Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Sparkly Saturday

"I am not going to Black Friday, I don't want to accumulate any more 'stuff'," I said convincingly.  I even believed it.  And so while the lineups started at 4am for cellphones, and the 3 laptops on sale at the electronics store in Bermuda, I peacefully slept, snug as a bug under and electric blanket.  And when I woke up, I leisurely sipped my coffee and avoided going anywhere near town for as long as I could.  After seeing a reassuring post from Anna on facebook that there was nothing to see in town, I ventured out around 1pm to get some stamps, some Easter seals, and do a handful of errands.  There is simply nothing that I need.  Past years one would be shopping for the fabulous Christmas party that the hospital would throw for its employees in the ballroom of the Southampton Princess...but since they cancelled that reservation and moved the venue to the parking lot of the hospital, one needs an outfit suited more to tailgating at an NFL game more than a shiny glittery princess dress.  I believe that I have mentioned in the past how I like things that are shiny and glittery.

So in lieu of an elegant Christmas party, it seemed like a good time to finally go to the Caledonia Ball...or St. Andrew's Day Ball as it is actually called, hosted by the Caledonia Society.  The Caledonia Society of Bermuda was founded in 1936 and its mission is to promote all things Scottish on the Rock.  So 24 hours after Thanksgivukkah, we now turn the celebratory focus to the Scots.  St. Andrew is the patron Saint of Scotland, and St. Andrew's Day, November 30th, is Scotland's national day.  It is celebrated with traditional food, traditional dancing, and excessive merriment (i base this assumption on the abundant merriment my Scottish friends have when it's just a regular day).  The black tie event will have a live pipe band, ceilidh dancing (prounounced kay-lee and they say it is easy to pick up as it was designed for a bunch of drunken scottish dancers -- their words not mine), and a four course meal including wine.  The menu lists Haggis, Neeps, and Taters, Cullen Skink, Roasted Quail stuffed with black pudding, followed up by a Tipsy Laird.  Sounds like an adventure indeed! Ticket bought, a closet full of dresses, I decided to throw on one of the old Christmas party dresses and go to the ball Saturday night at the Hamilton Princess.  Call it a sign, but right before heading to town, I witnessed this phenomenon.

"Are you KIDDING me?  There must be something in here we can wear."

They say pets take after their owners, and while still being cute, it's true that both Aiden and I probably have a little more booty this Christmas than than Christmas.  And while an old dress might just look fine, a new dress just feels like a little bit of a treat.
"Oh for the love of...this is ridiculous.  I am not making you a dress like those mice in that cartoon.  Pass me the credit card."

And so it was that I that I came home with a new sparkly dress from the Black Friday sales...guaranteeing that tomorrow will be another fabulously sparkly Saturday.  Unfortunately I couldn't find any glass slippers.  If I see Prince Charming I will have to improvise and knock him out with a champagne glass instead (I believe Helen and Shibby will be doing the same thing!)

Happy Hanumurican Feast Day

Photo of the feast borrowed from Karen Chernoff-Smith
facebook page
The expat pack is a multicultural group.  As such, there is a lot of celebrating to do.  We all have our national holidays that we celebrate.  And in Bermuda, we share these with friends when we can.  As an expat, I still celebrate the holidays of home -- Easter, May Long/Victoria Day, Canada Day, Canadian Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, and recognize Remembrance Day (and the Grey Cup).  But now I also celebrate the holidays and special events in my friend's lives.  American Thanksgiving, Hanukkah (Festival of Lights in Jewish), the Superbowl, Diwali (Festival of Lights in India), Carnival, Cup Match, Fourth of July, Robbie Burns Night, and even Australia Day.  Today was a double header as American Thanksgiving and Hanukkah fell on the same day, which has not happened for 115 years -- the term that has been coined for the day is "Thanksgivukkah"...but I will stand by my creation of Hanumurican Feast Day.  I keep hearing my friend Dev's voice in my head saying "Amurican" rather than American...not because he lacks the ability to say it properly, but because he loves to rile the 'muricans whenever he can.  To be fair, he and a few of the Brits also like to ask when I am next visiting Canadia (prounounced like Canadian but without the 'n').

Thanksgivukkah was hosted in the dining room of a hospital accommodations property that was once a restaurant called Splendido's (where I had my first Christmas dinner on the island.  I was invited to brunch, and said yes, thinking I would have a salad before carrying on to my scheduled Christmas dinner.  What I did not know was that brunch in Bermuda is a 5 course meal.  It was therefore a 2 turkey dinner afternoon, a feat I would not attempt again).  The hosts were Craig and Erika (Craig representing the American or Thanks part of Thanksgivukkah, and Erika is from Peru but she is the resident turkey Chef) and Karen (representing the givukkah part of the holiday and preparing traditional Jewish Chanukkah favorites.  And yes I said Chanukkah, not Hanukkah, because that's how she spells it and I figure she would know better than I.  I was informed it's a silent C when I asked what the heck Chanukkah was and why have I been saying Hanukkah all this time).  Canada, Ireland, Philippines, Australia, England/UK, South Africa, and of course USA and Peru were all about to partake in the well as a few other places. Karen is an amazing cook and gracious hostess, Erika is equally wonderful in her turkey roasting skills and her famous side "mac 'n cheese baked with extra love."  What does extra love taste like?  Kinda cheesy actually.  It's a good thing.  And Craig is always the gentle and generous Thanksgiving Host.  I hope he is ready for Superbowl as well, we are running low on Americans at the hospital.

I was not the first to observe how wonderful it is to learn about and take part in the holidays of our friends from other lands.  It is truly a remarkable experience being an addition to learning the culture and customs of Bermuda, we are fortunate enough to experience the cultures and customs of dozens of other places as well.
Thanksgivukkah preparations -- photo borrowed from Karen Chernoff-Smith's facebook page :)

And so Thanksgivukkah is done, for another 100 or so more years, but that just means next year there will be 2 different celebrations instead of one.  I am happy that my last one was such a delightful hybrid!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Just another day in Paradise

In a less macabre tone than Phil Collins' song, today really was just another day in paradise.  I was scheduled to work 4-12pm, leaving the morning and early afternoon to me.  I woke up early (thanks to the Panther cats, who learned from JJ how to disturb the deepest of sleeps so that they can enjoy their breakfast by the early sunlight in the window) and unlike the last several days, the skies were clear and sunny, and the temperature was indeed warm.  Monday the temperatures hit a record Bermuda low at 14 degrees Celsius.  Don't forget the humidity and wind chill, it did not feel as balmy as 14 degrees Canadian Celsius, trust me.  Today, however, it was pleasantly warm outside.

I started the day off hitting the HSBC to do a favor for a friend.  HSBC in Bermuda operates on a caste system.  The common fodder like myself have to line up with the masses for anything you can't do in the ATM.  The next tier up, earned by keeping a set value of savings in the account, (in case you have a spare $50,000 to leave in an almost non-interest bearing account just to get the second tier of status), gets shorter lines and some easier access to a customer service rep, and a few other perks.  The top tier have their own little executive lounge...I don't know what the requirements are, but if you have one of these accounts you can have free coffee, juice, sparking water, and newspapers everyday in the special lounge reserved for these customers.  You don't have to do any can just show up for your morning coffee or juice.  So today, I rode the elevator to the second floor, and by association gained access to the lounge.  I snagged a coffee and some investment management newsletters, as clearly these people all know something I don't know.  Once the free coffee was done, I rode the escalator down to my normal place in the world, and met up with some friends from work for Sushi at Cafe 4 and a catch up.

Once the sushi was done, we all ran our errands, and a few of us continued on to Yo Cherry for a nice frozen yogurt treat.  Of course I got completely sidetracked walking by a storefront that was just dressing the mannequin in a floor length black sequined ballgown.  I gasped and we rushed inside to try it on.  It fit like a glove...which would be good if I had spent more time at the gym and less time blogging.  On the way back we saw the other window, and gasp...a black and gold one a little more my style was in the other window.  I remarked that I love to buy clothes but here I am wearing jeans and a hoodie from Camper's Village.  My friend Shibby replied "You're like a cat.  You go crazy for anything sparkly and have to collect it and get it home."  Touche.  Truer words may have never been spoken.  There is so much glitter in my closet that sometimes I end up sparkly just from digging in my closet.

And finally, feeling terribly guilty after proclaiming that there would be no Christmas cards this year, I stopped at a store and picked up my hoping it will be a nice surprise for everyone in January and February when and if they do survive the collective international post office experience.  I still wonder where in the world my postcard from Egypt from Phil ended up, 2 years and still no sign of it.

The rest of my day was spent trying to tackle the enormous challenge of acquiring cat food for the Lexi cat.  Lexi has been on a Canadian brand of food for 16 years.  As the resident princess of the house, there is no substitute.  The Panthers keep stealing her food and we are running out.  There is now a rather complex and unsuccessful international effort to get the Canadian cat food somewhere where I can get it -- because you KNOW mailing it just isn't an option.  Thank you Cherie for harassing every vet clinic in Philadelphia and Boston while I burned up 2 long distance cards making friends with the rest of the Eastern United States veterinarians.  Sigh...I may need a weekend in Toronto.

And so another day has gone by, somewhat ordinary, but under a brighter sky and warmer sun, closer to the sand and oceans.  A nice day with good friends and the usual quirks of life.  Just another day in paradise.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Christmas Bells

Just a short note today. 

Christmas is fast approaching.  I went to town for groceries around noon and noticed the staff on the rooftops setting up their Christmas lights.  On the way out of the Marketplace, which sits across from the Cathedral, the church bells were chiming Christmas melodies.

Christmas always sneaks up on me in Bermuda.  I have spent most of my life scraping the ice off the car windows in November and hanging on for dear life on the icy commute to work, getting stuck in traffic for prolonged times and forced to listen to Christmas ads on the radio for weeks before I start Christmas shopping.  Without the cues of snow, perpetually gray skies, and bone chilling cold, I have once more arrived at the realization too late that Christmas is almost upon us.  I am not saying this is a bad thing, in fact I am quite happy about this.  But it is a bad thing for all of those on my Christmas list.  You see, Christmas preparations are difficult in Bermuda.  I feel that I must explain the Bermuda Postal Service to put this in perspective.

The Bermuda Postal Service is government agency, and so when you couple the standard government inefficiencies of any country with what I call Bermuda "sweet time" (due to a general lack of urgency seen on many islands), I cringe at the thought of dealing with the post.  My National Geographic magazines arrive in an interesting fashion -- sometimes 1 month late, sometime I will go 2 or 3 months and then get a bundle, and happily, this November I finally got my May edition.  The first year I moved to the island my friend Karen, renowned for the baking of incredible cookies, send me a package of homemade gingersnaps for Christmas.  What a delightful surprise when I received a surprise package later that March.  I hesitated for at least 20 seconds, going through my mental notes of every bacteria, mould, or toxin that could attack a cookie that spent 3 months lost in the Bermuda Postal Service...but this was a KAREN cookie...and it was in Tupperware...and they were delicious.  I survived with no adverse effects.  I do however wonder if all those missing planes and boats that people have recorded as lost in the Bermuda Triangle will one day show up on top of some one's mailbox...perhaps the postal service IS the Bermuda Triangle.  Just a thought.

Shipping to or from Bermuda is incredibly expensive.  An large envelope of documents sent regular post can easily cost $30.  A small package can be $30-$70.  One friend told me she packaged something up but the postage would have been $150 on $20 worth of merchandise.  Still though, sometimes the people that love me very very much will still pay to mail me presents.  After the shipping party has paid the enormous fees, when the package arrives, it must be inspected by the postal service.  When you do get a card in your mailbox telling you there is a package, you must go to the post office, usually stand in line through most of your lunch break, and then when the package arrives you must open it in front of the post office staff.  You can imagine how much of a spoiler this is for Christmas and Birthday presents.  To make it worse, once the surprise is ruined, they tally up the value of the gift and you have to pay them 25% of its value as a tax.  Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas.  Now, my Bermudian friends will be quick to point out that we pay a very low income tax and the government gets its revenue by taxing items that are brought onto the island.  It's still a Christmas bummer folks.  However, thanks to my friend Tonya, I have won a few times.  Tonya always sends incredibly thoughtful gifts, and gives me the satisfaction of baffling and confounding the postal service.  This April she spent $8 on postage to send me a handful of Cadbury Easter Screme Egg minis.  I could see the wheels turning with the postal service...what was I trying to pull?  I grinned, waiting to see if they were going to make me eat them on sight to ensure there was no contraband inside...but with a wary eye, they shook the package again to make sure nothing more valuable that they could tax popped out, and sent me on my way.  They could only shake their heads when my flannel penguin jammies arrived the year before.  Perhaps they remembered me though, for when my $11 Shutterfly calender arrived that I made with my own pictures, they charged me $17 to pick it up.

And then, of course, there are Christmas cards.  I never sent Christmas cards in Canada, as I knew I would see everyone over the season.  Moving abroad, I decided it was a must.  Knowing how long it takes, I bought my Christmas cards the first week of November, and dutifully hand wrote and addressed about 50 of them.  I went to the post office to buy the stamps, sealing the first envelopes while I waited, and then she gave me 2 sets of stamps -- one for 75 cents, and one for $1.75 (or something like that).  I asked why they were different and she looked at me like I was stark raving mad and said "Because you licked those."  Another one of those confusing moment for me in Bermuda.  After a few awkward questions met with terse answers, it turns out licking the envelopes does not actually get you a fine, but there are 2 rates, it costs a dollar more to send a greeting card if you seal the envelope.  You get a discount for leaving it unsealed.  Of course, I thought, you inspect the envelopes to make sure there is nothing taxable or contraband in there?  Do you seal it afterwards so the card doesn't fall out? all I got.  The loophole is that if you buy a sticker or Easter seal and close the card with that, your postage rate is 1/3 of what it is if you actually use the seal on the envelope.  So, for four years, I diligently stopped licking my envelopes to get all of your Christmas cards to you.

However, as I scooted down the street under a blue sky and the church bell chorus of carols, I realized that I have not yet bought, written, addressed, and dutifully not licked any Christmas cards this year.  I missed the cues...but then again, I will see you all in 2014, and so the Christmas card seems a little less urgent this year.  Hope you are all enjoying your Christmas preparations, wherever you are.  I apologize for the lack of a Christmas card this year, but hope to take up a chair at your table for a visit in the New Year...till then, take care!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Rider Pride

I grew up in a small town (a hamlet actually, population 47 people last time i checked) in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada.  I love telling people from outside of Canada that I'm from Saskatchewan.  Most people don't know what I have just said, if I am kidding or not, or how to repeat it to ask the questions to find out, so they just give you a head tilt, furrowed brow and/or one closed eye and say "Whaaaaat?"  It just gets more fun from there.  They will ask more questions trying to figure out how to place this strange sounding land in the map on their heads.  "Where's that near?"  Manitoba, I say, because Alberta has a little more fame and I don't want to make it easy.  "Okay, well, when you fly home, where do you fly to?"  Regina, I tell them (which is pronounced with a hard i, not the soft vowel like Gina, it's Rej-eye-na).  This usually prompts a quick "What did you say?" and is quickly followed by a twitch of their lips, a big smile, or an outright giggle.  "Seriously, what's the name of the airport?"  Regina International.  "So where did you go to school?"  Kincaid.  "Did you say 'Kinkay'?"  Close.

Saskatchewan is a special place, we call it the Land of the Living Skies, and it does have the most beautiful skies I have ever seen, hosting gorgeous multi hued sunrises and sunsets, northern lights, and incredible summer thunderstorms.  Saskatchewan is 251,700 square miles (a bit bigger than Bermuda) holds only 1.08 million people.  There are a lot of small towns, with a lot of funny names, and in my part little of Saskatchewan, you farm, or...wander around trying to figure out what else to do until you find yourself living on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic blogging about Saskatchewan.  In all of that land mass, for all of those one million souls, there is precisely one pro sports team...the Saskatchewan Roughriders (and yes, they are based out of Regina).  Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of hockey going on as well, but not quite professional level.

For those of you who haven't heard of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (which likely means you also haven't heard of Saskatchewan), they are a football team in the CFL (Canadian Football League), and for my international friends, yes I mean the funny shaped kinda football that you don't kick with your foot very much in the game.  It's very much like American Football, except the field is bigger and the game is faster having fewer downs.  For my Canadian and American friends, what I am referring to for the other friends is that they call soccer football and get really upset when you mash the terms.  Riders Fans are dedicated hardcore fans.  There was a season in the 1980's where the team was losing so badly that the fans were embarrassed to be seen on TV in the stands, so they wore paper bags over their heads...because they still didn't want to miss the game just in case.  And when they are winning, the fans are exuberant.  We call it Rider Pride.  You don't really need to be a football fan, but if you are from Saskatchewan, you still feel that calling to root for your home team, be part of the green machine, and cheer on your Riders.

I myself cannot proclaim to be a football fan, I would say I am more of a Grey Cup fan (that would be like the Superbowl for you international people).  Grey Cup is the CFL Championship and this year was the 101st Grey Cup.  Grey Cup celebrations are a big deal on game day every November, and growing up in Saskatchewan you learn to set aside Grey Cup Sunday like a quasi holiday, and pack around a TV with a group of friends, munchies and beverages, and get into the game.  In fact, I started seeing the posts come up early in the morning of Grey Cup cakes and green beer were being prepared...decorations going up, faces being painted, and for those going to the game, toques and mittens being adorned.  On a similar front, Canadians in Bermuda were getting ready as well.

Saskatchewan Flag on the left
Even while living in Bermuda, I still have watched every Grey Cup game.  This year, the Association of Canadians in Bermuda hosted an event at the Hog Penny.  They flew in some Canadian Beer (Moosehead, of course, and Labatt's Blue), and added chicken wings and poutine (french fries, cheese curds, and gravy) to the menu.  I realized that most of my friends on the island are not Canadian, most of that crew moved back home, and so it was hard to find anyone to go out on a cold, rainy November night to watch Canadian Football.  So, I went by myself.  One of the other cool things about Saskatchewan is that Saskatchewanese people (also called Saskachewanian or a Saskatchewaner -- these are official terms according to Wikipedia) can be found wandering all over the place.  So not surprisingly, I wandered into a tiny bar on a tiny rock in the big old Atlantic on my own, and within 5 minutes had met a lovely couple...with Saskatchewan roots.  Not very often someone asks you if you know where Woodrow is, in fact, I can honestly say that's a first.  Turns out me and my people know some of their people.  Also roaming around the same small place was the daughter of one of the 1960's Roughrider running backs.

And so, in Bermuda, I cozied in on a chilly night, with a group of my countrymen, the food and beverage comforts of home (available for one night only), against the glow of my home team on the tv's, and in sight of the Canadian, Saskatchewan, Ontario flags.  Game on.  After a flyby by the famous Snowbirds, the game began, with the Rider's scoring first in one of the oddest plays I have ever seen (probably due to frozen fingers...November in Saskatchewan is pretty cold).  At the half time show there was a Canadian boy band Hedley...and snowmobiles jumping in the background.  The Riders took the Cup easily, I got a Moosehead, met some new people, and for a couple of hours forgot that I wasn't in Saskatchewan anymore.
The Action
The Rider Pride prevailed.  It can safely be tucked away for the winter now, until next season.  Congratulations Riders!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Secret Fortress

When I last blogged the story left us half way through a day off, when I was arriving at the entrance of the site I had planned to visit -- scheduled fun, my sister would say with a touch of irony. 

My phone rang, my friend Simon who would be leaving the island in 4 days was on the other end of the line, and had finished selling the last of his stuff, and was free to come scoot-touring with me.  In a year of many challenges and changes, we had made it through the figurative ex-pat family wringer and now had one last afternoon to hang out, just us two.  Ex-pats are a bit of a pack animal, often sighted in a small herd.  But one on one time with any friend is both a treat and an essential part of forming deeper bonds and collective memories that give the friendship the basis for surviving distance and time apart.  I see this clearly in retrospect, but at the time I didn't realize that this is what the day would become.

The first part of the day was to discard my plan and start from scratch.  Randomness is always more fun anyway.  Stop 1, admittedly, had been on my to do list, I wanted to find the sea glass beach that I had occasionally heard mention of.  The few references I was able to find said that the beach and a little cave were right by the old Alexandra Battery in St. George's.  Bermuda has always had defense systems in place -- in the 1600's they were worried about the Spanish, later the French, then the America's in the 1800's, and lastly Bermuda became a valuable outpost for both World Wars.  Between Britain, Canada, and the US, military bases were in Bermuda from early in the 1600's to the 1990's.  So the Alexandra Battery is a little bit more modern munitions base than some of the other forts, but had a couple of cool cannons.
Front of the Alexandra Battery
I set my sights to the right looking for the little cave and the sea glass beach I had heard of, but Simon quickly said we should go to the left..."can't you hear it?"  "Hear what?" I said.  " can hear the tinkling of glass, it's the little beach to the left."  Sure enough, as we got closer, I could hear it, almost like a faint wind chime, the rush of a wave, and then gentle tinkling of the glass bits bouncing against each other and the pebbles.
The Sea Glass Beach glitters in the sun
For some reason, sea glass washes up in certain places, and this is one of them.  The constant grinding and friction from the sea smooths and rounds the edges of the broken glass, and makes it cloudy rather than transparent.  It can be beautiful, and many local craftspeople make very pretty jewellery from it.  Green and brown and white glass can be quite common, blue is rare, and red is very rare.  Many people come to pick the glass, so the pieces were smaller and not as extraordinary as I had hoped, but, with frequent visits one could find some real beauties I am sure.
Close up of glass washed into the rocks of the cave at high tide
The next fort along the road is Gates Fort.  We found it abandoned by all but a couple of bikini clad tourists basking on its walls (tourists, obviously as the rest of us have packed away our bikinis until next summer...or at least a celebration worth getting a chill for, like Christmas for example).  A much smaller fort, Gates Fort is situated a little further south and a little further inland of St. Catherine's.  It's guns have a bead on any ship that would approach the larger fort of St. Catherine's.  So small but simple, it is the Fort that had the other's Fort's back.
Peering through the fort gun hole at the cannons still trained to sea
These walls have weathered the waves for about 400 years outside of Gates Fort
Following that, Simon suggested we go to "the hidden fort" that no one knows about in St. David's.  My curiosity was piqued.  I had just looked at a list of all of the old forts in Bermuda, and I knew there was one in St. David's, but the information available hadn't really caught my eye and I probably would not have gone otherwise.  From that point on the day took on a different quality.  When we are kids we really embrace exploring our backyards, imagining what great things might have happened in a place far older than us, and seeing exactly what could be possible -- for example what if storm troopers really did suddenly march out from the woods?  Somehow we think that we lose this imagination when we are adults.  But we don't this lose this capacity.  We just repress it most of the time under the weight of schedules and expectations.  The cure seems to be a little randomness.

On the way to St. David's we stopped in the town of St. George's and picked up some snacks and beverages before carrying on our way.  Before we reached our destination in St. David's, Simon suddenly pulled over across from a deserted and crumbling building that was once part of the US Air force Base...we think it was the daycare.  Pink and turquoise walls, the roof has caved in, the windows have been smashed...but the doors are still in place and some remain locked.  Despite the years of exposure to weather, the wooden fireplace mantle remains in excellent condition (Bermuda cedar perhaps).  I had stopped here before and peered inside, but today we crawled through the brushes and rubble to photograph the disrepair.  And have a little lunch and a nice cold beer.  Somewhere inside, a teenage me smiled at the familiarity of the situation, enjoying the novelty of being somewhere no one else wants to be and wondering about the people who once frequented these rooms decades ago.

Abandoned military base building

After our little lunch, and nearing 4 pm, we carried on towards the old St. David's Fort.  I am not the only one who gets lost in St. David's...there are several curvy little roads to turn down and follow only to find yourself at a dead end.  After getting directions to a landmark known to be near the fort, we finally found it, although I doubt I could find it again without a lot of driving around again.  Armed with cameras and the 4 remaining beer, we climbed the walls of the fort, and got some pictures of the big guns and the nearby Lost At Sea Memorial, erected in 2005 and unveiled by Prince Andrew of York.
Lost at Sea Memorial

A local kid, maybe 5 or 6 years old and dressed in the formal tie and dress of a local school, sensed our own childlike drive to explore and sought us out and stuck to us like glue.  Our inner adults convinced him that he should go home and ask his mom if he was allowed to play on the fort and its surrounding cliffs with a bunch of strange adults, and he finally and reluctantly relented. Which was a good thing because about 20 of his friends were calling out from the local soccer field and it looked like we were about to become boyscout troop leaders for the day. Outside of the fort walls, gun still aimed at sea, nature takes over the defensive wall and I found myself standing on the steepest and tallest cliff I have seen on the island.  My partner in crime verbally tugged at me to drag me further along, promising that I would get an even better view.  Indeed it was.
Edge of the St, David's Battery

We made our way through undergrowth, down a steep hill, and finally came across sound old concrete stairs.  There was no defined path through the growth, no signs that anyone had come this way for a very very long time.  We had found that secret fortress that we all dream of as children.  This old bunker is completely tucked away, pristine inside, and offering an equally perfect view of the waves smashing against the nearby cliffs with rivulets of water running down them to rejoin the process over and over and over.
The secret Fortress

And so we sat, in our secret fort, on our remote island, and retold the stories of our friendship over the years on this island, speculated on adventures to come, and laughed.  As the wave crashed onto the rocks and the sun set, both literally and figuratively, we shared a beer in a place where the history of many footfalls from long ago hangs heavy in the air.  A sense of peaceful nostalgia washed over me.  I realized I would remember this day for many, many years, for its beauty, its peacefulness, and its general ease and purity.  A perfect last day for two friends at the end of an era.  A treasure and a secret fortress...what more could one ask for on a day off?
Add caption
 Dinner, of course.

The Waterlot Inn is another old building, a perfect fit to the days theme, and quite simply, their steak is always perfection.  As it should be, as they have been refining their culinary arts there for almost 350 years.  When Bill and Hillary Clinton are in town, they can be spotted at the Waterlot.  However, so can (and should) a girl fresh from climbing through derelict buildings, heavy shrubbery, and scaling grubby old rocks (after quickly removing the visible grease and grime, locating a hair brush, and tossing on something a little more appropriate -- thank you Michael Kors for making elegance so much easier for us tomboys).  Dinner was of course, delicious and the ambiance perfect as always.  But the secret fortress was definitely the best part of my day.
The secret Fortress lies just below, tucked away like all good treasure is

Friday, November 22, 2013

Down at Tobacco Bay

Days off are few and far between these days, and so when the lonely single Monday finally came that was scheduled to be all mine this week, i set out to make the most of it.  I pooled all of the tools I had available...a camera, a phone, a scooter, and a plan.  I was off to scoot-tour the island and take some pictures.  I was heading to St. George's, that end of the island that is just too far away to venture to very often -- yes, it's 20 km away from town -- surely that requires a full day of planning.  Funny how I manage to stay so busy in a 5 km radius and view a 20 km drive as a full day trip!

Pulling up my trusty google maps, I looked up Fort St. Catherine's on the map to determine exactly where it was.  I noticed Tobacco Bay was on the way, and I realized I had never even been to Tobacco Bay, which is very famous for its scenery.  Once I had my bearings, and my plan, I hopped on the scooter and began the journey.  So I drove, and drove, and drove...keeping in mind that 20km when the speed limit is 35 takes a lot longer.  When I finally reached the airport, I pulled over to take in the view.  Not of the airport, but of the calm water across from it.
Across from the airport
A few minutes and a few text messages later I thought I had the rest of my day planned out.  I was then treated to a plane coming in.  I was not alone.  There are usually a few cars parked near the airport or the docks as people just like to see the planes and cruise ships come in and out.  I thought it was a nice contrast to have the jet over top of the sailboats.
Coming in for Landing
Happy with the start of my scoot-tour day, I carried on towards St, George's, pleased with the clear blue skies and warm sunshine.  Map having been consulted, I still managed to take a wrong turn or two, and so I scooted around St. George's narrow and steep roads until I found my way.  After a few wrong turns and subsequent backtracking through most of the intersections in the vicinity, I  finally topped the hill and got a sight of Tobacco Bay.  It is truly beautiful.
Tobacco Bay
Tobacco Bay is outstanding for a sense of peacefulness.  It is situated at the end of a narrow road that goes through a now defunct golf course where there is almost no traffic or sounds of civilization.  The water is calm and still, not even the gentle swooshing of waves is present to break the absolute stillness of the Bay.  This is one reason traveller's who are seeking a true retreat will sometimes hole up in St. George's...the town is as far away from the hustle and bustle of tourist shops, nightclubs, and crowds as you can get.  St. George's was, after all, not only the first capital of Bermuda (until Hamilton took over in 1815) but also the oldest continuously habituated English town anywhere in the New World.  It even predates the establishment of the town of Jamestown, Virginia (although Jamestown had settlers first, the town was established after St. George's).  The narrow streets and old buildings of St. George's still seems to provide a window into the past.  Civilization may be a great deal different, but I suspect the pace of life in St. George's hasn't changed all that much in 400 years.  That in itself is a rare and valuable thing.  But back to Tobacco Bay....

The rock formations around Tobacco Bay are stunning, and I really enjoyed looking at the different formations rising out of the shimmering and crystal clear waters.  A hoodoo here, one that looked like a child with arms outstretched playing airplanes...or a skydiver.  I had a lot of fun looking at the rocks in different angles and trying to relate their shape to a familiar object (here i go about rocks's an obsession).
My skydiver rock
I am definitely going to spend a warm summer day on this beach next summer.  Or maybe I will just allot some time the next time I try to go to Fort St. Catherine's, because I never did make it through the doors.  By the time I finished photographing my rocks, my phone had gone off again, and as the best of days go, the well formulated plans were about to fall off into random adventures -- stay tuned tomorrow...for now it's time to post and get some sleep.

Bermuda's crystal clear waters at Tobacco Bay

Thursday, November 21, 2013

May The Road Rise Up To Meet You

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

An old Irish blessing.  Unbeknownst to me until I followed a new road of sunshine and warm rains to Bermuda, and met some lovely Irish friends who introduced me to this verse.  I have mentioned before how as expats our friends become family.  Friends become brothers and sisters who we lean on, confide in, and share hopes, dreams, and anxieties.  Through it all,

Tonight I hugged an old friend goodbye.  I am not sure when we will meet again  After 4 years of birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, Friday nights, random events, many good time, a few challenges, suddenly tomorrow there will be a face missing.  It happens to us all, as expats.  People leave.  Continuously.  We all will leave.  When we leave home, there is a sense that it is temporary...that we will come back, or that ties will continue to bring us back.  But as an expat when you leave, you are really leaving, and your expat family moves apart in different directions.  You may meet again, but you will not likely get everyone together in the same place at the same time again.  Saying goodbye to one is saying goodbye to a group, a unique period of time that you will never again recreate or own.  I suppose every moment in time is like that, a haunting snapshot of a look, a smile, or a laugh that happens and then is lost forever in time.  I know that new paths and new adventures await us all, and tomorrow my friend will be on a plane and several hundred miles into a journey that takes him back to old friends and family who will embrace his return, as they too once said goodbye and didn't know for how long.  I am excited, as always for this next phase, but there is a heavy feeling tonight on that last goodbye...and I have few words so will simply say again...

May the road rise up to meet you (the right road will seek you out).
May the wind always be at your back (and give you speed and not deter you).
May the sun shine warm upon your face (and anywhere else you need a tan),
and rains fall soft upon your fields (on Sunday mornings whilst you rest).
And until we meet again (which i must believe we will)
may God hold you in the palm of his hand (be safe, be happy, be well...I shall miss you)

Monday, November 18, 2013

My First Bermuda Love

I have always believed in love at first sight.  And intuition.  I would like to say that intuition never leads you astray, but I have to admit that isn't always the case.  But it certainly acts as a compass that takes you exactly where you need to be, for all the good and bad that may be on that path.

In 2008 I stepped off a plane at the L.F. Wade International Airport in Bermuda, a day late for my vacation thanks to the earliest Atlantic hurricane on record (which I refused to take as a sign to steer clear of this so called Devil's Isle).  The heat and humidity lit up a smile on my face and the sweet smell of oleander wafted through my senses, giving me an overwhelming sensory cue that it was vacation time, time to relax.  But there was one more thing that hit me, before I had taken my second step on the ground between the plane and the terminal (in Bermuda you still walk down stairs into open air and walk into the terminal to go through customs).  My gut kicked in and a little voice deep inside me said "This is home."  My conscious quickly dismissed this irrational instinct and I took my third step towards the terminal and forgot about it...for a while anyway.

As the car drove from the airport to my accommodations, I took in the heavy greenery, the windy roads, but it was a stunning image of a large black volcanic rock jutting out of the mesmerizing blue ocean that burned into my brain as my first impression of Bermuda.  I could not wait to stick my toes in that water.  On the first morning, I started walking and some helpful local workers directed me to the nearest beach, a little spot called Elbow Beach.  It was love at first sight.  I went back every day, shocked that such a beautiful beach would be so deserted in mid July.  As a local, I know now that most tourists flock to the more famous beaches, preferring to lay side by side in with the other hotel guests at Horseshoe Bay.  And 2 days after a hurricane, the locals were probably waiting for the waves to go down...or they were all at work and couldn't come out to play.  That is a very real problem when one moves to Bermuda after all.  I had the whole beautiful place to myself, almost every day.  Just my footprints on the sand.  No voices to mar the sound of the waves rushing onto the shore.  Just me and a few birds, and the still quiet little voice that i had heard at the airport...silent only because she was gathering peace, tranquility, and memories to use as evidence against logic later on.  One day I did come across other people, and asked if they would take a picture of me on my favorite rock on this rock.  I have always had a weird fascination with rocks, the little ones are unique as snowflakes if you look closely enough, and the big ones are just cool -- perhaps a second career in geology would have been a good idea.  It wasn't the stunning one I mentioned earlier, but it was unique, hardy, and seems to me to be shaped a little like a crown.

My Bermuda vacation 2008
After the vacation when I went back to Canada, the little voice started wearing away at the bigger voices of logic, practicality, and conscious rational thought.  Knowing how to stage a battle, the little voice kept the arguments very simple.  It waited until the end of a good day, and while logic, practicality, and rationality were patting themselves on the back for a solid day of hard work or a weekend of successful skydiving, the little voice dropped down on them like a tiny cannonball and said "meh, that was alright."  And then the little voice hit play on the little memory soundbite of tree frogs singing as the sun set over a thick growth of trees.  I felt an unmistakable stirring -- longing.  The memory of that sound made me long for Bermuda.  And then the little voice hit play on the sound of the waves on those mornings on Elbow Beach and the heart and soul joined in as allies -- I realized I had fallen in love.  One cannot deny the heart, game over, decision made, I was just going to have to move to Bermuda.  Logic, and a few friends, put up a good fight with a few thoughts like "But it's so expensive,"  "You don't even know if you can find a job."  But the little voice just looked around and said "I think I need to start downsizing my possessions for when I move."  And so in September I started lurking online for job postings while dropping of carloads of things at Goodwill.  In January, on my second application, I was offered a job.  Nearly 5 years later, I am thankful for the little voice, as living in Bermuda has given me financial reward, rest, a wonderful experience, and the gift of many new lifelong friends.  While it will be hard to leave Bermuda next year, the little voice spoke to me loud and clear last May, and logic, practicality, and rationality are as nervous about the lack of a plan as ever...but they are learning to trust the little voice to guide the way.
Elbow Beach
Elbow Beach has been a focal point of my time here.  Every Christmas Day takes me to Elbow Beach.  I use Elbow Beach as my target for a walk or run, treating myself to a few minutes looking out over the shore before heading back.  If I make it to the beach to lay about in the sun, it's usually Elbow Beach I head to.  The dive shop is where I did my scuba dive.  I think I will carry the sound of those waves in my mind forever.  I will always love Elbow Beach, the little patch of Bermuda that called me back, and brought me to where I needed to be.
Tranquil, peaceful, first Bermuda love

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cat-Tales...Winter is on the way

A few weeks ago I posted about the signs of Fall...they are continuing and I suspect we are almost into winter.  The clocks have rolled back, it was dark when I started my day again today, and dark when I woke up from my 1 hour catnap after work.  Time to up the dose of the Vitamin D pills (as we all should when we are not getting enough sunlight).

There were a few more telltale signs I have noticed -- when I walked across the tile floor this morning a rather unusual thought broke into my normally concentrated thoughts of coffee.  It was "Socks.  I think I need to put on socks."  Definitely a sign that we are well into fall and nearing winter.  I pulled out my toque for Rugby a couple of nights ago -- I am not ashamed to wear a toque in Bermuda...nor was I alone, or without envy from the toqueless.

Another sign is that every year about this time I start commenting on noticing the cold and my Canadian friends gently suggest that I should zip it or risk bodily injury.  I think we can check that off the list for this year already as well once I hit publish on this.

I have also dragged the electric blanket out of the closet, but only had to use it once so far.  Fortunately I remembered my fleecy long sleeve pajamas (with penguins, as all good winter jammies require penguins or polar bears no matter how old you are -- thank you Tonya for that Christmas present), which will ward off having to plug in the blanket for a few days or weeks, depending on whether we get another cold front or not.  For now, recall that there is no central heating in Bermuda homes, I have been comfortable with just using the dehumidifier.  A dehumidifier is an essential household appliance in Bermuda.  I went for the large model with a 10L reservoir.  In my first apartment in Southampton, an older unit, it was pulling a full 10L of water out of the air in the unit every night.  In my newer apartment, it has much less work to do, but typically I see the room at close to 80% when I turn it on.  While I sleep/desiccate it will get the humidity down to about 58%, serving the purposes of making the air less damp and therefore less chilly and kicking out some heat as energy though the process.  This also bodes well for the contents of the closet as well, as anything that sits undisturbed in a closet with the humidity and darkness of a closet will get mouldy pretty quickly.  I once pulled out a pair of green fuzzy boots...they used to be black suede.  So, a dehumidifier will save you from having to dress like Oscar the Grouch and keep you warmer and dryer than you would otherwise be.

I also have a couple of biological indicators of fall and winter.  They are called Lexi, Aiden, and Harry.  I noticed the other day that Lexi had really fluffed up...she is positively puffy, much to her dismay, as anything that makes her cuter and more likely to be petted just makes her furious (or shall i say furrious).  Like it or not she is even fuzzier and softer than usual, so I am pulling out my long sleeve tops from the drawers and hanging them in the closet as well.
Lexi is extra fluffy for Bermuda winter

Aiden and Harry, also known as the Panthers, do not have the ability to puff up with their fur type...but I did find them synergistically coiled into a single cat unit on the bed the other day...and I realized even they think there is a chill in the air.
siamese panthers
I hope my Canadian friends have a a nice warm Chinook and no snow, so that I may be spared their wrath when they read this.  Chalk it up to me having sympathy chills with they said when I got here, it takes the Canadians a few years to get the cold out of your bones!  I do know I am lucky to be able to enjoy the view of the Bermuda Blues as opposed to frozen lakes...and will focus on some nice beach photos these next few days.

A snapshot from North Shore Road last week

Friday, November 15, 2013

Rugby Week!

It's Rugby Week in Bermuda!  Officially known as the World Rugby Classic Bermuda, this annual event is celebrating its 25th year on the island.  Since 1988, the Classic has been coming to Bermuda, attracting retired pros, and fans from around the world.

Most teams continue to come back year after year, both the teams and the individual players building up a relationship with the island.  You know you have lived in Bermuda for a decent stretch of time when you start recognizing tourists on their annual trip to the island.  Take for example Tuesday night when I popped into Flanagans to say hello to the gang, spotted a face i recognized in the crowd but couldn't place, and went "oh right, that's one of the rugby guys, they were holed up in the Pickled Onion last year."  It's hard to forget them when the team puts a few thousand dollars down for a bar tab for the week and starts treating the locals.  But I am off topic...going back to the teams that are repeat of the island.  There is, of course, a UK presence with the Lions.  I type that with some trepidation because I know I am on dangerous ground here.  The English will be very quick to tell you that they are NOT British, they are English, and it's a very big difference.  Nor would one want to call a Scottish person a Brit by accident, and then of course there is Ireland and Wales.  I thought I had found the politically correct way about this, which was UK, but I have recently been politely educated, yet firmly enough that I won't make the mistake again, that Ireland is not referenced as part of the UK.  So, the Lions team is from somewhere over the pond, they fly the flags for England, Ireland, Scotland, and I think there was a Welsh flag...but I have no idea how to lump the four into one national description, so we will just call them the Lions from here on out.  Notably, for their close ties with Bermuda, their uniforms sport a lot of pink, right down to the pink knee socks on the big burly brutes, so they are easy to pick out of the crowd.
Lions in blue and pink, Argentina in white and blue
Another favorite is the Australian Wallabies...possibly because they are a good rugby team, possibly because everyone just loves Australian accents.  Rugby Canada is always a notable presence...not necessarily on the field but absolutely on the island...they are spotted on scooters all over the island proudly wearing their red Canada logos and attire, and it is not without reason that their team is sponsored by the Swizzle Inn.  Local legend has it that this sponsorship and scooter relationship led to one of them going home without a thumb a few years back.  You can't have all the favorites without a few favorite villains, so for that I will pick on the obvious, the USA Eagles, The French, and the Argentinians, because I think they are newest, as somebody had to replace the New Zealand All Blacks.  According to my ticket there was an Italian team too.  That said, I know very little about rugby.  The serious fans will, or even regular attendees of the event will be able to pick apart any confusion I put into this text...but first they have to read this, so I will just ramble on like a knowledgeable authority until otherwise challenged..

Typically rugby week is a really big event.  There is an influx of several hundred people onto the island when you add up the teams, support, friends and family, and fans.  The National Stadium is the main gathering point, games are in the afternoons and evenings, and there are on site liquor sales, so the rugby week really does become the party.  About half of the area is fenced off into corporate tents.  The corporate tents are full, and usually a catered party perk for clients and their staff -- it's a desirable area to be in..but, I have never been on that side so I can't say much.  I am over on the public bleachers side, and the public beer gardens.  But to be fair, it is plenty enough fun for me on that side.

Over on the public rowdy side -- these guys heckled the teams and the fans
Why rugby gets such a good turnout is a bit of a mix of things.  For one thing, it is the one blissful week of the year where the island flies in a lot of fresh, athletic boys in all different models-- English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French, American, Canadian, Italian, Argentinian, South African, and Australian.  Clearly a few girls go out to the games.  Now, being a guy living in Bermuda, you go where the girls go.  If you are not interested in either of these things, you go just because it's a novelty that comes round only once per year.  You go there to be silly and have a few drinks and be entertained.  Or you go because everyone else you know is there.  I bet there are even a few people mixed in there that like rugby.  Nonetheless, rugby week is a pretty popular event.  I will say there were a lot of comments that there were a lot less people in the crowds so far this week, perhaps the population drain is showing a bit, perhaps the recession...but it was still a fun evening out.

I went on Thursday night, lured out by my friend Phil with the idea of taking some photos.  It was already the semi finals, and in the first game, the Lions were knocked out by the Argentinians.  The second game took on a bit more life, even though it was an absolute blow out.  The Americans faced off the crowd and sang their national anthem before the game started.
USA Eagles
They had a lot of heart to go along with the patriotism.  This got the crowd going, and the enthusiastic and ethanol fueled fans behind us led the crowd in song with  -- "bye bye miss American pie, drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry..." followed by "aweemowop aweemowop aweemowop the lion sleeps tonight."  Despite a surprising win over the Australians to get to the semi-final, the Springbox decimated the |Americans 47-7.

I am not sure exactly what happened, since I know only limited rugby terms, like scrum, but I don't know if that's where they have a slow motion pile up or if that's where they throw someone in the air like a cheerleader to catch the ball.  I do know that last set of points looked like the guy got a breakaway and scored a touchdown...but pretty sure neither of those terms apply to rugby.  I also learned that my camera lens is way to small...and that Phil's is on the other end of the spectrum and got more mockery than the Americans who lost by 40 points.  In all honesty, if the spectrum range is my camera lens to the scope on a tank, Phil's lens is closer to the tank scope than to my lens.

This unusual moment (normally seen only in prison) is a rugby norm...we shall call it Step 1

Here in Step 2, the little guy tosses the big guy in the air, as opposed to the other way around for some reason.

Step 3, The catch, or cheerleader move as I call it.

All in all, a fun night, some blurry photo experiments, and possibly my last rugby experience in Bermuda.  Well, there is always the finals and wrap up Saturday night -- if you haven't been out, it sounds like the crowds have been saving up all week for Saturday night, so it should be a good one!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bermuda Loves a Parade!

On Monday I attended the Remembrance Day Ceremonies and Parade in Hamilton.  I generally don't like parades, not even the one in Disneyland, but I definitely make an exception for Remembrance Day.  While I am not usually a fan of the parade, Bermuda is a place that love love LOVES parades.  It seems like there are a lot of them.

The first parade of the season is the Bermuda Day Parade.  Bermuda Day is a public holiday on a Monday, previously known as Victoria Day celebrating that Queen's birthday, and coincides with the Canadian May Long Weekend.  In my memory, the Bermuda Day Parade is the largest, longest, and most lively parade.  There are floats, bands, majorettes, traditional Gombey dancers, and more.  People don't just come out to watch the parade -- spectating is an active event.  One or two days before the event the most eager of the spectators to be come out to Front Street and write their name in chalk on the sidewalk where they wish to be, and chalk off the area they will need for the group of people they are claiming for.  This was very fascinating for me, not knowing why all these chalk names were showing up on the sidewalks in town.  Fortunately it doesn't rain a lot in May, so not only do the chalk outlines persist, but the parade is usually sunny and hot...sometimes really hot.  The other thing that I found amazing is the people honor these chalk claims to the prime spots.  No one steals someone spot.

Bermuda Day Parade 2009.  To me the yellow and orange clad majorettes screamed "you are in the Caribbean now!"

Early in the day the people start to arrive.  They come to the spot they claimed in advance, set up their lawn chairs, erect poles and tarps for shade, haul in their coolers of ice and drinks, set up their barbecues, and take hold for a day with friends and family watching the entertainment go by.  The less enthusiastic can weave their way through the densely packed sidewalks to get a glimpse, or hope for a spot on one of the restaurant balconies (those are usually reserved well in advance as well).  If you're lucky, someone will offer you a fresh burger from their little parade hut as you go by.

Note the crowded patios above

The parade goes on for hours.  Not a fan of the crowds, I didn't stay long enough to determine how long, but it was clearly a well loved celebration, and town stays lively long after the sun sets.

I have read that there is a Queen's Birthday Parade in June, a Labour Day Parade in September, a Christmas Parade in December, and a unique parade in April regarding the annual payment of one peppercorn from the Freemason's to the City of St.George's for rent on the old state house...something that has been going on for...297 years or so.  Where one finds a peppercorn and what happens when you plug it into an ATM...I know not.  More mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle.  All of these parades are unique in some ways, but with many familiar participants.  There are numerous children's majorettes and dance groups that perform, as well as cadets, and that alone ensures that the crowds will follow to see their sons, daughters, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews perform.

Remembrance Day is of course a much more sombre note -- the participants are the police, the regiment, cadets, and of course, the veterans are the true guests of honor.  The crowds were out this year in full force again -- although the police working security said this was the biggest crowd they had seen yet. 

Remembrance Day 2013
The bagpipes and drums always stir my soul, and this year is was the same.  But having done a bit more research on Bermuda's part in the war, I felt especially moved to see the veterans marching this year -- somehow the voluntary act of duty from a country with so few people and who the world probably had no expectation of help from touched me.  Veterans amaze me, that despite being about 80 and beyond, poise and strength are still strong and obvious within them.

The start of the troop of Bermuda War Veterans on Remembrance Day 2013

One of the parades that I find most unique, coming from my landlocked home of southern Saskatchewan, is the Christmas Boat Parade.

A Christmas Tree Boat
The Christmas Boat Parade takes place every second year on a Saturday evening, and the Boats parade through Hamilton harbour and are judged for the best decorations.  I was absolutely delighted by this!  My first Christmas here I gathered among the crowd at the harbour in the cold and damp air, wishing I had been like Cherie who knew enough to bring mittens and a toque when she moved to Bermuda.  However frozen I was, I could not get over the novelty of seeing boats in December all covered in Christmas lights on the 12th of December!  The competition is judged, although I never figured out if the criteria was based on the cheering of the crowd or a more official mechanism. I took some photos with my little point and shoot camera through the light drizzle of rain, not my best pictures but still a good memory.  There was a Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer Boat.

A boat load of presents

Bermuda has a bit of a reputation as being a have for boozehounds.  I suspect a few wobbly pops are consumed by most of the spectators and participators (not the captains of course).  In the case of one entry I wonder if they had a few too many while decorating, hence the confusion.
One kid always gets the assignment wrong

One trait of Bermuda that is well worth mentioning is the national pride for the creativity and artistry of their people, both young and old.  I suspect that had something to do with the winner of the 2009 Christmas Boat Parade.  The winning entry -- a Michael Jackson float, blasting Thriller over its sound system and the audience (well, most of the island actually the way sound carries over the island), complete with dancing zombies and a 10 foot tall Mikey with a white glove and all.  The giant Michael Jackson likeness decorated a supermarket for the rest of the holiday season.  What says Christmas more than dancing zombies on a boat? Star Wars of course...the Wookie seized the prize the next time around, in the 2011 boat parade.  I can hardly wait to see what this winner this year will be.  I am hoping for a Hunger Games theme myself...or maybe Thor.  If you are on island December 7th, be at the harbour at 6:30 to see for yourself!
Christmas Boat Parade Winner of 2009

Monday, November 11, 2013

We Remember, Near and Far

November 11, 2013 in Hamilton Bermuda.  I am sure a few people are wondering, so I will say that yes, Remembrance Day is observed in Bermuda.  Despite being a small country, Bermuda has been as involved as it can be in the wars of the past.  In the First World War, in 1915, it was Bermuda who sent the first unit of volunteers from the Colonies to the Front Line.  Bermuda sent troops in the Second World War as well -- and although it is a small country with a small population, per capita Bermuda had more people in uniform than anywhere else in the British Empire.  I think that said that Bermuda offered all that it could. There are almost 3000 Bermudians named on this monument for their service in World War I and II.

The Bermuda War Memorial
Bermuda has also played a role as a prized naval base as far back as the American War of Independence.  In World War II there was a sizeable US military operation in Bermuda -- functioning as mail screeners, translators, and code breakers.  After world War II and up to 1995 there was both a Canadian and US Military base on the island.  Bermudians are still conscripted for a period of 2 years into military service, and many Bermudian families have loved ones who moved to Canada or the US and actively serve and served in the campaigns of these larger countries.  So today I stand on foreign ground on this little rock but share a sentiment common to us all.

Remembrance Day.  From early childhood the significance of November 11 is taught in our schools.  In the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day our teachers focused on the History lesson and wove November 11 into the Art and English curriculum as well.   We were taught to donate for a poppy and to wear it as a symbol of pride and respect.  Through our childhood poems and drawings, we tried to understand a lesson of humanity far beyond our capacity.  We learned to respect veterans.  To remember that they gave their lives for our freedom.  On November 11 we would put on our winter jackets and boots and walk the short distance from the school to the Legion to observe the parade of veterans, to bow our heads in silence, and witness the laying of the wreaths.

The Cenotaph in Bermuda
Neither my Uncle nor my Grandfather ever participated in one of those parades that I knew of...but I knew they had been a part of "the war."  My Grandfather, Frank Monette, was a pilot in World War II.  A photo of him in uniform hung in his house the rest of his life, and one of the few details I know is that he was involved in an escort flight for Winston Churchill.  My grandfather returned home, continued to farm, and raise his family.  My great uncle, Lloyd Elliott, was an infantryman sent to Italy and Africa, and returned home only after losing a leg.  He never displayed his medals, never married, never again fit social norms, and as I understand it, scared a few people.  Today we are familiar with post traumatic stress disorder.  50 years ago they called him crazy and society didn't give him many chances.  I won't say that I am always the best judge of character, but when I was little my so called crazy uncle was one of my favorite people.  I noticed that he preferred to sit off by himself and mutter away while the rest of the family engaged in lively banter after dinner...but I also noticed that he was always happy to see us, to share a meal, that he always patted me on the head on the way past or acknowledged me even though i was the littlest and "runt of the litter" at that time (hard as that is to believe now).  He continued to farm, and now that I am an aunt, I can tell how very deeply he loved my siblings and I even though he didn't have children of his own.  He gave us wonderful gifts, but more importantly, he sat up in his chair and dismissed the ghosts around him when we walked in the room to ask us about things that might be important to a child -- what did you learn at school today, what books are in that bookbag today?  I knew he had a kinder soul than the people who had shut him out, and I knew he had to be a hero because he went to war.  They do say children see things more clearly than adults sometimes.  Both men have been gone now many years.  I never knew either of them beyond my childhood.  But now as an adult I see what some of those missing pieces were that I sensed as a child.  We focused on the veterans in front of us, and tried to show them through our presence and with our humble words and drawings that we thought they were brave, and strong, and that we were very proud of them for fighting in that war...and maybe the one before it too.  We tried to show that we were sorry that many soldiers had died.  What we could not understand at that age was that beyond the people in front of us, there were many more who had survived but lost themselves...maybe their faith, maybe their confidence, maybe a limb, a livelihood, a future.  They didn't teach us in school that the survivors must have nightmares, and that coming home did not magically restore them to the person they were or the life they had.  They did not try to teach us about the grief a generation of parents, widows, and fatherless children were experiencing.

I continued the ritual throughout high school, but once out in the world I found that observing silence was all that I did.  I regret that today.  And it changed after 9/11.  There is a military base in Edmonton -- home to the PPCLI, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry's 1st and 3rd Battalions.  When I became immersed in the sport of skydiving, I met many like minded souls who were currently in the military.  In support of them, I found myself at a much larger Remembrance Day Ceremony in Edmonton that I had ever seen in my small Saskatchewan hometown.  Friends like Ian had served in Germany and Cypress.  My boyfriend at that time had served in Bosnia.  John and John had both retired but looked always the solider.  Phil, aka Major Dad.  My uncle Al.  Over the years, friends were deployed to Afghanistan, returned home, and often went back...and back.  Jim, Glen, Jean, Steve, Dean, Chris Thombs, Chris K, Keith, and Billy to name a few.  A friend's brother in law was severely wounded.  The former boyfriend, Chris K, didn't come back.  In those years there was a noticeable shift in the service.  Not only did the crowds get larger, the crowds got younger.  In the services of my childhood, it was school children and seniors who made of up the majority of the crowd.  Now I noticed the bulk of the crowd were in their 20's and 30's, although all ages were represented.  The next year a colleague's husband didn't come back.

Today I remember that war has touched generations of all of our lives.  That there has been an unquantifiable loss, and that grief persists so long as one person who loved and lost someone still stands amongst us.  I see that as child my perceptions were too simple.  I thought the sacrifice was attached to the soldiers who went to war and died.  I didn't understand enough about the surviving veterans and how much it would cost one's soul to bear witness to such violence and horror.

Respect is due to the families who still grieve.  I am grateful to the soldiers of the past, and each of my military friends who have proudly represented Canada overseas...and I am even more grateful that you have come home.  Thank you for it all.  I hope we take today to remember and pay our respects, to brave the weather and show support through our physical presence -- and that tomorrow or very soon after that we let our government know that we support continued funding for veteran affairs services.  I will keep my candle burning again today, the white one representing peace, spiritual strength, healing, protection, and unity.  I will remember.

This time capsule was sealed May 2013.  It contains diaries, memoirs, and service records of Bermuda's veterans.