Roses are red, violets are blue. Winnipeg: it can be so hard to love you.
But love you, I do. I love you more than your residents claim they love Jeanne’s cake, or a hotdog they definitely haven’t eaten in 20 years. Like most places obsessed with nostalgia, you seem romantic — but you’re also stubborn, resistant to change.
It’s easy to catalogue your flaws, Winnipeg. You’re frustrating. You care too much about what other cities think about you, while claiming not to care at all. Your hostility comes out in your weather; in the words of pop poet Katy Perry, you’re hot then you’re cold.
Roses are red, violets are blue. Winnipeg: I can’t quit you. You’re comfortable (and, for now, affordable). I know your streets, even the ones with 17 different names, like the back of my hand. Your rivers are like the veins that meet in my right wrist. I don’t bleed Blue, but I was happy for you when your football team was the best because that meant you were the best. I always get excited when I recognize you in movies, or when I hear your name in TV shows. For a "vaguely exotic, totally obscure" city, you’re mentioned a lot.
When I come home to you, there’s nothing like seeing your tree canopy — your crown jewel — from an airplane window. In the winter, those trees are our armour — a ribcage protecting a beating heart, the heart of the continent, just off centre, like a human heart. Your pulse is strong, felt in the creativity of the people who make you better. The people who believe in you and what you can be.
Roses are red, violets are blue. Winnipeg: sometimes you smell like thawing dog poo. But also like lilacs and Prairie smoke, like car exhaust in frigid air, like thunderstorms. I like walking your streets — especially at night after it has snowed, and everything is silent. Your streets are home to wildlife: the rabbits and squirrels, but also deer, owls and the occasional fox. You can still see the stars.
They say you were built for cars, for big trucks clad with Jets licence plates. Your residents love cars but they don’t love to pay to park them. And so, you grow wider, not taller — a doughnut, and not the artisanal kind. You struggle with poverty and racism and drugs and violence and NIMBYs, and still, you’re here. Sometimes you suffer. Sometimes you survive. Sometimes you thrive, especially when it’s summer and you’re awake and humming with the energy of about 10,000 festivals. Or when it’s winter and you’re embracing the arctic chill.
You’re starting to shrug off the inferiority complex you used to wear, but you don’t put on airs. The fact you attract tourists and your restaurants make fancy lists is no longer news. You’re good, Winnipeg. You’re also weird. You make celebrities out of realtors and elevator inspectors.
People say you’re ugly. People say I should leave you. People say "sorry" when I tell them where I’m from and where my dad is from and where his dad was from.
But I’m not sorry. I’m proud to call you my home, but not in a rah-rah way. I see your flaws and potential, and I love you as you are.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Winnipeg.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.