Four Men Of Impecable Good TasteFriday, February 26, 2010
I fell for the first Canadian I ever met. I married Rosemary Healey in Mexico City in 1968. I knew nothing of Canada.
She told me of a man called Pierre Trudeau who was the Canadian Prime Minister and she played me records of Gilles Vigneault. I wasn’t fazed by the first ( I did not understand Rosemary’s hero-worship of the man) nor was I impressed by the singing of the second. My mother had harped for many years about an “ugly French Canadian patois”. The few Canadians I had been exposed to had been the rowdy French kind in Acapulco and Veracruz. My mother had told me, “They are French Canadian,” as an explanation for their loud behaviour.
Then my Yorkshire friend (and godfather of my eldest daughter) Andrew Taylor brought a record album that had a deadpan and depressing looking man on the cover. He sang a melancholic song called Suzanne and an even more depressing So Long Marianne. On another day he insisted on playing a record by a woman called Joni Mitchell. I was into Joan Baez and Carole King. I was not interested.
I did not find Canadians in the least exciting with the exception of my lovely wife. I was much too busy admiring her shapely legs and feeling how lucky I was. I was impressed on how she planned to go to the hospital to have our first daughter on a Friday so as to go back to work as soon as possible the next week. When my friends asked my about my wife I would invariably say she is of a “hardy Canadian stock”. Very soon Rosemary wore the financial pants of our family.
One day (before we got married) I took her to lunch to a cocina economica (a cheap Mexican home-style restaurant with a fixed daily menu) and I was shocked to see her use a toothpick. I had to explain to her that this would be considered uncouth by most of my friends and my mother. She never ever used a toothpick again.
When we finally decided to move up to Vancouver with our two Mexican-born daughters I remember distinctly that my youngest daughter’s godfather, Raul Guerrero Montemayor, a polyglot who had been educated in Switzerland, told me, “I am sure you will do well in Canada but don’t forget that the fact that Canadians are mostly white does not necessarily make them civilized.” He used the more encompassing Spanish term “educado” which includes culture, manners and education.
It was in Vancouver that through my early introduction to CBC Radio I found that the correct pronunciation was not New-Found-Land but Newfun-Land. I was hooked to the CBC then.
For many of my years here (well into the early 90s) I felt like a tourist in a beautiful city (in spite of its architecture I would tell my visitors from down south). I did become a Canadian citizen but having been born and raised in Argentina and then in Mexico made it difficult to experience the kind of exuberant feeling displayed these last weeks during our very own Olympics.
Time has warmed me to Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell and I am proud that Trudeau was a Canadian statesman. I enjoyed his deft manipulation of language. But more than anything I admired Trudeau’s intelligence and class. Rosemary was right all the time.
Of late I have been thinking a lot about class and good taste. I cringe at many of the Olympic shenanigans reported by the much too gushy Vancouver Sun. I prefer the understated and not complete (at least not 100%) acceptance of the 2010 Winter Olympics when I listen to Rick Cluff’s Early Edition on CBC Radio 1. I have been listening to him daily as I take my Rosemary to her Sprott-Shaw computer classes downtown at 8 A.M.
It was on Monday, listening to the banter between Rick Cluff and Steve Armitage, that I was finally feeling awfully proud about being Canadian. Here are two men with beautiful voices (rare in contemporary radio) discussing with wit, class and intelligence the possible final medal count for Canadians. I lightly object to Cluff’s description and insistence on the term “veteran sportscaster” to define Steve Armitage. I don’t think Armitage needs any such definitions. He is simply a superb sports journalist and not at all like the male, hockey shouter/sportscasters of “our” NBC/CTV Olympic network.
We Canadians may be understated. We may be reluctant to brag and we may be defined by others as being colourless, bland and boring. I am beginning to understand that fallacy.
But I see that my initial opinion upon listening to that Leonard Cohen album back in Mexico may have been a bit much too sophisticated for this now reformed unsophisticated Latin. Canadians grow on you in the same way that Canada has grown on me.
For many years I boasted that I had never ever seen a single complete episode of the Beachcombers. I have always been quick to opine that I loathe TV. Part of the reason is that there is a lot of good television if you look for it and I have always been afraid of TV addiction.
CBC once assigned me to go to Gibson’s Landing to photograph the Beachcombers’ cast. I talked to one of the producers on the phone and made it a point to brag on my ignorance about the show. “I know who Bruno Gerussi is because I have seen him in Super-Valu and McCain’s Pizza TV ads. But clue me in on the others in the cast.” I was truly stupid and ignorant and rude! The man (I don’t remember if it was Marc Strange, Philip Keatley or Hugh Beard) told me on the phone, “I’ll meet you at Molly’s Reach.” I remember saying, “Molly’s Beach?” I had not yet learned to mask my supposed superiority!
Yesterday I attempted to figure out the subtlety of Canadian hockey figuring that the slower version (as compared to the men's) Canadian female team might help. It didn’t and I am still in the dark on this Canadian game. During one of the ads (this was during the Canadian/US final) I channel surfed one up from channel 9 to channel 10 which was showing an old Beachcombers. This episode involved the determination that a cow was simply meat and that he (Jackson Davies) could dispatch the animal with no problem. Within seconds there was Bruno Gerussi, Pat Johns and Robert Clothier on the scene bringing me back memories of my day at the Reach. I knew who they were because I had photographed them. In one short interval, where Jackson Davies talks to the cow and ends up shooting at a tin can instead was pure and good TV. They were five or six minutes that somehow justified all the bad stuff surrounding it in other channels. It was understated and it went straight to my heart.
I think I am beginning to understand what it is to be Canadian and I am feeling very proud to be one. My wife, would be too polite (and much too classy) to point out how wrong I have been since I first met her in 1968. I am sure that if I had been the one with the toothpick she would have found a more polite and kind way to let me now about my transgression.
In the CBC TV and Radio group picture which I took around 1980 or 81 that’s (from left to right) Phil Reimer, Bill Good Jr. and Steve Armitage on the front row. I took the picture of Bruno Gerussi for a CBC open house. I have many portraits of Jackson Davies. I could not possibly go wrong with that man. This one is but one of the pictures. And I made Leonard Cohen laugh (by telling him to not even smile) so I could erase for ever that cover of his in Songs of Leonard Cohen.