Sunday, July 13, 2008
Canada - On The Train
I spent three days, straight, on a crowded Canadian train, traveling through the Canadian wilderness (pictured above). For clarification's sake - yes, three days is actually a very long time to be on a train without getting off. I figured that I would be fine, well-armed with my random used book purchases from New York City (I pulled four books off the 50 cent rack). Unfortunately, the first book I read, and the most well-recommended on its cover, was "Say Nothing" by James Hanley.
"Masterly," boasts Times Literary Supplement, "...generates power." (Hydroelectric power? Nuclear power?) "Brilliant...a future classic" predicts The New York Times Book Review. (I guess the book still has thousands of years of the future to become a classic, so I can't yet argue with this one. But "brilliant" is kind of pushing it.)
But what of the author? "Hanley has an extraordinary talent for evoking powerful emotions," observes Newsweek. (Does disgust count as a powerful emotion? And what happens when he goes to a party? Does everyone get really angry or depressed, and the whole party becomes wildly menopausal until someone remarks "Oh, that's Jim's fault. He has an extraordinary talent for evoking powerful emotions. Read it in Newsweek"?) The New York Times is equally ambiguous in their overt praise for Jim - "There is no novelist working today to compare to James Hanley." (Once we discard all of the novelists who are actually employed from our reasoning, we're left to wonder what kind of comparison they intended.)
I will just say that the book seemed very pointless and needlessly frustrating to read. I will not further my criticism, as I have been commanded not to, by the back of the book - "You will not be able to put it down," it claims. Unfortunately, I am forever cursed by the command that follows - "You will never forget it." Heaven help me.
Luckily, I did have other reading material, and I actually highly recommend one of the other books I read - "The Testament" by Elie Wiesel. It's the fictional autobiography of a Jewish communist poet written in a torture chamber. Inside of a circus tent.
Most of my journey was in the back of one of the cars, sitting next to this old guy. At night, his head rolled onto my shoulder, exactly how it happens in the movies for a cheap snicker. And the train people were seated across the aisle from us, leaving the light on all night and talking to each other. It didn't help that the old, bald guy was named "Carl," and people really enjoyed addressing him while I was trying to sleep. By the way, I was kidding about the circus tent.
I had a delightful conversation with this Mennonite guy in the dining car, where he explained some of the finer points of Canadian culture. Their two most common units of currency are the Loonie:
And the Toonie:
That is actually what everyone calls them, and when you realize the unfortunate pair that those words make, it becomes clear why nobody ever really takes Canada seriously.
I did survive the pocket-heavy currency, the occasional French, and lilted accents of my Canadian Train Trek and eventually made it to Vancouver. TUNE IN NEXT TIME!!!