A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Exotic Canada, Jorge Luis Borges, Al Capone & Adolf Hitler
Friday, 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 Sanchez, “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.


Previous Posts
Graham Greene On Sharks, Vultures & Palenque

Bach's Six Brandenburg Concertos In One Sitting & ...

Truths To Tango - Nostalgia & Longing

Rebecca Sips Moscato - Beau Geste & A Viking Funer...

Nicola Cavendish & My First Valentine With Joy

Gandhi & Hitler - Goodness & Evil In My Memory

A Serious Dean Paul Gibson Makes Jessie Richardson...

Haven Saves A Loss

Exotic Russian Ladas & Living Edward S. Curtis Pho...

The Fourth Fool - That's Me

January 2006

February 2006

March 2006

April 2006

May 2006

June 2006

July 2006

August 2006

September 2006

October 2006

November 2006

December 2006

January 2007

February 2007

March 2007

April 2007

May 2007

June 2007

July 2007

August 2007

September 2007

October 2007

November 2007

December 2007

January 2008

February 2008

March 2008

April 2008

May 2008

June 2008

July 2008

August 2008

September 2008

October 2008

November 2008

December 2008

January 2009

February 2009

March 2009

April 2009

May 2009

June 2009

July 2009

August 2009

September 2009

October 2009

November 2009

December 2009

January 2010

February 2010

March 2010