THAT LAND . . . BETWEEN!

 With almost obsessive repetition, failure and happenstance have accompanied the history of the most important geographical discoveries: many have futilely sought the source of a river and instead found a lake or, venturing into the jungle to map a territory, have stumbled across the remains of a lost civilization. Likewise, many have believed they were conquering what they had set out to find, but by sheer chance coincidence discovered a world hitherto unknown, and thus entered the great realm of the immortality of explorers.

The search for the Northwest Passage, the never-found sea route that was supposed to link Europe and Asia, avoiding the Arctic ice, did not escape this “unpredictable constant”, and Canada would indubitably have been discovered far later if, in following the dream of that route, the European powers hadn’t financed the expeditions of Cabot, Cartier, Frobisher, Champlain, Cook, Hudson and many others. But they came up against the impenetrability of that land, which, with its boundless forests, stood between their dreams and the greed of their eager patrons. Most of these bold men did not manage to return to tell the tale of their defeat. Lost, they perished alone in the cold, under the sky of one of the many interminable and bitterly cold Canadian winters that became the silent guardians of their stories.

Those who did make it home could merely open their arms, bow their heads and mumble: er there . . . is the land between!”

That “land between” was an immense, cold, unknown and hostile land that inspired its discoverer Jacques Cartier, numb with cold as he sailed up the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in 1534, to exclaim, “I am rather inclined to believe that this is the land God gave to Cain.” More romantically, an anonymous member of the second expedition of the Norwegian Amundsen wrote in his diary: “Canada borders with the mountains to the south, with ice to the north, and with the sky to the east and west.” This may be the best definition of what is now the second largest country in the world in terms of geographical extension, inhabited by just 32 million people scattered between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, but tending to be huddled around the United States border. It is a country that, despite the passage of centuries, is still poised among different identities. Being a young nation, however, it is seemingly free of the cage of common memories and, taking advantage of its vastness, it does not force those who live there to share a history in which the winds of time have not yet dried the ink of memory.

Thus, if you take shelter from its winters, even today Canada has the distinctive gift of being one of the last places on the planet where everyone can forget the past and carve out a space in which to build a future, without having to deal with the obligatory acceptance of your neighbour’s diversities. But humans have been marked by a natural penchant for quarrelsomeness since the dawn of civilization and, as a result, in the more crowded areas of the Canadian “condominium” we find mulish tenants who have survived and are unable to resist the temptation to squabble in the name of French fleurs-de-lis versus the Union Jack, and still can’t decide if for breakfast they want porridge or croissants, tea or café au lait. Luckily, we’re talking about a minority that is vanishing with the ecumenical progress of Coca-Cola, and bacon and eggs.

Nature, which flaunts its full vanity, is the undisputed owner of these lands. It is a nature guarding the modern Eldorados that will be sacked in the future, as has always been the case, without rules and without the least consideration, in the name of “progress”, the magic word that – without blushing – conceals an array of “whys”, from simple necessity to insatiable avidity.

And so, before all this happens, it seems worthwhile to go back once more – alone, unhurriedly and without an itinerary, as I am wont to do – in the hope that, on the road rising to meet me day after day, I will encounter stories and colours to add to my fortunately boundless curiosity.

I have long been convinced that it’s impossible to understand a country if you don’t see it “at the right time”: with those lights and those colours that are an essential part of its panorama. “My”Canadian season starts in autumn and ends in spring, when the woods change color at every bend in the road and those who live there finally feel at home with the north wind that gets colder by the day.

I will leave it to others to nurture the illusion of perennially blue skies, orderly meadows in bloom, bearded woodsmen, smiling fishermen in shirtsleeves; I will leave it to others to ponder the summer interludes enclosing an exceptional moment. What intrigues me is that “land between” with the everyday feeling of lazily falling snow, of following the road of a silence worth hearing that, if it lets me, can be recounted.

 

 

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