Tag Archives: Travel

Ghost Towns | DIY Funerals | Murders of Crows

29 Aug

How to bury family in a town that may never have actually existed.


“The crows seemed to be calling his name, thought Caw.”

—Jack Handy

You wake early on a Monday, get into dress clothes, then drive 250 km out of downtown Calgary, southwest to an old mining town at the Alberta/BC border, for the funeral of a cousin you’ve never met. The morning fog drops right down to the road, which twists and rises and dives through the Foothills before exploding into the forest-and-peak splendor of The Crowsnest Pass. A realm in the full-blown Tolkien sense, the Pass swells up into the Rocky Mountains, right down to the Montana border. Within its embrace is the most cursed stretch of towns in Canada. Continue reading

Vacationing at Alberta’s Oil Sands

9 Jul

Forget the Stampede and Niagara Falls. Instead visit Fort McMurray and behold the fulcrum of 21st century Canada.

The trick of Edward Burtynski’s photos is that there is no trick. They’re inherently neutral. He only says: “We all partake of what comes from this place, but we have no idea what it looks like.” It was this fact that excited us. Our trip would not be like The Grand Canyon or Disneyland or a scramble around some ancient ruins. It would be a modern experience to the most relevant place in Canada.

“This was a visionary act. So much so that half the environment needed to be invented.” 
                                          —Jim Harrison, Sundog

When you live in Calgary, you eventually get sick of taking people to Banff. “You could go to the mountains,” we told our friend Pia at the airport, after she arrived from Germany. “But really, it’s just big mounds of rock and wood and hoardes of tourists.” I made an exaggerated yawning sign. Then laid the trap.

“There’s another thing. Imagine Mad Max and a Chevy truck commercial.” I told her to imagine a bad hangover. Cold coffee. Dinosaurs. Optimus Prime. The stage of a Motely Crüe concert. Ozymandias. Dolly Parton. Angkor Wat. The planet Mars. The Moon. Falco lyrics. The planet Pluto (in the winter). “Imagine the world’s biggest trailer park and it costs more to rent a room there than an entire flat in Dusseldorf. That’s where we’re going.” Continue reading

The Exemption for Double Apple Shisha, Cuban Cigars and 86 Other Foreign Delights

16 Jun

There is a fine balance between protecting a population’s health and fostering cosmopolitan culture.


Not much beyond an opium den can conjure the notion of “exotic” quite like a hookah. Lews Carroll stuck one in the caterpillar’s clutch to bring a place called Wonderland to life. George Lucas gives one to Jabba to evoke an especially remote nook in a galaxy  far away. To walk down a street and catch a distant hint of sweet coffee and delicate apricot smoke as a door bursts open, punctuated by the frantic clamor of Arabic conversation, is the height of what it means to live in cosmopolitan neigbhourhood. The hookah café has become a casualty of municipal smoking bylaws. Hookah, shisha, nargile, cigars, Chevy Impalas, Royal Canadian Legions—there are exemptions to every urban smoking bylaw in the world. Continue reading

How To Make Poutine 2.0: Gravy Hacks, Cheese Curd Modification

4 Oct

What can you possibly add to the trinity of gravy, cheese curd and French fried potato? Start with butter chicken, wieners, foie gras. Swap the potato for cassava, the cheese curd for haloumi. If you gaze long enough into the mottled abyss, you just might find the bare rippling pectorals of Russia’s President.

Continue reading

Random Acts Of Election Tourism

28 Aug

Four years ago, I went down to Florida to knock on doors. I volunteered for both the McCain campaign and the Obama campaign. I just wanted to experience an election—a moment of history thatI knew people would be talking about fifty years later. I ended up in all four corners of the United States that year. I learned that there are two versions of America. It’s not the cherry picked CNN version you tell your grandkids about four or fifty years later.

I. Little Havana, Miami

“I spent my evening watching the coverage and knitting a pair of socks. I’m going to tell the person to whom I give the socks that they aren’t just any socks; they are historic socks. And also 10% cashmere.”

posted by orange swan at 9:07 PM on November 4

It’s midnight. He is talking.

We’re squeezed into a red Toyota. Either a Corolla or a Camry. Bodies are twisted up out of sunroofs and rear windows, tiptoe on benches and fire hydrants. You don’t see their faces. Just limbs that flail with hand-painted signs about the fate of the world. VOTE.



One says PLEASE. Not McCain or Obama, not God hates fags, not save the whales or lower taxes. Just PLEASE. The woman holding it does not flail. She’s on her knees in front of the curb, head jacked up to the heavens, eyes closed. I remember a coldness creeping into the humid air. Then horns, bells, screams, whistles, curses, chants, weeping. The passage of time, which had accelerated with such certainty for 52 weeks, towards this single day that had itself unfolded simultaneously in past and present tense—all of it finally just snaps. The red Toyota pulls up. The guy inside screams, “let’s go!” Five strangers push in. A gay lawyer from California. A black engineering student from down the street. A middle-aged woman from Peru who only knows Spanish. A steely-eyed man, who I think is her son. And a Canadian who just wanted to be close to it.

The woman wears a stained janitorial uniform. I wish I could remember, right now, the logo on her breast pocket—what make the Toyota was—as we drifted through Little Havana in slow motion, and you could just barely hear him talking on the car radio.

I remember the air conditioning. I remember an old Cuban man in a McCain t-shirt slinging a rock across Calle Ocho at a young Cuban man in an Obama t-shirt. I remember continuing to shiver. I remember the student burying his head in his hands. “I don’t have words,” he said, voice cracking, then falling apart completely. Everyone, all night long: there are no words. I remember the driver turning off the air conditioning. I remember my pocket vibrating again and and again and again with text messages. And it only occurred to me as I began writing a long letter about it in a motel room looking out at a complicated US1 interchange, that we kept shivering in that humid South Florida night because every human being around us was in physical shock. Continue reading

13 Things The Whirling Dervishes Can Teach You About Spinning Until You’re Dizzy Enough To Puke

29 Jun

Before reading even one more word, begin playing a song that calms your psyche and rouses your soul. Step away from your computer into the part of the room where you won’t crack your head when you fall. Now spin. Spin until your eyes fall back into your head and bile forms in the back of your throat. Spin until your face turns green. Spin until you lose consciousness.

Whirling Dervishes Rumi white robes lots

Continue reading

The World’s Fathers and Their Moustaches

17 Jun

With enough time, perpetual stubble can be classified as a beard. I have a beard because I think shaving is a waste of time. My Dad has a mustache because he won a bet in the 1960s—or else he is still trying to win the bet. Moustaches and beards serve us well on this trip. We make friends easily with other bearded and moustachioed men. Kurdish men, Cretan men, Cypriot men in small villages and Iraqi men in Nicosia; they are all curious about these two Canadian men with facial hair.

One half of one fifth of three quarters of one other fifth of her father’s ancestral land in a small village on a remote island located between the Ionian and Aegean seas.

+ will you get a dog?

– you’re allergic to dogs.

+ i think they make allergy free dogs now.

– oh.

We have travelled far. Probably we have come all this way through Greece and Cyprus and Istanbul merely to say what we could not that starry white night before Christmas when we were relegated to the non-smoking fish bowl section at Hooters restaurant in the industrial end of town just after my Mom/his Wife died following eight months inside what they called “Yellow Wheat Room” on the second floor of The Salvation Army’s Hospice. Which is a mouthful, I know. My memory of the time is clogged with these oddly mixed mouthfuls. My hope is that this account will keep the flavours straight when I am his age, and thrown for such a loop.

It was simpler in the beginning, like your own memory, maybe too hell bent on deciding which of them would have to go first. Which has nothing to do with whom you love more—only who has to die first. If you had to pick. My mind had trouble with the selection. It could not allow itself to picture them apart. Over and over it would say fuck it, they will die together at exactly the same moment of premature old age—perhaps with your parents (all our parents)—just as the bomb goes off between the tusks of Salvador Dalí elephants jostling for position in the locked trunk of a Trans-Am that is skidding through the icy cargo hold of a 747 with broken wings, piloted to the bottom of a hurricane, to the bottom of the Mariana Trench by ninjas whom I—whom we —would spend the rest of eternity tracking down.

Always they returned, though.

And always I thanked God when they did. But always I was baffled that they would. That the universe kept misfiring gave me hope that the path of life had not already been pre-carved by He and his filthy head ninja.

The mind thus unhinged began exploring the which-one-first question in more specific terms. Terribly specific terms. Boyishly specific terms. Dad was a better provider. Mom would be capable of soldiering on. He hit sharp ground balls at me, she stuck my hands in raw ground beef and said my little chef. He would X, but she might Y, him and her, on and on, and never could one actually separate in my mind from the other. Only once. As we drove home from school in her orange Chevette in one of those full blown Mom/son moments, before the son is too self-conscious and ironic. We’re laughing so hard about something, and I love her so much, turning off 24th onto Crowchild Trail, with McMahon Stadium in the rear view mirror, a Friday afternoon in spring, a tumour growing in the frontal temporal lobe of her brain that had not being growing before we turned. Slowly. Slowly—

For years, slowly. Biding its time, gaining pace until twenty years from the turn, it created such immense pressure in her brain that the normal electricity which allows cells to communicate became too erratic and her body seized violently, convulsing, breaking, a neurosurgeon drilling through her dark hair, then the olive flesh beneath, the skull, into the left lobe, my Dad’s mind bartering with God’s, trading away the proverbial farm, just to get her through this one craniotomy. And the next. And the next after. And all the treatments and experiments, what-nows and what-ifs that followed. He stopped drinking (even though he never really drank more than a beer in the first place), he sponsored starving kids in Mali, he stopped caring about his sports teams, he pretended to like vegetables—just give us this, his mind said. Neither he nor I would hope for anythingbut this. Continue reading