Categories
Personal

A Language Epidemic

I watched French television and enjoyed it. There, I said it.

Now this may not seem like a surprising admission to most, but as someone who’s lived all my life in Montréal, it sometimes still shocks me how divided the anglophone (English-speaking) and francophone (French-speaking) worlds can be, especially when it comes to entertainment and pop culture. Someone will mention the name of a Québec celebrity, and my face will be completely blank. And I’ll have to admit that I’ve never heard of the super-famous “vedette” in question.

Some of my favourite online language tools: Linguee and Bon Patron

I went to French immersion schools in the English system, and came out of high school “sort of bilingual.” My friends are a mix of anglo and franco, but mostly anglophone. I watch English TV, go to English theatre and storytelling shows, and read English books, magazines, and websites.

My French is pretty good. Good enough to live in French in places like restaurants, stores, or services, but not good enough to express complex thoughts or emotions to a friend. Good enough to answer WordPress support questions in French, but not good enough to read a French novel comfortably.

Épidémie - photo of doctor wearing face mask

But when my friend Marie-Josée recently mentioned being hooked on a Québec-made TV show called Épidémie (Epidemic), I was suddenly intrigued. For some reason, I’m drawn to shows about viruses and pandemics, and despite the eerie timing, I thought it could be fun way to improve my vocabulary. I started watching it with the closed captions on and inhaled the first four episodes, looking up terms I didn’t recognize. I can now say stretcher, ferret, ignore, trigger, and sneezing in French. And I’ve been introduced to fabulous expressions like: “passer dans le beurre” (to go unnoticed) and “te traiter aux petits oignons” (to take good care of you). I can’t wait for new episodes – dang network TV with its weekly releases!

Speaking of languages, last week I was lucky to be in Panama City with my team from Automattic. It was my first time in Latin America, and I was surprised at how much Spanish I could understand, considering I last studied it 30 years ago, and never put it into use after that. While I was thrilled to be able to make myself understood in a few casual situations like restaurants, I was also very grateful to have three Spanish speakers on my team, who kindly did a lot of translating for us.

The trip did make me want to travel to more Spanish-speaking countries. When I took two years of Spanish at university, my thought at the time was that with English, French, and Spanish language skills, I could get by comfortably in many countries. While that level of travel never panned out, what I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that it’s never too late for almost anything, so we shall see what the future holds.

Categories
WordPress

Twenty Twenty in 2020

New theme, who dis?

I’ve finally done it. As a chronic late adopter it did take me forever, but I finally changed themes on this site, which is now running Twenty Twenty, the latest WordPress default theme. It’s going to take me a while to get used to – I’ve been running my beloved Writr since first launching the blog in 2013 – but it was overdue, so here we are.

I also switched over to the block editor – aka Gutenberg – another embarrassingly late move to the modern WordPress world.

It’s been a good “empathy exercise.” As a full-time Happiness Engineer helping users build and customize their sites, it’s so easy for me to tell someone, “Go ahead and switch themes, it’ll be fine!” or “Oh yeah, activate the block editor, you’ll love it!”

Doing it myself is another story.

But… it’s been alright so far. No, really! OK, I’ve already encountered two small visual bugs that I’ll report when I’m back at work, but that’s what dogfooding is for, isn’t it?

Speaking of bugs, if you spot anything amiss, do feel feel free to let me know. In the meantime, I hope you like the new look.

May 2020 be good to you all, whether you decide to shake things up or not.

Categories
Personal

Found Film

Back in what truly feels like another lifetime, I made a bunch of short movies, most at summer camp, CEGEP or university.

After spending most of my youth determined to pursue an acting career, discovering filmmaking felt like a revelation. Now I could tell my own stories! No one judged me on my appearance! Good riddance to all the discouraging casting calls!

So I produced a slew of short films and videos on Super 8, Hi8, SVHS, 16mm, and other now-obsolete or prohibitively expensive formats. I graduated with a Communication Studies degree, and had a career in the industry. I felt a particular passion for documentaries. While I had no problem getting work as an associate producer, production coordinator, assistant director, and script supervisor, it turns out I never loved working in film and TV. In fact, at times, I hated it. The interpersonal politics were sometimes stifling and the work could vary wildly between stressful and exhausting, to mind-numbingly boring. Government tax-credit applications, anyone?

Eventually, the World Wide Web (yes, we called it that in the 90s) became a thing, and I taught myself HTML and started building websites on my own. The rest, as they say, is history.

During my recent sabbatical, I decided to get my old film and video productions digitized before the tapes deteriorate even more. Rewatching them now makes me cringe for many reasons – Why did I put myself in so many of them? Why is the editing so awkward? Why did I often pick such cheesy music? – but some are also fun to watch.

Here’s one I made about the then-obscure Drawn & Quarterly comic publisher, produced as a demo for a CBC show I was trying to get onto – an English version of Course destination monde, if anyone remembers that from the 90s in Québec. I made it to the final round, but ultimately wasn’t chosen as one of their globetrotting videographer-journalists. (I cannot for the life of me remember the English title of the show, so evidently it didn’t become a hit.) Instead I spent the next two years working as assistant director on Iris, The Happy Professor for TLC, alongside a wacky local crew and a cast of raunchy puppeteers. But that’s a story for another time.

Categories
Personal

Soundtrack of a Sabbatical Summer

While on sabbatical I’ve had a few songs on repeat as I’ve been reflecting on the past, processing the present, coming to terms with some big changes in my life, and trying to just be. Hard stuff, but this music has helped.

Alanis Morissette – Unsent

I was inspired to give Alanis another listen after seeing Tranna Wintour’s homage Dear Alanis: A Musical Comedy. Theme song of this post.

Sara Bareilles – Armor

I’ve loved this song since I first heard it on CBC Radio and realized it was a new track from one of my favourite singer-songwriters. In a strange twist, I only first watched the video this week, and it clicked that the song shares the title of one of my favourite posts from last year, and echoes similar themes.

Tegan & Sara – Where Does The Good Go

Theme song for my Year of Big Change. Also my Year of Binge-Watching Fifteen Seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. (Still have several seasons to go. Holy moly they made a lot of episodes.)

Pharrell Williams – Happy

A new, but welcome, feeling for me lately.

Categories
Travel

Visiting Villa Kitty

When my beloved cat Sophie recently escaped, I postponed the departure date for my sabbatical trip to Southeast Asia – and seriously considered cancelling it altogether. I didn’t feel right leaving with her still out there somewhere, and certainly couldn’t imagine enjoying a vacation.

When Sophie joyously returned home, I went ahead and took the trip, only having to delay my departure by a few days. One of the things I’m so grateful I still got to do was visit Villa Kitty.

♦ ♦ ♦

When I was planning the Bali portion of my trip, I knew I wanted to try to get off the beaten tourist path a bit. Beaches and waterfalls and temples are lovely, but what do I really care about most? Animals are high on the list. And of course, more specifically, cats.

Tabby basking in the sun

In the process of researching photo tours, I learned about Villa Kitty, an Ubud cat rescue founded by Elizabeth Henzell. Reading about their work struck a chord, so I wrote to Elizabeth, who graciously invited me to spend some time volunteering. While the rescue pays staff like vets and animal technicians, there’s never enough time to cuddle and play with all the cats and kittens, to help heal and socialize. That’s where volunteers come in.

Elizabeth Henzell, founder of Villa Kitty
Elizabeth Henzell, founder of Villa Kitty

When I got to Villa Kitty, Elizabeth welcomed me warmly. The whole operation blew me away – a huge serpentine maze of brightly coloured corridors and open spaces full of cats and kittens playing, sleeping, curled together in cages, quarantine rooms, and play areas, depending on their age and health status. The place is currently bursting at the seams, housing 300 cats, but the space is well organized and efficiently run.

Molly Parr Isolation ward

People walk into Villa Kitty with tiny kittens found in gutters, ditches, and river banks; cats who are injured, orphaned, or abandoned; and every other heartbreaking scenario you can think of. Staff bottle-feed the littlest ones, perform free sterilizations for the community, and continually spread the word about caring for cats responsibly. They place kitties in foster homes and find adoptive homes for as many as possible.

One-eyed cat in cage

I wish I’d had more time to spend with all these cuties, but I know I’ll return if I’m ever in Bali again. And if you’re a cat lover who finds yourself in Ubud, your cuddles are needed at Villa Kitty – so don’t hesitate to reach out!

♦ ♦ ♦

Visit Villa Kitty on the web, Instagram, or Facebook.

White and tabby kitty meowing in cage