Canada it is.
I lost my Canadian passport, or somebody lost it for me at the Geneva airport (you know who you are), and for a few days I felt like a man without a country, even though I was still able to travel.
I have more than one passport and can move around, but a Canadian citizen I am, proud and attached to the great country.
Take this picture in:
And don’t make me start with pictures of Toronto; they would take your breath away.
Back in Geneva, Swissport said that my passport has been located and it is with the police. When I signed for the little blue book I was as happy as a teenager with a girlfriend who just whispered: “Boy, you are my star”.
And I do like the European experience, but not for the obvious reasons. I like motorcycle riding here; I like some of the food, Spanish mostly, some views in Ticino, highways with no speeding cameras (Germany and Italy…ahem, tickets never come from there), don’t like European TV – I just don’t get it.
In Canada, and in America in general, the business is booming. They got over the 2007-2008 crisis in a way the European financial system never did or could.
You may say they did it in a cowboy style, but it worked – in the darkest hour, the bankers and Federal Reserve officials got together on one Sunday afternoon in Manhattan, broke God knows how many laws, decided to pump fresh $700 billion into the banking system and the next day the country was open for business.
You can’t do it in Europe, for this would mean money crossing borders, north to south – politically unacceptable.
There is a good story related to the 2007 crisis that just came to my mind. Many people consider it a Lehman Brothers event, but the bank where it all started was Bear Stearns, also one of Wall Street finest.
Now, let’s move back another 10 years or so from that date. The (in) famous Long Term Capital Management ran by two Nobel laureates and Chicago University professors made a huge leveraged bet on Russian bonds.
Enter the Bank of Italy, (there is a connection, just wait) which was trying hard to meet the requirements of the coming Euro zone (this is 1998) but they couldn’t pass the grade, in terms of debt to GDP, so something had to be done. The Finance Minister of Italy at that time was a guy named Mario Draghi, you may have heard of him, advised by Goldman-Sachs. They told him that these LTCM guys produce annual returns in the 40% range (true for a while). Draghi told the Bank of Italy to “lease” gold (the number of 400 metric tones is floated around), which means selling it in the market and invest the proceeds in the Long Term Capital Management. Shortly thereafter Russia defaults on its bonds, LTCM goes down in flames and Italy is out of its gold and its money.
To keep things quiet, Goldman Sachs bought Draghi’s silence by making him the chairman of G-S International.
Then an interesting meeting took place among LTCM investors, with a simple agenda: how much haircut we need to take to bail out the firm. Bear Stearns wouldn’t have any of this and they just walked out.
In 2007 they got their payback and the company was absorbed into JP Morgan for a few cents on a dollar.
At the end Italy did make the Euro membership – it’s a 3rd largest economy in Europe, impossible to roll out the project without them, and Mario Draghi went to an even higher post. They call him Super Mario for a reason.
Woody Allen famously said that every hundred years or so, somebody presses a button and a big toilet flushes, everything on the earth changes and a new set of characters comes in. We may be getting close to that.
Either way, you can find me where the life is a beauty; just look at the picture again.
I will be riding.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler