Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chilling Calgary!

This week’s Blog is a departure from the normal “Living Loreto” format – because, this past week I have NOT been living Loreto, as regular Readers already know. This week I have been “Chilling Calgary” instead, visiting family and friends here while taking in a Real Estate Trade Show. The less said about the Trade Show the better, it was poorly promoted and the turnout was disappointing. But the rest of my short visit back to a northern City at the end of the winter season has been an interesting experience.

First of all for context, I grew up here and spent most of my adult life living in western Canada so the winter experience is hardly a new one, although, after spending most of the past five winters in Mexico I consider that climate to be the more ``natural`` one to me now. But I was well aware of what I was getting into when I arrived in Calgary last week, to be greeted by temperatures in the minus 27 degree Celsius range, almost 60 degrees Celsius colder than when I left the Airport in Cabo!

(A brief explanation here is probably appropriate – in Canada we use the Celsius temperature system rather than the Fahrenheit used in the US. The simplest explanation of the difference between them is that at freezing the temperature is zero degrees Celsius and 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so, -25 degrees C = -13 deg. F. When I left Cabo the temperature was +30 deg. C, or 85 deg. F and when I arrived in Calgary it was -30 C or -22 F – so it was 60 degrees colder in Celsius or 100 degrees colder in Fahrenheit! Confused? Well, then I guess I won`t get into explaining metres or litres!)

Anticipating the “deep freeze” on my arrival, I had packed a sweater and lined leather jacket in the outside pockets of my suitcase so I was able to add some layers while I was still in the baggage claim area of the Calgary Airport. Suitably garbed, I made my way out into the terminal where I received a warm welcome (is there any other kind, under these circumstances?) from my sister and brother-in-law and then we made our way out to their waiting car.

Driving through the early darkness of a major City in the grip of a cold snap is culturally (as well as climatologically) a shock, especially after driving in Mexico five hours earlier. The squeak of the tires on the snow in the parking lot, the clouds of condensed exhaust billowing out of the tailpipes of the cars, the ploughed walls of snow bordering the major roads – what used to be unremarkable and commonplace for most of my life, now seems bizarre and exotic, and even a bit frightening!

However, the human species adapts quickly! The next morning I was out in the car running several errands and, after taking it carefully for the first few blocks, old reflexes soon returned and I easily got back into a winter driving mode. Braking gently and early, not following too closely, watching for icy patches, yes, it all comes back so quickly.

The weather in Calgary can be very changeable at this time of year. I arrived in the midst of a “cold snap” and people were generally grumbling about the extreme temperatures, and who can blame them with lows in the high minus 20’s and “highs” in the minus mid-teens, what’s not to complain about! But over the course of the week I was there, after a few days the temperatures started to moderate and by the middle of last week they were back up to a “seasonable” plus 4 degrees – HEATWAVE!

What became apparent over this visit, and the rising and lowering temperatures, was how weary the people living in these winter climates become with the weather, from late October, now through early March - and the worst of the winter is not yet over. In fact, it is often March when they receive most of the snowfall in this area. But it’s not just the cold and the snow, but the accumulation of old snow and ice on the streets and parking lots, turning grey and unpleasant through the cycles of snow and thaw and more snow, stratified with layers of gravel laid down for traction and ploughed up into the walls that surround every cleared area.

But all of the culture shock is not limited to the weather. Living again in a “big City” one also gets exposed again to media, like weather reports – does it really matter if it is minus 15 or minus 17 degrees out today? Or sports – how did I manage to live for months in Mexico without knowing the final scores of a dozen or so Hockey games played most nights across North America? But one of the strangest was the traffic reports – every 10 minutes or so, morning and evening rush “hours” (that seem to extend further into the rest of the day) with a running list of collisions and stalled cars scattered across the four corners of the City and the chaos that results from the congestion that builds immediately behind the unlucky victims.

On a brighter side, a mid-winter visit back is an opportunity to pick up the unobtainable for myself and friends, who live a much simpler life without the 24/7/365 access to the cornucopia that is the shopping reality in most major centres in North America. While most of us in Mexico take some pride in this simpler way of life that comes with the limited selection of consumer goods available to us in our chosen home away – when the opportunity does arise the wish lists come out!

Having been on the receiving end a number of times myself, I know what a difference getting that cherished item can mean to someone months away from their own return to “Shopper’s Paradise”. On this trip, one couple wanted 3 seat cushions to complete their set of new outdoor furniture, these could not be ordered in Mexico but were readily available in several stores in Calgary. Another neighbour made an impassioned appeal for new bed sheets, to replace the set that had inexplicably become suddenly worn out (what happens in the Baja – stays in the Baja!). And finally, someone else wanted several bottles of non-prescription pain reliever, but of a particular formula that is the unique key to relieving their migraines – truly a mission of mercy!

My own requirements were modest – magazines! While there is an extensive lending library of hundreds of good books available at our well stocked Community Centre, current magazines (my favourite is Vanity Fair) are among the rarest of luxuries where I live. So I stocked up with great relish, bringing back a handful of fresh periodicals which I will jealously ration over the rest of the winter and hopefully manage to eke out until I return to the Big Magazine Racks later this year.

So these are my thoughts from Calgary last week, as I packed my bags and prepared for the early departure that will amazingly return me to sun and heat and palm trees in less than five hours from the dark and cold and snow - that really is part of “Chilling Calgary”! Burrrrr!