Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sleeping Biagis

Just as everyone has a different conscious personality, we each have a different unconscious personality.
Everyone has their little sleeping quirks. I, for example, talk in my sleep. Usually it's just incoherent mumbling, though friends have reported nights of absurdly loud singing and whispers of French nothings.
To the outside world, that's where it ends. For periods of weeks or months, however, I will have the most violent and terrifying nightmares. The kind of stuff that would make Hostel and Saw look like children's movies.
If I read the news for extended periods of time, these dreams get more gruesome. So I try not to read too many news stories. Did I mention that I’m studying journalism?
Julian, like myself, is a sleep talker. Unlike me though, Julian's sleep vocabulary is...colourful, to say the least. I have been woken up countless times by vulgar swearing and loud threats, knowing he’s asleep and fearing that he isn't.
One night during a sleepover, a friend documented these differences on a tape recorder. The transcripts went a little something like this:
Ariana: "I'm Babe the Pig! I'm Babe the Pig! And I'm going to eat you."
See? Harmless. Julian's on the other hand...
Julian: "I want big do.."
Friend: "What, Julian?"
Julian:"I want to big do!"
Friend: "What do you mean?"
Julian: "I want a big, fat guy!” (Wakes momentarily.) “Get the fuck outta here!"
Apparently, Unconscious Julian is a little bi-curious about big fat guys. That said, it would appear I'm repressing cannibalistic tendencies and gender/species confusion.

Now between my mother and father, from what you have already read, I'm sure you have guessed that Dad is, by far, the "eccentric" one.
This is only because I haven't taken the time to introduce you to Unconscious Susan.
Unconscious Susan is mean, bossy, mobile, sometimes violent, and an athlete.
Although this all must have begun at an early age, over the years she has gotten progressively worse.
Obviously, the person who has to deal with Unconscious Susan the most is my dad, considering they have been sharing a bed for the past 30 years. When they first got married, my mother seemed to have a lot of dreams that revolved around my father murdering her. One fine night, she was dreaming a lovely dream about how my dad was strangling her to death.
Seeing that my mother was distressed and thrashing around in her sleep, my worried father leaned over her to lightly shake her awake. Upon waking from her dream to see that yes, my father was indeed looming over her, she attempted to violently scratch his face off. And succeeded.
Not being able to hide what were clearly a woman's scratch marks down his face, my Dad went to work that day looking like a wife-beater. Trying to describe how "Susan just started clawing at my face for no reason!" is about as believable as "I walked into the door."

"I slipped on a banana peel" 

She describes another incident early in their marriage.

"Someone in the dream approached me and said,  'When you wake up, Mark is going to try to kill you.” And sure enough, when I woke up, there he was, asleep right beside me.”

She spent the next half an hour or so paralyzed with fear, until she realized that maybe she shouldn't take dream people's words as fact. Good advice, since I've definitely been told that I could fly on more than one dream occasion.
My own experiences with Unconscious Susan are just awkward encounters. I've been downstairs with friends when she's appeared in the hall, just staring at us for an uncomfortable period of time, then walking back upstairs to bed without a word.
She bosses you around. She'll wake up angry and demand you go to the kitchen, for no reason whatsoever. And damn if she's not passionate about you having to go stand in the kitchen for a few minutes and bond with the appliances.
She also falls asleep during every movie she's ever watched. Since she's slightly embarrassed by this fact, she periodically wakes up to offer insightful comments such as "The dialogue in this movie is so cliché," or "This is such a weak plot.” We just chuckle at her expense and wait the few seconds it takes for her to hang her head back and rhythmically open-mouth breathe as the movie continues.
The most entertaining by far has to be the athletics. She has recently taken up running in her sleep. She will describe waking up in the living room or in the kitchen, on her knees, and having no idea how she got there. She started locking her bedroom door in case she fell down the stairs. That helped keep her in the bedroom, but it didn't stop the running.  

Now instead of waking up on her knees and breathless somewhere in the house, she wakes up when her face collides with the door. She literally runs directly into walls, then face plants and ends up in a bruised heap on the floor.
My father is also a runner of sorts. If he hears a strange noise in the middle of the night, he'll fly into protection mode and run towards whatever shadow is threatening his sleeping family. 

Unfortunately for friends who take midnight bathroom breaks, he doesn't stop to make sure he has changed out of his birthday suit. Believe me, when you arrive home in the early morning hours after a few drinks, there is nothing more sobering than a middle-aged naked man charging into the room planning to kick your ass.
Post a picture of that on a sign and I promise you no thieves will be hopping that fence.
Daniel on the other hand does nothing even remotely interesting or embarrassing, other than light snoring. 
Boring. But maybe boring is a good thing compared to what else he could have ended up with being brought up Biagi.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Youngest. Daughter.

My place in the family hierarchy.

I am the youngest. I am the only daughter.

Growing up the only girl amongst two boys certainly had its perks. By the time I came along, my parents were so desperate for a girl they warned me not to ask for details about how they "made sure" I came out female. I'm going to go ahead and believe it means they introduced more sugar and spice into their diet.

Of course, I was able to manipulate my father a lot better than the boys ever could. Since he was a strict disciplinarian, this was an advantage.

(Since I've moved away and he only gets to see me every few months, I can pretty much get whatever I want from him within the first 3 days of visiting home. After those 3 days are over, though, we usually have a huge fight because he feels neglected when I spend time at my friends' houses.)

I probably acquired more small, knick-knacky gifts than my brothers ever did, or ever wanted to. My father loves arts, crafts, jewelry, figurines, and--let's face it--most teenage boys don't.

My parents were also a lot more lenient with me than they were with, well...Julian. He sort of set the bar for bad behaviour. Anything I did paled in comparison.

Where my brothers are concerned, I know there isn't much they're not willing to do to keep me safe. On the other hand, growing up the youngest as well as the only daughter was also a struggle. As little sisters do, I trusted my brothers absolutely. As a result, I drank a lot of bug/dirt/vinegar/more-dirt cocktails.

 I clearly didn't realize this picture was being taken.

When I was 5, Daniel convinced me he had to cut my hand off because I had dared to peel some dead, sunburned skin off his back. He led me to the kitchen, where he took out a cutting board and the biggest knife we owned. He had me place my wrist on the board, swung the knife back over his head, and ... told me he was kidding. I still remember bursting into tears. He still remembers the spanking.

Eventually, I grew old enough to start infiltrating Julian's house parties. My over-protective brother would white-knuckle his bottle whenever he saw me talking to one of his friends. One night, he angrily and drunkenly barricaded me in the bathroom with the lights off because he thought his friends were looking at me. No one would let me out; Julian's fists were notorious.

Until I was 17, I was officially known as "Julian's Sister." This annoyed me, but sometimes it came in handy. I can remember tackling some girl on the soccer field and when she picked herself back up, she warned me that she'd see me after the game, intending to teach me a lesson. The word must have spread, because 5 minutes later she ran up to me.

"I didn't realize you were Julian's Sister. We're cool."

And with a sportsman-like pat to my back, she jogged off.

Eventually I moved to Vancouver and thought I had finally reclaimed my birth-name. It was at a house party in the middle of no-where North Van that I was proven wrong. Someone had recognized me guessed it, Julian's Sister. The name Ariana once again forgotten.

The thing that probably freaked them out the most was the thought of my upcoming, drunken, 19th birthday. Dad had called Daniel in Victoria the week before, trying to persuade him to travel to North Van, to "help" me celebrate.

"Dad, we can't afford it. Julian and I are broke."

"Don't worry, I'm paying. Just get over there and keep an eye on your sister."

Minutes later, the call came from Daniel.

"Julian and I thought we might come to Vancouver for your birthday!"

It would be their first visit in over a year. I had a sudden burst of insight.

"Dad's paying for this, isn't he?"

That night, at the bar, I had one brother watching from the table, and one from the edge of the dance floor. After a few songs, they would alternate. One would guard our drinks as the other would dance over, wedging himself between me and whichever guy got too close.

Now that we're all older, I have to put up with them constantly hitting on my friends. If the opposite were to happen, I'm sure they would find a suitable bathroom-prison somewhere.

 Preferably not this one.

In the end, there is a workable balance between the perks and the disadvantages to being brought up with older, insanely protective men--just as there is to being brought up Biagi.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What Every 13-Year-Old Should Know

According to my father.

Many fathers, especially my own, view their roles as protector and provider as paramount. Unfortunately for every parent, they know the time will come when their precious bundles will grow up and have to fend for themselves. In order to raise well-rounded, functioning members of society, they must equip their children with all the useful skills and knowledge required to face the big, bad world.

These are skills my father thought every 13-year-old should know:

1. How to gut and skin animals.

Most children learn how to gut a fish, but my mother still admits how creepy she found it when she'd walk into the kitchen and see all her children gathered around a boiled deer head, learning how to skin it properly.

Given that we always lived in a city of over 20,000 people, this skill did not come in handy as often as dear Papi would have liked.

This is a low quality picture of my father and me spending some high quality time together skinning a sea-gull skull. Obviously.

2. How to make poisonous darts.

This skill would be used in combination with skinning and gutting animals. Before you can gut an animal, you need to know how to kill one.

This fulfilled a dual purpose, by teaching us some of our Colombian heritage: also, apparently, the best way to kill an animal in the wild is with poisonous, handmade darts.

3. How to set a snare.

As I write this, it has become clear my dad was obsessed with the idea that his children would, at some point in their lives, be stranded in the wilderness and forced to hunt and gather.

To make the most of our time in the wild, we were encouraged to set some snares that we could then come back and check after a fruitful (hopefully!) poisonous-dart hunting session.

4.  How to potentially kill someone in hand-to-hand combat.

Elbow them in the throat.

We were taught a series of moves that would disarm a person and leave their throat exposed, so that if we were attacked, we could elbow them in the wind pipe, collapse it, and cease someone's breathing...forever.

5. How to knife fight.

Everyone knows suspicious activities can sometimes take place at high school: doing drugs or drinking in the bathroom, schoolyard run-ins, but...knife fighting?

I think parents have a hard time accepting the events that signal their children are growing up. So when I started going to the high school for a few classes a week, it occurred to my dad that I might be challenged to a knife fight by some angst-filled teenager.

An eye-roll and a sigh was the only reaction my mother could offer when she walked into the living room and saw father and daughter positioned in a mock knife battle.

6. How to get out of an attack, without killing someone.

Gouge their eyes out.

If the situation didn't call for the other person to die (i.e. kill or be killed), then a simple eye gouge would do.

"Stick your thumbs into their eyes," he would say. "If stuff isn't squishing out of their sockets and running down your hands, you're not pushing hard enough."

7.  How to harvest worms.

Apart from the basic survival skills, my father also knew that he wanted his children to be business savvy. So he built us a worm farm. Instead of teaching us about responsibility with a reasonable pet, like a dog, we had to learn to care for worms instead.

He began by constructing two big wooden boxes in our basement, filled them with dirt, and threw in some worms. We had to collect all the compost and bury it in the worm crates. We were then taught how to recognize pregnant worms, worm poop, and egg cases.

The worst part? We had to market the worms to our friends. One way to gain an awkward reputation in kindergarten is by trying to sell 30 worms for a dollar to other 6-year-olds. Trust me.

8. How to get rid of the hiccups.

This one actually works 100 per cent of the time. Sadly, my friends will never allow me to use this miracle hiccup cure on them because it basically involves choking them.

Oh, and sometimes you pass out.

This fail-proof way of getting rid of the hiccups involves having someone push their thumbs into your neck (cutting off part of your airway) as you take deep, slow breaths. Providing you don't push too hard the hiccups are cured after a few moments and no one loses consciousness.

As well as knowing how hard to push, other precautions must be taken.

For example, don't do it in public.

On one of the two occasions I did faint from having this done we were in a movie theatre. Luckily for my father, no one was there to witness him choking a 6-year-old and then shaking her awake.

Another time he led my mother into the corner of a pub, where he was caught with his hands around her throat. The man who stumbed into this potential murder scene tried to "save" my mother by soothingly telling my dad "it isn't worth it".

9. How to salsa dance.

No matter how Canadian we are, we were all born (Daniel was fake born) in Colombia. And every self-respecting Colombian knows how to salsa.

I'm sure many other teens would have been embarrassed to see their fathers shimmying and gyrating their hips in the general direction of uncomfortable, white seniors during community street parties. But it was always a source of pride for me.

What isn't a source of pride for me is how my middle-aged father is a better dancer than I am.

10. How to care for your family.

We all know there is nothing my father wouldn't do for his family. Even with all the crazy survival, entrepreneurial, and good-to-know skills, we can always return to home-base for help when needed.

And, when the time comes when we can't, he made sure we can turn to each other.

So whenever my father goes off on yet another crazy, long-winded explanation on how to heal wounds with maggots (they eat the rotten flesh), we just sit and listen dutifully.

Because there isn't much we wouldn't do for him either.

 My dad sewing sequins onto one of my dance costumes. He was the family sewer. 
I included this just because it's so cute. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lost at Sea

I'm sure that when you become a parent, you compose a list of the many terrifying scenarios that you hope will never befall your children: accidents, eaten by bears, addicted to drugs or alcohol, kidnappings, accidentally leaving them in the produce aisle (my mother did this with Daniel).

So when your phone rings late at night and your children are away from home, either because they have moved out or are attending a sleepover, that list is on the forefront of your mind.

In most cases, it probably turns out to be an inconsiderate friend. In other cases, it's the Coast Guard telling you that your son is "lost at sea".

It was late at night when the call came. My mother, father and I were all piled into their bed watching T.V.

From the way my mother's expression changed into one of absolute fear, we instantly knew something very bad had happened.

Earlier that night, Julian and two friends had left for a camping trip on Myrtle Rocks in Powell River. At low tide, people can walk to the island; at high tide, as it was that night, it is completely surrounded by water.

The Coast Guard told my mother that someone had heard my brother calling out repeatedly for help from the water. According to the witness, Julian was lost in the ocean, desperate for aid. 

By the time our family was contacted, helicopters had been dispatched, boats sent to search the ocean, and flares shot to light the way.

The screams for help had long since stopped.

 Like this, but more night and flare guns.

The next hour was terrible for our family. My mother sat in silent terror, my father was repeating prayers and I didn't know how to react. A couple hours later, we got the call.

Julian was safe.

It was a typical Julian story. Once the other boys stepped onto the island, they abandoned him with all the bags to carry up onto the rocks. Upset at being left with all the heavy lifting, Julian began calling out to his friends: “Help me!” 

The longer he waited, the more desperate his calls became. To anyone listening from the mainland, without the luxury of light to see by, it sounded like someone was drowning.

Not too long after that, the flare-helicopter-Coast-Guard dance began. Delighted, the boys settled in to watch the show. Little did they know it was all for them.

Ten thousand tax dollars, one emotionally distraught family, and an entertained Julian later, the whole ordeal was over.

Thankfully, since Julian was completely unaware of the chaos he had caused, he was not forced to pay back the cost of the rescue mission. He did, however, have some real explaining to do with Mom and Dad.

With all the scars it left on our psyches, this was definitely one of the more memorable moments in the Biagi Family Chronicles.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cake in a Bag

"Cake in a Bag" refers to 12 years of school lunches.

I might be hurting myself here by admitting that my mom made my school lunches every day right up until graduation. I know most kids took over that responsibility in the 6th grade, but I'm sure if I lived at home I'd still be bringing "Cake in a Bag" lunches to uni. 

My mom will be the first to admit that she wasn't Stepford material when it came to making our lunches. But as disorganized as she always was, it was infinitely better than letting my dad make you a sandwich. I think I was actually given a jam, Cheese Whiz, Marmite, ham sandwich once (you'll notice the overuse of condiments, refer back to "The Kitchen" post). 

So let me explain this a little better. The reason why I have dubbed lunches prepared by my mom "Cake in a Bag" is because absolutely everything went in one. And I don't mean nicely wrapped and placed in brown lunch bags. I mean plastic sandwich bags.

My earliest memory of these bagged lunches is way back when we still lived in Nova Scotia. I must have been five or six. My mom had sent me to school with half a jar of applesauce dumped into a zip-lock bag. I was so made fun of for it that I put it back in my rabbit-shaped knapsack and ate it back at home.

Another lunch, more common in my high school days, was the build-your-own hot-dog in a bag. This was a two-bag lunch. The first zip-lock would contain the cooked hot dog and bun, the second would contain all the condiments. Ketchup, mustard and relish would be squeezed into a bag and left to mingle together until noon. Once my friends and I had made our way to the cafeteria, I would have to turn the bag with the unhappy-looking mixture inside out and wipe it onto the hot-dog. People noticed.

Then there was the grocery bag, bagged lunch. There are two versions of this. One version is the makeshift sandwich bag. This is a grocery bag, knotted, then cut above the knot. The second is the more complex double tied, stacked lunch.

For example, let's say, if I was sent to school with a samosa and sauce, the sauce would be dumped into the bottom of the bag, the bag would be knotted, the samosa placed on top, and the bag knotted again.

Step one: untie the first knot, get samosa. Step two: untie second knot, rub sauce-covered bag on samosa. Step three: eat as your peers watch in disgust.

Now, the most famous of all bagged lunches, the one that really seemed to make an impression on people was the favourite "Cake in a Bag". 

"Cake in a Bag" was a constant throughout my whole school career. If we had cake at home, for some reason, we would also get some in our school lunches as a special treat. So, if we had your standard birthday cake with icing at home, my mom would cut off a huge piece and stuff it into a zip-lock.

On some unfortunate occasions, the bag would be overstuffed and burst open in your knapsack, covering everything in chocolate and butter icing. Not having a lunch box, these bagged lunches would hastily get thrown in with your books--getting pretty squished up--and becoming pretty unidentifiable.

Maybe the reason Cake in a Bag is the most famous of the Biagi lunches is because of the way you would end up eating it. Since my mom was usually too rushed to remember a spoon, we would end up squeezing the now mostly liquidized cake into our mouth, like a tube of toothpaste.

Unfortunately, these are the habits that seem to get passed down from parent to child: like the time I was working in the A-Team office and took my surprise birthday cake home by squishing it into large zip-lock as confused coworkers and producers looked on. How professional of me.

One of the downfalls of being brought up Biagi is that you eventually begin to think this is the normal way of doing things. It isn't until you notice the wide-eyed stares are that you begin to question it. In other words, until it's too late.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Kitchen

Or, the land of surprises.

And not good surprises. No fresh apple pies or shiny new appliances. That wouldn't be very Biagi. No, these surprises are more of the Steven King variety.  

Including but not limited to: Freshly boiled(or boiling), skinned and bleached animal bones drying on the kitchen counter. Stiff, dead birds lining the windowsills. Dried out fish bodies on top of the microwave. Tarantulas. Maggots. Larva. Pet lobsters. Microscopes hovering over whatever insect caught dad's attention that day. Jars preserving animal parts or ones simply labeled "DO NOT DRINK". Liquid nitrogen tubs conserving fish sperm. You get the idea.

Whenever we kids visit home, the first time we walk into the kitchen we instinctually brace ourselves. After we meet the new pets(if we're lucky it will be a new fish, other times it will be one of the cozy creatures mentioned above), the real test of bravery comes in opening the fridge/freezer door.

 Bearer of nightmares

Now, since my mother hates to keep food in the house, food-wise the fridge is a wasteland of condiments. Unfortunately, it's not just food that's kept in our fridge.

A Biagi fridge staple is the maggot filled ramekin. The theory is that dad will collect the larva(to feed to his fish) before they become flies and swarm the house. That's the theory. Only too often do we open the fridge and find a ramekin dish swarming with flies. A sight enough to kill even the biggest condiment appetite. At this point, we barely even register their existence and eat away.

Again, because of our mother's hatred for keeping fresh food in the house, mostly everything gets stuffed in the freezer. This means that if we want to eat anything beyond spoonfuls of mayo, we have to go freezer digging. 

One time, as I prepared some pancakes, I asked my friend Baillie to get out the ice cream. Looking over my shoulder towards a strange noise, I saw her standing there, clutching a dripping, blood soaked bag. This bag, no doubt, contained some sort of roadkill my dad peeled off the street and stuffed in our freezer.

In fact, my dad so much loves to collect roadkill and stuff it in our freezer that we have several ice-cream tubs marked "Dead Stuff" laying around. Julian has been known to hide the roadkill on the streets near our house in bushes so my dad won't drag it home. And, if the roadkill is too large for our freezer, my dad will gift it to a friend because, hey, who doesn't like to arrive home and find a dead raccoon draped across their doorstep?


Our Kitchen of horrors is often the focus of many heated arguments between my parents.

One time I walked into the house to my father demanding to know why my mother "won't learn to be a supportive wife and help [him] build a damn freeze drier!". Her lack of excitement about his new way to harvest even more(!) animal carcasses clearly devastated him. Like that was part of her vows.

My brother just witnessed my mother being scolded for putting my father's worm collection on the deck, accidentally resulting in the worms' deaths. How could a decent person put worms, living creatures, out in the cold like that? As they probably had families and a mortgage.

With a Christmas visit scheduled, I can only imagine what new surprises await us in the Biagi kitchen. No doubt they'll odd, frightening, or just a basic health risk. I don't think it's a coincidence we all have amazing immune systems. But I guess that's just one of the many perks of being brought up Biagi.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Time the Boys Almost Went to War

And I'm not talking about Afghanistan.

Now, with Afghanistan out of the way, what other war would two young Canadian men participate in ? There isn't one. That's the point.

Back in March 2008, Colombia and Venezuela were on the brink of war, threatening to drag other South American countries into war with them. The Colombian military had crossed over into Ecuador and murdered 16 guerrilla FARC fighters. This really pissed off Chavez, and he sent thousands of troops and tanks to line the border between his country and Colombia. The news troubled my family. My father was born and raised in Colombia, my mother lived there for 8 years, both Julian and I were born there, and Daniel was fake born there.

As much as this news troubled the family, my parents being who they are, couldn't resist the temptation to have a little fun at my brothers' expense. So they e-mailed them and told them they would soon be shipped off to battle, of course.


Who would you put your money on?

Military service is compulsory in Colombia. This led the boys to believe the Colombian government would, in the midst of a huge scale war threat, track them down in Powell River/Victoria and force them into the front lines.

The boys eventually got in touch with my parents on the phone. Mum and Dad quickly realized that Daniel and Julian were taking this war situation seriously. As any responsible parents would, they confessed their joke and put the boys' minds at ease.

Oh wait, no they didn't

They convinced them they were definitely going to war. Soon too, my parents expected. It was their patriotic duty as well as the law. Consequences for not going would be inhumane. They were definitely going to war.

This, of course, was complete bullshit.

This, of course, was unknown to my brothers.

It was hard not to hear the concern in their voices when the subject was brought up. It had been a while since either of them had been on a hike, and now they were expected to fight guerrilla jungle-dwellers with machetes. I bet Julian now wished he had participated when my dad taught us the basics of knife fighting.

Sadly, it didn't take Daniel or Julian long to conclude that they would most likely not be drafted. After they came to this conclusion, you can bet they denied ever having entertained the idea in the first place. Although I'm sure it came as a relief when the confrontation between the two countries basically amounted to nothing.

I'm not really sure what possessed my parents to convince their sons they were going off to war and, certainly, their deaths. But they thought it was hilarious. I guess that's just what you have to learn to expect when you're brought up Biagi.