May 21, 2007

Further Reading

I just finished reading Douglas Coupland's Souvenir of Canada, and it's a wonderful journey into the things that, to him, make a Canadian. It's a deceptively simple list, and one that perhaps is best understood by people in his age range; but it's also something he's had the opportunity to think about while travelling the nation and the world. It's also apparently a movie, which takes as long to watch as the book does to read. This is joining the immortal Pierre Berton's "Why We Act Like Canadians" (a series of letters addressed to "Sam"). In contrast to Burton's book, Coupland is addressing Canadians; but the simplem straight forward voice being used is similar, and affecting.

The effect, I think, is going to be the same for anyone from here who has thought about what our country is, and why it is, for any amount of time at all. Immigrant or native-born, if you've had time to consider Canada, this book is well worth the hour or two it takes to read.

Some things will surprise (vinegar cruets are rare to see elsewhere? Really?) and some things are shameful (the honesty of whites avoiding any intereaction with natives), and a few may downright embarass you (like Canadian history seeming to end in the 1970s). But one snippet struck me particularly, bringing a memory of hitch-hiking when I was far younger than I am now:

I got a ride from school to home with an accented fellow in his sixties, and he asked me what I thought about the latest bout of nationalism that was being promoted by the government, and for the most part, I didn't have any real opinion. He chuckled in what even then I considered a condecending manner, and said "Well, you have to remember that your country is very young. A baby. You have no history yet."

I was raised to be polite, so I didn't mention what I thought then: that Romania was old; that England was old; that Israel was ancient (we had just been covering European history). That all of them had fought bloody wars or had bloody wars fought through them, over religion, over land, over freedom, over nothing. We had none of that, and somehow we still existed. Why would that be something to be ashamed of?

Besides, we may not have had "history", but we have time. For almost all of the political entity of "Canada", there has been an awareness of the age of Earth. I defy anyone to consider the Canadian Shield, or our northern glaciers, or dinosaur bones being accidentally dug up on farms or found on river banks in Alberta even now and NOT consider ages well beyond mere "history".

Yet, every now and again, we do get a sudden bout of insecurity of how fragile we might be as a nation. We're past the triumphant age of creation, past our centennial, Hell, we're barely 140 years old. But, to quote (ie. steal) from Mr. Coupland's book:

"There's only so much national mythology that can be created in 135 years. Relax."

Speaking of which: Bob and Doug just had their two-four anniversary. If you're Canadian, you won't need a translation.


posted by Thursday at 3:30 pm


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