CLEAR AIR OUTSIDE MY WINDOW means I can see the CN Tower clearly from my chair. I should qualify that -- the downtown still produces a low haze of car exhaust that makes the cloudless blue of the sky look like the stained edge of a coloured bedsheet: a bit soiled and sweat-bleached. Still, when the visibility is this clear in January it means one thing: cold. Ultimately, the next few months are about double and triple layers of clothing, salt-stains on the floor by the front door, the morning newspaper soggy with snow, and ever-shorter trips around the town -- whole days, in fact, spent inside, looking for any excuse to play hermit for another day. Cabin-fever time.
I hate winter. I really do. I hate it with a dull accomadation, knowing I have to live with it since the alternative -- living in a place with no winter -- would mean living in some godawful place like Florida. Or Los Angeles. No offense, but why do the warmest places in North America also have to be the most vulgar, or the flakiest? I'm with Carl Hiaasen on Florida, and the biggest strike against L.A. is that they can produce something like The Player or Action or It's Like, You Know, and then wonder why people still hate the place. Hell -- I'm a Canadian, anyway, and there's no place I could live legally that isn't winter four months of the year.
Besides, if I gave up winter, I'd also have to give up
Fall and Spring, my favorite seasons (in that order). I'd happily give
up the miserable, scorching dog days of summer, as well, but gardening
seems to have mitigated that climatic misery, at least in retrospect. I
remember our friends in Barcelona telling us about those fierce Catalan
winters, where temperatures would drop to ten degrees Celsius, and you'd
have to wear an overcoat. It only prompted a giddy, near-hysterical
fit of giggles from us. Gawwwd -- wouldn't that be nice?
The first thing I'd do if I was rich would be to buy an
apartment in Barcelona. Think about it -- six months of autumn every year.
Fuuuuuuuucccck. Sounds like heaven. No more salt-crusted boots or polar-fleece
tops damp with perspiration after you've been wearing them for two weeks
straight. No more crab-like, shinaining walks across sidewalks made
deadly with black ice. No more huddling in the shelter of locked store
revolving doors while waiting for streetcars, or putting on pounds because
you've been nipping into one Starbucks after another for a hot latte when
buses are delayed down the line. Cafe culture in a place like Toronto has
less to do with leisurely time-wasting than simple survival.
K. TREATED ME TO DINNER LAST NIGHT, and we talked about
where to go for our big trip of the year -- if we can afford one, that
"I'd like to go to St. Louis," she said. "I've wanted
to go to St. Louis since before I met you."
I know K. would like to go to St. Louis. She'd also like
to visit Battle Creek, MI, Hershey, PA, and Minneapolis, MN. K. has a thing
for old company towns, and midwestern rail junctions. It's the reason she
regards Chicago as the greatest American city, and not New York. (For the record, I love Chicago, but I'd never say that it's got near the mystique, the sheer, mythic, inspirational power of New York. Ironically, K.'s been to New York twice since we got together -- I haven't been in years.)
I tried to be diplomatic. "If I can only afford one trip
this year, I'm not sure my choice would be St. Louis."
"Okay, where would you like to go?" she asked. "Not that
I don't already know the answer."
Of course she knows where I'd like to go: Barcelona.
I adored the place when we were there, and regard it as something of a
high point in my meagre history of travel -- the closest thing I've ever
had to a pure vacation, and the most beautiful city I've ever seen. I'd
wanted to go there for years, and in spite of my high expectations, I wasn't
at all disappointed. I'd go back in a second.
"Okay, I'd like to go back to Barcelona, too," she said.
"But I'd like to go somewhere else while we're there."
"Sure, yeah. Fine. Of course."
"I don't want to go to Europe and just see one neighbourhood
"Right. Of course."
"I'd like to go to Provence, maybe. Or Italy."
"Sure. Yeah. We can do that."
Anything. As long as I get to see Barcelona again. I'm
not the most ambitious traveller, I have to admit, and the thought of going
somewhere "adventurous" -- which means someplace where, in recent history,
the citizens have been killing each other, or have been dying from plagues,
or where leeches live in trees or poisonous snakes outnumber people, or
where insects are numerous, and large, enough to constitute a food staple
-- is not a big priority for me. I like places where I can hang my clothes
in a cupboard, get a coffee in the morning, and read the news in English.
I'm no Michael
"There's another place thing that I'd love to do, for
a vacation," K. says.
"Oh yeah?" I look up from my paella. I don't know why,
but I'm suddenly afraid.
"A walking vacation. England, maybe. Where we can put
a couple of changes of clothes in a backpack and really see the countryside."
The word "backpack", I'm afraid, prompts a rise in my
blood pressure. Much as I like England -- or the idea of "England", since
I've never been much outside of Notting Hill, Soho and Knightsbridge --
I somehow don't find myself warming to the idea.
"Think of it -- it'd be great. You can really see the
countryside. Kent. The Cotswolds. A place like that."
"We can visit John
"Yeah. That'd be nice."
Much as I'd like to finally meet John, I have this vision
of myself dropping to my knees outside his door, legs dull with pain, red-faced and gasping. Quite an introduction.
"You're not crazy about the idea, are you?"
"Well, uh. No. I guess not."
I am not, it has to be said, the most exciting travel
companion you'll ever have the pleasure to know.