When the bus arrived, I steered clear of all the violent, shifty-eyed types, which ended up being a large percentage of the ridership. I found two white-haired ladies near the front, one with knitting needles already out. I asked if I could sit beside her, and somewhat reluctantly, she said yes. Maybe I looked like a beheader, I don’t know. I suppose when you’re 80, anyone could be a potential purse-snatcher, and we are all busy worrying about different ill fates.
Soon, Dot, Pat and I were gabbing away like long lost friends. The two old birds were heading to Victoria to the Scottie Tournament of Hearts. Avid curlers (both on ice, and in the hair), Pat and Dot were a comic duo. They had been friends for 60 years and were meeting (another) Dot and Helen in Victoria for 11 days of curling action. Pat hoped that one tracksuit would be enough. Certainly Dot would let them “run a load of dirties?” Dot was mostly quiet, focussed on her dish cloth production, until we entered Burnaby. Then we all had to look for the Costco and some park to the left. Why? Her sister lived in the third house behind Costco 12 years ago.
Pat started talking about her sister who lived in Langley. “She’s a real animal lover. Really. She dances with dogs, have you ever heard of that?” Apparently her sister travels all over with Snowy, the standard poodle she does the cha-cha and tango with. “She paid a real bundle for Snowy.” Pat assures me that they’re really popular in the states. “They call her up to go to Washington all the time.”
From dancing dogs we were on to card games and Oprah. Every day at 4 p.m., Pat sits down with a white rum and water and watches Opie. This is her retirement schedule after a lifetime of work as a query clerk at the National Department of Defense. “Don’t tell anyone, but look, I’ve got my emergency stash.” Pat dipped her hand in her purse and pulled out a bar fridge bottle of rum. Then one of vodka for Dot. She had a bigger bottle in her bag that was underneath the bus.
The seven hour bus-ferry-bus ride left us in Victoria an hour early. The golden girls were going to have a cocktail at the Empress, and I left them fighting over where to store their luggage. “Dot, we can’t go into the bar at the Empress rolling our bags behind us. We’ll look like hillbillies.” Their friend Dot wasn’t picking them up until an hour later, and I knew if I went with them, we’d be into some kind of trouble. We’d all be dancing with dogs after Empress cocktails so early in the day.
Wanda had a police training course that would drag her away for the entire weekend in Victoria. This left me ample time to wander, which is what I do best. I ran each morning along the wharf to Oak Bay, feeling like Forrest Gump when he couldn’t stop running. The salty ocean air was deep in my nose and made my lungs feel bigger. The ocean vista filled my head with hope, dreams and philosophical thought. Or was it listening to Bananarama on my iPod that did that? The sun bounced off the Pacific and back onto my face. Cherry blossoms dotted the sky in tight cotton candy pink bundles. Tulips stood bravely out of the soil. Spring was already hugging the island, and me.
It seemed like all of Victoria had left their homes at once to come walk along the seawall. There were daschunds, airedales, duck tollers, goldens, labs and black-tongued chows all chasing balls, slow crows and each other. There were lesbians, old-timers in matching day-glo ponchos and a parade of Mountain Equipment Co-op fashions on people and dogs. Reflective tape on your clothing is haute couture in Victoria, Vera Wang would be shunned.
After running so long my knee caps threatened to pop off, I showered with water pressure that would knock-down a five-year-old. I am so happy that hotels have hired engineers to design shower curtains that no longer reach for your body like wet Saran Wrap.
Armed with a trusty list of recommendations from two of my trusty friends, Kelly and Kaitlin, I embarked on a very selfish weekend of good eats and bookstore-hopping. There were blue cheese lamb burgers infused with savoury rosemary and sweet apricot with hand-cut Kennebec fries at the Pink Bicycle. At the Blue Fox I downed a Sumo-wrestler-sized plate of French toast with maple syrup so thin and sweet that I wanted to order a pint glass of it. The Blue Fox is notorious for its line-ups, and worth every teeth-chattering minute. Lady Marmalade on Johnson street oozed a great vibe too—the diner encouraged toque-wearing and lingering. I read half my book over long-gone poached eggs and sausage, and smelled like Lady Marmalade for the entire day (much like a Burger King Whopper smell stays on your hands for several hours after eating and intense hand-washing).
I lured Wanda away at night to Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub, even though she had a heap of homework to do. We took seats at the kitchen bar which was like being a film crew member of a cooking reality show. We saw life in the trenches, flames, pink burns on forearms, beads of sweat, fast-dicing of purple onions, collisions, the delicate arrangement of mint leaves on gelato and the art of decorating hazelnut tarts with syrupy drizzles. What we also saw was how many hands touch and fondle your food before it is set in front of you. The last thing we really had to worry about is whether we’ve washed our own hands or not, seeing how five others have stuck their fingers in our entree to make sure the latkes are appropriately arranged beside the Cornish pasty and carrot dimes. My moules frites (mussels curiously on a bed of fries—a true Belgian, and now Jules, delight) we’re of giant proportions which made me think that increased phosphates in the ocean must have some unadvertised benefit.
Spinnakers is actually Canada’s oldest brewpub. I convinced Wanda to sample the “time honoured old world brewing techniques.” She opted for the ale as she’s not as fond of my risky beer choices that often taste like orthotics, sweat socks, leather pants, campfires or raspberries. (Editor’s note: There is a Holy Smoke beer crafted by Church Key Brewing in Ontario. A swallow of Holy Smoke is like a drink of campfire smoke which is weird, and makes me long for marshmallows with scorched black skin.
After such an intense day of eating only organic things and prowling probably-organic bookshelves, I walked to the Owl and Pussycat Spa. I had read an article about Thai massage in Monday magazine (the local Victoria newspaper with a Georgia Straight/Now magazine flavour)the night before and never dreamed that I would actually get a spontaneous weekend appointment when I phoned.
I was hoping for a Thai practitioner, for a fully authentic experience, but Gillie had trained in Thailand and probably like Pad Thai, so that was good enough for me. She was passionate about her work, spoke in spa whispers and made the upcoming massage treatment sound like a white-water rafting ride with her unbridled enthusiasm.
When you receive a Thai massage you are fully clothed (and so is the person giving it, except for bare feet). What happens when you lie on the mat is out of this world. I was folded up like an origami creation, stepped on, pulled on, felt all my joints dislocating and saw stars when she did some Thai thing to my neck. I was elbowed, pummeled, and modelled like the wet clay in Ghost. I even heard the lyrics,“my darlin’, I hunger for your touch, a long, lonely time….”
Out of the corner of my eye I had to take a few sneak peaks to see what compromising positions Gillie was putting me in. And whether the crack of my ass was showing or not. When it wasn’t, she had her foot or her elbow in it. The Thai experience is intimate, and not for the faint-hearted. Kinda like an introduction to Kama Sutra with clothes on. With a complete stranger.
After being Thai-ed up I went to the wine store down the block. I think Gillie said it was important to drink wine after the massage, and I’m glad I did to keep the throb of particular muscle insertion points at bay. I slept like a dead pig that night.
As for Victoria’s secret, I know it. There is a whisper in the Pacific that tells you to come back. It’s a magic spell that coaxes you to return with the promise of eternal spring. That or the promise of rosemary studded lamb burgers dripping with blue cheese that would make a grown man cry.