Toronto is a city of skyscrapers. Steel and glass. Grey. Yet, there’s an energy there that refuses to be contained.
It’s always on the move. Vendors and tourist and business people, rushing from place to place, night or day. Festival after festival, ball games, concerts, camera crews, and every culture represented in food and drink. Millions of stories walking around in human shape. The buzz in the city spoke to me, and I got drunk on the vibe.
Even in the residential areas, something was always happening. The Downtown energy diluted, but still there. As you can imagine, traffic was a nightmare no matter where you went. But something about the diversity and the constant rush held a kind of magic that probably only creatives and eccentrics can love.
Calgary is different.
The highway takes this circular turn, then you see it–winter-dry grasslands and farms, and houses. It’s ochre and sienna and umber, cerulean skies and fluffy white clouds. The landscape rolls, and for every hillock you crest, you’re rewarded with the most incredible view of the Rockies in the distance. Not so distant, mind you. Close enough for a lazy afternoon drive–an adventure before dinner.
Like the Rocky Mountains, Downtown Calgary is impossible to miss from any hilltop. It’s a cluster of buildings in the middle of the residential areas, the only vertical part of the city. These buildings aren’t quite as high as those in Toronto, and though steel and glass are present, the building style doesn’t resemble New York as much as any European city.
From what we’ve heard, Downtown is dead after 5PM. There isn’t as much to do as in Toronto. And it makes sense, there aren’t nearly as many condo buildings in Downtown Calgary as in Downtown Toronto, so the people leave their jobs to go home elsewhere.
But nothing I’ve said diminishes the enchantment of this place.
There is an energy in Calgary, the kind of restful quiet you can only get from being close to nature. It’s calm here. Relaxed. It’s as if everyone knows no matter what comes, the mountains will still stand, so why worry, why rush?
The people are open and welcoming–as they were in Toronto–but it’s amplified here. The go-with-flow culture means there’s always a moment longer to chat, and the lady at Sobeys will remember us when we buy milk next time. It means everyone stops for passing pedestrians, usually with a smile, and travellers in other vehicles actually wave back at Kayla when we wait at the traffic light.
More than this though, Calgary is familiar. Doubly so. As it is right now, with dry grass and winter sunshine days, Calgary resembles my hometown so much that I find myself wondering if we took a wrong turn to miss Malibongwe drive. The lay of the land, the building style, and way the houses fit together–this could be a photograph taken somewhere in Johannesburg. Aside from the mountains, the other exception is that it’s so much cleaner. 🙂 Don’t feel bad, Jozi. It’s so much cleaner than basically everywhere else.
I said doubly, right? The Bow River runs through Downtown Calgary, just like the Rhine runs through Düsseldorf. And, as I mentioned somewhere above, the building style is so much more European that it’s difficult not to see the similarities between Calgary and Düsseldorf, or even London with its Thames.
I know I said in my last post that home is in beating hearts, and I stand by that, but something about the way Calgary looks seems more like a memory than a new place to discover. It’s like when you move out of your parents’ house, but you still have a key and can let yourself in to raid the fridge, even when Mom and Dad aren’t there. You belong, always. At the same time, there’s something thrilling about discovering Calgary–you know, like Mom and Dad left a box of unopened chocolates that you just happened upon. As familiar as it is, it’s still shiny and new.
And though I love Toronto fiercely and my time there was incredible, I never felt quite as strongly that it was where I was supposed to be as I do now. I just didn’t know it until we arrived here.
If home were a place, its name would be Calgary. It took us two immigrations and one cross-continent move to find it, and I know even if we leave for a while, we’ll always come back.
Until next time.