Roaming the Cold

Before I begin to sound like the Manitoba Tourist Board, I thought I would do my best to show the possibly more harsh reality (albeit a commonly accepted one) of a city like Winnipeg. The sucky factors are:

  • It’s seriously cold in the winter. The average temperature in January is 7 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The closest largish Canadian city is Regina, in the province of Saskatchewan. The closest city in the U.S. is Minneapolis, Minnesota about an eight hour drive. One of the closest towns in the U.S., however, is Fargo, North Dakota.
  • Getting to Winnipeg from NYC is about an eight hour trip altogether, with a layover in either Toronto, Chicago, or Minneapolis. Currently, there are no nonstop flights. (And the way airline industry is going, there may never be.)

Romancing the Cold

As noted earlier, the temperature in Winnipeg can go down to -40 Celsius in the winter. It’s apparently unusual for it to get that cold but there is a reason that most non-Manitobans call the city “Winterpeg.”
The cold, unlike on the East Coast, is dry and less snowy — according to the folks I spoke with, the difference between -20 and -10 and 10 degrees is noticable but once it’s cold, it’s just cold.
Winnipeggers to a tee romanticize the cold weather. Guy Maddin, one of my favorite of directors, loves to play off the insanely cold the winter nights there. (J. Hoberman wrote a piece about Maddin and his latest in this week’s Voice.) Other artists and artisans there relish the cold because it gives them the privilege (well, necessity) of staying inside and producing.
One might think that all of this cold-love would make for a closeted culture. What I found in Winnipeg was that the winter’s grip allows groups of musicians, writers, readers, and other self-selected oddfellows to instead meet up, play, punctuate, or otherwise pontificate. There appears to be a livingroom-based, grassroots-like subculture to the place which then filters up to the rest of the city during the warmer months.
I realize that I’m going on too long about this fine city. I’ll stop after tomorrow.

The Place of Time

One thing that fascinated me about living in Winnipeg last week was the sense that time itself had expanded, slightly. It wasn’t that we were on vacation or that there was no sense of urgency – work and urgency are continuous sources of stress on the nature of time in New York City. It was a palpable sense that time was alive in the place.
What I found in Winnipeg was that people live in time very differently. One friend works 2 days per week and spends the other three taking care of her two older kids and reads and works in the community. Another works 6 hour days while another took six months off to catch up on baseball and books. It’s not that these folks are unambitious, disinterested or slothful. In fact, it could be argued that their drive is governed by a different set of criteria which I don’t know or understand because I don’t own that set myself.
While in NYC, one is constantly working to catch up to where one was yesterday, it felt that, in Winnipeg, one worked to earn money to live well, which most people there do. The restaurants are by and large excellent, beautiful homes can be had for 1/3 the price of other cities, and events are very often free. It could be argued that this pleasuring of time is the Canadian Government’s fault. By ensuring that all of its citizens have health insurance, people are not governed by survival alone as many people in the U.S. are; their family will be well-cared for by a doctor no matter what — job or no job, career or temporary, sick or healthy.
I’ve always felt that this was the hidden benefit of government-provided health insurance and I was proven correct last week. That benefit is freedom.


Was in Winnipeg, MB, the past week. [Sorry]
Pretty much the geographical center of Canada and perhaps one of the nicest North American cities I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
Some quick notes on the stay:

  • Lake Winnipeg, to the north of the city, is (apparently) the size of the U.K.
  • The city is culturally sophisticated, diverse, kind, clean, and well-funded by the government and the Government
  • Our car was stolen on Wednesday night, probably before 9:30 p.m. It was found, more or less intact, this afternoon.
  • Pleasure seems to be as critical a component of Winnipeg life as it work is in New York.
  • Designing products, signs, and websites for two languages throughout the country is difficult, fascinating, and politically problematic.
  • The Mennonite and Jewish communities there are uniquely small and strong throughout the metropolis.
  • Indians, or Aboriginals as the community is called there, are under-enfranchised; however, from my superficial observations, it appears that that community is given much more respect, attention, and historical placement in education and culture than African-Americans in this or any other state.
  • It’s not unusual for the temp to reach -40 degrees Celsius in the winter. That’s about, well, -40 Fahrenheit.

I’m planning on devoting the rest of the week to the city, its environs, and its culture.