Sunday, January 29, 2023

taking the train / winnipeg to toronto jan 2023

On the very last days of 2022 R and I travelled to Winnipeg to visit our friends whose boys we've known since they were babies. All but the youngest is taller than I am now. 

The weather was mild, considering that we were in Winnipeg in the winter. Only about -8C. For a few days there was no wind and the hoarfrost was impressive. 

We walked for long afternoons and into the dusk, often on the Assiniboine River, once on the Red, also on smaller rivers where one of our young friends who's enamoured of ice fishing set up his equipment that now includes a sonic device he built himself. I have to admit I wasn't paying as much attention to his enthusiastic explanation of its workings as to moon that was visible at 2:30 pm.  

I lay in the snow a lot because it makes a firm mattress that moulds to the body, and cold through my coat feels delicious when I'm overheated from trudging along for a couple of hours.  

To return to Montreal, R and I took the train. I wasn't sure whether I would like a 38-hr trip, but R convinced me with his sketches from a previous trip. I wanted to see winter in Northern Ontario. 

How far north does the train go? Farther north than the Great Lakes. 

And although it's a long trip, I could walk around--as I often did--and eavesdrop on the pockets of talk around me. 

The train was LONG. Three locomotives to pull it. The conductor sometimes let us get off at stops or when we had to wait for freight trains to pass. There were also lots of stops for the smokers. I jumped around a bit, stretched my back and legs. 

The smokers complained when the train stopped and they weren't allowed to get off--but the woman who was accompanied by her psychiatric service dog could. They understood that the dog needed to pee, but boy oh boy, they'd better not look out the window and see her smoking!

I sat and wrote here because it was quiet and the endless trees were good companions. Between somewhere and somewhere a man parked himself at a table and tried to chat up the young woman who worked at the snack bar. He told her about his job and she told him that someone had broken into her apartment and that her mom was in the hospital. Then it was his stop and he disappeared into the night. 

There was a woman who engaged everyone who walked past, including the conductor. I never saw her leave her seat, although she was already installed in a nest of blankets when we got on in Winnipeg and she was going all the way to Toronto. A couple of hours before Toronto, she did a full makeup procedure with a hand mirror. She was obsessed with cost. When someone said they had an apartment in Red Deer, Alberta, she wanted to know how much they paid for rent--and were utilities included or extra? She asked people what they did and how much they were paid. She asked how much a coat cost. When the person sitting across from her returned with a sandwich from the snackbar, she wanted to know how much it cost. She had a long phone conversation  in Spanish about the cost of a house in Nicaragua. I avoided looking at her and she didn't ask me anything. 

A man got on in the evening and was calling family farther south to tell them that yup, yup, yup, he was on his way. He kept the phone on speaker so I heard that people were disappointed that he wasn't underway sooner. I gathered someone was very ill. They told him he should have taken the bus (which runs more frequently than the train). At one point he misdialed a number, heard the person's voice who answered and tried to say it was a wrong number and hang up. The person said, Jim, is that you? Are you okay? Have you quit yet? Jim said he'd been trying and he was grateful for all the help the friend had given him, but with all his might he couldn't manage. He'd tried, oh he'd tried, but the plain fact was he liked smoking. 

I have a sense of what it means to live far from an urban centre since R and I spend a couple of months every year on the northeastern coast of Quebec. But: we don't live there year-round and there's a HUGE difference between a 6-hr, a 16-hr, and a 26-hr drive to the nearest large hospital. 

Some might use Costco or a concert hall for reference, but for me the essential is a good cardiology department. 

There was a woman travelling from Alberta to work as a cook in a "bunker" in a place she called Alsace. When she said we were only an hour away, I looked it up on the map. Elsas. She'd worked as a cook in mines and lumber camps from Alberta to Ontario, but called Alberta home because that's where her daughter and grandkids lived. I don't know whether she was a good cook or not, but she was travelling 3000 k to get to this job. 

ps When I say I looked it up, I mean one of those rare moments when we were near a cell tower. Outside of towns, northern Ontario is off the grid.  

The second evening on the train, I wanted a beer and had come to the lounge with R. On previous visits I'd noticed the two men who sat separately but spoke with each other in a language I couldn't recognize. R guessed Turkish. They were delighted to see that beer was available, which they may not have known if they couldn't read the menu. They went to the snack bar to get themselves beer and snacks. When they returned and realized we had no snacks, one dropped a handful of nuts on our table and the other Pringles. This was very friendly and kind, but technically there was a virus out and about, and they had both touched the nuts and chips with fingers that were going back and forth to their mouths. 

We decided that acknowledging their kindness and was more important than hygiene. We ate the snacks.  

Here's a better pic of the Sky Lounge which I believe was designed to see the country--through the Rockies, across the Prairies and northern Ontario. It belongs to the train that does the Vancouver to Toronto run. 

Hey, VIA, it would nice to have an observation car like that for the train from Montreal to Halifax too! 

Slowly slowly slowly the train made its way southward. 

R and I still had to catch the train from Toronto to Montreal (550 k) the next morning. I had booked a room close to the train station at the Radisson Blu. The lovely reception clerk asked where we'd come from and gave us an upgrade to a studio with a fireplace (electric) on the top floor overlooking the lake. Very nice. Thank you, Radisson!

And yes, R sketched on this trip too. Here's our breakfast of tangerines and coffee. Coffee from the snackbar. We brought the fruit. 

For a more rambling, irreverent version of the trip including the part where R travelled by bus from Toronto, our trip to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and his thoughts on the books he was reading: 

Note that we usually have different takes on 'what happened'. That's just how it is.