Oh Canada!Wednesday, July 01, 2009
When I met Rosemary in Mexico City in 1968 I knew nothing of Canadians. In fact I used to think Canadians as “non-Americans”. The few I had met before Rosemary, were always correcting people and saying, “I am not an American, I am Canadian.” It seemed to me that Canadians were quite sure of what they weren’t. From Rosemary I learned to pronounce Quebec as Kebek and she had the quaint custom of saying “When I was in grade 9...” To my ears it sounded odd. Rosemary made me aware of Pierre Trudeau and that he was sexy even though the only other sexy Canadian I have ever met was Rosemary. I liked Rosemary in particular because of her precise English that did not sound American. It was almost a British English.
My other knowledge of Canada was listening to my Grandmother Lolita tell me how in the late 20s they had taken a Japanese ship from Manila to a place that had mountains and tall trees. She pronounced the place “bancoober”. She told me of a huge train station (the CP Station) where she, my mother, her son Antonio and the other very young daughter Dolly had taken a train to Montreal and from there another to New York City.
When I had met Rosemary I had a confused sense of national identity. I had gone to do my military service in Argentina and a moment of tearful patriotism when I had sworn allegiance (with thousands of other sailors) soon became one of disappointment and cynicism. I had been ordered to participate in a coup where the armed forces removed our legally elected president.
In Mexico, in 1968 there had been a massacre of students at Tlatelolco. I talked like a Mexican but I did not feel like one. If anything my four years in a Texas Catholic boarding school had left its mark and I felt quite American. Like most Argentines I wore Levis and only wore button down shirts. I only listened to 60s American jazz and read only in English. Most of the books were by American authors.
When we arrived in Canada in 1975 with our two daughters my first confusion was running into Mexicans who did not seem to understand my Spanish. Rosemary told me that these “Mexicans” were really Native Canadians. It was then that I realized that the old dictum that had been drummed into me at school about the red Indian and the yellow race of the Orient was all a sham.
About 15 years ago I learned to dance the Argentine tango and I made friends with an Argentine couple Juan Manuel Sanchez and Nora Patrich. We would “matear” or drink mate almost every day. I began to read in Spanish. Suddenly I had a deep nostalgia for Argentina. I returned a couple of times but somehow I didn’t feel I fit there. I felt like a hybrid. I was a bit of everything. I was an everything that did not add up to anything. I was a landlubber Edward Everett Hale, The Man Without A Country.
I had to become a Vancouverite before I could be a Canadian. That happened some years ago when I participated in a photographic show of architecture of our city. It was sponsored by the UBC School of Architecture which had opened a city branch by the Dominion Building. I looked at my pictures on the wall. They were up there with pioneers of such as Otto Landauer and Leonard Frank. These two men had photographed Vancouver from its inception. I was up there, too! This had to be my city. I left the show with the excitement that after almost 28 years in Vancouver (the show may have been about 11 years ago) I was no longer a tourist.
I was from here.
Canada rapidly adopted me without much fuss and too much paper work. Canada made me feel at home and fed me the addictive drug that is efficiency, 110 volts that are mostly unwavering and comforted me with the realization that I could lose my driver’s license but be able to get a replacement in minutes with no fuss. I took it for granted that the gas I put in my car was not diluted with water and except for the few times I was caught speeding I never felt and fear about being stopped by a cop. And every year, year after year I received and have received all 12 issues of the National Geographic. Except for the odd postal strike, the mail works!
I feel nostalgia for Argentina and I feel nostalgia for the colours, the heat and the ancient churches of Mexico. But what I feel for Canada seems to be more serene. It is a calming realization that I live where I belong and I belong here where I live.
Photo above by Robert Blake.