Man In A Suitcase

Calgary, Alberta

Having spent most of my time in Canada around crowded cities like Montréal and Toronto, my first visit to Calgary was a nice change. The city reminds me a bit of Denver, which I'm told is partly the result of the same firms doing a lot of the construction. It's a pleasant place to walk around, with well ordered streets, attractive modern buildings (with a lot of mirrored glass reflecting still other attractive modern buildings) and, best of all, a system of above-ground walkways you can use when the mercury drops too far below freezing. The walkways are called +15. The name relates their height of 15 feet above ground. Funny, I thought Canada was on the metric system...

If you look real hard you can even see some remains of an architectural period before the chrome and glass took over. Like the building with the tower that's now home to Budget Car Rental. (The basketball players in the foreground are part of a sculpture called The Family of Man.) Or the building on the right, which I assumed was a restaurant but turned out to house a menswear store. But it does make me wonder: what kind of world is it where such a neat place can be almost entirely unoccupied?

Edmonton, Alberta

With some time on my hands on the weekend, I decided to see the sights beyond the bright lights of Calgary. Noticing that Edmonton was a short distance away on the map (close to 300 kilometers; hey, it's a big country!) I decided it was worth a visit just to see that famous landmark: the world's largest shopping mall. In typical guy style, I didn't bother with directions; just head north and assume that I can find my way. (This technique has served me surprisingly well over the years. But be assured that I can ask for directions when necessary. It's just hardly ever necessary...)

Sure enough, the moment I reached the outskirts of the city there were signs to lead me to West Edmonton Mall, surely one of the wonders of the world. (As in: I wonder why they decided to build the thing way out here!) Nondescript from the outside, the mall has a hotel (inscribed with the generic sign: Hotel), a casino, an ice rink, a miniature golf course, dolphin shows, a Disneyland-like submarine ride, an amusement park with some truly frightening-looking rides and a water park with slides and an enormous pool. Oh yes, and there are even a few shops and restaurants.
You could spend a week's vacation in the place without ever going outside. (Why you would want to is a different question.) Which made me think of Logan's Run and its image of life totally within a closed community. (Part of it was filmed in a mall in Texas.) Now that is a frightening image of the future. (The living inside a mall, not Texas. Although, come to think of it...) Although at least I wouldn't have to suffer for long; in that society they got rid of anybody who reached his thirtieth birthday!

Banff National Park

Having devoted Saturday to worship at the altar of Mammon, I decided to spend Sunday enjoying the great outdoors. Calgary lies a hundred or so kilometers from the eastern entrance to Banff National Park, thousands of square kilometers of unspoiled land in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. (Yes, they have Rocky Mountains in Canada. And I thought we had the trademark for that one. Somebody call the lawyers.) The city of Banff lies inside the park, which has kept it from being overdeveloped. And the views are spectacular in every direction.

I arrived in Banff at 9:30 in the morning. The temperature was around -15C, which was a little too much for my thin California blood. So I took a few pictures and then drove on to Lake Louise, hoping that things would warm up by the time I arrived and planning to return to Banff later in the day. (They did; -5 is a whole
lot more pleasant than -15. And I did; return to Banff, that is.)
When I arrived at Lake Louise I found myself surrounded by skiers, many of whom had come for a race being held on a course on the lake. You can't actually see the lake in winter; it's all covered in snow, aside from a small space they cleared to bare ice as a skating rink. There's a magnificent old hotel in front of the lake that's part of the Canadian Pacific chain. You have to give those railroad guys credit: they certainly knew how to choose nice locations for their properties.

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California