Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The dreaded gym

Much to my horror, my teenage daughter suggested the two of us get a gym membership so that we could exercise together on Friday nights. My mouth dried up and my heart skipped a beat as I would rather spend my Friday evenings doing almost anything other than pointless and boring physical workouts. Somehow managing to squeak a non-reply, hmmm, yes, great, maybe, let’s keep it in mind; I then gathered my wits and asked her what we would do at the gym, once there – on a Friday evening in the hopefully very, very distant future. She was not all too sure but mentioned running and I can only assume that this would involve a treadmill and not laps within the facility. Why my daughter would seek out more gym time is beyond me, at school she has two gym classes and one swim class per week in addition to playing handball and soccer which combined involve team practices every day of the week aside from Sunday. This I believe is more time than I spend smoking and drinking coffee weekly although I have never had reason to sum it up, till now.

Luckily she has not brought the subject back up and if my luck holds she has forgotten this completely, the mother daughter barbell bonding experience having been replaced with other things that occupy her mind at the moment, Robert Pattison for example. This semi-discussion did however make me look inward and wonder why this mere mention of physical fitness was so horrific to me. We have a good, solid and friendly relationship, spiced with the occasional teenage drama of the light variety, so the dread in no way involved my daughter. The closest thing to an explanation I could come up with was a memory I recall being the last time I stepped inside a gym, approximately fifteen years ago. At the time we were living in Montreal and the apartment building we lived in doubled as a hotel for those seeking a room for longer periods than the average tourist. The establishment had a small gym in the basement which I once reluctantly sought out with my husband after a lot of coaxing. Being pretty pleased with myself once down there, I managed to work up something that resembled a drop of perspiration on my forehead, although it evaporated before I managed to get my husband to witness the phenomenon. This feeling of accomplishment did not last very long however as my fragile physical ego imploded when we were joined by people staying in the hotel. These were gymnasts attending the Circque du Soleil circus school in Montreal and were as such capable of contortions my body could possibly be forced to achieve once dead, after rigor mortis has passed. Not wanting to display my feeble attempts at touching my toes in front of women standing on one leg while the other pointed straight up in the air, I left, towel wrapped around my neck, hoping to appear as having been there for hours on end – not minutes. The lesson learned? Why bother - if I need to point to the ceiling I will use my hand, both feet firmly planted on the ground as nature intended.

Another memory dusted off during this reflection was one where I sat with my grandfather watching the news. He was about 95 at the time and the news tidbit that interested him the most was one where the reporter was walking around inside the newest and most modern trawler just added to the Icelandic fishing fleet at the time. My grandfather was a fishing captain during his heyday and was of course interested in seeing what had changed since he left the scene. When the reporter stopped to admire the gym within the trawler my grandfather became silent and seemed to ponder if this was possibly a hoax. When he realised that it was no joke he shook his head and rolled his eyes – Who the hell is working these bungling idiots if they seek strenuous exercise at the end of a working day at sea? I would assume the only hard work fishermen and seamen were capable of when he was still sailing was to lift the covers off their beds, just high enough to slip under them and fall asleep. No lifting and hoisting of steel bars, stationary cycling or running required. Since on the topic of my grandfather, I must add that he died a little before he turned 101 years and on his 100th birthday he invited his older sister to the party. He never had a gym membership and spent his Friday nights much like his granddaughter – chilling. I am tempted to add another habit we had in common, but am afraid to come across as a Philip Morris spokesman so I will leave it be.

Putting all gaiety and futility aside, my heart goes out to all people of Haiti who have been hit by one of the most destructive forces of nature, one that is void of empathy and shows no mercy when crossing. It is atrocious to listen to the death toll estimates and even more so when you think about the figures that will shortly follow i.e. the numbers of those that have been hurt or maimed. Alltough it is of little solace to the grieving and hurt I assume the whole world is moved by this event and I for one will be doing what little I can as an individual to provide aid through the Red Cross collection currently being organised. May all good things come to pass in future for this small, impoverished and now grieving nation.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Yrsa -- I join you in your anguish over the terrific losses in Haiti, an island I've visited several times. It's just tragedy piled on tragedy -- grinding poverty, terrible governments, hurricanes last year, and now this.

    When CNN announced last night that the president of Haiti was alive despite the collapse of the presidential palace, I had a brief moment of hope that he'd been in the assembly building when it collapsed and that the entire corrupt government had been wiped out. Maybe then there could have been a new start. But it was not to be.

    Just terrible, terrible.

    And I hate the gym, too.

  2. Yrsa - My daughters have never suggested that we exercise together. I think they would be horrified at the idea of being responsible for me when I fell over the first time I tried standing on one leg.

    The younger of the two is a mystery to me. She never gains weight. I do, all too easily. My sister and I never got the habit of exercise growing up. Physical activity was fine for my brothers but my mother felt the "girls" could get all the exercise we needed doing housework. She was born in 1921 so she grew up in the Depression. No one had to work at being thin; carrying some weight meant there was food on the table.

    Exercise today requires gym memberships and expensive shoes so that we can get rid of weight we should not have gained in the first place. The pictures coming out of Haiti are like a slap. They run the gamut from unsettling to sickening. Haiti has a per capita income of less than $600.00 American. 1 in 8 children will die before they reach the age of 5, primarily from diseases caused by impure water. They are, in essence, murdered by the corrupt government Tim mentioned. And yesterday, so many who beat the odds and survived into childhood were taken.

    I spend a lot of time talking back to the TV or the computer screen. Spokesmen for Pat Robinson are working really hard to re-frame some comments he made on the 700 Club today. Dr. Robinson offered a history lesson. In 1791, the leader of a slave rebellion made a pact with the devil to ensure that the slaves would be victorious over the French. According to Robinson, it is this pact that has led "scholars and religious figures" to believe that the country is cursed.

    Cursing is what I have been doing to Dr. Robinson.

    I saw a picture of a man standing outside of what may have been his home. He held his hands as if he was carrying a special cake but he was holding the body of his dead infant. He has haunted me all day. I wish he'd haunt Dr. Robinson.


  3. Hi Yrsa,

    Along with your warm heart and entertaining stories, I love how freely you talk about the pleasures of smoking a cigarette.

    I don't know how people in Iceland feel about smokers but Americans find it appalling. I feel like I'm the only person that still smokes.


  4. The Brazilian ambassador to Haiti, and his wife, are good friends of ours. They came through the earthquake unscathed, but the same can not be said for a number of other Brazilians currently stationed on the island. (The UN peacekeeping force is Brazilian and under the command of a Brazilian general. One of the men who died in the collapse of a building was just one day short of being shipped home.)
    Here's a story to illustrate just how poor Haiti was BEFORE the disaster:
    Our friend, the ambassador, used to helicopter back and forth quite frequently, between Santo Domingo, on the Dominican side of the island, and Port au Prince, the Haitian capital.
    He told me that the border was clearly demarcated by the break in the rainforest, thick jungle on the Dominican side, only bare earth on the Haitian side. The Haitians had, long since, cut down all of their trees for firewood and to make charcoal. He said, further, that Haiti is one of the fewe places in the Carribean where you seldom hear a bird sing. They no longer have a habitat.
    No fuel. Little potable water. A lack of food.
    And now this. It makes me want to cry.

  5. Yrsa

    I was pleased to see that an Icelandic Search and Rescue team was one of the first to arrive in Haiti. That's something to be proud of.

    In re: Leighton's comment. I had heard that about the vegetation in Haiti as opposed to that in the DR. Wouldn't it be lovely if this terrible tragedy could bring about something wonderful for this imporvrished (sp?) nation. That's my way of thinking that the spirits of all the people who have died will live on. We in the US have a lot to thank the people of Haiti for. They were (I think) the 2nd nation in this hemisphere to proclaim independence and when the French left they decided to sell us some land here, known as the Louisiana Purchase. We got a great deal and we have those brave Haitians to thank for turning the French away from this area. Interesting info about the UN security force being Brazilian. Didn't know that. Just see men with UN helmets.
    So Leighton, go ahead and have a cry. I think you have a lot of company.


  6. To Tim: is it not sad how bad people tend to take charge in depressed countries? Everything about the situation in Haiti at the moment is horrible, horrible, horrible.

    To Beth: I am still smiling at the image of your daugthers in anguish in case you toppled over at the gym. Regarding Haiti and this idiot Pat Robinson I am disgusted, why do the media seek out these kind of Bozos? If they were left alone their evil words would simply bounce off the walls of their own homes and be stripped of all their potency for hurt.

    To Susie: we have our share of smoking fanatics but to a much lesser degree than in the US. The smoking rate is pretty high here for todays standards but a lot lower than it used to be. I must say though in America's defense that you can smoke in restraunts in Virginia - a great experience nowadays.

    To Leighton: It is exactly the cruelty of the catastrophy hitting a place so socially fragile and impoverished that makes this so awful. Everything becomes so much harder and the likelihood of the situation becoming even more unbearable is so much higher than if a better off area with a developed infrastructure was involved. Not to say that this is would have been horrific anywhere. We are constantly reminded how unjust life is and one should really begin each day by thanking life's lottery for dealing one out the golden ticket (being born in a deveoped country). I am under no illusion that I would have worked or shined my way out of poverty or hunger had I been born as an untouchable in India for example. Your tears are shared.

    To Jaquie: Icelanders are pretty good at getting organised quickly, probably because we are not completely cramped by beurocracy. We are very proud of our team here as well.

  7. Yrsa, I have seen you in person, and I feel compelled to tell readers not similarly blessed that you are in much better shape than one would be led to believe from your horror of gyms and, on the evidence of your fiction, vigorous massage as well.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"