Kinda Canada, Eh?

I once lived in Canada – for about 17-18 years. Then I moved to Australia and have racked up another 50+ years here – with time out for a working holiday in England. Thus I have the basic qualifications to be horribly wrong about three countries. I make the best use of whatever false insights I have made over the years.

Note: I also lived in the USA for a couple of years as a youth and a student. So I can be an instant expert about the place, too. If I am dreadfully wrong, it can be no worse than most of the overseas posts and news reports you read anyway.

All this leads me to a question; how long does one have to actually be in a country to be able to make a rational judgment on and useful report of it. How long does one need to form real memories – as opposed to the ones the glimpses airports and freeways give. How far down the biological and social chain does one need to go to reach the real experience? And is it worth going there?

Well, if your entire experience of, say, Canada was an arrival at Vancouver airport, transfer to a cruise ship and up the coast…then a quick trip to a ski resort and back to the airport…you might be forgiven for a really distorted view of the country. It might have been a pleasant holiday – in between two horrendous airplane flights – but you’d have no idea of summer in the fire season or winter on the prairies or the smell of hockey skates drying in an enclosed space. The same could be said for the tourist who comes to Australia  – though most of the North American visitors spend more time here than we do there. It’s the Asian tourists who do a quick round of casinos, beaches, and wildlife parks and then scatter back to their homes. Possibly with a glazed look in their eyes.

Does anyone ever take home a real view of a real place?

What Do You Do When You Look At The Map, Eh?

If you are looking at the map of North America and stray above the 49th Parallel you give a little start and say

” Oh. Canada…”

And in many cases you will be correct – save perhaps if you go too far north and are looking at Alaska or too far east and are looking at Quebec. Most of the rest is still Canada.

It’s not the Dominion of Canada, except to us old emigrants who cleared out of the place before 1982. The current flag is a red-and-white affair with a maple leaf on it* – symbolising a hockey team that rarely wins. This is considered quintessentially Canadian – both the hockey and the the not winning.

I suspect the current Prime Minister is also somewhat of a red-and-white affair as well, though it is naughty of me to say that. After all, he is someone else’s choice, saviour, and burden, and it’s not for me to mock the afflicted – or their afflictor, either. As Prime Ministers go, he will….eventually…and unless he takes out Australian citizenship I am safe. There is a whole planet full of molten lava between he and I.

I do miss Canada on some October days when the memories of the autumnal woods and the clear air return but then this is the start of Australian spring and the weather turns cheery here too. There is always solace in Canadian Club, maple syrup, and Red Green Show re-runs.

I am a little nonplussed by what our local hoteliers think makes for a Canadian celebration on Dominion Day – 1st of July. There is a great deal of foofle about Clamato and poutine  and no recognition at all of butter tarts. Remember these got a Prime Ministerial vote of approval in the days when Prime Ministers were real. I should be prepared to make a suitable Canadian menu up but some of my friends would be horrified at what was on it. Many of the dishes were developed before there were gluten or food allergies and quite a few of the ingredients were on the hoof, fin, or feather prior to being on the plate.

I shall celebrate the day with a highball and work on a model of a plane for my little RCAF airfield, wearing my plaid shirt, moccasins, and Red Green braces. It might not be the Inner Canadian that the novelists bang on about, but it can at least be the Inner Former Canadian, eh?

* A corporate logo. The old red duster for me. A proper flag with a flag and a crest on it.

 

The Ten Commandments – Canadian Style

  1. Thou shalt refer to ice hockey as hockey. Thou shalt keep the festival of the Stanley Cup holy and undefiled.
  2. Thou shalt refer to gridiron football as football and to round ball football as soccer. Thou shalt keep the festival of the Grey Cup holy and undefiled.
  3. Thou shalt revere the salmon.
  4. Thou shalt revere maple syrup and not scream when thou dost see the price that they are trying to gouge for it.
  5. Thou shalt hate the American President and love the Canadian Prime Minister, no matter who they are and what they do, lest they become one and the same person.
  6. Thou shalt revere the CBC and revile the CBS, even if the shows are much the same.
  7. Thou shalt honour the memory of Ypres and Dieppe but not think  too carefully  about what actually happened – nor why.
  8. Thou shalt quake and tremble before the Lord, thy God, or if the Lord is busy at the time, before his deputies – the politicians of Quebec.
  9. Thou shalt apologise.
  10. Thou shalt glory in being right when that occurs and in being wrong when that occurs and film a documentary on both occasions with harmonica or accordion music.

Take these two tablets and if thy people will not heed, come back up the mountain, eh?

Visiting The Old Country From The New Country

How many migrants to and from Europe, Canada, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand have had this experience:

They’ve migrated and worked and saved and succeeded in the new country but always hold a dear memory of the old land. This homesickness has been acute in the first couple of years but worn off somewhat after that – what with new careers, families, and homes. But it starts again at about 15 years and they decide to go back and see the old place.

They plan to make a big trip and see everywhere they used to live – and possibly everyone they used to know. The get on the plane or ship and float on water or air to the old home country. And are horrified to find that it is not there.

Oh, the dirt is still there, and in the case of a lot of places it has crawled halfway up the buildings…but the society and people and nation has so changed from what it was that they are strangers in a wasteland. Worse – if there has been a war go through the place – or a spate of developers – even the buildings they knew do not exist.

Their old friends are dead, or older, and do not have the last 15 years of shared memories to talk over. Only the past – and that can be as dead as the dust. They run out of conversation in 5 minutes. Even if the old language is the same, the speakers are not talking to them.

This is the thought that I took back to the UK when I visited in 1995 – from having once lived in the place in 1973. It was just that way, though there were plenty of tourist activities in which to immerse myself. Would I get any benefit from another visit? Yes, if my current interests could be pursued – the UK is a nice place.

Canada or the USA for me? After 52 years? There’s a big question. An expensive one to answer, too – especially with the fear that seeing my youth gone would age me more. I can do that right now at local prices and wearing comfortable clothes.

Oh, Candida

In honour of the Dominion Day a’coming, I have written a little song that can be played and sung at school assemblies. It is perfectly suitable for Edmonton and Ottawa.

Oh, Candida

 

Oh, Candida, the home of native scams.

True, reasonably patriotic love, if that’s not too strong a word, in all our non-gender specific citizens command. Well, not command as such, but suggest, eh?

With glowing bongs we see thee rise, Trudeau’s North stoned and twee.

From far and wide, we stand aside, we stand aside for thee. Sorry.

God keep us all, even Quebec…

God keep us all from being Yanks, By Heck.

God keep us all from being Yanks, By Heck.

 

Sorry.

 

Poutine – Cultural Cuisine Or Misspelling?

We are just about to encounter Canada Day. It’s the 1960’s revision of the first of July –  Dominion Day – that allows Canadians to make slightly sad cultural asses of themselves throughout the world…or throughout the world that actually notices. This would be about 0.08% of humanity…

Shorn of its fun features – picnics on the shores of freezing lakes, fireworks, and a couple of months off school – Dominion …Oops…Canada day is a time of wild celebration for Canadians overseas. All through Kenya ice hockey and curling is breaking out. The mountains of Holland echo to the sound of gunshots as Canadians open fire on moose. The Indians dedicate another temple to Justin Trudeau and then flush it…

Just kidding. We go out a buy a carton of Molsons or a bottle of rye and some ginger ale and  scuff round the kitchen to see if that recipe for butter tarts has turned up. And we contemplate poutine.

I say contemplate, because I do not know any Canadian overseas who has eaten the stuff. Indeed, I passed a childhood and youth in the Dominion of Canada without ever seeing it, and I lived in Montreal and Chicoutimi for years. I did see strawberry pie in Quebec, but my parents were wise not to let any of it get on me.

Poitine would seem to be French fries with cheese and gravy. I should like to hear the Canadian Heart Association’s take on the dish, as it seems to be comprised of equal quantities of cholesterol, oxidants, and toxins. I am surprised it is not linked to Donald Trump. In an age that views anything other than salad as sin, how has poutine become a star dish? Is it because it is French Canadian, and is therefore excused from any goodness? Is it the culinary version of the Cirque du Soleil?

Well, for me, I shall celebrate Dominion Day with the aforementioned rye highball and something else Canadian enough to do the trick. I am going to get a pound of small fish, split them and roll them in cornmeal, and fry them in Crisco like Fraser River Smelt. Add some PEI potatoes and creamed corn and it will be as close to the True North Strong And Free as you can get in Western Australia. Unless I can gun down an elk on St Georges Terrace.

I may even put up a picture of the current Prime Minister, if I can find the dartboard, eh?

Secede From Success

I suppose I should be grateful to the people of Quebec. I might not have felt so in 1957 when I lived in Montreal and had to endure the indignities of Grade 5. The school system was split between English-speaking teachers and French-speaking ones and there were times when the kids were the football between the teams. Thankfully they had to teach English literature in English and mathematics in numbers and the odd intrusion en Francais could be endured.

Later, the pressure to teach every school child in Canada some French extended out as far as Alberta and British Columbia and I got at least two years of basic grammar in the early 60’s. I can fumble my way through a French magazine if there are pictures with short captions. If there are girlie pictures I fumble slower.

But they did contribute enough political whining and pressure to raise a great debate about ” Bi-culturalism ” and we school kids got onto the gravy train. We wrote essays, made speeches, and in some cases collected free trips to Ottawa to pretend that we were the future of the country. We were overwhelmingly snot-nosed, mealy-mouthed, and cynical, and I guess that if we had pursued that course over the time one of us could be Prime Minister of Canada right now. Come to think of it…

I didn’t win the Ottawa trip on the strength of my speech, but I won a job at the local newspaper doing anything that no-one else wanted to do. I loved it, and it has given me a taste for writing, photography, and cynicism ever since.

Secede? Oh the political pundits sometimes come out with the business of Quebec seceding from Canada and becoming an independent nation. They toy with it every few years…just long enough to get more federal money. The awkward thing is that the rest of Canada may see it as a good idea one day and take them up on it.

On one condition. Quebec gets Trudeau. All the Trudeaus…