The main value of travel is not a suntan, or trinkets, or buying a swell outfit that you never wear once when it is viewed in home surroundings. The value is perspective. One never sees one’s own country so clearly, so accurately, until it is seen from abroad.
The other way to learn about Canada is the reverse one: having visitors come here. Georgetown University in Washington has been conducting for 10 years a leadership seminar—inviting from around the world types from academe, politics, the military, media and business.
December was the turn for Canada to hold a reunion for the alumni of this loose grouping, previous reunions having been staged in Vienna, Jerusalem, London, Paris, Taipei, Berlin and Bangkok. It’s sort of like old summer camp inmates flocking together. We trooped the gang of some 40 bodies from Montreal to Ottawa, exposing them to all the usual experts on Canadian angst.
One does not need to be overly imaginative to conjure up the reaction of the Honorable Siaka Kante Bamba, mayor of Tengrela on the Ivory Coast, to all the moanings he heard in Quebec from panelists on the sorry state of poor little Canada. The Honorable Marazban J. A. Patrawala, minister of state for general administration, information and public relations, finance, planning, public health, family welfare, medical education and drugs and law and judiciary, government of Maharashtra, in India, no doubt would be glad to exchange problems.
Marcia G. Cooke, stately, near six feet, a black thirtysomething assistant district attorney in the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami, over lunch debates medicare with a puzzled Caroline Frances Jackson, a fortysomething Conservative member of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Maj.-Gen. Montri Supaporn, Supreme Command Headquarters, Thailand, explains that as a military man he doesn’t know much about economics. He tells us that he was in Spain last year, where he was taken to visit a
thousand-year-old cathedral and asked to marvel over the art and the sculpture. “I couldn’t,” he says, “because I could only think of how much it would take to blow it up.” There’s honesty.
Roberto Teixeira da Costa, president of Brasilpar Servicos Financeiros Ltd. of Brazil, as suave in a weary way as Ricardo Montalban, after listening to the Canadian moaning, tells the group that he finds some similarities with Brazil, where there has been 3,000 per cent inflation this year. “You dislike your politicians. We hate ours!”
After the Quebec experts have told us that there will be, almost certainly, a Parti Québécois government elected next year and pledged to separation, Goran Kapetanovic, president of Unibros Canada Ltd., is almost in tears as he pleads for his new country. His old, what used to be called Yugoslavia, is in the midst of the tragedy of our times and—
Canadians, he’s saying—wake up! Count your blessings. We adjourn for lunch at the Mount Royal Club, where Brian Mulroney is dining. The wine does not stop flowing. Yugoslavia? Where?
Frank Fahrenkopf, a Republican insider from Washington, close to George Bush, the man who has run the presidential debates and has been booked to run the next one (he’s betting on Jack Kemp), sits and watches, prepped to translate the Canadian strangulations to his party’s brass.
In Ottawa, while the Canadians complain, Enos D. Chiura, executive chairman of Delta Corp. Ltd. of Zimbabwe, who dresses like someone out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly, listens for several days and then speaks. He points out that except for his country and South Africa and a few others, per capita income in most of Africa is going down, not up.
We repair for lunch in the staggeringly beautiful and staggeringly expensive National Gallery in Ottawa. The wine is from Ontario. Roberto raises his eloquent eyebrows.
Various high-domed deputy ministers and politicos explain Canada’s debt and Canada’s deficit and how little power in the world such a small country has. Bank of Canada Gov. John Crow, fighting for his job, demonstrates why his boss, Finance Minister Paul Martin, has trouble finding a personality beneath the desiccated bright mind.
The chap from Taiwan and the intellectual from Hungary seem equally perplexed by the Canadian obsession with the terrible lot the country is in. We repair 8 to dinner at the Museum of I Civilization, where the spigg ots on the wine do not run “ dry. It seems the nation is
safe until tomorrow’s lunch.
There arrives in the mail, the wine having run out, the Christmas letter from a sister, it being one of those whip-around family chronicles of the year past, the author and husband having just returned from a jaunt through Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, from seeing relatives at Alice Springs to riding camels at Ayers Rock.
The letter is marked “for amateur eyes only,” but I’ve never obeyed older sister and see no reason why I should start now. She concludes: “I think that we should not complain so much about our governments, about our taxes, about the weather, about who lives in our country, our cities, or what languages they speak. I think we should look around us and be thankful! And may God bless us everyone.”
Strangely enough, she sounded exactly like the Georgetown leadership seminar visitors.
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