Thursday, January 3, 2008

1857 and 1608, a tale of two cities

So, with a mild hangover and another smallish snowstorm to welcome the New Year, Ottawa is safely into 2008.

What begun as a seemingly ambitious year, supposedly devoted to celebrating the 150th anniversary of good, ole' Bytown being named the nation's capital, became a procession of low-key, poorly advertised events, and eventually ended with spectacular fireworks, timed for 18:57 pm on New Year's eve.

The fireworks could have been the almost-saving grace as they were grand and strategically placed...however, I couldn't keep from thinking that this move should have welcomed the year 2007 instead, rather than closed off that year and brought in the 2008. Somehow, just like the overall year of mediocrity, the grand finale didn't appear to connect organically with most of the spectators. There was no ramping up to it, it was rather like a surprise symphony concert thrown randomly in some city park, with only a few posters put up the night before...the people I've spoken with barely seemed to notice that the event was connected to the 150th anniversary.

The press around the 1857 anniversary was low-key, too, throughout the year. We didn't even manage to provoke a proper controversy, apart from a few days of the summer when some 19th century lord had to be withdrawn from banners...someone complained that the said governor was, uhmm, not quite nice towards the French. Typical tempest in an Ottawa teapot. Over-managed and superficially slick, indifferent from pretty much any other year.

More on that...Unlike this year's Quebec anniversary of the first settlers' arrival in 1608, there was no central focus, no specific historical gala or something akin to a pageant. When you consider Quebec's 400-year celebrations, as much as they are being downplayed, the press loves the very idea of them, even the PM was asked about it during his New Year's day fireside chat on the Queen going to be there, and if not, why not? To mark the anniversary, there's a spectacular outdoor performance by exactly 400 dancers, and there are other massive scale events planned in the lead-up to the October 19th finale. Half of the games in the men's world hockey championships this year will be staged in Quebec city ( contrast this with the 2007 junior FIFA championships, a great tournament to be certain, where games were held sprinkled throughout Canada, with the Ottawa venue essentially feeding on round-robin games and other morsels, not even getting to host a semi-final). Unlike the nation's capital last year, Quebec is sure to seize the spotlight on their big anniversary. Europeans will come there in droves and spend their strong euros, schools will send busloads of naughty schoolgirls (and boys) to drink and break curfews through the old town in the name of education, and some dude will don a Samuel Champlain period costume and wade to the shore. Even Celine Dion will leave Vegas for a while and party with les habitants. (okay, I don't exactly like her but what the heck, she's the prodigal daughter) It'll be brighter and merrier than usual - unlike Ottawa which was exactly the same in 2007 as it is on other years.

I plan on writing more, on other random topics, but this one had to be put out of the way first.

Well done, Bytown, you get the totally unsurprising 6.5 out of 10 for your party! And that's with the Russian judge being heavily bribed, too.

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