Monday, October 14, 2019

Underwater -- Ticino, Switzerland

I'm staring this post from Pasucci bar. My shameful cappuccino (it's well after noon, and one does not drink cappuccino after noon in this part of the world) sits in front of me, fly flitting around the crust of foam and sugar glued to the sides of the cup. A Chinese family (I know they're Chinese because I overheard the waiter ask them. He was just sure they were either Chinese or Japanese) sits across from me and scarf down (with noisy gusto) plates of prosciutto di Parma.

I didn't know it was possible to eat prosciutto so loudly. It's not soup. It's not potato chips. How is it possible to make it slurp and crunch simultaneously? How? 

It's been ages since I've written. It's been so long that I've nearly lost the urge to write, which scares me. It's unsettling to observe something that used to be so integral to my identity gradually fading into the shadows. I feel like I've lost a cornerstone, and now I'm standing all lopsided, but I'm just learning how to live with it.

Guess I'll just be a little lopsided now. I can pull it off, right? 

I could say I haven't written because I've been busy. It would be an excuse, but not a very good one. Sure, I've spent plenty of time studying Italian and painting and trying to find my feet in this new life I've chosen. But I've also spent heaps of time (a truly embarrassing amount) watching The Big Bang Theory, checking out Instagram, and deeply indulging in other mind numbing distractions.

You would think that struggling to communicate in Italian would motivate me to write more, to use this platform as a way to revivify my sense of, "I'm an adult with real words which I can use effortlessly to elegantly and accurately express my thoughts and feelings to the world around me."

Instead, I've managed to sink (not so elegantly) into the stifling, frustrating sensation of only being capable of superficial communication. And even making humiliating (and sometimes hilarious) mistakes when I discuss the world's most banal topics.

Like the time I was talking about how mussels make me throw up. But I accidentally said penises make me throw up. Cozze = Mussels. Cazzi = Dicks. Go figure.

"I'm happy to say she's gotten over this allergy," my husband piped in, reveling in my unfortunate error.

I facepalmed, blushing and withering a bit on the inside.

Why do I always have to accidentally stumble upon the word that's related to genitalia/sex? Like when I was trying to explain my work with homeless youth, but instead of saying "I worked with kids without homes," I said "I worked with kids without boob." Without homes = senza tetto. Without boob -- senza tetta. 

Why can't I just accidentally say something mundane and boring like.... potato? Butterfly?


Bourget, potato and butterfly both mean "vagina" in Italian. 


There's just no winning, accept your fate of always being unwillingly, unhappily hilarious. 

While not being able to express myself fully has occasionally sent other people into hysterics, it's often sent me spiraling into some pretty dark places. 

It's like being a child. A toddler. Who is chocked full of feelings and desires and needs but doesn't yet have the words to express the sensations simmering under the surface. 

Massi sometimes tells me that I sound aggressive when I speak Italian. Angry, even.

I'm not mad. I'm blocked. I'm frustrated. There's this massive disconnect between the half-baked sentences tumbling out of my mouth and everything I'm feeling. 

I think I didn't write because I didn't want to return to this page, return to the comfort and ease of writing in English, and then feel the sharp contrast between writing English and speaking Italian. It just seemed like it would be too painful and jarring.

Which wasn't really so far-fetched...

"Remember to write the positive things about learning a new language," Massi gently reminded me before leaving for work this morning.  

He's right. There are so many positive elements of learning a new language. They just don't seem to, you know, be the elements that you notice right away. They're the elements you experience later when you can actually speak the language well enough to express yourself, get a job, be a part of a new country/culture, 

Learning a new language is something I've always wanted to do (although Italian never was on the list of languages I wanted to learn). It's something I've always wanted to do, but it's something I've deftly postponed for the last too-many years of my life.

Because it's exhausting.

But in the end, like I said to Massi, I do feel immensely grateful to have the opportunity to learn another language. It's a remarkable gift/labor. It teaches mental flexibility, works the memory, all that jazz. But it's also fucking frustrating and difficult. Learning a new language strips one down to the basics again, but at a time of life when temper tantrums are no longer a socially acceptable method of expressing pent-up feelings. So instead of flailing about on the floor, I often find myself brooding (which is a regularly employed, adult version of flailing about on the floor). If we host a dinner party or go out with friends, and I can't understand the conversation, my shoulders slouch forward, and I sink back into my thoughts.

Thoughts which generally run along the line of...

Bourget... you've been in and out of Ticino for more than a year now. You should be able to understand. 

Why am I even sitting here with everyone if I can't understand what's going on? I feel awkward and uncomfortable and...


And then to stop feeling pointless, I sneak out my phone and start looking at instagram, checking facebook, and wishing everyone would hurry up and eat so I could get back to watching the Big Bang Theory. 

And here's the thing -- I 100% know it's not helpful to spend dinner parties glued to my phone. I hate that I've become that kind of person. It makes me appear anti-social and rude and disinterested. But the truth of the matter is that I'm so social and so interested that feeling like I'm still on the outside looking in just makes me incredibly sad. Looking around dinner tables and watching people enjoy their conversations and feeling unable to participate makes me miserable. And so I reach for my phone.

"I feel like I'm underwater," I told Massi the other day. "Everything is blurry and confusing. When we're at restaurants and there's music, or when we're at home at there are more than three or four people, all of the sounds blend together and I can't pick out the words anymore. They all wash over me as a river of sound and before I have enough time to decipher what I've heard, more water comes flooding towards me. And I'm just left feeling lost and frustrated."

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

My Month in Colorado -- Grand Junction, Colorado

I spent a month in Colorado. A month that went by so slowly and so damn fast. A month in which I spent time reconnecting with this sister --

Jaime is currently finishing up her degree in biology. And is amazing. 
And reconnecting with this sister (who just finished making a baby). 

The baby's name is Julian Jarvis. But I think he looks like a turtle (I'm really great mom material, aren't I?), so I call him Krush. From Finding Nemo. 

Because I'm hilarious. And also, because babies do look like turtles.

The month was slow in that it was spent trying to find a place to live in Montreal. And it's rather difficult to find a place to live in a city when a) you aren't in the city, b) you're only going to be there for a short three months, and c) you haven't got any references from previous landlords to offer up as proof that you're not a destructive creeper. 

I felt extra deflated one day and posted this on facebook: 

When you're desperately trying to settle down and stop being a hobo, but realize you have none of the things needed for de-hobofication.
References from current/previous landlords: Umm... I have 128 couchsurfing references and you can check my expired workaway profile...
Proof of employment: I used to volunteer in Guatemala this one time.
Bank statements: Do you want to be that depressed?
I'm beginning to think that I'll always be a hobo...

Some of the responses I received to my ad on craigslist included the following:

Hi, i am seeking female live in elder care and housekeeping full time for one family member(wife) she is 45 and we live in Jersey city, NJ
Also i am seeking a discreet girlfriend for me, to have fun I am interested in building a long term relationship if things work out between us

I am 45 man from Jersey city, NJ
I also received a message from a fellow who asked me if I'd like to model as a mermaid in the "wild" for 500 dollars a day. Cash, paid up front.

It's a strange thing when you post an ad looking for a place to live, and you get asked to be a mermaid instead. 

Was my ad not clear enough? Are there suggestions of "I WOULD LIKE TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED AS A HALF FISH WOMAN WITH AN UNWIELDY LARGE BOSOM" found between the lines of, "looking for a room in Montreal, 450 dollars a month"? 

 Other things that made Colorado crawl by, was figuring out the paperwork I needed for the visa I'm applying for in Switzerland.

I. Hate. Paperwork. OH MY GOODNESS. It's just so cold and unforgiving. And so straightforward and strict, but without any of the straightforward answers I need to my seemingly easy questions. Like, am I allowed to visit Switzerland on a tourist visa while my other visa is processing? 



I have feelings about all this. 

Things that made Colorado fly by was the week of Thai massage I taught to seven intelligent, enthusiastic, compassionate ladies.

 I was finally starting to feel confident and excited, as I'd managed to find a place to live (not with New Jersey guy, as tempting as his offer was) and all my paperwork was gathered and approved by my contact at the Swiss Consulate, when I went to the dentist for a cleaning and discovered I needed a root canal.

Fuck. That's fun. 

After my bad news (which wasn't... err... received well), my mother dropped me off at Cathy and John's house, and John then proceeded to drive me to Dinosaur. To spend the night at my friend Janet's house before we set off for our rafting trip down the Green River the next day. 

The Green and the Gates of Lodore.

Which sounds straight out of Lord of the Rings. Holy bananas. Any bighorn sheep we might see are probably just dwarfs and wizards in disguise.

We got on the river at one thirty the first day. Which was not, err, the anticipated time of departure (twenty five people and nine rafts plus several kayaks, do not, timely put outs, make).

Janet did the rowing --

-- and I did the sitting. Which was probably very important and the raft couldn't have gone down the river without me. It was at least as important as rowing (but maybe not as badass. Which I admit with reluctance).

I tried not to think about my rotten tooth, but it was hard.

I tried not to think about moving to Montreal, but it was hard.

I tried not to be lonely on the river, missing Massi and our daily Skype conversations, but it was hard.

But it was so good for me. So good to disconnect. So good to give myself four days wherein there was literally nothing I could do to solve my seemingly insurmountable pile of problems. Four days wherein I could just be with good people and try to enjoy my final moments in Colorado.

The nights were chilly. The mornings cold. The days hot.

The rapids fucking scary (but Janet steered us safely through them all. Like a champ. After telling me all the ways in which I could be thoroughly drowned if I happened to fall out of the boat. Which was comforting).

The scenery was unreal.

On day three, I began to notice my smell. Like, really notice it.

Ugh. I hate being nasty, I grimaced at the ripe odor emanating from my unpleasant armpits.

That's what happens after three days on the river. 

Oh well. At least we're all in the same boat. 

Heh... heh...

Sitting on a raft for four to six hours a day is hard work. Primarily because the cooler on which I sat for four to six hours a day was quite hard (and there was an awful lot of watching Janet work).

When we arrived at the campsites, sometimes we just set up our tents and hung around camp, and sometimes we ventured into the surrounding canyons for short hikes.

I am the sexiest, most beguiling of all the river rafters. I'm pretty much a siren. Don't be jealous.
In this photo, Dave is a close second to the sexiest siren on the river. Doesn't quite make it, though.
After hours of rowing against the wind (and, err, sitting against the wind), we reached the take out point on our final day. And although I was desperate to help, there wasn't much this newbie could do. So Janet, out of the goodness of her heart, let me roll straps.

Which was definitely just a way to keep me busy, because (I found out after I'd rolled them all quite neatly) most had to be unrolled again to use to keep the raft tied down to the trailer.

Altogether, I was an incredibly helpful, useful rafting companion. And I offer my services of a) the unnecessary rolling of straps, and b) four to six hours of sitting upon hard coolers per day (no rowing included) to any rafting group who might be one incredibly useful companion short.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Seven Million Stairs -- Piano delle Creste, Switzerland

Massi knows I love to hike (it's not really hard to deduce. Alps make me freaking ecstatic). So for one of my final summer experiences in Switzerland (this summer, at least), Massi, Timo, and I went on a hike. 

I don't think any of us realized that the hike would include approximately seven million stairs. Had we known, we might have approached the formidable mountain with appropriate trepidation. 

But as we were blissfully ignorant, we practically sauntered up the beast before us. 

"About seven hours until Piano delle Creste," Massi read the sign. "That's written for the slowest. We can probably do it in seven hours, with lots of breaks." 

Such was our hubris. 

The first part of the hike was steep up, but it was followed by a leisurely walk along a river and lovely strolls beside idyllic little mountain villages.

But then the "UP" really started.

And the "UP" just kept going.

ALL THINGS MUST END, BOURGET, I yelled at myself consolingly.


The scenery (and the stairs) took my breath away. The weather was perfect, and Timo and Massi made the best hiking buddies. They patiently waited for me as I trudged up the stairs behind them, because even giardia induced sprints up a hundred stairs to the nearest composting toilet couldn't have properly prepared me for this beautiful, beastly Alp.

It's a good thing I love nature so much. Otherwise I would be wondering why the hell I'm torturing myself on purpose. 

But in the end... I'd walk up those stairs any day (not every day), to see views like this. 

To smell air so clean. 

To really feel the quiet. 

We reached the lakes, which meant we only had four hundred meters of elevation to climb and another two hours to hike.

Unfortunately, we didn't quite realize that 400 meters of elevation left to climb didn't really include the fact that we had to descend. And then climb. And then descend again. And then climb again.

"I think it was a drunk mountain goat who made this trail," Timo complained as he looked at the absurd amount of scree we had in front of us.

I almost wept by the time we made it to the one hour sign.


(my knees didn't believe me this time. Not that I blame them. I'd been leading them on shamelessly for hours)

The final climb.

Our final descent was steep and sketchy. It included a chain hooked onto the side of the mountain, with several links missing.


Tired, but jubilant, we reached a lake just outside of our refuge for the night.

And we plunged in.

(plunge might be a strong word. Terrified tip-toeing, in the way the keeps your nethers as dry as possible for as long as possible would be more accurate. But less dramatic)

It was not, er, warm. But it was deliciously refreshing, after what ended up being 8+ hours of hiking.

Stupid seven million stairs. 

It was my first experience staying in an Alpine hut, and it was definitely a warm and cozy one. We all dished out an extra five francs for a steaming hot shower, then met in the restaurant area for dinner. A dinner everyone staying in the refuge were served at the same time, family style.

Pasta has never tasted so good.

The bedding situation was also a bit novel for this refuge newbie. It was as if one giant bunkbed had been stretched to accommodate thirty people, with fifteen small mattresses on top and fifteen small mattresses on the bottom. You were literally sleeping shoulder to shoulder with your fellow hiker.

In our case, fellow hikers happened to be Swiss people in what looked to be their sixties.


Was what crossed my mind on first sight. And then I realized that Swiss old people are probably much more active and in shape than American young people.

Respect. Boundless respect. 

The walk down the mountain the next day was three hours of cold, wet, steep trekking. And since downhill always suits me better than uphill (my knees were in shock by then, so they didn't notice anything), I flew down the mountain.

Pausing my flight to take the occasional picture, of course.

We were on our last cookies and granola bars by the time we finally reached the trail head (it was becoming desperate, really). And as we were looking forward to neither a) waiting for the bus, nor b) walking the couple of kilometers back to the car, we decided to hitchhike back to where Timo's car was waiting for us.

What. An experience. I want to get in a hot bath right now. With bubbles. And to get out probably never.