Monday, 16 April 2007

The Empress

Last week we took the ferry over to Vancouver Island for a day trip. We have lived here, in Greater Vancouver, for almost two years, and had not yet ventured to those sweet corners of the province. In fact, there are many islands one might chose to sail to; Vancouver Island being the biggest, and also the home of Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia.

It was unfortunate that we had so little time to spend over there. The Island is such a lengthy beast; quiet worthy of a good weeks stay in fact. It is also a rather diverse region, with its snow capped mountains, and beachside resorts and surf. It sure was pretty over there….

Victoria is a lovely city, with some beautiful old buildings along the coast. A stroll along Inner Harbour made for a pleasant afternoon in the spring sunshine. The mild conditions drew a lively bunch of people, and also artisans, who set up shop along the seawall, in order to sell their wares. A brass band serenaded our dreamy meanderings, while a variety of tiny boats, water taxis and sea planes busily darted in and out of the quay, like worker bees diligently delivering nectar to the hive.

We had a lovely lunch at the Wharfside, which gave us a spectacular view of the water activity below. The restaurant had an elegant nostalgic feel about it; golden wood trim shining and preserved under several layers of lacquer; high ceilings with exposed beams; distressed works of art, which could only really suit a place like that, and grand lighting. The entire place carried a nice balance of warm rustic charm meets style.

We enjoyed a spot of gallery hopping after lunch. There were many to choose from. I really loved the works of EJ Hughes. Apparently he only passed away this year, but his paintings really captured BC coastal living, to a tee.

I think however, in my very humble, inexperienced and highly unqualified opinion; I would have to say that the ruby in the city of Victoria’s glittering crown would have to be the exquisite Empress Hotel, which was built a century ago.

The Empress is so exquisitely regal and romantic, one can not help but feel transported to another time, perhaps the roaring 1920’s, when the western world was awash with cash and excessive displays of extravagance were the name of the game, for those who were able.

The dining rooms alone are enough to make most people gasp, and of course, The Empress is famous for its Afternoon Te, an activity most who chose to indulge, are only ever likely to do once for the experience, because at around $50 per head for a pot of tea, chantilly cream, teeny cakes and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, well it is pretty steep. It goes without saying, we didn’t indulge; rather, we wandered those hallowed Empress halls; traipsed muddy footprints over its fine carpets; blotted the lacquered finishes with our grotty fingerprints and rumpled the upholstery, just like thousands of other sticky-beaked visitors, had done before us – an activity that is entirely cost-free.

The Empress really was an awe-inspiring experience. How enchanting to be surrounded by her…I didn’t want to leave. Just being in her presence made one feel proud in oneself, and I began to wonder if I should perhaps find employment in such an establishment, so I could envelop myself in such romanticism, on a daily basis. I even dared allow myself to daydream on that possibility, as we shuffled through the room where 50 or so people were enjoying Afternoon Te.

I imagined myself, a waiter dressed in the obligatory tailored white coat uniform and black trousers; the politeness in my voice, as I willingly served my seated patrons, and the fine culinary props I would present before them, to ensure the Empress experience really was one that would live on in memory, for decades to come.

I looked around at all the proud people nibbling on sweet pastries and taking dainty sips of tea through pursed lips. They poured the steaming amber liquid into faultless, beautifully patterned china tea cups, while being ever so careful they not spill a drop and soil the starched white tablecloth beneath. Conservatively dressed women, sat tall, giggling and haw-hawing behind manicured hands, at an irrelevant tid-bit, offered by a stuffy old fellow, bearing an unsightly chime of sandwich crumbs stuck in his otherwise neat moustache.

Immersing myself in the scene, I did begin to wonder, whether being a servant in such an establishment, I might eventually come to resent The Empress, her uppity crowds and emphasis on perfection; such majesty tends to draw and inspire the proud, along with the arrogant, and I could only imagine the ways some of the various staff may have been mistreated, disrespected and even dehumanised, over the years.

There must be balance in all things. It is therefore, little wonder that The Empress; with her extravagant detail and beauty, might expose some of the more ugly examples of human behaviour, and the superficialities present within individual personalities, and so I resigned myself from The Empresses employ, before the imaginary ink had dried on my imaginary employment application; preferring instead, that her rare stateliness linger longer in my heart, rather than taint her memory through an exchange of disappointed energies, blood, sweat and tears.


Kathleen said...

My first honeymoon, about 38 years ago, was spent at the Empress. My mother-in-law had arranged those days it was up to the groom's family to supply the honeymoon. I got deathly ill on the ferry ride, and have never gone back. The Empress is beautiful..but the rooms are old...nothing fancy there at all by today's standards. At least the room WE had booked. We didn't partake of the tea. Being 20 years old, I suppose it seemed rather fuddy-duddy. I remember the Butchart Gardens being quite lovely (it was July), and we enjoyed all the shops and brought home some china and crystal pieces as gifts for our parents. I would really like to go back and explore the upper some "camping" in a luxury lodge on the coast and do some fishing. That sounds way more ideal to me now!

strauss said...

Here here Kathleen.
How lucky to spend your honeymoon at the Empress!