14 January 2006

"Give me a Blue"

A Canadian is a person who will probably be dumbstruck if you ask him the question: what is a Canadian?

And we will not be mistaken if we take that to be a good thing. It means that our country could use a sign overhead at all airports, border crossings, and ports of entry: Under Construction. It means that we cannot yet brainwash our schoolchildren and television-watchers that this is the country God picked to be the best, or the country that history had in mind, or the country that invented everything important.

We invented basketball, the potato peeler and the Jolly Jumper. That is enough to make a Canadian happy, but not enough to crow about. Canadians don't crow about Canada. Our young people put little Canadian flags on their backpacks, but not to boast. It's more that they want to show that they are not something else. For the same reason, lots of young people who are not Canadians put Canadian flags on their backpacks. That doesn't make us mad: we just smile and say "What a good idea!"

If a young person from some other country says, "What is a Canadian?" we might say, "I don't know. It's a beer, isn't it?"

-George Bowering, Left Hook. Raincoast Books, 2005.

George Bowering seems to be around every corner these days, and a good thing for it. His latest book, Left Hook, is a collection of his essays on Canadian culture. Like Bowering's poetry it is a smooth read - sly and cynical, and embedded w/ gems of sentences that always come at the right time. Part of the book's charm is that he is not trying to hammer any point into the reader's head; rather, it is meandering path through one of Canada's greatest minds, full of observations, friends, memories, and anecdotes. The essay as an art form is very much alive here, and it is the journey, not the destination, that proves most enlightening.


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