Hot chocolate on ice cream

 

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Category: Travel Date: 03 Feb 00


Travelling distorts your sense of reality like nothing else does. Yet, it places you firmly in the context of the universe. Because there is nothing more distorting than digging your heels so far into your little corner that you slice off - denying yourself a view of the world. It is like being suspended in time, where none of the old rules apply; like shedding the husk of your life, and trying on another one; like flying upwards to get a birdís eye view. It makes you see there are worlds within worlds, like many whirlpools of humanity on land and sea.

 

It makes you understand why scientists have come to the conclusion that race, nationality and country account for only one percent of the differences between people everywhere. Though 99 percent are the same, we have different lifestyles according to where we are born and our financial and social circumstances.

 

The grass is never greener on the other side of the world - just another intriguing shade of green. I kept telling myself (in a village in Canada where we walked knee deep in snow, four miles in and out of a 100-acre farm) that in 24 hours, when Iím in Trinidad with my view of the Northern Range, Iíll think I dreamt this. It was so quiet that all we heard was the crunch of our footsteps in the ice and snow. As far as the eye could see, there were white, wintry fields. It was freezing but, as we gained momentum, we felt hot - like steaming melted chocolate on ice cream. Off came the woolly hat and gloves.

 

Along the way, our hostess and friend Jill pointed out various footprints in the snow saying: these are rabbits, foxes, squirrels. A little further along the path dividing dense pine and fir, we came across a beaver dam stream covered with trees. It was astonishing to see how those little creatures fell trees in three days with their sharp teeth. Our hostess said we would be foolish to do this walk in the hunting season since, every year, some hunters instead of shooting foxes shoot one another in accidents. The hush grew deeper.

 

The rustic farmhouse is maintained the way it was in the 18th century. No running water or electricity. Hand-made furniture. Barrels of fresh rainwater used for drinking and cooking. Jill showed us a giant wood stove, which is now heated with laser power (the machinations of which I didnít quite grasp) and an outhouse considerately covered in foam for warmth. There were old-fashioned irons and hand-operated water pumps. You see the streams from where you get your drinking water. There is a cabin covered with neatly sawn wood which heats the home, and with which you cook.

 

In the summer, she grows herbs, vegetables and flowers and plants daffodils which will bloom in spring just in time for her May Day party where a bonfire is lit and children dance around a maypole. There are no phones or televisions here. Just the business of living close to the land, which seems to suit her, feed her spirit. If she wants company, she drives to her apartment in the village of Millbrook, which has the community feel of islands like ours where everyone knows everyone elseís name. If she wants city life, she drives her truck for an hour and a half into Toronto. The best of all possible worlds.

 

In the winter, Jill makes soaps with subtle and lovely fragrances of her flowers (lilacs, roses) and herbs and barks of trees with pastoral names like bergamot and fennel, and sells them in pretty wooden boxes in the market.

 

She told us this as we walked back on the white path lit by moonlight. Many people still live earthy lives. The world has not yet vanished into computers or been consumed by Nikes.

 

We drove into Toronto through flurries of snow, cozy in a truck along the highway, listening to country music. Just days before, in Toronto, we had braved minus 45 degrees and risked hypothermia when we were taken skating by friends. Tina Turnerís voice rang out over the spotlit ring at night, as people flew about holding hands, pirouetted, figure-skated. Itís as natural for most Canadians to skate as it is for us to swim. Killing chills on your face, while your body heats up. More hot chocolate on ice cream. The exhilaration of extremes.

 

Niagara Falls stole the show. Part of the lake was frozen and giant icicles hung around the falls, a thunderous white water rush stretched for what seemed like half a mile. Sleety spray hit our faces and wet our hair. Around us all structures: lamps, trees had frozen - stood majestically like ice sculptures. We contemplated taking the cable cars across the falls and back but the thought of hitting the icy water 300 feet below held us back.

 

A sprig of scarlet berries and a twig of tiny cones off a pine tree, stolen from the wilderness, and the scent of lilac soap is now a reminder - of the endless shades of green everywhere, of friendships that need to be stoked, like fire, to stay alive.

 

I came away with something else that was memorable: my mouth was filled with fried ice cream; my ears were ringing with cold and heat when I heard an old friendís voice crack across a large wooden table. ďOn the other side of fear is freedom.Ē And, with wine-stained lips, we all drank to that.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur