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.