WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

IMG_2364On this blistering hot day, taking the boat to see Niagara Falls up close and personal was certainly a welcome outing. Very well organized, the seemingly thousands of people are shuffled through air-conditioned pathways, elevators down to the docks, poncho hand-out and on to the boat in military fashion.IMG_2348 While I dreaded donning the plastic rain protection in the heat, I couldn’t get it on fast enough once we approached the falls. That’s one heckuva lot of water.

As we sauntered back along the riverfront path, a small girl of about six years went running past us crying her eyes out and calling for her Mama. She finally collapsed on the lawn sobbing, and two young women went over to help her as we came up. A small crowd gathered for a while but dispersed when it seemed the two young women had things under control. Cristal and I stayed to help. The child spoke French but not English. As we discussed how we could help her find her parents, a man came running up, thanked us abruptly as the child acknowledged and recognized him. However, he grabbed the child, speaking to her in some other unidentifiable-to-us language. He started to yank her along—still whimpering—as the four of us stood watching in some dismay. We discussed what had happened: she was talking French but he wasn’t. Was he the parent? A step-father? An uncle? While I wouldn’t say she went off with him happily, she went off willingly. I pointed out that, just because we didn’t like the way he treated her, didn’t mean we could prevent a relative or guardian from taking her. The experience obviously left us all bewildered and uncertain, a bitter taste in our mouths and the thought, had we done the right thing?

So, like the man in the program says, what would you do?FullSizeRender

 

WHEN OLD MEETS NEW

IMG_2317 I had looked forward to our visit to Fort York, imagining an 18th Century fortification in an area of green on the outskirts of Toronto. Maybe it was the broiling 90 degree temperatures or the fact our taxi IMG_2318had to drop us in an underpass that took the glow from my mood, but sadly Fort York was nothing like I had imagined. A modern visitor center a long walk from the barracks and other remaining buildings put a pall on our mood as we sweltered in the heat. But worse was the lack of information on each of the buildings, the fact that we’d never been told we could take an audio tour, and the high rise condos and two major highways which encircle the site like Godzilla snaring the unwary. It was a short visit.FullSizeRender_1

After a stopover at the studio of photographer Janusz Wrobel, whose photographs of water are internationally acclaimed, we stopped for lunch at a little ‘English Tea Room’ in the village of Dundas. The Olde Worlde charm soon paled into insignificance as we waited fifty minutes for a simple salad and quiche lunch, and the meter ticked away by our parked car. Tea was plunked down in front of us to steep while we waited for the ice to be bought and brought, causing the tea to be so tannin-heavy it proved virtually undrinkable. There were no apologies for the wait as the hostess sashayed around us, only 2 other tables occupied. This is the first time I’ve ever left a restaurant without leaving a tip.

IMG_2341We are in Niagara Falls at the moment, on the Canadian side. I read once that it was the commercialization of Niagara that partially encouraged President Grant to make Yellowstone a National Park. If it was commercialized in 1872, with people going over the falls in barrels, you can only imagine what it’s like now. No longer the place where runaway couples hoped to elope, it’s a gambling mecca, and as neon as Vegas. I’m hoping the view and the walks will recompense.FullSizeRender

WHO AM I, EXACTLY? Or A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME

 

Traditional Mexican dress

Traditional Mexican dress

It’s been quite an interesting day one way and another, and it’s led me to thinking—no moans, please, nor wise cracks. Here’s the thing: I’ve noticed, since being in Canada, that Canadians refer to those of us from south of their border as ‘Americans.’ But aren’t they Americans, too? And during a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum today (a place singularly devoid of guards and docents, by the way), we visited an exhibit of traditional Mexican handcrafted clothing in which Mexicans referred to themselves as Americans. Canadians and Mexicans have each apparently decided on some form of identity that, to me, seems devolved from their view of themselves in relation to the USA. Maybe I could now describe myself as a ‘Statian?’

But wait! There’s more. We also viewed a photography exhibit in which an

Mexican hand-embroidery

Mexican hand-embroidery

American of Asian Indian origin juxtaposed photos of herself with photos taken by Edward Curtis of Native Americans. So, as she had it, there were American Indians vs. Indian Americans. But what is contained in these names? As one bright spark put it to me once, if Columbus had been looking for Italy, Native Americans would have been called Italian Americans.

Further on was an exhibit of the changing borders of Africa with maps through the ages starting with the 14th Century through 1665, on to a map of Stanley’s expeditions, a Missionary map from 1891 and so on. Not only have the names of the countries changed but the names the people call themselves have changed. For instance, the Hausa, Ebo, Yoruba, et.al., who now make up Nigeria, also spread into neighboring present-day countries. Is their identity as Nigerians or the individual tribes?

Mexican hand-beaded bag

Mexican hand-beaded bag

Now, to complicate matters even more, Cristal and I stumbled into a wonderful restaurant for lunch called ‘Signs’ Unbeknownst to us, the name came from the fact that the entire staff, bar the maitre d’, were  deaf, and there were lessons on how to sign your order via a ‘cheat sheet.’ Not only did we have a great lunch but we learned something, too. But—here’s my point—are we thinking of those individuals as, ‘that deaf waitress Katie’?

Women used to complain about being identified as somebody’s mother, somebody’s wife, somebody’s whoever. This question of identity has numerous layers to it ,and I suppose we need to pigeon-hole people to distinguish each other, but as the Bard said, “ A Rose by any other name…”IMG_2312

 

PAMPERING

IMG_2305 We are in Toronto, city on a lake, city of gleaming buildings, city of multi-national immigrants. We have driven out of peace and quiet and a white population, into a rainbow of humanity and a cacophony of sound, numerous dialects and varied cuisines. While I always prefer country life, it’s good to feel the exuberance of a city on occasion, get charged and, on a trip, get pampered.

Arriving at a city hotel is not like arriving at a motel or b and b. A doorman IMG_2306awaits, along with a valet to park your car. All thoughts of schlepping your bags—as we did yesterday, up a flight of steps to a second story motel room—vanish as a cart is wheeled out and our bags collected. The slight kafuffle at check-in because our room was not ready was soon forgotten with an apologetic offer of free breakfasts for our stay.IMG_2302 And then there’s the magical opening of the door to the room, discovering an expanse of space in which all our luggage gets dispersed and we collapse after the day’s drive. While some of the accouterments are generic—the coffee machine, the robes, the safe—I spot some new ones like spray starch for ironing. The bathroom has all the old toiletries of yore, now often reduced as hotels follow airlines in the nickel and dime business. But this, in our sixth week of travel, is heaven.

I wonder if there’ll be chocolates when we get back from dinner.IMG_2310

 

BEING FERRY HAPPY

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Manitoulin Lighthouse

Manitoulin Lighthouse

Some years ago, there was an episode of West Wing in which the Alison Janney character is asked how a multi-billionaire might use his money to help emerging nations. “Roads,” she answered, “it’s not very glamorous but…” As someone who has now traveled some 7,000 or so miles through the United States and Canada on one trip alone, let me tell you something: it’s not only emerging nations that need new roads. It’s developed nations who are now declining. Like the United States and Canada. Sorry, but if you’ve driven on the roads that I’ve driven on over the past five weeks, seen the questionable bridges and highways of our beautiful country, you’d be as worried as I that our infrastructure is in sad decline. And I’m not talking about backcountry gravel or dirt roads here; I’m talking major highways. These roads will keep you awake while driving because the sound of your tires on them is not only unbearable, but stops all conversation so that you put on blaring music. And these roads will keep you awake at night because you’ll be wondering when you’ll next get a flat tire or, worse, be on a bridge…well, you get the picture. As Alison said, it’s not very glamorous, but

After one hour on one of these roads, we found relief by making the two hour ferry ride to Tobermory,

Tobermory Lighhouse

Tobermory Lighhouse

a delightful town on Lake Huron known, apparently, as The Big Tub. It’s apparently a freshwater diving centre and resembles so many places on Cape Cod or even the California coast, seagulls and all. And we are very, ferry happy to be here.

Tobermory

Tobermory

TREASURE HUNT

IMG_2280We’ve been on treasure hunts today. Gore Bay, where we’ve been staying, has a Friday morning market; it proved too inviting to miss and Cristal soon found some woodwork bowls she wanted to buy. But the walk to the bank for cash only led to a garage sale and, as fate would have it, it was huge and impressive. Combing through junk to get to the good stuff was fun, and we each finally made decisions to buy some glassware that was going cheaply—all thoughts of woodwork bowls gone.

Early afternoon found us once again combing a trading post on the far side of the island. I’ve been after a porcupine quill basket I could afford and finally found one, while Cristal grabbed a deerskin purse. At long last, we drove over to the Spirit Circle Centre for a medicine walk, to learn about the various properties of the plants the First Nation peoples use.

FullSizeRenderI should explain that Manitoulin is considered a sacred island by the various sects of the Ojibwe who live here. Our guide, Red Sky, IMG_2287showed us how to ‘smudge’ to protect ourselves before going on the walk. He had us taste cedar leaves and balsam and feel the bark of birch and other trees, and he ended the session giving us IMG_2288bannock and jam and a mint tea. But what stays in my mind the most is how he said the native people must live in two worlds, the everyday world of paying bills and driving cars and dealing with modern problems, and the spirit world of his ancestors and how they would exist in the old ways. And it struck me that, that is true of authors as well: we live in the everyday world of our families and jobs and the domain about us, but in our heads we live in our books with our characters and the world we’re creating.

So if I’m taking any treasure home from Manitoulin, it’ll be the memory of this afternoon spent learning not only about the plants, but a little bit more about myself as well.

PERFECTION

view from B and B

view from B and B

One of the good things about a road trip is that if you’re unhappy in one place, you know you’re moving on. And conversely, if you really love someplace, you also know you’re sadly moving on. You trade the plastic smell of identical motels for the luxury of a well-furnished room in a Victorian B and B; you exchange long scenic walks through breathtaking scenery for long tedious drives on horrific roads; dinners in city top spots become pizza in the room and, occasionally, an overindulgence in historical sites becomes a relaxing day ending with a bottle of wine, fresh fish and a man with a guitar.

even the birds have shoreline houses

even the birds have shoreline houses

We’ve tried to take it easy today, did a bit of touring of this immense rural island set on Lake Huron, got a taste of the First Nations here as native Americans are called, and now look forward to returning to restaurant nirvana. Last night, we walked down to the harbor to a place called ‘Buoy’s’ We sat in the marina restaurant,IMG_0879 a bottle of highly quaffable wine by our side, watched the sun go down, enjoyed a cooked-to-order meal of fresh fish, and listened to the melodious voice of some guy with a guitar singing Leonard Cohen and

Buoy's

Buoy’s

Elton John. In the end, we closed the place down.

As we shall no doubt do tonight.IMG_0882

 

 

O CANADA! O CANADA!

IMG_2270Three nights ago—on Sunday—I suddenly awoke in a panic. I had diligently made sure that my car insurance, which comes due July 28th, would be paid on time and would cover all fifty states. I never thought to ask about Canada. Sweat seeping out of every pore, I checked my policy, which I had brought with me, and sure enough it covered Canada. Sigh of relief. Then a hasty look on the internet revealed I needed an extra card proving this insurance. An early Monday phone call to my insurance agent was promptly answered and the response was, you no longer need one. Bigger sigh of relief. As I put the phone down, I suddenly thought, but what about Medicare? Cristal’s UN insurance was still operative and valid throughout the world, but me? To the internet again, and to my horror discovered Medicare doesn’t cross the border. Off I went on an internet search to get travel insurance. That was swiftly accomplished. Then Cristal asked, what about our phones? Is Canada a foreign country as far as Verizon is concerned? It is! Of course it is; if Verizon can get an extra buck out of you, it will. So, global data plan added on. And, at that point I had to ask myself, how could someone as well-traveled as I be such a total idiot?

The answer seems to be that somehow Canada doesn’t seem foreign. As I said yesterday, for the most part they speak English. They have the same shops and malls along the roads and everything, when you’re sitting in NY and planning, just doesn’t seem foreign the way, maybe, going into Mexico seems. But look again! IMG_2271The roads are marked in kilometers, temperature is measured in Centigrade, and the money…what is this plastic see-through stuff and the funny coins with the Queen on them? Forgive me, Canada: you’re not an extension of the USA even if your television seems to have more of our news than yours.IMG_2269

We are on Manitoulin Island, no thanks to Betty who wanted to get us here by a scenic route of gravel back roads. I think she knew full-well we dare not use Hilary because of the costly data plan.

SOO

The two Sault Ste. Marie

The two Sault Ste. Marie

The last time I was in Sault Saint Marie, I was fifteen years old and on a trip with fellow high school students. We were on a cruise through the Great Lakes, and I had just fallen in love for the first time with a boy who, according to my daughter, now looks like a walrus in his professional photo, which we tracked down. He and I danced the polka all night to the ship’s orchestra. As the saying goes, I felt like a million bucks.

After eating meals in Munising, Michigan, for three days, I now feel like a million pounds. Part of travel is trying to keep your meals balanced and healthy; eating in restaurants is not the best way to a healthy lifestyle. The break in Jackson did us well, as did the days in Buffalo, and some of our restaurant meals have been

The International Bridge connecting Michigan & Canada

The International Bridge connecting Michigan & Canada

excellent. But not in Munising. And when, on our final night, we decided to get frozen Lean Cuisine dinners, and a bag of microwaveable green beans to still our craving for veggies, we were appalled to find in the supermarket there four aisles of frozen foods and half an aisle of vegetables. Perhaps transportation to the Upper Peninsula is the problem, but it doesn’t explain why, when I ordered a salad, I was confronted with a mountain of processed meat on top of a small layer of lettuce. By the way, the local specialty seemed to be pasties.

Now we are in Canada and the first item on the agenda was lunch at an organic café. The Canadians here sound pretty much like us, look pretty much like us, and the food was just what the doctor ordered—or would have if he knew what we’d been eating in Michigan.

The two Soo-s

The two Soo-s

OF THE SHINING BIG-SEA-WATER

Munising Falls

Munising Falls

Two days ago, as Cristal and I made the long, tedious journey to Munising, situated in the Hiawatha National Forest, we sought ideas to amuse ourselves. Cristal decided on reading the epic poem, Hiawatha—a notion that soon lost favor when she saw the length of it, and realized it might prove as tedious as the journey. Instead, she looked up Wikipedia information on the background of the poem to settle our dispute: I said the poem was based on the Iroquois in New York, she said the poem was based on native Americans from the Lake Superior area. In a way, we both were correct.

Inspired by the native Americans he met on Boston Common, as well as stories told by an Indian agent and other narratives, Longfellow set out to tell the tale of Manabozho, an Ojibwe hero, whose history is usually set near The Pictured Rocks here on the lake. For whatever reason, Longfellow decided to change the name of his hero to Hiawatha, a name he believed a commonly accepted alternative to Manabozho. It wasn’t. It’s an Iroquois name of the Five Nations settled in NY and PA. Thus began a long history of misinformation resulting in numerous Hiawatha place-names and company names in the Lake Superior region, an area devoid of any Iroquois. You might say this gave Cristal and me a bit of a mini-haha (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).

We were due to go visit these famed Pictured Rocks

Cristal at Sandy Point, The Pictured Rocks in right hand background

Cristal at Sandy Point, The Pictured Rocks in right hand background

by boat, the first designated National Lakeshore in the U.S. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. On arrival at the ticket office, we were told that some boats were coming back as there was a three to five foot swell, yet we should go anyway as our boat might make it. Stalwart veterans of yesterday’s four minute cruise to Grand Island, we took our new tickets and walked away, pictures of the two road-trippers dying by drowning in our head. We returned to the desk and the woman reassured us it was safe and we would get a refund if the boat didn’t make it. Not only that, but Dramamine was sold at the souvenirs desk. Dairy Queen having been recently guzzled, we thought again of the five foot swell and returned once and for all for a refund.

So…no pictures of the Pictured Rocks. We took two walks to waterfalls and are watching the boats from our window.

Miner's Falls

Miner’s Falls