“I’ve been very quiet.”
“Yes, you have. Well, you also had the tablet, so… Do you know this flag?” I asked as Feng was parking the car after a short one-hour drive.
“Mmm … stars… China! What?”
I couldn’t help laughing. I don’t think Americans would appreciate their Old Glory being mistaken for the Five-star Red Flag. Yeah, stars… but on one hand, fifty stars for fifty states; on the other, a large star for the Communist Party of China and four smaller stars symbolizing the working class, the peasantry, the urban petite bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie.
Good thing the McCarthyism era is over otherwise we would have been deported back to Canada.
“Mommy, what flag is it, then?” asked Mark, slightly offended his answer made me laugh—like Feng, he doesn’t like to be wrong.
“Oh. I’ve never been here.”
We used to cross the border more often when our colourful money was at par with the free-world dollar. These days, shopping in Ogdensburg with Canadian roubles isn’t as a tempting but we still explored the local Walmart like anthropologists conducting fieldwork—wow, an entire aisle dedicated to mac and cheese!
Since you don’t come to Ogdensburg for a culinary adventure, the guys had lunch at Subway while I was taking pictures of the bilingual Spanish/English signs and an Amish man queuing for a sandwich presumably made with regular, non-sacramental bread. Then we hung out at the municipal marina, by the St. Lawrence River.
This is not the America portrayed by Hollywood or Fox News, but a quiet little city like thousands of others across the U.S. and Canada. As a Canadian, I felt as if I had stepped into my neighbour’s half of a semi-detached—the layout is a mirror image of your own place so you can easily find your way around, but furniture and home decor are strangely exotic. There were pennies in my change (Canada got rid of it in 2012), three law offices on main street (if the stereotype is true, American like to sue!), no Shoppers but Rite Aid stores, distances were in miles, gas was sold in gallons and traffic signals were hanging instead of being affixed.
We crossed the border back to Canada a few hours later. If you ever want to invade either Canada or the U.S., I’d suggest aiming for a hot Tuesday in July—we were waved through on both sides, no mention of a wall and no accusations of smuggling precious American goods to Canada.
Next step of our mini road trip was Fort Wellington, in Prescott. From the parking lot, all I could see was a giant green hill on the shore of the St. Lawrence.
“That’s the Fort?” I asked.
“Yeah! What were you expecting? A Lord of The Ring fortress?”
“No,” I lied.
Of course, I had pictured a proper fort with watchtowers, stone walls, iron-spiked doors and archers!
From the outside, Fort Wellington, built during the War of 1812 to defend the St. Lawrence River shipping route from attacks by the United States, didn’t look like a military fortification but a cute viewpoint overlooking the St, Lawrence River. The earthen ramparts reinforced with horizontal frieze pickets didn’t scream “thou shalt not pass!” but “let’s all roll down the hill for fun!”
The defensive aspect of the fort made more sense once we walked in. The ramparts were higher than they had seemed at first and the pair of 24-pounder iron cannon mounted on the southeast and southwest corners had a range to fire on buildings across the river in Ogdensburg.
“Not just any balls. Cannonballs. Come up … see, the other side? That’s America, where we were earlier. There was a war in 1812—like, a really long time ago—and Canada had to defend itself, so soldiers stood there on the fort.”
The slightly childish display in the blockhouse—a map of Canadian and American sides with the St. Lawrence River in the middle and cannonballs fired from the Fort landing in Ogdensburg—reminded me of studying WWI trench warfare at school. The idea of combatants opposing each other along a front, hidden in trenches and dugouts, attacking the enemy line into a maelstrom of fire leading to near-certain death, felt futile. On paper, it was about attacking and defending a position. In the real world, it translated into grinding down the opposition’s resources until, ultimately, no war could be waged.
I looked at Mark and a bunch of kids running downhill. The words “cannon fodder” crossed my mind.
World, we have to stop playing war. No one ever wins.