Winnipegers have better tans than Portlanders. But fewer tattoos. Wherever I went, men and women in shorts and t-shirts were sporting the kind of deep skin color that would make Mary Lou, my friend and favorite dermatologist, cringe.
I asked about this, and was told “we don’t have much summer up here so we have to make the most of it while we can.” Well, we don’t have much summer in Portland either but untanned skin abounds anyway. We make up for the lack of color with tattoos I guess.
Natalia (a combination of Natalie and Leah) was our server at Deer + Almond, a foodie haven in the Ballatyne area of Winnipeg. Natalia is one-eighth Metis, so only seven-eighths of her glorious skin color can be attributed to summer-maximization. Metis are the people who originated when native Canadians and French fur traders got too cozy during those cold winter nights a couple of centuries or so ago. She has a remarkably upbeat attitude for someone whose mother had a mid-life crisis, met someone, ran away with him to BC after a 9 day romance, and stayed there even after that flame died, leaving Natalia – then age 16 – in Winnipeg to fend for herself. She recently graduated from high school, is trying to decide what to do, and for now is happy working in a restaurant. She gets along better with her mum much better now; they can talk by phone and share things. Distance helps. Her Metis heritage entitles her to a card that will pave the way to university scholarships, but she is not sure she wants to apply for the card. She wants to do it on her own, so she is saving her money in the meantime.
I said it seemed to me that Winnipeg was still a nice, clean city, like I remembered it. When I was 11 or 12 and lived there I took the bus all over the place and felt safe doing so. She paused and said, “well, Winnipeg is the murder capital of Canada.” Oops. “I feel safe around here because of all the restaurants and bars; there are people around even late at night. But 2 or 3 blocks from here it’s another story.”
OK, so Canada is not the crime-free paradise I had hoped. But at least you can sit around a coffee shop and conduct a conversation without worrying about whether someone is liberal or conservative.
I met Linda Caldwell at the Starbucks in Winnipeg – I meet a lot of interesting people at Starbucks and other coffee shops. Linda is an entrepreneur, and is starting a new business called mind-body fusion. She said after 25 years of teaching fitness, she journeyed into the world of Yoga and never looked back. “Funny,” she says “how you do something for many years and then decide to venture down a new path and enjoy the journey.” Linda told me she was saddened that the country had become so divisive. She was talking about Canada. “I have to be so careful what to say. Depending on what part of the political spectrum people are on, people will tune you out and want nothing to do with you. I hate that.”
Overhearing other conversations after Linda left, one person after the other was talking about extremism, whether of Trump, or liberals, or white nationalists, or antifas. I was hoping to get away from Trump and divisiveness and US politics on this Canada journey, but that’s all they seem to talk about here too. It was time to have a beer.
Cindy is another entrepreneur I met at another restaurant on Bannatyne Avenue. Cindy worked for a company that manufactured specialty equipment for high-end homes. The company lost interest in the project, and she wanted a challenge, so she bought that part of the company and now it is growing like a prairie wildfire. She also owns a co-working space that is so successful she’s been edged out to work with her laptop at a restaurant. She has traveled all over the world but returned to Winnipeg. Her family farms three hours away, and she enjoys seeing them and even helping with harvest. But she is not sure she wants to stay in Winnipeg. For now, her business interests are keeping her busy. With that, she was off to a golf tournament, and I bid so long to Ballatyne.
The Guess Who, of Winnipeg, MB. “So Long Bannatyne.” 1971.
Back to Natalia. Why the rolling pin? The restaurant was out of crushed ice, so she put block ice in a canvas bag and wailed away with a rolling pin. I attribute this resourcefulness to being someone who has been on her own since age 16. You gotta make do.