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Archive for the ‘New Westminster’ Category

A week of riding a bicycle around Vancouver reminds me of the first time I took a boat up the Fraser River. Seeing the region from the water, I became aware of industries and activities that most people drive past every day, never imagining nor seeing. In the same way, riding a bike – often on trails and routes that run parallel to main roads, rather than on them – is making me discover corners of the city that I thought I knew. It’s as though I’m continually crossing over into an alternate universe from the one I’ve lived in most of my life.

The small revelations are all the more surprising because, as someone who until a few years ago did some serious daily running, I figured I already knew more than most about the hidden pockets of the city. Yet riding along the south side of Burnaby Lake, I discovered trails that I either never imagined, or had forgot years ago if I ever did know them. Half a kilometer away, traffic on the Trans Canada roared past, yet I was alone on trails through partly reclaimed marshland that gave a green and brackish impression of eternity.

Then, on Friday, I was on the first few kilometers of the Central Valley Greenway, where it crosses from New Westminster into Burnaby. The route passes through Hume Park, which I have been passing for years in cars and on the bus, but of which I’ve been only vaguely aware. To my surprise, the path through the park was surrounded by the tall and dripping green of secondary trees, and passes a semi-professional baseball diamond I never knew existed, and exits into a small urbane oasis of calm only a couple of blocks from the busy streets that made up my definition of New Westminster.

Coming back, I detoured from the Greenway up a steep hill to a path beside the small switching yard for the trains. I’ve run along this part of the Greenway for years, figuring I had a shrewd idea where the path up the hill must lead – but I was wrong by three or four blocks. In fact, the distance from the Greenway to the end of this detour was at least half a kilometer longer than I imagined. In the middle of the city, less than two kilometers from where I live, was a stretch of woodland where I was completely alone, except for the occasional dog walker.

Much the same discovery awaited me this afternoon, when I took the Skytrain to the Main Street station and rode to Granville Island. I was vaguely aware of the Olympic Village, Vancouver’s white elephant from the Winter Games, and the fact that the seawall wound along the south shore of False Creek, but both were far enough from my usual haunts that I had never seen them up close. But today I had a chance to see them up close – even if I did have to keep more than half an eye on the crowds of pedestrians and dawdling cyclists. The Olympic Village struck me as a piece of post-modern minimalism that would benefit from more trees and garden, and I much preferred the older condos closer to Granville Island, but the point is that I had seen neither. I even discovered pubs and restaurants that must cater to a severely local crowd, because I had never heard of them.

The illusion of a parallel world is all the stronger because I’ve met more people in a week than I have in all my years of riding in a car or among the anonymous, iPod-deafened crowds on public transit. Cyclists, I’ve discovered, actually talk to each other. Unlike most of the people you encounter in public, they have potential topics of conversation with each other – and their chosen means of transport actually makes conversation possible.

After all, as a cyclist, you know that any other cyclists is one of the few percent who have chosen a means of transport that depends on their own muscle power. And while the bike routes are mostly well marked, there is often the need to ask directions, or maybe the need to borrow a pump or repair kid.

But, whatever the reason, cyclists talk to each other as they cruise along or wait at lights. One couple even volunteered themselves as guides for several kilometers before we parted ways.

Possibly, my reaction is colored from the wild exuberance and nostalgia I still feel from being back on a bicycle. But I am tickled by the small discoveries I’m making – and more than a little smug that I am now part of a small minority that knows the city in a way that most of its inhabitants never will.

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Yesterday, I had a date with a ghost.

You see, November 11 was the anniversary of Trish and I as a couple. It was not our wedding anniversary; that was for the public. November 11 was the private one, the day we kept for ourselves. Whenever we could, we took the day off, and at the very least we tried to go out to dinner, although once or twice in the last few years, she hadn’t been well enough for us to celebrate on the exact date.

This being the first anniversary since her death, I debated with myself all day if I would keep the date. Perhaps it was too sentimental? Too much giving in to grief? But in the end I decided I was observing the day in my own mind anyway, so I might as well indulge myself. I dressed in my best – a black Dorothy Grant shirt, my gold ring, my copper bracelet, and the Lyle Wilson pendant that Trish had won at a raffle at the West Vancouver Museum – and wore all black, one of the colors that Trish had liked best on me, and solemnly descended on the restaurant.

I had chosen La Rustica, an Italian restaurant we had known at its height when we were living in New Westminster. We hadn’t been there for years, but we had talked about returning there to see what it was like. Now, I would have to see for myself.

The restaurant had been extensively renovated at least once since we used to frequent it, so I couldn’t sit at the table in the back where a photographer had taken a picture of us on our fourth anniversary years ago. Instead, I was shown to a table for two on the edge of the vacant dance floor. On nights when the band played, I imagine it would have been a bad seat, the sort that single diners usually get unless they complain. But that night, I didn’t care; it was well away from the large party from the assisted living home who were the only other diners in the restaurant, so they wouldn’t notice my odd behavior.

My date, I imagined, was in a green turquoise dress with flowing sleeves, one of the few that I kept when I gave her clothes away. Her hair was long, and dyed auburn.

I ordered two glasses of white wine, and at first the server got it wrong, giving me two glasses of wine in a carafe. “If it’s not too odd, could I have another glass?” I asked. The server looked askance, but she did as I requested, not quite daring to ask what I was doing.

I poured our wine, then clinked the glasses together. Not daring to speak out loud because I knew I would end up sobbing in that horrible breathless way I have had during my mourning, I delivered the ritual Scottish toast and response that Trish had always loved since she first read it in George Macdonald Fraser’s The General Danced at Dawn:

“Here’s to us.”

“Wha’s like us?”

“Damn few, and they’re all deid.”

I followed that with the question that one or the other of us had always asked, “Has it really been __ years?”

“It doesn’t seem possible,” I whispered to myself, finishing the ritual. By then I was daubing at my eyes with the linen napkin.

My tastes have changed tremendously since I had last eaten at La Rustica, but I chose what had been my favorite meal: onion soup, followed by veal in a capers and wine sauce, and an amaretto gelato. The restaurant was dimly lit, but I knew my date was eating the shrimp, something I never prepare at home because it might trigger an allergic reaction for me, but which she always enjoyed when we ate out.

At the end of the meal, I asked if I could go into the back. But the years and the renovations defeated me, and I could not decide where our favorite table had been.

Maybe that was just as well. Wherever the table was, it would have sat hundreds since we had been at it, and we could have left no impression that would have remained.

The server was looking at me strangely, so I explained the occasion, and left a large tip before I left.

Ordinarily, I would have hardly felt two glasses of wine, but that night I did. I decided that I couldn’t bear the bus, so I walked down the hill to the Skytrain to sober myself up. By the time I boarded, the cold had cleared my head. I didn’t say goodbye to the ghost, of course; she followed me home.

People talk of melancholy although it were a form of depression, and should be avoided. If you believe that, you will never understand, but I enjoyed my company that night, although the encounter left me feeling drained.

I don’t know if I will be returning to La Rustica, which proved only adequate (the sauce had too much lemon, and the restaurant was no longer growing its own herbs on the roof). But I already know that my companion and I will be going out again on our wedding anniversary, as well as next next November 11th.

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