To the Land of Pale People and Back

by on July 31, 2006 · 4 comments

I’m back from my every-few-years journey to Nelson, Canada, my hometown. Back to 1970’s levels of technology, too–not that the town isn’t wired, it is, and wirelessed, too, though coverage in the mountains is spotty; I understand there are now people from Vancouver settling there and telecommuting. But my mother’s house has neither computer, nor any kind of Net access, nor a touchtone phone (yes, the phone has an actual dial), no hair dryer, no clothes dryer, no dishwasher, no microwave, and no CD or DVD player, just an old record player and a radio. She does have cable tv, but this is in the last 10 years… before that, no television at all. No car. She likes it this way.

Oh, and no air conditioning. Never needed it, but now the climate has changed, and it was an unheard-of 104 degrees for several days running. Luckily, there’s a lake. It’s big, it’s wet, and it’s cold. So we spent a lot of time in it.

Last time I was there three years ago there was an Internet cafe, where I checked my email (I’ve never felt the need to do so often enough to equip myself with anything like a Blackberry). It has since closed down, and so this time I went for access to the local hostel. In order to avail myself of their facilities, I had to arm myself with “two-nies” (the Canadian $2 coin) and brave a very, very large dog named Duke, apparently friendly but taciturn from the heat. Since my two-year-old son was with me, I got very little done beyond logging on and checking quickly for any message of earth-shattering importance, while yelling “No touch doggie!!!!”

The end result of all this was information withdrawal of a sort, for me. I found that in this relative vacuum that messages that ordinarily would not register–billboards, for example, and public service ads in magazines–really jumped out at me. Propaganda of various sorts was quite prominent. State-sponsored and otherwise. There were slogans of various sorts posted everywhere “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle!” and “Slip Slap Slop,” (As in “Slip on a shirt, Slap on a hat, Slop on some sunscreen”–a campaign that started in Australia, understandably). And then there were various activist community groups with their slogans and signs pleading for the re-opening of roads, hospital emergency rooms, and other tax-funded institutions closed in a spirit of frugality. Then there were newsletters and the local paper.

The overall effect was preachy and annoying and essentially content-free, though memorable enough. And evidently effectual… take the “Slip Slap Slop” campaign. At the beach, a good number of the children wore full coverage swimsuits, the kind that cover the arms and legs like wetsuits. Their parents were pretty much fully clothed at all times. HELLO PEOPLE YOU’RE IN CANADA, not CANBERRA. Not even the Sun Belt. On the bright side, a few free spirits let their kids go naked, a thing I rarely see in urban parts. Covered with sunscreen, like little greased piglets.

Maybe we should give up blogging and design billboards and distribute photocopied flyers. Heck, anything will do, if you send it to people who are isolated enough.

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