Exotic Canada, Jorge Luis Borges, Al Capone & Adolf HitlerFriday, March 13, 2009
Canada is so far away it hardly exists. Jorge Luis Borges
An architect friend of mine said to me last Saturday, “Guess where we are going to next week?” I couldn’t have possibly guessed knowing he and his partner go to places most exotic. So he said, “Bhutan.” Last year Rebecca, Lauren, Rosemary and I were dining at a delightful sea food restaurant in Qualicum called Fish Tales. At a table near us some elderly gentlemen and their wives were discussing a cruise ship vacation that took them to Peru and Machu Picchu. They were comparing notes. I suddenly felt sad knowing that if I ever got to Machu Picchu I would probably be their same age. Would I then be able to enjoy it? Or would I simply be doing Machu Picchu?
I have written here before that if I suddenly found myself in Venice for a few months I would soon feel nostalgic for Vancouver and I would go out in search of a lovely Canadian woman and convince her to pose for me undraped under an umbrella. I would feel nostalgia for Vancouver’s rain.
The concept of what is an exotic place is probably directly proportional to its distance from your place of origin. In the early 50s when I happened to go to the Buenos Aires airport at Ezeiza to receive a visiting relative I would stare with an unexplained longing at airplanes that had the logo of Canadian Pacific on their side. Now, that was exotic! Forget Bhutan! Forget the familiarity of a Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines 747. Remote Canada was as exotic and far as any country could possibly be. I don’t think that idea of Canada's remoteness has ever gone away from me even though I now live here in Canada.
"I don't even know what street Canada is on." Al Capone in 1931 when asked by a newspaper reporter if Canada was the main source of supply for his lucrative bootlegging empire.
Perhaps it is for that reason that after 35 years in Vancouver and in Canada I feel like a tourist, like an interloper. When I walk the streets of Vancouver and I look around I feel I am looking into a TV documentary on Canada. I used to tell my fine Argentine friend, Juan Manuel Sánchez, “You and I are penguins in the arctic.” He finally convinced himself that as a penguin he belonged in the Southern Hemisphere so he is back and living in his beloved Buenos Aires.
"In Canada, for example, there are 2.6 persons per square mile; in other countries perhaps, 16, 18, 20 or 26 persons. Well, no matter how stupidly one manages one's affairs in such a country, a decent living would still be possible. " Adolf Hitler, 1940 in a speech in Berlin
Yesterday morning I walked to my bus stop on 41st and Granville to take an articulated B-Line to town. I was going to have lunch with friends Don Stewart (Macleod’s Books) and journalist and airplane enthusiast Sean Rossiter. It was cold and I was wearing my newish London Fog overcoat. As I was waiting for the bus I suddenly felt more than ever like that penguin. I looked at the cars and then at the cyan/blue sky over the North Shore mountains. It was all alien to me. I felt out of place, still a tourist in an exotic land.