As hoped, I have taken time off this summer to do some different things. Nothing major, just a day here or there.
On July 30, I joined half a million (or so) of my closest friends and went to see The Rolling Stones at the SARS Benefit in Toronto’s Downsview Park. I got tied up with work so missed the afternoon show, however, I made it in time for the evening acts, which were of more interest to me anyway.
There were an awful lot of people. I reckon the demographic was almost as broad as for the Pope when he was here, although there may not have been much overlap between the two crowds. I could see Mick Jagger, onstage some quarter of a mile away. I couldn’t make out his face or anything, but I could match the movement and clothing colour to what was on the screen and thereby confirm who I was seeing.
We are so Canadian (I mean that in a good way!). Security wasn’t anything like what we’d been threatened. The police turned a blind eye to the dope smokers and dealers. The crowd was well ordered and well behaved. We didn’t rush the stage when we were asked not to. It was possible to travel through the crowd along rivulets of moving people, easing their way around stationary spectators. Beyond doubt, it’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever been part of, so I was glad for its calmness. An interesting experience.
August 14 presented another interesting experience. An electrical power outage blackened most of Ontario and the northeastern US. Personally, I found it quite liberating. Everyone opened their windows, so the sounds of other humans were apparent in the night. The Native drummers down the street started up before sunset and continued until after dark. It felt like a celebration of the natural state overtaking our constructed one.
From my balcony, I watched pedestrians with flashlights walking home and cars trying to navigate the streets, somehow disoriented without overhead or traffic lights. The only illumination was from a few airline warning beacons on tall structures and the Bay Street towers with their own generators. I could see stars and the milky way like I’d never seen them in downtown Toronto. I wondered how different we looked from space at that moment.
I was pleased to discover how well equipped I was, having candles, a flashlight, and a battery-operated radio (although stations kept disappearing into silence). I was quite proud of myself when, craving a comforting cup of tea, I figured out how to boil water using my stainless steel fondue pot and its methyl alcohol burner.
Somehow, it all felt very World War II, but much more placid. There were no planes flying overhead. There were sirens however, lots of them. Shortly after dark, a huge orange-red moon, just past full, rose over the darkened buildings.
In my neighbourhood (probably on the same power grid as several hospitals) the power was reinstated at 10:30 that night, so it was only out for about six hours. At the first indication of light, a joyous hooting and hollering rose from the street, like when the home team wins the Stanley Cup or something. I have to admit I was a little disappointed. I was enjoying the adventure. Many people had time off work the following day, sort of like a snow day in August. It took a full week for the system to stabilize and run normally, but now, once again, planes are flying high though the buttermilk sky.
Arguably, this disruption was in part the doing of the nearness of Mars to Earth. I’ve been tracking the red planet’s progress from my balcony and it’s quite stunning to see it so large in the night sky. When it was closest (August 27), I was in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Last spring, verging on a state of exhaustion, I got tickets to see The Royal Family and Happy End, so I’d have something fun to look forward to in the summer, before things got too busy again in the fall. I enjoyed both shows enormously. It was my first visit to The Shaw Festival, but it certainly won’t be my last. Maybe next time I’ll actually take in something by GBS himself!
I also treated myself to dinner at the Peller Estates Winery, where I could sit outside overlooking the vineyards, watching swallows flit as the sun set. I had the Vegetable Pavé with Crème Brûllée for desert. It was the kind of dinner one admires before tasting, initially hesitant to disrupt its symmetry, then flavour overcoming the visual aesthetic, with chaos rapidly ensuing until the plate is clean. I also enjoyed a couple of glasses of Peller Estate’s Chardonnay, having intentionally left the car parked at my B&B. I figured the chances of being charged with reckless endangerment while walking were minimal. After dinner, I felt deeply satisfied, relaxed and happier than I had for quite some time.
Walking out into the night, I went in search of a clear view of Mars. Niagara-on-the-Lake is an old town, its streets lined with wonderfully huge trees, which unfortunately make it difficult to get an unobstructed view of the horizon. I finally found Mars by walking out onto the golf course. I figured it was safe; who plays golf at night? It was an odd feeling though, walking on a golf course in the dark, watchful for flags and variations in ground shading where the greens and sand traps lie. The Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club is North American’s oldest, having been established around 1875. It’s trees are enormous and majestic, but there’s open space between them. I finally had my meditation on the nearness of Mars with my back to a large and ancient oak, accompanied by the sounds of crickets and a stiff breeze.
Nearing the edge of the embankment to the Niagara River, I listened to the rhythmic thunder. This is serious and powerful water, not to be trifled with, and that always seems scarier at night. This water powers huge Hydro generators that still supply a high percentage of Ontario’s electricity. I could see a few clearly defined lights offshore and in the distance, the sickly orange glow of Toronto.
I stayed at a lovely B&B, The Doctor’s House, c. 1824. It’s right downtown, easy walking distance to the theatres and everything else. It’s a lovely old sprawling house with talkative pinewood floors. Two of my reasons for selecting this particular B&B were Bill and Fred, the friendly long-haired resident cats. I had a wonderful night’s sleep and a delightful breakfast in the company of the owner and a Rochester, NY couple.
I enjoyed a wander around Niagara-on-the-Lake in the morning. I’m not sure what George Bernard Shaw (a strict vegetarian) would’ve thought of his life-sized bronze likeness situated in the fountain in front of the Shaw Leather Village, leather and fur shop. No doubt he would’ve found exactly the right thing to say.
©Catherine Jenkins 2003