As you are undoubtedly aware, 2017 is the 150th anniversary of something to do with Canada. I am a bit vague on this because it’s actually not easy to figure out what happened 150 years ago that we’re celebrating.
It’s not the discovery of Canada, because the concept of discovery is of course a European conceit that depends on ignoring the obvious fact that there were people here when Europeans arrived – and anyway, Europeans have been in Canada for much more than 150 years (and you thought the folks who said they were visiting for the weekend and stayed a few extra days were a pain). It could be 150 years since Confederation but the whole country wasn’t actually part of Confederation in 1867– in fact most of the country wasn’t, so why would those folks who weren’t in at the time be celebrating?
On top of all that, these celebrations inevitably lead to the question of what makes Canadians Canadian? This is a vexing existential question (and let me be frank here I have no idea what ‘existential’ means but it does have the word ‘exist’ in it and that’s an important word, and it also has the word ‘stent’ in it and a stent is a medical type thing so make what you will of all that).
I think one of the big things that makes us unique as Canadians is the fact that we require English and French labels (or if you prefer French and English labels) on all our products. That’s actually a pretty big deal. You don’t see that sort of labelling in many other countries. When I was a kid I used to count the number of words in English and in French it took to say what seemed to be the same thing on a box of cereal – and I learned that dehoxytribiflavinoid is actually the same in both languages – who knew.
So it with some trepidation, this 150th year of something to do with Canada, that I have to inform you that the bedrock notion of bilingual labelling is being challenged. And that challenge is coming from an unlikely but important and culturally vital source – fortune cookies.
Let me explain. A while ago I was out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant and at the end of the meal I received my fortune cookie. I opened the cookie and read my fortune. These fortunes are relatively benign, although a few years ago my fortune was “You would make a good lawyer” and I have been trying to live up to that cookie ever since. This cookie had some bland statement – ‘You will meet your true love on Arbour Day’ or something like that – and of course on the flip side, it had the same thing but in French.
But, and here’s the important thing, on the bottom of the cookie were my seven lucky numbers (all fortune cookies have lucky numbers and if you’re interested in how all this came to be I can recommend a book called the Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer Lee). I don’t recall my seven lucky numbers but I do know that when I turned my fortune cookie over and looked on the French side there were seven different numbers. Yes, different numbers!!! How can that be? How can my fortune be the same in French and English (or English and French) but my lucky numbers be different? And why are the numbers different. Because they’re numbers, you don’t have translate them to anything. Do Francophones have different lucky number than Anglophones? I don’t want to overreact but I think we need a Royal Commission on this topic – and nothing brings Canadians together more than a Royal Commission.
This brings me then of course to Gordon’s Acoustic Living Room. That fine band of whom I represent 1/10 of the total collective membership. How does the band relate to 150 years of something to do with Canada and the puzzle of the fortune cookie’s lucky numbers (I think that was that title of a Hardy Boys Mystery, or maybe Nancy Drew)? I don’t know how it relates. Just like I don’t know what we’re celebrating 150 years of. And also just like I don’t know why the lucky numbers are different on the French and English (or English and French) sides of fortune cookies. I guess there are some things that you should just enjoy and not think too much about.
And if you would like to enjoy GALR, we will be at the Free Times Café (College just west of Spadina) on Sunday, March 19. The show starts at 8 pm and in celebration of 150 years of who knows what, there will be no cover.
Hope to see you there.
P.S. If you like difficult, existential questions, here is, for me, the toughest question of all – ‘Why are there still bagpipes?’
|March 19th Set List:|
|Set #1:||Set #2:|
I Like It
Hank Williams Tonight
World Worth Waiting For
Whiskey In The Jar
Down Where The Drunkards Roll
Tell Me Ma
For What It’s Worth
C’est La Vie
Dirty Old Town
Song For A Winter’s Night
Tracks Of My Tears
If I Could Only Win
Star Of The County Down
Down In Belize
Light Of Day
I Shall Be Released
Higher And Higher
Every Time You Walk Into The Room