I recently spent a few days in Ottawa. I was primarily ensconsed in the Library and Archives of Canada conducting research. A few obserations:
Ottawa has winter! It’s a welcome relief from Toronto where the mere thought of snow is greeted by media and many citizens with a fright that approximates the coming of the apocalypse. In Ottawa, people actually dress for winter; some of them, stunningly, appear to enjoy walking in the snow; and of course, soon, quite fabulously, the Rideau Canal will open for skating as it does each winter.
A few less savoury notes:
Traffic along Wellington in front of Parliament Hill is a deplorable national disgrace. It’s a great pity that six lanes of tangled traffic should mar what could be one of the finest walkways in Canada. As Richard Gwyn has noted, Canada’s Parliament buildings represent a triumph of visionary art over calculated, cold ‘reason’. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a country that did not yet exist deemed fit to nearly bankrupt itself to celebrate refreshingly non-fascistic architecture. Sadly, the pedestrian can no longer appreciate the vista. The air along Wellington is foul; and the cacophony of cars and buses inescapable. Where trees and a broad pedestrian walkway might exist, an ugly snarl of dinosaur technology prevails. Sigh. It seems fitting that Canada would dedicate what could be its primary boulevard to the automobile. After all, I was in Ottawa at the very moment the Canadian Prime Minister was a leader among those ensuring that climate change talks then ongoing in Copenhagen would lead to nothing more than its vacuous result.
Speaking of the Prime Minister…his party has left its own cultural mark on ‘our Nation’s Capital’. I take you now to the early evening hours in the bar at the Chateau Laurier. The place is littered with the new Tory elite. Twenty-somethings that would not look out of place at the Yuppie bar at a Republican convention. The ‘girls’ with garish scarves that tastelessly affect a garish misunderstanding of Parisian couture; the young men with quasi-military haircuts, ill-fitting suits and very shiny shoes; and for that unisex look, the ubiquitous Blackberry in paw. It would appear that among this crowd in Oh-Tah-Wah, no one is actually listening to the person they’re with. To be someone means that you must always be simultaneously looking at an electronic device while pretending to listen to the person in front of you. Virtual social conservatism meets sheer rudeness. How sweet! In this way, Bytown is almost as annoying as Bay Street.
Finally, back to the theme of fascist architecture. The American Embassy on Sussex Drive is, as the saying goes, butt ugly. Fortunately its position below Parliament Hill obscures it from many sight lines. As the lads on that NFL show would bellow, ‘C’mon man!’ Couldn’t someone have designed something attractive?!