Thursday, November 5, 2009

So this family wakes up at 6 am....

OK, so we did it … we are among the first of the general-ish public in Montréal to be vaccinated for H1N1. And the experience? Well, overall, I have to say: I really do love the entire underlying attitude here of respect for public health and community and doing the right thing overall. The worst offenders, strangely enough, is the media. They are bombarding the public with worries amplified to the point of terror and hysteria. It’s absurd. Because a mother, or any citizen for that matter, is concerned or has an experience that is for her discomfiting, does not mean there is either an inherent problem with the system, or widespread incompetence in play. It means that her particular situation may or may not have been handled optimally, though it is possible that the solution was best for the group and mildly inconvenient, possibly even mildly less individually-optimal for her or the health of her wards. This is possible, but it does not make for an outrage. It makes for anecdotal evidence of areas of improvement.

There is really a big difference between public health reporting and anecdotal outrage. Canada – proudly, and rightly so -- *is* about considering the public as a valuable entity; valuing the community. Why can the media not reflect this with understanding and pride? Cessing out anecdotes of extreme error is absolutely valuable to the extent that reporting on it furthers the public’s understanding -- that is, conveys important information -- to the public. Simply inciting terror and gratuitous outrage is irresponsible.

And I do believe there is quite the element of irresponsibility occurring in the public news reporting. To whit for days now there has been looping this mantra of outrage that families are waiting in line for hours only to discover that only a single family member, but not all, is eligible for the vaccination. This ditty is followed immediately with decries about how there is a shortage of vaccination: some in line are waiting only to discover there is not enough for them. Now … these two scenarios simply can’t be resolved in a situation where there is sufficient serum on order, but not enough at the front lines yet. The supply must be apportioned according to priority in order that the most at-risk both to themselves and the population at large, receive the vaccine first, in order to protect the general public. This is not an outrage. This is *GOOD* public health policy. Allowing all family members to vaccinated out of priority-order *results* in insufficient vaccine for those prioritized to receive it. It is irresponsible to report mutually incompatible situations as both being outrageous.

And now, to our experience. As a tangent and in the irresponsible department, let me add that the CBC was out in vengeance this morning – well, comparatively late in the morning, that is, 8 am work start-times needing to be respected. I understand from my children, who were sitting on the floor a little apart from the line to protect my immunocompromised child from the hoards of very young children present, that they were badgered by reporters to speak for the record into a microphone with a camera, when they certainly did not want to do this, and there was no adult present to supervise or consent to the interaction. I find this very upsetting but learned of it only as I had *just* reached the head of the line and we needed to proceed with the vetting process. There was no time for me to speak with the CBC though I would certainly have liked to have spoken to all of these issues on the record.

OK, so now to the experience itself. At the above time when we reached the start of the vetting process and I learned of this intimidation from my child, that was 8 am. We had arrived at the Cavendish mall at 6:50 am that (Thursday) morning. My feeling was that attending school is important, but vaccinating I is as well. If a little school needed to be missed in order to receive the vaccine, that would be fine. If a lot of school needed to be missed in order to be vaccinated at this time, the cost-benefit would tip toward leaving the line in favor of school. I decided that we would not alter our arisal routine but would change the order of ordinary procedure. That is, we would arise at 6 am as usual but forgo the usual morning music-practicing in favor of just leaving and doing, say, homework sitting on the floor of the mall. I decided it was important to choose a vaccination site that was indoors as we would be sitting for some time (hence, Cavendish mall). I decided to bring a towel for the kids to sit on apart from the line to try to limit their exposure to pathogens. I was happy that the vaccination schedule has been moved forward a day to Thursday from Friday, because this would give I a day to recover from the vaccination before her swim meet. When the injection was potentially Friday I asked I whether she wished to receive the vaccination if it jeopardized her swimming capacity for the next day. She made the decision herself to sacrifice her performance at the meet in favor of receiving the vaccine sooner than later: she is worried about this. So when the schedule was moved ahead a day I was happy to try all the little bit more harder to get in on Thursday as this might afford the additional day of cushion for her.

So, it’s Thursday morning, 6:50 am and the parking lot of the mall is crowded though not full. There is a big sign outside the appropriate door. These are both improvements over the day before when I went because the radio had been broadcasting from lines of people waiting for vaccines: as a stranger I was unable to determine whether the location they were mentioning was relevant to me or not. As it turns out, it was not; they were vaccinating health care workers on Wednesday only, but I did get a chance to figure out before I had kids in tow, where the mall was, which door to enter and also to sneak in a little bit of holiday shopping!

We arrive to a double line with orderly barriers snaking us around, with about 100 people ahead of us. I situate the girls in sight but about 50 feet away and proceed to sit on The Box (see another article about this!) knitting, scooting ahead as needed. A finishes her homework and The Box triples as a desk when needed (its first use being to hold all the myriad documents the bureaucracy here demands in hard-to-anticipate ways). An elderly gentleman with bright blue pinte walks the line and answers questions. He confirms that immunocompromised individuals and their families are part of the schedule today. I had earlier checked the pandemic Québec website for this information and had a hard time finding it. It seemed as if, oddly, this category might have been being dropped for today, though I couldn’t quite tell. I opted not to phone with the question because when I called two days ago, it was amply clear to me that the operators knew no more than I did; in response to my question about location and timing they simply looked up the same website I had at my disposal and could not resolve the ambiguities there. The gentleman further announced they were distributing coupons for 9 am at this point.

Fair enough still; we could get in line for the 9 am “seating” and it seemed to be possible they might get ahead of themselves and still let in the neck lozenge of people early, enabling the girls still to get to school reasonably close to starting time. So, then I make it to the head of the line and suddenly I is there whispering to me about reporters badgering her: no time to deal with that issue. I have my papers out and explain our status and am told I need to be interviewed by a nurse. *But* -- then they won’t give us a coupon and I am taken out of line. Huh? Hundreds are streaming through the line behind me, receiving coupons for that precious time-enough 9 am time. Grump. What’s to be done? I explain this isn’t making me happy, but they explain they aren’t interested; I need to see the nurse. That would seem to be the next step regardless of my “mood”, so I accede. There is another line (short) for the nurse where it becomes clear that they are pulling people from line who need to see the nurse *in advance* of the queue, and that despite my having confirmed I was in the right line for our circumstance, some people were being dealt with differently, presumably because they had a parallel queue to wait through. Double grump. The people ahead of my in the nurse-line had strolled in moments earlier though we had been in line 1.5 hours at this point. Ah well. I point out the inconsistency, hoping for someone to take note and “even” the experience for all, but I’m not sure anyone really quite understands the problem. The fact is, while “group 1” immunocompromised individuals are nominally to be vaccinated today, I see almost noone in this category present. Everyone there is a young child or family thereof or pregnant: there is an onslaught of tiny disease vectors everywhere, and – wisely! – a dearth of those likely to be felled by them.

Consequently the staff is more than a little confused by us as their directives have changed regarding immunization of the families of under 5 yo’s, and they wonder whether we should be treated as part of that group or not. My understanding is no, we are the family of immunocompromised individuals, and this is different. For one thing, we are few in number and won’t wipe out the supply the way families of all 5 yo’s would. For another, we would be critical society members to be keeping safe in deference to the communal-need to tamp down spread of the disease and minimize its effect. I point this out to the nurse who at first is reluctant to permit us all to be vaccinated. I would have deferred to her decision of course, but it was clear to me that she was working from a different set of rules focusing on a different problem: the onslaught of families. I pointed this out politely and rather to my surprise, she demurred, writing vaccination permission for us all. In the interim I had fetched A and I into the nurses realm, away from the badgering of the media. I should have done this immediately but wasn’t quite clear on what was happening when I was pulled out of line into another queue and was concerned that I needed to keep my place in the nurses’ queue even though I was becoming distantly separated from my children, who were being hounded!

So there we were, suddenly with permission in hand for vaccination. We had needed only our Régie papers (our cards have still not yet arrived), not proof of residence or address, no passport, no birth certificates or other niceties contained in The Box. Of course had I not had these at my disposal, we would surely have needed them. And with these permissions we were escorted … back to the coupon line where they were now handing out chits for 10 am! Oof. Because this would now be way-late for getting the children off to school. Had I known we could not enter until 10 am, I would have left the line earlier in order to get them to school. It was now approx 8:30 am; school starts at 9 am.

I articulated this “unfairness” (the quotes are to indicate that in the scale of things, this is hardly an unfairness of outrageous proportions, but here in this context, it was nevertheless frustrating) and the gentleman shrugged saying, “what can I do”? But the answer was clear enough – he should have given out the coupons when I arrived at the line. If we had been determined ineligible by the nurse subsequently, she could have taken back the coupons or simply denied us the permission sheet which would have been needed in any event. This was a procedural error, which I had pointed out at the time to several people, but they were unable to act upon the problem. Understandable, but frustrating.

The gentleman despite his grumpiness was apparently sympathetic, recognizing the error. And he said “here”, pulling out special-secret-get-out-of-jail-free coupons from his breast pocket. It emerges a little later that these are special reserved coupons for health care workers. He speaks to a woman (in French; I can barely follow the conversation) and she nods agreement and leads us to a large registration bank, whereupon we are blocked by another woman and there proceeds a slightly more heated, slightly acrimonious dialog in French that I *really* can’t follow, followed by the now-familiar grunt of accession and our way is cleared, only we are redirected to a holding pen to the side of the registration bank. I am relieved and more than happy to be simply settled among a group slated to get the vaccination at some point in the near future.

It turns out we are sitting amongst people who arrived at the line from 4:30 am on. These are an anxious collection. And we have inadvertently, therefore, jumped the queue considerably. I feel vaguely guilty about this, but I did try to get us simply to stay in-line as would have been fair, pointing out the problem-in-the-making to several individuals. I hadn’t intended to wind up ahead of our fair place. And some of the folks here are carrying on in such a scary fashion I worry what would happen should they comprehend our inadvertent advancement. When a woman came into the holding pen trying to explain what would happen from here on out, she got chewed out six ways to Sunday from six different directions. I was rather surprised at the snottiness of so many, particularly when, IMHO, things were actually set up remarkably well and proceeding remarkably smoothly. It is my considered opinion that the largest component of any possible problem really stems, again, from the way all of this is being reported, not any substantive issue.

OK, so we’re in this room with a lot of irked, cynical, negative people with piles of squirmy kids, and this person says numbers will start being called from B50 on. Except we’re number B40. So the person goes away, comes back with a correction it is to be B0-B50. Uproar: ‘this person was the first in line at 4:30 am and she has C51’ or some-such. People are mad, they can’t hear. Some wag decides it’s a good time to joke ‘the whole clinic has been canceled; everyone go home’…not. That is, this is not a funny joke, it’s rather akin to shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater. Geesh. The things people find funny…. [this guy actually proceeded to say many, many more non-funny things in the queues to come]. So eventually it gets clarified that the earlier numbers were given to health care workers (hence our acquisition of one from the special-breast-pocket) and once the numbers start getting called, it transpires that we’re actually the only ones holding them. So much for that source of ire.

We’re ushered to the registration bank which is gigantic, which is impressive and gratifying. There are dozens of clerks and a supervisor running around resolving issues and an IT person and several other upper-level people. As there had been outside, too – many people running around and thinking about the situation; lots of backup help and people supervising – very good, truthfully. It is fortunate for this additional layer of expertise because again we are problematic as our cards are new; the clerk cannot find us. Fortunately I had verified we do in fact exist in the system and eventually his supervisor located our records but we needed to have more information entered before we could proceed. This took a lot of time and help assuage my guilt at having been scooted to the front of the line. I and A, through all of this, have been terrific.

Some time later we have exchanged our nurses’ notes for paperwork with a checklist searching for extenuating circumstances to vaccination. This is good. We are ushered into a clothed-in room for completing this checklist and listening to the nurse discuss contingencies and take questions. It comes out that people do not understand much at all about the vaccination or the process of figuring out how to administer it, dose, etc. But eventually this gets resolved and we’re ushered onward – but not before the denizens scuttle and scuffle for first-place priority in the little line that’s in this room, grumbling all the way. We’re already just 30 or so people so what difference it makes our relative place in this queue escapes me. I suspect the scene in the greater beyond is considerably wilder, as is subsequently confirmed.

So then we’re on our way, off to another queue awaiting some ladies who evaluate our answers. She wants to know why we’re all being vaccinated and it appears there is no space for her to acknowledge our category of immunocompromised – no wonder they are unsure how to deal with us. True, it should all have been administered in a doctor’s office, but ignoring us isn’t going to help either!

Eventually we’re off to the last stop which turns out at last to be the vaccination setup. There are eight long tables with a nurse seated at the head of each one supervising two people on either side actually administering the vaccination. It is clear these individuals are less skilled and there is some confusion about A’s age, which is 9y4m, evidently close enough to the 10 year cutoff to provide confusion, or something? I dunno, but whatever…. Poor A is so worried during the wait her eyes are puddles of liquid nervousness. But the shot is really not a big deal at the end of it all. It doesn’t hurt much, it’s a small needle, it’s over before you know it. At the end of the day, the biggest irritation is that while I told the girls to wear tshirts so the vaccination would be quicker, *I* forgot to wear one! It’s obviously not really a big deal, but my turtle neck’s sleeve is just a teensy bit baggier as a result of the experience. Not a big deal, really. Rather a sweet memory of the morning.

The girls returned to school at 9:15am. A was furious about the tardiness. Geesh – if only she knew! When we returned to the main lobby it was shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds and hundreds of people. I don’t know how long their wait will be, but it seems likely it will be longer than the 3 hours it took me door-to-door.

I personally feel very grateful to the Canadian health service for a Herculean effort actually conducted quite well. That’s my perspective at least.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cultural alignment

Montréalers, it seems to me, really do start from a glass-half-full "place". For example, the driving culture, if you will, sets rules positively rather than negatively. That is, at intersections you are told the directions you are allowed to travel. As opposed to the directions you are not allowed to travel.

Thus, I am at an intersection with a left-bound one-way street. The sign I see is a green-rimmed circle with an arrow pointing straight upward (forward) with an arrow swooping off to the left. The sign is indicating the ways I am permitted to travel. only. Further, the traffic lights that come on will frequently show a straight green arrow which allows you to travel forward. only. You may not turn even if it is permitted at the intersection, until a full green spot comes on indicating that all permitted directions are now allowed.

In contrast, the United States frames all this in terms of what you are not allowed to do. There will be a sign with an encircled arrow pointing to the right with a red slash through the circle; you may not turn right. There will be a single green spot that comes on permitting travel in whatever direction is allowed. There will be a labeled one-way arrow sign; in Québec there is simply a directional arrow with no explanation of what that means indicating that a street is one-way!

The purpose for the two-tiered green arrow/green spot system in Canada is to allow protected time for pedestrians -- gasp -- to cross. It's quite clever and minimalistic. And respectful of pedestrians of course.

But mostly, I believe this is an example of a positive approach to society's structure here. Microcosmic indeed, but extant, IMO. The "joie de vivre" (sp?) is permitted just a smidgen more freedom when things are formulated this way, as what is *permitted*, rather than what is *not* permitted. I would contend this is one small part of what makes life here feel the teensiest tad looser, freer, happier.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I am going to make a little list of some astonishing scenarios of long-discredited pedagogical techniques. The hope is that some of my OUTRAGE will be lanced by lashing out in words rather than speech. No good is likely to come of my confronting the ISP about whom much venom is spilled in the daily debriefings of my innocents.

Gym pants. Evidently school children have been raised here with a cultural, learned-evisceral understanding of Gym Pants; of this my children are ignorant. The gym teacher is not, however, and relayed his dismay of my children's garb repeatedly ... in French. He does not speak English though he teaches at an EMSB (English Montreal School Board) facility -- these are the institutions tasked with teaching children permitted to learn in English.

So I had been receiving frequent reports indicating that my children's attire was inapproriate and that proper shorts were required asap, only what constituted 'proper' was entirely unclear, mutually contradictory reports being relayed by both children jointly and separately. I simply gave up trying to understand and aquire the right thing for them as I could not for the life of me understand what the right thing was: pockets or no? Over the knee or below it? Running gear or sweat-clothes or something else? And then: where would it even be gotten should it be possible to discern what was to be gotten? I gave up and got nothing.

Until one day it comes to pass that the littlest is excluded from participating in gym class because she is the possessor of inadequate gym pants. Her shorts are evidently of the "cargo" variety excluding her from play, though others in the class have nearly identical shorts. I am highly confused as to what is wanted of me. As anyone reading this knows, I am a Good Girl I Am and would race to aquire the required dress immediately were it made known to me what that were. Preferably the bearer of said news ought to be someone of the adult persuasion. But it has not been and now, suddenly, my children are put to public shame and loss by being sidelined for a gym class: she wasn't allowed to run with the rest, simultaneously depriving her of needed exercise and embarrassing her in front of her peers. To what end? Well, it got mom moving, but this goal might have been accomplished by simply sending home a note (the preferred method of communication) regarding the issue. Or phoning. Whatever.

I halt the post-school hike up the hill in favor of visiting the ISP to ask for clarification: what exactly is the dress code? Where do I aquire it? How do my children attire themselves in it?

I am treated to a lecture: Where is your agenda? Me: Agenda, what agenda? I have no agenda apart from figuring out what you want from me and my children. But it turns out "agenda" is a technical term -- who knew? It means 'calendar' in this culture and rather than being made to pay separately for it as a treat worthy only of exalted 5th and 6th graders as had been the case in my kids' school last year, every child appears to have been given one of these nifty organizers. And inside of it in the front few pages are the school's rules; the school handbook in my native parlance. These instructions evidently include language about the permissible garb, including a description of the elusive gym wear.

The ISP reads this to me in rather a rude tone, exuding astonishment at my unwashed ignorance of the agenda, its contents and the matter at hand. I am gratified to discover that even when the appropraite section has been located and read aloud, still it does not contain enlightening language: now we both don't know what is required of my children as far as gym clothing goes.

So I'm told that this will all be gotten to the bottom of the next day and in the meantime I should just go and get some gym pants. But what kind? And where???? "Oh, anywhere". Me: could you give me a hint, just a name? "Walmart". Me: Any other suggestions? I would never shop in that store in my own country. Why should I go to a foreign country to enter this politically reprehensible establishment? "Oh, there are lots of other stores all around". sigh.

I give up and go to Walmart and even manage to get something suitable. But in the meantime, the next day each child is called out of class individually, and asked to come to visit the ISP separately. There they are told, literally, "this is a Good School. Your mommy is very busy. I don't want you worrying her with your complaints. You shouldn't go to your mommy with these problems. This is a Good School. Don't bother your mommy with this sort of thing anymore".


Fortunately, to my infinite relief and even a touch of pride as well, both girls came to me with the same story, laughing. We spent at least an hour doing damage control, laughing about the matter, trying to make light of it so that it would stick. I tried not to Utterly Flip Out externally though inside I was shrieking in outrage and terror. What am I if not required by definition and job description to be a sounding board for my children? What if something, say, physically problematic were going on at school, or abusive whether physical or otherwise? It is beyond-imperative that one's children feel comfortable telling such things to their mother (or at least some adult). It's my job, it's my privilege, it's my purpose to be thus available. How outrageous is it that someone sholud insinuate otherwise, that someone, a stranger, should try to come between me and my children? It's incomprehensible what the ISP said.

Further, exactly how is it going to work that they should ever get the proper attire if they weren't to trouble me with it?!

Like, wow.

Take home message: Stay well away from the ISP.

Tale #2. Ther eis evidently a 12 yo in the older's class who is behaving very like a 12 year old. This in and of itself is not news and it is not shocking. Though I suppose it is of some passing interest to wonder why the 12 yo is being "12" with a teacher, but she is. She is playing proverbial power games, refusing to answer a teacher's stupid question. Why? Dunno, perhaps because the question is stupid? Because she is stubborn or wants to win the fight or wants to engage (aka "get attention") or doesn't know the answer, trivial though it be? Who knows, but this much is certain, scorching the earth because a 12 yo is being stubborn is not sound practice.

The teacher asked a stupid math question today which the 12 yo refused to answer. Literally; nothing at all was said by the child. So the rest of the class, knowing the drill as this was at least the third time this sort of thing has happened, took out their homework and started working on it. For in response to the child's silence, the teacher halted all classwork. Nothing happened. For hours. The teacher was waiting for the child to answer. And guess what? The child wasn't going to answer. Nothing; no sound; not at all. So everyone sits and waits for an answer from a 12 yo who has decided not to give one.

If there is a point to this particular power struggle it is hard to see it or know it. But what of the rest of the class? There is evidently no responsibility to them evident.

It's hard to imagine a more pointless lose-lose-lose-lose situation.

Or really, pedagogically inexcusable one. The nominal excuse being "she is going to have to learn sooner or later that she can't just refuse to answer questions". Umm. Can't she learn that not at the expense of the entire 6th grade class???

Never mind that it always has been suspect, this notion of "better learn now because later....". God how I hate that argument.

Scenario #3. There is one play structure for 500 kids at lunch simultaneously. Previously the equipment had been so crowded that children were forced off at the expense of the integrity of many a limb. Hence the structure has been scheduled for certain classrooms during the week. Only the schedule doesn't get stuck to. And children just run up and bully others off it regardless of the scheduled day. Further, when not on the structure, what are the rules? No ball playing. Tag may be played but none of the playground structures such as, say, trees, may be utilized. Etc.

Hence, my kid is bored at recess. She is bored during English days (half the school week class is conducted in English, the other half of the week it is conducted in French) because the lessons are too easy. She is bored during French days because she can understand nothing. I belive this is how kids come to hate school.

I try to tell her that I don't really care whether she learns any scholastics this year; just surviving the new culture will be lesson enough. She doesn't really understand and I can hardly blame her.

Scenario #4. A teacher goes home early having been hit in the head by a ball while on the playground (hence no balls are subsequently allowed on the yard). The remaining 5 hours of the school day are spent teacherless; the children color. all day long. they are 12.

Scenario #5. Imagine a class where one's name is written on the board if materials are forgotten at home. And one's name stays there, forever. If materials are forgotten a second time, the principal gets visited. A third time, parents get called. I'm not sure how the progression evolves from there. But I am certain this is called public humiliation, with no chance for salvation. Ever. This is a pedagogical technique? I thought this occurred only in bad Hollywood charicatures of bad schools. And we're trying to escape Hollywood?!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Most of the vehicular jerk-encounters around here seem to be instigated by male drivers (not unrelated: most drivers appear to be men). And yet after performing outrageous maneuvers they emerge from their hunks of metal – smaller on average than in the States – relaxed and jaunty, attentive, seemingly-loving. Tension seems to be held and expressed differently here. Perhaps the rude automotive shenanigans aren't a road-rage thing. Though I get the impression that little leeway is afforded foreigners, or at least not those from the United States. Our car is plated still from California, and I am forever run to the side by people passing on side, residential, unstriped streets on both right and left; they just force one to the side. Even when I'm not poking along, it's just de rigeur to force the interloper aside. Same from women at the market, though in fairness this happens to me in LA or Boston; I am insufficiently sure at public markets.

So I dunno. I do think though that these cultural metaphors and expressions for emotion are different here -- the vernacular just doesn't translate directly. Aggresive driving may not mean suppressed anger; pushy impersonal encounters may not belie political harmony. Or maybe it does. These are the pieces that just don't translate.

What's in a name?

Check this out:

With the pictures...

That should be where I start as it is hard to move into writing position when time has snatched the beginning of this whole adventure away from you! As always, dreams of setting up elsewhere resulting in mounds of free time for rocking and knitting and writing are just plain foolish. The act of being new and in a different place itself requires time, and lots of it. As if there were enough before, we're running here, running! True there is less time spent in the car by many, many hours but it gets substituted for other, albeit more enjoyable, activities. For example, walking to school. Oh how lovely that is. But it does take about the same time as driving, round trip. Yet, there is no insecurity about traffic, not to mention the extreme risk every time one enters a car and the highway. Crossing the street may likewise be risky, but there is a sense here of unbelievable caring for children. Adults may wander across the street only barely cognizant of traffic, but children are watched by all.

This was one of my first impressions of the city and it is still an important one: children are beloved, they are precious. Reciprocally, families are assisted, understood as an entity, and a socially useful one at that. I feel valued for having children and watching them. I feel other children are cocooned when they are out and about and I believe my own are as well. It is an inchoate feeling on the streets and it is absolutely of priceless value. These feelings are beyond intangible, unquantifiable, unjustifiable, inexplicable. They are the stuff the composes Quality Of Life and I do not believe these feelings can be adequately described. OK, as a statistician I understand it is our job always to cut down the error term of the unknown iteratively more so. And when you start to claim a parameter can never be characterized, that verges on the realm of the spiritual, a place that anyone who knows me understands I abhor.

So, cynical though I may be about the potential succes of bringing that term to zero, my efforts here will be to hack away at an understanding of Quality Of Life as defined by the recogniztion of the place where we wind up in, which is so different from that where we recently left. That is, subtracting what you get here in Mtl from what is there in LA ends up being, essentially, a characterization of improved Quality Of Life.

Where was I? Let's start with this notion of Family. and Children. On our first visit here I saw a child sitting under a tree, reading. Unchaperoned. I took a picture of her, it was just plain shocking. Children walk around here, in packs, in singles, strapped to ... *dads*. Dads are in evidence everywhere walking their infants around. They sit in children's classes waiting for them to end. Where is the gaggle of gossiping, scratching moms? I have no doubt they are out there too, but they are not evident at any of the classes my kids attend. I think their presence is a cultural phenomenon which manifests itself differently depending on the city arrondisement (I love that word), or district, you are in. Hard to test that. Though I can say that the swim team we sampled in a French district felt markedly different from the one where we wound up, essentially the Westchester County, or Brentwood of the extreme southeast (We're *South* here in Canada, remember?). I am only guessing that the character of waiting-parent chatter is different as well, principally on the basis of the sense that classes in this English-speaking section are very alike those in LA.

And yet, predictably, they are not alike, these classes. For one thing, this city is a city filled with music. Probably more generally the arts as well. There are artists and galleries around showing their wares, so I presume this is so. Being a little visually less-well-versed, this is not an avenue we have yet explored. Though the local library has a "cultural center" attached in mirror image to the library across three floors, replete with stage and at least two galleries. Do you know how hard it is to find cheap, local gallery space in LA? I think it just doesn't really happen. Public space is *everywhere* here. From pocket parks at the edge of streets every couple of blocks to larger district parks and intermediate neighborhood parks, all of which have play structures and benches and other facilities, meeting spaces, etc, etc. Then there are several giant city-sized parks with huge recreational facilities -- it feels that one's personal housing-space is augmented by approximately 160% in terms of the actual space available to one to live and move and work in this city. That's not counting things like dedicated bike paths and the metro -- how can one discount that?! Buses; there are so many. People just ooze along everywhere through and across streets, underground, lazing, lounging, interacting. There is an ease of association that is positively palpable.

That ease of association: I think it is the most significant quality of this city. I interpret it in a way that may, off-hand, sound questionable, but with time I hope to explain. Maybe not fully today. But I attribute this ease of, this flow of life that one feels, to the insurance situation here. Really, I do. I know this is an agenda-driven or at least prejudiced statement but I believe it to be true. I think when one's life is not girded by the fear associated with culpability a freedom flows that is saturative. Leave aside for the moment the health care insurance system. There are other ramifications, at least as widespread. Vehicular ones, for example. No one is worried about blame here. When you purchase a license plate for your car you buy into a state system, as I understand it, of automobile insurance as well. Medical costs are covered in any vehicular accident by that other, unmentionable system, so that concern is simply set to the wayside. And in the event of a collision, fault is adjudicated by a central, singular agency; I don't think anyone is personally liable. I could be wrong about this, but it is how I read things.

So listen to this very carefully, it is profound: Fault is not an issue. It doesn't matter who caused the accident, damages are covered by the cost of your license plate.

That sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? I must have that wrong ... I will look into this.

But certainly the health aspect is right. It's all covered by the "Régie" and it is not an issue, underlying so much of life. Kids' playground are far more risk-laden and probably necessarily, therefore, fun. There are giant climbing webs and structures, so many cool designs, climbing walls, so many ways to easily break one's limbs and heads. And indeed one sees more people in crutches, walking injured. And at the same time thousands, millions more, and more fun, play hours are being had by kids. Because blame and fear is not an issue. They play harder. They whack themselves harder. They are left alone more. It's just different, really different. It feels so different; it is profound.

I think this unrestraint that falls out of centralized risk-sharing is monumentous. In a good, good way. In the States we really do, all of us, carry a burden of worry on our shoulders. It is spirit-crushing. And we don't know it. With the buoyancy one observes here, it is possible to search out and subtract out the source a little bit, I would claim. This is my interpretation of the undeniable lightness that is pervasive here. There is chattering and laughter and lightness. It matters.

I think I fell offtrack on the kids' extracurricular lessons. I want to note that following this public sense of space and sharing, is a fall-out of public expression, which is to say, essentially, art. And "cultural" pasttimes, whatever that means. Music is huge in this city, and it is what I call "real" music, as opposed to Hollywood schlock. There, I said it. Most broadway-type music is drek as is most, not all, movie music too. There is a ginormous literature of real music out there, and almost none of it gets played in Los Angeles. At least not in an affordable, accessible way to a mere lower-middle-class inhabitant of its westside. Here, there are choirs many times over. The public school system even has one, and its quality is simply breathtaking, goose-bump-wracking. The neighborhood has one. The music teacher requires recorder playing for everyone, insisting on makeup sessions for those behind (though actually, this individual is rather problematic, which I'll recount at a later date; it's the attitude I'm referring to here). The music classes offered by teacher-professors are not of that weasly LA-half-hour-how-much-money-can-we-lift-from-your-wallet-while-baby-sitting-your-kid-type thing. These are studied lessons by a teacher who imparts their philosophy and knowledge. There isn't a revolving door cramming in as many through-the-motions kids as possible. There is an effort here to learn an instrument and enter the parallel, valuable and culturally, society-wide valued world of music.

It's rather hard to explain, again, a feeling. And how general it is, I can't, at the end of the day, say. But it is universal among the classes my children are taking. There is a level of performance among the kids and expectations that surpasses that in LA -- or perhaps not "surpasses", that's too simplistic. But it's more *careful* of the child and the learning. It's more 'mindful', to use that hideously coopted term, of the child.

My time is up for the day. And there are yet no pictures. I may spend tomorrow adding some, but the laundry beckons and work, cleaning, etc.

And I haven't even mentioned the autumn. We're experiencing one and it is like falling into a highwire's safety net. It is beautiful, cooling, delicious, right. There is a season and rain and aerial beauty; renewal, pacing. I know where I am. Maybe I'll even remember how old I am now that the years have started up again? It is raining on the beautiful, sunshiny leaves. There is variation in light all over all the buildings and trees; shadows pass across building faces in response to a sky with substance in it. Substance. We have a citing of it here in Mon-réal.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hefting into Montreal

This is entirely incomplete, my first attempt at getting some information up and out here. I will edit and update anon...


It’s more than two weeks now that we’ve all been living in Montréal and still there are boxes lurking in the hallway. Not containing our stuff, but the people’s whose eminently practical and phenomenally situated abode we moved into. I’ve removed from the bookshelves some of the Management textbooks, particularly if they are in French. There is only so much wishful thinking a person can tolerate about what we might someday, maybe, read. We will all certainly die without engaging even a small fraction of the words we wish to; moving along that which is written in a foreign language seems minimally honest.

Our house is what’s known as a “duplex” here. The housing looks very much like Chicago’s northside, although the feel of the streets is a little different, a little more spacious, a little more relaxed, and a little lower physically. The structures in which people live themselves almost all, at least in this part of the city, have an even multiple of doors, one letting their inhabitants into the first and basement floors, another upstairs to the top. Most buildings house at least two pairs of doors; ours has two pairs, four doors, four clusters of inhabitants.

We occupy more real estate but less acreage than we do in Los Angeles. I miss the large yard we had for playing in and growing things; I feel the absence of a laundry line. But the girls have their own room on a different floor, each. The separation is much-desired, though transiently. It is a little lonely for Alida, all the way down in her sealed room so far away. Underneath. But loneliness, like boredom, is a luxury from which we grow for the experience of it. She is basking in the privacy. Iris too, though she has created an internal physical privacy for herself already; the change is welcome but not quite as necessary. Walls.

Funny because I don’t mind or need or want the walls so much myself. I guess internally I’ve pushed down, rather than ‘over’ (as have the girls), this need but certainly I understand its allure.


Money. Bring money. You will need to access lots of money, and doing so is nowhere near as easy as one would anticipate in this day of electronics. Go figure.

Credit cards. Get yourself a foreign credit card before you arrive*. You will be wanting it right away and *everything* takes a lot of time. The paperwork is fierce. Try to have this setup prior to your entry! In a pinch you can use that Visa or AmEx most places, but for each transaction you are charged a set fee plus there is a percentage, approx 3% taken from the dollar figure for each transaction. In addition you are subject to the current exchange rate they choose to charge, which is not standardized; they can charge you more or less than the market rate if they feel like it.

Alternatively if you withdraw cash with a debit card directly from your American account into Canadian dollars, you will – or at least our Credit Union will not – be charged the usual percentage of what you change and be subject to the exchange rate, however they will not charge the one-time transaction fee. Again, that’s the story at least for our credit union.

Use travellers’ checks? Note that any American currency check is held for 30 days. At least at BMO. There are competitors – I would definitely check them out. To get a Canadian credit card through them they will hold as assurance your limit amount. Incredibly obnoxious!!! Actually – they will hold *125%* your credit limit! So they won’t let you charge more than your limit, but they hold 25% more than they will allow you to charge?! BMO is completely usurious. I don’t know if their competitors are any worse, but these guys are onerous in the extreme. They charge $2 to mail you a statement.

Not that I am not positive about traveller’s checks being subject to the same 30-day hold as personal checks. It’s possible not – I guess I was told by one rep that they would be, but I have subsequently determined that this rep was not the sharpest knife in the block so I’m not entirely trusting her information.

At this point I’m ready to use the mattress. However some school functions are requiring checks and not cash. I paid school fees with cash but, say, book orders need check. And I’m guessing the kids’ activities will be requiring checks as well, but I haven’t faced that reality yet.

Paypal is a good option!

*Foreign credit card. You can try getting an AmEx through Costco if you’re a member in the States. However you will have to drop your US AmEx as they will associate just a single credit card number per Costco membership. I wasn’t willing to do that previously but I’m about to. The overlap is difficult.


Health Card.

Parking permit

Accés cart – by borough


Library card

Maps/Tourist info


Accounting for stuff

University ID

Car insurance