City of Glass
Douglas Coupland, 2000

Those who read this site regularly know that I've been thinking about moving to Canada. I became really serious about this when McCain was up in the polls, and while he has now fallen behind, there are still over three weeks to go and I'm a pessimist. (Some say the glass is half-full; some say the glass is half-empty; I say I will cut my lip on the glass and bleed to death.) But it's not entirely or even mostly political: as ridiculous as it was a decade ago to spend 17 months in a long-distance relationship before finally moving to New York, my current one is at 25 months and counting, and while I'm not eager to move to Victoria, Vancouver's right next door. Much as I love the Bay Area, Vancouver has long been one of my favorite places to visit, and I've often wondered what living there might be like. So when I remembered that Douglas Coupland had written a book about Vancouver, I thought I'd check it out.

It's a great little book! Highly recommended. It's a collection of tiny essays covering various aspects of living in Vancouver: flora and fauna, demographics, neighborhoods, odds and ends. The essays pack a lot of information into a small space, and Coupland's fun and breezy yet sincere tone is very winning. If there were a series of books like this, I'd get 'em all — he really captures the whole city in what ultimately amounts to a handful of paragraphs. I could have done without the repurposed short stories, I guess, but otherwise I thought this book was top-notch. And if I do end up moving there, the "Parallel Universe Vancouver" map is going to be absolutely indispensable.

But even after reading City of Glass I'm still dubious about whether Vancouver is really the place for me. It always shows up near the top of those "most livable city" lists, but the last time I relied on lists I wound up spending a very crappy year at Northwestern University. The three main things Vancouver is known for suggest that it may not be the best match for me:

The outdoors. I'm not very outdoorsy. I don't ski or ride bikes or row boats or lift rocks or anything like that. I do enjoy looking at scenery, and Vancouver's scenery is spectacular — it was one of the things that most impressed me the first few times I visited. But those visits were misleading: they all happened to occur on clear days, and clear days in the Northwest are rare. One of the main reasons I fled Seattle is that all those clouds were making me crazy. I imagine that Vancouver would be little different on this count. I must confess that in thinking about moving I'm kind of secretly hoping that global warming has been underestimated and that by 2015 the Lower Mainland will have a Mediterranean climate.

The mix of cultures. I'm all for diversity, but Vancouver seems to be primarily a confluence of Britain and East Asia with a native Northwestern brand on top, and I have no special affinity for any of those cultures. My heritage is South Asian, my politics are Scandinavian, and my palate is mostly Italian with shout-outs to India and Mexico. I can't imagine feeling truly at home in an Anglo-Chinese city full of totem poles.

The chief export. I don't smoke pot. Would Vancouver even let me in?

So while it might be a good place to ride out the upcoming depression and pick up a health card, I don't know whether I can really see Vancouver as my forever home. Not that it's likely to be my choice: even if I were to move up for 2009 and 2010, after that I'd likely be following Elizabeth to wherever she wound up landing a job. I don't suppose anyone has written a book like this about Saskatoon...?

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