Archive for the 'Travel' Category

04
Oct
13

Howe Sound Sea to Sky and Vancouver slideshow

After a solid week of rain, the clearing skies reveal the season’s first snowfalls on the surrounding peaks.

It’s easy to forget all that wet when what comes after looks like this:

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I must have driven that highway more than a thousand times over the years, seldom stopping to take in the scenery.  Took it for granted it would always be there.  But it changes all the time with the light and season, and in what’s amounting to a pre-retirement trial run, these days I’m not in much of a hurry.  So I did two things nobody else seems to do on that highway: drove the speed limit, and turned off to look around at every viewpoint.

A bit of a dangerous move nonetheless.  Standing on the new dock at Porteau I had this stab of regret at having left all this beauty behind one day so long ago.

One photo I could not get because there was no place to pull over I’ll just have to describe.  Locals will know what I’m talking about.

Driving south of Windy Point just after the new cut before you go over Deeks Creek you could see a long bank of cloud to the south hovering over the ridge above Horseshoe Bay.

Although the entire east side of the Sound was in still in dark shadow, that cloud bank was acting like a giant light disperser, diffusing the bright sunlight from behind the ridge to bathe that part beneath it on the eastern side in clear, white light.  Trees and ridges popped into view out of the shadow, the shoreline a strange orange glow.  Come to think of it, I don’t think my camera would have captured it.

01
Oct
13

I kissed a cod and I liked it

First off, let me just say that I am not a fisherman.  Stick a fishing rod in my hand, plunk me on the dock or in a boat, and the fish just know it’s time to head for the farthest shoreline.  So this isn’t about fishing, lures, or where the best spots are.

Newfoundland dead capelins beach But in three months of traversing Canada from Cape Spear and Bonavista to Courtenay on Vancouver Island – with a little hop between Toronto and Edmonton to skip the uninteresting parts –  we’ve seen a lot of fish.

Our piscatorial perambulations started at Twillingate, Newfoundland.   On an early-evening outing to a cliffside lighthouse we ran into a couple from New Hampshire who casually asked us if we’d seen all the millions of capelins on the shoreline a mile or so back.  Nope.  Never heard of capelins before, actually, but we were intrigued enough to tear ourselves away from the lighthouse and dramatic coastal views to go have a look.

We parked beside a beach and made our way the short distance through the grass to the Newfoundland capelin eggsbeach.  Right away we were struck by the strange, spongy feel to the sand, but thought nothing of it as we walked along the shoreline to some people with buckets and nets gathered by some rocky outcroppings at the northern end.   We passed by a few dead fish the size of large sardines or small herring scattered here and there – nothing approaching millions – but by the time we reached the end the fish were piled up six inches deep in places, and with every wave more were being thrown ashore.

These were capelins, which do indeed arrive by their millions in Newfoundland every June to spawn.  The females leave their eggs in the sand and the males come by to fertilise them.  Then they all die.  Keeps the divorce rate low, I guess.  Anyway, that spongy feel underfoot all along the beach were, in fact, the eggs.  They’re pin-head tiny, but there are billions of them, so they pile up thick on the shore.

Kissing that cod.

Our next fishy encounter was a few days later in Trout River, a former outport town on the western shore of Newfoundland just west of the Gros Morne National Park boundary.

Newfoundland Trout River north

Trout River wasn’t the prettiest town we visited, but in true Newfoundland fashion the people were very friendly and the more you hung around, the more you learned from them .  We talked to a Fisheries and Oceans Canada fellow staying in the cabin next to us about his life and work, how he goes out on the fishing boats monitoring catches and making sure they’re keeping within pre-set guidelines.  He suggested we drop by the local museum for their traditional codfish salt preserving tour, so we headed over there one rainy day and got the full face of it.

In a tour halfway up and down the shoreline boardwalk our guide described how Newfoundland Gros Morne Trout River gutting fishNewfoundland life was back in the old days before TV and roads and a way out, much of it dedicated to the harvesting and preservation of fish.  Salt was what they used to preserve it back in the day before refrigeration, so after letting us try our hands at splitting – what we call gutting – the cod – she let us carefully scoop a half-bucket of it over the filets we’d managed to carve out.

Newfoundland Gros Morne Trout River kissing cod

Then it was time to kiss the cod.  This ritual is only one of about three – some say there are up to eight – hoops you have to jump through – be you a tourist or recent immigrant – if you’re ever going to be a Newfoundlander.  Others involve drinking Newfie Screech, parroting back dialectical utterances to a Newfoundlander after having downed said Screech, and other stuff we won’t get into.

Up she held a fresh cod, out puckered our lips as we took turns smooching the dead-eyed creature.  I can’t say it was the most enjoyable kiss I’ve ever had, but to reveal how bad back in the day some of my dates were, it wasn’t the worst.

Giving it away.

After Trout River we had plans to head north to l’Anse-aux-Meadows to the world-famous Viking archaeological site, but didn’t want to put ourselves through yet more driving, so we headed back west and pulled into Elliston, a village a few minutes down the coast from Bonavista known for a rather large colony of puffins.Newfoundland Bonavista Elliston puffin

The puffins were cute and fun to watch as they waddled about on the grassy rocks and dive-bombed for fish, but what I’ll always remember about that place were the cod.

Newfoundland used to be the world capital of cod fishery, but over-fishing and gross mis-management led to a collapse of stocks and a complete closure more than 20 years ago.  Today the stocks are still low, but there are enough out there to allow your average joe and jane fisherperson an inland cod fishery two or three weeks at a time twice a year depending on location.  One boy in another town said, “we were supposed to catch 15, but only got nine,” when asked how the day went, humourously confusing their daily limit with obligation.

Newfoundland Bonavista Elliston splitting codEarly one morning I got up to look at the puffins, then kept on walking down the path to a nearby bay just to watch the waves roll in and maybe spy one of the many whales plying the Atlantic coastline.  I saw three men in a small boat heading for shore, and by the time I reached their tiny cove they were already onshore splitting their catch.

I headed down there with my camera and was immediately assaulted with the stench of old fish obviously discarded over days past.   Some were crawling with maggots.  Stepping over and around the carcasses I went up to the men and asked for a closer look at their catch.

Newfoundland Bonavista Elliston trio splitting cod

“Ya just missed tha biggest one,” said an elderly gent who must have been in his late seventies.  I would have liked to have seen the size of it, because the ones still in their buckets waiting to be split and thrown in coolers still looked pretty sizable.

“My wife and I were in Bonavista yesterday looking for some cod to buy on the docks,” I told them.  “My wife can’t understand why there’s no place to just pick one up from a boat.”

“Can’t sell’em,” the youngest one said, “but you want some cod?”

He pulled a couple of filets out of the cooler and threw them in an empty bucket.

“Here ya go,” he said.  “Ever had cod tongue?  How ’bout britches?

We’d heard about cod tongue, a tender, almost jelly-like part from the underside of the head, and britches turned out to be the roe, but we’d yet to try either.

They threw in a few of those for good measure and after a few more minutes’ gab sent me on my way.  Though it was barely past 10 they were finished for the day, and getting ready to pull the boat above the high-tide line for the night.

Mashed-up fish on Mashiter Creek

A month later clear across the country – it would take you 96 hours to cover the 7,402 km from Bonavista, Newfoundland to Squamish, BC according to my GPS thingy – we drove over a tonne of pink salmon without even knowing it.

Canada British Columbia Squamish Garibaldi Elfen Lakes trailThey were thrashing like crazy under a bridge we’d driven across one morning to reach the Elfin Lakes trailhead 14km up a winding road through the forest, but we had no idea they were there until many hours later on the way back down when we met a man from France in a hiking shelter.

Well, we didn’t know he was from France until he oPENNed his mouse and started struggling to talk like ziss…

So we got to chatting in our sadly little-used French and he said he was amazed at how so many fish were crowded into so small a creek, you could have walked across on their backs, and it was just down the hill a few kms away.

“Is that bridge just after a golf course on your right and a bunch of industrial buildings on your left?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Mashiter Creek,” I said.  “That has to be it,” realising I was about to have another experience in this town that I’d heard about all my life growing up but never bothered to have: see the fish spawning.

Once there we got out and stood on the bridge at the spectacle below us.

“We’ve got to go get the red-haired teen and show her this before the light’s gone,” I said.

So we headed back to our place and I hauled her back to show her the fish.  We didn’t just stand on the bridge and take a couple of snapshots, though.  We headed through the bush on the east side of the bridge to the water’s edge, marvelling at the sight of it all.  And up close, the stench.

Feeling the need to go see the fish as they turned off the Mamquam River up the Mashiter British Columbia pink salmon maggots roeonly 30 or so metres downstream, we walked through the sand and scrub to the confluence.  The salmon were thrashing like mad to fight the flow of both rivers, one after the other, a seemingly endless supply of them.  Along the way I stepped on a dead fish and got a footload of stench and maggoty goodness, but that only added to the fascination.

I suddenly realised that all this dead meat lying around might be a good place to see eagles and bears feeding –  the former majestic, the latter potentially dangerous – but surprisingly, we didn’t see either.

Nevertheless, we didn’t linger, even if the smell in our nostrils did.

24
Aug
13

Germanised Canadian in reverse culture shock

After 16 years living in Germany, you start to pick up a few German habits.  You don’t cross the intersection when the light is red – it sets a bad example for kids.  You greet colleagues around lunchtime not with hello, but with a cheery Mealtime!  You say hello to everyone waiting already when you walk into the doctor’s waiting room. And whenever you’re at the supermarket checkout counter, or picking up stuff at the cleaners, or dealing with a teller at the bank, you do NOT make idle chit-chat.  In and out with sometimes barely a nod to civility is how it’s done.

So after eight weeks travelling through this great land we call Canada we arrive in the unusually parched Wet Coast west-coast town of Squamish, and it’s time to go to the bank.  I’m out of cash – not an unusual state this time around considering the incredible jump in prices we’ve seen for everything from fish to fowl – so the first morning after we get in I head to the bank, stride up to the teller and ask for my daily withdrawal limit.

After keying in my PIN number she informs me that acquiring the cash will take a minute as the cash must be dispensed from a machine back around a corner, and it’s in need of some sort of re-boot or whatever, and I say that’s OK, and then she asks me, So, do you have any plans for the rest of the day?

I look at her and hesitate that telling half-second which gives me away as someone with as much social savvy as a deer staring at headlights.Canada Osoyoos wildlife deer on trail

As I said, I’m kind of out of practice at this sort of thing, and after 16 years of dealing with German checkout counter ladies and bank tellers, it hits me as if she’s asked me if I’ve tried out that crazy new brand of multicolour condoms with the spiral ticklers.

“Yes, well, uh, I’ve got lots of plans lined up,” and I see out of the corner of my eye that the teller to her right has turned her head to look at me as if to ask herself, gee, he looks like a regular white guy and he’s got no accent, so what’s his problem?

I instantly switch to Canuck mode and try to come back with the breezy-bantery reply you’re supposed to, but it falls flat.

“Well, uh, we’re doing laundry at the moment, actually, it’s the fourth load already.  We let it pile up as we’ve not had a chance to get any done since Canmore and since then we’ve been through the Kootenays and well, you know how it is.

“Well, at least you’ve got a nice sunny day to do it,” she replies, the cash finally having been delivered to her wicket and I can count on the ordeal being over that much sooner.

It’s a good thing the cash came when it did as I was going to add, “and later on I’m taking my Mom to a funeral, well it’s not an actual burial, more of a memorial service for my former principal who passed away, and I was very saddened to hear it and I want to be there.”

I hope October is here soon so we can all start talking about hockey again.

16
Mar
13

A cross-border ski-doo trip to hospital

Skiing Ischgl Samnaun Ian with patrollerIt took a good half-hour for the ski patrol to arrive by ski-doo after we first sent word we’d need them.   As we were waiting we heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter approaching, and I groaned – no, please, not a helicopter ride!

The patrollers hopped off the machine and got to work pumping up an inflatable brace after assessing my situation.  By tapping on the bottom of my foot and seeing I wasn’t writhing in agony, they were sure there was no bone breakage, but were very careful nevertheless in sliding me in, because every little movement of the leg hurt.

Many people had stopped while we were waiting to ask if they should send word, and we thanked them all kindly, but now that help had arrived, everyone just whizzed past.  Unfortunately, the patrollers still needed help to hoist me into the sled once they got me on the inflatable stretcher, but they couldn’t get anyone to stop.  So the little  red-haired girl got a grip on one end as the two of them took up the other, and in one lunge I was plunked down and then strapped in for the ride to the clinic.

This was all happening one sunny afternoon at 2,700 metres in Ischgl, Austria, but we were staying over the border in Samnaun, Switzerland.  Ischgl and Samnaun were two separate areas until an expansion joined them up in 1987, so now you can get a lift ticket that covers both.

Ischgl Samnaun map

The ride to the Ischgl clinic was a bit of fun, actually.  I now know what it feels like to have everyone stop, stare, and tell themselves: thank hell it’s not me.

At the clinic they had me walk around a bit, which I actually managed with the brace, but they told me I’d be in a hospital for a few days, offering to fly me by helicopter down the valley in Austria.

“Uhhhh… that might be a bit too much trouble,” I stammered out, not only unsure whether my insurance would cover a helicopter air ambulance at two bucks per blade rotation – low estimate! – but what about the red-haired girl?  How would she make her way back to where we were staying in Switzerland?  They might be joined at the mountaintop, but to reach Samnaun village from Ischgl village you first have to head down to the junction of two valleys and then go up the other.  It’s a long way, and it was late in the day.

“OK,” they said, “what we can do is tell the Samnaun patrol we have a victim to pass over to them.  You’ll both be taken by ski-doo up to the border and from there the Swiss will take you down to the clinic in Samnaun.”

This time I was the one in the rear passenger seat of the ski-doo and the red-haired girl riding shotgun as we revved our way back up to the pass to the Samnaun side.

A patroller was waiting on his ski-doo at the border, and before we knew it we were on our way down the other side to the top of the aerial tramway, where a man was waiting with a wheelchair.  The patroller parked the machine and helped us squeeze in with all our gear among the other passengers for the tram-ride down, where at the bottom an ambulance was waiting for the short ride to the clinic in Samnaun.  At every link in the chain there was someone waiting to take over.

In the Samnaun clinic they definitely diagnosed the ripped quadriceps tendon, and set me up for an ambulance ride down the valley a little less than an hour away in Scuol, Switzerland.

Cash or credit card, sir?  I do hope to get some of it back….

===========

Marty Ian Scuol hospital Switzerland balconyIf my first-ever serious ski injury had to happen somewhere, I was pretty lucky to land up in hospital in Scuol.   From the moment of injury to the operating table barely more than six hours had elapsed, a crucial point as I’ve since learned.  The earlier this injury is worked on, the better the chances of a full recovery.

I’m going to write the hospital staff a card today to thank them for everything they did.  Perhaps they figure they were just doing their jobs, but I was so impressed.  From the first wheel through the door to good-bye six days later, the care was excellent.  The doctors were clearly professional and at the same time approachable and friendly, I was given my choice of anaesthesia by the director of the hospital himself, the morphine as I emerged from the epidural was offered and gladly taken, the nurses were often asking how I was, what they could do for me, and somehow also knew when it was time to leave me to just rest.

And to help me get through my last full day, a good friend who’d read of my plight on Facebook and who was planning a trip to Nice from Munich via Switzerland offered to drop by for a visit.  He arrived on the morning of the best weather we’d had since the day of the injury, brilliant warm sunshine bearing down on the balcony.   We had a chat and got some sun, and when the physiotherapist came along to give me another introductory course in competitive stair-climbing with crutches, he bade farewell.

Marty, you are the greatest.

26
Nov
12

Gran Canaria biking slideshow

It’s been stormy the past couple of days, so the rental mountain bike has been sitting safely underground.  It’s been given a thorough trail test in near-perfect weather over the first 8 days of my two weeks here, so any thoughts of it suddenly splitting in half and sending me tumbling over some of the cliffs I’ve been pedaling along have been cleared aside.  Thankfully, not every bike you get to ride is a piece of crap.  As a little update from home, the store is replacing the frame and wife K has a loaner in the meantime.

The best day was this past Friday, getting out on the road before 7am to arrive at the island’s peak just shy of the 2000-metre level at around 3pm.  Along the way I got a bit lost and so had to head downhill several hundred meters to get on the right road again, so the actual vertical climb was quite a bit more than the 2 kilometers.  I also misjudged the amount of time it would take to let gravity pull the bike back to sea level, returning at 7:30pm long after sundown.  A blinking light back and front was a good precaution along with some warm clothing, because even though it can be close to 30 degrees down on the beaches, up near the top the temperatures plunge and the winds are high.

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My favourite trail from last year is even better.  At least it was last week.  All along the way up I was expecting to be passed by the usual convoy of jeeps laden with the package-tourist daytripper set, tongues clucking and heads wagging as they breeze past imagining the difficulties some people put themselves through.  But two hours up the hill there wasn’t even a single car on the road going either up or down.  The reason became clear after rounding a corner to face a rock slide blocking the road as it runs along a cliff.  I suppose word had already spread and the tourists were on another route somewhere, leaving the whole trail and surrounding countryside all to myself.

I keep hearing the word “dangerous” whenever people find out I’ve been mountain biking alone in the volcanic wilds.  Maybe they’re right, but I don’t know if it’s any worse than lolling around on the beach in the pounding sun for hours at a time amid thousands of others all doing the same thing day after day.  Some of them look seriously in need of hospitalisation.

23
Oct
12

Two weeks in a tower in Tuscany

This might sound cliché and trite, but why did we wait so long to visit Tuscany?  Fifteen years living just up the road and we’d never made it?  It’s just a hop down the road and beyond the big hills!  If you like good food and wine, wandering around beautiful countryside, interesting cities, museums and historical sites, it’s got to be among the best places in Europe.

We arrived in Tuscany after a three-day drive from Hamburg.  That was one of our many firsts for this trip.  We’d taken our ol’ Swedish Tank on long road trips before, but this was the longest, and our first time driving in Italy.  The drivers weren’t as bad as they’re reputed to be, but one caution: if you don’t like being squeezed onto narrow roads with some guy less than six feet behind you all the time no matter what your speed, don’t get behind the wheel there.

Our second night on the road – and first in Italy – was still far from our Tuscany tower, but if we could have stayed longer, we would have.  Arriving late afternoon we managed to scrape out a room in Torno, a little town tucked into a nook on the shores of Lake Como way up north close to the border with Switzerland.

It’s just 20km or so up the road from the city of Como, which makes it sound close, but it was a narrow, twisting trail cut into the side of the mountain, and full of Sunday afternoon traffic, so the going was very slow.  I thought we weren’t going to be able to squeeze our Swedish Tank through a couple of the tighter spots.  Finding a parking spot for the beast was another trial, but we wedged into a space for the night up the hill and schlepped out gear down to the harbour once we found the room.

As we settled onto the terrace surrounded mostly by locals having an evening drink and meal in the fast-fading evening light looking out over the tiny harbour, the breeze from the placid lake like a warm bath, we felt lucky to be there, like we’d pointed a finger at the map and said: this is where it’ll be perfect, if only for one night.

Another first was the number in our party: Our red-haired girl is no longer little, and getting choosy about which trips she’s going to take with the rents, so it was also the first time in 15 years we’d been on a holiday as a couple for more than four days at a stretch.  Just the two of us, nobody else.

That was OK with us, because we knew we’d booked a place to ourselves, and were looking forward to getting up the morning and not having to deal with anyone or anything but deciding on what to do that day.

Just how much space we’d have around us became apparent as we approached the tower, driving through rows and rows of grapevines past the last house and then further up a small incline to the top of a hill.

The booking.com reviews warned that it was small, and that there was no heating, but we thought: who cares?  There’s a fireplace!  And, as it turned out: a gas stove, a decent fridge, a wide, comfy bed upstairs along with bathroom and shower.  Fully self-contained, and stocked with wine made from the thousands of vines stretching out from our doorstep.  We just let them know at the end how much we’d drunk, and they added it to the bill.

On one of our first outings a few miles away we found some firewood stacked along the side of the road and thought, naw, we can’t take it, what the locals saw us loading up on it?  German plates and all…  We like to be good neighbours.  But a few hours later we came across the same spot and said, screw it, let’s just take a few chunks, so we took a few armfuls and threw them in the back of the Tank.  No regrets, because late into the evenings and on the cooler mornings that fire was the best thing about the place.  We bought a couple of bags of good kindling in a store down the road so even though our logs weren’t quite dry, they fired up right away.

The only snag was during a bad thunderstorm the second week.  We’d shut all the windows, but the driving rain seeped through the framing around them, the water running down the walls in thin rivulets onto the upper-floor tile.  Luckily our host had come by the night before with fresh sheets and towels, so we used the old ones to mop up as the storm wore on.  A good thing, too, that we’d decided to stay home that day, or we’d have come home to a real mess.

Small-game hunters were our only visitors, but we caught only glimpses of them as they lurked off in the bushes while their dogs sniffed their way around the vineyard.  Their guns would go pop-pop-pop off in the distance, so we knew they were around, but they kept well away from the tower.

Tucked away as it was about half-way between Pisa and Florence, we did get around for a bit of exploring.  More on that coming up in a while.

 

18
Oct
12

I’m so ashamed of the BlackBerry I don’t own

I love reading articles about tech gear I don’t have and probably won’t be in the market for any time soon.

There’s this howler right now in the New York Times / International Herald Tribune about how BlackBerry owners are so embarrassed and ashamed of their devices because of the many things they can’t do in comparison to an iPhone or other Android device.

BlackBerry outcasts say that they increasingly endure shame and public humiliation as they watch their counterparts use social networking apps that are not available to them, take higher-resolution photos, and effortlessly navigate streets – and the Internet – with better GPS and faster browsing.

In the next sentence we discover how these luckless BlackBerry-owning wretches are forced to do things that most everyone did about five years ago:

This means that they have to request assistance to get directions, book travel, make restaurant reservations or look up sports scores.

God, what a horrible life they must lead.

Imagine having to contact another human being to find out a piece of information, even if it is only to ask another human being with a better device to gather said information from the Internet.

And what about that shame?  Unless you’re psychopathic, shame happens to us all.  We feel shame and even public humiliation when we realise that everyone knows we’ve done something most consider to be wrong.   So should I feel ashamed because I freely admit to my readers that I do not own a BlackBerry, or an iPhone, or an Androgizmoid?  That all I need is a Nokia cellphone and that no, I don’t have an app for whatever it is you’re looking for?  Is it humiliating to do as I’ve always done and look up the sports scores in a newspaper?

And what about holders of older iPhones?  Will they start having to hide them under a book or buy camouflage because their version doesn’t have the fastest connection technology?  Where is this obsession with tech taking us when our measure of our place in society is how many bazillagigabytes of information we can stream while eating ice cream and crossing the street?

I don’t know, maybe living in Germany for 15 years has atrophied my sense of irony, but the tone of the article was pretty straight-forward.  And its message is simple, updated for today: keep up with the Joneses, or feel the shame.  It’s been the same since people first started to wear clothing and seek warm shelter.

I do know that smartphones are capable of transforming the way we live our lives, and maybe mine would change for the better if I got one. The fact that most everyone I know has or wants one makes me wonder how it is I keep missing the point.   I’m tempted sometimes, but for now – just for now – no thanks.  I want to hold on to a bit of my old ways a little longer.  Maybe like the vinyl I listened to while writing this, cellphones will one day come back into fashion and I won’t have to feels like such a schmuck all the time.

19
Jun
12

Such an awesome lunch we had at the Squamish White Spot

Seriously awesome.

A friendly staff member showed us to our table and as we settled down to look at the menu, our early twenty-something waiter came by.

“Hi, can I get you anything to drink to start?”

“We’ll all have coffee,” my brother Bruce said, “and my younger brother here will have some water.  He’ll have his coffee after, because he told us the other day that having coffee before a meal other than breakfasts is SO American.”

“Awesome,” said our waiter.  “I’ll be right back.”

By the time their coffee and my water came, we were ready to order.

“So, can I take your order now?

“Sure,” said Bruce. “I’ll have the Fat-free Triple-O Leanburger with lettuce and tomato, no mayo, please.”

“Awesome.  And for you, Sir?”

“I’ll have the baked potato,” I said.

“Awesome.”

And so it went.  For every statement resulting in the slightest need for a response, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Awesome.”

By the time he was so awesomely fetching our bill I started to imagine what tired, overused, meaningless bit of oral fluff he would be coming out with had we been suddenly slung back to the late sixties, when the land upon which the clean, bright White Spot stood – and in which we were now able to enjoy such an awesome lunch – would still for another 20 years be nothing more than a poorly drained swamp.

“Hi, can I take your order?”

“I’ll have the Triple-O Fatburger with extra cheese, bacon and mayonnaise and a side order fries with gravy, please.”

“Groovy, man!  And for you, ma’am?”

The thing is, I’d always thought Awesome was already passé, flung onto the heap along with the rest of the Neats, the Keens, the Cools, the Far-out-solid-right-on Hippie-dippie Weatherman stuff that so dates the user, even the worst offender avoids the aforementioned and please-just-let-it-stay-dead forever Groovy.

Apparently not.  You have to plunge right back into your home country to find out what people are talking about and how they’re saying it, so that’s what I did.  I vowed from then on to keep my ears open and listen to every waiter, bank teller, kiosk vendor, fast-food order-taker and clerk, taking note of every Awesome I heard in the short two weeks I’d be there.  I thought it might be fun to do a final tally, plotting the utterances onto an Awesomes per Hour chart.

But it was like going on a car ride as a kid back in the day before backseat Blu-Ray players, Playstations and Smartphones, when passing the time meant counting the cars coming the other direction.  After a few hundred or so, you just got tired of it.

07
Jun
12

The Queen was right about my home town

I couldn’t agree more:

04
Apr
12

Edinburgh: finally seeing the home town of a grandfather I never knew

Sometime back before the turn of the century we had the vague idea of visiting Scotland to see where a chunk of my family’s history played out.  I’m a Canadian with Scottish roots on both sides of the family.  My great-grandfather on my father’s side was a fishmonger in Edinburgh before he emigrated to Canada with his children, my grandfather among them.  He died not long after the photo with me on his lap was taken.

Then when we were mulling over the idea of visiting back then a distant cousin, whose hobby was geneology, sent me a hand-written letter full  of details about my great-grandfather and his times back in the late 1800s in Edinburgh.  She had visited Scotland in the early 1970s and had tracked down many details of our Scottish roots going back a few generations.

One thing interrupted another as life happened to us in the meantime while we were making other plans, so we never did make it to Scotland.

I’d bought a guidebook we never used, but because we’re now definitely going to be there in one month, the other day took it off the shelf where it’s been sitting for the past dozen years.  I was thinking there must be some interesting stuff about Scottish history in it even if the practical information must be hopelessly out of date.

As I took it off the shelf it opened to the page where I’d stuffed a letter my cousin had written me so long ago, and quickly forgotten.  It’s better than any guidebook is going to be.  It’s got a little wander all laid out for us.   Here’s an excerpt:

Your great-great grandparents John and Isabella lived on Leith Street near Register House.  Your great-great grandfather John was a lithographer.  Your great-grandfather was a fishmonger and had three fish shops before coming to Canada.  Your grandfather James was a bank manager in Saskatchewan.  Your grandparents were married in the Tron Kirk, High Street and South Bridges.  (hmmm. they must have gone back to get married?  Must check this.)

Your Granddad and my mother lived as children in a house on Warrender Place (or Park) Edinburgh near Marchmont Road.  She and your grandfather were pals.  Most of her childhood memories were with him.  It is a lovely street, wish I had known the address.  Your great-granddad James (their father) had a fish shop on the corner of Warrender and Marchmont.  Mother and your grand-dad played on the Meadows nearby, and spoke of the huge jawbone they played under.  I found it, not so huge, must be a whale bone, would appear very big to a child.

Your grand-dad and my mother walked the Royal Mile every day because James had two other fish shops. They used to ride under Canongate Tollbooth, driver had to pay.  They lived in Duddingston for a while and attended school.  I have since been told that the school might have group pictures with them in it.  My mother always wondered what she looked like as a child.

Suggest you walk the Royal Mile.  Your great grand-dad sang in choir at St. Giles Cathedral.  It is beautiful.  Sundays the Pipers are there for church service.

(…) My mother’s memories of her fourteen years in Scotland made my visit to the homeland memorable.  I felt as though I belonged.

Another family detail gleaned from a photocopied Scottish newspaper clipping was their war record.  My grandfather had six brothers.   All seven of them fought in France during World War I.  They each fought in a different unit and never met the other during the whole conflict.  Astoundingly, all seven survived that most murderous of wars, which the clipping mentions must be a record for the whole country.

A clipping of my great-grandfather’s obituary was also among the papers stuffed in that guidebook.  Apparently I have another place to pore through: Carisbrooke cemetery.  Would the gravestone still be there?  It will take a visit to the Isle of Wight to find out for sure.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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