I do sometimes wonder if Allan is on some kind of watch list, given his 9/11 research. If he is... No fair! I want on it, too! (Who was it that was always annoyed he didn't make Nixon's Enemy List?)
I've always had activist friends who wouldn't mention certain subjects on the phone and such. I always thought, Don't flatter yourself. I don't think the government gives a poop about me one way or the other.
I do, however, keep this wonderful cartoon prominently displayed near my monitor.
That said, if the election goes the wrong way and the religious right continues their takeover of American laws, it's conceivable that Haven's work could become illegal. We are fond of calling Haven an underground railroad of sorts, which it is. But Haven could, theoretically, become a real underground railroad, illegally smuggling women into Canada for abortions, just as British women have done for their Irish sisters for decades. Whether or not it would... who knows. Let's do everything in our power to make sure we never have to find out.
Right now, Haven does serve some Canadian women. In a concession to the Catholic Church, the province of Quebec (which has separate laws from the rest of Canada) has stricter abortion laws, and second trimester patients do sometimes come to NYC for procedures. Their national health insurance pays for the procedure, as well as travel expenses. One of the clinics we work with serves some of them, and we are sometimes called to help.
Other than that, Canadian women have no need for a Haven-type organization, thanks to their enlightened health care system.
Am I going to do other activism in Canada? I've been thinking I might work with teenagers again. For many years, I volunteered at an amazing youth center here in New York. I loved it, and I miss it in many ways. Eventually I might look into some youth volunteering up there.
How are the rents in Toronto? Canadians seem to think they're outrageous, but compared to New York City, they look good. And as much as rents might be escalating, you get more for your money: utilities are included and parking is a small monthly fee. I don't think we'll have any trouble finding an really nice apartment that we can afford.
Why am I writing this blog? What can I tell you? Try going to the first entry, that might answer your questions. If it doesn't, leave a comment, I'll expound!
Will our dogs need to be quarantined? Nope. If that was required, we couldn't go, because my Buster boy can't be kennelled. All we need is proof of rabies vaccine.
Will I root for the Toronto Blue Jays? No.
Will I root for the Toronto Maple Leafs? Sure, why not. I have no hockey allegiances, I might as well take up the home team. Allan and I could even cheer for the same team. What would that be like?
Will I become a Canadian citizen? I don't know. I wasn't intending to, but then again, I'll be living in a country in which I can't vote. That's not going to feel very good! (Especially since they have an actual, viable progressive party there!) So I might eventually apply for joint citizenship. We'll be eligible to apply for citizenship after we have had Permanent Resident status for three years. Maybe we will. I feel like I can't make that decision now, and don't have to.
When are we moving? I don't know. I explained the some of the immigration process here. We have no way of knowing when our applications will come up for assessment. Maybe February? March? Later? The assessment process could take a few months, then we have to actually get an apartment and move. So... next summer? Earlier? Later? We just have to prepare ourselves as best we can, and be flexible.
Do I think the Yankees will win the World Series this year? No, I do not. But baseball is a funny game. One should never predict with too much certainty.
Now, with our impending move, even my favorite pack-rat knows he has to get rid of lots of stuff. First of all, you pay for moving by the pound. Beyond that, why move with stuff that's been sitting in boxes, untouched and un-looked at, for years, only to have it sit in the same box in a different (Canadian) closet?
I started the process early, knowing it was the only way. He's got boxes and boxes and boxes (etc. etc.) to go through. If we wait til the last minute, it will all come with us - which is expensive and ridiculous. I'm trying to get him to do a little every week. Some weeks we are successful!
We're also selling a lot of stuff on eBay (no link, I'm not trying to sell it to you), so we get some money, and Allan feels less bad about getting rid of it. It's utterly amazing what people will pay for other people's trash! It all goes in the Canada Fund.
So the first What I'm Reading entry is The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert Caro. This book, which won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1975, is always talked about in the most superlative terms. People just do cartwheels over it, calling it one of the greatest books ever written about New York City, power and politics, and one of the great biographies of all time.
I am here to tell you that the praise is completely deserved. It is absolutely masterful. Anyone who is interested in cities or New York City history - for that matter, in American history - would love it. And Robert Moses himself! If he hadn't lived, no one could have invented him: he simply would have been too incredible for fiction. Moses, an evil genius if ever there was one, was surely one of the most influential Americans of the 20th Century, though few non-historians might name him on a list.
This morning in a particularly dramatic bit, my great hero Eleanor Roosevelt made an appearance. She helped save the day. :)
Pain-Free Reading. As a boring aside, I am reading The Power Broker in a strange form. As part of a birthday present a few years ago, Allan bought me a beautiful hard-cover edition that he found used somewhere. It has drawings of maps inside, just the kind of thing I love. (Great gift!) Like most New Yorkers, I do some of my best reading on the subway, and there's no way I would carry that book around in my backpack. I want it to stay in pristine condition on the shelf. Plus I have arthritis in my shoulder. I've already done it enough damage reading Irish history, "the King books" and Big Trouble. The Power Broker is more than 1200 pages. That's a lot of advil.
The solution: I bought another, paperback edition, and I separate it into sections, held together with a binder clip. I throw a section in my backpack, and I'm good to go. 20, 30 pages at a time is plenty to read (it's extremely dense) and my shoulder doesn't suffer. It's well worth the price of a second copy.
Reading it on the subway this morning, I came across a passage that is perfectly applicable to our present times - so much so, that I'm surprised I haven't seen it before from the ACLU or a Constitution-loving writer. (Of course it may have been used many times, I just never came across it.)
Caro refers to Robert Bolt's play A Man For All Seasons:
In A Man For All Seasons, Sir Thomas More warns young Roper about the consequences of letting ends justify means. When the young man says he would "cut down every law in England" to "get after the Devil," More replies: "Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you -- where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?"That says it all, doesn't it? Without our rights to free speech, free assembly, privacy and due process, there would be no place to hide. And the Devil may not have an Arabic last name.
The Haven Coalition coordinating committee had an important, long-planned meeting last night. Our organization has grown exponentially in the last year, and so has our bond to each other, our enjoyment of working together, our feelings of strength and pride in our accomplishments. Also our anger that our work is so necessary!
Haven is one of the hardest things about leaving New York. It's more than the time and energy I've invested, though that is very significant. It's the friends I've made, the deep connections I feel to the women who do this work.
For those of you who don't know, Haven is a volunteer network that assists women who travel to New York City for second trimester abortions. Abortion, though still legal, is inaccessible to millions of American women. Women motivated and determined enough to travel to New York City, usually with very limited resources, then face the daunting prospect of having to stay overnight for a two-day procedure.
Haven volunteers meet a woman (and often, her friend, boyfriend, mother or other companion) at the clinic, bring her/them home, provide dinner and a place to stay -- and often a sympathetic ear, then bring them back to the clinic the following day. Before Haven existed, women in the middle of this procedure slept in bus stations or on a park bench.
I am one of the women who keeps Haven running. When I joined there were about 15 "hosts" (that's what we call our volunteers). When I started coordinating, there were 30. Now there are about 60.
For the last year and a half, Haven has been a huge part of my life. It is by far the most rewarding activism I have ever done, and I'm going to miss it a ton.
The one-night stand, 19 years later. Earlier this week, Allan and I celebrated the 19th anniversary of the day we met: July 20, 1985. Allan even gave up a few innings of a Sox game to spend the day together (thanks to a little relationship-saving device called the VCR). What a romantic guy! No really, he is.
We've spent every July 20 since 1985 doing some New York exploring type of thing. Where will we be living and what will we do on July 20, 2005??
I had wanted us to go to Philadelphia with Allan for years, to see Penn and do some sightseeing in the city. I had never been back to do that.
A few years earlier, we took a bus to Philadelphia for a rally in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal. (Allan had a terrible experience on the bus.) We left the rally at City Hall, and walked over to 1221 Walnut Street. The building was different, but the doorway and address were there. "There it is," I said. "The scene of the crime." We stood and looked at it, I shed a tear, and when we walked away, I felt better. I had gotten past on obstacle I didn't even realize I had.
After that, I planned to go, but we just never did. There was always someplace better to go. When the National Constitution Center opened, I read about it, it sounded great, and then the Phillies got a new ballpark. Finally, once we decided to leave NYC, I knew if we didn't go to Philadelphia before we left, we never would. We went for four days, July 6-9. We took Amtrak there and back, cabbing from 30th Street Station to the Latham Hotel, a very nice small-ish hotel just off Rittenhouse Square.
I won't be able to recall the entire weekend in order, but I can write about the highlights out of order. I'm sorry I didn't write about it at the time. It seemed silly to keep a journal for a four-day trip. I won't make that mistake again!
We visited the National Constitution Center [Arch Street between 5th & 6th] , which to me was a celebration of people's movements in the United States, of the movement towards democracy and greater inclusiveness. Everything is excellently displayed and curated. The exhibits are not propaganda, but an honest appraisal of the Constitution - how the US failed to, and then was forced to, live up to its promise, and also the times when the US clearly went against the Constitution.
We visited the Rosenbach Museum and Library [20th Street and Delancey Place, a beautiful area], a gem of a small museum very near our hotel in the Rittenhouse Square area. It was a bizarre mix of literary memorabilia (with an emphasis on James Joyce and Maurice Sendak) and baseball. A brilliant few hours for book lovers. I had never heard of it, but Allan found it in the guidebook.
We walked through Society Hill, ate cheesesteaks both at Jim's on South Street and Pat's in South Philly, wandered through the Reading Terminal.
We took the subway to the new ballpark - right across the street from where Veteran Stadium (the Vet) used to be, and saw the Phillies beat the Mets. It's a beautiful park, we had good seats and had a good time.
One night, we picked up food and wine at the Reading Terminal Market, then stayed in the hotel to watch the Red Sox game on ESPN. Another night we sat at the hotel bar and listened to retro piano lounge singer perform in a time warp without a trace of irony.
We visited the Penn Campus, which of course has drastically changed. The fraternities have been moved off Locust Walk - which I had read about, but it was so great to see it in the flesh. We couldn't get into quad without ID, it was all locked up, so the outside of that had to suffice.
We walked all around campus, although it was a very hot day. Bennett Hall, home of the English Dept, and where I spent a lot of time in my college days, was about to be closed for renovation - naturally, the last building on the campus to be renovated. A professor, walking out with a box of stuff from his office, told us they were being moved to temporary quarters on 40th & Walnut! In other words, far off-campus, and in a seedy neighbourhood. Figures!
Off-campus in the other direction, north of the school, we stumbled on a fantastic political bookstore [A House of our Own, 3920 Spruce Street], all lefty and feminist stuff, in a big Victorian house. We talked to the older couple who owned the place, somehow mentioned we were moving to Canada, they were really excited for us. I learned that the bookstore had been there during my time at Penn - yet I had no recollection of it, even though I once lived only a few blocks away. Could it be I had missed it entirely? Allan said I must have gone there but had forgotten.
Also near Penn, we had a drink at La Terrasse, still there, but now shabby.
We visited the Rodin Museum, still excellent, and walked up Ben Franklin Parkway to Boathouse Row. We wandered through a water-works exhibit in back of the Art Museum, and walked into the Art Museum, but didn't go.
Every morning, we had breakfast a few blocks from our hotel at a light, airy breakfast/lunch spot with delicious fresh food. We toyed with the idea of going to a really nice restaurant, then decided not to spend the time or money.
There was an Ing Bank Internet Café right across the street from our hotel, so we had coffee, checked our email and visited our moving-to-Canada money!
We went into little shops and restaurants on South Street, saw some funky furniture, had a beer or two at a good bar, looked at some music. I bought two bracelets, one a bit expensive for us, but I was very happy.
We walked around a lot in pretty neighbourhoods like Society Hill and Rittenhouse Square. There were a lot of Kerry signs - but also some HUGE Bush signs on big Society Hill houses - and considered whether we should deface them. I had some MoveOn stickers that we put on newspaper boxes.
From a bus window, I saw the hospital where I stumbled into the emergency room in the middle of the night, then the building where I lived. Ancient history.
the sunday new york times!!!
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What am I going to do without the Sunday Times?? It doesn't matter that I can get articles online. This isn't about reading an article here and there. This is more like an addiction, a compulsion. Sometimes a tyranny. I can be oppressed by my own habits.
It's one thing to go on vacation and skip a week or two - I do that purposely, I refuse to do otherwise. But not reading the New York Times Magazine and Book Review (almost) every week? What will I do?
You probably think I'm joking. I'm only half-joking. I am a little bit compulsive. This is one of those things.
I do like the Globe and Mail. And I'll have more time for all those Harper's articles Allan always wants me to read. But, but...
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Tonight we are going to the New York Philharmonic (free) concert in Central Park, picnicking with a niece and two nephews. My last one of these, I imagine.
I'm getting so morose about what I'll miss, you might wonder why I'm leaving. But few things in life are 100% good or 100% bad. If I didn't have mixed feelings about leaving, what would that say about my life? It would mean I was lonely (had no one to miss) and hated my present life, and that's certainly not the case.
I think people often don't make changes because it's too much work, or because they're afraid of the unknown. It's always easier and safer to stay put. I've tried to live a different way. I'm making this BLC because, on balance, I want to.
I often feel sad about the things I'll miss, but I can live with that.
But apparently the content of those google searches are taken from keywords in the blog posts. Until I post something new, the ad is offering searches for national anthems! Isn't that ironic, given my feelings about those silly songs?
Allan and I are applying for residence under "skilled worker" status, but another way to go is as a business owner or entrepreneur. Under that status, you have to show proof of having run a business in your home country, you need a lot of money with which to start a business, and you have to promise to hire at least one Canadian full-time within a year after moving. That's it.
As far as I can tell, they are really encouraging people to open businesses in Canada, especially in less populated areas, which is basically everywhere except Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. The Philadelphia bookstore couple are also highly educated (that is, they can prove their education on paper) and one of them speaks French. I say: Go!
Cheesesteaks. I am very tempted to write about our wonderful little visit to Philly, but I think that constitutes a "what I did today" blog entry, so I'm restraining myself. But maybe it's a travel journal. I would permit that...
My mother and I are spoiled; we don't have the long-distance phone calls and planned visits that most families do. We live so nearby, we can meet just for coffee or lunch, for a few hours, without a lot of advance planning. Once I move, we'll see each other less often, but for longer periods of time. I don't know what that will be like.
If I think about missing my mother and my sister, I get so upset, I think, Why am I doing this?
I don't want to live in this one place all my life, regardless of where I'm going. And I know I'm ready to move. But still, this is the bad part.
There's a tradition here that any band with any kind of sense of humour offers up their ideas for a new Canadian national anthem. There's a very funny group called The Arrogant Worms whose potential Canadian anthem includes the line "I know that we're no better, but I'm sure that we're less worse".
Googling The Arrogant Worms, I discovered lots of cool stuff, including these lyrics, from "Canada's Really Big":
When I look around me
I can't believe what i see
it seems as if this country
has lost its will to live
the economy is lousy
we barely have an army
but we can still stand proudly
because Canada's really big
We're the second largest country
on this planet earth
and if Russia keeps on shrinking,
then soon we'll be first!
(As long as we keep Quebec)
The USA has tanks,
and Switzerland has banks
they can keep them thanks,
they just don't amount
cause when you get down to it,
you find out what the truth is,
it isn't what you do with it,
it's the size that counts.
Most people will tell you
that France is pretty large
but you can put fourteen Frances
into this land of ours!
(It'd take a lot of work, it'd take a whole lot of work...)
We're larger than Malaysia,
almost as big as Asia
we're bigger than Australia
and it's a continent
so big we seldom bother
to go see one another
but we often go to other countries for vacations
Our mountains are very pointy,
our prairies are not
the rest is kinda bumpy,
but man do we have a lot!
(We've got a lot of land, we've got a whole lot of land)
So stand up and be proud and sing it very loud
we stand out from the crowd,
cause Canada's really big.
I thought that was pretty amusing. (Our mountains are very pointy?!) Apparently these guys sing "O Canada" at CFL games and hold goofy Canada Day celebrations. If any Canadian reading this can correct me or fill me in about this, please do. You know, it's OK to leave a comment. Be brave! Be the first!
Ride with him and sooner or later you will hear him say it: I used to live there. His finger jabs as if to poke a hole into the night. I used to live there. On Broadway and Fulton and Riverside and Houston he is so goddamned irritating, can't keep his mouth shut. In crowded movie theatres when it turns out the location scout knows where to get the best fifty-cent hot dog. On long walks, while flipping through random books of photography, while flying overhead on jet planes: I used to live there. When they least expect it he will say it, apropos of nothing he will say it, because if he hasn't lived there, he will someday. There are always other apartments waiting for him. There is always more city.
Colson Whitehead, 2003
If that doesn't describe the quintessential New Yorker, I don't know what does.
This essay collection is fabulous. The first piece was originally published in the New York Times Magazine in a special issue shortly after September 11th. I read it two months later, on a plane on my way to Dublin. We were one of the first flights to take off from JFK after that plane crashed in the Rockaways.
New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous. But there is one thing about it -- once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough. All of everything is concentrated here -- population, theatre, art, writing, publishing, importing, business, murder, mugging, luxury, poverty. It is all of everything. It goes all right. It is tireless and its air is charged with energy.
John Steinbeck, 1953
Steinbeck is a writing hero of mine.
Mass hysteria is a terrible force, yet New Yorkers seem always to escape it by some tiny margin: they sit in stalled subways with claustrophobia, they extricate themselves from panic situations by some lucky wisecrack, they meet confusion and congestion with patience and grit -- a sort of perpetual muddling through. Every facility is inadequate -- the hospitals and schools and playgrounds are overcrowded, the express highways are feverish, the unimproved highways and bridges are bottlenecks; there is not enough air and not enough light, and there is usually either too much heat or too little. But the city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin -- the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled.
E. B. White, 1949
They agree and lament, try to find the words to give to anyone who will listen: it's not the way it used to be. Of course it's not. It's not even what it was five minutes ago.
Colson Whitehead, 2003
You think this place sucks the life from you but in fact it is the opposite.
Both the Whitehead quotes are from his collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. This deserves a place on your New York City bookshelf beside E. B. White's Here Is New York and Joseph Mitchell's stories.
Duly noted, and I thank you. I certainly want to proceed with both eyes open.
Three things - "republicans, democrats, where my taxes go" - seem to be the sticking point, so I will expound.
Where my taxes go:
When I think about the war - about the tens of thousands of Iraqi families (we will never know how many; that's American, too) who are dead, or grieving, or whose lives have been reduced to rubble, for absolutely no reason except someone else's power and profit - and I think about the hundreds and hundreds of American families who are forever without their son, daughter, husband, mother, brother, sister - and the thousands more coping with amputations, blindness, trauma, despair - when I think of all this, it just crushes me to know that my tax dollars have helped make that possible.
Yes, I am, along with millions of other Americans, doing everything in my power to stop the madness. But I ask myself, what would it feel like to simply not support this? What would it feel like to not be complicit in this oppression and destruction?
I think it will be a great relief.
When was the last time you heard Canada was bombing some other country for no reason?
Republicans and Democrats:
Both support the system that makes it possible to spend billions on useless foreign wars while so many Americans suffer for lack of health care, housing and other basic needs.
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On the other hand, some American friends are quick to criticize Canada's health care system. Long waiting times to see specialists seems to be the biggest complaint. (These Americans, of course, are people with ready access to health care through their employers.) I'm sure there are flaws in the Canadian system; go find a system without flaws. But imagine: every single person legally living in Canada is guaranteed health care, simply because she or he exists. It can be done.
It can be done here, too. This country doesn't lack the resources. It simply lacks the will.
So that's what I won't miss.
Our applications are in a queue waiting to be assessed; right now that queue is 8 months long. (That time frame could decrease or increase at any time.)
When our applications come up for assessment, we'll receive notification of that. Then we will drink champagne. After that...
We'll have to get physicals, they'll run an FBI check to make sure we are not felons (note to self: do not get arrested at anti-RNC demos this summer), they may want to interview us, and they may contact people in our lives to inquire about us. (Please be kind.) This whole process could take a while, too.
A semi-interesting side note. In the US, the official medical exam for Canadian Immigration can only be done by three designated doctors - one in NYC, one in Chicago and one in L.A. If we didn't live in one of those places, we'd have to travel for our physicals.
After the assessment, we will be either approved to emigrate or not. We fully expect to be approved, but there is no guarantee. We think this might happen in summer '05.
If we are approved, we'll be issued a visa, which has an expiration date, by which we must take residency in Canada. After we do that, we can be issued the coveted Permanent Residence cards that enable us to work, get health care and eat donuts.
The Big Question is how long is the visa good for? Meaning, once we are accepted, how long do we have - when do we have to move? The answer to this question remains a mystery.
Some friends of ours who are considering emigrating read that the visa is good for one year after the medical exam. But I have also read that immigration procedures have changed recently, and that might no longer be true. It's not listed anywhere, on any application or website. I get the feeling it's different for different countries and at different times. We shall see!
Combing through some old computer files recently, I came across a "New York City to-do list" I drew up about 10 years back, compiled from articles and listings I would come across. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of them we had covered: the Morris Jumel Mansion, the Dyckman House, the scale model city in the Queens Museum. The Russian shops in Brighton Beach, an ancient pizzeria somewhere on the D line. (Note to self: eat at DiFara again before leaving.)
A few holdouts remain. This year, I have to get to the Merchant House Museum, the New York City Fire Museum, and the two sculpture parks in Long Island City. (Seeing the opening dates for those, I understood why they have eluded us: April to October. Baseball season.) There are beautiful new mosaics in many renovated subway stops; we have to plan a day to see as many as we can.
I regret I won’t be here to track the progress at the World Trade Center site. Of course I can read all about it online, but I won’t be able to watch it unfold in person. On September 12, 2001, we went downtown, as close to the site as we could get. We stood with a small crowd and gaped at the churning cloud of smoke and soot, still thinking, somehow, the cloud would clear and those two boxes would still be standing.
We made periodic visits thereafter, to bear witness and shed tears and generally keep in touch with this monumental change in our city. I have avidly followed the debate, pored over the designs, read the criticisms. The whole process has meant a lot to me, and I’m sorry I won’t see the new buildings grow step by step.
My daily meanderings have taken on a special poignancy, as I contemplate that my New York days are numbered. Coming home from work by car service on the weekends, speeding up the west side at night, Riverside Church is lit up, and the George Washington Bridge... and my heart squeezes. As a friend said recently, "That's what New York does to you." It doesn't give you a send-off, it doesn't beg you to stay. It barely acknowledges you with a shrug, says "your loss," and continues, impervious, imperious.
the haven coalition
marching on washington
what i won't miss.
schlepping around new york with packages. that is, doing errands without a car.
So the approximately $2,500 for the applications is checked off. We'll soon have our "proof of funds" plus moving expenses. Next comes first month's rent on an apartment, plus we'll need a car.
I never thought I'd have this much money. That might sound funny to some who have always been comfortable or have always had a decent income. But the things I've chosen to do with my life don't make one rich, and I struggled financially for a long time. (No regrets, and thank you corporate law firms!) I never, ever imagined I'd be able to afford something like this.
Every once in a while, I look at the balance in the Canada Fund and think, that's Macchu Picchu. That's Egypt. That's my trip to New Zealand. Allan reminds me that we never thought we'd take all the great trips we've already been on, and just because we can't travel now doesn't mean we never will again. And yes, I'm totally committed to this plan, and I feel very fortunate to have the means to achieve it. But still...
The people we met in Canada seemed to get it right away. When they hear you are American and moving up there, they just nod knowingly and say, Good for you. It seemed like an unspoken code.
never traveling again.
having to work full-time forever.
never traveling again, because we can't afford it, or don't have dog-care, or all our vacations are taken up with visiting family and friends.
Allan pointed out that I wrote "never traveling again" twice. I must be really scared of that one!
being paid large sums of money to read the newspaper and listen to yankee games.
my work/writing/life schedule.
the chrysler building, the woolworth building, the flatiron building, grand central terminal, the brooklyn bridge – in other words, the grandeur of new york. no architecture where we’re going.
seeing the development of ground zero.
having lunch with my mother.
being a new yorker.
what i won't miss.
chips bags and beer bottles and mcdonald’s bags in the street, plastic bags in trees. litter drives me insane.
fingernail clipping on the subway.
where my tax dollars go
These suburbs are as diverse as any city I've ever been in, and goodness knows I am ready to trade in the car-less life for one of greater convenience and big-box stores. (My favorite thing about traveling outside of NYC are the supermarkets!)
But in these suburbs, there is nothing. I mean nothing. It is the epitome of sprawl: just places to live and places to shop, and nothing else. There is no main street, no urban village. No cafes, no street life, no community. Just malls. And they are far out from Toronto. In order to get this kind of space at a rent we can afford, we have to be far from the city.
So we think it comes down to a terrific, spacious apartment in the middle of sprawl, or a smaller, unrenovated apartment in a more urban neighborhood.
This seemed, at first, a really tough dilemma, at least for me. If I was in my 20s and single, there'd be no question, I'd never live in the suburbs. But now... I don't know. It's easier for Allan: if he has the internet and the Red Sox on cable, and enough room for his stuff, he'll be happy. But will I feel isolated? Will I hate the suburbs?
I felt very torn, until, on our way back to the airport - stuck in traffic from an accident, we almost missed our flight, so we had plenty of time to talk! - I realized I was making the decision harder than it had to be. We've lived in our current apartment for more than 10 years, and in our neighborhood for almost 15. I was imagining I had to make a decision for the next 15 or 20 years!
As soon as I realized this, everything fell into place. We don't have to find a neighborhood that will suit us for a decade; that puts too much pressure on the decision. What's more, we probably can't do that long-distance. It's a whole lot easier to find a good neighborhood once you live in a city - you hear of things, a neighborhood is changing, rents are good, you can move quickly. Long-distance, it's enough to find a good apartment that you can afford, and just get established.
We'll be adjusting to so many new things that what neighborhood we're in might not make much of a difference. The idea is to find a place where we can be comfortable for a couple of years, then go from there.
As a friend of ours said, You don't know where the good neighborhoods are up there. But you know how to tell a good apartment when you see it, so just find that.
This seemingly obvious bit of wisdom was a great relief to me. On our next trip up there, we'll concentrate on Mississauga neighborhoods, and even farther out in Brampton and Markham.
One thing there is no shortage of in the Toronto area is housing. In the city itself, the skyline is filled with cranes: condos going up everywhere. In the suburbs, giant tracts of land are filled with mazes of what are euphemistically called townhouses (but there ain't no town), garden apartments and high-rises. It seems in every space that's not filled there's a sign announcing that more are being built.
We went to Toronto for 4 days in April. You can fly from NY to Buffalo very cheaply on JetBlue, and since we would need a car anyway, that's what we did. Buffalo is a little farther from Toronto than advertised, but hey, it worked.
I got a great deal at a hotel two steps from downtown and a short subway ride from the Skydome. Of course the trip was timed to coincide with one of our teams being in town, and it happened to be the Red Sox.
We met in person a few people I knew online, saw two baseball games (Sox won both), looked at apartments and a few neighborhoods, and met with two legal staffing agencies.
The people. Now we know some people in the area! Two really great women and the male partner of one of the women. Their politics are just like ours, so we are immediately comfortable with them. Will there be a time when that will no longer be noteworthy?
The baseball. Indoors. On turf. This is bad. Easy to get tickets, both our teams in town a lot (because of the accent on divisional play), and extremely easy to get to from the suburbs where we will probably live. This is good. Turf is gross, but the balance is definitely more good than bad.
The Blue Jays-Red Sox games was like being in Little Fenway. Red Sox fans who can't get tickets to Fenway go to see them on the road, and they were at Skydome in great numbers. Mid-week, it was mostly moms with kids, so everyone was very friendly and good-natured. We are accustomed to getting comments about our opposing team gear, but in Canada, I heard this for the first time: "Wow, you two must really be in love." :)
The apartments. We saw some disgusting apartments, and some fantastic ones.
We think it will come down to a terrific apartment in the suburbs or a not-so-terrific place in a city neighborhood. This was really bothering me at first. More on this later.
The apartment we have our eye on is in the Meadowvale section of Mississauga, a sprawling suburb of Toronto. It is huge - two bedrooms plus a "solarium" (that's what they call it up there), so we would each have our own office (yippee!), tons of closets, beautiful new kitchen (dishwasher!) and bathroom, balcony, fireplace, in an immaculately maintained building with a fitness room, a pool, a parking spot for $50/month (you can't park a tire for $50 in NYC), and it's a stone's throw from the train. And yes, they allow dogs! It was amazing. Did I mention there was a fireplace?!
It's pretty far out from the city, but it seems like a decent commute on a nice train.
The jobs. This was surely the highlight of the trip. (Even better than Pedro vs. Halladay.) The previous week, I had emailed the two biggest legal staffing agencies in Toronto with a short note and our resumes, then called when we got to town. We scheduled them both on our last day there. It could not have gone better.
First, they were helpful, forthright and open - three traits you do not find in temp agencies in New York City. They answered all our questions, told us exactly what we could expect to earn, what the job market is like, even gave us pointers on apartment hunting!
More importantly, they were practically salivating over our resumes. It sounds like we'll be able to start temping immediately while interviewing for good positions. The two firms are competitors, and I think they'll be vying to see who can get us the best deal.
All our questions were answered in the affirmative: Toronto law firms have word-processing centers, they use non-traditional hours like evenings, weekends, 12-hour days, and we're entering at the most senior level. Another plus: the big firms are all located within walking distance of Union Station, where all the suburban trains ("GO trains") feed into.
We left feeling pretty good.
It's no surprise that my mother is supportive, she's never been anything but. But she wants all her children within easy driving distance; that's very important to her. (And I think that has kept me here longer than I might have otherwise been.) So it's damn big of her to be on my side even when it runs counter to her own wishes.
Old friends are shocked that we are leaving New York; apparently my identity as the Last Diehard New Yorker is well established. A very close friend told me she imagined us as old ladies together, having dinner at an Upper West Side coffee shop. That surely brings a lump to my throat.
The most common reaction has been, "We've talked about doing that, too," or words to that effect. At least one gay couple we know may be following us over the border, and my brother is thinking about Vancouver.
If the election goes the wrong way - or if "something happens" and another election is stolen - perhaps we can be a model for others.
If the election goes the right way, we're still leaving. I want these maniacs out of Washington more than anything in the world, it's practically all I can think about. I do think John Kerry and a "centrist" Democrat administration would be a big improvement. But I have no illusions about how much change to expect, and what path this country is on.
We were under the impression that the forms wouldn't be reviewed for a long time - maybe nine months, maybe a year - and then, if anything was incorrect or incomplete, the applications would be kicked out, and we'd have to start all over. This made the whole thing a little stressful, as we felt everything had to be done perfectly - though the instructions were not always perfectly clear. As it turns out, our information about the process wasn't completely accurate. No surprise, it came from the immigration law firm, trying to sell their services.
On March 22, 2004, we assembled all the pieces, including two cashier's "cheques" for $1,115.00 each, marched off to the post office, and send everything by certified mail. Ta-da! Then we went out for a celebratory drink or two.
April 3, 2004. The celebration was premature. Our applications were returned. We had submitted two completely separate applications, but we were supposed to apply together, with one of us as the primary applicant and the other as the common-law partner. Since I have more "points" because of my college degree, we decided I'd be the primary. (Hey, ain't I the alpha dog?)
This was actually more relief than disappointment. It seems our belief that the applications wouldn't be reviewed for nearly a year was false, and Canadian Immigration did, in reality, check applications soon after they were received. The whole thing became a lot less scary.
It didn't take long to rework the applications, and on April 6, back to the post office we went. No drink this time, just fingers crossed!
April 23, 2004. What now??? My application is returned. Two days later, here comes Allan's in the mail. Somehow our forms had gotten separated, and it appeared to some paper-pusher that we had either overpaid on one application or grossly underpaid on the other. sigh
It took us a while to sort it out, but we decided it clearly was not our fault. This time we wrote a very clear cover letter, detailing what was contained in the envelope: application for so-and-so, primary applicant, cheque in this amount representing this and that, etc.
We didn't hear anything for a while, which we took as a good sign, since the incorrect forms had been returned pretty quickly.
And then, the moment we didn't know we were waiting for: June 3, 2004.
Letter dated May 28, 2004, from the Canadian Consulate General (Consulat General du Canada):
This is to advise you that your application for permanent residence has been received at the Regional Programme Center and that a file has been created for you. Your file number appears above...
Whoo-hoo! Now we have an official file number. The letter continues:
Your file has been placed in a queue awaiting assessment. Once it has been assessed, you will receive additional information and instructions....
Suddenly it all seems so real! It is scary, but in a wonderful, exciting way.
The answer to this obstacle arrived in the mail, in the form of one of those ubiquitous credit-card offers. An account that we no longer use was offering a 0% interest cash advance. For a small fee, we could get the balance we needed into our "canada fund", thereby showing the correct proof of funds at the time of application. Then, while our applications are in the queue, we can pay off the cash advance before any interest kicks in. Voila!
The application itself was a huge challenge. I could well understand why people would choose to hire an attorney for this part. We decided not to pay someone $2,500 for someone to fill out forms for us, but let me tell you, it took both our brains and all our combined concentration to figure the whole thing out.
There were various delays: our passports had expired, we needed birth certificates, college transcripts, special immigration photos (not passport photos!), we had to be fingerprinted. We had to list every address we have ever lived (I don't know about you, but in my 20s, I lived in a lot of places!), and account for all of our time since our 18th birthdays. Every job we have held - if we weren't working, what we were doing - every club or association we have ever belonged to - everything. And the applications themselves cost more than $2,000!
Uncle David Part Deux. Allan finally contacted David. And yes, not only is he Allan's mother's brother, he is also a Canadian citizen. David sounds like a really interesting person. He has lived in Cuba and Spain, and is a poet and a translator. I look forward to knowing him. But hey, first things first: because Allan has an uncle who is Canadian, we each got 5 points on our applications!
More reasons to feel good about Canada. On all the applications - on all official Canadian documents - every space for "spouse", reads "spouse or common-law partner". Although Allan and I are not legally married, in Canada we are recognized as a legal family. I can't tell you how good that makes me feel.
Then three things happened.
One, the Canadian law firm sent us an application for representation and a fee schedule.
Two, the backlog of applications waiting for immigration shrank from 19 months to 9 months.
And three... (drumroll, please) the passmark was lowered from 75 points to 67 points!!
In response to a large influx of people applying to emigrate who were borderline, the country lowered the mark. Amazing. That gave me a really good feeling about Canada - the first of many.
Uncle David. Somewhere around this time, Allan searched on the internet for his long-lost uncle, his mother's brother who he has not seen since Allan was around 12 years old. Allan suspects David now lives in Canada; he has an address and phone number, thinks it's probably him, but we don't know for sure...
And I learned that there's no quarantine period for dogs. All we need is proof of rabies vaccine and the pups can cross the border with us.
Two things led us to believe that emigration would take a very long time, possibly several years. (Allan nearly refused to believe this. He would grumble and flatly deny it every time I mentioned it.) One, we would need to show "proof of funds" - a certain amount of money in the bank, over and above whatever we needed to move and get an apartment, in case we didn't find immediate employment. This meant we couldn't even submit our application until we had $10,000 in the bank. And two, there was a very lengthy waiting list. Altogether, it seemed like a move could be two or three years down the road.
In addition, in the "skilled worker class" - our category of immigration - there is a point system by which you can judge your approximate chances of being accepted. You get a certain number of points for language skills, employment history, formal education, family in Canada, and so forth. This gives an objective criteria, though there is also discretionary leeway - someone without enough points can be accepted and someone over the minimum can still be rejected. Unfortunately for us, the system is weighted heavily towards formal education, and because Allan doesn't have a college degree, and I have "just" a BA, we were borderline. The passmark was 75. I scored 77 and Allan scored 68.
On the other hand, it's clear that Canadian Immigration wants to see that you are employable, and we know we are definitely that.
But all in all, given the money involved and our borderline status, things looked a little iffy.
The talk. We were in the living room, watching the news. I don't know if it was the latest phony terror warning, or some new attack on basic freedoms, or the latest international embarrassment - I really can't say. But something made me sigh and repeat the old refrain of the American left: "Maybe we should move to Canada."
And Allan said, "Can we? I mean, could we? If we wanted to?" He said he had been thinking about it for a while (and I believe he had mentioned it casually, too): that if Moron was "re"elected, we should leave the country.
All of a sudden, we were listing what we knew about Toronto, and why it might be a good fit for us. More on that later.
Early in 2003, we had reached a major milestone. For the first time in our adult lives, we were completely out of debt. (Yay!!!) That summer, we had two sizeable (for us) checks due in from writing income. The plans had been to finally take a long-dreamed-of vacation: we were going dog-sledding in the Boundary Waters Area in far northern Minnesota. After spending June 2003 in the Catskills with the dogs (our own, that is), we were going to put down a deposit for a mushing trip in February '04. I had done the research and chosen a company, and we were fully intending to experience the wilderness with Arleigh Jorgensen and his team of Huskies. It would be the first time ever that we could pay for a trip in advance. (Hence our semi-permanent state of debt, I would always be paying off a trip).
Suddenly we were thinking, we've never been in this position before: we've never had money coming in that didn't have to go straight to our Visa bill. Any Big Life Change (BLC) takes money to get going - and here was some. This was An Opportunity.
On the weekends at work, I started reading up on emigrating to Canada. On Sunday nights, I'd report back and we'd discuss. From the beginning, it just felt right.
The US has moved so far to the right. It's not just the W Regime, even though they've made it so much worse. It's been going this way for almost 25 years. Relative to the norm in this country, I used to be a liberal. Now I'm a radical leftist - and I haven't changed at all!
Why Toronto. It's extremely diverse. There are jobs in our field. It's English-speaking. It's a big enough city that we won't be bored. It's close enough to NYC for friends and family to visit easily. It has baseball! And not just baseball - American League East baseball, so we could both see our teams on a regular basis (likely more than we do now).
Why now. I've been in the city more than 20 years; Allan has been here since 1987. We're at a good place to make a big change - financially, emotionally, all that.
I've been ready to leave New York for a while. The incessant homogenization is really getting me down: all the chain stores, theme restaurants, the Upper West Side looking like Chelsea looking like Park Slope. It's something I've been complaining about since the late 80s, and it's only gotten worse and worse. NYC has lost so much uniqueness, so much character; it feels too much like anyplace USA. I find it very sad. A friend called it soul-destroying, and that's precisely right.
And of course, priorities change. We used to run around the city a lot more, hearing music, going to theatre, lectures, art exhibits, all kinds of stuff. I still do all those things, but much, much less. Now I spend more time on the couch, watching movies or baseball, or at the computer.
I used to feel like NYC was the only place I could live - and it was, for a long time - but now it doesn't feel as essential to be here. A smaller city would be enough, as long as it was very diverse and had enough going on - or else I'd live in the middle of nowhere. We've been talking about moving for a while, but hadn't hit on just the right fit.
For a long time I've talked (and fantasized) about getting a place upstate, moving to a smaller apt in the city, keeping our weekend jobs and coming into the city every weekend just to work. It's an appealing idea, but fraught with questions, and would probably be more expensive to maintain than we'd be comfortable with.
We have the perfect situation right now: a terrific rent-stabilized apartment and great jobs that give us lots of time for writing and our own pursuits. It's so comfortable; it's too comfortable. I feel like we could stay the way we are forever - and it's beginning to stagnate. The time is right to pack it all in and start something brand new!
This feels exactly right.
This is meant to be a chronicle of the latest chapter in our ongoing adventure (that is, our lives): our move to Canada. It's a way of processing the overwhelming change I'll be experiencing, and a way of posting our news to anyone who's interested.
But being the storyteller that I am, I need to backtrack to the beginning of the journey.