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September 14, 2008

Aging North America

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Bloggers don't have an infinite store of information and thoughts to use for post grist. Much of what we write comes in the form of pointing out or reacting to stimuli from the world around us.

All of which is to say that, since I'm in Canada this week, that's my main stimulus and I run a real risk of opening up another can of Canadian comments.

But no "eh?" jokes here. No siree. That's because we're in Québec and I can't pick through all that French well enough to determine if an "eh" sound is an "eh" or actually an "é".


By chance, last year we were in southeastern Virginia where they were celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement. Here, they're celebrating the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Québec.

Sometimes we forget how old Eurpean settlement in North America is. Well, we West Coasters can. French Canada lasted 150 years before the British took over. It was about 155 years for Massachusetts from Plymouth Rock to Bunker Hill. Tidewater Virginia was just over 170 years to the Declaration of Independence.

That's about six generation, folks.



posted by Donald at September 14, 2008


Not just West Coasters; it's even easy for us here in Ontario to forget how old European settlement in North America is, since settlement didn't really begin here in earnest till the time of the Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, in the 1770s / 1780s. And it was a shock to realize how much "older" New York state, next door, is, in terms of European settlement, when I lived for a year there, near Albany and Schenectady; the old part of town in Schenectady dates back to the late 1660s, when the Dutch arrived, and the narrow, cobblestone streets of that neighbourhood are reminiscent of the old part of Quebec City; very European in flavour.

But yes, the further west, the later history begins; it's even stranger in Canada's far north, where, for example, in Yellowknife, the oldest buildings date back no further than the 1930s...

Posted by: Will S. on September 14, 2008 8:02 AM

I take it that most Americans are preponderantly descended from people who arrived within the last 170 years or so? Eh?

Posted by: dearieme on September 14, 2008 10:16 AM

Almost all of the French-Canadians I know are descendants of the the original 10,000. Which is not quite as restrictive a group as the Mayflower folks, but still...most of the FCs I've met are descendants of that group. Which is cool.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 14, 2008 1:20 PM

When we lived in NZ, a couple next door from Maine said that they felt NZ was so-o-o young. (Mind you, it's not just being more recent, it's probably also the fear that the earthquakes will demolish anything substantial that you build.)

Posted by: dearieme on September 14, 2008 1:50 PM

Politically, the ongoing experiment in indirect democratic representative government (sorry about that mouthful, but I don't know any other way to put it) is much older in the United States than it is in Europe.

Can't say whether the same can be said of Canada 'cause all I know about Canada is that it is America's hat. ;^)

Posted by: ricpic on September 14, 2008 8:39 PM

It's odd how Americans seem to pride themselves on not knowing anything about Canada. I can understand them not knowing anything about Canada, but the smug self-congratulation they exhibit about their ignorance is really quite off-putting. Self-congratulatory philistinism about any subject is off-putting, I guess. I expected more from the generally curious and intellectually wide-ranging readers of this blog.

As I said, not knowing anything isn't the issue. Americans don't need to know anything about Canada, and they don't need to pay any more attention to Canada than they do. But the puffed up self-love about not-knowing...that's a disappointment, at least in regards to the Americans who post comments here.

What's with the pride in ignorance? Not the ignorance, but the pride in it? Or are you just being rude?

Posted by: PatrickH on September 15, 2008 7:52 AM

So, PatrickH, you confirm what I said before, about an average American blogger/commenter knowing less - on average, again - about Canada than Canadian blogger/commenter about America? In a roundabout, indirect way - but now you seem to agree with that part? Leaving aside accusations of ignorance, etc - you agree with that simple fact?

I want you to say - yes, Tatyana, my non-Slavic Russian-speaking American friend, you were right. And my indignation, name-calling and denial

Admit it.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 15, 2008 11:51 AM

Tatyana, my non-Slavic Russian-speaking American friend, when did I ever say otherwise? I had many a disagreement with you, but I cannot recall, my dear sweet combative friend, ever disagreeing with you about that specific point.

Did I? I'm at work right now (not enough time today to do any thinking about America!), but I would be glad to admit "it", if you can point to any statement I made disagreeing with what you stated above.

"Admit it." Oh, I love it when you talk to me like that!


Posted by: PatrickH on September 15, 2008 12:50 PM

In your comment of Sept.12, 9:44
you reacted to my simply stating this fact by accusing me of "truculence and defensiveness"
You took my observation to be "the useless, gratuitous digs that sooner or later [I] inject into even the most polite discussion".

It's as if you were talking while looking at yourself in the mirror.

But of course, you will not apologize. It was silly of me to expect a smidgen of good manners.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 15, 2008 2:05 PM

That's about six generation, folks.

That's . . . that's not very much, actually -- it's more a reminder of how young European settlement in America is, rather than how old. By way of contrast, my grandfather was the 39th generation of his family by lineal descent -- 6 generations is nothing. To paraphrase the old romance, empires wax and wane, states coalesce and cleave asunder, but our families are older than any of them. These political establishments are nothing but ephemera.

Posted by: Taeyoung on September 15, 2008 2:46 PM

Most Americans are deliberately ignorant about Canada and Canadians because they suspect that if they picked up the Canadian rock they'd find the same collection of venomous America hating snakes under it that they found when they picked up the European rock...rightly so, I'd say.

Posted by: ricpic on September 15, 2008 4:23 PM

"the ongoing experiment in indirect democratic representative government much older in the United States than it is in Europe". Except for Britain and the Netherlands, I suppose; Switzerland, perhaps; the Italian cities in their great period; the Hanse cities?

Posted by: dearieme on September 15, 2008 5:34 PM

ricpic, I suspect that Americans are ignorant of Canada because they don't need not to be. Canada gets just as much coverage on the American news as it deserves. Its political system, parties, scandals, etc. are as well understood by Americans as they need to be: that is, not at all. I really must emphasize this point: I'm not put off by American ignorance of Canada, a country that is largely irrelevant to America's welfare, whose dependence on the US is near total, and whose culture is worth studying only in a few tiny tiny tiny little wee nano-niches.

That's not my problem. It's the tone of the kind of statement you made, to give just one example, about your own ignorance of Canada, when you announced gratuitously, with a kind of smug self-congratulation, that all you know about Canada is that it's America's hat. (I've heard know, cold, dark, dusty, nobody ever goes up there, etc etc etc). You seem generally to be a curious, well-read, culturally hyperaware individual. I don't imagine you would be proud of your ignorance of almost anything else on Earth (even, God forbid, Peruvian knitting wools).

And yet, out of nowhere, you announce with a pat on your own back that you know nothing about something. As if you deserve a star or a medal or an affectionate ruffle of your hair for the absence of something from your thoughts.

That's what puzzles me.

And ricpic, I don't think Americans are "deliberately ignorant" of Canada. They are unconsciously ignorant of Canada, something I understand quite well. If I were you, I'd be ignorant of me too, except that if you were me, I'd be more interesting!

It's just the smug tone. That's all. Why the smugness?

Posted by: PatrickH on September 15, 2008 6:04 PM

Dear Tatyana, for whom I feel ever burgeoning affection and warmth, I don't think I did ever disagree with your point about American bloggers knowing less about Canada than Canadian bloggers knowing about the US. In fact, I think I agreed with you on that point.

My accusations of "needless truculence" were not made in response to that point. In any case, they were unjustified, since your truculence is not "needless" but is rather part of who you are. I say this knowing that combativeness, truculence and quarrelsomeness are part of who I am too. I wish I had not made those accusations in that tone. And I am glad you are still talking to me.

I hope your omelette was tastily complex, your negligee was exquisitely negligee-ish, and since then life has continued to be good to you.

But before I there anything else you insist that I admit? I really do like it when you talk to me like that. "Admit it." Mmmm. I mean it. It thrills me.

I've always liked dominant women.


Posted by: PatrickH on September 15, 2008 6:23 PM

Hey Pat, maybe, just maybe I was making a joke. Admittedly not much of a joke but why did you fail to pick up on the hint: the smiley face after the last period?

My true take on Canadians, for what it's worth, is that they lack spice. I'm sure there are exceptions but for the mostpart their bland niceness is maddening. And no, I know they're not nice. Who's nice? It's the bloody pretence that gets my goat. Canadians are even worse than our midwesterners in that respect.

Posted by: ricpic on September 15, 2008 7:18 PM

ricpic, I respect you far too much to single you out in this regard. So I certainly won't continue the subject. You are far more interesting (I mean you, ricpic) than Canada, Canadians and Canadianness. Lurking behind my prickliness is something that I actually am afraid is true of Canada. Canada is not boring. Boredom builds up know, you're at a party, someone comes up and starts going on about first you're moderately interested...he keeps going on...his name is realize you're bored.

Canada is different. Canada actively REPELS attention. I mean the way that somebody, maybe at the same party, who approaches, instantly causes you to want to be somewhere else. The kind of person who's an energy vampire. Not a bore, but someone whom your immune system (intellectual/emotional in this case) recognizes as somehow inimical to your life force, and which screams at you within seconds of encountering this person, this vampire, this void, this nothing, to get away for gods sake run away you're dying get away its killing you run run run

Canada, I think, is like that. Or can be. Somehow not just boring, but actively enervating, exhausting, wearying, deadening, even to contemplate. There's something entropic about Canada, just like your old Aunt Aggie that no one could stand listening to for more than ten seconds, even Jehovah's Witnesses on the doorstep...

That's the way Canada can be boring. The way anti-matter is opposed to matter, Canada is to life and laughter and interest and fun and feeling and energy.

Canada is not a boring country, like Switzerland. It's not even a non-country, like Belgium. It is an anti-country. A kind of big black hole. That's why you're ignorant of it. You know that your survival as a thinking feeling doing being requires that you think about Canada as little as you can.

In this case, ignorance isn't bliss. It's self-preservation.

There. I've held that inside for so many years! I'm free! I can say it! I hate my own country! I hate my fucking non anti nothing vampire black hole of a country-void! I hate Canada!


So I forgive you your ignorance, ricpic. I wish I shared it.


P.S. Every word of this comment is genuine, and the sentiments expressed herein are indeed those of the commenter. In other words, I'm not f*cking kidding.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 15, 2008 8:03 PM

Why, Patrick?

Posted by: Will S. on September 15, 2008 8:51 PM

I was wrong.
It's not espresso.
Not even a triple espresso.

Without sending the text samples to my friend who works in sanatorium for, let us say, nervous people, I can't say exactly what kind, or rather what combo of meds PatrickH is on.

Luckily, I only know nice Canadians. I pay, they smile and serve me. Everybody happy.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 15, 2008 9:47 PM

I'm not on any meds, Tatyana. That's the problem.

I don't actually hate Canada, Will S. I just feel like I do. Maybe the Trudeaupian parts. There's a part of me that's aware of the truth of dougjnn's comment that we're followers, that we somehow missed the ball when it comes to being a real true country. The film critic John Simon called Canada a tragic country, and in a certain way it is.

So in terms of my country I have a love/hate pride/shame relationship with her. Feel one thing, then my mood shifts. I'm volatile that way. Not particularly Canadian in some respects. Maybe some meds would help--I have been somewhat bipolar lately.

(I'm actually serious about the meds. I've been off Effexor for about two weeks now, and man I am feeling very sensitive and intensely emotional. Wonder if that's a side effect of stopping the meds. Hoo boy. Tat's not going to comment on this comment, but I'll bet you US dollars to Canadian doughnuts that she'll bring it up in some future rage-fest a year or three from now.)

P.S. I still like you Tatyana, but you didn't answer my point about our disagreement. If you weren't already married, I'd propose to you. Maybe I'll propose anyway. As I said...volatile.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 15, 2008 11:51 PM

Patrick, I hear ya, man. I have much the same love-hate relationship; I think most Canadians who aren't either (a) card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool Grits or NDPers or Greens (thus loving Canada uncritically, equating it with progressivism) or (b) on the other side, neo-con rightist bloggers (who usually end up outright hating Canada, and wishing they lived in the States; e.g. Kathy Shaidle), have a love-hate, mixed-feelings relationship with Canada. Certainly, as a non-neocon, old-school-Red-Tory type, that's how I feel. I'm just more inclined to not air my frustrations with my country publicly, lest people confuse me with the likes of Ms. Shaidle. But hey, it's a free country, still, somewhat, so, whatever. Hope you can get along without those meds, if possible. Cheers! :)

Posted by: Will S. on September 16, 2008 2:30 AM

Thanks Will. I think everybody hopes I can get along without the meds too. :-)

Canada has so much potential. Hence the love. It's done so little with it. Hence the hate.

Yep. That's it.

Cheers to you too, Will.


Posted by: PatrickH on September 16, 2008 8:26 AM

I was going to comment, PatrickH, but I think I'd tested Donald's patience almost to the limit now, so I'd better stay on topic. You can leave a comment at my place (I will see the email address), and I'll reply directly.
One thing I want to say here, though - it didn't occur to me you might be genuinely ill; I shouldn't have joked about it. My apologies.

Now, back to old vs. new cities/countries.
I had a chance to live in a city that is 750 yo, and in a city that was 10 years younger than me - and I was 12 at the time. I could recall happy times and miserable times in both. In some sense, it's not the place, it's how you deal with it. The source of your happiness is inside you, not outside. What LotharBot said in his comment (#9), here.

Compare this picture to this. Same city, same photographer. This is how I, too, feel about Lvov: my soul-city, my love, my embarassment, my pain and my heart's wound. It's much clearer, though, from the distance, both chronological and geographical.

In some sense, living in a bland country must be exciting: you can do anything you want out of it! Load of negativity doesn't weigh it down, you can't see rusty blood stains in the cracks of her oldest buildings, it's a clean canvas. And if I to choose between outright hostility and pretend politeness,I'll take the latetr.
Actually, I did.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 16, 2008 10:45 AM

it didn't occur to me you might be genuinely ill; I shouldn't have joked about it. My apologies.

Tatyana, you are really this sweetheart underneath the gruff. I'm not "ill". I'm just crazy. There's a difference. The Effexor was (I believe in retrospect) beneficial because it restored a balance to the serotonin system of my brain that gross overruse of Ecstacy had damaged badly. (E is a much more dangerous drug if abused than cocaine, in my opinion). My extremes of emotion the last two weeks have been as much me experiencing the normal ups and downs of feeling and living, but with all the skill and experience of someone who has not allowed himself to do precisely that for decades, what with alcohol, drugs, and now Effexor. I am "clean", really clean, for the first time in decades. Wide open to the world, inside and out.

Hence the moods. :-)

Besides, whatever my many problems are, they're not bad enough to justify the word "illness". I'm just a little odd, is all. So I will thank you for your apology, but I will not accept it, as it is not necessary.

I will apologize to you, though. I really like you because I am convinced you are this gentle soul, even if a very passionate one. I should not have reacted so strongly to your words, and withdraw all and any implications of personal fault I ascribed to you. The fact is, I don't really get you (or women in general), and I should remember that when I start running my big fat Irish mouth at the cosmos.

Keep blathering, Paddy boy, and someone's gonna tell you to stuff the blarney and go to sleep. I am sorry I responded so harshly to you earlier. Thank you for continuing to talk to me.

Fascinating links to the posts. The "sinister" one (at CBoyz) appears to have been taken on a cold winter day, grey-skied, at around the changing of the light. That is a bleak time; very few places seem warm or comforting then. I am sure you have experienced the cold that can settle into you as you rush home in the dying light at around 4PM in January in a northern climate. That light together with that cold can be truly deeply oppressive. That is a soul-cold, not just a cold that burns your skin and makes your face ache. It gets inside you. The fact that the snow and ice are usually dirty brown, not white and glittery at all, can really deprive a landscape in the North of any power to cheer.

And yes, Tatyana, you and Lotharbot are right. The source of happiness is inside you. I think my own frustrations with Canada come from my sense that it is a nation of the timid. A nation that puts "compromise" at the heart of its values is a nation that is hard to be proud of. I'm not sure it's even really a nation at all.

So...Lvov. Those pictures made me sigh. I realize I know nothing about the Ukraine (or whatever part of that area the city truly belongs to). It's so European! I know that's a ridiculous thing to say, but it looks to me as if it could be in Austria, or Germany or Holland. No doubt details that would indicate its true home are there ready to the discerning eye. But my eye says simply, "Europe". And "go there". And "women! I love European women1"

I envy your time there, but not perhaps all of that time (or even most of it). Only that you have memories of Lvov. Canada doesn't have enough history. Lvov perhaps has too much.


Posted by: PatrickH on September 16, 2008 3:18 PM

I see my second link didn't register.

Here, by the same photographer, posted today - but dated 1993.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 16, 2008 5:06 PM

Now that was gloomy indeed.

Amazing how dirty winter is, and how depressing winter dirt can be, isn't it?

Posted by: PatrickH on September 16, 2008 6:27 PM

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