Saturday, January 12, 2008

Consolation Lake Cantata

It all started with the bear warning. August in Lake Louise, Canada is berry season and the bears love them. There had been black bear sightings in the nearby Lake Moraine area where we planned to hike and all were advised to walk in a group of at least six people. There were only four of us-- our friends, Paul and Betty, my husband, Ed, and me. Early one chilly morning we waited at the lake’s edge until more hikers joined us. Two of them were middle-aged, portly twin brothers from London, England. They looked as if they’d missed the bus tour rather than waiting to embark on a strenuous hike. They had one small backpack, no food, no decent hiking shoes or jackets, and only one of them carried a plastic bottle of water. This was in sharp contrast with the other couple who had joined us, who were serious, well equipped hikers complete with telescoping walking sticks. We were all silently sure the brothers would hold us back.

The first part of the trail was quite steep. A spry, fit physician from Vermont led the group at a fast clip and most of us were soon breathing heavily. But the brothers seemed to be on a stroll. They easily kept up and even chatted on the way. We stopped for water but the twins weren’t even perspiring. How could this be? After some inquiries into their lives in England, the brothers revealed that they were both opera singers, one teaches voice and performs and the second just performs. Riddle solved. Clearly, their lungs were in great shape and 6300 feet in altitude didn’t phase them at all.

The brothers were traveling on a recently received inheritance. They weren’t on a tour and didn’t know how to drive. One had failed the driving test five times. Their previous traveling passion had been to explore old industrial companies and they had been all over eastern Europe checking out steel mills. Upon arrival at a new destination, a car and driver would be hired to take them to these unusual places. In Canada, they were using public transportation, hotel cars, and the generosity of people they met.

After two hours of hiking through nature’s vertical gardens in the Canadian Rockies, we parted from the rest of our group and watched them continue an even steeper climb over a mountain pass. The brothers kept up their jaunty walk and soon disappeared.

Later that day, we again ran into the "opera" brothers at Consolation Lake. As we were sunning on a large rock, we asked the siblings to sing. They had a professional repertoire and could sing anything from the Beach Boys to Verdi, from the Beatles to Mendelssohn. They had performed Elvis Presley at a bar the previous night. Actually, they didn’t just sing. One brother would sing as the other puffed out his cheeks and slapped his thighs and made all necessary instrumental sounds. They insisted that we sing with them.

Since there were three members of the Holy Cross Episcopal choir in our group of four, we were able to sing many of our Lessons and Carols pieces, most of them British. Anything by John Rutter came easily to them. None of these stumped the brothers. But while Betty, Paul and I would forcefully sing the first verse of a piece, they also knew the second and the third and even the fourth verses. I’m sure we were quite a sight to other hikers as one of the twins dramatically directed his small chorus in our Alpine cantata. We even caroled on the path back and heard stories about giving tours at Windsor castle and performing in England. Nothing could slow down our brothers.

Of course, we gave the twins a ride back to their hotel. They hadn’t been a bit worried about being stranded. And, actually, they didn’t seem much worried about bears, either. Thinking about them and their wonderful approach to travel makes me smile. And so, until the next column, remember "Don’t judge a hiker by their shoes."

Suggestions for Lake Louise, Banff, Canada:
Hiking in the Lake Louise area is glorious and should include the glacier walk on the far side of Lake Louise and any of the walks in the Lake Moraine area
Deer Lodge, 109 Lake Louise Dr, Lake Louise, Banff - 800-661-1595 - Wonderful location but some rooms are very small.
Post Hotel Dining Room, P.O. Box 69, Lake Louise - 800-661-1586 - A member of the luxury group, Relais & Chateaux properties, it has the best food in the area if you want to splurge.
Walliser Stube Wine Bar - located in the Chateau Lake Louise - 403-522-1918 - Wonderful Swiss food

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Christmas Shopping Trip

The tradition began in 1979, our first year in Paris. It was December and we were just learning our way around northeast Texas. My good friend, Toni, suggested that we take a day and Christmas shop in Dallas. Twenty-eight years later, we continue to make that yearly pilgrimage to the land of boutiques, malls and late hours.

Some Parisians travel to Dallas so often they don’t consider it a trip. But it is. When you stop and think about, it is 100 miles. In the northeast United States, you could be across the borders of three states. As with all traveling, you have to think about what you’ll need for the day (or week-end). Who's driving? Do you take the north or the south route? Should you throw in your tennis shoes in case your feet wear out? How about an umbrella for possible rain? You have to map out your stops and plan your meals. The salesclerks and waiters are strangers. It’s truly a travel experience.

The first years of our Advent journey were intense, especially after having children. The shopping list seemed to get longer and the stores bigger. We started going on a week-day to avoid some of the crowds. Our pattern is to start south, sometimes in the Knox-Henderson area, but always including Northpark Mall. Shopping with a woman is different than shopping with a man. If you ask a man his opinion on a possible purchase, you get a hurried "sure, that’s fine" or a shrug. Only a woman friend will tell you if that chartreuse colored sweater is really that cool or that weird. A woman will help with the analysis needed to determine quality and value This is true whether you’re shopping in Dallas or Hong Kong. Women don’t tap their feet while you detour into one more store. And women also see things that are not on the list, which is actually the very best part-- finding something you had never considered and loving it. I still sing in the shower with this corny plastic sing-a-long book Toni found once and we have never seen again.

After the run through Northpark, we always head to a book store, Borders being the favorite. It’s easy to lose yourself and time in this store. After a coffee break, we hit (interesting shopping term) the Container Store for wrapping goods. Originally, the Galleria was the next stop. The houseware department at Macy’s always has great bargains and Nordstrom’s lovely piano music distracts you from the headache you get breathing mall air. In all those years, we’ve only had one scare-- in an almost empty Galleria parking lot at night. As we emerged, loaded down with shopping bags on a vacant second floor of the parking garage, a car sped towards us, stopped and some menacing guys started out of the car. We ran awkwardly, throwing things into our van, and then another car rounded the corner and they sped away. After that experience, we learned to take advantage of store security guards who will accompany you to your car if you are out late.

And, finally, the last stop-- Toys ‘R Us. We once arrived at this toy mecca at 10 p.m., a very good time to be there. It was almost empty and we could seriously play with any toy we were considering. I think that was the year that we got stopped for speeding at midnight in Melissa. The highway patrolman asked where we were headed and why we were out so late. After our reply, he flashed his light into the back of the car because he couldn’t believe we were just coming home from a shopping trip. The sea of shopping bags must have impressed him as he let us go with a warning.

The trip has changed over the years. Toys ‘R Us is out for the moment. There are more stores at Northpark and we don’t always make it to the Galleria. Our lunches and coffee breaks are longer as we talk more and shop less. We look more for stocking stuffers than big items. And we are usually home by 7 or 8. Being glad to get home is the final reason a drive to Dallas is truly a trip.

We continued the tradition this year. Expanded choices in Paris have increased our purchases here. And the ability to order and mail items over the internet to our spread-out families has shortened the Dallas shopping list. But we will always go, even if it’s just to have the time to visit on the way there and back. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it. So until the next column, remember "a friend you can shop with is a friend indeed".

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