Mattawa, Ontario – At the Valois Restaurant and Motel, in Mattawa Ontario, churchgoers have flowed in, nearly filling the restaurant. Worship done they sit at tables craving cold meats on over-processed bread, served with a side of fries and consumed with a dash of Sunday morning righteousness. They are looking askance at the stranger in the corner, the tall blonde man shedding layers of motorcycle gear, consuming hot coffee after hot coffee in an attempt to warm himself, and finally toying with the limp fries.
Mattawa seems the type of place where everyone knows everyone, and someone new in the Sunday morning mix becomes the topic at table conversation. Glances from those in their Sunday best are shot covertly across tables and over top of menu. It’s hard not to notice.
Sitting alone at a table for four, I throw up the shield of a good book with an innocuous cover, AA Gill is Away has one of the most intriguing essays on pornography in the US I’ve ever read. Gill casts the players in sympathetic and caring roles, shedding new light on a derided industry. The irony and apple pie are delicious.
Judging by the signs for the upcoming federal election along the road, Mattawa is “Conservative” country. The 17 is peppered with blue signs and Stephen Harper’s cool gaze. Gill’s When AA met DD (you’re correct in assuming this is not a reference to batteries) would knot some knickers.
Running through my brain is a David Lynch’esque delivery of “That’s damn good apple pie.”
I should have skipped the lunch and just ate my way through the selection of pies here at the Valois Restaurant and Motel. The pie is a winning combination of light crust, sugar caking the top, home made filling, lousy service and disapproving onlookers.
Of the places I’ve been this “near north” has been the coldest – figuratively and literally. Demographically it feels older, pious and strangely fear based. That’s a lot of judgment to heap in the sentiment of a Sunday morning at the best restaurant in town, but I’ve been thinking about the Bush-ian “culture of fear” of late. It’s a crock.
The more I travel, the more I believe the world is a good place, populated with good people, willing to take the time to talk, share and help. Sadly that belief breaks down when people are spoon fed a diet of fearful media and uncritically allow it to structure their cognitive framework of the world. Counter to the fear-industrial complex, the world is safer than it’s ever been, crime rates have consistently and steadily been on the decline. Buy into manufactured apprehension, and the rational is clear, you never meet good people if you meet no one at all.
In the parking lot as I gear up to press on, a lone smoker comes over to chat. A former Gold Wing rider, this is the first person in these parts to offer up more than the essentials of required conversation. A strange community, but it’s soon seeing my rear tire.
The Federal Election looms, and in North Bay I cross paths with two Harper conservative campaign busses bullying their way thru traffic. At an intersection the busses push leftwards, cutting off a young family with a stroller about to enter the cross walk. The father snatches the stroller back. It’s symbolism more damning than any centrist “left” negative ad campaign. Fumbling with the video camera I miss the moment.
The phrase, and title of a Phillip K. Dick novel, “The Man in the High Castle”, floats though my mind. A vaguely recalled novel, that in 1962 helped define alternate-histories as a science fiction sub-genre, sees the gentleman of the book’s title living in a normal house. The character has given up his fortified “high castle”, realizing that it was more and isolationist prison than home. Subsequently, he allows the myth of his isolation to persist.
In the past our Prime Minister has cut himself and his cabinet off from all but the most mandatory media contact, becoming a man in a high castle. Moreover, a media doctrine of “culture of fear” has pushed us as Canadians towards a similarly isolationist path. Not in total, not with the unbalanced embrace of other countries, but traveling Canada you see the signs. You see the Mattawa, Ontarios. The challenge is that even if the reality changes, even if a more open and embracing Canada takes hold again, the mythos of the aloof and distant Man in the High Castle persists.