Farewell to Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is new Scotland.

It is my Scotland.

Nova Scotia is a dark and stormy coast that births brave and beautiful people who dance and sing and make music that is perfect and pure.

Halifax is that feeling in your heart. That ache and crest. That inconceivable rush when you kiss someone for the first time and everything is unfettered and flushed and on fire and you haven’t a breath in your body.

Halifax is wishing to live in that moment forever.

Halifax is the biggest sky you’ve ever seen. It’s a blue that burns.

Halifax is your neighbour practicing their bagpipes at 8 AM on a Saturday morning. It is a farmers market selling Annapolis Valley cider and hand-knit socks.

It’s riding your bike through The Commons, just before sunset, and marveling at a world bathed in a rose gold glow. For a moment, everything pauses. For a moment, the world collectively releases its breath.

Halifax is, for a moment, letting yourself go.

Halifax is walking along the waterfront, wind-battered and rattled, wondering what the winter will bring. It’s wondering how anyone could live through this.

Halifax is living through this.

Halifax is running and running and running and realizing that no matter how hard you try, you cannot outrun everything.

Halifax is letting your hair grow and your nails heal. It’s three months of restless sleep and restless nights and tears of such surprising heartbreak that, no matter what, you are never ready.

Halifax is getting caught off guard. It’s letting yourself get caught off guard.

Halifax is a city built on folklore and myth, sea shanties and Stan Rogers.

Its days are fueled by harbour hopping tourists and university students.

The Rotary. The Arm. The Waeg. The Coast.

It’s the ego of knowing that Nova Scotia is the best maritime province, but never saying that it’s the best maritime province.

It’s a night that stretches, wraps its arms snug around your shoulders, warming you with a laughter unlike one you’ve ever known.

It’s laughing until you cannot laugh. Doubled over by bad dates and mingled fates. Staring at the gallows of death and disease, and daring them to try.

It’s a love that transcends continents and causeways.

It’s a love that cascades.

Halifax is family, sitting in a kitchen and talking.

Halifax is sitting in a kitchen. The indefinable comfort of sitting in a kitchen.

Halifax is a barbecue where one person starts singing, and then everyone starts singing.

Halifax is just knowing all of the words.

It’s Sonny’s Dream.  And Gillis Mountain. And The Whistling Rover.

It’s unironically loving Rita MacNeil.

Halifax is a city that quietly swallows you whole.

Nova Scotia makes your blood run a little hotter. Gives your legs a new strength.

It forces you to stop. To stare at a sky, and feel the limitless of a place that is haunted and vaunted, and never unnecessarily so.

There is magic here.

Nova Scotia is new Scotland.

It is my Scotland.

And though I am far away, on the briny ocean tossed, I know she heaves a sigh and a wish for me.

Getting it Donne

The thing that everyone forgets, when writing long missives about how easy it is to be away from a loved one, is that it’s all complete bollocks.

This became glaringly obvious to me the moment that I found myself standing in the Halifax airport check-in hall, hung over, wearing my mother in-laws old paint spattered sweatpants, with day-old wedding hair, and a stomach churning from dodgy Thai leftovers.

I was crying my absolute eyes out because I felt as though my heart was being wrenched from my chest with a rusty ice claw.

And one would think that, having done this so many times before, that I would never forget how much this hurts, but for some reason, like child birth (I assume) and the act of running a marathon (I know), I just always forget.

Call it the John Donne syndrome. Some stodgy old British genius pens one poem about how gauche it is to show emotion about leaving your spouse for an extended period of time, and suddenly (okay, like 400 years later) we all want to pretend as though spending months away from your life-long kissing partner is easy peasy lemon squeezy.

And yes, I am aware that I am protesting a little too much. It’s been a cool sixteen hours since I bade farewell to Marc at ye good ole’ Standfield International, and my tear ducts are still a little raw. I know that once I get into the groove of things here in the city, the days and weeks and months will literally fly by and before I know it I’ll be back in his arms, cracking jokes about Elizabeth May and watching Danish cop shows.

And!

Speaking of John Donne – I really shouldn’t be so harsh, because I really do love him and many of his works of metaphysical brilliance.

One poem, in particular, will always hold a very special place in my heart: A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning.

I have a very distinct memory of first hearing it in Literature 12, when Mr. Hill, our teacher, and one of my early great loves, read it aloud for the class. He fancied himself a sort of Falstaff/Leonard Cohen figure, and I am pretty sure he knew that most of the class was completely in love with him.

To this day, I don’t know if it was my crush, or the power of the oral word, but everything that he read that year has stuck with me.

At first, I thought Donne seemed pretty uptight, what with so much of his writing purposefully contrasting that of his Elizabethan contemporaries. Donne found most modern prose too smooth, too easy, and it was his aim to experiment with the concept of “dislocation”, peppering his writing with abrupt starts and stops, metaphors and ironies.

(You know, all of the good literary stuff that keeps us lazy readers on our toes.)

Check the below portion of the poem:

So let us melt, and make no noise,

   No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;

‘Twere profanation of our joys

   To tell the laity our love.

 

Moving of the earth brings harms and fears,

   Men reckon what it did and meant;

But trepidation of the spheres,

   Though greater far, is innocent.

 

Dull sublunary lovers’ love

   (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit

Absence, because it doth remove

   Those things which elemented it.

 

But we, by a love so much refined

   That our selves know not what it is,

Inter-assured of the mind,

   Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

 

Our two souls therefore, which are one,

   Though I must go, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion.

   Like gold to airy thinness beat.

I will never, ever tire of the metaphor of the golden thread that ties Donne and his wife Anne together, and my favourite line is: “So let us melt, and make no noise.”

So let us melt and make no noise.

What a perfect image. Such a perfect thought.

It’s one that I think about often as I start a little bit of a new life here in Nova Scotia.

I am melting. And making just a little bit of noise.

I am thinking about healthy ways that I can keep busy. When I spend too much time in my head, I start to think about all of the things that are wrong and bad with me. I think about how much I weigh, or how little I am doing with my life, and why I am not writing more or running faster. I go rope-a-dope with myself as hard as I can until I am left unable to stand.

So last night I wrote out a list of goals that I want to achieve during my time here on the east coast. I found a small note pad of paper and wrote them out on a single sheet, before tucking them away in a chest of drawers.

I figured this would be the closest I could possibly get to burying them in the backyard, like some kind of elementary school time capsule.

(I think about a lot of weird things sometimes. Like, for instance, do you think if someone ran over the person who one week prior ran over their husband that anyone would believe that she didn’t do it on purpose? P.S. This didn’t actually happen and I am not this woman.)

Part of my three-month plan is to go to bed each night having written out a few things that I would like to achieve over the course of the next day. So today saw me signing up for a gym membership and registering myself for two ten kilometer races – one in September and one in October. They are both races put on by MEC and I figure they’re good bets because I’ve loved running their Vancouver series. My cousin David has also started running and he has his own goals of completing a 10k race, so he’ll be joining me on the start line.

It’s always so much nicer to have someone with you on race day.

Another catalyst for these goals is that fact that I don’t have many friends here, and I figure if you don’t have friends, you might as well just get really fit (and hopefully make some friends in the process.)

But mostly I am really trying to melt.

I am trying to be nice to myself.

I am trying to melt.

And to make good noise.

Speak low if you speak of love

Marc and I started dating the summer after I graduated from high school. For the past seven months we had wooed each other with the great passion unique only to teenagers – the passion that begets the most brilliant, if tragi-comedic memories.

We did our best to keep our new relationship status under wraps for the first few weeks.

This meant that we would stop holding hands if we ran into someone we knew on the street, and kind of tried not to make out in public.

Each time he would sleep over at the apartment I shared with my sister, and emerge, disheveled and blushing from my bedroom, Kate would take me aside and ask the same thing.

“So, like, you guys are dating, right?”

I would stare at the wall two inches above her head and shake my head.

“No Kate. We’re just friends.”

“Suuuuuuure,” she would respond. “Just friends.”

I told Marc that I wanted to be with him the first week of August 2003. I don’t know the date, but I do know it was the night that he cooked me tofu stir fry at his new place. His roommate was away, and he had asked me to come and eat dinner with him.

His wording was something along the lines of: “come over and help me warm my new abode.”

I knew that this was it. I was going to tell him that I wanted to be with him.

I was living in such emotional agony that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else in my life. Everything was imbued and coloured by such a high degree of physical discomfort and extreme angst. I laugh about it now, but at the time I really felt as though I would die if I had to spend one more minute in his company without touching him.

My sophomoric mind couldn’t make sense of what I was experiencing. I didn’t think he was “the one”. Marriage didn’t even cross my mind. But I knew that something was up. There was something about him that was tearing me apart, and it wasn’t just because he had amazing calf muscles and really good taste in books.

This boy had completely turned my life upside down and, as a firmly minted feminist, it wasn’t in my nature to allow myself to feel like this.

But there I was, intellectually, emotionally, and physically hot and bothered, and all I wanted to do was read new books, kiss new lips, and tell new tales.

I wanted to give my heart in exchange for his.

When I told him, in no uncertain terms, that I wanted to kiss him, and kiss him a lot, he responded in the politest, if most Victorian way.

“Oh!” He exclaimed. “Thank you!”

“Thank you?” I asked.

“THANK. YOU.”

Marc, being the paradigm of good manners and grace, made it clear that he felt the same way.

Our official (pre-wedding) anniversary is August 16th. We picked this date, seemingly randomly, but in truth because it was the night that we first parted ways as a freshly pressed couple. We were too raw to understand that two weeks apart wouldn’t kill us, and too feverish to properly see the magic that had already begun to sprout in the corners and cracks of our new love.

We said our goodbyes at a corner intersection, at 1 AM, three blocks away from his basement home.

I choked back tears, unable to properly articulate the mess of emotions careening about my heart. Marc, stoic as hell, told me that he: “would write.”

Again, I laugh now, reliving this memory. We were such beautiful Austenian caricatures: our youth, our sincerity, our unapologetic belief in the truth of our truth. How I hold this moment close, and remember the weight of my walk home. My soul, confused and heartsick.

There have been many times over the course of our thirteen years that Marc and I have spent time apart. Summers when I lived and worked in Halifax, and autumns when he built Olympian sites.

We’ve traveled separately, visited foreign lands; made memories of our own.

On June 28th of this year, we rang in eight years of marriage.

We were nine hours, and 7,500 kilometers apart.

I, in Tallinn, Estonia, and he, in our little home in New Westminster, BC.

I have been thinking so much about my time in that city, and how I immediately fell in love with this exquisite piece of the Baltic world.

That Tallinn is a piece of magic, there is no question. But knowing that I was there on a day so important to my personal narrative – well, I cannot pretend that this did not catalyze my immediate love affair with the city.

As I write this, I stand on the cusp of a three-month absence from Marc. Like that night, so long ago, standing paralyzed on that street corner, I am ruminating on time spent away from each other. Me, on the east coast and he, here on the west.

Only this time I am less confused. Less angsty. Less heartsick and heartbroken.

I am sad, but I am alive. Afire.

We are life. We are love. Simply. That is our truth.

And those calf muscles?

Yep. Still there.

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Parting is such sweet sorrow

And thus, we have reached the end of our journey.

I, wrapped in blankets; my mother, asleep in the bed next to mine.

We are party animals, but only in the hours betwixt 7 AM and 9 PM.

Tonight, a large glass of red wine has left me slightly light headed and doubly giddy, but mostly content.

Copasetic.

The past ten days have been so filled with magic and adventure, with brilliance and awe. I am beyond stuffed with memories and am bursting with dreams.

We arrived in Stockholm yesterday morning.

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, my mum and I spent the morning walking all around the city, beginning in the Norrmalm district, before moving on to Galma Stan.

We visited the parliament and the royal palace and the king’s garden esplanade. The Stockholm triathlon was taking place, and we had a chance to cheer on the athletes as they completed the running portion of their races.

I love being able to play bystander to athletic events: watching competitors is always so incredibly inspiring, and it reminds me about the amazing travel opportunities afforded to athletes who compete in different events around the globe.

I really need to start looking into the international half-marathon circuit, stat.

From the race we strolled along the many waterfronts, marvelling at all of the beautiful streets and outdoor restaurants.

Stockholm truly is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I have such a hard time describing the effect it has on me and the way it makes my heart quiver and quake.

The sunlight on the Riddarfjorden is like a million tiny fireworks exploding in unison.

The apartments and hotels that border the waterways are all unique and breathtaking in their architecture and colour; they are small but timeless castles, cloaked in history. One might imagine that their inhabitants do not age, they only grow cleverer with each passing day.

The people are tall and beautiful.

The men have amazing beards. Then women have amazing hair.

Everyone rides bicycles in suits.

After eating lunch outside of the city library, we slowly strolled back to the hotel, and I purchased a dress and a skirt.

This morning, I woke early and strapped on my running shoes. The moment I caught my first glimpse of Stockholm’s waterfront, I knew that I would regret if I left never having had the chance to run throughout the city.

My route took me twelve kilometers, across the downtown core, along waterways, and through parks. The entire time I was out, I had to keep reminding myself that my life was real; that I was here in this glorious city, doing one of my most treasured loves.

I wish sometimes that I ran with a phone, even though I know I never will. I want those moments to exist exactly as they should: transient and fleeting, gone in a flash and yet exquisitely burned in my memory and heart.

Today my mum and I walked the entire length of Djurgarden, an amazing public garden the boasts canals, amusements parks, palace residences, sprawling greenspace, running trails, and much more. After walking for over four hours, we replenished our spirits and energy stores with cookies, cake, and tea.

Afterwards, I dropped my mother off at the hotel, and I continued on walking the length of the city.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the entire trip. All of the places we visited, all of the things that we did, all of the ideas we shared, all of the laughs we laughed, and most importantly all of the memories we made.

I thought about how we are made up of infinitesimal moments, seemingly too small to comprehend, and yet more powerful than we could ever know.

Life can seem arbitrary, or meaningless. I sometimes struggle with the systems and processes we have set up to govern society, and the enduring institutions that control those systems.

But to be so privileged to travel. To see the world. To open my heart to new places and people, to expand my mind and breathe new life into the spaces when existential cobwebs have grown sticky and dull.

What is such a life.

And to be able to do all of this with my mother – a woman of strength, intelligence, and bravery; who is a little bonkers, and a lot brilliant, and who says things like, “They must have a lot of big furniture here – like long beds and stuff. There’s definitely a demand for it” after seeing a particularly tall Swede walk by.

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I will never take this time for granted.

I am the luckiest girl in the world.

To be so stuffed with splendour

When you’re travelling, it can be hard to remember about life in the real world. Your responsibilities, if any, are few and far between, and probably fall somewhere between remembering to plug in your phone before bed, and eschewing that last gin martini in favour of sleep.

I have been successful on one of these counts. (I will let you guess which.)

But sometimes, in the most magical of ways, you are reminded of your real life.

You arrive in a city that feels so much like home that you are left wistful and heartsick.

You can smell it in the sea salt air; hear it in the greedy chatter of seagulls overhead; feel it in the cool breeze that blows against your collarbones and cools the back of your neck.

This is how I felt about Helsinki.

Upon docking in the city, we left the boat and immediately rented bikes.

This system had worked impeccably well for us throughout the entirety of our journey, and we weren’t about to mess about trying something new. Helsinki is incredibly well-equipped for cyclists, and the minute we left the port we found ourselves pedaling on a well-marked (and beautifully sun-stained) sea-front path.

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One thing I should mention: our bicycles were definitely the most suspect of all of the ones we had procured to date. Mine had a front wheel that was wobblier than an amateur high-wire walker, and neither my mum, nor I had any gears.

In the end, however, it didn’t matter. We spent five and a half hours cycling throughout Helsinki’s downtown core, and out into the different parks and squares. Plus, they cost us but twenty euros, and for that rock bottom price, we weren’t expecting Meridas.

One of the more interesting places we visited was Temppeliaukio Church. Built in 1969, it is also known as “The Church of the Rock” because it was quarried out of natural bedrock. Cut into the copper domed roof is a large skylight, allowing for natural light to illuminate both the pulpit and pews.

The church has no bells but houses an amazing organ that boast 43 stops, or pipes. After checking out the inside, mum and I climbed onto the roof (totally legally, might I add) and got a closer look at the stone and how it was carved.

From there, we cycled to the national museum, Finlandia Hall, and around the glorious Töölönlahti park and bay. We stopped at the top for ice cream and cinnamon buns and laughed like loons remembering how obsessed I was with the Evita soundtrack as a child.

After leaving the park, we passed Helsinki’s train station, an incredible piece of architecture in its own right. Built predominantly out of Finnish granite, and with its imposing clock tower and arched roof, there is no question as to why it has been voted as one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world.

In and around city hall and parliament, residents were gearing up for the city’s Pride festivities: flags flew outside of every government building and the senate courtyard was a-buzz with music and revellers. We got to spend some time soaking up the atmosphere, and as the crowd gathered for the night’s festivities, I was reminded of so many amazing Pride days I’ve celebrated in Vancouver and Halifax with family and friends.

Helsinki is also my spirit city because I have never in my life seen so many hard-core runners in a single space or day. Everywhere I looked, I encountered flying Finns, outfitted in compression socks, garmin watches, and dual-breasted tetra packs. Just espying them made my feet itchy, and when I arrived back on the boat that night I ran extra hard in their, and their city’s honour.

It’s hard to properly communicate how much I felt at home in this city.

It was as if I had know it in another life.

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Lived and loved there.

Helsinki was already alive inside of my heart, lungs, and bones

Like my love too, was carved from a stone.