What can I tell you about Saskatoon?
It’s way up north. Everybody has little electrical cables sticking out from under the hoods of their cars. I asked about this and was told it’s a kind of heater you plug in at night. Cuz when it gets to be like 50 below the oil and other fluids in your engine will freeze and the car won’t start. “Don’t they have those in Ohio?” someone asked. No. I mean it gets cold there too, but not 50 below zero.
The city itself is like 200,000 people, which is about the same as Akron. But unlike Akron, Saskatoon is almost completely isolated. It has no suburbs or “bedroom towns” to speak of. As soon as you hit the city limits it’s flat prairie for miles in every direction. This makes for a sense that the city is like an island of humanity in a sea of canola fields.
I've done a bunch of Zen stuff here so far. I did a talk at the library downtown to a smallish but very receptive audience. I found them a bit more reserved than in other places I've spoken. Like they weren't sure if they should laugh or not. Or maybe I'm just not funny.
I've been sitting with a little Zen group here every morning at 7 and every evening at 4. I'm also sitting with a group based at the local university every day at noon. Then I've been either giving talks or doing book signings each evening at 7-ish. Tonight will be another one at McNally-Robinson Books (see the link to your left for details). That gives me little 2 hour increments in between to actually go and see stuff. Which means I ain't seen much.
It's cold up here too. I mean, as far as the locals are concerned this is Spring weather. It's a couple degrees above freezing today. It did get up to the low 70s Fahrenheit the first day I was here. But I guess that's kind of an anomaly. I'm glad I heeded their advice to pack some warm clothes, though it did make for heavy luggage.
Somebody asked me if Saskatoon is like the town in Northern Exposure. Yes. It really is. Everyone seems to know everyone up here. It's like I mention a record store and everybody's like, "Oh old Bob runs the place and he hates cats and smokes cigars, etc., etc."
There's a surprising amount of Buddhism for such a small isolated prairie city. No Soto style Zen centers, but several other places. I was told this is like Canada's Bible Belt. I haven't seen too much evidence of that. But I don't know to what extent I'd come in contact with it anyway. And besides, my whole tour this time has been full of Bible Belt areas like Tennessee, North Carolina, and Texas. I'm getting used to it.
My books seem to sell well up here. The guy at Indigo Books told me yesterday they had to briefly pull my stuff off the shelves so they'd have enough stock for the signing last night.
And it's Canada! I'm really digging on Canada. It's the weird little differences. The Tim Horton's coffee shops. The gas stations and banks are all different from the US ones. The accents! I'm working on the correct pronunciation of house and about. When Americans imitate it they get it all wrong. It's not "hoos" and "a-boot." It's more subtle than that. And "eh," which is just like the Japanese "ne." American English doesn't have one of those, except perhaps "y'know." But that's not quite the same.
I'm staying at a house in the bad part of town. My first night here I watched some ladies of the evening on the corner opposite this place. It looked almost like they were changing shifts. Like one was standing there, then another came along, they had a polite conversation and the first one left but the new one stayed. Do they work in shifts? It doesn't feel dangerous, though. Just a little sad.
I'm gonna go now. If you're up here in the Great White North, stop by the book reading/signing tonight!
Thursday, May 07, 2009
What can I tell you about Saskatoon?