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JOHN DeMONT: Even during the pandemic, you can find magic on Halifax streets

Two women chat on a sidewalk along Summer Street in Halifax Friday. The province has eased some restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two women chat on a sidewalk along Summer Street in Halifax. - Tim Krochak / File

My contrarian nature — the thing that, in commercial ventures, makes me buy high and sell low — ensures that I find pleasure in the city when most everyone else deserts it.

I like Halifax in the dog days of August, when school is out and summer vacations are underway. The residential streets are by and large quiet at this time of year, when the heat lulls people into a doze and the sane have made for Crystal Crescent Beach.

Tennis courts are empty, so are movie theatres. You can, without a long wait, score a table at a bar patio. It is easy to get from A to B because all the other cars are out on the Trans-Canada Highway bound for somewhere else.

This summer, as we all know, is different. I have been looking for the quiet magic of August anyway, walking through the streets past the masked folks, in search of something familiar to grab onto.

I'm here to tell you that it is still there, even during the pandemic, even on a Tuesday when the air is thick enough that you could float in it, and the funk of garbage day comes and goes with the wafting breeze.

You just have to look a little closer when, away from the major arterials, it is possible to go entire blocks, at noon on a weekday, seeing only a guy pushing a lawnmower, a determined fellow touching up the caulking around a window, or some listless dog walkers.

It has been my experience that during August, Halifax’s allure can be slow to reveal itself, but it was there, in unexpected places for someone travelling on foot, with the time to notice.

I did see two mail carriers in my travels. Otherwise, few people seemed to be working, or if they were, they happened to be on break, sitting in the shade, for which I don’t blame them one bit.

If you tend to see the world a certain way, those expanded sidewalks and streets can be good for the head. So is the quiet.

There’s no reason to rush when time slows down, as it seemed to at the corner of Charles and Windsor streets, where I stood with my eyes closed, and counted to 18 before I heard a car pass.

Stepping onto the Halifax Common at Robie Street, the only sign of physical exertion was a bearded guy lying by his bicycle reading a book in the shade of a bush, and a far-away figure dribbling a soccer ball, all by themselves, as if maddened by the blazing sun.

It has been my experience that during August, Halifax’s allure can be slow to reveal itself, but it was there, in unexpected places for someone travelling on foot, with the time to notice.

Beneath the shade of the Common’s Emera Oval Pavilion, a trio of women ran through their tai chi forms, while, through a window behind them, kids performed skateboard tricks.

Inside a pretty house on the corner of Bauer Street, near where a song sparrow chirped and trilled, I heard ragtime piano, being played as bouncily as if Jelly Roll Morton was in the parlour on the Steinway.

Cutting through the parking lot between the Ummah Mosque and the Maritime Conservatory, I stopped and looked up to a second-level window from which German lieder floated.

Tuesday, I discovered that, in August, an abandoned lot on Creighton Street can look as verdant as some Annapolis Valley farmer’s back 40, while a shady patio on a leafy stretch of the aforementioned Charles Street can make you look twice to see if maybe Maurice Chevalier is in there sipping absinthe.

Walking south on Harvard Street, I looked down a driveway where a girl played in a backyard pool while a babysitter snoozed in the sunlight.

Down the same street, past houses with wind chimes, Canadian, Nova Scotia and Buddhist prayer flags, along with a GLBTQ2 rainbow banner, someone had taken the time to write out the words for Glory, by Nigerian poet Gbenga Adesina, in an elegant hand on a chalkboard in front of a house.

Adesina said that he wrote it because "in this atmosphere of daily proximity to annihilation, I find myself desperately missing my friends.”

I would suggest reading it in its entirety, it's that powerful, but since I only have so many words in this space, I will point to a single stanza - “Glory of the eyes of my father/which, when he died, closed inside his grave/and opened even more brightly inside me” - and leave it at that.

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