An Inuk artisan goes from table to table presenting small carvings in the palm of his hand. I buy a narwhal carving made from caribou antler. It is a gift for my mother.
Muktuk is raw, frozen whale skin and blubber. I understand that the muktuk I am eating is narwhal. It comes with a small dish of soy sauce for dipping.
I am at the Storehouse Bar and Grill at the Frobisher Inn looking for a free table. The only spot I can find is next to a large group. I ask if I could sit with them. “My wife and I are leaving Iqaluit tomorrow and this is our send-off. We were saving some seats for additional friends but evidently we’re not as popular as we thought. Go ahead.” The group gets more drunk and raucous as the evening goes on. Eventually the loudest person in the group takes note of me. “Is this guy with us? I love this guy. He’s put up with our shit all night. I’m going to name my next dog after this guy. I’m going to call him Rupert.”
Catherine and I have been exploring Iqaluit. I take photos of her on the frozen shore, looking out over Frobisher Bay. Back in the hotel room I discover that the camera mechanism has frozen, preventing me from rewinding the film. In an attempt to fix it I inadvertently expose the film to light. Catherine is devastated that the one opportunity she will ever have to be photographed in the Arctic has been ruined.
The manager of the Discovery recalls the Toonoonik. She says it was where the liquor warehouse is now. She speaks with a strong Newfie accent. “Right thick.”
I volunteer to walk to Arctic Venture to buy tampons for Catherine. It may be a form of empathic symptom transfer but by the time I get back my male parts are numb with cold. I’m like a brass monkey.
I am sharing a room with a researcher who works at the Museum of Natural History in Ottawa. He has just returned from an adventure on the land with Inuit hunters. He is visibly animated as he tells me of a seal hunt. As soon as the first seal is killed they cut it open and offer him the still warm liver to eat. He claims it was better than the finest foie gras he has tasted.
As with most buildings in the Arctic, the Research Institute is built on pilings to withstand the alternating frost heave and thaw settlement. During this blizzard I feel the building rock and sway like a ship at sea.
I listen to the milky specimens tap inside their glass jars in the lab, waiting to be set free.
He approaches us on the street and claims he can name the capital city of any country in the world. We test him with one country after another. It is only when I try Croatia that he is stumped. Perhaps he studies an old atlas. Then he asks if we will buy milk for his little sister. I am about to give him money when he says “No, if you give me money I’ll spend it on something else. Please just buy milk so I can give it to my sister.”
He approaches me on the street and asks if I will buy milk for his children. It seems inocuous so I agree. The shopkeeper gives him the milk and he runs off. She then demands an exorbitant amount of money from me, exponentially more than the milk is worth. Since the man has already left with the milk I feel I have no choice but to pay.
Throughout our conversation whenever he says “Langtang” I think he is saying “long-time.” The village of Langtang is wiped out by the earthquake. Over 300 residents lose their lives.
During dinner John tells us about a new programme he is initiating to support refugee minors. Both Anne and I misunderstand him and wonder why coalminers would be a special group seeking refugee status.
I meet Luck Mervil at our orientation lunch. I don’t know who he is. I learn that he is a Quebec singer-songwriter originally from Haiti. He is a strong advocate for Quebec sovereignty. He has been charged with having sexual relations with a minor. At home we have a recording of Notre-Dame de Paris that features Luck in the role of Clopin Trouillefou, the King of the outcasts.
There is that awkwardness when you encounter someone new, wonder whether there are any points of connection upon which you can initiate a conversation. You look, not in his eyes for that connection, but at his nametag.
As the cancer and chemotherapy ravage his body he tells his wife that he doesn’t want any visitors. She is determined to honour his wishes and, in so doing, preserve his dignity and his hope of being remembered as a strong and healthy man. The family, not recognizing her intentions, grow increasingly bitter toward this woman who is denying them the right to see Jim one last time.
“Ashen lady, Ashen lady; Give up your vows, give up your vows; Save our city, save our city; Right now”
He gets a short-term contract doing clerical work for the office whose mandate is to find work for the unemployed. It’s not long before he joins their ranks. It’s hard when you only have a high school education. It’s hard when your only real ambition is to find another bottle. It’s hard when the only thing that dulls the anger is more alcohol. He is his father’s son.
“One of the kings divided that small city for his three sons. That was his biggest mistake. That’s when the foreigners came. The Saha Dynasty came in Kathmandu and grabbed the power. Everything changed. Our mother tongue, our nationality, our culture, everything.”