Saturday, January 14, 2017

Yes, we ARE Canadian!

In these times of divisive political strife, resentment against the Machiavellian machinations of the monster soon to become U. S. President, and other things that are just a plain drag, man, my mind attempts to turn to other things.

Like chocolate bars.

The kind YOU guys don't have.

Never has it been more important for Canadians to cleave to a national identity. Almost by definition, a Canadian is "not an American": Robertson Davies once famously wrote, "Historically, a Canadian is an American who rejected the Revolution."

This either makes us a bunch of lily-livered cowards who don't know how to blow a redcoat's head off with a big musket, or - different.

We didn't so much run away from the Revolution as get up and walk until we found a good place to settle. No bloodshed, no battles or wars. Boring as hell, is Canadian history, but I'm proud of it.

"They think we live in a bunch of igloos," my husband rather bitterly said the other day, speaking of the genius executives who tried to make a go of Target stores across this country and failed utterly. Meaning, they had no idea at all of the spending habits of Canadians, and decided they would just take American spending habits (or what they saw as American spending habits) and ram them down our throats.

No thanks. Store by store, the Targets fell down (like. . . targets?), and, shockingly quickly, the company had to admit defeat and withdraw at a gigantic loss. They had misfired because they had misread the habits of the Canadian population so drastically.

Americans think we're funny, with moose wandering down the street (actually, that DOES happen sometimes), winter all year long, beavers in the back yard, saying "eh?" and "aboot" all the time (which, yes, does happen a lot). They think that instead of policemen, we have Mounties in red coats who ride horses. Well. . . sometimes they do, on ceremonial occasions, but the rest of the time they just look like cops.

But there are a few central facts Americans don't know, very simple ones that might help them understand what we are about.

Canada is only 150 years old. It's a young country, much younger than yours, Bucko! So it has had way less time to establish an identity. It has approximately 1/10 the population of the States, spread out over the second-largest land mass of any country in the world. (Only Russia is larger.) Meaning, there are concentrated blobs of population in a few key areas, with almost nothing in between.

This, too, affects our identity. 

We don't have states. We have ten provinces, plus the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut. That all sounds very Northern, doesn't it. Plus our flag has a leaf on it and has only two colours. (And by the way, we only got our flag in 1965! Before that we used the British Union Jack and the hideous Red Ensign.) 

Our history is incredibly dull. Virtually no bloodshed, except that Quebecois stuff which has now died down to a dull roar. Quebec hasn't separated officially, but emotionally and spiritually it's a nation unto itself. So within our Little Big Country, we have ANOTHER Little Big Country with a culture all its own.

One thing, a party trick I like to do with Americans (after I've shown them our loonies and toonies and see-through plastic money) is tell them, "You know, I've never seen a gun."

"What? You mean you don't own any."

"No. I've never seen one. Ever. In my life. In fact, I don't know anyone - have never known anyone who has. Oh, except one. A cop."

Does that sound lame, America? Does that sound un-colourful? (Note the "u" which lingers in colourful, along with certain other words which have retained their British spelling.) Don't underestimate us.

You've never had our chocolate bars. 

And they are the finest in all the world.

We don't have "candy bars", by the way, just like we don't have "soda". It's POP, for your information. These things matter to us.

The chart at the beginning of this post pictures OUR chocolate bars, proudly Canadian, and many of which are now "vintage" (no longer made). Seeing this was like Proust's madeleine moment, when biting into a tiny cake released a flood of memory:

"But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."

(Caption: How do you like your coffee? 


You like your coffee crisp? 

I like my Coffee Crisp!)

I was going to do a roundup or review of all these chocolate bars, one at a time, but there are so many of them. When I look at them now I feel simply overwhelmed. When you see or hear something you haven't even thought about for decades, it gives you a weird feeling. This is a phenomenon closely tied to the internet, social media, and nostalgia sites, which I haunt, dredging for meaning in the past and present.

Somebody will post a picture of something, and I'll think, my God, my God. . .I didn't think anybody else in the world remembered that! 

The most unusual of these was Neilson Treasures, which was really a mini-box of chocolates within a bar. No kidding, all sorts of different centres (note the spelling!): Turkish delight, bordeaux, chocolate, caramel, strawberry cream, and nougat. We had Sweet Marie, which was - well - yes, sort of like O Henry, but different somehow. Nicer name, for one thing. And Smarties: DON'T compare these to those waxy, tasteless M & Ms, please, because they are totally different, with a crunchy sugar shell and a milk chocolate melt factor that makes them ultra-superior.

Mackintosh's Toffee (good Canadian name, with a plaid wrapper) came in a bar, but you whacked it on something, kind of like Bonomo's Turkish Taffy, and it fractured into little pieces that warmed in your mouth, becoming deliciously chewy. I still buy this, but in wrapped kisses that have to be kept in the fridge. These have enough real butter in them that they won't keep for very long.

It's hard for me to believe that Americans don't have Aero and Caramilk and Coffee Crisp, but who knows? (The spelling of Aero might be changed to Arrow.) Crunchie has sponge toffee in it, but do Americans know what that is? Do they have it? The original recipe calls for boiling up a sugar syrup, throwing in some baking soda, running out in the back yard and jamming the pot into a snowdrift. Sounds like a Canadian thing to me.

Only some of these treats are obsolete. I had half a Crunchie with my coffee tonight. Half, because the bar is just too whacking BIG to eat in one sitting. Did the taste of it make me go all Proustian and madeleine-ish?

Not really, but I felt a certain melancholy. I keep thinking of that Joni Mitchell song about the fiddle and the drum, and the way she refers to "America, my friend". I don't hate Americans, but I am NOT friends with what is happening, because it seems evil. And I don't see how anyone can call that stupid, misogynistic jackass they elected "the answer" to anything. 

I just hope you guys, you know, survive the next four years, and for God's sake DON'T re-elect him. And don't try to come to Canada. You won't be able to. We have a strict immigration policy, you know?

I'll bet you didn't. 

50 gifts Canadians gave to the world!

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