Sometimes I feel that we are from some small protectorate. Americans see us as quaint, a kind and compliant folk, but a little like the perpetual adolescents living in the upstairs bedroom, who haven’t had to take on the full responsibilities of adulthood: grappling with racial strife and inner city crime, policing the globe with a massive military, shouldering the mantle of world pop culture.
Granted the population of California is similar to that of our whole country. But still, we’re big—I mean square miles (oops, kilometers) wise. Still most Americans don’t seem to notice us. Take our election. I didn’t talk to a single person here who realized that, just like them, we were having an election. Kim and I spent the big night huddled around our computer, listening to a bad CBC stream that kept looping back on itself. (Though it hardly mattered, as apparently the election looped back on itself.) Mainly we were on pins and needles hoping our friend Briony would take the Gulf Islands, Saanich seat (she lost after a close race). I also had great hopes that the vote for the environment strategic voting approach might have made a difference. But, though we were deeply disappointed at the outcome, it still felt that the election unfolded through measured debates.
At a friend’s here the other day I noticed that she had an enormous map of British Columbia on her office wall. That would not be unusual I guess if she’d actually ever been to BC. “What’s that for?” I asked.
“That’s so I can think about where we’ll move to…” I looked puzzled.
“In case the Republicans get in and introduce the draft.” (Her twins, Sam and Helen are 10). “Next time it’s going to include girls as well as boys!”
Perhaps, I thought, Americans are thinking of us more than we suspect. Like these two vowing to move to Canada if Sarah Palin becomes VP.
It is hard for most Canadians to believe, but there are actually people here who haven’t noticed that McCain’s choice of running mate is from the lunatic fringe. And though I gnashed my teeth at the division of the left in our election, there is something about this deep polarization between two parties that seems to force people into extremes, leaving little room for subtle discourse. No, I am glad I am a Canadian, even though, in the end, the only person here who commented on the outcome of our election was Jon Stewart. Oh, and Gordon Lightfoot.
I was so excited when I realized that Gordon Lightfoot was performing just ten minutes walk away from our marina. “Kim, do you know what this means?”
He looked at me blankly. “I may finally get to see Gordon Lightfoot sing "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy". Another blank look, which meant he was forced to hear me sing it from beginning to end (O.K. I forgot a few lines.)
I phoned my good friend Nancy (who has lived in California for several years).
“Nancy, I’m going to see Gordon Lightfoot!”
“No way!...there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run...” She launched right into it…
I’m not a member of Gordon’s fan club, but his music was the soundtrack for some heady years of my life. And though he kind of slid a little into country there was still something about him—rough around the edges, a little coarse even, but then those poetic lyrics. And, of course, the Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Now I know the Canadian railroads where built by oligarchs on stolen land, but somehow that song always gives me goose bumps.
Gordon never did sing it last night. The man who walked onto the stage would not have been able to get through half of it. He spent 6 weeks in a coma after an aortic aneurism a few years ago. It was a year before he picked up his guitar and this is his first tour since. He was bone thin, and his voice, frankly, was shot. After the first song, I was worried for my fellow countryman. But the audience, a packed house of determined fans, with that American warmth and generosity, cheered right through to the end of the two hour concert. As we turned to go, three young men looked at him with adulation.
“Too bad he didn’t play the Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” one said.