In Italy I used to live in Bologna. From Bologna you are:
- 35 minutes from Florence (by high-speed train)
- 1 hour from Milan (by high-speed train)
- 1 hour 15 minutes from Rome (by high-speed train)
- 1 hour 25 minutes from Venice (by high-speed train)
- 3 hours 35 minutes from Naples (by high-speed train)
not to mention:
- 1 hour from Munich (by direct flight)
- 1 hour 35 minutes from Paris (by direct flight)
- 1 hour 40 minutes from Brussels (by direct flight)
- 2 hours from Prague (by direct flight)
- 2 hours 5 minutes from London (by direct flight)
- 2 hours 15 minutes from Madrid (by direct flight)
- 2 hours 25 minutes from Athens (by direct flight)
and why not changing continent?
- 1 hour 45 minutes from Tunis (by direct flight)
- 2 hours 40 minutes from Istanbul (by direct flight)
- 3 hours from Marrakech (by direct flight)
just to name a few…
Now you will understand my dismay when a Canadian friend told me Montreal was CLOSE to Toronto because it was a barely 6 hours drive or 1 hour and 10 minutes flight. From Italy I can fly to two different continents in two hours. In Canada, as Douglas Coupland points out in that incredibly useful book that is Souvenir of Canada:
You can never overstate how large a country Canada is. Everything is far away from everything else; nothing is close to anything. And a sizeable chunk of the Canadian identity is defined both by how we pretend this isn’t the case, and how we can be so shockingly cavalier about plane hops like Vancouver to Winnipeg of Montreal to Halifax. In Europe or Asia, such distances would cover a half dozen countries and societies. In Canada, all it means is that the baseball cap at the other end has a different team’s name stitched onto it.
In Italy you’re always close to something or someone. There’s never just bare land. Even when you’re in the middle of the countryside, you can see and feel the presence of the man. Being it a farmed field, a utility pole, an abandoned shack, a distant road. The first thing I remember about my first University class on Canadian Literature is a word: wilderness. This is a concept I always keep in mind when I think about Canada.
Toronto is a huge, noisy, vibrant, busy city. But just drive a couple of hours North and you’ll find empty land. A few months ago I traveled by train from Toronto to Ottawa and I found myself staring at the bare land we were crossing while going from the biggest city to the capital of the country. This is something that fascinates and scares me at the same time. You can fly for 8 hours from Newfoundland to Vancouver and STILL be in the same country. I remember watching a documentary on TVO soon after we arrived in Canada. The documentary is called The Polar Sea, and it tells the story of a dozen people traveling through the Northwestern Passage, something nearly impossible just a few years ago. While following these modern adventurers, the documentary gives us a glimpse of life “up North”: places like Pond Inlet, Baffin Bay, Cambridge Bay,… I clearly remember my amazement when I realised people living there would go to the same Office Canada, use the same Robin Hood flour, watch the same tv channels we watch here. For me and my husband this documentary was a sort of introduction to what living in Canada means: this is a huge country, just deal with it. Maybe as a reminder of this, maybe as a joke with my husband, I keep Pond Inlet in the list of the cities in my Weather Forecast App. It’s -27° in Pond Inlet right now, Google maps is not able to tell me how to flight in that area and I just can’t imagine how much wilderness lays between here and there. Yet, tonight somebody will use the same flour as I will and we will both watch Peter Mansbridge on CBC. And this is Canada.