I am back from my brief vacation in Winnipeg. It was quite a good time, shockingly warm. I visited the iconic intersection of Portage and Main, and failed to cross it. I searched for the forks beneath the forks; I felt the awesome force of the temple of Masonic energy known as the Manitoba Legislative Building; I enjoyed the inaugural Hockey Night in Canada for the 2010-11 season; I had several tasty breakfasts. I even had a side trip to the Sahara.
Crossing the border on the way there, the Canadian customs agents looked upon our wish to visit Winnipeg with some skepticism and made us get out of the car for a brief little interrogation. Where’s the pride, Manitoba? No one seemed to believe that anyone would elect to go to Winnipeg. But in a game-theoretical twist, that makes it the perfect place to go. Nothing is overcrowded. Locals in the service businesses aren’t well-versed in the patronizing niceties reserved for tourists, so you tend to be regarded with genuine courtesy. You rarely encounter other tourists, so you don’t have the unnerving sense of seeing others doing what you are doing and having it seem lamer or too predictable or something. That is to say, you can be a tourist without being made to feel like one at every turn.
Despite being at the center of the North American continent, Winnipeg is not really on the way to anywhere (unless you are headed to Hudson Bay or something) so it’s unlikely to be overrun any time soon. Still I feel strangely hesitant to recommend it to anyone. I want my taste in provincial Canadian cities to be unique, or at least distinctive. That attitude is illustrative of how messed up I’ve become with the whole pursuit of authenticity, and probably why I denounce it so often. In traveling for pleasure, I find that I want to go to places that no one else thinks to go to, places that are both profoundly inconvenient and comfortably ordinary. In a way, I travel as if on business, but the project I am managing is my sense of my own eccentricity.
Nevertheless, the majesty of Winnipeg dwarfs my narcissism. Interpret that with as much irony as seems appropriate.