, that Dane was home and would answer.

They brought over cash.

Dane, the polite darling, refused three or four times, but Bentley’s family insisted, and Dane said that it felt rude to decline, so he finally acquiesced. He felt like he didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t believe it, when he told me. We agreed that it was totally unnecessary, but I understood the family’s insistence: you can’t put a price on a loved one’s well-being. I called them to thank them, and the gratitude was bounced back and forth like a volleyball over the neighbourhood fences.


Before coming to this café, I went to the post office to pick up my mystery package (“please be a dog. Please be a dog”). The package that awaited me at the post office was flat and tiny. Could it contain the world’s tiniest Chihuahua? No: it was my 10-year passport that I’d renewed a few weeks ago, in preparation for a vacation in May that Dane and I are planning to celebrate our two-year anniversary and his birthday.

Well, it turns out that I had been totally wrong about a puppy in the mail sent to me by chainlink cuddles. Today, I was wrong not only about the item being delivered, but, also, the dream item’s method of delivery; I was right about this, though: a dog was delivered, directly to warm, loving arms, over a chainlink fence. And this rough week had the happiest of endings, the kind that sometimes manifest only in dreams.

Welcome back home, Bentley.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Shovelling Out: Snowy Reflections and a Tribute to the People whose Paths We Serendipitously Cross

 I started writing this yesterday (December 11, 2014) after a poignant encounter with a woman down the street after a massive snowfall. When I got home from this experience, I received news that my paternal grandfather was preparing himself to head North—waaay North (but way less cold, I imagine)—to a place that we like to call Heaven. The serendipitous nature of the events of yesterday morning really struck me, and I’ll explain why at the end of this reflection (scroll waaay down now if you don’t feel like reading all of this), so I wanted to write them down. I’m still really struck and amused by the characteristics that amount to the “Nonna Archetype,” even as my heart hurts and my brain tries to focus on other things. I hope you enjoy this post after more than a year’s absence. It’s been a hell of a year—mostly in a good way—and I'll reflect on that here soon enough.

With love, warmth, gratitude, and best wishes to you and yours this holiday season,



The first four items tipped me off, but, after our visit, it all added up: there is a Nonna Archetype. It is not necessarily a Grandmother Archetype—actually, how could I know? I’ve never really known any type of grandmother other than an Italian grandmother—, but specifically an Italian Grandmother one. Though no other nonna can ever be as friggin loving, generous, beautiful, and hardcore as ones own blood-related nonna, it is comforting to know that there is a local nonna just down the street. These are the traits that, I believe, combine to form the Nonna Archetype:

1. her name, Maria
2. saying “Tanks God I found you” while we were halfway through shovelling the snow in her backyard
3. insisting that I put on some ciabatte (flip flops) as we entered her basement from the cold—and then saying that I should take them home because she never wears them
4. a picture of Padre Pio on her wall
5. items of black clothing hung to dry everywhere (not to mention the black clothing she was currently wearing), worn most often by Southern Italian women even years after their loved one has died
6. going to the freezer to get cookies she’d made
7. becoming visibly upset upon finding out that I couldn’t eat said cookies because they weren’t vegan
8. insisting that I take twenty dollars to “buy something nice” (and even though I refused and left the money on the table when I got up to leave, she asked if I’d taken the money and rushed to get it after I said I hadn’t)
9. giving me a package of Lavazza coffee
10. sending me home with homemade red wine—in a mason jar
11. worrying about my health—“you get bronchite!”—as I put on my wet boots, scarf, tuque, gloves, and coat, even though my house is literally across the street
12. her saying, “I lahva you!” as I left


I woke up this morning to the proverbial—or, rather, clichéed—winter wonderland. I saw all of my Montreal friends’ photos on Facebook of the massive amount of snow that got dumped on that city yesterday, and I knew that we were expecting snow here—but not that much.

After Dane left for work, I read some comics for a bit (dude: read Girls with Slingshots. It’s the best… probably especially if you’re a girl/lady/chick/woman/female) and coordinated to reschedule a dinner that was definitely not going to happen tonight, due to the weather. I mean, the only two people who were still willing to go were a Montrealer (me) and a Calgarian—both fairly used to living with and thriving amongst stupid accumulations of snow. Then, I resolved to meditate, but first I’d do some shovelling.

We by no means have a deadbeat landlord, but if the unraked leaves on our back lawn are any indication, this snow wasn’t going to shovel itself. (Edit: The landlord came by in the evening to tidy up the rest of the ten or so centimetres of snow. Sweet.) So, I put on my winter coat, mittens, scarf, and tuque—and then realized that I was still in my pyjamas. I put on some “real pants” and my boots and then headed outside.

I shovelled our tiny walkway and our steps, in addition to our backyard and the three-feet­-wide alleyway between our house and the neighbour’s. And, since the neighbour to our left is super kind to us and raked our walkway a few weeks ago, I figured that I’d return the favour and shovel his tiny driveway and steps. At this point, an older woman in a dark winter coat with a faux-furry hood carefully walked towards me, the snow still slowly falling and delicately accumulating around her.


“Hi,” she replied. “Ross, he work?” (Ross is the neighbour whose driveway I’d shovelled.)

She said she lived just across the street, five numbers away from us. She had an accent that, somehow, I couldn’t place. We live in an area populated primarily by Portuguese and Italian families, but I’m not sure what Portuguese-accented English sounds like. She asked where I was from and I was amused when her reaction to my Montreal origins was, “Ah. Well, you’re still nice.” Hahaha. I told her my name and she told me hers, and she seemed content with my name being as biblically related as hers.

We discussed our neighbour’s whereabouts and speculated about why we hadn’t seen him in a while. It turns out that this lady would get Ross’s help to shovel or rake, since she is a widow of two years and has a big house to herself, and her kids visit only on weekends. I was coated in sweat under my snow-drenched coat and my nose was running in all directions (awwww, yeeeaaah. That’s a steamy image, eh?), but I said that I’d be happy to help her if she needed. She’d shovelled her driveway already, so it was only her backyard that needed care. Hey: I’m done school for the semester; what else did I need to do other than writing and sending Christmas cards and reading comics?

I walked behind her to her house and into her backyard. I did some more sweating but finished shovelling in under twenty minutes. *flexes* My arms were shaking from the strain, and she exclaimed, “Tanks God I found you” and proceeded to invite me in for an “Italian espresso.” Hmm. I was touched at this show of hospitality, trust, and gratitude, but all I really wanted to do was get out of my soaked-ass clothes and into a hot-ass shower.

But, she wouldn’t relent, and I know my manners well enough to know not to refuse an invitation to coffee for “five meenuts” from an elder. I followed her inside through the garage.

Fast-forward: we’re in her basement and she passes me a pair of old-lady flip-flops (with a wedged heel, and we all know how well I walk in heels…) to wear in order to keep my feet from getting cold. 

As I walk in, I spot a picture frame with a photo of Padre Pio in it. Hmm. She prepares the coffee in the stovetop Moka espresso-maker. We sit at her table and she grabs some cookies from her freezer, something my paternal Nonna does all the time. I ask her where she’s from, since she knows I’m from Montreal, and she says she’s Italian.

Cue singing angels and bust out the mad Italian skillz, yo.

We became instant friends and I ended up staying there for at least 40 “meenuts.”

She talked about her deceased husband, showed me a photo of him, empathized when I told her that December 12, 2014, is the seven-year anniversary of my dad’s passing, gave me coffee, asked about my family, showed me photos of her daughters and her grandchildren, excused herself for having her black mourning clothes hanging to dry everywhere, gave me a package of Lavazza coffee, poured some of her homemade wine into a mason jar, and shoved two ten-dollar bills into my hands so that I could “buy something nice.” It was a surreal but also a profoundly normal experience, if that’s possible to say.

I gave her my phone number, in case she needed a hand for anything between her daughters’ visits, and she pinned it to a basket on the wall, saying she’d call her daughter later to tell her about the new friend she’d made. I got up to leave. When I wished her a merry Christmas in case we didn’t see each other before then (Christmas really is only 13 days away), she scoffed and expressed her certainty at our seeing each other; I made a mental note to bake her some Christmas cookies. She conveyed her dismay at my soaked winter clothing in her garage as I awkwardly put on the articles and considered for a moment just putting on my boots and holding the rest of the articles in my hand—but this nonna would have had none of that. She urged me to get home fast, lest I get bronchite from the cold wetness (or wet coldness. Whatever). As I walked up her driveway, which had a fresh centimetre or two of snow on it already, she said, “I lahva you.”


All this from a stranger.

I’ve been living in this house with Dane, just down the street from this lovely, lonely Italian woman, for over six months, and I met her for the first time yesterday because of the Canadian climate. Think about it: something as mundane and unremarkable as the weather caused us to meet. If it hadn’t snowed, when would our paths have crossed? Regardless, she was a stranger—a stranger with a big heart, a common culture, a maternal drive, and a heavy heart. She opened up to me in a way that was unexpected but felt familiar. I am blessed to have both of my nonnas still very much a part of my life, but to happen upon this woman was a blessing at a time when I ached to have both of my nonnas closer than ever, though they live in Montreal and Ottawa, respectively.

Montreal Nonna <3 td="">
Ottawa Nonna <3 td="">
December 12 is the seven-year anniversary of my dear father’s passing; also, this December 12, my paternal grandfather is bidding his farewells to this plane, and his body is preparing to carry its energy to the plane inhabited by our “departed” loved ones, to be reunited with his beloved middle son. My meeting this woman down the street felt like a distinct blessing and distraction, though she clearly had her own burdens and baggage due to the loss of her husband only two years prior, but she opened her heart to me, a stranger. She was so thankful for the ear that she couldn’t help but utter an expression whose weight, perhaps, she doesn’t fully grasp in English, but her intention in saying those words was clear: thank you.

This summary of events that occurred yesterday is simply a reflection on the meaning and meaningfulness of those people that pass through our lives, who touch us for an instant, for moments, for days, or even for years. None of it is arbitrary—or, even if it is, we can be wise enough to find the symbolism, the “point” to it. Yesterday, this woman and I came into each other’s lives for a reason: to open our hearts to the other when we both really needed it, when we felt distant from those we loved but needed their love more than ever; We both needed each other yesterday and found kindred spirits in strangers.

I didn’t get to know my dad for long, since he passed away when I’d just turned 21, but he was there for those vital, formational years of my life, when my mind was still malleable, when my heart was naïve, when my soul needed her dad more than she knew or could articulate. Anyone who knew my father knew that he was a formidable force, a man wise beyond his years, a spry and energetic soul whose smile and whose laugh could rouse even the sourest spirit. I wish that I could have an adult relationship with him, but, even now, if I ask myself, “What would Daddy think of [X]?”, I know the answer because I knew him well—and sometimes I’ll do something now even if I know my dad would disapprove (I’m sorry about the nosering, Dad), because, well, that’s what kids do. Haha.

Now, as my nonno makes his way to my dad, I think of how I never really got to know my nonno well, because a language barrier separated us for most of my childhood. Nonetheless, I knew his love when I was growing up, and that’s really all that children need to know, I suppose. I learned Italian and continue to study it and have lived in Italy and met my nonno’s family there and keep in touch with them. My nonno and I made up for lost time whenever we all visited him in Ottawa or he poked his voice into my telephone conversations with my nonna.

It was really quite tender: my nonna would be on the phone in one room and my nonno, without ever saying a word, would pick up the receiver to listen in on our conversations from another room, and he wouldn’t ever say anything until my nonna and I started saying goodbye to each other. It would always make me laugh, especially when my nonna would jokingly scold him and call him furbo (“sly”). I guess that, if I know any one thing from firsthand experience about my nonno, I know this: he’s much more of a listener than a talker. Sure, he’d be vocal about us being too loud and was not shy about expressing his dismay about, well, anything or anyone, but you can’t say he wasn’t honest! 

I’m happy to know that, at the very least, he got to see that I worked hard—sempre forte is something he’d always say to me (“always strong”), usually when we were saying goodbye to each other, in person or on the other end of the telephone line—, which was eternally important to him. He seemed proudest of us as long as he knew we were working our asses off and getting paid. I’m content that he knows we’re all following our passions, that we’re living the lives that he left his family behind in Italy to help create—that his personal sacrifice was worth it. I’m grateful that he has lived a long life that allowed him to see the birth of his great-grandchild, to see her grow and blossom, to hold her. We all noticed his face brighten when his great-granddaughter shared the room with him. She added vitality and brightness to this often-grumpy but truly wonderful, strong, and benevolent old man’s gaze.

And we’ve come full-circle: though my nonno didn’t know his great-granddaughter for long, she sweetened his final year on Earth; and though my cousin’s daughter knew her bisnonno only for a short time and may not remember him or the tender moments they shared as she grows older, the miracle of photography and of video will allow her to witness the extraordinary bond that they shared and the special place in their respective hearts that each of them occupied.

We all cross paths for a reason; our hearts are touched in ways we cannot fathom or comprehend until, perhaps, we have a bit of hindsight. Thank you, Maria Down the Street, for comforting my heart with examples of hospitality “from the Old Country” when I didn’t know I needed it and for bringing to my mind and to my heart the values that have been instilled in me from both sides of my Italian family; merci, Papa, for forming the woman that I am today and for continuing to inspire us all with your relentless joy and your ever-glowing smile—and, of course, for giving Nonno the biggest and warmest of hugs when he reaches you; and, Nonno, ti ringrazio di tutto—di avere scelto il Canada come Casa tua, come il luogo ideale per creare una famiglia e un futuro con Nonna, e di averci insegnato i valori cari a te. Thank you for everything, Nonno—by coming here, to Canada, you really did provide, well, everything that we know and love and cherish in our lives, now and always.

Grazie, and until we meet again.