A Be Sea
I. WINNER - GAGNON
I would like to say i never win anything, but the truth is that for someone so unfortunate, I am extremely lucky.
or maybe it’s because i’m unfortunate that people take pity on me and offer me these opportunities.
(Oh god, I’m questioning a lot of things right now and should push on.)
a twenty-four year old, who had never been anywhere but who had watched a lot of television, I had ideas of what this trip would be, i would be put up in a hotel, travel paris and the south of france, i would look sophisticated, and i would take stunning photos and maybe fall in love. In short, i’m an idiot.
And at twenty-four, I am vaguely self-aware enough to know that I’m an idiot.
At the airport, waiting FOR THE HANDLER from the consulate, A MAN ASKS IF HE CAN DRIVE ME SOMEWHERE, I SAY NO, THANK YOU.
weeks LATER MY MOTHER asks ME to WATCH A MOVIE HER NURSE GAVE HER. After a few minutes i get the sense this is a
passive aggressive movie night.
MOM, LIFE IS NOT LIKE TAKEN, I WASN’T GOING TO BE SOLD INTO WHITE SLAVERY
YOU DON’T KNOW THAT
I DON’T THINK I’D BE WORTH VERY MUCH.
She doesn’t argue.
Rita, the facilitator, arrives two hours late to pick me up from the airport.
After a tense metro ride during which she makes it clear she’s annoyed by my existence, we’re at the hostel and I’m introduced to the other award winners from around the world.
there are two other canadians.
a girl from russia asks if we know each other. we don’t. canada is a big place.
one of the canadians asks me if i know his friend jordan.
canada is a small place.
during this brief, awkward gathering, the canadians inform me that we’re the only photographers, that the others won
We leave from the hostel, taking the metro to a famous park for a picnic.
the sun is too bright and hot and I feel like I’m dying. I need to get to a bed.
After convincing everyone i could take care of myself.
I make my way on the metro to the hostel after only having been there once, for five minutes. I have an eidetic memory that is useful in this one specific circumstance and pretty much never again,
I crawl up the stairs of the hostel and land on my knees in the first stall of the common washroom
I vomit sour airplane orange juice and oxycodone into the toilet
sitting for long periods is torture for degenerative disks, but still I haven’t had to take that many since i tore a muscle in my back. I should have remembered the result—my memory is selectively vivid. I pass out on the top bunk.
II: MY PANT’S PANTS
In the morning we are given our assignment. Each of us will create a work that reflects our time in France, to be shown to a cultural committee at the end of our ten day trip.
as is my method, I begin to shoot everything and anything hoping something will come together in the end.
I am heavy with books from the Pompidou. my camera wrapped in a sweater, placed in a nylon shopping bag.
WE ARE GIVEN FREE TIME TO WANDER THE CITY ALONE OR IN GROUPS.
I CHOOSE ALONE. OR ALONE chooses me. Even now it’s difficult to tell the difference.
We break up in the financial district and i stick to it in search of earphones to replace the ones i crushed while my head was in congress with a toilet. I also want a towel, because hostels don’t have towels. judging by the welts on my arms, what they lack in service, they make up for in bed bugs.
I am photographing nothing in particular when i see a closed clothing store whose sign reads My pant’s.
i am haunted by this sign to this day.
it’s a sunday, four pm. i feel like i’m blending in to this area with my ruffled blouse and skirt. that morning when i came down to the common room, rita remarked that i looked like a flight attendant.
i’m going to take that as a compliment
i shouldn’t have.
i am slowly walking back to my abandoned sandals along the empty metro station platform when a train pulls up and a group of teenagers see me crying barefoot and approach me.
They are from Belgium. sophie is the only one who introduces herself, but they all accompany me to the nearest police station. As we ride the subway, i stand quietly in shock, and sophie tries to keep me talking
where are you from?
oh! I have a cousin in canada, maybe you know her?!
in that moment, I really want to know sophie’s cousin. I want there to be some astronomically unlikely event that would make all of this seem fated and in no way my own responsibility.
I don’t know sophie’s cousin.
THIS IS ALL MY FAULT.
in preparing for my exciting first trip anywhere ever, i make two purchases i think will make me look like appropriately sophisticated traveller: a pair of flat coach sandals that are a little big but were 70% off at winners, and a beautiful leather bag that will fit my second camera and all of the things i insist on carrying with me every day but have nowhere else to put because i never wear pants and thus don’t have access to a pant’s pockets.
the purse has a large flap, easy to lift for instant access to my camera.
or, if i’m being slammed repeatedly into a wall, my wallet.
V. FRIENDLY SKIES
The policewoman asks me to describe him, prompting me further with what translates to
How dark was he?
He was white
i see. why, if I may ask, did you have so much money on you? what were you planning to buy?
you must have many friends
in addition to the casual racism of the on a scale of caramel to dark chocolate ganache skin tone swatching, this is weirdly intrusive and i don’t answer. I do have a lot of friends. I have an amazing personality.
he hit you, are you badly hurt?
I say no in this moment, buT beyond the bruises on my back I will later discover in the shower, i don’t yet know
that having chased barefoot after the theif, I will slowly develop an infection from a small cut that
moves deep into the tissues of my foot and just as i leave france, will hit my bloodstream.
spending the flight passed out on strangers, shivering and burning, when i land in toronto i will immediately go to the hospital.
in the days leading up to this, I tried to turn the robbery into a lesson about material attachment, i try to get super zen about it all.
but i don’t think there was a lesson
Other than that no one respects flight attendants anymore.
[AN INTERLUDE OF CANADIAN ON CANADIAN VIOLENCE]
HE SAYS, YOU keep saying I’m sorry
STOP SAYING You’re SORRY
I am trying to be normal. you will notice how normal i am being. look, i am eating, i am smiling. Normal.
are you crying into your cereal?
I am crying into my cereal.
It’s okay, breakfast makes me sad too.
i’m just more of a yogurt person.
Ivana looks at me very seriously.
Everything is going to be better when we get to the south, you’ll see.
IIV. MY MISFORTUNE IS A FORTUNE