01 September 2006

Portnoy's Travels

Dana and I got the hell out of the city for a couple of days. The intended destination was Gravenhurst, the small Ontario town not far from where I spent some cottage summers when I was a tyke. We checked into a B&B, where the otherwise charming German hostess grilled me about my background (Polish and Russian) and set out for a long walk into Gravenhurst's evening. The wharf hadn't been there in the early '60s, I'm just about sure of that. But it was real nice, and we passed some time there looking at the big old cruise boats, sniffing the waftings from Boston Pizza, and sitting sodas by the water. There was almost no one else around; it was midweek; it was peace.

A walk into town showed that Gravenhurst wasn't insanely different from my memory of it: more developed, a bigger downtown, I guess, ten zillion pizza joints... and Sloanes was gone! Well, Sloanes was still there, but the sign was covered over by a sign that read "Mike's Place." Sloanes had been the restaurant we always went to. Everyone went to Sloanes. Anyway, from the outside, it looked nearly unchanged inside, except for a big new bar.

The next morning we decided to head for Honey Harbour, where Dana had spent her childhood summers. I didn't even bother trying to find Wapaska, my family's old cottage site and the location of several chapters of my novel. But not a minute or two out or Gravenhurst, there was a little sign that read "Wapaska Estates." I turned off the road. We parked. We looked at the list of people there: the Allens were still listed! the Levmans! I was nervous about trespassing, but we wandered onto the properties and the memories came slamming back at me. There were a lot of big cottages now — earning the name "Estates" — but still a few smaller ones, including one that I'm sure was where I spent several summers. The physical terrain was just as I remembered; the structures had mostly changed.

It was sorta mind-blowing. A little sad, as I thought of my childhood days with my brothers Barry and Owen, but overall really nice. Again, peaceful.

We drove along, Dana reading aloud, as she had the day before, from Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. An appropriate book after visiting a Jewish enclave in the goyishe Muskokas. Fuck, that book is outrageous.

We stopped for a little picnic by the Lake Rosseau, about an hour north. Some hummus and pita, some fruit. We walked along the beach with our toes in the water. We read a bit more Roth. Again, it was quiet, peaceful, beautiful. We could see why people liked this cottage-country life, though Dana says she'd go insane living there. I could last half a year, I think, before I'd need the big city again. Dana said maybe two months for her.

We weren't all that far from Toronto, but it was like being on another continent, in another time.

An hour west and south again and we reached Honey Harbour, home of the Dellawanna Inn, where Dana spent most of her childhood summers. Big insane resort. I'd never been to one before. The dining hall, just as she'd remembered, the first bar she'd ever been in (where the bartender plied the 10-year-old with Shirley Temples), the cabins, tennis courts, swimming pools.

There was lots of new stuff, including obnoxious non-stop announcements on the beach, teenage staff luring children into competitive games on the water, rock-climbing, and other stuff that wasn't part of Dana's Dellawanna.

We must've spent a few hours there. It was vast and sorta nice. Though I don't think I'd want to stay somewhere like that. Good material for the novel, as was the brief visit to Wapaska.

A few small towns on the way home, with stops in antique shops, like my family used to always do. I bought a hideous painting of a dog that's really nice. Dana finished reading Roth before we got home, and I listened to Destroyer's Rubies.

It was a magical 30 hours. A testament to the curative powers of leaving the city, if only briefly.

Over and out.


At September 01, 2006 4:56 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah...Stu. It sounds brilliant.
Did the dog have a cigar in his mouth?


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