Tag Archives: Atlantic Ocean

Becoming an urbanite


scenes-from-suburbia-ppart-1I’ve lived a lot of my life in the grimness of suburbia. You know – the large lawns, the well-spaced houses, located around schools and playing fields. The places from which you must drive to get anywhere exciting – or you can walk around your suburban block and watch other’s lawns grow, admire their gardens, comment on the lack of maintenance or the amazing maintenance, dodge lawn sprinklers and skateboards and bored teenagers with cars.

Some of them were nice suburbs – my home town of Winchester, Ma, for example, but I never really lived there. I lived in my house and yard and went downtown as a treat – it was a long walk and my parents were too watchful for me to go down there much (though I was allowed to go skating on an unmonitored lake whenever I wanted – I think my mother was afraid I’d take to drinking or smoking or hanging out with the fast crowd. As if they’d have me.) The bad kids in my crowd would go to the drug store, for heaven’s sake, and hang around buying makeup, or stealing it. We were even in the part of town that missed D’Agostino’s and the fun had by hanging out there. We were in the ultra suburb. We had one Jewish family in town. No black children until we bused them in from Boston.

Not a natural environment for the curious.

homeI’ve even lived in a suburb without an urb – the town of Shilo, Manitoba – a cluster of suburban roundabouts and 1950’s homes on a military base, in the middle of the short grass prairie, equally inconvenient to anywhere in North America as it was smack dab in the middle of the continent. When I first moved there, I slipped into a time warp, started wearing an apron, and cooked five batches of chocolate chips in the first week to share with the local kids before my natural anti-50’s soul rebelled. Still, I spent a heck of a lot of time house-cleaning there, my brain slowly leaking out with every bucket of pine-sol laden water poured out of the bucket. I wasn’t allowed to speak to men there, as every woman was pre-supposed to be on the hunt for a better husband (higher in rank). I also was reproved for speaking to the other ranks’ wives. I bought TUPPERWARE. In my defence, I had to, because the CO’s wife sold it. I still have it, 25 years later, a cautionary tale about being forced to conform.

I wasn’t brave then. I was unsure of who to be – I didn’t fit into the military wife drink and gossip gang, and there were so few kindred spirits and I was afraid to reveal myself to them. I was half my age now when I lived there, and my husband was establishing himself at the same time and it was rough for both of us to squeeze into the military mode. He stuck it out longer than I did, but then he had my support. I didn’t have his.

So suburbs, suburbs, suburbs. And now I’m making a change. I’m moving on down, as the Jefferson’s might have sung, truly – from my deluxe apartment in the sky, to a smaller, darker, less glamorous one in the nest of the downtown. Yes, Dartmouth rather than Halifax, but I remember so well the words of a couple I met when I first moved here – “We lived in Halifax and looked at Dartmouth – if we’d been smart, we would have done the opposite!”

Oct-Nov-2015-089-smaller-600x400(My house! (to the right))

I found a place right in the heart of everything. I look out at the downtown main street – I’ve often dreamed of living above a shop and I have that now, though it’s a holistic health centre (fewer food smells). The local bars are clustered across the street, as is the library. Little shops and dental offices and restaurants and theatres and music are within a few steps. The street noise is a wonderful melange of people talking, fog horns, train bells, ship calls, and the occasional “I have no balls so I am going to pull out the muffler on my motorcycle” jerks. Poor and wealthy walk by my windows, commuters stride by to catch the ferry, buses gasp as they make the turn. I can step across the street and inhale the harbour, get fresh fish and chips, go to the farmer’s market, grab an ungodly rich croissant.

I’m thinking of selling my car, trusting to legs and bus and ferry and car share and rentals when I want to go afield. I CAN DO THAT! I did that before, in cold as hell and hot as hades Ottawa, and gave in after winter. I’m in a better climate now, and I know this place. The prospect excites me.

I’m going to be an urbanite! It feels like a new cloak, a new identity. Onwards, ever onwards.

amandine-urruty-spitz

If I hate it? Well, there’s always the country….

 

 

The country in six days, ending with an exclamation point…


trajets_Canada_enOf course everyone is focused on the madman attack on Parliament Hill, that total abnormality here in Canada, where representatives of the people feel free to walk and work without fear of assault. (well, at least until now). I’m not going to write about that, sad though it is. Suffice to say the assault brought my trip to a sudden, jerking end, reality intruding on my mind much like my post-travel cold throws me flat onto the bed.

I’ve just travelled across the country, stem to stern, on #VIArail, taking the Ocean from Halifax to Montreal, commuter train from Montreal to Toronto, and the Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver. It is a fabulous trip, one everyone should do at least once in their lives. I sat up in Economy from Halifax to Montreal, cheap-seated it to Toronto, got a room (and an upgrade, thanks VIA!) to Vancouver. All have their pleasures.

The Ocean is fitted with handicapped accessibility (limited though it is). There I met a former biker gal who cheerily named me “D” and took me under her arm (literally) while she pestered the bartender. She told me of her many lives, from legal to slightly not so, then offered to put out a contract on one of my relatives. You see, the thing about the train is that you know you are not likely to see folks again, so stories get told, intimacies shared, secrets revealed. It’s a bit like those five minute dating things – meet, smile, reveal, reveal, leave. One woman told me the horror she felt that her cousin accused her of jumping off the bedroom dressers when she was a kid. The woman was in her 70’s, and she’d never told anyone before. Some hurts lie deep.

I met a gorgeous but naive young gal who was going to Montreal to maybe be a model. Biker gal and I both sat her down for a talk, I gave her my contact info, called on my niece for info about places to stay in Montreal. The young gal listened, but I haven’t heard from her. I hope she’s okay.

But then, that is the other real charm about train travel and, in fact, about Canada. Almost always, you meet people who are going to treat you right, who are polite and friendly and safe and sweet, who offer help or support or friendship, short or long. The trip affirmed that. No matter what train I took, what class I was in, every person I contacted was this way. Even on the flight back, when I shared the plane with a crew of drunken roustabouts heading home from the oil patch, 99% of the people were sweet beyond belief.

It’s a grand trip for the people, but the landscape is breathtaking. I started with the rocky Atlantic shores, rumbled through the Acadian dykelands, on to the rolling Appalachian hills of New Brunswick, the fields and townships of Quebec, through my old town of Kingston and on to the big city of Toronto. Then on to the Canadian Shield, so large it takes a while to understand it. I watched the endless endless trees and rocks and trees and rocks and water of Northern Ontario, gasped with relief when we got to the prairies and Winnipeg and I could see the sky again. Saw the tiny old slumping homes being consumed by prairie, spotted a football-field-sized car dump in Saskatchewan, adored the Qu’Appelle valley. A few oil rigs dipped their heads as we went by.

Then the first mumblings of hills, a blue-grey lump ahead, that grew, slowly slowly, then faster than imaginable into the completely over-the-top (pun intended) Canadian Rockies – they are sharp enough you could cut yourself on them, showing off the rocky tumblings laid down millennia ago, tilted up long long ago, still patterned like a group of seven painting.

By this point we all were in the sky view car, glass overhead and around. We didn’t get the bubble car – we were the last long train of the season and so missed that – but it was chilly in the regular glass one so everyone brought up blankets and curled up for the show.

We stopped in Jasper, rolled down to Vancouver. Beautiful, beautiful. Sea to sea in six days. Unspeakable grandeur, sweet places and huge cities, seemingly more trees than stars in the sky…and not a SINGLE MOOSE.

Our train trip ended in delays from conflicting track use – CN owns the rails so there are battles at most crossings over priority. So we passenger trains wait, then race along like a roller coaster. The engineers were great, slowing down so we could see waterfalls and bears and goats. The staff on the train were fantastic, the chefs unbelievably good, the activity staff endlessly cheerful and helpful. I loved every minute, though I admit to impatience in Northern Ontario. I do love the sky.

I flew back through that sky. It was a shorter ride, but much less pleasant, despite the charms of Westjet. The train rules.

Now, how can I get to N’Awlins by train???

Wishing and dreading and hoping…


I have just read a novel of such unspeakable beauty that I am overwhelmed. Donna Morrissey’s Sylvanus Now is breathtaking, right from the first vision of Sylvanus jigging fish: right forearm up, left forearm down, left forearm up, right forearm down; to the vision of Adelaide’s eye, sparkling blue. It’s a novel about the changing of the fishery in Newfoundland, when large trawlers came in to rape the seas and the governments abandoned both the sea and the careful tenders of her in favour of cheap fish and way too much of it. It’s a story of a people forced to change their ways of life, and it seems as fresh now as when it was written, as we all cope with a changing economy and hang on the American election with bated breath, wondering what our future in Canada holds, tied as we are to the tails of the American Bald Eagle (a carrion-eater) and the Chinese Tiger (endangered by environmental change).

Donna Morrissey has won many awards for her writing, and they are well-deserved. Her power in a sentence is vast. Her ability to evoke the feelings of the people she describes, complicated and earthy and thoughtful and hidden as they are is astonishing.

I can’t believe I hadn’t read her before.

I feel small, I do, as I struggle to bring my words to life in even a tenth of the way Morrissey does. I know there are many authors who don’t write this way and are still successful, and who write perfectly acceptable stories and thrillers that make you want to stay up all night or love stories that make you yearn for the glory of new love (well, except for we cynics). But all of my life, despite my stated fondness for the “good enough” story, I’ve yearned to write like Morrissey, like Helen Humphreys, Frances Itani, Bronwyn Wallace. I want to wrestle feelings from readers, transport them, make them feel the sea spray or the bombs thundering or the mud or the fear.

It’s funny the reaction I have when reading such writing. I relax into the book, knowing I am in the hands of a master, knowing the book will take me on a ride and enclose me in its world. I stay awake, eyelids flipping up and down like a blind in the hands of a misbehaving preschooler, unwilling to let the world go, reading just that one more page. With lesser books, I stay alert, less involved, easier to distract, more likely to put it down, even if it is a good book. The great books show me their hearts. I can’t help but respond.

And the feeling lingers. After Sylvanus Now, I want to go out and see the sea, inhale it, feel its call, see the salt-bleached houses, run the wind through my hair.

Fortunately, I live in Nova Scotia. The sea is fifteen minutes away. “Go on, you foolish thing,” I can hear Florry say.