Saturday, December 14, 2013

Secret Celebrity Crush

I have a secret celebrity crush on Anthony Bourdain. The smart-mouth badass chef, author of Kitchen Confidential and globetrotting host of the culinary and cultural shows "Parts Unknown" and "No Reservations." Starting from his own experience as a chef, he uses food as the pretext for cultural exploration. During his travels he is as likely to be meeting with the elite of the cooking world, as he is to be eating street food or meals cooked on smoky woodstoves with the humblest of peasants. Wielding a cooking knife, a wine glass or swigging from a bottle of beer with equal aplomb, while engaging in witty repartee, he celebrates creativity, slams pretentiousness, appreciates subtle detail, and looks at the geopolitical forces that shape the modern world.

I could see myself as part of that life. I would love to go trekking around the world, sampling the food and drink, talking to the people, creating those connections and then writing about them and sharing them with the world. I could do that, even if my own experience has consisted of spending much more time with the peasants and plebes than the powerbrokers.

Anthony Bourdain, however, is completely unaware of my existence. He doesn't know who I am, he doesn't read my blog, and he isn't in the market for a new relationship. He has not been pursuing me or asked me out, even when he was on the dating market. It's not his fault that I have fixated on him.

That, however, does not change the way I feel. Last year I asked the universe for a wish and my wish came true. What I wished for and what I got, taught me that I could still feel things that I hadn't felt in years, even though the object of my affection did not reciprocate the feeling. I felt, and it took my breath away.

Just because I feel something doesn't mean that the feeling will necessarily be returned. I've been on the other side of that equation too, being the object of affection and having to gently but clearly make it known that I don't feel the same way. Life is unfair in that way, but it really is a "suck it up, Buttercup" situation.

I took some wonderful humanities classes in Cegep. In one of them, "The Individual and the System," we were asked to participate in an exercise in vulnerability. Toward the end of the semester, when we knew each other fairly well, we were asked (challenged) to pick the person that we most cared about and then say to that person out loud, I choose you. I had worked with Chris on a group project. We had friendly, flirty relationship. There was no doubt in my mind I would choose him and I felt confident that, out of everyone in the class, he would choose me too. An awkward silence reigned as everyone looked around expectantly to see who would make the first move. Surprisingly it was Stacy who stepped forward. She said to Chris, "I choose you." He said that he chose her too. I was shocked. I was devastated. I had thought that we had a special connection, and apparently I was mistaken. I spoke up and said that I had chosen him too. Then I stepped back and allowed myself to absorb the impact of what I felt and what I had done. If I had kept my mouth shut and said nothing, someone else might have picked me. But I said what I felt, effectively taking myself out of the running for anyone else at that time. I started avoiding Chris after that.

He caught up with me a few weeks later. He said that he figured that both Stacy and I would choose him and he would accept whoever spoke first. Diplomatic, if not very authentic. He and Stacy did not start dating. Chris asked me out. We started seeing each other and he became my first serious boyfriend. My memories of him are all good. But more than this relationship, it was the course that left me with lessons that I have carried forward through life. It taught me to own up to what I feel. That when I do admit to what I feel, I risk being hurt. And that just because I feel something, doesn't mean that it will be reciprocated. The most recently added lesson was not to get so caught up in the indulgence of my own feelings that I can't see any other options; stay open.


If Anthony Bourdain becomes available, he really should consider me as a potential partner. In the meantime I wish him well, and I'll send another wish out to the universe. This time I'll be a little more careful about what I wish for.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Life of Crime

My son asked me, the other day, if I had ever stolen anything…

I had to think about it for a few minutes, because stealing isn't a habit of mine, but I do have to confess to a few shady incidents in my past.

The Tiny Tim Fund
I was 13 and my sister was 9 that December when our step-sister and brother suggested that we go carolling. It sounded like a fun idea. When they said that we could take a container and collect money for the Tiny Tim Fund and then keep the money for ourselves, it sounded like an even better idea to a couple of kids with no income and a not-fully-formed moral compass. We had a great time. It was one of those clear, perfect windless winter nights when the stars are bright. We tromping through the fresh snowy streets of Hudson, going door to door, singing our hearts out, and people were kindly disposed and generous to us with our Tiny Tim Fund margarine container. The next day our father dropped us off at Fairview Shopping Centre. My sister and I were excited that we would get to spend our money. When we called our mother to pick us up, Penny told her about our shopping expedition and how we had earned the money. Our mother was furious. She explained in no uncertain terms that what we had done was dishonest and wrong. She told us to go and put the remaining money in the Salvation Army kettle. My little sister was upset that she had to give up her "hard-earned money." I knew that we had to give up our ill-gotten gains because collecting money under false pretences wasn't cool, but I didn't really understand who was losing out because of our actions.

I have since put things right with the Tiny Tim Fund. The fund, operated by the Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation, provides services to families experiencing difficult financial circumstances in connection with coping with a medical crisis. The foundation still fund-raises.

Change from the Bus Fare
One day during our year of economic crisis, I had taken the bus to the grocery store. That year, 1998, became known in the family as the year of no animal protein, when putting anything at all on the table was a challenge. Bus drivers in Bogota make change for the passengers… if they have change. The driver didn't have change when I paid the 200 peso bus fare with a 2,000 peso bill. When I went to get off, I asked for my change. The driver asked what I had paid, and I told him "dos mil." He, however, understood "diez mil" (10,000). He gave me the change and I hesitated for a moment as I realized the misunderstanding, but I took the money, got off the bus, and went into the grocery store and bought food for my family. I felt guilty about it because Bogota bus drivers don't earn a whole lot of money. They rent their buses from the company, and what they earn in excess of the rental fee is what they get to take home. Basically, I took money from the bus driver. I bought beans, rice, cooking oil, vegetables, and milk. We ate. I felt badly for the bus driver though.

Cafam and the Spanish Sparkling Wine
My first year in Bogota I joined a gym. I loved going to the gym and in particular I loved the dance classes. It gave me the chance to be able to observe and understand how the steps are done and how to coordinate the moves with the syncopated salsa beat. I became a good dancer. I kept at it and I became a great dancer. My little local gym held an aerobics competition and I entered it and won. Buoyed by this success, several months later I entered the city-wide aerobics competition hosted by Cafam.

The day-long competition consisted of learning and performing a series of increasingly complex and physically demanding choreographies. People were eliminated in each round. I made it to the final round. Before the round began, an announcement was made: "We have been informed that there is a professional competitor who is not eligible to compete and who will automatically be disqualified if she does not clarify her situation." We finalists looked at each other, not knowing whom they meant. Nobody stepped forward. The competition continued. I didn't win but it was a tremendously demanding and exhilarating experience.

After the competition was over a few people came up to me and told me that I was the one who had been disqualified. Someone had said that they had seen me in a professional competition in San Andrés. One, I had never been to San Andrés. Two, the only competition I had been in previously was the one at my local gym.

I went to Cafam that week and spoke to the person in charge of fitness and recreation services. He was aware of the incident. He told me that the information was confidential and that he could not tell me who had been disqualified, and that if I had had any doubts that they meant me, then I should have clarified it at the time. I hadn't had any doubts at the time: I had no reason to think they meant me.

A few months later I went to the Cafam store to pick up some sparkling wine for my friend Estela's birthday. Estela has nine brothers and sisters who would be coming to her house for cake and bubbly, so I picked up two bottles. I remember reading the price tag as 1114 pesos. My entire grocery order came to less than 10,000 pesos. At home I looked at the bottles of wine again and saw that the price was 11114 pesos. I felt wave of delight as I realized that Cafam had given me two bottles of Spanish sparkling wine at a tenth of the cost. It was karmic retribution.

I regret the first two incidents. They were learning experiences. I don't feel guilty about the third one.

In general, my philosophy is: Give back (or pay) for what you take; Don't take what is not yours; Give a bit more when you can; and Sometimes people take things for a reason.