Covid-19 Travel Diary: Nassau, Mar. 2

With all my bags packed and ready for another adventure, this time with my girlfriends in the Bahamas to celebrate my bachelorette, I sailed back through security at YYZ and posted up in terminal one awaiting my zone’s boarding call. The plane was completely full and poised for take-off on the runway when the captain’s engine light went on and we aborted the mission. The plane taxied back to the gate and the passengers unboarded with instructions to keep an eye out for our new plane’s gate posting. Two hours later I was en route. Emails from Connie and Jenny revealed that they were both also delayed. We should have taken the hint…

At long last the three of us found one another in the Nassau airport, grabbed a cab to Connie’s family home there, dropped our bags, hopped in the car, did a big grocery shop for the week, and set about making a beautiful dinner. We had spaghetti limone with seared scallops, parmesan and kale with red wine. Sated and settling into our new tropical paradise we adjourned to the front patio for another glass of wine al fresco. With the backdrop of ocean waves crashing onto sand, we got into a passionate discussion of the importance of setting intentions and the incredible ways the universe always gives us exactly what we need, but never in the ways we expect.

And then, there was a man holding a gun to Jenny’s head. Then there were three more masked men with guns pointed at us. They pushed us inside the house insisting we keep quiet and demanding our money. “Okokokokokokokokok.” Jenny got her cash out of her wallet. “Herehereherehere.” Connie gave them her cash as well. My heart was exploding in my chest, but on the surface, a very strange calm came over me. I just stood in front of the thief with his gun on me and said, “I don’t have any money.” There were three men with three guns pointed at us while the fourth was going through the upper floors of the house. “Where is the safe?”

“There is no safe here,” I replied.

“Do you want to die tonight?” my assailant asked me.

“I’m not sure. Maybe. Are you going to kill me?” I replied with more sass then I was prepared for.

“You’re not scared,” my assailant observed moving closer to me. Just then, the man who had been searching the house dropped his gun down the stairs and the clip fell out. Again, with more sass than I was prepared for, I kissed my teeth and called them amateurs. At that point they seemed to get nervous, grabbed what they could and ran away into the dark cover of night.

We were all ok. We were unharmed. We had angels watching us. We locked all the doors and put down the storm shutters. We took a few deep breaths. Then we assessed the damage. They took my phone and wallet with my cash and cards, but managed to miss my laptop, hard drive and cameras. They took Jenny’s wallet as well, but in an impressive ninja move, she had dumped all her cards under a pile of tampons in her knapsack when she grabbed her cash to hand over, successfully camouflaging them. Jenny had packed her laptop in a stained, torn old manila envelope that was also left untouched. And in another very crucial moment, the thieves had picked up Jenny’s phone, but after realizing it was a Blackberry, put it back down. Blackberry really should sell their product as the “anti-theft phone.” They took Connie’s entire carry-on bag with her passport, wallet, phone, brand new iPad, meds, make-up etc. We called the police. The Royal Bahamas Police showed up in 20 minutes and took a look over the house. They said we could just let it go, or we could come to the station, give statements and then they would open a case. We piled into the back of the police cruiser and went to the station.

Three officers took us into three separate rooms to give our statements. The 12 ft square, concrete, windowless room with a view into the hallway containing a dried up old mop and bucket that I ended up in made me feel surreal. The lady cop in uniform, but with a bootleg Guess fashion five panel hat on her head, got out her pad and pen and asked me to tell her what happened, just like in the movies. It was then that I realized something about shock; it works on you to forget as a defense mechanism. Even though the robbery had just happened, my recollection of it was foggy. I gave the best statement I could and met the girls back out in the lobby. They rushed us out of there with no paperwork and took us back to the house. The forensics guy met us at the house and dusted it for prints. He found one partial. Then they left. We secured the house again. We had one phone and one credit card. We were going to be ok. We  thanked God Connie’s kids weren’t there. I crawled into bed with Connie, and Jenny said she was ok to sleep alone. None of us slept…

CopCarBW-1

Covid-19 Travel Diary: Toronto, Feb. 28

Jake and I hopped a train from Paris back to Brussels where I said, “Goodbye.” It was an epic sibling Eurotrip and I was sad to go. Jake’s contract at the wind farm had him there until August so we made plans to meet up back on Canadian soil at my wedding on Vancouver Island planned for August 8th. Exciting times!

I set out to the Brussels airport at 4AM. There was a wet, heavy snow falling beautifully in the lamplight. Jake said that’s the first and only time he saw it snow there. At the airport I got chatting with a South African gentleman who said he was an epidemiologist. His work seemed very focused on Malaria, despite my urgings to shift the topic to the Corona Virus. He was en route to a conference in Russia where he was hoping to get more information about it. He didn’t seem alarmed in the slightest. It was only when I reached customs in Toronto on Feb. 26th that there was warning of the virus. All the staff at YYZ were wearing masks and gloves and inquired if I had been in Wuhan in the last 14 days.

Back home, I was welcomed by a very sick fiancee. He had a high fever that broke my second evening home. I figured it was a bad flu and was happy he appeared to be getting better fast. Maybe he had Corona? Maybe not. We were not able to get tested either way and he recovered back to perfect health. We were very lucky.

I did my pile of laundry and packed my bags again, this time for my bachelorette party which was happening in Nassau, Bahamas a few days later. The news about the virus in China was alarming, and there were a few more cases in Italy, but still nothing too out of the ordinary. I figured I was fine to take off. And off I went…

Covid-19 Travel Diary: Paris, Feb. 24

Jake and I were delighted to be putting our bust of an evening in Prague behind us as we boarded yet another flight, to Paris this time, on the first day of Paris Fashion Week. The streets were vibrating with excitement as designers, photographers, models and celebrities descended upon the City of Love. Fashion Week is a bit like hunting season, except the hunters are shooting with cameras, not guns, and the pray are not wild animals, but wild young giraffes of the human sort with cheekbones that could cut glass. A model in the wild is an easy thing to spot. The six foot tall waifs in their Instagram-approved outfits stand out of the crowd like attention-hungry peacocks in mating season. Jake deftly observed that the paparazzi vying for their “street style’ photos were decked out in flashier garb than their lithe working prey. The streets are the runway during #PFW. All you have to do to get published on the international fashion media outlets is go for a stroll in your favourite haute couture. Jake and I were unprepared in the outfit area so we played ninja and stayed out of the limelight. We strolled around the city, pausing to act as voyeurs to the scattered fashion events popping up around town. One particular square was full of posing fashionistas and skaters. We posted up on the steps in the sun and soaked up the glorious scene.

Of course, we indulged in coq au vin, steak frites, and the finest, cheapest beaujolais in the world. I got so excited about finding one of my favourite wines for four euros that I dropped my bag full of wine bottles and smashed them all to bits, but that is neither here nor there. Jake cheered me up with a replacement bottle asap.

I wonder what the world of fashion will look like after this pandemic recedes. Will there still be room in the global economy for the frivolity of fashion? Germany has rolled out a staggering €50 billion aid package for small businesses that boosts artists and galleries. CBC had a two hour program on last week discussing how out-of-work artists should be bailed out by the government.

On the one hand, arts and culture bring an extremely important element of humanity to this strange time of social isolation, but on the other hand, you could say being an artist is a complete luxury undeserving of government funding that could be used more effectively in the social sectors. When you sign up to be an artist don’t you automatically agree to put the sharing of your work with the world first and hope to syphon a few dollars off the top to feed yourself and keep a roof over your head? Being an artist is risky business. Often we are working on a contract to contract basis without any safety net. We sink all our money into our work and then hope and pray people find it valuable. There are no guarantees. We must be creative in our work and also, in how we get paid for our work. Now that we are in this new era, it’s time to reassess our streams of revenue and use our creativity to imagine where we can go from here. I was flabbergasted that artists were getting so much airtime when it seems like our healthcare workers, government workers and grocery store employees should be getting our undivided attention. What do you think? Should the government put a special stimulus package together for the freelance artist community? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Covid -19 Travel Diary: Prague, Feb. 23

Bidding a sweet adieu to Budapest, a land of wonderful parties, spas, food and vintage Korean clothing, Jake and I embarked upon our next stop; an overnight in Prague. We were to arrive around 11PM and had a dinner reservation at a neat-looking restaurant in an old clock tower for 11:30PM, a 20 minute walk from our $30/night Air Bnb. That was the plan anyway…

We were flying Czech Airlines for the first time. Again, we breezed through security and customs without a hitch. No one was wearing masks or gloves or taking any precautions yet regarding Covid-19. When we reached our gate, Jake took a peek at the plane we were about to take. It was a smaller propeller plane built by Bombardier. Jake mentioned he had worked on the design for this particular model at his stint as an intern at Bombardier last year. In his words, “I hope it doesn’t fall out of the sky.” And with that promising warning, we hopped aboard, sanitizing everything in our sight, of course.

The hour-long flight was peaceful up until our approach to landing. There was a torrential storm hovering over Prague. Out the window all we could see was horizontal precipitation in the flashes of light caused intermittently by the plane’s caution lights and the actual lightning bolts touching down all around us. The little plane felt like it was being tossed around by a bored giant and many people around us emptied their dinners into the lovingly provided barf bags onboard. Then the news came that we were unable to land for 45 minutes due to the weather. So we proceeded to circle in this storm for the next hour as our anxiety levels soared right up to our current altitude. I said to Jake, “If this is it for us, I just want you to know I love you, man.” And Jake said, “You know, it’s not such a bad way to go. We’ll be worldwide! The two Canadians who perished on the crashed Czech Airlines flight. We’ll be infamous!” It was a moment completely out of our control, so we relinquished ourselves to the machine. Finally, we were cleared for landing, which was rocky, but we survived.

Back on solid ground with our nerves totally shot, we set out about getting to our AirBnb. We missed the public bus, and splurged on an Uber. The keys for the AirBnb were at a sketchy shawarma spot down the street. We got the keys, dropped our bags, and hurried over to the bell tower restaurant to try and rescue the evening. If the walk there told us anything, it’s that Prague is haunted. The streets were deserted. It was a great scene for a murder. The looming clock tower could have housed Frankenstein back in the day. The troll woman who manned the lift up the tower refused to let us in, saying the restaurant was closed despite the numerous signs around posting the closing time as midnight, which was still a half hour away. Turned down and discouraged, we headed back to the shawarma spot and proceeded to get drunk on cheap beers and lebanese food. A slew of very drunk English tourists kept the joker guys behind the counter busy and entertained as they fed them and charged them way more then was fair. I went to order another dish and they said because I was Canadian I wouldn’t mind paying more than the fair price and charged my card without asking. What had been funny until that point then turned gross as we realized the racket these guys were onto every night. I plead karma and one of the cooks said he had twelve children, so fuck karma. Point taken. We retreated back to our AirBnb and got in a couple hours of sleep before our early flight to sweet Paris…

 

Covid-19 Travel Diary: Budapest, Feb. 22

The flight from Brussels to Budapest was as smooth as a Corona-infested stainless steel countertop. We checked in online and sailed through security and customs. No one even checked our passports. No one was thinking about Covid-19. Life was still normal.

A friend said to me yesterday, “We lived in the time of large gatherings.”

Our first stop in Budapest was the Szechenyi Spa & Baths, the largest spa in Europe. Imagine Versailles, but switch the gardens for hot spring pools. We proceeded to sweat and cold dunk on repeat with trips to the outdoor pools in the interims for heavy waterfall massage pouring out of ancient fountainheads. Groups of excited people were celebrating their bachelor(ette) parties there as the bar was selling mulled wine and the shining sun kept everyone’s spirits bright. That evening there was to be a Sparty, the infamous spa party, but Jake and I decided as neat an idea as that was it could become a literal cesspool of germs. We decided to go dancing instead.

We stumbled into Akvárium Klub where Rebekah was spinning and proceeded to dance for hours to her high-energy, driving, mechanical beats. The club was wall-to-wall packed. The crowd was swept up into a trance and time was suspended as our feet left the ground. 

We escaped both large gatherings unscathed and Corona-free thankfully. Looking back, I wonder when we will be able to hit the spa and party again. I am feeling a little less free than just a week ago. Our next stop is Prague…

Covid-19 Travel Diary: Brussels, Feb. 20

Jake, my crazy smart little brother, got an amazing contract working at a wind energy company in Brussels for the year. I knew I had to visit him at some point during his stay there, and, with the film industry being in its slow season and my photography exhibit over and done with, late February seemed the perfect opportunity. My flight was booked for a February 19th departure. The day before I boarded the plane to Brussels, my mother, an avid viewer of CNN, showed up at my place with three ziplock bags full of face masks, medical grade wet wipes and rubber gloves respectively, with very stern warnings of the Corona Virus and detailed instructions of how to keep myself safe on my travels. At the time, we knew that the virus could live on surfaces for concerning lengths of time and that it could be avoided by wearing gloves, frequent handwashing and refraining from touching ones face. Armed with my Mom’s love, I masked up and flew to Europe.

Jake was awaiting my arrival at BRU. We strolled around the beautiful city in the rain as I reveled in the wonderful street art, new and old, like the tourist I am. We stopped in at the Delirium Brewery for a pint. Delirium is my favourite beer of all time. It’s perfectly balanced, delicious, and very strong. After one Jake and I had quite a buzz going and the conversation took a turn toward gender fluidity and online dating. We needed some fresh air! And food. Back out in the rain, we went to a lowkey, well-priced restaurant specializing in traditional Belgium dishes recommended by one of Jake’s friends. We shared a main course of delicious beef stew and decided to try a popular, pricey place for another course. The decor and the architecture at the second spot were impressive, but the chocolate foie gras was dry. The lesson to revisit is to always trust a local’s recommendation over internet hype. Still pouring rain, we traipsed back to Jake’s subterranean bachelor pad like two excitable fillies in Springtime. The reflection of the lamplights on the rained-upon cobblestone streets interrupted by the octogonal shadows of hurried umbrellas gave the evening a special filmic quality that can only be found in old Europe.

We discussed the virus. Jake was worried about staying in Brussels as it began to spread around Europe, but honestly, no one was really ringing the alarm yet. Life was still normal. We packed up Mum’s precautionary supplies and readied ourselves for our flight to our next stop: Budapest!

The Goddess Array V.3 Party

I love Toronto so much! Thank you again to everyone who came out Saturday evening to celebrate and check out the art. It was another heartwarming turn-out. I love you all! This evening there is a three hour life drawing session at Hashtag Gallery (830 Dundas St. W). It is open to the public and only $12. 6:30PM – 9:30PM. xo