A few months ago, I wrote a fantasy scenario for an expansive train network for Ottawa. The revised version of that that I posted in March was head and shoulders above that original. Now, it’s time to think even farther into the fantastical future. This article is meant to be a complete reference as well as a commentary on its predecessors and also contains some readability improvements on its map.
A few months ago, I wrote a fantasy scenario for an expansive train network for Ottawa. A few astute commenters and my own lingering misgivings kept me thinking about that map, and I’ve now gone back and made an even better, more fantastical vision for a train-loving Canadian capital.
The past eight months have in no way been what I imagined. To not bury the lede: I am, unexpectedly, now the owner of a condominium unit, and my parents have begun to understand how real my transition is. And it started with my childhood bedroom.
In the late capitalist hellscape of our age, it is common for people to lament that there isn’t enough work. People string together menial part-time jobs, run themselves ragged on gig-economy schemes that are tailor-made to not deliver an actual living, and linger in overqualified underemployment for years on end because there just isn’t work. Immigrants get demonized because they “take” work from born citizens, providing a pretext for legalized racism. Economists and politicians fret about how little work there is and how it forces them into no-win decisions, trying to guard and cultivate work for a restive populace.
It is all lies.
Ottawa has a reputation for being boring, unimaginative, and cautious. It is one of many planned capitals in the world, splitting the difference between more prominent economic centers (Montreal and Toronto) on either side of it, and this sense of being both deliberate and an afterthought suffuses the very air of this place. One does not get the sense that the people of Ottawa love or hate this place the way the people of Montreal and Toronto can love or hate their home. Rather, the pervasive sentiment of Ottawa is that we ended up here and, well, it’s nice enough, I suppose. This lackadaisical sort of affection synergizes unhelpfully with Ottawa’s status as an instinctively cautious but rapidly growing government town, preventing the kind of vision that gave Montreal, Toronto, and various world capitals such as Washington and Moscow their impressive passenger rail networks.
But what if Ottawa had such a vision?
Immigrants are always homesick. This is the core of our story. Even those of us who flee horrific circumstances have at least one thing we remember fondly, or that becomes fond when it is gone. To emigrate is to surround oneself with the unfamiliar, and to live in the echoing absence of what was once everywhere. There are days when those echoes are a deafening cacophony, laying down the impossible demand of that incoherent word, home.
Ottawa’s yearly Latin festival puts the many feelings of that word into focus. This gathering of my people in the plaza before Ottawa City Hall is a riot of sensation. Live music invites listeners to come close, and an uproar of food smells permeates the area. Hand-written signs advertise our regional specialties with words I rarely see even on our restaurant menus, and every spoonful of yellow rice and chunk of slow-roasted pork is a portal to a world I left long ago. Even the less familiar offerings, Peruvian noodles that take notes from South America’s Chinese community and Colombian pastries I’ve never tried, come with our unmistakable aroma and style.
I used to think I didn’t get attached to places. The past was a haze, an awful mystery I yearned to escape. My heart was not heavy when my family moved us from New Jersey to Florida when I was 10, and it was lighter still when I finally left Miami to seek my fortunes in Ottawa, Canada. I had much to flee. It was only later that I found something to mourn.
As the surreal hellscape of 2017 winds to a close, it’s time to look back on the past year of blogging and pick out some high points my dear readers might have missed. So, for your enjoyment, here are ten of Alyssa’s proudest creations of 2017.
Today, we are candles.
It’s the understatement of the century that my life hasn’t gone the way I imagined it would. By now I should have been a year into a postdoctoral fellowship, with my eyes on professorship opportunities in some other city and a steadily growing academic resume. I should have been building a research program around the seven years of work that became my doctoral dissertation, extending it into new directions, new species, and new theories to fit with the interests of my postdoctoral supervisor. I should have been teaching lecture courses, as a guest or full-time, and developing my teaching credentials. I had a plan.
Thinking about it makes my hands shake.