Each song on Bon Iver’s newest album represents a place, and track 8 is called Calgary. The highway tumbles out of the mountains, spilling me from the Canadian Rockies into the vast plains of eastern Alberta. Everyone has advised me to head north instead; the mountains of Jasper are beautiful, while Calgary is unimpressive (“Cal-Town? It’s just another city.”) But I already love this place I have never been just because of the song it inspired, so I have no choice but to go. I drive through the congestion, parallel park beneath towers of glass and steel, and walk.
The city streets seem unaccountably beautiful to me. Chilly sunlight reflects bronze in sky scraping office windows. Small alcoves hide cracked marble benches and coils of ivy. A man eats lunch at a lone stone table in the corner of an empty concrete courtyard. I find the main drag and walk down the cobblestone between shops and cafes. This place seems out of its element in the warm summer afternoon. The streets should be thronging, but they are empty. Perhaps it’s the time of day, a Monday afternoon? Pots of fire-colored flowers hang above puddles of straying crimson petals. I imagine these streets during the long dark winter; red pools blazing against white snow-covered curbs, muddy with boot prints; breath pluming into frigid air from faces cloaked in fuzzy parkas, turning away from the wind. I step into a café at the end of the street and write a note to a friend from the cushions of a brown leather couch in the corner by the streaked windows. Then I move outside to a place overlooking fountains, where children play in the mist. I am at the epicenter of the fire-flowers, crimson and orange and yellow everywhere above and around me. I sit at a metallic black ash-smeared table, an island in the river of flower petals, and I listen to Calgary while I have a cigarette and sip a steaming white chocolate coconut latte that the barista has invented just for me.