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First impressions of Halifax through the eyes of Felicity Porter

Hey Halifax, I'm here
Hey Halifax, I'm here

Dear Sally,

Three connecting flights and one expensive ride from the airport later, I made it to Halifax. The first thing I noticed was the weather. You know how in Palo Alto it's always just "weather"—television-ready days, warm in the sun, each one the same, even on Christmas?

Well here, you don't know what it's going to be. The day I arrived it was so hot I felt ridiculous getting off the air-conditioned airport bus ($3.25) in my cable-knit sweater, but by the weekend I needed two of them, when the tail-end of a hurricane blew through. Some of the girls from my floor—Julie, the musician; Elena, the serious pre-med student; even Megan, my standoffish roommate—and I braved the rainy streets on a makeshift pub crawl, dodging blowing branches and getting slow-motion splashed by passing traffic.

Luckily the drinking age here is 19, so that one year I spent in New York copyediting Noel's essays in exchange for beer is a distant, soberish memory.

There was a long-standing myth that Halifax had the most bars per capita in North America, but even though it's been proven untrue there are still dozens to choose from. On our crawl  down Spring Garden Road we had really cheap drinks at, if you can believe it, Pizza Delight (5680 Spring Garden), and then settled into a dark corner at Tom's Little Havana (5248 Doyle Street) which is attached to one of many of Halifax's microbreweries, Rogues Roost (5435 Spring Garden Road). A couple of the guys in our dorm already have an extensive collection of local growlers—they're really nice bottles!—from Propeller (2051 Gottingen Street), Rockbottom (5686 Spring Garden Road), Garrison (1149 Marginal Road) and Bridge Brewing (2596 Agricola Street). We're saving the famous Argyle Street for a less blustery evening—we really want to hit the martini bar The Bitter End (1572 Argyle), see some music at The Carleton (1685 Argyle), hit the Economy Shoe Shop (1665 Argyle) during the Atlantic Film Festival to try and scam some drinks from producers and see some Celtic music at Durty Nelly's (Argyle at Sackville). When in Rome, right?

But before you throw down your Walkman to run and tell my parents about my new drinking problem, rest assured, Sally, that I'm getting all kinds of studying done—in coffee shops, of course. (Plus the beautiful new library they're building, near one of the many confusing giant holes downtown, won't open until next year.) I didn't think I'd find coffee I like as much as Dean and DeLuca's—and if you repeat this to Javier I swear I'll deny it—but there are three little words that already sound like home: Steve-O-Reno's (1536 Brunswick Street). If I don't get there early enough to get my favourite corner table I just head down the hill to the Blowers Street Paper Chase (5228 Blowers Street), which is also an excellent magazine shop, or Cabin Coffee (1554 Hollis Street). The waterfront is pretty touristy but there's also a great caffeine hit down there—Two If By Sea (1869 Upper Water Street), though the locals say it's best to take the ferry across Halifax Harbour to Dartmouth ($2.25) and walk up Ochterloney to the flagship shop.

A few days after the storm, when the power was back on everywhere—it seems to be a bit of a problem here, electricty—I took a very long walk from my dorm up Robie Street, essentially across town, to visit the north end. There's great coffee there, too, at Smith's (2525 Agricola Street), Java Blend (6027 North Street) and The Coastal (2731 Robie Street) but really I was there to shop. Ben sent me his Dad's old Victrola—which I thought was romantic, if dramatic, but that's another tape—so I went to Black Buffalo Records (5687 West Street) and Obsolete Records (2454 Agricola Street) for some albums. I got Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Surfacing for very reasonable rates. They also had CDs of some local music I've really gotten into, like Jenn Grant, Jennah Barry, Joel Plaskett and Rich Aucoin. Jenn's song "The Beautiful Wild" has become my theme song for Halifax. I'm probably completely misintepreting the song, but it comforts me anyway.

Afterward I stopped into Lost & Found (2383 Agricola Street) for some vintage shopping and managed to snag a pair of gold Doc Martens I'd been eyeing since I first came to town. The bigger shopping district is actually back downtown, especially a really cool strip of shops on the 1500 block of Queen Street including Put Me On, Elsie's and The Clothes Horse, where I can find neat hair-ties and vintage sweaters so I can stand out a little bit, as if the hair doesn't do that job for me. It's so unruly in this ever-shifting wind and humidity landscape—I'm seriously considering drastic measures. Please tell me what you think in your next tape.

The surprising thing about Halifax, to me, is how artistic it is. I mean there's a big-deal art school here and everything, but I never expected this much art, in every corner, on every wall, pouring out of every open door. I can't even count the galleries—all the schools have them, and on top of that there's the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (1723 Hollis Street), (((Parentheses Gallery))) (2168 Gottingen Street), Studio 21 (1273 Hollis Street), Argyle Fine Art (1559 Barrington Street), ViewPoint Gallery (1272 Barrington Street) and Gallery Page and Strange (1869 Granville Street). And the music scene is so diverse—there's punk and indie at Gus' Pub (2605 Agricola Street), punk and metal at Michael's (6100Young Street), indie at The Khyber (1588 Barrington Street), rock and indie at The Seahorse (1665 Argyle Street) and folk and hip-hop at The Company House (2202 Gottingen Street). (Plus a whole bunch of stuff—music and comedy and plays and parties—across the street at The Bus Stop Theatre.)

I've really been getting into theatre too—I showed up just in time to catch a few shows at the Atlantic Fringe Festival, and people tell me Zuppa Theatre Company is the most innovative troupe in town, so I can't wait to catch their next show later in the fall. There are a bunch of indie companies I'm really interested in checking out, like 2b, DaPoPo, OneLight and LunaSea. There's also a thriving comedy scene here, sketch and stand-up, especially by women and I'm looking forward to That Time of the Month and The Fox Den.

Wow. I didn't mean to ramble on so long, but I guess you just heard the moment when I fell all the way in love with this place. There are bigger, more exciting, more densely populated cities with better transit and laxer liquor laws, but there's just something about this little town hanging off the side of the country. You have to look around for them, but the pockets of vibrancy and culture that reward you are worth it. It very nearly hums, this Halifax.

(Yes, my prose class is going really well.)

I hope you're humming too, Sally.


Felicity was a dramatic television show that ran from 1998 to 2002 (the length of an undergrad degree) on The WB network (now The CW). The first series created by JJ Abrams, it starred Keri Russell as a crazy person who followed her high school crush Ben (Scott Speedman) from Palo Alto, California to New York, where her heart was also tugged on by well-meaning nerd Noel (Scott Foley, then-husband to Jennifer Garner, who appeared in the first season as Noel's girfriend). At the beginning of the second season, Russell cut off her signature long hair and was blamed for the subsequent ratings drop, a pop culture reference still used today. While Felicity's internal monologue was represented by Sarah McLachlan songs, she would often record her most intimate thoughts into a handheld tape recorder and mail them to her friend (Janeane Garofalo's voice), beginning each audio diary with "Dear Sally." Felicity is the best thing JJ Abrams has ever done or will do.

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