Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Straits of Georgia

The Straits of Georgia are really an inland sea, separating Vancouver Island, on which the British Columbia capital, Victoria, is located at the southern end, from the mainland, where the large city of Vancouver stands. We had occasion to see all these amazing places during one of our typical long-distance, short-stay trips last week and weekend. The objective was to attend a "handfasting" ceremony on Denman Island, which is a modest-sized island halfway up the east, inside coast of Vancouver Island.

The ceremony has some Celtic antecedents, I'm told, but is tantamount to an engagement with many attributes of the actual wedding. We were invited by a good friend whom Eileen met during her junior year at LSE and who showed us some less visible and highly interesting attractions in Ottawa, where he lives, last summer. One of his sisters has lived on Denman for more than 30 years so he and his bride, both embarking on matrimony for the second time round, chose to celebrate there. Suffice it to say that a good time was had by all, with the bride attired in a Russian peasant dress true to her origins and our friend in full Scottish regalia, which was based on his mother's birthplace.

We broke up the trip with some time in Victoria, oft described as Canada's most British city, and ended up with a stay in Vancouver, which has some similarities to San Francisco in its hills and cosmopolitan character. Both cities have magnificent museums where we focused largely on the major anthropological collections of indigenous peoples of the Canadian Northwest. The Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria has the usual wide range of totem poles and implements, but especially noteworthy is the lodge of a Kwakiutl chief, famous as the site of the most expansive potlatches. In Vancouver the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia has an even more impressive collection of house and totem poles, kayaks and canoes and implements of all kinds, and the fantastic yellow-cedar woodcarvings of Bill Reid and other modern practitioners of the traditional arts.

Vancouver also boasts its own Shakespeare Festival, called "Bard on the Beach" since the plays are presented in large tents on one of the beaches along English Bay. Mostly because we had just seen a magnificent Merchant of Venice at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington--which even made the anti-Semitism of the play comprehensible--we opted for Henry VI: The Wars of the Roses, which is a combined version of the three Parts of Henry VI, not one of Shakespeare's most-performed works. The acting in the Douglas Campbell Theatre (named after one of the mainstays of the Stratford, Ont., Festival) was superb--the play is very rough even by Shakespeare's standards with all sorts of deaths, usually enacted onstage but the convoluted plot explains what the Wars of the Roses were all about and, perhaps most critically, is vital to a full comprehension of the next play (in historical if not written sequence), the great Richard III.

By the end of the play, Richard already dominates the proceedings. Henry VI also features one of Shakespeare's most-quoted lines, uttered by Dick the Butcher, supporter of Jack Cade's rebellion, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers!" It's probably impossible for Shakespeare's intent to catch up with the common use of the phrase--as in Coriolanus, Shakespeare did not usually have a high view of common people and here he was emphasizing the disorder and riot that accompanies popular rebellions.

We probably were on more ferries than I'll take for the rest of my life, but another one took us from Denman Island to Hornby Island, which has a music festival ranging from classical quartets to rap, and a wonderful pub with another fantastic sea view, called The Thatch, where we enjoyed a spectacular sunset. I remain enthralled by the Northwest generally, by the combination of huge Douglas firs and amazing waterscapes. Even during our brief stays in Seattle, where we began and ended our trip, there was no rain.

Lots of salmon at table, of course, and in Vancouver, deliciously creamy black cod. Our B&B on Denman offered the inevitable and highly apopreciated hot muffins. Probably our favorite meal was had at Camille's in Victoria, where they seemed to have the finest hand at cooking the salmon just right, and then ending the trip out in the sun on a deck overlooking Puget Sound at Ray's Boathouse, hosted by Ken Lambert, photographer extraordinaire for The Seattle Times.

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