the little things part 2

Things that are interesting about Canada… this woman is dancing with a dog.

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the little things

Things that are hard about Canada … a 6 pack of watery American beer costs $12.

Things that rock about Canada … dark chocolate KitKats.  

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Little Known Fact

The buses in Toronto have a special exit for noseless bearded men (or Black Bloc G20 protesters).

They also have a special exit for Sarah Jessica Parker.

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Happy Canada Day!

It’s the July fourth of the north! This nation, as we know it, was born 143 years ago today (the dolomite anniversary for those of you keeping track).

Queen Elizabeth touched down in Halifax, NS, on Monday – recapitating Canada with its head of state for the time being. At this writing, ceremonies are just getting underway at Parliament Hill. Her Majesty shall address the crowd. I predict she will be wearing a hat, and that she will do a fine job of pretending to enjoy a live performance by Barenaked Ladies.

There to greet the Queen when she arrived this week was her representative in Canada, Governor General Michaelle Jean. There’s no equivalent to this position in the states. As Canada is still part of the British Commonwealth, the Governor General is essentially Her Majesty’s mini-me. She signs off on all legislation passed by either house of Parliament. She presides over the swearing in of Parliamentary ministers, including the Prime Minister. The PM has to ask her permission before shutting down the government (as Stephen Harper did back in December). Still, like the Monarchy itself, the position is mostly ceremonial. And even though some Parliamentary machinations are technically subject to the GG’s approval, the Prime Minister plays a big role in the GG’s appointment. That is, the PM, and only the PM, advises the Queen on who might make a good royal avatar. Also, the PM can request that the GG visit other countries on Canada’s, and the Queen’s, behalf – all of which lends a conspiratorial hue to the events leading up to this particular Canada Day. Continue reading

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Canada Dry

I’m not sure why I thought abstaining from booze my second month in a different country was a good idea. Possibly because my extremities were frequently going numb. Still, it’s June. I’m new here. People invite you out when you’re new. Especially in June. They ply you with drinks and try to figure out why the hell you moved to Canada from America. I’ve been to a wedding, three dinner parties, five performances in bars and a birthday fete at which the Prosecco flowed like bong water. There was even free beer and wine at the G20 media center. Each occasion, I drank soda, or juice. They say abstinence makes the heart grow fonder (except they usually use fewer syllables in the word “abstinence”). They are right. All I want, night in and night out, is a glass of white wine as cold, and as large, as Nunavut.

There is an upside, though. I now know that all of the things I hate about myself are not a result of my drinking. Sauce or no sauce, I’m a loud, boorish, self-obsessed, twitchy sugar addict who stays up all hours of the night accomplishing very little. Also, going teetotal has allowed me to fully experience the mild culture shock that moving to Canada can bring. What’s unsettling is that I’ve somehow cycled back to the very spot I was in 16 years ago: living outside the U.S., obsessing about an ex-girlfriend, and sober. Yes, I lived in Indonesia then, and didn’t drink because I was an overly moralistic douche-bag. But to age that much and change so little… I’m like a reverse Dorian Gray.

There’s actually not much to be culture-shocked about, living in Toronto. Like everyone says, the differences are subtle enough to lull you into a sense of familiarity – until suddenly, and ever so gently Continue reading

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When “Man on the Street” Interviews Go Terribly, Terribly Wrong. (Or, A Plea for Positivity.)

In the wake of this past weekend’s craziness in Toronto, here’s something of an alternate view.

A little background first — last Sunday, I was working on a story about the overall costs of the G8 and G20 summits (more than 1 billion CND) and I thought I should gather some vox pop (aka “man on the street” interviews). So I stood out near the busy commercial corner of Yonge and Dundas Streets in Toronto. A few folks stopped to talk. No one said anything particularly dramatic or surprising. But then this one girl walked up, maybe 22 years old, with all sorts of festival passes dangling around her neck, nightclub ink stamps on her hand. Had I realized how drunk she was, I wouldn’t have stopped her. And I certainly wouldn’t have loaned her my cell phone. Needless to say, she didn’t wind up in the story. But I thought I’d post our little interaction here for your listening pleasure.

You might not be able to hear the first little bit. So, to be clear, I explained what I was doing and he told me she needed to use somebody’s cell phone, after which she’d answer whatever questions I had. Anyway, here’s the clip.

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Toward the End of Month Two.

Friday, June 25

Our trolley was stopped at a traffic light on far Queen Street East when a surly bald man on the sidewalk flashed us the rock-and-roll devil horns. Then he held up today’s paper as if to say, “Can you believe this shit?”

“G20,” he told the streetcar, “Queen’s Park. Come and yell at ‘em.” No one paid attention.

Queen’s Park North is supposed to be the “Designated Speech Area” for protesters of the G20 summit tomorrow. It wasn’t that folks on the streetcar actively ignored the guy. It was more that they couldn’t even hear the words G20 anymore. Like any phrase repeated to often, it had just lost its meaning and nobody could find it in themselves to give a crap. I imagine that dude stood sentry there all evening, saying the same small phrases to each passing train – like a hot dog vendor at a ballgame, except he was selling outrage.

I picked quite a moment to move to this city. Between the World Cup and the G20 economic summit, Toronto has gone temporarily insane. They’re kind of akin, these two confluences. Both involve throngs of loud nutsos taking to the streets with bullhorns. Both have stepped up visible police presence here by an order of magnitude. Both bring disparate nations together on the same playing field to kick the ball around, struggling toward some outcome.

A little geography: I live in Corso Italia, fairly far north and west of downtown. It’s the most authentic Little Italy I’ve ever seen (and heard – more Italian is spoken on the street than English). Toronto is diverse like other cities only claim they are. For the most part, everybody seems to blend together in the same cauldron here. But there are certainly enclaves and my new ‘hood is one of them. “Corso,” if I’m not wrong, means “street.” “Course.” More and more, though, the main drag (St. Clair West) has become (unofficially) Rua Portuguese. So when Portugal kicked Korea’s ass 7-0 on Monday, the whole area exploded in a riot of colors, car horns and cheap plastic whistles. We’re talking throngs of Portugal supporters, most of them wearing soccer jerseys and shorts. Some folks draped themselves in the national flag like a war heroes in a rock-and-roll opera about war heroes. One young guy yelled, “I love my country!” in a way, I realized, that I have never yelled. It was a flash carnival. Hot dog and ice cream vendors jumped on the opportunity to make what I’m sure was a lot of very quick money.

The noise, and fierce happiness, was one thing. The stamina was another. At some point the whole party seemed to get much more official, by which I mean that short, steel barricades went up at the end of my street: steel barricades governed by weirdly serene cops. Under their helmets, and mustaches, the police were all smiles. They must have drawn lots back at the station and won the “thrilled to be Portuguese” World Cup beat instead of the “fuck you pig” G20 beat. In any case, the celebration lasted – I’m not exaggerating – about thirteen hours. The game had ended that morning. I intersected with the street mob at about 1:30 PM, as I headed out to record a Marketplace commentator who couldn’t make it into the CBC downtown. When I got back two hours later, nothing had waned. At 8:00 PM I went out and took these pictures. At 11:00 PM when I stepped outside for a cigarette, I could still hear the horns in the distance.

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Raison d’être

By way of introduction, we thought we’d write an “open IM chat” (as opposed to an open letter), both to hash out the big ideas behind this blog and to let you get to know us better. We kind of went on a bit. Turns out we had a lot more to say than we realized. Anyway, welcome to So Close and Yet So Far. Drop by whenever you’d like. We leave our doors unlocked in Canada. (In no way is that last sentence true.)

*                  *                  *

Sean: Bon jour, monsieur.

Shea: Bon jour!

Sean: How’s things?

Shea: Merde… I had my volume way up on the monitors. You startled the crap out of me. But otherwise, I’m good.

Sean: Wait… you heard me typing?

Shea: Nope. Just the “beep” of a new message.

Sean: Ah.

Shea: Then some guy just walked up behind me in my office and made me exclaim, “Shit!” … I think I need to drink fewer cafe au laits.

Sean: Possibly. Whereas I need to drink more of them. Still climbing out of the Monday grog swamp. So… maybe we should introduce ourselves.

Shea: Bon idée! I’m Shea Shackelford, and I recently moved to from Washington DC to Montréal to be with my gal.

Sean: I’m Sean Cole and I recently moved from Boston to Toronto to… well, for lots of reasons.

Shea: Primarily because you’re obsessed with Canada?

Sean: Yeah that’s a good start. I’m a reporter for public radio (in the states) and for a long time now I’ve been wanting to do more stories about Canada for American radio. ‘Cause, broadly speaking, I think Canada is important, and fascinating, and downright gorgeous, and I think it’s too often ignored by my country-folks. And when it’s not ignored, it’s ridiculed.

Shea: I’d agree with that… though I’d also offer that it’s often idealized/idolized by others in the US, too. And I guess the point is that this is all about people not understanding what Canada’s really like (or what Canadians are like… or the Quebecois … though that’s sort of another issue).

Sean: You’re absolutely right. The points, I think, are

a) Americans have a lot of misconceptions about Canada and

b) there are a lot of things Americans don’t know about Canada. And wouldn’t know unless they lived here. It’s a kind of specific experience. And, frankly, there isn’t any useful document or map for navigating your way here as an expat. There are forums but they’re more for one-off questions. i.e. “How do I forward my mail?” Which, it turns out, is one of the easiest parts of the move.

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