Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ottawa 3

(Canadian architectural deity Douglas) Cardinal's Museum carved into its background like a friendly wave and closer, like an Olmec god. Parliament buildings beyond appear Venetian, against the close curving museum. Loved Cardinal's Indian museum in DC at the beginning of this blog, here I am at another version of his vision. The First Nations University in Regina as well. It's raining, off and on. This was the main reason I wanted to come to Ottawa. Here it is.
Kinda lost city of Petra, for an additional fee. Sounds like a really interesting idea. I hope some other museum develops it into something good. The visual presentation of informaiton is an art form. Non artists should not apply. It was a place I wanted to visit Before I saw this exhibit.
Back in Canada, and we start where our country started, in its foundations. We go down.
Interesting concept, decent into the West Coast nations as your escalator goes past totem poles. That was well thought out. Gives you a sense of the height of the long houses you'd enter for their presentation.
The first house, I like how dark it is, as it would have been in the real house. Not good for my eyes but its says something important about how the things within would have been viewed by their creators. The mice, or wahtever animal toys, or whatever. The images of children. You really have to bend down to look, even with zoom lens. Let gravity draw you down to discovery.
The incongruity of a long canoe from the pacific in a room in Ottawa. The projected story on the skin has a campfire echo, Disney and earlier for me. When I was an Indian Guide, some pre-cub scout thing when I was 6 or 7 or something too far vanished to be recalled through anything but echoes. Such as this.
Another Bill Reid iteration of the Haida canoe sculpture. I try to superimpose the black version I saw in DC last May, the airport green one I've seen so often with this white one. the original plaster cast. Hard to do as a concept but focusing on one image, such as Reid's mouse face and then recalling it in the other colours makes this possible. White has its own pleasures. The way it takes on the lights. The reason we can appreciate art is because it tells us something we need to know, about ourselves, our capacities, and the imminence of their absence.
The revelatory A Separate Reality by Moriseau. As overwhelming in 2 dimensions as Reid's canoe full of wonders is in 3. Kind of reminded me of a Bosch who'd had a happy childhood.
The innuit sculptures look like crystals sprouted out of the rock

Louis Reil's jacket. Does it bring him to life, or emphasize his distance?
Totemic Composition of Women, Animal and Birds gathered at the Igloo, stunning molding ancient Minoan and innuit. My kinda imagery.
Great vista of giant mask in the courtyard outside, as well as a small plane and changing leaves, downtown Ottawa, all the appropriate images from the most appropriate place. And then I look up into the ceiling. Like eye opening for the the first time. And the colours. New senses coming into existence. Kinda Dali, flames, frills, snakes, birds, something red and organic, and at the centre, a painter's wheel in the age of too many choices, but not for you.
A great 3-D-ish map of Canada, a celing bespeckled with lantern fragments like the opening egg of the peyote bird. Cartoon colonials have their speech bubbles neatly split into english and split, as if they were miscreant infinitives.
I learn about the Pemmican Makers, the origins of the Metis. One of those words every Canadian hears but even the well educated know not of this. If my father the car dealer had been active a century earlier, he could have sold Red River Carts. The 1885 merchant's family display, much like the one I'd seen days earlier at the ROM, is somewhere my grandparents would have felt at home. The Saskatchewan stuff seems particularly to hover on the edges of familiarity. Melville was my father's home town and here it is, and my mother's Ukranian heritage in abundance. All that stuff that would have figured prominently in their lives, now just fleeting memories and soon no one will be alive who remembers any of this.
The worker's house 1940 brings to life the Japanese-Canadians rounded up in the exhibit in the War Museum, as only good displays can. Once again, it emphasizes the variety of the Canadian experience, even when not encouraged to be Canadian.
The last section, with Vancouver Airport in the 60s had the greatest resonance of all, as that's where I've ended up too. I leave from Reid's green Haida masterpiece and come to a city I remember covered with snow to see a white copy of the same sculpture. Always a good thing to do. The airport as gateway to Japan. It has always been so, for my family. From my grandparents era, it would have been science fiction, getting on a plane and getting off in Japan in such a short period of time. Back to Reid again, this time the copy of the Aquarium's great statue. Its curves echo those of the building seen without and within. Chief of the Undersea World. Tiny Inuit carvings of large animals, magnified by camera magic. Outside, the portions of faces, from childhood books of facial construction. I think it would get tiresome compared to the eternal colours of the rest of the museum, soil forming colour reality. Dune-ish. Water-rock.

Then it's time for Imax film I'd reserved a seat for. It was about the sea. It was more about vertigo to me. It made me not want to eat fish for lunch.

Looking at the lime beef salad I flimed, now on monitor, it looks so much better than it tasted. But I was hungry and hardly about to shlepp over to the National Arts Centre Cafe to see if it still had a beef sandwich. This looked like a good idea. It was too firey, but that's a common problem for me and somewhat abated by the cucumbers, the white wine and the great view from the window of the rainy capital. I would venture soon accross that bridge, umbrella not flinging me into the river hopefully as Mary Poppins, but now I'm dry and drinking just enough wine to extinguish the beef on fire and then set out to see the gallery. The wonderful gallery of oz? The cafe's chairs of such exploding modernity to cancel out all those Victorian chair smotherments within. I stay inside, breathe fire. Then out into the rainy bridge, and not to be blown away. Perhaps, a token of things to come.

From within, the towers have diamond-like majesty, as exquistite as from without, but cathedral-like it may be with my tax dollars celebrating their absence, as soon as I take out my camcorder and zoom in on some thousand-year old innuit tiny animal sculpture, I'm told that photography is not allowed here. And why not? Is this not OUR Art? Do the yanks care who takes pix of their greatest art in their National Gallery, etc, etc? Do the French restrict photography in the Louvre or the Musee d'Orsay? If Canada lasts longer than the universe, it will never have art in the whole country a quintillionith as good as one floor of the Musee d'Orsay and we don't allow photography? What stupendous hubris. It makes everything in the gallery suspect. A couple of good Monets, one I remember from my visit to its predecessor in maybe 71, sunset Waterloo Bridge looks as good as it did then. The Chagall Eifel Tower painting is evocative. I do see a bit of Group of 7 I had never seen up close that were worth looking at in the museum but it's basically not worth the price of admission. A waste of already sore feet. Thankfully a short walk home, soak feet in tub again, and get ready for dinner at Signatures. Jack Abramoff's restaurant? Hopefully, this is different. The Embassy of French food, as it were. Quebec rather than Parisian. The menu celebrates its Canadianess and I have studied it intently on line. The gallery is kind of like a cathedral that looks good from the outside and from within looking out its windows, but inner directed vision is obscured, daunted. Unwelcomed. We await silent tristero's empire, or at least a democratic approach to public art.
The church accross the street I recall from my Carleton days when it stood out against the city. It made a pretty picture. Now it is dwarfed by its neighbour, the gallery. A giant spider gaurds its entrance. Isn't Sauron overthrown yet?
I walk back in history. An earlier Ottawa, closer to its conception, when French was as ubiquitous as now, perhaps, but modern appliances and energy supplies bring forth a new empire of French Food? I walk up into a Louis the Someteenth realm. Can I handle the Big Menu? I get some exercise walking into an empty chamber, thus far. I unpack the still camera, the camcorder and the microcassette. Let's see how good they do this.
Started with the house cocktail, strawberry liquor and champagne? Very pink. Went well with wallpaper, which seemed to have been there since my grandparents were kids. This would be the 1860s. Walking through all these museums and relics of my and my ancestors' past, my sense of time is increasingly fluid. I wonder if the fireplace is functional, but its seems to have warmed an earlier era.
I'm told the grand menu will take 2 1/2 hours to eat. Do I have that much time? If taxi is prompt, I can be back at the hotel for the new Chappelle Show. That will be done. Ok, bring it on, food. What was Napoleon spreading, anyway? The clap or great cuisine?
The overall decor, of wealth long and well preserved, the background chatter and piano gave me the impression that I'd stumbled into a lodge of rich people, knocking out the economies of thier ill-mannered suppliers as quickly as I knocked back this strawberry drinky. A very intriguing light for the table, of Mona Lisa and other Louvre delights well lit and lighting my meal.
The camcorder took better pix of the strawberry bevy than the still camera but I enjoyed zooming in on the reflected chandelier in the jewalled window, the bits of art right out of the museums I'd just bathed in, here upon functioning walls. An amazing complement to days of visits to the imagined and remembered, place and story.
Each course is perfectly paired with its wine and they got as much out of their ingredients as I imagined could be done within the realm of this style of cooking. Ok all of that is on one side. On the other side is the lobster. The first bite of the lobster, I fell down a hole, into a different universe of tastes. Alice came by and offered a good white. I'd never known lobster as an ingredient could be that good, with its orange-braised endives, ginger and Cointreau saboyan.
Back to beginnings. I'm amuse bouched with fois gras (this is, after all, greater Quebec!)and some sort of chutney. Will I survive? Better chutney than Cheyney.
The server said it was top of the line, as good as you could get in Canada. I would prefer never to have eaten it, but I did order it, sort of, so I'll soldier on, like my father would have done at Dieppe. Yeah right. Wine helps alot so, or, however, it's not bad. Tis profoundly meaty but the apple and chantrelle do soothe.
Wine doenst magnify so much as puts the best possible frame around it all.

The excellent somelier informs me that
the wine was chosen to enhance the asparagus with the crab, the first serious course. I am offered it before the chartreuse of Alaskan crab arrives, but send it back. Want it cold when the food arrives.
Finally the lobster arrives. I had never eaten lobster used as an ingredient with such genius before. I didnt know it could be done.
The server has told me as I was pondering my order that the reason the most expensive meal is the best is because of the fine wines that really show off Julie the somelier's stuff. That would appear to be an understatement.
Another meaty meal arrives, the peppercorn-encrusted Alberta beef tenderloin flambeed in Calvados (can't get enough apples) right beside my table. More theatre than cuisine. I would say it went well with the fois gras if I were a fan of fois gras. Still, it comes After the wondrous lobster which remains the best reason for going to Signatures. Julie's suggested wine does indeed go well with the peppercorns.
Next I'm served frozen fruit in what looks like a Bill Reid canoe, full of Haida characters. Is the cantelope Bill? Supposed to cleanse the palate and does its job well, just like Bill Reid.
The meal ends with apricots sauteed with Saskatchewan honey (is this a meal or a geography lesson?). I order the Signatures coffee, but find it too bitter to drink. The meal ends up costing me twice as much as the even better meal I had at Beckta, but I can't complain. It's been an experience. As I'm leaving, the server chases after me with the microcassette I'd forgotten on the table, or I wouldn't be typing up these notes. Shes deserves a tip. Signatures deserves a trip to Ottawa for, just as the assorted museums justify the price of your room in a hotel. It's been a great touristy 3 days in Ottawa, now back to bigcity land where ALL the signs are in French.


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