Diane Baker Mason


Diane Baker Mason: Horses and hotels

By Diane Baker Mason
This article was originally published on November 23, 2012.

Toronto media reported this morning on the arrival of a horse named Marty in the lobby of Toronto’s posh Royal York Hotel. Marty stood patiently on the carpet while a crowd of hollering humans waved hats and cameras at him. He was a good sport about it all.

On the other hand, many Torontonians were not. There were cries of outrage over the potential damage and injury to persons and property, and the Royal York barred its doors to the mob of Calgarians at its gates.

Eventually, though, the great hall gave up the fight and opened its doors. In walked Marty. He then walked right out again. And in the aftermath, there are reports of continued Torontonian grumbling. The mighty Royal York should never have permitted that filthy beast and its hillbilly horde to cross its noble threshold.

Well, if there was ever a tale that summed up why Torontonians have a reputation for being no fun at a party, it’s the one of the Horse in the Holy Hotel. Imagine what will happen if the Calgarians gallop Marty around the playing field at Sunday’s Grey Cup. Maybe Toronto will call in its mounted unit. Jousting, anyone?

Diane Baker Mason: Riding to wellness

Every woman has her preferred holiday. Some like to lounge at a resort, sipping a mojita and watching the poolboy skim leaves from the water. Others like a trip to a glittering city – Manhattan, or Paris – where they buy uncomfortable shoes and teeter around an opera-house lobby. Others like a spiritual retreat, featuring vegan breakfasts, hot yoga, and mud facials. Me, I like something a little different.

How different? I like to fly to Calgary, then drive three hours (alone) into the middle of nowhere, where I meet up with a half-dozen other middle-aged women of similar tastes. There, we toss our gear into the communal rustic cabins, pull on our boots, and head like a gaggle of overgrown teenyboppers over to the corral – and the horses. Because that’s what we’re here for: riding. Not just ordinary riding, but riding in the Rockies.

Okay, so we’re not exactly girls. We’re in our 50s and 60s, experienced riders of various shapes and sizes. We bond like Crazy Glue: horse-mad, post-menopausal women, overjoyed to be playing horsie. There is a great deal of mutual mockery over our graceless attempts to mount up, and over our horses’ looks and personalities, and their inevitable groaning, farting, and mooching of trail mix. When we run out of jokes to make about each other and the horses, we turn our attention to our outfitter and his teenage son, the long-suffering Dave and Cody. We remind Cody periodically that he should never repeat any of the bad words we’re using, or the songs, or the jokes. Particularly not the jokes.

We ride for five, six, even seven hours, single file up the mountainsides, across cold deep rivers, through meadows of wild grass and forests of scorched pine. We see eagles and deer; we catch trout and eat them for dinner, along with steaks and corn-on-the-cob cooked by Jackie and Cheyenne, the wrangler’s wife and daughter. We all fall in love with our horses. Mine is a big bruiser called Lucky Buck, who has a butt like a truck and a head like a dinosaur’s. By the end of four days, I’ve got a teenage-girl horse-crush on the big goof.

There are not a lot of creature comforts, or even much personal hygiene, on a ranch trip in the Rockies. The cabins have bunkbeds, and no lights or heat. The outhouse isn’t that bad, as outhouses go, and there’s a pyjama-party feeling to chatting in the darkness of the cabin. When the dawn comes up, there’s frost on the ground, and snow on the mountain peaks. I walk through the pines down to the river – a cold storm of water, roaring past a cliff three storeys high. I pick up a river stone, one of millions. Its surface feels as smooth as human skin.

Yes, I like resorts and cities and operas. They’re fun distractions. But for healing? For restoration? For that, I need the mountains, the women, the air and the wind. I need the quiet of the forest as the horses pick their way along the track. I need to hear my heart beating in the dark. Then I know I am alive. Then I know: I’m well.

The worst neighbour of all

For someone with one of the loudest voices around (what Margaret Laurence used to call a “carrying voice”), I sure am touchy about noise.

Other people’s loud music especially touches a nerve, particularly if it’s got a lot of bass. Maybe it’s a neurotic holdover from my childhood — as a kid I used to tremble with little-sister outrage at the Led Zeppelin pouring out from the cracks around my older sister’s door, interfering with my fantasy world of Barbie dolls and story writing — but if it is a neurosis, I don’t think I’m alone in having it. If I had been, then The Docks wouldn’t have just lost its liquor licence at the hands of its desperate and deafened neighbours.

What are The Docks? They’re (or it’s) a nightclub on the water’s edge in downtown Toronto. I’ve been there once, for a party, and there was volleyball, a drive-in, and a discotheque with spinning pink lights and clouds of dry ice. Patrons could do everything from bungee jumping to sunbathing, but I don’t really recall anything there that involved actually listening to music.

Certainly there was something called music, but it was too loud to understand or appreciate or listen to comfortably. You could dance to it, but it wasn’t music. It was — well, boomboomboogieboogie NOISE.

The Docks also have concerts, and one of them recently was still going on at seven o’clock in the morning. “An all-night rave,” a neighbour called it. Because The Docks (as much as they don’t like them) have neighbours.

Most of the neighbours live only a few hundred yards away, on an island. Most of the “island residents” live in charming cottages without benefit of sewers or convenience stores, have to take a ferry back and forth to the mainland, and are often resented by the rest of the city residents for living on a gorgeous island paradise when the rest of us live in cement bunkers on patches of pesticide-soaked crabgrass (or at least, that’s how we make it sound, when we decide to whine about the Islanders).

Whether the Islanders have it better than the mainlanders is not the point. The point is that they are the ones suffering most from the hellish racket made by The Docks. After many years of complaints, The Docks recently — finally — lost a noise violation suit brought by the City of Toronto, for having so many dang loud parties. The decision of the court, which heard from neighbouring residents whose nerves were so frayed by the thundering, soul-jarring racket that they were in tears or on meds or both, was that The Docks was making way too much noise, was a really bad neighbour, and did not have the right to blow other city residents’ houses off their foundations so that they could throw big parties and make money off it (I’m paraphrasing the legalese).

The punishment: hit ’em where it hurts. The Docks received a liquor licence suspension. The howls of outrage from the “entertainment industry” over the unfairness of this, and how people would lose their jobs, and how ridiculous the “small group” of “islanders” was being (as if living on an island gave them no right to peace), and what a bunch of party poopers the city was, were almost — but not quite — as loud as the noise that The Docks emits, like aural sewage into the atmosphere.

Their howls sounded like the squeals of a spoiled teenager who’s been told to turn down the stereo. “You can’t make me!” hollered The Docks, sending in the money, guns, and lawyers, and filing an appeal. And the night of the decision, the liquor was still flowing and The Docks were still beating the city over the head with noise. But it ain’t just the islanders. Other neighbours can hear it too. But who cares who complained? The Docks’ noise problems are not the neighbours’ — or the City’s — problems to solve. Private enterprises can’t stomp around insisting everyone march to their boombox. Nobody has the right to stink up the night like The Docks does. We all live here. Turn down the volume, or get out of town.