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As you recall from last month, this summer we paddled the Upper Rideau Lake, the Big Rideau Lake, the Lower Rideau Lake, and an assortment of smaller lakes. The Canadians insist on calling this a canal, although the only time it remotely resembles one is the last mile before the eight-step lock in Ottawa.
I think they do this so they can claim that the Rideau is the oldest canal in North America. The Canadians started building it in 1826 and completed construction in 1832. The Erie Canal, on the other hand, was started in 1818 and was finished in 1825.
So how come the Rideau is older than the Erie if the Erie was completed a year before they even started the Rideau? The answer is that the Canadians have got to feel they beat the US in something. So the Canadians point out that the Erie Canal has been dramatically modernized with new electrically powered high-lift locks, while the Rideau still uses exactly the same manual low-lift locks they built in 1832.
What the hell, let them have it. Plus, it employs vast numbers of college kids to crank the antique valves and doors, open and closed.
As you might have guessed, Canadians are not too exacting with numbers. For example, the standard answer for, "How far is it?" is always, "About a half-mile." The reason for this is because you are not likely to come back and rip their guts out after you have paddled a half-mile and find out that you still have five more miles to go.
So why don't they just say, "I don't know?" I don't know. We went to a fancy restaurant in Merrickville to celebrate our completing the canal. Since I am lactose intolerant, I always ask if certain items contain milk or cream. Pasta Fazool ordinarily does not contain cream, but I wanted to be sure, so I asked. "Yes," said the waitress. "Are you sure?" "Yes." I was beginning to doubt our choice of restaurant. No decent chef puts cream in bean soup.
Then I asked about the Caesar Salad. True Caesar Salad is made with Romaine lettuce, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. "Yes, there is cream in it." Probably came out of a bottle, then, like at McDonald's. I checked to see if they had Poutine on the menu.
The rest of the meal was excellent so I asked another waitress to ask the chef why he used cream in his Pasta Fazool and Caesar Salad. She came back and said he absolutely did not. Maybe it's their way of getting even with us for always being in second place.
Once you get used to the cultural quirks, Canada can be a fun place to visit. We went by motorcycle and kayak. The motorcycle is better. A half-mile is no big deal on a motorcycle.
Happy Thanksgiving from New Bern, North Carolina!
— Copyright © 2002 by Notch Miyake.