Friday, March 31, 2017

Photo Friday: Old Boathouse

It's one of Canada's oldest boating clubs.

The home of the Ottawa New Edinburgh Club has been around since 1914 and at this time of year, it's hard to believe it's still in operation. Peeling paint, rusty bridge, boarded up windows, all showing that the building is past its prime. But it's the character of the aged structure that drew me to it.

Typically, for Photo Friday, I focus on a single shot. But the mere size of this building warranted more.

Perhaps when the snow disappears and the sailboats return, this century-old boathouse comes back to life.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Who Do They Protect and Serve?

The motto of the Ottawa Police Service, according to their public Web site, is A Trusted Partner in Community Safety.

I don't believe a word of it.

Yesterday, CBC News reported that members of the OPS have started wearing wrist bands that bear the badge number of one of their fellow officers, along with the words, United We Stand, Divided We Fall. The officer that the band represents is Const. Daniel Montsion, who is currently on trial, charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon in the death of Abdirahman Abdi.

Montsion is accused of striking Abdi multiple times while wearing assault gloves, which are manufactured with a strong carbon-fibre layer that is built into the knuckles. Striking an object with such gloves has been equated to hitting while wearing brass knuckles. They are deemed a weapon.

Image via YouTube
A witness to the video of the confrontation between between Abdi and police officers on the scene said that after Abdi was apprehended, he was "lying on the ground, face down and still," and Montsion "punches him in the head very violently, twice, and we never see Abdi move again."

"When we were watching the video… and then those two punches, we gasped, because it was so disproportionate to what was needed. Nothing was needed at that point. He was on the ground, he was face down, he wasn't moving. It didn't make any sense, the level of violence that we saw," said Heather Badenoch.

The violence, indeed, seems excessive, especially when there were several officers on the scene for one man and—the most important point—a person from the Ottawa community is now dead.

We can only hope that all of the facts are brought to light during the trial and that a fair outcome is reached. I don't want to comment on the details of the trial. I don't want to speculate based on only the information I've received from the media.

I do feel, however, that I can fully share my views on the recent action of the OPS. On the very first day of the trial, where Montsion himself did not appear, his peers have already drawn a line and made a stand.

And they are not standing on the side of the community.

Any police officer that chooses to wear the offensive wrist band is turning on his or her community, is saying that they must protect and serve the constable, and that they are unwilling to hear the facts as they are presented over the course of the trial.

They do not stand for the victim, nor for his family.

They do not stand for you. They do not stand for me.

Divided, we fall.

Twelve-hundred of these wrist bands have been ordered, which means that the person who ordered these band thinks that 1,200 OPS members, perhaps more, stand on Montsion's side.

That's a lot of officers that do not stand on the side of the community.

Which makes the motto, A Trusted Partner in Community Safety, a false statement. I wouldn't trust any officer who believes he or she has to wear this wrist band. That police officer has lost all credibility with me.

The Ottawa community needs to speak out loud and clear that these wrist bands bring disgrace to anyone who would wear it. We need to let Chief Charles Bordeleau that these wrist bands are unacceptable and that he should order his officers to not wear them. Not just while on duty, as he's already stated, but also not in public. If a member of the public sees a person wearing the distasteful band, that person can automatically assume that the wearer of the band is a member of the OPS and supports Montsion.

Bordeleau must try to dissuade his officers to not purchase the bands at all and he must speak publicly that he doesn't approve of the bands because the bands do not support the community.

Bordeleau has a responsibility to the Ottawa community first; his officers, second. He needs to instruct his officers that their responsibility is to the community first; Montsion, second.

If the OPS wants to be a trusted partner and wants the Ottawa community to feel safe, they must show that they can be trusted.

Twelve-hundred wrist bands that support Montsion do not instill trust.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Deer In No Headlights

Sometimes, I have an idea of where I want to go and what I want to photograph for my Photo of the Day (POTD) project. And on those days, I simply go out there and capture that image.

On the first day of  the project, I sought a school bus that I knew was sitting out in a field between Barrhaven and Richmond. I had seen it many times on bike rides, be it alone, with DW, or in a group with the Ottawa Bicycle Club. I don't know what that bus is doing in that field, other than dying a slow, rusty death.

I purposely set out to the abandoned house, near the Long Island Locks, to capture the gloomy old structure in a snow storm. I drove up to Wakefield, to capture the covered bridge over the Gatineau River. I've visited Hog's Back Falls during the spring runoff and pulled over along Colonel By Drive, not far from Ottawa University, to grab a collection of tower cranes over our growing city.

Some shots come just by chance. Like, when I stopped in front of our mailbox just as a flock of cedar waxwings alit on the tree across from me. Or when I passed a group of parked diggers as the sun set in Kanata. Or even when, on my way to work, I spied a sun dog on Prince of Wales Drive.

But it's when I have an idea for a shot, head out to take it, and find something else that completely sidetracks my plans.

Yesterday, as the fog started to creep over the Gatineau Hills and I was leaving the office for the day, I decided to take a little drive through those hills, in search of a vantage from which I could get both the fog and the bare trees on the hills.

I crossed the other side of Highway 5 and took the winding roads of Notch and Chemin de la Montagne, which hitches up where the rolling hills of the southern end of the Canadian Shield and the flat Ottawa Valley meet.

Not wanting to venture too far—I did enough of that on Saturday night—I decided to duck into a small community called Hollow Glen. I learned that the roads are very bad at this time of year: lots of pot holes and plenty of chunks of asphalt to kick up into the wheel wells. My suspension took a pounding as I tried to dodge as many deep recesses as possible.

In the centre of this residential neighbourhood lies a long, narrow lake, called Lac Mountains (I know, English and French together, but that's how it's labelled on Google Maps and I'm sure the English name of this community is no accident: there are lots of English street names around here).

As I crossed a small overpass on the east end of the lake, I saw a vantage that suited my idea for a shot, but I wanted to keep driving, to see what else lay ahead. I could always circle back, and as I approached the western end of Lac Mountains, that was my intent. I turned right, off Chemin Kelly, onto Chemin Hollow Glen, and approached another overpass, when I looked out onto the lake. What I saw changed my mind about heading to the first spot.

Out on the lake, heading toward me were four deer. I stopped the car, picked up my camera, and took a few quick shots. Instantly realizing I didn't have the best lens for shooting (but not harming) wildlife, I jumped back in the car and quickly switched to my 70–300mm lens.

Everything happened so quickly that I didn't have much time to think. If I had had more time, I would have increased the ISO level. I would have switched from aperture priority to shutter-speed priority. But the deer weren't going to wait for me.

With the telephoto zoom on, I hopped out and started shooting again. The deer had reached where the lake met the road and leaped over the guard rails. One at a time, they hopped onto the road, stopped to look at me, crossed, and then hopped over the rails on the other side of the road, where a ravine led them out of sight.

I knew the photos weren't the best, that I was shooting too slow to capture moving objects. I had initially set my camera to capture landscape, had intended on mounting it onto my tripod. But the deer were too close, were too good to pass up.

They aren't what I had intended to photograph. But once captured, I had no choice to make them my POTD.

And I can always return to shoot still life another time. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Kilmarnock Crossing

I don't know what made me drive out there; especially, at night.

I had only been there, once, and everything was different. Mid-summer, not early spring. Noon, not late evening. The last time I had passed the narrow, wooden bridge, I had travelled under it, not over it. I had been in a canoe, not a car.

I didn't know the Kilmarnock Lockstation even existed before the family and I had paddled through it, during our long canoe trek in the summer of 2013. I knew that we would pass through a series of 29 sets of locks, but I hadn't memorized them all.

I know them all now.

In truth, when I set out in my car on Saturday evening to capture an image for my Photo of the Day project, I wanted to take some shots of the clear sky. I thought I would drive a little south of Ottawa, toward North Gower, to get away from the glow of the city lights. Once on the road, though, time seemed to slip away and it became more about the drive than the destination. I was comfortable in the driver's seat, music from my smartphone pumped through the car's sound system, and I was in my element.

There were times, in my early 20s, when I would just get in my car and drive. I would just point the car to the road and would let it take over, with no set route, no planned destination. One time, my car took me all the way to the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, where I crossed into New York State, only to drive Route 37 from Ogdensburg, past Massena, and across the bridge that returned me to Canada, in Cornwall.

The border guards had a tough time believing that I was just out for a drive, but after a thorough search of my car, which only had my camera bag, they believed my story.

It was before 9/11, when I didn't need a passport, and a quick check with the time since I had first entered the States showed that I didn't stop for very long. I had captured some images of the small town of Waddington, but that was it.

This weekend, I got in the car, intending to go for a short jaunt, and instead, I kept going. All the way to North Gower, and a right onto Roger Stevens Drive. The road goes straight, for several kilometers, and I realized that before long, I would reach Smiths Falls. I passed the sign that directed me to the Montague Airport, and indeed, I saw the lights of a small aircraft as it made its approach, as it had just dipped below the treeline, and I knew the town wasn't much further ahead.

I didn't want to go that far.

At Rosedale Road, I turned left, knowing that I had never been down that road before, but I wasn't worried—my car seemed to know where it was headed. In the dark, the only light I could see came from the glow of houses in residential side streets and the stars above. A couple of towers glowed with red beacons, for the airport, but that was it. I was in the middle of nowhere.

Where Rosedale came to an end, I was faced with two choices: turn right, head west, and end up in Smiths Falls, or turn left, head east, and end up in Merrickville.

I remembered this area from my family's canoe odyssey. This road, county road 43, followed the Rideau River. I hadn't driven this road in decades, on another mindless roadtrip. The last time I had gone through this area, our canoe had passed through the locks just east of Smith Falls, where we camped at Edmund's Lockstation and taken shelter from a passing storm. We were hoping to make it as far as Kilmarnock Lockstation, but we could see the rain clouds approaching and we didn't want to be swamped before we reached it.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast, made sure all our equipment was dried before packing it, and set out on the river. It was a beautiful sunny morning, with a light breeze that kept the bugs away. At a gentle but determined pace, we got to Kilmarnock just before noon. We stopped for a quick bathroom break and a small snack, before we continued and headed to Merrickville, where we would stop for the night.

It was a short stop at Kilmarnock and I don't remember much about it. There was the wooden bridge and the lockmaster's house. We didn't stay long enough to make the memory last.

In my car, I turned left and in less than a minute saw the sign for Kilmarnock. This is where I'm going to take my POTD, I told myself. I turned right, onto Kilmarnock Road, and let the car take me to that wooden bridge.

It was wide enough for one vehicle only. In the pitch blackness, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as the sounds of the boards rattled below me. Across the bridge, on the left, was the lockmaster's house, it's dark silhouette barely visible. No one was home, nor would be for a couple more months.

The driveway wasn't plowed but there was enough room to make a three-point turn and head back toward the bridge. I pulled over to the side, just before the road narrowed, and parked where the No Parking sign was half-buried in dirty snow.

There was one house, behind me, across the road from the lockmaster station but further away, and only an outdoor light and dim glow from a room inside cast any illumination. With my car turned off, I was in total darkness.

Camera and tripod in hand, I approached the bridge, the starlight reflecting of the snow my only way of seeing. A staircase led downward on either side of the bridge and I decided to take the set on the opposite side from where I had parked. Fresh footsteps could be seen on the stairs and I sensed some movement, so I called out in a clear but gentle voice, "Is anybody out there?"

No response. The sound of a large gathering of geese could be heard, not too far away, further down from the channel for the locks. The Rideau River was much wider, heading toward Smith Falls, and this seemed a likely spot for the geese to gather.

I used the torch on my phone to illuminate the bridge enough to compose my shot, and then, in darkness, took a roughly two-minute exposure. The resulting image showed a lot of stars but the bridge was nothing but a black outline.

Another exposure, this time using the torchlight to paint the bridge. It took a couple of attempts to correctly light up the bridge without washing it out, but in the end, I didn't like the results. The colour of the light was too cold for my liking.

Using the remote locking system on my car's fob, I would lock and then unlock the doors, causing my signal lights to flash and hold.

One time, a car approached the bridge and I held the shutter open for its entire journey toward and across the locks. The effect was interesting but the stars were greatly diminished.

I took pictures from several angles, toward the bridge, toward the lockstation, and toward Smith Falls. But it was getting late and I needed to get home. I had gone much further than I had planned and been gone too long. Before long, DW would get worried and would call.

Back in the car, back on the route I had taken.

I had let the car take me out for a drive, and together, we found a neat spot for my photo, where the memory of my family canoe trip was brought back.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Photo Friday: Arches

I almost called this post Golden Arches, but my distaste for the company that is associated with that term prevented me from going there.

I also didn't want to mislead anyone who does a Google search for the fast-food chain and is brought to my blog.

You're welcome.

The Bank Street Bridge is one of my favourite Ottawa landmarks and there have been many times when I have been drawn to it, to add to my POTD project. Already, this year, I have stood on the frozen canal, dodging skaters, close to this bridge, to capture an image for my year-long project. But I've held off actually capturing it until this week.

Perhaps, I may have to break my single-use rule, and shoot it again, in different lighting and at a different angle.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Way Back

I'm willing to wager that I wasn't walking back then. Or at the very least, teetering like a drunken sailor.

Kind of like today, though when I walk these days, I move more like a 99-year-old, slowly and laboured, than like a seaman on shore leave.

But that's not what this post is about.

In my search to find my deep past, back when I lived in Montreal, I have found a photo of me, shot about 51 years ago, on the balcony of an apartment building, in some sort of rocking horse. Judging by my size and by the weather on the street below me, this was probably shot in the autumn of 1965.

I have another photo of me, in the same rocker, on my first birthday, and I definitely have more hair, so this photo was shot before then. Being Montreal, the photo was definitely not shot during the winter months.

I only learned about a week ago that my family lived in three apartments in Montreal, before we moved to Ottawa. Two of the apartments were in the borough of Verdun, on Fifth (5e) Avenue. This must have been one of those apartments, as a search on Google Maps, street view, show those steep, long staircases that lead up to the second floor, that are typical in Montreal neighbourhoods.

My search for my past continues.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Scenic Route

Ever since I received my fitness (smart) watch, I've tried to make myself better. I've climbed stairs even when I wasn't going anywhere, I've tried to be active for at least 10 minutes a day, and I've paid attention to how much (or little) water I consume.

I know: these are low fitness goals, but when I consider how sedentary my life was before this device was strapped around my wrist, my levels of activity were relatively non-existent. 

One of the most-noticable activities I've performed over the past couple of months is walking, and considering the deterioration in the condition of my feet, that's no small task.

Every day, I have tried to walk as close to 6,000 steps in the office. If I can accomplish this number before I go home for the day, any extra steps are gravy.But walking in my office is no great accomplishment, if I simply walk from my desk to the kitchen, to grab a cup of coffee, or head to the washroom.

In a straight line, it takes me exactly 99 steps to get from my desk to the water cooler. I will walk about 10 steps more to get a coffee. Using a simple floor plan, here's the direct path from my desk to the kitchen.

Heading to the men's room, this is the path that I took. At the most, it is a 90-step journey, including a stop at the sink to wash my hands.

Since I've started using my smart watch, I no longer walk in a straight line to the kitchen or washroom. I zig-zag around cubicles and loop around offices. Just like this:

The path is similar for either destination. You can see where my path deviates. If I'm carrying a full mug of liquid, I take the straight path from the kitchen back to my desk. But if I go to the washroom, I take the same long path back to my desk.
Where these journeys were once 90 to 100 steps, the long path now takes between 418 and 432 steps. That's more than four times as far as a straight line.

Of course, people in the office are starting to notice that I walk past them more often—sometimes, twice in one trip. But I don't care.

If these trips get me up, get my blood circulating, and give me a little bit more exercise, it's worth the odd looks.

And soon, when the weather improves and the snow disappears, I'll take to lapping the outside of the building.

Now, if only my office had stairs...

Monday, March 20, 2017


My eldest child turned 16, yesterday. I still remember holding her in my arms, when she was only a few seconds old, of how tiny she was and how terrified I was, carrying her, afraid that I would drop her or slip on the floor while I wore the hospital slippers over my running shoes.

This weekend, we signed her up for driver's ed, and a new fear gripped me. Of how she would soon be behind the wheel of a heavy piece of machinery, how she would be responsible for safely moving herself down the road, mindful of the other drivers on the road.

It scares me, but then I remembered how I was once her age, how I had to learn how to drive.

I did, however, learn how to drive at an earlier age. As early as eight, my father had me sit on his lap, steering our car, using the turn signals. When we had a manual transmission, he would operate the pedals while I would move the stick into the different slots, would at the very least learn how to smoothly move the stick through the various gears.

I was 13 when I was tall enough to sit in the seat by myself and could operate the pedals and see over the steering wheel. My father would let me drive around empty parking lots. It was easier, back then, when stores and shopping malls would not be open on Sundays.

We lived in Kirk's Ferry, in Gatineau, and I would drive the dirt roads of The Ridge Group. At 14, when I was allowed to visit my girlfriend, who lived on a farm just north of Wakefield, her older brother would let us drive his car on the dirt roads in the country. One time, he let me drive until we reached the bridge at Farrellton, when I drove across and then headed south, along Highway 105, back to Wakefield, where we crossed the covered bridge and then back to the farm.

Yes, at 14, I drove on a provincial highway.

By the time I reached 16, I was already a proficient driver. My father, an exceptional driver, taught me defensive and some offensive moves. I wasn't that handy with a five-speed, but because most of our cars were automatic, it wasn't a priority for a few more years.

I will never forget my first in-car class at driver's ed: my instructor was somewhat rotund, his hear greased with a product that left a dark stain on the passenger ceiling, where it made contact. He had a perpetual Tootsie Pop in his mouth, as though he was trying to give up smoking.

The other two students with us had never been behind the wheel of a car before. He took them first, letting them get the hang of the controls, learn the sensitivity of the gas pedal and the brake in the back parking lot at Sir Robert Borden High School.

When it was my turn, I said very little. I got behind the wheel and adjusted the seat, made sure that the mirrors were adjusted like my father had shown me. Buckled up. Shoulder checks. Foot on brake, gear engaged.

I pulled ahead slowly but confidently. Turned corners making shoulder checks and applying the correct signal.

It took less than a minute for my instructor to tell me to pull over. I placed the car in Park and turned to face him.

"How long have you been doing this?" he asked me.

I told him about how I would sit on my father's lap until I was tall enough to drive without his assistance. "At least three years," I concluded.

He had me take the car onto Greenbank Road for a short distance, when we then turned onto Craig Henry Drive and onto the side streets. He told me that there wasn't much he could teach me.

In subsequent lessons, he took the other students through the basics, preparing them for their driving test. When he let me drive, he would have me run errands: to the stores, to pick up audio cassettes at a friend's house.

I was his mule, but at the same time, I knew that I had nothing to worry about when my driver's test came.

Thirty-six years later, my first-born is looking to starting her driver's lesson. A few years ago, I offered to show her the basics of the car, to see if she wanted to try driving. She wasn't interested. Last week, I had her sit behind the wheel, get her familiar with positioning herself properly, knowing what the controls did, had her start the car, move it back and fourth in the driveway.

For her birthday, I was willing to take her to a vacant parking lot, let her drive the car in advance of her first lesson. She said thanks, but no.

Her sister, however, asked if I would take the time to do it with her.

How could I say no?

I think about how my eldest child will soon be driving, and it wakes me like a cold bucket of water over my head. She has grown into a wonderful young woman, just as precious to me as the day that I carried her from the delivery room to the special care unit. And even though I'm just as scared, I know that she's going to be just as fine as she was on her first day in this world.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Carson and Roy

A couple of weeks ago, for a Throwback Thursday post, I shared a photo that was taken of my sister and me, in 1968, lounging by an inflatable pool outside our apartment building. This was the last place that we lived in, in Montreal, before my family moved to Ottawa.

In that post, I said that I wanted to seek out this apartment building, that in doing so I was hoping to stir some memories.

I found it.

The building is in Dorval, where I suspected it was: across Highway 20 from the airport. I have no memories of airplanes flying low, on approach or takeoff, and in the time that I spent walking around this building, on the corner of Avenues Carson and Roy, while I could faintly hear the distant rumble of traffic on the highway, I had to strain my ears to hear any activity at P.E. Trudeau International Airport.

Focusing on taking photos, I couldn't hear anything further than the few cars that moved along Carson Avenue.

I pulled up on Roy, at the far end of the apartment building, near a sloped driveway that led to a small underground garage, where there was extra storage space for the tenants. I remembered this garage, how we parked our black VW Beetle at the bottom of the slope.

Where the pool sat, a newer driveway, big enough for two cars, was paved. This week, my mother shared some photos that were taken only a few years ago, when she and my sister visited this building for my sister's 50th birthday. That little parking space was under construction, the lawn was torn up but not paved.

My mom described the building and our apartment. We were on the second floor, the first floor being half-sunk into the ground. The apartments were spacious, with only a handful of units for each floor. Our apartment occupied the back of the building, with a depth that filled about a quarter of the length.

I outlined our unit in the following photo.

I took a photo down the side of the building where we had the pool, but because I was standing, likely, in the spot where I had lounged in '68, no memories hit me. Looking up the building, however, I remembered looking up to see my sister and one of her friends, on a higher floor, calling down to me and laughing. It was as if I was living in a dream, where things seemed familiar but were also different.

Having taken enough photos, I rejoined my family in our vehicle and made our way back to the highway, where we would continue on to the downtown core of Montreal. After a block or so, I saw a church further up the road, and I remembered playing with friends in a field, the church nearby. Sure enough, as we came to the church, I saw a park right beside it. The memory was clear and made my heart seem filled with emotion.

Sharing my experiences, this week, with my mother, I learned something new. Until now, I thought that there were only two places that I lived in, in Montreal. This apartment, in Dorval, and another, in Lasalle. Because my birth certificate was issued in the city of Verdun, that's where I thought I was born.

I was wrong.

I was born in a hospital in Lasalle (which borders on Verdun) and lived in Verdun (the city where I was registered). But not only did I live in Verdun, my family lived in two places in that borough, in different apartments on 5e Avenue.

This weekend, driving from Dorval to downtown Montreal, we passed through Verdun to bypass the construction on Hwy 720. It's a dodgy neighbourhood, filled with abandoned and dilapidated factories. Yet, many of these derelict buildings are undergoing a renaissance, being converted into modern condos.

The area has a lot of character, too, and as we drove through the old streets, I told DW that I planned to return as soon as the snow is gone, to wander the streets and photograph it.

I can't wait.

I've been to Montreal countless times since my family moved to Ottawa, in 1968, but I've never explored the old neighbourhood where my life began. Half a century has passed: it's time that I went home.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sleep Tight

You would think that I would be the extra-cautious one.

In March of 1999, before we returned to Canada to restart our lives, DW and I travelled throughout South-East Asia, visiting Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, before returning one last time to South Korea and then, onward to home.

We were in George Town, on the island of Penang, Malaysia, having travelled, by night train, from Kuala Lumpur, and taken a ferry across the channel, from Butterworth. We were staying in a highly recommended, two-story hotel from the colonial period, in an old area of the town. The room had large French doors that opened onto a balcony and looked out into a small square, where a traffic circle directed the flow of cars, trucks, and mopeds.

I'll never forget the miniature black-and-white tile that covered the floor. The room was spacious and clean—or so I thought.

It was a hot night, and a ceiling fan circulated the air and made it more bearable. Having arrived in George Town at sunrise, we had spent the day wandering the city. The movie, Anna and the King, was being filmed near an old British fort, and we saw extra cast members milling about huge intercity buses.

DW calls me a furnace: I generate a lot of heat, and when the weather is unbearable she moves to the other side of the bed to avoid extra warmth. Exhausted, I slept, motionless, on my stomach, without any covers.

The bed bugs were drawn to me but didn't crawl under me. They merely assaulted me along my edges, where my skin made contact with the undersheet. When I awoke, next morning, they had created an outline of my body, a little blood marking where they had struck.

I didn't feel them in my sleep but I was horrified by the crime scene they left behind.

We packed up and checked out (we were planning to leave, anyway), and made our way further north, into Thailand and up to the east-coast town of Krabi. Throughout the day-long journey, my skin was on fire. I had to muster every ounce of willpower to keep from itching the little welts that appeared and glowed.

In Krabi, I found a pharmacy and slathered myself in aloe to cool my body. It took two days to feel some semblance of normalcy.

DW is the one, these days, that checks for bed bugs. Whether we're in a five-star hotel or a bed and breakfast, the first thing she does is lift the sheets and mattress, checks the pillows and under the covers. She looks in corners and where the carpet meets the base boards. She hasn't always done this: she only started doing it when the bed-bug epidemic seemed to be sweeping North America. She was especially diligent in trips to New York City, which had been hard-hit.

We were in Montreal this weekend. It was a last-minute decision to get away, with the kids, who were just beginning their March Break. I spoke with a work colleague, who often stays in hotels in the city when he visits friends. He recommended a hotel in the heart of downtown, between Saint-Catherine and René Levesque.

Though it was a two-star hotel, I didn't care. We were there to enjoy the city, not spend our time in a room. It was clean, my colleague said, and most importantly, inexpensive.

The Bed Bug Registry had no reports. DW made me check before we arrived.

I never complain when DW insists on inspecting a room before we unpack. I remember George Town. I especially remember the day after.

We had already wheeled our luggage onto the hardwood floors. DW and I removed our jackets and threw them on the bed. My camera bag went against a wall. We were there for less than one minute when DW let out a gasp, followed by a terrified "Oh my God!"

She had lifted the mattress on the first bed and when she perceived some dust, wiped it away. It left a smear of blood.

It was no piece of dust: it was a bed bug that she had just crushed.

She dropped the mattress and we scooped up our belongings. I shook our coats and we left the room.

To the hotel's credit, the man at the front desk seemed shocked and he was sincerely apologetic. He offered us another room but, seeing the look on DW's face, told me that he wouldn't charge for the room. He was deeply sorry.

It was 9:00 on a Saturday night in downtown Montreal, and we had no place to stay. I suggested jumping in the car and driving home, but DW made a quick search on the Internet. Fifteen minutes later, we were checking into the Westin Hotel. The last-minute deal was only $50 more than what we would have paid at the other hotel, and it was more than worth it.

DW still scoured our new hotel room. Bed bugs like luxury, too.

We checked our bags for any stowaways, but it was hard to be sure. When we returned home, the next day, DW entered our house alone, stripped down in our mud room, threw her clothes in the washing machine, and ran upstairs to retrieve house robes. She cleared out our entrance and made way for the rest of us.

The kids were the next to strip and throw their belongings in the wash. When the coast was clear, I moved our luggage into the entrance, one at a time, and carefully inspected each item. The contents of all the suitcases either went into a hot-water wash or the drier, which has a sanitizing heat mode.


I've never criticized DW for her thorough hotel inspections. After this weekend, there's no way I ever will.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The International Pavilion

I've always been interested in the falls, not on the buildings that are next to them.

Sure, there's the Embassy of France, and the Global Affairs building (which, at one time, served as Ottawa's city hall).

But the structures that butt right against the Rideau Falls have never held my interest.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was shooting photos of the falls, looking for a photo of the day, I noticed a reflection of a Canadian flag in a window on the closest structure to the falls, as I shot the reflection, I noticed the blueness of the sky and the strong contrast that our flag made atop the adjoining building, and I thought, that would make a great Where In Ottawa location.

Thus we had the photo for this month's challenge.

That flag was atop the building that has largely been vacant these past couple of years, but I noticed that it was now housing some sort of exhibit, and I noticed that the building also had a name.

The International Pavilion.

Congratulations to this month's winner, Marc Bru, brewmaster for Square Timber Brewing Company. This is not the first time that Marc has solved my photo challenge, but it's been a while since I think I've seen him participate (if memory serves me, Marc won a couple of times in a row).

Here are the clues for March's contest, explained:
  1. There's a dropoff here—before I had posted the first clue, some players had guessed the Ottawa airport or the train station. Had they seen this clue, it might have strengthened their guess. But the dropoff I was thinking about was the waterfalls of the Rideau River.
  2. Exhibits a view—not only was the International Pavilion holding an exhibit to celebrate various countries, such as the US, Mongolia, and soon will showcase Israel, but the building has a great view of where the Rideau River and the Gatineau River meet the Ottawa River.
  3. From the US to Mongolia—when I took my photo of the pavilion, our friendship with our neighbours to the south was on display. During the first couple of days of the contest, it was Mongolia's turn to shine.
The building is owned by the NCC and is used for various exhibitions, and is sometimes known as the Confederation Pavilion.

I asked Marc what gave the location away, and it was the third clue that was the clincher. Because Marc has already received a copy of my book in a previous Where In Ottawa, he has declined the book that I was going to give away for this challenge. This means that next month, I'll offer it up again.

The next Where In Ottawa is Monday, April 3.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Photo Friday: Doner Kebab

It's been a favourite place of mine for about 35 years.

And, with the exception of Chinese take-out and Italian food, it was my first foray into international cuisine.

When my father was selling cars, he sold a couple of vehicles to a young Lebanese man who was just opening a restaurant that wasn't very far from my neighbourhood. This restaurant, which offered takeout and delivery, specialized in a Turkish version of doner kebab, a spiced beef that was cooked on an upright rotisserie and shaved into strips that were rolled in pita bread with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and a special sauce.

It's similar to a beef shawarma.

The owner, Mike, told my father to bring his family to the restaurant, where he would treat us to a doner. My father, in turn, told me to check out the place, to ask for Mike, and to tell him who I was.

Being a hungry teenager, I was eager to try it out.

Mike was friendly and generous, and offered me two doners, on the house. He had a selection of four sauces: garlic, sweet and sour, hot, and yogurt. I selected one doner with the garlic sauce (he highly recommended it) and the other one with sweet and sour.

It's one of the messiest things I've ever eaten. The sauce is runny and, unlike a shawarma, both ends of the doner are open, so as you take a bite from one end, sauce drips out the other.

I would challenge myself to eat it with as few drips as possible. It's an impossible task.

The doner is absolutely delicious. The meat is succulent and full of flavour, and the sauce is intoxicating. Both the garlic and the sweet and sour. They're the only two sauces I eat, though I tried the hot sauce, once: it's good, but not as addictive.

After my first visit, I returned within a couple of days with some of my friends, and they were hooked. Romeo's Kebab House became our go-to place for late night food, knocking Go-Go Pizza down to second place after years as a favourite. Romeo's did make pizza, and we did try the Kebab pizza, but it was the doners that won our hearts.

I always ate the garlic doner first, finishing with the sweet and sour. I always bought two.

After many years behind the counter, Mike eventually sold his business to an East Asian couple, who learned how to make the doners as Mike had, and who perfected his sauce recipes. Apart from Mike's welcoming smile, Romeo's remained the same.

Even the interior of the restaurant has remained mostly unchanged over the 35 years.

It's still the same, to this day. The couple are always there. They know what I like. My wife and kids are also addicted to this Turkish treat, introduced by a Lebanese man, maintained by an Asian couple.

Whenever I drive on Merivale Road, where it meets with Meadowlands Drive, I see the animated neon sign of a portly man slicing beef from an impossibly large doner kebab, and I am drawn in.

For Photo Friday, I thought I'd focus on that sign. It's the first real photo that I have taken with my new smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy S7.

Happy Friday!