From Montréal, I set off the next day, on a rainy morning, for Burlington via bus. I was sure to secure a window seat to provide entertainment. The large hills to the south of Montréal, at least as seen from the highway, rather recall bunches of green sentinels, for indeed such elevation provides a commanding view of the surrounding country. I was left to guess at who might be watching from those heights, for someone is ever watching from the hills. Farther down the road, I took note of what seemed to me an inordinate number of abandoned homes, swallowed by trees and shrubs following a migration whose import I could only guess at. At last, hills and homes fell behind, and the American border drew nearer. As the miles counted down, I recollected that no French speaker had yet switched to English on me.
At the border crossing itself, we were made to alight from the bus with our belongings for processing. “To provide you with a face at the border”, as they say. The prodding questions, lines of human cattle, the waiting: in all this, the better part of an hour went by as the country projected its own identity beginning at the very limits of its territory. Strong, unitary, English-speaking. I helplessly observed the plight of a Lebanese woman, heaped with scorn for a lack of English, led off and held back an hour. In Europe, the borders which were the object of so many disputes, wars and posturing have vanished, no structures left to distinguish them from one another. In North America, borders whose shape and line follow not from conflict or even geography but from mathematical constructs are hardened entities, capable of osmosis only with great difficulty and visible unwillingness to let the other in or out. There we were, being wrung through an abstraction born of consensus, not conflict, the backwardness of it plain to all.