Sunday, June 13, 2010

London Town Part II

I have a whole lot more to write about Yellowknife, but I didn't have much luck sleeping through the day today and I am incredibly tired. As you might imagine, I am not feeling terribly inspired at the moment. I still have quite a few photos of my London trip to post, so I thought I would take care of that today.

This is a view of the Thames looking west, taken from the London Eye. The bridge in the foreground is Lambeth Bridge where the Queen's Walk promenade starts on the South Bank.

I hadn't realized before just how close everything is in the centre of London. Buckingham Palace is just a five minute walk from the River Thames and Westminster Palace. Stretching before it is the twenty three hectare St. James Park.

On the lawn in Parliament Square, a group of squatters had set up a camp, Freedom Village. These two fellas insisted I take their photo. The one of the left was clearly homeless, but we weren't so sure about the other guy. He looked quite snazzy done up in his suit, but a little later on we saw him wandering in circles talking to himself.

Of course, being tourists we had to get a photo in a phone booth. I wonder if they all smell like urine?

I got some terrific shots of the animals in St. James Park. There is quite a wide range of birds and other animals. Around each of the lakes in the park, there is an perimeter of ten metres or so that is reserved solely for the wildlife.

St. James park was, by far, my favorite part of my visit to London. The beautiful gardens and the diverse array of wildlife made it a wonderful treat, even on grey day.

This was the view of Buckingham Palace from inside the park.

This is one of eighty-nine individual plaques that mark the way along the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk. The eleven kilometre walking trail passes through St. James Park and Kensington Gardens.

Looking back towards the the Thames from the far side of the park.

Buckingham Palace was our last stop for the day. It was less exciting than I had imagined it to be.

It is no longer possible to get up close and personal with the palace guards. Apparently, two or three years ago, one of the famously unflappable soldiers kicked an annoying tourist in the shin. Undoubtedly she deserved it, but after the incident the guards were moved inside the palace gates.

That's it for London. Thank goodness, I was starting to wonder if I would ever get these photos posted. I'll try and get my photos from Edmonton up soon. Emily and I went to Fort Edmonton Park while I was in town and I got some terrific shots there.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Return to the North

Flying into Yellowknife on Tuesday afternoon was a memorable experience. I had previously only flown into the city during the fall and I recall it being remarkably unremarkable. Coming in during the summer is a much different experience. The lakes surrounding the capital region are countless and watching them sparkle in the brilliant sunlight, stretching to every horizon was almost breathtaking. If I didn't know better, I might have been fooled by this ruse.

Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories (NWT)  in general have a tenacious and unyielding seductive power. Anyone who were to visit in June or July would be awestruck by the all at once rugged, rocky and lush landscapes surrounding the seemingly limitless lakes of one of Canada's most unscathed regions. The area  around Yellowknife is considered to be mostly boreal forest, but it looks a heck of a lot like the sub-arctic tundra that lies not far north.

The North is notorious for its bait and switch tactics. People come here in the late spring or early summer and are wooed by the gorgeous weather and undeniable beauty. They are fooled only long enough to settle in and become established; as soon as September comes, the temperatures begin to drop and by early October the snow has begun to stay. Ahead is a brutal winter that lasts a solid seven months. I recall leaving Yellowknife during the final week of May last year and thinking to myself that it was the last time I would ever have to bare witness to snow cover so late in Spring. But even now, as I sit here writing, I feel guilt creeping up on me. I look out my window and see the alders and the cedars blowing in a gentle breeze against the back drop of Great Slave Lake in all it's majestic beauty. How can I be spouting such poisonous filth about such a remarkable land. One woman reads on her driveway, sprawled in a deck chair, dressed in nothing more than her bathing-suit. Her next-door-neighbor, shielding herself from the freshness of the breeze with a fleece sweater, nurtures a basket of freshly planted annuals. They are calling for a fifteen degree high today, but it seems there is still some debate, even among neighbors, as to whether or not summer is indeed upon them.

Getting off the plane yesterday I felt a sneaking sense of dread creeping into my mind. I was pleased to be returning to visit the many great friends I had left behind, but something in the back of my mind was telling me that returning to this city, which for so long I loathed, was inherently wrong. I am all too aware that permanently returning to the knife, would be a significant step backwards in life; but, until now, I was unable to fully articulate the untoward state of mind that sent me careening from Yellowknife last year. I am uncertain whether it was the time away to ponder the strife of life in this city or whether it was the return to this fruitless corner of Canada that provided the catalyst for the revelation, but today I am able to articulate those feelings.

The disproportionate level of substance abuse and homelessness, predominantly among the native community, not only left me disheartened and discouraged, but it left me feeling like a horribly intolerant, bigoted and dare I say racist person. I was starting to take on some of the qualities that I so abhorred in others. In all my arrogance I had never considered that I could ever be one of those people. The more time I spent in Yellowknife, the more I began to think that the cultural values of Native communities were fundamentally incompatible with those of my own culture. I left Yellowknife after two years with a numbness that penetrated far deeper than any winter night the North could ever have thrown at me. In living with that numbness over the past year I have only ever taken time to reflect on Yellowknife as the uninspiring place I saw it to be.

An older friend of mine, a long time Yellowknifer, once told me that there was nothing like getting frost bite on his genitals to give him a proper respect for the North. Perhaps now that I am facing up to these abject and embarrassing revelations, I too can begin to pay this land the respect it deserves in a more forthright and less painful way. Already I can honestly say that Yellowknife is not as uninspiring as I had thought it to be. Today it inspired me to tell you this story of my personal shame.

Monday, June 7, 2010

London Town

Sorry for not posting the past several days. Between jet lag and everyone in Edmonton being sick, with both colds and the flu, it's been a very hectic week. I've been craving the opportunity to get back in front of the computer and show off some of my photos from London Town.

I  arrived in London last Monday (May 31) It was a decent flight, but you know how it is, by the time you deplane, go through immigration and collect your bags, you have some how wasted an extra two hours. After a quick stop at the hotel to check-in and change, I hit the streets with Nicole, a friend of mine from high-school. Nicole has a UK passport now, so she is living and working in Brighton which she tells me she is enjoying very much.

It took us some time to figure out the trains and the tube, but we managed to find our way down to Westminster Station, which is right on the river Thames downtown. The first thing we saw when emerging from the tube station...

Big Ben...well, actually, Big Ben is only the name of the bell inside the clock tower. Properly the tower is referred to as the Tower of Westminster Palace. Westminster Palace is the proper name for the parliament buildings. We got a great view of the palace and the rest of London from atop the London Eye.

The London Eye is truly enormous. I had seen pictures in the past and just thought it was another over sized ferris wheel, but it is humongous, standing some 135 meters. When it was constructed eleven years ago, it was the tallest ferris wheel in the world. Today it is surpassed only by the Star of Nanchang and the Singapore Flyer. The London Eye has thirty-two capsules all of which are air condition and can hold up to twenty-five people. The wheel never stops moving; it turns at a slow enough pace to allow rapid unloading and loading.

Along with Nicole and I inside of our capsule, there was a group of German tourists. Among them was one incredibly cute Arab guy. He was going around to all of the girls in the capsule saying, with his hilarious German accent "Hello, I am German. I have no friends. Will you take a photo with me?" After he finished with the girls, he came over to me and hesitated for a moment before repeating the same thing. I obliged both him and his somewhat less handsome friend.


It was somewhat difficult to get clear shots from the capsules because of the glare from the glass, but here are a few of the better ones.

A nice view of the Waterloo Bridge and the North Shore. The National Theatre is the hideous cement building on the South Shore.

This is a view of Whitehall (government administration) and part of central London.

Here you can see Westminster Abbey on the left just behind the clock tower, as well as Her Majesty's Treasury on the right behind Westminster Station.

More to come...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Uggh...Jet Lag

Boy oh boy, I am sure glad to be in Edmonton. I had a great time in London on Monday, but I had the worst flight from Gatwick to Edmonton the next day. Boarding was delayed by an hour because the custodians were late showing up to clean the plane. Once we finally boarded, the pilot got our spirits up by letting us know that an increased tail wind was going to allow us to get in on time before informing us that the in-flight entertainment system was on the fritz. Eight and a half hours without movies, music or television; it was brutal. They didn’t even have the little diagram showing you the progress of the airplane along its trajectory. On top of that, the airline food was even more appalling than usual. But who cares right? I’m in Canada now and that’s all that matters. I took over 400 photos while in London, so I will start trying to get some of those posted today.

Since arriving in Edmonton, I have been trying to sort out an appropriate sleep schedule. I am going to Yellowknife on June 8th to help a friend with his business and am going to need to be working nights for that. I thought somehow it would be easy for me to arrive in Edmonton and start sleeping through the day, but it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. Em and I were hoping to do some cooking and baking while I am here. I wanted to prepare some Burek and other Croatian dishes for her and Greg and she was hoping to bake some rhubarb pies. As it is though, the flu seems to be going around here so I am hoping that doesn’t put a damper on our plans. Today we are going to go out and hit up West Edmonton Mall and some other small shops around the city. I’m looking forward to a little shopping therapy.

More soon...I promise...