Category Archives: Travel

California, Here I Come!

California’s been on my list for a while, so when a San Diego conference opportunity presented, I jumped on it. After attending numerous conference sessions, I set out to explore the city. My first walk was along the harbourfront.

San Diego combined Work and Play

Setting out from my hotel, I wandered through the very commercial Seaport Village and kept walking. Although it’s possible to board the now-decommissioned USS Midway, I declined. Its size is truly awesome, dwarfing the numerous helicopters and planes on its decks. I walked all the way to the Maritime Museum, which allowed me to board and walk through classic tall ships, as well as a submarine. I’ve always wondered how I’d do in a sub, and now I know. Having done it once, I’m glad that I’ll never be asked to do it again.

After several more conference sessions, I headed out the next day to explore the Gaslamp Quarter. I’m always amazed at what passes for old on the west coast. Although charming, there are many much older buildings in Toronto or Peterborough, and here, the gas lamps are electrical. I made it as far as the Chuck Jones Gallery and spent a long time looking at original pieces by Chuck Jones, Dr. Seuss, Charles Shultz and others. It’s a delightful time capsule for connoisseurs of 1960s cartoons.

Balboa Park, San Diego

On my last full day, and after a few more conference sessions, I headed for Balboa Park. The round-trip walk took me three hours, but the weather was warm and clear, like every other day in San Diego. The main attraction at the park is a series of buildings constructed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, a Worlds’ Fair celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal. The buildings are perfectly preserved and rest among lush greenery and fountains. The park is obviously popular with families.

San Diego is beautiful and the weather was consistently perfect. It’s also expensive. I was stunned at the number and population density of homeless people everywhere I walked.

The perfect image for San Diego; beauty on the surface sometimes hides unpleasant truths.

Between the time I planned and accepted my conference invitation, and the actual trip, the American political landscape changed drastically. Although I considered cancelling, ultimately, I decided to go. And I’m glad I went, but I may take such decisions a little more cautiously in future.

©Catherine Jenkins 2017 all rights reserved

My Less-tech Experiment

I’ve been doing this (very informal) social experiment for the last six months. My cell phone died—again—except this time I couldn’t find a replacement battery. So I decided to go without for a while, just to see what that was like. Overall, it’s been very liberating. I feel lighter. I still have a landline (old school, I know), as well as e-mail and limited social media, so it’s not like I’ve vapourized completely. It’s just that for some periods each day, I’m less readily available. Given that I’m teaching some part of most days, I can’t have my cell phone on anyway.

I hate the sound of it ringing, and I hate vibrate mode even more, so most of the time I’ve carried a phone, it’s been completely muted. I check it when I think of it, and that’s been a much better way for me to relate to a cell phone. In the last six months, there’ve only been three times when having a cell phone would’ve been convenient. I’ve also noticed, however, that some of my friends, especially some of my younger friends, are less inclined to get in touch now that they can’t text me. Texting has clearly superseded phone conversation, although verbal communication is often more efficient. I find tech services in Canada outrageously priced for the use I get out of them, so I’ve also enjoyed the savings.

This less-tech experiment also caused me to ponder my relationship with cell phones, as well as when and why that relationship started. After about three months without, I remembered that I got my first cell phone when my Dad was dying. I was freelancing and often out of reach of my home phone, but I knew that at some point I’d get a call and that I’d need to get somewhere. A cell phone made a lot of sense for the kind of urgency I was experiencing. I kept it through my Mum’s similar fate. And then I had it, so I kept it. But now I’ve realized that because my introduction to cell phones was surrounded by anxiety and hypervigilance, these emotions have impacted my relationship with this technology.

I think it’s good to have taken a break, and to have figured out why I have tended to relate cell phones with anxiety. I have some travel coming up, and it’s now assumed that everybody travels with a phone, in part so airlines can inform you of delays, you can change or make last-minute bookings, and so you can show e-Tickets. (I once saw a woman arrive late at her boarding gate suddenly discover that she didn’t have her e-Ticket because she’d left her phone at security. I wouldn’t have pegged her as someone who could run that fast, but she made it, thanks to a short flight delay.) So I’m beginning to move in the direction of reinstating my cell phone, but with a shifted awareness that will hopefully make my new experience a little less stressful.

©Catherine Jenkins 2017 all rights reserved

Update from Dr Jenkins

In the last year, I’ve seen nighttime overhead highway signs cautioning drivers not to stop due to high crime risk, and overhead highway signs cautioning drivers to be aware of moose. And I don’t feel like I’ve done much travel either. I did, however, take my first trip to South Africa. I lost a friend, attended a wedding, helped a friend celebrate his first birthday, and gained a cat. I built cat shelters and traps at Toronto Street Cat, attended a series of Graphic Medicine reading workshops, and went to the first Canadian Writers’ Summit and Taste of Little Italy with my long-time friend and fellow writer, Kathy Mac.  I went to Shaw Fest where the 2015 highlight was Peter and the Starcatcher, and this year’s highlight was Engaged. I went to Stratford for the first time in years, where I saw an amazing production of Shakespeare in Love. I attended a lot of concerts, with tickets both bought and shared by friends. I caught up on a lot of quality TV and some movies I’ve missed on DVDs from the Toronto Public Library. I enjoyed some non-academic reading for a change.

I taught a lot (and I mean a lot) of students, did a lot of grading, and had the joy of watching a few of my students gain awards or entry into grad school. I presented papers at conferences in Kingston (Queens) and North Bay (Nippising). I submitted a few things to peer-reviewed journals. I defend my PhD dissertation and convocated, so now it’s official and school truly is out.

This last year I breathed out, I walked, I observed, I took photos, I pondered, I cottaged. This fall, I’ve signed up for a wine course and an Italian course, because I finally can. I’m back to working out and I’m decluttering my apartment. I’m writing inventive academic work and applying to conferences in more exotic locales. And I’ve got six non-academic book projects to pick up again, now that I actually have the time and energy and focus. Stay tuned…

Travel, Ethnocentrism, and Civility

When we travel, inevitably we bring our domestic notions of correctness with us. We all have our prejudices; whether we care to admit them or not is another question. My most profound moment of ethnocentrism occurred when I was standing naked in a B&B bathroom in rural England, trying to figure out how to coax hot water from yet still another unique shower system. I caught myself thinking, “Why can’t the Brits do this right? At home, or anywhere in North America, I can simply turn on a tap and, hey presto, hot water! What’s wrong with these people?” Most British bathrooms use on-demand hot water systems, which are considered a more frugal use of resources; however, no two systems operate quite the same way. And most British homes are not well enough heated to want to stand around naked figuring it out. The moment passed quickly, and I found myself smiling at its triviality.

When one travels, if one is open, one also sees and experiences things that are unfamiliar, but actually much more civilized than one is used to at home. The hotel signs in Bergen, for instance, were much more entertaining than those I’ve encountered anywhere else.

Hotel room signage, Bergen, Norway, 2015

Hotel room signage, Bergen, Norway, 2015

Ladies Room sign, Bergen, Norway, 2015

Ladies Room sign, Bergen, Norway, 2015

Men's Room sign, Bergen, Norway, 2015

Men’s Room sign, Bergen, Norway, 2015

Similarly, many Bergen public washrooms signs exhibit a humour one does not usually associate with public washrooms. The Norwegian sense of humour is apparent in such gentle touches.

 

 

Traffic in Lisbon was truly scary. Both vehicles and pedestrians view traffic lights as vague suggestions for maintaining order. In the main tourist area, traffic lights were often out, and people unfamiliar with the city skittered across many lanes at speed, trying to avoid injury. Lisbon, however, also featured the most civilized public washroom I have ever encountered. Not only was it immaculately clean, but as well as the requisite toilet, it also featured a bidet. A bidet in a public washroom.

Most civilized public washroom ever, Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal, 2015

Most civilized public washroom ever, Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal, 2015

In other places, sanctioned attempts at formality may be tempered by members of the public. This is notable in graffiti, which I often photograph when travelling. One of the most striking examples I’ve seen was this bust in a Paris park which had been augmented, perhaps as a political statement.

Formality Disrupted, Paris, France 2012

Formality Disrupted, Paris, France 2012

Venice is, without doubt, one of the loveliest cities I’ve travelled. A city with a rich pharmacological history, it still features many drugstores, both modern and vintage. In case you can’t find one open, 24-hour vending machines can fulfill your needs. These appear, inset into ancient walls, throughout the island. The contents include feminine hygiene products, but are generally heavy on condoms.

Twenty-four hour pharmacy, Venice, Italy, 2010

Twenty-four hour pharmacy, Venice, Italy, 2010

Travel seeds new ideas by challenging one’s “normal” comfort levels and reference points. And that’s a good thing. On return, new, perhaps unique, possibilities open for consideration.

 

Catherine Jenkins 2015 all rights reserved

Whirlwind Tour of Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal

I left Toronto with a full yellow-orange moon rising on the horizon. Descending into London  at daybreak, I saw either a sun-dog or a moon-dog, but couldn’t tell which. Time travel, i.e., travel between time zones, creates that kind of confusion. The Thames wound into the distance of an intense peach skyline, as an armada of lights escaped Heathrow one after another. After a brief stopover at the airport, I was on to Lisbon.

My introduction to Lisbon was the man on the subway playing accordion with a Chihuahua perched on his shoulder, a little basket made of a pop bottle bottom and string dangling from the dog’s tiny mouth eager for donations. Lisbon is rich in history, but its present is pretty threadbare.

Tiled building with fire hydrant

Tiled building with fire hydrant

The conference papers were strong and in tune with my work, but sitting outside drinking Linden tea under a green canopy in the scent of White Jasmine and blinding sunshine (after the rough winter we’ve had), that was glorious! I stuck with the conference, but took advantage of Saturday afternoon-evening and Sunday to explore.

My hotel was near the conference site, outside the downtown core, on a street not shown on any map. Lisbon defies mapping, and even the locals seem confused by its layout. It’s a medieval city, and apart from the Baixa, a district that was razed and rebuilt, it has maintained its labyrinthine illogic of narrow laneways. Adding to this is its hilly terrain, and a tendency to build upwards rather than outwards. I like to explore on foot, but Lisbon is not optimal.

I set out in search of the Castelo de São Jorge, but never succeeded in entering its grounds. How can you lose a castle? Especially one that size, perched high on a rock, right downtown? You’d be amazed. I caught a few glimpses, but by the time I found the entrance, it was closed for the day. Undeterred, I continued my exploration.

Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon

Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon

I found my way to the Tagus riverfront at the edge of the Alfama district, and then continued into the Baixa, the tourist quarter. Most cities keep their active seaports away from tourists, but not so in Lisbon; here, they overlap. In the Praça do Comércio, an enormous open square and former site of the royal palace, signs abound warning tourists to beware of pickpockets. In the square’s centre, a statue of King José I rides, and an enormous arcade and triumphal arch open into the city’s streets. This area, rebuilt in 1755 after the earthquake levelled much of the city, is on a grid pattern, making it much easier to navigate.

Igreja do Carmo, Lisbon

Igreja do Carmo, Lisbon

The Elevador de Santa Justa is located between the Baixa and Chiado districts. It was built by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, a student of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, and opened in 1901. The elevator’s wood and brass interior speaks of its provenance. From the Elevador’s high viewing platform, I was finally able to see the castle; the Igreja do Carmo, a ruined church that reminds Lisbon of its tragic past; and much of Rossio and the Baxia.

Brasileira, Lisbon (exterior)

Brasileira, Lisbon (exterior)

Continuing into the Chiado quarter, I ate a light supper at the Brasileira, an Art Deco café once favoured by artists and intellectuals. After the main course, I had my first pastéis, a small custard tart made with phyllo-like pastry, its top burnt like crème brûlée. It was good, but the one I had later in Belém was better.

Brasileira, Lisbon (interior)

Brasileira, Lisbon (interior)

A life-sized bronze statue of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa sits at a table outside, still haunting the café where he once wrote while enjoying a smoke, bica (Portuguese coffee) and absinthe.

I took a cab back to the hotel—the best way to get around Lisbon. The cab’s radio played Canadian Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You, making me feel like it is a very small world indeed.

Sunday marked my excursion to Sintra, a brief train ride beyond Lisbon. Similarly to Toronto, in Lisbon the subway doesn’t open until 9 a.m. on Sunday, but I was still able to catch the 9:40 train to Sintra. Lisbon sprawls, with miles and miles of apartment blocks in varying shades of white with varying shades of red tiled roofs, occasionally broken up by fields, cows, and quarries. There’s no sense of leaving the city and entering the countryside.

Once in Sintra, I had to choose which of the many castles to explore. I caught the bus up to the elaborate Palácio da Pena, its style and colours reminding me of Portmeirion, Wales. The site originated as a fifteenth-century monastery, then was rebuilt in the nineteenth century as a royal palace, and has been a museum since 1910.

Palácio da Pena, Sintra

Palácio da Pena, Sintra

I revelled in the fantasy of the place, and spent a very long time wandering its many rooms. From the parapet, I could see the ramparts of the Castelo dos Mouros, the eighth-century Moorish Castle down the slope. On the descent back into Sintra, the bold chimneys of the Palácio Nacional de Sintra are hard to miss. On the train back to Lisbon, I kept catching glimpses of the Roman aqueduct spanning the landscape.

I ended the day with a tram ride out to Belém to watch the sunset behind the Torre. This is the site from which countless ships ventured during Portugal’s historic past. Exiting the tram, I saw what I thought was the royal palace, but turned out to be the extraordinary sixteenth-century Santa Maria de Belém, a monastery. Aiming towards the tower, I strode past the Centro Cultural de Belém, a recently constructed monumental box of a building. Nearby is the Monument to the Discoveries, an oversized statue built in 1960 depicting the lineage of Portuguese explorers. While not to my taste, it’s clear that much has been invested to attract cultural and tourist dollars to Belém.

I made it to the Torre de Belém at precisely sunset. Built just offshore in the Tagus River in the sixteenth century, the tower marked the starting point for numerous expeditions out from Portugal. Because of its maritime importance, the Tower was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. No one had mentioned the wide amphitheatre-like steps facing the Tower on shore. I watched the tide change like a symphony, the Tower itself beautiful in its wading stance, resting ankle deep like a moored chess piece.

I trudged back into central Belém and had an amazingly good veggie burger on a patio, while watching the line-up at the famous Pastéis de Belém slowly dwindle. I’d been keeping an eye on the mob since my arrival. About half an hour before closing, the line-up was finally manageable. I only waited a few minutes before being handed a Pastéis de Belém, larger, firmer, fresher and warmer than the one I’d had at the Brasileira. It was the right taste to take me back into Lisbon to pack for too-early a flight home the next morning.

Catherine Jenkins 2015 all rights reserved