Category Archives: The North

Even Still.

I’m not the only one on a Manitoba kick. Even the New York Times has the province down as number 30 in The 31 Places to Go This Summer. This is in response to gas being $4.00+ in the States; comparatively, it’s almost $5.40 in Canada.
Related, my parents tell me that there is a commercial printer in New Jersey who is working overtime creating the number “4” for outdoor gas station signs.

My American Dollar.

Unless you’ve not been paying attention the financial news of late, the U.S. economy is not very strong, at least compared to most other countries. In Canada, the exchange rate between the Canadian and U.S. dollars has been inching towards parity. Today’s rate is almost exactly at 1.00, whereas even two years ago when we moved to Canada, the rate was .85. In other words, I could go to the bank here, and with my USD 1.00, buy about CAD 1.15. That was nice, for me.
Today, I went to the bank and bought USD 1,500.00 worth of Canadian dollars. You know what I got? I received from the teller $1,475.50. That’s right, for the first time, for me, I received less for my U.S. greenback at the bank; in fact, I lost about $25.00, enough for a dinner out, a couple of movies, or a good book about the future of the United States in the global economy.
Postscript: Here’s the press release.

This Canada.

Back to The North, a category on this blog that I’ve ignored for a few weeks.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve now lived in Canada for a year and a half. I’m slightly incredulous because I’m still geographically disenfranchised, my family is back East, and I’m unable to articulate the phrase “eh,” despite my best attempts. More interestingly, I’ve come to the mild conclusion that Canada embodies, in some ways, a better, more holistic vision of Western culture and capitalism than the United States. More to the point, I now think Canada is the relatively happy step-sister to the United States, which is riddled with Ritalin, war, and religion. By no means is life in Canada utopian (as many of my left-leaning friends in the States would like to think), but, in speaking with people here, I’ve learned that, while American complaints and anxieties are real and very massive, Canadian counterparts are real and more minor.
I probably need to give an example, and a personal one would be best. Living in New York, even before 9/11, I was constantly worried about random gun violence, trains falling off the track, car accidents, nuclear terrorism, environmental degradation, and potential loss of healthcare. Don’t get me wrong; living in New York for 11 years was phenomenal in every sense of the word. I wouldn’t have given it up for anything. But there wasn’t a day that went by in which one of these worries didn’t enter my consciousness and some days, sadly, all of them would coalesce to battle out a win for keeping me up at night. I sought help and got it and there’s no doubt that my own internal and wired neuroses traveled on the same airplane to Canada as I did.
However, the rapidity of these worries, while still extant, is much less pronounced. I’ll occasionally get a tinge of anxiety about personal income, terrorism, financial collapse, poor road conditions, or some other lovely thing but the intensity just isn’t there. I can only attribute this, in some part, to environmental effects. Canada, or the place I live in Canada, has modified my complaints. Weakend them, in fact.

In TO.

We visited Toronto this past weekend. We had a great time, mostly seeing old friends and seeing a few sites. I had a few thoughts on the city that I thought I might get off my hairy chest:

  • People in the Canadian West, including Winnipeg, put down Torontonians for their surliness. I found that there was some truth to this among the few shop owners we visited and among the citizens we ran into. But the reality is that Toronto is a big city and is getting bigger. People in large cities are typically less warm and friendly and thoughtful because they either can’t afford to be, they don’t know how to be, or they’re afraid to be so.
  • Toronto is diverse. I’ve read, somewhere, that the city is the most diverse city in North America and/or The World. I somewhat believe it.
  • The city is relatively expensive. It ain’t Brooklyn, by any stretch, as we could probably still afford a small house within one of the city’s neighborhoods. But I give it just a few years and real estate will be as affordable to most Canadians as Brooklyn is to most Americans.
  • It’s seedy. My wife disagrees (and so does my Toronto-born friend R.B.), but I think the city has a bit of an edge to it that places like, well, much of Brooklyn, lacks. There was a definitely a feeling, in many parts of the city, that you had to kind of watch your back. Not every second, but every few seconds.
  • Marketing works. Here in Winnipeg, advertising is relatively minimal; there aren’t billboards everywhere, busses often market government (rather than commercial) services, and it’s all rather residential. Buildings are pretty low to the ground, not allowing for huge adverts for clothing, cars and travel. The highways stretch for miles and aren’t central to the city. And, in Winnipeg, people are frugal and notoriously stubborn buyers. Not so, in Toronto. Ads are everywhere—along all stretches of building, road, highway, and byway. And it works. In Toronto, I wanted to spend more. I could feel the urge to empty my wallet and I more easily noticed all of the niceties of modern urban existence, from better cars to newer phones to nicer clothes. (Then again, it could have been I was on vacation.)
  • Winnipeg is pretty fricking far from Toronto. Man, it’s far. 2.5 hours by plane. Sure, we’re in neighboring provinces. Sure, there are lots of familial and cultural connections between the two cities. But, let’s face, I live far, far away from Toronto: 941 miles or 1514 kilometers, or approximately the same distance from here to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Snow Boarding.

A few days ago, my five year old daughter told me that she was snowboarding at school with her friend I. I told her that was neat. I know that she and her friends take their sleds (called toboggans in Canada, I learned the hard way*) up a small hill, built by a parent equipped with a light-duty snow pusher, and then slide down. How would she possibly know about snowboarding, an exercise in craziness where adults slide down hills standing up?
Apparently, I. was shown how by a friend of hers how to snowboard on kids’ toboggans and then I. showed my daughter how to do it. Today, at a hill near her future school, Maeve stood up on her plastic purple toboggan, put her feet perpendicular to the path, shuffled herself forward, grabbed the rope at the front and slid down the hill, balancing herself all the way until the end when she fell and, on cue, laughed! I literally could not believe me eyes. She was snowboarding, comfortably, balanced on her tobaggan, straight down the hill. No fear. One year ago, this was not possible. Six months ago, this was not possible. It was beautiful.
* A few years ago, upon my initial intro to Canadian culture with my friend M.M., I was shown a tobaggan chute in a Winnipeg park where every kid in the area tobaggans. I was amazed because, in the States, a tobaggan chute is generally the property of competitive bobsledders, who speed down hills at 75 miles per hour without brakes on their sleds. In my naivite, I asked M.M. “Have you ever tobogganed?”

It Feels Like -53.

But the actual temperature in Winnipeg right now is actually -33 F.
In the past year and a half, I don’t remember it being this cold here. My laptop, made of alumnium, is freezing. And the walls are actually bleeding cold right now. Don’t get me wrong: the house is warm. But everything without blood is not.

The Hour.

There are not a lot of US-based shows I miss in Canada these days and the ones I like are typically broadcast here on PBS affiliate stations. But there are a few Canadian television shows that I’ve been really enjoying of late, including one especially, The Hour, a CBC news/talk show. The show, hosted by none other than a semi-fit/semi-pudgy guy (just like me) named George Stroumboulopoulos (not to be confused with George Stephanopoulos), is a one-hour-long riff on politics, entertainment, grotesqueries and general news with a generally liberal slant that feels uniquely Canadian.
Geared toward the 20- and 30-somethings throughout Canada, recent guests are one or two cuts above the usual hoi poloi shedding panties and whatnot. Mr. Stroumboulopoulos has interviewed Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens, the moustacioed head of the Canadian NDP (Jack Layton), and even Deepak Chopra. Unlike US-based shows like that of Jon Stewart, Stroumboulopoulos’ is eager and unironic and often sarcastic with a strong focus on the bizarre but not, importantly, the inane. Interestingly to me, the show somewhat represents the very best features of Canadian identity that I’ve experienced—humble but knowledgable, optimistic but insecure, humorous but realistic.
I don’t know how well this “alt news” show is doing, though I read that it was struggling a few months ago. I wish it very well.
Postscript: Macleans had a good piece about Stroumboulopoulos and his savior-like status at the CBC. Of note, in terms of audience, “the highest proportion are aged 35 to 49,” a demographic I strongly and happily fit.