Say Cheese!


My First Digital - Sony Mavica
I’ve never been big on taking pictures when I travel – in fact until I bought my first digital camera in 1998 I very seldom took photos on my extensive travels. I found – and still do – that you spend so much time taking pictures you often miss the sights. That first digital was, as you can see, a rather clunky affair – a Sony that recorded pictures on a floppy disc. The pictures were not the greatest (click on the camera to get an example) and frankly as a photographer I’m no Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Back in January 2003 as I was getting ready to board The Canadian, VIA’s TransCanada service from Winnipeg to Vancouver, I realized that I had forgot to bring my old clunker. I made a quick trip to a Kodak shop in an underground mall – it was January, it was Winnipeg, it was -37c at the corner of Portage and Main – and I bought the first thing I saw that looked reasonable and easy (yeah I know, at the corner of Portage and Main, that would normally be Brandy or Tiffany.) It is what I have been using ever since. Still not the greatest but ….

So why bother to mention it? The past few days I’ve been going through photo files of Venice and a few other trips we took between 1998 and 2003. The photos are not the greatest quality and PhotoShop can only do so much but I thought I might post some of them. I guess this is just a word of warning.

Opening Drawers

Where memory is concerned I am a subscriber to the “drawer theory” – that’s the one that says memories are kept in drawers in your mind. As you get older a few – okay a lot – of those drawers stick or just won’t open. Example: The “I came upstairs/downstairs/into the room to get a …….” drawer which seems to stick more and more these days.

Two nights ago one of my long-shut drawers popped open; CBC Radio news had a feature on Sark, the smallest of the Channel Islands. Apparently there is a democracy movement afoot in what is, in the Western world at least, the last working example of feudalism. As I listened to the report memories of a vacation with my late friend Pierre 27 years ago came tumbling out.

I have always been fortunate in having travelling companions who enjoyed visiting slightly offbeat places. In May, 1980 Pierre and I visited the Channels – Guernsey, Sark and Jersey – as well as St Malo, Mont St Michel and Paris. Granted the later only counts as offbeat if you visited it with Pierre and he had booked three nights at an hourly-rated hotel on the Left Bank!

The next day I poked around in the now opened drawer and shared some of my memories with Pierre’s son Carl – who now works with me.

  • The almost blinding reflection of the morning sun on the hundreds of greenhouses as we approached Guernesy – dare I use the old diamond metaphor – no I’ll spare you that.
  • A shrimp coquille and a glass of something red, wet and wonderful on a windy, rainy day in a now forgotten restaurant in St Peter Port. It was so good we went back the next day for seconds.
  • Waiting in a waterfront cafe in St Hilier for the bus to the Durrell Preservation Zoo, listening to an Andy Capp-type ranting about the lack of a “decent caf to get a plate of chips” and all those “bloody frog day trippers.”
  • Hauteville – the oppressive Victor Hugo House in Guernsey – overloaded with the heavy pseudo-Gothic furnishings so beloved of his era. To think that poor Juliette Drouet was so besotted that she not only lived with Hugo in that dreary place but wrote him a love letter every day for 50 years – suggesting a feebleness of spirit if not of mind matched only by one of his heroines.
  • After a long trek around the coastline of Sark, a sign in the window of a thatched cottage near the Seigneurie promising a fresh strawberry tea. And delivering scones hot from the oven, dark crimson tart-sweet berries, mounds of clotted cream and good strong stand-your-spoon-up tea from a stout old Brown Betty.
  • Honey on the breakfast table in our Sark hotel – the now closed Maison Blanche – straight from the hives out back.
  • The large gentleman from Texas, who tired of listening to a description of the nave and choir at Mont St Michel, demanded to know when the “damned choir” was going to start singing!
  • Standing in line for five hours at the Opera Comique waiting for a cancellation for the Berganza-Domingo Carmen. Enduring the abuse of the lumpy spun-sugar blond vendeuse at the box office. “Vousetes fou d’attender” she heckled repeatedly, then magically produced a front row 1st loge seat 2 minutes to curtain time. The abuse was worth it – one of my great evenings at the opera.
  • The ride in an un-air conditioned taxi from Mirabel to Ottawa on a humid Ottawa Valley May afternoon with 3 lbs of goat cheese at our feet. Somehow Pierre had smuggled it passed an olfactory-challenged Customs Officer. Even a simple taxi ride could be offbeat with Pierre.

So many wonderful memories from such a creaky old drawer.

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