Monday, October 09, 2006

Ottawa 2

Got a cab to Carleton around 9. He asked if I were on my way to teach a class there. Oddly, I've had a whole career as a teacher, now ended since I was last in this city. Now I'm just a tourist in my past. The chatty cabby let me off at what proved to the the Loeb bldg, a conglomerate of towering red brownishness I remember fondly from my days as a student here. Used to get tea from the basement, which would warm me on my way to classes and fog my glasses if I went outside. I find the Loeb basement filled with vending machines, not a tea service in sight. Instead, the nearby library has a sort of Star Bucks-lite place where they do indeed dispense hot water and tea bags. When I go back outside, its too warm to fog glasses from tea but the Quad feels familiar, I can almost imagine being here 37 years ago.
In the student centre, I search for the radio station. Some stairs and some escalators take me up but none to the 5th floor, until with repeated assitance from students, I find my way to the tunnel-like station where a man just opening up shows me around. They are celebrating their 30th anniversary as a broadcast station. I inform him that I narrowcasted from a precursor to this station in 69. From the tunnels, instead of this tower. He tells me of recently talking to Bo Diddley on the phone during a pledge drive. Always loved radio, and delighted to see how far up its come since my days here.
The tunnels are not as I remember. In 69 people scrawled or drew whatever and wherever. Now they seem to have orderly panels, devoted to various groups, years or res. groups. The mail boxes under res looked familiar but the dining area where you could eat bad hot dogs at 3 AM has been given over to various franchises. I had been shooed away when I tried filming the food court in the student centre and saw no reason to antagonize them. I remember getting raspberry jam filled donut thingies and tea in the tunnels on my way to class. The tunnels were a great way to avoid winter but grow quickly tiresome now. The res does not allow entrance to strangers, and that's as it should be these days. The place where I first met the people I'm coming to visit on this trip, Bishop in Toronto and Huddart in Montreal as well as C. Dale I visited recently up north. All of us lived at Glengarry residence. And now live elsewhere, but remain in touch, for some reason.
Both Carleton friends I'm visiting on this trip had told me to visit the Canadian War Museum so that was first on my list after I left Carleton. A very moving experience. The architecture of the building, within and without, speak eloquently of the desolation of war. I thought the special exhibit, about the 7 years war, for all its importance in the creation of the US and Canada, was uninterestingly presented. The same could not be said of the massive exhibits of wars from earliest history to Canada's soldiers dying in Afghanistan as I type. Always the radio fan, I thought the use of voices, push a button and hear in English or French the stories of soldiers in hundreds of years of wars telling you what they experienced was most effective. I learned a lot about Canadian history that I didn't know. The incarceration of Ukranians during WW I (when Ukraine was part of the Austrian empire, and thus my ancestors were considered The Enemy in their adapted country) was an event that I knew far too little about. Bishop had told me it was as much a museum of Canadian history as a military museum. What was refreshing (in a grim sort of way) was how much the exhibits focussed on not just soldiers suffering on the front lines but how people coped back home. Games kids would have played during WW II for example. There was a good section about Dieppe, the Canadian catastrophe, a preliminary to the D-Day invasion, where my father was supposed to go but luckily spent that time in the hospital while his fellow soldiers went off to be slaughtered. How lucky he is to be celebrating his 89th birthday.
The exhibit about the Canadians captured in Hong Kong led to a portrait of The Japanese soldier. Gee, didn't look like my father-in-law at all. Also a segment on the Canadians interned during the war. The war's influence on both my family and Fumiyo's was palpable. I remember going to elementary school in LA in the 50s and being given pencils with their erasers labelled "for rubbing out Nips." And that was more than a decade after the war. A headline from the Vancouver Sun read, "Japs, All Enemy Aliens to Move from Defense Zones; Whites to Run Fish Fleet." Bet those fish were confused.
In general I admired how balanced the view of all the wars were, not just suffering Canadian soldiers. I can't imagine the Americans (or the Japanese or any European countries whose museums I've visited) being that balanced about their military histories. For example, an exhibit of the liberated prisoners from Nazi death camps, which well illustrates why the war was necessary, is near another exhibit questioning the military value of the bombings of Germany and Japan, and whether they were worth it. My father-in-law's first family, his wife and 3 daughters, were incinerated in the firebombing of Tokyo, which killed many more people than the more famous bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was also impressed with the problems Canadian soldiers faced because of the poor equipment they were issued. Their WW I rifle is a famous SNAFU but I didnt' know until visiting their museum that our soldiers' nylon uniforms in the Korean War were so noisy they had to take them off when approaching North Korean lines, where the soldiers wore quilted, quiet uniforms. I wonder if they're wearing appropriate uniforms in Afghanistan now?
Thankfully the museum, which starts with neolithic savagery, ends with our present tense military situation, contains a chilling portrait of camouflaged Gen Dollaire. Lack of support for his UN mission led to the genocide in Rwanda. Canadian soldiers righfully fought against Hitler's genocide but not Rwanda, or now not Darfur? What's wrong with this picture?
The museum ends with a number of questions on the wall to make visitors think seriously not just about wars of the past but how we live now. Signs ask What Do You Think? Louis Riel, hero or traitor? When is war necessary? Who would you miss? Where were you (during recent historial events)? What do you fear? What will you do? History is not just the story you read. It is the one you write. It is the only you remember or denounce or relate to others. It is not predetermined. Every action, every decision, however small, is relevant to its course. History is filled with horror, and replete with hope. You shape the balance. A very eloquent way to end a tour of a war museum. The building itself resembles a bunker. You can almost expect to hear bombs falling. The overall effect was quite depressing, however rightfully so.
On my way to the National Arts Centre, which I wished to visit, didn't look too far to walk, at least on the map. It was a pleasent walk, right by the scenic Parliament buildings. I wanted to go to the arts centre because I had a baron of beef sandwich at its cafe in 1971, the only restaurant meal I'd ever eaten in Ottawa before my fabulous feast at Beckta last night. I wanted to find out of the cafe still had good food, but the long walk to it brought me there after it had closed for lunch. Very hungry and with aching feet, I walked accross the street to the Darcy McGhee Irish Pub named after the famous Canadian Father of Confederation, assassinated a few blocks from the pub on April 7, 1868. I wonder if I can get a John Wilkes Booth Burger anywhere near Ford's Theatre in Washington DC?. I was so happy to finally sit down. The server asked me if I wanted a newspaper. I didn't, but was delighted at the offer. The only drink on the menu was Guiness so I inquired if it was the only drink available. She said there were a variety of beers. I asked if she had any Belgians, or perhaps the Quebec Belgian immitations which are also quite flavourful. At first she said, no Belgians, but then remembered that Stella was Belgian (that's why the Belgian bar I reviewed on this blog earlier is named Stella!) and brought a tall cold one. MMM. All that walking had made me exceedingly thirsty. Even if it had tasted terrible, it would have tasted great at that moment for me. From a list of Irish favourites on the menu, I ordered the Gallway Seafood Medley: shrimp, scallops, salmon and haddock simmered in a white wine cream sauce served with basmati rice. Sounds scrumptious to this hungry tourist. The menu also says "wine to complement any meal." From this I deduce there must be a beverage menu, so I request one. If I'd have known I could get wine, I wouldn't have ordered the beer. I finally get a glass on cold white wine and my meal is edible. After witnessing the privations of Canadians throughout history at the War Museum, my minor hunger and sore feet seem so petty.
Nourished once more, I wandered around Sparks Street Mall, which I vaguely remember from past visits to Ottawa and then returned to the hotel to soak my feet in the tub and drink cans of excellent Irish cidre from a nearby liquor store until the pain went away.
I last remember seeing my cousin Terry in our home town Yorkton in 1973, which was also the last year I visited Ottawa. Much has happened in his life and mine since then. He had just retired from a 35 year career in the military, so not surprisingly, one of the first things he asked me when we met for dinner was whether I'd seen the War Museum. I told him I had earlier today and then mentioned I learned about the Ukranians (that would be us) imprisoned in our new homeland of Canada as enemy aliens during WW I. Terry said it was an acquaintance of his who got that installation into that museum. It seems everyone I meet has some connection with that museum. Although Terry had been married to Bonnie for 28 years, this was my first time meeting her, and seeing photos of their now adult children. It's odd when you know someone in childhood and then meet them when you are both old. It's not like the old person today has anything in common with the youth you only vaguely recall from long ago. One thing I did recall was that Terry was very funny. He still is.
They took me to The Black Cat Cafe, thankfully a short walk from my hotel. I had studied its menu online, but when I got there, it seemed to have a new menu. Appetisers were labelled Barcelona Style Tapas. As Barcelona was the city Fumiyo and I had discovered tapas in, this boded well.
I had the Hamburgesa de Kobe, mini-kobe burger with angry tomato tempraillo sauce, buffalo mozzarella, choriso and sour dough. It was as if Gaudi had designed a cheese burger. Chef Rene Rodriguez also offered us small bowls of some sort of cod-based pudding which tasted kind of Portugese. Eating all this fine food was complemented by listening to Terry and Bonnie's stories of their lives in Europe and how it made them wine connoisseurs. Terry was able to find a red wine to his liking on the Black Cat menu while I stuck with sparkling wines. One place one must visit between bottles is the men's room, and the Black Cat actually has a tv set embedded in the floor. You don't have to be Elvis Presley to piss on the news!
Normally I eat mostly seafood, but the Gaudiburger was so good I decided to try the
"Roasted rack of lamb with sourdough, green olive panzanella, warm smoky sundried tomato vinaigrette, buffalo mozzarella, fennel puree and cumin scented roasted red pepper tempranillo coulis" which sounds like it would segue well after the burger. Twas not to be. It quite overwhelmed me with its sheer meatiness. Still it was great to meet Terry and Bonnie and learn of their lives over the decades.


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