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The timing of the piece, admittedly, was not perfect. The story, headlined “I Am Living in a Covid-Free World Just a Few Hundred Miles From Manhattan,” appeared in the New York Times on Wednesday, the very day that the citizens of the COVID-free locale in question learned that community spread of the coronavirus had arrived in their hometown.
There was no arguing, though, with the thrust of the article, written by the formidable journalist and author Stephanie Nolen, who now calls Halifax home.
She feels like many of us do: blessed to live in a place that, due to “geography and demographics,” and a willingness to make hard personal choices, has, by-and-large, stopped the plague at the New Brunswick border.
As her piece gained momentum on Twitter, I imagine people who have never heard of Bob Strang, or Pizza Corner, uttering “Siri, where is Halifax?” in the direction of their iPhones. (“What is a Nova Scotia,” one anguished woman asked on Twitter. “And why is it trending.”)
It did not hurt matters any that Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate NYT columnist retweeted Nolen, noting that “South Dakota has roughly the same population (as Nova Scotia), is also rural and remote — and is in the midst of a pandemic disaster. And it's all about politics.”
This piece on Nova Scotia's success in controlling the coronavirus is both encouraging and enraging. True, Nova Scotia has a tiny population and is far away, but ... 1/ https://t.co/wAyOrOclUL— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) November 18, 2020
Or that the influential infectious disease journalist Helen Branswell, responding to the NYT story, declared the Atlantic bubble “a marvel,” as well as proof that “containment of the virus is doable even in a western democracy where individual rights trump (we need to find a new word for that) the needs of the collective.”
That was a nice bit of publicity. So was a piece that also appeared Wednesday on Bloomberg.com, explaining, for subscribers around the world, how the Atlantic bubble “has become a pandemic Shangri-La.”
Atlantic Canada's #Covid19 "Bubble" really is a marvel. Proof containment of the virus is doable, even in a western democracy where individual rights trump (we need to find a new word for that) the needs of the collective. https://t.co/csqoQna0QJ— Helen Branswell (@HelenBranswell) November 18, 2020
Ditto a story that appeared last Friday in Toronto’s the Globe and Mail, about how the pandemic’s remote work trend has created an “urban Atlantic advantage” in Nova Scotia, particularly Halifax, which is experiencing “an influx of newly untethered professional workers that will help them meet growth aspirations — and could also exacerbate problems of housing and inequality.”
We who live here know exactly what the author Josh O’Kane wrote about: the bidding wars for newly listed houses in Halifax, along the lack of rental space that is pushing prices higher and putting pressure on those with low incomes; but, also the lifestyle, even during a pandemic, available for those who vamoose from crowded locked-down big cities elsewhere for parts east.
The point is that something is going on here. There's a buzz about this city and province, that is mostly, but not entirely, due to our ability to contain the virus as it surges everywhere else.
That of course can change. On Wednesday, the Nova Scotia government reported three new cases of COVID-19 in a province where community spread and the dreaded second-wave are now underway.
But let us hope for a second that the things that other people see in us -- our communal spirit, for example, and our belief that wearing a mask does not mean our freedoms are being trampled -- will benefit us as much in the future as they have in the past.
Let us assume that we will stay disciplined and lucky, and come out of this all right in the end, perhaps with a whole new narrative. Getting noticed, for the right reasons, by the rest of the world can do that.
Back in the early-1990s, record executives from New York and Seattle could regularly be found haunting Halifax’s clubs on the hunt for new musical talent.
That was after Harper’s Bazaar, the New York-based fashion monthly, published a piece placing Halifax right up there with Seattle, Washington, and Austin, Tex., in the highest echelon of North America’s alternative music hotspots — and Melody Maker, the British music bible. and Billboard, the American music weekly, also raved about the city’s ascendent music scene.
The Chronicle Herald’s own Stephen Cooke, who was there for the whole thing, said the buzz continued “until most of those artists -- Sloan, three-quarters of Thrush Hermit (minus Joel Plaskett), jale, Plumtree -- all upped and moved away by the end of the decade.”
Even so, that run forever altered the image of a region that had previously been known mostly as a source of country stars like Hank Snow and Anne Murray, and Celtic artists like the Rankin Family.
I’d say there are worse things to be known as than a “parallel dimension” as the New York Times called us, particularly if that means a livable place, where the new remote economy allows you to “flee the big city, and the virus, for a charmed life in the bubble”, and hopefully beyond.