Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ottawa: a northern capital comes of age

Long ago there was a story going around -- in the typical style of Canadian self-disparagement -- that Ottawa was known in the international diplomatic corps as one of the bleakest places to be posted. Given the refined tastes that most diplomats would like to indulge, the story may well have been true. Ottawa was a pretty ordinary place, and colder than most.

Whatever the truth of the story, it can hardly be true today. The place has grown, diversified its economy, and generated a lot of the neat things a good city should have, and some of the institutions that capitals generally support. And early June is a pretty wonderful time to see its green river valleys.

I often go to Ottawa to visit friends, and don't have a chance to just enjoy the city. But this past weekend I went to visit the city, and among other things saw a big flashy public institution, the National Gallery of Canada. All the big Ottawa museums have been rehoused in the last quarter century -- I've joked that they explain the deficits of the Trudeau-Mulrony years. Despite the fact that the "new" NGC was finished in 1988, this is the first time I've been inside it.

We got our money's worth on this one. There are some good collections here, but the building itself by Moses Safdie would be worth visiting -- a shorter visit, maybe -- if it were empty.

I've been to the Museum of Civilization -- also a fine building; next trip, perhaps the War Museum. I'm only about 2 years late on that one.

Image: "Maman" (Mama) by Louise Bourgeoise, outside the NGC.

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