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Every day’s a school day

Well, the Canadian adventure is over for now, and I’ve had a chance to catch up with friends in Cincinnati. Once I have finally manage to sort out arrangements in the chaos that seems to be the internal flight system in the US – where no one seems to know what is going on and times or indeed the existence of flights seems to be a distinct variable – I can get home.

I’m starting to feel homesick, I realised in the last few days. I knew there was a problem when I started to look at the fairly uniformly black (and therefore slightly sinister) squirrels in Ottawa and fondly look forward to reacquainting myself with my own British grey vermin. Visiting new places is fun, but after a while the novelty starts to wear off, and once the distracting hurly burly of work is done all that is left is just a feeling of being out of place, especially stuck alone in a hotel room.

But it has been an interesting lesson for me in Canadian history and in the current political environment and how it holds together as a country. I found it positive and upbeat, and the contrast with the airport here where I am stuck in Chicago versus the cheery Ottawa I left almost wants to make me get on the plane back there. Almost – it is not home after all. I was interested in a number of things notably:

  1. Elizabeth II is queen of Canada. Now, I knew that of course but it was slightly odd to hear it several times over the last week. My reaction to seeing all the portraits in the Parliament building there was ‘aren’t they offended by all these British monarchs?’ And maybe some are. But to the Canadians I met she is their queen. The fact she is queen of a lot of other places and based in Britain seems largely irrelevant. The attitude seems less of rejecting the past and more of looking forward and I think that’s a good place to be.
  2. I did not have time to really go into the current relationship between the impact of the Europeans and latter immigrant waves and the indigenous peoples of Canada, but one thing I did notice was the denomination of ‘First Peoples/Nations’ to describe the diverse types of people there before the British and the French arrived. It seems clever to me – innately respectful, and again a lot of what I saw was less about apportioning guilt for past misdeeds, of which there are many, and more in terms of accepting the history and art of those people within the history of this country called Canada, rather than grafting on some second age and leaving the older cultures as something past, even anachronistic. It’s not perfect as an appellation but it seemed better than some I have heard in the past.
  3. Canadians seem fond of imagery. A lot of the First People art is filled with imagery and it seems impossible to find anything major in formal Canadian architecture and such that does not also drip with additional meaning – as my very cheerful (half Egyptian) Canadian guide pointed out as she showed me around the Governor General’s official residence, even the fountain out the front, when looked at from above, is the shape of the medal awarded to the Order of Canada, which itself is in the shape of a snowflake – because we are all unique. Charming.
  4. Finally, I came across a stuffed animal in the Nature museum – a wee beastie called a Fisher, about half the size of its bigger relative, the wolverine, who apparently is one of the few animals that hunt porcupines. The museum says that they apparently dance around them nipping at the nose until the prey becomes so agitated it gives the Fisher and opening to flip it over and get at the unprotected belly. Unfortunately I have since found out it is more just the case they stay in front of it and bite its head until the porcupine dies. A lot less romantic (and acrobatic).

So thank you Canada for teaching me an animal I didn’t know, getting me far too over excited at just seeing a wild chipmunk, and giving me some food for thought. I’ll probably be back, if only for the poutine.

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