Archive for January, 2008


January 31, 2008

With a 6:30 haircut appointment, I had time to pay my respects to supper after work and decided to stay downtown instead of racing to the South End and back in that time. I wound up, finally, at the Split Crow, on the recommendation of a Philadelphia librarian whom I have yet to meet but with whom I exchange much correspondence.

Originally–back about 250 years ago–the tavern was named the Spread Eagle, which doesn’t sound any more appetizing than its new name. The place advertises as being the holder of Nova Scotia’s first liquor license. The beer was pretty good–I had Shippey’s stout–and the whole set up was reminiscent of Triple Rock on a VERY quiet evening: young but relatively decorous grad school and teaching fellow-aged crowd, in an old wooden room, with good beer and passable food.

For some odd reason, I ordered the quesadilla, an unlikely choice in the Maritimes. It was heavy on onions and bell peppers, light on cheese, and apparently baked instead of grilled. As an accompaniment to beer, it was a good thing; as a quesadilla, it didn’t compete with even my own, let alone that memory of quesadilla perfection that could be had at El Taco (aka, El Toxic) on the corner of Hollywood and Western (Apparently that outlet is no longer there–oh well, it would have been hard to stay in business charging 32 cents a quesadilla, especially if half the customers died from indigestion).

The Split Crow seems to staff in the same curious way Bob and I ran into in another Halifax pub last summer: men (called “boys”) serve the drinks, while women (called, guess what? “girls”) take and serve the food orders. The gender demarcation doesn’t seem to be as rigorous as the one we stumbled upon in July: at the Split Crow, my food server actually asked if I’d like another beer, rather than calling over her partner to pop the question.

In a fit of inadequate planning, I’d arrived with no reading material, so watched a special on a Titans football player through my meal, which wasn’t enough of a distraction to keep me from noticing what else was happening in the room. A couple tables over, in one direction, a foursome drinking beer included a young woman who was knitting furiously and three people who kept leaving to catch a smoke on the exterior–perhaps a demonstration of my theory that knitting is the new smoking? In another direction, a table of drinkers finished off their first beers and ordered another round. The waiter wanted two things first before taking the order–a credit card to hold for the tab and to know whether they were planning to drive away after drinking. Assured that they had not arrived in a car, and with a credit card handed over with what seemed to me to be reckless abandon, he brought the new round of drinks.

It’s indeed a different country.



January 30, 2008

The fact that a local paper saw fit to feature a largish story on the local groundhog before February 2–or even February 1–fills me with delight. This stands as one of my favorite holidays in the year.

Shubenacadie Sam is billed as the furthest east among the working groundhog group, so I am left to wonder about why there are no rodent prognosticators in Newfoundland?

However, a couple other, non-weather prognostications have come to be and have me preoccupied for the moment. The first: if a lightweight stomach virus is travelling around a smallish office, what is the likelihood of contracting it? Usually I avoid these things, but this time I get to have the experience of being sick without the comforts of home. Oh, well.

More dramatic, however, was the realization of a prognostication I had made silently about the likelihood of arriving at my apartment building one evening to discover the front door impassable. Feeling lightheaded, queasy, and generally not up to doing any sort of unusual troubleshooting, I walked up tonight to discover the front steps barricaded, and the ten or so front steps pulled away from the wall.

Happily, the building has a back door. I’ll bet the groundhog would like one when the human escort comes calling early Saturday morning.

Eastern Passage and the LBR

January 29, 2008

This afternoon took me to a reach of HRM that had been terra incognita for me. And I was with a couple of locals who could reminisce about how the place had changed–and not–since their childhoods, which probably were roughly similar in time to my own.

The part of the realm in question is the Eastern Passage, apparently never incorporated before the amalgamation, and sitting (not surprisingly) to the east of Halifax Harbour. Because there is a break in the urban/suburban interface between Dartmouth and Eastern Passage, created by the Shearwater military base lands, Eastern Passage has a flavour and identity that is clearly other than its closest HRM neighbours. Today, on a January afternoon that was a thaw, the ocean was high and rolling hard and we spotted at least four surfers in the water. Another standard along the shoreline is a lifesize cement moose. At a spot further along there’s a replica of an old fishing village; this area reminded me of Massachusetts’ Cape Ann, Rockport, in particular. One establishment that has gone by the way, I’m told, is the Silver Sands Dance Hall. And all this was less than a 10 minute drive from Alderney Gate!

In a day that seemed made for reminiscing on the parts of those with whom I was spending time, I also got to hear all about nightlife-as-it-was in a Halifax of 30 and more years ago. Coed bars seem to have not been present here until years and years past the last century’s midpoint: that the Lord Nelson even recently had a bar named the LBR is due to its former appellation: it was the Ladies’ Beverage Room, where a man could enter only in company of a woman, because women could not frequent other (men’s) bars in town. I almost choked on the contrast between this and my own Hollywood college days where the the Whiskey was an obtainable luxury for many of my cohort.

So, all in all, one of those mind numbing days in which several pasts seemed to swirl in a barely bound stew, while the present echoed the past at a dull roar. The Cow Bay moose, however, stood through the whole 50 years–silent, but very big.

To boot

January 28, 2008

After you ship the first bootful of slush on any given day, the pressure’s off for the rest of the walk. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it for now.

Overnight we had a bit of snow, but by the time I left home at 7 this morning, the precipitation had turned to frozen rain and the footing was actually pretty good–white and crusty and not slippery. During the day, the rain continued enough to melt some of the snow–except for the stacks created at most intersections by snowplows–but at some point the temperature had dropped enough to refreeze the slabs of ice that had been formed after the last snowstorm’s demise and following freezing week. By the time I got off the ferry after work, the rain was just rain and the footing had become a truly grotesque slop of ice, black water, and intermittent slush, which looked like the best of the options.

My plans to eat at Henry House last night had been foiled by the presence of a fire engine, lights flashing, on their doorstep and a very small crowd around the sidewalk in front of it then. So, I headed that way this evening–and got within a block before shipping the bootful of water, at an intersection that was flowing a good two feet deep. This was after avoiding the same fate as I walked along the Old Burying Ground‘s east side, where the sidewalk not only hadn’t been plowed or shoveled, but the groundwater from the cemetery is siphoned off via ducts that are currently mimicking a high pressure flow in a bathtub–right onto the sidewalk’s ice floes. Oh, well.

On the good news side of the equation, whatever happened at Henry House last evening was last evening, and all seemed well on this one….


January 27, 2008

My experiment with a Chinese restaurant last evening yielded an experience that was a cut above the dismal Thai dinner I had 6 weeks ago (elsewhere) but not up to the good news of the Japanese food I’ve discovered (also elsewhere). The room itself, however, was charmingly “stock Chinese restaurant in North American city” and the food was well prepared. Another plus was that there are about four dishes on the menu with tofu and the waiter seemed happy to add tofu to an otherwise protein-less dish, so there’s a chance this place could become a repeat.

The highlight of my evening was not, however, either tofu or being able to sit and drink endless pots of jasmine tea. It was an exceedingly long phone conversation with Carole. How I miss our whisky soirees!

The West Coast has been having quite the rainfall all week, but word has come from Bob that yesterday’s let-up was enough to get him out of the house and hiking with his new knee(s) as far as Village Grounds for hot chocolate. In contrast, the weather has been gorgeous here all weekend, although probably nippier than a guy with new knees wants to take on just yet.

So this evening I shall be sure to include both Carole and Bob in my toasts (silent, private toasts so the other folks in the pub don’t think I’m trying to communicate with the beyond), along with the various others who may be feeling soggy in California. And I think it’s back to the pub time, instead of another attempt to find wonderful Asian food. Later for that. 

Having, not having

January 26, 2008

A bus trip to Cole Harbour Place became an observer’s adventure. CHP itself almost overwhelmed.

My fellow passengers on the #62 bus, the route of which someone had described (accurately) as “curly,” included a dozen three-year-olds. Extraordinarily well behaved and sporting the largest collection of snow pants I’ve seen in decades, they clambered on only about two stops after I’d boarded and chatted decorously to the end of the line. Two hours later, we caught the same bus back, and they were no more wound up–or down–for the activities they might have enjoyed during our period away from each other.

Many of the sights at Cole Harbour Place simply left me agog: there are about four swimming pools, all collected in one large room. Among the features of that room is a ceiling-height, many-angled and planed blue plastic slide. Its size would seem to indicate that the descent from the ceiling to the water could take as long as 90 seconds–if one were relatively well greased and flying. A click here brings up a panning video of that area.

Then there are the two–not one, but two–massive skating rinks. And it is hockey season. The building’s corridors include very small children dragging regulation size hockey sticks, held at an angle appropriate for entangling the feet of anyone sharing the corridor. Apparently, it’s also the home neighbourhood of a recent young hockey hero and there is an enormous trophy cup on display in one of the numerous and enormous show cases.

Then there are the physiotherapists, dance studios, workout gyms, weight rooms, occupational therapists, job bureau, C@P Site, sun-washed public library branch, and more, more, more.

I staggered back to the bus stop and waited with the three-year-olds. A few stops later, along Woodlawn, a couple of passengers boarded, one of whom had a lot to say about their world, and oh so different it is from that of CHP. The man, who was about 40, was assuring the woman, who was maybe in her early 20’s, that she would have to walk into work alone, as he had been given a stay away order from her workplace since he’d yelled at her there. He doesn’t have a workplace himself, he agreeably shared with the rest of the bus, because he’s now disabled, having worked 12-hour days, seven days a week until Boxing Day 2003. We were drilled in these facts–his stay away order, his former work schedule, his loss of employment–for the remaining 10 minutes of the bus ride (they alighted a stop ahead of me), the litany repeated, not as a complaint, but like a recurring banner headline looping and looping.

The disparity of the lives and lifestyles available within a few miles of each other pounded on me, a kind of reality surf that is both fascinating and fearsome. I wonder how the gaggle of three-year-olds–who were also dipped in one morning into both worlds–will each shape up and be shaped in all the years to come.

Dark before the dawn

January 25, 2008

In Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella, Lewis Trondheim shares some of his experiences with hypochondria and courting bad luck that arrives in triple doses. Was it because I was fresh from reading this book that my life took a turn due south for a couple of hours last evening?

First came the minor annoyance of my internet connection crashing about every three minutes. Then, returning to the laundry room to move my sheets (my only sheets) from washer to dryer, I discovered that the dryer wasn’t working. Back upstairs, I checked to see if the call I was expecting from Infopeople had happened and found a message waiting (well, I had been away from the apartment for all of four minutes).

But it wasn’t Infopeople. For the second month in a row, my bank had put a stop on my rent check in an overzealous move because I had had to put stops on several other checks in December. Now I still owe the rent (paid with a new check last night) and a fee for the late payment of the rent. Attempts to rectify with the bank didn’t work last evening so that became a Friday chore.

During the minute that it took me to run the new rent check downstairs, another caller left voicemail. This one was bad news/great news. Bad news that I missed the call (and when I called back got no answer). Great news was that the caller was a librarian in California whom I’ve known since she was my 14-year-old student in Massachusetts. She doesn’t want to lose touch! Well, that’s a darn good thing, because she’s funny and interesting, and there aren’t many folks in my life whom I’ve known for more than 20 years.

Having sorted out the wet sheets, played tag with the wavering internet connection, and collected the phone call I was expecting from Infopeople, I settled in for a sumptuous couchside supper at about 8:30–an apple, some gouda, a fistful of carrots. No sooner had I settled than the phone rang again. This time it was Twila, with an invitation to supper…another night.

Keeping in mind that things generally look better in the clear light of morning, I took a murder mystery to bed–or what had to pass for bed given the state of the linen–and hoped for a clear dawn. Happily, there was: the internet was restored to a steady state, the bank worked through our issues, lunch was actually a cooked meal (albeit from the appallingly named Biscuit Lips). So, the klutz phase of the moon was blessedly brief, thanks be to?

The Chocolate Bowl

January 24, 2008

I have a very old memory—a series of them, or a memory of a recurring event—of plugging a nickel into the slot o a candy or nut dispensing holder at the grocery store. The dispenser—essentially a squared glass bowl inverted onto a metal stand that rose from the floor to just below my own three- or four-year-old height—was stamped with a picture of a beaver both on the top and on the flap securing the dispensed purchase so it didn’t tumble directly onto the floor, which animal I recognized from a favorite book of the time. I no longer remember what book, or even what exactly I bought for my nickel, but the satisfying thunk of the turned coin and my pride in being able to catch the payload even in my then small hand sat in the deep part of those old sensory snapshots that lie forgotten until the appropriate madeleine occurs in life.

My workdays end with a trip from office to ferry terminal, the arrival at which I time so as to allow about five minutes before the ferry arrives. The waiting area is plain and utilitarian: a couple of wood benches affixed to the floor, posts covered with handbills-and several of those wonderful old snack dispensing machines. The cost is a quarter now, there are about eight machines—some sharing double-legged iron stands—and the selection is rather broad:  peanuts, M&M’s, Skittles, chocolate covered almonds, jelly dots. Each of the dispensers has a descriptive-and-not-quite-cute name. Almost every time I discover a quarter in my pocket, I spend it on chocolate almonds, from The Chocolate Bowl, usually receiving four (dark chocolate covered!) for the price, occasionally only three (but then at least one seems to be extra big) and once five.

They are the very same dispensers of memory: beaver imprint on the metal cap and flap, thick clear glass. I’m not the only customer because I hear that thunk when it’s not my quarter an from one day to the next, the level inside the glass falls and then eventually is refilled.

Of course, now I know that an assortment of things Canadian—nickels, Roots wear—sport that beaver, and I’m guessing that my ur dispenser was also Canadian in manufacture. Which makes sense. That childhood store was called Loblaws—the same name as the owning company of that now-local chain, Atlantic Superstore. The foreshadowing of where that early shopper would go in life is a bit over the top….

Thank yous to all my friends back home

January 23, 2008

While it’s not exactly true that I’m spending all my evenings in one pub or another reading Lewis Trondheim comics while my dearest friends make sure that my family remains alive and well, it can feel that way. Bob had his second knee replaced a week ago and certainly quite a covey of friends fell to in order to ensure he got to Kaiser, got home from Kaiser, has been fed and walked since….

I know this because occasionally they will give a shout to me with a question (so far, none has actually said, “Are you paying any attention?”) but also through their blogs and sweet speaker phone conversations my son manages to orchestrate, so that he, Bob, and I can have virtual kitchen table talk time. It’s a brave new world and beats the heck out of the formal letters I used to get at boarding school, from my mother, that listed play by play events of the softball or baseball game she’d just attended in lieu of any spontaneous chatter.

Today’s news about the latest effort to “save” Anne Frank’s tree reminds me of the stunning Anne Frank memorial in Boise, Idaho, of all unexpected places. I happened onto it not quite 2 1/2 years ago and came home from that trip trying to describe its forceful engagement in a way that would ever be satisfactory (never achieved).

That homecoming was the one at which Bob greeted me with what he had discovered during my week’s absence: that moving to Halifax seemed like an attractive option….

Oh have you seen my aubergine?

January 22, 2008

This evening, in a fit of adventurous spirit, I tried a pub that has eggplant listed twice on the menu–once in a “warm salad” and the other in an appetizer. Perhaps the salad will be a better experience. The appetizer was warm, goopy, and tasted remarkably like Campbell’s cream-based asparagus soup (which I haven’t actually eaten since I was 11, so we are going on memory here and that might be inaccurate).

The gustatory highlight of my trip to Philadelphia 10 days ago was the Italian restaurant where my friend Michael and I had dinner Saturday night. The eggplant was cooked to a turn, with just the right ratios of marinara and cheese to complement it. It was most kind of Michael, who is married to an Italian and has an Italian mother-in-law (in Philadelphia, no less!) who cooks prodigiously, to spend one of his “away” dinners in an Italian restaurant, but I tried to thank him profusely enough–and he wasn’t complaining as he dug into the veal about which I was keeping mum.

In fact, the only imperfect aspect of that dinner was that we seemed to be 25 years older than everyone else in the place and they were all exceedingly loud. Oddly, none seemed to be librarians, or related to the conference, which may be a first in our dinners during Midwinters and Annuals around the US.

But here I am in a land that seems to be, though not eggplant-deprived, unenthusiastic about my favorite form of nightshade. Tonight did not raise the score. But that’s okay. In the grand scheme of things, eggplant can become a treat to be had during vacations and conferences…or when I get seduced by the next promising menu in a pub window.