4 minute read

Dispatches

INDIA

zero centimetres

Some mornings, Lee wakes me up by laying his entire body on mine, matching my sprawl perfectly, like a cut-out. His cheek is on my forehead. “Wake up, cucumber,” he laughs. We take 20 minutes to make breakfast and eat it on the couch, legs tangled, before the day startles awake.

zero centimetres

When the bored-looking girl at the ticket counter gets fed up and slides the window closed, the line at the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Ooty, India becomes the New York Stock Exchange trading floor. People surge forward, their bellies to my back, money clenched in their fists. They demand to see the animals! I extricate myself just in time to watch, across the sloping hills, a wild boar disappear into the woods.

0ne centimetre

There are only men in Panaji. Every waiter, tuk-tuk driver, mango-cart guard, and silk sari merchant. When I just barely catch the bus from Vagator, there are two women at the back who part wordlessly to let me sit in between them. Even as the bus lurches over hills and sweat seals my thighs to theirs, it’s a treat to be this close to women.

one centimetre

The Indira Gandhi airport in Delhi is a necessary jumping point to get further south. The Goan beaches and Kerelan backwaters beckon, though really all I want is a slice of pizza. Pizza Hut, sadly, will do the trick, but not the men in line with me who stand so close their arms brush against mine. When the cashier hands me my pizza, I realize it isn’t the only relic of home I’m craving.

11,130 kilometres

Boarding the plane to leave India, I can’t say I’m sad. I’ve planned what I’ll tell curious friends and coworkers: “The place was certainly a challenge.” I’ll laugh in a way that says, “But that’s travel!” I’ll tell them about the lack of personal space, a nicely packaged anecdote. And then I’ll re-adjust to the much wider measurements in Vancouver—the way people apologize when they pierce your space, the fact that I’ve never spoken to the other people who live in my apartment building, the echoes of the city at night.—Veronica Ciastko

CALIFORNIA

We had booked a trip to Integratron—a “resonant tabernacle and energy machine sited on a powerful geomagnetic vortex,” as described on its website— weeks earlier, and now in the kitchen of my friend’s family vacation home in Palm Desert, it was just hours away. I was impatient to get there, and every distraction bothered me: the filling of water bottles; the application of sunscreen; the conversations that could wait. By way of too many wrong turns and a detour to Joshua Tree National Park, we arrived in Integratron’s home of Landers. A pantone of earthy hues south of the horizon met a clear blue sky, the line blurred by a thick haze. It was impossible to miss the large white dome that marred the vacant skyline—it was overbearing, dominant, odd.

A group of 20 or so, we made our way one by one up a set of thick, steep stairs so wide that my arms fully stretched out would not meet both handrails at the same time. I emerged at the summit wide-eyed and intrigued. I entered the dome, lay down, covered myself with a blanket, and sank into a spongy mattress, ready for the sound bath to begin. A woman named Nancy, her voice melodic and soft, led us through our chakra-cleansing experience. From the sacrum to the top of the head, the vibrations became heavier; the sound was encompassing, almost sinister.

I placed my hands on my abdomen and they bore down on my skin like weights. As Nancy drew another note from the quartz bowl, I drew further into myself. I didn’t move and I didn’t feel, but tears streamed from my eyes, and the noise enshrined my body as I lay paralyzed. Inside I felt full, claustrophobic—no room for food, no room for water. Three days after returning from the desert, I found out I was pregnant.—Ashley Jardine

LONDON

I finally left Vancouver, like most Vancouverites say they are going to (give me a dollar for every person who told me they were moving to Berlin, Montreal, New York, L.A. Whatever, give me a nickel, I’d still be rich). But I’m not that proud of myself, because the city I chose is Vancouver’s twin. Twins don’t look right alone, and being somewhere with all the trappings of home leaves me feeling suspended, like one of the bubbles of the London Eye. People don’t think about it, but London is a waterfront city, too. Last summer I ran along the Seawall every night, sometimes in rain that I described as “Shakespearean”; here I jog along the Thames, past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I don’t necessarily think that’s an improvement.

On the West Coast, everything is so beautifully gloomy, like a dark smudge over something happy.

Vancouver is a beautiful secret—there is still a feeling of the forests even in the concrete plains—whereas London celebrates its secrets, turns them into tourist traps. That’s enterprising, I guess, and characteristically British. I have been trying to define Britishness since I got here, and I think I’ve got it: controlled exposure. Every confessional moment disguises a deeper admission. Self-deprecating humour throws a cloak over real pain. On the West Coast, everything is so beautifully gloomy, like a dark smudge over something happy. Here it’s the opposite—there is something chipper and peppy covering up the grey. The national temperament is like tin foil on top of soot.

I love being a bitch in London. It’s so antithetical to this city. It’s absurd to say I feel out of place when I blend in so much more than other newcomers, when I have every advantage thanks to a home not all that different. But I feel out of something, and I think it’s space. I feel like a ghost in London, a wisp or a scratch on a leather couch. I’ve never loved my city so much as I do now that I’m away from it. And I’ve turned London into an apparition of Vancouver. My homesickness is physical, in the coffee shops I go to that play the same music, in the parties and flat concrete rooms that remind me of East Van, in the markets and canals where I can drink juice and listen to lapping water. All the cute boys I meet turn out to be Canadian.—Meredyth Cole

illustrations by nicola mcneil
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