Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Force of Gravity

Can you imagine tumbling over this in a wooden barrel?

A seven hour drive takes us along the undulating banks of the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal, detouring at Charlie the Butcher in Buffalo for beef-on-wek, and up to Niagara Falls, Ontario, where I hadn't before been. In fact, I hadn't much desire to go. Niagara, I had been told, is a tourist trap. Stay on the Canadian side. And as I am an American only two generations removed from my one-hundred percent French-Canadian lineage, I, of course, choose to stay on the "other side." Ontario, as it turns out, is every bit as hospitable as its neighboring French-speaking Province.

Because we have just seen the documentary, Niagara: Thunder of the Waters, and it is barely a day away (and in my mind, a better option than Disney), and Easter in Nantucket anchors the far end of our vacation, we decide a Niagara to Nantucket vacation is manageable.

Mom, will you ever take us to Disney? Lulu asks.

I've successfully been avoiding Disney for nearly a dozen years. I've no intention of breaking that streak.

Mmm, probably not, Lu.

With the girl, it's always best to be perfectly candid. She stares at me, arms crossed, head tilted to the side with her I-can't-believe-you face. Every-body takes their kids to Disney.

Look, kid, I tell her, to be honest, I've no interest in Disney. I've been to Disney several times, once on a joy ride and many times for business. It's entirely manufactured and I don't care for it. Besides, your brother has motion sickness. It's not how I want to spend a vacation, walking around with a pocketful of Dramamine and, well you know, the proverbial barf bag. When you're an adult you can take your own joy ride down to Florida.

Oh, I don't care, 
she says. Whatever. Niagara Falls will be fun. It's fine.

(It's always all fine with Lulu, so long as she is in motion. Going somewhere.)

In fact, the fabricated world constructed in Niagara Falls is more like a miniature Las Vegas than Disney. Old Vegas. Tired casinos, beat-up arcades, low-end wax museums, haunted houses, and bland, over-priced restaurant franchises. To be sure though, a bit of Disney, a fifteen minute high tech movie ridea motion simulator in 4D—at a cost of fifteen dollars for two, a  four-times-around sky wheel for forty bucks (and in high winds, the scare of your life), and a ten dollar ticket that gets you a five minute run through a paint splattered plywood maze.

But what it does have that the twinkling desert city out west or the fantasy world down south does not is a natural wonder, a remnant of the ice age, a force so magnificent that, when harnessed, may illuminate up to 3.8 million homes.

And ice blocks amassing in the Niagara River mid April.

The entire city is laden by mist. Cold, gray and rainy (except for when it snows) for the length of our stay, making the Falls feel all the more dramatic. At Table Rock one can feel the Fall's gravity. You can almost dip your hand in its chilly current, but you don't as you sense a violent pull into its churning belly.

Further north, Niagara-on-the-Lake sits at the edge of where Lake Ontario meets the Niagara Rivera micro-climate of abundant grapes protected by the Niagara Escarpment, its landscape a stark contrast to the neon lit Falls. Picturesque and inviting, its residents have settled there from around the globe, and many operate quaint boutiques along its charming Main Street. At least two dozen wineries thrive in the rich clay soils outside of the tight knit village, and Shaw Theatre runs shows (including Shakespeare) year round.

Monday, snow was falling along Niagara-on-the-Lake's Main Street. The shopkeepers assured us that the weather was unique for this time of year. At The Olde Angel Inn, an historic inn dating back to before the war of 1812, pints were served along with bangers and mash. There: a chance meeting with an old acquaintance of my husband's, a man from Manchester, England who'd fallen in love with southern Ontario and had made it his home for nearly fifty years. A soccer (or football, he would say) fanatic. A Union leader who many years ago played a pivotal role at United Steelworkers Canada by securing a mill position for the first female steelworker (aside from women who'd been hired as clerical help) in Ontario. A story unto its own.

And so it went that we ventured, unexpectedly, from the power of the Falls to the power of people, all within the span of a few miles. Such is the force of gravity. In nature. In man. What we can harness around, about and within ourselves. Should we desire.

Stumbling out of Peller Estates Winery—our final stop in the lakeside town—the air had warmed and clouds parted. Lingering snow and mist, evaporated. In Monday's early evening glow, nestled in the Escarpment, I felt the weight of the region's natural wonders. Like a daring drop over the falls in a wooden barrel, it was exciting.


  1. Wow, it sounds like you had quite a trip Jayne!
    The natural wonders of the United States are something I would dearly like to see and your post and pictures exemplify why.
    Maybe one day I'll make it over from England and it was nice to hear that you bumped into a native of my home city.
    You said he was a massive football fan but of which team? Support in Manchester is divided into Blue(City) and Red(United).

  2. Now that, m'lady, flows beautifully. Love all the little metaphorical asides especially comparing the power of the falls with the power of the union (I am of course a Union man!).
    Good post!

  3. I absolutely loved your exchange with lulu, you two stood there before me like a still frame from a movie. Agree with the other commenter that the flow is so well I feel like you sat there and told us all of this in one breath.

    I'd trade Disneyland with you any day by the way, we are 1 hour away and 2 from Hollywood. :)

  4. I've never wanted to go there. Until now.
    Well written, indeed.

  5. wow, you know more about niagra falls than i do. it's been years since i've been there and it was always on business.

  6. facinating post as always Jayne - I couldn't believe how dated and tacky Niagra was for such a famous world site.

  7. I like how you described the juxtaposition of one of the world's natural wonders with the tackiness of tourist attraction. The falls are enough to attract wonder and amazement, but that's just me;)

  8. Thanks Jayne, I have always wanted to go to the Falls. Enjoyed seeing it through your description.

  9. Paul - Cecil spent a month in France some years back, following his one and only... Manchester United!

    Dan- You would have loved this past Monday's conversation at the old bar. It was so interesting that I witnessed the turnover from lunch to dinner. ;)

    Shopgirl- I think the "flow" of Niagara stays with one for a while! And no! No Disney anything! ;)

    Danger- Go see the falls, then head up to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Beautiful B&Bs there, and plenty of wine (and pubs)!

    BP- Well, it's rather fresh in my mind. I think the optimum time to visit would be summer, though. But April didn't work out so bad - at the the Maid of the Mist boat tours were still closed for the season!! Thank gawd I didn't have to finagle my way out of that one.

    David- Such a shame that Niagara's zoning by-laws permitted all the development. Or perhaps laws didn't exist at the time. They are working on restoring and maintaining its natural beauty, though.

  10. Nelson- Thanks for our visit!

    Antares- I couldn't help but wonder how much more beautiful the Falls would be without all the attractions. And here we were staying on the 45th floor of a hotel across the street. (With a falls view.) I felt a little guilty.

    Barbara- It was worth the trip. I don't think I would have flown there, though.

  11. I have always wanted to go to Niagara Falls. Now I have trip envy!

  12. I once stole a car in Niagra Falls, though i did take it back i just parked it where the owners couldn't find it.

  13. Ahhh, you brought back some amazing memories of my only trip there (over 2 decades ago)! You also are SO right about Disneyworld, I made the mistake of taking my brood there once - oh, they had a fab time, 'cept they two out of the four don't believe me believe me - they were far too young to remember it. I get the photo's out for proof, but they're not satisfied, and demand a return visit. Ha, dream on..! (It was a bloody nightmare, never again.)

  14. I've never been but might this summer as we will be in NY in June (that is if our workshop makes).

  15. Great pictures. It's no Space Mountain, but it'll do.

  16. Laoch- One day is all you need. And stick w/the local Indian and Japanese cuisine. Much better than the chains.

    Kono- Yeah, I can imagine you on the beat up streets of Niagara, hot-wiring a car. What the heck, you can only stare at the Falls for so long. ;)

    Shrinky- Ah, so you understand! And everyone thinks I'm so mean for not taking the kids. There's just so many more interesting and "real" places to visit. Travel time is too precious. ;)

    Ellen- If you in the neighboring it worth a look. Niagara-on-the-Lake is worth even more of a look. :)

    Chris- It's going to have to do for some time. Space Mountain - have done it and can barely remember the blur. I do remember getting off that thing and wondering what the hell I had done to my brain. ;)

  17. You lucky thing, I still want to get to the falls. And your take on gravity is just breath-taking! And thank you for your wonderful support, sure made me smile. :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  18. Never been to Niagra Falls...yet. Your description of your experience there makes me want to go there a little bit more than before, tho.
    Disney--have never been--have ZERO interest in going...ever.
    When my daughter was eight years old, I sat her down and asked her if she would want to go to Disneyworld(seems this was already a *required* destination for her all her friends), and she told me, "No , Mom, I would rather go to New York City". I was off the hook(and we did go to NYC with her a few months later).

  19. Virtual travel with an articulate guide...I've never been there but am awed by masses of falling water wherever they exist. On childhood trips, all pretty much within California, I envied the other cars and their decals of Niagra Falls, Yellowstone, Carlsbad Caverns, etc. I hope you at least brought home a few tacky souvenirs.

  20. Jules- It's worth the trip to see the Falls and surrounding area in Ontario. Glad you're smiling! :)

    Gal Friday- Must be that practical New Englander thing... I love that your asked your daughter if she'd want to go to Disney! Your daughter's a smart girl - I'd much rather go to NYC, too. But there is a lot peer pressure on kids to get to Disney. I never understood that.

    Marylinn- Oh yes, a couple of tacky items is a must! And I know what you mean about falling waters--mesmerizing and calming. It would be something to travel the world to gaze at all the better known falls (and lesser known, as well). ;)

  21. Gosh - the thought of tumbling over those falls in a barrel fills me with absolute fear. All that force - my goodness!

    What an interesting post.

    p.s I too am a Disney Avoider.

  22. No Disney for us either and we'd stay away from the touristy stuff at the falls too. The falls are the attraction and must be amazingly beautiful. I'd love to see them.