When I stayed on the island of Mo’orea in French Polynesia, breakfast at the resort was served as a buffet. It included a characteristic spread of cured meats, cheeses, croissants, fresh fruit, pancakes and eggs prepared to order, and similar fare, all the staples one might expect of hotel and resort breakfasts, all clearly influenced by the tropical and French setting, but it also had one distinctively Polynesian offering: a bowl of poisson cru à la tahitienne, usually translated as “Tahitian ceviche.” Known in Tahitian as “i’a ota,” simply “raw fish,” but more commonly described locally with its French name, this dish instantly captured my heart and my palate, and few breakfasts passed without a ladle-full of it next to the cheeses and croissant on my plate.
I recently acquired a bicycle for use as my primary means of getting around. Ottawa, where I reside, is neither a public transit utopia nor a city known for bicycle-friendliness, so this decision and my broader commitment to never driving a car might puzzle some of my readers. What did I hope to gain by adding a bicycle to my life, and how did I hope to make it work in this often infuriatingly car-centric city?
Navigating this city by bicycle for the past two months has imposed quite a few lessons upon me, some more surprising than others. Let’s begin.
I chose Ottawa. I had other options, I chose Ottawa, and looking out at the line where the gray “spring” sky meets the gray concrete-dusted snow and the icicles dragging the pine boughs to the muddy ground, I ask myself why.
I recently returned from a vacation in French Polynesia. This was my first ever solo vacation and something I planned and anticipated for a long time before I could finally make it happen. It was not my first air travel, nor my first vacation, but the first time I traveled to a far-off place alone with no academic conference, family visit, or other purpose in mind. It was also the farthest from home I have ever been, at nearly double the distance of my previous record. And it was glorious.
I have been away from Miami, the city where my family made their homes after relocating from the northeastern US, for many years. I moved away in 2009, and this year made the most complete departure I likely ever will. One by one, the threads holding me to that place in particular wither and crumble, in items reclaimed and funerals attended. I had sad, sad cause to spend a few days in this sunlit hometown recently, being driven around in relatives’ cars, and those days were enough to cement in my mind what my opinion of Miami had already long been: the sheer heedless decadence of this place is incompatible with a life well-lived. You do not want to live in Miami.
For the handful of people in my life who do not know, I recently had facial feminization surgery (FFS) and breast augmentation (BA) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, provided by the expert hands of Dr. Lázaro Cárdenas Camarena. This adventure was the culmination of years of careful saving and exhaustive research and represents the last significant transition-related body modification I anticipate ever pursuing. As I heal from this sizable achievement, I also reflect on it.
I’ve updated this vision a few times. Here’s version three.
Ottawa has a reputation for being boring, unimaginative, and cautious. It is one of many planned capitals in the world, splitting the difference between more prominent economic centers (Montreal and Toronto) on either side of it, and this sense of being both deliberate and an afterthought suffuses the very air of this place. One does not get the sense that the people of Ottawa love or hate this place the way the people of Montreal and Toronto can love or hate their home. Rather, the pervasive sentiment of Ottawa is that we ended up here and, well, it’s nice enough, I suppose. This lackadaisical sort of affection synergizes unhelpfully with Ottawa’s status as an instinctively cautious but rapidly growing government town, preventing the kind of vision that gave Montreal, Toronto, and various world capitals such as Washington and Moscow their impressive passenger rail networks.
But what if Ottawa had such a vision?
I got out.
I don’t know how long I can stay. Canada has refused to employ me despite (because of?) my advanced degree, and if anything goes awry in my immigration process, they might yet force me back.
But I got out.
Images of people in my culture don’t look like me.
There’s a trivial sense in which that’s not true. My dark, angled eyes, curly hair, curvaceous figure, and diminutive stature all betray my origins. Our beauty queens and pop stars in particular look like me, conspicuously lighter in hue than even our own relatives. As distinctive as I always am in family photos, someone else who looked like me would not have seemed out of place.
But the image of us isn’t a scientist. She isn’t an atheist or a socialist. She isn’t dating outside her race. She isn’t deliberately far away from her parents. She isn’t autistic. She isn’t transgender. She isn’t gay.
He hoarded his Christmas gifts. We would get him cologne, ties, shirts, tchotchkes from our travels, treatments to soften his overworked hands, and they would all find their ways into drawers and cabinets, untouched for years. His clothing had to wear to nothing before he would discard it and start the next one’s slow disintegration. New, untouched things are a treasure to save for when they are needed, not an indulgence for in between. Scarcity is behind every shadow and over every hill, and a good hoard is insurance against doing without. It’s a habit my father, my grandfather, and I all share, to each other’s bemused frustration. They tangled with Communists, I grew up autistic, and we all hoard.