Tour Vancouver Island

Going Viking at the Royal BC Museum

June 21/2014

A visit to the Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria is a highlight not to be missed. Wander among creatures of the rainforest, traipse down a turn of the century main street or have a meditative moment in a Kwakwaka’wakw long house.

I’ve been going to this museum for forty years and every time I visit the magic is there again. Yesterday, I visited the seasonal exhibit, “Viking,” which held special meaning for me as many of the artifacts, or copies of artifacts – there were many, had been unearthed on the island where my father was born and grew up. Gotland lies off the east coast of Sweden and features one of the few fortified cities of the world. Visby’s fifteen foot thick walls used to echo eerily with the moaning of mating cats when my parents courted while attending vocational schools there in the fifties, giving meat to the rumours of disobedient nuns being enclosed within the walls in the middle ages.

The name “Viking,” I learned, is a term applied by other nations on the Norsemen. They were more likely to use the term “going Viking” as a description of their version of a Gap year. Another thing I learned is that contrary to rumours of uncleanliness, (my boys were always excited by the fact that Vikings never changed their underwear – or underfur) unearthed artifacts reveal that the Nordic gents possessed a number of hygienic requisites such as ear spoons and shavers.

The artistry of their metalwork is truly amazing. I hadn’t realized that there are regional styles or “schools” of those beautiful, sinuous, interlaced designs. The intricacy of decoration on some of their jewelry is a marvel considering the times in which they were produced.

But where they really excelled was in travel. Those perfectly crafted longboats took them in all directions where between raping and pillaging, they set up a number of settlements and spread their culture throughout lands from Russia to the Middle East to North America.

I have a photo taken of my father, Bjorn, posed in the plastic Viking helmet that my kids used to play in. He looks fierce but is probably considering what his forbears would think of him in a helmet with horns, head-gear less Viking than Wagnerian, the first horns thought to have been created by Carl Emil Doepler in 1876 for the Ring Cycle.

Perhaps the Scandinavians just assumed the seas and everyone living alongside, belonged to them since Thor, their god of thunder, had unwittingly drank all the seas from a drinking horn. Horned helmets, drinking horns and just plain horniness aside, perhaps they felt the wind rush of the spiritual when out sailing, baptismal in the salty spray. Kind of a shame that the Norsemen of today are more likely to be found warring over the sale rack at Ikea than battling the high seas.

A Dip into the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria
June 23/2014

After an exhausting run of work and the added chore of moving house with all its attendant tasks like floor scrubbing and making new arrangements for everything from garbage collection to mortgage closing, I decided to use the spa visit Christmas gift that my husband had given me. This was six months later and I had almost forgotten about it until my aching muscles and throbbing brain had me longing for a massage. I was worried that it might have expired, but no, I easily booked my visit for a scrub and massage and eagerly awaited the day.

A friend needing therapy after her own difficult period of dealing with her father’s dementia decided to join me. So after a quick lunch avec mimosas, we hied over to the Humboldt street entrance of her Ivied Majesty, the Empress Hotel.  Stepping inside, we were embraced by soft spa music and inhalations of aromatic oils, sparking our synaptic connections to signal our body to slow down . A gentle voice asked if she could help us and we began our journey to bliss.

Soon, I was berobed in white and awaiting the return of my therapist who assumed I could get myself naked and between the sheets of the massage table without mishap. I recalled my last massage visit to the Kingfisher Spa where I had inadvertently plopped myself too near one end of table and wound up flopping off the end when the table tipped back. Luckily I had been able to pull my naked self together and under the sheet on the straightened up table before the therapist’s re-entry to the room. Gingerly now, I successfully arranged myself on the table. For the next hour, I had the pleasure of my first salt scrub, followed by a vigorous upper back and neck massage, at times silenced (rare for me) by the intensity of knot removal.

Thoroughly pummeled, kneaded and patted, Leasa and I progressed through the eucalyptus steam room, the bone warming heat of the sauna and on to the Hungarian Mineral pool where the splashing of water from Romanesque urns took us far away to the era when spa time was a requirement for the civilized life. Our watery bodies (70% in adults), crave the pampering of refreshing forms of healthy steams and minerals. The release of toxins and the replenishment of our cells sipped from glasses of cool, lemon water literally change the make up of the person who must eventually leave the spa.

Leasa and I sauntered peacefully out the spa door to the busy city with the suppleness of spaghetti al dente, vowing to return soon. There is nothing, we mused,  like the lingering effect of the laying on of hands from an expert and the delicious realization that the world will continue to spin while you take a little break.

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