Then I was on the bus to Banff. And there, out of the window, were the biggest mountains I had ever seen in all my live-long days. These things were ….!! I am not sure there is a word. But I remember they took my breath away, and I may have started grinning at this point.
While my friend completed her last few days at work, I explored the town. I remember being really shocked at all the fur. There were fur shops everywhere. I think this was the first time I recognised the vast differences in cultures and attitudes that people have dependent upon their upbringing and historical imperative. For me, coming from my isolated little perspective, the fur trade was cruel and vain and despicable. Suddenly, I was in a country where the wearing of fur, for as long as humans had lived here, was a survival necessity. Who was I to judge? No I did not like the shops with ‘Fashion Furs’ for the rich tourists who visited this beautiful area, but I did have to appreciate that the wearing of fur in places of extreme, life-threatening winters was a whole different ball-game to wearing fur on the streets of London or Paris. This was the very first time I perceived my mind shifting and expanding as a result of stepping out of my own little world.
I remember this happening again, when I saw roasted dogs for sale for the first time in Vietnam. It turned my stomach. I am fully-fledged, card-carrying dog lover, and so to see this image physically hurt me. But I had to ask myself, “Who am I to judge what people in other countries class as food?” In parts of India my love of a juicy steak would be abhorrent, eating prawns (the insects of the sea that they are) would be appalling to others, and eating bacon, for many, unthinkable. With both the fur trade and the eating of dogs in Asia (or any other creatures for that matter), my issue relates entirely to the cruelty inflicted upon the animals in question. I am a meat eater. I cannot, therefore, pretend that my way of being a carnivore is fine and that of other people is not, just because it differs. But I do firmly believe that there is no way to condone unnecessary pain or cruelty to a sentient creature. If we choose to eat animals and make use of animal products (and I wholeheartedly respect those who choose not to), then we have a responsibility toward those animals, to treat them as well as we possibly can, with all due respect and gratitude. Even as I write this, I start to question what right humans have in this matter. But that is a whole other topic, which I want to think about some more.
After that slight diversion – back to my remaining time in Canada. I wrote recently in another post ‘Tiny Ridiculous Moments – On Falling Over’ about what befell me (or rather how I, in fact, befell) shortly after my arrival in Banff. This put an end to my dreams of travelling across what was left of Canada (to the left), and then back across America (to the right). This was a disappointment to me, and one I hope to rectify in the not too distant future. However, there was an upside to this particular calamity. I had no option but to return to the little town in Ontario where all my new-found friends were spending their summers, and hanging out with them some more. This was not at all displeasing to me.
And so I returned, and we had a blast. We went to Toronto to see some of the coolest bands in the grungiest clubs, we explored the countryside, I ate amazing, gargantuan food and drank more beer than was wise. There were nights on university rooftops, being serenaded by guitar and moonlight, and a long-haired friend who promised he would never write…… he never did.
My final week was fast approaching. J invited me to a music festival, which was happening the weekend after my flight home. To me it was intolerable I should miss such a thing. So I called my mother to ask if I could rearrange my flight. My parents were not at all impressed with my request. Not only had I not saved any money whatsoever during my time working that summer (I honestly don’t remember us making that deal?), but now I wanted to extend my stay at their expense and miss the first week of term, in the last year of my degree (which was also at their expense). They said no – a categorical, no wiggle room no. I was so shocked at the injustice of this I don’t think I even argued that much. I was too distraught.
I cried all the way home on the plane. I cried when my brother picked me up at the airport. I cried, I think, for the entire first term I was back at university (well back in my student house at any rate – as I couldn’t raise myself to actually go to my classes).
I kept in touch with my friend J for a while. We talked at length on the telephone. Our house phone was on the staircase. This must have been when I first learned that staircases were a good place for sobbing. He wrote me long letters about what he had been up to. That only made matters worse. Eventually, he met a girl and came travelling to England with her. Whilst she was off visiting friends he came to my university town to visit me. It was an unmitigated disaster. I had returned to my old self, my old friends, my old life – none of which really suited me, but I didn’t know how to change it to be the person I had started to be introduced to on my travels. My friend J from Canada couldn’t recognise me anymore and went off to meet his girlfriend somewhat confused by what he had seen, leaving me sick to my stomach at my stupid, muddled self.
Some years later, because I am me, and I dwell, and I ruminate and I love a good serving of self torture, I did a little bit of internet stalking and managed to get an email address for my friend J. To say he was surprised to hear from me was an understatement. We exchanged two brief, unsatisfactory messages. I didn’t want to come across as sad (I do now get that this ship had long since sailed). So, when he didn’t respond to my second message I didn’t chase him. In any case, that sad little exchange thankfully broke the spell for me. The people I had met in Canada were no longer friends I should pine over. They were now just people, out in the world doing their thing, not giving me – doing mine – a second thought. But I knew I had been given, and then set down somewhere, something very special on that trip.
Though, of course, I had short holidays nearer to home after that, I wasn’t to travel again, on my own, and experience that thrill of the far away and unknown for another 16 years. To be reintroduced to the me I met on that trip to Canada took a bit longer still, and has required a little external intervention to get there. More on that to follow.
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