There is something miraculous about discovering the personality of your city. Suddenly, everything seems more lively, more vivid, more dark, more close. A breath is suddenly divided into its hopeful inspiration, and its nostalgic exhalation. People seem happier, people seem sadder. The tire skids resonate more, the sun glares more intensely. The city is alive, and suddenly you are too.
I started taking the public transit this past school year. Here’s the thing about buses in Winnipeg (and I’m sure in many other cities): they put the different levels of social-economic status into actual perspective. Taking a bus heading to the University of Manitoba is whole different experience than taking a bus heading northbound through Downtown. The latter’s dynamic is messy and crude, while the former’s dynamic is coordinated and sensible.
Maybe it’s the awfully designed sticky velvet seats, or the slight smell of chocked, dirty sweat, but people in buses are much easier to pity. They file in one by one, a few dressed impeccably well, a few a little delusional, and plop down in their respective seats. There are a lot of eyes focused on phone screens, some lost in their own dream, but all reflect on their life beyond the vicinity of the murky air that surrounds the rumbling vehicle.
The Exchange District
The Exchange District does not cover a lot of area, but it has big character. There’s a used book store that is so stuffed with books and cartoons and rotting paper that a tiny little flame would set the whole place in blazing flames in a matter of seconds. There’s a beautiful vinyl and CD store that screams “cultured hipster” (but that surprisingly does not have any classical music… shame). There is an absolutely brilliant craft shop that sells the most delicate and exquisite journals and notepads. There is poutine, shawarma, and an eccentric hot dog stand. It is an undisturbed little corner of a loud and hazy downtown that incites fresh perspectives and encourages you to just lay on the grass, breathe, and listen to the sky’s music.
Portage Place Mall is to say simply, pretty infamous in Winnipeg. It is littered with cheap stores that sell mass produced graphic tees and poor quality shoes. The cafeteria is crowded with people that have seen better days. I am in no position to characterize or label them, but I see a lot of First Nations and ethnic minority people that seem lost, dazed and irrational; this sight always leaves me perturbed because I wonder about all the things they have had to endured in their lifetime. Men and women in business suits that venture around during their lunch breaks create a substantial dichotomy in social status, and gives Portage Place’s environment a sort of unwanted peculiarity.
Its saving grace is the piano that resides in the centre court of the main floor. The piano’s paint is chipping away, and it is EXTREMELY out of tune (this is coming from a girl that doesn’t even remotely have perfect pitch), but when it is played the notes fill the whole building and offer a sense of unharmonious, but sincere, unity.
Croft Music & Tredwells Music Centre
There is no way I can finish this post without mentioning the two most charming independent sheet music stores in Winnipeg. Unfortunately, charming doesn’t automatically translate to enduring: Tredwells Music Centre will be closing at the end of July, and sometime during the last few years Croft has moved to a smaller and shabbier location. These two stores, much like the bookstore in the Exchange, reflect an era which technology did not have a chance to taint yet. And despite the fact that this trait ends up being their ultimate demise, it is, in a bigger sense, what gives these stores their timeless quality. Fragile notes of a lush black colour are scattered onto smooth, slightly yellowed paper in an abstract precision that should be considered as an art form on itself. Being surrounded by sheet music fills one with an undeniable sense of potential. A potential to make music, make art, and then best of all, share these discoveries with others.
Polo Park Shopping Centre Food Court
Polo Park’s Food Court is always busy. The sounds are a pattern of blending, frying, scraping, shouting. But close your eyes, and suddenly the noise becomes constant. You seem to be living in a perpetual state of space and time where the noise is so brilliantly uniform that it is all too overwhelming and all too comfortable. And you think, Winnipeg has never felt so alive and exhausted at the same time.
There are a lot of places and things I have left out from this list. Centennial Concert Hall, Park Theater, Old St-Boniface, the Forks, the Millennium Library, Bois-des-Esprits Forest, and the countless others I haven’t even began to envisage yet. So I guess I must leave this post with an open-ended ending, because my story with Winnipeg is long from over.
(Actually this works out well, conclusions can be a pain to write sometimes)