By LYNN CROSBIE AND DAVID MACFARLANE
Saturday, July 6, 2002
Re: The infantile marshmallow
From: Lynn Crosbie
I spent Canada Day weekend slouching through the streets like a remorseful lungfish, burning in the radioactive sun and watching maggots crawl out of the archipelagos of curbside garbage. Everyone I passed was as heat-crazed as me, most of them cursing, panting and staring hatefully at the blazing yellow, sadistic sun.
Still, I was not unhappy. I was safely ensconced in the city while everyone I knew was at "the cottage," lying on docks in unflattering swimwear, drinking warm beer and reading Robert Ludlum novels while throwing sticks at golden retrievers.
I grew up in Montreal, where people did have summer places, but, unlike the al fresco worshipping, Frisbee-tossing madmen and women of this province, are not given to mentioning such places with the kind of disingenuous aloofness usually reserved for references to "the club."
In spite of the fact that most of the "cottages" being visited are scarcely better than tarpaper shacks, the toilet facilities often involve toting a seat on sticks into the woods, and the lakes (if accessible) are usually teeming with sharp rocks and leeches, this summer site is, to most Southern Ontario lemmings, as auspicious as Valhalla.
Maybe some people like swatting away flies as they attempt to lay eggs on their food, noting with wonder that the sky is actually filled with stars, or idiotically roasting marshmallows, the most disgusting and infantile of all known foods.
I find loathsome the idea of getting carsick for half a day, listening to the cottage owner extol the wonders of the local haystacks and pig farms, only to disembark at some isolated shanty in a woods clearly occupied by Jason Voorhees and Leatherface.
Actually, I would prefer the company of psychopathic murderers to the typical cottage carousers, who always insist on bringing guitars and drunkenly singing disgusting Beatles songs into the night, or worse, arranging nude midnight swims, accompanied by screaming and banter obscene enough to make the relentless cricket stridulating seem melodious.
Re: Haystacks? Pig farms?
From: David Macfarlane
One of the most peculiar things about Montrealers, past, present and until the final trumpet sounds, is that no reference to that city and its environs can be made by them without concomitant disparaging of Toronto or Ontario. Comparisons are odious, this one particularly so since Montreal is wonderful quite on its own. But Montreal defines itself, so I sometimes fear, by claiming superiority to Toronto on all fronts: restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and now, apparently, in the straightforward, down-to-earth, organic attitude its citizens have to their summer places.
You say Montrealers aren't aloof about these humble retreats. They aren't snooty in the manner of Ontario cottage snobs. I see. You are referring, I take it, to the lumpenproletariat who pick up their racquets at the Mount Royal Club and head out each weekend to the Townships for fresh air, cucumber sandwiches, and some dialectical materialism. Not a disingenuous bone in their Bermuda shorts or knee socks, I'm sure.
There are enough things horribly awful about Ontario cottage life without inventing them. Haystacks? Pig farms? Lynn, you've been invited to the wrong cottages. Who are your friends -- former Montrealers? Tarpaper shacks? Would that they were. I'd prefer tarpaper shacks to the appalling monster cottages that populate the Muskokas any day.
So let me help you with an accurate view with what's wrong with Ontario cottage life. Jet skis. Televisions. Noisy boats, and lots of them. Cottages that look like they should be on the Bridle Path. And many idiots -- hardly surprising, since it seems unlikely that a few hours on the 400 will change anybody for the better.
All that said, it seems to me that only a Torontonian -- and you've been here long enough to qualify -- would be dour and grumpy enough to dismiss the treasure of lakes, rivers and islands we have to our north. So-called cottage country does not preclude the pleasures of urban life, any more than the Tuscan countryside precludes Florence.
I stay in the city on the long weekends too. But that's because they're all up there instead of down here. Which, reversed, is one of the reasons it's nice to get away to a cottage now and then.
Perhaps you'd visit us in Georgian Bay some day. (You could bring up your garbage to our dump.) You exaggerate the state of the toilet facilities -- but not by much. However, we do sometimes read books that aren't by Robert Ludlum.
Re: Corn skewers, wine coolers
From: Lynn Crosbie
That's right, my friends are trash who wouldn't know a cucumber sandwich from Spam on a shingle, so perhaps I have misread the entire magnificent vista that is Georgian Bay and its summer denizens (including nouveau riche hockey players and Goldie Hawn, I hear).
Yet I have been to Georgian Bay, perhaps to a more déclassé region, and was singularly unimpressed by the cottagers, whose lawns were uniformly decorated with wooden one-dimensional trompe d'oeils of fat women bending over, and whose homes were filled with burnt wood art and blazes of orange, from the shag rugs to the homey, nubby wool lampshades.
I spent the trip up counting road kill, and am surprised by a certain imperialist attitude (and I'm no lefty) implied in desecrating land "treasures" while lamenting, in a "there goes the neighbourhood" way, when others get the same bright idea.
Of course there are TVs, and jet skis, and worse. Most people, like Milton's Satan, take the hell that is them wherever they go: "Myself am a boom-box-blaring moron."
I have also met the locals in these towns and vistas, who, importantly, hate the summer folk for ruining their lives with their grotesque commotion, and sunburnt, waddling forays into the village to stockpile more water noodles, corn skewers and wine coolers.
I am however intrigued by your offer to join you, an offer I hope was extended out of pure lechery, not a misguided belief in my desire to tramp through the forest looking for pine cones to paint and sell as folk art.
Re: Sex and gin and tonics
From: David Macfarlane
I must now enter into the very thick of my defence, knowing that urbane guffaws are sure to greet my wholesome enthusiasms.
If, as I am about to, anyone says that they like going up north because they like pine trees, or rocks, or sunsets, they can count on getting laughed out of the Bar Italia. I've noticed that people who live in downtown Toronto tend to be dismissive of natural beauty. I can't think why.
But before I pin the bull's-eye on my chest for you, there are two important points I must clear up. The first is that the nouveau riche hockey players (is there another kind?) and Goldie Hawn summer in Muskoka, not Georgian Bay. Which is as good a way as any to remember the difference between the two.
And secondly -- of course, my invitation to you was extended out of pure lechery. The sex is better up here. I think it has something to do with the oxygen. Either that or the gin and tonics. But that's something we'll have to discuss when you arrive. I'll be at the dock at 7:30.
In the meantime, here are two irritatingly wholesome arguments in favour of finding out what's north of Bloor Street during the summer months.
1. Every year we visit friends at their cottage in Temagami. And every year, the first thing I do, is go for a swim off their back dock. Usually, it's about 7:30 in the evening by the time I get in. The drive (you're right) has been long and arduous. But that swim (you're quite right about the no bathing suit too) is always a completely exquisite experience. It often occurs to me that many people -- perhaps many millions of people -- would give anything to be swimming in a clear, beautiful lake on a summer evening. Something we take for granted -- or think of as silly.
2. In the course of a year, families are pulled in as many directions as there are members of it. Everyone is always late, or about to be late, for everything. Everything is hectic. And so, for a few weeks, it is not just a pleasure, it's important to slow down. And a cottage, so long as you don't screw it up with speedboats and cocktail parties and satellite dishes, is good for slowing things down.
This, I know, will strike you as pseudo-rustic, but we like having no phone, and no hydroelectricity. We like the rituals these absences create. We like it that there is no greater priority than swimming together, canoeing together, eating together, reading together. It's only for a short while, but it's an important short while. Kind of like summer, actually.
I do agree, however: One need not go to the extreme of roasting marshmallows together.
Re: Beauty, the tyrant
From: Lynn Crosbie
Your geographical rectitude and sly reference to Bar Italia notwithstanding (I prefer the cold comfort of unpopulated dives), I did appreciate your final words. Of course, lakes are beautiful, and surely such a playboy sophisticate such as yourself can see through my harsh words and find the pure envy roiling below, like the bottom feeders or turfed garbage beneath the water's surface.
There is nothing silly in wanting peace, space and beauty. The trouble is that few of us can afford it, and, contemplating such things, feel like National Enquirer readers noting that Demi Moore's mother lived in a junked-out car while her doll collection lived in a mansion.
But that's not the end of it. Beauty is a tyrant, and her dictates bore and oppress me. I detest the easy, to-the-cottage-born manner of most north-bounders, and, ultimately, their desire to find such utopias and disgrace them with the reckless squalor they are purporting to escape. Most of all, I hate the way everyone I know becomes Blanche DuBois each summer, as their references to cottaging become increasing demented, as though recalling the Belle Rêve of their most insipid imaginings.
The reason your lake gets worse every year is because money is wasted on the rich. I'll continue to ride the streetcar, toward something greater than certainty, a desire for a splendour that is unanticipated, and quite surely discrete from the boxed-in and paradoxical paradise of "a home away from home."
Failing that, see you at 7:30. I'm three-dimensional, baby, and swim like a shark.
From: David Macfarlane
For adversaries, we are not only in danger of agreeing on too much, I find myself growing all the more fond of you, which was probably not what our editors had in mind when they invited us to claw one another's eyes out in public. The reason for this -- aside from my professional admiration and my keen anticipation of joining you for a swim -- may constitute my last and strongest argument against your position.
To wit: Like you, we have no cottage. We were not to the manor born when it comes to summer traditions. We cannot, alas, be smug and snooty about the dumb luck of having grandparents who bought an island on Lake Joseph or in Sans Souci for $400 in 1910. We are lowly renters -- which means sometimes cottagers behoove themselves to let us pay their taxes for them, and sometimes old friends take pity on our city-bound souls and rent us their modest, but lovely cabin when it is not being used by other members of their family.
So if we're not going to hurl invective at one another, let's hurl some where the hurling is deserved. I'm intrigued by your notion of the tyranny of beauty; perhaps we could discuss this over a few gin and tonics when you arrive. But, until then, let's agree that what's most wrong with cottage country is most cottagers.
You are quite right: All too often they import precisely what they say they want to escape. As custodians of a resource of truly remarkable beauty, they have proven, for the most part, to be self-centred, shortsighted, irresponsible failures. Their collective inability to embrace peace, quiet, and simple beauty -- to say nothing of environmental discipline -- is the single strongest argument in favour of staying in the city all-summer long. It's just too heartbreaking to watch a natural treasure be ruined by such stupid inadvertence.
I'd rather camp on the shoulder of the 401 than in certain parts of the Muskoka Lakes; it would be quieter, and probably safer. And, after a while, the smug, holier-than-thou attitude of Georgian Bayers -- they, of the leaking septic tanks; they, of the idling cabin-cruisers; they, of the morning soap-ups in the lake -- can start to grate as much as the jet skis buzzing past the lighthouse at Pointe au Baril.
There, I got that off my chest. Now I can get back to looking forward to the arrival of all three of your dimensions. Which reminds me: Would you mind bringing up some arugula when you come? We can't find any up here to save ourselves.