Thursday, September 5, 2013

Life is a Movie, Kind Of

OK, this is the truth: we came here because of a movie.

The 1987 feature "Roxanne" is Steve Martin's remake of "Cyrano de Bergerac." I have always loved that sweet film, probably Martin's best. When the credits rolled, I recall writing down "Nelson, British Columbia" on my popcorn-stained napkin and vowing if there was ever an opportunity to go, I'd like to visit.

So here we are. Our B&B is three blocks downhill from the fire station where C.D. Bales, Martin's big-nosed character, was the long-suffering chief of an incompetent fire company. Here is one of my favorite speeches that he made in the movie:

I have a dream. It's not a big dream, it's just a little dream. My dream - and I hope you don't find this too crazy - is that I would like the people of this community to feel that if, God forbid, there were a fire, calling the fire department would actually be a wise thing to do. You can't have people, if their houses are burning down, saying, "Whatever you do, don't call the fire department!" That would be bad.
The Nelson Fire House
It is twenty-six years after that movie's release. We can presume the real-life guys in the fire company have worked out the kinks in their hoses. A couple of fire alarms went off today, and the engines handled the calls proficiently. Nelson seems to be a well-functioning small town. The community is set within postcard-beauty surroundings and professes to be about four hours from anywhere.

Lively Baker Street
The main drag is Baker Street, nearly a half-mile of bistros, bookstores, boutiques, and small shops. There are no Big Macs available among the 75+ eateries in town. The streets are full of children and families. There is a busy community library down the block.

And there are a lot of characters here, too. Located about forty miles north of the northeastern corner of Washington State, Nelson was once the destination of many Viet Nam draft-dodgers and numerous other folks pursuing alternative lifestyles. These days there are a lot of mountain bikers, skiers, and connoisseurs of organic free-range foods.

We are struck by how this community is thriving. Art galleries everywhere, a street violinist on the corner, coffee shops full of customers in mid-afternoon. What is the secret?

One snarky National Post article from earlier in the year called Nelson the marijuana capital of Canada, noting that pot may be the largest cash crop in British Columbia, and Nelson never experienced an economic downturn. Perhaps; but there is something else in the mountain air that keeps the positive energy flowing. The community creativity is palpable. People are friendly, helpful, and outgoing. Folks on the street visibly enjoy one another and welcome outsiders like us.

the coffee shop around the corner
So I reflect on the small town where we live, some three time zones away. How can a community flourish? What are the long-term habits that build friendliness, joy, and well-being? Certainly the people who live in Nelson have made the commitment to do so; you cannot whisk through a town that is four hours from anywhere. In our suburban hometown, there are many people who seem to pass through without putting down roots or contributing to the community's life. I wish we could find ways to change that.

It also strikes me, just on observation, that Nelson has created community organizations where people bump into each other and work together. We walked through a grocery co-op, for instance, and then saw the handiwork of a poetry team, leaving free verse on newsprint attached to local buildings. There are many folks on the streets who stop and chat with one another. They genuinely seem interested in working for the public good.

I like that. And I believe Nelson is something more than a mere movie set.

No comments:

Post a Comment