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My thoughts and reflections during my perambulations throughout Vancouver, B.C. as a newly arrived immigrant.
My first foray into my newly-adopted community is at 7 a.m. when I walk to my favourite coffee shop; which has become my happy hunting ground. I have always been a coffee shop frequenter during the time that I was teaching creative writing in Johannesburg, South Africa. I used to tell my students – If you suffer from writer’s bloc or mental freeze, you should exit from the computer screen which mesmerizes you into mental stupor. If you have been staring at it in a mental paralysis, get to the nearest coffee shop.
This ambience of coffee and cinnamon aroma and fragrances that assail your senses as you walk in, energises and stimulates. The people around you, the brou-ha-ha of conversation, triggers ideas and imaginative thoughts and lubricates the writing mechanism that seems to have forsaken you.
This is how my day starts. I love the sounds – the hissing of the cappuccino machine, the clouds of steaming froth, clinking sounds of cups and mugs, seeing all the coffee addicts, like myself, the cacophony of voices, sounds and aromas. Then I immerse myself in the daily newspapers. My favourite feature in the Vancouver Sun is entitled This Day in History – a fascinating account of events reported in the Vancouver Sun many years ago, all researched and reported on by John Mackie.
As an historian I have learnt some most interesting facts about past history – e.g. how the Canadians in WWI succeeded in capturing Vimy Ridge (France) whereas the British forces had not been able to dislodge the German troops, and the fact that astounded me was that France recently in April, at a ceremony commemorating this victory by the Canadian troops, granted this tract of land where Vimy Ridge is situated, to Canada. Who would have thought that Canada would own this small part of France!
Intermittently, while immersed in my perusing the newspapers and digesting current events, I eavesdrop and catch tidbits of conversation from the next tables. Scott Fitzgerald claimed that overhearing a chance phrase at the next table to his, inspired him to produce one of his most successful short stories. The use of the cellular telephone certainly encourages eavesdropping. One often picks up intimate details from a one-way cell-phone conversation. The French poet Apollinaire used: “bribes de conversation” for inspiration.
Walking to the coffee-shop at 7 a.m. is extremely invigorating. The air is so crisp, the leaves crunch under your footsteps, in the fall the leaves with varied autumn colours create a Persian carpet underfoot. A little squirrel suddenly dodges out and his bright eyes stare at you momentarily, unblinking. Then off he scampers, gathering a few nuts from the horse chestnut tree for his family repast.
The sounds of the city awakening are now starting. Life is full of promise and joyful anticipation for the day. What will I be exploring to-day? Trying to establish what the Canadian cuisine offers: I’m told Poutine is the National dish (I find it unappealing); I have tried “Beaver’s Tails” – how this pastry acquired this nomenclature I can’t imagine – not at all “furry”; sampled a Nanaimo bar – not very imaginative; Excellent examples of Indian, Japanese, Chinese cooking signifying the multi-culturalism of Canada.
The other favourite thing that I enjoy at the coffee-shop where I have become an habitué is the fact that benches are placed outside the coffee bar so that all dog owners, taking their dogs for a constitutional can also enjoy their early morning coffee and bring the dogs along. So every morning there is a dog parade in front of the coffee bar. As a passionate dog lover I have stopped to admire the beautiful animals parked near the benches on the sidewalk, owners sipping their coffee, and I have learnt the names of the dogs, and given them all a caressing pat except when they are working dogs.
My next encounter with a lady and her dog led to a most amazing discovery. The dog was wearing a yellow jacket with the instruction printed on it reading: “Don’t pat me – I’m a working dog.” I approached her and asked what work he did for her. She has a severe hearing problem, is not able to hear the phone ring or the doorbell, he pulls her to either phone or door, whenever necessary.
A few days later I encountered a lady in a motorized wheelchair, with her golden Retriever also wearing a yellow jacket, another working dog. Emboldened by my recent illuminating discovery, I asked her what work he does for her. I’ll show you, she said. Whereupon she took a bunch of keys from her purse, threw them to the right at quite a distance from the wheelchair, took out a second bunch, threw them to the left, released the dog. He immediately ran to the first bunch of keys, picked them up, brought them to her, then went to the second bunch, picked them up and brought them to her. I found that mind blowing – Do you call him a picking up dog! In South Africa and Australia I had only encountered guide dogs for the blind. I am most impressed with the way dogs are trained in Vancouver to assist people with medical problems and disabilities.
I continue my perambulations to my favourite bookshops on West Broadway. Reminiscent of the bookstalls along the river Seine, one can browse through a most outstanding collection of art, history and architecture.
My next stop is Granville Market where you can hear languages from all over the world. I am enjoying the basic respect for all cultures and languages that Canadians have, a sense of human decency and dignity – These values are important to me as a person passionate about language and culture. This diversity proves undoubtedly that Vancouver is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual city.
This is what Vancouver means to me. Each day has no limits to the discoveries I make. With so many trees in the city, I see the signs of spring coming, in the sap rising in the naked trees turning green with the buds of spring leaves. These thoughts evoke in me musical memories – Vivaldi’s Seasons, Rustle of Spring.
The public transport in Vancouver is excellent and I have availed myself of this facility frequently. I have abandoned driving and have found the camaraderie on buses and trains far more enjoyable. I live in Kerrisdale but sallied forth very confidently to attend the performance of a play at a theatre, The Cultch, miles away in Venables Street, East Vancouver. I informed the bus driver of my destination, asking him to put me off as close as possible. Not only did he undertake to do so, everyone on the bus had overheard my request and offered their assistance. This led to establishing a link with the other passengers, who were extremely friendly and interested in my activities.
I realize I am in the midst of a latent, slowly developing love affair with Canada, with Vancouver as the catalyst and have made a wholly new beginning to a new life, with having achieved a feeling of belonging, and creating a niche for myself in a new society.