Wow – Canada!

Canada through the eyes of world literature

Archive for the category “Coffee Table Books”

The Romance of Canada 2: Ansel Adams Pays Us a Compliment

anseladams

Ansel Adams, In The Canadian Rockies (2013)

This is from a letter Adams wrote to Virginia Adams while he was photographing the Canadian Rockies in 1928, which is quoted at the very beginning of this book:

These mountains are breathtaking — utterly different than anything we have seen. The peaks and forests and “tone” fulfill almost every ideal I have had of what “my” mountains could be. The cold ice crashes down tremendous cliffs to the very edge of deep, somber forests. No dust is here — all is snow, ice, clean black rock and mossy earth covered with thick green vegetation — all cool and calm and very strong in the primal aspect. These are the great mountains we dream about.

There speaks the true Romantic voice! Just the choice of words shows how Adams had absorbed the Romantic idea of the natural sublime: the forests are deep and somber, the ice crashes down, the cliffs are tremendous, the rocks clean and black, the vegetation thick and green. Here, in essence, is the idea of Canada as an unspoiled wilderness of breathtaking natural beauty, so different from the mountains Adams has seen before, presumably in the U.S., and presumably rendered less impressive by the fact that they had become more travelled than the remote regions of Canada he visited. The word “primal,” at the culmination of that sentence, suggests that in travelling to Canada, Adams feels almost as if he has travelled back into an earlier period of time when nature was still untamed.

And note the use of the word “ideal”. I don’t like to harp on Plato too much — well, actually I kind of do — but this letter seems to lend itself particularly well to a Platonic interpretation. When Adams speaks of the “ideal” he has had of “what [his] mountains could be,” we enter the territory of the Platonic idea of forms: the “ideal” mountain is essentially the “form” of a mountain, the perfect, idealized concept of “mountain” of which all earthly, actual mountains are an imperfect reflection or imitation. And yet in Canada, Adams has found the ideal; it’s as if he has entered the world of Platonic forms and seen in reality the perfect mountains that until now he has only been able to visualize in his imagination.

Canada here is almost a mythic realm, a place so unspoiled and rich in natural beauty that its mountains cease to be earthly objects and become the perfect forms that fill the artist’s dreams.

Advertisements

Do Not Read about Canada

A Day in the Life of Canada (1985), featured on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

I’m perpetually getting distracted from literature by these foolish asides. Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother with this, but there are two points of interest for me here, one related to the subject of this blog, and the other purely personal.

Anyway, here is Jimmy Fallon’s “Do Not Read” List for Spring 2013:

The part about A Day in the Life of Canada starts around 2:25, and Fallon’s approach really seems a little easy; the book was part of a series of A Day in the Life of… books done in the mid-80s, so the fact that the clothes are a little outdated is hardly surprising. The choice of cover photo is a little … odd, I admit, once you start analysing it. (And why, incidentally, is a book from 1985 on the Spring 2013 “Do Not Read” list? Has some recent event catapulted A Day in the Life of Canada back into public consciousness? Is there an imminent danger that, without Fallon’s warning, millions would rush out and read it?)

You can learn a little more about the book, and the series (which also included Australia, Japan, and Hawaii, among others), from its Amazon page. And should you wish to ignore Fallon’s advice, new and used copies are still available!

More interesting for our purposes is the discussion between Fallon and his sidekick about what they might find inside in the book (around 3:10). Fallon starts off by saying he loves Canada and has a lot of fans here, but what we get is this rather depressing list of clichés:

Probably pictures of maple leaves, ice hockey…
Poutine…
Poutine…
Mountains…
Yeah, sure.

So there is a good look at the ground Canada has staked out in the American mind: hockey, poutine, and pleasant scenery (maple leaves and mountains). Fallon seems almost shocked to think we have anything as advanced as store mannequins up here; isn’t Canada just a wilderness with a few ice rinks scraped out of the endless tundra?

As for the personal reason: as a child, I had a copy of A Day in the Life of Canada. (And scrolling through the YouTube comments on the video, I see I’m not alone: the comment “Oh my god I own that Canada book!” had 29 likes as of this writing.)

I got it as a gift, and my recollection is that, with typical Canadian humility (or is it insecurity?), we were thrilled that our little country had been included in the series. Being part of it was a point of national pride, and I recall the book being written up as a great opportunity to present Canada to the world. No doubt the thoughtful aunt who gave it to me bought it partly out of a feeling that buying a copy was somehow showing her support for Canada itself.

Given that, 28 years later, Jimmy Fallon’s mind still turns to maple leaves and ice hockey when he thinks of us, it seems the book may not have been the roaring success we hoped for.

Post Navigation