Friday, March 6, 2020

Slow holidays

Toward the end of February, Bill and I went to Victoria for one of our "slow holidays."  We've come to know Victoria quite well over the years, so we know how to spend our time pleasantly:  breakfast at least once at Murchie's, a visit to Munro's Books, and a stop in the needle craft store in Trounce Alley where I stare and stare at the hundreds of buttons, think about adding embroidery to my repertoire and decide not to, and buy just one skein of yarn to make Bill another wild pair of socks.  I'm sure the baggage handlers on our return trip thought I'd packed bricks, but it was really only five books, several pounds of tea and a pound of coffee.  This time, we chose a week that allowed us to go to a Victoria Symphony Orchestra concert and to a moving, frustrating, wise play that was being premiered at the Belfry Theatre:  Ministry of Grace by Indigenous Winnipeg playwright, Sara Beagan.

We spent our first couple of days in a delighted haze, wondering why a familiar drive made us so happy (again), why a favourite coffee shop made us so contented, why we didn't get cranky looking for parking on the U Vic campus on a windy, rainy day, huddling beneath our umbrellas as we walked to the concert, hoping that following other greying couples was taking us the right way.  The answer to the last one is the easiest:  going up the ramp to the University Centre, I spotted among the ferns the tiniest pale pink cyclamen I've ever seen, blooming ecstatically, despite the rain.  Thinking about the other simple pleasures, I realized that when we're on a slow holiday we give daily busy-ness a break and shift from "doing" into "being."

On that same rainy Sunday, I watched a young girl in the Mayfair Mall food court react to her father's proposal that if she was thirsty she should try some of his iced tea.  Eye rolling.  Unhappy grimaces.  The determination to get the top off the bottle.  Tentative sips followed by confusion and a slight smile.  The young let all their emotions play across their faces in ways we have forgotten, but the drama is always there if we simply stop and look.  We were paying attention, the most minute attention, to the world around us.  In the same vein, I would notice older men and women express delight when their favourite comfortable chairs in the coffee shop were free, or holding hands as they set out for their daily constitutional. I talked to a young mother knitting brilliantly-coloured Zauberball socks while her baby smiled at me and patted the large plastic whale that lit up in different colours.  As you can see from the first photograph, Victoria was not sunny the whole time we were there, but there was always colour to be found.

The sign that this was going to be the kind of holiday when you focused on what was there rather than what was not came when I first got out of the car in Sidney, where we stopped for lunch.    I swung my feet out of the car onto the most brilliant bright green moss I have ever seen and felt a spurt of joy.  (The moss in the photograph above bears only the slightest similarity, but in the forest of Douglas Park, it was the brightest I could find.)  Sidney has a lovely walk along the shore with the sea on one side and land close by on the other, often held at eye level by a stone sea wall.  It gave us a chance to admire the gold and purple crocuses, the pink hardy heather, the occasional stand of daffodils, fruit trees just coming into lacy bloom.

We stopped to admire the mossy curves on a tree trunk.  We found a forsythia with two ecstatic blooms.  I admired rain drops on new grass.  I saw long-time friends who had not seen one another in a while meet in a restaurant called The Fishhook on Mermaid Point--and was prompted to wonder when male hugging had become so enthusiastic and to think what a wonderful thing it was.  The VSO ended its concert with Berlioz's Symphony in C, which I wasn't that crazy about, but thought Bill--who gets French music in a way I don't--would enjoy it.  But there was a conductor in a rumpled tweed jacket, Jean-Claude Picard, who conducted with his whole body, once urging on the tympanist by crooking his index finger with a come-hither gesture that was just so human.  And the habit of paying close attention encouraged by our holiday made me hear things I'd never noticed before, particularly in the oboe solos in the slow movement that were so musical and plangent.  I wondered whether we were living through a time when we need the stability of music in C major.  (We ignored the news.)

Bill always has the good sense to ask locals for advice.  When we fetched up on Oak Bay Road at lunchtime, he thought gong into the toy store to ask about restaurants would give us a good recommendation, and he was right.  (He carefully and playfully chooses whom to get advice from.)  In the same vein, he talked to a group of older women with heroic equipment for watching birds, asking what was out in the bay.  Once we knew there were mergansers and harlequin ducks, we could actually see them, reminding us again that how we consciously choose to see shapes what we see.  Copying Bill, when we were out at Sooke, I asked the owner of a craft shop for places to walk and we finally found the board walk I'd read so much about but could never find.  There, the sun was shining, giving me an almost cliched snapshot.  You'll have to imagine how the air and light felt on our skin.

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