Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I met Jordan that first day in the café. She told me that I reminded her of her friend Stephanie, who is a chef and now lives out of town, but happened to be visiting. Jordan wanted us to meet, we seemed so alike, but it unfortunately didn’t end up happening (“You’d really like her, she’s also really down to earth and friendly and caring and open and positive”…I was quite flattered that I reminded her of someone that sounds so lovely, especially after sharing such a short conversation). Jordan seemed happy to lend me a pair of shoes. She said she would bring by her converse sneakers so that I could pick them up from Matthew. So that’s what I did.

Jordan told me briefly about her shoes—that she got them in Toronto, when she was 19, I think. It sounded like they marked a pretty exciting time for her. It also seems that she's enjoyed them--they have little holes and tears hiding all over.

I was quite drawn to the colour of Jordan’s shoes…a kind of mustard yellow-gold, I guess. I don’t think I’ve worn shoes quite that colour before. It was like having autumn on my feet.

Although Jordan’s shoes were large for me, they still managed to just about disappear under my jeans (which get wide at the bottom). I experimented with rolling my pants up so that I could see them there, which helped me remember that I wasn’t wearing my own shoes. Other things helped me remember as well were: the fact that I could feel the ground through the thin soles—whatever things I happened to step on would poke through—and the way they kind of flopped as I walked.

My sister Katie had a day off of work. We had decided to go on a mini adventure. Weeks ago I told her I had come across the website for the PEI Potato Museum, and she was dead set on going. I have to admit that I was pretty curious myself. The promise of the giant potato sculpture in the parking lot was the cincher for me.
(By the way, did you know that it's the International Year of the Potato? Hmmm...I'm actually about to go to the community garden to hill mine.)

We had already been to Brackley Beach a couple of days before, and although I really wanted to see Cavendish, we decided to include just the museum on our road trip, with a quick stop in Summerside if we had the time.

In the car ride, I stitched up Matthew and Michael’s shoes with white thread. We mostly drove by fields (so green! so red!), as well as some interesting roadside signs, and a couple of awesome looking diners. We finally came to the big potato in O’Leary PEI, and pulled in the parking lot. We were the only visitors.

The museum was really quite large, and included a local history component (where we saw an iron lung, various severe-looking medical tools, and a cast iron stove manufactured in Sackville, NB…earlier in my travels I had actually come across old crates outside where the stoves used to be made ). Highlights from the potato exhibit included pictures of all the ways potatoes can be served, and (my favourite) a row of miniature coffins containing faux diseased potatoes, illustrating the many and varied ways that a potato might become unfit for human consumption. Oh yes, and a Stompin' Tom record.

After being inside without daylight for so long, Katie and I enjoyed roaming through the buildings outside (an old church, a one room school house, an old telephone switchboard…). Katie’s very favourite was the wooden train climbing structure. We played on that for awhile, and then we went on the swings.

We eventually made our way back to the car and drove to Summerside. It was quite overcast, and it eventually began to rain. Katie and I walked a bit, and spent some time in the Pro Hardware, which was definitely not your average hardware store. It was like a cross between Action Surplus, Home Hardware and Stedmans. Most things in there seemed like there were from a different era (or universe), and there was a lot of dust. I couldn’t get over the post cards and sunglasses and bizarre touristy trinkets. There were even these super strange monk dolls whose erect penises would emerge from their robes when their arms were squeezed (just sitting by the teapots, below the postcard rack, near the glued together seashell puppy dogs). I’m telling you, monk dolls aside, this place is just a million art projects waiting to happen.
Katie, by the way, was absolutely mortified. The monks offended her sensibilities.

(There were actually a whole variety of the emerging penis dolls, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the other characters were. Maybe if you are reading this, and you are near the Summerside Pro Hardware, you can let me know. And maybe also tell me what your favourite thing in that store is. There is so much to choose from.)

Maybe it was because our Summerside excursion began with an investigation of the Pro Hardware, or ended with passing by the used bookstore that had “Cooking with The Young and the Restless” in the window, but the town seemed to have a strange feeling about it. Katie and stopped in a little café. She bought an orange soda mostly to humour me.

When I arrived in PEI, they were just in the process of phasing out their policy on carbonated beverages. Having to be conscious about waste as an island, all carbonated beverages until very recently were sold in glass bottles, which are sold with a deposit, and collected to be re-filled. Pop cans are now allowed on the island, and the bottles are being phased out. Folks worry about what this will mean for the bottling industry and local soda manufacturer. I worry about where government’s head is in making this decision just as so many other governments are waking up to the reality of needing to seriously reconsider our habits around waste, and the environment.

I won’t launch into a rant.
Katie and I sat and shared her locally made orange soda, which was very very orange. I was proud of myself because I haven’t eaten or drank anything so unnaturally colourful for a really really long time. I was heartened by the presence of orange pulp at the bottom. And, I must say, it was pretty yummy.

We headed back to Charlottetown and made a brief stop to say hello to Matthew. I wanted to pass the shoes by him, and see if he’d like me to add some embroidery floss to them. He liked that idea, and told me some of Michael’s favourite colours.

Katie and I had dinner and watched Juno. I hadn’t seen the film, but was already in love with the soundtrack. I stiched up Matthew and Michael’s shoes all colourful, and sang along to the parts I knew.

Jordan’s shoes are thin-soled and floppy. I enjoyed wearing them on my little excursion. I feel like they let me take in things that I wouldn’t have otherwise: the precise feeling of the grass outside the potato museum, the pebbles by the swings, concrete, pavement, wood, carpet, tile. It was interesting how they at once blended into my day (and my jeans), and yet were also such an essential part of it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to separate the giant potato sculpture and orange soda in a glass bottle from the colour of Jordan’s shoes. They may mean, “Toronto, age 19” to her, but they are forever caught up with PEI, giant potatoes, and unexpected friendship for me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I told my sister that I'd help her make some friends in Charlottetown.
She just moved there in May and was worried about feeling lonely.
She was also worried about me making friends for her. Understandably so. At first I was taking the job pretty seriously, and was considering making application forms, and creating a formalized screening process. She didn't like the sound of that, so instead I just wandered around Charlottetown.

I did end up making some friends for myself, and maybe even for Katie, too. Most of my time in Charlottetown it was cold and wet. I only rode Katie's bike once, and decided afterwards that I'd stick to walking and buses and cars as long as it was raining so insistently.
On one of those wet, rainy days, I walked by a little cafe. There was a sandwich board outside that was washed clean, and no sign above the window. I passed right by, but for some reason decided to back track and go inside.

It turns out that it was not only a cafe, but a store (sooo many interesting screen-printed t-shirts), a gallery, and a music venue. And it had just opened. Inside, the Ghost Bees were playing. I had seen them at a house concert shortly before leaving Guelph, and they were enchanting. It was comforting to be greeted by something I recognized when I entered the store.

Matthew, who was standing behind the counter, asked me what brought me to the cafe, and we started talking about all sorts of things, including the Ghost Bees, and making friends, and interesting things to do in Charlottetown, and music, and artwork, and shoes.

I think that I visited Matthew and the cafe just about every day that I was in Charlottetown. It was a kind of home base for me. I helped him paint a sign, almost poisoned us with toxic fumes, met some of his friends, and talked bunches. That first day in the cafe both Matthew and his friend Jordan said they'd lend me a pair of shoes (Jenn said I could wear hers, too, but it seemed like I might not have time).
I took them up on it.

Matthew told me that he'd lend me the shoes that he was wearing. We made arrangements for me to come back in a day or two, so that he'd have something else to put on his feet. When I picked up his shoes, he explained that they aren't technically his own. They belong to his boyfriend. Matthew and Michael share just about everything. They can do this because they're the same size. Matthew said that it's Michael who always ends up choosing and buying the shoes. Matthew expressed some concern that maybe things don't always work out evenly, but they seem to have the kind of relationship where they could talk about striking that balance if it isn't already there.

I have never worn communal shoes before. The idea intrigues me. I don't think that I'm necessarily so good at sharing that I could share a pair of shoes with someone on a long-term basis, let alone an entire wardrobe. But for Matthew and Michael it's their way of doing things.

Matthew and Michael's shoes are a white pair of Dexters. Or they used to be white. Right now they are a bit ripped up, and kind of dirty. I was surprised to hear that they are only 4 weeks old. They look like they could have been around for a year or more, judging from how worn in they seem. Matthew explained that Micheal had wanted to keep the shoes extra super clean and white until 3 weeks ago, when they went to a Ghost Bees concert. There they had seen a fellow who had the same shoes, and his were all grungy. Michael liked the look of them, and decided to let his get dirty, too. So he did.

The day that I wore Matthew's shoes was rainy. I borrowed my sister's car and drove into town. The cafe was closed--Matthew was running an errand--but a sweet fellow let me in so that I didn't have to wait in the rain. Matthew had told me that he was going to be making spelt blueberry waffles with real maple syrup, and there was no way I wanted to miss out on that. (They were delicious. Not the usual shape that waffles are--I got to eat one of the test runs--but delicious none the less.)

Matthew and Michael's shoes were big and floppy on my feet. They fell off only once, when I was getting out of the car, but as long as I was walking they stayed on without any effort. That thing where the heels of the shoes spring up and catch my own kept happening, and it was kind of fun. After a long hang-out in the cafe, the sun came out and I went for a walk. It was the first and only time I got to decently explore the city. I went down by the water, and enjoyed the super-red mud. I noticed that Matthew and Michael's shoes had red earth stains on them, and since they were interested in having not-so-white-anymore shoes, I wasn't too worried about keeping them extra clean. (Which was good, because I simply cannot resist red mud puddles.)

Matthew invited me over to his and Michael's apartment for dinner. I was thrilled! Defying all expectations I seemed to be actually making friends--if not for my sister, than at least for myself. The day before I had gone to a music session at a pub downtown and did some set dancing. The folks there invited me to a house party that evening. I told Michael about it, how I wanted to go even though it involved a bit of a drive, because I figure that stuff like that doesn't happen so often.
"It doesn't? Aren't people that friendly everywhere?"
I don't think that Katie will have too much of a problem here.
(By the way, I did end up going to the house party. My sister is now welcome to drop in at the Benevolent Irish Society any Monday evening if she would like to play the penny whistle or flute. On some Fridays there is dancing.)

I went to Matthew and Michael's for dinner. I had met Michael briefly a couple days before, and that day I got to know him better as he proved to Matthew and I that it was possible to make a properly formed waffle in the waffle maker (apparently the secret is patience). Their apartment was gorgeous--big windows with lots of light, little nooks in the wall, and (my favourite) a curved wall at the entrance. Michael had had the day off and made a veritable feast involving fancy roasted vegetables and tofurkey (!). Jenn came over as well and brought delicious rice and beans and her lovely self. It was such a terrific evening spent chatting and hanging out. We went to the corner store for ice cream (even though it was actually quite cold out). When it was time to go Jenn walked towards me with her arms out--there were hugs all around.
"I feel like we just met this great friend and now she's going to disappear!"
I felt the same way about them! It was surprising to me how easy it felt to be around each other. I consider myself to be quite introverted, and it can take effort to be around other people. But it's not such a hard thing when others are just so much themselves.

Before leaving I asked Michael about the shoes, about whether he was happy with the decision to let them get messy-looking. He told me that he likes that they are dirty, but isn't so happy about the tear in the one shoe. I asked if he'd like me to repair it for him, and he liked the idea.

That was my day in Matthew and Michael's shoes. I walked over to where Katie works and we drove back to her place. The next day I wore Jordan's shoes, and in the car ride to the Potato Museum I stitched up Matthew and Micheal's shoes. First just with white thread. I showed them to Matthew and asked if he'd prefer some colour. I ended up filling in the gaps made by the tears with embroidery floss.

Matthew and Michael's shoes are floppy and flexible and easy to wear. They were conducive to moderate puddle jumping and city walking. That they are shared equally between Matthew and Michael seems somehow natural after getting to know them. And that they were willing to share them with me seems equally natural and surprising at once.
It makes me think that maybe the world is filled with friends I have yet to meet.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

washed up shoes and ocean feet

I walked the circumference of Brier Island, Nova Scotia. This is no great feat--it's pretty tiny--but it still took a number of hours. There was a good amount of debris that presumably had been washed up by the tide: shoes, freezers, lobster traps, plastic bins, etc.
I walked through a large and disgruntled seagull colony, wild raspberry cane, past two lighthouses and the coast guard, and several animal carcases that had been picked clean. My favourite part of the day was coming across a sand beach in a quiet cove. Bare feet on sand! I went swimming there, in the Bay of Fundy. The water couldn't have been warmer than 2 or 3 degrees Celsius, and I spent no more than 15 seconds in the water, but it was great! Definitely one way to feel extra alive.

Please humour me and allow me to share some photos of the colours, textures and things that caught my eye...

Friday, May 9, 2008


The story of Jenn's shoes is an interesting one, and so is the story of the story of Jenn's shoes. Bear with me and you'll see what I mean.
Jenn and Jimmie were kind enough to offer me a place to stay in Halifax. It was lovely and included sharing yummy meals, good company, tours of the city, interesting excursions...and shoes! I also got to sleep with a giant stuffed tuna named Tuna (at least I think that was it's name). We got along really well.

So yes, Jenn lent me her shoes.
She generally goes for a run most mornings--I remember how we used to pass each other in Guelph by the covered bridge or along the river. Jenn told me about all the things her running shoes had been through: they've part of a triathlon and a duathlon, on a car trip through Nova Scotia, on various cycling trips (Newfoundland and throughout the maritimes to Ontario, Ontario to Michigan and back). These shoes have a lot of history. And they are also very much a part of her everyday. So Jenn decided that they'd be the best shoes to lend to me.

So after her run in the morning, I put them on. I hauled a laundry basket to the laundromat just down the street (I was very proud of myself for traveling super light, but soon tired of hand-washing things constantly. It was a treat to make a load of all our clothes and use a washing machine).

Jenn's shoes were big on my feet. For that reason, I tied double knots. And I didn't feel as silly about it as I sometimes do, because that I noticed that Jenn does the same (albeit for different reasons). They were a bit big, but they were also squishy and comfortable like I imagine sneakers should be. I soon felt quite at home in them.

Another thing that struck me about Jenn's sneakers, was how incredibly light they were. And even more remarkable was the fact that I could feel the wind blow through them! I'm not a runner, but I imagine these are important features for shoes that a person is trying to be fast in for long enough that their feet could get really sweaty. They seem like pretty smart things to be wearing while jogging.

Which made me think that I should jog. But I didn't.
Instead I rolled down the Halifax citadel.

The citadel is a big star-shaped fort that overlooks downtown Halifax. People do strange things on it all the time. In my few days in Hali I saw a couple of yoga classes taking place at the base of the hill, lots of joggers running up and down the stairs, and even a woman who seemed to be doing some kind of modified push up all the the way up the hill. All this in weather that was far from summer-like. So I didn't feel too strange rolling down the hill. Only a little.

I'm realizing now that things in the above list of strange stuff people do on the citadel seems to be motivated by fitness, whereas I was just interested in fun. So maybe that's why I felt a tad self-conscious. My love for rolling down hills prevailed in the end, however, and I sought out the steepest part of the hill that didn't lead directly to a road.
And I rolled.

I did this between changing loads at the laundromat. I was late and actually ended up jogging a bit on my way back to the laundromat.
There was an older woman there speaking with the owner. When I went up to the counter she took a look at me and said, "My, you must have had a good time!" I was a bit confused until I realized from her gesture that I had bits of dried grass and leaves all over me. "I just rolled down the citadel," I explained. The owner said to the woman, "See, you were right!" And she was. Except it turns out she was thinking of a different kind of good time: "I thought you'd had a good romp in a haystack."

People here are friendly. There isn't too much that they are afraid to say. Even if you don't know them. It's interesting.

Back at Jenn's house we had some food and then went on a mini road trip to the valley. I don't know if there is more than one valley in Nova Scotia, but there is probably only one really big one because everyone says "the valley" and expects you to know what they mean. The Annapolis Valley is on the West side of the province along the Bay of Fundy. We drove to Wolfville and had a good long walk on a trail along the embankment by the ocean. When we started, the tide was out, but over the few hours we were there, the water level changed substantially.

We mostly talked and talked, and took pictures of each other jumping along the trail. It was windy and sunny and beautiful. The ocean was on one side, and fields on the other...a whole lot of greens and blues, and the red of the dirt, of course.
It was especially interesting wearing someone's shoes and spending the day with them at the same time. I don't think I've done that before. At one point Jenn kind of did a double take...she explained how she had looked at my feet and thought, "Aislinn's so cool, she's got shoes just like me!" It was a little while later that she realized that the shoes actually were hers, and she burst out laughing. It was cute.

We used the washroom at the library and bought yummy delicious desserts at a vegetarian cafe (where you apparently get a discount if you're vegan) to bring home to share with Jimmie. Then we got back on the highway to the city.

I don't remember when it was exactly that Jenn realized it.
Maybe when I was asking for a recap of all that her shoes have been through, or maybe when I was taking them off back at her apartment.
It turns out that actually, these sneakers are relatively new. They aren't the sneakers that were in the races or were with her on her bike trips. They were a gift from Jimmie's family, and they are the shoes that she wears on her runs now, but not the ones that have been through all that excitement and courage and bravery.

She felt a bit disappointed, I think, that the shoes that I were didn't represent all those times. She told me about other shoes she chould have lent me: the moccasins that she wore when she was living in the tree in B.C. that were given to her by a native woman, the running shoes that did go with her on those trips. She pulled out the moccasins--they were beautiful. I considered wearing them in the evening, but didn't end up doing so. At the time I wasn't sure why I didn't wear them, but when I think about it now, I think that the story of the story of Jenn's shoes is enough.

Jenn's shoes are supportive and comfortable, soft, light and airy. They may not be the shoes that were with her through the most extreme and challenging times, but I think that they've been witness to another kind of bravery. The kind of everyday courage that it takes to live and to build a life and a home and a meaningful routine. I think that that is more than enough. In fact, I think it's quite beautiful.

It's interesting that often people want to lend me the shoes that somehow sum up who they are, the ones that have the most meaning and memories in them, if there is a measure of that. It's a hard choice, finding an item that is most like oneself. I think that often people approach this problem by wanting to choose shoes that have been through times that seem the most real or formative or extreme; shoes that are somehow, in this way, charged with meaning.

But I think there's also something to be said for the everyday. For getting up in the morning and tying two double knots in the place that you happen to be.

I have so much gratitude for Jenn and Jimmie's generosity in inviting me to stay with them and letting me be a part of that for a time.

i *heart* sackville

The thing about Sackville is the fact of the horizon.
This may not seem like a big deal, but having grown up in Southern Ontario, it was shocking at first. When I first moved to Sackville, it took me a bit of time to figure out why it was suddenly so hard to breathe. But now I can't get enough of it, the feeling of so much space.

There are other things, of course, like the buildings that are allowed to crumble, and streets that end suddenly and without reason. There is the way that the marsh threatens front stoops, the screeching pheasants, a tidal river, and houses that seem to have been dropped from the sky.

It felt great to be there again.

Traipsing through the marsh, I came to one of my favourite parts--the TransCanada trail goes right through the marsh, and crosses the TransCanada highway. You can just walk across, which is what I did. The first time I did that, my classmates had to talk me into it (I come from an extremely risk-adverse family, and the idea of crossing the highway on foot was one that I had never before considered). I ran as fast as I could, despite the fact that there were no cars in sight and the land is flat. There are now yellow signs with bicycle symbols beside the highway, warning drivers of the crossing. I remember when my mom visited me in Sackville eight years ago that she just about had a fit that there was a level rail crossing on the highway, let alone a bike crossing. I think it is quite civilized.

I mostly walked in Sackville. I wanted to see everything that I remembered (which was a's amazing how charged with memory a place can be). I ended up waking up at 6 am the morning after my 8 hour (or was it longer?) walk. Before I left I wanted to see the bridge for which Bridge Street was named, another favourite place of mine. It is now a bridge without a middle that used to cross the Tantramar river beside the railway. At that time of day there air was thick with mist rising off the marsh. The tide was low, and the river banks red, and I imagined I could see the ocean in the distance.

It felt so great to walk and wander on my own.
And this time, breath came easily.