All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” — Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Today is about some significant anniversaries.
For one, 70 years ago today the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. One of the authors of that declaration was a Canadian lawyer and diplomat named John Humphries, who was Director of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1946 until 1966.
For another, 61 years ago today Lester B. Pearson accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. It was awarded to him in recognition of his work at the UN, including his 1956 resolution that an international United Nations force be sent to the Suez Canal to deal with the crisis there. At the time, Pearson was the UN General Assembly President and Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs. He later served as Canada’s fourteenth Prime Minister.
The international force Pearson envisioned is today known as the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces. Seventy peacekeeping operations have been deployed since 1957, and 14 are currently still underway.
The phrase “United Nations” was first used by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 as a term for the 26 nations who came together to fight Germany, Italy, and Japan during World War II. These Allied Powers, along with 24 additional countries, met in San Francisco in June 1945 at what was called the United Nations Conference on International Organization. They drafted the United Nations Charter, which was signed by 51 countries and ratified in October of that year.
Today, the UN has 193 members.
Given that I’ve been to New York City four times before my most recent visit, I’d already ticked off most of the “Top Ten Things to Do in NYC” a long time ago. Except for one.
I had never been to the United Nations Headquarters.
Here’s a pro-tip from me: Don’t wait until your fifth visit to New York to go to the UN. It’s far too important an institution for any citizen of this planet to ignore.
The UN has offices in Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi, but its headquarters are in New York. The UN General Assembly meets here once a year. The UN Security Council also meets here, as often as necessary. Its five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) were all members of the Allied Powers during World War II. The Security Council also has ten non-permanent members, who are elected for two-year terms. Canada has served on the Security Council six times since 1945, the last term being from 1999 to 2000.
I learned all this from our Austrian guide. She also told us how the UN Headquarters is designated as international territory. You can feel that, actually, the minute you walk into the building.
The chairperson of the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. I’m going to finish this post by quoting what she said on the tenth anniversary of the declaration. Her words are ever so powerful and, given the current inclination towards ultranationalism that seems to be blanketing the globe, they are words we should all strive to live by.
Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world…. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
We ARE rich,” said Anne staunchly. “Why, we have sixteen years to our credit, and we’re happy as queens, and we’ve all got imaginations, more or less. Look at that sea, girls — all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds. — Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
Everything I know about Prince Edward Island I learned from Anne of Green Gables, so it’s only natural that I start this post off with a quote from the book.
My time on Prince Edward Island (while on leg two of my cross-Canada trip) was short (way too short), but I remember that the Island was beautiful and green and red and … so very, very small. (It is the smallest Canadian province in both population and area — five PEIs would fit inside Vancouver Island. So yeah … small.)
I really hope I get back there some day.
Another claim to fame (besides Anne) for Prince Edward Island: it hosted the Charlottetown Conference of 1864. Delegates from Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia came together to discuss forming a union of their three colonies. But the Canadians crashed the party and got them to consider making it a foursome (the colony of Canada being the fourth). The 1864 conference was followed by more meetings and, eventually, Confederation in 1867, although PEI ended up backing out and waited until 1873 to become a province of Canada. Even so, Charlottetown is called the Birthplace of Confederation.
This photo was taken (I think) somewhere on the Island’s north shore, which faces the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Prince Edward Island is famous for its red soil, which is caused by a high concentration of iron oxide.
Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. — Maya Angelou
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
― John Lennon
It is equally true, I should add, that as some countries have too much history, we have too much geography. ― W. L. Mackenzie King
When Prime Minister Mackenzie King was giving his geography lecture in the House of Commons way back in 1936, it was generally believed that he was referring to Canada’s youth (a mere 69 years at the time) in comparison to our vast size (second in the world only to Russia). In my opinion, based on my travels, his assessment was bang on. Just take a look around.
Which is what Canada’s landscape artists have a propensity for doing.
Which is why I had Mackenzie King’s statement running through my mind like an earworm when I went to see the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven. The exhibition’s position is that Canada’s natural world and our relationship to it has often been a major subject for Canadian artists, particularly during the hundred years that bracketed Confederation.
I finally got around to seeing this exhibition during the Christmas holidays. It’s a good exhibition; I was impressed with its depth and scale, and am intrigued by who could own such a collection. (Most of the pieces were loaned to the gallery specifically for the show and the lender wished to remain anonymous.)
I’ve written before that, even though Canada has a great tradition of landscape painting, most of us don’t get much beyond the Group of Seven when asked to name a Canadian landscape artist. So here’s a tip for my Vancouver readers: if your New Year’s resolution is to increase the amount of CanCon in your cultural life, get yourself down to the Vancouver Art Gallery before January 24 (the last day of the exhibition). You will learn something about the many (other) landscape artists who have lived and worked in this country of ours that has too much geography.
If only for that reason alone, the exhibition is worth the price of admission.
To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.
― Hans Christian Andersen
I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. ― Nelson Mandela, Cape Town City Hall, February 11, 1990
To know Paris is to know a great deal. What eloquent surprises at every turn of the street. To get lost here is an adventure extraordinary. The streets sing, the stones talk. The houses drip history, glory, romance. — Henry Miller
I’ve been struggling to write this post all week long. I wasn’t sure what to say (if anything) and I wrote (and discarded) multiple drafts (all of them in my head).
Then I saw the pictures of the millions of Parisians gathered today in the streets of Paris. Once I saw those photos, I knew which of the thousands of photos I had taken in Paris I should post.
And once I had a photo, I had the words.
Paris is close to my heart. I’ve had the privilege to visit this beautiful, amazing, perplexing, and frustrating city five times over three decades. My first visit lasted less than 24 hours; my last, just shy of three months. After Vancouver, it is my favourite place in the world.
But it wasn’t always.
I remember the exact moment I fell in love with Paris ― ironically, it was in Place de la République, the square where thousands of Parisians have gathered throughout this awful week. I was eating dinner with my father on a raised terrace overlooking the square. We had arrived in Paris just that afternoon after travelling by Eurail throughout Germany. Earlier in the week, we had had a conversation about which European city each of us could see ourselves living in. I couldn’t choose ― not one said “home” to me in the way I wanted it to.
Until that moment. As I gazed out at the trees along the boulevard, I thought to myself, “I can see myself living here” ― and before the thought had fully formed in my brain, my dad said it out loud for me. “You’d like to live here, wouldn’t you?” To my knowledge, he’s never read my mind before (or since), but he did that summer evening.
I’ve been in love with Paris ever since.
This week, my heart has been aching for Paris while I struggled to find the words to express my feelings and thoughts.
Today, Parisians took to their city’s streets in unprecedented numbers. The first reports described it as the largest demonstration since Paris’s liberation from Nazi Germany in August 1944. By the end of the day, the news media described the rally as the largest demonstration ever in French history. Ever. That is indeed unprecedented.
Tomorrow, Paris will begin to redefine itself, as it has so many times before after so many other violent, horrific events in its long and storied history. We don’t ― none of us ― have the distance and perspective necessary to understand what this week has done to the city. That will come, in time.
And so, for now, all I have is this photo, which I took on Armistice Day, 2010.
The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. ― Saint Augustine
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” ― one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope.
This is the faith that I will go back to the South with.
With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. — Martin Luther King Jr.