Math Hats

We’ll return to travel-related anecdotes shortly, but this was too important not to share.

So I’m married to a mathematician, and have spent the past 10 or so years hearing all about the great numbersmiths of yore and nodding along politely. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about, for example, Leonhard Euler (specifically, that his name is pronounced ‘oiler’).

But then I came across this picture.


Which prompted the following exchange with my husband.

euler text

He then shared a series of pictures of questionably-hatted Great Mathematicians. And that’s how I learned that Mike’s been holding out on me this whole time. It turns out that with one exception, all mathematicians ever have sucked at wearing things on their heads.

Here’s Gauss, famously the last person to know all of math as it was known at the time. Unfortunately, I gather, he wasn’t sure what to do with the bag his whisky came in. (Many of us can relate.)

Here’s Fibonacci, who introduced the strangely beautiful Fibonacci sequence to Western audiences. His affinity for order & beauty did not extend to his headgear, which seems to have been an early inspiration for Euler’s boxers.


There’s an entire sub-genre of mathematicians who forgot to take off their swim caps before heading back to the office.

Unsurprisingly, Leibniz (L) > Newton (R) in every respect including wig fabulousness. Neither, however, could top their spherical Scottish contemporary, Colin Maclaurin. I’d suggest that this crushing failure could explain a lot about Newton’s famous eccentricity.


It would appear that David Hilbert picked up on the efforts of his many forebears and weighed in with this respectable contribution.


But only one mathematician perfected the art of cranial adornment. Just look at that ribbon, those jaunty flowers, those exquisite Princess Leia buns. There’s even a veil cascading from this masterpiece, daring the eye to drift away from the top of Our Queen’s brilliant head. This is Ada Lovelace: mathematician, writer, only legitimate child of Lord Byron, first computer programmer, and goddess. She puts Leonhard Euler’s head-boxers to shame.


Maybe someday I’ll forgive Mike for keeping all this from me for so long. It appears to have been an honest, if egregious, mistake. And if there’s a mathematician in your life who’s been likewise shielding you from The Hats, I’m sorry you had to find out this way.


“I’m from Canada and they think I’m slow, eh?”

I’m not accustomed to seeing people’s eyes light up when I tell them I’m from Canada, the general consensus being that, while nice, we’re also boring, we apologise too much, and we talk funny. In general, as I travelled through Europe this fall, my various interlocutors would offer some polite riff on, “Oh I hear it’s beautiful there!…Um…And cold!” And then either I’d get cosy and regale them at some length (“Ever been out in 40 below before? Your skin freezes in 5 minutes!”), or they would tactfully change the subject before I could really get going. This was not the case in Provence.

Remember how ebullient my Lamanon host was in the last post? So much so that I couldn’t understand a single darn word she said? A good part of her excitement, it turned out, was due to my nationality. “I was just talking about you last week!” she announced (I think; who could say, really) in greeting. “I met two other Canadians at a party!” Then she directed my attention to a special little centrepiece she’d arranged on my table, with two Canadian flag toothpicks leaning proudly against a no-smoking sign. Well, if that wasn’t the sweetest gesture.

*sniff* Truuuue paaatriot looove…

So many of the people I spoke to in Provence had some sort of special relationship with Canada. Parents told me about their children and grandchildren living there. Young people told me about gap years spent there. Those who had never even been told me of their dreams of moving there. One eccentric millionaire (story to come; a little ways off yet) claimed that his relatives made up 90% of the population of a particular Saskatchewan town. Countless conversations like this emerged, nearly every day.

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I even found France’s only hockey fan: One night, at a bar in Cassis, I had the entirely unexpected pleasure of bonding with a stranger over our shared appreciation of NHL left-winger Michael Cammalleri, of all people. Now, Cammalleri’s a very good player, but he’s no Wayne Gretzky. I’m not sure I would expect the average Canadian to have heard of him, come to that. But my new friend, having lived for a year in Montreal and acquired a taste for hockey, even admired Cammalleri enough to have bought a t-shirt that he treasures to this day. The guy liked that Cammalleri is half-Italian, like him. I like that Cammalleri is small and scrappy, like me, and also that his face is handsome (though running low on teeth, if we’re honest). I don’t think any experience was ever as unlikely as my lengthy, mutually enjoyable conversation about pint-sized, half-Italian greybeard Mike Cammalleri in a bar in Cassis, but this was exactly the sort of thing that kept happening, and that left me feeling quite a close connection with the people of Provence.

Once I had noticed the local affinity for Canada, I started to ask people what was drawing them there, of all places. It was neat to hear about how they perceive my home. For starters, the single biggest draw was opportunity. Jobs are scarce in France, and Canada  is seen as a land of milk and honey – and what’s more, one that doesn’t mind if you speak only French (so long as you stick to Quebec, at any rate). I suppose this shouldn’t have come as a surprise – Canada is prosperous, of course – but I think I’m accustomed to being overshadowed by the capitalist black hole to our south.

Montreal particularly seemed to capture people’s imaginations, being a modern, bustling, (sort-of) quintessentially North American city. I think Canadians often prefer Quebec City, due to its quaint European charm, but it turns out that those who have grown up surrounded by quaint European charm, who have known only quaint European charm their whole lives, find Quebec City to be a poor facsimile. Well fair enough.

I also heard over and over that Canadians are nice and that Provençals are assholes.

I still don’t believe that latter bit, but incidentally, the Cammalleri fan told me that there was one reason why he would never be able to live in Canada permanently: Les femmes portent la culotte – The women wear the trousers.

I fail to see the problem.

Cows & Other Hazards

I had a good deal of friendly conversations with strangers while in England, and when it inevitably emerged that I was travelling alone, I was often met with raised eyebrows and a “wow, you’re brave.”

That’s a sweet sentiment, of course, and it warms the cockles of my ego, but this trip honestly required almost no courage. Good shoes, yes, and a resilient bladder, but my nerves were rarely tested. I described this trip earlier as easy-mode adventuring, and it really was. Here were the greatest threats I faced along the way, for what it’s worth, in no particular order.


Tell anyone that you’re going for a long-distance walk through the English countryside these days, and the second thing they’ll say (after “Oh cool!…why?”) is, “Watch out for the cows.” They are a known threat to life and limb. But, you know, they’re also just cows.

The Coast Path runs through countless pastures, and the Purbeck Way took me through countless more. You can’t avoid cows if you’re going to walk here. And in practice, this is usually fine; so long as you don’t do anything to alarm or irritate the cows, they’ll generally leave you alone. I learned this at some point after crossing through my very first cow pasture, though, because these ladies were grumpy.

Those dark specks a little ways ahead are the offending cows. There were more to my right, not causing trouble.

There were maybe 20 of them in this field, and I had about 200m to cross before I got to the next stile. No problem, I hummed a little song for them so they’d know I was there, stuck to the path, and with 50m to go none had even so much as looked up in acknowledgement.

Until that one asshole started mooing. She just stood there, looking straight at me, and mooed. The other cows in her cluster looked up, looked at me, and started mooing. Then the cows in another cluster I had passed a few moments earlier started mooing. They were all facing me, mooing angrily. Then two of the cows started butting heads for some reason.

This was the first time I busted out my ‘please don’t trample me’ song, which goes something like this: ‘I’m sorry I’m in your space/ I’m sorry for being human please don’t hate me/ Please don’t trample me I’m just trying to get through here/ Oh jesus just be cool guys’. I riffed a bit on the lyrics, depending where the inspiration took me. I leapt over that stile in a single bound and never looked back.

Later that day, my path took me through a large herd of cattle, including tiny calves (I’m positive there was at least one bull in there, too, which I thought wasn’t allowed???). These jerks were 100% in my way, including one calf just sitting directly in the stile at the other end. There were razor-wire fences all around, so my only choice was to walk through the herd, then find a way to jump the fence at the end.

These cows were eyeing me warily as I sang my song to them (not the greatest audience, though attentive), but overall didn’t seem to share their cousins’ bloodlust. Things got tense as I approached the stile. There was a calf there, which meant that one of the other cows was probably its mother, which meant that I wasn’t getting anywhere near there. So I clambered over a large fallen tree and two fences, cursing under my breath, while they all just looked at me. But you know what? I didn’t get trampled. I emerged in a pasture full of sheep who obligingly ran for their lives as soon as they saw me. I like sheep.



Ahhhh, the great outdoors

There are a couple of army firing ranges along the Dorset coast. I bypassed the one near Lulworth when I veered up to Wool, but did walk through the Weymouth one. It was clearly marked, and since there were no red flags up, I knew it was safe to walk through. But can I just point something out? Look at this:


My god, be sure to read the entire post carefully. If your eye merely skims over the right-hand column, you’re getting a very different message: “PROCEED IF RED FLAGS ARE FLYING”


Obviously, just about the entirety of England is haunted. You can’t chuck a stone without it flying straight through some transparent lady in a white gown waiting faithfully for her true love to return from the seas. And despite not actually believing in ghosts, I did manage to see one with my own two eyes. Look at how haunted all these places are:

My path took me into a good many dark woods full of mysterious rustlings, and past countless centuries-old abandoned edifices with chilly drafts that crept up the spine.

As I walked through that long lane lined with hedges pictured above, I spotted a shadowy figure walking toward me, maybe 50m away. I started to pull myself together to say hello, as one does, and continued walking as the figure approached. Something on the ground caught my eye. I looked back up a millisecond later, and the shadowy figure was gone. There was nowhere for him to go! There were thick hedges on either side! My tiny, exhausted legs made short work of the rest of that lane, let me tell you.

‘Fast Horses’


I’m actually a bit disappointed I didn’t get to see any of these fast horses…

My Idiot Self

I am 100% the greatest threat to my own safety & well-being, passing even cows in this category. I had failed to break my caffeine addiction before the trip, so I had to endure several days of withdrawal. (Tea is great and all, but it was not a match for my pot-a-day coffee habit.) I consumed enough clotted cream to cause a temporary supply shortage. I drank my weight in cider and made an ass of myself before an entire village (NO REGRETS). I gave myself a 9/10 hangover on the day that had the prettiest views and the most hills. I was hopelessly lost at more or less all times. And instead of getting my act together at any point, the more trouble I found myself in, the more excited I was to tell the story to my friends.


So really, the takeaway from this is that if you’re going to walk through England, you should be perfectly safe so long as you keep your wits about you, and steer well clear of cows and Janets. Can’t do anything about the ghosts, though.

English Names: What’s With All the Bottoms?

Warning: Here be rude words and double entendres. 

Let’s take a quick pause from the saga to reflect upon one of the qualities for which the English are most admired around the globe: silly names. What a delight it is to pore over a minutely detailed Ordnance Survey map, counting the ‘bottoms’ and ‘heads’, or to walk into a bakery and ask if they have any knobs. Just in the tiny stretch of this tiny county that I covered in my travels, I found quite a rich sampling to share with you.

Some names are more cute than rude, but can still bring enjoyment. The town of Beer, for example, which has so far failed to take advantage of the enormous tourism potential in its name. Black Head isn’t bad. Studland, fittingly, has a nude beach. The Spittles, a beach connecting Charmouth and Lyme Regis, will get you smiling indulgently, but you could still talk about it with your grandmother.

I mentioned earlier that my ancestors had come from a place called Puddletown, so-called because it’s a town on the River Puddle. I’ve been told by a reliable local source that the river was originally named the Piddle, and that Puddletown was accordingly named Piddletown. In preparation for a visit by the humourless Queen Victoria, the people of Dorset (tragically) had to clean up a few of their place names lest they shock the monarch. One such victim was the poor Piddle (though there is a local brewery called Piddle, so they remain in touch with their heritage).

You’re absolutely spoiled for bottoms along the way. Seacombe Bottom, Middle Bottom, and my very favourite, Scratchy Bottom. This is, in fact, a beautiful spot, and I recommend that anyone in the area budget some time to look at Scratchy Bottom up close.

In Morecombelake, I spent the night within view of Butt Farm and what I assume is its affiliate, Right Bottom. This must be a local strength, because the very next night, in Colyton, I was one street over from The Butts. A couple more favourites for you:

It wasn’t just the place names, either. A local delicacy is the Dorset Knob, for example, which I have sampled and am sorry to say I don’t like. I’m a huge fan of clotted cream, however, and have already claimed that as my porn name (Dorset Knob, as far as I know, is still up for grabs).

Last but by no means least, I’m informed by another reliable source that the local term for the shale on their beaches is clittage.

You’re welcome.

Dorset Knob: underwhelming, messy

Moving Away: Dos and Don’ts

Since we last spoke (um, a while ago now), I moved away from Toronto. Mike did, too, a month before me. That meant that I had to pack up our chaotically full house all by myself, and to learn some valuable life lessons along the way. I am here to share these lessons with you, so that you don’t make the same mistakes I made.

(Disclaimer: Before the ‘What the shit, Mike?!’ brigade turns up, I chose to stay an extra month and sort things out. He paid for the move, so I figured it would be a fair trade if I did the work for it. It also bought me more time with my wonderfully farty newborn nephew.)

If you’re moving away…

Do throw a going-away party. Use Solo cups and paper plates, even though you haven’t begun packing your dishes yet.

Don’t earnestly promise each friend, as they leave your going-away party, that you’ll hang out with them one last time before you leave (especially if you’re leaving 5 days later).

Don’t leave 98% of your packing for the last 4 days before the move. You will find yourself at the mercy of unforeseen disasters, such as last-minute illness. Speaking of…

Don’t get sick in the last 4 days before the move.

Do enlist the aid of Joanne. Joanne is the nice lady from Kijiji who is taking your piano. While waiting for the piano movers to arrive, Joanne will perform such tasks as wrapping your dishes in newspaper, gently sympathising with your nasty cold, and strong-arming reluctant LCBO employees into giving you boxes.

Don’t forget to eat all day because you’re sick and have lost your appetite.

Do allow awesome friends to come over and feed you, in place of those final hangs you promised at your going-away party.

Don’t leave important tasks, such as disposing of ca. 1 tonne of junk, until the last few hours before your flight.

Do enlist the aid of Gord. Gord is your brother, who has a good head on his shoulders and happens to know where the nearest dump is.

Don’t ugly-cry the moment you must depart for the airport, leaving you with no time to pull your face back together before your 12-hour string of flights.

Do buy a mini-bottle of wine on the plane and watch a terrible Sherlock Holmes movie that prominently features Jude Law’s face.