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Our Dumb Summers

Even on a curve, Planet S’ vacations barely make the grade


Back To School | by Mr. Dick, Rm. 214

Welcome back to school! My name is Mr. Dick (first name: Richard, no jokes unless you like detentions) and I’ll be your home room teacher this term. Let’s ease into the fall and get to know one another with an easy assignment — the classic “what I did this summer” essay. Up first: McDuck! Please share your summer with the class.

The Loudest Place: León, Nicaragua

By McDuck

The night of Sunday July 31, I was in León’s main square, crushed in with a crowd of thousands. The city was the kind of hot that gave every barstool and park bench a damp stamp from its most recent sweaty occupant. So I would’ve been happy to have a few inches of personal space, but that’s just not how they do things.

A Catholic procession led by a lumbering band — heavy on horns and drums — trod in from one side of the square. On the shoulders of the procession’s leaders was a ceremonial barge holding up a large crucified-Jesus statue draped with garlands of flowers. The procession moved towards the massive cathedral, which was lit up in the dark by a surprisingly elaborate light show while its massive bells clanged overtop the band’s march. At the steps of the cathedral, the Jesus-bearers rocked the barge back and forth in a slow turn until Jesus faced the crowd. That’s a cause for celebration. Firework pops joined the band’s drone and the bells’ clangs.

Then, the air raid siren. Blaring like the fucking Luftwaffe was approaching.

Leon residents don’t even flinch when they hear the siren. It echoes throughout the city twice every day (7 a.m. and noon). Everyone gives a different explanation for the practice, and locals behave as if you’ve asked them about a common modern convenience, like indoor toilets. What? Your city doesn’t have an air raid siren schedule? What are you, a farmer?

I’m not a local, unfortunately, so the siren on top of the fireworks on top of the cathedral bells on top of the procession’s horns and symbol crashes was more than enough for me. Holy fuck, my Canadian ears.

Turns out this massive three-day cacophony is an annual celebration of beloved poet Rubén Darío’s 1888 book, Azul.

¡Viva Nicaraguenses! ¡Viva Darío! And viva my eardrums — or what’s left of them.

First, let me get this straight: you went to Nicaragua? In the middle of summer? That wasn’t the brightest maneuver, was it? Second, what kind of a name is McDuck? No pseudonyms in my class; see me after the bell. In any case, I liked your report’s focus on music and poetry. It’s good to see a student use their summer to experience culture instead of drinking the days away (I assume you weren’t drinking in Nicaragua). Docked two grades for the swear in paragraph five. GRADE: C–

A Stimulating Tory

by Paul Dechene

This summer I left the city. Like vacationing Canadians do, drove Highway 1 from recreation area to interpretive site, from historic lookout to national park.

And, funny thing: anywhere the rains of Ottawa’s infrastructure largesse kissed, however gently, in the last decade, Economic Action Plan signs still stand.

Good news: they’re fading. All advertising does when its left in the sun.

These are the bleached bones of Harper’s deficit budget of 2009, a ponderous beast unleashed after much arm-twisting from the official opposition. “If you’re going to force us to confront the collapse of global capitalism with… ugh… ‘spending,’ we’re going to make damn sure everyone in the country remembers that We Conservatives were in power when the stimulus kraken was released,” you can almost hear them saying.

I expect those Economic Action Plan signs are the closest we’re ever going to get to a brass plaque commemorating that time old-fashioned Keynesianism saved the day.

Unlike the monuments erected around the Hillcrest cemetery in remembrance of a coal gas explosion in the neighbouring mine, we’ve yet to build an educational diorama interpreting the events of 2008 and ‘09.

The day was saved. Who needs a memorial?

And so, already we’re forgetting how we confronted — no exaggeration — the End Of The Economic World. Panicked heads of state and finance ministers were our Buffys and our Agents of SHIELD, working in the shadows to stave off apocalypse. Were they struggling to save us oblivious innocents from wrack and ruin? Debatable. The corporate vampires emerged stronger. The system is as rigged against us as it ever was. Maybe more so. The world wasn’t destroyed and remade more beautiful, I’m afraid. But that isn’t how apocalypses work, even the ones we postpone.

Our destination this trip along Highway 1 was my brother-in-law’s wedding in Bellevue, Alberta, just past the aforementioned Hillcrest cemetery and in the shadow of Frank Slide, site of another devastated town — this one warranting a full museum, paid for by the Alberta government with contributions from the Economic Action Plan. There you’ll learn how the internal anticline structure of Turtle Mountain had been undermined by coal mining. That led to a massive rockslide at 4:10 AM on April 29, 1903, the worst in Canadian history. It obliterated much of the town of Frank, Alberta. The slide lasted all of 100 seconds. The 90 people buried there barely had time to wake up and realize they were dead. The mining company accepted no responsibility in the disaster. The town was rebuilt. The Turtle Mountain mine was reopened.

The wedding, incidentally, was outdoors. Frank Slide formed the backdrop. It was the happiest I’ve ever seen my brother-in-law. He’s a wildlife biologist working for Alberta’s environment ministry. In other words, one of those civil servants toiling in the shadows to stave off the doom the tar sands will soon deliver unto us.

I wonder if that disaster, once fully realized, will get a museum or just some fading signs?

This was supposed to be an essay on your summer vacation, Mr. Dechene, not a socialist polemic against the former prime minister’s government. Also: SO boring. Please see me after the bell. GRADE: D+

One Great City

By Stephen Whitworth

In June, I went to Winnipeg…

I’ve got to cut you off, that’s terrible. Next summer, go somewhere less stupid. GRADE: F–