Politics, Art, and Hockey

Trip Start Sep 06, 1999
Trip End Sep 23, 1999

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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Saturday, September 18, 1999

It was an absolutely spectacular morning that greeted us when we stepped outside of the Comfort Inn. Any residual clouds from Hurricane Floyd had dissipated, leaving only a bright blue sky. The whole town sparkled in the brilliant sunshine of that morning. It was a perfect day to explore the capital city. But, we first needed some breakfast. Since we had seen so many people milling around the Byword Market area the previous evening, we figured that it would probably be a good place to get some breakfast and engage in Tom's favorite pastime: people watching. Our guess turned out to be correct. The Market is a three-block area that contains many shops, vendor stands, and restaurants. After looking at just about all the restaurants in the Market, we settled on Coffee Revolution. As the name would indicate, it has a great selection of coffees. I thought the food was average and the prices a bit steep, but it had a big patio area that was particularly conducive for people watching. Coffee Revolution wasn’t a bad choice, but it might be worth one’s while to do a little more exploring to see if a better alternative exists.

After a couple of hours enjoying breakfast (like I said, Tom really enjoys people watching), we started wandering over to Parliament Hill. We stopped for a moment to note the Gothic splendor of the Chateau Laurier Hotel (a smaller version of the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec). Then, we walked a block to look at the Rideau Canal. This canal, which ends in the Ottawa River, runs through the center of town. During the winter, many government employees use it as an impromptu freeway and skate to work. But on this day, the canal was a brilliant blue color that was matched by the blue of the Ottawa River. It was simply spectacular to behold. We spent a few minutes looking at it and then continued to Parliament Hill.

The Parliament buildings have an appearance that screams "important" to the visitor. It’s not just the size that imparts this feeling. The feeling also came from the wide variety of groups that were there that morning. Parliament members, a tai-chi class, security officers, protestors, and tourists were all on the grounds that morning. It was impressive to see such diverse groups congregating in one place. It made me feel that this spot was a meeting place where anyone in the nation could feel at home.

We didn’t go into the buildings themselves because access was strictly regulated (can’t allow the stray tourist/anarchist running around). The only entry for most tourists was through guided tours that occured at 20 minutes and 50 minutes after the top of the hour, between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M. The tours were free, but they tended to fill up quickly. We found that out when we tried to get a ticket at 11:30 A.M. The next available tour wasn’t until 1:20 P.M. We didn’t feel like waiting for two hours, or jeopardizing our chance of seeing some of the other sights of Ottawa. Instead, we just walked around the buildings and enjoyed the magnificent vistas provided at the top of Parliament Hill. I recommend visiting Parliament Hill, but get there early if you plan to take a tour of the buildings.

After our aborted attempt at getting inside Parliament, Tom and I walked back to the Rideau Canal.  He wanted to go on a boat ride through the canal. I wanted to go to the National Gallery, which was about a half a mile from Parliament. Tom said he didn’t mind visiting the museum if I was only planning to stay there for an hour. I told him it would be a two to three hour visit. He wasn’t interested in that long of a tour. So, we agreed to split up and meet again around 4 P.M at the hotel. I headed off to the National Gallery.

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited some top notch art museums, like the National Gallery in London, the Getty in Los Angeles, and the De Young in San Francisco. I can now add another to that list. I thought the National Gallery in Ottawa was easily their equal. I was impressed by the building itself, the scope of its exhibits, and its dedication to preserving Canadian art.

The building that houses the National Gallery’s collection is a marvel to behold. It combines many of the dramatic features of the Getty without sacrificing the intimacy that exists at the National Gallery in London. The building is made of granite, with a glass and metal exterior shell. The result of this combination gives the interior a light atmosphere that utilizes the sunlight streaming through the windows to illuminate the granite. The galleries themselves were also well lit, although that was done through artificial means. There were no ropes in front of the art works, thereby allowing the visitor to get up close looks. They even allowed photography within the building, which was something that no other museum I’d been to had allowed. When needing a break from seeing the exhibits, there were also two open-air courtyards in the center of the building that provide a wonderful area to rest. All in all, the design of the structure created a comfortable atmosphere to enjoy the exhibits.

The available exhibits definitely gave a “world-class” aura to the museum. The museum’s permanent collection contained works from such famous artists as El Greco, Turner, and Poussin. However, it was the works of the special exhibitions that really caught my attention. The featured special exhibition when I was there was a collection centered around Van Gogh’s famous painting, Irises. Normally, this painting is housed in the Getty Museum. However, it was being loaned to the National Gallery specifically for this show. National Gallery staff augmented the show by displaying a few of the museum’s own Van Gogh’s, as well as a couple of works loaned from other museums. I found it odd that I would be face to face with Irises. My feeling stemmed from the fact that I live in California, and the work is usually housed in a museum in Los Angeles. Yet, instead of travelling three hours by car to see it, I stumbled on to it in Canada. Despite my sense of displacement, I was impressed that the National Gallery was able to land such a major exhibition. It’s clear that only a major museum would be able to bring such works to it for featured exhibits.

While the National Gallery has a very good collection of works from various artists, it is not called the National Gallery of Canada for nothing. The paintings and sculpture from Canadian artists form the core of the museum’s collections. The first display of this emphasis comes in the initial galleries, which feature the museum’s collection of religious art. There are several rooms with statues, reliquaries, and paintings that were donated from churches in the country. The religious collection is highlighted by the Rideau Street Chapel, which was scheduled to be demolished before the museum bought it and had it rebuilt in its entirety within the museum. The result is a wonderful display of both the beauty of the religious architecture of the area and the value of historic preservation.

The Canadian emphasis can also be found in the large number of works from the Group of Seven. This group was made up of seven painters whose works typify the ruggedness and beauty of Canada. The National Gallery provides their works with an emphasis that is commiserate with their world wide reputation. The guides (both written and living) do a wonderful job of describing the evolving nature of this group’s work. It is easily the finest collection of the group’s works that I have seen.

Finally, the museum pays appropriate respect to the Native American art that comes from Canada by having several rooms dedicated to Inuit art. This collection shows the importance of this style of aboriginal art to the Canadian national identity. The gallery’s a great place for a novice (like myself) to learn about it.

I spent about 3 hours at the National Gallery and felt that it was time well spent. I highly recommend that any visitor to Ottawa spend some time there in order to familiarize themselves with Canada's rich artistic history.

After a thoroughly enjoyable visit to the National Gallery, I started to go across the street to the National Basilica of Canada. However, this Catholic church was closed for repair. I was a little disappointed by my inability to see the interior of the Church. But, I cured my disappointment by finding food in the Byword Market. Specifically, I found Lois n’ Frima’s, who claimed to have the best ice cream in Canada. I have to admit it was very good ice cream, which really hit the spot.

I arrived back at the hotel shortly before 4 P.M. Tom was waiting in the room. Turns out that he didn’t want to go on the boat ride by himself. So, he went straight back to the room and watched t.v. We continued watching for about an hour, and then went to grab an early dinner. Since we both had a craving for Mexican food, we decided to stop at Mexacali Rosa’s on Rideau Street. It advertised itself as “authentic California-Mexican food.” We thought we were perfect judges to put that claim to the test. Our judgment: we thought Mexicali Rosa’s isn’t very authentic. Their idea of salsa is tomato sauce with cayenne pepper. But, the portions were large and the service was very good. If you’re slightly desperate for Mexican food, it’s not that bad a place.

After dinner, we walked back to our car and started the drive to one of the main attractions of the trip: an ice hockey game. Tom and I had become rather rabid fans of NHL hockey, thanks to Tom's proximity to the San Jose Sharks. It seemed natural that we’d see a hockey game in the birthplace of the sport. Thus, we were rather pleased when we discovered that the Ottawa Senators were playing an exhibition game at home against the Calgary Flames during the same time that we’d be in Ottawa. Okay, I’ll admit that we rearranged our trip schedule so that we could be in Ottawa when the game was played (as we arranged our trip to be in Montreal when the Canadiens were playing). If that doesn't tell you how obsessed we'd become with hockey, I'm not sure what will.  Anyhow, we arrived at the Corel Center (now called the Scotiabank Place) in Kanata after a fifteen minute drive from downtown Ottawa. In a pathetic attempt to disguise ourselves as Canadians, we purchased Senators jerseys. While we didn't look any more Canadian in our new jerseys, we were left alone through the game. The game itself was fun to watch. It was easy to see why Ottawa was one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup that year. But, I have to say that the atmosphere of the game was pretty boring. I’m not sure if it was because the game was only an exhibition, but the crowd never was into it. They didn’t even seem to be too excited that the Senators won. The marketing arm of the team didn’t do many events between periods or timeouts to get the crowd excited either. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by San Jose, where there’s noise and motion between every delay in the game. I suppose that a native would say that a Californian might need bells and whistles, but a Canadian is there to watch hockey. Still, I left thinking the Senators organization could learn a little about showmanship from some of the other teams in the league.

After watching the Senators win, we headed back to our hotel. We went to bed early because it would be another day of driving for us. We were off to Montreal in the morning. Since Montreal was our final destination, we were very close to the end of our trip.
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