I wanted to see the geese at Hawrelak before they bugger off south, so Tom and I started from my place, walking to the park via the Victoria road trail, over the LRT bridge and then through Emily Murphy Park.
I am writing this on Thanksgiving Monday (October 14). It’s 2C and raining, but still no snow. Nice to think back a week ago when it was gorgeous and warm. I’ve been seeing and hearing the geese practising overhead. Hard to say when they will make the trip. Southern Alberta has already seen a lot of snow. We’re just lucky so far, I guess. In 2017, it snowed on November 1 and stayed. Last year, it was a day later, on November 2 (with snow episodes in September and October). Let’s hope we can make it longer this year. I have my snow tires on, but that doesn’t mean I’m daring winter to start. When I first began walking in 1994, I was still a winter person. Now, I am solidly on the summer side. I still think fresh snow and blue skies are incredibly beautiful, and I would not want a Christmas without snow, but it’s just getting harder and harder to deal with ice, and the endless days of cold.
To be honest, though, what I want are blue skies, regardless of the temperature. It’s amazing how down I can get on an overcast day. Not big puffy clouds, but that grey, unvaried and suffocating blandness that sucks all the colour and life out of the landscape, and apparently me.
Even if it’s not raining, I find it harder to motivate myself to go for a walk when it’s overcast. Sometimes it’s nice, out in the woods, with the subdued colours, but most of the time I just want blue. It’s some kind of miracle that we get this amazing colour above us, most days.
As I write and look out the window, the rain is getting suspiciously white, but whatever happens, it won’t stay. Not today, anyway. And by Wednesday, two days from now, it will be 15C and sunny.
I am thankful for all the days I have, and that my family and friends have, but yeah, a few more blue sky days would be much appreciated. And how about those geese!
And it was gorgeous! Tom and I went for a wonderful walk in Mill Creek Ravine this morning. A couple of weeks ago, we discovered that the trail at the south end of the ravine was blocked because of erosion, but today, thanks to a conversation with a couple emerging out of the woods near the trail blockage, we followed a steep and root-gnarled path down into the ravine and were reunited fairly quickly with the main trail.
The ravine was full of dogs and beauty, or maybe that’s redundant? As always, because of the coolness, the poplars and birch were at peak fall. Really stunning, especially against the blue sky.
Yesterday, I took Stella for a walk in Whitemud Ravine. Sharon is in Minneapolis, and both Vic and Kate were away, so she was in need of company and exercise. She was SO excited. It was another warm day (although it started out cloudy) so we took a muddy path to creek, and she spent the next 20 minutes splashing about in the water. She really didn’t want to come out. There were no sticks, so I kept throwing rocks into the water, which she gamely tried to catch.
And then last week (I know, I know), on September 16, I had an amazing walk home from work. Down into Emily Murphy, over the bridge, and then along the river toward Mackenzie Ravine, up the stairs to Glenora, then home. Amazeballs.
Tom and I went for our usual Sunday walk on Saturday, because of expected bad weather on Sunday (which did, in fact happen). It was gorgeous, starting from north Whitemud Ravine, down along the Fort Edmonton trail and footbridge that leads to Wolf Willow. And then the loop back to the killer set of stairs to Grandview. About 90 minutes. Lots and lots of runners and cyclists on the trails. 9C to start, 15C to end.
40 years ago today, September 13, 1979, I saw Abba perform in
Edmonton – the first stop in what would turn out to be their one and only concert
tour of North America.
I still remember lining up on the escalator at Woodwards in
downtown Edmonton, waiting for the ticket office on the 2nd floor to open. I
bought two tickets, one for me and the other for my friend Robbin, who was the
person who bought me my first ABBA album,
ABBA’s Greatest Hits, in 1976 when I was 12.
The tickets sold out in three hours.
Looking back, it seemed like a premature move on the band’s part to put out a greatest hits compilation when they had only been together for four years at that point, but the album was a success, breaking the Canadian music charts top 10 for the first time with Fernando. I wore that album out, which is something that doesn’t happen anymore. Digital downloads don’t show their wear, but pressed in every skip, hiss and pop of that vinyl album is my teenage self. The gate-fold image of the two couples, Benny and Anni-Frid (or Frida) on one side, Agnetha and Björn on the other, is still one of my favourite album covers of all time.
I’m also pretty sure (but not 100% sure) I saw Björn in the wild, in jogging gear, near what was then the Four Seasons Hotel (now Sutton Place). The band was in Edmonton for several days prior to the concert, so it’s possible. We made eye contact, but I did not say anything. He understood.
Graham Hicks, a music reporter for the Edmonton Journal, wrote several articles before and after the concert.
“The tour was supposed to start in Vancouver, but Dave Horodezky of Brimstone Productions, the Edmonton promoters, got on the blower to Sweden,” said Hicks in a column dated September 11, 1979, two days before the concert. “He had a good case to make. Collectively, Alberta is a big, big fan of ABBA. Its Greatest Hits album sold more than 100,000 copies in the province. Edmonton also had the Coliseum for ABBA to play in – considered to be one of the best arenas in North America [now decommissioned] for rock concert staging. And the hall was available two days ahead of time, for rehearsals.”
Ola Brunkert, the band’s drummer, said to Hicks: “We’re excited. It’s our first tour in two years. I’m not nervous now, too tired, but wait until Thursday!”
To be honest, I don’t recall much from the concert. My
memories are images rather than sound. The icy blues, the sparkles. The
anatomically correct satin pantsuits of Benny and Björn. I also distinctly
remember Frida donning a Gretzky hockey jersey, marking the first time his
name, and the Edmonton Oilers, came into my consciousness.
Graham Hicks joined 120 other international journalists at the post-concert media scrum. “Everything went smoothly,” said Björn Ulvaeus, no longer sporting his satin pantsuit. “We didn’t have too much self-confidence after not playing live for 2 1/2 years, so it was an incredible relief when it worked. If the rest of the audiences are as good as Edmonton, this tour will be great.”
Well, I did my part.
It was not always cool to love ABBA. Some may argue, it
still isn’t, but back in the 1970s long before the Mamma Mia revival, it was
not cool to love ABBA. Or maybe I’m conflating my own lack of coolness with the
musicians that I loved, and the clothes that I wore, and uh, the things that I
said. My love of Abba did not endear me to any clique. Not then, not now.
The first time I saw Erasure’s video for their cover of Take a Chance on Me, I thought they were parodying ABBA – until I saw the original video. It was not parody – it was full on (loving) replication, in drag. ABBA’s music videos are most memorable for their fabulous 70s era clothes, which to this day still have the power to startle. Almost all of their videos, and ABBA: The Movie, were directed by famed Swedish director Lasse Hallström, who would go on to direct My Life as Dog, the Academy Award nominated Chocolat, and one of my favourite films, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
The glorious music of Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida imprinted on my developing brain at such an early age, it forever restructured it to be a receptacle for all things sweet, colourful and preferably, Swedish. I knew their lyrics were far from poetic, and sometimes silly, but I memorized them anyway and found solace and joy in the stories they told. Their melodies and in particular, their voices, were uplifting and for someone who couldn’t carry a tune, easy singalongs. I strongly identified with Frida, a fellow redhead, and learned to differentiate her edgier sound from Agnetha’s mournful voice – admittedly a soft skill, but a skill nonetheless.
People often associate ABBA with disco, but out of their seven original albums (along with the single Dancing Queen from their earlier album Arrival), they only put out one identifiable disco collection, Voulez Vous, in 1979 and half the songs on that album were not disco at all. I can’t envision John Travolta bumping and grinding to Chiquitita. In fact, many of ABBA’s pop songs are quite melancholic, especially on the last two albums, Super Trouper and The Visitors. As Benny and Björn’s command of the English language developed and the personal lives of the group got messier, songs like Honey, Honey gave way to The Winner Takes It All as real life loss began to creep inexorably into their lyrics (and voices). Nevertheless, ABBA remains melodic escapism at its absolute best.
In 2011, I travelled to Sweden to visit my sister and brother-in-law who were living in Gothenburg on a year-long sabbatical. It would be two years before ABBA: The Museum, would open in Stockholm, but I still found the country absolutely beautiful (and their kanelbulles tasty). Visiting Gamla Stan in Stockholm with its soaring architecture was particularly resonate. A poster of the group standing in front of the iconic Gamla Stan buildings was on my wall for many years. I hope I get to make a Holy Pilgrimage to the museum one day, and eat more kanelbulles with pärlsocker.
Love and work collided in 2016, when – in my role as a writer for the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts – I thoughtfully assigned myself the job of profiling a new course offered by the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies called Mamma Mia: Queer I Go Again! taught by Swedish scholar (and ABBA fan) John Eason.
Up to that point, I hadn’t realized how deeply embedded ABBA was in the LGBTQ community. It was a dream assignment, and although it ended up being a shorter article than I had hoped, the meeting with John was long, elaborate and delicious. It was the first conversation I’d ever had with a true ABBA fan, or at least one who knew a lot more than I did. I wanted to be his friend.
“A lot of it goes back to sentimental music and singers who display fewer stereotypically masculine qualities or inhibitions about accepting emotion,” he said at the time. “For sexual minorities, ABBA and pop culture in general is more important, because many other minorities are born into a support system, whereas we’re not. It’s a survival instinct to want to escape from your problems. Whether you’re getting bullied or pushed around, whether your parents are homophobic, pop music has a particularly important role for sexual minorities.”
Although I can’t claim to be part of a sexual minority, I
certainly felt like a club of one often enough to know how powerful it is to find
validation and escape in music.
Two years later, seeing Mamma Mia at the Citadel in 2018 with my bestie Barb was one of the most wonderful ABBA-adjacent experiences of my life. I had avoided the movie, not for any philosophical reason per se, other than I didn’t think of myself as a second-wave ABBA fan. I couldn’t claim nostalgia for the music of my youth because ABBA had never left my fictive turntable. Now, it was the music of my middle-age, and boy, did we middle-agers have fun that night! I finally watched the movie a few weeks after seeing the musical but it just didn’t capture the joy of the live production, or the music.
ABBA has always been in my life, and always will be. I say that now proudly and unapologetically. In fact, I suspect I will be singing Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (a urinary incontinence pad) at the old folk’s home.
And I still won’t be cool.
Notes on ABBA:
Favourite Album: Super Trouper. Honourable mention: The Visitors
Top ten favourite songs (in no particular order):
Lay All Your Love On Me
The Day Before You Came
Fernando (including Spanish and Swedish versions)
The Winner Takes It All
Favourite covers: Erasure’s Abba-esque, Madonna’s Hung Up
and Mike Oldfield’s Arrival
Favourite movie featuring Abba’s music: Miriam’s Wedding, with honorable mention to The Martian (and its heart-pounding Waterloo) and the Swedish film Together
I was really tardy posting about my walks, so I wrote a whole bunch and backdated them, and even that was a week-long process. Today, I am actually writing on the day of my walk! It’s only September 1 and things are already looking up!
With ever-present threat of rain, I left around 10:45 am, entering the river valley via the Victoria Park golf course, and then over to river road. Tom had mentioned that the trail up to Glenora (near Groat Road/MacKinnon Ravine) was fenced off, so I wanted to check for myself. There had been a lot of erosion, and the red plastic fence they put where the trail had sloughed off late last year had also sunk into the ravine. As I walked up the hill, I could see that the entire trail is now blocked off by a frost fence. They’re not fucking around. No way to get around it. So I came back down and continued west along the trail, exiting on the MacKinnon Ravine bridge (142 Street). It was cool outside but humid, so I had my coat off and tied around my waist about 15 minutes in. There’s definitely some yellow leaves but still mostly green. The sky, however, was gun metal grey.
Once I was across the bridge, I continued to wind around the road, the river valley to my right, and then into Glenora. I wanted to check to see if the trail head was also fenced off, and it was. The City of Edmonton trail closures site says that it’s temporary, but I know these things often take years to resolve, if they ever are. Last week, Tom and I walked around Mill Creek Ravine, and part of the north trail is cut off because of erosion, which makes the second closure in that ravine (between the mill and the ‘first’ bridge). That initial one has been closed off for years. Some trail infrastructure funds would be great. This city spends so much on the LRT expansion, and meanwhile, our beautiful trails are falling apart.
After Glenora, I just walked down 102 Avenue to home. It’s now four hours later and it still hasn’t rained. Environment and Climate Change Canada confirmed there were 54 days of rain between June and August in the Edmonton area. This is the second rainiest summer since 1996, where there were 59 days of rain. We might look back on this summer longingly, but for now, I need some sun!!
My building had an asbestos incident Wednesday night, so even though the initial report deemed the air ‘safe’, we were given the option to work from home on Thursday while they proceeded with clean up. Of course, all my stuff was on word docs, so I had to come in to send it to my home computer, thus defeating the purpose of ‘working from home’, or at least sleeping in. As compensation I took the long way home, through Rossdale/Louise McKinney and then downtown via the funicular. What an unexpected treat.
I took the opportunity to visit the magpie sculptures in south Rossdale. SO cool!! We should have more urban art devoted to our most populous (and my favourite) bird. Not everybody loves them, but they are wrong. There is much to love.
After Rossdale, I went under the bridge to Louise McKinney. They are proceeding with the construction of the new LRT bridge, so only half the park is accessible. I turned around after shooting a few photos and then up to downtown. Because of even more LRT-related construction downtown, I took a very circuitous walk to Oliver. All in all, 15,245 steps that day. Did I mention this was an unexpected treat? Love these ‘stolen’ days. I did work from home, but what a great start.