Three months, 90-odd days and 52 cities spent crammed in a white ’97 Chevy Lumina inspecting small and large cities like micro-organisms sprawled across a petri dish placed under a microscope. I was ready to pack up my bags and move to places like New York City, a city of sleepless nights, or Chicago , to be close to the kings of deep dish pizza or San Francisco where the ocean seeps into your pores and nasal membrane making you feeling wholeheartedly mortal. Australia, the country of my birth, is all those things, but my traveling heart wanted experiences to enrich my life. I envisioned New York as city where I could evolve into crime reporter living in one of those bantam apartments with miscellaneous plants strewn across the make believe eighth-floor window ledge. I considered all these things could happen in any American city. These were all post-travel depressive thoughts I couldn’t shake.
The year abroad, though, lead me to you.
It was the third week of January. We stopped in Ottawa for the night, driving west from Montreal after days spent in Boston and New York. Foreigners on slippery snowy roads drive like beginners and are painstakingly slow but, working in threes, are good with maps. She was wearing a yellow shirt and had a cute grin; I was in jeans a striped brown and white shirt wishing January in the Northern Hemisphere wasn’t so icy. After a dance, a drink and a drunk kiss the night ended and so began the emails.
Detroit, Chicago, St Louis: “Hey, just catching up on emails. Detroit looks like every Lethal Weapon chase scene: boarded up homes and cars turned over! Wow. What’s new”, I’d say. Kansas, Denver, Aspen. And she’d say “I baked some cookies this weekend. And I listened to that band you recommended. Nice! Good luck in Vegas if you ever get there. Double down!” Reno, Salt Lake City, San Francisco. Then I’d say, “San Fran is cool! Alcatraz tomorrow. How’s your soccer team going?” Las Vegas, New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale. And she’d say “You’ve certainly covered a lot of places. Hope the weather is warmer in Florida.”
From all across America, notes zipped around to and from Canada. I digress: I often liken things to relationships. America is hardened and is the fun one-night stand that leaves you empty in the morning longing for something more. Australia is exotic and laid back and has something for everyone. And you, Canada, you are a long-term relationship: treasured, admired and comforting.
I never saw myself as a cold climate guy, or a guy that would choose to live overseas leaving his home country behind, but for all the cold months here in Canada, there are warm ones too. For the first time in my life I actually realized there are four seasons in one calendar year and not two: hot and cold.
It took years to unveil your complex layers, oh Canada. That’s all part of the excitement of getting to know one another when things are fresh and new. I shaved off the coating of your bustling downtown cores, littered with enormous skyscrapers and hole in the wall coffee vendors, nervous at how unfamiliar and small it made me feel. I admired your over politeness as apposed to under politeness or mediocre politeness. I respected how into your music scenes you are and how patriotic you are without being chest thumpers.
You made me think: those pesky little ticket item things I yearned for about places like New City or Boston, could exist in the heart of other cities too, such as Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Halifax. You made me realize the things my parents told me, “Always take a sweater with you in case the weather turns”, still ring true.
But for everything I adored there was a fleeting moment of longing. I adored your fresh water lakes but longed for Australia’s vast beaches of true beauty. I adored your Canadiana terms like “give’r”, “two-four” and “Newfie” but after some time I longed to say slang terms such as “fair dinkum” and not have to explain what it all means. I adored your coffee to-go culture, the no-messing-around approach to coffee culture, but longed for the European style cafes that allow you to sit down and digest flavourful coffee beans.
People say it’s the people that truly elevates a city into greatness. People here in Canada are kind and generous. They’re hard workers. They love sport. My now wife, Robyn, was one of the first people I met in Canada during a Guns N’ Roses tribute concert. We made fun of their absurd costumes and their inability to pull off what it was they were trying to do. That’s when I knew we’d be friends for life. And that’s what brought me to Canada.
I never saw it coming but I’m glad it materialized, oh Canada.
Justin Robertson is a feature writer and has been published in The Walrus, National Post and Globe and Mail. Follow him on Twitter @justinjourno
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