Monday, 22 February 2010

Canada vs. USA

This weekend I spent some time in Windsor, a Canadian city uniquely eqipped to experience America on a regular basis. Even if you don't feel brave enough to steel yourself for the always uncomfortable encounter with a gruff U.S. customs agent, there's the massive cylinder shaped GM skyscraper (possibly one of the biggest monuments to hubris known to man) staring at you across the detroit river and reminding you of the empire next door. As the famous proverb once went, what's good for GM is good for America.

The friend we stayed with has been on a stint there for some months and so, having already extensively described the wonders of Heidelberg Street to me, he, I and my girlfriend braved said unpleasant encounter with Border guard on Saturday to travel to rough and tumble, mostly abandoned, hard-up Detroit. What awaited us there were some pleasant surprises.

It's almost more refreshing to wander about in a big city that once was mighty than a small city that has never really been anything, but tries to play up its strengths and pepper its tourist materials with buzzwords. Granted, even big cities that don't need to do this do it now because everything is about "branding" these days, but my point is that Detroit is a destination well worth checking out. Buildings are abandoned but their architecture is often stunning. Pleasant neighbourhoods feature wildlife and art installations. Almost everyone in the street is black, and (to us) very friendly. The Eastern Market and MOCAD were not so hidden and very exciting treasures.

Of course, it all feels big, too big, for its britches. And art and tourism cannot restore this place to what it once was. But I feel like, over the past decade, America has been taken down several notches and it's good for them. Americans I have talked to while travelling abroad have often exhibited shy, tail between the legs shame and embarassment rather than the stereotypical fist pumping "USA" chants we tend to associate with them. It's clear that coast to coast they got big deep problems, and efforts to resolve said problems may be too little too late, but maybe it's what's required to break them out of their comfort zone and get them taking risks. I found an example here of the unprecedented levels of desperation and despondency they are feeling.

It was appropriate yesterday to be watching the Canada-U.S hockey game in this thoroughly North American setting. And I feel, watching the coverage, that where Americans are discovering things like modesty and objectivity, we are letting ourselves be taken over by complacency, swagger, and hubris. Watching these commercial breaks of just pitilessly exploited cheap patriotism by McDonalds of Illinois, Coors of Colorado, and Bell of Hell, made me wonder why I have to read all my favourite pundits talk about tear jerking olympics moments and our nation's time to shine day after day. We willfully have our heads in the sand as a population on just about every important issue and have not made any tough or smart decisions or long term planning, vision or goals as a country for as long as I can remember. And I can't imagine the olympics in other supposedly less "modest" countries than us would bombard their own spectators with such invasive assaults on their identity.

This extends to several areas and examples which I cannot get into now. But my great leap for today is this: I knew our boys in red: old, covered in accolades, and complacent in their myriad accomplishments - were going to get their asses whipped yesterday by this crazy fast, young team with nothing to lose shooting hard. It was reflective to me of our inability to shake the status quo, and their being forced out of it. Still want them to win, of course. But play Fleury, for christ's sake.

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