Sunday, April 01, 2007

Passing Through Halifax

" Don't worry he'll wait for you. He's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. "
The ticket vendor told me.

Not so trusting by nature I ran out through the Airport Terminal doors to the waiting bus, the one I hoped would take me in close enough proximity to my hotel that it would make the more expensive alternative of taking a cab end up seeming like a newbie mistake.

As it turned out, he lived up to the hype, and then some.

For the 40 minute ride he spoke in easy tones about himself, the city that he called home, as well as his hopes and generous dreams, all the while pausing to let me throw in my two cents. He was, I thought, Halifax, Nova Scotia's most accessible and down to earth ambassador, an ambassador who would happen to deliver me right to my door.

From him I gathered a premonition of a city where a thick fog will often descend
for weeks at a time in the winter months, the newspapers only bothering to report the story if it happened to linger on for over a month.

Halifax greeted me like a faded memory from my past, only with the heightened sense of drama of a city that embraces the deepest sea port anywhere in the word. The Grey choppy waters of the North Atlantic soon came into view as we approached the city proper.

The sky was overcast, filled with threatening clouds that during my two day stay never did end up following through on their potential. This
was another sign I was far from home. Rain clouds over the Pacific always deliver but then, they operate in a far less dramatic theatre.

Halifax is more than tough enough without a juvenile need to prove itself; in late March it punished me in a way I came to relish. The wind swept across the streets in unpredictable gusts. The cold cut through me forcing me to adjust. It was a constant reminder to me that I was alive, something I imagine all of us could use on occasion.

My hotel, the Lord Nelson was close to the heart of the action, much like the life of the famous British naval Commander whom it memorialized.

As I wandered aimlessly around town later that evening I saw statues of Lord Cornwallis, founder of Halifax, and of Winston Churchill, his
bull dog certainty caught in mid stride. I was reminded of the strategic military importance of this place to the British in their war with the French for dominion over the country in its' early Colonial history. The British won as everyone in Canada now, at least, needs little reminder.

The large Acadian population, long established French settlers were then forcibly
expelled. That happened over two and half centuries ago but Halifax continues to maintain a distinct sense of being an arm of England that reaches across tempestuous Atlantic waters.

The place was enlivened by waves of emigration from Ireland and Scotland and a small but steady funnel of Africans who fled slavery in America, all of them, no doubt, collectively adding to the sense of expectant celebration that hangs in the air today.

The architecture in the downtown area stood out distinctly from many modern cities. Brown stone buildings lined the streets I walked, solid and intricately varied.

A number of churches, Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic rose up in solid granite Gothic forms like sculptures erected in defiance of the abysmal ocean and hard climate. Faith as that stubborn counterweight against the irresistible forces of the natural world.

Most of all there was the other worldliness of the City. This was an old place where spirits still roamed. It reminded me in some ways of Delhi, I remarked to someone I met there.
The city of Djinns as one author called it.

Halifax was where the dead of the Titanic ( those that were found) were laid to rest.

Before the European arrivals it had been home of the Mi'kmaq peoples whose own history blended with the first human settlements dating back over 9000 years to the last Ice age.

Halifax. At the cross roads of the new and old world. Wars decided. Territorial ambitions. New hopes of outcast peoples and always, in perpetuity the sea.

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