With Victoria's Day long weekend kicking off, your friendly neighbourhood Ethnic Aisle writers decided to reminisce on cottage experiences and recount some embarrassing anecdotes. Enjoy!
It's almost the official launch of cottage season. We're going to be under a deluge of beer ads promising amazing, sexy times in Muskoka and folksy Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons ads swinging on tires and sipping on steamin' coffee. What could be more Canadian than a weekend at the cottage? OH MY GOD, I'VE ONLY BEEN TO THE COTTAGE TWICE! (And once was for work!)
The first time it was when I was 18. And... I had no idea what a cottage really was, because my parents never talked about such things, and I'm pretty sure I thought they were kinda like a mix between farms and shacks. When I was invited by a boy in my OAC English class to go, I was afraid they'd make me play football and rake leaves. I had no idea all people did was drink and sometimes go into the water and then drink some more, while sometimes playing the guitar.
I made Caesars and blasted Britney on the stereo. Maybe that's why I wasn't invited back? Oh well. Who else has cottage stories?
The first time I was at a cottage was, I think, the summer between grades five and six. My brothers and I kind of didn't know what to do. I remember being scared/grossed out by the dark, mysterious fresh water, which wasn't at all like the salty, floaty ocean of Trinidad, where my parents are from. It wasn't hot like the beach, either. I remember being sort of bored and confused. Also, the beds smelled.
In high school/university I went to some friends' cottages and I still didn't know what to do. I mean, other than the getting drunk part. I was the typical nerd who had to take out her contact lenses before swimming and then couldn't swim far cause I couldn't see and then as soon as I got out of the lake ran immediately back inside to put my contacts in so no one would see me with glasses on, repeat. I felt super awkward because everyone else had been doing this nature thing their entire lives and meanwhile every mosquito bite that I got swelled up as big as a golf ball. One girl told me I looked like a burn victim.
I know that there's no such thing as "cottage country" and that expecting racism when I go north of, say, Canada's Wonderland, makes me a jerk. But I do kinda think that part of why cottages are sooooo relaxing is that there is an expectation of homogeneity. Nothing like going back to a simpler time, right? I was very, very upset about the "nipper tipping" bullshit that happened in the mid-2000s, culminating with the sickening event where Shayne Berwick and his Asian friends were pursued in a car after fishing in Lake Simcoe in 2007. They were rammed and chased off the road into a tree, and Berwick suffered permanent brain damage. One of the men pursuing them, Trevor Middleton, was found guilty of aggravated assault and sentenced to two years less a day, which was sickening. We're not even discussing native peoples here--the Canadian Wilderness definitely invokes authenticity issues, and it's so rarely talked about it's hard to articulate, for me.
Now I have a (super cute) boyfriend with a cottage that has been in his family for three generations and I love it. I love swimming in the cold lake and I love canoeing and I love seeing beavers and blue jays and leaving out nuts (or wasabi peas) for chipmunks that will come up on the deck to eat them if you're quiet enough. I love all the old family photos and the history behind all the antiques/junk lying around, and having a fire, and eating roasted marshmallows until my teeth hurt. I feel lucky and yeah, I feel Canadian.
Sorry, blabbermouth as always.
I can relate to that sorta-irrational-but-not-really "I'm a minority, I don't belong here" feeling. But weirdly, my first experience going to cottage was an autumn weekend at one of the rare ones owned by an Indian family. And part of the pleasure was doing exactly those stereotypical cottage things: listening to rock music, sitting next to a fire, going to for walks, heading down to Georgian Bay etc. That part of it was great because it was like watching the Superbowl or having Christmas dinner: I was doing the things people on TV did. Like Pinocchio, it was then that I was 'a real boy'.
When I got a bit older and went to a friend's cottage, it was a bit different. It was fun, no doubt. But it was almost like listening to music by The Tragically Hip or Sloan: sure, it was enjoyable, but it was like it wasn't for me - like I couldn't properly identify. It was as if, having seen so many pictures of cottage life that "didn't include me", just the act of being there was somehow off. It's weird how that works. At some point, we should also talk about being weirded out by small towns where everyone is white. Cause dudes? That shit is way more unnerving than it should be.
Last year, though, my Dad, brother and I headed up north to a place an hour east of Algonquin. Again, we did those pleasantly stereotypical things. Cooking sausages in a cast iron skillet seemed appropriately Grapes of Wrath to me. But the whole time, especially while driving, we also listened to singer Abida Parveen sing sufi ghazals, while the pine trees whipped by. It was pretty perfect, both as an experience, but also as a comfortable in-between: in cottage country, but listening to foreign music I didn't really understand but made me feel at home anyway.
I dunno guys, I've never really racialized cottaging like I have with camping. Maybe it's because, counter-intuitively, cottaging is all about keeping to yourself and maintaining the cozy, whereas camping is about new levels of drunkenness and trying to flirt with white girls. That's been my formative experience, at least. It's hard to racialize your surroundings at a cottage when you're spending so much time blocking other people out.
My family's cottage is surrounded by white folk, but that fact has never held my attention much. Nav says the experience can be unnerving, but I don't know, it depends on whether I'm channeling horror movie white people from a small town, or like, Gilmore Girls white people from a small town. Both are unnerving actually, but you feel me. Maybe Parks and Rec is a better example; Collingwood can feel mad Pawnee sometimes, but that's not a criticism.
Yeah, there are things like people assuming I don't know how to string a fishing pole (and being right about it); not being able to accurately judge the age of white girls (a big problem in my teens) leading to really awkward conversations; people asking me where I'm from and not meaning Mississauga; and there was that time the neighbours called the cops on me and my friends for conducting a late night, drunken, freestyle rap cipher on the lawn. (Neighbour apologized the next morning and said our rapping was actually pretty good. It was a weird weekend for everyone, ok?) I could tie that stuff with a racialized bow and call it a day. But really, nothing about cottaging actually makes me feel white. To butcher what Denise said, the nature stuff and the silence and the smells take over, and I just feel Canadian.
And now I'm going to a type a bit more so I don't end so mawkishly. There. Oh, and fuck the nipper tippers.
Was it the Britney comment?