Gotta dig The Carrot
The barber shop where I got my first haircuts as a boy is now The Carrot coffee house. The little music store on 118th Ave. where I took my first guitar lessons is now an empty shell. George's Cycle is gone. The House of Banjo is now Myhre's Music.

If you've been in a place long enough, as I have Edmonton, life, especially in neighbourhoods where you grew up, like Alberta Avenue, becomes, unavoidably, so much visual archeology. What is no longer there is still there. It's just down a few layers.

We are layer people.

It was back into time today as Shelagh and I headed down to Alberta Avenue for Deep Freeze, the Byzantine Winter Festival. Weatherwise, it was sunlit, chilly, with scythes of wind. If you live the house-to-car-to-mall life, it was the kind of weather that would feel doubly cold. It was the kind of Edmonton day that asked you, are you with me or against me? Against me: hands in pockets, light shoes, open head, jeans. With me: mitts, boots, headwear, a few layers of leggings.

Frame it
"Okay," Shelagh said. "I've got four layers of cream on my face, let's go."

Yes, we are layer people.

The festival, now in its sixth chapter, makes a celebration out of layers. After all, that's what winter is emotionally, I think: memories built on skating and toboganning and coffee can curling built, in turn, on snow and ice that covers the ground that won't be visible for three more months. It is a festival with layers of Edmontonians old, new, newer, newest.

It is a festival that celebrates layering up (because that's the only way to dance with the cold) and layering down (as glasses unfog and parkas and gloves and tocques come off and conversation rises in The Carrot or the Alberta Avenue Community League hall.)

It is a treat for the eyes. Ice sculptures, a curling rink, road hockey games, wagon rides, steam-windowed restaurants, a curling rink, a luge run, a giant Xs and Os board made from ice, a deep freezer race course, a shooter bar, a skating rink, characters on stilts, characters dressed in medieval costumes.

Winning by luging
Lights fantastic
But close your eyes, and the festival takes on another note as the hoots and hollers and shrieks of children warm the cold. The youngsters haven't yet allowed themselves to build up that layer of cold towards their own city that sometimes gets applied along with the parkas and scarves.

In that sense the good people of Alberta Avenue, who have refused to be buried under layers of the neighbourhood's past,  have given Edmonton an outrageous gift: an invitation to celebrate our cold life together.

And in doing so they ask us to confront the ways we have buried who are beneath the layers it takes to get through our winters.

Alberta Avenue
Do yourself a favour and put a couple of layers on, and then take a few off, at Alberta Avenue's cool, warm festival.



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