Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy in Canada


It is snowing in Edmonton. In mid-April. I’m walking by the old Macdonald Hotel overlooking the river and am seized by a bone-deep happiness. In spite of (or maybe because of) a Spring snow in Canada, I am unaccountably, unabashedly, unreservedly happy. As if I’m precisely the person I was meant to be standing in precisely the spot I was meant to stand looking at the glass pyramid across the way as if it was beyond any heaven I ever dreamed of. Or rather, precisely the heaven I’ve always dreamed of, as if returning to the Home of all homes. We plan and hope for happiness, but this is how it comes— unexpectedly, surprisingly, on the wings of snow flurries in April.

I have been in Edmonton before and maybe it’s because it was one of the first places I traveled to teach an Orff workshop in the mid-80’s that there’s some buried memory of that freshness and freedom of being out in the world sharing what I loved with people happy to receive it. I can feel the years drop off, taste that feeling in the air, touch the joy of being footloose, free to both follow my fancy and offer it to the world.

Many years before, Canada was the first “foreign” country I ever visited. In the summer of 1963, my father, mother, sister and I (and our French poodle Impy) set off in a car to drive from New Jersey to the city of Toronto to combine vacation with my father’s business. We drove north through New York State, through the Catskills and beyond on winding, wooded roads.  I remember a visit to the Corning Glass Factory, watching the movie Niagara (Joseph Cotton, Marilyn Monroe) one night in a small motel and then going on to the actual Niagara Falls the next day, of which I mostly remember Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and a boat ride on the Maid of the Mist.

Then we arrived in Toronto and met the McNabb family who hosted our visit. While my father attended to work, the rest of us took a trip to the Casa Loma, the former estate of Sir Henry Pellatt, a prominent Toronto financier, industrialist and military man. (In the late 1920’s, there was a house band there called Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra that played hot jazz for dancing.) My mother was driving behind our host’s car and worried that she might lose sight of the car, asked me to memorize the license plate number. For some mysterious reason that some neuroscientist or gypsy fortuneteller might someday illuminate, I still remember that number to this day. B23-882. Ask me next time you see me.

I also remember taking a walk in a Botanical Garden and holding hands with a girl close to my age named Lizzie. At 12 years old, I believe this was my case of puppy love. (Lizzie, if you’re out there, let’s get back in touch!) Four years later, I went to Montreal with my Aunt Flo to Expo 67 and what with the French language and teenager’s independence, this was even more exciting. I sometimes split up from my Aunt and went off to surreptitiously smoke a few cigarettes, think my philosophically emerging 16-year-old thoughts and wonder if Lizzie was there. (She wasn’t.)

Some 35 years later, I was back in Montreal teaching a workshop and went to the Expo site. Pigeons roosted in Calder’s sculpture, but Habitat was still there and it was inhabited. The American Pavilion biosphere was now the site of a museum, the French pavilion a casino. The paths once filled with bustling crowds, still bright-eyed about the promised wonders of the future, were now dotted with occasional bikers, roller bladders, tourists like me, taking a stroll through the park. Red-winged blackbirds sang where once crowds hummed. I marveled, as we often do back in places we once visited, about all the years that had passed, all that had happened in the world, in my life, all the Expo predictions that never came true, all of them that did, all my own predictions that hadn’t come true and all that surpassed my wildest expectations. 

And if I remember correctly, I believe I was happy. 

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