Canada is not as perfect as it seems, I tell myself everyday. I hear they are not as good to their indigenous peoples as they should be. … um… can’t think of anything else negative right now. They’re kinda like us, but seem so much less self-absorbed. They’re proud of their country, but they’re not gonna shove a giant, foam finger in your face. They’ve given us many interesting folks; take a random sampling – Shatner, Drake and Samantha Bee. That’s not a bad combo, and there are so many more. They have two languages and a leaf on their flag. A leaf. That’s pretty grounded. I dunno: there’s just something about the place. I’m a fan.
July 1 is Canada Day, and this is a special one: the 150th. So, here is a short-stack of Canuck things (books, obvi) that caught my eye.
Souvenir of Canada from Douglas Coupland is a sort of behind-the-scenes catalogue of Canadian things, in short essays and photos. For a Yank like myself, this satisfies my need for clichéd generalizations – there’s a section on hockey – but offers lots of surprises: there is an essay about cheese, but not the good kind. It’s about Kraft. What is going on up there? I want to know.
Shake Hands with the Devil by Roméo Dallaire
Canadians are kick-ass at soldiering: they were at D-Day, they shot down the Red Baron, and they’re pretty good at sniping. One of their noted military figures of recent years is General Roméo Dallaire, who led the UN mission in Rwanda in 1993. Hamstrung by flaccid leadership at the top of the UN and its controlling nations (including the US), he was not allowed to protect civilian victims as they were murdered in deliberately brutal fashion. The catastrophic failure of that mission, as evidenced by the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis in less than 100 days, had a profound affect on Dallaire. Since then, he has worked to overcome the barrier that pure self-interest places between the powerless and the powerful who play-act as humanitarians. “I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil.”
Oh boy, can they DRINK.
A Field Guide to Canadian Cocktails by Victoria Walsh and Scott McCallum – This is such a helpful book. It starts out with a best-practices guide for making cocktails: all the tools and techniques, if you want to learn how to do it right. It then gives you the double-whammy of a boozy regional tour – what they drink, where – and the specifically Canadian recipes for all the drinks, including local ingredients and food pairings. From The Bush Pilot to the Flintabattey Flonatin’s Sunless City Sipper – you’ve got 100 bevs you can use to impress whomever you’re stuck in a cabin with.
A Few Cool Canucks:
William Gibson – Invented the cyberpunk sci fi genre ex nihilo with his novel Neuromancer in 1984, which predicted the rise of the internet and the eventual digitalization of all human consciousness (which hasn’t happened yet – but we’re so close). Good Twitter follow.
Sandra Oh & Evelyn Lau – Super famous Canadian actress Sandra Oh, you know from Grey’s Anatomy and Sideways, also portrayed another super famous Canadian, Evelyn Lau in a bio pic. This writer/poet ran away from a brutal home life, and lived on the streets, involved with drugs and prostitution. The whole time, she was publishing poetry, but publishing her 100% grittily honest diary of this period (Runaways: Diary of a Street Kid) really put her on the map.
Frank Gehry – Architect who can turn any shape into a building. He started with normal house shapes, and then moved on to more challenging geometric shapes, like cylinders. Nowadays, it’s gotten too easy. At a party, he’ll throw back a few Molsons and make bets with randos from the crowd:
“Betcha can’t do this crumpled up foil!”
“I got these wet grocery bags.”
“What about those left-over party supplies in the corner?”
You keep thinking he’s gonna lose, but somehow, he pulls it off every time. Canadians are unstoppable.
Three Particularly Badass Canadians: Deadpool, Wolverine, Anne with an ‘E’ (she really is tough)
Three merveilleux French Canadian novels:
October 1970 from Louis Hamelin is a fictionalized retelling of an historical event. In the eponymous month/year, Canadian PM Trudeau (not ours, his dad) invoked the War Measures Act – kinda like martial law – in response to the kidnapping of a few government officials by the FLQ (Liberation Front of Quebec). Soldiers deployed in Montréal. It was a hairy, gnarly mess and makes for a great political thriller – with the added weight of it having happened.
Hysteric by Nelly Arcan is an arguably autobiographical novel about a suicidal young writer in a troubled relationship. Madness, sexuality, God and one’s raison d’etre are explored in the bleak story. Also see Putain (“whore” in English), her novel about her time as a sex worker.
Volkswagen Blues by Jacques Poulin is a road trip story that is also a sort of review of the French in North America. Moving from Quebec to San Francisco, the characters encounter historic personalities (both dead and alive) and view westward expansion through the eyes of North American natives – all in a VW bus, which you would know is a supreme way to travel, if you’ve ever owned one (like I have).
So, get yourself a good Canadian book, get to your nearest Tim Hortons for a double double – or maybe over to Smoke’s Poutinerie on Cahuenga – and have yourself a grand ol’ Canada Day!
Tabernacle, mes amis!
Not confident of my phrasing, there!