The Great Canadian Culture Project
I’m cross-posting with additions and subtractions the bulk of a comment I made the other day at a political blog I frequent. It didn’t get any notice there, lost in the more important man talk as it was, but I’d spent some time noodling it out, which always leads to other noodling, so here it is.
It’s a shameless mishmash, by the way, which is a fairly accurate reflection of my political convictions, now that I really stop and think about it.
My Conservative friend is determined that the British Empire will have the last word on culture, that it be unsurpassed, if surpassed is even the word one would use when one is discussing culture (it isn’t, is it).
But really, his argument is limited to only knowing about one culture and even at that only acknowledging what he considers to be its accomplishments. His is the Conservative tarsands development cost/benefit analysis of British culture that only considers the benefits (increasingly difficult to dredge up) and ignores the costs (increasingly evident to all and sundry).
For some reason I just thought of Muhammad “I am the greatest” Ali and his conversion to Islam when he saw pilgrims of all “colours, races and nationalities, kings, heads of state and ordinary men from very poor countries all clad in two simple white sheets praying to God without any sense of either pride or inferiority”.
This was at Makka.
Mecca? Have we been calling Makka, Mecca? Or is Makka a different Muslim holy site from Mecca.
Yesterday, a Muslim woman was on the news in response to the Quebec government’s embarrassing decision to say a pox on all their houses except our Catholic god’s and deny the religious their charter right to freedom of religion.
I mean, either we have freedom or religion or we don’t, Quebec. And if public servants can’t wear the hijab at work, we don’t.
Anyway, she pointed out that Islam teaches tolerance, giving the Quebec government the opportunity to one up Islam with acceptance, but it won’t, will it.
It’s terrible when governments are lesser than the people they represent when we need them to be greater than.
David Cameron was moved to recite the glories of the British Empire at the G20 in response to an overheard slight by a Russian minister about no one caring what a little island nation thinks about anything.
By anything he meant the civil war in Syria.
Is that a definition of irony? David Cameron reciting the glories of the British Empire at a summit of world leaders while civil war rages in the Middle East?
Today I read a pundit who favours the American bombing of Damascus as the only right response to the likely (not likely?) use of chemical weapons by Assad on Syrian civilians.
He compared those of us who don’t share his conviction to Holocaust deniers.
Indeed, he skipped right over Chamberlain, where Conservatives normally head when advocating for the elimination of the Islamic Menace, you know, the terrorist as opposed to the tolerant, and went straight to Zundel.
Just for the record, I believe the Holocaust is a fact. I believe that six million Jews were murdered by the Third Reich of Germany. And I believe that the Liberal government of the day was guilty of denying Jewish refugees entry into Canada under its policy of “none is too many”.
Not because it was Liberal, but because it was the Canadian government.
Germans and other individuals who hid Jews risked their lives to do it. The government of Canada wasn’t risking anything save for a bit of (a lot of?) political capital with anti-Semitic voters, yet instead of letting Jewish refugees in, it condemned them to, at best, an unknown fate.
Children be damned.
How is now any different for people facing persecution and/or death because of their ethnicity/sexual orientation/religion/gender. What was the outcry then? What is it now? Why aren’t we tossing out all our rules and regulations about immigration and just letting in anybody who wants to come here?
Money, that’s why. We’re all about money. Show us the money.
Bombing is easy, sharing the land is hard, or there’d be peace, wouldn’t there.
If I favoured bombs as a solution to anything, and I grew up being told by everyone in authority in my culture that even nuclear bombs, because they were dropped by Americans, saved countless lives and were therefore good, I suppose I’d fit more easily into my culture, but as it is, I don’t.
I don’t understand why we want to re-glorify a glorified past instead of routing it out, and I don’t understand why we insist on a veneer instead of the real thing when the real thing is all about freedom. Really. It is. We’re the freest people ever in the history of the world and we still won’t do the right thing.
The right thing is The Golden Rule no matter what your religion or not is.
My roots go back to both southern and Northern Ontario, with people coming over from the British Isles (and I guess Holland, given my mom’s maiden name) sometime in the late(?) 1800s. My father had an interest in ancestry but he died when I was young and my mom’s a complete philistine about everything except scotch, cuts of beef, and suit quality.
She’s the original Hillary Clinton of pantsuits, which was kind of a shame because she’s got Betty Grable legs.
Oh, and the Liberal Party of Canada.
I just realized why it’s really weird for me having Justin Trudeau running around the country being Trudeau’s son. It’s because in 1968 my older sister and I (not my younger sister, though) had paper Trudeau dresses that we wore door-to-door canvassing for his Liberal party.
And it was, it was his, the Liberal party was all about Trudeau, wasn’t it.
Would that be considered child abuse these days, by the way, do you think, having to go door-to-door canvassing for a political party in a paper dress with the leader’s mug on it when you’re like… 8? What about 14? Yikes! Girls could legally have sex at 14 in those days, couldn’t they?
If not, it should be. I’m sure I recall people yelling at me and/or slamming the door in my face, although that could have come later in my servitude to a party I no longer support.
I don’t support it because it’s only true that “no country in the world would leave that oil in the ground” – as JT puts it about developing the tarsands – because we’re choosing not to be the country that does. That’s who we are even though that’s not who we have to be.
We’re free to do the right thing. We choose not to because of the money.
Anyway, like I say, my family is long generations gone from the old countries and I grew up a cultural philistine.
The Sault is as far back as I go, and when I think of culture I think of Christmas in the early 70s, when I was an early teen. You may not see the connection between the cultural memory below and the cultural ramble above but it’s there, it’s just denied everywhere and by people my age and I don’t know why.
Why do we grow up to forget who we used to know we are?
I’m not sure how to put that but you know what I mean.
One Christmas, probably ’71 or ’72, so past when I would go next door in the afternoon to check out what awesome presents the twins had scored, I headed over to my visiting cousin’s cousin’s place (I had no idea they were related until that day) in the afternoon.
I was wearing my new wide-legged pink corduroy flares (purchased by my older sister from The Cat’s Meow, a store started by one of three dashing brothers who had recently rode into town, the youngest of whom I became acquainted with in later years – the 2 youngest of whom, I mean, speaking of relations and not knowing who was related).
I believe the oldest brother still operates a business up there, something agricultural.
The government has spent my lifetime telling me that immigrants are entrepreneurs, but immigrants to the Sault were mostly Italians who came before my time to work at Algoma steel. Entrepreneurs to me were chic hippies from southern Ontario come to liberate us not-by-choice hicks from Northern Ontario and deliver us onto fashion.
Both girls had faked menstrual cramps to get out of going to a different rellies’ place, but they were at that age, 13/14, that they didn’t have to fake too hard. Years later I saw a movie, Termini Station, with Megan Follows and Colleen Dewhurst that kind of reminded me of those days. It’s quite a departure from Anne of Green Gables, which I read when I was 9 or 10 and read aloud to my kids when they were younger. (I gave up reading aloud to them partway through the 4th Harry Potter, when I started getting nightmares.)
Relentlessly bleak was Termini Station, which the Sault kind of was for my cousin and her cousin. Not for me, though, because I had a very active fantasy life that included making it to the Olympics and marrying Gene Hackman or Bob Dylan. Also, of going to university in Toronto, which I eventually did, so I can honestly say that my dreams did come true.
I have no idea why I had such a crush on Gene Hackman when I was 13/14. I may even have been 12.
Anyway, it was at my visiting cousin’s cousin’s house that I had my first cigarette, which was a mistake because I worried for weeks that I’d given myself lung cancer (I was a terrible hypochondriac, or worry wart, as my mother called me when she wasn’t calling me a terrible hypochondriac), and drink, which was a mistake because it was a mixture of whatever booze my cousin’s cousin could find and mix together so that her parents, who were boozers, wouldn’t notice any missing and turn their normal bitterness towards each other on her.
When I had my next first drink, or rather, my third next first drink, I was 18 and it cemented my relationship with alcohol which recently ended at AA.
A lot of my friends’ parents were boozers. I was always surprised by a parent who didn’t drink. Their dads had met their moms during the war over in England and living in the Sault made the ladies (of the evening, my mom said, because she could be quite snarky about people who didn’t get on with it – like the Italian widows who wore black every day as if they were the only women in the world to have their men die before them) pine for family dinners with the Queen.
Also, working shifts at the steel plant while all those limeys came over to grow the civil service they paid for made them question their great sacrifice for King and country. My mom used to say, “What sacrifice? You’re alive and well enough to bitch about it aren’t you?”
Oh how my friends dads hated my mother (although only behind her back, as was the culture in those days, too).
But she was a Liberal first, everything else second, and although she found Brits mostly intolerable, and outrageously sexist, she was a believer in public services.
Although in time she could not abide its unions, in part due to the British accents of its leaders and the implication that Canada’s civil servants worked in conditions on a par with salt miners.
Anyway, I was a good girl, unlike almost all of my contemporaries, and a virgin, (ditto), and boys were coming over so I went home. Also, my cousin decided she didn’t want me to be corrupted after all (she knew I was saving myself for Gene or Bob) and told me to get lost – there would be sex. We’re not in touch anymore – I’m not in touch with any rellies save for immediate family, really. Besides she moved out to Alberta to be bad out there, where instead she became a teacher, got married, had kids, and became a Danielle Smith when Danielle Smith was in grade school. I ran into her a few years ago at a parade in the Sault when she was back visiting her dad and I was visiting my mom. We were just there for something to do with our kids. She’s still smokin’ – literally and figure-wise.
If I were an entrepreneur, which is what writers who write for money are, I would gather together all the bits and pieces of my culture, the one I know is real because I lived it, live in it, and maybe yours, too, and then make up the rest to fill in any gaps – or better yet just leave the gaps – and start the Great Canadian Culture Project.
Because, really, it matters.