….which is what an
newscaster called the new President’s six hour visit to the Nation’s capital, one month after his inauguration. Ottawa , where I grew up, had its parties. Montreal , where I settled, had them too but for different reasons. Ottawa
When President Obama came to town, so did bus-loads of people along with corresponding bus-loads of policemen. I have been known to purposefully join the festive crowds that occasionally inundate
over significant foreign visitors (which is why I’ve seen the Queen three times); but this February day was not to be one of those times. I had other reasons to be downtown as my oldest daughter and I set out to obtain a visa for her from the South African High Commission, something that was proving to be difficult and required a couple of stops. So, armed with the “Obama Visit Survival Guide,” which I had printed off the CBC website, we launched ourselves into the heart, but not the purpose, of the event. Ottawa
Downtown was crawling with fluorescent-green-vested policemen. I chose my route carefully. Nevertheless, wherever I went, I got the feeling that streets were closing up behind me like shadows in a nightmarish Dr. Who intergalactic library. I finally ended up travelling along one side of the
Rideau Canal. The other side was the rumoured route of the President’s motorcade; rumoured because no one was officially saying… but Ottawans knew anyway. Our suspicions were confirmed by the presence, all along that side of the canal, of the green vests. As I drove, I saw people waiting, standing on the canal ice or in snow banks, which is how Canadians do celebrity-viewing in February. I was sorely tempted to park the car and join them, but we had a schedule to keep.
At the end of the canal road, my hoped-for way to the highway was blocked by the ever-present green vests. Along with every other driver that had been squeezed into that portion of downtown, I manoeuvred through back streets to get to a different on-ramp, one that had me crossing the canal on the highway bridge. Traffic crawled up the on-ramp, further slowed by a policeman at the top waving traffic away from the lane next to the edge of the bridge. But, on our way up, our sluggish pace allowed us a brief glimpse over the concrete wall toward the canal… and there was the President’s motorcade!
As I inched past the stern policeman, I took a second to take my hands off the wheel and clap in glee.
It was a very good day: I caught a glimpse of the presidential entourage, my daughter secured her visa, and the President thrilled everyone by departing from the text of his visit and buying himself a beavertail in the Byward Market. He then walked over to a nearby bakery to get maple-leaf-shaped cookies for his daughters.
When the people, the police and the President all left town, it was life-as-usual for everyone in
everyone except the Byward Market bakery. In the days after Obama’s visit, its sales of maple-leaf-shaped cookies went from 200 a week to 2000 a day, and it was swamped with orders for the cookies from as far away as Ottawa... Europe. In the summer of 2011 they still had a big sign up identifying them as the place where Barak Obama bought cookies. The long-term after-effects of an party can sometimes be a good thing. Ottawa