Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Blogging Winchester: All Over the Map

The yellow house is the "old homestead" mentioned below.

Crazy day ... well as crazy as it can be in tiny Winchester.

First of all, I have to say that the greatest curse of this modern era ... an era which allows me to publish these scribblings such that any motivated individual anywhere in the world can drop in on my mind ... is that you cannot escape from work. You also cannot escape from friends or family, of course. But most especially, you cannot escape from work.

I love my job, but this is ridiculous. I am taking 6 days of vacation, but I am going to ask for 2 back because I have been working more or less non-stop. To be fair, I am sufficiently obsessive that the ability to be in constant contact is actually reassuring. But, good lord, is there no rest? Well, no, son, there is no rest. Get used to it.

That said, I had my Ottawa journey today ... each time I visit Winchester, I try to get to Ottawa, which is 50km of brushy, bovine countryside away. Before that, I had the lingering breakfast that is the best part of Mother and Father's day, and I took the little dog for a walk past the old homestead ... not, by the way, a homestead in which I ever lived, but rather the old farmhouse that my parents bought for retirement before Dad had the stroke.

Parmalat in Winchester.

There are a couple of secrets about Winchester that I have kept from you. The first is that behind the idyllic Main Street is a major milk processing plant ... hence, the "Cheese Capital of the Ottawa Valley." I do not know the size of its employment, but there were ca 50 cars in the employee parking lot today. Mother says that there are plenty of people in town who work at the plant, and some of the folks in this senior complex still have privileges to buy cheap milk products at the employee store. So there is a hidden economic engine here beyond the ill-fated Country Boy clothing store which, as I mentioned a few days ago, is closing down. Then again, the Parmalat plant doesn't need Winchester, and if Winchester fails as the country town idyll, it will not affect Parmalat.

This guy has been sitting on these porch steps for many years, down the street for the "old homestead" mentioned above.

The other secret is that Winchester is roughly speaking the whitest place I have been in many decades. My sister-in-law's maid of honor and oldest friend is non-white, and one of Dad's excellent morning health care helpers is Chinese. But I cannot remember seeing a non-white face on the street. Ottawa, by contrast, is decidedly multi-ethnic. I noticed today that three quarters of the guards at the National Gallery were African, at least by my surmise. Winchester is a bit like Mayberry. I think this demographic peculiarity derives from one thing ... the distance from the freeway. Winchester seems a lot like it must have been a few decades ago. There are a number of newer homes occupied by commuters. But the most salient demographic facts seem to be that once they reach 18 or so, young people move away, and meanwhile the old folks never leave.

Mayberry with a hospital. The local paper today published the salaries of the top dogs at the hospital, and the CEO gets $180,000. Mother was suitably shocked. Aforementioned CEO lives in Winchester, and 180,000 smackers buys a lot of real estate here where houses sell routinely for $150,000 so she is probably living in style. I tried to interject that there is competition at the high end for good talent, but the argument was so weak that I just canned it. Mother noted that it is hard to justify public salaries like that when some people have to live on $20,000 and handouts. You see, I really do come from an old-fashioned socialist background. It's in the blood, even if I have tended to abandon the ideology and the hopefulness of it all.

The backside of Parliament through the atrium of the National Gallery.

Oh well ... so, finally, at 11:30, I headed down the road to Ottawa. I really wanted a tour of the Parliament Buildings, but the timing was not right given that Parliament is in session. Let me say that the Canadian Parliament Buildings are an underappreciated architectural jewel, not one whit less impressive than their British counterparts. They sit on a bluff, they are artful and intricate, and the Peace Tower is graceful, and iconic of Canada. I always gaze at them in awe. But, today, it turned out that my best view was through the geometric maze of the windows of the National Gallery.

I had no more than two hours at the outside in the National Gallery, and some of that was reserved for a Caesar Salad and coffee in the atrium outlier of the museum cafe. I did a quick tour of some of my favorite Group of Seven paintings ... especially Tom Thompson and A.Y. Jackson. I blew through the modern art gallery and had a good time talking to a guard at a kooky installation there. I always tour the Inuit gallery in the basement which is awe-inspiring ... what modern art would be if we chased the charlatans away.

But the highlight was a gallery of prints and paintings collected by George Ramsay, Ninth Earl of Dalhousie. It was the sort of exhibit that made me think of Canada, and what it means to be Canadian. I bought the Catalog on the premise that having it at home would eventually give greater substance to an afternoon's cravings ... that is what it is like being a modern person in a rush.
"Bird Creature" (1990) by Kiawak Ashoona of Cape Dorset, Nunavut.

After a mildly extravagant trip through the museum shop, I headed out to the northeast part of the city to visit my brother and my nephew, who is my namesake, and his girlfriend ... and their new boxer puppy, who is a doll. Nice time, especially the long walk that brother and I took with the new dog. The city is really ugly right now with the great rolling hills of filthy melting snow. I took photos of the snow for my Californian friends who may never have experienced the grime of early spring ... I won't mount them here because they are so ugly. The city is poised for a bit of flooding, especially if any rain comes along to add to the unusually extravagant snow.

Later, we all went to a place that specializes in chicken wings ... whoddathunkit ... and we polished off ca 10 wings per person along with french fries and poutine. No booze. The place was filling up with expectant chicken wing eaters preparing for the first hockey playoff game featuring the Ottawa Senators. They were fated to be disappointed, alas. At least they had chicken wing solace.

I drove home the long way, all the way up Bank Street, which becomes Highway 31 and runs right past Winchester. Not a lot of life on the street ... everybody was inside preparing for the crushing defeat of the "Sens."

Photos by Arod. The bottom one is some old stable, so brother and I think, on the Canada Mortgage and Housing complex near Montreal Road.

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