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A Mainer Abroad: The little things

When I moved to Ottawa I knew that the entire country was feeling a sense of uncertainty, but after seeing the newest Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, at his swearing-in ceremony last Wednesday, Nov. 4, the sense of unease was replaced with excitement. The swearing-in ceremony took place at the residence for the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston. A Governor General is the representative of the British monarchy, and it is he or she who accepts new laws, parliaments and calls for elections.

The palace had humble beginnings as a villa for a wealthy Scottish businessman in 1817; later it was expanded to nearly 102,000 square feet all constructed of limestone in a Renaissance revival style. There were 3,500 of us standing outside on the long winding tarmac path waiting for the Cabinet to walk past us, take their oaths and swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.

Bulky LCD displays broadcasted the ceremony to us waiting outside the hall. Strangely enough, the crowd laughed as the francophone cabinet ministers pronounced “heirs” as “hairs.” Then there was the pen that didn’t write, so the whole thing had to be paused 20 seconds as someone scrambled to find a ballpoint pen. There was free hot chocolate, and it felt more like a state fair than it did an inauguration. I even made a couple friends: One from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and another from North Bay, Ontario. They had both travelled further to Ottawa than I had back in August.

My mother, grandmother and younger sister all came up for the weekend. My grandmother hadn’t really been to a city before coming to Ottawa. She wasn’t used to the beggars, the homeless people, the fast living and the even faster buses. Crossing the street begins when the sign turns to the neon-white walking person, and it continues well after the orange hand says to stop was new to her. She sometimes would yelp with absolute delight which would scare everyone else on the sidewalk, and then other times she’d grab my hand and hold on really tight when she was scared.

I guess both responses make a lot of sense for her, and I did my best to be patient and tolerant of her whims. I took her to the National Art Gallery of Canada, and one of the exhibits within the neo-modern walls is an entire Catholic church. They removed the edifice of a church that was going to be demolished and rebuilt it at the gallery. It’s an elongated rectangular room with only two coal colored leather benches staring up at a wide oak altar. Surrounding every part of the room are about 50 speakers on thick tripods. They play traditional hymnals; every speaker is a different voice altogether rising to shrill notes of vocal harmony. My grandmother wept openly there, although she’d never admit it. She kept muttering under her breath “Stevie, it’s a miracle.” I thought to myself, “It’s just technology,” even though I was really enjoying the music, as well. I have to remind myself often that she never grew up with the advantages that I had, and that sometimes all it takes is a pinch of patience and a dash of tolerance to bring another human being bliss.


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