Put up your green beans

In Carol Shields’s fictional worlds, dinner parties are transformational. People assume their “party selves,” she once wrote, that party-self being a more sociable, lighter version of your everyday personality. (“Parties” 45) Sadly, this positive renewal is not the experience of Dot Weller, wife of Stu Weller and mother to Larry Weller in Shields’s novel Larry’s Party.

For Dot, even casual family get-togethers cause copious perspiration and “jittery detachment”. (Larry’s 44) Her parties are haunted by “the poison of memory” (44)— a summer dinner that she hosted for her in-laws back in England and that sealed her fate and “exodus” to Canada. (52) Dot’s canned beans were to blame.

beans

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So This Is Winnipeg?

“The visitor to the West,—the kind of visitor who writes up his visit,—is supposed, on his first morning in Winnipeg, to throw wide open his window and say, ‘So this is Winnipeg’! I didn’t. I was too cold. And there was no one to hear me except the waiter with the tea, and he knew it was Winnipeg” (Leacock 37).

The title of this week’s post takes its inspiration from Stephen Leacock’s book My Discovery of the West. If one is unfamiliar with a city, then perhaps a famous writer’s own visit to Manitoba will provide some insight for the “Capital Meals” series?

Leacock begins his travelogue with an unenthusiastic first morning. It’s important to note, here, that when Leacock was 18 years old, his father, Peter, abandoned the family and “ran off to Manitoba at the height of a real estate boom” in the 1880s (Spadoni xiv). Known more for his gambling and drinking than his entrepreneurial skill, Peter failed in his Winnipeg venture, or as Leacock bluntly describes it, “my father lasted nearly a year, before [he] blew up” (51). Perhaps these troubled memories colour Leacock’s chapter, but more than likely his satiric vision leads to his mixed impressions of the city.

Commenting on the frigid climate, Leacock claims that January winds funnelling down Main Street and Portage Avenue stimulate one’s creativity. He’d rather leave the tropics to “the bums, the loafers, and the poets” who congregate under palm trees with their glasses of wine; instead, Leacock opts for Winnipeg’s winters, preferring “a tenderloin steak in a grill room on Main Street with a full-sized woman raised in the cattle country” (40).

Painted in Waterlogue

Photo Credit: Shelley Boyd


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