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East Meets West

East Meets West

My nearly two-week blog absence was mostly due to an excursion westward to Calgary, Alberta, where my brother is living for the summer. I figured I’d return by doing a little blog and dance about the trip, and then return to usual activity tomorrow.

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Alberta is a very strange place. My brother moved there because of all the talk about the province’s insane employment demand, and this was certainly true. He details cars for an insane hourly wage, despite no experience ever doing so before. But there is a downside to this. Besides high rent and housing costs (he lives in my uncle’s basement for free, so thats not a problem), Alberta is a dark conservative cloud on Canada’s map. My brother said he’s yet to meet a non-homophobic Albertan besides our family members. He was asked on four occasions if he was gay by co-workers, and not in either the cruising kinda way or in the I-want-to-be-your-best-friend-if-so kinda way. And he’s not even gay. He’s just not a homophobe, and they can smell it on him. He called me once when we was walking around and in the middle of the conversation realized he was walking through the city’s Pride celebrations. “Peter,” he said. “It looks like the Trenton Sidewalk Sale” (Trenton is where we grew up, and though that analogy might be lost to most, just picture obese people in moo-moos chain smoking while dragging their ten kids around and buying bargain Crocs from one of Trenton’s two discount retail stores).

Everywhere I looked in Calgary I felt like I was in the United States. Examples of privatization and free market policies were everywhere. Cigarettes in drug stores. Booze for sale left, right and center until 2am. No sales tax. A huge divide in private and public health care (but still a divide, so not quite USA). But the strange part is that Alberta’s conservatism, unlike most of America’s, is not based in religion. Its actually the second LEAST religious province in Canada. Alberta’s religion IS money. And not in a glamorous sort of way. Giant ugly skyscrapers with the names of oil companies on them. We went to the zoo, and basically every fancy display was “brought to you by Husky Oil” or some other similar company.

Look at it this way: Take your usual hick. Like the ones I grew up around in small town Ontario. Pick-up trucks, Wal-Mart shirts, country music. Give them $150,000 annual income. They’re still hicks. But their trucks are bigger, music louder and on better stereos, and their shirts still look like shit they just probably cost a lot more. And they’ll get really drunk and beat the shit out of you if you’re queerish. That’s Calgary.

This is a very obvious generalization and a week in the city does an expert make me. So I apologize for my hickphobia (or, lets face it, my elitism). I’m just trying to paint a little picture. And, really, I shouldn’t be complaining. I had a really fantastic time. And found the conservatism more interesting than scary.

There were eight of us in all (me, brother, mother, two aunts, an uncle and two cousins), and we spent a weekend in northern Alberta, rotating the ironic cowboy hat I bought for photo shoot purposes (some of the photos were actually taken where Brokeback Mountain was shot), viewing the amazing scenery through any window of our rented mini van, and stopping to see a barrage of roadside wildlife, including dozens of elk, mountain goats and mountain sheep, about six black bears, and three grizzly bears. The most insane part was that people would actually get out their cars and approach with their hick-money SLR cameras. A mountain goat, sure. But a grizzly bear? We saw a giant mother and her two still very giant cubs and at least a dozen people walked off the road and onto the hill where they were. Until a forest ranger came and yelled at them.

I’ll let some photos tell the rest of the story, and they be after the jump.

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