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27 March 2008

CBC TV: Idea of North / Idee du Nord / Glenn Gould takes train from Winnipeg through wilderness to Hudson Bay

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Okay, d'accord, first of all, it's not a steam train. It's a diesel. Doesn't need any overhead electric lines. Which is good, because for 2.5 days after you leave Winnipeg, there aren't any overhead electric lines, or any electricity for that matter. In fact for those 2.5 days, you look out the train window and the only hint that human beings have ever been there is the train itself and the track. You are surrounded as far as you can see by the great Canadian virgin forest. The line takes a long loop west through northern Saskatchewan, then returns and ends the journey in Manitoba, on a grain shipping port town, Churchill, on the shore of Hudson Bay.

If you change trains in The Pas, Saskatchewan, to a spur line northwest to some First Peoples' communities, there's an engine -- all this equipment dates from the early 1950s -- and one mostly wooden passenger car: wooden benches, and in the corner a wood-burning stove to heat the passengers. Strictly 1890-style accomodations. This is the transportation locals can afford to get around the wilderness; flying in the Canadian north is prohibitively expensive.

But the Winnipeg-Churchill train is a bit less primitive and a bit more comfortable. Tiny sleeperettes are available, though most passengers do the trek sitting up in coach seats. There is no artificial barrier to separate the locals -- Swampy Cree and Inuit, mostly -- from the tourists, and in the crushingly crowded lunch car you and the locals meet each other and exchange life stories for hours on end. Interrupted by occasional glimpses of Arctic fox and moose. At night in the right season and conditions the Aurora Borealis appears in a variety of strengths and colors. My best one was shimmering vertical curtains of silver.

This is the train that the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (the engineer in the cab above) rode with a tape recorder and made into a spectacularly original, rich and interesting radio documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, "The Idea of North." Gould then made two others, also about life in the isolated parts of northern Canada, collectively called "The Solitude Trilogy."

I keep bothering people on f_minor, the Glenn Gould weblist, urging them to take this train trip. I did, in both directions. I had an intense feeling that Glenn Gould's ghost rode the train with me, grinning from ear to ear late at night. It was also the most intimate experience I ever had with any aspect of Gould's existence on this planet.

I love trains and I'm going to keep riding them, to the crazy, wild and fantastic places they go, while both trains and I still exist; I don't care how horribly AMTRAK or VIA mistreat and abuse and humiliate and torment and delay me. (The Winnipeg-Churchill train isn't run by VIA, it's a semi-independent freight and passenger line.)

Who wants to go here? Who wants to live here? The winters are brutal, housing is primitive, poverty is the rule of thumb, and tuberculosis is common among the First Peoples, as is alcohol and substance abuse. People hunt their own food partially because they've been hunting their own food for 10,000 years, partially because they love the hunting society, and partially because they don't have enough cash to buy all their food at the HBC (Hudson Bay Company) store.

Why doesn't everyone move south to the big cities, Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa, where every comfort of living is available?

Actually a lot of people flee in exactly the opposite direction, and escape from the big cities specifically to live far north and even beyond the tree line, in the tundra/permafrost. Some are born there and are most comfortable among the places and people and lifestyle they know. But many are Canadian southerners who choose to move 1500 kilometers north to live in the vast wilderness. Gould interviews a dozen or so fellow travellers and they explain why they live in the North, they explain the unique qualities and conditions of human community in this kind of place.

By the time you reach Hudson Bay, you're well into polar bear territory, and are no long Number 1 on the Food Chain. The experience of possibly being attacked, killed and eaten at any moment you're foolish enough to be wandering outdoors is a very humbling reminder that, no matter what you think you are to yourself, to something else you're just fat and protein, a meat animal (and not a very tasty or desirable one at that; bears are really only interested in seals).

The polar bear is the world's largest land predator, and an incredibly intelligent hunter. A lot of people with very sophisticated rifles go out into the Arctic wilderness to hunt polar bears. If they don't use the wholly unfair advantage of helicopters, they could be in for a very big surprise, because the polar bear thinks it is hunting you, and the polar bear is usually right.

This may be the last decade when it will be possible to visit polar bears in their natural Arctic habitat. The evidence is becoming miserably clear that soon, their hunting habitat, the ice, will have melted and receded so dramatically that the bears will no longer be able to swim to the nearest next ice floe. After the last of the drownings, only zoos will have polar bears.

The polar bears migrate through and around Churchill every year on the cusp of October-November. They're waiting for the ice to freeze on the bay so they can begin to hunt seals. Usually no bear dies and no person dies in a good migration season in Churchill; not all years are good.


"Glenn Gould, an idea of north"

a dramatic realization by Margeurite Gateau

The Idea of North (CBC)

From an idea of Benoit Giros

Sunday 30 March 2008 at 8 pm [Montreal/Toronto?]
on France-Culture


D’après la dramatique radio « The Idea of North » réalisée par Glenn Gould.

Une fiction réalisée par Marguerite Gateau
sur une proposition de Benoit Giros

Traduction: Blandine Pélissier et Benoit Giros

Qu’est-ce que « L’idée du Nord » ?

Le 10 avril 1964, après un dernier concert à Los Angeles, Glenn Gould renonce à la vie de concertiste.

En 1965, à bord du Muskeg Express, il franchit les milliers de kilomètres séparant Winnipeg de Churchill, la ville la plus proche du cercle polaire arctique que l’on puisse rallier en train.

En 1967, sur commande de la CBC canadienne, il réalise le documentaire radiophonique « The Idea of North » qui s'inspire de ce voyage.

C'est la confrontation des visions différentes de cinq personnes ayant vécu une expérience intime avec le grand Nord canadien, cinq personnes, interviewée séparément, dans un train fictif par l'intermédiaire d'un montage "contrapuntique."

Ce voyage vers le Nord symbolise le voyage intérieur que Gould accomplit depuis 1964.

Les opinions qui s’expriment dans « The Idea of North » reflètent ses idées sur la solitude.

« Il y a beaucoup de moi là-dedans. A cette étape-ci de ma vie, le contenu de cette émission est ce qui se rapproche le plus d’une autobiographie. »

« C’était une émission qui portait sur le Nord canadien mais ce dont il était question, comme un de mes amis l’a gentiment fait observer, c’était du côté obscur de l’âme humaine. C’était une austère réflexion sur les répercussions de l’isolement sur l’homme. » (Glenn Gould)

« …très rares sont les gens qui, étant rentrés en contact avec le grand Nord, en émergent tout à fait indemnes. Quelque chose de bizarre se produit en effet chez la plupart de ceux qui se sont rendus dans le Nord. Ils prennent au moins conscience des occasions créatrices que le phénomène du contact physique avec la région suscite, et finissent par mesurer leur travail et leur existence en fonction de ces stupéfiantes possibilités créatrices : ils deviennent, au fond, des philosophes. » (Glenn Gould)

Pour Gould, le Nord est une métaphore de l’isolement. Le Nord évoque une notion spirituelle plutôt qu’un voyage au pays des glaces. On peut faire « en imagination » le voyage du Nord. Lors du travail sur "The idea of North", Gould se trouve alors au coeur d’une période charnière, ayant renoncé à la vie publique pour cultiver l’isolement physique et intellectuel qu’il juge nécessaire à la création. Le Nord est cet endroit de Création, de composition vers lequel Gould a toujours déclaré vouloir se diriger.

Lorsque l'on remplace le mot Nord par le mot création, le texte décrit le paysage intérieur d'un créateur. Pour Gould, le Nord est l’intérieur de l’Homme « Glenn Gould, une Idée du Nord » est l'exploration territoire.


Anne Alvaro, Jean-François Perrier, Vincent Leterme, Michael Lonsdale, Benoit Di Marco, Benoit Giros, Hélène Mathon, Gloria Scappini, Mounira Ouggar, Yiju Su, Ambarra Ouattara

Avec la participation de Bruno Monsaingeon

Musique originale: Alexandros Markeas

Bruitage: Sophie Bissantz

Prise de son, montage et mixage : Lidwine Caron et Claude Niort
Assistantes réalisation : Marie Casanova et Julie Beressi


Benoit Giros. Acteur, formé à la Rue Blanche, il est aussi l’auteur de La fantasque histoire de Jacquot dans la cave, comédie musicale, créée avec l'aide de la DRAC au théâtre du jardin d’acclimatation en 2002 et Une reconstitution, inédite. Il a co-écrit et joué durant 5 ans les spectacles de la compagnie de rue Eclat Immédiat et Durable.

Il a co-réalisé des courts-métrages pour la Zozo Prod (Le grand combat, La rentrée, Le mamie’s tour). Lauréat de la Villa Médicis Hors-les murs 2007 pour le travail de recherche et de création autour de La trilogie de la solitude de Glenn Gould.


Jim Olson said...

mots excellent, mais, c'est "d'accord".

je voudrais va au nord avec tu.

Vleeptron Dude said...

And other Francophones expect me to know that a chair is masculine and a fire hydrant is feminine. Others want the number of my subject to agree with the verb ending. Everyone demands I spell everything right. All these things will happen when Pigs Fly. I learned one lingo with all the inflections, and then the Roman Empire went out of business, and Vatican 2 banned the Latin Mass. I ain't learning another.

Jim Olson said...

why did you have to learn latin? didn't you have to learn hebrew?

Vleeptron Dude said...

I was forced to learn Hebrew in religious school. I CHOSE to learn Latin in public school. I'd feel a lot better about the Hebrew if it had been a choice like Latin was. But they're both stuck in my head for better or for worse.

patfromch said...

every year the swiss broadcasting corporation is doiing something special during the summer months. Laste year they focussed on trains. in special broadcasts they featured Trips through Patagonia, India, the Tokyo Subway System...and a Trip to Churchill. unfortunetly they took it off their website and itunes where they had it as a podcast, otherwise I would have posted a link. Bummer. Anyway, here is a wonderful scene from a wonderful movie about Glenn Gould. I can still remember when I heard IoN for the first time. my first thought was *mewannagothere*, the second one was Hey, you live in a small rural village with a population that is a bit bigger than theo one of Churchill, dont you have enough solitude and isolation already ?
Anyway, pump up the vol

Anonymous said...

I am desperately trying to find the
script of the documentary "The idea of North". I cannot understand the separate voices and Ineed to catch speeches separately (I am French...). Would you be of any help in this matter ?
Sincerely yours

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