Victoria, Albert; Rose, Jack; Leslie, David

I have a lifelong quest to try and develop more empathy for people. Some people, I find it easier to develop empathy for. Others, I find it more difficult to develop empathy for. Mostly, it is the Paris Hiltons of the world – the people have cultivated this lifelong sense of entitlement that I find so difficult to relate to. That kind of self-absorption; I find it difficult to have any empathy for someone. But I think that after this weekend, I think I understand what a precarious and difficult position it is to be someone who is used to having whatever they could want. When one has all that one could want, it is pretty hard to accept having less, however necessary it may be. Entitlement, privilege – here is a lesson in class struggle, courtesy of a weekend trip and the Titanic.

This weekend, David and I took a trip here:

That is Victoria, B.C. We took the Victoria Clipper ferry from Seattle, and only three short hours, and five sick passengers later, we were in Victoria. We enjoyed a free breakfast on our trip to Victoria as a part of our tour package (actually, it was a free champagne breakfast, but since we don’t drink alcohol, the Clipper saved some money on us. Our hotel later also saved money on us when we didn’t drink the sparkling wine that came with our chocolate covered strawberries – more on this later). Victoria feels British, not Canadian. Perhaps it is because it is a city that so prides itself on its British heritage that it still proudly boasts the name of Britian’s longest reigning monarch. Perhaps it is because of the plethora of English gardens, or English estate houses, or shops boasting goods from Scotland and Ireland.

This is where we stayed:

That is the Fairmont Empress Hotel. It is world famous for its afternoon tea. Of course, we don’t drink tea, but the hotel was lovely enough. We got chocolate covered strawberries as a part of our trip that David booked. Note: the strawberries were served with the aforementioned, Sparkling Wine. I started to understand a little more why people like Paris Hilton end up with DUIs and in jail when faced with free alcohol around them all of the time. By 2:00 pm, we had already been offered two free bottles of alcohol. Anyway, I forgot to mention that name of our Victoria Clipper weekend getaway package was called “Pure Pampering.” Here is David being “purely pampered” and enjoying the strawberries.

Here is my satisfied face after enjoying the tasty strawberries. They were delicious. On Saturday, we had a bit of a technical mishap trying to arrange transportation out to Hatley Castle near Sooke. However, we made the most of the time that we had left that day, first enjoying the flower gardens at the Empress. That is one great thing about Canada – it may be 50 degrees in July, but the gardens in July remain full of color. The roses were blooming all over town.

After our stroll, we walked over to the Royal British Columbia Museum, where they had a special exhibit on the Titanic. Here is where it gets really interesting. I hate the Titanic, as wasn’t particularly thrilled about the exhibit. Nope, I enjoy the stuffed animal nature displays in the natural history portion of the museum. But since a visit to the Titanic exhibit was included in the ticket price, I figured I would at least take a stroll through the Titanic and try not think of punching James Cameron in the face for ruining with cheesy one-liners what would otherwise have been a fairly interesting subject.
At the beginning of the exhibit, each person is given the personna of one of the Titanic’s ill-fated passengers. Then at the end, after learning all there is to learn, you get to find out if your person survived or not. I became Charlotte Annie Collyer, a 31 year old wife and mother traveling from Hampshire, England (Jane Austen’s home district) with her husband and infant daughter. I was travelling in second class, so I wasn’t one of the Gilded Era Barons, but I wasn’t one of those peasants down in third class either. Anyway, I was travelling to Idaho where I planned to buy a fruit farm with my husband. Oh, and did I mention that I had tuberculosis? I was dying before I even got on that ship. However, I did survive the Titanic disaster with my infant daughter. My husband, though, went down with the ship.
David, on the other hand was given the personna of Mr. Joseph Bruce Ismay, who was the Director of the White Star Line and was one of the people primarily responsible for the building of Titanic. Mr. Ismay was a real stand-up guy. Despite building the death trap of the Titanic, Mr. Ismay had no problem in saving himself and making sure he got a spot on one of the lifeboats. He also survived the Titanic disaster. If it was 2007, I am sure he would have survived only to face one major class action lawsuit. However, I am not sure if people were as litigious back then.
Anyway, the exhibit was interesting, because I just couldn’t believe the detail of how much distinction there was between classes. It made the story of Jack and Rose so much sadder, cue the Celine Dion music.
After the Titanic, we walked over to the British Columbia Parliament House for a lovely view of Queen Victoria herself.

The BC Parliament Building pretty much knocks the socks off of any U.S. State house building I have seen. Those British seem to build everything right. Maybe we should have rethought this whole American Revolution thing…

We had dinner reservations at the Empress Room at our hotel, but on our way there we stopped off at the lovely old hotel library that had the ambiance of an old British Gentleman’s Club. Leather bound books make me giddy.

The themes of exploitation and class distinction continued at dinner. In fact, in honor of the Titanic, David was able to order the dinner of death for the wealthy – the last dinner served in the First Class dining hall aboard the Titanic before the ship went down. He was first class after all.
I wasn’t first class. I had to console myself with the dinner of cruelty and malice. My risotto starter was harmless enough, but the double combination of veal tenderloin and foie gras ensured that I also was served up a healthy dose of senseless cruelty for the sake of deliciousness.

The next day we toured the B.C. House of Parliament. Many people know how much I love the Queen. I guess in some ways, I am still a Tory at heart. In my African History book that I am currently reading there is a picture of a young Kwame Nkrumah dancing with a young Elizabeth that I look at over and over again. I can’t explain why exactly. Anyway, here is a portrait of Elizabeth and Philip that is in the reception hall of Parliament.
Here is a picture of where Canadian MPs argue over the complex variety of issues facing contemporary British Columbia – like, what do we do when the Canucks lose? Or, Where are moose causing a nuisance these days?
We then toured Craigdarroch Castle, where the Dunsmuirs, a British family who made millions off of British Columbia coal, lived around the turn of the 20th century. They had eight daughters. It was so hard on them being married off to various members of the British aristocracy, that one of the daughters had to be committed to an insane asylum. Maybe this should be a lesson to me about sympathy for Paris Hilton.
We then took a tour of more gardens over at Government House, a short walk from the Castle. The roses were in full bloom here as well. The air was so delightfully fragrant, I wanted to package it up and take it back to Seattle with me.

In these gardens, the most surprising thing of all happened. David proposed. I know, quite shocking. Although we have been dating for nearly four years, it still came as a shock to me. That is a good man to put up with all of my neuroses. I mean, I am no Effie Dunsmuir, but some significant patience is required.

Since my antipathy for diamonds is well documented, David gave me lovely pearl ring that he had made in Australia to match the pearl necklace that he gave me in Paris last year. It was an incredibly kind gesture and ensured only an oyster was harmed in the making of my engagement ring.

We walked back to the Fairmont and ate a delicious lunch in the colonially inspired Bengal Room. We had walked alot and were both tired (although David looks more mischevious in this picture).

I on the other hand just look tired and rather wind blown. The leather chairs in the Bengal room were made of the softest leather, that I seriously wanted to fall asleep sitting there.


Afterwards, we walked around Victoria some more, and saw that in Victoria, their mermaids play the accordian.

Here is one last view of the Fairmont Empress before heading out on the ferry back to Seattle.

And here is David on the ferry saying goodbye to Victoria and hello to months ahead of fun wedding planning. So to sum up, here are the things that I learned in Victoria: I am still way too obsessed with British aristocratic society and need to root this out of me immediately. It is really representative of everything that I detest in life, but it sure is lovely to look at and tasty to eat. Negative. But on the positive, in spite of my significant and numerous flaws, including my incredibly oxymoronic tendencies, David still wants to marry me.

Thank you Victoria! Oh, and also, thank you Victoria for teaching us that not all royal weddings have to be sad, scandal-infused affairs. Your marriage to Albert was a model of domestic felicity.

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