Tuesday, July 24, 2012

War, Civilization and Food in the Canadian Capital

Cyndy picked us up at the bus station in the height of the heat wave that had been ravaging Ottawa for the last 30 days. Although there were going to be nine people for dinner at her place just a few hours later, she shuttled us off to her favourite lunch spot where we settled into catching up over bagels, salad and smoked meat (I know we are not in Montreal anymore, but we are still very close to the Province of Quebec!).

Cyndy’s partner David’s brother Eli was arriving by plane soon after we arrived, and the Berman Shabbat dinner was being hosted at their place. I was thrilled. I had met the rest of the Bermans on my last trip to Ottawa and I was eager for Marc to meet David’s parents and siblings. Friday night with the Bermans is full of tradition and a lot of fun. When we returned home and got settled, I set to work with Cyndy to set the table, figure out where to place the Sabbath candles where they would not blow out (fans and air-conditioning were blowing everywhere to cool down the house), take the sidur (prayer book) and the kipot (head coverings) out of the drawer and generally figure out the seating arrangement. I was given the honour of blessing the bread, David’s mother would bless the candles and David would lead the service.

Cyndy was practically fainting from the heat in the kitchen, but she still managed to produce an amazing meal with many ingredients fresh from her garden. Shirley and Shire (David’s parents) arrived with fresh challah and a home made triple layer chocolate cake. Eli’s birthday was a few days away and this was a great opportunity to celebrate with the whole family since he was going to be in town.

An hour later the whole family had arrived and the Berman siblings were in deep conversation and we were in similarly deep conversation with Shirley and Shire. They are cut from the same cloth as my Uncle Osher (of blessed memory) and Aunty Irene. They did a lot of the same things at the same time in different parts of Canada. When I told Shirley their names, she immediately said “Osher from Winnipeg right? Oh my god! I didn’t know him personally but I knew of him!” I felt very proud that my uncle was so famous all the way from Winnipeg to Montreal!

It was a wonderful evening from every perspective. Amazing food and great company. What a perfect first night in Ottawa.

Canadian War Museum (courtesy of the Internet)

If there was a theme for our trip to Ottawa, I think we would all agree that it was museums and food. Both aspects of our visit were very satisfying, well presented and educational. Since the weather was quite unbearable, hanging out at the air conditioned War Museum made perfect sense for our first full day of touring the city. The museum itself is huge and packed with exhibits taking you chronologically through the pre history and history of Canada through the lens of the wars fought, the reasons for them, Canada’s role in them and the fall out. Although I had some “design” issues with the overwhelming bombardment (no pun intended) of information, we were both moved by the things we saw. The main message I took away with me was that history is not something that just happens. We are all part of how it unfolds. The last exhibit is a multimedia slide show of images of the conflicts around the world today. Each museum guest is encouraged to speak out about the things they disagree or agree with. Postage paid postcards addressed to the Canada’s Prime Minister, The President of the United States and Members of Parliament line a long shelf on the way out of the exhibit hall. The museum strikes a good balance between the horrors of war, the commemoration of our war heroes and the importance of being informed about the conflicts our Country is involved in. Well done Canada!

Parliament Buildings (courtesy of the Internet)

When the Museum closed for the day, we walked from the Museum down Wellington until we hit the Parliament Buildings where we waited in the shade for Cyndy to pick us up. Once in her car, we were transported from War to haute cuisine in short order!

We did not have reservations, but Cyndy was relatively sure we would be able to get a table at the Side Door, an Asian Fusion restaurant on York street. The maitre de took his time reviewing the reservation list, to make it clear he would have preferred it if we were better organized, but did find us a quiet table in the lower level of the restaurant. The restaurant menu style is based on small sharing plates, so we all perused the menu and came up with a selection of delightful delicacies that brought us back immediately to the delicious meals we had in Vietnam and Thailand. The surprising ending to the meal was an assortment of beautifully decorated sugared donuts presented on a long narrow black slate plank that literally stretched the width of the table. There were seven donuts and three of us! Our waitress was giggling in the background as we found the strategy for dividing up the different flavoured donuts to everyone’s satisfaction.

Hogsback Falls

Our second day in Ottawa, we visited Hogsback falls with Cyndy (barely a trickle due to the drought) and then David joined us for the official tour of Sussex drive including passing the residence of our Prime Minister Steven Harper and the various embassies and memorials in the area including a visit to Rideau Falls, unfortunately less than gushing due to the heat and lack of rain.

But the main attraction was the Zen Kitchen, a vegan restaurant we had reservations for that evening.

The restaurant d├ęcor was a hit with me right away. The quiet restaurant was decorated with masks made of found materials. Each one more interesting than the next. I spent the first few minutes in the restaurant taking pictures of them! Everything on the menu sounded amazing and when we had made our choices, none of us were disappointed. The chef came to our table and we talked a bit about our time in Thailand, as she had a trip planned for this winter.

The grounds of the Museum of Civilization

Inside the main hall of the Museum of Civilization

Day three was the Museum of Civilization, a beautiful building in an incredible setting full of very interesting exhibits. I found two of the special exhibits especially interesting. The first was called God(s) a users guide (http://www.civilization.ca/gods) You can read about it here. Marc and I did not have the same impression of the exhibit. He felt it was not a topic that deserved that much time or space in any museum. I argued that in fact it is a topic that is central to the way our world works and the exhibit was a way for people to think about the roots, the symbols, the books and the conflicts and the place God and Religion play in our lives. What was most clear to me after visiting the exhibit (beautifully presented in my opinion!) is that the way we practice our religions, the symbols we use and the traditions we all hold on to, have more similarities than differences. If we could all spend more time appreciating the similarities and accepting that we are all brothers and sisters, the world would certainly be a much better place. If you get a chance to see the exhibit, I would love to know your thoughts.

Right next to it was an exhibit of the life work of an Aboriginal artist named Bob Boyer. I particularly liked a series of paintings on blankets and here are a few examples. You can read more about him here.

Year of the Rat stamp series

Christmas stamps

Olympic stamps!

I had no idea that the Museum of Civilization housed the Archives of Canada Post. However, when I got to the third floor there it was. Near the entrance is a big round room with all of the commemorative stamps Canada Post has produced. It is like a museum in miniature. Hundreds of masterpieces no larger than 2” x 2”, displayed by year and by topic. My heart was pounding as I walked around looking for the stamps Violet and I designed beginning in 2003 and ending with our Olympic stamps in 2010. They were all there according to year and topic. I was all alone in the room, so I couldn’t share my excitement when I found each stamp. I instead took pictures to send to Violet and sat down with my computer to write a note to Alain Leduc at Canada Post without whom we would not have had the opportunity to be involved in these amazing design projects. Violet and I have worked on thousands of projects together, but the stamp projects were our most exciting and rewarding. Knowing that all of our designs are displayed in the Museum of Civilization was a huge source of pride.

I was a bit overwhelmed at that point, and there wasn’t much more in the Museum I was going to be able to fully appreciate. Luckily it was almost closing time!

Cyndy picked us up and we picked up a few groceries and headed home for yet another great dinner. Fresh fish and grilled vegetables on the barbeque! The weather had cooled and we set the dinner table on the back porch. Cyndy, like Violet, is an amazing gardener and our view while eating dinner was her beautiful garden.

Cyndy's garden

We all enjoyed every morsel of the dinner we prepared together. And that is what it’s all about really isn’t it? Good friends, spending time together, breaking bread together, making good food together and drinking good wine together. At that moment, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect scenario.

There was more great food and more activities, but I think I have touched on the highlights. We hugged our friends goodbye on Tuesday morning and Cyndy delivered us to the Ottawa bus station where our bus to Kitchener, Ontario awaited us.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so proud that your hard and beautiful work is on display for the entire country to see! This way everyone for generations to come can appreciate your true and awesome talent!