Monday, September 19, 2011

A Reply

After closing down this blog earlier this year, it came to my attention that my post "50 Facts About Russians" was discussed on a Moscow radio show, and afterwards I received hundreds of emails and many comments.

Half of the emails were positive responses and half were negative, and a few were quite hostile. I decided that, despite shutting down the blog, I owe it to readers to reply to their comments.

First, thank you everybody for your emails and comments. I published the choicest ones on the page and deleted the more obscene and ignorant ones. Most were good but I just did not have the space to publish all of them, or the time to reply. However, know that your messages were read.

Second, these "50 Facts" were written with humour and sarcasm. Many people understood this, but many did not. For those who didn't understand this, well, please don't send me emails.

Third, during my time in Russia I fell in love with the country. Now that I'm back in Canada all I can do is dream of returning to Russia. There is a "feel" and a deep spirituality in Russia that feels more human than in the West, more personable, and I miss it. However, there are downsides, such as the disintegrating roads, the corruption, and the horrible, horrible customer service that I can personally do without. It is my hope that Russians will get these things under control without sacrificing their culture and history.

Fourth, to reply to some specific comments, the crowds on the Moscow metro ARE insane, and I got hit repeatedly every single day. I was pushed and jostled and squeezed, had my toes crushed and my ribs elbowed...every day. The person who said this isn't true has obviously never been on the red line at 4 in the afternoon on a Wednesday.

The customer service in Russia IS horrible. There are some decent establishments, but 90% of the shops, restaurants, kiosks and everything else are cold and impersonal, and it seems the customer is an inconvenience to the clerk/server.

Not all Russians are alcoholics. After reviewing my "50 Facts" I realize that this post came off sounding this way. Many of my students didn't drink at all, and a couple of my Russian friends also didn't go near alcohol. In fact, there's a movement in Russia calling on Russians to "put down the bottle!". The Russian government has been taking steps to curb the sales of alcohol, and people are aware of the social problems associated with drinking. However, those Russians who do drink, can REALLY drink!

When Russians DO drink, they tend to do so in the kitchen with many friends, and have lively philosophical debates about life. At least, in my experience, the experience of my Western friends, and from what my Russian friends, students and wife have told me.

I would personally rather walk down the streets of Moscow, around Fili or Kurskaya, Kitai Gorod or even Yaroslavski Voksal, at 3 am then any street in any American city at the same time.

Russia IS incredibly beautiful in the winter. It's almost a real-life fairy-tale, with the white snow and trees and Orthodox churches, people fashionably dressed in warm furs and the smell of delicious food on the still winter air.

Feminism began in ENGLAND, not Russia (as one commenter tried to inform me). It spread to America very quickly after that. Nothing like political feminism ever really appeared in Russia until very recently.

Being a reporter during the Chechnya conflict was a lot more dangerous than during the Vietnam conflict. More than 22 journalists were killed or went missing in Chechnya, while only 8 were ever killed in Vietnam. After the conflict many Russian journalists who had criticized the Russian government wound up dead or missing.

Fifth, I could write a similar list of somewhat funny Canadian stereotypes, but I don't need to. Plenty of people have done so already (Read "Why I Hate Canadians" by Will Ferguson). However, I encourage any Russian person who has lived in Canada for longer than 1 year to submit a similar list, and I will gladly post it on this blog. You can email me at :

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My First Time, and My Last

I've been lucky in my travels so far, having been to such places as South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Austria, Russia, Sweden and England. But before I had set out to tramp through distant lands, I also had the opportunity to explore my own backyard. I've been up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States as well as Washinton and Oregon states, and I can say with some authority that South Carolina is the friendliest place in North America.

I've also been able, by sheer good fortune, to travel from coast to coast in my own country, Canada.

In 2002, one year before I first set out to South Korea, I took it upon myself to make my way from my college town of Hamilton, Ontario to the Pacific Ocean. My fourth year was coming to an end and my girlfriend of two years had broken up with me. She claimed that our lives were heading in different directions, but really I knew it was because I was doing copious amounts of drugs by that point. I took stock of my life, not knowing what to do after college, having no money and a sudden largess of personal freedom. I decided to head to Banff, Alberta.

Banff is a National Park nestled in the Rocky Mountains. There are a couple of resort towns and the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1!) that make up this otherwise unspoiled rugged landscape, and the town of Banff is where I was heading. Searching online, I found a job as a fine-dining waiter at Johnston Canyon Resort and applied. Within a few days I had the job. It only paid $8 an hour, and a chunk of that pay was taken off for accomodations and food, but I didn't care. It wasn't about the money for me.

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

In May of 2002 I landed in Calgary and caught a greyhound to Banff, a few hours to the west. It was the first time I had really travelled, and even though it was within the borders of my own country, for me it was an exhilarating and exotic adventure. The Rocky Mountains towered above me on either side of the road as the bus wound its way along the Trans-Canada and deposited me at the Banff bus depot. I was the only person getting off at this stop, and as the bus pulled out I stood on the platform with my single suitcase and took in the awesome beauty of Canada's untouched wild west. From that moment on, my travelling fate was sealed.

I met in girl in Banff; a blonde co-worker who did roomkeeping at Johnston Canyon Resort, and we fooleded around from time to time but unless it was night and she was feeling frisky we ignored each other. There were about 20 staff there, and on weekends we would all car-pool into town and hit up the local pubs, of which there are three or four. On one occasion the girls declared a "girls night" and so the guys retaliated with a "guys night". I was against this line of thought, arguing in favour of hanging out with girls rather than having a sausage fest, but I was alone. We guys went to a basement pub and proceeded to drink away our measly earnings. After a few hours I managed to convince my male coworkers, now drunk, to crash the girls night. Our female colleagues were drinking in a much fancier bar across the street.

We grabbed our pitchers of beer and set out across the street. Unfortunately the bouncer at the bar across the street saw me with my pitcher trying to get in and yelled "Hey! You can't bring that in here!" I don't know why, but I turned and bolted. Like a dog, the bouncer ran after me. I ran and ran across a parking lot, laughing like an idiot the whole time while beer from my pitcher sloshed across my chest. Finally, out of breath and laughing, I stopped. Then I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. It was the bouncer. "Give me that!" He ordered, trying to get the pitcher from me. "Fuck you! Go get your own!" I defied. He seemed confused and said "You're banned from [***] Bar. And he walked back to his position at the front door.

That was fine with me. I saw the kitchen door to the bar was open and went in that way, emerging from behind the bar in the busy establishment. Nobody seemed to notice me, even the bartender had his back to me, so I casually walked over to the long table where all my co-workers, girls and guys, now sat. I still had my pitcher.

It was that night that I met the young woman who would later become the catalyst for my travels to Asia and Europe, first to Asia because we both wanted adventure and later to Europe because she broke my heart. Another blonde, from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, she was funny and pretty and personable and smart and very, very drunk. She had just arrived to work at Johnston Canyon and we got to know each other over the next few days, specifically because we worked together as servers in the restaurant. On many nights it was just the two of us, wearing white shirts and black pants, serving customers sitting at tables in candlelight, with views of the night time mountains all around while the same damned CD of Ella Fitzgerald played, night after night. Needless to say it was romantic in the extreme, and it wasn't very long before we were fucking.

We hooked up fast. X (because she's my ex), and her girlfriends she shared a room with, bought 1987 Honda Civic from a man with no hands who they nicknamed "Stumpy" for $600. This car had a great body for being over 20 years old, the result of using sand on the roads in the winter and not salt. There was no radio in the dashboard, only a big black hole. It was a manual transmission, and X was the only one among her friends who could drive manual. She began to teach me on those mountain roads in our time off. We also used the backseat of that car for other things...

Needless to say that I was hopelessly in love with X. We would spend every waking moment together, mostly making love but also driving around and talking and drinking wine by campfires in the mountain nights.

I had signed a contract with Johnston Canyon Resort to stay on until the tourist season ended in October, but by August working there was grinding on me. Management had a tip pool policy, which is great, except that the owners of the resort were included in the tip pool. All the hard-earned tips that the low-paid staff made was also pooled to the owners and their children! One of the owner's sons was a University professor in Calgary. He would stop in every weekend and collect his little envelope of tip money that the staff had earned. This was extremely unfair and everyone was bitching about it, but X and I bitched the loudest because, as the only two servers in the fine-dining restaurant, we were pulling in the most tips (people would order $200 meals, and Americans, who made up the bulk of our guests, are wonderful tippers).

I admit that I attempted to forment a mutiny at Johnston Canyon Resort, but some so-called friends had different loyalties, and one day, while sitting in my room between a split shift, the owner's son came up and said "Come outside. We need to talk." Those are words people never want to hear. I followed him outside, with the big pines and towering mountains enjoying the August sun. He turned on me. "You have 2o minutes to get your things and get the fuck off my property. You're lucky I don't beat you!"
I stammered back. "What? Why? You have to tell me why you're firing me!"
"I don't have to tell you shit! Get off my property!" He shouted.
Then, before I could recover with any type of clever comeback, he stormed off. I did as he said and a friend drove me into town with my suitcase.

I deposited myself at a restaurant and ordered coffee and tried to figure out what to do next. I had left a note with a friend before I left, slipping it into her hand, that read "Tell X I've been fired and will be at [*****] Restaurant (I forget the name)". I waited and waited. Finally, after two hours of sitting at the restaurant, X walked through the door. "Hi." I said. "Hi." she replied. "I got fired too!"

All she had with her was her suitcase and the Honda Civic we had bought for six-hundred bucks. As it turns out, it was all we needed.

We decided that it was time to head home. We didn't have very much money; just enough for gas and food to get us from the Rocky Mountains to her home in Cape Breton. We set out on the Trans-Canada heading east. We made sure to pick up a little batter-powered radio for the journey, and set it on the dashboard with it's antenna fully extended to pick up what stations it could (mostly CBC).

As the mountains receded in the rear-view mirror, we took in the landscape of Albert. East of Calgary the land is mostly desert, part of the great desert that stretches through America from Texas and Mexico. Most of the land in Alberta has been irrigated for agriculture but the odd cactus and desert brush gives away the secret. The Trans-Canada took us across this great desert to the prairies of Saskatchewan, where fields of wheat in high-bloom swayed in the wind. It's a unique phenomenon but some people actually get sea-sick on the prairies. We were lucky as neither of us get seasick.
The Canadian prairies

Saskatchewan and Manitoba are part of the great plains of North America, and the Trans-Canada took us all the way through towns with names like Medicine Hat, Swift Current and Brandon. As dusk set on the first day we made our way through Saskatchewan's capital, Regina, a small tree-lined city that pokes up from the otherwise unchanging prairie. We found a side-road in some trees east of Regina and parked the car for the night. We didn't have any money, so we were forced to sleep in the car. It was late-August and the temperatures were still warm, but the mosquitoes in the prairies tormented us all night with the windows down. We rolled up the windows and wrapped ourselves like sausages in what clothing and small blankets we could find (X had been smart enough to snag a couple of small blankets from Johnston Canyon).

Mosquitoes continued to buzz around us all night. Even with the windows up and the vents closed, they found their way in. As I was sleeping I would hear the high-pitched buzzing get closer and closer to my ear, until it was a deafening treble and then, just as suddenly, it would stop. That's when I knew I was being feasted upon. Every couple of hours I would wake up and go on a mad mosquito-killing rampage in the car.

It was a fitful and uncomfortable first night in the Bad Boy (as we named the car), but we woke up with the sunrise and set out on the road again. Saskatchewan fell away behind us and Manitoba opened up in front of us. The Trans-Canada through the prairies is a big 3-lane highway and flat as a board, so you can see it stretch over the horizon in either direction. Neat fields of wheat and barley stretched out for eternity to our left and right (a local saying is that in the prairies you can watch your dog run away for two days). We roared through Manitoba in the Bad Boy, doing in excess of 130 km/hour, until, when evening set in, we reached Winnipeg. The "Paris of the Prairies" is a large city with a bustling population that pops suddenly out of the sparsely populated prairies like the Emerald City. We splurged and took the exit into the city, just to check out one of Canada's famous landmarks, and sat down in a swanky bar for a beer.

We went over our maps and realized that, at the current rate, we would make Ottawa the following night, so I found a telephone and placed a collect call to my mother. My sister answered. "Hi!" I declared. "It's Paint!"
"Hi!" she answered, chipper as ever.
"I'm in Winnipeg!" I informed her.
"That's random." she replied.

We made arrangements to crash for a couple of nights at my family's place in Ottawa, and then set out in the Bad Boy again. It was late, maybe after 1 am, when we crossed the border into Ontario, and we pulled the car over in a parking lot behind a warehouse in some northern-Ontario hick town (the kind where the general store and hockey rink are the two biggest buildings in town). Some kids with mullets and baseball caps in a pickup truck followed us around for a bit, but we shook them and parked. Again, on our second night in the car, the mosquitoes tormented us to no end and at dawn, having barely slept, we set out.
A portion of the Trans-Canada Highway, Highway 1

Northern Ontario is part of the Canadian Shield, a solid-rock formation filled with nickel and other raw materials, covered in massive forests that stretch to the Arctic (part of the great Taiga that wraps around the northern hemisphere of the world) and the Trans-Canada was blasted through it. As a result the wide-open highway of the prairies turns, quite literally at the Manitoba-Ontario border, into a winding single-lane highway that snakes through tunnels and between cliff-faces. The Trans-Canada was built during World War Two to bring troops and supplies to the Pacific theatre and, more importantly, to Alaska. It has been modernized in most places but it seems Northern Ontario has been left out of the budget.

The Trans-Canada in Northern Ontario

As we wound our way through forest and over rivers and past lakes, I made an error in calculation. I saw that the highway splits at Thunder Bay, with one part heading south through Sudbury and Sault-St-Marie and on to Ottawa, while another, seemingly shorter route, curved up just south of Hudson's Bay and then stuck down directly to Ottawa. What I didn't notice was that on the page for the northern route, the scale of the map changed. My bad. We took the "shortcut" north, and ended up driving through desolate, poverty-stricken First Nation's reserves and slept in some tiny town with a name that completely escapes me. The good thing was that this far north, only a few hundred kilometers from the perma-frost line, the mosquitoes didn't bother us.

It took us two days to cross the prairies, and it took another two days to cross northern Ontario, but on the night of our fourth day since we had left Banff, we arrived at my mother's place in Ottawa. We were dirty and tired (although we had managed to shower at a truck stop), and we slept like the dead that night. We spent a few more days resting up, and eating, in Ottawa before getting back into the Bad Boy and making for Nova Scotia.

Ottawa is on the Ontario-Quebec border, so immediately upon leaving we were in "la belle province" on the big divided highway to Montreal (Autoroute 20). Montreal is a crazy city to drive in, as the 20 is almost always under construction (in Canada we say we have two seasons: winter and construction) and French-Canadian drivers are notoriously reckless. After Montreal we drove along the 20 for a few more hours and then came to historic Quebec City, where we crossed the St. Laurence and ended up in a suburb, Levis, which was actually quite nice. After Quebec City there isn't much civilization until Moncton, but the geography of eastern Quebec is stunningly beautiful.

With the St. Laurence to our left and very small and narrow farm plots to our right (Quebec follows the civic code of law, whereby fathers divy up their property to their sons, and over 400 years, as subsequent generations were given property, those plots have become very, very narrow but very long).

We reached the Gaspe Peninsula in the early evening and turned south at Riviere-de-Loups, into New Brunswick. We were in the Maritimes!

Here we made another mistake in calculation, and chose to go through a provincial park rather than stay on the main highway to Fredericton. The park went on and on and on, travelling on a single-lane road surrounded by a dark forest as the sun set in our rear view mirror. The gas gauge crept lower and lower. For some reason, on our little dashboard radio, Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" started to play, a fitting soundtrack to our dilemna. We both couldn't help but roar with laughter. As the needle hovered over the "E" on the gauge, we finally emerged from that damned park and a gas station was the first thing we saw.

After filling up with our last $30, we made our way on to Moncton and St. John and finally crossed the border into Nova Scotia. A gigantic Atlantic fog bank rolled in as we passed through Truro, rendering visibility to almost nothing, but we continued to drive. It was late now, but we were only 3 hours from Cape Breton so we pushed on, and around 3 in the morning we pulled in to X's home, a beautiful old house set on 100 acres of seaside property. We had travelled from Ottawa to Cape Breton in about 15 hours!

It had taken us 5 days to cross Canada, from the Rockies to the Atlantic, with little food and no money for hotels, but somehow we had pulled it off. We stayed in Nova Scotia for about a month and then drove back to Ottawa and found work, apartment, etc...

The next year we set out to South Korea, and after a few years there we landed back in Ontario, but then, this time in a much newer car and loaded with a lot more money, we drove from southern Ontario to Victoria, British Columbia in a little over 4 days (staying in hotels and eating at wasn't nearly as fun). Two years later she left me for another guy and I began to make plans for more travel, which brought me to Russia.

That one summer, in 2002, was my first taste of travel, and, like a drug, all it takes is one to get hooked. Now, as I attempt to settle in Halifax, I greet the end of my youthful travelling days with a mix of sadness and relief. It's not easy living such a life, and while I look back upon my adventures with fondness, I am glad that I can begin to live a much more settled life. I'm sure that I'll have more travel, but from here on in I'm looking for the all-inclusive resort variety. I've had my time living out of a suitcase, and as I reach my mid-30s I feel the need to plant roots somewhere.

That is why, as I'm no longer in Moscow and I'm working on getting settled here in Halifax, I've decided to end Mission to Moscow with this story of how it all began. I hope everyone has enjoyed the blog I started three years ago. I appreciate all the emails and comments and online friends I've made, and everyone who followed along, through good times and bad, fun stories and boring.

The good news is that my writing is not all finished. I'd like to announce that I've successfully signed a book deal (with only 1% royalties) and my book, a semi-fictional account of my life, will be on sale in 2013. Look for Moscow Cowboy by N. A. Drescher in Canada in two years, if you remember, or online at Amazon.

With that, I end Mission to Moscow. As they say in Russian, paka!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch...

For those of you who enjoy my stories of playing with currency, lapdances by drunk Russian strippers, treks through Thai jungles for mushrooms, redneck rampages and run-ins with corrupt police, you won't like this next entry.

My home and native land, Canada, is in the midst of a political crisis that runs much deeper than current media can display. The effect of this crisis is the fifth federal election in ten years, but the symptoms are seemingly terminal.

This political situation in Canada has come about because of widening polarization among the people in Canada, and this current election is turning out to be one of the ugliest in Canadian history. The election campaign is only in its fifth day, yet I have witnessed arguments break out at work and even while waiting in line at a Tim Horton's coffee shop! Even our hockey games have become politicized (candidates are declaring which hockey teams they support)!

Canada is a very regional country, encompassing vastly different outlooks on life. The maritimes and Newfoundland are predominantly social democrat in outlook, while Ontario is mainly centrist liberal. Manitoba and Saskatchewan tend to lean towards left-of-center while Alberta and British Columbia are hardcore conservative bastions. Quebec remains a primarily nationalist province with strong left-wing tendencies. Federal elections tend to be decided along these lines.

To understand it more, we need to look at how a British-style parliament works. Basically, the group of MPs (Members of Parliament) that enjoy the support of the House (the House of Commons) form the government, with the leader of that group chosen as Prime-Minister. In this case most groups of MPs are assembled into political parties, although there is nothing in the constitution that mentions political parties.

* It should be noted that Canada's constitution is not a clean one-page document like in America, but rather a large collection of legislation, treaties, orders-in-council, declarations by past monarchs and Supreme Court decisions all stuffed into the large Parliamentary Library...the sum total of all this is Canada's constitution.

Currently in Parliament there are 304 seats up for grabs and, under the parliamentary system, the "group", or party, that wins the most seats in an election forms the government (there is a seat for every 100,000 voters).

The problem is that there are also five political parties: the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party (social-democrats), the Bloc Quebecois (Quebec nationalists) and the Green Party (environmentalists). The Conservatives and Liberals are by far the biggest parties, and the two historic parties of Canada.

For 75 years of the 20th Century, on and off, the Liberal Party governed Canada, and produced such political heroes as Mackenzie King, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien. Like it or not, the Liberals have styled themselves "Canada's natural party". The Conservatives, on the other hand, have enjoyed temporary greatness followed by stunning defeats. Brian Mulroney lead the old Progressive Conservative Party from a sweep of Parliament in 1984 to a shattering implosion in 1993, and after that the Conservatives were hard-pressed to gain even 4 seats in Parliament.

In far-right leaning Alberta a party rose up to challenge the Liberals and even the Conservatives, who they thought were too left-leaning. The Reform Party began as a protest party but managed to gain quite a few seats in Parliament to offer significant political power. Our current Prime-Minister, Stephen Harper, was a member of the Reform Party in its birthing heyday.

The Reform Party attempted to run candidates across the country in 1996, but its stance on gay rights, abortion, privatized medicare and young offender justice terrified the rest of Canada (which is much more left-leaning) and Reform was utterly swept in the elections and Jean Chretien's Liberals won the biggest majority they have ever enjoyed (Jean Chretien even quipped "Thanks, Reform!"). The Reform Party fell apart, but not completely.

Under the careful guidance of an elite circle of hardcore conservatives, including Stockwell Day and Stephen Harper, the party renamed itself and changed its image, and appeared again in the 2000 elections as the Canadian Alliance Party. It did a little bit better in those elections but the fact of the matter was that the right-wing votes were split between the old Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance party, thus handing the Liberals a third-straight majority in Parliament.

The Progressive Conservative party was in dire straights, not winning any more than 4 or 5 seats since the days of Brian Mulroney. Membership was down and the party was going bankrupt. Luckily for them, the Canadian Alliance Party was looking for one more image change to give itself more legitimacy in otherwise Liberal Canada. Stephen Harper, who had helped birth the Reform Party and morphed it into the Alliance Party, stepped in and, in a historic deal, merged the Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives, renaming it the "Conservative" Party.

Around this time, in 2002, Jean Chretien's 10-year reign as the most popular Prime-Minister in Canada was coming to an end. The "little scrapper from Shawinigan" (a reference to his hometown in Quebec and his fiesty, combative political style and, ultimately, to his habit of grabbing hippy protesters by the throat and/or punching them in the face) was nearing 70 years in age, and his right-hand man, Finance Minister Paul Martin (who had made Time magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1999 for engineering Canada's economy so that it became the first G8 country to balance its books and declare a fiscal surplus) made a play for the top spot. In a Liberal convention Paul Martin attempted to get himself nominated leader of the Liberal Party and oust his mentor and friend (and boss). Martin managed to get 52% of the Liberal delegates' votes, enough to topple Jean Chretien but also enough to drive a deep rift in the ranks of the Liberal Party.

In 2004 Canada went to the polls, and Paul Martin and his Liberals won a minority government; that is, they were the party that held the most seats but the other three opposition parties combined held more seats. The Liberals would be forced to compromise on every issue in order to gain the support of the opposition. The largest of the opposition parties was none other than Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

In Canada, when a governing party loses the confidence of the House the government falls and a new election is declared. All fiscal issues put forward by the governing party are considered confidence issues, so the annual budget must pass the House of Commons or the party is considered to not have the confidence of the House and a new election is called.

In 2006 this is precisely what happened. After 2 years of ineptitude and a paralyzed Parliament Stephen Harper and his Conservatives (still called "Tories", the old British name for conservatives) got the socialist NDP and separatist Bloc Quebecois on board and defeated the budget. Paul Martin and his broken Liberal Party fell and the country went to the polls.

Stephen Harper won the election, but, like Paul Martin, only with a minority government. Unlike Paul Martin who could have counted on the support of two other left-leaning parties in Parliament, the Conservatives were now facing an opposition united by ideology, the Liberals, NDP and Bloc. For the next two years they found themselves making compromise after compromise on every issue in order to stay in power. In 2008 the Liberals and NDP joined together and threatened to form a coalition, which would have made them combined the largest group of MPs to enjoy the confidence of the House and power would have shifted back to the Liberals. The country went to the polls again.

The 2008 election returned Parliament back to almost exactly the same state: Stephen Harper's Conservatives hanging on to a minority government while the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois opposed them from across the aisle.

From 2008 until now, 2011, the Conservatives hung on to power not because of increased support from the electorate (Tory support has never risen much beyond 38%) but because of dissatisfaction from the voters with the Liberals. After the Paul Martin affair the Liberals chose as their leader Stephan Dion, a life-long Quebecois bureaucrat who could barely speak English and whose mere presence on television annoyed the hell out of the average Canadian. The Liberals ditched Stephan and, in a quick convention, chose Micheal Ignatieff to lead them.

Micheal Ignatieff is the son of Russian immigrants who fled to Canada following the 1917 Revolution in Russia. He has been a professor of politics and economic theory at Oxford and Cambridge and more recently at Harvard University. He returned to Canada in 2007 to teach at University of Toronto when he was approached by the Liberal Party to potentially lead them. He has written 14 non-fiction books and was a personal friend of US Senator Ted Kennedy.

Unfortunately for Ignatieff, the Liberal Party he took over was a shambles after Paul Martin and two consecutive electoral defeats, and "Iggy", as the press calls him, has had to work hard to not only get Canadians to know him and take him seriously, but also to unify the party and turn it back into the "mean red machine" it once was. Harper and the Conservatives have wasted no time attacking him as being unpatriotic for living outside of the country for so long (as a distinguished academic who has taught at the world's greatest schools and given lectures at the UN). In fact, the Conservatives have been using age-old Canadian self-confidence issues to potray Ignatieff as an evil American-lover, while Ignatieff has publicly said "Yes, I do love America, and I love Canada, and I love the unique relationship our two countries share."

It was Micheal Ignatieff who, in 2008, attempted to form a coalition with the NDP to topple the minority Conservatives, and the Conservative response has been an attack campaign calling a coalition an "undermining" of democracy and "reckless". However, what Conservative supporters are not looking at is the fact that coalitions are perfectly legal means of government in a parliament, so long as they enjoy the support of the House of Commons. If a coalition between parties produces a majority that, then, is the confidence of the House.

Another thing that the Conservatives have kept quiet is the fact that in the bad old days of the Reform Party Stephen Harper wrote a paper explaining why coalition governments are needed and how the Reform Party should go about leading one to take on Jean Chretien's Liberals. In a 1998 interview with TV Ontario Harper said he endorses coalitions as being the most democratic means of governance in Canada. In 2004 he attempted to form a coalition with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois to topple Paul Martin's minority Liberal government. Now, when the Liberals are doing just the same to him, Stephen Harper is suddenly attacking coalition government as "undemocratic".

The fact of the matter is that minority government is, by definition, undemocratic. The Conservatives enjoyed the support of 38% of the people in the last parliament, while the Liberals and NDP combined had the support of over 52%, making a coalition between the two the actual voice of the majority of voters. Thus, a coalition government is the most democratic form of government possible in Canada.

The most recent election came about after a stunning confidence vote in Parliament. The Conservatives were found to be in contempt of Parliament by the House for refusing to give financial details over plans to purchase 130 F-35 Stealth fighters from the USA. The allegation is that there was no competition and that General Electric, who produces the aircraft, padded Conservative Party coffers to get the contract with no questions asked. The deal will cost the Canadian taxpayers over $30 billion over the next 10 years. This finding of contempt of parliament triggered a non-confidence vote and last Friday Stephen Harper and his Conservatives were toppled by a united opposition. The election was on. The fifth in 10 years.

Oh yes, finally, being politicians, I'm sure they've all had lap dances from Russian strippers.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nova Scotia vs British Columbia: The Eastern Trump Card

Why did I choose to settle in Nova Scotia and not British Columbia? This is a difficult question to answer and I'm still not sure of the reason myself.

Both have stunning beauty aplenty, although I give British Columbia an extra point for the Rocky Mountains. British Columbia also has a better job-market and better salaries. British Columbia has better weather (along the coast, at least). British Columbia has more people (4 million compared to Nova Scotia's 900,000), thus more of a tax base, thus better government services and infrastructure. British Columbia, a younger province by 3oo years, has nicer architecture and cleaner cities.

So why the hell didn't I head out west like I originally planned?

Because British Columbia isn't Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia has an abundance of culture going for it, and the people are absolutely amazing. Walk the streets of beautiful Victoria and good luck looking anyone in the eye. In Halifax, people strike up conversations with complete strangers while waiting at the crosswalk. How can you beat such friendliness?

Here are some more Nova Scotian peculiarities:

The Nova Scotia license plate reads "Canada's ocean playground"...PLAYGROUND!!!! All BC has going for it is "Super. Natural." Point to Nova Scotia!

Nova Scotia has REAL beaches. Sandy, sunny beaches (in the summer at least) with seagulls and beach cottages surround the province on all four sides. In fact, although Nova Scotia is only 900 square kilometres, it has 7000 km of beaches! British Columbia, on the other hand, has only 2,300 km of beaches, and 90% of those are rocky and covered in seaweed. Plus the water of the North East Pacific is too cold to swim in at any time of the year. Another point for Nova Scotia!

Cape Breton Island beats both Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlottes hands down. The rolling hills, the small Gaelic population in quaint little towns, the vibrant culture and the stunning coastline beats out the redneck-infested western islands where the brush is so thick you can't stray off the roads.

Nova Scotia was the end of the line for the Underground Railroad, and by 1865 over 8,000 runaway slaves from the southern states had settled around the province, bringing a vibrant and musical cultural heritage with them. Today their descendants are an integral part of Maritime society. BC doesn't have that. They didn't even exist at the time!

Nova Scotia is home to songs, ballads, odes, shanties, books and poems about love for this land. Farewell to Nova Scotia is about a soldier leaving home for the battlefields of France in 1914. British Columbia has Brian Adams and Nelly Furtado. 'Nuff said.

Nova Scotia hosts the annual Tall Ships festival, showcasing old galleons, frigates, cutters and yachts from all over North America and Europe. They even have mock sea battles in Halifax harbour, firing cannons at each other while tourists eat lunch on patios! BC hosts container ships, trawlers and oil tankers.

Atlantic lobster. Can't find that in the Pacific!

Lunenburg, Peggy's Cove, the Annapolis Valley, the Bay of Fundy...these historic towns and regions date back to the earliest colonization of North America and for the most part have been preserved in their original state. Lunenburg (pictured above) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most towns in BC didn't exist before 1890.

The Royal Nova Scotia Tattoo, an international festival of pipe and drum drill bands from around the world, happens every year in Halifax. British Columbia hosts the annual "Save The Whales" festival. Which one is more exciting?

For those who can't get enough of pipe and drum marching bands, Halifax wins hands-down!

Cape Breton's Gaelic culture. More people speak Gaelic in Cape Breton than in Scotland, and it is home to the world's only Gaelic University. BC has nothing on that!

What's Nova Scotia without the intense cultural inheritance of Cape Breton? While many of the fiddles and step dances and ceilidhs (kitchen parties) are put on for the tourists in the summer, these things are still part and parcel of many Cape Bretoners lives. British Columbia can only boast of draft dodgers and pot smokers. And even Nova Scotia has a fair share of those...

I'll let this video from Nova Scotia Tourism say it all...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Fallacy of North America

It seems like ages since I left Russia but I'm really only coming to the end of my third week back in Canada. In 3 short weeks I've got a car, a job, a bank account and begun looking for a place to live (34 and staying with my mother may be alright in Russia but is so not cool in Canada).

Despite all this hectic activity, I haven't had time to really adjust to life in the Maritimes. I still feel stuck somewhere between here and there, and the reverse culture shock is unsettling. I've gone through periods of "I love it here!" to "I want to go back to Russia!" I definitely miss some things about Russia, namely, the chaotic freedom, the architectural aesthetics (of Moscow, at least), the beauty of the people (mainly the women) and the feeling of doing something wonderful with my life.

Here in Halifax I feel only the crunch of time and finance. I have a full-time job and it pays better than my English Teacher's salary but it doesn't offer the kind of financial freedom that living rent-free did in Moscow. My schedule is also heavily regulated by work, and I can't be late or negotiate or enjoy long breaks throughout the day.

One thing that really bugs me about life back home is the complete ignorance of the Canadian people to life outside their own little bubble. I can't relate at all with anybody, and when they begin in-depth conversations about what was on TV last night or how much interest they're paying on their mortgage or their car financing, I switch off. How could I ever possibly explain to them the wonders of Moscow, the history of St. Petersburg, the vastness of the steppes, the feeling of standing on Mamaev Kurgan? How could they even care about the wonders of the Moscow Metro or the absolutely mesmerizing femininity of Russian women or the chaos of gypsy taxis? The fact is, they can't.

I found Russians to be much more engaging in conversation, and much more intelligent about the world around them, then Canadians. Russians were always polite and interested in different places, whereas Canadians have that irritating North American smugness. I also find Canadians incredibly dishonest and feel like everyone is out to rip me off. In Russia, I KNEW everyone was out to rip me off but those I counted as friends I could trust 100%.

In many ways Russia is superior to Canada. Canada's infrastructure is stable, the air is clean, the society well-organized, democracy and the rule of law is healthy and the economy is sound, but the culture really sucks. The exact opposite is true for Russia.

This is mainly the effect of reverse culture-shock, and with time and patience I'll become numb to the glaring hypocrasies I see around me, and eventually I'll become another ignorant dumb-ass Canadian. I do love living in Nova Scotia, however, and ultimately this province is superior in many ways to snooty British Columbia (and the beaches here are better). For me, however, there is no difference right now between people from the Maritimes and people from the west coast, or people from Florida or Wisconsin for that matter. That North American attitude is really grinding on me, and I miss the deep cultural wonder and beauty of Russia and Europe.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

50 Facts About Russians

*Disclaimer - some of the people reading this are humourless douchebags. While nothing on this planet can change the fact that these idiots continue to post comments here after reading (barely) and not understanding this post, I can at least offer a warning that THESE ARE NOT REAL FACTS!!! Morons. Now, enjoy!

1: Russians distrust anything cheap.
2: The English word "bargain" can not be adequately translated into Russian.
3: Although Russians distrust anything with a cheap price, they are fine with freebies.
4: A Russian who reaches high levels of power feels it his his/her duty to put down those who don't.
5: In Russia you need to call the lazy waitresses over by aggressively yelling "Girl!"
6: One needs skills in hitting people with your elbows on the Moscow Metro.
7: In Russia you can drink beer on a park bench without getting arrested.
8: Russians gather in the kitchen and stay up very late, talking about "life".
9: Russians usually avoid talking about work.
10: During any reception in Russia people are immediately separated by gender.
11: There are a lot of police in Russia, most of whom do nothing.
12: Russians never throw anything away. Ever.
13: However, if Russians throw out half of their things, nobody notices.
14: A Russian stranger is likely to call you with familiarity, like "man" or "woman".
15: Russians don't usually say "please" or "thank you".
16: The Russian proverb "Arrogance - the second happiness" cannot be adequately translated into English.
17: Russians drink a lot of vodka. It's not a myth.
18: You don't have to fear for your life when walking the streets in Moscow alone at night.
19: Russian men are convinced that feminism has led to the collapse of the West, and Russia's historical mission: resist.
20: A myth within a myth: Russians believe that Americans believe that bears walk the streets in Moscow, but this myth of a myth is a purely Russian invention. Americans actually believe all the bears in Russia are dead.
21: Russians simply do not understand it when a foreigner from the west applies for permanent residence in Russia.
22: Dentists are very surprised when people show up for a "routine" check-up. So are doctors.
23: Russians drink tea with a centimetre of sugar on the bottom of the cup.
24: All Russians, from young to old, abuse emoticons.
25: The number of brackets in an email or sms infers the importance of a message. For instance - Birthday party tonight ) means a birthday party, but Birthday party tonight )))))) means a fantastic blow-out extravaganza.
26: Moscow has the best subway system in the world.
27: Despite having the best subway system in the world, there are millions of Muscovites who refuse to ever take it, and spend half their lives stuck in traffic.
28: A Russian will use the slightest reason to bring everyone gifts of chocolate. "It's your birthday in four and a half months? Wow! Chocolate for the entire office!"
29: Anyone who speaks a language other than Russian is automatically suspect.
30: On New Year's, don't surprised if you are invited out at 11:30 pm, drink champagne and cognac until 6 am, eat herring under a fur coat and olivia salad in a kitchen, and then party in a flat for three more days.
31: The only alcohol-free zones in Russia are McDonalds.
32: Smiling for no reason makes Russians angry.
33: Borscht, cabbage rolls and pirogies are actually Ukrainian.
34: Russians don't send their elderly to nursing homes or make their children leave after 18; instead they all live together in the same 1-bedroom flat.
35: Despite the small roads and the frustrating traffic jams, Russians still buy giant SUVs.
36: Sushi is more popular in Russia than in Japan.
37: In fact, Japan is more popular in Russia than in Japan.
38: Russians are extremely friendly if they've known you for more than ten minutes. If you've known a Russian for at least a week, you will be invited to meet their family.
39: Russians are also extremely emotional and passionate, and although they don't show emotion in public, they cry and laugh and shout and play more than Italians.
40: Russians care more about the philosophical side of living than the material, and have a folk song for every situation.
41: Most Russians are very superstitious, and new-age superstitions are en vogue.
42: Russians are passionate lovers, and will quarrel like bitter enemies and make out like porn stars in public.
43: Russians love to criticsize their own country, but will be offended if a foreigner does.
44: If a cashier manages to not break anything while scanning your items, they have provided good customer service.
45: Russians love McDonald's, KFC, Subway and Burger King more than Americans.
46: Russians spoil their kids rotten, and then magically expect them to behave responsibly at the age of 18.
47: Although Russians eat more fast food than people in the west, Russians are still healthier.
48: Russians cannot do anything that requires putting a car in reverse. It can take the average Russian driver ten minutes to parallel park (I've seen it countless times).
49: Winters in Russia are actually quite beautiful, and Russians are fantastic winter drivers.
50: Russians are actually freer than westerners; there are less laws and social constraints, and yet the crime rate is lower than in the US or UK.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ask A Man With A Russian Accent Trying To Convince You To Go To An Ecstasy Party

From The Onion

Dear Man With A Russian Accent Trying To Convince You To Go To An Ecstasy Party,

My next-door neighbor has something of an in-house menagerie. Between his three dogs and several tropical birds, things can get pretty noisy. I very much believe in "live and let live," but sometimes late at night and early in the morning, the squawking and barking can just get to be too much. What is a firm but neighborly way to let him know that his pets are causing me distress?

—Going Wild In Washington

Dear Going Wild,

Look, what is problem? You meet me, you meet Sergei, we are all friends now. Wait, hang on…please! Another drink for my new friend! Anyway, like I say, is one hour maximum drive only. I take you in my car, no problem. Is BMW five-series. We take pills on way, you feel very, very good when we arrive. Like on fire, but nice. You know? Vanya is also my friend, he is very good DJ. He is spinning best house music and we will dance all night. Best music, best pills, best girls, best champagne, everything the best. We go now, okay?

Dear Man With A Russian Accent Trying To Convince You To Go To An Ecstasy Party,

A very good friend of mine recently lost his job and is now struggling to make his mortgage payments. I'm by no means wealthy, but I'm certainly comfortable enough to lend my friend the money he needs until he gets back on his feet. The problem is, he's very proud of his self-sufficiency. How can I offer him a loan without hurting his feelings and jeopardizing our friendship?

—Just Trying To Help

Dear Just Trying,

Over there—is your girlfriend? Very pretty. She will come too. We will all feel very nice and dance. The pills, they will not cost you nothing. Is my brother's place, everything for free. Is heated pool, is bar in basement, is, ahh…is home theater, is craziest sound system—everything you want. But we go now. Is late and I tell Yuri—Yuri, he is my brother—I tell Yuri I am coming there half hour ago. Get girlfriend now. We go.

Dear Man With A Russian Accent Trying To Convince You To Go To An Ecstasy Party,

My wife and I like to have cookouts every couple of months during which we have friends and family members over for steaks. However, every time my brother-in-law attends, he dominates the grill, insisting that he alone knows how to properly cook the meat. What is the best way to let him know that I think he's being obnoxious without causing too much friction between myself and my wife's family?

—Gearing Up To Grill

Dear Gearing Up,

You know what is your problem? Is too much thinking. You will never do nothing you're whole life, just think. What is to think about? Take pill, dance. Simple. You think you know everything, but you don't know nothing. I have Breitling watch like this because I am thinking all day? No. Because I am doing. You would not believe me if I tell you things I have seen.† Crazy, crazy things. But maybe, you think, you are better than me. Are you thinking you are better than me, my friend? That would not be—hold on, is my mobile. Da? Nyet…nyet…nyet…da…nyet…nyet…da, dosvedanya. Is Yuri. You see, my friend? You are making us late. Sergei, you go now. I stay for little while longer and talk to new friend.

Dear Man With A Russian Accent Trying To Convince You To Go To An Ecstasy Party,

I've never considered myself a very religious person, but I certainly don't begrudge others their beliefs. My sister, however, married a very devout man and has taken up his faith; she now seems determined to also convert myself and my two daughters. How can I let her know that her proselytizing is unwelcome without my kids losing their aunt?

—Preaching To The Choir

Dear Preaching,

You know, If you were not such my good friend, maybe I am getting angry now.

Dear Man With A Russian Accent Trying To Convince You To Go To An Ecstasy Party,

With tax season fast approaching, I am for the first time thinking about hiring an accountant. I have traditionally prepared my own taxes, but after seeing in the past year a significant increase in my personal income due to switching from a salaried to freelance position, do you think it is worth the money to hire a professional?

—Taxed In Tucson

Dear Taxed,

You do not understand me, my friend! Please, do not go! Sit! Sit! Here, let me buy you drink. Relax, and we talk. Look, I only want for you to have good time, so why you resist? You hurt my feelings…here, drink. Good! Here is mine, too. Yes, very good. Now, why not you come for little while, and if you don't like, you just leave, no problem? I take you back myself. Please, go talk to girlfriend. I wait for you here.

Confidential To Fed Up In Phoenix,

Ah, yes! Now you see! You will not regret, my friend. It will be night of your life, is my promise. Whoa! You almost fall over, my friend! Ha, ha, ha! Is no problem. We get you pills, you be okay. We go now.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Breath of Fresh Air

I've been in Halifax for just over 1 week, and in that time have decided to stay here, begun looking for a job, scored 3 interviews, acquired a car (a nice 2000 Volvo) and started looking at apartments (mostly on the Dartmouth side). I've also managed to not spend all my money I brought from Russia!

Not bad for one week! The job market in Halifax is actually very, very healthy. There are literally thousands of jobs and, when coupled with the very affordable housing prices, it makes living here seem like a no-brainer. The area is scenically beautiful; different than British Columbia, with it's soaring mountains and placid Pacific coastlines, but beautiful in it's own rugged, unspoiled north-Atlantic way. It's the people here that put Nova Scotia miles above British Columbia.

Friendliness is everywhere. People stop on the street and say "Hello". They make eye contact here and smile. They do it all with a laid-back, confident style. The people are extremely helpful. Just yesterday I was driving the new car with a temporary license in the window (waiting for new plates to be made) and a cop pulled me over. It was my first pull-over in 2 years! Anyways the cop, a young guy, approached the car behind the driver window (and I kept both hands on the wheel so he could see them) and then said "Sorry."!
He continued. "I didn't see your temp [temporary plate]. If I could have your license and registration and insurance, I'll just run a quick check and then you'll be on your way."

After a few minutes on the computer in his car, he came back and handed me a license, and then apologized profusely for pulling me over! I felt bad and said "Hey no problem."

In comparison, people in British Columbia, especially in Victoria, are stuck-up and snotty. Many don't bother leaving their province ("We live in the best place on earth. Why go anywhere else?"). Compared to Russia, Nova Scotia is absolutely refreshing. After all this time it's surprising that I hadn't put more thought into settling here.

Then there is, of course, the wonderful Maritime culture. I'm not talking about the grating, better-than-thou Celtic culture of Cape Breton, but the deep-routed historic culture of New England and the Maritimes.

In one week I've firmly established a beach -head, as it were, here in Halifax, and from here on out it's all easy sailing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Year Was 1778

My dreams aren't really worthy of any Freudian psycho-babble analysis. Usually they involve beer, the occasional fuzzy slipper and a cheeseburger or two. Which is why it was so strange to have a more meaningful, realistic dream like the one I had two days ago.

In this dream I had left Russia, kissing Katya farewell in the doorway of her flat in Schyolkova and climbing into a taxi at 2:30 in the morning. Then I was on a flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia. 12 hours later I was in Canada's maritimes with my mother and we were (typical for my dreams) drinking Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale and eating bacon cheeseburgers.

Then I was sitting on a warm sofa (again, with a beer in my hand) in front of a gas fireplace watching Criminal Minds in HD on a large flat screen television in my mother's living room, while outside the nearby ocean boiled in a sudden windstorm that had blown in from the Atlantic.

After that my dream switched to driving across the impressively-large MacDonald bridge that spans the Halifax harbour between Halifax and Dartmouth. The naval yards were to my left and to my right were the tall glass buildings of Scotiabank and the Halifax Casino, lit up in the night and giving the city a feeling of grandeur. From the bridge we ended up on the highway all the way to the town of Enfield.

When I awoke, it all had seemed so vivid, and so real. The part about leaving Katya behind in Russia while I found employment and prepared for her to arrive in Canada was particularly painful. But when I looked around, I wasn't in Katya's bed with my wife warm and sleeping beside me. I was in my mother's spare room. I was in Halifax!

It wasn't a dream, although it still seems like it isn't real. Unlike the last time I came back for 5 weeks, in September, this time it is a permanent move. I was originally planning on heading to Victoria and starting work as an At-Sea-Observer, a job I didn't particularly want but was a means to an end. Due to family reasons, and the fact that I've always loved Halifax and Nova Scotia in particular, I decided to stay.

So my Mission to Moscow is actually over. It doesn't seem like it. I still expect to wake up back in Russia at any moment, but here I am in Canada. I feel at ease now, knowing I made the right decision in choosing Halifax.

This blog won't be finished yet, however. New adventures await me and it will be interesting to switch the focus from my perspective on living in Russia to Katya's perspective on living in Canada.

Here I am. My new and, hopefully, permanent home. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hot Russian Women

Sometimes I get a lot of emails about this blog; most times I don't. Here's a sampling of the emails I have received:

"I'm going to Moscow next month on a business trip. Can you recommend any ways to meet Russian girls?"

"'re a pussy. Why don't you have more pictures of Russian chics [sic] on your blog?"

"...if I were you, I would'nt have got married and would have been spending the last year banging Russian babes...."

"I take great offence at the portrayal of womyn on your blog. As a womyn myself, I believe that you represent the majority of men who are dull-witted, pig-headed chauvinists and the propoganda on your blog is nothing more than blablablabla...."

(I wonder how entries like "A Brief History of Mytischi" makes me chauvinist...the fact of the matter is that most of the emails I receive are concerning one specific entry, about a time I drank vodka with two Russian strippers. The fact that this femi-nazi is concentrating on this particular entry shows a certain amount of interest on her part, as it is this sexualized entry that she focuses on and not the more mundane life I've lived in Moscow, which makes up 99% of this blog.)

"At first I thought you were just another uninformed American, but after reading your blog I realized that you are an uninformed Canadian. You spew out garbage and misinformation as fact and you obviously know nothing about Russia. Your display of women is particularly disgusting."

(This was from a Mr. J. Malandjer, obviously a fanatical academic, and I would invite Mr. Malandjer to not only come to Russia and see for himself what I've been writing about, but to also act like a better-than-thou douchebag to my face.)

It is true: Russian women are generally stunning. Most of the fashion magazine models in the world are Russian, and most of the girls in Moscow could be fashion magazine models. They are filled with a mysteriously powerful femininity, charming flirtatiousness and have great fashion sense (at least in Moscow).

With so much interest, both positive and negative, concerning my blog and Russian women, I've decided to finally post what I've been seeing for the past couple of years, mainly, seriously hot, sexy, beautiful women (take that feminists and academics! Welcome to a man's blog!).

Monday, January 31, 2011

Redneck Rampage

Not every fun thing has to happen overseas. Think back to your childhood: you were perfectly content getting into all sorts of mischief at home (at least, I was). So with nothing happening at all in my life in Moscow (all the good times have come to an end, and I feel that I have worn out my welcome in Russia), I think back to my life in South Korea, and beyond then to my life in Canada.

One incident in particular stands out as the best weekend I've ever spent.

A national public holiday in Canada is Queen Victoria Day. It is officially on May 24 every year but always falls on the weekend closest to the 24th. A case of beer, with 24 bottles, in Canada is called a two-four, and Victoria Day is likewise called May Two-Four. No coincidence there.

In 2001 I was living in the industrial factory city of Hamilton, Ontario where I was attending school. I lived off-campus in a bungalow with five other guys, but three of my friends practically lived there too. My oldest and best friend (until he married and disappeared a few years ago, and cut out all his friends from his life quoting that we weren't in his "circle of trust"), Doggawar, was attending film school in Toronto, about a one-hour drive from Hamilton. He spent nearly every weekend at my place.

Doggawar was always a real brat, with an incredibly quick sense of humour and a horseshoe shoved far up his ass to boot. He was a big guy with a big beard and leather jacket. As an example of his wit, one time we were cooking steaks on the barbecue and another friend of ours walked up to the grill, found the biggest, juiciest steak there was and spat on it. "That one's mine" he pronounced, to which Doggawar, without hesitating, also spat on it. "Have it." He replied.

Another friend, who I met in Hamilton, was Nailbomb (he liked the death-metal group of the same name). Nailbomb, with is his long black hair and thin, pointed face, was a punk/death metal/fuck-the-man kinda guy (and also the best driver I've ever met) who took great delight from mischief and building things. One time Nailbomb and I went to the woods around Hamilton and, using bungee cords from his Jeep Cherokee, built an actual working trebuchet and proceeded to hurl giant boulders down an escarpment. Good times.

Then there was the fourth member of our little group: Mojo. It is difficult to describe Mojo. To this day I haven't figured out if he was truly slightly retarded or if it was an all an act. Whichever it was, Mojo operated on the premise that the least amount of brain power necessary to get through life is the best amount of brain power to use. Unlike me, the slightly preppy, athletic guy, and Doggawar, the big beard and biker-style guy, and Nailbomb, the punk rocker bad-ass guy, there was Mojo, who wore incredibly big bell bottoms and trendy snowboarder sweaters and liked to ride BMX bikes. Mojo, with his shoulder-length curly hair, once made a pair of bell bottoms out of duct tape and then wore them to the club, where he was immediately harassed by a group of black guys. When he started to try and talk in Eubonics with them, it was all over.

The May Two-Four weekend of the year 2001 was to be a special long weekend. The four of us (originally three but we agreed to let Mojo come along provided he fetched us beer, cooked us food, etc...hence the name "Mojo") planned a trip to Owen Sound, on the stunningly beautiful Bruce Peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Owen Sound is mine and Doggawar's hometown, and in the summer offers beaches, girls, alcohol and sunshine. Unfortunately we were the wrong group of people to partake in such pleasures. It seems as if though every time the four of us, unlikely comrades all, got together the gods that be were incredibly annoyed.

Nailbomb, the superb driver that he was, drove us the 2 hours to Owen Sound. By "good driver" I don't mean he was a law-abiding driver. Rather, he would plug into his car and then proceed to act like a fighter pilot in a dogfight, swerving at high speeds between traffic, dodging every obstacle that got in his way (he once drove home from my house completely in reverse, using back was a 20 minute drive). I never once felt in danger with Nailbomb's driving, because he was always in complete control.

We were nearing Owen Sound, blazing along country roads ringed by quiet farms, blaring hard rock and smoking cigarettes and making fun of Mojo when all of a sudden a cop shot out of nowhere and, with lights blaring, pulled us over. 100 miles back Nailbomb had passed an elderly driver...on the gravel shoulder, and some other drivers had called the police. It took nearly an hour for the cop to catch up to us. Because the officer couldn't fine Nailbomb for an incident where he didn't actually witness it, but had pulled us over nevertheless, he had to find some other reason to issue a fine. After running Nailbomb's license through the computer in his car, the officer issued a different ticket. Nailbomb was driving without glasses, and the terms of his license said that he was supposed to be wearing glasses when behind the wheel.

Nailbomb's three comrades immediately broke into laughter. The famous, hard-edged, fuck-the-man punk-rocker Nailbomb had to wear glasses! The cop took his license and made Doggawar drive instead, and issued Nailbomb with a fine. We went on our way, and even Mojo joined in making fun of Nailbomb, who was visibly embarassed.

After another hour we finally arrived in Owen Sound and went to Doggawar's girlfriend's house (she left him soon after this weekend). Her parents had a huge, two storey home on 10 acres of forested land. The house was beautiful and the vast forest of maples and birch were in full bloom in the late May sun. While Doggawar went inside to greet his lady, Mojo, Nailbomb and I immediately popped the trunk of the car and cracked open the two-four of Molson Canadian we had brought from Hamilton. After our long drive we decided a nice beer was due us, then we would unpack our bags and settle in.

One hour later Doggawar found us deep in the woods, throwing pinecones at each other's heads, surrounded by empty beer bottles and completely drunk. "What the hell?" He cried out in deep annoyance. "You drank ALL the beer?!!?" We looked around in shock. "Noooo!" we protested. "There's lots left! We couldn't have...." But of course, the three of us had drank an entire case of beer in an hour. Doggawar was pissed. "Damnit! Come on. We're going into town. You owe me a case of beer." He turned and stormed back to the house, and we stumbled after him.

As we stumbled and laughed behind our visibly angry friend, Nailbomb pulled out a mickey of Jagermeister. "One for the road!" He decreed, and we immediately began chugging back the sickly-sweet alcohol. In the few minutes it took us to reach the car, we had polished off the Jagermeister, as well.

We all jumbled into the car and with deep annoyance Doggawar screeched out of the driveway and we headed into town. At The Beer Store (one of my favourite Ontario retain chains) Nailbomb and I bought two more cases of beer, and Doggawar ran into his brother in the parking lot. They started talking and catching up so Nailbomb and I staggered over to the nearby river, where, without warning, I threw up. It was so sudden and so violent that my vomit projected over the river bank and into the water, followed by a sudden uproar of quacking and honking. A mallard duck, covered in vomit, flew angrily into the air. Quite a shot, if I do say so myself. Nailbomb was laughing so hard he had to sit down.

We rejoined Doggawar and Mojo at the car and as Doggawar chatted with his brother I sat cross-legged on the pavement, the world spinning around and my stomach feeling like heaving again. I began muttering incomprehensibly, trying to say that I needed to sober up but instead mumbling "I need conditioning. I need conditioning." (I barely remember any of this). Nailbomb, the helpful friend that he was, took his lit cigarette and extinguished it on my forehead. "Aaaah." I sighed with relief. "That's what I call conditioning!".

A few hours later we were back at Doggawar's girlfriend's house (along the way I instructed Doggawar "don't make any turns, don't stop, just drive straight"). As Mojo, Nailbomb and I were sobering up at this point, we cracked one of the new cases of beer and immediately resolved to get Doggawar drunk. Everytime Doggawar took a drink from his beer one of us would immediately give a new toast. "To the weekend!" "To us!" "To booze!" etc etc. After three beers in ten minutes Doggawar was crying out for mercy. "For god's sake!" Within half an hour he was as drunk as us and once again we were a team. This time, with a new great idea.

Grabbing shovels and pick-axes we made our way into the forest and proceeded to build a bunker. It took us two hours and another case of beer but finally we had something reminiscent of the Mannerheim Line protecting Doggawar's girlfriend from the invading Red Army. For the roof we employed her father's chainsaw and some trees. Needless to say that, upon seeing us emerge from the woods with shovels and chainsaws, drunk and covered in dirt, she was immediately suspicious. "What the hell were you guys doing?"
"Nothing. Building a bunker."

She immediately banned us from using any wood to make a fire, a rather weak attempt to control us, the uncontrollable. So we used her father's jerry can of gasoline instead. She banned us from using the chainsaw, so we grabbed her brother's pellet guns and starting shooting each other instead. With a gas fire blazing (and we cooked bacon wrapped around sticks in it...quite delicious, if I remember) and guns shooting and bottles being emptied quickly, she had had enough. "Get the hell off my property,!" she cried. What a downer.

We took a taxi to Doggawar's mother's house instead.

It was a good move, because after a day of recovery (and a lot of his father's pot, bless his soul), we set out into the woods around Doggawar's house with pellet guns and beer and whiskey, and proceeded to have a little, painful war. It was Nailbomb and I versus Doggawar and Mojo. We stalked each other through the woods for some time until we came across Doggawar laying in some bushes with his air rifle pointing down the path we were about to stumble across. Nailbomb and I sat down behind a small ridge and strategized. Because I had a quick-repeater Daisy bb gun, I would run out, blazing away and draw Doggawar's fire while Nailbomb, with his single-shot powerful crack-open gun, would draw a bead and shoot the foe.

I ran out, firing from the hip and dodging between trees. Doggawar opened up on me, splinters of tree bark blasting away around me from his barely-missed shots. Nailbomb, unseen, standing and taking careful aim with his rifle, let off a shot with a terrific CRACK and Doggawar screamed in pain. Nailbomb got him right in the ass. I dove down behind a log and lay there panting for breath for a few moments, before the three of us set out to hunt down Mojo.

We found him submerged in a crevace, only his head and rifle showing. He actually took us by surprise and laid down a barrage of bb fire that kept us pinned. Unfortunately he had nothing protecting his flank so I made my way around to his left. We had a rule "No shooting each other in the head" and Mojo thought he was being clever by only exposing his head. But all is fair in love and war right? Especially when you're drunk. I took aim and nailed him the skull, blasting his baseball cap completely off. Game over.

That night Doggawar's neighbour, a girl a few years younger than us, had a party. There were a hundred people there, listening to pop music and drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade, laughing and dancing and being, well, normal. Nailbomb pulled his car into Doggawar's backyard and started blaring Sepultura. We built a fire out of wooden skids soaked in gasoline. The four of us began hooting and hollering in drunken extacy. Soon, some of the people from the other party started drifting across the lawn to our inferno. They were eating grilled vegetables, so we offered charred meat on a stick. They were drinking vodka coolers, so broke out rounds of tequila from the bottle. They were playing cards, so we offered them pellet guns. Needless to say that soon her ENTIRE PARTY had relocated to Doggawar's yard. There were nearly a hundred people running around the fire, shooting guns, eating meat, yelling and acting like barbarians. Doggawar's neighbour, poor girl, sat in her yard with one or two friends and stared in anger at our Roman conflagration.

The firing from the pellet guns became so intense over the course of the night that as people crossed the yards (No Man's Land, they soon called it), they would yell "Don't shoot! It's me, Dave...we met ten minutes ago. Remember? Hey! Wait! Ow!" Of course, Dave would then take his turn shooting other silhouettes in the firelight as they ran the gauntlet. At one point a little brunette girl with a tight shirt (I remember that much) started up a chainsaw and cut some wood for the fire, before another girl shot her in the ass. I myself was hit at least twenty times. Nobody was safe from the flying barrage of pellets and bbs, whether running for their lives across the yard or sitting around the fire roasting bacon on a stick.

The next morning I woke up under Doggawar's back patio with a brown-haird girl draped over me. I had no idea where I was for a few minutes, but twenty or thirty painful welts all over my body (including one pellet imbedded in my back that had to be dug out by tweezers) quickly reminded me. I had no idea who the girl was but one of her hands was down my pants on my backside. I pushed her off me and she groaned in her sleep and curled up in a ball on the mud, and I scrambled out from under the patio. The yard looked like the battlefield of Gettysburg.

People lay in all manner of positions, while a cloud of white smoke hissed into the sky from the firepit. Rifles and shoes and bottles littered the grass all the way into the tree line that surrounded the yard. A few brave souls stumbled about in hung-over pain, looking for personal effects. I couldn't see Doggawar or Nailbomb, but I found Mojo draped over the side of the roof of Doggawar's bungalow. "Hey!" I shouted. "Wake up, Mojo!" He raised his head in pain. "Huh?"
"Go find the others." I ordered. He scrambled down, monkey-like, from the roof and began poking bodies with his toes. I was determined to get out of there. The long weekend was coming to a close and Doggawar's parents were due back any moment that day.

After a few hours of clearing up (actually, Mojo did almost all the cleaning while the three of us sat in the kitchen and nursed our hangovers and dug pellets out of each other's skin) we packed up the car and headed, much more slowly and listening, I believe, to Rod Steward on low volume, to Hamilton and back to regular college life.