It was the first day of the G-8 summit and a flock of F-18 helicopters boomed overhead. I was trying to get my baby daughter Rory to sleep in the drowsy mountain town of Canmore, Alberta, where the military had moved in a week earlier for the meetings in Kananaskis. Evil is not darkness, I thought to myself. It’s noise. Can you think straight with a lone fly buzzing in the room? Hitchcock used birds. The military uses helicopters.
I had gone to Canmore, eighty kilometres west of Calgary, to visit my brother Paddy, who lives there with about ten thousand others and works as a mountain guide. Kananaskis, and the installation of the largest domestic military operation in Canadian history, is deeper in the Rockies, about an hour’s drive southeast of Canmore. It is often said that the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway from Canmore to Rogers Pass is God’s country, and though I don’t believe in a god, its beauty is breathtaking.
The baby would not sleep in the noise of the helicopters, so I sat on the wood floor of my brother’s condominium in Canmore to amuse her with Fisher Price weebles. These small plastic egg-shaped dolls have faces and bodies but no arms and legs, so that they are rendered only half-human by their makers. Babies love weebles because you put them in one spot and they never move; they just wobble in circles. Rory squeals when I play puppeteer with the weebles and make them talk to her in outrageous dialects and intonations.
By now, after seven months of motherhood, it has become second nature to me to do several things at once, so while playing with the weebles, speaking in tongues and trying to catch the latest news reports on the G-8 meetings, I tidied my brother’s cramped living room. All I could hear of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s opening address was a jokey exchange with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in which he wished his team good luck in the World Cup finals. A phalanx of talking heads in blue suits appeared on the television screen as a visual backdrop to A Day in the Life of the Kingdom of Weebles.
Just down the street from the condominium was the Marriott hotel, where hundreds of RCMP officers stayed during the summit. The parking lot looked like a movie set for a bad cop flick. When I complained to my brother about the overwhelming presence of police officers, he suggested that I should feel more secure, being a woman travelling alone with a baby. People have even left town for the summit, he said. The U.S. Secret Service was installed at the time-share apartments up near the Three Sisters mountains, where the grass was decorated with satellite dishes and big black boxes that looked like sound equipment for a heavy metal concert. The local newspaper said that secret service police were wandering through Canmore in plain clothes, keeping an eye out for suspicious-looking people. Indeed, Canmore is full of suspicious-looking people, mostly mountain climbers, mountain bikers and skiers, and lots of young families; and then there are the tourists, the hippies and the working-class yokels, as my brother calls them.
That night Paddy and his girlfriend Deanna took us out for dinner at the Grizzly Paw Pub and baby Rory ate pureed broccoli for the first time. It was no world peace agreement but it was good enough for me. The guys sitting next to us wore blue T-shirts and camouflage pants, and the emblems on their shirts said Royal Canadian Army Regiment. A guy with a blond buzz cut said that he missed his daughter and so he kept playing with mine. Whenever Rory dropped her spoon, he’d pick it up, and I’d wipe it off and put it back in her hand. Paddy and Deanna said that this was no small-scale operation, now was it? And I agreed, pointing out that 300 million bucks for a security outfit is no small chunk of change. Deanna asked how many litres of clean drinking water that would buy for a small African country, and none of us knew. In fact, I wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation as I ate my Ruffage Salad and wiped the spoon every time Rory threw it on the floor. Thirteen times in total. My big secret was this: I thought that the G-8 Summit would be a non-event except for the presence of the U.S. president, Mr. George Walker Bush. This was the closest I would ever be to the world’s biggest buffoon and I wanted to see him in the flesh; I wanted to hear him speak; I wanted to watch him work the crowd, making them cheer for bafflegab such as “friendly fire” and “Operation Freedom and Justice.” I wanted to hear him talk about his love for God and Texas. I wanted to see him ride through Canmore on his horse, waving the freedom flag like a true American cowboy.
The next day Rory and I went to Quarry Lake with Paddy and Deanna, and their friend Julie and her five-month-old son Kip, who has big blue eyes just like Rory’s. I drove through town and up the driveway to the lake as the sun hit the mountaintops perfectly, throwing light exclusively and exactly at the summits, and I said that it was like driving into a photograph. That’s how I remember the mountains: as if the beauty were too perfect to be real. My brother asked me not to get artsy on him. A bit farther along he said, “Turn here,” and there to the right was the entrance to Canmore’s only man-made lake at the foothills of the Three Sisters mountain. The lakeshore was already packed, mostly with mothers and kids who looked as if they spent most of their time being active in the mountains. I adjusted the baby carrier and put Rory in, and away we went with our picnic lunch and the diaper bag. I noticed the helicopters right away, but by this time I was accustomed to the noise and they were flying high enough above us that the sound was diluted by sky. It was the hottest day of the season in Canmore. Rory had a real playmate for the first time, and it was also her first swim. I undressed her, smoothed sunblock over her skin and tied her sunhat under her chin. It was a big day for us. This was the first time she went naked in public and the first time she swam outside the bathtub. It was also the first time her mother yelled at a kid for lobbing a ball within a centimetre of her little head. Rory loved the water. She wanted to drape herself on the rocks like a sea lion and watch the other kids play. She peed on me only once. Every now and then we dipped into the water to refresh ourselves from the dry heat, and all the while, military choppers whirred around like synchronized swimmers in the sky. Paddy took Rory for a swim while I had a nap under a tree. I shut my eyes and drifted off to Never Never Land, hoping for some peace. It took me a while to reach that state of lucid dreaming I’m so familiar with, and then—boom!—my fantasies emerged in technicolour. There they were: not just Little George but all eight world leaders, dressed in zoot suits with the phrase “G Force” emblazoned on their chests. First they stood in a lineup like criminals, and then—poof!— they were off, flying above us and over the lake like a flock of Supermen, with George at the helm. They got as far as the parking lot before the babies’ cries pierced my reverie.
That afternoon we drove into town to buy fresh-squeezed juice. We watched a long line of military trucks crawl through like a procession of big green bugs. The last time I had seen anything like that was on an episode of M*A*S*H. The men looked like boys dressed up in their grandfathers’ uniforms. I went into the local donut shop to get a copy of the Canmore Canyon, to find out whether Mr. Bush was coming through town again. Paddy gawked at the long lines of troops marching down the main drag, and then we drove home with juice and sunburns and enough meat for a full-scale barbecue. Back at the condo, I entertained the two babies with another episode of the Kingdom of Weebles while the other adults prepared the shish kebabs for the barbie. Julie asked how I felt about the G-8 Summit. I didn’t want to admit that I was shallow enough to want to spot George Bush in the supermarket. This was serious business, after all. People had a right to feel alarmed. Our kids would grow up in a precarious time and U.S. foreign policy could drive us all into the dirt. But I kept silent while she spoke about a guy she knew, an employee at the Kananaskis Lodge. He came home ranting about how all the employees had been briefed on etiquette for diplomats. He had to learn how to hold his hands in front of him, the right over the left, and use titles such as Your Honour and Your Excellency. He didn’t think that was very excellent. Another friend of Julie’s, who works with her in emergency medicine, had applied to be an emergency doctor for the summit. He was blown over by the makeshift military occupation at Kananaskis, everything from the rows of tents, to the grizzly bears that were tranquilized and tagged to protect the soldiers, to the sheer volume of available supplies. It looked as if they were preparing for war. A hospital had been erected in the bush with choppers on demand for any need, any drug, any emergency. It was amazing, Julie said, what a system with money could accomplish.
That night we sat on the balcony and ate our chicken and beef shish kebabs while the babies slept. The meetings were over and I wanted to go to bed. I planned to get up early, strap on Rory and walk over to the airstrip the next morning to see what I could see of the leaders, post-G-8. The breast-feeding mothers drank cranberry juice and soda while the others consumed two bottles of a cheap Australian Merlot and some fine coastal-grown weed. The conversation bounced from our various dysfunctional families to kids growing up in Africa with poverty, aids and hunger, to how your sex life changes after having a baby. Meanwhile I could hear the sound of the choppers again, getting louder and louder until they were so close we had to shout to each other. The leaders were returning to the airstrip in Canmore to be taken to the city and back home. Rats! George W. Bush was leaving and I had missed the show. The conversation droned on as the choppers lifted. It was pitch black and I felt completely in the dark.