Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Downtown in the capital

I work downtown in Ottawa, Canada's capital city. In the summertime, it's a lovely place to work. In the wintertime, it's as cold and miserable as the rest of the city and I will lament the horrors of winter in Ottawa when the time is right. But now, on this first official day of summer (hooray!), I will wax rhapsodic about Ottawa's most beautiful season.

My office is right between the tourist meccas of the Parliament Buildings and the Byward Market, at the foot of the Rideau Canal. Once every week or two, I find myself walking through downtown to one meeting or another, and I love the quiet of the core on a weekday morning, after the morning rush but before the lunch crowd comes out.

I start my work day early so I can make my way home early and maximize my time with the boys. After 10 am or so, the Market is usually crowded and noisy, but I love it best very early on summer mornings, when the day is peaceful and full of promise. There is something elusive about the pre-workday Market, with vendors setting up their stalls and cleansing sunshine bouncing off the old stone walls, that reminds me of when I was travelling through Europe a decade ago.

Today, for your reading pleasure, are ten reasons why I love working in downtown Ottawa in the summertime.

1. It's a pretty, clean, historic city with interesting architecture and lots of open space, even downtown.

2. It's a great spot for humanity-watching. Politicians, street people, students, tourists, buskers, office workers... downtown teems with people from all walks of life.

3. There are a tonne of great places to eat. Healthy food, ethnic food, fast food, food court, ritzy food and greasy food. You name it, you can find it.

4. It's quaint to step out of the office and be among people who are on vacation. Standing on the street corner waiting for the light to change, brushed by unfurled maps and wafting clouds of sunscreen, I could almost imagine I am on vacation too.

5. There are lovely places to curl up with a book or sit and eat a sandwich and watch the people.

6. Just about any direction you choose to go for a walk takes you someplace pleasant... along the canal, toward Parliament Hill, around the National Gallery, through the Market.

7. The pagentry. I've been on my way to a meeting, only to be intersected by a parade of the ceremonial guard, marching to the Changing of the Guard ceremony on the Hill, and been stuck on a street corner as a police-led motorcade escorts one or another political dignitary to an official function.

8. The festivals. From the Jazz Festival to Canada Day to our beloved Tulip Festival, there is always something going on. The Tulip Festival is my favourite - there is a naive sincerity about a modern-day city holding a flower festival that I find quite charming.

9. Maman, our 9.25 meter spider (that's 30 feet tall, for the metrically challenged). The bronze sculpture by French artist Louise Bourgeois, was recently aquired for $3.2M and assembled in the courtyard of the National Gallery of Canada. Call me crazy, but I love it. (I particularly love the Web cam angle that the link I posted shows. I can just imagine Maman leaping over the US Embassy - that's the building in the background - and landing on the building I'm working in.)

10. School tour groups are usually done by the middle of June. If I ever go 'postal', and let's face it, the odds are good, it will be because of school tour groups. Nothing sours a beautiful lunchtime in the summer faster than having to spend 20 minutes in a Subway lineup behind 47 insane 13 year olds hepped up on sugar and freedom from parental intervention. July and August have their share of tour groups, congesting the sidewalks with rubbernecking tourists clad in socks and sandals, but none are so obtusely oblivious and patently annoying as the school groups.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll wander over to the Market for a coffee and a croissant and a little bit of early morning sunshine too.