Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rainbows, butterflies, and tacky souvenirs: this must be Niagara Falls


On Thursday, Maggie and Stuart read as part of the Virus Readings series, in the Book Nook at 4555 Queen St, Niagara Falls. Stuart's friend Heather and I came along, and we made a day trip out of it.

We stopped in Grimsby to eat lunch and check out a nifty thrift shop Stuart knew about, and got to Niagara Falls sometime early in the afternoon. Heather went off on a bike ride, and Stuart, Maggie & I went looking for the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory.

Now, Niagara Falls is the kind of town where there are a lot of tourist attractions of dubious interest, with long lineups and inflated ticket prices. The Butterfly Conservatory, on the other hand, is totally worth your 12 bucks. It's a huge greenhouse filled with lush, blooming tropical plants, and giant, drifting, fluttering, jewel-coloured butterflies. There's a hatchery where you can see chrysalids (above), and watch butterflies crawl out of them and spread their damp new wings.

There's also, as you might guess, a hideously tacky souvenir shop, where these magnets seem to be popular:

In the gift shop

That's a found poem, right there.

Then we went and looked at the Falls themselves, which are of course beautiful, and are also a Baudrillardian essay in hyperreality, the real thing being effaced and superseded by its signs, the mediation of experience through technology, etc. Maggie said, "You can tell we're the intellectuals because we're the ones taking pictures of the coin-operated binoculars."

Coin-operated binoculars

The cultural-theory field trip continued as we ventured into the Clifton Hill tourist area, which is a kind of insane, disorienting sensory-overload environment, like a mini Las Vegas. There are a lot of wax museums, and a lot of attractions advertised as "4-D", as if the same old 3 physical dimensions were just not exciting enough anymore & a new one has been added to jazz up the carnival rides. Seriously, we have no idea what "4-D" was supposed to mean. Also, the Tourist Area is just crawling with robots. There are animatronic figures rappelling up the sides of buildings; disembodied voices boom from every storefront, hyping the wonders within; and sometimes the animatronic figures speak in recorded voices, trying to entice you inside. Robot barkers! Impervious to boredom, heatstroke or laryngitis! Also, you see the word FUN a lot.


Tired out by the heat, loud noises & flashing lights, we met up with Heather and were happy to stumble upon Basell's Diner, where we had classic diner food and beers and I GOT CARDED, much to my delight and the astonishment of everyone else. (Maggie: "I can vouch for her being really, really old.") Someday I want to have breakfast at Basell's; they have those little single-serving cardboard boxes of Kellogg's cereals, and they also have three kinds of pancakes:

3 kinds of pancakes

Then on to the reading. We had been speculating all day about what kind of arts community or neighbourhood Niagara Falls might have: it's a pretty small city, built around tourism, with no universities, though I'm told it does have some good community colleges. Who would show up to a literary reading?

It turns out that much of the arts community in Niagara Falls (as far as we could make out) revolves around one nifty building, 4555 Queen St., affectionately known as The Four-Triple-Five. A former nightclub, it's got a cafe, an art gallery, a music performance space, and -- up a flight of stairs, in what was once the VIP lounge -- an adorably cozy little second-hand bookstore, which is where the reading took place.

If you're ever in Niagara Falls, and if you're the kind of person who gets migraines in Tourist Areas, escape from Clifton Hill and check this place out.

The reading was intimate, the small audience attentive. Maggie and Stuart both read substantial, sometimes intense sets, impressive given how wiped out they were feeling in the late afternoon. I was intrigued by Tanis Rideout's work-in-progress, a nearly-completed novel based on the true story of a failed attempt to climb Everest 30 years before the Hillary expedition.

All my Niagara Falls photos here.

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Anonymous zoe said...

wasn't the 4th dimension time? anyway, impressive the effort they're able to make to get people in...

8:20 a.m., August 18, 2008  
Blogger Nadia said...

Yeah, we eventually decided time was the only thing they could possibly mean. Not much of a selling point really... it would be pretty hard to enjoy an attraction that had no temporal dimension!

1:07 p.m., August 18, 2008  
Blogger Jamie said...

At least Basell's is honest about the source of their pancakes (in the case of Aunt Jemima)!

1:16 p.m., August 20, 2008  
Blogger lumpkin said...

Love the found poem! The only touristy thing I've done at Niagara was the maid of the mist and that was very impressive (the rest looked mostly too tacky for words).

7:21 a.m., August 21, 2008  

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