Well, I finally finished reading Zac Unger’s new book ‘Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye’. Its a decent read, pretty good for someone’s first trip to the north… ‘Google Play’ is a terrible e-reader though.
Anyway, I was just thinking about when Zac came up to Churchill in 2006 or 07… or maybe 05. It was one of those years when I had imploded my personal life and was flailing headlong through bear season – then again, there’s been so many that its hard to recall just which is which anymore.
Zac was a pretty quiet, unassuming guy. He was just kind of there one day, trundling around town, listening and writing the way writers do. Your classic west coast apologist, informed, friendly and generally sorry for the way the world has worked out.
You would see his family at Gypsy Bakery sometimes, nice folks for sure. Maybe a shade wholesome for Churchill – I mean even the Church ladies here have a bit of a shady (albeit sweet) edge to them, ha.
Anyway, Zac was writing a book and he was working hard for interviews. The trouble is that he had already been spotted with the Polar Bears International crew and, once that happens, you’re pretty much dismissed by the rest of Churchill as another ‘smurf’.
Its no offence to PBI, its just that they are their own entity for much of the time and that 2006-ish era was kind of the peak of PBI antipathy in Churchill. It was really the start of the days where everyone and their dog became spokespeople for the town and its polar bears… aside from anyone actually living in the town.
First, he was dismissed as another writer up here to make a rah-rah piece about the bears. There was this kind of parade of whispers that followed Zac around without him ever realizing it (although its not like Zac is the only guy that this has happened to in Churchill, ha). Anyway, there was this debate about whether to even talk to Unger, what to say to him, etc… but the guy was persistent. He wouldn’t bug people for interviews but he was just kind of always ‘around’.
I ended up having a few beers with him at the Seaport Lounge and ranted in that vague, passive-aggressive, maniacal mid-Bear Season way – you know… where no one other than you can understand who you are talking about, what you are talking about or even why you are talking about it but things are fucked up and something should be done about it! Now, let’s have another beer!
He did manage to tag along with Ladoon for a while so that was something… and he almost interprets ‘Ladoon’… not sure though, one can never be sure with Ladoon. He is pretty bang on with Kev which is awesome, there is no better symbol of bear season than Kevin Burke.
I am disappointed by Zac’s claim that PBI’s Buchanan ‘had taken me from zero to Mach Ten in Churchill, introducing me to everyone who mattered.’ Oh really. Sorry, but all Buchanan did was prevent him from interviewing everyone who mattered to Churchill.
I don’t believe he ever did get the interview with Dennis Compayre or Paul Ratson. I didn’t see much from Mark Ingebrigtsen in here or Dwight Allen. I mean, one stop at the Legion would have netted Captain Shields, Manford Bussell and Lorne Burton, the most-effed up tri-fecta of Churchill ambassadors a writer could ever hope to meet. No offence to Zac, but if Newfy didn’t find you, you failed his ‘personality assessment’… and the guy lives in sweatpants. Plus Manford was in his ‘fuck the bears’ mode around that time too… literary gold, really.
Still, Zac kind of grows on you after a while, just like Churchill. He first appears as ‘gray on a gray background with gray trim’ but I have to say he’s a pretty awesome guy. He’s about to get (probably already getting) skewered for his book, probably from all sides, but he would have known that writing it and its part of that reality writer masochism that drives us all. (Poke the bear with a stick, then again, then once more… ah, he ripped my arm off, okay that’s what happens… neat.)
I think Unger would do well in the north actually… I mean after the initial ‘you’re an asshole’ wave wears off… which, of course, it does. Well, it comes and goes actually, sometimes all in one day! But anyway, once you see past the ‘gray’, Churchill is pretty incredible – I just think we’ll see him back here.
But, yeah, aside from the fact that he should have sent the book to me to proof-read and adjust some of his almost-correct facts (LAKE WINNIPEG HAS A LUNAR TIDE!!!), Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye really does sum up Churchill circa 2006-2010.
And honestly, not much has changed, I just think we are starting to ignore it a bit more and wait for everyone to find some place new to ‘save’… it will happen. There were no celebrities this bear season – that’s a good sign. Plus I heard the penguins are in trouble in Argentina, actually… nudge nudge.
So, in general, its a fine book written by an American who stayed in Churchill for a while… its got a fair bit of American condescension but that’s cool, Churchill is used to that. In fact, I think the long-time American military presence in Churchill really helped us get ready to put up with polar bears. Its all about patience and understanding.
A couple things…
- Zac talks to Ila about Dene Village. Yup, Dene Village really really really sucked… not sure what it has to do with this book though. Could have been a chapter about the vocational school or the old trapping days… All I am saying is why not put a chapter about Americans raping and killing Natives, Spaniards and grizzly bears in the firefighter book, ‘Working Fire’ – an excellent read by the way…
- I talk about ‘deniers’ in the book and in that comment, I was referring to Tim Ball, one of my favourite pre-climate change debate scientists. He did some great research about Hudson Bay and now we can’t listen to him because he’s a denier… weird.
- Zac’s pretty grim about Churchill but we all forget that – THIS IS WHAT CHURCHILL LOOKS LIKE TO NEW VISITORS!!! Everyone who falls in love with Churchill looks past the rusting metal, tire tracks, blocked roads and ‘warning bombs here’ signs… and sees beluga whales, the beach, the birds, the flowers and the history. But, you need someone to lift the veil… hanging around with polar bear scientists is not going to do that.
You would think, though, that Manitoba and Canada would, at least, put a tiny bit of effort into beautifying Churchill’s coastline (Manitoba’s only accessible coastline) – fix some roads, remove some old buildings/wire, that sort of thing… then again, that might cut into the budget for imprisoning bears and hosting famous people like Fergy’s boyfriend. (poke.)