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Burgers, Heidegger, and Halifax…

April 15, 2017

Ah Halifax, how you bemuse the outsider.

We have arrived to the event of the season, the event that has young people abuzz with excitement. Whether real, imagined, or driven by the herd instinct, the buzz amounts to the same thing – the large consumption of “gourmet” hamburgers.

Yes, we have arrived to Burger Week in Halifax – to breakfast pancake burgers, the Athens (Greek) burgers, the British Bulldog burger, Thai burgers, double and triple-decker burgers – to a cornucopia of meat, more meat, layers and layers of meat.

Nothing tells you more about the core cultural substance of this Maritime student town than the rapacious devouring of hamburgers, of which some hearty lads will consume 20, 30, even 40 burgers on the space of seven days.

Yes, there is even a burger bus!

On your mark. Get set. Go!

II

Was this what it was like to first set eyes on the Titanic?

To look up at that great bough – against a blazing blue sky – and believe (like you’ve never believed before!), as if in a fairy tale, that if this was possible, than anything was possible? That man’s triumph over Nature assured our greatness, our sense of History, our immortality!

 

New Halifax Convention Centre courtesy of The Coast

This Beast! This cudgel that has been slammed into the heart of the old city defies reason and all all sense of proportion. I’m gobsmacked!

Nothing says inferiority complex like the old town fathers building a Monolith – this faux bough of a colossal glass ship – just as the oceans are dying and the great fishing industry that was sustained this city has been sucked dry and has now vanished forever…

If I could, I’d build a glass iceberg on the kitty-corner, an equally absurd gesture to Freudian impotence and self-indulgence.

Egypt has the pyramids. Paris the Eiffel Tower.

Halifax took a great glass dump in the heart of its city.

III

Irony (classic definition): At a morning Heidegger lecture of first year students (that we had been invited to sit in on), the professor notes that Heidegger argued back in the 1930’s that we are not masters of technology, rather, technology is the master of us.

I look around the room and note students who are surfing their Facebook and Instagram accounts on their cell phones. Other students dutifully take notes – on their laptops – a few still doing the old pen-and-paper routine.

“How many of you,” the prof points out, “could put away your cell phones and laptops for even a week?”

Everyone laughs, nodding in agreement. (Some, I am sure, don’t understand the question.)

Some of the young women in my row diligently tap the prof’s question into their laptop notes.

Oral exams start in 2 weeks.

I’m sure many are wondering if this will be on the test.

IV

The one thing that has not been crushed by modernity in Halifax is the passing smile on the street, the fact that if you make eye contact, many people will smile at you, and a surprising number will say hello.

Coming back from Ontario, where eye contact is tantamount to assault, it is a bit disconcerting, I feel self-conscious, as if I have food on my face that I have not yet realized.

It would be a mistake for an outsider – especially a middle-aged man like myself – to assume it means anything more than local civility – but having just come back from Upper Canada – that province of wealth and indifference, where eye contact will have a person nervously thumbing their 9-1-1 button, this small gesture of human contact still warms the heart.

Surrounded as we are by the 24/7 media white noise of Trump, Putin, Netanyahu, Brex-it, Dakota Pipelines, and the ever-beaming face of our Prime Minister Shiny Pony, it is a sweet pause to smile at a passing face – letting you know you are not alone, that we’re in this together.

Too sentimental?

Is the Halifax street smile just conformity to local cultural traditions?

Maybe it is. But so what? Spring is not yet here. Any human warmth after 5 months of winter is welcomed by me.

 

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