Thursday, December 27, 2007

30,000 Feet in December of 2007

All photos © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen
It’s an very early morning, and I’m more than 30,000 feet in the air, I’m guessing somewhere over Manitoba, flying home after the past two weeks visiting my partner . I’m on my way to Minneapolis before heading off to NYC. The sun is just beginning to rise in the distance, and the snow-covered patchwork plains begin to lay open before the light. My customs card is all filled in, and it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful morning.

Here are some of the highlights of my trip:

The first week, the weather was, let’s just say brisk. It was, on average, between –5F and –9F, and that doesn’t count the wind chill. I was clearing the walk just about every day from an inch or two of snow that would fall from squalls. Fortunately, there was no real snowstorm that had any kind of weight. Snow is dry and fluffy, and most of the time and all that is needed is a broom rather than a shovel, and some quick back and forth swishes. I got the hang of it pretty fast (hey, even for a city boy, it’s not rocket science).

Last week, we took a long drive to Regina, Saskatchewan. While my partner was in a meeting, I wandered down Albert Street, heading south from 11th Avenue. It was butt-numbing cold, and a steady snow was falling, without much accumulation (probably totaled 1-2 inches). I was in an industrial part of town, with run down transient hotels (rent by month, week, day or hour), tattoo parlors (or parlours, in the vernacular), car repair shops, and lots of Viet-Chinese restaurants. I was on my way to the MacKenzie Art Gallery, which I heard was supposed to be spectacular. Little did I know it would be about 2 miles down the road. But as usual I jump ahead.

One of the first things I saw was a huge mural for cultural diversity; it was a painting of a globe with different colored hands holding it up and children of various hues. Right next to it was billboard for the local casino.

As I walked down Albert, with the Downtown area to my left (it seems Albert is the border of downtown), the neighborhood started to decrease in seediness. Family houses started popping up. As I reach the lower end of the downtown area, it was the start of a huge park, and I came across the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (the Museum of Natural History). It didn’t take too long to go through it, and I have to confess I was grateful for the opportunity to use the bathroom and find something with which to blow my nose…. did I mention it was friggin’ cold and I was walking into the wind?

The museum is two floors, with the upper one being dioramas of animals, birds, reptiles, etc., that are native to the province. It was well laid out, and for the relatively small space, it was quite thorough. I was very impressed. There were sound effects of birds and animals, and places to sit and hear recorded descriptions. The lower floor was broken up into two sections. The first was a geological history of the province, with cutaways, models, and dinosaur bones that were found locally. I learned that 1.5 million years ago, that part of Canada was an equatorial zone. This section led into a First Nations (Canadian for Native Americans) history, which was also interesting. Finally on this floor, there was a very short exhibit of Inuit art. On the other side of the lobby, there was a small room with a robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex peeking through a forest that was both cool and cheesy.

Going out the back entrance, I continued on my way down Albert, until I came to what I believe was Queen Victoria Bridge, near the Wascana Centre. There were lots of images of her (Regina was named for her) and buffalos, but the main theme seemed to be Egyptian-style painted columns that lined the road. It was quite well done. The river, of course, was frozen solid, and more snow accumulated even as I walked and the downfall became heavier. Then, as I was taking pictures of the bridge structure, a car full of teen boys (it’s always teen boys) passed, and one actually opened his door, leaned out, and screamed something at me. I couldn’t make out what he said, and quite honestly, I didn’t care. I just looked at him and thought, “What fools these mortals be”.

It was colder on the bridge, obviously, so I continued on my walk. I was hoping that the gallery would be coming up soon, because I was getting tired and my sinuses were burning fierce. First though, I had to pass the Saskatchewan Legislature Building (which looks like any other colonial-period Canadian legislature building). It was still quite a walk down a park lane, and finally I got there.

The world-famous MacKenzie Art Gallery is basically one floor and looks - and is laid out - like a museum. The main focus is a local revered artist named Joe Fafard. The first part was life-sized buffalo and horses, either 3D or cut outs of metal and other materials. After that, it was mainly 2” high detailed sculptures of people, from some known to the artist (friends, family, etc.), to those of more renown (such as national politicians). There was also a small exhibition of other artists, mostly of modern art that was, well, beyond my ken and appreciation.

Then came the walk back. Along the way, I came across a restaurant called La Bodega, which had an outdoor bar made entirely of chiseled ice. This was some pretty amazing work, and as impressive and artistic as what I saw in the gallery. I also stopped by another gallery that was recommended to me at a library that was across the street from Regina City Hall. It was a bit disappointing, being a video installation that basically consisted of a half dozen video monitors. So I headed over to my meeting place.

* * *

Back in the air now, watching the smoke-stacks somewhere between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The sky is mostly clear with little patches of clouds.

On Dec 6, we attended a ceremony for the National Day of Remem-brance and Action on Violence Against Women, commem-orating the anniversary of the day when 14 women were shot for being “feminists” by a man in a classroom in Montreal in 1989. It was a short ceremony where all the names were read and a rose laid out and a candle lit. There was also a PowerPoint slide show with photos of the women that looked really familiar. My partner reminded me that I was the one who created it last year. There were also speakers talking about violence against women (by a survivor), and a male representative of an organization of men promoting non-violence and other women’s issues. There were also booths for information about resources, including child sexual abuse and women’s shelters and counseling.

On another night, a group of us headed over to a barn about 20 miles out of town that has been converted a dinner community theatre (and craft store) to see a show called “Christmas Belles”. We rode over with a family friend, and one of the actors, also a friend of my partner. We three (sans actor) handed out the playbills for our admission (no dinner), and they gave us front row slightly off-center seats. I was expecting some hackneyed Christmas story with questionable acting (this is community theater, remember), but the fun of the experience of the actors definitely was alive in the play, which was also well written, and we definitely had our favorite moments (“Listen up people!”). It turned out to be worth the drive in that sub-zero weather.

Two nights later, after lighting a candle to mark the first anniversary of my dad’s death and dinner with the lovely artist/musician landlady, we headed out again, this time not for dinner theater but rather dessert theater (I kid you not; they gave out cupcakes and coffee during intermission). The daughter of our friend was in her Grade 8 class show, and it was a hoot. Yeah, there were some flubbed lines, some off-kilter line readings and the like, but the show was pretty well written and the kids seem to be having a blast. And, I might add, our friend’s daughter was among the best that night. No, seriously, she’s a natural. I see Drama School in her future.

Then, all too soon, it’s time to go. A brief night's sleep and at the airport by 5:30 AM. Just another short time in a life filled with interesting events during a smile-inducing deep and dark December.

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