the bakeries of 118th ave



It's two years this month since we moved into this house, and so far I've done a terrible job of exploring the neighborhood. I've complained that my precious self has felt isolated, out here with the mall rats in the blue-collar boonies, but I've never done very much to make myself at home. I've never, for instance, taken myself out to discover 118th ave, exactly the kind of gritty, colourful, mixed commercial and residential zone I go on about. It's only 8 blocks away. Wednesday morning I left the house with the idea that I would go and find the cafes and Portuguese bakeries that supposedly line the street.

I went alone. I have spent whole years too inhibited to embark on this kind of solo expedition. Not Wednesday.  I put on a lot of wool: black wool dress, sweater, peacock cardigan, blue toque, Ethiopian scarf. It was only -5 C, and the city was filthy. I had a childish feeling of being small and curious and interested and hopeful--a red boots feeling, and my black beetle boots do actually have red buttons . . . This L-theanine is magic.

I found two Portuguese bakeries and bought cookies and fig jam at Popular Bakery, and egg tarts and bread at Handy Bakery. I went into the Mexican grocery store, made note of a pho place and a barber shop (in case I ever get another buzz cut, Sinead-style), and ended up at The Carrot, which is a volunteer-run cafe and arts centre, opened as part of the 118th revitalization effort. It's lovely there. Paintings covering the walls, a piano in the corner. They were playing CBC radio. An older couple was running the counter (the woman asked me if I minded that their biscotti weren't hard biscotti, and the man told me I should probably stir my hot chocolate). I've been wondering if I should see about volunteering there myself. It would be good to have something close to home. At very least, I now have a cafe to write in and no-need-to-cross-the-river.



Remember that this was also a good day

Tim and I finally took off to explore the North Saskatchewan river. We didn't make it past the city limits (I wanted to), but we are planning to go again before it snows. We feel mostly aimless these days, which can be awful and lethal, but also allows for spontaneous adventures, late nights, supper with friends, coffee with friends, frivolous reading.

Our Germany plans are coming together. I feel finished with this place. I'm satisfied to soak up what's left and then leave the rest. 



a short defense

(the tomatoes, on Friday)

I think our tenants think we're a couple of self-righteous hippies. The other night, lying in bed beside an open window, an isolated fragment of conversation rang out from upstairs: "I mean, they don't even have a car". And we don't have a car. We don't have a television (just four or five monitors), or full-time jobs, or cellphones. So far, so normal (in my mind). I avoid the mall like the plague. I will happily drink alcohol in great variety, but never, ever go out on Saturday nights. I work as few hours as will pay my bills, buy my groceries, and allow me to save for tuition. I now have a giant garden. I bicycle and walk; during the Winter, when I have to, I take the bus. I read and write a lot. I use a laundry rack and a bread oven on a daily basis. 

Our tenants' opinions are only the beginning (and wait until they notice that I sometimes knit). Edmonton is considered an oil town which exists largely to supply and connect the notorious Fort McMurray up North. While all of this oil means that Alberta has enjoyed a healthy economy during the past four years of recession (and I am certainly not one to complain), it seems that almost everyone who lives here--even the hipsters--are mystified that I too am not channeling all of my energy into the usual industrial pursuits. My co-workers are friendly towards my few-hours-as-possible policy, but most of them are working two or three jobs. People seem to want me to earn more, but also to spend (a lot) more. Since I do not work 40 or 60 hours a week, saying that I "can't afford" something is somehow seen as a comical, even (strangely) elitist suggestion. 

May I offer a short confession, and a short defense?

Perhaps the "elitist" title is appropriate after all. The truth makes me sound like an unendurable snob, and it is this: The culture, acquisitions, and activities which I am ridiculed for avoiding? I have no interest in them

I would rather buy black beans in bulk and make my own (damn fine) Mexican food, than eat at Tres Carnales*. I would rather spend an evening with Patrick Leigh Fermor than at a party. I would rather ride my bicycle to work than pay for a car and a gym membership. I would rather grow my own peas than buy them at the farmer's market, never mind Superstore. I would rather mix a gin and tonic at home than pay the price of half a bottle of gin at Three Boars*. Most of the time, I would rather buy yarn or fabric than clothes. Most of the time, my own food is better, making things is more fun. I'm ok, not being able to "afford" things, as long as I can read lots, put myself through university, become a better cook, own outright a fraction of a house, buy raw materials and books and acres of free time.


I would rather live cheaply than spend my twenty-second year at a minimum-wage job. It's not through lack of ambition or laziness that I have four days a week "off". Even if I only had one day off, would the money I earned amount to anything significant, when compared to the fact that I had exchanged it for hours and hours of reading, writing, exercise, sleep, cooking, making, talking, thinking? 11 dollars an hour is simply not enough to devote one's present life to serving coffee. 

* Please note that I am not disparaging these establishments; they are, on the contrary, two of the best places to eat in Edmonton.