I love Canada. Always have and always will.
My stay in Calgary has done little to diminish -- surprising as that may seem -- my steadfast admiration for the expanse of land that defines itself as not being the U.S.
This particular city, enriched by oil with little to show for it except a near constant state of construction and exorbitant prices -- is a cultural desert with little to offer a transient visitor other than a visa to cross the border as is the case with me, a year abroad as is the case for hundreds of unemployable 20-somethings from as far afield as Croatia, or perhaps a rodeo in July for cowboy junkies among us.
A two-hour drive north offers a forlorn and cloudy view of the Rocky Mountains -- a distant recollection of the 1988 Winter Olympics lingers in the collective memory. Those barren snow-capped peaks today are better experienced further west in Whistler, Canada's answer to Aspen. Still, in Banff, a perplexing tourist attraction where I experience bison meat for the first time does offer its share of whimsical attractions.
In a Native American store, a century-old trading outpost on the edge of an icy river -- a tourist trap if ever there was one -- is the reconstructed mummified remains of a purported merman: a feeble attempt by the Canadian Pacific Railway to recreate a myth mirroring the Loch ness Monster.
The jewel in the crown, if there is one, is a $500-a-night minimum five-star gothic hotel modeled on a Scottish castle. Its absurd claim to fame is that a 1920s bride toppled down the winding staircase and broke her neck on her wedding day, haunting the place still alongside the ghost of a loyal bellboy who could not bear to be parted, even in death from his beloved employer.
More intriguing for me was photographic evidence that Marilyn Monroe, hobbled by a fall, played a round of golf on the premises while filming the 1950s western, aptly named "The river of no return.'' There was something quite endearing -- my apologies for sounding condescending -- in how lovingly new countries guard their heritage. A century is a long time for a newborn state and as such every vestige of the past is lovingly encased as a museum relic behind glass, including a menu from the 1930s.
I had more to say but have quite forgotten it, forgive me I have had a whiskey or two to whittle away the hollow hours here. I think this is all I will take with me from my time here, except knowledge that anyone with any means from this part of the world has a summer home in Montana. Now that is telling.
A room with view