Coming home

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General Delivery Whistler B.C. V0N 1B0 By Ian Verchère. Douglas & McIntyre, 2006 $24.95, 144 pages

“You can’t go home again.” Tom Wolfe, he of the natty white suits and spats, said that.

“Home is where the heart is.” I don’t know for sure who said that. I suspect it was Pliny, either the elder or younger, not that it really matters; both are dead but you understand the sentiment.

The reason you can never go home again though has a great deal to do with dual nature of heart. While the heart you’re assaulting with the holy trinity of fat, sugar and salt beats in your chest in be-here-now real time, the home heart lives somewhere in the nostalgia-tinged past, quite possibly in a place that really doesn’t exist any more if, indeed, it ever existed outside of your subjective interpretation.

That heart quite often gets in the way of a good story. At its worst, it mires authors down in treacle-like reminiscences of halcyon days gone by, days when the world was a simpler place, people were friendlier, the bad guys wore black hats and good triumphed over evil.

We are all richer for the fact that Ian Verchère did not visit that home in his book General Delivery Whistler B.C. V0N 1B0 . Instead of a melancholic wallow in the good old days, Ian’s given us a humorous, light-hearted glimpse of a place some of us remember, most of us have heard about and none of us will ever see again — Whistler circa 1978-84. The novelty of the book is that he offers us this rearward glance from a right now perspective and with a firm understanding that place is nothing without time and time waits for no one, not even the terminally nostalgic. Move on, Pilgrim; the future is right now.

Having lied about his age to get his Level I instructor’s ticket at Grouse, Ian, a Vancouver boy, wandered up the road, parlayed natural talent into a job at Jim McConkey’s Ski School and spent his formative years teaching and coaching skiing, channeling his inner artist and livin’ the ski bum dream. His first brush with publishing came when he approached Charlie Doyle with the idea and drawings that became the fabled Localman comix in The Answer .

For those of you with long memories, there is a brand-new, freshly penned, full-length Localman — Whistler’s Original Slacker-Hero — in the book. It rather neatly encapsulates the author’s love for what Whistler was in the beforetime, distaste for some of what’s been lost in the overdeveloped world of Disnewest’s Whistler and understanding, acceptance even, of the reality that for many people, this brave new world of Whistler is just as real and just as soul satisfying at that long lost town was for him. Now that’s a delicate balance.

Physically, the book’s brief — 144 pages — and light. Broken into bite-size essays, any one of which can be read in a few minutes, V0N 1B0 touches on something for everyone. There’s an indelible, sepia-toned paean to Ian’s first visit to Whistler in 1967 with his father, who had checked the place out the week before and come home a beaten, exhausted man. It’s as good an example as any of how a place, this place, can get under a person’s skin and beat a path directly to the heart.

There are remembrances, praises and damnations of endless powder; animal house roommates who stick you with monstrous phone bills; those très cool Vuarnet shades; Lost Lake when, indeed, it was still lost; the Pineapple Express; fall, that most beautiful, promising, teasing and unendurable season; ski boots; a brief history of music in Whistler; the pornographic genesis of Blackcomb Mountain (would I make this up?); and a windshield eye view of the well-worn path up and down the Sea to Sky highway.

There are also very unsentimental looks at freeriding, golf, mountain biking and the Olympics. It is, in some of these essays, one takes the measure of the author and realizes this book has achieved that rare goal of exalting the past, critically appraising the present and having great hope, pride even, for the future.

If this town is a special place for you, V0N 1B0 will be a special book. Particularly if you’re the kind of person who prefers your warm and fuzzies with a dash of reality check.

Ian’s scheduled to be in Whistler Nov. 22 for a signing and launch at Armchair Books and the Whistler Public library.


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