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‘Tis autumn

4 Oct

I am back amid fiery maples and scarlet sumac. It has been close to a decade since I experienced an Ottawa autumn, and I love it as much as I ever did. Fall was always my favourite season: not too hot, not too cold, and gloriously alive with colour.

(It’s no coincidence my wedding anniversary is in October, at the height of Ontario fall. This year — just how did this happen?! I’m not old enough for this! — we will be celebrating 10 years of marriage.)

A week ago today, I was leaving Ottawa. With Michael at my side, and the kids safely ensconced at his parents’ house, we boarded a First Air plane and flew to Iqaluit, Nunavut. Iqaluit is the capital of Canada’s newest territory (formed in 1999), and a vital part of my own history. I spent two years at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, graduating with the class of 1995. Those two years went by in a flash, but made a lasting impression on my life.

I haven’t been back since my sister’s graduation in 1996. I’ve always wanted to visit again, but flying to and from Nunavut is prohibitively expensive. For this trip, I was invited to perform at a conference, and I jumped at the opportunity.

It was an amazing trip, revisiting familiar haunts, reconnecting with friends, exploring all the new areas of the much-expanded city, and finding musical opportunities at every turn.

Thursday, it was karaoke at the Legion with some of my high school classmates. Friday, I gave my very first house concert (with Grant Simpson from Whitehorse!) at my former music teacher’s house. Sunday there was a musical coffeehouse at the Francophone Association in the afternoon and then the conference performance we were hired to do, a “mini Frantic Follies”to give conference delegates a taste of the other end of northern Canada.

Now we’re all back in Ottawa. Grant and I will be playing (four sets!) at the Options Jazz Lounge this Saturday evening, and then we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with Michael’s family. This trip has been warm and wonderful makes me appreciate more than ever how much I have to be thankful for.

‘Tis autumn . . . and it’s still my favourite season.

First glimpse of the Iqaluit airport

Best boat name ever

Best boat name ever

Inuksuk High School

My old stomping grounds

Bilingual stop (Harper) sign.

A coast guard boat in Frobisher Bay, with an inverted qamutik (traditional sled) in the foreground

It's always fresh in Inuktut

It’s always fresh in Inuktitut

St. Jude's Anglican church

St. Jude’s Anglican church in Iqaluit has always had this unique “igloo-with-a-steeple” design, but the original wooden one burned down. This new (bigger) incarnation was completed earlier this year.

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Lights and tunnels of Norway

11 May

Were we really still in Oslo just yesterday morning?  We’ve had two sensational days of driving, along fjords and farmlands, up into snowy mountains, around dizzying switchbacks, on ferries, and through tunnels.

Ah, the tunnels. We always seem to associate trolls and gnomes with Scandinavia, but I swear there must be dwarves somewhere in its history, too. Dwarves, after all, are the ones who tunnel, and never before have I seen a land with such an abundance of tunnels.

But let me start with the light, to make a feeble attempt to describe it. The sunlight yesterday morning was spectacular. The sky was clear and blue, and sunshine poured over the horizon from a low angle, lighting up one side of the houses spilling down the hill.

As we drove into downtown Oslo, we could see a solid wall of cloud had built up over the fjord, with sunlight leaking out overtop. Utterly dramatic.

Then in the evening, too, we watched golden sunlight dissolve first into coral hues, tingeing the snow-capped mountains and few wispy clouds a rosy pink, then into violet, and finally into bluish grays.

It’s just after midnight now, and it still isn’t completely dark.

By the way, there are lights in the tunnels, too. It seems that you never know what you’re going to experience when you go into a tunnel in Norway. It might be wide, or it might be narrow. It may be well-lit, or you may find yourself wide-eyed and staring into dusty darkness, especially if your eyes were dazzled by sunlit snow moments before.  Some tunnels are smooth-walled, and others seem to have been newly chewed through, with wet patches where spring melt is seeping through the rock. The rare tunnel is tiled in glazed panels that reflect the lights of oncoming vehicles. Sometimes the tunnel lights are white, and sometimes they’re orange. Once, while driving under a fjord, the lights at the shaft’s nadir were blue.

In this land of tunnels, you might be anywhere when you emerge. The country is built on bedrock, so many of the tunnels must be built by dynamite, eating through solid granite.

You never know where you’re going to be when you get out. You may go into one teetering along the edge of a precipice, and then emerge to find yourself in a green valley.

We remarked today that we should have kept track of how many tunnels we’ve traversed, and the distance we travelled through each one.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find we’ve driven through 20 or 30 kilometres of tunnels on our trip so far.

It can be harrowing, and it can be exciting, but it’s certainly never boring.

Day 1: Oslo

9 May

Greetings from Oslo!

The trip from Vancouver to Oslo was fairly uneventful and, if not entirely comfortable, not entirely unbearable, either. There were 20 minutes of near-panic when I was hemmed in by my carry-on bag at my feet, the guy reclining in front of me, and the GIANT Croatian guy sitting next to me, whose  legs spread into typical man-sitting position when he fell into a thunderous, snoring sleep. Fortunately, I was able to move my bag to another nearby seat and the fellow in front of me obliged me by raising his seat back a couple of inches, so I had a little room to breathe for the 9-hour-and-20 minute flight.

My parents and my Oma greeted me at the airport and we set off right away to see a few sights and find some supper. My dad had spotted a sign earlier in the day advertising a Norwegian whalemeat dinner, so we sought the place out. I tried muktuk (whale blubber) once in my high school days in Iqaluit, but had never actually tried whale meat. I can now say that I’ve tried it, but I don’t think I would jump to do it again. It’s really kind of a red meat and has quite a strong flavour that I wasn’t overly fond of.

The my dad took me for a quick jaunt over to the new Norwegian Opera House, opened just 4 years ago. It is designed to look like an iceberg and you can walk from street level right up to the roof! The inside is beautiful, too, although I can only attest to the lobby and the bathrooms.

Oslo Opera House

(Photo from Wikipedia)

After that, we drove to the B&B where I was able to shower off the travel grime and attempt to recover from jet-lag.

This morning, I looked out the window of my room and was greeted with a hazy mist, spring green, and colourful houses.

A room with a view

Driving into Oslo later in the morning, I was continually struck by the architecture: an interesting house here, a round building there, a slanted one over there. But driving along at high speed on narrow and windy roads is not conducive to great photos, especially when combined with a slow, jet-lagged, and head-cold-affected brain that registers a second too late that the camera must be switched on.

After breakfast, I made a quick stop at Oslo’s City Hall.

My mom outside City Hall

Imagine the party you could have in here!

The other end of the giant foyer, including pipes from the pipe organ

Next we jumped onto the “Jomfruen” for a little sailing tour of the Oslo Fjord, including a close-up of the Opera House and the floating sculpture that lies next to it. We jumped off on the opposite side of the Fjord so that we could visit a couple of amazing museums.

Not sure this sailboat ever gets to be under sail, but it was a lovely ride around the Fjord.

"She Lies": a floating sculpture

“She Lies”: a floating sculpture

First there was the Fram Museum, which appears to have been built around the huge boat inside it, the Fram, used by Fridtjof Nansen for both polar expeditions at both ends of the earth.

The Fram inside the Fram Museum

The museum also covered information about Roald Amundsen’s expedition to the North Pole, and also a boat (called the Gjøa) that was taken to Gjoa Haven, Nunavut about a hundred years ago. Fascinating stuff! After that, we walked a kilometre or so to check out some Viking ships that had been excavated out of burial mounds.

It’s after midnight now, so I’ll gloss over the Nobel Peace Centre (amazing, too!) and the fantastic dinner we had. Tomorrow we’ll drop my Oma off at the airport so she can fly home to Germany. It’s been wonderful seeing her. Our friend Marina will also join us as we head for the first stop on our driving tour. We’ll be driving between 8 and 11 hours each day, so not sure how much blogging I’ll fit in.

Today feels like the day

17 Jan
I had planned to get the Mexico and Germany pictures up here before moving on, but then I thought, well, why not put them on the new blog?  (Whenever I get around to it, I mean…)  So, from now on, you can read all about my comings and goings at the new blog: