All eyes are once again on London as it’s the opening day of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Having lived in a host city, I can say from personal experience that the Olympic spirit is alive and well when you’re on the ground in the thick of it. When you’re watching the Olympics from afar, however, that spirit can be overshadowed by the politics and the commercialism and the media looking for a story. My hope is that Londoners will enjoy the party as much as I did here in Vancouver in 2010.
This time, not being in the thick of it, I will spend the next few weeks cheering for the athletes who proudly represent Canada, enjoying what glimpses of London I’ll see on my TV, and brushing up on my world geography. (Quick, everyone: Where’ s Comoros?)
Everything I know about New York, I learned from the movies. (Until I finally went there in real life, of course.) But really ― if you think of setting as character (which I do), then New York is one of the hardest working actors in the biz.
Nora Ephron’s trilogy of New York films are among my favourite of the lot. I went up the Empire State Building because of that last scene in Sleepless in Seattle. I spent an afternoon wandering the Upper West Side because I loved how it was portrayed in You’ve Got Mail.
But my most surreal New York moment (thus far) was when I crossed Washington Square and had a sudden flash of recognition because of a scene in When Harry Met Sally. Washington Square is where Sally drops Harry off after the longest car ride in history, somewhere near the beginning of the film.
That flash of recognition happened on my first-ever evening in New York. Since our arrival a few hours earlier, I’d literally been pinching my arm every five minutes to make sure I was awake. The air was electric ― I never knew what that phrase meant until I went to New York ― and I swear I could feel the city’s energy envelop me as my friend and I walked from Times Square to Greenwich Village.
I pinched myself one more time when we reached Washington Square. It’s such a cliché of our times that we measure our real-life experiences by comparing them to what we see on the big screen. But we do. And that’s why I was so thrilled to walk onto what for me wasn’t so much a public square as a movie set used by one of my favourite filmmakers.
After hearing of Nora Ephron’s death last month, and in light of my upcoming visit to New York, I’ve rewatched all of her New York films. They’re classic. There is nothing like being in New York in person, but, if you’ve never been, they’re a marvelous substitute.
Back in December, I posted a photo of a winter sunset over English Bay. At that time of year, the sun sets behind Point Grey ― that’s the land mass at the far left in this photo.
This time of year, the sun sets directly northwest of Stanley Park, behind Bowen Island. I took this photo about a week ago, one evening shortly before 9 p.m.
Today was First Night of the Proms at the BBC Proms, aka The World’s Greatest Classical Music Festival. It runs every summer for eight weeks until Last Night of the Proms in September.
The festival was founded in 1895 when a fellow named Robert Newman, then manager of the Queen’s Hall, decided to start a music festival. He told the conductor he hired, Sir Henry Wood, that he planned to train the public to listen to, and thereby create the demand for, classical and modern music. (I just love (love!) that mentality ― “If you build it, they will come.”)
The Queen’s Hall was destroyed in 1941 during the Blitz, and so the Proms were moved to Royal Albert Hall. If you’ve ever been inside Royal Albert Hall, then you know what a spectacular concert hall it is. I’ve been to two concerts there: one of Van Morrison and, a few years later, one of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing Elgar, accompanied by Julian Lloyd Webber (yes, brother to that Lloyd Webber) on the cello.
Both concerts only whetted my appetite for more, so one of these years, I’ve promised myself, I plan to spend the summer “promming”* in London. Until then, I content myself with listening to the concerts on BBC Radio 3 via the Internet.
*Promming is when you queue up for the £5 ticket that gives you access to the standing areas in the arena (directly in front of the stage) or up in the gallery. They’re cheaper than the reserved seats, but there is a catch: you stand for the entire concert.
There is an amazing piece of Canadian history not far from where I live.
It’s Engine No. 374. Engine No. 374 is the locomotive that pulled the first transcontinental train across Canada ― from the Atlantic all the way to the Pacific ― arriving in Vancouver on May 23, 1887.
I have to admit I get a little thrill every time I walk by Engine No. 374. It’s the history geek in me.
British Columbia is a part of Canada because of the railway. The young colony joined Confederation in 1871 after Sir John A. Macdonald, our esteemed first prime minister, promised to build a railway to connect it to the rest of Canada. That was quite a promise; even more amazing was that Sir John A. said it would be done within ten years.
It took fourteen, but it got done ― an incredible engineering feat for a country not yet two decades old. There was a political scandal, which brought down the government, and there was a rebellion. But eventually, on November 7, 1885, the two ends of the railway met somewhere in the middle of BC’s Interior.
All that is now part of Canada’s national myth. Myths are great, and necessary, to a national identity. And that is why, when I walk by Engine No. 374, I get a little thrill.
I also love the romanticism of trains. Great stories begin on trains. It used to be that new Canadians began their lives in Canada by crossing the country by train. My ancestors did. And I, many years ago, travelled across Canada by train because I’d decided I needed to do it at least once in order to truly understand this vast and varied country of ours. When I finally disembarked in Quebec City after five days of coach travel from Vancouver, the conductor remarked that I had become part of the furniture.
The most surreal moment of that trip, however, was when I and the fellow who sat down across from me after boarding the train in Sudbury recognized each other, and it took us to North Bay to figure out where from. We finally put it together that we had met a couple of years earlier at the youth hostel in Baden-Baden, Germany, and then bumped into each other a few weeks later in the Venice train station, and yet again a few weeks after that in the middle of some demonstration in the centre of Athens. (Yes, the Greeks were already demonstrating back in the 1980s.) We were both criss-crossing Europe by train at the time. Great stories begin on trains.
Engine No. 374 was built by Canadian Pacific Railway in Montreal in 1886. It was completely rebuilt in 1914, and then continued in active use until 1945. After sitting at Kitsilano Beach for almost forty years, it was restored and put on display for Expo 86. Today it stands in a glass pavilion that is part of the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown.
When I was taking the photos for this post, the volunteer working at the pavilion wouldn’t leave my elbow. As I knelt down to get a shot, he told me that once a year, on the Sunday closest to May 23, Engine No. 374 is taken out of its glass pavilion and moved into Turntable Plaza.
Now that’s a thrill this history geek won’t want to miss.
I’ve had some amazing travel opportunities, and I don’t take any of those opportunities for granted. Not one bit. But, even so, I sometimes get homesick while I’m off exploring the world.
I really missed Canada on my first long trip abroad*. I was thirteen years old and my family and I were in the Netherlands for six months. Not every kid gets that kind of an opportunity ― I’m so grateful our parents took us along. It instilled in me a travel bug I’ve not yet gotten out of my system (probably never will), but it also made me so aware of what I like love about Canada. Sometimes you have to leave home to appreciate it. And sometimes you have to leave Canada to feel Canadian.
So … Happy Canada Day! This photo was taken in Spain in November 2010. I had just spent several hours exploring the Alhambra and its gardens, and I was so pleased to discover a little piece of Canada in Granada.
*OK, this word is just begging to be researched. However did it come to mean “overseas”? Here goes: from the Old English on brede, which meant “at wide.” By the fourteenth century, abroad meant “out of doors, away from home.” By the mid-fifteenth century, it had taken on its current meaning: “to be out of one’s country or overseas.” Huh.