Category Archives: Wanderings

♥ Love Letter To Canada ♥

Happy Canada Day, all!  It’s our nation’s 146th birthday, and my 46th blog post (I’d like to claim I’d planned that).

When I was an elementary school student, one of my favourite assignments was geographic research.  I recall penning (penciling?) compositions on San Salvador, Florida and Rome, however the ones that gently squeezed my little Canuck heart were inevitably about Timmins, British Columbia and Toronto, among others.  I remember happily flipping through encyclopedias in the school library, eager to gaze upon grainy 1970s photographs like this one:

ontario-place-mr

Ontario Place, Toronto

or this…

St. John, New Brunswick

St. John, New Brunswick

or this…

Swartz Bay, Britisih Columbia

Swartz Bay, British Columbia

In the years since, I have travelled to the West Coast numerous times, and have spent time in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.  Six out of ten ain’t bad, but I do palpably feel the absence of the midwestern provinces, and what I wouldn’t do to get to Nunavut, NWT and the Yukon.
One day, I whisper to myself, one day.

I have fundamentally Canadian images burned forever into my brain, that give me a little tingle every time they rise, unbidden.   A photograph of a grain elevator in Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.  Nighttime pub crawling in Montreal with my friend Andy.  Sprinting down an eastern provincial park beach, tearing off my clothes (bathing suit conveniently underneath), and jumping into the salty Atlantic for the first time.  Strolling through Stanley Park in Vancouver, on a warm yet soggy March day, almost having the place to myself, and spotting an immature eagle, perched majestically in a tree, watching me.  Just missing my PEI friends as I arrived in Kensington, yet because of that, having the most beautiful night camping by the water.  Listening in awe as my cousin in Moore’s Mills, New Brunswich spoke fluent French and English to her children.  And, of course, years of memories from hometown Ontario, like watching the CN Tower being built (on my first visit I bought a pen, which had a picture of the tower and a little elevator that moved up and down as you tilted it).

Other memories from my Book Of Canadian Recollections include:

  • Getting all excited about traversing the then 5-year-old Confederation Bridge spanning NB and PEI, almost 13 kilometers long (that’s 8 miles for Americans, y’all).  Realizing immediately that they’ve built the barriers so that drivers can’t see over them and get distracted.
    Experience rating: meh.
  • Ordering a ‘Relic’ burger at Molly’s Reach restaurant in Gibson’s, British Columbia.  Bruno Gerussi, FTW.
  • Hearing Stan Rogers for the first time.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Buying a beautiful print of A.Y. Jackson’s Yellowknife, Northwest Territories from a woman who had originally purchased it because it brought to mind her days there as camp cook for a group of geologists. I sat contentedly for the next hour as she regaled me with stories.
  • Heading to the Canadian National Exhibition every year with my father, whose commitment to procuring a Shopsy’s corned beef sandwich each and every visit bordered on the religious.
  • Breaking down en route from Montreal to Lac-des-Seize-Îles in a torrential rainstorm, and proceeding to travel with the French CAA guy and his girlfriend, windows rolled up, them smoking cigarette after cigarette, as we communicated directions in Franglaise.  Good times.
  • Canada Vignettes.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Stepping into the narthex of Notre Dame cathedral in Montreal for the first time.  Words cannot express.
  • Living through ten (count ’em, ten) London, Ontario winters.
    Snow.  Oh God, the snow.
  • Meeting fascinating people:
    Gordie Tapp of Hee Haw fame in the waiting room of my optometrist’s office (circa 1978).
    Bill Lawrence, former host of Tiny Talent Time, who became the perpetually cheery weather guy at CBC.
    Guy Paul Morin (acquitted of murder in 1995), in a CBC elevator, where it took me about 30 seconds to connect the face to the name.  Suddenly overcome with the enormity of what he must have gone through, feeling  I had to say something, I turned and offered a simple ‘Congratulations,’ to which he humbly replied a quiet ‘Thank you.’
    Ken Bell, WWII photographer, at his home in Gibson’s Landing.  What an honour.
    There are more, but I don’t want to make you jealous.
  • Dating a Francophone separatist in the early 90s and realizing in my Ontarioan ignorance that we still have a long way to go in that department.
  • Each and every summer from time immemorial, having at least one opportunity to float on my back in one of our beautiful fresh water lakes, my heart filled to overflowing with gratitude.
  • Richard Condie.  ‘Nuff said.
  • 1992: The Tragically Hip releasing Looking For A Place To Happen, because any band that can somehow fit Jacques Cartier into a  tune is well, the coolest ever.
  • Having it slowly dawn on me that every other white clapboard Catholic church on the East Coast is named St. Peter’s.
  • Standing under two-hundred-foot trees in Capilano, British Columbia, and being reminded of my smallness in the world.

20080706123845_single red maple leaf

The ties I have to this place are not the silken, tenuous kind; no, these are most surely comprised of diamond-encrusted titanium links. And though enormously strong, they are neither awkward nor heavy, and provide a centering and stability I can’t imagine getting from anything (or anywhere) else.

And with that, I will leave you with Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s The Log Driver’s Waltz, 1979, Canada Vignettes.

Happy Birthday, Canada.  I love you.

3 Comments

Filed under Music, Nostalgia, Uncategorized, Wanderings

You’re Supposed To Sing (Or Dance)

Life

I’ve been doing a fair bit of pondering on this remarkably journey we’re all taking.  Each person doing exactly the same thing – living – while at the same time, each doing it in a totally unique way.

In the Western world, there appears to be a set pattern for at least the first 17 years, and that’s school.  Lots of it.  Pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, sometimes a middle school for the 6th to 8th grades, then high school.  Afterward, many of us go on to university and post-graduate work.  Then the jobs, or, for  some, the careers.

That’s all well and good; I know several people who traversed the system relatively unscathed and are currently living fulfilling and happy lives.

However, looking back, if I were to speak solely to my own experiences, I’d posit that the established ‘system’ didn’t particularly work for me.

In elementary school, I was a shining star.  I was polite and well turned-out, I knew my lessons, had many friends, was active and happy.  I loved to be  quizzed on what I knew, be that math, spelling, geography, or what-have-you.  I drew and wrote constantly. I was going to be a writer, an artist, get married at 24 and have two, perfect children (the paper fortune teller confirmed this).  The world was full of promise.

FortuneTeller

In grade six, I moved to Toronto for the school year.  Scared the shit out of me, that did.  I continued to write, though; it had become a refuge.  The city was unfamiliar, grey, loud and dirty and the kids didn’t like me all that much (except for Max H. and Connie C., without whom I’d never survived, who took me in and introduced me to good music and community).   Grade seven brought me back to Burlington, but by then, all of my friends had formed new groups and I spent the next two years feeling like an interloper.  I had great hopes for high school, starting fresh.

Ah, yes…high school.  While I can’t honestly say it was a torture, I don’t look back on it particularly fondly.  I had already begun to lose my way, getting in trouble fairly frequently, my grades suffering, my relationships beginning to appear more than moderately unhealthy. I was intelligent, but bored and unchallenged, and that made my way treacherous. My writing trailed off around then.  Yet throughout those years, I’d always maintained this niggling suspicion in the back of my mind that I was destined for better things…and when It came along,  I’d know It when I saw It.

Cut to 25+ years later…I’ve been out in the world, I’ve worked, I’ve seen a whole bunch of neat stuff, done a whole bunch of cool things, married, had children.  And yet that Itch For The It remains, and I believe much of that is due to a lifelong inkling that I’m the idiomatic square peg attempting to conform to the round hole (at least when it comes to the traditional way of doing things).

I now have a daughter who is a bit of a square peg, herself.  I thought of her as I listened to this talk Music And Life by Alan Watts, and realized that her journey is really just starting out, and the paths and possibilities are endless.  I have resolved to become far more diligent in reminding her that this journey, this pilgrimage, is a musical thing, and that you’re supposed to sing, or dance your way through it.

In doing so, I hope to remind myself, and perhaps move ever closer to that elusive It.

For more information about the wonderful Alan Watts, please go here.

5 Comments

Filed under Health and Wellness, Wanderings

Book Review: F U Penguin

Went to Toronto last weekend to hang out.  As usual, saw and ate at some awesome places.  Might I suggest a visit to the TIFF Bell Lightbox at 350 King Street West if you haven’t been yet, and try the mushroom soup at The Town Crier pub at 115 John Street.

I never tend to visit book giant Chapters here at home, however the one at 142 John Street is pretty impressive.  While I was there I happened across a book that originated with a blog, à la Stuff White People Like.  The book is called F U Penguin.  I’ll let y’all extrapolate the name of the blog from that.

Without realizing it, I think I was waiting for this book to come out, and I’d wager that applies to a few of you, too.  This book rails against Cute Animals Everywhere.  E-mails, movies, websites – Matthew Gasteier has left no stone unturned, and nothing adorable is exempt from his wrath and derision.

A few excerpts:

Snow leopards:  rare, majestic, dickish

Did you know…?  Unlike many other large cats, snow leopards cannot roar.  This explains why instead of getting upset when you don’t do something they want you to do, they say something passive aggressive like “Oh, no, don’t worry about it, I’m sure it will just magically take care of itself.”

Thanks for ‘gracing’ us with your presence.

I get it, Whale, you’re busy.  I’ve only been on this FUCKING BOAT for three and a half hours waiting for you, and the only thing I’ve seen so far is my lunch from earlier.

Did you know…?  Orcas are commonly referred to as “killer whales,” a name they spread themselves so no one would find out that they cried at the end of Titanic.

Rare animals can be a real drag.

I was living my life long before I knew what you were, Long-Eared Jerboa, and I will go on living my life long after I have set you as my desktop picture.

Did you know…?  The long-eared jerboa is different from the regular jerboa in one major way, though researchers have yet to determine precisely what that is.

Happy reading!  Spread the word!

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Wanderings

Really Effing Cool: Stuff I Wanna Do, #1

“I don’t know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.”

~ E.B. White

This is not a Bucket List.  I’ve grown to despise that term, damn Jack and Morgan, they ruined everything.  So…what?  If I don’t make a tick mark beside everything on my List, I’ve FAILED life?  When my time comes to go toward the Light, I’ll not be allowed a feeling of contentment and a job well done? Some omniscient being will stamp a big ‘Incomplete’ on my celestial report card?      Fak off!

No, this is just entry #1 of some stuff I’d like to do at some point whilst my soul is still attached to my body.  There’s a difference.

My youngest (Thing 2) is currently in school Mondays, Wednesdays and alternate Fridays.  It’s a stupid schedule, I know.  Most Friday mornings last year were spent scrambling to find the calendar – is he going?  He’s staying home?  Dammit, I had a pedi booked!  This year I galvanized myself into action and marked every single week off, so a simple glance tells me if I can make any grownup plans.

In any case, Mondays and Wednesdays remain my sure-thing days of the week, unless of course Thing 1 or Thing 2 have colds, which means I’m on call.  Whatever.

At least one of these mornings usually includes a trip to Starbucks.  Funnily enough, I am seriously anti-Starbucks (I defiantly use terms other than they have written on their artfully done menu), but after watching the two daytime girls at my local Second Cup eating behind the counter, licking their fingers and then going off to prep a drive-up order without once washing their hands, I decided to make the ultimate sacrifice and head over to the west side of the street.  Here, I order my beverage:

Me: (scanning the boards distractedly) Uh, yeah, I’d like an espresso and steamed milk, please.  For here.  That size (points to mug on counter).

Snotty, 20-something barista: (with barely-disguised contempt) So, you want a grande latte?

Me: (looking perplexed) Uh, yeah, I guess.

Fuck ’em.  I’m never gonna say it.

I grab a newspaper from the rack, usually The Hamilton Spectator, though sometimes The Toronto Star if I’m lucky.  Find my window seat and set up shop for the next hour.

Late September, I’m happily browsing away and I come across this article in the Spec, “New York City’s spots for book lovers: a literary tour.”  OMG!  It’s like some New Yorkers got together to discuss a few of Erin’s Favourite Things, namely New York itself (which holds an almost mythical fascination for me, having never been there), books and booze.

One day, I muse to myself.  After Thing 2 starts first grade.  One day.

Who’s in?

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Wanderings

Obsession: Torontopalooza

This August, I visited Toronto for an extended visit (two days and nights), something I haven’t done since moving away in 1998.  It’s not that I haven’t been back at all, just that my standard sojourns tend to entail seeing one friend, for one night, visiting one nightspot, and ba-dum-dum, the weekend is done.

This time, though, I went tourist class.  And now I can’t stop thinking about it.

A quick history lesson for those who don’t know me…I moved to Toronto from Burlington, Ontario, in 1987.  I was a teenager, gasp, choke.  Never intended to stay for long, never mind over a decade.  But life happens (young people, take note!), and before I knew it I was aiming straight for 30 (gasp, choke) and leaving the city I now called home.

Fourteen years and many addresses later, I’m back within manageable visiting distance, and decided to head eastbound for a summer-mama-pick-me-up.  In the words of the immortal Richard Condie, “Well, blow my lips off!”  What a city!  What a nightlife!  Why’d I move again?

Started the weekend in the Beaches, one of the best neighborhoods in town.  The beach area has everything you need, plus a decades-long funky vibe, to boot.  I never lived there during my years in the Big Smoke, but I sure wanted to, ever since reading Atwood’s The Robber Bride (in which one character lives on Toronto Island, close enough that counts, if you’re looking for a place you can raise chickens).  Anyways, porch sitting in the Beaches is lovely, and I heartily suggest it to anyone who scores a local friend with a veranda.

Traveled slightly northwest from there to the Danforth.  I resided in this area for the final year I was in town, and it is by far my favourite out of all the places I’d lived. The Danforth has a great community sense to it, many little mom-and-pop operations still thrive, and the main street itself is teeming with people, day and night.  It’s big breeder territory, but also very popular with the baby singles, never-marrieds and divorced-and-loving-its.

The Danforth takes food, coffee, alcohol, and market produce very seriously.  On this particular evening, we dined at the Globe Bistro, a lovely place with a rooftop patio and spiffy gin & tonics.  Had a gorgeous lobster app with stinging nettle pesto.  Seriously?!  It’s been so long since I’ve lived anywhere that could offer anything fancier than frites au jus on the menu, I felt like a total poseur.  After dinner, strolled down the street, visiting shop after shop (including Book City, one of the only bookstores these days where the over-20 staffers know way more than you).  Just before heading back, my friend and I picked up some Ontario grapes at a market stand (because at 11:00 p.m. on the Danforth, you can) and ate them as we walked.  Also found out about a new café down the street from my old digs, called The Rooster Coffee House, which I’ll have to check out next time I’m in town.  I would have wrapped the statue of Dr. Sun Yat Sen in toilet paper in front of the daily tai chi class to have a place like that when I lived there!

Next morning was breakfast at Whistler’s; not what you’d call avant-garde, but they’ve remodeled since 1998, which is a good thing, trust me.  A nice, neighborhood place to grab a meal.  It holds nostalgic significance for me, ’cause that’s where my mama and I would have dinner together back when we both called the city home.

Saturday dinner took place at The Pilot on the “Flight Deck,” corny, yes, however lack of imagination aside, another great rooftop patio, and in Yorkville, no less.  A lovely grilled veggie sandwich with lentil soup, plus another spiffy gin & tonic.  Finished the night off with drinks at C5, the restaurant/bar on top of the Royal Ontario Museum.  This is the place for all of us rednecks to go when we want to feel special.  While the bar menu features $12 specialty cocktails, you can still enjoy all the place has to offer and only spend $6 on a perfectly delectable Tankhouse Ale, surrounded by an awe-inspiring, 180-degree view of the city.

Sadly, Sunday had to come eventually, but not before a trip to the distillery district.  This place is exactly the thing all cities wanting to make it to the big time should have.  I mean, you can stroll the brick lanes through artisan’s alley, hit a gallery, enjoy a lovely repast at any number of pubs/bars/restaurants, buy one-of-a-kind clothing, doodads and gifts, see live music, or attend a magical event and, if you squint, you can imagine having somehow stepped back in time to the turn of the (20th) century, when Gooderham and Worts was up and running.

Yeah, I got it bad, all right.  When’s that next free weekend, again?

2 Comments

Filed under Wanderings