Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Scenes from a transatlantic move with baby

Standing at the check-in counter of Swiss airlines in the Venice airport in front of incredibly patient and kind airlines employees with our 108 kg of checked baggage divided into 6 pieces, our 4 carry on pieces which clearly exceed weight limits and our carry-on stroller. No, not a dainty umbrella stroller that collapses with a flick of the wrist. The Bob. To add to the mountain of baggage and chaos, we brought the Bob as our gate checked stroller. I wanted to affix a sign to the top of our mountain, actually mountains because 11 pieces of luggage do not fit onto one luggage cart, stating "moving home after one year abroad" lest people think this is how we pack for a 2-3 week vacation.

Walking the aisle of the Swiss airbus 320-300 over and over with la cocotte who, not surprisingly, did not want to spend 8 hours on mommy and daddy's laps. Watching the same aisle-dwelling people, patiently and repeatedly moving their legs, elbows and drinks out of tripping, poking and swiping range of la cocotte.

Feeling dumbfounded when the Canadian Customs guy asked us what we were bringing back from our "trip". How does one sum up a year's worth of acquisitions in 10 seconds as the rest of the airplane waits behind us (because baby privilege dictated that despite being last off the plane, we were moved to the front of the line - LOVE the baby privilege). Chocolate, coffee, some books, a car seat and 14 extra pounds of baby made of the finest Italian food.

Not remembering how to say the address of our apartment in french to the taxi driver.

Walking into our tidy but dusty apartment and feeling oddly disoriented. 24 hours later seeing same apartment with aforementioned 10 suitcases spewing their contents from various frantic searches everywhere.

Realizing just how incredibly un-baby proof our apartment is.

Heart attack at the grocery store when we saw the cost of food. Seriously I felt like I was in one of those time-travel Hollywood movies where the heroine wakes up and 15 years have gone by because $50/kg for cheese? Really? Not even yummy cheese, the cheese I buy because it normally doesn't require taking out a second mortgage on the house. All the lovely, affordable food that la cocotte has grown to love in Italy is, well, less lovely and way less affordable.

Not having every person on the sidewalk stop and admire our toddler. Those who do, seem strangely shocked when I engage in conversation with them, almost as if they are thinking "I was talking to HER not you lady, I don't KNOW you.".

Melting in the 32 deg C heat (40 deg with the humidex everyone LOVES to proudly add as if it is some kind of accomplishment) of a late summer Montreal heat wave.

8 visits to see different daycares. 3 trips to IKEA. 1 trip to Babies 'R Us. 2 trips to Beau Bebe.

Living surrounded by university students and the inevitable noise. Seriously, what are these people thinking making god awful noise at .... oh.... 8:30 pm. I guess expecting pin-drop silence in the student ghetto at 8:30 pm is setting the bar a little high. Somehow though the evening bark on our street in Trieste was more palatable.


  1. Ah Piccolapinecone, how I love those posts and how they do resonate.

    Customs: you just have to lie. I don't think they really want the truth. We usually put $50 dollars worth of gifts and leave it at that.

    Stranger in a strange place... I truly believe I have become an unhappier person being stuck between two countries. Everyone's story is different, but I've seen in in numerous people returning to Europe and North America. Sometimes it's easier to just know and pursue one way of life. You're obviously someone who analyzes the way people live their lives, and I'd say there's a fair chance it's come back to bite you. Just saying I've seen it over and over again. OTOH, if your husband is as analytical as you, you could have fun with "ohmagaad, that's so Canadian!" moments.

    Is Italy that cheap? I guess we stupid tourists probably end up paying too much for everything but I never thought of Italy as all that cheap. For Scandinavians, America is cheap and for Americans, Canada is cheap. Maybe I've just never been to a ritzy co-op in Montreal or maybe things have changed.

  2. Cheese has become ridiculously expensive of late; I found a nice Pont l'Evecque and then quailed at $36 US/pound ($95? Can./kilo).

    After a few days in the woods, I find my house to be suddenly very small, unfamiliar and distinctly smelling of something needing airing. I can't imagine what a year away would do.

    That heat wave has been unrelenting here (until today!), but as soon as I want to complain, my friend in Russia says, "Hotter than brushfires? Can you breathe? Did they shut off the water and electricity?" Doesn't make it any cooler here, though.

  3. Time for a woman comment here. I hope you DID put down 14 extra pounds of baby on your customs form. That made my heart melt and surely would do the same for the customs officers. Or they'd just get mad. I tend to want to write down EVERYTHING when I travel across the Atlantic, as opposed to SR. That is why he doesn't let me fill out the form anymore.

    I am amazed you guys kept your apartment this whole time. I mean it must be a luxury and a big avoidance of hassle to have done that... but did you guys have to keep paying rent?

    Cheese. Cheese in North American sucks.

  4. I mean North AmericA. In case there was doubt.

  5. Good luck in 3 days, 6 hours and 19 minutes!

  6. @SLG: A Wisconsin girl thinks North American cheese sucks? Compare Widmer's 8 year cheddar to... Tilsit (that's Danish, isn't it?)

    @PPC: Make sure you take in extra fluid these last few days before the race.

  7. although it was for different reasons (such as being mistaken for a Brit because I apparently spoke French with an English accent), that reminds me of us moving to France (first time for Martin, after ten years abroad for me) in 2008... If and when you have time (ie when you have finished visiting the 250 day care centers of Montreal and its suburbs), check out my 2008 posts (not that many of them, as you won't be surprised to hear!).

    Are you going to start working again? I did. Today. For the first time in more than 2 1/2 years. Exciting in many ways, but leaving Malo 50 hours a week in day care is super hard...

    Good luck with getting familiar with home again, with finding the right day care for La Cocotte, and for your marathon!

  8. Glad to have you back!
    All the hassle is a small price to pay to meet new people, see new countries, etc right? But it is pain in the a$%*$ anyway. In past 2 years I have moved around 3 different countries. Blah. I think I should just stay sitting on my butt and do not move around for a while.
    I hate moving!
    I do not want to even think that I have to pack everything in little over 2 weeks for my move to California.
    (But I do not have that many things here, since I took only one suitcase with me. Yeah, that's right. I moved to the US with one lousy suitcase. Which means that I do not have enough cloths. After few days here I realized I have only clothes for running and for work. The reason is one suitcase plus that I had only 4ish hours at my parent's place to unpack everything I brought from France and pack everything I need for the US. I did very lousy job. So 1 suitcase and a bike it is.)

    I think that some groceries (especially fruits) are very expensive in the US (not sure about Canada, I have spent there 3 days only) compared to France and of course France is very expensive compared to Slovakia. But to me it seems that cloths in the US are pretty cheap (but I am not a huge shopper so am not sure about that).
    I miss French cheese and marches where I used to buy 3kg of apples for 2Euros and 3kg of carrots for 1.5Euros and then eat them in less than a week...
    And I think that Italy is expensive (even if you live there, not only for tourists). Well, only compared to Slovakia (hell, most "developed" countries are expensive compared to Slovakia, except for Bulgaria. That one is cheap.). Not sure compared to France. I have not been to Italy for a while.

    I wish I had American salary and lived in Slovakia. That would be cool.

  9. fast bastard & monyka - you both nailed it in the sense that although Trieste prices for most groceries, rent and restaurants are far lower than Montreal prices, they scale i.e. Trieste salaries are also lower. Triestinos regularly complain about how expensive everything is so I guess the bottom line is that it was a sweet deal living on Cdn salaries in Trieste but now we return to reality. Yes, fast bastard, it is true in many ways one cannot go home again. It is emotionally wrenching to leave and come back (and leave and come back) but I guess ultimately I agree with monyka that the hassle and emotional turbulence is a price well worth playing to live the experience of foreign living.

    Steveq - thanks for the reminder. With all the sweat and milk my body is producing these days it is probably impossible to drink too much. I am feeling strangely sluggish this time while tapering but I attribute it to the heat and humidity and assume I will feel fine once Hurricane Earl's remnants pass through and clear the air.

    SLG - of all the controversial things you have ever published on the internet... being a Wisconsonite and boldly, unapologetically stating that American cheese sucks HAS to be in the top 5.

    Mapp - I started posting a very similar comment on your blog after reading your last post and then got interrupted and never finished. Yes... we are indeed in synch, not surprising given the respective ages of our children. I was wondering what had become of your job hunt, congratulations on finding what sounds pretty ideal. I hope Malo is settling in well to his new environment. I go back to work next week.

  10. Well, I stand corrected then. I would have thought Trieste had higher prices than Montreal based on my experience of Italy being more expensive than Canada.

    I suspect I may have been biased by traveling to expensive parts of Italy (Dolomites, Rome, skiing trips) and cheaper parts of Canada (Manitoba, Ontario). I've never been to Montreal.

    Still, I'm a surprised. Most Scandinavians think of Canada as a shopper's paradise where they can wield their hard currency and they just think of Italy as a moderately priced European country.

    Argh, I had to waste 5 minutes on looking up the Big Mac Index. I found Canada but Italy was nowhere to be found!