March 19th, 2012

Baby and me

State of the unions

The sublime, the glorious and the mundane:

Simple pleasure, complex joy (and chronic pain)

Complex joys

Batman and Raven visit Gatineau Park, September 2011. Photo by the Phantom Photographer.

It's difficult to believe, but it's been two years and close on two days since that fateful night early morning I mastered my fears, dropped my arm across the shoulders of Raven as we sat close watching a movie, then offered her a kiss when she turned to look at me.

Wonder of wonders, she did not refuse me and the rest, as they say, is ongoing history.

It's not that we haven't occasionally had our disagreements, our arguments, and even fights, because (of course) we have. And it's not that we are obviously "meant" for one another. In truth, I can't imagine that any computer dating algorithm would have even introduced us to one another.

Beyond the nearly 20 year age-gap, lie barriers of cultures, of interests and of tastes. Beyond our shared bonds of godlessness and loves for food, the differences are almost legion. Tastes in literature, degrees of interest in politics and musical preferences only start the list of differences between us.

And yet ... And yet ...

We make one another laugh and think; we share many (if not all) of the fundamental values that count; and we have spent very nearly every day of more than two years in one anothers' company. And I can state with confidence that I see no signs that I am growing bored or unhappy.

In truth, I love her more with each and every sunrise.

Happy anniversary, my darling; I only hope I have brought as much joy to your life as you have to mine.

Simple pleasures: Chahaya Malaysia

Chahaya Malaysia restaurant, image from restaurantthing.com.
Chahaya Malaysia restaurant, image from restaurantthing.com.

We celebrated our anniversary in typical Geoffrey/Raven style: with food.

And what food it was!

Near the western end of Montreal Road, east of Blair, in a desolate suburban area of high-rise apartments, parking lots and strip malls lies an oasis of magnificent cuisine. Or at least, of what is almost certainly the best food of which I have had the pleasure of partaking in Ottawa.

Hulking across a wall from a shuttered Chinese eatery, the Chahaya Malaysia looks like the sort of mom and pop ethnic restaurant that will either be quite good or very, very bad.

Inside, the decor is casual, brightly-lit and with an almost bohemian feel to it. There are cloth table-clothes beneath glass on the tables, and napkins folded elegantly, but I don't start wondering whether I should have been wearing a tie.

We were greeted by the husband-and-wife owners and learned that the restaurant had once graced the Glebe, before gentrifying rents had driven it to the outskirts of town. They had, she told me, taken the chance they had enough customer loyalty to become a Destination on the outskirts in 1995 and, since they are still around, it seems they guessed a-right.

We ordered four dishes, so I can by no means speak for the entire menu.

A vegetarian spring roll, an order of Laksa Penang (a hot and sour fish soup (two stars, out of three on the chili scale), Beef Rendang (Daging Lembu Rendang, three out of three), chili fish (Ikan Masak Berlada, also — we realized once it had arrived, a three out of three) and Nasi Puteh, a plate of flavoured basmati rice.

The spring roll was very nearly the Platonic ideal of its kind. Deep-fried, yes, but only briefly, its pastry wrapping its simple ingredients in delicate layers. The Laksa Penang came with a strong whiff of shrimp paste (unfortunately, one of too many no-go aromas in my life), but I forced myself to taste the broth and very nearly demanded a bowl for myself anyway.

Then came the main courses. The Daging Lembu Rendang was every bit as fiery as we had been warned it would be, but there was a hell of a lot more going on in that than just heat. Behind the fire was a complex symphony of spices, cooked right through each piece of meat and each one insisting on being tasted in its own right.

So good. So, so good.

And the chili fish, the Ikan Masak Berlada, might have been even better. All I said about the beef was true true of the fish (if in a different key), with an undercurrent of sweetness to a sauce lovingly enveloping lightly fried piscine flesh.

The meal was without a doubt among the five or ten most memorable I have had, ever. The only caveat is that their three-star meals are hot. The hostess suggested we should have ordered a vegetable dish to moderate things and the next time, I will take her advice (Raven says she might just order two bowls of the Laksa Penang and be done with it); the particular combination we had was a little rough on the insides.

But o! so worth it.

'Behold! The ravages of age'

Bart and Lisa Simpson behold the ravages of age in 1998.

Among the stereotypes about senior citizens, the elderly, old people, call 'em what you will, is the one that sees a little old lady (or little old man, though there are fewer of 'em around) sorting through an enormous pile of pills as they, creaking, start their days.

Like more stereotypes than most of us what care to admit (but that is a post for another day), there is a fair bit of truth to this one. What's worse, it is one that is starting to apply to "young" Geoffrey.

I know, I like to boast of my youthful vigour and macho outdoor exploits, and by many measures I am in better shape than I have been in a decade or more.

My blood pressure and cholesterol levels are "excellent", my resting heart rate is around 50 beats a minute and my teeth are (still) to register a single cavity.

At the same time, my waist — never slender — responds not to kilometres I have cycled in recent months, neither does it shrink. Raven, thank God, thinks my modest belly is cute, but personally, I find it more than a little unfair that a significant increase in physical activity should leave my weight and girth more or less unchanged.

But that's largely aesthetics. Much worse is the state of (some of) my joints.

Some of you might remember that I have psoriasis, an auto-immune disease that until recently I thought was strictly a skin disease, causing scaly patches (sometimes to the point of bleeding) on the skin but, in my case, not too severe and localized enough that I could live with it fairly comfortably.

What no one told me until recently is that psoriasis can affect a lot more than just one's skin.

For the past year or so, I've been experiencing pain in my right thumb. Sometimes just annoying, but more often painful to the point of being frankly crippling. I gave up crosswords quite a while ago, in large part because cursive or even printing very often hurts.

Then I noticed that I was having similar problems with my right big toe and occasionally the right ankle — a tensor bandage helps the symptoms with the latter, nothing helps with the former (other than not walking on it).

And then, two or three (or four? Come to think of it, I noticed a problem last summer, while playing tennis and badminton) months ago, my right shoulder started giving me a hard time. Just moving it in the wrong way, or rolling over in the wrong way, can cause not just an annoyance but an really serious, yelp-inducing pain.

I've become one of those half-crippled old farts who grunts and groans while performing the most common-place activities, like rolling over in bed, or signing my name, or walking.

The prognosis is still unknown. I have been referred to a specialist and my name now resides in a pile of similar referrals being triaged. I've been told I will see him within "a year".

And meanwhile, I am taking an ibuprofen or two every day, along with 40 mg of ran-pantoprazole every morning. The latter is to deal with the recent appearance of chronic acid reflux (heartburn to you), which apparently is also associated with that fucking psoriasis.

So there we are. I haven't smoked for more than two years, I've cut way back on my alcohol intake, I'm eating very well and I'm getting more exercise than I have in years.

But I can't lose weight and the major joints on my right side are causing me pain, sometimes a lot of pain. There are people who have things a lot worse (including some of you folks, yes I'm paying attention), but I can't pretend that I'm happy to find myself joining those who lose in life includes pain as a quotidian part of existence.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of lighting a single candle against the darkness, I think it's time to sign up for another summer of soccer. With cleats, this time!

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