Impromptu for unaccompanied nation and state

Monday, 4 July 2005 — 8:57pm | Canadiana, Music

I’m aware that today is a national holiday in a little country I actually like quite a lot, replete with festivities commemorating tea parties and dangling modifiers. I still fondly recall the last time I spent the Fourth of July down south: it involved a visit to an ice cream parlour in historic Princeton with the founding fathers of my old stomping grounds at the Entmoot forums, which you’ll note was a lot more interesting than what I did last year (watching digital fireworks with virtual furry animals in Animal Crossing so Tortimer would come by and award me a piece of furniture). I don’t remember much about the ice cream parlour itself, but it’s still the best one I’ve found east of MacKay’s.

Aside from an obligatory tea party, a double waffle cone of peanut butter and chocolate and discovering that first-printing hardcovers of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire are still on shelves with the Priori Incantatem continuity goof on page 579 intact, there wasn’t so much to celebrate today up here in the land of absent hockey, misty giants and wacky marriage legislation about which some people out there apparently harbour opinions.

We had our party of patriots three days ago, when I chanced upon a free public performance by a fantastic a cappella quartet on Banff Avenue right across the street from the Grizzly House, capitol of the carnivorous connoisseur. They caught my attention with “Use the Force”, a complete retelling of the original Star Wars featuring mock lightsabre duels onstage and Darth Vader breathing, and held it until after their set when I walked out with two of their albums and autographs to boot.

The ensemble was none other than the Heebee-Jeebees, a Calgarian foursome I first heard of years ago (thanks to their accomplishment of concocting the world’s most boring song, appropriately entitled “The Boring Song”) but never had the pleasure to see in person. It turns out they hit Banff every Canada Day, when admission to the National Park comes at no cost, and I highly recommend seeing them. They also perform at the Stampede in a week’s time, for those of you spending the summer in Alberta’s better city.

This was also when I discovered that their bass singer, who has a remarkable talent for reaching depths lower than das boot in Das Boot, is none other than former Rose Bowl-winning clarinetist Cedric Blary, who was first known to me (although we did not meet per se) over a decade ago as we shared a composition instructor at Mount Royal College back when I hadn’t moved beyond scribbling fat major triads in basic triple time, and I saw him perform his own piece in a student recital. This was years before I started playing the clarinet myself, but it was an important stepping stone in verifying that it was indeed what I intended to pursue as a second instrument. Last I heard, Mr. Blary had taken up the position of being the clarinet clinician at this staple of local musical education.

Somewhere in all this is a segue to a point about the value of celebrating a national holiday, but I am going to forgo a seamless transition in favour of what the calculus-literate refer to as a jump discontinuity.

I’m going to do something unorthodox here and, in an obliquely politico-avoidant manner, reply to what Steve Smith wrote in his entry dated 1 July and the comment box therein.

Mr. Smith has a proven record of thinking national pride is silly, so it comes as no surprise that he doesn’t give a Carlos’ jackass about feeling all whoop-dee-doo when it comes to observing the birthday of the political entity to which he may or may not pay his taxes. He then proceeds to draw the salient distinction between nations and states, the timeworn semantic trademark of those with at least a freshman’s understanding of political theory who respectfully don’t want anything to do with those without the same.

I would contend that Canada’s history of not being and never having been a Westphalian nation-state is precisely why among its class of holidays, Canada Day is something unique and worth applauding.

Over the past few decades, Canada has retooled itself as a most admirable experiment in permitting the divorce of cultural identity from ethnic origin, and encouraging the severance of political allegiance from both. In this sense, separatist movements in both Quebec and to a lesser extent Alberta are a reaction to this project, not a progression.

We’re too good for homogeneous cultural isolation walled behind the borders on a map. While national self-determination is a stabilizing destination in the pre-national world, Canada is a post-national country, and that’s where the state is relevant to its citizens on an individual level. The fact that it has survived this way for yet another year is worth a cheer and a beer.

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