Our home and native land/Terre de nos aieux…
Is how my national anthem begins. One of them. The Star-Spangled Banner is the other.
I left Canada, where I was born (Vancouver) and raised (Toronto, Montreal) in 1988 to move to the U.S.
I’m back again for a few weeks, with no greater agenda than seeing old friends, attending a service at the island church where I was married last September, poking around antique stores.
Just being home.
I started my nine-hour drive by crossing the Hudson River, the Manhattan skyline ghostly in the distance, but the spires of the Empire State Building and new Freedom Tower clearly visible. The trip is easy, but wearying as I covered pretty much the entire length of New York State, a 5.5 hour journey just to reach the Canadian border.
I spent the drive listening to some of my favorite tunes from college — Hejira by Joni Mitchell and Talking Heads — but soon switched to Radio-Canada to listen to the news and weather en francais. I love speaking French and hearing it and miss that piece of my native culture terribly. Americans are furious when others refuse to speak English; we grow up in a country founded by two nations, French and English, and much of what we read and touch (cereal boxes, government signs, toothpaste) is labeled in both tongues.
Hejira is a great choice for a woman traveling alone by car — as Mitchell wrote it while on road trip from Maine to L.A., and she says it’s suffused with “the sweet loneliness of solitary travel.” Is it ever!
I loved “Refuge of the Road”, which I think might be my theme song.
Here’s the final verse:
In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the earth
Taken coming back from the moon
And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all
You couldn’t see these cold water restrooms
Or this baggage overload
Westbound and rolling taking refuge in the roads
It’s a measure of the independence we both value in our marriage that two days after our anniversary, I left for a two-week trip by myself. I feel such a hunger to travel. Sometimes I really need to travel alone. And I always need to come back to Canada.
It’s such a different place from the U.S., even though both speak English and, to many eyes, look so alike.
Even basics like:
Metric measurements, a $2 coin and colored paper money. A wicked HST adding serious tax to everything — my $2 newspaper cost $2.26.
And the sort of rock-ribbed political liberalism that’s exceptionally rare in the U.S., certainly in the mass media, like this story in the Toronto Star, about an AWOL American female soldier living with her five kids (two born in Canada) in a one-bedroom apartment. Kimberly Rivera, the first female war resister here, was to be deported today.
I’m a little desperate right now to flee the ugliness and in(s)anity of the American Presidential election campaign, and the class warfare that is only getting worse and worse — the latest issue of Fortune magazine asking us not to hate the 1% but emulate them instead.
I miss my personal history, and re-visiting the places and light and landscape that shaped me; Jose deeply misses his New Mexico skies and mountains. He gets it.
And I always miss my oldest friends, people I’ve known since I was 16 or 22. I’ve found it very hard to make good friends in New York.
I like going to the drugstore and the grocery store and seeing brands and magazines only sold here, like Shreddies cereal and butter tarts.
In the small town where I’m staying lives a man, Farley Mowat, whose adventure stories I read growing up. For me, that’s like knowing Shakespeare is around the corner.
I miss knowing people who know who he is. So I’m glad, for a while, to be back in my (second/first?) home.
People tend to be more relaxed when they know (as they do here) they will never be bankrupted by a medical emergency, a pretty standard nightmare in the States.
I also like being reminded of the stiff-upper-lip thing and the we-hate-Americans thing and the no-we-can’t-do that thing, which remind me why I do not weep with longing for Canada but see it with more distant critical eyes as a longtime ex-pat.
If you haven’t seen this amazing video, check out it. It makes me laugh and it makes me hum.
And here’s a BBC video explaining why Canada should simply run for U.S. President.
Do you ever feel homesick?