I start making comparisons as soon as we arrive at our flat in London. “Oh, look, the furniture is the same as in our place in Vienna.” And New Delhi and Nairobi. We live in assigned furnished accommodation, paying rent to the Canadian government, or to the Crown. Most of the furniture comes from Canada, proudly made in Belleville or Napanee, or somewhere in Canada. It is the sort of furniture that comes with skirts and includes dining room suites that wish they were mahogany.
On learning that the water in our bathroom is not potable because it comes from a cistern in the building rather than a tap, I mentally exclaim, “Just like our house in New Delhi!” There we had bottles of boiled filtered water placed by the sink for our use. Occasionally the cistern at that house would be cleaned, and they would find “dead things, Madame,” and when I pressed for an answer to what things, I was met with a solemn shake of the head, telling me I didn’t really want to know if they were toads or rats. Why not rats, since we had those in our bathroom in New Delhi? I look carefully at the London bathroom walls, at the joints of floor and window and under the sink at the pipes in the wall. I hope there the similarity ends.
At times I feel like a student doing a class writing exercise. Compare and contrast your life in London to your life in Canada or elsewhere. I can’t stop myself from doing it. What I find interesting is that first I seek the similarities. I pore over newspapers, content that here too they are discussing global warming, the economy, the decline of independent bookstores, the decline of the printed word. Then, later, comes the noting of difference. Is it a survival instinct, this adapting to the unfamiliar by first finding the familiar?
During a nature walk in the park near our apartment one Saturday morning, the guide points out the green parakeets. Parakeets! I remember the gang that lived in the tree near the house in New Delhi, remember lying in the hammock with the baby late in the day and watching them flock home. Hearing them first thing in the morning, and loving the racket. The guide explains that they escaped from an aviary, and the climate suits them fine, now that winters are milder. He adds, in his soft voice, “Some people think of them as invaders pushing out the native species, and others think of them as a spot of colour in our dreary winters.”
There was a spot of colour in the paper today, a review of a book by a Mr. Black. The Guardian seems not entirely sympathetic about the woes of Conrad and Barbara.