Day 15 - Vilner

Day 15 - Vilner (3rd person I approached)
January 15, 2015 - As I get older, I’m learning to take less things personally. Sometimes it’s easy, and other times I have to work at it. I’m a sensitive guy, and I’m glad to say that life hasn’t completely knocked that out of me. Yet. Sometimes the things I take personally are ridiculous I know; it’s like that extra helping of mashed potatoes or the second bowl of ice cream - I just can’t help myself. Even knowing it’s to my own detriment. 


The first person I approached today got under my skin. He was an elderly gentleman, sitting quietly doing a crossword puzzle. I asked if I could talk with him. He said yes, and before I could get another six words out, he brushed me off with ‘I’m not interested!' He then added a shooing motion with his hand. I was dismissed. 


Of course, I don’t know what’s going on in his world, his day, or if he’s under a deadline to finish the crossword. But all I could think of, as I walked away with my proverbial tail between my legs was, ‘I hope I never get to be that miserable.’ I thought it must be painful to be so curmudgeonly. I then started to examine if I ever dismiss people like that, and I’m confident I don’t, or at least I hope I don't. Not even those occasionally annoying people who want to have me sign a petition every day, on every street corner.


The second guy was extremely nice. We chatted about social media for a minute or two. He then told me he was running late for a meeting that he had been late for the last time, otherwise he would have chatted. 


Vilner was sitting outside, eating a croissant and drinking coffee. He had earphones in and was listening to music. When I started to speak, he removed the earphones and said he’d chat with me.  He was born in Puno, a city in southwestern Peru, near Lake Titicaca.

“There are ten children in my family,” he said, after taking a moment to think about it.

“My father was married twice. My mother was his second wife, and I am the eighth child.”


Throughout elementary and high-school, Vilner was interested in social studies.

“I always was interested in other cultures, other lands and languages. Even from an early age, it was almost like it was a subconscious thing at the back of my mind,” he said. Vilner’s English was very good, and he has a very heavy, Peruvian accent.

“I learned English in secondary school (high-school). We only learn the basics and some grammar,” he said. He completed school at the age of fourteen.


“One of my brothers was studying in Argentina, actually he had finished his studies. I wanted to go there to go to school. My mother encouraged, well, almost pushed me to go. My father had passed away when I was thirteen. She wanted what was best for me,” he said. At the age of fourteen, Vilner moved to Argentina to go to school.

"My brother lived in San Juan to the north, and I went to school and lived in San Carlos, to the south. I had always been mature and again, it was that want and desire to travel and experience cultures, that drove me,” said Vilner. 


He spent two years getting his Argentinian high-school equivalency certificate, similar to Canada’s GED (General Educational Development).

“I studied history, social studies, that kind of thing,” he said. “I planned to stay in Argentina and go to university. The junta happened, you know, with (Juan) Perón and the military, so I left,” he said. The ‘National Reorganization Process’ as officials called it, was what many refer to as "la última junta military" (the last military junta) - the final dictatorship. 


At that time, Peru maintained a good relationship with Russia, and just sixteen years old, Vilner moved to Moscow.

"I was able to live and study there. Because of my grades, I had gotten a scholarship. I didn’t speak any Russian though, and the classes of course were all in Russian. I spent the first year going to school to learn Russian. I was young, it is easy for a young person to learn and adapt. And you have to learn about Russian history as well. It was required to learn their Russian history before going to university," he said.

"My scholarship was for the Geology program, but I wanted to learn about culture and humanities. They wouldn’t permit it, so I studied geology at The People’s Friendship University of Russia,” he told me. Six years after arriving in Moscow, Vilner had a Bachelor’s degree in Geology. He was twenty-two years old.  


“I had family that lived in Germany so I went there. I travelled all over, Munich, Berlin, Cologne, Aachen. I was only twenty-two and I couldn’t find work in Geology or with my degree. No one was prepared to make an internship for me. So I did other things,” he said, smiling.

“I was a busker. I played the Peruvian Pan Flute, and joined with some friends of mine and we played music, busking for a living. We played music from Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, many types,” he said. The band travelled extensively throughout Europe. They had a core group of musicians but would add people as they travelled, and then lose them again later on.

“I spent ten years travelling all over Europe, busking. I was making enough money to eat, to live and travel, it was enough for me,” he said, without reservation. 


“We met a woman from Calgary (Alberta, Canada) when we were playing in Copenhagen. There is a large cathedral there (Church of Our Lady), and we were performing in the courtyard in front of this cathedral. She invited us to come and perform at the Calgary Stampede. We said yes, and came to Canada,” said Vilner.

“We performed at the Stampede. I liked it in Canada, and I decided that I wanted to stay. I lived in Calgary for a couple of years, and then moved to Victoria for a while,” he said.

“I studied English and then went to college and took courses in Tourism and Hospitality Management. Then I moved to Vancouver in 2000.”


“I don’t play music as much these days, as I was before. But I still love Canada,” he says with a big grin, gesturing at the dark, gloomy, rain-filled clouds in the sky. We spoke a little bit about Vilner not being in any longterm relationships.

“It was hard to have that, while travelling around so much,” he said. Vilner seemed to be quite content that this was the price to pay, for living his desire to travel and experience so many different cultures.


On my way home, as I walked past the spot where I had gotten dismissed earlier, by the elderly gent with the crossword, I realized my sentiments about him had shifted. I had given him more thought than he had likely given me. Instead of feeling annoyed and personally slighted, I had landed at a place of wishing the gentleman well. I was able to smile, remind myself that it wasn’t about me, to let it go. And endeavour to make sure I don’t dismiss people, no matter what I’m doing. #notastranger