Reportage / 21 April 2019

Suddenly Alberta, Canada

Postcard from, well, not Ohio, volume 6

On my eighteenth birthday, I woke up in Jerusalem. I was about to graduate. I was not a good student, at least not a diligent one; first and foremost, I was interested in soccer. But I could write well. My German professor mentioned an EU-wide essay competition against racism, xenophobia and antisemitism. Since that interested me, didn’t I want to write something? I wrote an essay. Weeks later I got a call from Vienna: I had won the first and second prize in Austria. Shortly thereafter, I traveled with peers from the other EU countries to Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg. After that we flew to Israel. Wonderful, I thought on my eighteenth birthday in Jerusalem, writing has taken you here.

That occurred to me in Canada when I was asked at a reading in Calgary how I’d come to writing. And now, I said, I'm here. Here was Alberta, the Texas of Canada, as it’s sometimes called, oil, big concentrated wealth, two cities, lots of land and rural areas, supposedly conservative and reactionary, at the moment run by a liberal government. The Wirth Centre for Austrian and Central European Studies had invited me, the Austrian Cultural Forum New York supported the trip. For the first time I talked with peers from Croatia about their experiences in the war, talked to people from Belgium, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Serbia and Austria. The one big promise to my generation was to be able to settle, within the European Union, wherever you wanted, and to be able to work wherever you wanted. It occurred to me how, then, on that trip, a few days shy of eighteen, at an event in Brussels, I asked if it wasn’t really primarily about economic interests. Freedom of movement, as we’ve seen, was the first thing to come under fire from stupid nationalism.

In Alberta, the one main concern was about the upcoming elections. One might think that wherever one goes, it looks bleak. The right will win the elections, the people I met told me, with devastating effects on science, research, arts and humanities, not to mention what their victory will bring about for the poor and the poorest. Yet the most important topic, as almost everywhere, is not openly negotiated; instead, emotions are used to make politics. Here it is the oil in the soil of Alberta, where one of the largest remaining oil fields is suspected. Pipelines are to be built to make it easier to get it to the sea and from there to China and India. While the right wants to extract more, the liberals, as everywhere else, seek to compromise: extract less, get out slowly. Yet really the oil hasto stay in the ground. It's that simple. Naomi Klein pointed that out. She got death threats. The shame of traditional politics, which will be condemned by succeeding generations, is thinking in legislative periods. And the alliance with the powerful interests of the present. That this lunacy is destroying the planet's future is less important. At the roadside we saw a sign: Support Oil!

Suddenly I was standing on skis in Sunshine Village, Banff. Blue sky, sun, hardly any people, good snow, the wonderful mountains of the Canadian Rockies. I was happy. Where writing has taken me! We talked about oil and climate change. We were aware of the fact that I hadn’t gone to Canada on foot, nor had we hiked to Banff. Piet Defraeye told me how bad the melting of the glaciers was. I wore his late partner’s ski pants and goggles, a passionate skier, who died way too early. The love of my life, said Piet. We took every lift at least once. We enjoyed the slopes. We also skied for Stephen.