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Inspiration in Iqaluit

I would spend many hours like this over the next few days, watching television, rereading the same articles in the weekly Nunatsiaq News, leafing through my guidebook, and pondering philosophically. This was the season of the midnight sun in Nunavut. The sun wouldn't set until four in the morning and then it would stay dark for only three hours. Although the Discovery Lodge has furnished its rooms with sufficiently opaque blinds to ensure darkness at night, I found it oddly exhilarating to awaken at one or two in the morning in dazzling sunshine, so I slept with the blinds open.

Typically I'd wake up quite early in the morning and watch TV. Talk shows dubbed into French are completely transformed. The Jerry Springer Show in particular seems to take on the elegance and nobility of Racinean tragedy. If Phaedra had appeared on the Springer show, one can easily imagine the on-screen caption: MY INABILITY TO ADMIT AN ILLICIT PASSION FOR MY STEPSON KILLED HIM!

After a leisurely breakfast in the Granite Room, the hotel's excellent restaurant, I'd don my wool Pittsburgh Penguins cap and Ray-Bans, my boots and shiny Gore-Tex coat, venture out into the capital of Nunavut, and promenade.

Picturesque Neighborhoods Through Which to Promenade
Charles Baudelaire, the world's leading expert on the flaneur, wrote: "So out he goes and watches the river of life flow past him in all its splendor and majesty. He marvels at the eternal beauty and the amazing harmony of life in the capital cities, a harmony so providentially maintained amid the turmoil of human freedom. He gazes upon the landscapes of the great city—landscapes of stone, caressed by the mist or buffeted by the sun."

In this spirit, each and every day I'd depart the hotel, proceed past the Baffin Gas Bar and Qikiqtani Dry Cleaning, make a right at the Komatiq Inn, and continue past the Pentecostal church, where I'd make a sharp left at the Nakasuk Elementary School. (For those of you planning to promenade, the Nakasuk Elementary School is impossible to miss. It resembles a huge pod made out of white Bubble Wrap and is perched on the hillock next to the mammoth white NorthwesTel parabolic antenna.) Weaving through clusters of prefab shacks with snowmobiles on blocks in the front yards, along dirt roads filled with raven-haired children and foraging dogs (qimmiit, or huskies—the only remaining aboriginal dog breed in North America), I'd clamber up the steep, rocky embankment, atop which sits the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Iqaluit Detachment) and the Astro Hill mall.

Astro Hill—a haphazard scattering of businesses including Kanguk Convenience, DJ Sensations, Hair Cuts by Debbie, Astro Cinema, and Valupharm Drugs—is located on the ground floor of Iqaluit's only high-rise. As malls go, it is underwhelming. Yet it became the focal point of a daily pilgrimage. Hung near the entrance to Valupharm Drug is a large painting by Isaccie Kootoo and Michael Currie, entitled The World of Ice, which includes the following explanation: "In the minds of high school youth today, the myth of Sedna, the sea goddess living below the sea ice, has almost been replaced by the passion for ice hockey." Perhaps mesmerized by the strobe effect of the flickering fluorescent light, I found this painting—a crude depiction of a goalie stopping a flying puck, with Sedna positioned vigilantly under the ice—inexplicably captivating. My thoughts, as I'd gaze at the work, are too private to fully share, but they involved my mother, minced carp, and Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Jaromir Jagr.

From the mall, I'd walk up to the Baffin Regional Hospital, whose parking lot affords a spectacular view of Frobisher Bay and the surrounding mountains. Upon first arriving here I realized that what, from a distance, appeared to be snow covering the ambulance driveway, was actually thousands of cigarette butts.

Heading back into town, I'd stop at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum—the best repository of unalloyed Inuit culture in Iqaluit. The museum features beautiful children's balls sewn out of seal fur; sculptures made of walrus ivory, caribou horn, and baleen; and an extensive collection of art devoted to the sport of "mouth pulling," including photos of a narwhal ivory tusk relief called Two Inuit Engaged in Mouth Pulling Contest, and a gray soapstone sculpture called Two Inuit—Mouth Pulling Contest.

Before dinner I'd stroll down to the beach on Koojesse Inlet. With its muddy slope of packing crates, metal sheds, chemical drums, scavenging urchins, perpetually screeching forklifts, and howling dogs, Sealift Beach has a Mad Max quality to it that I came to love. The mosquitoes here are enormous and ravenous. They actually gaze up at you while sucking, like in a porn movie.

I made one special excursion—a hike to Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park. Now, I'm not what you'd call an outdoorsman. I would consider sleeping in the woods only if my village had been torched by paramilitary thugs and I didn't have relatives to stay with in Jersey. But I was told by my waiter at the hotel restaurant that it was a lovely place, and he'd drawn careful directions for me on a napkin. So one morning, under a brilliant azure sky, I set off.

Somewhere near the Sewage Lagoon and a series of gargantuan white oil tanks, I must have missed the turnoff for the park, because I ended up at a large incineration dump. I fought my way through the acrid smoke to a small shack where two Inuit and a French-Canadian were smoking cigarettes and playing cards. The smoke was actually worse in the shack than in the dump. "Is this the Sylvia Grinnell Park?" I asked.

They stopped playing cards, eyed me for a moment, and then collapsed in hysterical laughter that turned into a wild fit of emphysemic coughing. Once they were able to breathe again, they redirected me and I resumed my hike.

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