Today I’m heading north by train, arriving in Toronto 12 hours later. And the day began, at 6:20, with an enormous rainbow over the Hudson River.
There are few journeys, certainly planned that way in North America, that still take 12 hours — usually what you expect in developing nations in small, crowded rattling buses filled with chickens. I’ll settle in with a huge stack of unread magazines, some music, a book. I love traveling by train, even unloved Amtrak. I like watching the landscape change, feeling all those miles.
We always lose at least one hour, and sometimes more, waiting at the border, where uniformed guards with sniffer dogs and latex gloves board the train, deadly serious in their pursuit — on whatever side of the border it is — of those they deem sufficiently suspicious, or insufficiently documented, to interrogate and possibly toss off. I once saw a young-ish woman with her small child removed from the seat right in front of me.
There’s a point in this journey, one I’ve made many times, that always leaves me a little torn, suspended between my two countries, as the train crosses the bridge spanning the Niagara River, its spray visible off to one side. I can see Canada beckoning, the red and white maple leaf flag and the bilingual signs, and the Stars and Stripes receding. Or vice versa. Which one is home? To which do I owe my deepest allegiance? Canadians who leave the country lose the right to vote there and, unlike Americans, don’t pay taxes when non-resident citizens. Once you’re gone, you’re gone.
Having lived in the U.S. since January 1988, where I’ve had many jobs, published a book, married and divorced and own property, it’s now home. But so, still, is Canada, in fundamental and blessedly unchanging ways, from boring-to-Americans shared cultural references to the comfort of my ancient history — my former homes and favorite shops, college boyfriends and camp room-mates and my high school best friend Sally who I see almost every time. I go to visit my Dad, now 80, meet some editors, wander the gorgeous downtown campus of my alma mater, the University of Toronto, catch up with friends of 20, even 30 years’ standing. I’ll re-stock the necessities like 222s (not a gun but a powerful headache remedy with codeine in it) and Canadian candy, truly the best. I’ll savor a butter tart (nope, they’re not made of butter!) and maybe indulge in a peameal bacon sandwich at the St. Lawrence Market, one of the world’s best indoor markets.
Deep sigh of pleasure.
Don’t forget: J-Day is Thursday, a powerful, emotional interview with two best-selling journalists/authors, former Los Angeles Times religion writer William Lobdell and T/S contributor, GQ writer and former Newsweek reporter Michael Hastings.