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January 28, 2003

A love letter to France

A love letter to France by David Warren expresses some of my own feelings. The joy of coffee and culture in France when living day-to-day in England... writing post-cards at La Samaritaine by the Seine to friends in Canada living through an ice storm... shopping for books or discs at FNAC... let's not forget the Marais... and yes, the idiosyncratic vision of customer-service or protection of culture. But it is his ideas about Canada in comparison which catch my eye this morning. He is right about the common conflation of multiculturalism with "ethnic" restaurants and it is true the French only send us their cooking wine unfit for washing of windows let alone a refined French palette.

I am struck by Warren's idea that Canada is a Norman country, both Norman English and Norman French:

Our essential personality was not English nor French but Norman, plus some Celts thrown in from Scotland, Eire, and Brittany, just for the thrill. Northern, boreal, monarchic, understated, battleship grey and sublime -- that was Canada (though it is now grown ridiculous).

My Toronto-centric perspective on Canada is manifestly multicultural - more culturally diverse even than New York or Los Angeles - and so arguably is of a post-Norman Canada. But I fail to see how Canadian Babylon has grown ridiculous. If our international stature has decreased it has done so under the stewardship of old Anglophone and Francophone elites. If multiculturalism as policy is problematic it is no more so than any other bureaucratic misunderestimation of the complexity of life and language. And if multiculturalism as a lived fact is no more than "ethnic" restaurants I think this says rather more about the author's failure of curiosity than the virtue of so many perspectives. I suggest Warren read Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion and think again about the merits of Norman Canada's old battleship grey.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at January 28, 2003 08:14 AM

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