Sunday, 18 November 2012

The way back

Trying to budget my trip back to NZ. I'll be stopping in San Jose, California to do the most important interview of the film with an Assyrian anthropologist. But I hate budgeting!

I'm a bit sick with a cough anyway, but I've left the whole day free so I can get this done. It takes me so long and I just loathe doing it, but I feel like Im getting somewhere.

I have been making a short doc with another guy for a course Im doing and the subject we chose was homeless people. There's so many in Nth America, its been a fascination of mine ever since I got here. It's been amazing getting their philosophy on street living and life, but they've cleaned me out and I have nothing till my money goes thru tomorrow. It's $1.50 pack of English muffins from Dollarama and leftover croissants from the hostel owners' cafe. Could be worse. But am not very good with healthy lately.

Yesterday was the Doc Toronto Editor's Conference, which had different documentary film editors speaking. Wow, what a treat. There was a great guy who'd spoken at another thing I went to and he ended up sitting beside me so I plucked up courage to chat. When I said he was from New Zealand, he said "Oh, I love New Zealand. I was making a documentary there about the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior ...". He did David Lange's last interview. He went even further up in my esteem.

They also had an master class with Michele Hozer, a lady who edited "Shake Hands with the Devil" an amazing doc about Rwanda that I'd got out of the library a while back.

Then I went out for coffee with a girl who I'd met in another course who is an actress and is really nice she had heaps of tips and advice.

So it's been like Christmas!

But I do feel a bit blue, something I haven't quite shaken since Chicago. It's colder now and I worry about getting everything done before my trip and if I'll have enough money etc, and I spose what I'll feel like after I get back. Also I moved out of a dorm room where it was crowded and I didn't really fit in. That's always the killer for me - the social thing.

I've been going to social media classes in order to learn how to promote my film online, and I really like it, but its also beginning to seem a bit daunting. Quote from the last class: "If you don't believe in yourself no one else will." Which makes me feel even worse... Someone unliked my film page on Facebook, and I felt bad, and I'm like, lordy, this is just the beginning!

Next week I think Im going to be staying with another doc filmmaker who was also at another of my courses. I told her I was running short of money so she offered to have me. I think it will be great, we can talk about making our films till our hearts content. So maybe my mood will improve. Her doc is about miners in Nova Scotia, Canada, which is a topic I kinda like. She's a coal miner's granddaughter herself. It all reminds me of the West Coasters of NZ so makes me feel a little nostalgic.

Michele Hozer speaking at the Editing Conference:

Friday, 9 November 2012

Oriental Institute puts the nail in ... finally!!

Email from Emily Teeter, OI, Chicago:

"I passed the request by our director, and he has decided that we cannot help you with the project because of the political implications of the documentary."

Wow, my doc is soo important and politically controversial. But then there's the Muslims.

But It's ok because I have my "string tripod".

God will have to forgive me I couldn't resist replying, highlighting the massive irony that the Assyrian reliefs were probably made by the ancestors of the subjects of my documentary. I did hold back from stating that therefore they still technically belonged to them. Then I'd sound ignorant right?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Last night in Chicago

I'd been meaning to visit something called the Navy Pier out on the waterfront in Chicago, cos it was supposed to be iconic (ie. on lots of postcards) have a retro Ferris wheel and other stuff.

It was great. I could only go at night when it was raining and there was nobody there and it was brilliant.

I took lots of video shots of the Ferris wheel and chair swing and carousel using my Super 8 film app on my iPad.

But the best thing was the carousel. It brought back some way far away memory and it took some minutes before I could get the courage to go on it. I thought they'd think I was weird, the people running it, but I so wanted to go on it and live that remote memory.

I bought a ticket ($5) and got on, the only one, and it was just wonderful. I think I remember doing the same with my Dad, and I got off and some tears came up for a moment as they do now.

Settling in for the night..

Homeless under a highway in Chicago. The benefits of US social care.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Sinking, swimming, flying, climbing .... (AKA "Green Screen Adventures in Chicago")

Bummed out I havent updated this for a while. I'll try and explain:

Apart from the beauty of the city itself, my two weeks in Chicago were, honestly, something I'd rather forget. When I started learning photography it felt like flying. When I started this trip it felt like swimming. In Chicago I was climbing a rock face.

After a few days in Chicago I hired a space to film an interview and picked up all the gear - doing my first green screen. All went swimmingly well until I was about to turn the camera on and it started raining. Wouldn't be that bad but the rain was hitting the outside of a huge air conditioner and it sounded like a drum > no interview.

My interviewee was fine about it but left without bothering to offer to help pack up or give me a lift, so I packed up and called a cab. It was raining so it took ages to come, meanwhile the hire place was waiting (doing overtime) for me to bring the stuff back. I eventually told him to go home.

Cab came, the hostel (thankfully) stored the gear; next morning I took it back by taxi and the owner said he'd charge me an extra $35 for keeping his guy doing overtime and not having returned the gear. The studio had already cost $90 and the gear $120 + taxi $60.

After dropping the gear off the cab took me to my next interviewee to film, but he was changing his mind so I had to spend two hours trying not to emotionally blackmail into doing it, but trying to to give up on him either. I left with no interview but a maybe for when I returned in Dec.

Spent a few days trying to find an alternative venue for my last interview - got something that was slightly dubious: hot and stuffy and people walking past and dogs barking .. but it all went fine, except for a slight echo - hopefully I can take that out in post production. The interviewee was awesome - I talked about her in my blog before. But altogether those two weeks had cost me $1000 USD, for just one interview.

I did, however, work out how to take photographs of the Assyrian reliefs in the Oriental Institute without having to go through official hoops, so that will save me some dosh and stress. Anyone heard of a "string tripod"? No, me neither. A hokey DIY method of taking photos without an actual tripod. But if it works, all good.

And the green screening was fun, if exhausting setting up all the lights and screen. But I think I did well. Well, that's the story I told myself.

So back to Toronto to lick my wounds. I feel ok now; it's really nice being back. I missed the hostel and Toronto. The hostel owners have opened their new French cafe and I have been patronising it with great kindness and generosity on my part.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Chicago getaway

Taking the photos at the Oriental Institute was amazing - it was a recon for when I come back and use my tripod (museum closed, security guard, lot of palaver). But even without the tripod the results were great.

I got lost coming home at night on the trains so had to walk for miles and earlier tripped on a footpath and fell on my face, so next day was too tired to do anything. It also might have been the end of a head cold, not enough iron, my dairy allergy, I dunno. Annoying, and the next day was similar.

I do find Chicago a bugger to get around, unless you take lots of taxis. I have all my gear and the trains often only have stairs, and in the centre of town the system is quite complex. Not like Toronto which is simple and centralised.

Last night I stayed at a Holiday Inn hotel c/o an air miles voucher, which had an amazing view out over an older part of the central city (see photo).

Am now at the last hostel for the Chicago trip, returning on Thurs. It hasn't been amazingly productive, an interviewee has postponed twice, another we were both two tired (after 2hrs on the trains getting there). And tiredness and the weather has cut out extra filming. But hopefully I'll get the interviews done. Its a bit tight - it will be 4 shoots in 5 days, one the day after I get back to Toronto.

As I was walking to a supermarket just before I freaked out when I walked past this skeleton in a doorway (below). I wish we did that kind of stuff in NZ. Flag the trick or treating.

They also have these amazing pumpkins that are perfect for carving up to make those lanterns. Fat, round and truly orange.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Layover - Buffalo, New York

The train trip was eventful, kind of. I didn't realize there was a 10 1/2 hr layover in Buffalo when I booked the ticket, but I thought oh well an opportunity to check out Buffalo. When I lived in Canada it had the reputation of being a bit of a hole. So I could prove it or not.

After the train arrived in Buffalo I set off for a walk and saw the cute decorations for fall and Halloween (pumpkins are usable for both) and took a couple of photos. After one place with an American flag out the front a guy comes barreling out: "Excuse me!! My security camera just caught you ...! " blah blah. After I explained and showed him my photos he cooled off, but it reminded me - oh this is America.

(Bingo seemed to be a big thing in those parts, it even has its own newspaper, the 'Bingo Bugle' "celebrating the Bingo lifestyle").

When I got back to the train station I found I had lost my ticket for the trip from Buffalo to Chicago. No biggie - I asked if I could get it printed out again. No, I have to pay for another seat. I called a 1-800 number to ask if there was any way they'd let me on, I had a confirmation email with a booking reference and everything! No, with a 'paper ticket' as opposed to an e-ticket there was no replacement. Hard to believe - can they really do that?

So just pay for another ticket ($85) but the problem was I had put money into my travel card and it took 2-3 days to come through. As far as I knew my card only had nothing in it - I had one more day to go and a $10 note. Sweating it a bit, and not loving the idea of another 24 hrs in Buffalo, I waited until the train was nearly due and I tried to purchase the ticket. Yah, thank the lord.

(BTW there were some Amish at the Buffalo station. I have never seen any in real life so that was great. Their clothes are amazing, the young girls look like they are out of a Vermeer painting with their translucent white caps. When I was walking behind them getting on the train, it was dark, and it felt like I was in a holocaust movie, with their long gathered dresses, shawls and covered heads. Oddly enough there was also a female dwarf at the station and one of the Amish girls kept staring at her. So it was like one oddity checking out another).

Got on the train - last person, a habit of mine, to find the only seat left was the worst: underneath a really bright light and in front of doors which opened frequently with a cold blast. It was a night train (midnight to 9am) and no blankets. The girl next to me and I sweated it out, or huddled really, until the female conductor offered us her seats. The kindness of strangers.

The rest of the trip was great, slept. The girl next to me was a cute dyke (could be making an assumption but I'm pretty sure I saw a girl on her iPhone screen), the honest down-to-earth type.

Spent 2 hrs getting lost on the Chicago subway (trying to save on a cab fare) and couldn't get off with my luggage at some (too many people).

Finally got to my hostel so tired I ignored everybody in my room and went to sleep.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Going back to Chicago tomorrow for a week to finish off a some interviews I didn't get time for when I was there. Will be nice to see some of the people I met there again. Hoped to photograph the Assyrian reliefs at the Oriental Institute but I have to book further ahead. It's been difficult organising that one - the woman definitely isn't that partial to my cause - I quote: "Filming is highly disruptive to the running of the Museum". But when it come to that kind of thing I tend to be like a dog with a bone. She also spoke about a $600 fee, but as its for "commercial use" I am going to try to argue that one.

The photos will be fantastic though - the reliefs are amazing, so it will be worth it.

Finally heard about the interview on Washington DC with the US State Dept, she said no, after three months of trying. I do wonder if it is a tactic - ignore and don't reply until finally you can say too much time has passed. I am disappointed, it would have been good. I'll just have to use a static image and text for her statements.

Going by train to Chicago - never been on a long train trip in Nth America before, so it will be an adventure.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

I had a dream ...

Of one day getting it together to have real go at Super 8 mm film, or at least incorporate some footage into my doco. So I signed up for this short course and went to the first of two afternoons. Could never get this in NZ cos you can't buy the film anymore. But here they have a whole film festival of it, god darn it.

Was very cool to do this tho the teacher (he's made over 300 Super 8mm films) was more interested in experimental effects - like swinging the camera round on the end of a wire - rather than something more narrative, which is what I was hoping for, but still.

It's funny it's so lo-tech to everything we have now, clunky and awkward, you have to slow down a bit.

(But I have just found an iPhone/iPad App called iSupr8 - makes Super 8-like movies complete with flicker, grain and scratches).

So here we have the Nizo 561...

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Cinematography Foundations workshop

Went to day one of this workshop, was awesome. Thought of all the useless and odious training I've had at Wellington City Libraries, and how the best thing about them was ... the muffins. Before the recession.

We got to see up close a bunch of different video cameras including high-end, and a basic lighting set-up. Great being in a real studio. I felt really happy I had already done some filming. The tutor was a functioning DOP, not just some tired person who a university hired with a little bit of past experience.

It was great being surrounded by all that gear. I have one more day tomorrow, but I think I will sign up for more.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

I just remembered..

.. A few years back when I was hanging out with the lesbians, I tried some dope and I had this compulsive idea that what I should do is quit my job and take photographs.

It scared me because it was such a strong idea and kept looping back and growing (a characteristic of dope?) that it put me off trying it again. I didn't want to ruin my future.

(I did try dope once again but I was off my anti-depressants and I got incredibly paranoid. I was with my punk lesbian friend who had just broken up with her girlfriend and was getting mean and messing with my head. It totally put me off. Put me off her too. Such is my drug-taking history).

But anyway, though I'm not taking photographs, it's close, and I have quit my job to just do that. Dope - dangerous and prophetic! I'm still going to steer clear of it. There's some young French guys here that basically do it nightly, as well as drink.

It's a bit like living or reliving a young adulthood here at times. I like that.

Morning after

Ok, well after that rant, I have a couple of positives. I often think its like squeezing a pimple - gotta get it out before you can move on - actually that doesnt work, but the image I like.

This morning I phoned up an interviewee who I had been trying to chase up for weeks, but guessed he had gone away. Found out he had scratched his cornea in the middle of PhD exams and had needed to go offline for a bit. He is still keen to do the interview.

And to take Anna's suggestion on board, I am going to try enrolling in a 2-day film workshop here in Toronto (this place is dripping film from every pore). There's also another short one for super 8 film I am thinking about. I wish I felt more confident about doing them, but that's the way it is for me!

(Haha, I think I can use the term "white-knuckling" it, like they do in AA).

Saturday, 22 September 2012

A big rant

I have been chilling here at the hostel and also half waiting for a job at the cafe the hostel owners are opening next door, but time has been stretching on. So to keep myself occupied I asked if I could paint a sign for the outside of the cafe. I've done bits of signwriting before, and it's something creative, so all good.

I bought some drawing materials yesterday and spent a few hours drawing and went to work on it again today when the owner's partner came by and said he was already designing signs, so didn't need more. He seemed a little pissed, not especially at me, and it's not my fault. It's disappointing though and I am taking it as a sign (oh, yes, a pun!) that maybe I should go. If the owners can't be clear with me about that, then there will be other things, even though they are really nice people. There's been a theme of vagueness and not being on top of things ever since I've been here, which I kind of liked, but this sucked.

I have emailed the two Iraqi NGOs that the lady in Iraq suggested to ask about work, but judging by what it says on their websites I think it will be like any other workplace - jobs come up only every now and then, so if you really want to work there you have to build up experience, maybe work as volunteer, keep applying, etc, etc.

Which begs the question of how much you really want to do something. Its much more likely that any other person who wants to do this as life vocation will get the job over you.

I've been trying to become honest with myself: I felt so inspired when the filmmaker, Anna, was here like I haven't for ages. It woke up the more creative side of me, that although I am working on the doco, it hasnt been accessing alot. It's been about getting it technically and formally correct, not about creative freedom. I want to try it at least with this documentary.

If I try some other direction like getting a job in Iraq I think it's actually going to be a sidetrack. It's safer and I know I wont be committed. Like being at the library, even though I worked there for 15 years, I never wanted to be considered a librarian.

I saw the latest Batman film here in Toronto, where Christian Bale plays this man who is trapped in this place where the only way to get out is to scale the wall. Lots of people had tried, using a rope to save them if they fell but they always failed and usually died. Only one had ever succeeded. Christian Bale tries a couple of times but also fails. Then he learns that the reason the one person succeeded is because this man didn't use a rope. Meaning = if you have a safety net, you won't give something your all so you will never succeed.

Anna said something like, filmmaking must be life or death. Maybe that's what she was talking about. It requires that kind of commitment behind your decisions, otherwise it won't be any good. And "good" isn't defined by what the market or whatever wants or says is good. But by what you believe is good and what is true to yourself.

I think that is what I want to say.

But the thing is ..... I find it difficult to be committed, to myself, to my ideas. It's often like pulling teeth. It's fear I think. But then I've discovered since being on this trip, that I am afraid alot - not of the usual like new situations, or spiders, or death. I'm afraid of asking for things, of putting myself forward, of being turned down. It makes me surprised. I've discovered a whole side of me that I didn't know. It makes me wonder how far this extends, how many choices I make, or don't, based on this. And never realise.

All I have ever wanted to do for soooo many years is make something well creatively, and now I have the opportunity to finally do this and I am wanting to sidetrack.

I think I should just go back to NZ and focus on the film. And that's it. That's the recipe. And just try not to die creatively, but it's that the part I'm afraid of. It's so easy for me to get wound up in a pit of despair.

Anna suggested going to film workshops and building a network of creative friends. But she said the best way to do that is probably by going to a film school of some sort. I don't know if that is an option for me, having already done 7 1/2 years at university, and if I am afraid of my ideas when I am by myself, it's tripled in the presence of others.

I am so tired of being unhappy and I don't feel happy in NZ, and honestly going back, I know it will be the same. Arghh!

Apologies for the lack of positivity. This is also what I struggle with - why couldn't I be born with a positive brain!!!!

But that's the thing - after seeing Anna, I felt the most positive I have for so long, that makes me think that's the key: creativity - towards being something like happy.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Balloons from above

Last night the owners of Clarence Castle had a birthday party for one of their cleaners. They took huge bags of blown up balloons to the top floor of the hostel and pushed them through the window onto us below, wishing her happy birthday.

The pastry chef for the new cafe had made a big glazed tart with different kinds of fruit. There is a French guy about my age, he likes to play (hitting me with balloons) and we were joking and I laughed so hard, I hope I laughed some of my sadness away.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Anna Marziano

I had a conversation with Anna, the filmmaker, about the movie we saw, the documentary about Afghanistan, and it made me start thinking about (altering) the direction of mine. About what I really want to do, in making a film.

Today I was lucky enough to be able to question her about her filmmaking. So good. Then I asked if could take some photos for my blog and she said she needed some to send to film festivals.

We had fun, she looks so like she's just stepped out of a French movie.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


There's this lady in my room, other people told me she was a filmmaker and had a short film competing in the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which is on now.

I swore I wouldn't talk to her because I thought she would be really up herself (who wouldn't?) but then I decided to and she gave me a copy of her film to watch. It was great, really, and reminded me of all my favourite filmmakers, it was artistic and contemplative and abstract. I talked to her and turns out she likes those filmmakers too and references them a lot. What's the chance ay?

She is Italian and looks like someone out of a European film herself - like Amelie or Juliette Binoche but better, with a little gap in her teeth and effortless elegance. But shes also incredibly nice and seems to lack ego completely. She has got me some free tickets to go with her to some of the films at the festival.

I am finding it difficult to keep it together and I am completely star struck.

Tonight we are going to a film about Afghanistan.

Her film is called The Mutability of Everything and the Possibility of Changing Some.

(see below):

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Renaming the blog

Will probably have to rename the blog. Spending possibly not one day in Iraq, and maybe definitely not a whole year. My money is down to such an amount that I can't stay there without income. Que sera. I have really lost momentum, and am settling into this hostel like a bed bug. I really like it here. Am tired of the relentless chasing up people for interviews, finding venues, angsting, etc etc.

All I like to do us go out during the day with my camera and film.

This place feels like a spiritual retreat, except the guru is a Jack Russell terrier and me, sitting watching the squirrels.

Not sure what to do. The Oriental Institute in Chicago where I was going to film two interviews and also take photos of their Assyrian reliefs is still having construction work done. The Deputy Secretary of State in Washington who was going to give me an interview isn't saying yes or no to doing it yet.

I have contacted a lady in Iraq who might be able to find me a job either in Iraq or the US working on something to do with Iraq's environment. So I have to wait about that too.

And I've asked about working here as the owners of the hostel are opening a cafe next door and they've said I could probably work there in return for staying here. It would be ok for a few weeks I think. And it would mean I could stay here and wait out the other stuff. It's either that or continue on back to NZ. Which appears ok but I know as soon as I hit the ground I will start to feel depressed.

But I will have to wait for that too, the cafe, as there's some delay in getting the water and electricity on. Maybe one or two weeks, or more. So it's a bit of a gamble.

I'll probably do the latter, money be damned. It's the only thing I want to do right now. Just chill here with interesting people in a nice place. It's a suspension of reality I know. But it does my heart good.

Laundromat, Queen St West

Had to use the laundromat today because although the owners of Clarence Castle are wonderful, they are just a bit slack getting things fixed.

Way more interesting than washing at the hostel.

A girl turned up with two guys, who were both drunk (time = midday). They left and she started telling me how she was Inuit and had moved from up north to be with these guys and didn't know they were homeless until she got there. Now she has to get enough money to get back home. She was so tired from not enough sleep.

Then another guy came in, kind of groovy looking but was ranting about how he hated going to the laundromat and it took up his whole day and was worse than going to the dentist. He was very funny, I was laughing, but he must have been on something.

Another guy had come in before with a partially shaved head and tattoos on his face, underneath his eyes. He was asking me how the dryers worked.

So it was an intense 45 minutes.

It was on Queen St which used to be the hippest area in Toronto. Now its moved outwards cos of, I don't know what, real estate I guess. Funny how a city can change.

(Below is the guy ranting about his laundry):

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

94% humidity

Apparently it's 94% humidity in Toronto today. I remember this when I used to live here - its hard to believe it can get up that high. I keep wiping my face with my t-shirt.

Monday, 3 September 2012

I so like this hostel

A really nice day today, no stress, no filming (Canada Labour Day so nothing happening).

Got bitten during the night so had to change all my sheets and tell the owner so he could check for bed bugs. No signs (maybe it was mosquitoes) but I was in a room that had had a few. Owner was totally cool about it, apparently it happens a lot.

Took a look at the balcony of the hotel where I thought I might have left the tripod but saw nothing. Went to Tim Horton's for a maple donut and iced coffee, then bought some groceries. So nice walking around the downtown streets of Toronto, especially as there weren't many people, except for a crowd all happy coming out of a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game.

Came back to the hostel and the washing machine was broken so I did my washing by hand in the bathroom sink and rinsed it in the shower (no plug for the sink so I used a plastic bag).

Put them in the dryer and have been waiting for them, while the owners' dog Lili keeps me warm. So nice to have the fur factor.

Will microwave my dinner then either go to bed or they might have a movie night tonight. Last week I had just arrived and was too tired. I hope they have it this week.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The Tower and the Magic

Lost my tripod yesterday, thought I had left it at the hotel where I did the interview but phone calls elicited nothing. Meant I couldn't film today; originally thought I had lost my video camera which would have meant a far more serious crime. But still, a tripod will set me back a bit.

Went to buy a new one but not quite enough on my travel card.

Was looking at my bank balance and thinking about my options. Have been thinking about teaching English in China, to get more money, but honestly I don't think I am extrovert enough.

What I really want to do is either work in Iraq, or do more video work.

When I didn't get the last job I applied for at the library (one of a few!) I was offered feedback. She said I should look at what I really wanted to do - the unspoken being that she knew the job I had applied for wasn't what I wanted.

She was right. It's just that what I want to do isn't easy to get, and I might not get it.

Was invited by the owner for drinks out on the patio tonight. It's a lovely outlook - the CN Tower and a park. The CN Tower lights up with different colours at night. Spent the evening with her, her partner and my French friend drinking Martinis and French wine. It's great to feel a little bit drunk sometimes and their stories again inspired me.

The owner is originally from Morocco and I was talking about how I was trying to teach myself Arabic. She was saying she forgot her Arabic for a while, but used Arabic songs to teach herself again. And the French lady, Chantal, was telling me about how she left her life behind in France to start a new one in Canada, and how it worked out so well.

I felt the same, like my life in NZ wasn't really living, more like an existence. I'm not sure I believe in God anymore to help me out like I used to, but I do need some kind of miracle or good luck to set me on a good path again. It seemed to happen for this French lady. Is just trying to follow your heart enough to start the magic?

I enquired about filming from the CN Tower to get some views of the city for the doco. I was told it would cost $1000 an hour. This is how the world works now. What chance have we against a world that only wants profit?

But fuck it, that's ridiculous. If I decide to film I'm going to go up there anyway. They can only ask me to leave.

Un petit peu de Québécois

At Clarence Castle, another Toronto hostel, but this one is unusual because it hosts a lot of Québécois people, so there's a lot of French thrown around. I like this, but a barrier to communication - I am way too old and uncool anyway.

(The owner seems to like me - she calls me Helene whenever she sees me. I like her too).

But there is a (real French) lady from France who has a book being published - she contributed recipes she had researched and tested of colonist French cooking in areas like Nova Scotia, where it mixed with different influences - the native Americans, the kind of food that grew wild. It's so interesting.

And it was interesting meeting her. She, like me, lacks a certain confidence but she has achieved anyway. She reminds me of other creative people I have met - emotional, vague, gets excited about certain geeky things ...

So there is hope for me yet. I think that has to be a stand out for this trip - meeting inspiring and encouraging people. I soak it up like a sponge.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

5 minutes of the other half

Last night I interviewed a young Assyrian guy who was talking about what it's like for new Assyrian migrants in Toronto, and also an iPhone app he has created to listen to streaming Assyrian music.

It went well - it was fun, a great guy and it finished late so as a favour he organized a free night's stay for me at one of the flash hotels that he works for as IT support.

It was so nice, lots of little perks like aromatherapy incense, all kind of zen. And then there was the "intimacy kit". Lol.

(I can imagine if you lived like that all the time, it would be hard to care about the rest of the world).

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Another one night stand

At Canadiana Backpackers for one night, before heading to another hostel.

Was wandering around Toronto's Little Italy today trying to get some shots of 'italianess' to show how historically multicultural Toronto is. Now I feel dog tired. Not brilliantly successful. There's always the thing of people not liking being filmed but it's such a pain to ask (and get turned down. I never take it very well). I will review what I've done.

Came back and got invited to hang out with some people from my room: Swiss, German, Finnish and Swedish. There have been so many Germans at these hostels. These were very cool in a nice way, though I felt shy and awkward. They seemed very 'evolved'. The people at the other hostels weren't as friendly or as interesting - at the HI-Toronto the guys seemed to spend their whole time either on pub crawls or hitting on girls or, sensibly, both at the same time.

(Funnily enough one of the guys from Sweden's mum works with refugees and migrants and he knew all about the Iraqi refugee community there).

Am in the kitchen surrounded by Japanese who are cooking really good food and I wish I could have some.

Too cool for school

Just to show how cool Toronto is, the Lit Espresso Bar in Little Italy served me raspberry lemonade in a preserving jar (alongside my lemon curd and cranberry scone).

I do like this.

I think the last time I saw a jar used as a glass was when I was a Massey
student at a keg party. Your jandals stuck to the floor the next morning from all the beer.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

In this slightly weird hostel for one night and am sharing my room just with one other guy - a surfer dude from Adelaide with a massive hangover. I hope he goes out. We don't appear to have much in common, the room is quite small and he's been not super friendly. On the website it said a mixed dorm of 4.

I've just discovered surveillance cameras in the lounges. Why? And the lounge lights are on a motion sensor so they switch off after a while even though you are still there. Sooo annoying. They also photocopied my credit card - I did question this but they said they had to. The place is run by Indians. Not to be racist or anything.

(It has really bad reviews on all the websites but everything else was booked).

Went to the Bata Shoe Museum today which was slightly disappointing because I thought there would be some shoes of Lady Gaga's. But they had a pair of Elvis' loafers, Elton John's platforms and a boot that belonged to John Lennon. Also a large and beautiful collection of beaded American Indian moccasins. I guess it's the kind of thing one might see at Te Papa. I just thought there would be more.

(Below is the "Game Centre" of the hostel, consisting of dusty glass chess and backgammon sets and a pack of cards. Among other things, there is also a doll's head).

NB. Roommate just went out. Woohoo! But ... he locked me out. Damn it.

Classic Canadiana

I remember having this 25 years ago, and I still like it. Buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. Breakfast on my last day at HI-Toronto. It's booked out tonight so I have to move elsewhere.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

HI - Toronto

Late night in the lobby, Hosteling International Toronto.

Another groovy hostel.

Feeling shitloads better

Back in a backpackers, Hosteling International Toronto. Feel happy cos I can trek around, Toronto is a cool city.

Interviewing an Immigration Counselor tomorrow, an Assyrian lady.

Had lunch today at the Hard Rock Cafe (he paid :)) with a guy who runs a 24 hr streaming Assyrian radio station - just songs - and he created an iPhone app for it. Clever. He is a godsend because I can interview him about the overall picture and history of Assyrians in Toronto and he is totally onto it. Have been trying to get someone like this for the past few weeks. He answered a message I put on Facebook.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Just bored

I think I'm just bored. The family are nice and it's so good of them to have me to stay. I felt guilty this morning because I got up really late and the daughter-in-law was doing all the housework and the dishes were done. Oops.

Have gone for a break at the local library. Last night was supposed to interview a guy who got his leg blown off guarding a church in Baghdad but it got postponed. Have to wait for a new time.

Booked into a backpackers downtown but may postpone for the interview. Have got one with an Assyrian immigration counsellor on Wed so that's something good.

Maybe I'll feel better once Im in Toronto itself. I loved it when I lived in Cambridge, Ont. It was the most exciting thing ever! One reason why staying in these suburbs has been such a shocker. This suburb - Mississauga - barely existed when I lived in Canada.

The shopping centre across from the library consists of Indian dress shops, restaurants and Subway.

I don't know if I get cultures living in cultureless contexts.

Food issues

I have finally found out why I don't like some Assyrian food.

Tonight, at a church celebration we had what was for me an almost indelible meal. Usually there are things I like or will eat even if there are some I can't. But tonight it was almost a pass up. There were whole raw salad vegetables consisting of spring onions, parsley and radishes (no dressing). Then boiled pieces of lamb, bread rolls, and some raw pickled veges (mostly cabbage).

I had a bread roll that I dipped in the boiled meat liquid, and a few tiny bits of pickle veg. Luckily I wasn't hungry so I had a legit excuse.

There's nothing like plain boiled meat to make me feel uneasy.

But I found out the reason why they eat it this way - because back in the days in Iraq it was hardly ever fresh:

In the mountains where they lived they would dry the meat for storage. Then all they had to do was whip it into the pot, add water, maybe some vegetables or even put it just with rice, or bulgur wheat - and ta da! Reconstituted.

It still makes me feel ick, but at least now I know why they do this. And the reason why when people ask me if their food is awesome and I can't say absolutely 'yes'.

I also heard more things - that they would store grains in whole cow skins, sewn up and tied at the feet. They left the neck open and this was where you could scoop grain from.

That someone would take the wheat to another village where they had a water mill to grind it. That the summers were busy gathering and drying everything for winter. That they would dry grapevine leaves to make dolma, strung up in a round and hung to dry in the shade.

It sounds kind of lovely in a way. Would I have liked that life? I don't know.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Feeling a bit low

The lethargy I was feeling at the family's house has come back, though I didnt want to admit it on the blog at the time. I dont want to be an endless source of downness.

I think its because I'm waiting on 3 interviews, two of which haven't returned my messages, and staying here, its stuck out in the burbs and I have nothing to do but wait, really. My hypervigilance goes into overdrive as I dont want to be a pain staying here and want them to like me. Then I'm off to a hostel to wait again, I guess..

All I can do is borrow their laptop, sleep and eat..

(They have wireless but for some reason its not strong enough for my iPad).

One more thing I have learnt

I think there is one more thing that I learnt from the Assyrian family.

7) Something about struggling.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A lot of Indians in Mississauga

Would you buy a used house from this man?

Mississauga, Toronto

Landed safely in Mississauga, but it's still part of Toronto, just one of the new suburbs sprung up, where all the houses look like they were made out of those cardboard kitsets we used to make up as kids, where the buildings are made of brick. All the same with tiny variations and so close together.

But definitely 10 steps up from where I was staying and such a relief to have privacy and quiet...

I never liked NZ's immigration policies, thinking they were too strict, but in Canada it is the opposite - its open arms to everyone. And it has created a building explosion in Toronto, and places that arent good for people to live. I think. This suburb is only 10 years old, and its completely full.

Staying with a lady and her family, her daughter is married to the professor I interviewed in Boston. They kindly I suggested I could stay with them. They've been really nice. The awkwardness of stepping into someone's family, and a different culture too, but I think its getting better.

Playing a waiting game with some potential interview contacts, feel a bit bad about presupposing on their generosity. Using the time to brush up on Assyrian - language, recipes, all good :)

She lives with a small grandson, Yousip, who demands alot of attention, but manages to be cute and adorable at the same time. Its nice getting some family time, I don't have it at home.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

6 Things I Have Learnt

.... from 3 weeks with the Assyrian family:

1) 12 new words in Assyrian

2) That I know stuff all Assyrian

3) That Assyrians are more emotional than me

4) That I never ever want to live in a suburb like Rexdale, Toronto

5) That it doesn't pay to try to make a documentary with a bored 4 year old with aggressive tendencies around. Don't do it.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The cutest, funniest thing ..

.. happened yesterday. Two of the girls (15 and 22) brought me some Tampax and asked what they for. They were pulling them apart and said their Dad had also asked what they were.

Must have been in some kind of donation package. Unfortunately neither my Assyrian, nor their English, was good enough to explain without a physical demonstration, so I had to oblige in a way that I hoped was tasteful. It was very cute (not my demonstration). Apparently they don't exist in Iraq. Oh the innocence of a world without tampons.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Promises, promises ...

Yesterday the father told me he would not do the interview I wanted with him and I got really upset as I have been waiting to do it since I arrived (and also because of stresses here and also no doubt because the film is now my whole reason for being..). He had promised a few times, twice here and once in Syria and I felt it would be core to any footage I shot here. I was cursing the Assyrians that day. It's often the case - they (mostly the men) enthusiastically say they will do something initially but when it comes down to it, they slip out of it somehow.

But he felt sorry for me, or something, and agreed to do it if I bought him some beers - dutch courage. So we did it today but it was a bit of a washout - felt like he was doing it under duress (which I guess he was) and lacked the candour and expressiveness he usually has. He also played down any difficulty the family was having, which I have been experiencing so much while here - his rants about not having enough money etc, the perpetual sense of slight misery as everyone is either tired from working shit jobs or the general claustrophobia from a small apartment and a lot of people in an environment that's crap.

This was the message I was trying to get through, so it was disappointing.

But at least it is done and I felt a huge surge of relief just afterwards that I can now move on.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Better today

Better day today. The mother had to ask me for some money to help with groceries because they didn't have any. I was only too happy to as I has intended to give them some before I left.

We went on a trek, I filmed them shopping (vaguely tolerated) and then we struggled back with it all - a week of food for 8 - to the apartment. Call it a bonding exercise. Maybe the money helped a bit too.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The saga continues

Am spending a tense evening alone with the daughter who has a problem with me. I have become the source of all frustration and evil.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Time to move ...on

I think my honeymoon with the family is over and am just going to try to get the filming I wanted done before I move on. Have had some issues with the 4 year old who is fairly strong willed (and strong) and just wants to mess with either you or whatever you are doing. Have felt emotionally and physically exhausted dealing with him so have tried to put some boundaries but this hasn't gone down well with one of the sisters who adores him, so now I am not talked to.

Another of the sisters had asked me to stay longer so I could go to her secret boyfriend's party, but she is not going now (her boyfriend says she is too jealous and I agree - she tried to get me to tell him to give her his Facebook password so she could check up on him - I said no. So am not the favourite there either).

The father has been angry about things - one is about one of the daughters and a cousin staying here not looking for work. Other things I don't know what it's about.

The photo below is of the building I am staying in. There are so many of these looming dull buildings full of migrants in such a non-descript landscape next to busy freeways, it could be anywhere. I find it depressing.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Catch 22

I've just learnt the the oldest sister, Katy, would like to go to university here in Canada, but of course as recent migrants with a father not working, the family can't afford it. As she says "Everything here is money, money, money. Not like Iraq".

University in Iraq is free, but she couldn't go because the south of the Kurdistan border all the Arabic speaking universities are now in dangerous areas. In Kurdistan all universities are safe but teach in Kurdish which is a language she doesn't know, like most Assyrians.

Catch 22. It makes me sad. I love learning and understand how good it can make you feel. I might be crap at everything else - jobs, relationships, money, but learning has always saved me.

And she's not the kind of girl to suit working in some physically draining dead end MacJob; she floats around like a ghost here.

Withdrawal symptoms

Had a bit too much caffeine (which I love) last couple of days, I think it's making me tired.

(Apparently I have a caffeine sensitivity which means not that I bounce off the walls but it keeps me up late and never relaxed enough to get good sleep. Flow on effect is grumpy and tired).

It's made me want a bit of time out from the family which they don't understand and .. Oh well. Also I have to prepare for an interview tomorrow, and they don't understand that either. Where the cultural differences hit the fan.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Little Women

Bit of a difficult day here a few days ago. I think the pressures of living here have their say, there's been 4 or 5 lots of tears since I arrived. But they seem to bounce back.

The household laptop which is the main entertainment/lifeline for the girls got broken when it was grabbed out of the hands of one who was accused of having it too long.

My iPad does double time now.

The photo below is of Katy who was ostracized for a day for the offence. She slept a lot and tried to keep out of everyone's way.

The sisters are all such individuals, it reminds me of the girls in Little Women, they seem kind of romantic. Katy is the languid, melancholy one with pale skin, prone to depressions. I love taking photos of her because the way she sits or looks (or sleeps as below) is always artistically beautiful.

Yesterday I was taken as alibi for a secret rendezvous with the boyfriend of Sara. We went to see Batman and honestly I don't know how Sara got to retell the story of the film to her family when we got back. The back row was fully utilized, albeit in a fairly innocent fashion. She is nineteen but boyfriends are kept under wraps until engagement is definitely on the cards.

I don't think she had been to a cinema theatre before as initially was not keen to go but after arriving and discovering the advantages, she was pretty happy. She wants me to stay longer for a birthday party of her boyfriend on 17th of August (yes I will be the alibi I guess). I love staying with the family so I will ask if it's ok.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

YWAM Cambridge memory lane

Yesterday I was picked up by an old friend found on Facebook from my year and a half in Canada 24 yrs ago.

He took me to the christian Youth With A Mission (YWAM) base in Cambridge, an hour out of Toronto that we used to live at. It was a performing arts campus and I had gone there to learn dance and drama. Nothing there of a reminder - originally a military training camp, with severe brick buildings and an asphalt parade ground. Now a mini subdivision of retirement homes (see photo).

He took me to where we used to get ice cream (Baskin Robbins) and coffee (Tim Horton's) and to the mall which was our main source of entertainment. The mall is now huge and glamourous, and Baskin Robbins has moved.

It was fantastic to relive some memories. I had such fun with Rudie - he would take me to the movies and even roller skating. Late night coffee and pie when I needed to get away from the base, defying curfew.

Often I've thought "going back" is a bad idea, but in this case it wasn't. Thanks Rudie.

Picnic version 2.0

The picnic went way better, I was taking some photos and they seemed to like that and it broke the ice. No footage (no Zowa'a), like a lot of things with the Assyrians, itinerary changes in a moment and I don't usually get told :)

The men get the nice chairs, eat first, make all the decisions, sit around smoking shisha and drinking beer while the women get the hard benches and are allowed to just chat and the girls take hundreds of photos of each other. Funny that they take all that stuff for granted, and same with me and mine.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Ana ibayin Suraye nashkina nani

I love kisses from Assyrian grandmothers, they are my favourite thing. They reach up (because they are short) and grab you round the neck with both arms, pull you close give you a big soft noisy kiss on both cheeks. If you're lucky they give you three - left, right, left - or even four, depending on how much they like you.

They are the currency of Assyrian grandmothers and they make me feel truly loved.

Went to a picnic yesterday at a park in Toronto - huge park, Assyrians everywhere. But the things that don't mix with me are here in abundance - lots of people and lots of noise and me just supposed to hang around and enjoy (I don't). Wish I could just hang with the girls and leave it at that.

Today going to another picnic, but this one is fundraising for Zowa'a the political party which is in the doco so I will take some footage, give me something to do. Could have yesterday but the effect of being around people and noise is me feeling completely drained so I didn't. (Sneakily took my Kindle instead. But unfortunately this had the effect of being periodically asked if I was ok. How do I explain - I am just really introverted!)

Called another activist/lobbyist today, Michael Youash. Really glad about this because I think he will be key to to film, a number of people in the US recommended him. I think he has been away and I was worried I would miss him.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Niagara Falls via bus

Assyrians in Canada ex Syria

Arrived in Toronto yesterday, to stay with a family I met in Syria last year when they were waiting for UNHCR to transfer them here. The mother said she cried when they arrived. It's not the Western paradise they were hoping for. They live in a suburb full of tall apartments saturated with migrants, next to a main road. It's dull and slightly depressing.

I feel sad but ... it's why I don't want Assyrians to leave Iraq.

Having fun with the family, I sleep in the same room as their three daughters. They have two bedrooms for 7 people, typical Iraqi-style. But I get tired easily, my introversion making itself felt! Today we are waiting for the mother's sister to arrive from Chicago who she hasn't seen for 13 years. Typical of Assyrians spread throughout the world.

(Sara and Joseph below)