Letters From (North) America #10
The tenth and final installment sees us visit some waterfall or other, see no raccoons and head home to Blighty...
* Niagara-on-the-Lake is for the most part a beautiful town where every house seems to be a huge, painted, wooden edifice - but the main strip is a parade of tourist shoppes. One caters to Anglophiles, selling familiar brands of tea and biscuits at vastly inflated prices (though who exactly decides the way to exert their British roots is to remortgage the house in order to be able to buy some tinned gooseberries?), while the Christmas shop, open all year round apparently, is just the sort of establishment that should be exempt from legal protection against arson. All the same, we did pay a visit to one of the two bakeries to assess their (very reasonable) stab at a Cornish pasty, and I sampled one of the local delicacies, butter tart, which really was good.
* It's impossible not to be impressed by the Falls themselves, particularly those on the Canadian side, which are an enormous horseshoe shape. The facts and figures are awesome - 154 million litres flows over them every minute, and at some point 20% of the world's fresh water will pass over the top. We took the trip into the tunnels which burrow into the rock behind the cliff face, where the incessant pounding makes conversation difficult, and marvelled at the static effect air ionised by water droplets had on our hair. But then it was the depressingly familiar ejection into the gift shop, and yet more tat. Do you really have to buy a T-shirt with "Niagara Falls" on it to prove you were there? Or an authentic "Indian" purse, made in China? Or a CD of music inspired by a pack of wolves? How to look after the Falls and cater for the volume of visitors must be a concern for the local authorities - but the statement, ubiquitous in the gift shop, that every dollar spent goes towards preserving the Niagara Parks struck me as a devious attempt to guilt trip the gullible into buying, buying, buying. Who's really profiting? In the town itself, it's fairly obvious - the casinos loom overhead like a miniature Las Vegas, and there's even a grotesque parody of the CN Tower, complete with revolving restaurant. It's no coincidence that America is barely a stone's throw away.
Some waterfall or other
Niagara Falls - a hair-raising experience, quite literally
"It's spitting, everybody in!"
* A second trip out of the city to the north - this time to visit relatives, their two dogs and 20-year-old cat - saw us head for a farm near Hillsburgh where the leaves were now very much on the turn. We ate lunch in Erin, a sleepier less picturesque version of Niagara-on-the-Lake which is home, perhaps surprisingly, to a thriving independent press of no little repute and where you can leave your car parked unlocked on the main street without giving it a second thought.
* When our last night proper, like all those before it, failed to furnish us with even a glimpse of a raccoon, I decided that, rather like the bounds of Canadian politeness and the utterances to which a Canadian can't append the tag word "eh", they don't really exist. Thankfully Nay made up for the disappointment with an anecdote about how she was once sprayed by a skunk and later, even after a protracted scrubbing session, ejected from a restaurant after a number of complaints about the smell from fellow diners...
* England's fate in the Rugby World Cup sealed (it's a rubbish game anyway), there was just time to pay a final visit to Riverdale Farm so Jenni could get her goat fix.
* That only left the dilemma of how to thank our hosts for their hospitality - a dilemma which was soon resolved...
Just call me the cabbage patch kid
* And thence to the airport and flight home, which we shared with an unholy mixture of spoilt brats, bewildered senior citizens seemingly unable to understand the concept of having to sit down and belt up when the plane was ten minutes away from landing, and a couple of Brits who'd spent their holiday following the Van Halen tour, tickets for the three gigs they'd gone to having cost them over £500. "Last year I flew over and did four dates with Nickelback", the woman said with what, had I not been jetlagged, I might have mistaken for self-satisfied smugness. Time for bed.