Autumn in Canada, Switzerland and England

The autumn colours in Canada are amazing, more so in some parts than others. I was invited to a meeting on ‘Outbreak Interventions’ organised by Quebec International in Quebec City, held early in October. The trees in the city were on display. Words would fail should I try to describe the reds, yellows and oranges, so I am not even going to attempt it. We were given a tour of the city and were told that they had spent money of preserving their elms when Dutch Elm disease swept through North America. These were indeed very magnificent trees, so the money was well spent.

I flew up on Wednesday having driven to Pearson airport, and parked my car there, quite a nerve wracking process in my opinion. This made me rather more sympathetic to the husband of the woman in the seat next to me. She must have been in her late sixties and told me that, while she had driven to the terminal, her husband who was with her had to take the car home. She walked into the building as he had a panic attack at the curbside. She switched off her phone well before she had to so as to avoid the increasingly hysterical calls from her immobile husband. I will never know how that ended! Toronto is a busy and complicated airport so I felt for the man, poor chap. By contrast the airport in Quebec City is small and manageable, and when I walked in to the departure lounge it immediately reminded me of Lusaka airport (except no dust) and, of course, better and more expensive shops.

This passenger was going to Quebec for a ‘transplant conference’. She told me that she was involved in transplant activism because her son had been killed in a motor accident in his early 20s. The family had given permission for his organs to be harvested and donated. She was very matter of fact about this. I did not know how to respond! I am going to have to think about it: on the one hand life and, in some cases better quality of life is being given to others, on the other what a brave thing to do. The trip was short, under an hour and a half, but the plane was absolutely packed so this meant conversation was inevitable, but I did not, however, regret this one.

The hotel in Quebec City must be one of the most confusing I have stayed in. It was huge, with passages leading to odd places, and so just finding the right set of lifts was a challenge. It (the hotel) was located next to the Plains of Abraham, where in 1759 a decisive battle was fought between the British Army and Navy against the French Army. The British were led by General Wolfe, the French by General Montcalm. For some reason the story of the battle is one I remember from my school days. The British laid siege to Quebec City, which was effectively the point on the St Laurence River that controlled the passage to the interior. Eventually, after a three month siege, Wolfe’s troops scaled the cliffs, which the French had believed was impossible. There was just enough of a path for the British to make it up. They then engaged the Montcalm’s forces, beating them in a battle that lasted only 15 minutes, but left both generals dead.

On the first evening of the meeting we were invited to dinner in an excellent restaurant in the old city – and Quebec is really old by North American standards. There is a city wall with huge gates, so it was an interesting experience to walk down through the gate in a city outside Europe. The restaurant was, we were told, a very popular spot, where all the celebrities go when they are in town. On the second evening the conference organisers arranged a bus tour which ended with a dinner in a repurposed Seminary. Dinner was complete with entertainment, a band and a female vocalist. It was generally an astonishingly well-organised meeting, the participants were spoilt, although the tour was in the dark!

The topic of the meeting was outbreaks of infectious disease, past and future. The bulk of the discussion was about the Ebola epidemic with a few mentions of Zika and other diseases. HIV and AIDS was hardly on the agenda, which was a pity as I think there is much to learn from the past 30 years of the epidemic I have spent much of my working life studying. On the other hand, perhaps this was not that surprising. The Canadians’ excellent public health departments, have been involved in international health for many years, and were at the forefront of the response to Ebola.

I learnt a great deal, gave the first presentation of the meeting which involved my moving graphs, and met both people I have known for a long time and some new, and very interesting folks. This is all part of the networking that needs to be done if my position in Canada is to work out. What was most fascinating was to talk to French Canadian academics and realise that they have a different way of working and thinking from my colleagues in Southern Ontario.

Traveling back to Toronto I was again next to a woman in her sixties and found myself being told the story of her life. She moved to Canada from the USA in the 1960’s with her then boyfriend, who was a draft dodger. After a complex and interesting life she currently works with the co-operative movement. She was delightfully left wing and quite informative. The purpose of her travel was to attend a major conference on co-operatives. Quebec is clearly positioning itself as a major conference destination. Good for them, it is a great location and I would happily go back.

I did not have much time in Waterloo before I travelled to Montreux for the meeting of the World Bank and UNAIDS Economics Reference Group. This has gone through various iterations for nearly 20 years and I have consistently been one of the members. It has always been interesting and fun (in an economist sort of way). I have been asked to be a guinea pig (the first to complete the survey) for the evaluation of the group. The current funding has ended. Having the chance to be reflective is great.

It has taken a long time, but I find I am no longer as desperate to get to the gym or run as I was a few years ago. However, during this conference I simply had to get out. I ran round the lake from the hotel to Chateau de Chillon which took me an hour. I must be honest and say I did not run all the way. My excuse, in part, was that the trees were shedding their leaves and it had been raining. This meant that some stretches of the path were quite hazardously slippery. It was really beautiful and was warm enough for me to go out just wearing a t-shirt and shorts. I was pleased to have finally used the gym kit which I have optimistically carried to every meeting I have been to of late.

From Geneva I headed to Norwich where this blog was finished. I then go to Durban, Cape Town and Swaziland before returning to the UK for Christmas. The winter term is my teaching term and so I will go back to Canada just ahead of the New Year and be ready for the students in January. There is no doubt that my decision to buy a place within a few hundred metres of the school pays off from January to April each year. Thank heavens I don’t have to get in a car or walk any distance.

Norwich City Hall

Norwich City Hall

Allotment stands in Norwich

Allotment stands in Norwich

The weather in Norwich has been unexpectedly warm. We were able to go into town without coats and even, at midday, without jerseys. The city hall was bedecked with Halloween regalia and I am putting a photograph of this on the website. It was very Norfolk – understated! However a few short steps away, at the library, there were a series of stalls marking ‘productive Norwich’ including ones for the allotments. For those who are not familiar with the concept, an allotment is a small plot of land allocated to local people by the local council, to grow food or flowers. This is similar to the concepts the ‘foodies’ in Waterloo hold dear. There is commonality in views and standards in both my communities!

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