Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reflections on An Arctic Christmas

[Lorraine says:] Well, Christmas is now past, its -33 not including the windchill, John is off skiing, and it is a competition whether the snowmobiles tearing around or the ravens up their regular highjinks are the most entertaining activity outside the window right now.

Its actually been a busy Christmas. Other than Christmas day, when we had a quiet day relaxing at home, its been a non-stop whirlwind of socializing, Christmas parties and community events.

The whole town here definitely gets into the Christmas mood, mostly by socializing up a storm. The local Inuit seem to set the pace, setting up tons of community events, work get-togethers, and socializing opportunities. Many Qallunaat (non-Inuit) head south at Christmas, and those that are left also socialize up a storm. Pretty well every night for the past two weeks we have had a party or social occasion to go to, including some good music jams. We hosted a gang on Boxing Day for a big turkey feed, which was a lot of fun.

On Christmas Eve, we went to the community Christmas pagaent at the Anglican parish hall (which fills in for the famous Igloo-shaped cathedral which burned down a couple years ago and which is being rebuilt). Two young Inuit neighbours from our apartment building (boys, around 10) were with us and they were excited when they were given 'glow sticks' at the service. They were flashing them around outside afterwards as we were walking home, and John suggested they could use them to flag down a plane at the airport. They decided they could flag down a plane right there in the field where we were walking and that the four of us could then fly anywhere we wanted. I suggested we could go to the north pole, given it was Christmas Eve. No, they said excitedly, we could take the plane to Ottawa, which would be REALLY exciting! Ah, its all about perspective...

The Anglican Cathedral Before it Burned Down:

Last night we went to the local arena to watch the traditional Inuit games which go on each day from Christmas until a big community feast on New Years day. The arena can't be used for skating anymore (the permafrost beneath is melting, so the building is sinking and ice would be too heavy) but does get used for some community events like the games. A lot of the games last night involved dice (you'd roll to see if you got the right number to do the game in question), music and/or dancing. It was a lot of fun, though a little hard to join in if you couldn't understand the Inuktitut directions. One thing I found really surprising and refreshing was how many young people, particularly young Inuit men (dressed in hip hop gear) joined in enthusiastically in the traditional dancing. They there were jigging up a storm in their backwards ball caps, baggy pants and Tu Pac t-shirts.

One of the more disconcerting moments on the night came in the middle of all the Inuit accordian jigs and reels being played by the live band or from recordings. Suddenly I noticed that the tune Jack Tar was playing, which John's old band Swingbridge plays. I poked John and marvelled at how similar the arrangement was to Swingbridge's. Then Diggy Li, another Swingbridge favourite, came on and we realized they were playing Swingbridge as the background music for the Inuit traditional games. John had given a copy of Swingbridge's album to a local guy, who it turned out was taking care of the sound system for the games. Too funny.

It's 2:30 and dark outside. I need to get moving to get to the library before it closes. Tonight is Scrabble night for me with some fellow Scrabble fans, and I think John will go back to the traditional games.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's all uphill from here (or is that downhill)

[Says John] Well, we made it through the shortest day of the year--and it wasn't that bad, really. The sun rose at 9:22 or 9:23 (depending which website you get your info from) and set at 1:42 or 1:43, giving us 4 hours and 20 minutes of visible sun between those two events. If you add on the considerable dawn and dusk times, you get 6 hours and 53 minutes--almost seven hours of other than complete darkness. You know--livable, really.

One week from now, we'll have 8 minutes more of visible sun, two weeks from now, we'll have 28 minutes more, and one month from now we'll have one hour and 45 minutes more.

Six months from now, the sun will appear at 2:11 a.m., and disappear at 11:01 p.m. Add in dawn and dusk then and we will indeed have 24 hours of sunlight. Wowsers.

Of course, even without the sun, the darkness is not total --unless it's very overcast. We've got stars and moon (about 8 hours and 12 minutes of moonrise today, although a chunk of that overlaps with daylight), and most spectacularly, the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. I've seen them about five times now since we arrived (sometimes they're just not happening, sometimes it's too cloudy, and most often, I'm inside like a dullard, watching TV). A few nights ago it was pretty spectacular, one long green, flashing stream that started on the western horizon, streaked right overhead almost to the eastern horizon, and then swung left to disappear behind the hill on the north side of town. And it flashes out like a bolt of pure silk flapping in a strong wind. It always makes me think of that line from one of the later verses of Silent Night: "Glories stream from heaven afar." That's what it looks like; I wonder if that's the image the composer had in his mind.

I also went out skiing on the shortest day of the year (12th time out). It was -12 degrees and snowing lightly, which seemed positively balmy after my previous outing, when it was -37 (-47 with the wind chill). Amazingly, I was reasonably comfortable even on that coldest day, with a face mask, during my one-and-a-half hours outside. Was happy to come back in, though.

It struck me, when I was skiing on the shortest day of the year, that I just might be able to ski on the longest day of the year, too. That would be kind of fascinating, although, keen skier that I am, even for me that seems like maybe too long a season.

Christmas week looks like it's going to be a lot of fun, with games every night, carol singing, and we're invited to a solstice party, and at least one other music night. And we're having some of Lorraines work colleagues over for Christmas turkey.

I mailed a Christmas parcel to my Mom last Monday, and wonder of wonders, she got it on Wednesday. How's that for service? On the other hand, Mom mailed us a parcel on Dec. 4, and we still don't have it. The tracking record says it arrived at the Montreal station Dec. 12, and that's the last it was heard from. The post office guy here says a bunch of stuff just came in from Montreal, but they didn't have it sorted on Friday. He says there's a good chance it's there. Fingers crossed.

And here's wishing all of you a Merry Christmas season, however you like to keep it. Blessings to you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why My Friend Don Should Move to Iqaluit

[Lorraine says] Tonight after supper we went to Arctic Ventures to get a few groceries. I was very excited because a shipment of turkeys came in, they are decently priced, and we're cooking up a Christmas dinner for ourselves and a couple of (new) friends.

Arctic Ventures is a great general store where you can get everything from groceries to videos to towels to fur strips for sewing with. And every time I go there I think of my friend Don.

Don is one of the many friends who I miss a lot. He is (among other fabulous things) an opera nut and a walking opera encyclopedia. The kind of guy who you can ask, "Did Maria Callas really eat tape worms to become a more famous, skinnier diva?" or "ok, what's REALLY happening with all that crazy sh*t in the Wagner Ring operas anyway." And he knows. He even took me to one of the Wagner Ring cycles and provided me with a ten page written commentary ahead of time so that I would know EXACTLY what was going on. (Thanks Don).

And I think Don would LOVE Arctic Ventures. Ventures pumps out crazy, loud opera music at rock concert sound levels, at the front door. It is a little disconcerting to come walking in from a cold, arctic night into the BIG OPERA ZONE. I suppose it is to discourage teenagers from loitering but I keep having visions of middle-aged opera fans hanging out in the lobby at Ventures and having to be chased home.

Here is someone else's youtube clip of what it is like to walk into Ventures' opera zone (and by the way, ignore their obnoxious comments):

And to Don and so many other good friends who I keep thinking of when little everyday things trigger memories: we miss you lots and hope you're having a wonderful Christmas season.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas Blues

[John says] This will be the first Christmas in my entire 54-year life that I have not spent with my mother--and brother. And the first Christmas in the lives of my sons, Matt, Tom and Pete, that I will not been with them, either. In principle I profess to be okay with this. My sons are at that age when they are separating from their birth family and forging their own identities and lives as adult individuals, so in some ways it's probably good that we be apart for a while. In the case of my mother, though, well, there's no excuse for not being with her for Christmas, is there. But she's supportive of us being up here, and makes the strong argument that it would make absolutely no economic sense to come back south so soon after getting here. The return flight alone from Iqaluit to Ottawa is about $1,700, which is kind of ridiculous when you compare it to prices for other flights.

All well and good, but I find myself getting weepy over all those sentimental Christmas movies that show up on TV at this time of year. Tonight it was "It's A Wonderful Life," which really is a delightful film. When Jimmy Stewart came running back into the house and into the arms of his children after his encounter with Clarence the Christmas angel convinced him he did want to live, well I started blubbering like a baby.

And last week, which admittedly was harder because Lorraine was away in Vancouver, I actually burst into tears watching Ernest Saves Christmas. I mean, ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS, for heaven's sake--an absolutely goofy (but goodhearted) comedy. The thing is, it was one of my sons' favourite Christmas movies for a stretch of years when they were kids, and we watched it together many, many times. So all those memories came flooding back.

Oh well, someone once told me we should all cry at least once a day, to release stress, to get rid of toxins in the body, and to wash out our eyes. So there's a start for me. (Reminds me of that chorus from the country and western song by I don't remember who: "Every night I sleep just like a baby. I wake up every hour and cry."

Some of this feeling, I imagine, is also empathy with a new and very fine friend up here who, two weekends ago, lost both her husband and father within days of one another. That's brutal. Definitely makes you think about mortality, and the importance of living and appreciating each day to the full.

On the upside, we're settling nicely into our apartment, and it already feels like home to me. And we're finding out just how conveniently situated it is. A maximum of ten minutes walk to anywhere, from skiing, to shopping, post office, library, church, restaurants, Lorraine's work. Maybe 15 minutes to the hospital, although you could probably do it in 12.

And I've been out skiing eight times already too (although I have friends in southern Ontario who tell me they've already surpassed that this year. It's snowy down there, I guess). When I get up on the ridge northwest of town, looking down on the airport and over the bay, the view is wonderful. The wind can be brutally cold on your face though and the worst is yet to come. My biggest problem, though, is sweating too much (no surprise to those who know me). If I'm out for much more than an hour, I start getting chilled from dampness. That would be a real problem on a multi-day expedition (or even an all-day expedition, for that matter).

We're only a week away from the shortest day of the year, however, and then, thank goodness, it will start getting lighter. And then, well you know, summer's just a matter of months away.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Life Stripped Back to the Essentials

[Lorraine says] Today I got back from my trip to Vancouver, and I'm so happy to be "home."

I'm glad to see John (of course), but I'm also really glad to be back to the quieter rhythms of Iqaluit, and yes, even glad to be back in those fierce howling arctic winds happening right now. No flashing billboards. No video advertisements in bathroom stalls in restaurants. No 40 foot neon signs.

Going to downtown Vancouver, directly from Iqaluit, was a sensory shock, to put it mildly. To exacerbate the situation, my meetings were at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, a five star downtown hotel with stores like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany's in the lobby, and long queues of BMW's and Lexuses waiting for the parking valets. The pace and the dripping, ostentatious displays of wealth, and the weird high-end luxury vibe (along with the sensation of being surrounded by a million downtown department stores) was jarring. (OK, it was a little fun and fascinating, like when I realized the hotel had "professional" golden lab retrievers, complete with little Fairmont jackets, waiting at the concierge desk in case you wanted to walk a dog. And I loved spending an afternoon drifting around the market stalls at Granville Island with my friend Elizabeth. And not only could I get a latte, but the lattes were excellent plus the barristas knew how to pour them so that the espresso made patterns like snowmen or trees in the milk froth. Cool.). But I missed the "stripped back" simplicity of life of Iqaluit.

It made me realize that what has always attracted me to the north (and to deserts, for instance) is the stark, basic simplicity that makes you see forms and colour at their most basic and most beautiful. And that, in turn, liberates me psychologically to drill down to focussing on what really matters to me. (Maybe that's my prairie roots showing through ....)

I'm glad to be home.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Dreaming of Worms

(Lorraine says): So, I'm sitting in the Ottawa airport, waiting for a flight to Vancouver (where I'm going for work meetings) and dreaming of worms. More specifically, how to convince FirstAir or Canadian North to let me bring worms back with me when I return to Iqaluit (or later). Not just any worms - I want some composting worms.

Would they fly as "pets"? Or special cargo? If I sneak them into a suitcase, they'll freeze in cargo. And what if they escaped - would it be the basis for a northern thriller ("Worms on a Plane")? A little tamer than other wriggly options, I guess.

The problem is that there is next to no garbage diversion in Iqaluit. Everything goes into the landfill. Living with John the Eco-Nazi (I mean that in the kindest way) has made me hyper aware of where all our waste goes. And it just seems so WRONG to put all that good organic matter and those tin cans and newspapers and cardboard into the garbage pail. So, I've been plotting about how to, at least, get some composting worms. Diligent, odourless, ravenous for our banana peels - what could be better? The only question is how to get them to Iqaluit....

Saturday, December 1, 2007

First ski of the season

[Says John] Sometimes one little thing blips across the screen of your consciousness to remind you that you’re in a very different reality. When I unpacked one of our boxes in our new apartment this week, a dried up poplar leaf fell out onto the carpet. A leaf from back home on the Little Bob Channel in Bobcaygeon. I picked it up and turned it in my hand, a mottled yellow-brown (the leaf, not my hand) and it struck me that there are no leaves up here. Wow. Who knows how long till I see another one?

Further unpacking revealed a small print of a turtle that Lorraine had brought with her. I looked at it and thought: No turtles either. Very different than life on the Little Bob.

But there are things I like too. I went for my first cross-country ski of the year today (Dec. 1) and it was great. A two-block walk to the beach, then skied along a snowmobile path around the end of the bay, probably about six km out and back. On the far side of the bay, near the big tanks that hold all the fuel oil for the town, I could hear the unearthly howling of what sounded like hundreds of dogs. Apparently most of the sled dogs in town are kept tied up (out of reach of one another) out at this far end of town. Must be quite a sight. I would have had to go way out round the end of the fenced in fuel tanks to get to them, so I didn't bother this time. Maybe next time.

On the way back, though, I passed seven or eight sled dogs staked out at the edge of the beach by themselves--again, out of reach of one another. I almost ran over them before I saw them, as they were lying quietly curled up against the wind, with their noses tucked under their tails.

What else did I see? Fox tracks. Mouse or lemming tracks. Lots of ravens, of course. A big jet plane that came in low right above me on its landing approach (the runway lines up with the head of the bay).

I also saw one lone snowmobiler cross the bay, pulling a komatik behind him, and picking his way slowly amongst the big chunks of ice that get thrown up by the tidal action. I guess that means the ice is safe now (although I’m not ready to go out on it yet--don’t worry Mom). It was only about 10 days ago that there was a ship in the harbour, unloading fuel oil--the latest they’ve ever had one here apparently.

It was a great ski, even though the temperature was about minus 20 (minus 30 with the wind chill). But it’s a dry cold, and all you have to do is dress for it. I’m definitely going out tomorrow again, too. Maybe I will get in 100 outings this year. It's funny how that works for me. Before I went out, I was feeling disgruntled and a bit depressed about being up here, so far from family, old friends (like my SwingBridge bandmates), and trees and other familiar things. But after skiing, I glowed with happiness the rest of the day.

The other thing I like about the winter (so far) is NO SLUSH, just crisp snow, I’m hopping around in my crepe-soled, fleece-lined moccasins, just as comfy and cozy as can be. I love that; it's like going out in your slippers.

All for now. I'll let Lorraine tell you how she kicked butt at Scrabble tonight with a couple of our new acquaintances; I think I can say, friends.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Changing Our View

[Lorraine says:] Yeaaahhhh! We FINALLY have housing. We were assigned a unit, had a chance to take a look at it today, and did all the paperwork. By afternoon, the moving company had picked up all our stuff that had been sitting in airport cargo for the past 3 1/2 weeks, and delivered it to the new pad.

So, here is the view we are leaving. This was our view for almost a month, looking northeast from the Frobisher Inn. We'll be able to see the same view from our apartment, but from a different angle. We got an apartment in Paunna Place, which is a three storey 14-unit apt building right downtown next to the post office. (We'll post more info later). It is a perfect location: 3 blocks to work, and 2 blocks from the Northern Store, making it perfect for walking even in -30 below.

Which, by the way, it was today: -31 with the windchill. Luckily, none of our stuff seemed to freeze too hard while being held in cargo, so everything seems in pretty good shape (other than a few small damages). The first thing we unpacked were the boxes of all those amazing woolen things that Ella made us, and the bags and bags and bags of dehydrated food she made for us. Tomorrow night, for the first time in about 2 months, we'll be able to have a proper sit down supper we've cooked ourselves....

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Four Tidbits

Its Tuesday night, John's off at choir, and the thermometer is dropping. I'm holed up in the hotel room, catching up on emails, etc. Here's four news / info tidbits about Iqaluit and our adjustment to life here.

1. BABY ITS COLD OUTSIDE: The temperature is dropping. Since we've been here, the weather has been pretty decent (-10 to -15 and dry, except for the small blizzard last weekend), but I think we're heading into DA BIG FREEZE. Time to haul out the heavy duty parkas. I got myself a "Pangnirtung hat" ("when in Rome ...") which is proving very effective at keeping my noggin toasty warm. Everyone wears them here. Here's mine:

2. OUR SHIP HAS COME IN! Wow, just when Frobisher Bay appeared to be frozen in for the winter, lo and behold a big cargo ship shows up just outside the ice range, way out in the bay. (By the way, did you know we have the 2nd highest tides in the world here after Bay of Fundy? 30 ft+ tides). Apparently its a fuel ship. Which is pretty critical cargo here -- we LIVE off oil here, baby. Everything runs off the expensive fuel oil imported from the south. I don't even want the THINK about recalculating my carbon footprint right now. I have a horrible feeling that banana I ate this morning, for instance, is probably good for 1/4 tonne of oil in shipping in and of itself! (But get THIS: in Greenland, next door, they are growing their own bananas, in geothermal heated greenhouses. Plus alot of their other produce. We have some serious catching up to do).

3. SLOW DOWN, DON'T MOVE SO FAST! One of my colleagues just returned from two weeks in "the south" (Ottawa) and was marvelling at how fast and aggressive the pace was compared to the laid back pace here. (I know, don't laugh, OTTAWA of all places ... not formerly my idea of a fast paced town, as much as I love Ottawa). As an example of the pace of life: the town is considering lowering the speed limits. There is a stretch of road here (on the way to Apex) where, for about 200 metres, you can travel 65 km/hr. The consensus is that is WAY too fast. So they want to lower the speed to 40 km/hr, just like everywhere else in town. And of course, there are no freeways or highways going out of town... just those crazy 40km/hr dirt roads (plus our one dandy paved road which is more pothole strings than pavement).

4. WAITING FOR THE HOUSING GODS: Still no housing. We were offered a unit in Iqaluit's only highrise (an 8 storey building, formerly American army facility, appropriately officially named, "The Eight Storey Building"). We had to turn it down for a couple reasons (won't get into them here). So we still await the benevolence of the housing gods, whose complicated decision making process here is akin to a cross between the movie Brazil and the NHL draft pick process. We've been living in the hotel now for 20 days, so we are going a little stir crazy (John especially, who has to work out of the hotel room every day). I really really really really hope that we'll get a place at the end of the week or beginning of next. Cross your fingers and toes for us ...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thanks to people willing to share their lives

[Says John] My turn. We're sitting here listening to WWOZ community radio from New Orleans. That's one of the greatest things about the internet. Who ever thought I'd be able to listen to N'Awlins from Iqaluit--or anywhere in the world, for that matter. And I have to say, this is my favourite radio station ever (well, who knows about ever, but for right now, anyway). New Orleans music of all kinds and every age, and mostly musicians I've only barely heard of before. And all the DJs, who are volunteers, seem to be quite knowledgable about one aspect or another of the music of their very musical town. Not to mention, no commercials. I highly recommend it.

Also had a couple of wonderful interviews this week for the book, with a young Inuk man who had just taken up drum dancing, and with an only slightly less young Inuk woman who is a throat singer. Her story was fascinating, and it always seems like a wonderful priviledge to me when my chosen work allows me to connect with such interesting people, and when they allow me a peek into the richness of their lives. For this I am very thankful.

On the other hand, I still have to turn it all into a book, and right now it feels like I'm spinning my wheels--and avoiding the hard stuff of writing. Still, after nearly 30 years of doing this, I know that's standard procedure for me. I'll never operate any differently, so I might as well stop beating myself up about it. Except that beating myself up is also part of the process.

I should take a leaf from Errol's song and become a Water Truck Driver, Errol being he of the Taxi Driver song that Lorraine posted a few days back. I just picked up his CD (called Songs From The Top of The World) at the craft sale. It's great, full of funny songs about life up here whose gentle humour even I get after only 2 1/2 weeks being in Iqaluit.

Still waiting for an apartment, where we can unpack our stuff, and cook our own food, and not have to eat fried stuff morning, noon and night. And where Lorraine can get her 10 hours of sleep in one room while I have another in which to play the ukulele. Nuff said; signing off now.

Saturday Night Blizzard Blues

Its Saturday night, and we're holed up in our hotel room (a.k.a. "Home", uugggh) with a (light) blizzard going on outside. Its snowing, with winds gusting up to 70 km/hr. Very mesmerizing to look at out the window, but I wouldn't want to be out there.

Blizzard = no planes = no Saturday Globe and Mail until at least Monday, sigh. As my family can verify, I am a bit neurotic about my Saturday G&M. My idea of an ideal weekend activity is sleeping in until 9 am, then going off to get the G&M, and reading the paper all morning slloooooowwwwlllyy over breakfast. With NO talking. Only me and the paper and my big cup of coffee, preferably a latte. My family considers this to be terribly anti-social behaviour, and the waste of a good Saturday morning, and rolls their eyes at my weekly efforts to live this dream. I had John mostly used to this routine by the time we left Bobcaygeon (it was a matter of negotiation: my Saturday morning paper in exchange for whatever he wanted to do the rest of the day.)

And now, horrors, the Saturday G&M does not end up on the shelves in Iqaluit until Sunday afternoon. Fine, I thought, I`ll just create a new routine: an untouchable Sunday afternoon, curled up with the paper and coffee.

And now the dastardly blizzard has foiled my precious paper plans. No planes could fly in from the south with cargo today because of the blizzard (worse south of us, I understand), which means no Saturday G&M until at least Monday afternoon. And if the blizzard keeps up, well, I`ll be reading my Saturday news half a week late...

On the positive side, Saturday morning was freed up to go to the local annual arts and crafts sale. Holy smokes, it was amazing. Tons of beautiful sealskin and caribou coats, mitts, boots; handknit `Pang` hats (I`ll post a picture of mine sometime), bannock, parkas, ulus (Inuit knives), hundreds of carvings from the beautiful miniture ivory and bone ones to the big soap ones; and even a couple full sized 16-ft komatiks (traditional Inuit sleds pulled behind dogs or skidoos). It was pretty overwhelming.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Music Music Music

[Lorraine says]: Its Tuesday night and John is off to yet ANOTHER music practice (this time with a community choral group). I promised him I would load up a short (soundless) video from his musical gig on Sunday night with the Road to Nowhere Band. I tried to load it up, honest, but I think this server is just too slow. I can attest to the fact that yes, indeed, he did play his heart out on Sunday night. So you`ll just have to use your imaginations: picture a (fake plant filled) arctic oasis of a coffee shop, with a band rocking the house. Now imagine John: He would be the one in the back strumming his heart out on the ukulele, playing My Creole Belle, and thanking the uke gods that he found a band that knows that blues legend Taj Mahal uses ukes to back his band. Who woulda thunk that we'd find Taj Mahal uke blues fans in the ARCTIC. Life is weird and wonderful.

I really liked the Road to Nowhere band, and their music. Here's a sample of one of their tunes put to a video showing Iqaluit. This is video double duty for you blog readers: you get to hear the band that John is now playing with PLUS see a little of what Iqaluit is like. The song was written by Errol, one of the band members in the Road to Nowhere. In true calypso form, its also social commentary: in this case, about the taxi thing in Iqaluit. You call a cab, and then often get taken all over town picking up and dropping off other people before you get to your final destination. So here is a taste of Iqaluit, its wild and wooly taxi drives, and the Road to Nowhere Band... Enjoy!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Musical delights

[John writes] We had a very musical day yesterday. In the morning I sang in the community choir at the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Air Cadets hall. This seemed crazy to me, as I'd only had the briefest of glances at the music at a practice the week before, but I think they mostly wanted me there to fill out the bulk in the choir, make us look bigger than we are (shades of lip-singing in Grade 3).

There were only two pieces: Amazing Grace in Inuktitut, where I handled the melody okay but probably massacred the words, and a setting of In Flander's Fields where the time signature seemed to change every couple of bars. Besides which, I had to look on at someone else's music, and it was all too small for me to see. Ah, age.

I was conveniently placed between a tenor and a bass, so I just went with whichever melody line my ear was picking up at any given time, and practiced the tried and true technique of beginning each word quietly, then sliding into pitch before increasing the volume. Choir sounded good, though, no thanks to me. At least I didn't wreck it.

It was a particularly moving service, especially when we recalled the young Mountie killed in the line of duty near here (at Kimmirut) at the beginning of the week. So young, only 20 years old, to be out on duty all by himself, so far from his home in Brockville, Ont.--and among people whose language and culture are so different from his.

Then in the evening, it was off to the Fantasy Palace (no, it's not a strip club, despite the name, but a very nice little cafe), where we had a great evening of music sponsored by the local Baha'i community who were celebrating the 190th anniversary of their founder, Baha'u'llah (sort of like Christmas).

We had throat singing by two Inuit women, West African drumming by a local drum circle, an excellent jazz duo of Jamal Shirley on guitar and vocals, and Rob Aube on bass, and then my ukulele debut, playing with local favourites, the Road to Nowhere Band. I'm counting on Lorraine to attach (later) a very short and soundless video clip just to prove I was there (hiding in the back as is my wont). Lorraine said the ukulele blended in nicely with the band, but then she had to say that, didn't she.

Anyway, I'm in (delightedly so), and it's a fine band, led by Errol Fletcher, originally from Jamaica, who also writes and sings some great calypso tunes that offer hilarious social commentary on life in Iqaluit, and Heather Daley, an excellent fiddler, singer, and local music event organizer. The other two members are the aforementioned Rob Aube (electric stand up bass), and guitarist/singer Lorne Levy. Nice folks all, and durn good musicians to boot, which once again puts me in a learning position, my favourite place to be.

Our short set included See You In My Dreams and Beaumont Rag, two numbers we do in SwingBridge, and Mississippi John Hurt's classic, My Creole Belle, done in the style of Taj Mahal's Hula Blues Band (which was already one of my favourite songs on uke, and Errol has the voice to sing it).

And speaking of SwingBridge, the sound man (yeah, the event had a sound man) featured the SwingBridge cd during the breaks. Then back to Errol's for a few more hours of visiting and jamming (if only Lorraine hadn't packed her melodica away in the stuff to be shipped), before a short but cold walk home in the wee small hours.

Fascinating community, this. I'm glad to be here. Wish we had an apartment though. This hotel food is an artery-clogging killer; can't take much more of it. On the up side, my blood sugars seem to be doing better--all the walking, I imagine.

Cheers, John

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Oh yeah, and muktuk

[Lorraine says]: In my list of unique aspects of working here I forgot a fun one: Muktuk. I really loved the accesss to fresh (raw) country food when I was here in 2001, and it is great to discover it all over again. Caribou, char, whale, seal, its all here baby.

Anyway, on Friday, at the end of the day at 4 pm, it was office snack time. And rather than donuts etc (no Tim Hortons up here, boo hoo), we had a nice spread of fresh game. Including my favourite: muktuk (whale meat, in this case, raw narwhale and beluga). You eat it raw, in small pieces (in my cases) and just put it in the back of your mouth and chew and chew and chew. You keep getting these shots of oil in your mouth. OK, I know that sounds disgusting, but honest, it is good. There was also nice dried char. Timmies fans, eat your heart out.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Getting to know a unique capital city

[Lorraine says:] Its a lazy weekend. John has managed to wiggle his way into all kinds of music stuff already, had a band practice today and has a gig tomorrow (I’ll let him post the details).

We are still getting to know our new hometown. I thought I’d post a list of some of the unique aspects of life here in Iqaluit. (OK, I now know there are other Nunavummiut [Nunavut residents] who are reading our blog, and this is old hat to you guys, but to us it is still intriguing and fun...)

1. No-one uses street names. Everything is identified by building number. And the numbers are not necessarily in logical order according to where they are located – they are numbered according to the approximate time they were constructed. So when you use the local transit system [the taxis, see below], you say, “I’m at 1619 and I need to go to 1107”, for instance, to get from a house to work.

2. The Road to Nowhere: There are names on the streets, even though no-one uses them. The best name has got to be The Road to Nowhere. Guess where IT leads? (like all roads in town, it eventually just peters out. There are no roads that go to other communities).

3. Public transit = taxis: There are no buses or public transit. If you can’t walk and don’t have a vehicle, you use the taxis, which have a flat rate ($6) for each person, no matter where you go. It is truly amazing to see these kamikaze drivers hurtling around these icy arctic roads in old cars that (for the most part) look ready to fall apart any minutes. We are dedicated to walking, though, and are trying to not use taxis.

4. This town is a Suzuki commercial: Some people do drive, and there are way more trucks and cars than when I was here in 2001. The favourite vehicle seems to be Suzuki Trackers or other little Suzuki SUV’s. John and I had a Suzuki Tracker up until two years ago and we LOVED it. Here, the roads are polluted with them. We will NOT get one though [she keeps saying to herself, reminding herself of the commitment to walk everywhere].

5. Culturally appropriate signs: This is a trilingual town, and you hear a mix of English, French and Inuktitut everywhere. I’m surprised at how much all three languages get used in my workplace (but English is still the dominant working language). It’s great to see how everyday items, like signs, however, have a unique Nunavut / Inuit cultural twist. For instance, stop signs and bathroom signs, including bathroom signs showing women wearing amautiks [see below]:

6. Culturally and climate appropriate clothes: OK, there are a LOT of gorgeous traditional parkas and coats and winter wear here. (More on that another day.). One of my favourite, though, is the amautiks that you see women wearing, with babies poking their heads out the back (or hunkered down staying warm if they chose). Here is an example of an amautik:

7. Iqaluit has its own superhero: I’m not pulling your leg: there really is someone who thinks he is (and acts like) a benevolent superhero. “Polarman” wears a mask and toque and cape, and goes around doing good deeds like shovelling snow. Tonight we were at a coffee house and he miraculously showed up right at the end to help pack up chairs and tables. Now how many capital cities can claim a THAT....

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A slight nip in the air

[C'est Jean qui parle] (in French because I'm listening to Les Chauds Lapins sing Ces Petites Choses. Very nice.)
Well, we've had our first taste of winter--just a little taste, though. The other morning the temperature was down to -19 degrees Celsius, with 55 km/hr winds bringing the wind chill to a -35 equivalent. And our hotel is up on a very windswept hill, making the first five minutes of the walk to the office (Lorraine's office, but I'm walking with her every day to make sure I get some fresh air and exercise before hunkering down in the hotel room to write) quite a challenge indeed.
The good news is that our MEC-purchased clothes worked fine, and we weren't even wearing the toughest of our cold-weather gear. I could see where it wouldn't take long for exposed skin to get frost bit, though.
Once we got away from the worst of the wind, my forehead and nose did recover. Lorraine was the smart one; she had a neck warmer she could pull up over her face. But of course, the scary thought is that it apparently will get a lot worse from here on in, till about March or April. Hope we get enough snow for skiing soon.
Today, though, it's a balmy -7, with -5 in the outlook for tomorrow. Almost feels like shorts and t-shirt weather to us now.
Meanwhile, I'm working on hooking up with musical opps, and it's looking pretty good. I'll be sitting in on a practice this Saturday afternoon with an Iqaluit band called The Road to Nowhere (named after the local road of the same apt name, since that's where it goes). They suggested trying Pennies from Heaven, I'll See You in My Dreams, and Taj Mahal's version of My Creole Belle, which suits me just fine.
I also went out last night to the high school next door to the hotel to try out for the local community choir. I didn't even have to try out, just "get over there and join the tenors," they told me. Which was a good thing, since if they had auditioned me, I would have been tossed out on my tin ear. I'm definitely in over my head, but that's okay, it means I'm learning a lot, and I'll just sing very quietly until, by Jove, I think I've got it.
Next stop will be the Community Music Ensemble on Thursday evening.
I suspect I was wrong about the wolf tracks, by the way--the ones I claimed in my first post from Iqaluit. There are, after all, a few big, wolf-like dogs running around loose, and it was probably one of those who left the tracks on the hill. Okay, so I got ahead of myself. Can't blame a guy for dreaming.
Meanwhile, we've also discovered the pretty good library in town, and good Chinese food at the Navigator Hotel (The Nav, to you), Lorraine's been to a meeting of the local bar association, and as noted, everyone is open and friendly. One potentially disturbing thing: it's very easy to meet fellow southerners, but so far it's proving a bit more difficult to connect with local Inuit people. Feels a bit like two solitudes, or a passage to India, or something along those lines. Hope I'm proved wrong on that first impression. Maybe I'm just too shy.
People here are also pretty shook up about the young RCMP officer who was shot and killed in the nearby (relatively speaking, of course) community of Kimmirut. Only 20 years old. I don't know what to say about it myself at this point, other than to acknowledge that it's very sad, for all concerned.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Settling In

[Lorraine says] Its a lazy Sunday morning, and we are lounging in our hotel room listening to a Charles Trenet special on the local franco-Nunavut station. John is a Trenet fanatic, and met one of my new work colleagues, Andre, who hosts a French radio show on this station. When they got to gushing about Trenet (a French chansonnieur who wrote and sang songs --- like La Mer which became Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea -- Andre promised to devote a couple hours of his program to Trenet. Which is what it is like here: everyone seems to volunteer for all kinds of community stuff (including lots of music stuff, which is fantastic), and everyone has been bending over backwards to make us feel welcome. Its so nice.

Likewise, my first day at work was extraordinarily warm and welcoming. There are a few people I remember from when I was here in 2001 for a couple months, but many new faces. I have already found out I have been appointed to a federal-provincial-territorial negotiating table which will mean a couple trips south a year, which is good (for knowing that I`ll be able to pick up stuff in the south occasionally, like fresh fruits, veg etc).

We have had our first sticker shock grocery shopping. $7 for a bag of apples, $10 for a small bottle of shampoo, green peppers for $4 each, etc. I am VERY grateful for my industrious mother`s efforts to dry all kinds of vegetables for us before we came up. Thanks Ella!

We are still living in the hotel, and will be for days or possibly weeks yet while we wait for suitable housing to come available. Its a long story, but getting housing here is a bit of a surrealist experience. Whether you get housing and what you get seems to depend on some kind of alignment of cosmic forces, bureaucratic vaguaries, and the convergence of mysterious forces. Meanwhile, all of our household goods are sitting freezing in a metal container at the airport (having arrived six weeks ahead of schedule, and now ready to be delivered once we have housing).

Thursday, November 1, 2007

We've Made It To Iqaluit

LORRAINE SAYS: Well, we're here, luggage and sanity (mostly) intact. The last couple days in southern Ontario were a blur of visiting and final frantic errands, and final good-byes (for now....). So, here is Iqaluit.

We had to get up at 3 am, to get our stuff to the airport for an early check-in at 5 am, for our 7 am flight. We had so much luggage (because we had to bring bedding, pans, and everything we need for the first month or two) so we had to be at the airport early. All 17 pieces of our luggage miraculously arrived with us, despite a really tight connection in Ottawa, so we're relieved.

Lorraine's new boss (and another colleague who she'll be working with) met us at the airport, which was really nice.

And now a new and great adventure begins.

There is snow on the ground, and John is off to explore the skiing prospects already.

JOHN SAYS: And hey. I'm back from my first exploration expedition. I climbed to the top of the highish hill that backs the town right behind the Frobisher Inn. I would say it's a bit like climbing the ski hill at Sir Sam's.
It's a beautiful day: bluebird sky, a little bit of snow on the ground, and already quite wind blown so that there are lots of bare rocks on the hills, with drifts of snow up to a foot or more deep between them. Probably about minus 5 right now, with a surprisingly warm sun, but a cold wind when you get to the top of the hill. Of course, even though it's the Arctic, being the portly fellow I am, I was sweating profusely by the time I got to the top of the hill.
The view across the town and then across Frobisher Bay to the higher hills on the far side is spectacular. The picture does not do it justice. There were a couple of small ships out in the bay, which is still not frozen.
A couple of ravens were flying around me as I climbed the hill, chasing one another, and rolling and tumbling in the eddies of wind coming off the top of the hill. Swooping down to skim the ground, then zipping up again to catch the wind and soar up high. these ravens are huge, and magnificent flyers. Wish I could join them. Maybe I'll get to experience the human equivalent when there's enough snow to ski.
Saw fox and raven tracks in the snow all over the hill, and a couple of sets of tracks that I'm going to assume were wolf tracks, since I believe the huskies never get to run free.
At six thousand, plus, population, Iqaluit isn't such a big place, of course, but it feels big, with lots of government buildings, hospital, a few big hotels, CBC, mining companies, etc. I think I'm going to like it here.
And by the way, the sun came up at about 7:30 and won't go down till about 5, so not all that different than back home. And Lorraine's boss already told us even in december you still get about three hours of sunlight and another four or five of twilight, which is much more than I ever got from the bowels of Peterborough Square, even at the best of times.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Top Five Questions & Answers About Iqaluit

When we tell people we are moving to Iqaluit (and usually after getting stunned or puzzled looks), people begin to ask us questions about Iqaluit. Here are the five most common questions we are getting, and our answers.

Where is Iqaluit? In the territory of Nunavut, in Canada's eastern arctic. Iqaluit is on Baffin Island, which is parallel to Greenland. Its about a 3 1/4 hour flight northeast of Ottawa.

How big is it? About 6500 people, approximately 60% of whom are Inuit and 40% non-Inuit.

Can I drive there? We get asked this question a lot. No, you can't drive there. There is no road or winter ice road. You have to fly in. Every summer, community supplies come in by ship (on the "sealift") from Montreal.

Is there 24 hour darkness there in winter? It doesn't get down to 0 hours of sunlight, but does get down to an hour or so at winter soltice. But in addition to the time when the sun is over the horizon, there is usually a lengthy dawn and dusk. And by late March, it back up to almost 12 hours of sunlight again, because the sunlight changes happen rapidly compared to southern Canada.

Why on earth are you going there? Lorraine has worked and travelled quite a bit in northern Canada, and loves the north. She spent two months in Iqaluit in the winter of 2001, and fell in love with the place, and has always wanted to go back. Lorraine took the opportunity for an exciting new job in Iqaluit, and (fortunately) John was up for the adventure. We are really excited about going (especially now that most of the packing and moving stuff is done).

John's last musical gig (for now)

After the movers left, we headed out for Peterborough, where John's band Swingbridge was playing a musical gig. (It was a fundraiser for Ukuleles for Peace). Washboard Hank was there, and so was Mathias Kom, a great uke player who is raising $ for a cool program (which we support) called Ukuleles for Peace. UFP brings together Israeli Jewish and Palestinian kids in a high conflict zone, to learn to play ukuleles and eventually perform together (thus also bringing their families together). Its very grassroots and low key, but after many years of working on cross-cultural issues I (Lorraine) really believe that building relationships at the most grass roots levels are critical for social change and addressing racism and violence.

ANYWAY, political rants aside, the musical gig was fun, and Mathias raised a bunch of bucks for UFP.

It was a little bittersweet for us, though, as it is John's last gig with his band, Swingbridge, for at least a few years. You can find info on Swingbridge on their site on Myspace:

Roots Music / Swing / Folk

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Movers Clean Us Out

Well, the movers were here yesterday and today, packing up and emptying out the house. (This is Jay the Mover waving goodbye, after packing up the last of our stuff).

Yesterday they shipped off the stuff going by air freight to Nunavut (we are too late for the annual sealift this year, which leaves Montreal in early September, and there are no roads including ice roads, so everything has to go up by air).

Tonight John's band has its last gig in Peterborough, at a Ukuleles for Peace fundraiser. (Long story). So this is it, we're leaving Birdland (we'll come back for a bit more cleaning up, but basically the house is packed up now). Yikes. We'll be in limbo for a while, because we don't have confirmed housing yet, so we're staying with family and friends for a week in Ontario, and then we'll be at the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit for a while until we get housing.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Magical Kingdom We Are Leaving

John calls Bobcaygeon and the Kawarthas The Magical Kingdom (at least, he did in his final good-bye column for the Peterborough Examiner). It certainly is a beautiful place, and all around us, as we pack up the house, the fall colours are blazing. We are going to miss this place a lot (and John's boys Matt, Thomas and Pete will miss it, too). Here are some pictures of the Bobcaygeon home, on the Little Bob River, which are are leaving for a while...

The Great Pack Up

So, right now we are in the middle of absolute chaos. The movers are coming in a day and a half (earlier than originally scheduled, darn and blast them!) and the house has been turned upside down with our desperate attempts to be ready for them. We may or may not retain our sanity by the time they arrive.

So, here's the question of the day: why are men and women so different at packing? Or is it just us? I (Lorraine) am the purger and uber-organizer. John is the packrat who has to spend a lot of quality time have sentimental journeys with every scrap of paper and what-not from his past. I roll out of bed in the morning and begin to update my spectacularly organized lists of things to do. John rolls out of bed, and begins to think immediately about how to spend some quality time with his ukuleles before the poor things have to endure the trek north. We are both working hard on our negotiating skills, and so far, neither of us has inflicted bodily harm on the other as a result of our very different styles. Moving is a real test of a relationship!