In Canada

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

My wife and I have just re­turned from one of the great cities of the world. Toronto is a calm, clean, wellordered, cos­mopoli­tan, peace­ful city. If dur­ing one long week­end in that city of two and a half mil­lion peo­ple there are a cou­ple of mur­ders, it is an alarm­ing law and or­der cri­sis. And Canada as a whole, as a friend of mine de­scribes it, is a bless­edly fan­g­less coun­try. It is strongly demo­cratic, well-run, friendly, and pro­gres­sively aware of its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a world cit­i­zen.

The cul­tures of all coun­tries and creeds in­creas­ingly gather there with lit­tle fric­tion. World-class ex­hi­bi­tions, plays, con­certs, fes­ti­vals and sport­ing events find a stage. The econ­omy is flour­ish­ing, the cur­rency is strong, the abun­dance of nat­u­ral re­sources is never-end­ing in this im­mense land of end­less op­por­tu­nity. Even the dreaded on­set of global warm­ing seems to be bring­ing the ben­e­fits of longer sum­mers and milder win­ters to the land, which has been de­scribed as “A mirac­u­lous coun­try: mirac­u­lous in its peace­ful­ness, its di­ver­sity, its tol­er­ance and its de­ter­mined non-Amer­i­caness.” Nige­rian-born Daniel Igali, once an Olympic gold medal­ist in wrestling, when asked on his in­duc­tion to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame what his new home sig­ni­fied to im­mi­grants, softly and very sim­ply said “Canada is heaven.”

All great cities are blessed with great book­stores. Toronto is no ex­cep­tion. One time I was down town and hav­ing wan­dered through the marvel­lous St. Lawrence mar­ket and bought a bag of plums and a jar of honey and some curry spices, I vis­ited the Ni­cholas Hoare book­shop on Front Street to spend a few hours with their beau­ti­ful and var­ied col­lec­tion. What blessed time is time thus spent at one’s leisure! Ni­cholas Hoare has a fine po­etry sec­tion and I in­dulged my­self. One poem I found as I browsed was by Miroslav Holub in his vol­ume “Po­ems Be­fore and Af­ter” pub­lished by Blood­axe. Here it is, lovely to find on a lovely day:

Brief re­flec­tion on the sun

Thanks to the sys­tem­atic work of our me­te­o­rol­o­gists, and al­to­gether thanks to the gen­eral labour ef­fort, we have all been wit­nesses of many sol­stices, so­lar eclipses and even sun­rises.

But we have never seen the sun.

It’s like this: we have seen the sun through the trees, the sun above the Ta­tra Na­tional Park, the sun beyond a rough road, the sun drench­ing Hasek’s vil­lage of Lip­nice, but not the sun, Just-the-Sun.

Just-the-Sun, of course, is un­bear­able. Only the sun re­lated to trees, shad­ows, hills, Lip­nice and the High­way De­part­ment is a sun for peo­ple.

Over cof­fee at a Star­bucks I read the poem again and thought about truth. It’s hard to pin down. It’s hard to look at straight. But the de­ter­mi­na­tion to tell it is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary in pub­lic and pri­vate dis­course. Canada’s neigh­bour is now in the mid­dle of a mighty strug­gle at the heart of which is whether lies and hate will be al­lowed to pre­vail and di­vide a great na­tion. Canada, so far, is not in dan­ger of be­ing af­fected by that fear­some out­break of un­rea­son next door. It is a bless­ing to be care­fully pre­served.

There was an­other poem I liked – by a good friend and one of Bri­tain’s best po­ets, the Welsh­man John Barnie, about oil. Oil, set to trans­form our lives in Guyana – but trans­form how? That is the ques­tion.

No one lis­tened

I’d rather have wa­ter than oil, the King said, and shortly af­ter was found dead, mouth stuffed with gold;

that shows how wise the King was be­cause oil is the orig­i­nal Philoso­pher’s Stone

that trans­mutes ev­ery­thing to the one un­fath­omable pre­cious metal even the lit­tle princes’ buck­ets and spades as they play in the desert;

ex­cept the pris­ons – I ought to say that – where the bars are of steel, and con­crete the walls.

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