London Letter

London Letter

Reflections from around the world

BEVERLEY BAXTER December 20 1958
London Letter

London Letter

Reflections from around the world

BEVERLEY BAXTER December 20 1958

London Letter

Reflections from around the world


Your peregrinating correspondent has returned to his London abode —an event which was greeted with a deep calm by the inhabitants of the world’s greatest metropolis. It was a grey, misty day and the first impression was that a coat of paint would have done no harm to old Gotham-on-Thames.

By this time I should have become accustomed to long flights in the air but on the journey from Montreal to London Airport the wund gods were in a turbulent mood, and there was such a crunching and dipping as made sleep an elusive companion.

At this point I should no doubt declare that somewhere between the aerodrome and St. John’s Wood the spell of London fell upon me. But that would.not be true. London is not merely a metropolis but a state of mind. Spiritually, mentally and physically the returning pilgrim has to wait until he has been absorbed into the cosmic mass and become once more a part of it.

Not even our garden, when we reached home, exerted its usual spell. The great pear tree had died its annual death and the lawn was covered with stricken leaves.

Our world tour had come to an end. The vibrant internationalism of Hong Kong, the lush beauty of Honolulu, the brooding materialism of Japan, the squalor of Karachi, the allure of Bangkok and, above all, the enchantment of Formosa, were already fading into mere memories. The grey mistress of London-on-Thames was declaring that there must be no other love than hers — and even that would be on terms of the utmost respectability.

Perhaps it was just as well that in our transplanting from the mystic East to the realistic West we visited Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. And who is there foolish enough to say that there is no variety in Canadian life? Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal have almost nothing in common except in language—and even in the sphere of speed Montreal has the immense attraction of bilingualism.

If Vancouver does not quite attain the beauty of San Francisco it has a personality entirely its own. The tides of the sea are a wondrous thing which cannot be challenged even by the restrained romanticism of Lake Ontario. What is more the mountain lakes are only a few miles away from Vancouver with all their cold beauty, to say nothing of their sharp outbursts of ill-temper. Richard Wagner had just such a setting in mind when he wrote that greatest of all tragic operas, Tristan and Isolde.

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Even on the golf course in Vancouver one would not he surprised to see Wotan or any of the other Wagnerian gods carrying a bag ot clubs. I here is a mysticism that exerts its influence, especially on the greens. Never have I missed so many putts that seemed certain to drop into the hole.

Yet there is a restlessness about Vancouver which is strangely at variance with its traditional atmosphere of sunssonci. One of my strongest impressions was of fleets of ears, looking like painted destroyers, incessantly rushing to get away from the centre of the city or to get into it. Everyone seemed to be in a great hurry but I must say that the driving was skillful. It was only on the golf links that one found a real sense of leisure—especially among the foursome just ahead of us.

No one can deny that the cocktail party is a pleasant diversion and that it is a ritual much honored in Vancouver. But if I may mention Wagner for the last time 1 had a feeling that not even in the ride of the Valkyrie is there anything more impressive than the volume of sound at a Vancouver cocktail party as it reaches its climax. It only needed Sir Thomas Beecham to conduct it and the effect would have been complete.

The happiest memory of our visit to Vancouver was one that paradoxically was tinged with sadness. It was when we visited the Children’s Village Hospital which was opened a short time back by Princess Margaret and bears her name — the culmination of Dr. Hatfield's dream. The selfless dedication of nurses and doctors is something that humbles and inspires the human spirit.

Here were youngsters who would normally be playing in the sunshine, now spending the long day and the longer night in cots or beds. But such is the humanitarianism and understanding of the staff thaï one came away from the hospital with a sense of happiness and not of sorrow. We had seen more smiles and heard more laughter than anywhere on our thousands of miles of travel. But alas! the tourist must he on his way, and Toronto was calling us even if 1 oronto was unaware ot the fact. So in due course we adjusted our safety belts, the giant engines roared into life and we soared over the mountains that guard Vancouver from the infringement of the east. At least I suppose those mounds that we saw from our lofty height were mountains.

What are these tiny little squares way down below us? 1 hey must be the prairies, even though they look like checkerboards in a child's nursery. But that is the anticlimax ot flying. Mountains arc less than molehills as seen from the airplane in flight. And when you come down at Toronto or Montreal it is neither of these great cities you see hut merely a runway set in a group of sheds with no relation whatsoever to the names that they bear.

What is there to say of Toronto which has not been said a thousand times? The more it alters the more it is the same, but that is because Toronto has character where other cities have temperament. Toronto is realistic and does not spend time in dreaming. Life is real and life is earnest in the great metropolis that nightly bathes its fevered brow in the cooling waters of Toronto Bay.

“In Toronto making money is more important than possessing it”

The Queen City does not grow—it expands. Even Queen’s Park, which bears the dignity of past years, has become a highway for the swirling traffic of motorcars. No one in Toronto has time to stroll. To the Toronto businessman the making of money is more important than the mere possession of it. Toronto is nearer, much nearer, to the U. S. A. than it is to the prairies or the Maritimes; therefore it is not influenced by other provinces. But in peace as in war, the Queen City is a mighty driving force. Some day, somehow, Toronto will make space for the elegance and leisure that mark the capitals of Europe. Until then it must be the anvil of commercialism and production, not merely for itself but for Canada.

Mystery of Montreal

Now we are in Montreal and within a few hours we shall be gliding and bumping our way high above the Atlantic on our flight to London Airport.

What is there about Montreal that defies geography? How does Montreal remain a European capital set in the soil of Canada? ft is not merely that French is heard everywhere or that motorists drive with an élan that makes mere survival an adventure. Nor is it that quaint numbering of the houses where No. 38 and No. 40 are apt to be followed by No. 3312 and No. 3316. Perhaps it is because in Montreal’s chief street there is a university where earnest undergraduates can be seen practicing for the coming rugby match. Montreal has retained the art of leisure and a sense of timelessness. Or perhaps it is because in the most admirable hotel where 1 stayed, there are flaxen-haired Hungarian servants who perform their duties as if the clients are archdukes complete with their archduchesses. One has only to enter the hotel to be in Europe.

Is Montreal what it is because the ships come there to rest after their voyage across the sea? Is it that two languages are richer than one?

Perhaps it is the genius of the Roman Catholic Church which does not confine its influence to the Sabbath but permeates the life of the people throughout each day of the year.

Now it is time to leave for the airport. Soon we shall be airborne over the vast Atlantic, lurching with the vagaries of the winds that resent this lonely bird with the giant wings. Formosa seems a long, long way behind. Tokyo is a memory that is already dim. Honolulu has faded like a flower that has lived its time. Yet there is one impression which does not dwindle but grows in my mind.

The Western world cannot afford to be a mere spectator of the Far East drama. Every instinct convinces me that Japan is playing a waiting game. Do not imagine that the Japanese have forgotten the atom bombs that brought horror and mutilation to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese will tell you that people are still dying a lingering death from the effects of those two bombs.

I was told in Tokyo that the Emperor is no longer looked upon as a divine ruler born of the sun. There are men there who say openly that Japan will be the next republic. And how wide is the bridge between Oriental republicanism and communism?

It was a sad and tragic moment when under pressure of America the British government of the day ended the AngloJapancse Alliance. No wonder that many of us in the British parliament saw' the shadow of the next war w'hen Japan, spurned by the West, would seek alliance with the rising giant of a resurgent Germany.

Is it any wonder that Japan is watching the drama of Formosa? If Red China is triumphant, and if the Western world washes its hands of this troubled island paradise which is ruled by the aging Chiang Kai-shek, then we should prepare ourselves for the shock when Japan joins the Communist bloc.

But is this the concern of Canada? My answer would be that the world is smaller than you think. There is no such thing any more as distance and, in the realm of the mind, there arc no frontiers.

It may well be that science has made hot war impossible except as an act of deliberate suicide. But the cold war will go on in its deadly struggle for men’s minds.

Look to the East where the Red sun rises each day! That would be my advice to the statesmen of Europe and North America. Bring back Japan to the amity and community of civilized nations. We cannot destroy communism with atom bombs but we can contain communism within proscribed limits if we stand firm and together.

Answer to Who ÍS it? on page 51 Jack Crelcv. Chicago-born stage and TV actor who starred in the Montreal revue Off Limits, went to New York with Canada’s hit musical comedy Salad Days.

Forgive me for ending my travel story on so serious a note, but the war between communism and freedom is hotter than you think. We need not panic, but we should not shut our eyes to what is going on.

The free world must wrest the initiative from the Communist world. It can be done. It must be done, if