Journalling Ottawa

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Stubbornly, because I had been planning to for several days, I pushed on out into the pelting rain this morning, walking the streets that stretch away from my immediate neighbourhood, headed toward a little cafe I had heard about not too far away.

I took photographs along the way. This was part of the plan: to wander Ottawa’s Centretown, take photos, and write, on this, my last real day of holidays.

I took photos of the small, aging houses that still characterize much of our downtown core, the brick and coloured clapboard pieces of this town’s early history. I captured the fog rising thick from the quick-melting snow, puddles reflecting signs and roofs and the white-grey sky, quiet city streets. I managed to catch an umbrellaed man emerging toward me from the fog, framed by brick houses.

This is my “ode to home” day.

I have had other themed-days: there was a ski day, a cross-country ski day as well, the skating-to-the-library day, and several (many, if I’m honest) lazy book-and-Netflix days. With the exception of the latter, it generally took a good mental push to get me out the door, but I was always glad once I was moving. Glad, and pleased and relieved.

Relieved to be out, living, experiencing, seeing the things I only half remember exist when I’m stuck at my desk dawn to dusk for months on end.

There is a beauty to this little city. A sort of indie vibe, if you look. And a woodsy, green, outdoorsy vibe (you don’t have to look as hard for that), which is what brought me here originally, 15 years ago pretty much to the day. I had been living in Ireland for 5 years at the time and had decided to return to Canada, though not to my hometown of Toronto. But that’s another story…

My father grew up in Ottawa and left as soon as he could. With the exception of a blip when he tried to live here again a few years ago, he never really looked back, and now he refuses to come. “Boring” is, I think, how he describes it. Or maybe there’s something deeper, some unpleasant memory he’d rather avoid. But again, that’s another story, and it’s not mine to tell.

I never planned to end up here, never thought I’d “move back.” But I couldn’t face Toronto after 5 years in rural Ireland and Ottawa’s proximity to hills, rivers and forests seemed a good next home. So, here I am and, with the exception of my dreams of moving back to Ireland, I don’t really see myself living anywhere else now.

It can be boring, sure, but it isn’t really. If you look, walk, explore, there are little magic places. Small cafes. Vintage shops. Quirky places that can fill up the hours with poking and observing and people-watching.

I feel creative here. And by here, while I mean Ottawa, I also mean the little cafe I have landed in today. It’s quiet. People are dotted here and there, 5 of us in total – all writing, coffees gone cold on the tables beside us – plus two staff-members, a woman behind the counter and a guy who moves between bar stool and behind the counter as well.

I don’t recognize the music they have playing. It’s a sort of singer-songwriter collection that is perfect for rainy day writing in a cafe. Unobtrusive yet interesting. It could even been one of those coffeehouse mixes, but a good one, not the trite type you’d find playing in a Starbucks.

After this, when the feeling strikes, I’ll make my way home, stopping in at several vintage shops along the way. People in Ottawa are friendly for the most part, and all of this will take hours as I stop to chat to the strangers I meet.

And that will be that. My last day off for a while. My last day of poking about Ottawa, re-discovering this home I have made for myself.

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Layers of a night

The blue-white moon shines over the city
shimmering the snow,
frozen now for days where once it cascaded,
drifting across streets and yards and roofs,
now monuments and mountains tower, stoic.

Silver stars twinkle piecemeal in the lit-up sky
(only the brightest ones)
below, yellow lights flicker across the faces
of apartment buildings and office towers;
the stars and lights dance, rhythmless,
while steam rises then hangs limply in the frozen air –
frozen spectres.

Reeling from the cold, we recede indoors
sliced by moonlight, the room of this old house glows
swaying in candlelight soft and gold
wrapped in exotic scents – spices and dried fruit –
that taste of deserts and sun and frankincense;
swallowing thoughts,
they turn palate to substance.

Beyond the immediacy of taste and smell,
the people, all darkened eyes and sparkling shawls,
beguile, languid in their gestures.
We are all somewhere else,
someone else,
together but apart,
apart from the winter seeping though the windows and cracks,
apart from ourselves.

What is it that winter does
to alienate, even as we come together?
We turn inside ourselves
sink deeper, further than this moment
seeking a warmth
hidden inside.

Toronto, by air

A city afloat –

grey blocks, stacked and still,

reach to where the land ends

to where lake and sky meet;

soft pink streaks through the whites of fog and cloud.

My window onto desertion:

the only stirring in the early morning chill

is the silent breath-billowing of steam, exhaust,

lives suspended.

November magic

For a brief moment, sunrise alights the buildings – fire against purple clouds.

Then all is grey again; muted November.

Autumn commute (but also, Ireland II.)

Even at this early hour, the deep, jewel-blue of evening is already fading to night’s darker hues beyond the buildings. Still in the city’s small heart, though, the sky glows and refracts between windows, brightened by the lights from inside, the street-lamps outside.

There is a quickening, an energy as commuters move away from the centre, a flow that pulls us all along for a block or two until the shift to calm that comes with the transition to neighbourhoods.

Then it is dark, night descends quickly, a blanket sprinkled with the twinkling of porch lights. The cold wind refreshes, blows nostalgia at me through a small park; the scent of fallen leaves.

This is home. It is familiar. Canadian.

I love this about where I live – the familiarity, the nostalgia, the ease of moving around here, of knowing what to expect, season after season.

And yet, the other half of my heart continues to tug me, as it always has, toward Ireland.