Thursday, March 22, 2012

Halifax Bound ...

I am a nervous flier. This is my first time traveling to Halifax as I am attending a writers' conference organized by the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW) - the theme is, roughly as I interpret it, Italian Canadian culture post immigration, post our arrival at Pier 21 which is located in Halifax. It is appropriate that it is in Halifax where almost all Italian born Canadians passed through by ship in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

I rarely travel without my husband R. I really had never traveled as a teenager and only began when I met R in university. I am frighteningly dependent on him to navigate airport terminals, technology and directions and I am totally aware of how pathetic that sounds for a woman of my age and experience.

And as much as I have been excited about this trip, I will miss my chickens R and J at home.

When R drops me off at Billy Bishop airport (which is minutes from our home) my heart sinks because he can't enter the airport with me. The parking is too chaotic and he wouldn't really be able to spend any time with me before the flight. But it is good for me to do these things on my own. The flights are Toronto to Montreal and then transfer to another plane, Montreal to Halifax, as there were no direct flights to Halifax available. I should be in Halifax by 4.30p.

Toronto-Montreal: Although the flight attendants are very kind and attentive there's no disguising the low budget aspect of this short flight - a small, rather dry chicken wrap encased in cellophane, a small bag of almonds and a bit of chocolate in a paper bag. This is the high life you jet-setters! To calm my nerves I try out my new Ipad (a Christmas present) and pretend that I am not on plane. This is my strategy when I fly: I imagine that I am in a magic box. And when I leave this magic box, I will be in Montreal ... magically. Hey, it works for me if I close the shades and pretend I can't see out the windows. Luckily it is over before you know it ...

Montreal-Halifax: A much more crowded flight, every seat appears filled. No treats on this flight kiddies! Flee to the washroom to engage in a long coughing fit so that I don't annoy and alarm everyone. You might think this excessive but the night before at a reading I mentioned I had a cold and a writing colleague fled my table and went to sit with someone else (and pointedly told me why).

Entrance to the Waverley
I didn't realize the Halifax airport was so far from the city: 33km and $53 far by cab. Pretty much what you would pay in Toronto. The Waverley Inn is lovely ... a gracious, old Victorian lady dressed in bright yellow in the downtown core on Barrington Street. It is like a country inn set in the middle of the city. The room is small but tasteful and pretty. The staff is very friendly. Some might find it busy or stuffy in design but I like it here so far.

It is a very pretty town from what I can see. Mentioning this trip to friends on facebook, I am greeted with great enthusiasm about the cit.

I have a few hours before I go to see a documentary at the Pier 21 Museum on Marginal Rd. Someone on the front desk tells me that it's a five minute walk from here and so it is. I flake out, take a bath and try and navigate the Ipad. I find it intimidating at times but must master this or I will have to relinquish it to the kid who will happily take it

As I get ready, I muse that it is exactly sixty years ago this year that my mother arrived from Sicily, by ship, through Pier 21. After watching the charming documentary on the belief in Mal'Occhio by Montreal filmmaker Agata De Santis we wander through the museum looking at exhibits of how the immigration centre was set up. One woman in our group, Bruna, remembers the day she arrived in the 1960s vividly and the exact door she walked through as she disembarked from the ship. There are vintage photos and a small replica of the exact layout of the original space as well as an actual train car that carried the immigrants out of Halifax to various destinations.

I, for one, am starving as I had only one quick meal at about 1pm on the first plane so I am anxious to get some dinner soon. D, a fellow writer and friend, and I cab it up to The Five Fishermen, a popular local hot spot. It's a little flashier than I thought (think high end bordello meets steak house) but at this point I will just about eat anything. We order a seafood platter - lobster, oysters, mussels, smoked salmon. I don't want to seem unappreciative but I think this fish hasn't seen the sea for a bit and has been sitting on the plate for a while. Our waiter seems a bit huffy, perhaps he is a bit tired as the restaurant is about to close. We seem to be annoying him and he is not shy in letting us know. I'm finding the Halifax humour to be a bit sharp-edged (which I usually enjoy). But it was an enjoyable night nonetheless kvetching and gossiping about mutual literary friends.

Usually smaller cities make me twitchy due to the lack of diversity. The only non-white faces I see are in cabs here - South Asian, East Asian, obviously recent immigrants based on their accents. But I feel oddly comfortable here.

I'm looking forward to the sessions at Dalhousie University tomorrow!


No comments: