Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Carefully curated musings about the writing life, horses, bitterness and crushing career disappointment. Fun, right?

Archive for the tag “Bermuda”

Bermudaful

DSC_6672I really had forgotten how much I love the place.

I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to two places necessitating air travel this year — which is more than I’ve done in ages.  (The flying itself isn’t the lucky part, I hasten to add.  I hate airports as much as I ever did.  Foul, officious, inefficient, sterile, vexing places.)  Thanks to a contest win, I got to rat around Paris for a week back in April, poking my nose into every museum I could navigate to and subsisting on street crepes and croissants (which is a fine form of subsistence if you ask me) before returning to my ridiculously posh hotel room every evening.  I did all the de rigueur stuff: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, a tour boat up the Seine, stealing votive candles from Notre Dame (the ultimately ironic souvenir for an avowed atheist who nonetheless appreciates dramatic architecture, good acoustics, and gargoyles.  OMFG I love gargoyles).

You could send me back to Paris in a heartbeat.  I’m sure I could spend weeks more exploring the city and never get bored.

But there are some places that just get under your skin and worm their way into your soul in a way that even Paris can’t do for me.

A week ago I made my way back to Bermuda for the first time in a decade, a wedding invite clutched in my paw.  Bermuda and I go back a ways … in 1995, between jobs and feeling impoverished and aimless, I took a Bermudian acquaintance up on an offer to manage a little riding school on the island for a year.

Lee Bow Equestrian Centre is (was) in Devonshire, in the middle of the island, not far from the capitol city, Hamilton.  It had a 12-stall barn DSC_7020 john smiths bayand 16 school horses, a tack room full of cardboard-y World War II era pony saddles in which it was impossible for any child to establish a balanced position, a sand ring with a few jumps, and a clientele which was 80% local kids and 20% obese American tourists who all wanted to go out on trail rides and gallop on the beach.  (Bubble burster:  no horses allowed on the beaches in Bermuda.  Sorry, cowboys, Bermudians like their beaches pristine and manure-free.)

My boss was an asshole of staggering proportions (that’s a whole other blog post), the humidity in July and August was purgatorial (and here I thought I came from a humid part of the world), the roaches were the size of a Buick (funny, not a whisper about those in Fodor’s), I was allergic to some sort of mould in the tack room and my eyes swelled shut for two weeks, and I completely fell in love with Bermuda.

Because it’s stunning.

It’s not just the colours, though they’re saturated to the point of almost painful intensity.  Anyone who thinks pastels are kind of a weak, milque-toasty version of reality should spend a day or two tooling around Bermuda on a bike (moped), taking in the hillside groupings of houses in coral, bubblegum pink, turquoise, mint green, and lemon yellow, all with tiered white roofs (which serve as rainwater collectors, since there’s no fresh water on the island).  I’ve often thought that if Canadians took a similar approach, winter might not be so fucking depressing here.

Add to that an array of tropical plants — hibiscus so vigourous they chop it into bloody hedges (while I can barely keep one alive on my windowsill here in the Great White North), intensely poisonous but beautiful oleander bushes in various shades of cerise and white, poinciana trees aflame in the spring, jacaranda and jasmine, banana trees and rosemary that runs wild on the roadsides — and the smell of the ocean … well, hell, it’s sensory overload.

And of course the beaches are legendary.  I never was a ‘beach person’ before Bermuda, but I discovered that’s because Great Lakes beaches are ugly and the water’s cold and filthy.  Who knew.  A Bermuda beach, in contrast, is all silky pink sand, limestone rock formations, and an impossibly aquamarine sea.  Devoid of filth (and hoof prints) because they actually sweep the beaches on a daily basis.  And you’re never more than half a mile away from one.  Sweet.

Beaches alone don’t tend to hold my interest indefinitely, but fortunately Bermuda’s also pretty fascinating from a historical perspective.  With a colonization history dating back to the mid-1500s (initially, the Portuguese; the island was uninhabited prior to their arrival, so no indigenous peoples to squash and/or subjugate), and a number of very hysterical buildings several centuries old, there’s a fair bit to explore.  Also, forts.  Lots of ’em, all built at various times to defend the island’s strategic position out there on its own in the Atlantic, and well-preserved because, as it turns out, none of them were ever shot upon.

I could go on.  Suffice to say that some of the things I learned to love about Bermuda were:

* a summer that actually lasts long enough for you to settle in and get comfortable in it.  Canadians are a bit frantic about summer.  We have to try to cram all our summer stuff into eight short weekends, and so all the good stuff ends up in scheduling conflicts and we never really feel like we got our money’s worth.  In Bermuda, the temps are still warm and lazy in October, you can still stretch out on the beach and fry yourself, and socks aren’t really required till Christmas.

* zipping around the island on a bike — which is what the vast majority of people do.  Yes, there are cars (for locals only), taxis, buses, and small lorries of various configurations, but most of the traffic is of the two-wheeled persuasion.  The roads are narrow, winding, and sometimes steep, the speed limit is 40km/h, and while the tourist bikes are gutless 50cc pieces of shit, they are still way fun and make me hanker for a Vespa every time I come home.

* being out on the reef.  The first time I ever went snorkeling was in Bermuda, which is completely ringed by coral reef, not to mention about 800 shipwrecks resulting from people not navigating those reefs all that well.  (To be fair, the navigation remains bloody tricky.)   I was about 2 km offshore and the water was barely 10 metres deep … I remember ducking under the surface and thinking, “Whoa.  Fuck horses.  I’m just gonna spend the rest of my life with my face in the water and my ass in the air, looking at corals and pretty fish.”  Again, my native Great Lakes, by comparison, suck:  gimme a rainbow parrot fish over a lamprey or a diseased perch, any day.

* tree frogs.  These are petite little amphibians, not a lot bigger than your thumbnail, who peep incessantly all night.  Tourists find them distracting.  It’s possible I did too, the first week I was in Bermuda.  Every time I’ve returned, they have put me to sleep with a stupid smirk on my face.

* gombeys.  Because they’re weird.

DSC_6877 gombeys5The great thing?  All that stuff is still there.  With a few exceptions (the loss of that most venerable of Bermuda department stores, Trimingham’s, among them), the whole island has apparently been in a time warp since I was last there in 2003.  Of course I already knew that very little gets wiped out in Bermuda thanks to hurricanes — it’s not that the hurricanes don’t hit, because they bloody well do, but Bermudians figured out centuries ago that houses made of limestone (or, these days, cement blocks) generally don’t go anywhere even in gale-force winds.  Still, I was surprised how many of my favourite restaurants and little haunts were unchanged apart from the prices.

I only had five days on the island this time.  It wasn’t nearly enough.  But I figure I’m going to start lobbying my connections at the Bermuda Equestrian Federation to bring me down there next year as a schooling show judge.  There’s no way I’m leaving it another decade.

Putting Myself Out There

Had a sobering realization today:  I am better at Internet dating than I am at job hunting.

Well there’s a yikes.

Now I guess I say I am better at the internet dating thing because at least when I was doing that, I got nibbles.  Oh, stop being smut-tastic.  In this instance I am using “nibbles” in a purely innocuous, expression-of-interest way.  Though of course there were some (mostly fairly distasteful) come-ons as well.

A Brief History of my Internet Dating Phase:  I spent a year working in Bermuda, as a riding school manager, back in 1995.  Loooove the island, don’t recommend the work experience, but maybe that was just my usual luck, working for a prize asshat as I was.  Anyway.  I was seeing someone while I was being all tan and islandy and staying up all night clubbing (whoa, was that ever me?) and zipping around Bermuda on my moped, but he was hung up on a mousy former girlfriend, and besides, he smoked and was eventually going to return to Pittsburgh, so inevitably it fizzled when my job soured (read:  I got royally screwed over) and I had to return to the Great White North in a state of great indignation.

Neil, if you’re out there, you probably still have a very sexy voice, though.  (Hey, it’s my blog, I can do gratuitous shout-outs to exes I don’t really want to hear from, if I wanna. So there.)

Self-esteem-wise, this was not one of my more sparkling chapters.  Took me a while to regroup.  Okay, eight years.  (Less from Neil than from the whole demoralizing work experience.)  But eventually I decided to get back on that figurative horse.

Takes me a lot less time to get back on a real horse, btw, provided I’m not so busted up that I have to call myself an ambulance, which has happened once.

Here’s the thing about being ready to put yourself Out There:  if you live on a farm in the middle of  … well, not on the mass transit lines, anyway … and you work from home, you’re really not going to encounter a lot of Appropriate Eligibles, now are you. The only single, straight men I tended to run into wore John Deere caps and were picking up 20 bags of turkey starter at the feed store.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but in my experience these fine specimens usually didn’t consider horses ‘real’ farming, didn’t share a whole lot of my other interests, and were mainly looking for someone to help them slaughter a few steers come fall.  Gosh, that sounds swell, but I’m pretty sure I have to be in Borneo that week for a gallery opening ….

And men who go everywhere in baseball caps are something of a pet peeve of mine anyway.  Geez, give the hat a rest and wash your damn hair.

In case you’re going to suggest horse shows as a potential hunting ground, I will confirm that yes, there are men there, but that they are generally (and by generally, I mean to say ‘overwhelmingly’) not straight.  Love ’em, but am completely cognizant that they are not volunteering to come home with me.

So of course the logical option was the slightly sordid world of internet dating.  (Does it still have that aura of ickiness, or is it completely respectable these days?)

There are a lot of profiles to wade through on internet dating sites.  It’s like job-hunting, but infinitely weirder.  You soon learn to recognize the red flags:  photos clearly taken in 1974, illiteracy (oh, instant turn-off for little grammar Nazi me), hideous cliches (where are all these people taking the long walks on beaches? I lived on an island renowned for its beaches for an entire year and there should have been fucking armies of these guys marching up and down on the pink sand if these profiles are to be believed).

Also worth avoiding:  those with profile names like “Sphincter”.  (No, tragically, I am not kidding.)

I got considerable amusement value out of dipping my virtual toes into the “Encounters” section of Lavalife.  For the uninitiated, Lavalife — at least as of six or seven years ago, I haven’t checked more recently than that, I swear — was divided into a sanitized and mind-crushingly dull “hi, I just want to be pen-friends because I have High Moral Standards” section where there were crickets chirping instead of men, a middle-of-the-road “looking for love that would probably include some eventual consensual groping” section, and a “zipless fuck” section where the men descended like lampreys should any woman, real or imagined, peek around the doorframe on the instant chat.  Needless to say, this can be a hoot if you’re in the frame of mind to see just how pathetic and cliched they can get … and oh, boy, can they.  I used to re-write my profile in the Encounters corral about once a week, each time stretching the boundaries of slutty credibility a little further, and no male ever called me on it.  Not a productive exercise as far as finding a legit squeeze, admittedly, but certainly an interesting window into humanity’s baser qualities …

Mostly, I think you have to approach internet dating the way you do porta-potties at horse shows.  Nasty and unpleasant, but better than nothing.  Just hold your breath, get in and get out as quickly as you can, and whatever you do, don’t look down.

Choosing the right dating site is half the battle, I suspect, but for me it was mostly about not having to cough up a credit card number.  Some are clearly over-hyped; I joined the legions who were rejected by eHarmony, for example (seriously, Google it — 157,000 results; I think it’s a badge of honour, honestly) because I was “not spiritual enough”.  (Oh, apparently you have to believe in a bearded white guy in the clouds in order to believe in a meaningful connection on earth.  Silly me, I’ll get right on that.)

Others just didn’t seem to have much turnover … the same flaccid (and yes, you caught me, you clever reader, I’m using the word deliberately) profiles were there, month after month after month, and I just knew the site needed to be renamed PlentyOfSpaceInMyMom’sBasement.com.

I certainly did encounter some players in the Lavalife years.  One of whom I outed to several of his other ‘connections’ when I discovered he’d been lying about all sorts o’ important stuff including his marital status and whether he’d been HIV tested.  Do NOT mess with me, fellas.  (Lest you think me impertinent, every single woman I contacted thanked me for the heads-up on this knob.)

Another who couldn’t even sustain the most banal kind of small-talk during a ‘meet for drinks’ at a sports bar clearly chosen more for its big-screen display of the Leafs losing, than for my enjoyment, but was genuinely gobsmacked when I didn’t leap at his invitation to come home with him.

And one who thought an appropriate first date would be for me to get in a van with him and drive around the deserted roads of a nearby provincial park, well after dark, until he found a suitable place to dump the body.

But you know what?  I did find a good guy there eventually.  Okay, flawed, but hey, I’m a smidge quirky myself in addition to being over 20 and not a size zero, so, you know, I make allowances.  He’s good enough that we’re still together nearly six years later, and I deleted my profile and Lavalife finally stopped badgering me to come back a couple years later.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that because I didn’t really tell him I was going to be writing about this and I don’t know if his mother knows we met online.

Given that, I have to say I’m more successful at internet dating than I am at job-hunting, because in the past three years I have sent out thousands of resumes and managed only a handful of interviews, and no lasting matches.  Even though I probably come across as a lot more sane and capable on a resume than I did on a dating profile, and it really shouldn’t bloody matter that I’m not a size zero and it should be a plus that I’m over 20.  Right?  (Hmm.  The crickets are back.)

I even got rejected the other day by a resume-compilation/headhunter service to which I’d been given (supposedly) a 30-day free trial thanks to membership in a LinkedIn group.  Spent all that time inputting my resume only to have it spat back out at me.

So what was it about internet dating that I did better?  This is something to ponder.  Questions, comments, thoughts, concerns?

 

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