I am embarrassed to admit it had been 18 years since my last visit to Nelson (but even then I couldn’t believe how granola the place was). In 1990, Nelson had maybe 2 square blocks of shops and one night club called the Boilermaker. Nelson 1990 was the first place I ever saw a bookstore that was also a coffee shop. Nelson 2008 still felt like the-Nelson-I-Remember, except a lot more developed. It still has a lot of dreadlocked, patchouli drenched girls and boys wandering around in bare feet, but there are people in business suits, too. You can tell it’s kind of a lefty town because even the Subway sandwich shop serves organic espresso.
Most people in Nelson shop for food at the Kootenay Co-op, and we were able to get everything we could want there—kefir, yoghurt, Ebesse Zozo, which is the world’s hottest and most delicious sauce. We bought a bottle of medium spiciness, but when we sampled it later it was almost unbearably hot. I mean, one drop was too much. An insider told us there had been a TV segment done on Ebesse Zozo recently, and they had demonstrated how to make old school Grandma’s full strength hot sauce, then bottled it while filming. They only had medium labels so they put those on the super strength batch, then set them aside. Is it possible that this special batch had somehow made it on the shelf of the co-op, labelled “medium”? (In the future, medium Ebesse Zozo would never be nearly this hot to us). Rather than lament, we just trained our palates to enjoy hotter sauce, and I am am happy to say Ebesse Zozo is now available in Vancouver, and be it medium or hot we enjoy it on meals to this day.
Jennie, who we had seen in Montreal earlier on our Cross Canada Adventure, lives in Nelson with her husband Erik and her two boys, Quinn and Felix (I love the name Felix. Is it trivial to have a child myself just so I can name it Felix? Only, if it was a girl, I would have to name her Felixia, which sounds really close to Felicia. On second thought, maybe I will just stay personally childless and enjoy Felix when I see him). I tried about a kazillion times to take a picture of Quinn but he made a face every time, except the time I snuck up on him at the co-op. I like to flatter myself I am mostly good with kids, but Quinn and I had an unusually strained relationship, even though I tried every way I could think of to charm him (and I did once or twice get an involuntary smile). I am grateful, though, that that did not stop him from teaching Step and I how to play Killer Bunnies. The game was suitable for players a few years older than him, and he wouldn’t let us look at the rules ourselves, so the version we played was somewhat garbled. But we still had such a good time playing it and he was such a huge fan we that the next day we went to Secret Garden Toys and bought our own copy. We were partly motivated just by a burning desire to actually look up some of the rules, but it is a purchase we have never regretted and have played the game many, many times since then, and have bought several expansions and introduced it to dozens of people. The clerk at Secret Garden Toys told us Killer Bunnies was a mad craze among the young folks of Nelson, and indeed, Quinn talked about it a lot.
We also one evening played Pit with the whole Jennie family, but Felix insisted on playing by himself, (as opposed to on a special adult/youngster team), and as he was reluctant to trade any cards it was almost impossible for anyone to corner the market on anything, so we had to content ourselves with enjoying the free-for-all-ofness of it rather than any glow of winning a hand.
We visited quite a lot of funky cafes in Nelson; one notable one is called the Preserved Seed and it is run by a sort of—it’s not really a commune—it’s more of a spiritual community that has a couple of farms and an agenda of healthy, vegetarian food, agriculture and cooperation. We didn’t actually know any of this on our visit, but have since visited their satellite cafe in Chilliwack and have learned more about them. Nelson also has impressive street side food vendors (unlike Vancouver, where at the time you could only buy a hotdog from a street cart). Say what you want about hippie people, they have really good food. Jennie, not a hippie, but still a food appreciator, made us a hotdog dinner with amazing homemade ice cream in which she used coconut milk instead of dairy, but we did eat one restaurant meal at the Redfish Grill downtown, at we were served large portions of delicious fresh food.
The people of Nelson are keepin’ it real, as illustrated by a story Jennie told us about local CBC radio journalist (right-leaning) Bob Keating, who became so incensed when local (left leaning) health care activist Earl Hamilton called him a “government toady who was not to be trusted”, that Keating sent Hamilton a box of chocolates which he had rubbed with raw chicken. Keating almost immediately realised the gravity of what he had done, confessed to his wife, and contacted Hamilton and told him not to eat the chocolates. He then sought psychiatric counselling, and was fired from the beloved CBC.
We were lucky to be in Nelson on Saturday, since that is the day of the Nelson Farmers’ Market . As well as the produce and food vendors, the market has live entertainment and really good root beer. I tried to buy a t-shirt that said “Stop Wars” in the style of the Star Wars logo, but none of them fit, so I paid the vendor for the shirt and gave her my home address where she could send it next time she printed some. She did send it, but the printing was really off centre so I sent this back (how could the printing be so off centre, you ask? I can’t say, but it was in Nelson, nudge nudge, wink wink). Later, the t-shirt order bogged down and I never actually got another shirt. You win some, you lose some.
Near where the Farmers’ Market is, (Fashion Island on Hardy Street), is the picturesque Cottonwood Herbal Demonstration Garden, which is organically planted with indigenous medically and culinarily useful plants that attract beneficial insects like butterflies and ladybugs. It has pleasant paths and a creek, and is a nice, meditative place to go for peaceful beauty.
We had a little root beer and lunch with the Jennie family, and Felix cried when I hugged him goodbye (tears of horror, not sadness, I’m sorry to say), and then we were on the road again.