Jan 12, 2012

Patriotic Song

Remember during the film “Casablanca,” when in the bar, a small detachment of German soldiers were singing their patriotic song and Victor Laszlo, the freedom fighter, went and asked the band to play “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem? Everyone stood and sang with gusto and conviction. What a truly poignant moment, yet patriotic, telling the world they disagreed with the Nazis. Subsequently, the loud singing drowned out the German song completely.

As audience members, we all became French for that brief moment because we all knew the Nazis needed to be defeated.

I've been a witness to many moments much like that, but one stands out. It happened while on assignment in Cypress. It wasn’t about the Nazis, but it was about a patriotic song. I was an assistant cameraman working for the CBC, filming “The Canadian Armed Forces Review,” a traveling road show put together to entertain the Canadian peacekeeping troops at Christmas. We went to Germany, Egypt, Israel and Cypress. In each place we filmed entertainers showing their artistic prowess, and the troops loved the show. Germany was the cleanest place I’ve ever seen. In Egypt, we climbed up inside the great pyramid on Christmas day.  And Israel was an inspiration. But filming in the no-mans-land of the Golan Heights had been mentally draining. We all needed some rest.

We had recently arrived in Nicosia, the Capital of Cypress, from Tel Aviv, on a bumpy, Canadian-forces, troop-carrying, Hercules aircraft. The entertainers had just completed their first Cypress show and we had finished a day of filming. About thirty of us, entertainers and film crew, were relaxing in a local restaurant with our Greek Cypriot helpers. We were eating a fabulous, multi-course meal of Cypriot food, drinking the local grog, and chatting and merry-making with our new found friends and colleagues at separate tables spread around the establishment. In the background, I could hear melodies of Greek Cypriot songs playing through the speakers in the ceiling.

At some moment during the evening, the never-ending drone and beat of one of the Cypriot songs became the beat for someone to quietly start singing “O Canada.” Perhaps it was the booze starting to get to the entertainers, but the song quietly gained momentum and took on a life of its own. Then, raucous exuberance spread throughout the restaurant. People were standing on chairs and tables singing from the top of their lungs. I stood up and joined in. It was a stirring moment. You didn’t even have to be Canadian to be caught up. Some weren’t. Others just stared in amazement. Most were smiling and glowing hearts were beating. The crowd mentality was at its zenith. I had never seen Canadians so ... patriotic.

Then it stopped. We sank back into our conversational mode and resumed where we had left off. The flamboyant displays of emotion had gone, but for the drying of the eyes.

One of our Cypriot helpers leaned forward and asked, “What was that song?”
“O Canada.” I said, “Canada’s national anthem.”
“Ah,” he replied politely.

View the Casablanca scene on YouTube.

View O Canada on YouTube.

"Patriotism... is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime."
-Adlai Stevenson

"You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die."
Victor Laszlo (Casablanca)