One of my goals for Carmen’s visit, quite apart from the meta-goal, was to give her as much of a taste of Canada as I could. But Canada is a very big place, and I had to settle for modest goals. Besides, Carmen wasn’t showing a lot of interest in traveling and exploring; maybe the whole thing was just overwhelming. She seemed to be more interested in my household appliances and keeping the townhouse sparkling.
Still, I am proud of my country and if Carmen is to know me, she also needs to know where I come from, just as I need to know more about her. And into the bargain, traveling with someone is often a real test of the relationship. Marlene and I had our differences, but we were excellent traveling companions. Marlene didn’t always share the same goals in our travels – I liked history, monuments and churches; she like beaches and pools. But she appreciated that since I did all the planning and she was beneficiary of that effort, she would go along with me, though there was a limit to how many cathedrals and grave yards she would tolerate. I did learn to accept that I was too ambitious in my daily expeditions and that stopping for the day by about 4:00 pm to enjoy our hotel was not a bad thing. The change in routine and roles brought the best out in both of us. So, I wanted to find out how Carmen and I traveled together.
And truth be told, I’m sure I was comparing the present Carmen with the phantom Emily. Emily was foreign but had become a Canadian Citizen and a lover of this land. I wondered how we would have traveled together. I asked her where in the world she would like to visit; her answer surprised me: Yukon! When I asked Carmen the same question it was a more satisfying answer: London.
Carmen had no sense of the vastness of this country, and knew little about it. When I asked Carmen what she would like to see of Canada I got only an empty, ‘I don’t know, you decide.’ She had heard of Vancouver. She had a cousin in Chicago and wondered how far that was from Ottawa. She didn’t know about Niagara Falls – I thought everyone had heard of that, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. I realized then that Carmen would be content with a gradual introduction to Canada, perhaps limit ourselves to Southern Ontario. And we could start with Ottawa, Capital of Canada.
So I served as Carmen’s travel guide of Ottawa, both its geography and its history, starting with the Tulip Festival in May with its hundreds of thousands of colourful blossoms, the gift of the Queen of Holland for Canada’s efforts in liberating The Netherlands, and protecting her children during the Second World War; I showed her something of the Rideau Canal along Lansdowne Park and Dows Lake and The Hogs Back Falls; and white trilliums in the spring woods, Ontario’s emblematic flower; a boat tour of the Ottawa River including a look up at the Rideau Falls which, I explained to her, was called Rideau by Samuel de Champlain because it forms a curtain (rideau) as it falls >10 meters into the Ottawa River below. She found the tour of the Governor General’s Residence (Rideau Hall) most impressive, for its parklike splendor and accessibility – Malacañang Palace is out of bounds in Manila.
We ventured further afield as the summer passed: Peterborough, my place of birth. Carmen was respectful of my need to visit Little Lake Cemetery, possibly the most beautiful cemetery in Ontario, but also the final resting place of my parents, though buried in different places with their own parents, and in my mothers’ case her grandparents too. We also paid our respects to Marlene’s parents buried not far away near the banks of the Otonabee River. Carmen remarked how this was a very different sort of burial ground from what was normally found in The Philippines.
Markham, to visit eldest daughter Shannon and her family, who politely and appropriately welcomed Carmen to Canada, and cautiously welcomed her as my partner. For decorum we stayed in a hotel.
Waterloo, partly for business as I had a coaching client there, partly for a sense of Southern Ontario. We visited the Mennonite territory of St Jacobs where Carmen carried on a merciless negotiation with a vendor of handbags at the famous Farmers Market. We visited my brother-in-law and reminisced about Marlene.
We carried on to Niagara to see grapes and the gorge, Fort George and General Brock’s Monument, the American and the Great Horseshow Falls, the kitsch of the Town of Niagara Falls. Carmen seemed most impressed that on the other side of the gorge, a mere 200 meters away, was America. Such is the impact of America in the rest of the developing world. For my part this was a trip along memory lane – remembering my mother and I climbing the staircase inside the Brock Monument (235 steps) in ~1962, and also misremembering it – it didn’t seem to be in the right place somehow, and bigger. We did a short winetasting tour of some of the vintners in Niagara, and like Marlene, this was not one of Carmen’s interests. We took a side trip to Thorold to see some of the locks in the Welland Canal, and then to Welland itself to show Carmen where I went to high school (WHVS – go Tigers), but it is no longer there. My triumphs on the football field and the cinder track now buried in an empty lot. We drove past the classic old French provincial house the Jordan family had occupied for four years – it was then at least 50 years old and now, 50+ years on, I was pleased to see it was in reasonably good shape. But my mood had turned decidedly doleful: I knew it unlikely I would ever pass this way again.
Kingston was another blast to my past, this time reliving my years at Queen’s University. We were there to introduce granddaughter Madelyn to this grand old institution as a possible landing for her post-secondary school studies. She was amused at my story of waiting for her grandmother to get off shift from KGH where she worked as a nurse on Paeds 1; we parked on the street where I had parked many an 11-pm, waiting for Marlene to make an appearance. Shannon was moved, Madelyn was interested in other things, Carmen was quiet. As she might be.
Carmen’s first experience of Canada would of course not be complete without an introduction to the Fall Colours. I had told her about this phenomenon to prepare her and as the leaves began to turn she expressed more amazement than at anything else she had yet experienced. She collected bright red and orange maple leaves, and yellow birch, on our evening walks with Bonnie, took pictures of them and sent them to family and friends in Philippines to share her amazement. She asked me why this happened and why some trees (spruce and pine) didn’t turn colour. Out trip to Kingston in late September was especially memorable for this reason. When we went to Upper Canada Village a few weeks later to take in the Halloween Festival the colours were already turning to brown and dropping. UCV is one of my favourite places and anyone with imagination for history can tele-transport themselves back 200 years to an earlier time. I’m not sure Carmen quite appreciated the Canadian pioneer replication as I do (the three-course festive dinner at the Hotel was pretty plain), but she did appreciate the festival of lights, spooky Jack-o-Lanterns and spectres, Ichabod Crane incongruously mixed with Chewbacca; 5-year old grandson Miles held her hand and 7-year old Victor kept an eye out for me.
We never made it to Montreal nor Quebec City. Maybe next time.
Carmen’s education of Canada though was made complete with her introduction to Canadian Football. Football in the Philippines is of course soccer. She had no sense of ‘American Football’ but she was a quick study of Canadian Football, complete with the bus rides to the ball park, the pregame meal at my favourite local pub (Patty’s), the politely depressed Ottawa fans. She liked the stadium, she liked the big crowds, she liked the players, though wondered why many of them were black. Surprisingly she caught on quickly to the essence of the game: blocking, tackling, running, passing, catching and kicking; three ‘downs’ to make a ‘first down’ (ten yards or more) and a new set of ‘downs’; and if you didn’t you should punt the ball; or if close enough to the opponents end zone, you could try for a field goal; and of course the ‘touchdown’ (why is it called a touchdown?). She had trouble with the choice of convert (kick for 1 point from the 35, or cross the goal line from the 5 yard line for 2 points); she didn’t question the ‘rouge’ and I never had to explain the Safety Touch. Overall I was quite impressed; she was quicker than many of the Canadianwomen I had recently dated. She hadn’t nearly the insight that Marlene had, but Marlene had 50 years of exposure, having started learning about football when I played in high school.
For the most part Carmen absorbed all this Canadiana in relative quiet. The only thing she was loud about was cheering for the white team when they made a big play. She never quite accepted that the home team (Ottawa RedBlacks) always wore black and it was the visiting team wearing the white jerseys. She had a natural preference for white. Besides, she’d say, your team are losers! And she was right. Ottawa went 3 and 15 that year and got worse and worse as the year went by.
I guess I can’t question her judgment on that score.