Thursday, February 18, 2010

Escaping Winnipeg

I first came to Winnipeg at the age of 5. I was born in Toronto. My father took my mother, my brother and me to Winnipeg to install the conveyor systems for the Airport and Post Office. Mother struggled with the idea. She saw leaving Toronto to be with her man, a tremendous sacrifice, especially considering that to her Winnipeg was a wildwest outpost. Civilization ended well before the borders of Ontario. We were only supposed to stay for a year or two but the work continued and before I knew it I'd be there for another 14 years. Even then I was only lucky to escape to London, England in 1970.

Given that the English didn't favour educating foreigners back then and that Canada had a more advanced education system with scholarships for bright local kids and student loans which would cover the cost of living and education, I returned. I'd been so touched by Oxford to believe that maybe universities could still be places of higher learning.

It was also mainly the University of Winnipeg that attracted me. Dr. Carl Ridd was still alive back then and despite travelling all over Western Europe even to Northern Africa I never met another man as inspiring. I didn't know it though when I left the University of Winnipeg to bicycle across Europe and live in London. He was such a humble man that I just assumed there were many more like him.

A year overseas however taught me that he was truly one of a kind and further that Winnipeg despite it's prison like qualities was surprisingly full of genius.

Dr. Frank Beck, a quiet Checkoslovakian Canadian genius in his own right noted that Winnipeg was a regular cesspool of scholarship , but having himself escaped from Winnipeg to Vancouver summed it up as, "They can't go outside most of the year and have nothing to do but work so why wouldn't Winnipeggers be brilliant. There are no distractions."

I stayed in Winnipeg another decade after return from England. I studied first at University of Winnipeg and later University of Manitoba. Dr's Jack Hildes, Arnie Naimark, John White, Harry Prosen, Nady el Guebaly, Bill Bebchuck and the likes would all profoundly influence me. Medical research on surviving hypothermia and military advances in defence against mosquitoes together served to aid my survival there.

I seriously asked myself at different times how it had happened that I stayed as long as I did in Winnipeg. Cross country skiing and white water canoeing helped. Friends and family were a major part of the glue. However "My Winnipeg" tells it all. There is something addictive about Winnipeg. A strange extraterrestrial influence competes with the aboriginal spirituality river confluence that serves magnetically to trap people in Winnipeg.

Since leaving Winnipeg I've lived in California and British Columbia and the Northern Marinana Islands. I've returned to Winnipeg many times to visit family. Every time I've begun thinking, wouldn't it be nice to live here again. As a result, I've considered taking preventative antipsychotic medication before trips to Winnipeg. It's strange to experience selective enticing memories of people and times that completely leave out snowmobiling to work in blizzards, cars not starting, mosquitoes finding pin holes in tents and the sense that the next reincarnation will be as a asteroid dweller, the Winnipeg experience fully preparing one for indoor dwelling.

Yet when I read MacDonald's House Boat Chronicles all the beauty of travelling out to Lake of the Woods from Winnipeg comes to mind. The weekend trips down to Grand Forks seem unforgettable. The nights at the Manitoba Theatre Centre and Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the coffeehouses, the folk music and poetry, the humor, the libraries, Fort Garry Hotel and now the Forks all are irresistibly attractive. I loved being a country doctor in Morris and a flyin northern doctor and consultant with Northern Medical Unit. So I cross myself every time I leave for Winnipeg. A sprinkling of holy water helps.

Finding ourselves both visiting Winnipeg at the same time one recent winter, my childhood friend Kirk and I recollected walking to school as children. You could never teach a Winnipeg kid not to get into a stranger's car in winter. Without hitchhiking down Pembina and Point Road we'd be unlikely to have survived our youth. Today parents would collectively be sentenced for child abuse just for sending their kids daily on survivor expeditions to school and back.

As adults, Kirk and I feeling like a little mid life adventure retraced the childhood journey from home to Vincent Massey High School we'd taken daily on foot in the era when child abuse was encouraged. We made it but felt better able to appreciate Shackleton and his men in the Antarctic. Kirk lives in California today. I live in Vancouver. We think you get to leave Winnipeg when you yourself feel you've done sufficient penance. Masochism is very Winnipeg. People in southern latitudes poke needles through themselves and hang from wires but Winnipeg prefer their own kind of penance. It's far less dramatic. It's called 'living in Winnipeg."

So this time en route to Winnipeg I am prepared. There's a Vincent Massey High School Reunion in May this year and I'm afraid I'll have nostalgic moments and consider even the briefest return to Winnipeg. I've heard that's how it happens. Many a former Winnipegger whose gone on the wagon decides on a brief return that.. I'll go back "Just to get ones' bearings", they say. Winnipeg is the centre of Canada and pretty much the real centre of North America despite what folk down around Atlanta might think. Winnipeg is a principle place for product testing with the idea that if any thing can sell in Winnipeg everyone else will want it.

So Time Magazine had it's March Issue on Longevity. I read this and learned that in my 50's I might live to be a hundred if I took Resveratrol a compound found in grapes, red wine and peanuts. This may well have explained why I became a wino, always wanted to be fed grapes by naked nubile bodies, and ate lots of peanut butter. Given the negatives associated with being a wino I figure I'll just up the peanut butter and grape intake.

Rapamycin, already being used as an immunosuppressant drug was found in the soil of Easter Island. It promotes longevity but may also increase risk of infection. Spermidine, found in sperm promotes the cellular process of autophagy, removal of cellular garbage. I can see this would serve as a potential argument and it certainly could overnight change society's attitudes, especially as to the best form of birth control. The only other easy way to increase longevity is to increase Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish oils and flaxseed. These apparently increase the telomere length, the plastic capping type ends on chromosones that stop unraveling and are seen as a marker for biological aging.

Unfortunately while I was pleased about the idea of consuming my way to old age I learned that fasting and being lean increased longevity as well. Resting was good also, as sleep increased the human growth hormone. I just came from visiting my 92 year old father and given the amount of sleeping he does one would have expected him to be 12 feet tall. However he is somewhat bent over and that may explain while his sleep induced growth hormone isn't as apparent.

All this Time Magazine reading on longevity made me think , do I really want to grow old in Winnipeg where stepping outside in winter can lead to sudden death and summers are plagued with man eating mosquitoes and black flies.

I already have a ticket that goes on to Vancouver. Vancouver has it's problems but it's the warmest place in Canada thanks to having the Winter Olympics. Apparently this was such a stupid idea given how much it will raise taxes that the ire of the general population raised the temperature to the highest its been in 150 years. The 'hot air' of the politicians involved in the Olympics might have been a contributing factor as well.

Exercise is also good for aging. People are said to "run away " from Winnipeg. At my age I'd probably just walk. With a plane ticket I'll fly away I hope. I've got years to go and the Northern Mariana Islands was a climate and place I'd rather grow old in even if obesity and diabetes there from good eating don't promote longevity. The beaches are beautiful. But the skies of Winnipeg, now there's beauty hard to find anywhere in the world. Bettter get out the antipsychotics if I come back for Vincent Massey's reunion.

Winnipeg is just that kind of irresistible place that one loves. Walking around Vancouver now in shirt sleeves having escaped Winnipeg yet again, I am tending to forget that escaping Winnipeg is not ever as easy as one would think. There's a million or so souls still trapped there.

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