Photo: Alessandro Cancian/Shutterstock

Two Nights of Luxury Decompression in Halifax

Halifax Narrative
by Josh Heller Nov 30, 2012
This post is part of Matador’s partnership with Canada, where journalists show how to explore Canada like a local.

I CHECKED IN AT THE DELTA HALIFAX. Though I enjoyed driving around the countryside of Nova Scotia, I was happy to return to a city, because the people are closer to my age, and have conversations about things I can relate to. I asked the young waitstaff at the hotel where I should spend my evening. They checked the local newspapers, Twitter, and their Facebook feeds to see if anything was going on today. Nothing was, but I appreciated that level of attention. They recommended I walk into town and visit one of the city’s many famous bars.

I arrived at The Economy Shoe Shop, which I imagined had not always been a bar. A jazz trio performed. I drank an $8 pint of Propeller Bitter. The stage looked like an Olive Garden with wooden tables and student artist oil paintings on sale for the low-low price of $1,100 CAD. But the jazz was good. The upright bass played slowly, conjuring up a funkiness over time.

I wondered if I should learn how to play jazz. But then I’d really-really have to know how to play an instrument. It’s not just playing a few keys on the piano, or three chords on the guitar, or pressing buttons on Ableton. It’d be having a true knowledge of every aspect of the musical experience. An expertise, something that takes years to master. And I don’t quite have that with anything.

I’ve only recently realized that success doesn’t come with inherent talent. It arrives with hard work. I wondered if I’m not a good journalist because I’d prefer to be the fly on the wall, getting an understanding of place without asking the direct questions. I’m not a journalist; I always forget to ask people’s names. But in not focusing on the “important questions” I’d hope that I’m able to better capture the ephemera of a moment, like how the jazz bassist improvises his solo.

I just think about temporality all the time.

My writing is less like a jazz bassist and more like a hip hop producer. Sample. Collage. Remix. Sometimes it turns out well, other times it turns out poorly. I follow some simple rules: Narrative over chronology. Stop Tweeting your best ideas. Elaborate them into ideas longer, transform them into larger essays. The adventure of seeing new things that becomes a through line… and of course cut, cut, cut.

* * *
The following evening, Nova Scotia Tourism took me out to The Five Fisherman Restaurant & Grill. This was the fanciest dinner that I’d ever eaten by myself. The server brought over a complimentary Prosecco, and ushered me to the all-you-can-eat salad and mussels bar. I decided to order the $50 lobster plate. Smooth jazz played over the stereo, so as to signify that this was indeed a fancy joint. If I were paying I could not afford anything on this menu. The employees were my age.

I dined solo next to a businesswoman taking advantage of her expense account. An underdressed family celebrated some local victory. There was a lawyer still in his court suit, surely working late night on depositions (as that’s something I heard people say in a movie once).

Eating this posh dinner reminded me of all those not-so-posh dinners I had driving around the West. The communal lentil & kale parties in Idaho, or eating handpicked chanterelles and locally grown lamb on Lopez Island. Or eating a steak that Joe had raised and slaughtered himself.

I wondered about the nature of wealth, its necessity, and how the rich operate in their daily lives. Then the meal came and I was postulating how creamy a lobster could be and whether each bite was enhanced by butter, and if they could bring extra napkins, and another roll. And that this was the most delicious piece of seafood I’d ever devoured, and that this was the best service I’d ever encountered, and that that is probably why people with endless wealth eat steak and lobster (until their doctors tell them they have gout.) I signed the bill, thanked them for their service, and took like five toothpicks.

I woke up Wednesday morning to discover that I’ve gotten fat.

I wandered down the street to an empty brewery that was playing SportsCentre on the television. It was very similar to the American program “SportsCenter” but they’d reversed the r & e. This version also seemed to exclusively show hockey fight countdowns.

Beneath the television, some representatives from the London office were meeting with colleagues from the Halifax office. A guy said that he had trouble leaving the hotel this evening because Die Hard was on. The conversation quickly moved to Sylvester Stallone movies.

“Which Rocky has the robot maid?”

The international group were bridging the transcontinental gap through pop culture.

I started talking to Chris, because I appreciated his unannounced tirade on food service in this city. He’d been a chef for twelve years and seen the quality fluctuate. Right now the problem was that all of the entitled college kids were doing half-assed jobs, which made the entire staff look bad.

Chris pointed to the bartender and mentioned that his job was like being a psychologist. I remember hearing a bartender say that in the final episode of Quantum Leap, which I had to pull clips from in my last media job. The final straws before I was let go from my company, which I had told my psychologist over a glass of Don Julio on the rocks.

Do not befriend the bartender, because you are not certain how deep your friendship will run. Will it turn into an $8 cocktail, or will it be free? I don’t know; stick with the Oland for $4.

I woke up Wednesday morning to discover that I’ve gotten fat. Free gourmet food has caused me to gorge at breakfast buffets, eat cheap mini-snacks, and then gorge again on lobster dinners. Returning home to ‘self-catering’ and more exercise should bring me back to equilibrium.

Thank you Canada for this wonderful two weeks, where you have wined and dined me and let me sleep in your luxurious king-size beds. Now I’ll return to my austere lifestyle in California’s coastal chaparral to write stories about you.

Discover Matador