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Syd with the Smrke Kid: Day 1

June 19, 2013

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I’m switching it up and putting all the pictures at the beginning, except they are in reverse chronological order. Sorry!

A foiled attempt at a run, a de-iced arena, a basket of clip-on earrings, local haddock, Tilley hats, giant fiddles, sarcasm, an actual run and lies. This was how I spent my day.

I had grand plans for waking up early and going for a run today but once I started walking, I didn’t want to speed up. I enjoyed campus in the 9am morning sunshine, smelling the flowers in bloom (they did not smell like much, I am sad to report). The campus is small but substantial. A few impressive glass walls let a lot of light into the main building and more construction is underway.

It felt a bit like walking through a ghost town, and I marveled at the lack of security or locked doors. I inadvertently snuck my way into the school gymnasium and the hockey rink, walking on the concrete in silence. I met a surprised maintenance worker on the other side and we wished each other well before I slipped through the convenient fire exit door.

I had breakfast with the rest of the Fellows and Anne-the-Dentist (more accurately, Anne-the-Awesome). We talked about going for a hike, but were warned that the black flies are especially ferocious this time of year. To town we went instead.

We hopped in a cab (interestingly, on Cape Breton, cabs operate on flat rates. From the University to downtown is $10, no matter how long it takes) learned more about the history of Sydney from our characteristically friendly cab driver. The city was Steel and Coal town no more. The thousands of well paying jobs those industries supplied had been partially replaced by call centre jobs (lower paying and less stable). Many of the workers had retired elsewhere.

We walked to the water and enjoyed the cool sea breeze. We climbed up a mountain of rocks and looked at the world’s giant fiddle, looming in the distance. Sydney is a small town. There are some beautiful old buildings on its main street, but the main attraction for me was the weather. It was glorious outside, but the temperature kept fluctuating.

After meeting up with two more Fellows – Anita (from the University of Guelph and on the selection team for their new president) and Rosa (from McMaster Arts & Science just like me, though we had very little contact before), we decided to attend to the rumblings of our stomachs.

We found a pub (& eatery, no less) that prided itself on using local ingredients. I had fresh fish and a lot of food for thought (groan! I know. The puns will not get better, I am sorry). The conversation at lunch moved from student lobbying to travel destinations to engineering competitions to learning styles, which I guess may sound to you as exciting as watching paint dry, but when you can tell the people you’re talking with have relevant lived experience and genuinely care about what they are saying, and are speaking freely, it is captivating. Seeing that I was staring off into space, Stephanie asked me, “Low energy?”.

“I’m just thinking.”

“Oh, that’s allowed! That’s definitely allowed.”

After lunch we made our way to one of my guaranteed sources of happiness – a quirky used book store. Ed’s had books, but it also had a lot more. Including a squirrel pendant necklace that I could not resist. The squirrel’s rhinestone eyes were hard to ignore. There were candy dishes full of caramels all throughout the store. Sweet, right?

We cabbed back to the university to get ready for our dinner. Vic and I got ready by going for a quick run. Well, Vic was running, I was fighting for my life. But, he bore with me and we came back after doing a tour of the campus exactly the right kind of tired.

A quick change and we were off to Flavour 19, a restaurant flanking a golf course. The restaurant menu proudly proclaimed that their dishes were “As seen on the FOOD NETWORK!!”. Note the two exclamation marks. I had a lobster roll, buttery goodness, with a side of maple dressed spinach. The food was great, the atmosphere was comfortable and I was happy to learn more about the people I’ll be spending my week with. We met the final two Fellows of our group; Ameena, a semi-professional folk musician from Winnepeg who had been up since 5 am, and Naythrah, a devotee of Oprah who immediately seemed like someone you could confide in. I learned more about Kari(one of our wranglers)’s path to developing and running the immersive academic orientation for international students at UBC, one that included teaching drama all over the world. She’s responsible, at least in part, for the “retreat” we’re doing tomorrow, in a theatre, no less, so I expect wonderful things.

Arjun, the president and Mary (?), VP of STLHE (organization running the conference) quickly talked to us about what to expect as first-timers. Arjun talked about the weirdness and openness of the conference-goers. He gave us a book about silence and encouraged us to be nothing less than ourselves. I liked him.

Our meal ended with dessert and a game of “two truths, one lie” (the guess-ee tells two truths and one lie, the guessers have to choose the falsehood) and the warm, comfortable feeling of having eaten just a little too much in a warm, warmly lit room.

A nice fifteen minute walk led us back to our residence where a game of cards has started without me. I should probably go there now.

I realize that I haven’t explained a few of the things I mentioned in my enticing first sentence. The bowl of clip-on earrings was in Ed’s Books. The sarcasm was being lobbed all day, by different people. There is a good mix of gullible to devious people, so it worked well. Anne-the-Dentist was rocking her Tilley hat (as you can see in the picture). There. Satisfied?

Until next time!

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