October 13, 1995 Features & Images » Feature Story

feature 241 

Off The Races ...like the eagle, who hovers with free gaze over whole countries, and to whom it is of no consequence whether the hare on which he pounces is running in Prussia or in Saxony. – Goethe Yo! Nimrod! Don't do that tower thing over in Babel.. God don't play dat... Not good for Looie Freeman up there and not good for us down here. Time and Death are hard enough, My Brother.. Damn, man, looky there, you done it now, Homey. I'd say I told you so, but now you wouldn't understand me. – Oop Doggie Shoop By J. Michael Yates In the Coast Mountain Corridor — and especially Whistler — we are myriad races and colours receiving and providing service to the corporeities and dollars of visiting myriad races and colours. Year round now. More and more economies exit the bogus distinction of Third World and arrive on equal or superior footing to North Americans. More and more shop windows frame ideograms, usually Japanese, as well as the Latin alphabet we re used to and the Nipponese call Romaji . If we were to follow the logic of this practice to its extremities, there would be insufficient window in any shop to carry all the alphabets and languages. Likely the native speakers of Deutsch, Schweitzdeutsch, and Österreichesdeutsch far outnumber the Japanese who visit the corridor, but the spirit of the ideograms is laudable. In fact, more and more papers in Japan publish in Romaji rather than ideogram, a trend which may well spell doom for forms which are both time and space arts like Haiku and Tanka. However, there are some things over which no amount of effort will effect control: like time passage and language. The Irish tried offering 5£ per year to each family which used modern Gaelic as a household language. The project crashed and burned. Despite that there are places in the western islands of Ireland where the populace have not yet acquired English and still write in the Ogam alphabet. The last speakers of Manx (Celtic language of the Isle of Man spoken by people with short tails) and Adak (Alaskan aboriginal) have died during my lifetime. Scottish Gaelic was almost dead until the Japanese crowded the kilters on their fishing grounds, monitored their local band radios, and followed them wherever the Scots found fish. The Scots began communicating in Scots (Robbie Burnsese). Baffled only momentarily, the Japanese bought people who could translate. The populace of Scotland are known for their tenacity, as well as some unsavoury traditions and noise; next the Scots fishermen began communicating in Gaelic to baffle them. Banzai! With the language gasping its last, Scottish Gaelic speakers were much tougher to buy. The Scot fishermen made sure that Gaelic speakers were too expensive or recalcitrant — or the fishermen made them an unrefusable, as the Mafiosi might put it, offer. Thus the resurgence of Gaelic in Scotland. Strange stuff: lingo. On the other hand, dead languages can sometimes be resuscitated. Had I founded the nation state of Israel, I would have used Yiddish, a Yid lingua franca made mostly of German, Polish and English, and less and less often written in the Hebrew alphabet. It is the universal language of communication among Jews (and others) all over the planet, with a rich contribution to World Literature (Isaac Singer [Nobel] and Itzik Manger, for example) and already in place. I know a couple of poets in Israel — one from Germany, Amichai (also a commander of a tank unit in the Israeli army) and one from Italy, Carmi — who write in their first languages, then translate to Hebrew, then hand out the work to be translated into English and the other western languages, just so they can appear to be good old boy artists: fine writers wasting a hell of a bunch of time. Also, I would have chosen Yiddish over English as the planetary language of travel, diplomacy, and commerce. No one consulted me. If you think that Shit Happens, check out language. Language Happens even more than Shit. Compared to language, shit scarcely happens at all. Colour: Light is not white. Light, unimpeded by any sort of filter is simply the colour/non-colour of light. The other side of the leaf — and definer — of dark. Dark has its umbras and penumbras — an infinite number of tones between absolute dark (something few have experienced except those who have spelunked or taken tours deep into subterranean caves. Like a severe whiteout, this experience can cause you to doubt the direction of gravity's pull) and surface dark, which is usually maimed by the light of civilization in one direction or another. Or by starlight. When passed through crystal, water, or any substance which acts as a prism, the parts of light are revealed: spectrum, rainbow, a total whose parts are inseparable without destruction of all. Then there are dawn and dusk, the precincts of neither light nor dark but both. And changing. Separate from dark, light does not exist and vice versa. Nor is it possible to wall off one tone of dark from all other tones. Shelley's ...dome of many coloured glass is what we are, have been, and are likely to remain. Like day into night into day, the cultures of the Coast Mountain Corridor have segued their often flawed but nonetheless unswerving way into one another. I am with Baudelaire who says that neither black nor white is bad nor good. Both have valence. Only gray is ignominious. Gray like dishwater, gray like afternoon winter light, gray like Canadian culture, most of whose attributes of merit and world-class sparkle (aside from performing arts, hockey and baseball, there is damned little) has been created by non-European legacy and sometimes non-birthright Canadians. What catches the notice of the visitor are phenomena like Aboriginal canoe races and media-tracked navigations, Dragonboat races, Oktoberfest Whistler style with Asian and AfroCanadians in Lederhosen. An RCMP officer wearing a turban and aiming a radar gun. And, of course, celebration of Bastille Day in Pemberton. We are all mulatto, mestizo, mustee of spirit if not colour, even if money is the catalyst. Money may well prove to be the root of racial harmony rather than of all evil. Aboriginals wear Levis and skateboard and French Canadians manage pizza parlours with Greek names. Sikhs sponsor sports teams comprised of players with surnames like Bukowski. No culture was ever static any more than an ecology like old growth forest was ever unchanging. A culture is an ecology just as surely as an old growth forest, and given new variables like satellite and the Internet, this cultural ecology is planetary and persists despite all environmental/industrial wars. The sooner we accept the matrix in which we live, the better we will find comfort and authenticity. The essence of everything alive is change and always has been as far as we know. History is His-Story. In some languages the word for fiction and history are one and the same. I sometimes think that artifacts, other archeological findings and paleontological remains (without interpretation) speak more eloquently than language. Cultures have always negotiated with one another. Even war is a negotiation. A friend of mine was riding up the gondola toward Horstman Glacier. He is blond, blue-eyed, about 6' 5" and 260ish. Bigger and louder than life. It was one of those lucid and brilliant mornings when you can see everything from Rainbow to Wedge and Rethel, around to Black Tusk and Garibaldi; 360 degrees of seeing on forever. He was the only Caucasian on board; the rest were Japanese and one was a translator. Miles noted that he was the only one enjoying the magnificent vista, the Asians were all looking at the floor. Miles boomed at the translator: Are all these folks just coming from a funeral? Translator: No. It is Japanese custom, a gesture of respect, to look down in the presence of the oldest person in the group, in this case on the gondola. Miles: Well, Goddam, man, tell them to look out the windows at all that beauty and I'll look at the floor and respect the hell out of myself. This was translated. They did. And Miles did. And later they all skied down like humans with skis on their feet and poles in their hands. I recently asked an architect friend from Delhi what he thought of the rage for politically correct order. Gurdarshan: I think it is a crock. Discrimination in North America is a straw man. (Here he went into the other room and returned with some paper currency.) Look at this. Count the lines of writing. I come from a country with a multitude of religions and sub-routines of religion, a country with 16 official languages. There they are. Count them. Each linguistic group is so disparate that we have to use English to communicate with one another, despite that all come from the mother of all languages, Sanskrit. And then there is the caste system. It could probably be said that we invented racial discrimination. North Americans, even Europeans, are rookies. Inept as hell. In India, everyone ridicules, discriminates against everyone. Even the so-called war in the States over slavery and the black/white nonsense are amateur. Go live where I came from and you might acquire some ethnic cleansing technique. And further: if we rid society of all discrimination using Political Correctitude as our tool, we would destroy the foundations of most of our humour; and I think that without laughter, all of human kind would be doomed. I: Darshan, remind me to look more closely at my opportunities to resist asking questions. Darshan: No worries, mate. Pique Newsmagazine and I have a proposal: that an upbeat Coast Mountain Corridor Multicultural Task Force be created. A local group, with frequent meetings of representatives from all municipalities and villages, from Lillooet to West Vancouver. Upbeat includes ignoring the nag of history and focusing upon the present and a necessarily egalitarian, accelerated-metamorphic future just beginning. The local Internet providers will be of invaluable service in this venture. Local and riding-wide groups can host a limitless number of informal picnics, subjective talks of a comparative sort (where I am, in contrast to where I came from and what I like best about each), mixers, dances, and all other manner of unstructured counter-ghettoization. Experts in Salish language, like Chief Joe Mathias or Randy Bouchard, I believe, would gladly travel up the corridor to discuss the origin of place names like Cheekeye, Squamish, Stawamus, and Lillooet. Customs of elder cultures die very slowly. With this corridor having been widely designated as having the #1 ski location — the spillover of which affects all the communities of the Highway 99/Duffey aisle — the multicultural influx can only increase. Meaning business as Unusual. It would be difficult to imagine a visitor from anywhere on the planet not already represented by residents who call the Coast Mountain Corridor home. It is in this spirit that we call for a khalsa (group of people working as a team): the more we can learn from one another already living here, the better we can manage this garden-spot playground and accommodate those who come to recreate and spend. If the Bering Strait land-bridge theory is plausible — and it has now stood the test of a very long time — then we are all legacy immigrants, including aboriginal cultures. To implement, we require energy and commitment. Anyone interested in pioneering this project, please call Pique (938-0202 fax 938-0201), or me (toll-free: 1-604-977-7343 fax 892-2206).

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