Sunday, June 24, 2007


I was just woken up by a strobe light flashing an eery green glow over my bed. But no nightclub music - just the rustic silence of a hot summer night in New England. As I gradually woke up, I realized that the culprit was a firefly - a curious beast I hadn't seen in, quite literally, decades.

I first came across fireflies when I was very young, at my Dida and Baba's summer cottage outside of Montreal. My most vivid memory of the time is wanting to catch them in jars. I don't know what I planned on doing with the fireflies once I had them in captivity, but there was something particularly fascinating about creatures that deal with the darkness of night by creating their own light. Far more ingenious than our flashlights with their batteries that tend to run out at awkward times. I'd like to pretend that I understood a great life lesson at the time, or gained insight into evolutionary adaptation, but I can only recall thinking that these bugs flashing their light over the shrubbery and through the woods were really very pretty...

The strongest image in my head from that trip to my grand-parents' summer place was how proudly Ukrainian all there neighbours were - the rocks lining a garden painted in alternating sky blue and yellow, the patriotic insistence on naming everything in their language. But now that I'm back in a very cultural-melting-pot oriented country, I'm beginning to realize how important preserving a sense of cultural identity is and why my grand-parents and their friends need to hold so strongly onto their language and food and traditions - not to the point of being disappointed that their grand-children don't speak the language, have Ukrainian names (funny story there about one of mine... apparently my parents thought my middle name was Ukrainian, but it's actually Polish, which really couldn't have been worse), and that their own children didn't marry Ukrainians.

I've spent the last few days with a very international group of people, which has been very entertaining (an Italian struggling with the American concept of meatball subs) but also enlightening (how baffled the Germans are by the terrible New England driving and the 'need' for gas-guzzling SUVs). The Europeans are appalled by how much meat and how much food Americans eat at lunch. The Americans are surprised that the Europeans don't want to work on weekends and would like to go home at 5. Not that it was limited to international mis-communication: I got shocked expressions from the East Coast boys when I pulled out my very West Coast carrots, pita bread and baba gannouj for lunch (a completely serious 'where's the meat? it's not a meal without meat!'). The Dutch student doesn't understand the Australian accent, and the Boston accents are even occasionally difficult for my West Coast ear... Everyone has a slightly different sense of humour (one German is very sarcastic and 'yells' at the graduate students whenever anything is broken (ie, most of the time), who still occasionally take him seriously - until he slides into a big grin and laughs at them. At least it makes long days in the lab very entertaining for me...

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