It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO CANADA.
As part of Jose’s recently begun yet never ending campaign to provide non-baseball content to KEYS TO THE GAME (Now in Blog!!!), Jose has decided that he will try to put together KEYS on all 27 of the countries in which he has set foot. That’s 71 individual KEYS!!! (Note: As aposter pointed out, no it's not its 81. This does not bode well for Jose's GRE scores.) That should take up some time. Jose will work through each of the countries from the first he visited to the one he visited most recently, and will conclude with the United States of America even though it was the first country he visited. Jose figures he’ll have it right by then and will be able to properly honor America.
1. Canada? What is there to say about Canada that hasn’t already been written? The second largest area of any country. Cold. Hockey.
Jose is far from an expert on Canada. He’s only been to two cities that he can remember anything about (Montreal and Quebec City). Moreover, Canada is only first on the list because the Melendez family was vacationing in the Adirondacks’ one rainy summer day when Jose was a small child and crossed the border into Canada because the thrill of a new, yet remarkably similar country was probably the easiest way to keep Jose and his brother quiet. Pretty much all Jose remembers from this, his sole trip to Ontario is that he felt a deep sense of sadness for and empathy with Canadian children. Was it for the fact that their country must constantly live in the shadow of it’s gigantic southern neighbor? No. Perhaps it was that Jose could already see that the National Hockey League would rapidly begin to move franchises out of frigid little Canadian burgs to soulless sunbelt sprawl towns? No. Jose felt for Canadian children because He-Man action figures, which then cost a mere $7 in the U.S., cost $11 just over the border.
Jose doesn’t think that he had too great a sense of what the value of a dollar was at that point in his life, but he certainly new that 11 was a hell of a lot more than seven, and seven dollars already seemed like an unreachable price. Remarkably, at this point in his life Jose did not think constantly about monetary conversion, so he had no idea that the cost of a Ram-Man in Ottawa was the same as the cost in Utica. (Note: Jose’s Ontario geography and New York state geography are both terrible, so please excuse. It will be better when Jose gets to central Europe.) Of course, Jose was shocked when he visited Canada years later to learn that if one has U.S. dollars, Canada is much, much cheaper than the U.S.
The Canadian National Anthem sings "God keep our land, prosperous and free." And that’s almost right. Canada isn’t free but it sure is cheap. (Edit: Okay, okay so it's "glorious and free" Jose thought placing so much focus on prosperity a.k.a. money in a patriotic hymn seemed a bit too American.)
2. The rest of Jose’s Canadian experience is in Quebec, (Note: Sorry to everyone hoping for KEYS to Saskatchewan), Canada’s predominantly Francophone province. Jose actually loves, Quebec. He finds the people friendly, the culture refined and their baseball team charmingly inept. (Note: The Expos are Jose’s number two baseball team after the Red Sox and his number one National League Team. He loves their ineptness and that they have always, always been the underdog, even when they were the best team in baseball in 1994. Jose doesn’t know what he’ll do when they eventually move and Jose has to pick a new National League Team. Jose will probably need to find another group of perpetual losers. This may warrant a full KEYS some day.)
Sadly, many Americans adopt an anti-French Canadian posture, associating them with French snootiness and God knows what else. For instance, they have long served as pro wrestling villains, from Pat Patterson, to the Rousseau brothers, to the Mountie (OK he was a Rousseau brother) to Las Resistance today. (Note: The Fabulous Rousseau brothers were named Jacques and Raymond. Jose doesn’t know if these were their real names, but he hopes not, because it would raise the possibility that Jacques took his wrestling name from French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. If this is true, it would open the tantalizing possibility that we might someday have a wrestling tag team of Confucius and Thomas Hobbes. It could be called the New East-West Connection, with apologies to Jessie Ventura and the late Adrian Adonis.)
But Jose has found this dislike is completely unwarranted. In his experience, French Canadians are more pro-American than Anglophone Canadians (perhaps because their language leaves them comfortably different from us) and are excellent neighbors for New England. Jose likes knowing that in just a few hours drive he can be in a genuinely foreign culture complete with European language.
In fact, Jose has only two complaints about Quebec. First, he despises the Montreal Canadians like all good Bostonians. Even though Jose is sort of a playoffs only NHL fan, he really hates the Habs and regards the old "Roy Eats Sh*t" shirts as one of the funniest things he’s ever seen on a T-shirt, right up there with "Posada is a Little B*tch." The second isn’t a Quebec complaint, it’s a Canada complaint. Last year, Jose and the Melendezette took a weekend trip to Montreal in early November. As soon as we crossed the border, Christmas decorations started popping up everywhere. By the time we got to the city itself, Christmas season was in full swing, with giant ribbons on skyscrapers and wrapped empty boxes sitting invitingly under a plastic tree in the lobby of our hotel. It turns out that since Canadian Thanksgiving comes a few weeks before the American Thanksgiving, they start their Christmas season earlier too, though Christmas itself still comes on December 25. That is a lot of Christmas season. Can you imagine being a Greek Orthodox Canadian with Christmas on January 6? Christmas season would be a full sixth of every year. That’s a lot of time to maintain jollyness. (Note: Jose assumes that Canadians call Canadian Thanksgiving just "Thanksgiving." Still, aren’t they sort of ripping us off? Isn’t it like calling Canada Day Canadian 4th of July even though it’s not on the 4th of July? Oh wait, there Jose goes being the big arrogant American neighbor again. Sorry about that.)
3. Jose would recommend getting out of Montreal on a visit to Quebec. Since Montreal has the province’s largest Anglophone population, it is probably the least foreign and least exotic part of Quebec to an American, even though it is beautiful and interesting. Of course, Jose has not done this since he was a child. It’s been drive to Montreal, stay there, drive back. In fact, the only time Jose went elsewhere in the province it was, again with the Melendez family, and that was after a White Mountains vacation failed to come together properly. We’d been planning on climbing Mt. Lafayette (Note: At least it was a mountain with and exotic French name), But Jose’s father booked our reservations to stay at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Greenleaf Hut for the wrong day, so we ran for the border.
Jose won’t go in to too much detail about the trip, but he will say that he was shocked to learn that there had been a war between the U.S. and Canada, and was even more shocked to learn that Canada had battled us to a time limit draw. (Note: In fairness it was really a handicapped match Canada and Great Britain versus the young United States, and they still needed to hit us with a steel chair in order to secure the draw.)
Jose also leaned on this trip the Plains of Abraham are not named after Abraham Lincoln, not are they the place where the biblical Abraham lived. So for all of you biblical tourists and pilgrims Quebec City is not the place for you!!!
Jose’s final thought on Canada is that it is worth trying to go to a curling match as part of your visit, as curling is Canada’s second national sport. Jose has never done this, but he and his roommate got completely hooked on curling during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Jose’s roommate musician even vowed to write a song called "Last Rock Advantage." If Jose had CBC television, he would watch curling all the time.
Jose supposes that what he really likes about it is that it proves that lack of conditioning is not the reason that Jose is not an Olympic athlete. Jose may not have enough hand-eye coordination or good enough motor skills for the Olympics, and God knows he doesn’t have the work ethic, but thanks to curling Jose knows without doubt that his physical conditioning is no obstacle to Olympic glory.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO CANADA.