I’ve avoided painting cityscapes, as this was meant to be an exploration of the Great White North itself, not its people. But the Ottawa River curving below theVictorian High Gothic Parliament is a skillful intertwining of natural and created beauty.
Growing up near the twin, starkly contrasting cities of Niagara Falls, NY and Ontario, I’ve often pondered why our Canadian neighbors are so much better at designing public spaces than we Americans. Washington, DC, is an unpleasant city. Our White House huddles behind high fences ostentatiously patrolled with lethal weaponry, and the Mall is usually a cluttered mess. Parliament Hill in Ottawa is gracious, accessible, and beautiful. And still, it’s somehow safe, as the 2014 shooting incident pointed out.
Alas, my painting was not to be. The Alexandra Bridge is closed for repairs, meaning the roads at the National Gallery end are rerouted. After endless circling, we gave up and headed east through Quebec. It was already early afternoon.
At Ottawa, we left the bilingual belt and entered French-speaking Canada. I can decipher small bits of French on paper because of its similarity to English, but I have a tin ear for the nuances of pronunciation. French, in particular, terrifies me. It is an unintelligible sea of strange sounds.
I was determined to paint along the Ottawa River somewhere, having missed my opportunity in the city. East of Ottawa, the river becomes a migratory bird sanctuary, low and marshy.
Signs for Le parc national de Plaisance took us deep into farm country. We stopped and asked directions of a very handsome young public safety officer. He didn’t speak English. At that moment, a determination to learn French blossomed in Mary’s heart.
While I painted, she practiced with Duolingo. The first useful phrase she mastered was “Ces vaches-la sont mes vaches.” From now on, we are going to play “Those cows are my cows” in French.
And cows there were. From Ottawa east, we traveled through farm country. We have seen precious few family farms on this trip. It was lovely to be back among them again, even if the odeur de merde followed us all the way to Plessisville.