The Spoked Traveller | Day 13: Reflecting at La Palette
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Day 13: Reflecting at La Palette

Day 13: Reflecting at La Palette

I like sitting at a bar alone in a new country. And no, it’s not for the reasons you think. Alone, I can observe. Alone, I can lean over and inject myself into a conversation easily. Alone, I can feel special in my own space and smile at pedestrians and then return my eyes to a book. Alone, I feel my time is indulgent, yet satisfying.

One of my favourite food writer’s M.F.K. Fisher sums up the sentiment eloquently in her essay, “A is for Dining Alone.”

…and so am I, if a choice must be made between most people I know and myself. This misanthropic attitude is one I am not proud of, but it is firmly there, based on my increasing conviction that sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

There are few people alive with whom I care to pray, sleep, dance, sing or share my bread and wine. Of course there are times when this latter cannot be avoided if we to are exist socially, but it is endurable only because it need not be the only fashion of self-nourishment.

It’s not to say there are few people whose company I enjoy–I am certainly not misanthropic (most of the time anyway)–but I get immense self-nourishment from my company at a restaurant. In some respects it feels taboo, and I like taboo as much, or more so, than the average person. Non?

In her essay, Fisher goes on to say that men think a woman alone at a restaurant is an invitation, while a woman with a man views a woman eating alone with jealousy. The essay was written in the 1940s, but I still think there is a bit of truth to this. What do you think? Or, do people at a restaurant pity me? Oh look, she can’t find someone to eat with! Boo hoo. Oh contraire, mes amis.

I also do it because sometimes it’s the only place I can truly think. Oh sure, I think when I write or go about my life, but when I go to a restaurant alone, I think about thinking. Why do I think certain thoughts? And in general, I just ask why this and why that. 

So, it was on a bitterly cold, nose-hairs-stick-together, type of day in February a year and a half ago that I wondered out of my third floor apartment onto my Queen Street in search for a place to eat after unpacking my boxes of my new apartment in Toronto.

With yellow blowy lights, a long wooden bar, and Edith Paif playing, La Palette became mine.

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I’ve been writing every day about Toronto for almost two weeks now and today I had to escape to La Palette to think. So, as I often do when I travel, I took a break-day. Instead of stuffing my brain with all the history, culture and sensory overload that is required of a new adventure, I took a time-out to reflect. I had to think about what I’ve been doing so far.

Why is it so much harder to build relationships in your own backyard than when one travels? Easy. Travelling friends are temporary–you see the best of a person.

Why is it easier to take risks when you’re away? Someone once told me I travel to escape–I adamantly denied this. But now, maybe there is some truth to it? I mean it’s easier to take a risk when something is new, but it’s harder when it’s something you’ve been perpetually scared of for a long time. Make sense? Oh, see? My head is swimming!

I don’t have the answers, yet.

It’s too soon to tell what all this means, but after speaking to Sandra, my Nova Scotian counterpart the other day, one thing I do know is that this project is giving us purpose: it’s reminding us of how we want to write.

The reality of journalism these days is service journalism: top 10 lists, where to find the best deals, etc… Shorter is better. And with such strict perimeters that lovely 5,000 word story you want to tell and describe is truncated to a few hundred words.

Case in point: I recently wrote a 400-word story about theatre in Newfoundland for Canadian Geographic. When I got the acceptance email at the beginning of the year, after trying to sell it for almost two years, I was over the moon excited; but then my heart sank, they only wanted 400 words. What would I do with the voices of dozens of islanders I spoke with? Or, how could I squish in the stories of how theatre is bringing the former fishing villages alive again after a devastating cod fishery collapse. I was grateful for the story, but heartbroken. It wasn’t the complete story. It was the Coles’ note version.

These blogs are not truncated. These are all mine. Indulgent and satisfying.

1Comment
  • Sandra Phinney
    Posted at 11:40h, 20 July Reply

    ARGH! Coles notes version stories. I’m starting to balk! Not that it does any good but it’s soooo frustrating to put something meaningful into 400-600 words. Yeah. Relationships. They need time (and an investment of energy) I too often feel too stingy for. Or too tired. Or too selfish. But … oh so satisfying when it happens. Hey! Look at you and me girlie! Now that’s a capital S 10-out0of-10 Satisfaction score, eh?! xxxooo Sandy Pines.

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