Edmonton there is something I have to say, I don’t want to love you but I kind of, sort of think that I do. I feel no pride when the Oilers or the Eskimos win a game. If something notable happens in the city I have no urge to brag to my out-of-town friend and family; but I will brag when you are the coldest place in Canada, occasionally the coldest place on earth.
The best words to describe you are ‘meh’ and ‘grey’. Sure the River Valley is nice in the summer and a veritable symphony of colour in the autumn and festival season has something to do every week for 3 straight months. But from mid-October to mid-April the sky and the city are the same shade as the flannel suits loved and loathed by depressed businessmen the world over. Your roads are weird, your potholes could swallow a Smart Car, traffic circles seem to appear out of nowhere, road work seems to never end and when it finally does you seem to have some sort of mental block when it come to clearing the snow. Your international claim to fame is an enormous shopping mall; a mecca of conspicuous consumption and late-twentieth century suburban sprawl. The sum of these parts inspires one to take advantage of every opportunity to leave, even if the destination is somewhere as small as the hamlet of Radway.
But here is the thing Edmonton, the thing that is so tough to admit that even after 4 years residing within your municipal limits I can only say it after recounting a sampling of your shortcomings. Edmonton, I think I love you.
Somehow, and against my better judgment and staunch attempts to prevent it, you got under my skin Edmonton. You softened my defenses with perfect Indian Summers that made me sad to leave for the frost and flurries of my hometown in the mountains at Thanksgiving. Slowly, you showed me that when the sky and the city are the desolate grey of the long, cold, winter there is still colour hiding in the corners and under the covers. The creativity of your inhabitants in the face of your shortcomings seduced me. Their music made your bleak streets sing. Their art made your grey a rainbow and your dingiest bits shine. They embraced all the culture you had to offer and their curiosity and love of discovering something new could not be quashed by weeks of -30C or record snowfall. They created new communities through food one would be hard pressed to find done as well in this countries other major cities – where else do you get traditional Mexican with a touch of Alberta duck, burgers inspired by the theatre, poutine influenced by the humble perogie, cinnamon buns that know no equal, a latte topped with maple bacon, and great steak tartar (made better when it is 1/2 price).
There are still things about you, Edmonton, I cannot say I love. When it snows for 30 days straight and blue sky becomes a distant memory, I long for the Chinooks of my childhood – would even welcome the migraines they bring. Your municipal politics are often farcical with a billionaire bully regularly trying to push dorky council in the mud to take its lunch money. Your leading university has a building that looks like a giant stick of butter! Yet, when I walk down Jasper Ave and see the “I (hear) YEG” stencils on the sidewalk it makes me smile. The strangely apocalyptic orange-pink glow cast by the fluorescent accents on the Whyte Ave streetlights in the winter is unique to your never-ending winter.
You see Edmonton, you are kind of like the annoying little brother of everyone’s best friend. At first you are such a pain in the rear end that one cannot get away from you fast enough, then after a while you stop throwing rocks at your sibling and their friends and show that you are actually kind of cool.
Edmonton, I love you. There I said it without any qualifications or hesitations or attempts to avoid the inevitable. Are you happy now?
(PS. Still can’t bring myself to cheer for your sports teams to win but have been known to wear their colours – borrowed from someone else.)