We ended our week’s vacation in Western Canada with a stroll around Downtown Calgary. Having flown in to Calgary on Tuesday and driven straight to Lake Louise our initial impression was of an industrial city plonked in a deserted flat expanse, teased by the mountains on the horizon which, when we drove straight toward them, were far more attractive for tourists like us. When we returned on Friday and checked into a hotel near the airport, in an industrial area of town, I had no desire to walk around the city and explore. Yesterday we travelled East and gaped at the landscape and dinosaur fossils. When Daniel suggested we spend our morning walking around the city centre I was not enthusiastic, and continued playing on my iPhone checking Facebook and chatting. Daniel dragged us through Chinatown, across a bridge to a park, then up to a pedestrian mall lined by building with interesting architecture. I stumbled along behind him. Daniel finally spat the dummy at my week spent playing on my iPhone (I was on holiday) and gave me an ultimatum to put it away when in the company of others. Unless I was taking photos. So I took photos.
We walked North out of Chinatown, away from a running race that started as we paid for car parking, a flock of joggers in tight clothes puffing through the bloody freezing streets and bitterly cold wind. It reminded me of the fundraising jogger in the background of several scenes of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert that you notice the second or third viewing. pok-pok pok-pok. We started walking along a pedestrian mall on the corner of 3 St SW and 8 Ave SW, then inside to the Devonian Gardens, but they weren’t open until noon. We went back outside and kept walking along the mall, toward the City Hall.
Downtown Calgary has a good range of architecture styles and a lot of public artworks. It was beginning to be as interesting as walking around Chicago, but on a smaller and more compact scale. As cold as Chicago in November. Pity though that all the interesting old buildings are currently furbished into chain retail outlets, their majestic stonework bandaged over by monochromic branding. I got a coffee from one of the several Starbucks that we walked past.
We turned back West along 6 Ave SE and stumbled on an open space with a central group of tall sculpted figures, The Family of Man, “Donated to the City of Calgary by Maxwell Cummings and Sons”. Dan remarked that it was from the 60s. I was disturbed that although figures reached out and touched each other none of those physical connections were male-male. And why was the only representation of parenthood a child climbing a woman? What about all the fathers? How heteronormative and gender stereotyped. The sculpture saddened me. It did not represent my family. The sun was out and the sky was blue and I liked the texture of the metal, made to look like worked over-sized clay, so I kept my sour response to myself.
As we walked past a building called “The Bow” on 6 Ave SE Dan got very excited to see a giant white metal mesh bust, “Wonderland”, by Jaume Plensa, 2008-2012. I liked the opportunity to observe both the sculpture as well as the buildings through and behind the sculpture. The signs on the paving next to it that said, “Do Not Climb” were a bit faded, and Dan missed them, and began to climb into the sculpture (it looks like a giant climbing frame from a playground and it’s appearance simply invites you to climb inside). He quickly climbed down. I wanted a red marker to cross out the words, “Do Not” and write, “Please”.
We headed back South toward Chinatown and had yum cha for lunch. The hostess was well chuffed that we asked for po lai and yau choi. “Where did you learn to ask for [that]?” she asked, her curiosity piqued. “I’m half Chinese. It’s all I remember how to say in Cantonese,” I explained. The steamed vegetables weren’t on the menu but seriously, what yum cha place can’t grab a bunch of kai lan, submerse it in boiled water for 30 seconds and cut it up onto a plate, with some oyster sauce? She was very excited to bring it out. She then started yammering in Cantonese to the other server, who was bussing a table, “blah blah blah po lai blah blah kai lan!” I cringed. It was just like every time my Mum (a White Devil) took me out for yum cha as a child. She’d order everything in Cantonese and incite a riot of excited yammering among the staff. My face sunk further into my bowl as I shovelled my sticky rice into my mouth. I felt twelve again.