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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

une lettre pour vous

 

dear Montreal,

I’m writing to you from Ottawa, having just left your soft, cheese-filled embrace, and I miss you already. (Just to be clear, I do NOT miss your traffic, and I do not miss your construction)… but I do miss the way the morning light shines through those big beautiful windows of a third floor flat at the top of those crazy wonderful circular stairs.

I miss the view of flat-topped row houses, weathered doors and every-colour colour-schemes.

I miss your windows.

Your biggest buildings.

And neighbours who have different uses for their balconies and which make me think of poetry about loaves of bread and hyacinths for the soul as I pass.

I miss your alleyways and secret gardens with statues of buddah and jesus and others, like you’re covering all the bases.

And those green olives swimming in spicy red pepper schmoo.

I miss your cars, so well disguised we hardly know they’re there.

Things seen under stairways.

Your art.

I miss your shadows.

Hells bells, even your handyjustdownthestreet IGA is all meilleur…

Tea and trumpet by the canal.

Oh and dear Montreal… who wouldn’t miss your signs?

I miss your public napping chairs.

I miss being able to buy handmade paper at an unassuming factory that prides itself on being almost impossible to find (discovered by reading the absolutely wonderful Gutenberg’s Fingerprint).

I miss the doodle I mistook for a labyrinth until I tried to walk it.

Community gardens-in-the-hood, enclosed by fences covered in morning-glories.

Views from unlikely places.

And let’s not even talk about the food.

So, yes, much missing but enough sniffling…

a bientot, eh…

 

     More from Montreal here.

 

Up Next: Hello/Bytown

 

human beans, as souvenirs

 
When I come back from the east coast it’s usually sand and shells that come with me, the memory of cormorants flying a thin line above the ocean at sunset, the embrace of solitude in all that surf and space and horizon, the pleasure of spending time on red dirt roads that lead sometimes to a new beach where (I once overheard someone say) there is nothing to see.

But this time it’s more than the tangible, the feathers and stones, that have stayed with me… it’s the two women at the shared lunch table at Point Prim who have not only heard of the obscure Ontario town where I live but who lived there too, twenty something years before moving to PEI.

The guy who works at the lighthouse (also from Ontario) who says the ferry crossing over to Nova Scotia should be okay but calls ahead to check and then gives me his card and says if it isn’t I can phone and yell at him.

It’s the young man and his guitar who sings about the girl he left behind in Moncton, and a chef on the same boat, making free blueberry crepes.

And the owners of our B&B who tell us they’ve had 1200 people stay in their not so very large home in the past year and then invite us for a glass of wine.

And the photographer at breakfast, on his way to the Cabot Trail, and next to him a slightly addled couple with almost no sense of direction who you wonder how they drove here from Alberta and you just pray they’ll find the lobster supper they’re heading for in New Glasgow, and next to them the American who says her favourite part of Canada is the gasp, which, after a few questions, we understand to be The Gaspé.

The woman who runs the local co-op art gallery.

And the woman who runs a magical world of love, laughter and literature for people of all sizes.

The person who takes time to show us a ‘hotel’ room in an old railway car at Tatamagoush and the guy behind me in line at the Charlottetown Dollar Store who’s talking to someone in front of me about the number of frogs dying in ponds and rivers because of pesticide run-off from farmers’ fields.

It’s the group of elderly tourists, German maybe?, who arrive at Brackley beach as I’m sitting on the wooden steps, hello, hello, hello, they all say in passing and then take pictures of each other… and how there’s always one in every group that tears away from the herd, seeking a moment of solitude. The way that one plays at the edge of the water and jumps backward with all the joy of a child when the waves roll in as he knew they would.

And the woman who works at the tourist place in St. Peters who tells me that most restaurants are closed at this time of year and when I ask So where do the locals eat?  she replies, Well, at home of course…

It’s the server who says that winter on PEI is so quiet the speed limit on certain streets changes from 50 to 70. It’s everyone on the beach, including the guy who asked if I was Nicole Picot, the Minister of something for New Brunswick. (I am not.)

The discovery of George S. Zimbel while waiting out a rainstorm after seeing the wonderfulness of an exhibition that included Montgomery’s manuscript for Anne of Green Gables.

Familiar faces wandering around Summerside farmers’ market and a woman who sells me bags of freshly picked dulse.

The seaweed fanciers at a seaweed workshop where seaweed is fondled and used to paint seaweedy scenes.

The couple who, on a dockside patio, check their phone for info on Acadian history and then one of them reads out loud… loud enough for us all to hear. Go ahead, ask me anything.

The woman who is almost my friend and the warmth of her welcome.

The young people who on this beach of red sand discuss having once been on a beach where the sand was black but can’t remember where that was…

The people from the south shore who come to the north shore and stand in line for fish. But only on weekends.

And lovely Arthur from Florida, originally from Boston, embarrassed about Trump… and the equally charming people he’s travelling with and how they meet up each night to play cribbage.

Barb and Barry from Milton who in not more than ten minutes not only introduce themselves but list everywhere they’ve been on this driving holiday (because they’re retired; he from the fire department, she from banking), everywhere they’ve played golf, hiked (they “did” four hikes in Fundy in one morning “plus saw the tide thing”), where they’ve spent every night (because every day and every night are laid out in advance), as well as how one daughter who has a new boyfriend is studying in Guelph to be a vet while the other is working as a teacher in the U.K. but her landlord is giving her a bit of a runaround at the moment because his email has been hacked. The daughter happens to text while Barb is sharing all this so Barb texts her back then reads me the text her daughter sends in return. The landlord problem seem to be resolving, albeit slowly.

(The next day Barb and Barry announce “they have done the entire shoreline” of PEI. They also “did” Greenwich but can’t remember much and sadly have terrible things to say about the lovely woman at the St. Peters tourist place. Felt she was holding out on them about there being few places open to eat.)

The wedding party who take photos on the dunes beside the signs saying don’t climb the dunes and the guy who parks his car almost on the dunes at the sweetest beach but only steps out for a second, long enough to take a shot of the lighthouse then drives off.

A woman who made a museum of the place LM Montgomery boarded while she taught school and the view from her window.

A guy who knits socks.

A guy and his food truck.

A cat named Charlie (because cats are people too).

And his not necessarily best friend.

The painter who tells me about the land she’s just bought where she wants to build a studio. I tell her I’d love to move here.

She says do it, buy the property next to mine, I’d like to have good neighbours.

 

 

wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

Long before digital anything… when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and water bottles were not yet common (or even invented?), I sat in the courtyard of an ultra swanky hotel in southern Florida. Service was abominable. We waited ages and ages for an initial glass of water, never mind the wine and the meal. Polite questions did no good. The attitude of staff was even worse than the service. But the courtyard was beautiful and it was a perfect southern Florida night, i.e. not too sticky or buggy, so we stayed and waited and waited and waited for our meal. Given all that time on my hands I decided to make a few notes in my travel journal, just personal notes (this was before blogs, before the internet, truly the dark ages it was). Something about the act of pulling out a notebook and writing caught someone’s attention and before we knew it the manager appeared at our table asking if there was anything he could do for us. Well, we’re waiting for our meal, we said… And just like that, presto bongo! our meal followed. The manager returned (several times) to ask how the meal was and was there anything else  he could do. No, no, we’re fine, we said, and he said well, maybe after we’d eaten we’d like a tour of the hotel because he’d personally love to give us a tour of the hotel. Um, okay… we said, a little confused. The wine and dessert and tea were comped and the tour was comprehensive and complete with much ass-kissing, which neither of us could understand… until we realized he thought I was a food writer. Because, apparently, who else would write in a journal?

This was before the days of taking pictures of meals and sharing every food experience, when the power of print via pen and ink had clout.

Like I said, it was a long time ago.

~

(Southern Florida, ’90s)

 

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

A guy playing guitar next to a basket of chanterelles, which to this day I regret not buying. The next day I go back, no basket. So in my broken french I ask if there will be more and he shrugs almost sadly and says something like ils ne sont pas mes champignons, madame….

The expression on the fish monger’s face when I enter his tiny shop, wave at the air and say (enthusiastically):  mon nez est tres joyeux!

The woman at the b&b whose english is on par with my french (which makes me so happy) and where, after determining that I do not mind that my room has only a shower and no tub (this alone feels like it took the better part of twenty minutes), I receive la cle  and decide this tiny quirky space with a bougainvilla covered porch, tivoli lighted tree and room with a tiny humming fridge and a most magnificent view of the parking lot is so very much better than the place the tourist office recommended, which, instead of bougainvilla on the porch, had three grouchy old men sitting in rockers.

My dinner of smoked salmon from the fish monger, which I eat on the rocks at the beach as the sun sets.

The older woman, swimming in the cold water of the harbour — pure joy — and the way, ten or so minutes later, she’s joined by another woman and they hold hands, jump and bob about in the waves.

A child playing at the shore and the slant of late day sun on his face.

The rosehips I pick and bring home to mix with calendula and borage flowers for tea.

The food, everywhere. (I vow, again, to improve my french if only to be able to at least order a meal without feeling like an eejit in this kingdom of cuisine.)

The long fields of long Kamouraska grass.

A tree outside the museum, covered in knitting.

This patio on the water, and that one… hidden in a garden.

The bakery!

The small lights of a boat across the river pose questions: where has it come from? where is it going in this dark night? The best guess is that it’s coming for dinner.

The curious note I make in my journal — cafe avec caffeine, et sans caffeine. Curious because I don’t drink coffee.

And this, copied from somewhere…. dans la vie, il n’y a pas de hasards, il n’y a que des rendez-vous.

 

(Driving back from PEI, September-almost-October, 2015)

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

how to do campbellford in twenty four hours

 

Start in Oshawa. At the RMG. Give the current exhibition of abstract paintings too little of your time and make a note to go back when it’s the only item on your itinerary.

Take Hwy 2 to Bowmanville and stop at the VAC. Be delighted to find Frances Ferdinands’ work. Fall in love with a couple of the pieces.      Continue on Hwy 2 (on this getaway we’re generally flipping the bird to the 401) to Newcastle and make your way to the waterfront where you’ll find a monarch recently arrived from Texas and the air pungent with seaweed.

Take the Lakeshore Road east along the shoreline and through the countryside and past a field of cows that apparently live in the forest.

Take that beautiful winding road all the way to Port Hope where you have lunch at Gusto. Have the fresh bright green dairy-free pea soup and the smoked trout and arugula and shut up about not getting a table on the patio because oh my god already… you have a window seat and air conditioning and the baby at the next table isn’t even crying. Life is good.

Get on the 28 to the 9 and go west a bit to the lavender fields of Laveanne. Shrug when they say you cannot have tea because there are no tables free (tables overlooking the lavender fields!) because they’re expecting a large wine group whatever that is. Buy shortbread cookies instead. Use the loo.

Go back along 9 until it turns into 29 and then magically becomes 30 or Grand or something that takes you into Campbellford where you wonder how you’ll manage to find your B&B because you misplaced the address and then, presto bongo, it appears before you like B&B magic.

Wander about town for just a bit.

Then settle on the patio for a glass of pre-dinner wine in the most ultra Canadian way — under a big old maple.

Have a dinner of curried mussels while listening to a guy in shades sing Dylan. Call it a night when he starts doing Led Zeppelin.

Next day,  cross a suspension bridge into the woods and find a pianist playing birdsong at almost-dawn.

Have breakfast on yet another patio in a town where, oddly, there are not that many patios.

Discover a place that cares for feral cats. And another with a lineup for doughnuts.

A visitor centre that grows tomatoes.

A big twoonie.

And the woman who used to run the Ultramar who has now bought the old bowling lanes and is making them wonderful (truly wonderful…!) including a tropical themed patio (in a town where there are not that many patios).

At the farmers’ market, buy organic lettuce picked this morning and something called rat tails that look like snap peas but taste like radishes and buy a bright red perennial and sample the clover tea.

Have conversations EVERYWHERE. Because you can’t buy a stamp in this town without the friendliest people engaging you in the sweetest banter.

Choose the house you’d live in if you lived here.

And where you’d buy your subs.

And your trophies.

Buy postcards at Stedmans. Buy an optical illusion wind-chime thingy for the garden. Buy a bright orange and yellow tea towel that will make it 1965 every time you dry a soup bowl. Give thanks that places like this still exist, who sell garden hoses and slippers and sheets of gingham patterned vinyl by the metre (what does one do with the vinyl?) and so much else you didn’t know you needed, all in adjoining aisles. This truly is the only way to shop.

Visit the WestBen site and vow to return for the music.

Visit Kerr’s Books and marvel that a town this size has an indie.

Visit Empire Cheese and find not only whiskey mustard cheddar but maybe the best veggie chips around and a view of the land in this part of the world.

Take your time driving home.

Above all, continue the theme of bird-flipping to all major highways.

You’re welcome.

(Note: *do* is just another word for relish.)

More travel notes here…