Thinking About Love on Vancouver Island (World)

“What do you think about when you think about love?” my bachelor friend Mark asked me, paraphrasing the title of a book of stories by Raymond Carver, though I don’t think he knew that.

“For me, that’s easy: Hiromi.”  I’ve been married to my wife for 28 years, and we’ve been together for 36. She’s beautiful to look at, she is an artist both in the kitchen and in her work as a textile designer, she doesn’t interfere with my work, and she massages my feet when we watch TV at night. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

“I thought you’d say that,” he said. “For me, it’s probably my cats. I’ve never been lucky in love.”

“Do you think it’s luck?” I asked.

“Well, look at you, you sure lucked out.”

“I did,” I agreed. “But what about her?”

“She’s the kind of woman who could make any man happy.”

“That’s not the question. I’m asking about her happiness.”

“You think she wouldn’t be happy with someone better looking, wealthier, more famous than you?”

“I don’t think any of that matters to her.”

“Someone with a better heart? Someone who is more charitable?”

“Try someone who cooks,” I said. “She’d like that.”

“Nobody cooks better than Hiromi,” he said. And he should know; he’s eaten at our house more often than we’ve invited him.

“When I think about love, I see her face,” I said. “That’s why I decided to surprise her when we went to Vancouver Island. Did I tell you we renewed our vows?”

“Get out of here. In Canada? Without any of your friends or family around?”

“It was very spontaneous. She had no clue. But we were spending the first night at the Abigail Hotel in Victoria—wonderful quaint hotel on a cul de sac, a short three block walk from the Inner Harbor where the cruise ships dock and the visitors stroll. Victoria’s the capital city of British Columbia. It’s got more restaurants than any city its size other than San Francisco, over 900 hanging flower baskets on the streets in the city center, and its small enough to walk or bicycle.  When the Abigail sent me a confirmation they mentioned they were starting this new promotion: renew your vows at their hotel. It sounded right, so I bought Hiromi a ring before we left, since she lost her wedding ring down the sink years ago, and e-mailed the presiding marriage commissioner what I wanted her to say about her….and two hours after we arrived, we got married again. The look on Hiromi’s face was priceless. And it was the smartest thing I could have done. Because it made the next nine days very memorable. For both of us.”

“That’s where you’re lucky—after 28 years, you’d think given the chance to rethink it, she’d say no, not yes.”

“Funny. Actually, what she said when we walked into the garden and she noticed the trellis with the white lace, was, ‘Look, someone’s getting married.’  And I said, ‘Yeah, us.’  And after she realized I wasn’t joking she composed herself quickly and said, ‘Did you get me a diamond ring?’  She collects Indian turquoise and silver, not diamonds, but she was busting my balls. The little gold band I got her suddenly seemed insufficient, but she was surprised that I actually got her a ring.  Of course, after she put it on and saw that it was just a tad loose, she said she’d like to get another to put on the same finger, to keep the first in place.”

“So tell me about the trip,” Mark prompted. “Once you renewed your vows you must have had a very romantic time.  If two old folks like you can still find romance.”

“Not only could we find it, we couldn’t miss it, not where we went. The Abigail went all out—flowers, a white wedding cake, champagne. And that was before dinner. We walked over to the Fairmont Empress, by the Inner Harbor, and ate in their elegant dining room. They knew about our vow renewal, so they served us as if we were special.”

“You mean they ignored the other diners and catered to you?”

“Nah, they treated everyone the same. But they make you feel special. The way they place the cutlery, pour the wine, lay down the food. They’ve got over 800 local and international wines in that room. The island itself boasts fifteen vineyards. The tuna and halibut we ate were wonderful, but then it’s hard to find a restaurant on the island that can’t cook fresh fish.”

“Did you go to Butchart Gardens? I heard that’s spectacular.”

“It is; we stopped there last year on our way down from Alaska. One of the world’s great gardens. But this trip we decided to walk around the city after our shared Jacuzzi bath and morning massage at the Abigail. I’m telling you, spas are opening up all over Canada. People go to hotels now and expect to get their backs rubbed or their faces exfoliated.  We had a couples’ massage: two tables, two masseurs, one room. It made the rest of the day easy walking. Of course we shopped along Fort and View Streets and on Broad Street we checked out my favorite outdoor clothing store, Tilley, my favorite walking shoes at the Mephisto store, and the pen and men’s toy store (Simply The Best) all within a few feet of each other, but wound up buying some clothes and shoes at other stores which were having sales. Canada’s not the bargain it used to be when the dollar went farther—these days there’s not much difference between the two currencies, so you have to shop more discretely.”

“Even at level prices, I always thought the golf fees were pretty reasonable when I’ve been there.”

“Yup, they are. We left Victoria to check out the new Bear Mountain Resort, 1300 acres of mountainside property just twenty minutes north of the city. They’ve got the only Jack Nicklaus designed course there, with another being built. There was still construction going on, with 3,000 units going up, with time-shared units starting at $250,000 and houses between one and 1.5 million. I was told that when a unit is finished, it’s sold within seventeen minutes.  Minutes!  The investors behind this resort are National Hockey League players—the main one being Len Barrie, who played for the Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, L.A. Kings and Florida Panthers before retiring in 2001 to become this real estate mogul who said he wanted to create a place where everyday life felt like a vacation. I bet he had no idea what he was building when they first got started. The clubhouse went up, then the exercise rooms, the swimming pool and Jacuzzi, the golf course….and suddenly they began to see that they could keep on building, create a true village, open a school. So they just kept on expanding. I don’t think the second golf course was in the original plans, but there you go. Can’t argue with success.”

“Sounds a bit claustrophobic for me, where everything is provided for you and you don’t have to get into your car to go anywhere.”

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