If you grew up in a place you loved, and have since moved (far) away, the landscape is an indelible part of your history.
It is for my husband Jose, who misses the Sangre de Cristo mountains of his native New Mexico.
It is for me, the very specific landscape of what’s known as the Canadian Shield, a northern part of the country with slabs of red granite, wind-bent pine trees and lots of wildlife.
Evidence of beavers!
I was lucky enough to attend Ontario summer camps ages 8-16, so this landscape is full of happy memories for me, and also not easy to return to.
I was invited for the long weekend to a friend’s cottage, reachable only by motorboat — which was filled with 6 adults, a cat (in a cage), a large black dog and everyone’s stuff and food for all of us for three days. What an adventure!
Even navigating through those waters — Georgian Bay — meant somehow avoiding hundreds of rocks and shoals. Impressive!
We stayed in a separate cabin, called a bunkie…but no heat! That meant sleeping in a wool hat, wool scarf, wool socks and buried beneath a massive Hudson Bay wool blanket.
But also — amazing stars at night, with no light pollution.
I sat on the dock one morning at 6:00 a.m. and saw a beaver swimming past, a loon and two minks. That was cool!
It was also so cold I could see my breath and watched mist rising from the warmer waters into the colder air.
The silence was absolute — only the wind in the pines.
There are a few things I miss a lot about Canada…and this weekend ticked all the boxes:
a spectacular landscape
no agenda at all
It was a difficult return to the U.S. the day after the latest massacre, this time in Texas, and of small children.
(I started that day looking, once more, at real estate in France. No, not kidding.)
This week, I’m back in Toronto — where I lived ages 5 to 30 — and Jose is in Pennsylvania visiting his sister and brother-in-law. He’s having a great time.
I hadn’t been back in 2.5 years, and usually visit once or twice every year, so it’s been too long. COVID obviously made it difficult to impossible. I’m very lucky to be able to stay with a friend as Toronto hotels are now prohibitive as well.
I’m catching up with people from my past — one, even a very good friend from high school, one I met later in life, one I’ve known since my early 20s, one a fellow former journalist against whom I competed (!) covering a Royal Tour in the 80s. One is the former partner of one of my half-brothers, someone I adore.
These are all people with whom I have a lot of shared history and culture and experiences.
I miss them!
I do love my life in New York — but America right now is such a dumpster fire of violence and racism and misogny and people in politics who are so toxic I can’t even bear to look at them.
(Canada also has plenty of issues as well, no question.)
When you leave your country of origin — even one speaking the same language as your new country — you do leave a lot behind. People don’t get your musical or literary or TV references. They don’t know your national anthem. They can’t even name the capital of your country. They’ve never heard of your alma mater, only the only Canadian one they’ve heard of instead.
Americans are deeply incurious!
It’s so comforting to be with people who “knew you when”:
— as a driven/ambitious high school student
— same in university
— same in my 20s!
But who also know your family and/or their complicated history and how it affects you still.
It’s so comforting to just pick up again, even after 2.5 years, without much preamble. I stay in fairly close touch with a few of them through phone calls and emails. This was also a relief as a recent visit in NYC to friends there felt more strained and distant.
Because Canadians probably move around a lot less than Americans, I know people will still be here, not gone to a distant city — Toronto is the center of many industries and if you don’t speak good French, Montreal can be more difficult.
It’s been a glorious time to be in the city — every lilac bush fragrant, every tree in white or purple or pink blossom.
I get around only by bus, a 40-minute ride from midtown to my friend’s quiet street, and their home, literally a block from the edge of Lake Ontario.
I was touched, reading a personal essay in the weekend FT by Madison Marriage (what a byline!), that her brother Charlie died at 32 of an epileptic seizure. Marriage, pregnant with her second child, found a handmade origami mobile he left for her baby…now her most treasured possession.
I’ve lived in a one bedroom apartment for decades, so accumulating piles ‘o stuff hasn’t been an option, although candor forces me to admit to a crowded garage with artwork we change up from time to time, old books and magazines and assorted stuff we keep trying to get rid of.
But I have a few things, some unlikely and of little financial value, I treasure:
My late mother, from whom I was estranged for the last decade of her life, traveled the world alone for years and lived in New Mexico, Peru, Bath, Massachusetts, Montreal, Toronto, Mexico, British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, then Victoria, B.C., Mousie was always there…a tiny stuffed mouse missing a bit of one ear, his string tail stained with ink. When three large boxes arrived after she died, I was so happy to discover Mousie in one of them, a sweet and happy memory of her and some of our adventures.
A pewter Art Nouveau plate
This belonged to my maternal grandmother and I loved it. My mother had it and left it to me. No idea where they found it.
A very small Stieff bear
I was at boarding school at the age of eight, the youngest. This tiny and portable bear offered such comfort — tucked into the deep pocket of my beige cotton uniform shirt, sitting stop a prayer book in the pews at yet another church service.
Even though I chose to move to the U.S., I am very grateful for my Canadian citizenship and would never give it up.
My “green card”
Which is more pink, and is my proof of admittance to live and work legally in the U.S., renewed every decade.
A professional photo of me taken during a magazine shoot about kids and cooking
My mother was a national magazine editor in Canada for a while and made sure to sneak me into a few photo stories! I have very few photos of myself as a child and teen, and almost none of me in my 20s and 30s. So I love this one. It’s of me and the daughter of her then best friend — we had been ordered (!) to have a flour fight and we’re absolutely dazed with the joy of sanctioned mayhem.
My National Magazine Award
My first husband, a physician I met when we both lived in Montreal, walked out on the marriage after barely two years. It was humiliating as hell, although not a great surprise as we were unhappy and he was clearly involved with a colleague he shortly married. OUCH. There’s no sweeter revenge than retailing one’s misery for a magazine story…but winning this award, which is very competitive, was an incredible moment for me. I finally framed it and it hangs on our living room wall.
My wedding earringsfrom Jose
They were a total surprise, and I wear them almost every day, everywhere.
Invitation to meet Queen Elizabeth
What a day! I had spent the prior two weeks racing all over Manitoba. New Brunswick and Ontario as a member of the massive press entourage following a Royal Tour, as a staff reporter for the Globe and Mail, of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It was by far the toughest assignment of my 20s since, really, there’s no news and little say beyond — today she opened a highway, today she attended a formal dinner. Etc. But we were all invited, at the end, aboard Britannia for drinks and ohhhhh, all the equerries.
An Inuit Polar bear print
In 1961 when this print was made, Inuit art was a very new development in the Canadian art world…and my mother would only have been 27 when she bought it, typical of her fearless and eclectic taste. It’s become one of the most famous of these, and I long admired it on her wall, decade after decade, wherever she lived. Of all her possessions, this was the one item I hoped she might bequeath to me. I adore it — and its teal color exactly (!) echoes our bedroom blind and headboard fabric.
When my profligate and wealthy maternal grandmother died she owed a massive amount of unpaid tax — to Ontario, Canada and the U.S. government, so most of her things were sold to pay those bills; one gorgeous armoire is in a Toronto museum.
So I’d never had the expectation of inheriting “heirlooms” with a deep family connection. I did inherit a massive pastel portrait of her mother, and a small bas-relief of her, which I am glad to have. My father has some lovely things, but also has four adult children and it’s a very deeply divided group — none of us ever lived together and I’ve never even met one and don’t want to.
Our own challenge is deciding who to leave our things to, as we have no children and aren’t close to younger relatives.
The editor in chief of the Financial Times, Rouala Khalaf, (probably the most male of the big newspapers — and boy are they male, especially at the very top) — recently implored more women to write to their letters page.
I was thrilled to have my letter published there, verbatim, a few months ago.
I can see why so few women do:
— It’s intimidating! Letters to the FT routinely arrive from Lords and CEOs and deans of elite universities. How dare we add our voices?!
— Fear of looking stupid or uninformed.
— Fear of professional reputational loss (see above!)
— Too busy working/parenting/caregiving
— Modesty…why listen to us?
As you know (cough!) I’m fine expressing my opinions publicly, here and on social media and in classrooms and at conferences and in letters pages, including those of The New York Times and Newsweek.
I was basically raised as a boy, to be smart and competitive, not sweet and submissive as so many girls and women still are, so this never scared me, even if maybe it should.
I am very careful on Twitter not to discuss the most divisive topics — abortion, guns, politics — in any detail. Women are trolled and harassed and get death and rape threats when they do. No thanks!
So, when and where should we speak up?
— Protest marches
— School board meetings
— City council/town hall meetings
— at industry conferences, either as a speaker, moderator or audience member
— your blog, and others’
— social media
— writing and publishing essays and op-eds
— call-in radio shows
— as a member of an organization or group or community
I know, it can feel scary to invite argument or ridicule or dismissal!
But the more we stay invisible and inaudible, the more we allow this behavior to dominate and silence us.
Now that the landmark abortion law Roe v. Wade is in danger, and so many U.S. states ready to ban abortion, it’s no time to sit back and shrug. Our many bodily rights to autonomy are being erased daily.