10. Deconstructing Calgary

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

Late in the planning of this trip the decision was made to spend a night in Calgary rather than another in Airdrie. A good thing, too. The wedding that kept on giving had finally stopped giving, and even with that considerable three day diversion, we had seen and done everything there was to be seen or done in Airdrie three days earlier.

Our Montrealler friend Daisy, who also had persevered the pleasures of recent events, would be joining our travels for the next week or so. The three of us squeezed our considerable baggage into the car of a mutual friend who kindly drove us the 40 minutes to our AirBnB.com accommodation in Calgary.

My first AirBnb experience (earlier in the week in Edmonton) was a good one, preferable in many respects to a hotel, particularly in offering a glimpse of what it might be like to live in the neighbourhood. Other than a treadmill in the living room and an overly soft pillow-top mattress cover, everything was as expected. Which is to say it was less disappointing than I usually find hotels.

Having come directly from the wedding recovery breakfast, we arrived at the Calgary AirBnB apartment well before the usual check-in time. The owners, a young Chinese couple, permitted us to drop off our bags before we headed out. They were hard at work cleaning the place, and with the house rules requiring us to remove our shoes before entering, we had a favourable impression that cleanliness was important to them.

The flat was located right on the riverfront in a no-man’s land between Calgary’s Chinatown and the East Village. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe East Village was more an idea than a reality, old rail yards with numerous high rise apartment buildings under construction, as is happening in so many city rail yards and docklands worldwide. Our building was only four stories, and perhaps twenty years old, which in this area was old and short. It was sparsely but adequately furnished, its best feature being a panoramic view of the Bow River.

Now carless and careless, our trio marched off into downtown Calgary in search of lunch. Before long we came to the Olympic Plaza where the Fiestaval Calgary, a weekend long festival celebrating Latin American culture, was underway. We meandered through, enjoying the electric atmosphere fuelled by thundering congas, wailing horns, intricate guitar riffs and exotic dancers.

Starvation was staved off by consumption of spinach and feta empanadas which were pretty ordinary. IMG_2579More remarkable was the hot dog stand called The Dogfather which offered twenty-three toppings including – wait for it – Fruit Loops. Yes, the breakfast cereal. I am very much a hot dog lover, but something of a traditionalist (sauerkraut and mustard, thank you), so it never would have occurred to me to put Fruit Loops on a hot dog. Travel broadens one so.

20150719_130512Our explorations took us down Calgary’s pedestrian shopping street, cleverly named Eighth Avenue due to its position between Seventh and Ninth. I had visited Calgary twice before when passing through on the way to the Canadian Rockies, yet somehow I had missed this gem. Here Calgary shows off some of its flashiness and glamour that Edmonton jealously lacks. Stately Victorian buildings intermingled with skyscrapers, modern sculpture and street pianos littering the promenade. 20150719_130049IMG_2581The Calgary Tower, one of those spindly space needle type things, teetered above all, the sign of a city with an underlying inferiority complex. I’m talking to you, Seattle, Kuala Lumpur, Toronto, Shanghai, Auckland and Sydney!

My eighth campaign pledge: The Smiling Kodiak administration will provide funding for the removal of spindly towers and monorails from all municipalities that suffer them. Hospitality workers displaced from revolving restaurants will be redeployed to establishments of similar quality, such as high school cafeterias.

IMG_0936Next we wandered into the Eau Claire neighbourhood, where the Calgary Turkish Festival, a weekend long festival celebrating Turkish culture, was underway. Calgary was the last place I expected to find a significant Turkish population, but here they were, horns screeching, cymbals crashing, and dancers bellying. Starvation was staved off by consumption of a spinach and feta gozleme, tastier than the empanadas. No Fruit Loops.

Braving a gauntlet of wading pools and water fountains filled with hyperactive children and screaming parents, we found our way across the Bow River into leafy Prince’s Island Park. It seemed all of Calgary had decided this was a splendid place to while away a warm summer Sunday afternoon. IMG_0938Teenage boys showboated by diving off a bridge two or three stories high into the river, while less energetic youngsters waded along shore. We lucked out, snagging an outdoor table at the River Café, enjoying a pleasantly slow and yummy lunch in the shady breezes. It was nice enough to make me imagine living here.

After lunch we headed back to take formal possession of the apartment. First, we sought to purchase groceries, thinking we might dine in for a change, or at least have coffee in the morning. Locating a grocery store proved much more difficult than one might expect in an area so dense with apartments. Chinatown vendors offered fruits and vegetables – but no milk or coffee or meat or bread or anything else except genuinely unrecognizable Chinese ingredients. None of us was keen for a dinner of chicken testicles and sea slugs, even if we knew how to prepare it.

The internet suggested the nearest grocery store was a fifteen minute walk into the East Village. After calling to verify that the store was open, we headed there. It turned out to be but a convenience store filled with overpriced product of questionable freshness and dubious quality. The cashier nicely explained where the nearest supermarket was – a ten minute drive. Obviously, the denizens of the East Village depend heavily on cars, something we lacked at the moment. Given their lengthy periods of freezing weather, this should not have surprised me.20150719_131007

We gave up on grocery shopping. Later I picked up some barbecue for dinner at nearby place named Booker’s; not bad.

Heading home, we noted a large number of homeless on the streets, pushing the usual shopping carts full of their worldly possessions. They looked relatively well-quaffed for homeless folks. I wondered how they could survive the long and bitter winters. Soon enough, the question was answered when the modern, six-story, well-maintained Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre Society building presented itself, only two blocks from our apartment. Impressive. It’s a good city that takes care of its own.

Once ensconced in the flat we came to realise its cleanliness was not what we had expected. Daisy found a pile of soiled towels behind her bedroom door, Frank spent the evening grossed out by long brown hairs on every surface, but particularly in the bathroom drains, and I must admit to being less than pleased to find much of the glassware smudged with lipstick. While the place was not disgusting, there was distinct element of yuk; below hotel standard. Having said that, years ago I swore never again to look under the bed even in five-star hotels after finding a used condom under there. Shudder.

In the morning Frank and I went for a jog along the river path, accidentally trespassing into a closed-for-construction section of St Patrick’s Island Park. A concern construction worker pointed out rather excitedly that we were about run off a cliff, quite literally. Oops.

Frank, Daisy and I boarded a WestJet flight over the Canadian Rockies to Kelowna at noon. Our visit to Canada’s most celebrated wine region was the part of the trip I had most eagerly anticipated.