February 28, 2009

Umbrella Etiquette 101

A Canadian stereotype is that we love to talk about the weather. I’m not interested in disputing this – in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s true. So true that Environment Canada’s EnviroZine, says:

If the weather never changed, what on earth would Canadians talk about? Everyone talks about the weather everyday and everywhere. 95% of Canadians listen to a daily weather forecast! The weather is an integral part of our lives. It influences our activities and our moods. Sometimes gentle, sometimes ferocious, the weather is the easy scapegoat for many of life’s ills from the price of broccoli to a sudden migraine to high heating bills.

In Vancouver we don’t discuss the weather, we talk about the rain. We have as many words for rain as the Inuit have for snow (okay that’s an urban legend, but you get my point). It pretty much rains non-stop from October to March. In fact, it rains enough to warrant stores that sell only umbrellas. And there isn’t just 1 or 2 of these stores. There are 9 of them. Selling nothing but umbrellas.

An umbrella in this part of the world is usually a hand-held portable device that is made of a waterproof material designed to protect against precipitation. But an umbrella, opting for one of its colloquial names can also be a fair weather friend.

Parasol – What a pretty and well mannered word -- paints a picture of a southern plantation, large hoop skirts and mint juleps on the expansive veranda. Taking a stroll through town on a glorious summer day under our parasols, we avert our gaze from young Clay hanging half naked from the weeping willow’s branches – our parasol protecting both our honour (damned impure thoughts) and our fair complexions. Wouldn’t want people thinking we were anything but the gentry we so long to be – no tanned and freckled faces for us. No siree.

Brolly – Right up there with all those adorable Britishisms like bangers and mash, bollocks and my personal favourite, bubble and squeak. Many a dapper Englishman has been seen strolling through Charing Cross, brolly in hand, arm swinging in a jaunty manner – rain or shine. And isn’t a brolly just the thing to make a drab and dreary day a little brighter?

Bumbershoot (???) – Apparently someone somewhere in the United States of American thought this an appropriate term of endearment, this portmanteau of umbrella and parachute. And while it conjures an odd image of a red necked man wearing suspenders sucking on a blade of grass it has taken its place in the vernacular of the American Northwest as being a pretty happening annual international music festival. Albeit one that gets rained on frequently (though no one seems to notice).

Parapluie – The most obvious of obvious – “para” means “to ward off” and “pluie” means “rain” yet put it together and say it aloud it is a thing of beauty. It is light and golden, a term of endearment mon petit chou. You want to take it out and dance with it like Gene Kelly – throw it up in the air and catch it in your loving arms (I don’t actually recommend this. It’s right up there with running with scissors).

But what’s in a name. That which we call an umbrella by any other name would be just as annoying when used incorrectly and with reckless abandon. Which brings me to umbrella etiquette.

I am not alone in believing that there is a need for life skills to be taught in our schools. Personal finances (the proper way to use credit may have saved the American economy), laundry care (separate the colours from the whites, but what about the reds from the greens and should you ever put a bra in the dryer?), manners (it’s not a sign of weakness to hold the door open for the person behind you, to give your seat on the bus to the elderly or pregnant – in fact not to do so is just, well, rude), how to make scrambled eggs (you do not let them sit in the pan as if you were making an omelette and once done chop them up into scrambled-like pieces – the word scrambled means to prepare by stirring during frying). And the proper use of umbrellas. But seeing as our education system is underfunded these important skills are being left untaught. So allow me to offer some rules regarding the umbrella.

Some Rules for Proper Umbrella Usage

1. Don’t walk under an awning with your umbrella up, and expect me to get out of your way. I didn’t bring my umbrella and am walking under the awning to keep from getting completely soaked (I try to live in a world of perpetual sunshine). If your umbrella is so fragile that it can’t withstand the rain I can provide you with a list of nine reputable umbrella stores in the Metro Vancouver area.

2. Don’t hang on to the overhead bar on the bus with your umbrella dangling from you wrist by its little strap. If it has been raining your umbrella is wet – it drips on the people sitting in the seats (and they don’t deserve to be dripped on unless you are elderly or pregnant and they haven’t given you their seat). If it hasn’t been raining – go ahead – treat yourself to a Tiffany bracelet instead. Much more elegant.

3. Don’t steal umbrellas out of the umbrella stands at the entrance of stores – go buy one like the rest of us (again, if you need the store locations…).

4. Don’t use one of those huge golf umbrellas unless you are actually on a golf course (this does not apply if there are 6 of you underneath it, but if so see rule #1).

5. Don’t shake the water off before a) checking to make sure you are not showering someone who is patiently waiting for you to open the door (and of course hold it open for them because you have good manners) and b) getting onto the bus (we have all put our umbrellas down and are waiting for you – we are getting wet).

6. Don’t carry it in your hand, swinging it in a jaunty manner. We aren’t in bloody London after all. The sidewalks are crowded, you make it difficult to avoid being stabbed and you just annoy people by making them dodge the tip as you barrel ahead oblivious to any other living soul.

7. Our sidewalks are crowded with people coming and going. Some of these people are short, others tall (this is what makes Vancouver such an interesting place -- diversity). If you are tall and in the passing lane on the sidewalk (yes, here we walk on the right and pass on the left – just like driving) common courtesy dictates that you raise your umbrella over the umbrellas of those less vertically endowed. You do not charge through the throngs, gashing and slashing as you go, knocking hapless umbrellas askew.

8. Don’t use your umbrella as body armour. Where do you think you are? The fields of Scotland with William Wallace in the 1200s? No one is shooting thousands of tiny arrows at you.

9. Do offer protection to some poor soul standing next to you at a red light. They may not accept but you will both feel better for the offer.

Everyone I talk to shares the belief that there is a common disregard for proper umbrella etiquette on our sidewalks. Just who are these culprits? I’m sure that you reading this would agree, it isn’t you (you have never been lost in thought and unconsciously perpetrated one of the above offenses). But in the off chance that you do know someone who is lacking in manners, please feel free to pass along the above rules. Maybe take them out to a bar, hold the door open for them, pull out their chair and say it over a drink -- with an umbrella in it.

February 27, 2009

haiku 13

at my kitchen table
making roast chicken
for my cousin Rita

haiku 12

at my kitchen table
hello world, I missed you
my internet's back

February 26, 2009

My Album Cover


"Advise Them to Do It"

Thanks for this Dan.

haiku 11

at my kitchen table
coffee please!
just met Dan and John in a dream (?)

February 25, 2009

haiku 10

at my kitchen table
writing letters long hand
still no internet

February 23, 2009

haiku 9

at my kitchen table
on the phone with friends
my internet is down

February 21, 2009

haiku 8

at my kitchen table
anchovies, garlic, parsley, oil

February 19, 2009

haiku 7

at my kitchen table
writing haikus
while stir frying tiger prawns

February 16, 2009

A Hmmm Moment

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud 
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

                                                                                 Anaïs Nin

February 15, 2009

haiku 6

at my kitchen table
where has all my money gone
oh, it's tax time

February 14, 2009

haiku 5

at my kitchen table
boxed heart shaped chocolates
on valentine's day

February 13, 2009

haiku 4

at my kitchen table
sweetly rotten smell
overripe bananas

February 9, 2009

haiku 3

at my kitchen table
putting pictures of my youth
in bound albums

February 7, 2009

The Beautiful Backpack -- an oxymoron?

I walk home from work. I walk far. I walk fast. I need my arms swinging and my hands free – mainly for the cardiovascular benefit but also to push people out of my way. I am a woman with a purpose and a destination. I’m not your Sunday stroller. I aim to cover 5 kms in 45 minutes and most days I succeed.

But the ongoing struggle to find the perfect carrying devise for this trek is wearing me down. I don’t need a lot of things, but I do work downtown in a semi-corporate environment where running shoes are not an option. Neither is a lululemon tank. So I must carry with me the following:

a pair of slightly worn, slightly ripe running shoes

a pair of appropriately absorbent, shock absorbing socks (clean)

a lululemon tank

a good read (I do resort to public transportation in the mornings – I’ve just coiffed the hair after all)

lunch (what can I say – I’m cheap and don’t think spending $12 for a sandwich with some sprouts on the side is worth it)

my itouch (I like to listen to fast music, gets me moving and also with the ear buds firmly shoved into my ear canals, I can’t hear the curses of the people I have to push out of my way)

a small handbag (obviously I can’t carry the huge bag I need to lug all this stuff around with me to a business meeting. And a girl has to have the basic essentials with her at all times – debit card, credit card, business card, lip gloss and a tampon)

my notebook (all my thoughts and observations with plenty of room for more and it’s magenta – need I say more?)

a camera (you just never know when you’ll need to capture those moments when there is a double rainbow, or the cherry blossoms are at their finest, or your co-worker is napping under her desk

umbrella (it rains in Vancouver – we get it)

sunglasses (… but it is sunny hear on occasion – in fact more often than we would like those of you living elsewhere to know)

reading glasses (it’s not me, it’s just that they have to put so much information on things these days, that they have to use a smaller font to fit it all on. Really. I’ve read studies)

and a small cosmetic bag with a nail file, Excedrin, Aleve, some touch-up makeup and of course more tampons

Now all of this (ok, maybe there is a bit more here than originally admitted) has to fit into a carrying devise that meets certain criteria. The first being size. It obviously has to be roomy enough to hold, ok, the many things I need, but it can’t be so large I look as if I’m heading to base camp at Everest. I want to be able to walk with a tall, proud posture not that of a hunched over nonagenarian.

The second criterion is design. While it needs to be a good size it also must be an appealing shape. To walk around with something that looks like a small suitcase over my shoulder or on my back is not flattering. Wearing a retractable handle and wheels is not my idea of refined jewellery.

It also must be made of durable yet attractive material. Nothing so shiny that crows attack or so bland that I could be heading out on reconnaissance with the Armed Forces. Pretty, yet elegant.

The third criterion is straps or handles. Remember that my arms and hands must be unencumbered. I don’t want to walk with a large purse over my right shoulder while my right arms is bent at an uncomfortable angle so that my right hand can hold on to the straps of a cumbersome bag – all just to keep it from falling off my right shoulder or bumping into people I just want to push out of my way anyway.

I also don’t relish the across the chest strap. My chest is just not meant to support 20 odd pounds of extra stuff. It’s uncomfortable; it causes either mono-boob or separates with no lift depending on the width of the strap. And I’m not thrilled with calling more attention to that particular area of my , er, personality. Add to that the bulk of the weight is now banging against my butt, and well, it’s just not a graceful way to move through life.

Taking all this into account, the type of carrying devise I am left with is – do I dare say it? A BACKPACK. I see all of you shaking your heads. Backpacks are for children and come in cute, fuzzy little animal shapes. Or for university students who half-heartedly drag their overflowing packs through esteemed halls of higher learning. But a woman in her 40s with a job and a dog too large to be an accessory – what am I thinking? We’ve all seen those women who wear those teeny, tiny little backpacks that would barely fit a TicTac mint. What is the point? But I believe there are women out there, living in silence and shame that would kill for a truly functional, professional and stylish backpack.

So I appeal to all fashion designers. We have worn your stilettos, your mini, midi and maxi skirts, your big shoulders and your no shoulders. We have squeezed our butts into low-rise and no-rise jeans and we have lived for years popping out of sexy, low cut bras every time we bend over. And we have done it all with delight because it makes us feel sexy, and womanly and attractive. Good about ourselves. But just once, can you heed our call and create something truly beautiful and practical – functional but elegant. An accessory that meets the needs of the 21st century woman. I already have a pink Cuisinart, what I need is a Beautiful Backpack.

February 5, 2009

haiku 2

at my kitchen table
gerberas sway in glass bowls
drunk on sunlight

February 4, 2009

haiku 1

at my kitchen table
I make dinner from the stories
in my head