Monday, 14 April 2008

but can you dip it in tea?

Among the many millions of things we did in the Mother Country this time round was Cambridge. We touristed like mad tourists, but with the magical added bonus of...the CAMCard. You get one when you graduate, and it's your I'm One Of Us identification. It means that when you want to bring someone to look round the colleges, or just cut across through one of them to get into town from where you are, instead of paying 2.50 at every entrance, you just flash them your card and they wave you in. And you can go all round everywhere, even the routes that are marked forbidden to tourists. And the porters look at you all nice instead of grumpy. Because you're One Of Us. (You still can't walk on the grass though. They shoot you for that).

The picture above is in fact not really "my" Cambridge (notwithstanding the row of bikes across the middle. Bikes are everyone's Cambridge; they're a fact of life). My college is considerably less ivy-clad and altogether more bricky and stern and functional (being built in the 1960s rather than the 1660s) - which makes it far more loveable, but really I am pretty much a tourist when it comes to the posh-looking town centre colleges. (Having a couple of supervisions in Pembroke and King's doesn't really count either, because I kind of felt like a tourist then too). Even so...going back to visit - for the first time since graduation - I'm telling you, Proust had nothing on me. It was as if the whole of Cambridge was one giant madeleine. Something so rooted in one specific time of your life and then left behind, so it always feels as it did at that time. I guess people who stay in the place they were born, or grew up, or went to college - which a whole lot of people here in Saskatoon do - don't have that, because the place grows and changes with them. So it becomes the place where you grew up, and studied, and also the place you got your first job, and had your first baby, and buried your parents, and had your second baby; and this bit of the river bank becomes not just the place you came to every day during finals to eat the pound of cherries you bought at the market and freak out about your assured failure at not just this but everything in future life, but also the place where you sometimes have family picnics and the place you bring your elderly next-door-neighbour to for some fresh air. I shall have to ask some rooted locals what that's like: "What's your madeleine?"

Saskatchewan got itself a little madeleine-ified for me, being away for a while. Though maybe not quite as refined as that. Possibly something closer to a Twinkie. Witness our trip to a (nameless) Saskatchewan Small Town:
1. I wish I'd managed a photo of the (unpunctuated) convenience store sign: "Licenced Coke Pillows".
2. I had a muffin in the cafe that the menu said was Lemon 'n' Cranberry, but I'm pretty sure was mostly Arm 'n' Hammer.
3. There were cutesy pictures on the washroom doors of a little naked boy and a little naked girl sitting on potties.
4. The cheesecake was made of Miracle Whip.

Saskatchewan, if Proust ever came here, you'd be his Twinkie.

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