Eyes wide open in Ottawa
Where were those people going? What adventures would they have?
As a nerdy adolescent, I made a minor hobby out of writing to tourist bureaus to request visitor guides. (Yes, remember before the Internet, people used to write away for information and wait weeks for the reply!) As an adult, I’ve had the good fortune to travel a lot. And despite security hassles, cramped planes and jet lag, I always approach every trip with anticipation. Where will I go? What adventures will I have?
Coming back home, with images of foreign places fresh in my brain, I never fail to observe familiar sights with unusual clarity. I’ll realize that the trees along the Rideau River have started to bud or that someone on the next block has built a stylish new porch. Gee, I’ll think. The old burg is quite pretty, isn’t it? It isn’t something I think often these days—but I used to.When I moved here in the early 1980s, looking out my Carleton University dorm window at the Experimental Farm never failed to amaze me. It took months before I could sit on an OC Transpo bus like a jaded local as we passed Parliament Hill. And while skating on the canal, my friends and I would always stop on that bend by the University of Ottawa and gasp in exaggerated (but still genuine) delight as the Peace Tower and the Chateau Laurier hove into view.
But eventually, I stopped seeing it all. The Victorian storefronts along Sussex Drive and the undulating lines of the Canadian Museum of Civilization were just backdrops as I raced to client meetings. The charming Pretoria Bridge was simply a traffic-
Columnist One of my most vivid childhood memories is standing on the top storey of the old parking garage at the Toronto airport with my dad, watching planes take off and land.
I wondered. choked obstacle between me and the grocery store.
Beauty, surprise and delight, I believed, only awaited at the other end of an airplane’s Jetway.
It slowly dawned on me, though, that the foreign cities I love are all just “home” to other people. Do Amsterdammers marvel at their beautiful canals? Do Sydneysiders gape at the Opera House? I doubt it.
After 27 years in Ottawa, I’m as blind to most of our city’s charms as the average Manhattanite is to the Chrysler Building. I’ve forgotten that not every city has Lawren Harris’s North Shore, Lake Superior work of art (at the National Gallery of Canada) or a prime minister’s collection of artfully faked ruins (at Kingsmere). I take skating on the canal and sunsets at Britannia Beach for granted.
Where can I go today? I should ask myself more often, instead of just trundling along my well-worn ruts from home to the grocery store, the Y, the pub. What adventures can I have?
Sometimes, it doesn’t take a plane ticket to get a fresh perspective. Sometimes, all I need to do is open my eyes.