My friend Susan posted on my Facebook page last Friday.
“Maybe it’s not all you after all,” I read and then followed the link to a The Huffington Post article titled, ‘Least Snobby Cities in the World Include Halifax.’
Her post referenced an ongoing, albeit good-natured, disagreement we keep having around the life I’ve found in Halifax. I insist the place is magical, and she counters that it’s not the place, it’s me. (Well, you can see why I’m having a sis-mance with her.)
According to the article compiled by Cheapflights travel experts, Halifax is a place where “locals start conversations with visitors at the drop of a hat” and share “a welcoming spirit.” Also on the list were Galway, Buenos Aires and Chiang Mai.
Good company, I’d say.
And yes, I agree on Halifax locals propensity for friendliness. But more than that, I also feel a spirit within the city that seems to make things happen in the loveliest, most unexpected of ways, like nothing I’ve ever before experienced.
Take last Saturday, for example.
Early in the morning, I left my house with intentions to spend the better part of the day in the library, rewriting, editing, fussing and fretting over the first chapter of my book, due as part of my end of term deliverables.
It was a gloomy, rainy day—a raincoat, rain boot sort of day—the kind made for working.
At the library, lazy me took the elevator to the fourth floor where I was cheered to find both an unimpeded view of the water and a vacant orange leather chair to sprawl on. I hauled my computer and various folders of writing out of my knapsack, determined to dig in and get at it, until I saw something.
A bank was moving in from the south end, where the peninsula gives way to the ocean. The dense, opaque, creature-like mass was moving at a clip, swallowing the land and all the tall concrete buildings that rose above the city to block my view. Out of nowhere, the misty blanket soon covered everything, but then, barely minutes later, it rolled itself backwards and away again. The cityscape mysteriously reappeared, as if the fog had left Brigadoon in its wake.
What a show. And so early in the morning.
Lulled into a gentle state, I closed my laptop and curled my legs up underneath me. Completely comfortable, I dozed off for a bit. But no worries. It’s the kind of library where you can do that sort of thing.
When I awoke, refreshed by my mini-nap, I got down to business with full concentration.
Hours later, my patience for writing started to fade and my belly to grumble, meaning it was probably time to unfurl from the chair and head home.
And that is what I would have done, had I not got a text from Sandy about a band.
Sandy is in my MFA program, and he’s writing a book on East Coast musicians. Born and raised here, he also happens to be a former newspaper arts editor and writer, and he wrote a popular music column for 17 years. So basically, he knows his stuff and pretty much every who, what, where, when and why, musically speaking, about the East Coast scene. He’s keen to share it all with those so inclined, including me.
– Just about to leave home for the Moustache. Will be there in 20 minutes. Interested in coming for a beer and a visit?
– Yes, I will.
– I’m at the bar and will meet at the top of the stairs inside.
When I arrived and found Sandy, the bar was busy, rocking even, and the dance floor surprisingly full for a rainy Saturday afternoon.
“The band’s been playing this gig here every Saturday for twenty-five years,” explained Sandy as we took a couple of seats at the bar, “so they’re pretty tight.
He was right. They were the kind of tight that comes from playing, week after week, and year after year, for 25 of them. What was it Malcolm Gladwell said about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery? Wonder what he would think of the band.
I glanced over to the stage, and front and centre was a woman playing a frottoir. For those who don’t know what that is, say like me until that afternoon, it’s sort of a corrugated metal shield, looks like a washboard, and its worn over the shoulders and used as percussion instrument, most often in zydeco music. Sandy said the woman doing incredible things on her frottoir, using only two spoons, was Lexi and a frequent special guest of the band.
Looking from the band to the the packed dance floor, my eyes were riveted to a woman wearing red, patent leather pumps with stiletto heels and pointy toes. Likely in her late 60s or early 70s, her trim figure was moving, swaying and jigging to the beat.
What was most noticeable, though, was her footwork. It was dazzling, the steps intricate, yet so obviously second nature, that I thought perhaps I had dropped into a scene from Fame or Glee and every person in the bar would join her at some point soon, executing a choreographed dance spectacle for some hidden camera.
But no, I wasn’t on a movie set. I was at My Father’s Moustache, on Spring Garden Road, in Halifax, at 4:00pm on a Saturday afternoon, listening to Joe Murphy & The Water Street Band.
Glancing down the bar to my left sat or stood a gaggle of jean-clad fellas, many old enough to be my grandfather. They had on buttoned up cotton or flannel checked shirts, crisp from an old-fashioned pressing, and their hair, if they had it, was slicked back with comb tracks so fresh I could picture them back home, taking one last check in the vestibule mirror before leaving for the bar.
Oh, and the women. The women were various sizes, ages and shapes, dressed anywhere from jeans and t-shirts to dramatic all black ensembles to bright, colour-coordinated outfits I could picture in shoppe windows. They looked beautiful to me, everyone of them.
The crowd kept switching up standing and sitting, making different combinations of couples, non-couples and singles. I watched them leave their composed, genial personas behind for the dance floor, where they step-danced, hip twisted and twirled in waves of sound and motion.
It was a dream scene. I’d plopped into that middle slice from a wedding,at the good part, when the formalities are over and the ice has broken. The speeches are done. No one’s gone home yet. So let’s all dance.
You know what I mean.
Two hours in, the band finally stopped for a break and the dancers returned to their chairs. Sandy and I readied to leave to pass our coveted seats on to others. Sandy is a popular, well-known guy, so we didn’t get out without a quick chat with John Eiman, long-time guitar play and Morrow Scot-Brown, subbing in on bass.
I listened to them reminisce about the 25 years they had been playing the weekly gig.
“Yah,” said John “some of the people here have been coming to see us as long as we’ve played here—they’ve gone from middle-aged to, well…older with us.”
Indeed. And what a beautiful thing.
Last night, I was out with Susan at the Shambala Centre for their Wednesday Open House and an evening of meditation and discussion.
After the meditation, Liz, a senior leader in Shambala and our guide, spoke about felt and thought senses, what they were and the differences between each. She had us discuss the notion in smaller groups, leaving time to finish off the evening with questions.
At the end of the night, Liz left us with the suggestion to remain open, without preconceived notions or expectations, to help life’s flow in through what what is felt, versus thought because that, she explained, was the key to open up the self to wonder.
Sounded so simple.
On the way to the car, Susan and I chatted about the evening, and I thought back to her notion of me versus place and her posting about Halifax being friendly.
Perhaps both of us were right.
A year ago, I conceived of a move away from home, friends, work, habits, places, history—in exchange for the complete, utter unknown, without knowing exactly what I was doing or why.
Once I’d arrived in Halifax and the mornings of hyperventilation and tears at what I had done began to abate, I grew comfortable neither knowing nor expecting what would happen in a day. And I think, inadvertantly, I may have opened myself up to what could happen in a day—like fog, red shoes on a dance floor, and new friends like Sandy and Susan.
The thought occurred to me this morning that maybe the magic wasn’t as much about place as I thought. Maybe it all could have happened in Waterloo.