Canadian travels

I made my annual pilgrimage to Canada earlier this week; I spent a few days in Bon Echo Provincial Park, followed by a few days in Ottawa.  I’d never been to Bon Echo before, but had heard it was beautiful, and it certainly was.  I did some hiking, some kayaking, and some swimming.  Hiking in Central Ontario in the summer is in some ways a test of endurance; the insect life is voracious.  I had, of course, forgotten to buy DEET for my trip, but I remembered that I had some non-DEET bug spray stashed in the glove box of my car, so I tried that.  It worked surprisingly well; shockingly well, actually.  The one down side was that it left an oily sheen on my skin, which of course became grimy with dirt and dust from the trail.  I was a filthy mess at the end of that hike!  I was really, really grateful for the camp showers afterwards.  Later that day, I rented a kayak and paddled along Bon Echo Rock in Upper Mazinaw Lake, checking out the climbers on the cliff face and the pictographs left by first nations’ people.  Living at the base of the Shawangunk ridge, I guess I have a natural affinity for climbers, even though I don’t climb myself.  I see people splayed out on a rock wall hundreds of feet above me attached to intricate rope systems and shouting things like “Off belay,” and it feels like home.

Also, Bon Echo rock on the east side of Upper Mazinaw Lake is amazingly beautiful, especially in the light of early evening.

The thing that made me happiest at Bon Echo, though, was the diversity of people there.  Not everyone was white!  This is not always the case in rural Ontario.  I was staying in a campground, and the vibe was sort of summer-camp-for-families.  This was a little uncomfortable for me, since I was there alone, and didn’t know anyone.  The first night, my campsite was surrounded on all sides by sites full of teenage girls, listening to terrible music, singing along badly, and gossiping loudly.  It was pretty great.  The entertainment value was tremendous, and it harkened back to my own youth.  I did kind of feel like the one Hank Williams figure in a sea of Taylor Swifts, though.  Or to use a more nationally appropriate reference, Leonard Cohen in a sea of Justin Biebers.

Bon Echo Provincial ParkBon Echo Provincial ParkBon Echo Provincial ParkBon Echo Provincial ParkBon Echo Provincial Park, Shield TrailBon Echo Provincial Park, Shield Trail
Bon Echo Provincial Park, Shield TrailBon Echo Provincial ParkBon Echo Inukshuk, Shield TrailBon EchoBon EchoGraffito in Bon Echo underpass
Bon EchoBon Echo climbers!Bon EchoBon Echo pictographBon Echo climbers!Bon Echo climbers!
Bon Echo climbers!Bon Echo pictographNot-so-fine-art bannock photographyBon Echo Provincial ParkCamp site, Bon Echo Provincial ParkBon Echo Rock, Upper Mazinaw Lake

Bon Echo, a set on Flickr.

On to Ottawa.  This was my first trip to Ottawa solo, not to visit anyone, not with any specific agenda in mind, just to have a good time.  And so I did!  I stayed in the Jail Hostel, an old jail and the site, I believe, of Canada’s last hanging.  I stayed on the top floor, which was death row when the jail was in use.  So now I can tell people that I spent a few nights in the slammer on death row in Ottawa.  That should stop any conversation dead in its tracks.  Also, I bought a t-shirt at the hostel that says “A great place to hang!” with a picture of a noose.  Classy!  I’m looking forward to wearing it to yoga classes and scandalizing my fellow yoginis.  The thing I like best about staying in hostels is the fact that when interacting with other hostelers, the first task is always to figure out what, if any, language you have in common.  This does not happen in hotels.  I always feel stupider after a stay in a hotel.  There’s very little interaction with other people; the whole situation fosters isolation and anonymity.  Not so in hostels.  The situation fosters interaction.  And that rocks.

My first day in Ottawa, I took a long walk around Parliament Hill, across the river to Hull, past the Museum of Civilization, and back across the river to Ottawa again.  As in Bon Echo, I was happy to see the diversity of people and overhear a diversity of languages.  Unfortunately, not everyone shared my enthusiasm.  On the Alexandra Bridge on my way back to Ottawa, I heard an altercation behind me.  A pair of young women, apparently, had wandered into the bike lane on the bridge (which was not well marked), and a biker was directing an angry tirade at them.  Actually, it was beyond angry; he was rageful all out of proportion.  And he ended his lengthy, loud, and wholly unwarranted temper tantrum by calling them “Chinese fucks.”  So I don’t think his anger was about what they had done, but rather about who they were, or rather, who he believed they were.  Frightened and angry myself, I didn’t know what to do.  I’m still not sure what, if anything, I should have done.  He was much bigger than me, and clearly pissed, so confronting him probably would not have been a good idea.  Plus, I was wearing ladybug earrings in my ears and my hair was in pigtails.  A realistic appraisal of the chances of him treating me more respectfully than he’d treated the girls was not overwhelmingly promising.  I didn’t think it would help to run back and see if the girls were okay either, though maybe I should have.  I wanted to tell them that not all Canadians are like that, but who am I to tell them that?  I’m not Canadian.  And for all I knew, they may well have been Canadian.  On the chance that they weren’t, though, that they were just visiting, it saddens me that some bigoted jackass did his best to poison their trip and their opinion of Canada and Canadians.  Come on, Canada.  You can do better than that.

That was really the only dark spot marring my trip to Ottawa.  Monday night, I sat on the green in front of Parliament Hill and watched a multimedia presentation on the history and culture of Canada displayed on the front of the Centre Block building.  I loved it; I totally choked up whenever the strains of “O Canada” played.  Before the show began, I was wandering around behind Centre Block.  Saw a pair of young women, clearly in love, holding each other and gazing deeply into each other’s eyes.  That brightened my day a lot, and ameliorated much of the bitterness I still felt after witnessing the altercation on the bridge a few hours earlier.  Also, there were statues of Canada’s past prime ministers, and I noticed with great amusement that there was a stream of pigeon shit trickling straight down the face of Diefenbaker.  Even birds give him no respect!

Tuesday, I spent the morning in the National Gallery and the afternoon on a tour of Centre Block.  The National Gallery didn’t impress me much; I though the art museum in Montreal was much better.  There was a sculpture in the Inuit exhibit that made me smile, though; it was titled “The Aurora Borealis Decapitating A Young Man.”  And there were a handful of very good pieces in the permanent collection.  I was struck by how similar some of the early Canadian art was to the Hudson River school work from the 19th century; I wished my friend E were there with me, so that I could discuss it with her.  Unfortunately, I had the same problem in the National Gallery that I usually have in art museums.  The work progresses from older to newer, and at some point, usually around 1930, the production of art begins to strike me as an exercise in who can out-clever who.  I lose all emotional connection to what I’m looking at.  So I spent a good bit of time in the old part of the collection, but pretty much rushed through the newer work.

I really enjoyed the Parliament Hill tour.  The architecture and the ornate details of the building were stunning; especially the woodwork in the library.  Absolutely gorgeous.  And part of me, of course, was excited at now being able to visualize the place that Canadian legislation and policy are debated.

I returned to the states on Wednesday; as usual, I was remorseful that my trip had been so short, and I promised myself that it wouldn’t be so long before I returned.  Beyond my (obvious) love of Canada, simply stepping outside of my daily life for a few days altered my perspective.  A few years ago, when we were in Guatemala, I told my friend K that “The benefit of travel is seeing home differently.”  Walking around Ottawa, I thought about how profound the writing and performing that I’ve been involved in for the past few months has been; how that work has been pulling me out of a quagmire I didn’t even know I was in, and giving me direction.  “Profound” and “unfolding” were words that kept coming back to me in Ottawa.

This isn’t the best piece of writing I’ve ever produced, but I’m sick of editing it so I’ll just post it as is.

Squirrel masonry!  On Confederation Building in OttawaHull BixiGraffito, Alexandra Bridge, OttawaNotre Dame, OttawaNotre Dame, OttawaNotre Dame, Ottawa
Giant Spider attacking Notre Dame, OttawaChamplain!Ottawa National GalleryParliament Hill House of CommonsParliament Hill House of CommonsParliament Hill Senate Chamber
Lion with indigestionVomiting UnicornCentre Block, Parliament HillLe Chateau Laurier

Ottawa, a set on Flickr.


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