Teddy

Dedicated to the memory of Jakelin Caal and Felipe Gómez Alonzo, two children who died in immigration custody after crossing the American border from Guatemala.

Granny gave him Teddy when he was four. She’d patched him together from scraps lovingly sewn with tiny stitches in the dim evening light. He and Teddy became inseparable. But by the time he was five, his life and his world were very different.

Granny became thinner and thinner. The old woman wasted, slowly fading into quiet uninterrupted by breathe. His mother cried, and his father clamped his jaw tight against emotion. The little boy clutched Teddy closer. He always had food, but only years later did he understand that the extra bread Granny had given him wasn’t extra, but her own share of the family’s meager portion. His parents shared whispers in the dark, mouthing thoughts beyond his comprehension.

His mother woke him suddenly in full disorienting blackness, urging him to get up and dress quickly. Fumbling, he did his best, presenting himself to his mother and father with Teddy clutched tight under his arm.

His father took one last look before closing the door of their shack behind them. Outside, the boy became aware of shouting and gunfire and flashing lights in the distance. His parents had packed food and their few precious things into their two sheets. Each carried one. His father, looking wary, took the lead. His mother took the boy’s hand. He could feel her trembling, which scared him.

They walked, blinded by blackness. Quickly at first. Slowing as tiredness approached. They followed a narrow dirt road. Sometimes he tripped, righted by his mother’s hand. When he became too tired, his father lifted him up, cradling him against his strong back. His father smelled of sweat, and something unfamiliar. He clutched Teddy tight to his little chest, sandwiching him safely against his father.

Sometimes, others joined them. Strangers. Sometimes words were spoken. There seemed a quiet reverence in this march. A fear. A dim hope.

Then they came to the fence. They stopped. His father put him down. He looked up and saw his father’s tension. He could feel his mother’s hand shaking again as it gripped his little hand. The fence was taller than his father. It had spiky metal bits on top. All three of them looked up, daunted and fearful. He knew what was going to happen next, and was frightened, although he wasn’t sure why. He clutched Teddy even tighter.

Dawn was approaching. After urgent whispered discussion, and seeking in the dark for hidden dangers, his father quietly climbed, carefully lifting himself between and over the spiky metal bits. At the top, he stopped briefly, again checking the dark around them. He started to climb down, then dropped to the other side. A few shrubs broke under his weight. They waited in tense silence, seeing each other through the separating fence.

His father signaled that it was safe. His mother lifted him and Teddy as high as she could. He clutched the fence fiercely with both hands, feet finding toeholds, keeping Teddy wedged under his arm. Both parents urged him to climb. He was terrified, but knew he had to do what his parents asked. He climbed carefully, trying to be quiet. The fence was so high, his little arms and legs so tired. His mother started climbing too, her presence urging him onward. Eventually, he made the top of the fence. The metal spikes looked even more lethal close up.

His father urged him under the wire. His mother held the wire to make it easier for him. His little body was just small enough to get through, although he felt the sharp scratch though his thin shirt. His father motioned for him to drop. His father would catch him. He took a breath and dropped, landing in his father’s strong arms. His mother was suddenly beside them. His parents ran, his father still carrying him.

Loss. Teddy? Granny? Teddy? The little boy started crying the loud uncontrolled sobs of grief. His parents slowed but could not stop. They couldn’t understand what was wrong. Was their only child somehow injured?

Finding a dense thicket some distance from the fence, they stopped in the shelter of trees. As the boy sobbed and screamed, his father urgently checked limbs and body, finding the bloody slash across his tiny back where the razor wire had assaulted him. Watching in still silence, his mother looked scared. Then she noticed Teddy was missing and told his father what was wrong. Looking back, they could see the tiny shaped rags twisting from the razor wire on the fence top.

His father, aware of the risk of noise, urged for quiet. The exhausted boy was inconsolable. Hurried discussion between his parents. Then his father was gone, vanished into the nearing dawn. The boy, suddenly quiet, peered through the early light to see his father’s furtive glance, before swinging himself back onto the fence. He swiftly scuttled up the vertical metal, then raised one arm to rip Teddy down, before dropping back to earth and running quickly back to his family.

Overcome, the little boy jumped up to greet Teddy and hugged his father. His mother assured him that she would mend Teddy’s arm. But now, right now, they had to keep running silently through the coming day, and for many days to come.

Teddy now sat on his bookshelf. Whenever he glanced at his childhood toy, the events and emotions of that terrifying night flooded him. His mother had repaired Teddy’s torn arm with love and patience, but no access to materials. Since that night, the arm had looked a little thin, wasted like he remembered his Grandmother towards the end. But his mother and father had made it. He’d made it. And his precious Teddy had made it too.

UNICEF estimates that 30 million children are currently displaced by conflict, more than at any time since WWII. Let’s try for a better world in 2019.  

© Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved

A Glimpse of Athens

The last leg of this trip involved a couple of days in Athens. I’d done my homework and had a list of sites to see. As usual, I was travelling on a budget, but with all the strife I’d heard about in Athens, I also wanted to ensure my personal safety, so I spent a little extra on accommodations. I ended up with a room near the Omonia subway station—big mistake.

The hotel itself was secure and newly renovated. I had a comfortable, spacious room, with a corner balcony—overlooking several abandoned buildings. After settling in, I went in search of dinner, and very quickly decided to get something to go and be back in my room with the door locked before nightfall. Whenever I look around to discover that I’m the only woman in a street full of men (other than the two out-of-their heads female junkies I noticed), I retreat. The second night, a homeless man followed me for three blocks begging for my to-go sandwich. Although this district is considered the heart of downtown, the nights were eerily dark and quiet, other than the odd siren. If I were back in Athens, I’d avoid this neighbourhood and spend even more on accommodations in the touristy area.

The proximity to a subway station did make for easy travel into the old city where I spent a full and very long day walking. I started at the Acropolis, which was hot enough even in the morning that another tourist fainted.

Parthenon

Amazing to wander around so many famous ancient buildings: the Parthenon, the Porch of the Caryatids on the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Theatres of Herodes Atticus and Dionysos. I also enjoyed watching local cats being given food and water by people working on the hilltop. The Acropolis was getting very busy by the time I descended late morning.

Theatre of Herodes Atticus

Caryatids on the Erechtheion

 

 

 

 

 

 

From there, I wandered through Monastiraki and the Plaka, seeing the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, the Tower of the Winds, ancient libraries, and many other ruins. I made it to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in time to witness the tail-end of the changing of the guards. And I ended a very long day of walking at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, just as the sky became heavy with rain.

Tower of Winds

Temple of Olympian Zeus

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the morning, after being told by several people that the graffiti-covered metro I’d ridden in on from the ferry docks wasn’t safe—especially during morning rush hour—I decided to splurge for a cab. Exiting the city, four motorcycle cops tore by on two bikes on their way to break up a protest, flyers blowing across the road in front of us.

Unwelcome sight in downtown Athens

©Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved

A Brief Exploration of Three of Greece’s 6,000 Islands

I didn’t come home directly from Rome. A friend offered me their couch on the Greek Island of Paros. How could I refuse? Paros itself is a less touristy island, so a great place to get a more authentic feel of Greece. Lots of sun, lush growth, and ubiquitous white architecture with blue trim.

Ubiquitous Greek architecture

Lush greenery surrounding weathered door, Paros

 

 

 

 

 

Every night we enjoyed a meal at a different restaurant, often on the harbour. Each restaurant supports its own local cats who beg for table scraps, and occasionally something extra from the kitchen. I was pleasantly surprised that most cats I saw seemed to be in very good health, thanks in large part to the Paros Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

Restaurant cat patiently awaiting table scraps

 

As is typical of islands the world over, Paros also offers a variety of ferries to other islands. We enjoyed a day-trip to Mykonos via the ancient sacred island of Delos, purported to be the birthplace of the god Apollo. No one lives on Delos and no overnight accommodation is offered. Alighting in the harbour is like stepping onto the set of Time Team or some other archeological adventure. Tourists can wander throughout the site, although some buildings are cordoned off, while others are under reconstruction. The challenge is that the trails aren’t always well marked, some are quite rugged and hilly—and your tour boat has a schedule that won’t wait! Even considering these factors I felt I had a good explore and took lots of photos.

Dolphin mosaic, house of Dolphins, Delos

Terrace of Lions, Delos

 

 

 

 

 

Mykonos is heavily touristy, but despite this, it has a unique and pleasant feel. The harbour is packed with yachts of the famous and conspicuously rich. Even though it was filmed on Crete, the presence of a series of windmills in the main town of Chora brought back memories of seeing the film the Moon Spinners as a child. Little Venice along the harbour features amazing sea views from a variety of restaurants that share a walkway above the sea. Mykonos struck me as a place I’d like to return to sometime, maybe with more time to explore outside the town centre. Lots more Greek islands to explore too! So I suspect I’ll be back.

Little Venice, Chora, Mykonos

Windmills, Chora, Mykonos

 

 

 

 

©Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved

Rome…years later

We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and I turned eight when we were living in Rome, Italy. This spring I went back for the first time since then, and while some things are eternal, a lot has changed.

The day after I arrived, I took the metro out to EUR, Mussolini’s urban experiment, where we’d had an apartment. Looking for the street address, I was reminded of a Dr. Who episode in which Peter Capaldi says, “intuition is memory in reverse.” I found my way back to the building more by intuition, rather than memory. I never would have found it without the address.

Wandering the old neighbourhood, I think I found the coffee bar we used to go to on Saturday mornings, but the interior has been completely remodelled. There was no more gelato, so I settled for a cappuccino. I may also have found the newsstand where my Dad used to buy me Topolino (Mickey Mouse) comics, and I bought myself the latest issue.

I walked to Luneur Park, which I think is a rebranded version of the Luna Park I remember. It was much smaller, but some of the rides were updated versions of rides I remember. I tried to visit what was once my school, and what is now the Canadian Embassy. My pre-trip emails went unanswered, and even brandishing my Canadian passport, I was not admitted.

With the nostalgia cleared, and the conference ended, I did more touristy things.

The Pantheon, a pagan building re-purposed by the Church

I approach Vatican City via the dominating fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo. Once I find my way into St. Peter’s Square, its size is daunting. Specifically, I want to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. The problem is that the Sistine Chapel is at the far end from the Vatican Museums entrance. Although I stop to investigate a few canvases and tapestries along the way, far too many people crowd the halls. It’s an hour-and-a-half forced march jostling along with an unforgiving crowd, sometimes pushing through doorway bottlenecks, in sweltering heat, with nowhere to rest and nothing to drink, to finally arrive at the Sistine Chapel. I can’t imagine trying to do it with small children or seniors.

The Sistine Chapel is smaller and the ceiling higher than I expect. It glows with the recent restoration. It is a truly spectacular and vibrant work.

There’s no seating in the Chapel, and the crowd mills about looking up. It’s virtually impossible to see any of the other masters’ works on the walls. Constant announcements, with increasing volume and frustration, urge tourists for silence. A burly guard watches the watchers, yelling “No photos” at the guilty parties. (Having survived the unpleasant experience of getting to this room, I sneak a picture, undetected. It is a subtle form of resistance against a heavily felt oppression.) Another announcement tells people to leave the Chapel so others can enter. There’s another struggle to leave, but then the crowd disperses and I can breathe easier again. I leave feeling sad for the artwork, and for this little Chapel.

Spiral exit from Vatican Museums

Even though the Colosseum is crowded, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic, maybe because it’s outside. The ruin is very different from the way I remember it when my school bus drove past it in the morning (the road has since been re-routed). Now, there are a lot more people, and very few cats (although I did see cats lounging in less touristy ruins).

One day, I walk from my hotel near the Spanish Steps to the Tiber, then along the shore to the Bocca de Verita (proud to say I still have all my fingers!), to the Baths of Caracalla. I am astounded by their scale, and the elegance and completeness of their many mosaics. I continue walking to the Piramide and the Non-Catholic Cemetery where Keats and Shelley and Shelley’s son William are buried. It’s a moving place, with verdant gardens, and many well-cared-for resident cats. I take the metro back and drink a full litre of water with dinner.

On my last full day, I do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I walk part of the via Appia, starting at the Aurelian Wall, and going as far as the Capo di Bove. I stop to explore the cool, dark subterranean Catacombs di San Callisto (nothing like I saw in Paris, as here, there are no bones!), as well as the massive Mausoleo di Cecilia Metella with its many statues and reliefs. The via Appia is nothing like I’ve imagined it. Because it’s a narrow road with high walls on either side and few sidewalks, it’s dangerous for walking. Cars take it at speed. If I were to walk the via Appia again, I’d start further out, where more monuments and ruins lie.

I saw various other buildings and fountains. After careful consideration, I threw three coins in the Trevi Fountain, before being shoved aside by another tourist. In Piazza Navona, I managed to avoid the most aggressive hawkers, but watched them fastening bracelets to strangers’ wrists, trying to engage them in conversation, and then demanding payment. I was relieved to find no crowds around the Triton Fountain, so I could truly enjoy the experience. I guess it hasn’t yet appeared in a movie and been quite so overpopularized.

This large cat has been trying to get a drink since 1575

Even before peak season, Rome’s sites are flooded with too many tourists, often rude and pushy. Security, police and military units are on crowd control at all the popular sites too, and with so many tourists, they don’t feel the need to be pleasant. I was yelled at for walking the wrong way in St. Peter’s Square, for not moving along fast enough in various religious buildings, and at the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) for walking in without paying when it wasn’t apparent how or where I was supposed to pay.

Even in early June, temperatures were in the mid-to-high 30s; I can’t imagine it in August. I had gone for an international two-day Visual Culture Conference, but experienced so much more. Overall, it was a mixed trip with a few pleasant surprises, but more disappointments.

Cat napping in planter at Villa Borghese

Bubbles for “Ferrari, Dentist and Socks” at Villa Borghese

 

 

 

 

© Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved

 

Bologna (the city, not the meat product)

Although Bologna and Florence are both in northern Italy, they’re very different cities. Although Bologna also features amazing architecture (the portico-covered walkways for which it’s known, for instance), it’s more of an industrial centre, with a rich history in the sciences and education.

Portico, Bologna

Last fall, I had the privilege of presenting part of my dissertation on Patient-Physician Communication at an academic conference at the University of Bologna. Founded in 1088, as well as being a prestigious international school, it’s the oldest university in the world in continuous operation, and the first to use the term university (universitas) upon its founding.

University of Bologna

I’d been wanting to visit Bologna for quite some time, specifically because of its connection with Luigi Galvani (1737-1798) and his nephew, Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834). Both were physicists interested in the effect of electricity on biological organisms. Galavani stuck to frog experiments, but Aldini moved on to mammals, including humans, and is sometimes credited with partially inspiring Mary Shelley’s (1797-1851) Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus (1818). I located a couple of exhibits of period scientific apparatus in or near the city. Why would I care about this macabre connection to Bologna? It’ll make more sense once the next poetry collection is published!

Early apparatus for producing electricity

Print of one of Galvani’s frog experiments

 

 

 

 

 

©Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved