Wayne Norton is a former Kamloops resident.
By WAYNE NORTON
TRAVEL — Music and memories of sun-drenched vacations have always been closely linked for me. I still associate my first such holiday (Spain, 1963, barely in my teens) with “Cuando Caliente El Sol” by Hermanos Rigual. And my sunny days in Puerto Vallarta in the 1990s are all nostalgically tied to the music played poolside at the hotel and in local shops and restaurants.
That soundtrack alternated between rhythmic Mexican recordings and a limited selection of European and American popular standards. The local blend of brass and guitar was wonderful, but songs first heard long ago and nowhere near Mexico often delighted me more.
Here again were the Platters with “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Twilight Time” and their other almost forgotten hits; here were Connie Francis and Dean Martin and “Al Di La’ and “Unchained Melody.” (No up-beat Presley and no Beatles at all—local music programmers apparently shared well defined guidelines twenty years ago.)
Looking forward to hearing that soundtrack in a familiar Mexican context again, I endured a lengthy flight delay from fog-bound Victoria and took off for Puerto Vallarta eager to renew acquaintance with sun and sights and sounds.
But much has changed in Puerto Vallarta. Gone are the certainties I once took for granted. One that crumbled quickly was my belief in the good reputation of Canadians abroad. (Perceptions of Canadians at home were also taking a beating as fragments of conversations overheard often concerned the newest transgressions of Justin Bieber and Toronto mayor Rob Ford.) And because we now comprise two-thirds of the tourists in Puerto Vallarta, Canadians are distinctly more visible as a nationality.
Mexicans once shared the general view that Canadian travellers were quieter and somehow nicer than their American cousins. That opinion may yet hold in places, but it could not be sustained at my hotel. In fact, some of us are not very quiet or nice at all. Canadian guests over 40 seem now to agree with those under that all rules of behaviour can be disregarded when away from home.
It is often reported that the minority of Canadians who smoke is declining steadily. Most of that minority were at my hotel last January. And many of them apparently could not read English-language signs prohibiting smoking throughout the hotel. Some were aggressively vocal about their right to smoke wherever and whenever they liked while on holiday in Mexico. As staff did little to enforce the hotel’s policy, non-smokers too expressed strong opinions about rights. Fortunately, they managed to prevail upon each fresh crop of miscreants to light up in designated areas by the beach.
I found myself looking for something to distinguish Canadian from American guests. My survey revealed that we are certainly not slimmer and that we are equally tattooed. I thought choice of reading material might be revealing, but there was not an Atwood in sight. If the middle-aged women at my hotel are in any way representative, Nora Roberts is probably the best-selling author of all time.
Their male companions were dedicated to Tom Clancy and a range of similar crime and action authors. Guests who appeared to be under 30 — and I did hear opinions expressed that there were rather too many of them at our hotel — tended to be reading (if at all) from tablets, so I could not attempt a comparably discreet survey of their choices.
The low point of the week occurred poolside one morning when a number of the younger guests (many with tattoos as I recall) seemed suddenly animated by their screens and hand-held devices and began talking (shouting) to others (smoking probably) down by the beach. I didn’t pay much attention as I was absorbed in my Ian Rankin novel and, at the same time, I was pleased to hear that Abba still had a foot in the door. But “I Do, I Do, I Do” was followed abruptly by a thumping disco track defined only by a repetitive bass line, and then, suddenly, the day got much worse.
With the volume cranked to previously unimagined levels, the pool’s social convener said something about popular requests and pressed a button to launch a program of truly awful contemporary country rock music. People (mostly Canadian I can confirm) jumped into the pool and started shouting and swaying and waving their limbs and drinks in the air. I thought I was trapped at the Merritt Mountain Music Festival on a particularly bad night. It took half an hour before a successful counter-insurgency restored Abba at a volume that permitted me to resume my Ian Rankin.
Despite all this, the vacation was splendid and, yes, I look forward to returning some day soon. But as I sat by the sea on my last evening there (hoping to hear “Harbour Lights” or “Red Sails in the Sunset” or “Stranger on the Shore” perhaps), I realised I had to accept new realities. I am no longer seen as a vaguely nice guy from a nation of peacekeepers — instead I am a reflection in the same mirror that frames Rob Ford and Justin Bieber.
In this, as in all else, there is no going back. I can still hope Canadians will not always be defined by misdeeds at home and abroad. And I can acknowledge that the sharp distinctions (real or imagined) between American and Canadian tourists are gone (if they ever existed). But the truly sad news is that the Platters will never again provide the soundtrack of my Mexican holidays. I’ll just have to get out those scratchy old records when I get home.