Thursday, 5 November 2015

Being neighbourly, Hades-style

The other-worldliness of Hades made itself known within weeks of our arrival fifteen years ago. For one thing, Pierre Elliot Trudeau died.  We found the intensity of the mourning in Ottawa was somewhat startling.  Don't get us wrong, we didn't rejoice; we felt the historical impact of the passing of arguably the last real Canadian statesman, but we were, after all, fresh from British Columbia where Mr. Trudeau had never been popular.  As a matter of fact, my Friend of the Right Hand got the news in Victoria when her husband stalked to the centre of the living room and intoned:  "The Dark Lord is dead."

Our moving day coincided with the day of P.E.T.'s funeral. While the Resident Fan Boy and Demeter supervised the movers at our new house in the Ottawa neighbourhood of New Edinburgh, I stayed behind in the hotel which had been our home for five weeks, cleaning up, tossing our transition clothes and supplies into suitcases, while watching and listening to the live television coverage, the highlight of which was the eulogy, given by the eldest Trudeau son whom most Canadians last remembered as being a young boy.

Elder daughter was, by that time, well established in her new school. Three grades ahead of her was Pierre Elliot Trudeau's ex-wife's daughter from her second marriage. (You can see Margaret Trudeau glowing proudly at her son at several points in the preceding video.) One grade ahead of elder daughter was Pierre Trudeau's daughter from his arcane relationship with Deborah Coyne. (You can see them both at the 5:51 mark in the video.)

I never ran into Margaret Trudeau, but I ran into Deborah Coyne a few weeks later at the local animal clinic. I was there with our cat; she was there with her dog. She introduced herself to me, and I made pleasant chit-chat while thinking, "I remember you from the funeral." Our paths crossed again when she brought her son to an appointment at the same office where younger daughter had speech therapy. We smiled, nodded, and left it at that.

Our neighbourhood is rife with prime-ministerial connections. I saw Jean Chretian with his wife Aline at the local coffee shop. No one approached them except the proprietor. Chretian was Prime Minister at the time of the Trudeau funeral - and can be seen with his wife at the ten-minute mark. Joe Clark, the subject of Justin Trudeau's story about the nice man with the little blond daughter (just before the eight-minute mark), once told younger daughter what a beautiful princess she was when she came trick-or-treating to his doorstep. And when younger daughter was at the local elementary, the children of Stephen Harper sandwiched her: one in the grade ahead; one in the grade behind. Burly men in dark suits with earpieces stood sentry in the hallways and at the entrance where we now had to be buzzed in. The prime minister's children would take their selected play dates and disappear into a fleet of black SUVs after school. Harper himself showed up at the occasional school concert, where I had to shush the RFB, who insisted on hissing him.

The oddest run-in occurred at the restaurant down our street which features the occasional "family dinner" - a fixed menu with platters of food from which you serve yourself, like at home. We're fans of these dinners and one evening, two years ago, we were ushered to our table and hesitated, as we recognized the young family already seated. It was Justin Trudeau with his pregnant wife and two ankle-biters. The RFB introduced himself, assured Justin that we understood they might want private family time, and we awkwardly but politely ignored them for the rest of the meal. It sort of sums up the concept of Ottawa neighbourliness. We acknowledge each other, then strive not to intrude.

Photo by Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail
Yesterday, elder daughter and I watched on television, while a few blocks away, they took charge of the country. Just another day in the neighbourhood.

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