My travels bring me back to Toronto where I?m shooting a video for Svala, a gorgeous slip of a girl from Iceland. Having worked all through the night in a parking lot downtown I grabbed a couple of hours sleep and have just breakfasted on a fine Maple donut from Tim Horton?s – a chain of coffee shops named after a retired Canadian sports star.
As I walked back to my hotel I pondered upon this large and mystifying country and realised I feel very much at home here. Canada has come to mean a jumble of contrary things to me.
It?s a place which has a happy red and white flag that is so ?friendly? that American backpackers sew the emblem into their luggage on International trips so that they?ll be mistaken for Canadians and be left to their own devices. The flag reminds me of the UN troops that beetled along the dusty roads in Cyprus keeping the peace between the Eoka and Enosis terrorists when I was a kid. It?s a country so harsh that crews in B.C. have learnt ways to keep their gear dry whatever the precipitation, a place where when you buy a pair of warm boots the warning tag reads : ?the less active you are, the more boot you need.? (My salesman assures me they?ll keep me warm to -40 but if I?m going extreme, ?you?ll need these other ones which are guaranteed to -70!) It?s a climate so harsh that the coffee spilt on set last night had to be blowtorched off the tarmac so that it didn?t leave a huge stain in the middle of my shot.
Canada is a place whose people have invited me into their homes over the years with an ease and warmth that stuns and shames me. I feel none of the cynicism or resentment that I have detected in my original or adopted countries. The smiles are as wide and as endless as the Northern Wastes and they appear to relish their own culture and those of others with a freshness and an energy that is invigorating.
As a child I remember vividly turning the pages of my Geography book and looking at black and white pictures of a breath-taking far away country which have little to do with the Canada I have experienced: vast log-jams on a river near a busy saw-mill; lines of strange looking long ships with bridges right at the front making their way along massive lock systems between the lakes; a Mountie on his horse in his riding breeches and peculiar hat with the Parliament building behind him. These were idealised 50?s era images of a rich and bountiful country whose men gladly and bravely threw themselves into battles with us British types to keep the world free (!) and were proud to be part of the Commonwealth and be one of the largest red bits on the map of the world in my classroom which showed an Empire as big as the world has ever seen.
Things are very different now. That Mountie is probably in his 90?s, the timber industry here is desperate to find out whether George W. and his team will slap a 20% levy on imported lumber and this morning?s paper has a story on an army that is so underpaid that many soldiers are on food stamps and have to deliver pizzas to make ends meet.
Tomorrow I will hopefully be climbing on the plane to go home. But the happy faces and hard work of Mr. Rosen, Lewis, Sully, Marc, Jordan, Ralph, Mario et al will make me feel humble and warm. There?s a Mickey D?s here just like there is in every damn place now but even the corporate might of the new empires that straddle the globe cannot diminish the joy of travelling and seeing new places and old friends.