Aritha van Herk's Restlessness

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

  Looking west to the Palliser Hotel, also known as the Castle by the Tracks, in what looks to be the 1950s. The old Calgary railway station is in the left foreground and Ninth Avenue is on the right. (Photo: Calgary Public Library)

 

Looking west to the Palliser Hotel, also known as the Castle by the Tracks, in what looks to be the 1950s. The old Calgary railway station is in the left foreground and Ninth Avenue is on the right. (Photo: Calgary Public Library)

A Calgary woman who travels the globe wants to put an end to her restless life. She hires an assassin and meets him at the Palliser Hotel. They go for a walk, stepping into “Calgary’s sweet weather.” The wind “smells of sage, something green in the back of the chinook’s throat.” As they walk, she explains her hometown to the stranger and the way it has made her restless. She yearns to stay put, but “who lives in such an impossible city, brash, arrogant, indelibly new? Only a few misbegotten cowboys and singers. Oil executives and escape artists.” On this final night of her life, the chinook makes “the city turn wanton." She shows the stranger “the shoulders and flanks” of her city beneath the façade of glass, steel and new concrete. “There are warm spaces here,” she says, “if you know how to find them.” 

 

We cross under the tracks at Fifth, the traffic headlights against us, emerge to the intersection at Ninth. Through the door of Cowboys gusts a riff of guitar, the chortle of chairs and glasses and persistent drinkers. “That’s Calgary,” I gesture. “The assumed identity that becomes real. Be careful how you dress up [...] It’s why the east won’t take us seriously, because we dress up in cowboy clothes every Friday, like kids who’ve been given a set of cap guns. We’re brash, delighted with our own ability to break rules, to wear blue jeans to work, to ride horses into hotels. We always bounce back from down times, blossom at the oddest moments.”

 

Aritha van Herk, Restlessness (Red Deer College Press, 1998)