So, Canada

The past week really just flew past, and it’s with no small amount of shock that I realize I left for Canada some ten whole days ago. It was a really good trip, productive in odd ways for my writing and a whole lot of fun. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel a little weird to feel like I’m suddenly back.

As noted here, I arrived a week ago Thursday, after a busy (and early) morning of traveling. I wound up seeing very little of downtown Calgary, just a short walk around the hotel and then back to my room, but I have it on reasonably good authority that the city’s a whole lot nicer and more interesting before dark. (After is presumably when the bloodthirsty, fanged deer come out, at least those who have migrated from the mountains, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself there.)

On Friday morning, I met Heather for breakfast downstairs at the Palliser, where we were joined by Jocelyn, had a very nice meal, and I suppose they sussed out this odd man who had traveled some 2,400 miles (or 3,800 km — roughly; miles seem a whole lot easier to guestimate in, but when in Rome…) to meet them and travel on to Banff.

It’s not quite a two-hour drive from Calgary to Banff, but the time passed quickly. The bus was comfortable, and Heather was a very good tour guide and company along the way. We arrived and checked in at the Banff Centre, then split up, me to explore and get my ID card made and Heather to pick up supplies for her swanky studio. We met up for dinner, where we both met a poet and a filmmaker, who were staying and working at the Centre during the same time. I’m not terrific at meeting new people under normal circumstances, but the Centre really does allow you to bump into new people — artists and mathematicians both — doing interesting work, and I’m glad to have met the few I did.

Friday evening, after hearing about it at dinner, I decided to go to a short film retrospective, and after that, it was straight back to my room to work on the 3-Day Novel starting at midnight.

Well, I actually went to sleep and started around 6 o’clock the next morning. I mean, I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy.

The next few days are kind of a blur, as I spent a lot of the time sequestered in my room madly typing away at my novel. Sometime Saturday evening, Heather took pity on me and accompanied me downtown, where I’d not yet been. It wasn’t the full Banff tour — and walking downtown in Banff always comes with the caveat that you’ll have to walk back up — but it was nice to get out of my room and my own head for a little while at least. And, really, Banff is a ridiculously pretty town whose weather was ridiculously nice while I was there.

And we only saw one bloodthirsty fanged deer along the path, so there’s that.

I finished the three-day novel sometime on Monday evening, Labor Day, around eight o’clock. I eventually called it The Last Man from Mars. It’s a bit more time-travely than I originally expected, and it’s by no means a masterpiece — maybe salvageable, almost certainly not publishable — but I definitely had a sense of accomplishment when I was done. The final draft, which I have yet to read over — and who knows if I ever will? — clocked in just under 17,000 words. That’s on the short side for a novel, but it’s 17,000 words I didn’t have on Friday…and not all of them are bad.

There are worse things than writing a failed novel. Like not writing one at all.

The rest of my days there were a mix of writing and seeing the sights. On Tuesday, we went up to Sulphur Mountain in the Banff Gondola. It’s a touristy thing to do, apparently, but hey, look at me: tourist. The view from the top was simply spectacular, even if I did get a little sunburned along the way.

A number of people hiked it — including, apparently, some of the aforementioned mathematicians — but even with the pretty reasonable switchback trails, I think the gondola’s the nicer way to see the mountain and below.

I spent a lot of the rest of my time plugging away at a short story. I didn’t quite take the words-and-more-words-at-any-cost approach of the three-day novel, and the going was a lot slower, with the story still nowhere near finished. But I think I made significant progress on a story that’s been stuck for awhile. The Centre definitely creates an atmosphere conducive to creativity.

After the gondola, Heather and I went to reserve a spot on a horseback trail ride for later in the week. I’ll admit I was more than a little nervous about the whole thing, having never been on a horse before — I seem to recall a brief photo op atop a pony when I was a young boy, but I don’t remember it ending well. But Heather made it sound like it might actually be fun, and how often do you get the opportunity to ride a horse along a trail in the Rockies?

I probably needn’t have worried. It really was a lot of fun. I was very sore the next day — I don’t think hiking back downtown for last-minute souvenir shopping afterward really helped — but it’s definitely something I’d welcome the opportunity to do again. Aside from a slight nervousness at mounting and dismounting, and some trepidation as Francis, my horse, picked his way down hills, the ride was absolutely worth it, and it definitely did not feel like two whole hours. I’m only sorry I didn’t take more pictures along the way.

Then on Friday I checked out. I hung around the Centre a little while longer, sitting out on the deck at Heather’s studio, reading her most recent short story (it’s quite good). Then around three o’clock, I got a bus back to Calgary, then found my way to the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport. (A really nice place, and everyone there was very friendly, but man, after a week of the Banff Centre’s terrific and ample food, their room service almost couldn’t help but be a let-down.) I turned in early, not doing much more than watching some Canadian television. (Wow, they have Red Green up there, too!)

I had an early-morning flight the next day, although thankfully not quite as early as the week before. I seem to have bumped into a lot of tour groups on my travels, first the large group in line ahead of me at JFK, then twice on the way back, Japanese tourists leaving Calgary and a tour group of Minnesotans headed for twelve days in Rome. I arrived around five o’clock in the evening, New York time, my father picking me up at the airport.

I had a really great time on my trip to Canada. I wrote a short and crazy novel, saw some beautiful scenery, plugged away at a short story, met some really interesting people, ate some really good food, went up a mountain, rode a horse for the first time (and enjoyed it, no less), and got the chance to meet Heather. Not at all a shabby vacation. I never quite got used to the money — some of it’s blue! some is magnetic! lots of things are slightly more expensive — or the use of metric for everything but weight in pounds. (Seriously, what’s up with that?) I never quite mastered the mental conversion of Fahrenheit to Celsius, and I never stopped being amused by everything being written in both English and French. But it was absolutely worth going.

And while I’m not so sure yet about next year’s three-day novel contest, I’d definitely go back to Banff some day.

August melodies

A rather short mix this month, for whatever reason. The week-long blackout at the end of it, along with planning for my trip to Canada, might have had something to do with that. I haven’t even really had a chance to survey last month’s music until now. But here, at long last — I know you’ve been waiting — are the songs I was listening to in August:

  1. “To Love Somebody” by Nina Simone
  2. “Black Boys on Mopeds” by SinĂ©ad O’Connor
  3. “We Belong” by Emily Curtis
  4. “Gimme Sympathy” by Metric
  5. “Sophia” by Laura Marling
  6. “Paper Forest (In the Afterglow of Rapture)” by Emmy the Great
  7. “Bein’ Green” by Andrew Bird
  8. “You’re Too Weird” by Fruit Bats