Welcome Home

 airport escalatorA few year ago, when the design for Winnipeg’s new airport terminal was in the consultation phase, the citizens of the city spoke fervently about not wanting to lose the iconic escalator where they had greeted their loved ones for decades. The design team took heed, and replicated the escalator in the design for the new terminal. Everyone who arrives on a domestic flight makes a grand entrance at the top of this escalator, and hopes to be met by someone special waiting at the bottom. The escalator is, in many ways, Winnipeg’s official symbol of coming home.

Today it was my daughter coming home—back in town after four months away at school. She was excited to be coming back to reconnect with friends and family over her holiday break. I was equally excited to be meeting her.

I like airports. I like people watching in airports. I like the shiver of anticipation that vibrates through the crowd—the undercurrent of anxious excitement that swirls around those who are coming and going and waiting.

Of course the problem with people is, well, some of them are better company than others. I sat down on a bench to wait and was promptly subjected to overhearing a racist tirade by the middle aged white woman across from me–something about aboriginal Christmas Hamper recipients who “take advantage.”

I wish I was better at delivering snappy comebacks to strangers. As usual, I just felt silently ill.

I’ve been immersed of late in the reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—struggling to wrap my head around the appalling manner in which the first residents of this land were treated by a group of newcomers. Wearing my lifelong privilege with increasing discomfort. Finding myself more and more intolerant of intolerance.

airport arrivalsUnwilling to remain in earshot of my racist neighbour any longer, I vacated the bench to wander the increasingly crowded waiting area. Evidently someone else of significance was expected at the top of that escalator. By the time the arrival board announced that the plane had landed, the waiting area at the foot of the escalator was filled with TV cameras, reporters with microphones, and people holding up “Welcome to Canada” signs.

My daughter was one of the early ones off the plane and down the escalator, and we watched together as her celebrity travelling companions made their grand entrance—a Syrian refugee family arriving to be greeted by their Manitoba sponsors.

airport drummersAnd then, out of the crowd emerged the drummers. I had read earlier that, across Canada, Indigenous people were making plans to extend a special welcome to the newcomers. Still, witnessing it first hand caught me off guard. I fought back tears as the group of women stood at the foot of the escalator and drummed and sang a welcome ceremony, their chants echoing through the massive arrival hall.

Welcome home. Everyone.

 

 

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Ruts and Routines

I live in a city that had ox-cart drivers as its original city planners.

Winnipeg’s main routes emanate out from the centre where the two rivers meet in a pattern that roughly resembles spokes of a wheel. Most of these routes were established along the original ox-cart trails that brought traders from throughout the centre of the continent to the Red River Settlement where the Red and Assiniboine rivers converge. The ox-carts are long gone, but the map of Winnipeg has been forever shaped by the paths they etched into the prairie. Consequently, you will find all manner of odd street configurations here. It is possible for two streets to run roughly parallel for miles, and then mysteriously intersect. You can have a street that cuts a diagonal across a neighbourhood that is otherwise laid out in a fairly standard rectangular grid. There is even a major intersection that has been lovingly nicknamed “Confusion Corner.”

You get used to it. Really.
Confusion Corner. You get used to it. Really.

All the ritual “back to school” activities of the last few weeks have me thinking about ruts and routines. My youngest commented a few days ago that she was looking forward to getting back into a routine with school starting. As much as I love the lazy open-endedness of summer, I must admit I like the routine of the school year too. At the same time, I am a lover of change. I hate the feeling of being in a rut– of  treading the same path over and over until I have worn it into a major thoroughfare– even if it is no longer the best route to where I want to be.

So what is the difference between a rut and a routine? Etymologically, they are both connected to “route”– to the idea of travelling along a path. But the way we typically use these words suggests very different connotations.

Ruts happen when you follow the same path without deviation so many times that you essentially get stuck following the same path. You can get out of a rut, but the more well-worn it is, the more supreme the effort will be to do so. In fact, it’s often so much of an effort that it just seems easier to stay in the rut. Staying, of course, digs the rut deeper and makes it even harder to extract yourself. When Albert Einstein remarked that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing and expecting a different result,” he was talking about ruts in our behaviour. We even get ruts in our thinking– finding it easier to follow old and worn out logic rather than to think about our world in a fresh way.

I’ve never heard anyone say they were “in a rut” who meant it was a thing to be desired.

Routines provide form and structure to our lives, but without entrapping us they way ruts do. The word “routine” brings to mind the notion of a “dance routine.” Dancers assemble a routine through disciplined repetition of a pattern of movements. Often the process of learning the routine involves breaking those movements down into small segments and focusing on those segments until they can be performed without much thought. And that’s when the magic kicks in. The dancer is able to focus on style and expression because the technical steps of the routine have become routine.

Ruts and routines originate the same way: behaviors are repeated and reinforced until those behaviours are second nature. The difference lies in the effect they have on us. Ruts trap us into patterns that we keep repeating long after they have ceased to serve us. Ruts hold us to a narrow path, guarding us from surprises, protecting us from change. Routines, on the other hand, are a place of safety from which we can venture forth into exploration and expression. Routines are the scaffold on which creative people of all stripes stand to exercise their creativity.

 

Home, Frozen Home

When I set out for work yesterday morning the wind chill was -50 degrees Celsius. According to the astronomy department at the local museum, it was colder in my city yesterday than it was on the surface of Mars. So take note space entrepreneurs: if you’re thinking to pitch Mars as a tourist destination, Winnipeg is your prime market.

If you travel to Thompson to the north of Winnipeg (yes, there is stuff north of Winnipeg besides polar bears) you will be hard pressed to find a hotel room during the winter months. The population of the town swells in the coldest months of the year with car manufacturing companies on location to cold-test their vehicles. (Random thought: I wonder where the Mars Rover was cold-tested?)

Many years ago, on a tour of the canals of Venice, we learned about the risks and challenges of living on land that had been, rather tenuously, reclaimed from the sea. I commented that it seemed odd that people would opt to make their homes in such an unforgiving place. My partner turned to me with a look of incredulity and said, “Well, we live in Winnipeg.”

But honestly I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Call my crazy.

We’ve had record low temperatures in December. The streets– even the main arteries– are a corrugated mess of deep ice ruts that mean you take your life in your hands every time you change lanes. That is if you can actually figure out where the lanes are. The roads are littered with automotive debris from the unlucky ones. I’m wearing my smooshed-in bumper from my Christmas day mishap like a good-luck charm. I figure I’ve had my turn. Even so, I am white-knuckling my way through the exit ramps and intersections where the buildup is the worst. And in case the snow pack wasn’t enough, water mains keep bursting and turning streets into ersatz skating rinks.

I can’t remember seeing the roads this bad for this long. It seems to have been a perfect storm of heavy, warmish, snowfall followed by a deep freeze that has rendered the packed snow and ice resistant to the scraping of the snow plows.

But we’re still going places. Oh, I suspect that there were a few more people than usual opting for a New Year’s Eve night at home last night, but when I was still on the roads around 8:30 pm I was far from alone. It takes a lot more than ridiculous cold and treacherous driving conditions to keep a Winnipegger from carrying on with life.

Although, I have to admit at -50 I am not taking a lot of leisurely walks along the riverbank. I could, however, safely talk a walk on the river by now–that is if I didn’t mind risking frostbite and hypothermia. I contemplated suiting up and walking up to the road to take some pictures for this post, but since taking pictures requires the removal of my mitts, I decided that wasn’t happening.

Instead, I stumbled across this bit of fun from a Canadian business. This story is from Ontario, but the same spirit of thumbing one’s nose at the worst winter has to offer applies.