Kitchener is a town of 300,000 which lies an hour or so west of Ontario. I take the popluation figure from the guidebook, since it certainly didn't feel like a town with so many inhabitants. They must be scattered into suburbs or lurking around the northern edges of Kitchener's sibling, Waterloo. It was a quiet weekend in Kitchener; the locals told us that not only was it usually quiet in the summer when all the students from UWaterloo were away, but that everyone else had gone away for the three day weekend. (Happy Simcoe Day, fellow Ontarians!) Many restaurants were closed. The streets were often deserted.
Yet, it's not that there was no one there. The touristic highlight of being there on a Saturday was catching a bit of Kitchener's farmer's market. It's a very good farmer's market, located in a large new building custom-built for the purpose, featuring a very large number of farmers, stalls full of peaches, blueberries, strawberries, cucumbers, potatoes, eggplant, and other seasonal riches. We bought some hefty, spicy Indian pastries from a stall in the meat portion of the market and I stocked up on cherries discounted for the end of the day to balance out the spice. We picnicked in the muggy sunlight, but the food was good, and the goodnatured bustling around us made it pleasant. This was the first real proof that there were plenty of people in Kitchener.
The rest of Saturday afternoon was something of a wash. There were two problems: the first was that the lovely, fun local map we'd been given was not to scale. At all. Everything we wanted to see at the beginning was clustered close together, so it came as some surprise that after fifteen minutes walking through the mugginess, we were making no obvious progress towards the gardens we'd chosen as our next destination. We gave up, and briefly followed signs to one of the two major touristically-oriented houses in town, home of one of Canada's early prime ministers, but when that proved amorphously long too, the mugginess got to C. and he had to go back to the hotel to deal with a headache.
I left him there and went out to try to intercept part of the wedding rehearsal, to see friends. The wedding was the reason we'd come to town in the first place, and we figured that going a day early would make a 10:30 am wedding much more pleasant to arrive at. The park where the wedding was proved harder to find than I anticipated: but only because the map wasn't to scale and one of the important navigational roads had been renamed. After a brief chat, the wedding party went off, and I stayed in Victoria Park to eat the rest of my cherries and to watch children playing in the water park.
What a wonderful water park! I want one just like it. It features a central wading pool with fountain jets all around it, ones which go higher and lower at irregular intervals. Two other damp stretches of concrete were even better - now and again, jets of water or fountains would burst up into the air for ten or twenty seconds and children would scamper over to them to rush through in delight while it lasted.
Finding dinner was the exercise which made us really believe that there weren't many people left in Kitchener. The restaurant recommended by the hotel had permanently closed the previous Wednesday. The other restaurants on the street were deserted, rarely a good sign for the quality of a given restaurant. We were loitering outside the Venezia Restaurant when a family poured out of it, arms piled high with take-out. "It's delicious!" The father enthused, "You've got to try their rice balls." So we did.
Their arancini (the rice balls stuffed with cheese and pease and deep-fried, served with tomato sauce) were very tasty. I wondered if it was a Venetian cichetti dish or not. It seems designed to be one. C. liked his quattro stagioni pizza, but the sacchetini con prosciuttio were bland - I couldn't taste the white wine in the sauce or the sage which was supposedly in the dish in more ways than garnish. While I ordered the salad to make up for the lack of vegetables in my meal, it, like all the other servings, were enormous; I couldn't finish most of it. After a while of digesting, we split another enormous portion, a dessert of peach in fried pastry over torrone ice cream. It was pleasant, but nothing exceptional. The same was true of the wine.
The waiter at the restaurant was the one who provided us with much of our information on the very closed restaurant we'd stopped by first. While sociably friendly, only serving a single table for the evening made him absent-minded. He kept coming back to check on what it was we'd actually ordered.
The walk after-dinner redeemed much of the day, for I took C. to city hall, a very handsome building of metal and glass that I'd admired earlier while taking detoured roads back from the park. He liked it enough that he went back to get his tripod and took a whole series of photos of the building and fountains in front of it by night. The moon rose large and nearly full between the streetlights.
Gavin and Jessica's Wedding
The next morning, we meandered down to Victoria Park in plenty of time for Gavin's and Jessica's wedding. Unlike the previous day's humidity, the weather was perfect. The mugginess was gone and there was not a cloud in the sky. It wasn't even too warm out. We joined the crowd of Toronto folk who were there, including the visiting cwjat, with whom it was a great deal of fun to have a reunion. The wedding itself was in a rose garden, roses blooming pink all around us. It took place under a white arch, swaddled in veiling and ivy, on the grass. We were all seated in chairs on the grass; as the ceremony began, the sun broke over the shading trees and dazzled the attendees. While thematically appropriate with the poems about the sun with which the ceremony began, it made it rather more difficult to see the wedding occur. Hearing, however, was no problem at all, for the whole thing was sensibly miked. The bride was dressed in an elegant vintage dress inherited from her grandmother with a lovely row of dense buttons up her back. The music was from a classical guitarist.
After an hour of photos and water park ogling, brunch began, each of us assigned to a table named after a famous poet. We were at the John Donne table. The entertainment was partially provided by the guests, for a card on the table dictated that if the audience wanted the bride and groom to kiss, the entire table would have to sing, dance, or otherwise perform a piece which included four words circled in the poem by the table titular author. To my surprise, a great many tables actually took up the challenge. The highlight was a rap number, cleverly written and and energetically performed.
Afterwards, a cealidh band took over, with two called dances included in their set of songs and numbers. I love cealidh dancing; it's a lot like the contradances I used to frequent as an undergraduate, I love the spinning built in, and it's the only kind of dancing which both C. and I will do, which means we can dance together.
At the end of it all, after blueberry cake and champagne and toasts, we took the express bus back to Toronto, speeding across the countryside through the lack of traffic in the middle of a three day weekend, and came home and collapsed for the evening.
Trivia: Kitchener was originally named Sand Hill by the Mennonites who founded it in the late eighteenth century. A large influx of German immigrants in the early-to-mid nineteenth century renamed it Berlin. The second world war, of course, was responsible for its subsequent renaming after an early Ontario hero.