Back in Montreal

Thirty-six hours. Three flights. Two all-nighters. One ten-hour layover. A mean cold that kicked in a day earlier. 75 tissues. A whole row of pills. Half a pack of cough drops. Too many in-flight meals. No sleep.

I feel like I’ve walked through one of the deeper circles of hell. This isn’t even mentioning the crying baby one row over. An old aunt and uncle playing dog videos on their iPhone with the volume cranked up. A tall man in the seat next to me whose elbow keeps jabbing me in the ribs.

All this to get back to Montreal.

Small miracle that things at the airport were actually pretty smooth. Took under an hour to land, ferry, pass customs, collect my bags (one of them was literally the last to appear on the belt) and catch an Uber home.

I fell asleep easily three seconds after hitting the pillows and slept like a rock until four in the morning.

Hasn’t been such a bad day since.

Went to the bakery the minute it opened. I wasn’t the first one there. Did the same for the fruiterie and the post office. Both places were packed. Fridays in Outremont, I guess.

Been slowly unpacking. Both checked suitcases were sitting at around 22 kg each. Definitely the heaviest luggage I’ve ever brought home.

Thank all the gifts I crammed in there. A dozen scarfs. Hell of a lot of clothing. A whole crockery set. And the soup. So much sweet corn soup. Tasting that in the morning from boiled tap water was heaven. As were the plain scrambled eggs, fried spinach and bread I had for brunch.

Nothing deep fried today. No thanks.

Still working on the jet lag. If I make it past two PM without passing out, I’ll feel like some kind of God.

From Montreal to Kolkata

Five hours before arrival
It’s 3AM and my socks reek like someone lit a fire in a locker room. I air them out while waiting at the departure gate, hoping no one sits too close to me. I’m waiting for my second red eye in less than 24 sleepless hours and it’s not before I board my flight that I discover I lost my neck pillow somewhere during the twenty minute walk from arrivals to this quiet, almost empty corner of Mumbai’s airport. Great.

Six hours before arrival
I splash on water my face in the washroom mirror and forget not to swallow what comes out of the tap. I realize I’ve probably just guaranteed that I’ll get the shits sooner than anticipated this trip. Great.

I’ve just landed at Mumbai and found a shop selling tourist SIM cards. It’s four guys in dress shirts sitting behind a counter at a booth that’s decorated like a basement under renovations. The airport is glitzy like a high-end mall and decorated like a well-curated museum. I feel like these guys are greasing me, but I don’t have a lot of time or options. I offer them cash, but they refuse it outright, asking for Visa. Still suspicious, I purchase a SIM card and am kinda surprised it works an hour later.

Thirteen hours before arrival
The map on the little screen tells me the flight’s about a third of the way from London to Mumbai. The flight attendants came by and took the dinner trays away about forty minutes ago and already the food is cutting a hole in my gut. I want (need) to get the cramped excuse for a washroom that’s down the aisle from me but I’m stuck between two sleeping, elderly aunties who both have a hard time getting in and out of their seats. I’ve gotta wake one of them up and I’m already feeling guilty beforehand. Great.

Sixteen hours before arrival
Waiting at Heathrow to print my boarding pass from the Air India kiosk. I see a confused guy who looks like he just stepped away from a house fire stumble up in the line next to me. He goes to the counter clearly marked Air Portugal and asks them for an Air India boarding pass. They point him to my line instead of going to the back, tries to cut ahead right before the guy at the counter. Fortunately, I get his attention and point to the line. He responds with, “oh, there were people here before me.” Almost like he’s upset we noticed. Filthy cutter, not today.

Twenty-two hours before arrival
Stepping onto my British Airways flight. Two cabin crew members greet everyone at the door. One is clearly Scottish, the other, who knows. He mumbles something that could have been any line from Long Good Friday. I walk by wishing I had subtitles. When the drinks come around, I ask the flight attendant for a red wine and he gives me two, knowing I’ll need them both.

I watch 2018 The Predator expecting it to be trash and it delivers. It’s bad. Like 90s sequel. Making it strangely anachronistic. Gives us two characters making gay jokes. A monster in a lab that we’re told is heavily sedated before it wakes up and escapes, tearing through its restraints like they’re made of tin foil. We even got a child actor in a lead role. All that’s missing is a sub-plot involving a dog. Oh, wait.

Twenty-eight hours before arrival
Not looking forward to spending twenty-four hours at airports and in flight. I get a text message ten minutes before I’m due to leave for the aiport informing me that my flight’s been delayed. Pushed it three hours later than expected. Exactly enough time to cause my arrival in London to take place after my connecting flight has departed. Great.

I call up British Airways and the person on the phone gives me three options. Leave the next day, spend nearly a full day waiting for a connection at Heathrow, or go down to the Airport in person and see if they have better options. I’m tempting to go for the first, uninterested in the second, and kinda afraid of the third. Figure I’ll take a cab with all my bags, get there, and the people at the kiosk give me the same first two options. Sucking it up, I go for option three and am pleasantly surprised they’ve already made the arrangements for new connecting flights. Less time in layovers than previously. Not bad. Maybe I’m on the way to a decent couple of flights after all.

Books I Read in 2018

The start of a new year, the end of an old. In total, I read roughly 49 fiction novels, graphic novels, or comic book volumes last year, along with 19 nonfiction titles.

Fiction
Stark – The Man with the Getaway Face
Stark – The Hunter
Stark – Comeback
Stark – The Green Eagle Score
Stark – Flashfire
Stark – Dirty Money
Stark – Breakout
Stark – Ask the Parrot
Asimov – Foundation
Brunner – More Things in Heaven
Brunner – Timescoop
Crichton – Sphere
Crichton – Next
Crichton – The Terminal Man
Crichton – Micro
Crichton – Congo
Gifford – Wild at Heart
Gifford – Perdito Durango
Searls – Jaws the Revenge
Archer – Only Time Will Tell
Archer – Sons of Fortune
Isayama – Attack on Titan Vols I-II
Junji – Itou Junji Kyoufu Manga Collection Vols I-VI
Jodorowsky & Frissen – Metabaron Vols I-V
Jodorowsky – The Luminous Incal
Jodorowsky – What Lies Beneath
Murakami – Hear the Wind Sing
Murakami – Pinball 1973
Mitchell – The Bone Clocks
Morgan – Altered Carbon
Morgan – Broken Angels
Doyle – Hound of the Baskervilles
Puzo – The Godfather
Puzo – The Sicilian
Flynn – Dark Places
Hill – Stange Weather
Ichiguro – Never Let Me Go
King – Needful Things
McCarthy – No Country for Old Men

Non-Fiction
Grey – Stalin
Sarno – The Mind Body Connection
Sarno – The Divided Mind
Bell – Superstructure
Harper – Reagan
Ivanov – Gandhi
Riley – Fulton Sheen
Payne – Fame
Barbas – Movie Crazie
Reeves – America’s Bishop
Sheen – Treasures in Clay
Lynch – Selling Catholicism
McGrath – Christianity’s Dangerous Idea
Frank, Moreto & White – Devotions and Desires
Hearn – Men of the World
Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning
Marshall & Redmond – A Companion to Celebrity
Schreier – Blood, Sweat and Pixels

A few observations about a year in reading:

Michael Crichton is much more of a hack than I initially gave him credit. I think it was about a hundred pages into ‘Micro’ when I realized I was reading pulp-trash for the modern era, nothing more. Sure his books are fun and addictive, and he likes to fill pages with enjoyable techno jargon, but the more I read, the lesser the returns. What is his obsession with annoying characters that talk a lot? How many of these stories really needed talking animals / mentally-challenged aliens / computers / bratty children / etc? The same can be said for his preacher intros (and preachy characters) about how humans don’t comprehend science and its gonna bite us all in the ass. Here I was thinking that he was a genuinely intelligent science fiction and techno-thriller writer, when really he’s this past generation’s John Brunner. Not that I’ll stop reading his books or anything.

Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) deserves all the praise that appears on the back of his novels. That man has not only perfected the heist / crime genre, but seems to constantly find a way of upturning his own conventions and formula with every Parker novel. I read eight of his novels back to back and each one somehow felt both fresh and familiar at the same time. Plus, I love books that are plot-focused rather than, say, character studies or meditative or momentary explorations of the self yada yada, and the Parker novels are all plot.

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan is many times better (in every sense of the word) than the Netflix series. I liked the show on first viewing (or rather, ended up liking it in spite of its poor pacing, overly talky scenes, etc.), but after reading the book in between viewings of the season, man does it make the show look bad. Okay, not look – since the production values, costumes, sets, special effects, and all that are stunning – but in terms of telling a gripping, important story, the show really feels meandering in comparison to the much tighter plotting and pacing of the novel. Still, I have high hopes for season 2 if it follows the also expertly paced (at least first 4/5ths) of the sequel Broken Angels.

When I first started reading Wild at Heart by Giffords, I wondered how on earth that novella managed to become an international bestseller. I think I felt the same way all the way through as well. It was so weird, oddly structured, and almost inconsequential (though certainly enjoyable) that I thought it must have been a mistake. But then, once it was over, somehow everything came together and I just got it and realized it was brilliant all along. Not a lot of books do that, sneaking up on you and becoming much better once you make it through the story as a whole. Even now, when I think about sections, and the little micro stories, I reminisce over the clever little details, the sharp writing, and the memorable moments I didn’t think were going to stick with me. The same can be said for its follow-up, Perdita Durango.

Biggest disappointment? The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I know. I should have loved it. It had so many interesting and clever elements and ideas in there. My main issue is that none of them came together in a way that just clicked for me. I found myself consistently bored, annoyed and wondering why there seemed to be so much filler in the foreground and so many exciting things happening in the background that were only alluded to. At one point, the characters discuss an event that happened in the past, and the event was so much more interesting than the story that I was in the process of reading that I felt kinda like I was ripped off. Don’t get me wrong, Mitchell writes brilliant prose (in numerous voices). I just wish his stories didn’t unfold at a snail’s pace.