Saturday, 7 February 2009
Putting the "sick" in homesick: a baker's dozen
Not long ago, the witty, mordant, and former NaBloPoMo blogger Jaywalker of Belgian Waffle posted about things she missed about London. (Do I need to mention that she now lives in Brussels? No, I don't suppose I do.) I wanted to respond to her post, but knew I would be trying NaBloPoMo in a few weeks and would need all the posting ideas I could get. Which is a pity, because more people were likely to read my pathetic bletherings in Jaywalker's post responses than at my own blog.
Anyway, as has been established, I am an unwilling denizen of Ottawa, Ontario, who grew up in the city of Victoria, British Columbia. Just to make myself particularly miserable this morning, here are some things I miss about Victoria:
1. Being talked to. I have an Irish cape that I wear in the autumns here in Ottawa. I've taken to calling it my "talking cape" because it's the only time strangers will approach me in this city and strike up a conversation. (Ottawa is a very clothes-conscious place, another strike against me because I have the fashion-sense of a yak.) Every time I go back to Victoria, the chattiness takes me by surprise, because I've been deprived of it. People will strike up conversations in the bus, at the bus stop, in the coffee shop, in the library....
2. Cherry blossoms. Different streets bloom in different times in Victoria, starting in late January/early February through to early May. Our street blossomed out in early March. The daffodils came out in March; the tulips in early April. If Ottawa has cherry trees; I've missed them over the past eight years. Daffodil precede tulips by about a week, both in May.
3. Only needing to constantly vacuum for two weeks in October and in March. In October, the dead leaves got walked in, in March, the stroller would pick up ribbons of crushed cherry blossoms which need to be knocked off and brushed away before bringing it in. In Ottawa, I really should be vacuuming daily from October to April, starting with dead leaves to the ubiquitous pieces of gravel and rock salt that sneak into your boots and gouge the wooden floors.
4. Sea air. Each summer, after we arrive in Victoria for our annual visit, I make my excuses just so I can slip out, face south and breathe, breathe, breathe. I spend the next few weeks making futile plans to bottle the stuff; I hang our clothes on lines before we depart and when we are back in the orange haze of the late Ottawa summer, I bury my nose in my suitcase. (This may be another reason why I have little in the way of a social life in Ottawa.)
5. Knowing the streets like the back of my hand. No matter where I go in Victoria, there's a memory on every corner. I can walk or ride up almost any given street and think: "I attended a meeting there when I was twenty-five; I used to meet so-and-so there when I was fourteen; that where the Whatchamacallit Family used to live..." On my last evening in Victoria before we moved, I looked out on a golden summer evening on the Inner Harbour and realized I would never know another city as thoroughly or as intimately. Even now, when I'm in the market for a certain item, frustration fills my boots as I picture the exact shop in Victoria that has what I need.
6. Sunsets. Partly the ocean, the high overarching sky, the mountains I guess, but Victoria sunsets draw spectators. They're different shades for different seasons. Winter sunsets are pink and gold; summer sunsets are peach and rose. In Ottawa, every once in a great while, I strain to catch a glimpse of red between the brick buildings.
7. Large, independent bookstores. The oldest and best is Munro's which now occupies an old bank building on Government Street. It used to be in a smaller, but deep shop on Yates. There are several delightful independent shops in Ottawa, but they're all tiny.
8. Chocolate-covered strawberries at Dutch Bakery. The taste of summer in Victoria. That, and the soft ice-cream cones at Beacon Hill Drive-in.
9. Fresh food. Victoria has a longer growing season for obvious reasons, but the food at the grocers and in the restaurant just tastes more...recent. As a result, I don't really have a favourite restaurant in Ottawa, but dream of a dozen Victorian eateries, particularly Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese establishments (Victoria also being on the Pacific Rim). Don't get me started on the various Vancouver Island fruit seasons...
10. Arbutus trees and Garry Oaks. You don't find these trees anywhere else in the world.
11. Pic-a-flic. This used to be my local video rental. It's huge and you can find most British series, cult flicks, documentaries, foreign films.... I've never seen a place to match it anywhere else.
12. Two seasons. Ottawa has all four: six months of winter, one or two weeks of spring, four months of summer, one to three weeks of autumn. Victoria has spring and autumn. If the temperature hits 25 degrees Celsius, the radio describes it as "sweltering". (You can tell a true Ottawan when he tells you on a 26-degree day that "soon it will be picnic weather".) Victoria gets one or two weeks of snow per year, sometimes not at all.
13. "The Q" radio station. A station that really does combine older rock with newer artists, and features a cheerfully anarchic early morning radio programme for commuters.
Oh dear. Better stop now. If you'll excuse me, I'll shake the gravel out of my boots and set out in the brown slush. The temperature has risen from -30 C to -9 C -- balmy, by Ottawa standards. I heard they've been having some snow in England? Oooh, maybe I should vacuum first...