Friday, February 19, 2010

You Can't Go Home Again

Stratford is weird.

I guess any small Ontario tourist town in the middle of winter is a little bizarre, since so much small-town charm is a direct result of having things like leaves on trees and quaint shopping districts, but Stratford is particularly strange, since so much of its appeal comes from the Festival. Stratford's downtown, without its throngs of prettily dressed tourists, is pretty grim in the winter months. Stratford in the summer is like Woody Allen's odd 1996 musical Everyone Says I Love You, which featured lots of natty white people and some randoms bursts into song. Stratford in the winter is a little more like Wendy and Lucy, which was depressing and kind of bleak.

Anyway, reading week has descended on U of T, so a mass exodus from campus has erupted. Instead of heading west, towards the outpouring of national pride and jacked-up prices that is the Vancouver Olympics, I slunk home to spend some time with my family. Whom I love. And I went for tea with a friend, which was nice. Coffee with my mom. Whom I love. In Stratford. Which I snoorrrreeee... sorry, I dozed off there for a second.

The curse of the tourist town is that, while the season is lush and lovely, the off-season often seems seedy. The factories, which are constantly belching along, seem more prominent without the concealing greenery. The university students are all off in their respective classes, leaving towns that seem to be all teenager and middle-aged. Stratford's downtown, which caters to the out-of-town visitors that come to wine, dine, and see plays, has a dearth of basic amenities downtown. All the grocery stores are on the edge of town; there's no place to rent a video; sandwhiches cost, like, nine dollars. Other small towns manage to provide the people who live in their downtowns with some basic services, while Stratford leaves them high and dry.

When I went to high school here, the town was small enough to be accessible. One of my best gals lived on the edge of town, and I could walk to her place in twenty minutes. That's perfect for a sixteen year old with no car. Ten years later, that same accessibility seems stiflingly small. There aren't a ton of extracurriculars here. If I was interested in obscene drinking, then yes, this place would be perfect. But I'd like to keep expanding my horizons, instead of making them fit into the bottom of a pint glass.

Now, when I come back, I come back almost as a tourist. I get to eat in fancy restaurants over Christmas break and bask in the sylvan downtown in the summer. On the other hand, most of my friends have relocated to more cosmopolitan settings, and seeing my family is a treat that doesn't overlap with the frothy delights of the Stratfordian downtown scene. This is a place to visit, not to live.


  1. I feel the same about White Rock, B.C. I went to school there, had loads of friends. During my undergrad, at least for the first few years, it was a place to go back to to see friends. But everyone of note has long since moved away, mostly to Vancouver. I still have most of my friends, but I no longer have any reason to visit White Rock. Except, of course, the beach. As if I go to the beach.

  2. Southampton/Sauble, too. And now my immediate family isn't even welcoming anymore, so... so actually, what happens is that I just miss my grandma a lot. And a few of those friends, you know the kind of friends you can make in small towns who are like 50 years older than you and that's okay. And that's all.

  3. I guess I'll have to visit Stratford then...