August 4th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances


Flying into the Halifax airport reminded me of flying into the Helsinki airport: both are surrounded by an endless forest of evergreen stretching as far as the eye could see, dotted by scenic lakes. The parallel doesn't really extend any further however, for the architecture is very different. Halifax feels much older.

The city itself is a generally pleasing mix of nineteenth century houses and modern shopping complexes. The boardwalk along the waterfront is new enough that it smelled of freshly sawn wood, even though it seemed complete enough to meander down, all the way from the Casino on the north end to Pier 21, the Ellis Island of Canada. Along the way it passes crisply redone old complexes, lowrise condos, and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The latter was free on Tuesday from 5:30 on, so I had a chance to see what for me was the jewel of the collection: the no-longer-in-use lens from a nearby lighthouse, twelve or so feet of reflective, distorting glory. Of course I took pictures.

It's my last free day before the conference starts, so, after a frenzy of editing this morning, there was time to tour around the Halifax Citadel, the touristic and structural highlight of the city, perched atop the height of the city core's ridge, overlooking the expanse of the harbor. It's a large complex, the heart of British military presense in Canada, back when there was one. A company in Highland dress was busy doing their drills at the command of a sergeant whose voice carried crisply around the entire five or six acre expanse; their blank gunfire echoed around the space. Cadets practiced raising semaphore flags up the shipmast-like towers which dominated one end of the citadel. Costumed interpreters casually interpreted washing clothing with a washboard, while an immobile soldier in Highland dress took his job rather more seriously by the entryway. I learned that Canada was not recognized by Britain as a sovereign nation until 1931, despite the 1867 founding year of the Dominion, so often given as the country's founding date. The views from the ramparts would have been more striking if there were not so many modest sky scrapers interupting it.

In theory, a large portion of my department is now in town, but I have no way of reaching them for drinks this evening. It's no major loss: after all, I have all of the next three days to spend with them!