Posts Tagged ‘my history’

Digging through my files looking for some obscure notes, I ran across this piece of commentary on Ottawa. I wrote it during the first trip up here after Mr. Man convinced me to consider a move, so I was less of a tourist and more a potential consumer. It was also funny to see what I thought the first time I came to this place I now call home.

This was years ago now but the perspective (from inside a coffee shop! full of people! unmasked!) caught my attention.

Look, I thought, this is how it was, once upon a time, and how it will one day be again.

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OTTAWA 10:18 on a Monday morning and I’m in a Starbuck’s. We’re situated in one of the ubiquitous strip malls that remind me of Denver, and it’s surprisingly busy. What I’ve noticed so far: Canadians are generally not interested in bumper stickers. They seem to be much more interested in the resale value of their cars than in informing their fellow passersby that they oppose free trade, or love puppies, or want to follow their bliss (which, let’s be honest, often looks a lot like a 18-wheel truck halfway through a 48-hour run between New York city and Las Vegas). How committed can they be, I ask you, if they aren’t willing to sacrifice a bit of paint for their cause? Honestly. 

I’m freezing in here, as the climate control unit appears to be set up for a constant stream of hot-blooded Northerners, all anxious for their coffee fix. There is a constant flow of conversation as well, as interestingly plebeian as any space designed to provide a safe haven for meeting, greeting, and eating. A couple of enthusiastically large women are discussing jobs (one just lost hers due to her refusal to sign some important yet binding piece of paper and she’s happy as a clam to be anywhere that isn’t at work with her tool of a boss), kids (they don’t look old enough to have them but they do, along with husbands, tattoos, concerned mothers, and similarly unemployed friends to drink with at 11:00 in the morning. 

The cars are mostly new out here; we’re down South of the city now, in one of the several growing areas of development focused on providing big shiny new buildings for high-tech and other companies, large houses on tiny lots, gravid with the cars necessary to live in such a spread-out region. It’s not my kind of place, but I can see that it appeals to a lot of people. People who want to drive new cars from the office two blocks down the street to get a grande half-fat half-soy mocaccino with caramel on top. Not that I’m making fun, mind you. I’m drinking what appears to be a banana smoothie but is in fact a vente orange mango vivanno. I just don’t want to buy a car. Another sad note, the wireless here is decidedly not free.

One thing I notice is that as the day wears on, the brand new cars and fancy dress are replaced by a little more rust, more single women with artistically highlighted hair, fewer professionals. Perhaps this is more like an American experience than I’d expected, and I’ll see an influx of students come in soon with bags under their eyes, laptops, and the look of perennial stress that marks the perpetually intellectual. Ah, but wait, what’s this? A taste of home writ large, in the form of a bronze and white two-tone Chevy Bel Air flaunting the high gas prices as effectively as it does the slim parking spot it is bursting out of. Home sweet home. A Toyota hatchback the size of a basketball shoe slips into a slot nearby, its more practical size offset by an undeniable air of regret for its lost stature.

Most of the darker-skinned people I’ve seen so far here are South Asian. Yesterday, the lack of fellow African Americans left me feeling lonely, but on the plus side there will be whole new ethnicities to be mistaken for, and the food’s bound to be tasty. Not surprisingly, though, white prevails here. Outdoor tan white with big boots and pickup trucks, soft lumpy white with purses and a coffee and keys and flip-flops and two kids and a mini-van, self-conscious white striving for haute couture and perfect hair while casting constant glances at nearby windows to check, just to be sure, and big hand solid grip white, leading a child through a crowded room to safety.* 

Am I’m the only person here working on a laptop? Everyone else is either reading the paper or chatting with a friend. Wait! I see another fellow typist working in the far corner, injecting caffeine to spur the process along. That’s reassuring. I don’t mind being a foreigner, with darkish skin and a predilection for over-tipping due to acute unfamiliarity with the local currency, but surely we’re all in the same century, yah? Or perhaps not, since everyone else seems to have a cell phone, a car, a purse or pockets no doubt brimming with cutting edge technology, and I, I have only my little laptop. Thank God. I don’t think I could stand to be any more connected frankly. Am I antisocial, or just old school? I prefer to think the latter, and I support my argument with the fact that I will be keeping my loom, my books on food preservation without modern methods, and my books on basic survival under situations of extreme duress. I’m not anti-people, I’m just a geek.**

The people here are kind, I find. We crisscrossed a number of neighborhoods yesterday checking out the environment and looking for rental signs, and at one point stopped by the side of the road to take stock of our progress and plan out next steps. A woman knocked on the window and asked if we needed help. She’d seen the tell-tale signs of otherness: Massachusetts license plate, big map, pen and paper spread out before us. Of course, we weren’t lost at all but it was a great opportunity to chat with a woman who had lived in the Old Ottawa South area for the better part of her life, and was eager to help us spot the three or four houses in the area with for-rent signs. It was the sort of thing that might happen in any neighborhood anywhere, but that fact that at no time did I wonder if she had a pistol concealed in her handbag made it that much sweeter.

The bad news, of course, is that everyone seems to agree that Old Ottawa South is the best neighborhood in the entire city, and are unwilling to move out and give us our chance to experience it for ourselves. Perhaps we’ll find a place there. The fact that the squirrels are cute, fluffy, and completely black threw me. Not gray, not a ruddy brown, but black, like a shadow of a squirrel that’s escaped from its owner. Another non-surprise is that one is expected to pay a little something extra for the sunshine and water, the trees and green grass that tickles the toes. We’ll have to decide how far we want to travel down that road, softly green and floral scented though it may be. 

The river and canal are pretty as pictures, though, if pictures could capture the sense of motion inherent in a body of water surrounded by the swirl of cars, children, and the insufferably fit. 

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* This initial impression only captured part of the picture. The city is a great mix of ethnicities and countries of origin.

** I have a cell phone now but still don’t use it much:)

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Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3464o.pm010730

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