how to see wine country in two and half days (with wine being only a smallish — though pleasant — part of things)

 

Avoid traffic. Leave early. Eat your banana breakfast in the car.

Somewhere in the countryside near Beamsville realize you’ve forgotten your notebook so stop at a back-roads Dollar Store and find a gorgeous red spiral bound one with creamy lined pages.

Let the holidaying begin.

Quick stop at a winery you heard makes a raw and organic beverage without sulphur. Anticipate a pleasant conversation. Be disappointed. Your host is a cranky soul who should a) have stayed in bed, or b) better yet, avoid work that involves speaking to people, or maybe c) have some sulphur.

Go directly to lunch on a shaded patio with a view that is so lovely you forget to take a picture. Also the fries are excellent.

Find a sleeveless polka dot blouse for $2 at a thrift shop.

Head to second winery (also no sulphur) where conversation (with owner/winemaker) is top notch and much is learned and wine samples are offered (siphoned) directly from fermenting barrels, a rare treat.

Make annual pilgrimage to house you grew up in. Marvel how stone planter your dad made two thousand years ago is still there, as are the chicks and hens he planted (consider calling Guinness… or is it normal for chicks and hens to live this long? Surely they owe their life to neglect). See Minerva (new owner) sitting on shady porch. Wander in to say hey ho and end up spending the better part of half an hour realizing she is as sweet as ever but losing her faculties and it won’t be long before she can’t manage the place and whoever buys it won’t be so welcoming and so perfectly and wonderfully eccentric. Chat away the time and ask to see the wildly overgrown backyard (because she has done almost no yard work since moving in a dozen years ago)  which still has the shrubs, trees, rocks and shells that your mum and dad put there, and see how the patio and carport your dad made is crumbling and a field of weeds blocks what was once a path along the blackberry bushes… but Minerva’s eyes are bright with love for the place. Isn’t it beautiful, she says, and it is, yes, it’s absolutely beautiful in the most bittersweet way. Ask to take pictures and she will say yes, dear, take all the pictures you want.

Share hotel pool with Serious Swimmer doing laps. Better than Marco Polo.
Dinner.
Walk along shoreline.

Discover remnants of old fort and be reminded of the people who used to live on this land (before forts). Do some research. Find out their names. Be reminded there wasn’t always a pedal pub pedaling by on the street at dusk with merry/raucous passengers singing Sweet Caroline. (Although, really, how raucous can anyone be while singing Sweet Caroline? )

Day Two:

Be happy that you are alone for morning swim. Until you aren’t. Until Serious Swimmer arrives, turning bliss into a wave pool. Pretend you are in the ocean.

Take three things to patio:  red notebook, breakfast date ball, peppermint tea.

Drive along Welland Canal as far as Thorold. Be surprised at how pretty the streets of Thorold are and how really extraordinary is this canal that connects Lake Ontario with the higher elevation of Lake Erie, a canal you grew up around, played Tom Sawyer on, but have never driven the entire length of (eight Locks) nor have ever seen the ‘steps’ of Locks 4, 5, and 6, which allow freighters to climb over the escarpment. Watch two freighters pass in opposite directions. One, coming into the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence Seaway and/or Atlantic Ocean, and the other, ocean bound. Watch a couple of sailors embark on ocean bound one. Chat with young family from Woodstock who share your awe. Wilt a little in the heat.

Continue to end of canal (Lock 8) at Port Colbourne where you see sand piles like those you remember from Lock 1 where, as a kid you used to climb them until someone realized they posed a danger of air pockets into which you or your friends could easily fall and suffocate and so they were removed. Probably coincident with the end of the unsupervised lawn darts era.

Stop at the most unlikely place to buy books (near Fort Erie). Buy several. Many of which will be donated to the library at a women’s shelter.

Find yourself on a heaven-sent patio overlooking Lake Erie eating freshly caught pickerel for lunch. (Heaven-sent because it’s the real deal, nothing fancy, great music, and on this scorching day it’s shaded, with an unexpected cool breeze off the lake that you learn is common, even constant, on this shore. A slice of old Crystal Beach.)

Stop at one more winery. Be grateful it’s air-conditioned, has a four-legged host (Simba), and an owner who talks you through the tasting while explaining the wine history of Turkey, from whence she and her partner came twelve years ago with zip wine knowledge.

Remind yourself that your parents, too, came to this country with their own variation of zip (and so many others!) and how proud they were to be all things Canadian, just like Simba’s mum and dad. Raise a glass to that.

Remind yourself of the people who lived here first. (Not as sweet a story.)

Another swim, another dinner, another walk, more tea on the patio.

Morning of last day.  Another book store and then farmers’ market where the bat mobile is picking up some new potatoes.

Be unaware of gallery hours and arrive a half hour before it opens. Be happy to have this time to sit in the shade of a park-like garden with a view of backyards and bridges and remember growing up in this town.

Inside gallery find Carolyn Wren’s exhibition celebrating “meditation in the repetitive tasks of life”, featuring installations such as the entire text of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own hand-embroidered on canvas, a video showing Wren hauling a sack of 50 one pound rocks up and down a hill, depositing a single rock each time she reaches the top (to a voice-over of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus). Dresses representing maps made for pilots during the war, made out of Dupont silk because they were light and durable, and which women used after the war… to make dresses. And more. So much more.

Take country roads to find a view for lunch.

Find (another) thrift shop en route and buy two pairs of jeans for a dollar each. Be told they’re on sale because who wears jeans in summer?? 

Who indeed.

Don’t attempt an answer.
Just embrace your one dollar summer jeans… and run.

More Niagara.

 

 

 

 

other people’s bookshelves

 

It’s Wednesday, which means I ought to be posting a mysterious photo or story prompt… more or less a self-imposed rule, which makes it easy to break.

Instead, I want to talk about bookshelves, other people’s, and how a recent snoop is connected to last Wednesday’s mysterious photo.

Snoop is a harsh word. I was more ‘browsing’ at the cottage where we stayed recently, a remote place in 300 acres of forest, on a lake, surrounded by trails and perfect snowshoeing conditions. We go to this place every year for the seclusion and disconnection from everything other than books, food, wine and fireplace (tea and starlight and thick blankets on the deck also allowed).

As always, my travel bag is mainly filled with books, even for just a few days. But if there’s a bookshelf where I’m staying, chances are I’ll be seduced. (There is something so satisfying in perusing other people’s bookshelves.)

It should be noted that my interest is not to see what they’re reading, as in current titles… bore bore bore… but rather what they’ve collected, the quirky books that might have been culled over time but were kept instead. Those are the ones I’m drawn to. Cloth covers and dust, that kind of thing. Also how the books are filed is interesting… alphabetically, by subject, theme, mood…

This place does it ‘by subject’, which subjects include theology, Shakespeare, political memoir, climate, history, nature, art, Ireland, novels about Ireland, and classic novels, the Brontes, etc., as well as obscure (to me) volumes of poetry such as ‘I Take it Back’, by Margaret Fishback, who strikes me as a sort of poetic Dorothy Parker for all of her delicious rhyming sarcasm as she comments on the state of society. (The rhyming, of course, is essential to the sarcasm.)

To a Baby One Day Old

It seems a sweet absurdity
to call so small a morsel ‘he’.

I mean, to think she was writing about gender identity in the 1930’s…

And this, a little tongue in cheek for, well, you know who you are.

On My Toes

I’m the pronunciation snob who knows
how to cope with the Ballet Joose…
nor does the Monte Carlo Ballet Russe
stagger me as it may do youse.

**

I also read about Lewis and Clarke and how Lewis was a bit of a jackass who thought very highly of his white self and neglected to give credit to the Shoshone wife of a member of the their crew. Her name was Sacagawea and without her they’d have been sunk as she was the only one who knew the terrain, the language and how to navigate the territory, including interactions with indigenous ‘residents’. Fortunately the transcribing of Lewis and Clarke’s journals fell to Clarke after Lewis’s death and he, being a much more decent bloke, gave her the credit she deserved (and which Lewis had conveniently left out of his own notes).

**

And I read about Emily Carr, who I’ve read, and read about, many times. But this was different in that the book I found was a rather obscure volume, written by one of her art students and life long friend, Carol Pearson. And not only was Pearson a friend of Carr, she grew up to be Aunt Carol to the people who own the cottage we were staying in. And not only that but Aunt Carol had a small cabin of her own in these very woods, which is now ramshackle (but the dish rack remains) and every time we’ve been up here I’ve passed it and wondered who it belonged to. And now I know.

This is what happens when you snoop in people’s bookshelves.

I mean browse.

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

nova scotia, part three: how to visit three gardens

 
Find yourself driving from the Halifax airport to the Annapolis Valley when you see a sign for Coffee. Decide to stop, stretch your legs. It doesn’t matter that you don’t drink coffee, maybe they have something else, which they do… because you are at The Tangled Garden, which has not only beautifully out of season, unruly paths (devoid of other humans) that lead to a labyrinth, but also jams and spicy jellies and chairs made specifically for fairies.

Spend a good half hour walking the labyrinth.

And be so happy it’s October when there’s less to see so you can see it all.    **

A few days later in Annapolis Royal find yourself at the Historic Gardens where once again you are the only souls wandering this 17 acre space that abuts a wetland complete with dykes.

Enjoy an impromptu starling ballet.

**

A few days later still, in Halifax, spend the better part of a grey morning at the Public Gardens and marvel at this splendid bit of greenery in the heart of downtown.

Notice the extraordinary number of garbage cans in almost every conceivable space. (Regret not counting them.) And the corresponding lack of litter. Realize that you have never seen such generosity displayed (of the waste receptacle variety). There is even an off-stage area for garbage-cans-in-waiting, presumably in case any of the regulars get injured in some way.

Stop for tea at an oasis staffed by delightful young people. Be reminded of what a joy it is to come across people of any age who enjoy their work.

Take your rooibos chai outside to the deck where no one else dares to venture in October and watch those who wander the garden paths and wonder how it is that so many people are able to drink tea/coffee while walking. You have never mastered this skill nor do you want to as it seems to deny maximum pleasure of both activities.

Notice a man in a trench coat, a fedora and a bow tie.

Notice him stopping and looking at you from the path just beyond the deck.

When he says “Are you with the cruise?”, answer that no you are most definitely not nor would you ever be. Offer that there are a number of people inside the tea house and perhaps they are with the cruise if he’s looking for people from the cruise. He says he is not, he was just curious.

Realize that you are now engaged in conversation and that it’s only a matter of time before he walks up onto the deck and sits down at your little table and proceeds to talk for at least forty minutes, most likely longer, during which time you learn a multitude of things about him, not the least of which is that he is 83 years old and was once Harbour Master at the Port of Halifax and that under his trench coat he is wearing a leather blazer that he bought at a thrift shop for $2.00. He tells you that he often comes to the gardens to dance with his wife on a summer night when a band is playing and that they’re even on YouTube he says. (You will google this later and find that it’s true and then you will never be able to find the video again., which will be annoying as you write this post. Nuts, you will say.)

The best you have to offer is a furtive snap of him walking away after exiting the gardens together and agreeing it was lovely to meet.

**

Nova Scotia, Part Two: Two Hammocks

 

 

 

nova scotia, part two: two hammocks

 

Hammock #1

Found on the Bay of Fundy shore beside an off-the-grid cottage in a tiny Annapolis Valley fishing village where we spend a week in the woods without running water, indoor plumbing, a flush toilet, electricity and other what-you-think-of-as-essentials-but-really-aren’t.

Though I can tell you I missed a flush toilet.

But let’s not dwell on that.

Let’s cut straight to the hammock, where I spend several happy minutes despite a chilly drizzle. (It’s amazing how not having a flush toilet will automatically lower the luxury bar. Cold, damp hammock lolling felt downright hedonistic.)

Note: this hammock break is taken while fetching logs for the wood stove, which has to be kept running around the clock as it’s the only source of heat. It’s also where we warm water (from huge jugs that are brought in) to wash our faces and/or have a sponge bath. No shower facilities inside. Although there IS a shower outside. And by outside I mean a sort of lean-to at the edge of the forest, with a hook from which you hang a ‘bladder’ (a large bag of water that has either been left in the sun to warm, or filled with water warmed in a pot on the wood stove). It’s about 7 degrees most days. I have one shower while there. And, surprisingly, it turns out to be quite brilliant, staring out at the tides as I soap up and rinse off, albeit, quickly.

**

Hammock #2

Halifax Boardwalk.

Glorious.

A few days later the wind picks up.

Do we care? No we do not. This town has heat AND indoor plumbing.

 

 

Nova Scotia, Part One: One Perfect Pot of Tea

 

nova scotia, part one: one perfect pot of tea

 
My favourite kind of travel is the kind that meanders me down side streets where there are no attractions, where the door of a tea shop invites me to sit at a sunny window and read the local paper while enjoying the perfect blend of leaves and ambience and ambient conversation.

Where there’s a table of older people and two tables of younger people and every single one of them strikes me as someone worth talking to. A woman comes in and gets a cup of tea to go, a few minutes later, a man arrives to pick up a large paper sack containing an order of various teas, his personal stock is running low he says. He chats with the owner, who explains that he’s leaving for India soon (I don’t catch the name of the place) to visit his tea farmers and attend the wedding of a farmer’s son.

Later, when I’ve finished reading and eavesdropping and sipping, I get up to pay and I ask the owner, Philip, about his upcoming Indian tea farm travels and… well… the conversation goes on for some exceedingly happy time about ethical practices and the choice to support small growers rather than large companies, the difference in quality, the science and pleasure of blending leaves, the art of using natural flavours rather than synthetics.

Philip tells me that last time he was in India he helped with the planting of tea bushes, that the farmer whose son is getting married is his mentor, that he’s learning everything he can and that he hopes one day he’ll be able to plant tea in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

He doesn’t have to tell me this is a lifestyle, that he doesn’t sell tea to get rich. In fact he nearly went bankrupt when the city closed his street for construction one summer.

By the time I leave I’ve had a fabulous mini tea course. (I thought I knew tea. Turns out I know next to nuthin’.)

As with everything, what I learn most is how much there is to learn.

At home a week later I brew a pot of the same blend and the smell of it, the taste, is as gorgeous as I remember and… presto!… just like that I’m right back in that sunny window on a side street in Halifax.

Which is my second favourite kind of travel.

 

 

 

beach seens on an almost deserted beach

The guy who looks so bored you wonder why he even comes to the beach, never taking more than a few steps onto the sand, looking around as if to find ‘something’ but the something just isn’t there… no hanging gardens of Babylon, no herds of wildebeest (to quote Basil Fawlty). He scowls, checks his phone while the woman he’s with wanders nervously in small circles nearby, never really hitting any kind of happy confident stride, probably because she knows they never stay anywhere long enough.

And then they leave.

Two teenagers, chattering and smiling, walk by hand in hand with the energy of puppies let off the leash.

Three girls, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, walk waist deep into the water and stand there laughing and squealing. They are in love with each other in the way that only girls of that age can be. Swimsuits all the same shade of navy and neon pink, but different styles.

They will either all swim or none will.

A couple has erected a tent on this windy day. We’ll see how that works out.

The girls are still squealing, still standing waist deep, but not swimming.

The tent is still up but requires constant attention and as if the people in it have no understanding of wind, what they choose to read on this windy day is a newspaper.

The girls have come out of the water, no swimming, but they’re soaked anyway and are now wrapping themselves in towels which they hold strategically for each other as they slip in and out of wet and dry things in the way only girls of a certain age can do.

The tent is eventually taken down.

This bird has been with me for most of the morning.

We’re both beginning to think about lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

the perfect pack

 
In my quest to never pack too much or too little, I’ve learned the following:

Make a list of ONLY essentials… hand lotion, peppermint tea, ear plugs, etc.

Pack all clothing on a whim.

Trust me.

Overthinking the clothes is the worst possible move.

Finally, MAKE NO LISTS where books or writing materials are concerned.

Bung every book you’ve been meaning to read for the past year into a giant suitcase until it becomes almost impossible to move and then drag it to your destination and when you get there spend all your time in…

a) the local bookshop, buying new stuff to read,

or…

b) ferreting through the bookshelves of the place you’re staying and reading about Baghdad in 1985, and William Bartram (a naturalist no one ever heard of and who Audubon felt a little insecure around), Roma Gypsies, Harlem, and Rico, Colorado, which has a population of 150, no stop lights, one grocery store and five saloons.

Eventually settle on a slim volume by Colette.

Happy solstice.