February 18, 2012

Montreal, first impressions

Category: Montreal,Personal — Biella @ 2:49 pm


When I told people of my plans to move to Montreal, it usually prompted one of two reactions: one was some version of joyful envy, many people exclaiming breathlessly “Montreal is one of my favorite cities,” one person once even clutching my arm and told me as he looked me straight in the eye: “you are so lucky, there is no city quite like Montreal in North America.”

The second reaction came off as a thinly veiled mixture of disdain and disbelief usually peppered with many “reallys:” “oh wow, really, really you would really leave NYC?” I am pretty certain they really were thinking something along the lines of “what a fool, how dare she leave a great job, a great university, a world class city (the only city to live) for some Canadian mid-sized city, which is like tundra for a good chunk of the year?”

The decision to move weighed heavily on me, if for no other reason I had a choice to stay or to go and I honestly have not had a “choice,” a decision to make about where to go since I got accepted to graduate school (and even then the choice was more obvious than this one). So over a month into my move what is my verdict? In a word, “win.”

I don’t miss NYC at all—though I get why some people cannot leave the place—and know that despite some oddities and difficulties of living in Montreal, it fits my tastes and needs much better than NYC which dwarfed me in so many ways. I never felt I could enjoy it, I grew tired of the cramped living quarters, the noise ate at my soul, and I simply felt more overwhelmed by the fact that I could not even get a handle on the neighborhoods in my vicinity, much less all the other hoods in the area.

Instead of dogging NYC anymore, I think I will spend a little time on first impressions, as they will soon be lost to the familiarity borne with time and experience. In essence Montreal is chock full of life but rather intimate, a quirky city with lots of charm but some grit and lacking the way over designed and done feel of cities like Portland.

Here are some of quirks:

1. The Hawt Metro: I fell in love with the Metro when I first rode it a few years ago. I just love the powder blue color of the cars and the super sweet 1960s aesthetic of many stations. Even better and unlike NYC, they are just clean and quiet. The downside? The temperatures approximates a sauna during the winter and while you would think this is a good thing, when you are layered with the clothing necessary to survive outside (re: long underwear along with Canada-coat, gloves, hat, and scarf), it is hooooooot down there and you feel like you need to pass out.

2. Spend money, get free stuff: In many establishments you get free stuff (like blueberries or some like sports bar) when you spend over a certain amount of money, like 70 bucks. Quirky local tradition.

3. The culture of negotiation and the kick ass standard lease: Housing is amazing here. There is plenty of it, there are many different styles, and it is rather fun exploring all the different hoods that make up the city. Problem is too that lots of apartments have weird problems and issues and I had to steer clear of anything that could even possibly have mold. I spent weeks day in day out looking for a place, desperate to move out of my corporate apartment very nicely provided by the university but still not my ideal living situation. Finally found a place that fit all my needs in the perfect location and I took it to only find out that places are priced to negotiate and I was faced with the decision to negotiate or not. Sort of did, was not thrilled about it (thinking that I might lose the place) but it sort of worked and I scored the place. If price is up to haggling, the lease on the other hand, is standard (you can buy one at your local bodega… ). It is the law to use it and it is like a no nonsense, straightforward lease, which is very protective of renters.

4. Montreal is known for its exceptional food but you know Poutine is just plain gross: Food here is good and I can tell that I will get a handle of restaurants in a way that felt impossible in NYC. The gluten free religion seems to be spreading, thankfully. There are many little Fruiterias! to get your fruits veggies which I am still exploring and right around my house is a crazy supermarket that is so cheap, which is weird because consumer goods generally ain’t cheap in Montreal like they are in the states but this place is a gem and everyone agrees (and almost impossible to notice from the street!). Now Poutine is disgusting. Ok it did not help that the first night I went out to eat it, I was still under the clutches of Noro virus, and I think it re-activated the nausea that had been zapped by some strong medicine and the hospital, the day before, which brings me to the next point, the health care system.

5. Healthcare, I had to use it way too early: So last week I came down with the Noro virus and you usually wait it out as it runs through you quickly but I was dehydrated before I even started to vomit to for 8 hours straight, at which point severely tired and so nauseous (I was yelling to make it stop), I went to the hospital. Now I had talked to lot of people about the healthcare system in Montreal as it seems good, really great but a bit over taxed, especially compared to where I had lived in Edmonton where it was like a magic fairy tale dream. I had heard of two things: the care is excellent but the facilities are “shocking” and the wait times unless dire can be atrociously long. So facilities, yea they are kinda shocking, somewhat shabby but who cares, so long as the care is good, no? Packaging is irrelevant so long as the goods are derived. Before going I was scared of the long wait times (and also the taxi took me by mistake to Montreal General Hospital was looked too much like a HUGE version of the creepy buildings in The Shining for me, and I was supposed to go to Jewish General so left for there). The wait time: nearly none, somewhat as shocking as the facilities first looked to me. I think it was a combination of the time I arrived, with the fact that my lounge was parched and yellowish-gross (sorry, it was gross), indicating I was dehydrated, oh and I was crying bit hysterically, for despite my high threshold for pain, nausea terrorizes me. I was covered by insurance and since I did not yet have my McGill health cards (it takes three months to qualify for the local stuff), I did pay and the price was laughably cheap compared to what I would pay in NYC for the same treatment.

6. Now for my favorite, snow so nice, ice oh Christ: Well this winter has been, by all accounts, weak and warm, the spirit of winter barely making its way from the underworld to the outerworld. But even though it is has been more idle than full throttle, I still got a pretty accurate taste of what winter is like, with a few days of 20- c temps, and having to walk a number of times on a layer of frozen ice that makes it feel like a very dangerous mini-ice age in the making.


I do rather love the quiet snow falling and just love love sprinting through the snow with my dog, Roscoe, who has taken a liking for prancing in the white stuff and looks awful cute with his winter man’s ice beard. After a sizable snowfall, it is clear they city does not toy with the snow removal although the sidewalk snow plows do look somewhat like very large and dangerous but kinda cute toys. But let’s be frank, winters are hard, so hard that I think I would go mad if I had to stay through the entire thing, being born and raised in the tropics… So the fact that I am writing this from the southern hemisphere in the height of summer gives me the assurance I can handle the rest of the snow, ice, ice and snow upon my return.

December 22, 2011

The Best of NYC

Category: Canada,New York City,Personal — Biella @ 3:37 pm


Now that the semester is done and now that I have compiled my crazy paperwork for Canada (wow, it is a lot), I will be heading in six days to the wonderful city of Montreal to settle down, at least for a few years.

I am ready to leave but it is not an easy move, as I like NYC and my job. I came to New York City for the first time at the age of 19 after spending a year on a ship and I rather did not like the city for those 5 years, although loved my college years and all the time I spent chasing a Frisbee while running on grassy fields all over the east coast. When I left in 1998, I said, ‘never again.” But the future is impossible to predict so of course I came back when I got a job, my only job, at NYU MCC and headed quite happily here (incidentally from Canada).

And NYC was much much much better the second time around, most likely as I had a salary, and here is what I <3 and loved about the city.

1. Not having a car (which will still be the case in Montreal)
2. The bike path on the Hudson, especially the gardens and the Irish famine memoriall
3. The farmer’s markets (won’t miss the prices though)
4. High walkability factor (and though I did not love my hood, I loved being 1.5 blocks from my office)
5. The music jam circles in Washington Square Park (I was always left wondering if they were spontaneously generated or long standing groups // prolly both) and the occasional but mighty impressive hawks in the park.
6. Coney Island especially under certain special conditions when you can rly enjoy the lights radiating out of the amusement park
7. Leaving the city for some nature time
8. 24 hour trains (despite not loving them cuz the noise robbed some life from me every time I took them)
9. Grand Central Station’s ceiling
10. The gluten free options (this is going to be the hardest to give up as Montreal sort of sucks in comparison)
11. Being able to take your small dog on the train ;-) which is only a recent pleasure
12. My department
13. East Asian Starr library at Columbia University (still my favorite library in the world) and totally loathed NYU’s Bobst, ugly on the outside, ugly on the inside
14. NYC sunrises which I have like only seen 3 times (sadly) but they have been stunning every time
15. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge
16. HOPE
17. The Highline
18. The Strand
19. My favorite thing = Massive Snow Storms in the City (good thing I am moving to Canada, eh?)

August 19, 2005

Really done

Category: Anthropology,Personal,Research — @ 6:05 pm

Today I got this email:

Dear Ms. Coleman,

We have received final copies of your dissertation entitled The Social Construction of Freedom in Free and Open Source Software: Hackers, Ethics, and the Liberal Tradition which you are submitting to fulfill the requirements for the Ph.D. in the area of Anthropology.

Our staff has reviewed your dissertation and the revisions you recently submitted. Your dissertation is now complete. Congratulations on completing the University-wide formatting requirements!

Phew. Even though I defended a couple months ago, this means I will graduate in less than a week. The dissertation formatting brought me great distress, to say the least. For example, earlier in the week since I had not heard from the office, and I knew that graduation was looming, my fears were playing out, as they usually do, in my dreams. This week’s winner was one in which I had razor sharp wooden spikes in my feet, about 15 in each one, that had to be pulled by a doctor with no anaesthesia. It was pleasant and I knew it was one grotesque metaphor of what it would feel like if I had not made the deadline for summer graduation because of some formatting mishap.

So, today I also wrote this email to the Debian project, giving them a little background on the nature of dissertations and pointing them to my chapter on ethical enculturation on Debian.

August 6, 2005

What the Hack, report 1

Category: Anthropology,Personal,Travel — @ 7:54 am

Even if you tried, it is difficult to spend much time alone at a hacker conference/festival (or any such similar event). The whole point is to immerse yourself fully in the string of events and happenings, and more so, with othersfriends who you finally see after much too long time apart and with those friends who have just recently entered you life.

So when you finally leave, as I just have, things feel strangely silent, even on a train brimming with conversation.

My trip began with a flight to Amsterdam and an immediate train ride to Eindohoven where I met up with two of my steadfast IRC buddies, one of them who now lives in the South of .nl, the other who has been traveling through Europe for over a month.

After an urgently-needed night of sleep and a trip to the market and store (where I made the very wise choice of buying a waterproof rain jacket given the torrential rain that became part of the environmental woodwork ), we ignored the dark clouds, and made our way via train to Boxtel, the town adjacent to the festival grounds where the volunteer-run What the Hack crew had built, over the course of week, an infrastructure of tents, programs, radio station, party areas, bathrooms, hot showers, av equipment, and naturally, a sturdy and fast net connection, so that on top of this basic infrastructure, human presence could bring the campground to life. Already palpable was the excited buzz among the 200 + folks there with pitched tents, enjoying the beer, and relative calm that was soon to end. The CCC folks had erected a dispersed but fantastic altar of lights, the glow and twinkle of the blue, red, and white, a condensed display of the energy building up.

I was quite relieved that Mako had been guaranteed a speakers tent, which was less tent and more semi-permanent bungalow with wooden floor, beds, table, chairs, and thick white canvas forming a protective layer against the storms that came to visit, quite dramatically and perhaps too frequently, over the course of the event. I had lugged a tent with me only to discover missing poles, which in the end was a blessing. I would have been soaked staying if I had relied on it.

The first night there time started to accelerate. Arriving at 4 pm, the next thing I knew, it was 4 am and I was finally getting to bed, physically cold but emotionally glowing.

After one day of relative dryness, Wed morning greeted the day with a slow steady rain that was an ideal excuse to stay in bed, late, and get some needed sleep after a long night. As every hour passed, the trickle of folks arriving increased and soon there was a torrent of bodies. Tents accompanied by a healthy dose of electronics equipment were erected in what seemed to be like no time. There were some elaborate structures like semi-transparent buckie balls, rainbow tents, rugged army tent-barracks, right along the standard 2-4 person tents.

I spent most of Wed doing the final preparations for my talk. I had decided, a bit last minute, to enlarge the scope of my talk to include a summary of a report that included one of my contributions. I guess I have been so used to the paltry 20 minute academic conference talk that when I realized that I had 50 minutes, I knew that I could cover a few more topics. I spent most of the day re-reading the report, taking some notes, and finally making my aesthetically boring slides that consist of black text on a white background. I spent a good 5 hours in the cafeteria area, mostly by myself except when a few friends came to visit, a small volunteer effort putting WTF stickers on condoms, and finally taking a break when my good friend Niels finally showed up. With slides under my belt, and at 2:30 am, it was ostensibly tent time. The problem is that when there are more than 2 people sleeping in very close proximity to each other, there is a very good chance that getting to sleep will not be priority number one. And indeed, the main topic of conversation that night, happened to be a little odd, though it generated over 2 hours of intense, perhaps too descriptive, conversation: the merits and visceral consequences of various toilet designs (I will leave it at that).

Thursday, the first official day of the WTH, opened with a morning keynote with Hack-Tics/HFH Rop and 2600′s Goldstein, who used the hour to reflect on cons-past as well as the current political state of US/EU.

Soon after, or really right after their talk was mine. There were a handful more folks than expected (being the first talk after an hour long keynote and during lunch time) and of course my computer did not work with the A/V equipment (thankfully Mako was around to lend me his computer). I started off feeling more nervous than I should because I usually settle into my comfort zone. If you are interested in the topic, instead of seeing me talk, I recommend the report…

The best thing about WTH talks is that all they are taped within within 1.5 days are put online. There was an amazing media, audio group, Rehash who were taping the event and being really smart about how to proceed one’s the tapes arrived at their headquarters: encode immediately and put online…. (TBC)

What the Hack Photos

Category: Personal,Travel — @ 7:37 am


What the Hack Photos

July 30, 2005

Three hours, nap vs blog

Category: Personal — @ 2:21 pm

Considering I have three hours before I have to wake up to catch a flight back to Chicago from Amsterdam, I think I will forgo a blog entry till a little later as it would take me at least that long to write a blog entry about WTH. But I am digging the warmth and prospective bed even as I miss the mud and friends.

July 4, 2005

Ultimate Frisbee in Puerto Rico

Category: Personal,Wholesome — @ 7:09 pm

If you had known me around six years ago I was a fanatic. To be more precise, an Ultimate Frisbee fanatic. I basically made sure that my life revolved around the discian calendar. It was a fun though physically demanding life: practice twice a week, weekend long tournaments, travel, and money spent on travel. Even though never a great player, I loved it to the core.

For various reasons that stretched from health, to school, lack of funds, to research, I stopped. And entirely stopped and cold turkey. Ultimate Frisbee in my mind and heart became a relic of my past, something like a beloved lover who had passed away suddenly. I held great fondness for it, but it was just a thing of the past and I picked up other sports and pass times.

But while here in PR I met some ultimate players at the beach and found out that there is a biweekly game, which of course piqued my interest, in a serious way. There was something just enticing and alluring about the thought of playing my beloved sport once again and no less somewhere that I had never played.

But honestly I knew that any return right now to a sport that is extremely demanding of your cardiovascular system would be nothing short of PAINFUL. To say that I am out of shape is to acknowledge that there is some physical shape, when in fact, finishing my dissertation and winter in Chicago before that, pretty much nullified any sort of decent shape. One of the first things I started to do when I got back here was walk/run but I was doing more of the walking and less of the running. So the prospect of showing face and body at an ultimate game when I could barely run, was a little intimidating.

After running into two of the players on separate occasions yesterday, I thought “what the heck?!” the Ultimate Frisbee Gods were, for sure, giving me a sign. They were saying Go, even if running will feel like Chinese torture. I went tonight and sure enough Chinese torture it was but nonetheless it was a blast. A torturous blast. My heart felt like imploding and exploding yet it was ok. The players here are very fun and quite good. They don’t like to play with the most common offensive position the stack, which makes for a slightly more clogged field, but the athleticism of the players makes up for it. And they are a fun bunch too which is always an extra ++.

So if you come to Puerto Rico and play ultimate do play, the game is great! They play Mon and Wed from 7:30/8:00 at Parque Central. They allow cleats so bring them and bring LOTS of H20. It is HOT.

The Law of Rules

Category: Alzheimers,family,Personal — @ 6:54 pm

I have been in PR for nearly two weeks now and it feels like I have accomplished only 3 days worth of motherly errands. In fact, except for Sundays, I have been going nearly non- stop with her, and dealing with her affairs. It is just that things take a little longer here and more so over the summer when the heat is inescapable. I forgot what it was like to live, breathe, and generally move around in soaring temperatures. Actually when you are on the beach, it is delectable, because the only so slightly cool ocean waters vindicate the heat, entirely.

Otherwise, I languish. I think I languish more because I have been thrust into a role that seems somewhat foreign to me: adulthood. I guess I have long been on the path toward that enigmatic place we call adulthood: I got my drivers license at 16, at 18 I could legally drink in PR, I left home when I was 17, started to pay my own taxes when I was 21, now actually sort of understand my taxes, and so forth… I have reached my 30s. But the student way of life feels only at the cusp of adulthood, as if you put it on hold to pursue your personal desires, staying away from those signs and practices that place you firmly in adulthood, such as taking care of others.

But now as I take over my mom’s affairs, and her financial world, I am having to play some serious catch up to things adult: wills, taxes, funerals etc. It is a little overwhelming, and almost entirely unpleasant especially since my mom can sort of understand what is going on, but also sort of not. I try to make decisions that are right and explain them to her but there are times she just does not fully get it (although there have been times when she has given me crucial pieces of legal info out of the blue).

One of the larger current projects is re-doing her will because as the current one stands, there are some ambiguities that can cause us a huge, no gargantuan headache later on. So now, we are making a new will which will include a trust for my sister (who is not all that financially responsible) and this apparently is a huge headache to do. Ok, it would not be so bad if I lived here but I don’t. So I have meet with the lawyer a number of times, hammered out the basic details, and will have to coordinate the rest from Chicago/NJ and return in August for the signing. Since my mom can’t see well, we have to get five witnesses to proceed over the signing. The whole thing is a huge source of anxiety for me partially because I have to coordinate it, partially because the law seems so flagrantly obscure and obtuse (PR is also under Napoleonic code) and also it costs a lot of money. Legal services in general tend to cost more in PR, which is why there are a lot of really really wealthy lawyers in PR who drive some really nice houses, dine on fine food, and reside in luxurious homes, but I guess that is most places :-)

It seems like at least every third person in PR is a lawyer and they have created a system in which they are necessary simply to avoid disaster. Much of the western liberal world is such (so much for legal freedom) and ss our lawyer said, we don’t live under the rule of the law but the law of rules.

So true…

June 28, 2005

In the tropics

Category: Personal — @ 4:58 am

I am back in Puerto Rico, this time for longer than my most recent visit. I have never found that I was much of a blogger over the summer. The heat robs me of most of my motivation and this is doubly so in PR. When you function as someone else’s brain, and spend most of your days dealing with errands, the last thing I want to do in the evening is email or “actual” work. I have net access in the garden and though I am under a gazebo-like structure, it does not protect me that much from the heat, torrential rains that have come nearly every day, or scavenger mosquitoes that awaken soon after the rain stops.

I did wake up at 5 am this morning and finally got to a slew of email that were piling high. I think to get any work done while I am here I am going to have to wake up very early. The net connection is faster, the bugs are not as bad, and there is no one around :-)

June 23, 2005

The tiny pleasures of life

Category: Personal — @ 6:28 pm

The really tiny pleasures of life.

1. I love salsa music. What I love more is that many salsa songs start with an ultra-cheesy somewhat dramatic yet subdued opening and then within 20 seconds, BAM, they switch over to soul-shaking lyrics, cheese left behind. (Marc Anthony is a perfect example of this).
2. I love taking the lint out from the dryer filter. For some odd reason it gives me enormous satisfaction to do so, so much so I love it when the dryer user before me leaves he/r lint for me to take out. There is something about the uniformity and softness of laundry detritus that I find aesthetically pleasing, especially to touch.
3. I love these weird haircutting sudo-scissors that don’t really cut hair but thin hair. I don’t understand how they work, but I am thankful they do, otherwise I would be donning a poofball on my head.
4. I love hopping and bouncing in the ocean water. Boing.. boing, duck wave, boing, boing. I would love to see a bunny rabbit swim and boinnnng in the ocean but I think it would drown. I would love to know if bunny rabbits can swim.
5. I love ducks. I want a pet duck. The problem is I like to eat them too and I hear they poop all over the place. Can a duck be potty trained? And could I really refrain from getting hungry and roasting it after I get mad that it pooped all over the bathroom floor? Best not to get a pet duck even if I love them.
7. I love ocean bioluminescent animals. The color is nothing short of stunning. Ocean water and stars in sky, miles apart, also seem connected by resonating light.
8. I love the smell of basements, and plado.
9. I love waking up really early like at 5 am after a good night’s sleep. It rarely happens but when it does, damn, you know that there is just something *right* about arising early.
10. I love that my mom’s neighbor in PR has wireless and I can surf in the garden. I hope he keeps the access open.