I am sitting at the counter looking out the window when I notice distressed mutterings from the man a few seats away. I am about to head out on tour and am leaning into my coffee after a late night getting ready. The man is looking across the room at a young child who has turned around in his chair to look at him. Stare, really. The man is different. The child’s mother is talking on her cell phone. The child is having a long, steady look at the stranger.

“It’s not polite to stare,” the man is saying. His eyes dart side to side as he rocks in agitation. Then louder, a mix of anger and fear: “It’s not polite to stare!!” The mother, still on the phone, taps the child and he turns back towards the table. The man falls quiet but keeps glancing over there, wary.

It’s time for me to go – I have a ferry to catch – but as I’m putting on my coat, I step over to the man. There are three ceramic electrical insulators on the counter in front of him. “Hey,” I say, hoping I sound friendly and that he’s not aggressive. “Those are cool.” He turns away from the trouble table to face me, and in the space of an instant, I see the textures cross his face like clouds in a stormy sky. First the look of someone who is expecting to be hurt; then cautious trust; finally a slight smile, and he talks about his insulators: where they’re from, where he gets them, how many he has. We talk about them a bit, and I suggest quietly that maybe the staring boy was curious about the insulator collection. “He probably has some kind of collection, too,” I say. “We all do.” Then another patron enters and greets the collector cheerily. I leave the shop, go home, load the car and drive north, thinking about collections and insulators and cloudy skies. 

Although this is officially my “Romania Tour,” it begins as most of my tours do, with a trip across the water to Vancouver. I will do one show there before I leave for Romania. Light but steady rain is falling on Victoria. I wait an hour at the ferry terminal, then board the ship. I remember how thrilling these 90- minute crossings were when I arrived here long ago, and apologize to my younger self for letting them become mundane.

Autumn storm, and contemplation on the ironies of a digital lifestyle

The streets I drove weren’t quite this bad – thankfully.

But today’s sailing is not mundane. Heavy winds kick up the seas and sling rain upon us. The outside decks are closed; we are told to remain seated. The ship rocks and bangs against the waves. In the depths of the kitchen, dishes jump and clatter. Some of us walk around despite the rules, weaving goofily. I go online and post a blurry photo of grey seas under grey skies, viewed through the wash of rain on a window. People around me are doing the same thing, and I can’t help thinking about the ironies as we give the real world a glance, then spend our time manipulating a captured image on tiny screens.

The storm continues as we dock. I drive off into more and more rain, along a highway transformed into parallel water troughs. In the city itself, cars creep with care along avenues that are more like streams.

I settle into the spare room at a friend’s townhouse and we visit, talking about conferences and folklore, storytelling and academics, travel and packing for unknown weather. Then I bundle up, head out into the rain, run some errands along the busy commercial street nearby.

At the end of the day, I find myself once again sitting at a counter looking out the window of a café. The storm has abated. As I eat, I think through details for tomorrow’s show and watch people walk past. They hunker under their shoulders, hauling invisible burdens towards their destination. It seems they all do that; then there are two who are chatting with heads up, their bright faces catching the rain.

When I’m ready for tomorrow’s show, I walk back to my friend’s. Somewhere in the grid of wires above me, there are electrical insulators, and I know someone who would smile at that. The rain has stopped, but more is expected tomorrow, and clouds are moving rapidly across the night sky.

All content © 2017 Anne Glover, except photo by Allie Davison/Facebook, image from cbc.ca