Fleet Week (and a celebrity guest)!

By Caitlin Kelly

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It’s an annual event that began in 1935 in San Diego — when active servicemen/women aboard Coast Guard, Navy and Marine vessels dock in a city and let us see what their life, and ship, is like. It’s also a reminder that Manhattan is an island, and a working harbor, its western edge lined with piers, (usually hosting gigantic cruise ships.)

Here’s a link to the 418-foot ship pictured above, of the U.S. Coast Guard.

And, if you’re in, near or visiting New York for the next week, here’s the website with all the details; it ends May 30.

It’s so cool each spring to see all the sailors fanning out across Manhattan in their pristine uniforms, some enjoying it for the first time, others on a repeated visit.

But I’d never gone aboard one of the vessels, some of them 600-foot-long warships that have patrolled the world’s most dangerous regions.

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This year — a huge thrill for me — I was invited by the Canadian consulate aboard a Canadian ship, the 181-foot HMCS Glace Bay, built in Halifax, for an event to celebrate Canada’s 150th. anniversary.

It was a brutal day of torrential rain, wind and cold, and we stood under a leaky (!) canopy on the gray metal deck. There was lovely finger food and Canadian cider, which helped.

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What an impressive crowd!

As you walked up the steep gangplank to board, a crew of white-uniformed officers stood to greet us and, when senior officers arrived, each was piped aboard with a three-tone whistle to alert us all to their presence.

There were generals, their chests ablaze with military honors. There was an FBI cyber-crime expert and the head of intelligence for the NYPD. I chatted with three Navy veterans, one a gunner, and with the aide to a Marine general and to a Canadian MP.

I’d never had the chance to speak to active servicemen; we traded notes on what it’s like to train at Quantico, (as I did some shooting there while researching my first book) and what it’s like to fend off pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

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It was deeply humbling to meet all these people whose job it is, whose vocation it is, to serve and protect us. Most of them had been in the service long enough to retire with full pension (after 20 years) but loved it so much they continue in their work.

That was a refreshing thing to hear, in an economy that’s so perilous for so many.

While Americans are more accustomed to seeing their military, and veterans in everyday life, it’s much less visible in Canada, so this really was a rare treat for me.

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Not to mention, to my surprise, a celebrity guest who came out, even on his birthday — actor and comedian Mike Myers. He lives here in New York, and moved to the States a year before I did, in 1988, from the same city of origin, Toronto. He showed me photos of his three daughters on his phone and it felt like chatting with an old friend.

That’s actually pretty Canadian.

Maybe because we come from a huge country with a small population (35.8 million) or our national innate reflex to remain modest, low-key and approachable. If he’d been cold or starchy, that would have been more of a shock than his genuine kindness to everyone he met that day.

We spoke for a while; his mom had served in the RCAF, in a role that was a family secret for decades.

I’m usually not a big celebrity geek, but he was so warm and down to earth, just another fellow Canadian proud to come out and celebrate with the rest of us.

What a fun day!

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The Tragically Hip — a global Canadian campfire

By Caitlin Kelly

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Did you see it?

Last night’s astounding concert by the Tragically Hip, whose lead singer, Gord Downie, 52, has an incurable brain tumor, the kind that killed an American legend, Senator Ted Kennedy.

It was broadcast by CBC, and we watched it here at home in NY on television, live-tweeting with fellow Canadians.

One guy tweeted — “I’m in Seattle. Where can I find a bar showing it?” I tweeted the link and he tweeted back, “Watching it. Thanks!”

Another Twitter pal needed to find a place to stay near Kingston, an area we know fairly well, and I tweeted out my suggestion.

One friend watched it on her phone in her car on a road trip from Toronto, sitting in New Mexico.

Canadians at the Olympics in Rio shared a hello.

Canadians in VietNam and Africa tweeted hello.

The Hip, as they’re known, have been together for 30 years, an unchanged line-up, since they met in Kingston, Ontario — fittingly, the site of last night’s concert, the last of a national tour.

The arena had 6,000 people in it, while Market Square, usually a venue for farmers selling carrots and maple syrup, burst with astonishing 20,000 fans.

In the arena audience, wearing a Hip T-shirt and a jean jacket, standing alone, (although clearly not without security nearby), was Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, eight years younger than Downie.

No fuss was made about him. He didn’t grandstand or make a speech.

Thank God. That was so typically Canadian — low-key, modest, no need to make a fuss or draw attention away from the main event.

It was Downie who called out to Trudeau, putting him on notice (and praising him for a good start) to address the many needs of Canada’s aboriginals, facing appalling rates of murder and suicide.

The show went almost three hours, with three encores, an astonishing length for any band, and for a man whose craniotomy scar was visible, etched into his face, mostly hidden beneath an array of hats with feathers, hard to imagine. (The show’s TV credits included his “wellness” team, and his oncologist has been traveling with him.)

His costumes were goofy and playful — a silver suit, a pink metallic suit, a sparkly silver suit. A Jaws T-shirt.

Two striped socks pinned together at his throat to keep it warm, he explained.

He cried, although it was hard to tell his sweat from his tears.

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It made me deeply homesick.

Living in the U.S., which I have for decades, means living in a place where Canada is seen as a bit of a joke, all hockey and beer. It gets old and it gets lonely when no one knows — or cares about — your shared cultural references.

There are also very few times Canadians get weepy and emotional and wave enormous flags at one another in public.

The Olympics is one.

This was another.

Here’s a lovely analysis by fellow Canadian musician Dave Bidini:

Canada is good when it’s viewed and heard through the Tragically Hip, and the Tragically Hip is good when they’re viewed and heard through us. No other band stretched our potential as a nation of popular art. They put weird songs on the radio. They put thousands in stadiums listening to strange, wild jams. They wrestled our inherent Presbyterianism and won over a public that, more often than not, demurred when it came to stronger flavours. They offered an anti-hero as hero who was as interested in promoting his brand and chiselling his image as he was selling cars or soap or gasoline. For all of their commercial proportions, the Tragically Hip weren’t a commercial band. They have a sense of composure, and dignity. And grace, too.

In terms of history, and the history of art in Canada, we scramble to celebrate what’s good or who’s done what and why this thing or that person matters, but it’s often in the greasy sizzle of a sudden trend or in the twinkling glimmer of the rear-view mirror. But with the Hip, we were given the chance to cheer them not through museum glass, but in the hot thrall of the moment. We were able to point to them – point to Gord, whose courage as a performer will be forever burnt into our imagination – as they deadheaded across the country.

 

As we, living in the U.S., face day after day after day after day of the insanity and toxicity of liars like Ryan Lochte and Donald Trump, what a refreshing break from bullshit and spin and feeling like I need a shower every time I listen to one more piece of trash being sold to me as gold.

What a glorious, heartbreaking night.

 

 

Ohhhhh, Canada! For Americans hoping to head north

By Caitlin Kelly

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Lake Massawippi, Quebec

It’s become something of a new anthem in itself…”I’m moving to Canada!” if Trump (or whichever Presidential candidate most terrifies/disgusts/depresses you) wins the nomination, or Presidency.

 

Not so fast!

 

I left Canada, where I was born (in Vancouver) and raised (in Toronto and Montreal) in 1988 to take a temporary editing job in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Why there? I was madly in love with an American, a physician doing his medical residency at Dartmouth College after studying at McGill; we met when he was in Montreal. We later married — and divorced.

I came to the U.S. on an H1-B, a visa that’s difficult to get — the employer must advertise the position and be demonstrably unable to fill it with a qualified American. I initially came for three months, but had long wanted to come permanently, able to do so thanks to my mother’s American citizenship, which allowed me to obtain a “green card”, and become (o’ infelicitous phrase!) a “resident alien.”

I’ve lived in New York, in a suburban town near Manhattan, since 1989. It stuns me sometimes to realize it’s been so long, but I’m still here.

Like many Canadians, blessed with a terrific university education, (and zero debt upon graduation, thanks to low tuition costs), I felt, and was, able to compete with sharp-elbowed Americans all grasping for the various brass rings of publishing and journalism.

Here’s my recent story for Money.com about the savings one can realize by choosing to attend college in Canada.

I craved a larger place to test out my skills. (It’s not easy!)

My maternal grandmother and her antecedents were all American, as are many cousins, some of them highly accomplished, one an ambassador, another an archaeologist. I was curious to know more about the culture that had shaped them.

Canadians are deluged by American media so it’s not as though we don’t hear about the place, all the time.

I was also tired of constantly being mistaken for an American, a very odd experience from fellow Canadians, where being openly ambitious is a no-no.

Not in New York!

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New York — where I’ve lived since 1989

Canada is usually routinely invisible to American news outlets. We’re used to it.

But now that the 2016 Presidential election campaign has become a bizarre and frightening circus, many Americans are wondering if that nation to the North — the one they typically ignore in quieter times — is a better option.

 

Here’s my story for Salon and an excerpt:

While Canada recently welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees, don’t be too quick to assume there’s an equal welcome for thousands of panicked Americans eager to flee a political scene they find abhorrent.

Read the Canadian government website for potential immigrants and you’ll find a list of exclusions, from health and financial problems to a DUI conviction. Yes, some of you will be able to obtain work visas, but many Canadian jobs pay less than you’re used to – and taxes are higher. You’ll also wait longer for access to some medical care.

Before assuming Canada is a default lifetsyle option, read its newspapers and listen to the CBC. Read our history and some of our authors, not just the ones you know, like Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro. Talk to people who live there. In other words, before you reassure yourself that if it comes to a Trump inauguration, you can pack your bags and head to Vancouver (maybe not Vancouver – CRAZY expensive to live there), you might want to take a minute to acquaint yourself with some specific attributes of that country to the north

 

I wrote the piece from a place of mixed emotions.

In some ways I miss Canada terribly — my oldest and dearest friends, my personal history, a political climate that doesn’t demonize women for wanting reproductive freedom or gays for wanting to marry.

I miss a shared culture and its references.

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Not to mention Justin Trudeau, our new 44-year-old Prime Minister.

But I also left for reasons.

This is the challenge of every ex-patriate and immigrant; we leave a place we know well and possibly love, throwing our fresh hopes onto a new land and its values, political and economic.

For the first time since moving here, I’ve wondered about moving back, even for a year. My American husband loves Canada and has portable skills. We’ll see.

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How about you?

 

Is moving to Canada an option you would ever consider?

 

Why?

 

It’s Canada Day! Twenty Reasons To Love My Native Land

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Our flag and a Mountie...score! Image via Wikipedia

Yes, I live in NY, but I can still celebrate Canada Day.

Born in Vancouver and raised in Toronto and Montreal, I still travel on a Canadian passport and people can still hear “aboot” when I say “about.”

Here are twenty great things about Canada, in hono(u)r of our day, July 1:

Tunes. Including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Feist, Arcade Fire, Barenaked Ladies, Drake, Cowboy Junkies, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Diana Krall, Michael Buble, Jane Siberry, Holly Cole, Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Great Big Sea, fiddlers Ashley McIsaac and Natalie McMaster.

Hockey. It’s actually not our official sport, (believe it or not); lacrosse is.

Butter tarts. Nothing to do with butter, they are tarts filled with a gooey raisin-y center. Sooooo good!

Nanaimo bars. Sort of an iced brownie with thick creamy layers inside. Here’s a recipe.

Poutine. Cheese curds covered in gravy. I can’t stand it personally, but it’s now trendy as hell for some reason.

The Group of Seven. This beloved group of landscape painters from the early 20th century are our equivalent of the Impressionists. Their brilliant and powerful landscapes — from Tom Thomson’s Tangled Garden (my favorite) to the enormous ice-scapes of Lawren Harris, are a love song to the land. If you visit Toronto, get out to the McMichael Collection, which is the largest permanent exhibit of their work.

Awesome women writers. Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Miriam Toews, Margaret McMillan, Anne Marie McDonald, Margaret Laurence.

Nellie McClung. She won Canadian women the vote and is memorialized on the $50 bill — and a life-sized statue on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Insulin. Discovered at my alma mater, the University of Toronto, by Banting and Best.

Karim Rashid. You’ve probably sat in one of this designer’s chairs or own one of his popular and stylish Garbo garbage cans, shaped like a bucket.

The Rockies. I spent a week in Banff, Alberta this past winter and was gobsmacked by their beauty. I can’t wait to return.

The Blackberry. Invented by RIM, a firm in Waterloo, Ontario.

Fantastic food markets — from Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market to Montreal’s Atwater Market to Vancouver’s Granville Island. Gotta try a peameal bacon sandwich.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta. The best dinosaur museum!

Mounties. We love them in their scarlet tunics and brown felt hats. We have Mountie dolls and T-shirts. Just seeing a Mountie makes me homesick.

Loonies and toonies. Those are coins of $1 and $2.

Canadian candy bars. Aero, Big Turk, KitKat, Crunchie, Crispy Crunch. Yum!

Inuit art and sculpture. Gorgeous stuff. I grew up with it in my home, so people like Pitseolak were as familiar to me as Picasso.

Terry Fox. Every Canadian of a certain age knows who he was — a brave, crazy 22-year-old with cancer who decided in 1980 to run across Canada to raise funds. He did not make it, but others honoring his memory have raised $550 million since then.

Bilingualism. On parle deux langues! Canada was founded by two European nations, the French and the English, and the country has two official languages, as every resident knows and every visitor soon learns — so words like “de rabais” (on sale) become familiar even if Anglos and Franco’s don’t know each other’s culture as well as we should. The English beat the French on the Plains of Abraham (in Quebec City) which is why every Quebec license plate says, darkly, Je Me Souviens — I Remember.

Go Canada! Next Week's 'New Yorker' Filled With All-Canadian Advertising

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We’re not just hockey players and beer!

Check out the June 28 issue of the New Yorker — where every ad sold is from a Canadian institution, school or bank. The magazine has only done this once before, and the advertiser was Target.

This time, the elite readers of the New Yorker will be introduced to the country’s private schools, places to visit, banks. As a proud Canadian, I’m always delighted when my country gets a shred of recognition or acknowledgement — I bet most Americans don’t know that the two nations have the largest trading relationship in the world, doing billions of dollars worth of business with each other annually.

It’s a good time for Canadian advertisers to make the move because the loonie (that’s the Canadian $1 gold colored coin) is near par with the U.S. — it was 65 cents for many years. That makes Canada more expensive for American visitors and college students (who pay non-resident fees, often four times higher), but still well worth a look.

Many New Yorkers are sending their kids to McGill, and I’m always touting my alma mater, the University of Toronto — tuition for non-Canadians is still much less than for comparable American colleges.

Plus you get to live in a foreign country where the drinking age is 18.