Marty’s photo of the day #1501. It’s Book Excerpts Week, featuring an excerpt from my first book, “Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents,” and a corresponding photo (that may or may not be from the book). This particular section, which takes place in Canada (across the street from Klondike Kate Ryan’s old residence) just before the Iraq War, has caused several Republican reviewers to rip my book:
Of all the trips for this book, this one offered me the fewest opportunities to interact with others. Although my last name has nothing to do with Germany (my great-grandfather changed his name to Essen when the factory he worked at in Sweden had too many Hendricksons), it provided a good excuse to start up a conversation.
Four other couples were seated in the intimate dining room. After our meal arrived, I listened for an accent that wasn’t American or Canadian. The elegantly dressed fiftyish couple at the table next to us was the only possibility. The woman was speaking in rapid-fire sentences, and the man was holding up his end of the discussion with nods and an occasional short utterance. I waited for a lull before introducing myself.
“Good evening. When I signed the guest book, I noticed the people who signed before me were from Essen, Germany. My last name is Essen. Are you the couple from Germany?”
“No,” said the woman. “We’re from New Zealand.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Confusing a New Zealand accent with a German accent is embarrassing.”
“No need to apologize. Now if you had confused us with Australians—that would be another story.”
“Why? Don’t you like Australians?”
“I can’t stand them. They’re so uncouth. I have relatives in Australia, so I have to go there often. I can never get home soon enough.”
The man shot me a look of embarrassment.
“So, what brought you to Canada?” I asked.
“We came to see the grizzly bears,” said the woman. “And wouldn’t you know, on our way here we got stuck on a bus full of Australians!”
While I chuckled, the man stared at the floor.
“Have you seen any bears yet?” I asked.
“No, we just got here,” said the woman. “We’re going to the viewing platforms, near Hyder, tomorrow.”
“We’re doing the same thing,” I said.
“Where are you two from?” asked the woman.
“We live in Montana, in the United States.”
“Oh! George Bush—he’s a lunatic! You’re brave to admit you’re from the States while traveling.”
The man’s jaw dropped.
“Well, I have considered proclaiming myself an honorary Canadian—until Bush is out of office, of course.”
Once the man knew his wife’s comment hadn’t offended me, he joined our conversation. “Your president seems to be a very unstable person.”
“I can’t disagree with you,” I said.
“Bush is a loose cannon!” barked the woman. “He’s just itching to start a war!”
Deb, who had been quietly listening, spoke up. “I hope you understand, many Americans are as worried as you are. We don’t want Bush to start a war either.”
“We know that,” said the man.
“Tell me about New Zealand,” I said. “We hope to visit your country someday. . . .”