Since I’m the hostess — and Broadside now has (yay!!) 462 subscribers, from British Columbia to England to New Zealand — I’m increasingly curious to know more about you, oh lovely and faithful readers.
So, to start,
Here are ten random things about me…
— I was born in Vancouver to a Canadian Dad and American Mom who met in the south of France, and I moved to London ages 2-5, then lived to the age of 30 in Toronto.
— I’m passionate about antiques and am happiest around objects with serious history and patina to them: I use coin silver teaspoons, painted, rush-seated chairs about 200 years old and often wear vintage shawls and scarves.
— I’m most excited when I have a bunch of trips lined up: next week, Toronto; July; upstate NY; August, I’m speaking at a retail conference in Minneapolis.
— I’ve developed a bit of “white coat syndrome” when I have to see a doctor, after having to see five specialists in a few months in 2010 for my arthritic left hip, which needs replacing.
— I usually have fresh flowers in our apartment; this week, peony and stock and three yellow spider mums. My favorites include parrot tulips, lilac, hyacinth, delphinium and anemones.
— I have three half-siblings, 5, 10 and 23 years younger. We all have different mothers and I’ve never met the woman who is my half-sister. Yes, it’s complicated!
— I love to play competitive sports. I was a nati0nally ranked saber fencer in my 30s, with a two-time Olympian as my coach, and have been playing co-ed softball for eight years.
— I live to travel. Some of my favorite places (so far) include Corsica, Thailand, Paris, Algonquin Park, Ireland, Maine.
— My favorite cocktails are Tanqueray gin and tonic, a spicy bloody Mary, a gin martini with olives or Lillet on the rocks.
— I attend an Episcopal church while my sweetie is a devout Tibetan Buddhist — a man of Mexican heritage whose own Dad was a Baptist minister. He’s taking me (shriek!) on a 10-day silent Buddhist retreat this July.
Please tell me some things about you!
I’m curious to know about y’all, and have you “meet” one another as well.
For example….I’d love to know what sort of work you do, or where you live and why you chose that place, or what sort of music you love.
Do you play an instrument? Have a hobby or passion?
Have you lived in different places? Which did you like best (and/or least) and why?
I’m finishing up a two-week vacation in Canada, two days in my native Toronto and the rest in British Columbia: Vancouver, Victoria and Kamloops. In June I spent five days in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, just south of Montreal.
From this trip, I’m carrying home a new strategy for gin rummy (thanks, Mom!), some new clothes and shoes, two Olympics hats. Nothing fancy. But I know where to shop and what I can’t (yes, really) find in New York City.
I grew up in Canada and go back several times a year, stocking up on favorite items, some of which we natives know all about, but visitors might not.
Some you might find fun or useful:
222s. It sounds like ammunition, and in sense, it is — a powerful headache pill that contains codeine. They are not sold on the drugstore shelf but you have to ask the pharmacist for them. They really do the trick.
Beer. While you can find some Canadian beers in the U.S., there are many great microbreweries. We love the apricot-flavored beer we find in Quebec. Sleeman’s is another favorite. After you’ve tried some of our best, weak dreck like Coors or Budweiser will never cross your lips again.
MEC. It stands for Mountain Equipment Co-Op, and there is one in every major Canadian city; similar to an REI or EMS, offering everything you might need for outdoor adventures. Their duffel bags and backpacks are well made, good-looking and affordable. I always know someone’s from Canada if I see them in NY or Europe with an MEC pack. It’s a co-operative, which keeps prices low, and you can join it too. They also have a full-time executive charged with ethical sourcing.
Something Mountie-related. They’re everywhere…T-shirts, mugs, caps. They are a 137-year-old mythical part of Canada’s history and unique in this respect — Americans don’t wear FBI T-shirts or buy FBI bears or drink from FBI mugs, but Mounties are well-loved. I especially like them because they saved my Mom’s life, busting in her door when she lived alone in a small town and needed rescue. (This is part of what they do, filling in for local or provincial police.)
Voltaren. I took it as an oral steroid for my arthritic hip but in Canada (not the U.S.) it comes in a tube as a topical cream, also something you have to ask a pharmacist for.
Algemarin. My favorite product, ever — a German-made, dark blue, sea-smelling bath gel that turns your bath into a grotto. I’ve never found it in the States.
Canadian candy. Crunchie, Aero, Big Turk, Crispy Crunch, Macintosh Toffee. All are amazing. The chocolate is much smoother and sweeter than anything made by Hershey. Try it once and you’ll be hooked for life.
Tuques. A simple wool pull-on hat, the type you can tuck into your purse or pocket. I snagged two Vancouver 2010 Olympic ones on sale at a rest stop.
Peameal bacon. Americans call it Canadian bacon; we call it back bacon or peameal bacon. If you get to Toronto, go to the St. Lawrence Market and have a peameal bacon sandwich.
Aboriginal art, sculpture or jewelry. It might be Indian or Eskimo (the correct word is Inuit, pronounced In-weet), but there are many lovely examples to be found, whether lithographs, silkscreen prints, soapstone or bone sculptures, scarves, silver jewelry. I grew up surrounded by Inuit prints and sculpture and love it; a small soapstone bear, so tiny he fits into my palm, sits on my bedside table, a gift when I was a child.
A U of T T-shirt or cap. OK, it’s my alma mater — but Malcolm Gladwell went there too. It’s Canada’s Harvard. Americans have only heard of McGill, but U of T kicks its butt. (That’s U of Toronto.)
A maple leaf sticker, badge, luggage tag or decal. If you plan to travel in parts of the world where Americans are unwelcome, this is a standard trick — look like a Canadian.
A newfound taste for Canadian media. Pick up The Globe and Mail or The National Post, or magazines Macleans (newsweekly) or The Walrus or Maisonneuve (sort of Harper’s-ish) or Adbusters or Azure, the shelter magazine. Listen to CBC Radio, especially and see how differently (or not) stories are conceptualized and reported. You’ll never find Canadian magazines in the U.S. (except for a few libraries) and if you like the radio you hear, you can keep up with it on-line.
A loonie and a toonie. Our $1 and $2 coins, good souvenirs.
Appreciation of a nation with cradle-to-grave government-supplied and run healthcare for everyone and $5,000 a year tuition at the nation’s best universities. That’s where the new, dreaded HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and all those taxes on liquor and gas and stamps goes. Payback!
A Roots or M0851 bag. Both are made of gorgeous leather in a small but simple/cool array of styles. Both have their own stores in many Canadian cities, selling everything from a tiny change or makeup purse to weekend duffels and dopp kits. Tough to resist. (They sell leather jackets, too.)
A Holt’s bag. They’re now bright fuchsia. Holt Renfrew is Canada’s (only) answer to Saks/Neiman-Marcus/Barney’s/Bergdorf. Even if you just buy a pair of socks or a lipstick, it’s worth a visit to their elegant stores. The Toronto one has a lovely quiet cafe on the top floor. The Montreal store has terrific period Art Deco doors. (Their accessories department is small but offers excellent, European options — I saw Keira Knightley there a few years back, and admired her Chanel sandals.) Holt’s is in several Canadian cities.
She was my maid-of-honor — even though she was then living a three-hour drive from Alaska but still willing, 13 years after we graduated, to make the trip to suburban New York City. My wedding day was filled with torrential rain and foreboding.
Just before we headed down the aisle, I whispered: “If this doesn’t work out, please still be my friend.”
It didn’t. She did.
She still wears and enjoys the earrings I bought her as her thank-you gift. Our lives have been very different: she married a logger turned electrician, raised three daughters in small British Columbia towns, worked in education. Divorced from my doctor husband, with no kids, I chose to try to keep climbing the greasy pole of New York publishing.
But her cheerful, chatty Christmas letters kept coming.
This week, I finally visited her B.C. town, and spent a few days catching up. I hadn’t seen her husband since their wedding day, 20 years earlier.
It was as though a week had passed, not decades. She proudly showed me the blue metal recipe tin I had made for her, with some of my recipes still in it. I still use the battered, stained cookbook she gave me all those years ago.
We went to a lake and threw sticks for her dog, a lovely yellow lab named Ben, and shared our stories, riddled with the same insecurities that have plagued us forever, and maybe always will. It was comforting to be so known, and still so loved.
Her name is Marion and in college we were the pasta twins — Marioni and Catellini. Then, we once dated men, both of them faithless, gorgeous wretches, who were best friends, as we were. She asked me about a man I had totally forgotten; best friends carry our memories.
We remembered how much we know each other’s histories and families, and the hopes we had and the ones we still hang onto.
We had much, this visit, to learn. But we now know we’ve still got some time.
It hits you without warning. I’m sitting on the edge of the tub about to shave my legs when I realize the new can of shaving cream is eerily familiar.
The label — although I bought it here in downstate New York — is in French and English.
Quel big deal, vous dites? Non, c’est super!
One thing I really miss about Canada, where I was born and raised, is seeing French on everything you buy even if your first language is English. A bored little kid, even in Edmonton or Iqaluit, ends up reading it on the back of the cereal box, learning by default. You just end up knowing weird words like “rabais” (discount) or, if you’ve ever lived in Quebec, “depanneur” (which literally means someone who helps you out; “etre en panne” is when your car breaks down) which is — natch — a corner or convenience store.
The U.S. has such a thing about bilingualism. Some people froth at the mouth with indignation when a voicemail prompt says to hit another number if you want to continue in Spanish.
The French got their collective butts whipped on the Plains of Abraham on Sept. 13, 1759 when Wolfe defeated Montcalm; Montreal succumbed soon after that and Canada became English-dominated. The Quebec license plates, forever middle finger raised in reply to les maudits anglais, say “Je Me Souviens” — “I Remember.”
But Canada remains officially bilingual, which really pisses people off in places like British Columbia (its name might be a clue), as opposed to Manitoba or New Brunswick which still have some significant pockets of French-speakers. English speaking Canadians know they’re Anglophones, Anglos, and those who speak neither English or French allophones.
I miss seeing two languages everywhere, a reminder that life — certainly in a culturally as well as fiscally intertwined global economy — can never be seen through the lens of one tongue and one point of view.
Anyone who’s had a Canadian punch to the face during a hockey fight knows that Canada isn’t wholly against sporting aggression. It’s simply a nation with other sensibilities.
Its murder rate is around one-fourth of the United States’ (2007 homicides: America, 14,831; Canada, 594). And while homicides per capita isn’t generally considered a harbinger of Olympic success, there’s no arguing that offing someone is about the most aggressive of human behaviors. When you’re from a culture where it’s somewhat common, elbowing a competitor for position on a short-track speedskating race can seem like second nature.
Even in their most popular sport, rough-and-tumble hockey, their greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, was known as smooth and sportsmanlike, not a cutthroat competitor.
Still, the Canadian government is trying to usher in a new mentality. The signs of “Go Canada!” are everywhere, from the sides of 7-Eleven coffee cups to signage hanging around British Columbia.
“This phrase, ‘Own the Podium’, isn’t this a little arrogant for Canada? No it’s not,” Canadian Olympic Committee chief Chris Rudge told the Associated Press. “Being self-confident and being the nice people we’ve always been at Games, these things aren’t mutually exclusive. You can be both. You can be aggressive and win with grace and humility the way Canadians always have. But let’s do it more often. Let’s win more often.”
To most of the world, this seems second nature.
Why is this idea that winning doesn’t automatically come with a middle-finger salute to the vanquished — instead of a pumped fist, a smile and a gracious handshake to your competitors, whatever your podium position, so alien?
Maybe it’s having 10 percent of the U.S. population. Or offering everyone free universal healthcare, or having the best colleges (all of them public) costing $5,000 a year, not $50,000. You compete hard in Canada for good housing, jobs, promotions. But, getting to the starting gate of life has fewer obstacles, and maybe that’s part of why Canadians are more mellow. There’s more room at the table so shoving hard to get at it all seems…tacky and weird.
I know a Canadian middle school teacher, who taught on Long Island and in Canada. The differences between how kids are raised, socialized and praised for their behaviors in the two countries was profoundly different, she told me. Canadian kids want to win, but not at the expense of making others feel like crap. American kids, certainly those in suburban New York, didn’t give a rip if the losers ended up in tears of humiliation. They were losers, weren’t they?
If that’s the only lesson these bewildered-by-niceness Yanks finally take away from these Olympics, terrific.
The 2010 Winter Olympics may be the only reason people are now paying closer — OK, any — attention to Vancouver. Canada’s smart national magazine, cooler than The Atlantic or Harper’s, is called The Walrus. Here’s a great piece about Vancouver from the current issue:
Laugh at the clichés, but understand that leading-edge thinking elsewhere is often the norm here. From North America’s only supervised injection site to a police chief who openly supports the idea of making addiction a public health issue, not a criminal one; from UBC’s breakthroughs in sports medicine to the bold social experiment of the Woodward’s development, which combines public housing with high-end units; from inventors like Phil Nuytten, the father of the underwater Newtsuit, to Internet millionaires like Markus Frind (plentyoffish.com) and Stewart Butterfield (flickr.com); from D-Wave’s breakthrough in quantum computing to Saltworks Technologies’ cost-effective desalination system, Vancouver incubates far more than its share of striking new ideas. If the continent is a centrifuge, flinging novelty and eccentricity and experimentation to the margins, then what Portland and Los Angeles and Seattle are to the US — last-frontier outposts of wisdom and wackiness, civic laboratories for new ideas — so, in many ways, is Vancouver to this country and, indeed, the world….
It’s easy to forget now, a quarter century after Expo 86 introduced the world to Vancouver (and Vancouver to the world), easy to forget after the exodus from Hong Kong in the ’90s altered the city’s demographic profile and fuelled a real estate boom, easy to forget now that Hermès and Coach and Gucci fill our shop windows — and especially easy to forget during the klieg-lit invasion of the Winter Olympics — what a small city this is. With a population of about 600,000, it’s a quarter the size of Toronto proper. Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, and Ottawa have more citizens. Hell, Mississauga has more. Winnipeg has more. Vancouver’s American analogues are not Chicago and New York, but Charlotte, Memphis, El Paso. Include the metro area, and the population swells to 2.2 million, a third of metropolitan Toronto’s. If this city were an actor, it would acquit itself beautifully in a supporting role — Philip Seymour Hoffman before Capote. If it were a fighter, it would be a middleweight, albeit one so slick and well marketed that you think of it as belonging among the heavyweights — any of which would, in fact, clobber it.
Like my Dad, I was born in Vancouver and use the city’s name as my personal email address. I have very few memories of it though, as we moved to London when I was still a toddler. If you’ve never been, it’s a stunningly gorgeous city, its iminent arrival breathtakingly obvious after you’ve flown for long hours the width of Canada, signaled by the Rockies that cradle the city between mountains and the Pacific.