The Urbane & The UrbanMonday, August 15, 2011
|Mark Budgen and friend in Lima, Peru|
Guest Blog by new Oliver, BC resident Mark Budgen
The proprietor of this blog has asked me to explain why it is that he would now have to drive six hours in his Chevrolet Malibu to lunch at my house rather than the ten minutes it used to take in his Maserati. This has nothing to do with his change of vehicles but of my location, a move he maintains not to understand. I now live in the hilly, semi-arid confines of the South Okanagan Valley of British Columbia to which I moved after spending over twenty years in the Queen Anne streetscapes of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, Strathcona
Let me explain. Alex is both urbane and urban. He exhibits a distaste for all things rural except the books of W.H. Hudson and, for some reason, Texas ranches. I have been with him on assignments in Buenos Aires and Lima. He had no interest in accompanying me outside those cities to either the flat Pampas (although he did, I seem to remember, visit a semi-urban estancia or quinta on his own) or the high Andes. I did manage to convince him that the beaches of the posh Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este posed no danger. My assertions had no credibility for him because his stomach objected (never mind that the cause was an ill-chosen salad in a most metropolitan Montevideo parrilla).
As readers of this blog well know, Alex’s urbanity is unique. His Anglo-Argentine/Filipino heritage, augmented with dollops of wisdom and strange facts acquired from his sojourns in various Western Hemisphere locales, has given him a worldly air and a well-cultivated and wry humour. He has introduced me to the delightful custom of pouring a shot of fino or amontillado sherry into soups. He alerted me to Tanzanian Organic Tea, a morning kickstarter that makes any other breakfast tea seem soporific. Without Alex’s boyish passion for swashbucklers, I would never have read Arturo Pérez-Reverte. I’ve also learned (but from his Argentine relatives) that a photographic subject saying “Waterhouse” with an Argentine-Castilian enunciation will produce the most beatific smile. My own list can go on and on and there must be many others equally indebted.
It seems though that I cannot repay Alex as long as I live in rural parts. He does not believe that I still have a supply of Maldon salt (actually readily replenished from a local Whole Foods). He does not believe that the Azorean São Jorge cheese that he enjoys is available in a local supermarket in strong and mild flavours. He exhibits no interest in sampling the Okanagan’s red and white wines that are coming close to or equalling the quality of many imported Argentine wines. This rose and hosta expert refuses to come and give his advice on the varieties in my garden.
Why, he asks, would I forsake urban hustle and bustle for rural emptiness and quietude? Why would a flâneur forsake city sidewalks for country paths? The answer is easy. I wanted more space so I could hang all my pictures and shelve all my books (easily achieved since I disposed of 6,000 before leaving the city). I needed a larger office. My arthritis requested a drier climate. I spent my childhood on a farm and I’ve regretted not experiencing the smells, sounds and cycles of country life for too long.
What do I miss? Chats and hugs with my daughter at university, most of all (texting is no substitute). Bookstores to browse through (but not such a wrench since Duthie’s disappeared). The seawall walk around Stanley Park. The park in front of my Strathcona apartment which provided a ceaseless video through my front window of urban activity: Chinese seniors doing tai chi at dawn, children playing, students playing co-ed soccer, dog walkers talking, urban campers sleeping, drug users either high or passed out.
Compared to all that activity my current front window is still. The most excitement is an occasional deer eating my roses and delphiniums. There are cougars, bears and rattlesnakes in the hills above but I’ve not seen them so they may as well be a rural myth. What is not a myth is the excellent coffee and ice cream in the gelateria five minutes down the hill. There is delicious locally produced honey. There is all the fresh produce and fruit from the orchards and farms around. There is a small concert series, a winter series of foreign films in the local movie house, flourishing groups of artists, gourmet restaurants attached to wineries, amateur theatre of a high calibre and more.
Alex, what’s so hard about rural life that you won’t even come for lunch? Oh, and I also have a Brazilian hammock or a spare bed for a siesta.