Chronicles of a writer abroad

The unbearable lightness of being without your stuff


Let me start by acknowledging that we’ve been lucky. We were offered an incredible opportunity to live abroad, and we seized it, and the four (two homo sapien, two feline) members of our family all arrived here in one piece. This is cause for rejoicing, when you think about all of the things that could have gone wrong.

Having said that, I thought it might be entertaining to catalogue some of the roadblocks and headaches that we’ve encountered in the process. These things are fun to read about when they didn’t happen to you, or when they happened to you a long enough time ago that you now think they are funny as well.  Well, to start, you already know about how our rented condo was put up for sale a few months before we moved, making us afraid that we might have to move within Vancouver before “the big move” itself. That turned out fine, thankfully, but thinking about all the stress we endured as a result (especially the challenge of trying to keep our apartment in showing condition and trying to arrange our things to move overseas at the same time) still makes me shudder.

Some of you also know about the torture we endured at the hands of West Jet, formerly our favourite Canadian airline. We had booked Stelian’s December flight to Toronto months in advance, since he was going to fly with the cats (while I stayed in Vancouver an extra day to clean out our condo and square things with the rental company). Some weeks before Stelian’s flight, we received a telephone call from WestJet. They said they had booked too many animals on Stelian’s flight; they would have to bump him and the cats on to another one — it was at a less desirable time, and stopped in Kelowna before flying to Toronto, so we grumbled a bit, but quickly accepted it. Then, five days before Stelian’s flight, another early-morning call from WestJet. They’d noticed a glitch in their system, so that the second flight that the cats were booked onto had also somehow been overbooked with animals. Given that their holiday embargo on pets flying was scheduled to start the next day, they couldn’t even offer us a new flight. We got our money back, a measly $150 credit as compensation, and we fled to Air Canada, who came through with a flight that Stelian and the cats could get on. Whew — crisis averted, no thanks to West Jet.

The next miniature disaster is funny to me now. Picture this: with my mom’s help, we wrestled our four huge suitcases, carry on bags and cat carriers (with cowering kitties inside) to Pearson airport on the evening of January 1st. Our check-in had only minor hiccups: while we’d packed and repeatedly weighed our bags with such diligence, to ensure that they were just under the 50-lb limit, we’d neglected to learn that Air Canada only allows one checked bag per customer on international flights. Oops. Luckily there was room for our two extra bags, and all we had to do was pay a fee to get them on the plane. And then: “oh, you have two cats with you?” the check-in agent asked. “And they’re both going in the cabin? I have to make sure that’s allowed.” Of course, I had made reservations for our cats by calling Air Canada far in advance, so their spots under the seats should have been assured. But after the WestJet fiasco, we had learned that trusting airline personnel was perhaps not a good idea, so we sweated for a few minutes while our agent had a phone conversation, and finally gave us the nod.

We were relieved to have passed the check-in hurdle, but we were struck with fear by the security process which came next. You see, when you travel with pets in the cabin, said pets must be removed from their carriers at security screening so that the carrier can go through the x-ray machine, and the animal can go through the metal detector. With cats, this is fearsome because one never knows when they might decide to fight for the right to flee to a dark and less scary place. So, after unpacking our laptops, emptying our pockets, and removing our shoes, we removed each cat and carried them through the metal detector with a Vulcan grip on their neck scruffs. As soon as the carriers were through on the other side, the cats were back in them, and we knew the worst was over. The security personnel crooned at our (wide-eyed, innocent-seeming) cats and wished us luck on the flight.

We had made it! Now it was all gravy — just board the plane, and wait to arrive in Zürich. I was in a celebratory mood, and went to a store to buy some maple syrup. At the register, I put my hand in my pocket for my wallet and…no wallet was to be found.

My mind spun with the possibilities. Even though I keep my wallet in the (presumably safer) inside pocket of my jacket, I’d had to leave my whole jacket unattended for a few minutes while we took the cats through the security process. Had it been stolen then? Remembering that we stopped at the bank to deposit a cheque on the way to the airport, Stelian urged me to call Mom to see if there was any chance it was left in the car. I was very skeptical that this would be helpful, but here’s a stroke of luck: it was indeed in her car. She is kindly mailing me the things I need, so that I’ll have my TD cards again any day now.

Which is good, because while we were on the phone with TD yesterday, figuring out how to do a wire transfer between there and our new bank (I won’t go into it, but it’s not as easy as you might think), they mentioned that fradulent activity was detected on Stelian’s card on January 9th. Here I sighed in frustration, because we had taken steps to inform TD that we would be in Europe, and not to be alarmed by us using our cards here. But it was soon revealed that the fradulent activity occurred just two days ago in Vancouver — though we haven’t been there since mid-December, someone must have made a copy of his debit card a while ago and is just now trying to use it. So his card was cancelled, and we are waiting for a new card to be issued for him, as we will continue to have business with TD until our loans are completely paid off.

This entry is getting hopelessly long (Stelian suggests, cheekily, that I break it into parts: “What went wrong: Installment 1 of 1o” and so on), so let me just say that we’ve had a lot of other problems relating to not having various documents (which are currently in our filing cabinet, sailing the Atlantic Ocean without a care). For example, we are attempting to do a credit check, which may be needed in order to rent an apartment, and this requires us to validate things such as the number of the student loan that Stelian paid off quite a while ago. Apparently we should have thought to bring all of the paperwork ever presented to us, or at least record every single number that has ever been issued us with respect to anything.

Ach — what can you do? We are just filing a great many things under “laugh at this later,” and with any luck we will do just that.


7 thoughts on “The unbearable lightness of being without your stuff

  1. And here we thought you were breezing through the move – ha! While waiting for the next shoe to drop, I suppose you won’t be lazing around, gaining weight. They say a bit of stress is good for you, just maybe not all at once? Keep the faith – all will come right in the end. 🙂

  2. Oh my goodness!! You’d think with so much computerized these days, there would be little need for you to have paper proof of anything. I hope you are eating lots of delicious Swiss cheeses, breads, and chocolates to deal with the stress! and enjoying more walks and runs in your new neighbourhood and city. I wish you extraordinary luck finding a wonderful apartment… finding it and proving with or without papers that you will be the wonderful tenants you of course are.

  3. Kristen and Stelian, you are courageous in your move and I hope with our transatlantic support, you will be undaunted by red tape, missing/lost wallets etc. You are in need of a holiday already! I hope the missfires slow down and that you are able to rent an apt soon. What a lot of details you are holding!

  4. Lovely writing, Kristen. I’m not sure how you can muster up the cheerfulness to file things under “laugh at this later” while you’re still very much in the midst, but good for you for the positive outlook.

    Boppy could well relate to that Vulcan grip you mentioned on the cat’s scruff of neck. Darlene and I left our cat, Mindy, on board Legasea under the care of Nanny & Boppy. On more than one occasion during those days, Mindy became invisible one way or another. While the details are now hazy in my mind, the story goes something like this: Nanna & Boppy come alongside a dock somewhere upcoast. Cat is kept aboard by virtue of companionway door kept closed. Pfffffttttt! Cat escapes nonetheless, goes AWOL. Boppy sent on search & rescue mission. After some time of high tension, cat is spotted strolling nonchalantly off someone else’s boat and headed down the dock. Boppy approaches. Cat judges angles of interception and potential escape routes, and Boppy’s apparent “nice guy” demeanor. Fails to spot Boppy’s steely eyes and the set of his jaw. Boppy creeps closer. Cat radar jacked up to MAX. Paths about to intercept. Boppy coils. Realizes this may be his only chance. Ever. Cat streaks by Boppy. Boppy flattens Cat to an even thickness of about 3/4 “, then assures himself of a no-fail grip, and returns, cargo slightly deflated, to the confines of Legasea. And if I’m not mistaken, another time he simply got out the 2-foot wide, King salmon-catching net, and simply netted the feline. Again, same grip applied, rendering any resistance pointless. Psychological ramifications unknown, but there are times when efficacy trumps all!

    • Because I enjoyed that story so much, Paul, I have decided to write a haiku in honour of it.

      The flat cat on Legasea

      Ah! all hands on deck!
      flattened feline’s plot foiled,
      Vulcan grip its neck.

  5. Sounds like you are someone who could only construe these happenings as mishaps rather than terrible experiences. So it reminds me of the quote – mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle. Pleased to hear that you are grasping the handle!

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