photo by swisscan on flickr
I stepped off the airplane and followed the signs, in French and English, the way they do things in Canada. The hallway fed into a giant empty room, thick with winding amusement-park railings full of nobody, the booths at the far end staffed with Valkyries, or bored Customs agents, or trolls — who could say? A stamp and I was through. Canada. I was here.
“Your speedometer’s in kilometers first, then miles smaller,” I told Ryan as his car pulled us through normal-looking streets. I could see why everything filmed in Toronto; it looked like any other American city, what with its traffic lights, sidewalks, and correctly-shaped humans. “That means that somewhere, in some factory, there are American versions of cars being made, and Canadian versions of cars being made.”
“The placard is integral to the frame of the car,” he nodded. “The whole chassis has to be re-tooled to fit the appropriate placard.” He put on his turn signal. It sounded like an American turn signal — but was it?
To most Americans, Canada is a concept. It’s a punchline, a hockey-loving moose-preserve with free health care and an infestation of the French. Anyone who professed a desire to “move to Canada” around some election or other clearly saw it only as non-America, as a place defined by its not being someplace else.
“Did you ever hear of the Walkterton scandal?” Ryan asked. It is news that did not make it to America, so busy are we with our own problems.
“No,” I said, and suddenly I realized we were flying.
Ryan moved the steering wheel and the car banked, dipping sharply into the air and describing a large arc across wide-open sky. Before us were the buildings of the downtown core, and beyond that, the twinkle of Lake Ontario; the CN Tower jutted into the sky like a syringe full of nourishing, bagged milk.
It was astonishing. It was beautiful. It was the glimmer of scales falling from my wide American eyes.
“There is so much we don’t know about Canada,” I gasped, and Ryan laughed.
“Sometimes,” he smiled, reaching into the back seat and handing me a brilliant red maple leaf, shot through with veins and shocking and surprising and real — “sometimes, we like it that way.”