Walking for ramen in Winnipeg is largely governed by the city’s rectilinear geometry of streets and avenues. But its two rivers, the Red and the Assiniboine, just don’t care about grids. They wind their way through the imposed asphalt network, wreaking havoc on its Cartesian purity. They divide the city into distinct neighborhoods that look at each other across a watery divide but otherwise go about their business quite independently. These are not quaint waterways. They are wild, unpredictable animals carving their paths through a domesticated landscape.
Today, my route follows one of those rivers, part of my ramble to Ramen Aji Kura.
It’s the Assiniboine River. I live on its north side, in the Wolseley neighbourhood. Funky, transitional, edgy, left-leaning – all words that can be used to describe Wolseley. On the south side is Wellington Crescent and River Heights, posh neighbourhoods with a distinctly upscale vibe. In between, the river divides the two residential areas, nurturing the development of their unique characteristics. Think of what would be if the river were not there. The separate worlds of leftists and elitists would not exist. Would there be any reason for either?
There is one similar – and unfortunate – shared characteristic of the Assiniboine’s north and south sides. Both riverbanks are privately held. House properties run right down to water’s edge. As powerful a social and economic determinate the river may be, publicly it is largely invisible. Publicly there is no way to experience it, other than from a boat or from the backyards of a privileged few. And, apart from a few patches of river access – the downtown River Walk and Assiniboine Park being the two best examples – that is the case along the entire stretch as the Assiniboine passes through the city.
This is where a wintery walk for ramen enters the storyline.
While walking our dog just a few days earlier, I noticed a narrow path of compressed snow leading from Omand’s Creek and east along the Wolseley-side bank of the river before disappearing around a bend. It seemed a reasonable starting point for my walk to Ramen Aji Kura and a chance to see the city from a unique, frozen perspective.
Once again, nature conspires against our human need to dominate it. Winnipeg’s weather plays its role, its winters cold enough to still the Assiniboine’s raging waters into a foot-navigable street. It’s not entirely safe, mind you. As I progress, there are official thin ice warnings placarding the shore and occasional sitings of open water. But the water level is low, exposing its walkable banks more than usual and past the limits of residential fences and no-trespassing signs designed to dissuade any attempts to do what I am doing…what nature has given me permission to do.
I am alone yet not alone. The path reveals others who have discovered this temporary winter path before me, leaving their marks, footprints, ski tracks, informal hockey rinks and dog poop.
My pleasure is voyeuristic in nature. This is my opportunity to spy the houses that lock up the river bank from their private sides. The little sheds, stairs, boat docks, backyard debris are all quite different from the public face I normally see while walking Wolseley Avenue on my side of the river and Wellington Crescent on the other.
I manage to follow the river bank all the way to Osborne Street and the Legislative Building. The well-trod river path withers gradually. Open water needs to be dodged. Trees that have fallen into the river are climbed over. But eventually I get to the Osborne Bridge, make my way across the river and into the ultra-dense Osborne Village. I am back in grid-land, zig-zagging through residential streets that soon deposit me at my lunchtime destination on Corydon Avenue and a bowl of piping-hot Tonkotsu Ramen.
The after-ramen walk home takes me along Wellington Crescent, past the public face of its substantial residences. Their stately proportions, wrought iron fences and security cameras are imposing barriers to river access by outlier pedestrians. But Winnipeg’s cold climate has aided and abetted my before-ramen transgression of those barriers. The river belongs to me this wintery day.