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.

 
 
 

love on route

 
This is not a love post. It’s a pretzel post. Which, really, is almost the same thing. Still, I’m sorry if the title is misleading.

(If it’s love you’re looking for you might want to give this a miss. Unless you love pretzels, in which case I’d definitely say stick around.)

Also, if you love the On Route stops on the 401, it’s possible we’re soul mate material. (People laugh when I use ‘love’ and ‘On Route stops on the 401’ in the same sentence but they are usually people who don’t know that every On Route stop has a secret picnic area.) You heard that right.

The one in Cambridge, for example, backs onto a pioneer church inside which I found an elderly man reading a paperback western. He was there to guard the church and to answer questions about it. The question I asked was whose land was it before the church came along, indigenous-people-wise. He said he’d never thought about that but now that I mentioned it he did remember when he was a boy (because he’s lived in the area all his life) there was an Indian (his word, he’s from that era) who lived somewhere nearby and one day stole a pie that was cooling on a window ledge. The pie-baker was prepared to be outraged except that the next day a piece of fresh meat was left on the same window-ledge. I asked him if he’d ever read Susanna Moodie. He said no but that he’d get his daughter in Guelph to look her up for him.

Most On Route picnic areas aren’t as exciting as elderly men and their memories, but they’re all very lovely, tree’d and quiet and only a few minutes walk from the gas pumps and fast food. They close for the winter sometime in October. But do look for them on your next journey. They’re quite hidden.

But, pretzels, yes. I’m getting around to that.

As if picnic areas, history, and clean bathrooms aren’t enough of a draw, on my last visit to the (Trenton) On Route (en route to Montreal) I discovered Neal Brothers oven-baked pretzels, which I can’t even tell you how they added enormous pleasure to the not-especially-scenic drive to Montreal but lasted through my stay there (because there is plenty to eat in that city besides pretzels) as well as the drive home.

I’ve since found them in my favourite local grocery shop, saving myself a return trip to Trenton.

Feel free to file this under Essential Road Trip Info.

You’re welcome.

 

hello/bytown (aka: how to see only the slightest, slivery slice of ottawa)

 
 
The easiest method is also my favourite:

hang out at the gallery for three days.

You will learn, among other things…… that the gallery cafe has

a) an excellent salad bar, and

b) a patio

that AY Jackson was all for women in the arts, which is more than can be said for many other chaps in the business

that the Canadian Photography Institute is so worth spending at least an hour or two in; currently showing some important work in prints, installations and video

Prudence Heward didn’t paint sissies

the film by Rebecca Belmore recommended by the staff member who, when I asked a rather simple question, decided to answer by walking me through the gallery via all manner of hidden corridors and en route told me I MUST SEE THIS FILM BECAUSE IT’S SO POWERFUL, is  actually astonishing.

another staff member who casually mentioned the experimental farm is worth seeing, that she loves the way the arboretum changes with the seasons

and a random someone who overheard my conversation about the arboretum and chimed in that if I’m looking for nifty places that are closer by, then I MUST go to the lanes

which I then did and found that there is a wonderful stationery shop in the lanes, great architecture, peaceful nooks, crannies, patios and outdoor art

you will learn, at the Royal Canadian Mint, that they commission Canadian artists to design their ‘art coins’, often via open competitions

and that the Olympic gold medal is silver on the inside with only a veneer of far-too-expensive-gold; the bronze is also veneer with silver on the inside (but this time to make it worth more than if it were entirely bronze)

if you’re lucky you’ll find the pub whose name I’ve forgotten that makes excellent fish tacos

and it’s not the Irish pub

or the fish place

you will crane your neck in one library and spend an hour in another discovering Lucy Lippard, writer and art critic who once wrote to her editor:  “Herewith the twenty-two reviews. Hope they make whatever the deadline is. Slight delay as I had a baby last week.”

And you will find a hornet’s nest of diaspora loveliness at the International Pavilion... and this, by friend and sculptor, Erika Takacs.

a patio on a hill, where staff do everything to make you comfortable on a chilly day… heaters, blankets, so much kindness. the market of course… this is the super condensed version (sans cheese)

you will, like the goofy Canuck you are, embrace what’s Canadian

And fall in love in (at least) two languages.