The Fourth of July went largely uncelebrated in London. A statue of Ronald Reagan was unveiled, a couple of bars had free drinks for people with US passports, and some friends and I grilled burgers and ate Oreos in a park. But there wasn’t a gigantic thousands-strong celebration of Americana, like you might have, for, say … Canada.
Yes, Canada Day means all of Trafalgar Square is filled with thousands of people in red shirts, hockey jerseys, and Mountie uniforms with flag capes–
–drinking Tim Horton’s coffee, eating donuts, playing street hockey, taking a free yoga class, listening to apparently famous Canadian bands, watching an extremely intoxicated man do the celebrity cooking class, partaking in Sleeman Honey Brown Ale while the non-natives get duped into drinking Molson Canadian because it says “Canadian” on it (note: I did not fall for this), and, afterwards, adjourning to London’s Canadian bar, which is decorated like a log cabin and the manager of which dresses in full hockey uniform, minus the skates.
The comparative lack of enthusiasm for American independence might be understandable: we spent years actually killing (fellow) Englishmen in order to gain our freedom, while the Canadians exited diplomatically, which is the way Canadians enter and exit everything. I can say fairly honestly, though, that I enjoyed Canada Day more than I probably would have liked a thousands-strong mob of Americans swilling Miller and waiting for rappers to take the stage.
Canada Day was a family-friendly event strangely devoid of children. There just weren’t kids around, even though the whole thing–guys on stilts, Mounties, curly fries, the street hockey tournament–seemed tailor-made for them. Is it possible that, rather than being cannily kid-friendly, Canada actually enjoys a level of cultural innocence that the States do not? I doubt it, still, but not very strongly: there is far less of a political assertion involved in saying “I am Canadian,” far less of a sense of intrusion. Everyone loves Canadians, and Canadians love themselves in a way which doesn’t strike the rest of the world as obnoxious. It feels corny, but is not, that hundreds of people would turn up in shirts with slogans like “I SAY EH.” It’s not corny, not because Canada is trapped in some sort of 1950s time warp, but because Canada is actually that wonderful.
Example: the organizers thought it would be good to inspire everybody with a good old-fashioned Canadian story of triumph over adversity. So they flew in the national women’s wheelchair basketball team. Mission accomplished:
At the opposite end of the human spectrum was a chef and minor celebrity from Food Network Canada, who will go unnamed here in case his boss googles his name to see what he’s been up to. The reason for this protective charity? Said chef was very, very, very drunk. His assigned topic was “boiled lobster atop a bed of finely-cut cabbage.” When we got in the tent he was teaching a girl how to shotgun a beer.
This celebrity chef (who, if you’d like some clues for tactical Googling, was once personal chef to Dan Aykroyd) made faces, talked slowly, remarked “There are a lot of beer cans around here…”, shouted to his assistant (whom he referred to by way of sexual synecdoche) to bring ingredients already on the table, informed us that he really digs this new trend of sexting, dropped a knife on his foot, and, oh yeah, burned the cabbage, so he set it on the backburner and figured nobody would notice.
An older woman in the audience, either oblivious to or predatorily aware of his drunkenness, spent the whole demonstration looking upon him with rapturous, flirtatious eyes and smiling coyly whenever he glanced her way. We’re pretty sure she had designs on him. Her reward: a really charming photograph.
So Canada Day had everything. I was amused, I was fed, I was inspired…
…and I had a jolly good time. So take pride, Canada! And to the rest of you: we have some wonderful neighbors to the north. The least we can do is learn their anthem and steal their comedians. In the meantime, it may have not been a substitute for hot dogs and fireworks, but our hockey-loving friends put on a lovely celebration. I love Canada and I don’t care who knows it.