Deep abiding love Thursdays: American Thanksgiving Edition

1. Dogs.

Three months ago now, I showed up in Strathroy, Ontario with my girlfriend to pick up her three year old mini schnauzer, Frodo. We’d driven for about 24 hours in the previous two days, and I really wasn’t sure what to think of the added company. Would he make us more anxious as we trecked to Nova Scotia? Would he pee on me? Would we ever get along?

It took a long time for us to warm up to each other. I was never a dog person (and have had, from an early age, the scars to prove it). Frodo’s also not exactly the most peaceful dog ever. He’s a ball of anxiety most of the time. Our advice to new people is to ignore him until he seeks them out.

At some point, he picked up a toy and brought it over to me. I picked it up and threw. We were in new territory – it was the first of many dog-man bonding moments. Every time I realized that we could do something cool together, we grow a little tighter. I took him out to Long Lake Provincial Park and we made our own trail. I brought him over to a friend’s place to play with some other dogs, and after three hours he stopped snarling and ended up having fun. We figured out how to look out for things that bother the other person. I’m there for him, and he’s there for me. Pretty sweet, I tell you.

I didn’t know what to think of Frodo. Now I really don’t know what life would be like without him.

2. Snow.

It snowed this week. I was smiling that whole day, and the whole next day, and now that it’s melting I’m not smiling as much, but that’s fine. There will be more. We are in that time of year. I can now go run around with Frodo and come in and drink hot chocolate. Katie and I can toboggan. Snowballs will be thrown. Icy roads will be drifted. Ponds will freeze over and citrus fruit will be in season, caught in the air alongside the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Snow also means eggnog, but I’ll save that piece of heaven for another post. Winter is a long and rewarding time, with a large but finite number of things I can incorporate into (a) my day and (b) the blog format. In other words: people who think Christmas is a season that starts in November are dumb. They’ll be burnt out by Boxing Day.

3. Pizza.

“C’mon Andrew! Come up with something more obvious!”

OK. I will. Music is rad! Food is tasty! The world is round! These are simple features of the universe that were once unexplored possibilities. And yet, their present obviousness does not diminish their importance. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge a fundamental, self-evident truth: that pizza is fucking DELICIOUS.

It doesn’t matter what kind. I could eat pretty much everything. I could eat it cold. I could eat an American-style pie. A New York-style pizza. A deep dish pizza. A Regina-style pizza (which is to say, absolutely loaded in toppings, cut into squares, and made by someone Greek). I would eat all of these things, and then I would check out Serious Eats’ Slice blog for more happiness in wedge or circle form. I have hacked ovens to produce enough heat to make the right sort of neapolitan pizza, with withering basil leaves and puddles of buffalo mozzarella that hide thin slices of tomato.

I love pizza, don’t you know.

4. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Good book. I’d recommend a read to any David Foster Wallace fans. I’m using that to sucker you in to reading it: it’s a book that is so goddamn good that you’ll forget about worrying about whether Leonard is really DFW, and if this is really a roman à clef, and if you should be looking to the back for footnotes.

Most reviewers, being English majors, focus on the funny little things that the English majors in this book say under the spell of semiotics. “Books are about other books” being one of the frequently cited lines. I guess I’d take that as a textual hint that it’s a bad idea to take what Eugenedies does – a super damn good realistic account of the social lives of one small group of people – and pulverize and juice it for literary meaning. And I’m very happy to not do so. I read books like this (Jonathan Franzen makes books like this too) because I really enjoy the topics they treat. It’s full of conflicts and worries and people that you can point to and say, “I’m kind of like that.” Let yourself wander down the path that this other-you finds.

5. Canadian Thanksgiving.

Americans may have Black Friday, but I’d love for someone to tell me why it’s smart to add in the stress of shopping to the myriad ways in which a Thanksgiving gathering can be bungled. Canadian Thanksgiving has all the turkey and none of the proximity to consumerism or Christmas, and that is something to be thankful for.

Author’s note: I posted this on Friday, not thursday. But a convention is a convention, and even reality must bend to it.

Cape Breton, day 2: Hiking through the Highlands National Park

I visited Cape Breton on a blogging trip from October 11th to 13th for Extreme Group and Destination Cape Breton. They gave me a couple ideas of what to see and full editorial control – so what you’ll read here is no-holds-barred travel blogging fun.

I got up after a long night of music and scenic drives to a bright new day at the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn. The Inn is known for its great food, and a breakfast buffet ($10 when you book the room) gave me a final chance to enjoy the warm dining room and the great view.

Today, I decided it was time to do some hiking. I would go up the west side of the Cabot Trail to the beginning of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, where a three-hour guided hike was launching from the interpretive centre just north of Cheticamp. The trails are about 9 km long, they go up 265m of mountain, and wind through three distinct forest types. The cost? Free. Check out the video below for trees, streams, and friendly Texans:

Q: What is another way of saying that the hike had tired me out?
A: I was ready for lunch, so I went to the Red Shoe Pub. It’s owned by a couple Rankin sisters, so you can bet on hearing some of the family’s famous Cape Breton musical talent if you make the trip. I showed up in mid-afternoon with a fantastic appetite, which sort of off-set the lack of music. The place was still packed, and the beer tap list featured Garrison and Propeller standards and seasonals. I had the Garrison Oktoberfest Brau, thinking that it would pair nicely with my absolutely amazing fish and chips. It turns out I was wrong: the crisp fish batter’s seasoning was a fresh citrus and pepper combo that made the heavy mouthfeel of the Brau completely out of place. Pro tip for next time: the Garrison Hopyard pale ale would do this haddock justice – and with food like this, there will definitely be a next time.

I had a couple hours before I would meet the rest of the Extreme Group’s contingent for supper and a tour of the Glen Breton distillery, but thanks to incredibly bad cell phone reception, the minor task of updating my social networks and booking a hotel for the night became a major side project. The problem: my Fido/Rogers phone would not work northwest of the 105.  I found an unprotected wi-fi network, thinking I could do some planning and calling from Skype, but the signal was too weak. I resolved to drive back towards where I last had reception to fire off a tweet or two, and by the time I was finished, it was time to learn about whiskey. That, though, is for another post – check back tomorrow!

Cape Breton, day 1: Music in the air from Port Morien to St. Peter’s

I visited Cape Breton on a blogging trip from October 11th to 13th for Extreme Group and Destination Cape Breton. They gave me a couple ideas of what to see and full editorial control – so what you’ll read here is no-holds-barred travel blogging fun.

Cape Breton is a bigger place than you’d expect. Maybe that’s a subjective call, but my GPS was giving me an unusually high number of instructions on the way from Eskasoni to Cow Bay. And while the looping, switchback roads might contribute a bit to the sense that you’re not getting anywhere quick, I think the main fault lies with the scenery. I blame the scenery for making time – and my pace – slow down. It’s tough not to stare when the ocean extends from sharp cliffs to mingle with the sky on the horizon. Hell, it’s hard to stay in your lane.

After a bit more than an hour (plus obligatory Tim Horton’s stop), I made it to Port Morien for the Cow Bay Ceilidh. A few local and international artists would entertain the occupants of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 055. Unfortunately, as with most events at the Legions of Canada, the crowd was fairly advanced in their years. Honestly, the average age was about 60. Dancing and raucous celebration were to be replaced by polite clapping and soft humming. The downstairs location of the bar might have had something to do with that, too.

Fortunately, the music and the acerbic wit of Celtic performers would make up for the graying audience. Cleverness started at the outset (“the emergency exists are wherever you want if you’re big enough”) and continued throughout. The MC opened the evening with a couple classic songs, and the audience participation was serene: a couple hundred calm voices and mistimed claps led the way through Irish Rover. Another song about a woman and her breasts led into the next act: John Ferguson and Roger Stone.

They’re damn talented musicians, I tell you. They also give a bit of a sense for the themes of traditional Celtic music. I’ve already mentioned the song about the woman and her breasts; by the end of the evening, there would be more than a few songs whose prevailing theme could best be described as “women doing what they shouldn’t” (like the song about a nun who was implicated in brewing moonshine). The ‘women’ leitmotif was second only to references about age and mortality. Most of the jokes were about this – about graying hair and poor eyesight. It occurred to me that the songs and the genre haven’t changed much in the lifetime of this crowd.

Anna Massie and Mairearad Green (closest pronunciation: Moira) are on stage next. They are Irish and Funny. My notes, at this point, are more scribbles about how bad the audience is. Though the venue is at capacity, the right half of the room is absolutely silent. Then the music starts, and the subject matter of their songs is shockingly different. There is a song about friendship, another about food, and there are nearly as many “tunes” (re: instrumentals) as proper songs. I note the awesomeness of the accordion, and leave.

There was still one more event to catch before the close of the night: the Kitchen Racket Jam Sessions were being held at the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn, which sits on the south end of the lakes at St. Peter’s. I decided I would bring my fiddle along for this trip, so a kitchen party was just where I could get my jamming fix. Hit the video below to see some of the acoustic goodness of the night: