Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Two sea-changes since Thursday – the first to Victoria, the second to Nanaimo. My plan was to travel to Victoria for a Friday coffeehouse reading then make my way north, for a Monday event at Vancouver Island University.

I was looking forward to the time between, the sideways drive up the Malahat, poking around second-hand bookstores, stopping at South Wellington to listen to records with Peter Culley, but a chance to attend the Saturday premiere of Nixon in China presented itself, so I returned to Vancouver that afternoon. Which was just as well, because Sunday, as it turned out, was the day we were to de-install the SFU Gallery exhibition.

It is tempting to compare Victoria and Nanaimo to Los Angeles and San Francisco, though the comparison makes less sense today, seventy years removed from the amalgamations that began with the introduction of freeways. But even then, in the 1930s, I’m not so sure. Why compare? It’s like I’m the kind of person who can only make sense of the world through relative measures -- similies, equivalences, associations. (Oops, I did it again!)

Nixon in China was worth it. I have had the 1987 Elektra/Nonesuch recording 10 years now, and have listened to it a dozen times, each time finding new highs, mostly in the First and Third Acts, without a discernible low. The Vancouver production was entertaining, energetic, thoughtful and well-wrought, both in design and execution. The “propoganda play”, featuring Kissinger’s libidinous intrusion, was intense.

I enjoyed my visit to Victoria, where I took up residence at the James Bay Inn, which, until the 1950s, was a hospital just down the road from Emily Carr’s house. Carr passed away at the hospital, and because I know something of her life and work, have figured out the room in which that happened. Unfortunately the room was unavailable; but I have stayed in it twice before, each time dreaming of her monkey, Woo.

Victoria is a pretty city, a garden city. After my reading (The Black Stilt at Hillside and Shelbourne), I drove to Fernwood for what I knew would be a healthy supper. The café I stopped at (SE corner of Fernwood and Gladstone) was gearing up for a DJ’ed evening of dance, and the room was filling with twenty-two-year-old hippie gods and goddesses. The barley soup smelled excellent, so I found a table near the washrooms and ate to the beat.

Nanaimo is a heavier city than Victoria, more industrial than arcadian, though there remains little sign of heavy industry. While Victoria is within itself, Nanaimo feels like a place people visit for what they need, and leave. Indeed, back in the 1970s, that was one of the rationalizations for a four-lane island highway -- so people from the north island could shop. The result was an endless chain of malls. But that’s outside Nanaimo proper. The city itself is small and hilly, with as many second-hand bookstores per capita as San Francisco’s Mission District.

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