Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lost Loon Lake, Canada

Canadians are used to Americans skewed view of their country. We in the States think the whole of the North is frozen tundra and mountain peak, criss-crossed by snowmobile trails and populated by far-flung Eskimos. When a cold win blows in we invariable call it a Canadian Cold front as if the country itself were responsible for our frozen misery.

So it was with bemused curiosity that I spent three months working in Ottawa this summer--an expatriate American set free in the land of onerous taxation, de facto criminalization of tobacco, and transfer payments to fisherman who dont fish and Indians who dont pay taxes. Here were Kentucky Fried Chicken that dot the American landscape but missing were the mashed potatoes and corn-on-the-cob replaced with french fries. But even that familiar food was coupled with an unfamiliar condiment: vinegar or gravy. Where is the ketchup And where was Colonel Sanders name on the marquee It was crossed out and painted over with the omnipresent label Tim Horton. Who is this powerful businessman who has managed to tack his name even onto Wendys restaurant

Weather was a constant preoccupation. Waking up to go to work each day I wondered whether 28 degrees Celsius was cold and what was meant by the humidex. Down South we measure our winter misery with the wind chill factor. Up North where it is cold, a balmy 80 degree Fahrenheit day is cast in the angst of something called the humidex. And what exactly is this French word kilopascal When I first arrived in Canada it rained buckets full of rain every day. This is when I learned that in Canada all the roofs leak. This is true: the office where I worked was adorned with trash cans strategically placed to catch the falling rain as it leaked in doors. And even the international airports roof leaked water. No one paid any attention to this as if it as perfectly normal. It must be that these roofs leak because of the weight of the winter snow warps their otherwise level fa硤e.

And then there is the political debate which adorns the newspapers. While Americans ponder such mundane matters as whether to sack Iraq and make capitalization of operating expenses a crime, the Canadian political elite use the Code Napoleon to reason whether men should be allowed to marry other men and whether the minister of Justice should be allowed to roll a joint.

During my sojourn here in the frozen North where it was a hot 80+ degrees Farenheit on most days I felt like Baron Rothchild for my American dollar could buy a $30 hair cut at the fanciest salon for a mere $30 x $0.65 equals roughly a mere $18. This was cheap. But the girl who cut my hair was so pretty that I tossed away my profits and my lunch money by giving her a $10 tip. A massage at a spa cost only $30US for one hour. My $179CA hotel room looked cheap on my American expense report to my employer yet it came with Champagne and fresh Orchids and a dazzling Latin beauty who served my petit dejueuner. I was surprised that even McDonalds would take greenbacks. Can you imagine trying to spend a Loonie or Twonnie in backwater Mississippi What is it with all this metal money rattling around in Canadian pockets We Yankeesdont call me that pejorative because I hail from the Deep South and descend from Civil War veteranscast such coins aside but here in Canada they hold real value.

More in keeping with my American-centric view of out vast neighbor to the North was the weekend I spent near Algonquin Park with a fair maiden I plucked from the bars in Ottawas Market area. This area is several dozen blocks of eye-pleasing bouncing bosoms and shapely female legs easily approached under the courage of alcohol. My new girlfriend and I traveled by land over something called a portage (no doubt from the French verb meaning to carry) and then canoed across not one but two lakes where her father had a 99 year lease on what the Canadians call Crownsland. For four wonderful days we ran naked through the wilderness bothered by no one save a porcupine who chewed on our cabin and menacing Ravens that flew over head. I caught a 3 pound small mouth bass while I listened to the mournful sound of loons. I understand the government no longer lets the citizenry rent such empty land and build cabins there. This is too bad because there are so many lakes in Canada that each person should be entitled to one or even two. Besides what better way to use the Crownland than making love outdoors. (Our American Constitution forbids the peerage system so we feel compelled to mock royalty.)

One of my favorite friends I made while in Canada was the prototypical wilderness man. He was dark like a native but sported a thoroughly Southern Sigma Nu fraternity tatoo. He was huge like a logger or hunter and smoked these strange cigarettes decorated with lungs, livers, and threats against the health. I jokingly called him Nanuck of the North and said he had lived further North than the Inuit. This was almost true for he hailed from the far reaches of French speaking Northern Ontario and once lived in YellowKnife where the sun did not set until 11:00 PM.

It is now time for me to fly home now on the insolvent, legally-sanctioned-monopoly Air Canada airline with a suitcase full of duty free goods so I can avoid the provincial tax. I think I will report back to our American traffic planners that we can fix our problems with gridlocked streets by setting aside bus lanes in traffic like they do in Ottawa. I will look back on my months in Canada with a whimsical fondness. Already I am sweating and its only a mere 35 degrees Celsius here in Virginia. Isnt that just a tad above freezing

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