What was supposed to be a 3-week stay in the Old Country was cut short by an unusually persistent heat wave that affected a large part of the entire Old World. The peat bogs outside the city began smouldering, and the smoke was trapped in the windless hot air for days. It was not an easy time to feel patriotic nostalgia for the city of my birth; yet even the heat and smoke brought memories of a similar heat wave in my distant childhood in 1972, when such calamities were the care of adults and did not bother me at all. I studied the cover of my Canadian passport in detail and read the Latin inscription in full for the first time: Desiderantes meiorem patriam, a mari usque ad mare. Wishing for a better homeland, from sea to sea - and it was already mine. I called Air Canada, waited on hold for the requisite 15-odd minutes, and was never more grateful to pay $750 to have my return trip advanced by an entire 9 days. I can now pretend that I am on a luxury 9-day holiday for a mere $87 a day, sitting on the balcony looking at the snow on the peaks of distant mountains, planning a drive down to the ocean, a walk through the forest redolent with fragrant pine resin and a swim in a lake filled with clear glacier waters. And the sheer luxury of breathing crisp fresh air. This gratitude may not last much longer than the 9 days I "paid" for, it rarely does, but it is always very strong after a visit to the Old Country.
I had cut my visit short for very selfish reasons: the stay was no longer enjoyable (this was new), and I had nothing to give to my mother or country by sticking around (this was nothing new, and one of the reasons I had emigrated in the first place). I was brought up to understand that my relaxed and meandering way of doing things would make me a loser if not an outright victim in a country that does not suffer fools gladly. Fortunately, Canada does; Canada is paradise for ...people of modest ambitions, shall we say. And after a good decade and a half of catching my breath and being left in peace, I understand that it was never Russia that was merciless to me and my choices. It was my own dear mother who, of course, "only ever wanted the best for me" but whose stern authority I had mistaken for the attitude of an entire country.