It is usually dangerous to make generalisations but here we go – Canadians are nice. What draws me to this position? On my first trip five months ago I discovered that when it comes to matters of taste, there are many people in Canada who have an endearing quirkiness, as I described in July [A Perfect Foil, 7th July 2013]. Then, during my second trip a few weeks ago, I discovered more. It became clear that in Canada there is also a refreshing Alice-in-Wonderland approach to reality. As a people, Canadians seem happy to accept things that are not as they should be, when logic is turned on its head. The irrational is simply how the world is, as Lewis Carroll might have argued.
It was on a journey east from Toronto to Nova Scotia that this approach began to dawn on me. We were in Quebec City, wandering through its seventeenth century quarter, when we saw a man sitting playing harmonica to canned music. He had a fine silver beard, was dressed from head to foot as a Canadian trapper and had a white husky at his knee. More to the point, his musicianship was extraordinary with passers by stopping, listening, photographing and then generousy giving. Impressed, I asked the shopkeeper across the road to tell me more about our musician. “He is only miming, but he is very good, isn’t he?” What would Lewis Carroll have made of that?
Then later, at dusk, as we walked across a leafy square we almost trod on a heap of ‘rubbish’ piled high in the gutter. We soon realised that the heap was in fact a hooded man huddled motionless with a noose around his neck and wearing a blood stained smock. We passed by embarrassed. Soon after we turned to look again and saw the heap get up and rush towards a group of people being led by a woman wearing a black gown and a white Victorian bonnet. It was, we learned, a ‘City Ghost Tour’. Mystery solved.
We left Quebec by train, departing from the beautiful 1920s central railway station. There, in the ceiling of its entrance hall, we noticed a large stained-glass fanlight showing a map of North America with its major railway networks. The odd thing is that the map is mounted with east and west back to front. No explanation is given, it is just how it is. As Alice observed, “as the world has absolutely no sense, who’s stopping us from inventing one?”
On arrival at Montreal, armed with a city map I asked a member of the station staff which was the best way to walk to our hotel. “Go through the exit marked Rue de la Gauchetier and turn left”. I had looked briefly at the map beforehand and reckoned this would send us in completely the wrong direction. Surely we should turn right! A debate ensued. The problem was solved when he looked at the map to discover that the station was shown one block out of place. Without any signs of surprise he calmly suggested that the map had been printed abroad, which indeed it had. Curiouser and curiouser!
That afternoon, we went into a craft shop. The voice of the woman singing over the sound system was rather fetching and I asked the man at the till whether the performer was Canadian. “No,” he replied, “she comes from Montreal.” Well, as Tweedledee would say, “That’s logic.”
Notwithstanding their Alice-in-Wonderland approach, like everybody else the Canadians also have a romantic side, where logic or the lack of it gives way to magic. After a week hurrying across Canada we arrived at the tiny seaside town of Annapolis Royal where our son was to be married.
There is something wondrous about weddings and this one was no exception – a fairy tale of make believe and emotion. At one moment, smiles of pleasure and joy and at another, uncontrollable sobbing. And the weather joined in. Early on that day it was rainy, blustery and cold but the wind dropped right on cue and the sun shone through. Around forty of us gathered under an old beech tree whose long branches touched the ground all around, forming the perfect canopy. After the couple’s declaration of vows and exchange of rings, the local JP changed our lives by announcing that Josh and Ali were now man and wife – a very nice Canadian of course.
Now back in London and setting aside the Canadian capacity for logical leeway, the dominant memory is that of the magical reality of the wedding. And we have the photos to prove it.