Damien Enright. 


Vancouver has its beauty but there’s nothing quite like West Cork

After a long flight west to east, it takes 36 or 48 hours for the body clock and brain to catch up, writes Damien Enright

Vancouver has its beauty but there’s nothing quite like West Cork

I’m physically back in West Cork from Vancouver. It’s 9am here and the birds are singing, but it’s midnight in my head.

It seems to me that the birds in Ireland sing more sweetly than any I heard in in Canada. However, men in Canada whistle. In Vancouver, I twice passed men whistling merrily as they walked the streets. It’s some time since I’ve heard anyone whistling while they walked in Ireland.

In British Columbia, they even have a town called Whistler. It’s in the Rockies and was the venue for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. When the snow falls, Vancouverites flock there in their thousands to enjoy winter sports. We camped there. It’s a lovely town, mock-Swiss chalet in places.

Some practices common in Canada are unknown here. For example, as soon as one arrives in a pub or restaurant, the ‘server’ brings pint glasses, or a large jug, of water to one’s table. Water is free. This is not the case in watery Ireland. Pub water is an earner; free water would cut down on the sales the pubs need to survive.

Canadian pub clientele must be seated. No standing is allowed. There are still coin operated telephones in the streets, and they work. They are clean and not vandalised.

Although Vancouver has a population of 2.3m, it is extremely hard to find a Canadian hard-news newspaper and impossible to find quality American or international press. Do the citizens (a) get their news from TV? (b) have no wood pulp to make paper? (c) don’t want to know what’s happening beyond Vancouver?

Regarding fashion, some twenty-something men call themselves “hipsters”. They ride antique bicycles with longhorn handlebars and saddlebags. They wear neat, spade beards, tight shirts and pants, and peaked caps. They look posed.

They are the polar opposite of the laid-back 1960s hipsters who wore nape-length hair, no beard (except for Allen Ginsberg), faded Levis and bomber jackets. Those who were into jazz wore shades and a black beret pulled flat over the forehead (rather than militia style, like Óglaigh na hÉireann or Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em).

To my eyes, Vancouver hipsters look decidedly un-hip.

Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver in 1971. It is a determinedly healthy city. Parks and the sea are always near. In ‘strata buildings’ (apartment blocks), smoking in any common area, including roof terraces, is forbidden, even if nobody else is present or air movement at that altitude will immediately disperse the smoke. Residents caught breaking this rule can be fined $58, and the building manager $575.

Byelaws also forbid smoking within 3m of doorway or windows of any building. Must smokers, already dicing with death, have to sometimes stand on traffic islands to comply?

While BC’s quirks intrigued us, they never impinged upon our enjoyment, and I my well visit again.

Back home, as we bussed it from Dublin Airport to West Cork, I was struck by the vigour and diversity of Irish vegetation. Canada is blanketed in pines as tall as churches but the Irish field hedges and unfarmed areas were jam-packed with every bush and tree in the catalogue of Irish flora. Nearer home, long stretches of hedge on straight roads had unfortunately been scalped and burnt brown with herbicides by landowners, all illegally and needless.

Lamentably, Donald Trump is withdrawing America from the Paris Climate Change accord, thus accelerating the decimation of the world’s poor by drought, flood and unnatural disaster.There is poverty in America, but not starvation. Some 80% of Americans live well by international standards. Poverty arises only because wealth is not distributed.

For the world’s impoverished, the only wealth is the land; now it is stolen from them by the industrial nations. Tens of thousands of families, farmers like the families of rural Ireland, are leaving their homes and taking to the road in Somalia and Eritrea. Drought due to climate change has killed their livestock and turned their land to dust.

That we will not be Mr Trump’s victims is an accident of geography; we were once left to starve by an uncaring colonial power. We are a fecund country. I see that, during our month away, a mowed field near our house has sprouted knee-high grass. The land is rich. Our garden is a jungle.

A swan that sat her nest 200m from Timoleague National School playground has raised her swanlings. Near Ring, I photographed a cob and a pen with a fine brood of cygnets, all afloat.

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