A conversation

One of the glories of travel is the encounter with the other. It’s fun to get to another country and talk to countrymen who just happen to be abroad. But that reminds me of the Accidental Tourist. Remember the film? William Hurt as a travel writer whose books prepare people to go abroad in ways that never make you feel like you’re in a foreign country. Speaking as someone who never really traveled much, I always loved the sensation of being lost, not knowing where I am in this world of GPSs and perpetual surveillance. Today, wandering in downtown Stockholm I always knew pretty much where I was, even if there were lots of surprises waiting for me around corners.

I am trying to listen rather than talk, because I can fool people easily into believing I am someone who knows something. Words come tumbling out, even as I wittily cover my blind spots. Here I am on the blog again, but this is something I wrote when I awoke at an oddly early hour due to the near perpetual sunlight here. Yes it’s amazing to be in Sweden in June, when the nights are so short you could practically blink & miss them. Last night was roughly from 11:30 to 2 am or so, then the light came back.

Upon arrival, though I did talk, before my resolution to listen rather than talk. I talked to the cab driver who picked me up at Stockholm airport. It’s always the way. Cabbies are opportunists who have usually come from another culture, assimilate what they must to survive, while figuring out the pros and cons of where they live now, vs where they were.

Last year (NYC) it was an ex-pat Egyptian speaking to me of his home, decrying the conflicts there, happy in his capitalist paradise. I can’t recall whether he was pro- or anti- Mubarek.

This time it was an ex-pat Iranian, speaker of several languages. I spoke of Canada, and he immediately spoke of the similarities between our countries. I cringed, perhaps too negative.

Life expectancy? High in both places.

Sweden is one of the places I hold out as a vision of utopia. Yet I am watching Canada turn into another USA, imitating all the wrong models, turning its back on everything it had right before. We should imitate the Swedes.

Sweden has usually been neutral. The Canada I knew under Mike Pearson was blessedly neutral, a peace-keeper rather than an enforcer. I am not sure where we are now, thank goodness. Mr Harper seems to recognize that we don’t have the money to build the armaments to be another USA. Minus the billions of dollars worth of armaments you can’t be a bully, just a target. Yet I suppose he’s right that we do need to properly patrol our northern waters, especially with climate change turning the northwest passage into something ice-free and welcoming to ships. Will we ever have the boats to back up our brave boasts? (boy oh boy that’s a lot of B words).

Sweden seems to be the ultimate socialist paradise, the place where high taxes make sense. In Stockholm you don’t have people arguing about taxes. It’s understood that taxes are needed to build tunnels & roads & infrastructure. This is a gloriously beautiful city.
Toronto’s election campaign is ass-backwards. We don’t have a good transit system, yet our mayoral candidates are all fighting to position themselves as champions of both a transit solution –usually simplistic, as in Ford’s subway plan–AND low taxes. Tory’s seems to be more thoughtful as far as its funding goes, but still is captive of the conversation that leaves me afraid that we’re not going to do what needs doing, that saving trumps investing.

But the entire conversation is misguided. Don’t you say to the electorate “I offer you leadership to rebuild this” not “I promise not to raise taxes”.

You get what you pay for. No wonder under Mike Harris that the place was such a mess. Are people amnesiac that they forget, and want to go there again? I suppose it’s a question of which skeleton in whose closet is scarier: McGuinty?

or Mike Harris?

Or Bob Rae?

In the centre of Stockholm there are several huge bridges plus tunnels to cope with the geography, the water & hills. Infrastructure can’t be ignored if you want to live in such a place. We have been able to get away with ignoring our infrastructure issues. They don’t have broken water-mains here, because they take care of their city. Watching Kathleen Wynne argue with Tim Hudak, I was appalled that the press report that pollsters claim he won the debate. She kept speaking of the need to build infrastructure: which costs money naturally. Infrastructure is essential –especially power lines—for the cheap power Hudak wants to offer to businesses choosing to relocate here. I am not even talking about the question of their divergent views on jobs, which is what everyone seems to notice.

Remember strawberries?

Remember strawberries? (photo by Leslie Barcza before he started– munch munch –eating)

At my temporary home with family here in Sweden, I went shopping. I couldn’t help noticing. These are the strawberries I recall from my childhood. They’re real, not the bizarre fakery we now see in stores.  They taste amazing. Swedish milk and butter are astonishingly good. It may be true that the cost of living here is high in some ways –for instance the taxes—and yet the Swedes really have a clear understanding of what matters. Their produce & foods & water are clean & healthy. Their roads & trains work beautifully. Their air is clean (although that may have more to do with Toronto’s proximity to the industrial Midwest than anything we do north of the border).

It’s gorgeous (I add, the next day from downtown, where I am wifi-ing this into the blog).

In the meantime I’ll enjoy myself.

This entry was posted in Art, Architecture & Design, Food & Nutrition, Personal ruminations & essays, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A conversation

  1. Pingback: A risky business | barczablog

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