The pagan festival of Imbolc occurs in a couple of days on February 2. This festival has always been a difficult one for me to grasp. It celebrates not so much Spring itself, but the promise of Spring. Now this is all well and good in Europe where winters are milder and shorter than here. Maybe in Europe on February 2 the snow is starting to melt and lambs are being born and ewes' milk is being produced, but here in Canada we still have freezing cold, tons of snow and a stiff Arctic breeze blowing up our collective wazoo. It's very hard to relate to Imbolc imagery here. (More bitching on this topic tomorrow!)
Friday, 30 January 2009
I had occasion yesterday to access my safety deposit box. In our fast-paced world of high technology, there is a soothing simplicity to participating in this ritual that has probably changed little, if at all, from Victorian times. While the bank vault's time-lock security doors are, I'm sure, as high-tech as possible, the rest of the access ritual is amazingly low-tech. Where else these days are hand-signed and hand-stamped file cards an integral part of accessing important information or material? In the rest of our world, file cards and their little cabinets are being pitched in the dumpster in favour of computers. Then there is the solemn production of the long, silver duplicate keys -- one by the bank clerk, one by me -- and their sequential use to open (and later close) the little individually-numbered door. No computers, no lasers, no fingerprints, no retina scan. Just file cards and weird-looking keys.
Thursday, 29 January 2009
My recent hiatus involved a drive across the prairies on the Yellowhead Trail (Highway No. 16). I was amused by bits of prairie humour encountered in several small towns and cities along the way. Some of it was a wry commentary on Canadian winters, like a Mexican goods import store in Yorkton, Saskatchewan called "The Frozen Cactus" or the East Indian restaurant in Brandon, Manitoba called "Chilly Chutney." Some of it involved bad (but oddly endearing) puns, like the "Jolly Lodger Motel" in Russell, Manitoba. And then there was the Co-op Gas Bar and Convenience Store in Wynyard, Saskatchewan where a sign proudly pointed the way to the "Washroom and Hockey Hall of Fame" without the least sense of irony.
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
Another favourite of mine who died recently was John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey. For Christmas, my Rare One gave me a complete DVD set of the TV series and we are currently working our way through it with much enjoyment. I've read nearly all of his 20 Rumpole novels and, although Mortimer did descend fairly quickly into plot and stylistic formulas, the books are always a fun and interesting read. He was a witty raconteur and observer of life like no other.
Heather Mallick, the CBC columnist, wrote a lovely appreciation of his life in which she wrote that, during the course of an interview with him:
I asked Mortimer about a critic who accused him of being a lightweight, of "covering pain with jokes." He was mystified, saying that covering pain with jokes was the only possible attitude to life.
She also repeated another of his typical and delightful opinions:
Mortimer liked his food and grew fat on it, saying, "I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward."
Mortimer was a prominent and successful barrister, well-versed in the legal system. He knew better than to be pompous about his profession. "No brilliance is required in law," he once said. "Just common sense and relatively clean fingernails."
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
I was saddened to read that the actor Patrick McGoohan died earlier this month. He was, of course, "Number Six" on the 1960s British television series, The Prisoner. I watched that series on CBC when I was a kid and speculated along with everyone else about what the series really meant. Was he being held prisoner by an evil, brainwashing Enemy Government or by -- shudder -- the British Government itself, the ostensible Good Guys? A few years ago, I rented and watched the entire series again on DVD. My theory now (as an adult) is that the series is an incredible depiction of mental illness from the point of view of a mentally ill person (Number Six). He doesn't realize he's mentally ill, of course, so he is paranoid about everyone else's motives and actions. His angry search for "Number One" -- the powerful authority figure who is keeping him a prisoner -- reflects his unwitting split personality. He is himself both Number One and Number Six.
I also read that a remake is currently being done of the series. I hope it is worthy of the original.
Saturday, 10 January 2009
Friday, 9 January 2009
Another Winnipeg eatery trapped in the past was the Wagon Wheel Lunch, just off Portage Avenue in the downtown. It was long and narrow, with a decor that favoured arborite, the colour orange and -- yes, you guessed it -- wooden wagon wheels. It had a lunch counter and an open grill where the short-order cooks worked their magic. And what magic it was! The Wagon Wheel Lunch might look to the uninitiated like a greasy spoon, but insiders knew that it served the best lunches in The Peg. I still dream of its clubhouse sandwiches. You had to get there early to eat, though, or you'd be stuck in the huge line-up that wound out the front door and down the street. Even in the winter!
This wonderful photo of the Wagon Wheel Lunch was taken by a photographer named Ikurnarsky. I found it posted on Flickr.
Thursday, 8 January 2009
Winnipeg has only a small Chinatown compared with some other Canadian cities, but right in the middle of it was the Shanghai Restaurant. The Shanghai had probably been a pretty classy joint in the 1940s and its decor remained stuck in that time warp. It served up basic Chinese food in large quantities at reasonable prices, making it a favourite with student diners. But the outstanding thing about the Shanghai is that it had the surliest waiters in the entire city. The waiters were all middle-aged men who wore a standard uniform of a white dinner jacket with black pants. In their lapel, each waiter wore a button with a number on it. Maybe it was this dehumanizing identification system that made them so surly, or maybe it was just a job requirement. Anyway, my sister and I used to eat there with the express purpose of trying to get our waiter to unbend and crack a smile. It was an ongoing battle which we always lost, except once. I can't remember what we said or did on that occasion (aging is hell on memory) but our waiter smiled and laughed and then walked sheepishly away. I'm sure the other waiters took him to task for his lapse.
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
Oscar's Deli in downtown Winnipeg also had excellent corned beef on rye but unfortunately didn't serve matzo balls with its chicken soup. However, it made up for this deficit by having the absolute best cheesecake in, quite possibly, the world. Made of our own special Winnipeg creamcheese, it was silky smooth and delectable, with a generous dollop of cherries on top. The decor at Oscar's Deli was nothing to write home about, but it did have huge plate glass windows letting in lots of sunlight. At noon, the place was always packed with office workers and lawyers. Insofar as I know, Oscar's Deli is still going strong.
Monday, 5 January 2009
Deli food was completely unknown to me until I was in university. No Jewish people lived in the small one-horse prairie town where I grew up. We were so unrelentingly and homogenously Christian that our minority group was actually the Catholics. Anyway, I first discovered the joy of Jewish deli food in the late 1970s at Reuben's Deli, which was located in downtown Winnipeg on Portage Avenue. It was in the basement of an office building and you had to descend an exterior flight of stairs leading down from street level in order to get to it (not the best architectural design in a city that gets as much snow as Winterpeg).
I loved Reuben's Deli. As a student, I went whenever I was flush enough with cash to afford a lunch out. Mmmm, that sky-high pile of corned beef on real Winnipeg rye bread! Wow, the hot mustard that made my eyes water and my nose run until I got used to it! Oh, the sour crunchiness of the big dill pickle on the side! Yum, that chicken soup and those matzo balls which were such a revelation to me!
And then one day, the City of Winnipeg expropriated the building in which Reuben's Deli was located and tore it down as part of its efforts to rejuvenate the downtown. Reuben's Deli closed and did not relocate. I was bereft. But then Oscar's Deli in the North End opened a new downtown location and the long, slow healing process began.
Sunday, 4 January 2009
Lately I've been thinking of Winnipeg a lot. Not Winnipeg in general, mind you -- it's cold enough here in Edmonton without having to think of Winterpeg too. No, what's been on my mind are Winnipeg restaurants. I had many favourites during my 22 years of living there and quite frankly, I miss them. Some are still going strong, but others now exist only in memory. So I think I'll reminisce about a few of those notable eateries. Bear with me!
As usual, this series may or may not be posted consecutively.
Saturday, 3 January 2009
One of my favourite things about the New Year is having a brand-new datebook. For the past dozen or so years, I've been using the We'Moon datebook. It is full of wonderful art and poetry created by women to celebrate goddess spirituality. The following is an excerpt from the datebook (2009 edition, p. 6) that explains the meaning of "We'Moon":
We'moon means "women." Instead of defining ourselves in relation to men (as in woman or female), we use the word we'moon to define ourselves by our primary relation to the natural sources of cosmic flow. Other terms we'moon use are womyn, wimmin, womon, womb-one. We'Moon is a moon calendar for we'moon. As we'moon, we seek to be whole in ourselves, rather than dividing ourselves in half and hoping that some "other half" will complete the picture. We see the whole range of life's potential embodied and expressed by we'moon and do not divide the universe into sex-role stereotypes. We'Moon is sacred space in which to explore and celebrate the diversity of she-ness on Earth. We'Moon is created by, for and about womyn: in Her image.
We'moon means "we of the moon." The Moon, whose cycles run in our blood, is the original womyn's calendar. Like the Moon, we'moon circle the Earth. We are drawn to one another. We come in different shapes, colors and sizes. We are continually transforming. With all our different hues and points of view, we are one.