As I scanned the vast expanse of smooth and oddly bronzed skin on display, it occurred to me that there had probably been more wax deployed on these bodies in one day than the Canadian ski team uses in a month. The models, male and female, pranced across the stage at the hotel wearing very little at all. In Toronto! In the middle of a snowstorm! In February! I felt like I’d landed in Sorels and Gomorrah.
Was this the prudish hometown I’d left for nearly a dozen years? The town Christopher Plummer once called a “mausoleum of morality”? The old Orange Order would have seen red.
The best part? The event was a fundraiser for the Toronto Public Library system, called the Book Lover’s Ball (although you could have added one letter to that name and more appropriately reflected the nature of the evening). The gyrations on stage were, in fact, interpretive renditions of various Canadian books, though I’m sad to say there was no near-naked interpretation of my colleague Jeffrey Simpson’s excellent new analysis of the crisis in health care, Chronic Condition. Sex and books: two things Canadians do well. Could this not be our new identity in the world?
We were all given a bag of books to bring home, one of which was the new erotic novel S.E.C.R.E.T.. I immediately began to read it – for research purposes, you understand. The book, which caused a bidding war among publishers, is about a weary young widow’s initiation into a matriarchal sex club where all her fantasies are fulfilled by a succession of loving and lovely men. It was written under the pseudonym L. Marie Adeline, but the author is actually Canadian novelist Lisa Gabriele, who told The Globe this week: “Fingers crossed! I’ll make Canada proud of my filthy book.”
Unfortunately for fans of CanLit, the novel is set in New Orleans. I was hoping for a little action around Canada’s famous roadside attractions – main characters making the crustacean with two backs next to the giant lobster in Shediac, maybe, or getting goosed in Wawa. Still, there’s to be a sequel. I’m hoping the world’s largest Easter egg figures prominently.
The point is, we’re a hot people, as anyone will discover who takes the time to dig beneath layers of Gore-Tex, sodden tissues and ambivalence. We should be marketing ourselves accordingly. U.S. News & World Report put Canada at the top of a list of sexiest countries, batting away the inevitable doubters: “Shocked to see our northern, hockey-obsessed neighbours on the list?” We had earned the accolade, the magazine suggested, through our friendliness, our “laid-back” nature and our production of Ryan Reynolds. Steam leaked from our parkas.
Movie stars, pah! Books are the real path to our new identity as a global sexual powerhouse. Which is why I was a little surprised at the furore over the depiction of Anne Shirley that arose this week. The uproar, in case you missed it, centred around a new cover for the Anne of Green Gables series that was advertised on Amazon. In place of the tempestuous ginger orphan familiar to every Canadian child, there was a blond cowgirl who appeared to have graduated from the Jessica Simpson School of Pouting and Hair Management.
A righteous clamour arose, and the cover photo on that particular edition disappeared from Amazon. But why the fuss? It’s clear proof that the world doesn’t see us as a land of angry prepubescent orphans or hermits who live in abandoned sawmills, but strapping, sexually appealing young folk. Whose noses never run, and whose fingertips are never lost to frostbite.
Why stop with Anne? We could rebrand all of literature to better reflect our new global identity as the land of lust. Hagar Shipley in a bustier, reclining in Prairie wheat; Susanna Moodie in a fetching rabbit-skin bikini, with the snow artfully caught in her hair, and all signs of hypothermia airbrushed out. We wouldn’t even need to change the title of her book!
The other titles of the great Canadian canon could use a bit of tweaking if we’re to sell our naughtiness to the world: Me and My Cathouse; Filth Business; The Extremely Tight Hockey Sweater. Pamela Anderson could be the series editor.
We’d be doing the country a favour. Canada has a bit of an identity crisis on the world stage, which is to say that it has no real identity. The odd time the country makes news around the world, it’s usually because there’s been a decapitation or mall shooting or a damning report about failing to act on climate change, which prompts the reaction: Canadians, hmm? I’d forgotten about them.
But no longer, not once the great patriotic rebranding begins, and we straddle this world like a colossus and squeeze for all it’s worth. I’ve got a slogan to get us started – Canada: We’ll See You Between the Covers.