IF, for the hell of it, you really want to make a red-blooded guy squirm, take him to a vegetarian restaurant. For him, even reading the menu is torture.
My dad was one of those resolute carnivores. I once took my parents to the café at the Vancouver Art Gallery -- my mum and I thought it was lovely. Dad took a solitary look at the colourful array of fresh salads, quiches and smoked salmon delights and muttered bitterly, “I hate these places, with their pussy willow sandwiches.”
I expected the same sort of reaction recently, when Stanley and his fellow hardcore flesh-ingester Roscoe tagged along on a lunch date I’d made with our herbivorous friend Jeannette at a vegetarian restaurant.
You could practically watch the men’s nervous ticks develop as, with ashen faces, they read the menu and found options like “Beatnuts,” described as “raw beet, garlic, lemon, nut, seed & goat cheese paté topped with dill and served with cucumbers.” “Wow,” you could see them thinking. “‘Served with cucumbers’ -- party on.”
Finally, they made their sensible, roughage-rich choices. “I’ll have the Intifada,” Roscoe quipped -- then settled for lentil soup. Stanley got some sprout-laden potion thick with lotus root. They ate it all and hardly even cried. What brave soldiers!
But braver still, you must admit, and even more surprising for it, are our two female Governors General, lately trading growls over hunks of bloody meat. Who knew Adrienne and Michaelle had it in them? They both seemed like devout lettuce-munchers to me.
Every Canadian should be familiar with this story. Reportedly, our current G.-G., in front of a crowd in Rankin Inlet, helped skin a seal and then snacked on its raw heart. Michaelle Jean’s move was hailed as a gesture of support for the north’s beleaguered seal hunters, whose livelihood has been threatened by the European Parliament’s ban on the trade of seal products within the E.U.
Past G.-G. Adrienne Clarkson didn’t appreciate the fuss made over G.-G. Michaelle. “I’ve eaten raw food here since 1971,” she snapped to reporters covering an Arctic gathering her husband, John Raulston Saul, was hosting. “It’s nothing new to me, okay?”
“I have a lovely seal skin coat ….” she added, defiantly one-upping her successor.
If the two G-Gs were hip-hop stars, we might have expected their boasts to escalate entertainingly, becoming ever more raunchy and ludicrous. But no such luck. These ladies are much more subtle.
That, perhaps, is why G.-G. Adrienne chose an underhanded slight last month to launch an attack on the popular G.-G. Michaelle. The latter had revealed some public confusion about whether B.C.’s Coastal Mountains were actually the Rockies. This apparently prompted G.-G. Adrienne to assert that candidates for their mutual post should be required to pass a Canadian knowledge quiz. After all, heaven forbid that any question to a Governor General be answered with a courteous, “I’m afraid I don’t know. Can I direct you to the Canadian Encyclopedia?”
A former TV show host, G.-G. Adrienne suggested that televised hearings be held to uncover whether a contestant -- I mean, prospective Governor General -- knew where to find the Mackenzie River. (Of course, many Canadians didn’t know the Mackenzie River was lost.) I suppose the title of this particular show would be So You Think You Can be Governor General of Canada?
According to G.-G. Adrienne, other relevant topics on which a vice-regal should be well-versed are the conscription crisis of 1917 and the 120-year-old Manitoba Schools Question.
Potential Governors General should also be grilled on their knowledge of Canadian artists, according to G.-G. Adrienne. I guess the Queen’s representative should always, at the drop of a hat, be able to trot out a nuanced appreciation of Avril Lavigne’s oeuvre and how it compares to that of Trooper. Or maybe Her Excellency meant that it is perpetually de rigueur to casually rhyme off the names of the Group of Seven over afternoon tea. In that situation, she appeared to imply, poor G.-G. Michaelle might very well start with “the Seven Dwarves” and end with “7-11.”
Here’s the thing: G.-G. Adrienne knows it all, due to her career as a journalist -- the ideal breeding ground for know-it-alls. That job took her across Canada. Later, her G.-G. post flew her not only all over the country, but to cultural hotspots around the world, sometimes in the company of hunky poets and sinewy choreographers.
Meanwhile, accused ignoramus G.-G. Michaelle, also a journalist, was born in Haiti and later adopted a child there, but mainly worked in Quebec. There she presumably drank a lot of beer, ate plenty of feves au lard and never gave a second’s thought to the conscription crisis.
She has even admitted as much, stating when she started the job that she had plenty to learn about Canada, and adding recently in a Globe and Mail interview, “I think it would be very pretentious on my part to believe I could have arrived in this role declaring that I knew Canada in its entirety and by heart. Canada is a country worth discovering.”
Naturally a person that humble would dive into a hunk of raw blubber, especially if she were getting it for free. We must never forget, though, that whatever G.-G. Michaelle may have done, or may still do, G.-G. Adrienne did it first.