Wednesday, February 15, 2012

20 years ago today - Days 349 to 362 - Vancouver

completion of my trip - epilogue

As I suspected, there are no comments after yesterday's blog, but every story deserves its conclusion and epilogue, even if it is not being read....

I spent the last two weeks of my time away from home (Toronto) in Vancouver. I kept no daily records but I still remember both some of the events and the delight of being back in Canada. I expected a shock, returning from India to the middle of a Canadian winter, but the difference was much smaller than I expected. February is one of Vancouver's wettest months but not today. This year it was mild, sunny and bright. Winter was clearly over. The crocuses and daffodils were just coming out, heralding in spring. Birds were singing and celebrating my arrival home. Although it was cooler than India, it was not that much cooler - a delightful surprise.

Bill made me breakfast the next morning and he took me out for a drive. Gawd, it felt good to be back in this city. The ships in the harbour, the snow on the mountains, the green lawns - it is wonderful place to be when the weather is fine, especially when the rest of the country is still under a blanket of snow. After lunch I pumped up my tires and rode downtown and back, then around Marine Drive to UBC and along Jericho Beach. The air was fresh and clean and scented with flowers. I don't remember Vancouver winter being this lovely but it certainly was this year.

Later, when I returned to Bill's, we headed out for the evening for the Wreck Beach Naked Swim, held at a local pool on the west side of Vancouver. There were about forty people at the swim, about half of them gay and the others straight with children. The women hung out in the whirlpool, the straight men talked sports in the sauna and the gay men played with the children, swinging on ropes to drop into the swimming pool or going down the water slide with them. Everyone seemed to know we were gay and no one minded. They left us with their children gratefully. I was swept up by the beauty of one handsome straight man, and although I tried to be discreet about it, he noticed and was amused. I was horribly embarrassed when he joked with his wife about me.

Over the next few days the weather remained fine. I went for a walk with Bill on Wreck Beach. It was too cool to sunbathe but it was excellent weather for a hike along the beach over fallen logs. I feinted a couple times, unexpectedly, dropping to the sand briefly. I had low blood pressure it seemed, but it turned out that I was anaemic. I found out that I had started and stopped my malaria medicine too often, causing my red blood cells to break down and die. It wasn't too serious. By the time I got home two weeks later the feinting had already stopped, although my blood tests showed that my red blood cells were still down to 75%. It must have been considerably lower when I arrived in Vancouver.

My sister and Bill took me to the Love Affair, a popular gay disco on Howe St, on the second night after my arrival. Linda said she is comfortable with me being gay, but she was not really used to it. One butch guy was rubbing his friend's crotch with his beer playfully. Maybe his beer is too warm, she joked. In reality, I think she found it disconcerting that so many handsome men had no interest in her. It had been months since I have been in a gay bar around so many gay men. They didn't show any interest in me either, in my emaciated shape. The Love Affair was having a fund-raiser, raising money for AIDS-related benefits but selling brush cuts for a cheap price. I had my head shaved close, finally getting rid of the dyed hair I have detested for the past four weeks.

I met my nephew Ritchie for the first time. He was a cute kid who, a two years old, had been only walking for a few months. He took a shine to me. My sister told me he looks a lot like me. He was my first and only nephew

I had a wonderful, playful, gentle time for the full two weeks I was in Vancouver. Even when it was cloudy and grey, it felt sunny. I loved this place, and still do. It was very clear that I should move back to Vancouver to live, but I had no transferable credentials from my current job as an uncertified library technician, no nest egg to live off of if I did quit and the value of my home was dropping annually as Toronto was going through a prolonged recession after the introduction of the GST and free trade with the US. I was going to be stuck in Toronto for some time to come.

I returned to Toronto on February 29, three days before I returned to work with the City of Toronto Planning Department. I was 128 lbs (58 kg) with a shaved head. I must have looked like I had just been released from a concentration camp. Some of my Toronto friends gasped when they saw me and said, "Oh my Gawd, not you too!", thinking that I was sick from AIDS. My doctor was quite upset with my state of 'malnutrition' and for my blood anemia. For some strange reason, I wasn't able to regain a single pound while in India or Vancouver, in spite of all I was eating, but once I was back in Toronto my body must have realized I was home and the traveling was over. I gained two pounds a week for the next three months and everyone was relieved.

David, my housemate and business partner who co-owned my home, was on best behaviour towards me for the months that followed. He eventually decided to move to Trinidad to be with a 19-year-old lover from there who ran up a phone bill of $900/mo until then. He made a good chunk of money off selling his half to me, but squandered it in the attempted move to Trinidad, moving all his belongings there and then back again three months later after learning that local officials rejected his residency application and could not be bribed. We never spoke again after he left.

I did renew my friendship with Mike Silk, the man I cycled the first three months with from Portugal to Amsterdam. He doesn't use Facebook or e-mail much but we spent a day together in August 2004 when I last visited Toronto.

Coen and Vincent, my cycling partners from Istanbul to Rawalpindi, Pakistan, kept in touch for a short while, in part because I needed to share photos and such, but they too proved to be unreliable pen pals. Frank Markus, my cycling partner from Rawalpindi to Goa, came to Toronto to visit me in 1995 with his girlfriend Petra. He was greatly relieved that I had regained my weight and kept commenting on how much better I looked. Shortly after returning to Germany, he accepted a medical internship in Australia and I lost touch with him.

Jochen, who cycled with me through the Austrian and Italian Alps, sent me photos of our time together that he and Matthias had taken. We exchanged a few letters and then he stopped writing sometime in 1992.

Philippe and Marcel in Cotignac, France, kept in touch for about five years. Gerard and Thierry of Roches-sur-Foron, in the Haute Savoie, France, came to visit me in 1993. They had a terrible experience in Quebec because the Quebecois they met resented that they did not understanding their accent and they were treated with contempt. Jean-Marie and Patrick of Dijon kept in touch for a couple years. Pierre Lamy in Paris came to visit me in 1995 and we kept in touch for a few more years as we were both members of Lesbian & Gay Hospitality Exchange International (LGHEI).

I did not keep in touch with anyone from the Lowlands, but Wai Sing Li, the Chinese-Canadian from Montreal who was on crutches in Lille when I met him is still a friend and is my web master for my stained glass art website. He is now married and living in Singapore.

JP, the 19 year old American I met in Heidelberg, Germany, is now an educator in Illinois. The only person I met in Berlin who kept in touch with me was Andres Seifart, who came to visit me in 1994. He was unimpressed with Canada, except for seeing a refrigerator that produced ice cubes. I suppose he thought we chipped them out of the lake when we needed them.

Kersten, the kind gay man in Copenhagen who put me up twice, went to India in the winter of 1992, as he had done for several years. He fell ill in southern India and caught a train back to Delhi where he knew a western doctor. He survived the train ride and caught a rickshaw taxi to the hospital where he died an hour and a half later, according to his brother.

Leif Villars-Dahl is still a lawyer in Oslo. We only stayed in touch for a year after the trip.

I did not hear from Frenk, Irena or Bojan for a full year after our time together in Split during the outbreak of the war in Croatia. Bojan eventually wrote to me to tell me that they all made back to Slovenia safely. Here I had been worries sick all this time, fearing that they had been killed or something worse.

I have learned recently that Charles Trico is still operating Charles' Hole In The Wall in Gibraltar, but neither he nor anyone else in my blog not mentioned above contacted me after I wrote to them.

In 1995, my position in the City of Toronto was deemed redundant in a downsizing and I was offered a generous severance. I left Toronto in July 1996 to move back to Vancouver, where I have lived ever since. I learned in late1997, after being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in June of the same year, that the disease took off during my year of travel n bicycle. It may have been caused by the prolonged exertion, launched that year earlier than it might have otherwise started or it began that year by pure coincidence. I guess I will never find out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have just started reading your blogs. I particularly resonate with your statements about people who drop out of keeping in touch with you. I can tell you it gets worse when you get old, and getting a couch is very difficult. I am aged 72 and live in New Zealand and just getting into the swing of hosting c.s.
Peter Jamieosn