Libations and Limitations

I have an alarming number of friends who don’t drink any alcohol. Not that there’s anything wrong with not drinking alcohol; it’s just odd how many people I know all of a sudden who don’t.

From about the age of 15 to 30 all my friends and acquaintances did nothing but drink their faces off at every opportunity. After 30, my social circle wised up and started drinking more moderately. Now some of them don’t drink at all.

Some are alcoholics so they had to stop. Some just don’t like it anymore. One friend says she won’t drink because she becomes belligerent and scrappy when she drinks. I find this hard to believe because she’s normally sweet as pie, but I’ll take her word for it.

I do know people who become really belligerent and scrappy when they drink. They’re very tiresome at parties because they’ll start arguing about the bean dip and punch the first guy who presents a likely target. But then these people are usually pretty belligerent and scrappy to begin with.

Most people seem to just become exaggerated versions of themselves when they drink, I think. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who has a complete personality change when they drink, have you?

One guy I knew in university – blond, surfer type…madly in love with himself – he used get naked at every single party he was ever at. Two or three drinks and off came the togs. Actually, I suspect after a while he just didn’t even bother with the drinking part and just whipped it all out as soon as he got to the party.

And we all know women who get extremely ..um…er…frisky after a couple of drinks and everyone in trousers better put out or get out. They’re the ones who get themselves in trouble at the office Christmas party. It’s a cliché, but I was at a work Christmas party once where a normally under-the-radar type woman literally threw herself at our director. There he was enjoying an after dinner drink, chatting with some management types and she comes along and plops herself on his lap and winds her arms around his neck. That was some night.

And, I think we’ve all been at parties where there’s one miserable sod who has a couple of drinks and ends up in a corner weeping —  telling you you’re a beautiful, beautiful person and that you’re the only real person they’ve ever known – even if you’ve just met. I don’t know why, but I usually end up getting cornered by this person at parties.

I try to stay well away from them and from the pathetic saddo who drinks weird stuff like Southern Comfort and coke finishes off the night by lolling on a sofa peeing himself and playing air guitar long after the music has stopped.

And, of course, every party has at least one assholes who will expand in assholishness as the night goes on. And he or she will start losing control of his or her voice and limbs and get really loud and will start breaking stuff and spilling stuff.

And then there are those who have no understanding of their own bodies and/or the effects of alcohol on them and so will be barfing – hopefully in or around a toilet. You’d think they’d have clued in by the time they’re 40, but amazingly, quite a few haven’t.

And almost everyone ends up saying the most astonishing things while under the influence. Some people tell you things they’ve bottled up for years. Things that should never be aired. Things they would kill to take back the next morning. It’s best to leave town if someone who’s a little high on Crown Royal has told you where he’s hidden the skeletons.

I think perhaps many of us have been in one or more of these positions over the years and maybe that’s why so many of us have quit drinking altogether. I will confess to having been in at least three of these positions myself at some point waaaaaaaay back in my much, much younger and more foolish days. And I one or two things I’m not particularly proud of.

But I learned. Water under the bridge.

These days, a little wine or a little beer — preferably with food — is my limit. Make no mistake, I really, really enjoy a nice glass of wine with a meal or a beer on a warm day, but a couple is usually enough. I have no desire or need to get anywhere close to drunk anymore. I don’t even know why I ever did.

Was it ever actually fun? Do any of you still enjoy getting good and drunk every so often?

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ATTENTION!!! ATTENTION!!!  The indominable Lynn has announced the details of this year’s Blog Out Loud Ottawa (BOLO). It will be held on Wednesday, July 7 at Irene’s Pub on Bank Street from 7:00 – 10:00 pm. Anyone who wants to read should register soon; but you don’t have to read to come out and enjoy an evening of food, drink and blogging hilarity. Check the BOLO website frequently for updates and details. Yay Lynn!!

Paris Wrap-Up

You know how no matter how great your vacation was; it’s always nice to get back home to your familiar stuff? Well, I totally do NOT feel that way. We spent the first 4 days or so frantically seeing and doing the tourist stuff, but then mellowed out over the last 3 days and just wandered around — shopping, browsing, eating and soaking up the city. Those last few days were the best part for me.

I’m going to try and make this the last Paris post because I know how tiresome it can be when people go on and on about their vacation like they’re the first people ever to have gone anywhere. I know I’ll be yammering about this to everyone I see in real life for a while anyway and if anyone is going to Paris soon and has specific questions, I may have some answers or tips (send me an email).

And, I’ve posted a collection of our trip photos on Facebook for those who are FB friends and want to see them.  There are a few at the end of this post, too, but to me the photos don’t really capture the reality. XUP Jr. is the photographer in the family. I just took a notebook.

What I Loved

People kept asking me if we’d been to a certain museum or taken in a certain gallery and while we did go to a few, the weather was so spectacular we really wanted to spend most of our time outdoors. And really, my definitive statement about Paris is that the entire city is a museum and gallery of art. The architecture literally made me weep. I don’t think I saw a single structure that was simply thrown up for the sake of housing an office or a shop or to cram as many apartments into a space for as cheaply as possible. No. It’s all created to be beautiful first, functional second and then they might worry about the cost.

Grime

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about how dirty Paris is – how beat up and grimy it all looks. And yes, it’s not a shiny, new showroom place that’s for sure. But it’s a lived-in looking place and I think that’s what makes a city alive. Paris is not a city that rolls up the sidewalks once the work day is over. People live in this city. Every shop, restaurant and office is just the ground floor of an apartment building. And these are very expensive apartments. Those with money live in the city. Those without money live outside the city in the suburbs.

So, the city is in full use 24 hours a day – like the home of a big, boisterous family. And they don’t seem to be overly concerned about keeping everything sterile and pristine.

The Metro

Including the Metro. XUP Jr. and I got the Navigo pass for tourists. For 17 euros we had unlimited travel by subway, bus, train, funicular or boat for the entire week. It took us exactly 24 hours to figure out the system and we were soon moving around the city like pros. There are 14 subway lines and 4 rapid train lines that zip around the city. We never had to bother even figuring out the buses. We never had to wait for more than 2 minutes for a train.

Each subway station seems to have a theme. There is one in the original Art Deco; one is a tropical jungle with a greenhouse running up one wall up to the outside; one is Greek with sculptures in recesses along the walls; one is all in copper with portholes, etc.

And everybody rides the Metro. The young, the old, the rich, the poor, business people, crazy people, mothers with strollers large and small, dogs, people with giant blank canvasses on their way to be painted or giant painted canvasses on their way to their new homes;  and, lot of musicians ride the subway — with their instruments. Once an entire band (accordion, trumpet, drum, guitar) got on at a stop, played a few tunes, collected a few coins and got off to catch and play the next train. Usually, it’s just one accordion player though entertaining the riders.

Or sometimes young men with important messages got on the train and delivered  heated speeches about something or other which I didn’t understand. People listened politely but didn’t seem too concerned about whatever they had to say.

Shop Workers

I loved the fact that not once did I go into a shop or restaurant where I had to deal with a gum cracking, insolent teenager. Restaurant service staff are all paid a good salary with full benefits, so service fees are included in the price of your meal – no tipping. These people, as well as shop sales people are professionals. This is their career for the most part. You are always greeting with a “bonjour” or “bon soir” and are expected to return the greeting. They are extremely knowledgeable about their products. I saw one young sales assistant talk a woman out of purchasing a shirt because she told her it did not flatter her figure and went to fetch her a few other options she said would suit her better.

The Traffic

I even loved the chaotic traffic. Most of the streets are only wide enough for one small car at a time. I know everyone has talked about the drivers in Paris and it’s all true. Traffic lights and signs seem to just be suggestions. If there isn’t actually something in the way, cars will just keep going. Parking or getting out of a parking spot always seems to entail ramming several cars in front and behind you. I don’t think there’s a dent-free vehicle in the city.

And then there are the scooters and motorcycles who seem to have no rules at all to follow. They’ll use the sidewalks, the bike lanes, cut across parks – whatever it takes.

And then there are the velos – bicycles who get their very own bike lane complete with curbs so that while foolhardy scooters might jump them, cars certainly can’t. Racks and rack of velos are available for short term rentals all over the city and most people seem to use them rather than their own bicycles.

And then there are the pedestrians. I love how fast Parisians walk. They’re all in a big rush. They’re impatient. They run up and down escalators. There is nothing more exhilarating than seeing a huge throng of black-suited Parisians barreling down one of those moving sidewalks they have at some Metro stations.

 What’s the Rush?

Where are they all going in such a hurry? Well, I think they want to get the business of getting from one place to another over with as quickly as possible so they’ll have more time to enjoy their leisure. And they love their leisure. They get more vacation days than almost every other country. Everything is closed on Sundays. A lot of things are closed on Mondays. Some things are even closed on Tuesdays. And Fridays? Everyone stops work early because it’s been a long week.

Most people get a 2-hour lunch and then work until six or even seven. From noon until at least two, the bistros and cafes are crammed with office workers and shop workers enjoying a meal, impassioned conversation, a bottle of wine, a dozen or so cigarettes and a coffee.

Restaurants don’t even open for supper until 7:30. And then the sidewalks get really lively with music and drinking and always, everywhere, a blue haze of Le Smoking.

Le Smoking

They haven’t quite got the hang of this smoking-ban-in-public-places yet. The restaurant door is open between the large, sheltered outdoor café part for the smokers and the tiny indoor part for the non-smokers. The staff room, which is usually just off the dining room and also has an open door, is thick with smoking staff. And the ban doesn’t seem to apply to people making deliveries or doing maintenance or any other sort of work indoors.

Eats

They also haven’t gotten the hang of vegetarianism. Probably they have no intention of ever doing so. We did find a couple of vegetarian restaurants. Le Potager du Marias which was recommended by some of the guidebooks as well as online veggie sites  was excellent. The other one, Lemoni, which was also recommended, was horrible. There were also no Parisians in the vegetarian places (just Brits and other tourists), so we gave the rest of the places on our list a miss and ate in the places the locals ate.

I had a lot of warm, goat cheese salads which were fabulous enough that I could actually live on them forever. We also had lots of Japanese food. There are Japanese restaurants everywhere. And we had falafels at L’As du Falafel, which is supposed to have the best falafels in Paris and which always seems to have a long line in front of it. I think it was the best falafel I’ve ever had in my life.

 We also found one place called Indiana Café (I think there are several in the city), which actually has about half a dozen vegetarian items on their menu including a veggie burger.

And, of course, we had a lot of gorgeous bread and wine. In the supermarkets you can get a very good bottle of wine for 2 euros (about 3 bucks). In some restaurants you can get a half carafe of wine with lunch for 2 euros. A glass of juice or pop by comparison is 4 euros. A large bottle of water automatically accompanies every meal.

Espresso

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’m not a coffee drinker. I’d like to be because I love the smell of it, but whenever I’ve had coffee it actually makes me feel ill. I was told by two different people, who are also not coffee drinkers, that I should try the coffee in Paris because it’s a completely different experience. So, our first night there, our friends took us out for supper and as a matter of course, ordered cafes all around after the meal. When you order a café in Paris, you get an espresso in a very tiny cup with a little tube of sugar and a square of chocolate.

I drank it and was instantly addicted. I had an espresso every day. I brought back a big bag of espresso beans and am now committed to finding myself an espresso maker and some tiny cups. So, now when people visit I won’t have to offer them lame old tea anymore.

 Yay! Paris made a grown-up out of me.

Some Photos

 (Click to embiggen and/or scroll over for a description)

Ah, The Life of Le Riley…

Let’s imagine you had a tidy, independent income that would allow you to live anywhere in the world. And that you had no other real ties binding you to where you’re living now. Where would you most want to live?

Would you settle in a little rural village somewhere?  Rent a penthouse in a luxury hotel in some cosmopolitan city? Move into a charming villa on the Mediterranean? Buy a houseboat and putter around the world? Or maybe just stay right where you are?

Every year, for the last 30 years, International Living Magazine has  ranked some 194 countries in a Quality of Life Index.  They look at things like:

  •  Cost of living
  • Leisure & Culture
  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Freedom
  • Health
  • Infrastructure
  • Risk & Safety
  • Climate

For the 5th year in a row, France has won the number one ranking. Tied for second place are Australia, Switzerland and Germany. The USA is at 7th place, losing its previous 3rd ranking because of its faltering economy, the cost of living and environmental factors but scoring 100% on infrastructure.

Canada is in 9th place with mediocre points across the board except for 100% in Freedom and in Risk & Safety. Have a look at the chart. It makes interesting reading.

What’s really sad is that the health care system we’re so proud of only scored 6 points higher than America’s health care system, of which we’re so terrified. There are, in fact, a lot of countries on the chart with higher scores in health care than Canada. Does that surprise you?

So where would I go, if I could live anywhere in the world? Well, this Quality of Life Index, not withstanding, I’ve always thought it would be nice to live in France – at least for a while. I’ve never been there (a situation that will soon be remedied) but what I’ve read, heard and seen about it is very attractive to me.

I’d probably not want to live right in Paris, but perhaps a house in a village somewhere in the south, near the sea, with a couple of olive trees, a patch of lavender, maybe a couple of chickens and goats …. That’s my idea of perfection.

The accompanying article to this Quality of Life Index says village homes in the south-west of France can be had for less than $100,000. (Ahem… Violetsky??) 

There is so much about the Old World that suits me better than the New World, I think. Maybe because I was born there, but whenever I’ve visited Europe I’ve always felt very much at home.

The pace of life appeals to me. I especially love the French emphasis on quality food and drink and on excellent health care. I like that France has always known who and what it is and that they do their own thing no matter what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Once I retire, I’d like to go give it a try for a few months – maybe get it out of my system for good or maybe stick around for a bit longer. We shall see.

How about you? What’s your secret dream life? What are the odds of you being able to make it real one day?

From the Society Pages

In other society news….  Miss Violet Sky  (eldest daughter of the Southern Ontario Skys), undertook a journey to the nation’s capital this weekend past. She was received at the home of XUP where a small wine and cheese affair was arranged in her honour. Other society notables in attendance included the lovely Miss Alison.

Miss Violet was so much more down-to-earth and humorous than one would have expected from her writings and pastel-balloon blog masthead. Neither did she emerge from her carriage in the anticipated diaphanous gown! Not at all! Miss Violet was quite practically attired in clothing that might more commonly be seen on the average citizen.

Welcomes were warm and raucous all around; Miss Violet presented her host with gifts of fruit and baked goods; and the visit got underway.

The next 24 hours saw Miss Violet jet-setting through the best of what the city has to offer.  The Landsdowne’s welcomed her to their outdoor marketplace where staff curried her favour with samplings of their best wares. Miss Violet charmed them all with her winning smile and brief, yet personalized tidbits of conversation.

Miss Violet was then whisked to Parliament to be presented with some of Ottawa’s finest gothic architecture, followed by a tour of Lieutenant-Colonel John By’s marketplace where, after a whirlwind expedition through shoppes, she partook of a large refreshing beverage on a terrace overlooking the square.

A late luncheon was enjoyed by Miss Violet and her entourage at Saigon Boy, in one of the town’s more colourful quartiers. There followed a visit to the famed photographer, Mr. Robin, who was exceedingly gracious in entertaining Miss Violet on his verandah.

As the long day wore on, Miss Violet’s energy, optimism and good cheer never flagged one iota – the sign of a true lady.  Nevertheless, the evening’s itinerary was of a more relaxed, subdued nature and Miss Violet was given the opportunity to retire to her chambers at a reasonable hour.

Miss Violet’s stay in our fair city was, unfortunately of short duration as she was obliged to return to her duties in her own village the very next day. One hopes Miss Violet took some delight in her foray into the heretofore unknown world of never-before-met Ottawa bloggers as they took a considerable amount of pleasure in her company.

Tittle-tattle has it that Miss Violet herself will be presenting a more thorough accounting of her visit, complete with numerous delightful photographs. One certainly looks forward to this.

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Meeting new people – especially bloggers one has been following for some time – has so far, for me, always been a very positive experience. I highly recommend coming out from behind your keyboards every so often and giving it a try. You will not like everyone you meet, but if you keep initial visits short and don’t enter into the encounter with a great many expectations, your meetings will, more often than not, be reasonably pleasant.

Bon chance!

Centenarians

I read an article recently about a local woman who had turned 103 and was still living independantly, still robust and healthy, not taking any medications whatsoever, doing her own shopping, house cleaning, cooking, etc.

I thought “Wow. That’s cool.” The usual picture we have of centenarians is of shrivelled up old things in nursing home beds being tended by a bevy of care workers. In fact, however, 15% of people over 100 are still living independantly in their own homes. About 25% of centenarians are completely free of any significant cognitive disorders and most are usually healthy – healthier than people in their 80s and 90s.

Studies have found that the things most people who make it past 100 (and 80% of them are women) have in common are:

• Good genes – they have parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts who’ve lived long healthy lives
• Emotional resilience—ability to adapt to life’s events
• Resistance to stress—excellent coping skills
• Self-sufficiency
• Intellectual activity
• Good sense of humor, including about themselves
• Spirituality
• Strong connections with other people
• Low blood pressure
• Appreciation of simple pleasures and experiences
• Zest for life
• No smoking or heavy drinking
• Many play musical instruments

They also have in common a simple, sensible diet along the lines of a Mediterranean diet with an emphasis on plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds and potatoes); olive oil as the main fat source; only natural sugars; small amounts or no animal products; and no alcohol except one or two glasses of wine per day with meals.

There are about half a million centenarians living in the world today. The US has about 75,000 of them. Interestingly, while there are more 110+ year-old-people living in the US than any other country in the world, the US has one of the worst longevity ratings overall. France, Spain, Italy and Canada lead both in overall longevity and in having a significant amount of citizens that live to be 100 or more.

On one hand, I think it would be so interesting to see how the world unfolds over decades and decades. And, if I’m still relatively spry, getting to 100 or more could be good.

On the other hand, I don’t know if I could stand outliving my child and all my other relatives and friends. It’s hard enough making friends and/or finding people you have things in common with at my current age. I can’t imagine who you could relate to at 104 and/or who’d want to hang out with you.

Also, I’m not sure my pension and retirement savings will stretch to 40 years or more.

Even the healthy, active centenarians interviewed say they feel they’ve lived long enough and hope to die peacefully in their sleep — and soon.

Crisis Averted!

So, as of midnight today, the Ontario Public Service Employees (OPSEU) working for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) were supposed to go on strike. It’s the closest they’ve ever come to actually striking, so it’s been a terrifying few days for a lot of people, it seems.

The strike has been looming for a while and I guess the main issue is that LCBO is hiring more and more part-time and casual employees and less and less full-time employees. Anyway, the strike deadline was extended at the 11th hour, so while theoretically we still have the possibility of an LCBO strike, it’s unlikely to happen. 

For people outside of Ontario (or Canada in general)  who don’t understand how crazy the possibility of an LCBO strike has made people, a little background.

In Ontario, and most other Canadian provinces, if you want to buy bottles of alcoholic beverages you have to go to a provincially owned and operated store. In Quebec you can buy beer and wine in the dépanneurs (corner stores) and grocery stores. Some other provinces, like Alberta allow privately-owned liquor stores. But most of the alcohol sales in this country are controlled by the provincial governments.

In Ontario, as far as I know, the only places to buy liquor is an LCBO outlet. Individual wineries are only allowed to sell their own product and  The Beer Store (a conglomerate monopoly owned by a variety of international brewers are only allowed to sell beer).

An LCBO Strike would  also affect bar owners, hotels and restaurants who, as I understand it,  have to purchase all their hard liquor through LCBO.

Wineries and Beer Stores would not be affected by an LCBO strike. And Ontarians that live close to Quebec, Manitoba or the US could just hop across the border to buy liquor.

Still, there has been unbelievable mayhem in liquor stores across the province. Headlines like this graced our newspapers:

Fearful consumers empty LCBO shelves ahead of strike deadline (National Post, June 23)

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Yes, people have been crazed with anxiety about the possibility of not being able to buy liquor. They’ve been stockpiling for days —  weeks even. There has been pushing and shoving at LCBO outlets. Anger, grumbling and fights over the last bottle of Absolut. The LCBO shelves are empty – of everything, even the Sparkling Baby Duck! Homes all across Ontario now feature thousands and thousands of dollars worth of liquor.

People have locked themselves and their loved ones up in basements with their liquor, beating off visitors with sticks. “We only have enough booze for the family. Go away!” they scream. Enterprising gangsters have filled their bathtubs with cheap grain alcohols and juniper berries. People foolish enough to find themselves without liquor roam the streets like zombies ready to kill for a liquor-soaked brain. (Okay, I have no concrete proof that this last paragraph is completely true).

Yes, it nuts that there is so much red tape involved in buying a bottle of vodka and maybe that’s part of what has been pissing people off — that the people who stack those bottles of vodka on shelves and the people who ring up your purchase at the cash register, have the power to decide whether or not you’ll be able to have a cocktail before dinner next week.

Still, as mental as all this is, in some ways I guess this speaks to how freakin’ good we have it here in this country that something so trivial can shift so many people into hyper-paranoia.

Access to liquor isn’t exactly an inalienable human right, is it? Maybe I don’t get it because I don’t really[1] drink hard liquor anymore. Sure, I enjoy a cold beer on hot day once in a while[2] and I have the usual few bottles of wine on hand to accompany a weekend dinner or whatever[3]. And when those run out I could just make the 15 minute trip to Gatineau. And even if I didn’t live that close to Quebec, I’d make do without.


[1] And by “really” I just mean I haven’t sworn off it or anything, I’m just not that interested in most of it. If I go somewhere and someone offers me a fabulous martini, I might succumb. And by “might”, I mean “probably.”

[2] And by “once in a while” I mean if I’m with a larger group of people. Somehow beer never tastes as good to me unless there’s a group. I don’t know why.

[3] And by “whatever” I mean sometimes after a long day or week I will have a glass of wine all by myself . And by “glass” I sometimes mean “tumbler.”