Posts filed under “Travel”

LET’S VISIT CANADA.

Part 9.—What to See in Ontario.

Ontario is Canada’s most populous province, although, as with Quebec, we must remember that the “populous” part is crammed into an area about the size of New Jersey, leaving an area about the size of China to the wandering moose.

The main thing to see in Ontario is Niagara Falls, which was cleverly created by God (a notorious Canada-sympathizer) to suck U. S. tourists across the border to buy souvenir keychains. The thing about Niagara Falls is that you can hear it from New York, but you can really see it only from Ontario. Millions of tourists who say they have been to Canada have never stepped outside the part of Niagara Falls devoted to the themed-indoor-miniature-golf industry.

That is a pity, because if they stepped even a few yards out of that zone, they would discover that much of the rest of the Niagara peninsula is filled with memorials (such as the Brock Monument, above) to Canada’s glorious victory in the War of 1812. Now, every American schoolchild knows that the War of 1812 was really a glorious victory for the United States, in the sense that we did not actually lose anything other than human lives and the city of Washington, which are both expendable; but the polite visitor will refrain from disillusioning his Canadian neighbors. A drive along the border will open the tourist’s eyes to the remarkable number of fortifications that were erected for the purpose of keeping out Yankee invaders. Most of them have now been repurposed as souvenir-keychain emporia.

Toronto is the greatest metropolis in Canada, notable especially for its streetcars. Seven cities in North America never entirely abandoned streetcars (the others being Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New Orleans, and San Francisco); in Toronto’s case it was thanks largely to one stubborn transit official, who wielded such power in his domain that he could resist the diesel tide that overwhelmed other municipal transit systems. This is a strong argument in favor of the feudal system. Toronto is also the home of the CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere (sorry, New York), which is placed so as to give the Toronto skyline the look of a Star Trek matte painting.

Ottawa is the capital of Canada, and is therefore most notable as the best place to see majestic herds of members of Parliament in their native environment. Be sure to stop in and say hello to the Governor General, dropping off any hats you may wish to forward to Queen Elizabeth. The Governor General will of course present you with a challenge to prove your sincerity, which is why you brought those xylophone mallets.

The Thousand Islands are severely undercounted.

 

THE WAY WE LIVE NOW.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons user BenFrantzDale. GNU Free Documentation License.

An interesting observation on the changes wrought by the last quarter-century:

Consider the photographs of Reversing Falls in our recent article on New Brunswick. If you look closely, you may notice a bit of reflection, especially in the last picture (reproduced above), suggesting that the photographer was inside a building.

What building was it? you might ask yourself. Dr. Boli asked himself that question. It has been some years since he was in Saint John; he recognized the vantage point immediately, but could not remember the building.

How would you have answered that question in 1990? You might have gone to the central library, if you lived in a large city, and enlisted the help of a reference librarian, who might (if you were lucky and your library was unusually well stocked) have found you a map and a telephone directory of Saint John; if you had been extraordinarily clever, you might have been able to find the approximate address on the map, and then somehow, with a number of lucky deductions, found that address in the directory. How long would that take?

Streetcar and bus to library: 45 minutes
Conversation with librarian: 15 minutes
Poring over map: 5 minutes
Trying to find a specific address in the Saint John telephone directory: several hours

Thinking realistically, would you have done all that just to find the answer to your question? Almost certainly not; you would have left the question unanswered, reasoning that your idle curiosity was not worth a whole afternoon of work.

Let us leap forward now to the futuristic world of 2015. You ask yourself the same question. You call up a map of Saint John on Google Maps. You find the building in the satellite view. You plunk yourself in front of it in Street View. You see that it is a sushi restaurant called Boaz West. Time elapsed: less than a minute.

We often hear that the Internet is making profound changes in the way we deal with information, but because the changes are incremental, we seldom pause to think of them. Here is an opportunity to pause and think and ask ourselves what it all means.

LET’S VISIT CANADA.

The Château Frontenac, Quebec City, by Bernard Gagnon (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Part 8.—What to See in Quebec.

Quebec is not exactly like anything else in the world. It is not exactly a province; where other Canadian provinces have provincial parliaments, Quebec has an Assemblée nationale, a National Assembly. Yet it is not exactly a nation, since it is part of the federation of Canada. Yet it is not exactly part of the federation of Canada, since it has never accepted large parts of the Canadian constitution, which it regards as foisted on Quebec against its will; and, furthermore, under the doctrine Gérin-Lajoie, Quebec asserts the right to make treaties with foreign powers independently of the rest of Canada. Yet its citizens, in referenda, have repeatedly rejected attempts to separate Quebec from the Canadian confederation. It is therefore probably safest to describe Quebec as a state of mind.

Since so much of the politics of Quebec involves stamping out English in public and paranoid ranting about the various threats to la Francophonie posed by encroaching Anglophonism, the U. S. tourist will probably assume that the Québécois would be universally hostile to Americans who cannot speak French, and will spend months honing his conversational-French skills before heading for Montreal. And then he will find it impossible to use them. Every Francophone Québécois will instantly recognize him as a tourist from south of the border and insist on speaking to him in perfect English. In every shop, restaurant, hotel, subway entrance, gas station, or tourist attraction, he will attempt to start a conversation in French, only to have it instantly diverted to English by the smiling and polite Québécois. One suspects it is some sort of national joke.

Montreal is the great metropolis of Quebec, and the greatest French-speaking city outside Metropolitan France. It is also the only Francophone city in the world with an American baseball team, so it is really the only place to go if you have always cherished a secret fantasy of shouting at an umpire in French. It has subways and commuter trains and crowds and appalling traffic and everything else you want from a great metropolis. If you wish you could visit Paris but can’t stand the sight of the Eiffel Tower, Montreal is the place for you. La Ville Souterraine, the Underground City, is the world’s largest underground complex, which makes it the perfect destination for a tourist who wishes to visit an entire city without setting foot in the grubby outdoors. Indeed, Montreal is perhaps the only city in North America made of equal parts old-world charm and dystopian science fiction.

Quebec, the provincial capital, is the only European walled city in North America north of Mexico; it looks a bit like the cover art for an alternate-history fantasy novel. The Citadelle, a star fort in the middle of the city, is officially a residence of the Queen of Canada, but no one ever sees her taking out the trash, and rumor has it that she may not live there at all.

The Hôtel de Glace is a hotel made of ice outside Quebec City. Every winter it is painstakingly rebuilt over the frozen corpses of last year’s guests.

Saguenay is the home of the Ha! Ha! Pyramid (Pyramide des Ha! Ha!), a jolly and whimsical memorial to the most destructive flood in Canadian history.

The rest of Quebec is made of tundra and French-speaking moose and mosquitoes big enough to be mistaken for musk oxen. About 5% of Quebec is civilized; the rest tends to show up on maps with engravings of dragons instead of railroads and highways.

Tourists who drive should note that stop signs in Quebec usually say “ARRÊT.” That is especially confusing to drivers from France, where stop signs say “STOP.”

LET’S VISIT CANADA.

Saint John, the great metropolis of New Brunswick.

Part 7.—What to See in New Brunswick.

New Brunswick, or le Nouveau-Brunswick, is Canada’s only officially bilingual province, with Acadian French speakers making up about a third of the population. Many U. S. visitors are surprised to learn that; they would have guessed that Quebec was bilingual, but in fact Quebec has been officially French-only since 1969 and thinks its English-speaking residents should go stick their heads in properly sized individual buckets of water. Like everything else of purely local interest, the bilingual status of New Brunswick is enshrined in the Canadian constitution, which also specifies the dimensions of the buckets of water in which Anglophone Quebecers are to stick their heads.

New Brunswick was founded as a refuge for American loyalists who fled the new United States after the Revolutionary War. The founders meant to show those rebels a thing or two by setting up a colony that would be “the envy of the American states”; and indeed, at its current rate of growth, the population of New Brunswick may soon surpass the population of greater Dayton. Mission accomplished.

The most important attraction in New Brunswick is Magnetic Hill, one of earth’s most mysterious places. At Magnetic Hill, just outside the city of Moncton, you stop your car at the top of the hill and put the transmission in neutral, and then the car rolls down the hill by itself as if attracted by a mysterious invisible force. At the bottom of the hill is a large souvenir-keychain emporium.

Fueled by the souvenir-keychain industry, Moncton has become the largest metropolitan area in New Brunswick. But there is nothing to see in Moncton except miles of keychain factories and the gleaming new glass-walled headquarters buildings of the international keychain conglomerates, so we move on to the real city in New Brunswick.

Saint John, until recently the largest metropolis of New Brunswick, is home to Reversing Falls, a fascinating phenomenon in which the raging rapids on the Saint John River actually change their direction of flow. The moment of transition is tremendously exciting, as you can see from this series of photographs:

Inbound Flow.

Transition.

Outbound Flow.

Photos by Wikimedia Commons user BenFrantzDale. GNU Free Documentation License.

Saint John was also the place where the great Henry Burr was discovered, and anyone who, like Dr. Boli, still has a large collection of acoustical phonograph records will wish to make a pilgrimage to the Imperial Theatre to pay homage.

Fredericton is the provincial capital, which makes it the place to go if you want to see a bilingual provincial parliament at work. It is not as entertaining as it sounds.

The Bay of Fundy, which separates New Brunswick from Nova Scotia, is famous for having the highest tides in the world. Tourists love to clamber among the Rocks at Hopewell Cape when the tide is out. Then the tide comes in and sweeps them all away, and their mangled corpses are picked up on Cape Cod beaches some weeks later.

Northwestern New Brunswick is an Acadian stronghold, and possibly the only place in Canada where a tourist will not be able to converse with the locals in ordinary English. The surprising number of monolingual Francophones may make it necessary to shout very loudly, which is of course always the key to making oneself understood to people who speak no English.

LET’S VISIT CANADA.

Part 6.—What to See in Prince Edward Island.

Prince Edward Island, the 104th-largest island in the world, is the smallest of Canada’s provinces. It is known to history as the birthplace of Canadian confederation, but fiction trumps history by reminding us that the island was also the location of Anne of Green Gables, which is all anybody cares about.

The population of Prince Edward Island is about 140,000, which puts it slightly below Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) but a little above Homosassa Springs (Florida). This is the winter population, however; in the summer, the population is swollen to several times that figure by masses of Anne of Green Gables fans who swarm to the island to buy souvenir keychains featuring their favorite characters from the book.

Aside from the annual stampede of Anne of Green Gables fandom, the primary attraction of Prince Edward Island is red sand. Parks Canada spends millions of loonies every spring dyeing the sand on the beaches in preparation for summer vacation season. Unless there are large storms or international Anne of Green Gables cosplay conventions, the dye job usually lasts well into the autumn; but by spring the beaches are dull buff-colored again. Casual vacationers seldom think how much effort goes into creating a unique aesthetic environment for their amusement.

Prince Edward Island is also known for the world’s most concentrated collection of octagonal wooden church steeples, and you may make of that what you will.

The island is now linked to mainland New Brunswick by a bridge, which in Dr. Boli’s opinion counts as cheating. If Dr. Boli had to get there by boat, then you young whippersnappers with your horseless carriages should have to take a ferry as well. Yes, Dr. Boli is aware that the bridge was allowed to assume the duties of a steam ferry by a constitutional amendment, but this is just one of many ways in which the Canadian constitution is a sloppy affair.

LET’S VISIT CANADA.

Part 4.—What to See in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Newfoundland and Labrador is Canada’s most recent province. It was an independent dominion for a while, but bungled independence so thoroughly that it had to be repossessed by the British government. It did not join Canada until 1949, and even then was not too sure about it.

The capital is St. John’s, which is the oldest city in North America if you discount certain other older cities. St. John’s is a vibrant cultural hub with endless opportunities for entertainment; for example, right now, the entire city is obsessed with a pine warbler.

At the very northern end of Newfoundland is L’Anse aux Meadows, famous as the site of the only thoroughly investigated Viking settlement in North America. You can still see the nutshells and Swedish Fish wrappers left behind by the settlers.

Along the coast of Newfoundland are many picturesque fishing villages, where you can watch the locals engaging in the quaint local tradition of not fishing, celebrated since the collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery in the late twentieth century.

Labrador is home to Churchill Falls, which at one time was known as one of the most spectacular sights in North America. It was decided, however, that it could be more useful than ornamental; and since the Churchill River was redirected for power generation, the waterfall looks like this:

Quebec has never recognized the border with Labrador as it is currently drawn, and since the alternative border makes Labrador a thin ribbon extending one English mile inland from the high-tide mark (see the map above), you may be able to see Québécois troops massing across the border if you visit Labrador City. What fun!

LET’S VISIT CANADA.

Photograph by W. Lloyd MacKenzie, via Flickr @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/saffron_blaze/

Part 3.—Canadian Government.

Canada is a federation consisting of nine provinces, three territories, and Quebec, which is an alternate universe in which Montcalm defeated Wolfe. The form of government is a parliamentary democracy, which lasts exactly as long as Queen Elizabeth is in an indulgent mood.

The Head of State is the Queen of Canada, Elizabeth II. She is also Head of State of each of the individual provinces, so she has quite a bit of state-heading to do. Of course, Elizabeth is also Queen of a large number of other countries, which spreads her a bit thin. Canada is actually the largest of her dominions, but we must remember that most of Canada is useless. Approximately 87.2% of the population lives within a hundred miles of the U. S. border; the rest of the country is populated mostly by moose.

The Queen is represented in Canada by a Governor General, whose job is to open sessions of parliament and make sure the Queen gets the hats people send her.

Because Canada is not within easy commuting distance of her house, Queen Elizabeth tends not to pay very much attention to it, which allows Canadian politicians to play at running the country uninterrupted for years at a time. Every once in a while, the Queen notices Canada and squashes its parliament with her parliament-squashing mallet. Then the whole government has to be started over from scratch.

The capital of Canada is Ottawa, a tiny trading post picked by Queen Victoria as a joke. Her deadpan delivery caused her Canadian subjects to take her seriously, however, and they dutifully commenced filling the backwoods trading post with great Gothic stone palaces fit for a queen. Today Ottawa remains a backwoods trading post with Gothic palaces, in tribute to Canada’s beloved Queen Victoria, the Mother of Confederation.

Until recently, the Canadian government was elected by the people to represent their interests. In common with other capitalist democracies, however, Canada has moved to a system in which the government is elected by large corporations to protect themselves from the people.

Visitors to Canada are encouraged to enjoy Canadian government as a spectator sport, but discouraged from participating directly.

LET’S VISIT CANADA.

Political Map of Canada

Part 2.—Entrance Requirements.

Technically, Canada is not the same country as the United States, so if you are a U. S. citizen, you will need to meet certain requirements in order to cross the border:

1. Make sure you have a passport. This is not a Canadian requirement; Canadians generally trust U. S. citizens, and would be happy to let them into the country with a smile and a wave. The United States, however, believes that U. S. citizens are probably terrorists unless they can prove otherwise. You will thus need a passport to get back into the United States, or you will be forced to join the thousands of stateless Americans in the refugee camp for U. S. citizens who forgot their passports, which is currently located on Baffin Island.

2. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Canadians are notoriously courteous and hospitable, and no one wants that kind of thing brought back into the United States.

3. Bring a pair of xylophone mallets, for obvious reasons.

4. Did you remember a hat for Queen Elizabeth?

5. To avoid difficulty at the border when re-entering the United States. make sure your skin is not of an unpatriotically dark hue. Also be sure not to profess any obviously anti-American beliefs, such as Islam, Hinduism, Episcopalianism, or global warming.

Note that, if you are a Canadian citizen, there is a high statistical probability that you are already in Canada. It is advisable to check before making further plans to enter the country.

LET’S VISIT CANADA.

Political Map of Canada

Part 1.—What to Bring with You.

When planning a visit to our friendly neighbor to the north, you will make your trip much more enjoyable if you stock up on a few essential supplies before you leave.

Money. Canada’s economy is based on a modification of the capitalist system, in which a socialist paradise for Canadian citizens is funded by selling souvenir keychains to American tourists. You should also be aware that Canadians use cartoon money—bills in bright colors and dollar coins called loonies. You will feel much better having real American money in your pocket.

Comfortable clothes. Except in the large cities, Canadians disapprove of uncomfortable clothes.

A curling iron, in case you wish to participate in the Canadian national sport of curling.

A pair of xylophone mallets. You will understand when you get there.

A nice gift for Queen Elizabeth. The Governor General will make sure it gets to her. She likes hats.

Snowshoes. They will give the border guards a good laugh.

Weather. Especially in the winter, most of Canada’s weather escapes across the border to the United States, creating a serious and at times worrying weather deficit in Canada. Canadians will be glad to have some of their weather returned, and may even buy it back from you at inflated prices.

Bacon. Canadian “bacon” is a completely unsatisfactory bacon substitute. Real American bacon can often be used as currency when purchasing souvenir keychains from the bacon-deprived natives.

THANKSGIVING AROUND THE WORLD.

harvest-by-vrancx

The American holiday we call Thanksgiving has equivalents all around the world, reflecting the natural human desire to express gratitude to a higher power by means of selfish overindulgence.

In Merry England, the ancient Saxons used to celebrate Thanksgiving every year by sacrificing an investment banker to Thor.

In Quebec, Thanksgiving is known as “Le Jour de l’Action de grâce,” in keeping with the provincial government’s policy of assuring the dominance of the French language through sheer multiplication of words.

The Kirk of Scotland long ago banned all expressions of thanksgiving for earthly goods, on the grounds that God intends us to be miserable.

In antipodean South Africa, the Thanksgiving turkey is served upside-down, with the stuffing on the outside.

In North Korea, every day is Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s and Arbor Day and Easter and your birthday.

In China, on the People’s Day of Gratitude, the citizens come together and think of something nice to give the General Secretary. Usually it’s a necktie.