Sunday, June 16, 2013

rep road: dateline ottawa

Small mistake on my arrival in Ottawa: I mistook the national RCMP Headquarters for the Hampton Inn and drove right past the guard booth. Yes,  the booth should have been a tip-off but I thought it was a parking attendant.  An officer politely called me back, and politely showed me the hotel across the road, which, in my defense, did bear a resemblance. As I drove off I thought about how I'd likely be in custody (or worse) had I tried to drive into the FBI compound.

My last visit to Ottawa was on the coldest two days of the year, so I took advantage of the sunshine and walked to my appointment at the National Gallery- farther than it looks on the map, but through some interesting neighborhoods.

Ottawa is so strange. On one level, it's a national capital, and an international city. You pass a gorgeous old 19th Century French building, perhaps a former school or mental institution, and find that it's now the Chinese Embassy.

But on another level, Ottawa feels like it could be a midwestern rural commercial center of 50,000 people. There are modest blocks of old houses right up to the edge of the complex of big government buildings downtown. My favorite image of the day: a woman hanging laundry to dry in her backyard, just a few feet from the imposing back wall of the Saudi Consulate.

The National Gallery Bookshop is excellent, thanks to a superb buyer. As I arrived, the store was swarming with ninth graders on a field trip. I was feeling judgmental and depressed about how it was more about horsing around- "dude, check this out- Nude Sculptures!"- than art appreciation.
But then I noticed a couple nerdy loners lost in art book bliss, and remembered that this is how it seems to go with books, art, music, culture. Most of these kids will go on with their lives and, maybe, remember something about that visit to the Art Museum; but with luck, for one or two, the discovery might be life-changing, and maybe life-saving.

By the time I got back to the hotel, on a no-man's land stretch of Vanier, my resolution to not get back behind a wheel was at war with my hunger. I asked a man folding towels in the basement where he would go if he wanted pizza, and he suggested Lorenzo's, a walkable distance. His recommended route took me through an interesting working-class neighborhood and, there, on a corner, was a little family-run bar/restaurant with excellent fare. Finding something like that when stuck in hotel hell is a victory to be savored.

Saturday morning couldn't have been better. I worked for several hours with the vivacious Lisa of Octopus Books in her charming backyard in the Glebe neighborhood. She loves Dr Pepper so I stopped to pick up a pack, along with a newspaper. The check-out woman glanced at the headline on the Globe and Mail, and said " so do you think Obama's going to go into Syria?" I was so taken aback I didn't know what to say. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been asked anything other than paper or plastic in a supermarket, and I was very close to slipping into some foolish generalization about how much smarter Canada must be. But Lisa said this was extraordinary- she shops at that store and nothing like it has ever happened.

Wandered through an art fair, took a bus back up to the National Gallery to see the fantastic indigenous art exhibit, then over to Beechwood Books, which were having a local author event and packed. Planning ahead, I picked up groceries at Loblaw's and spent the evening inside catching up on notes, reading, and pondering what new goals I could have for my annual performance review this week, while trying to remember last year's.

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