A writer on Slate has been doing a series this winter on Vancouver called Notes from a Native Daughter. Native daughter, as in from Vancouver, not Native as in Native American, of course, which you will be able to see by the following few paragraphs:
After snowboarding, we return to Kristin’s house in North Vancouver, a sloping suburb wedged between Burrard Inlet and the Coast Mountains. Short story writer Alice Munro lived here in the 1950s and loathed it. In an interview with the Paris Review, she makes her years of North Vancouver housewifery sound like her own personal gulag, the suffering that made her a writer. “There was a lot of competitive talk about vacuuming and washing the woolies, and I got quite frantic,” she said. It was forbidden for a woman to take anything seriously, she observed, among “the wives of the climbing men,” by which she meant those ascending corporate ladders.
Vancouver’s suburbs are not as stifling as they were in the 1950s. Now “climbing” in the context of North Vancouver can only mean climbing forest trails or rock faces, and both women’s and men’s competitive talk centers on these things. The possibility of becoming frantic in the face of parochialism, though, still resonates. It’s perhaps this sort of fear that led me to settle in New York. There, my bedroom is a closet, medicine and education are luxury goods, and on sultry summer nights the streets can smell like a Third World slum. In some way, it keeps me alive. Call it love, perhaps, because it’s just as hard to explain.
I’ve returned now to see my hometown exactly 12 months before the Winter Olympics, in anticipation of which a city of ongoing renewal is stepping up the pace. Evenings at Cypress Bowl will be less peaceful in February 2010, when it hosts the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events. Tonight, though, Vancouver is looking pretty good. Kristin, my high-school friend, shows me around the house she has just bought with her fiancé. It has five bedrooms and a deck overlooking the inlet and the city. They each have a car and take elaborate vacations—to Patagonia and Northern Italy in recent years. She laments that her four weeks of annual holiday are not enough. Through the window, down the hill and across the water, the city lights wink on and off while we eat our ordered-in Thai food with Okanagan wine. I am forced to concede that the best-city list-makers might be onto something.
I’m not from Vancouver, so I don’t want to offend anyone. I’ve only been there once, but this woman has GOT to be fucking kidding me. Does she not realize, as a writer living in a box in NYC, making presumably not that much money because most writers aren’t these days, that upon moving back to Vancouver, she would also HAVE TO LIVE IN A CLOSET-SIZED APARTMENT????!!! She would not just magically live in a five-bedroom house with a water view in North Vancouver (I shudder to even think about how much this house costs). The thing that has always put me off Vancouver (and NYC for that matter, and very nearly Toronto), is the EXTREMELY high cost of living. And yet, with all of this glowing Olympic coverage, I have yet to see this subject come up. Yes, the Economist calls Vancouver one of the world’s most “livable” cities, but it should call it “most livable if you are a neurosurgeon or CEO or multimillionaire-whatever-it-is-this-Kristin-person-does-to-be-able-to-afford-a-million-dollar+home.” The vast majority of people in this country cannot afford to own property in Vancouver. To me, that’s not a very livable city. To me, it sounds like quite a hostile place to live. Give me Hamilton any day of the week.