An Adam Gopnik-inspired afternoon in the park
Ottawa is a city of hidden gems, I have discovered. Having arrived here almost four years ago (somewhat skeptically) from my beloved Montreal via a short lay-over in my hometown of southern New Brunswick, I had my own preconceived notions of what life in Ottawa would be like. A staid city of stuffy government workers and politicians and extreme athletes with no artistic sensibility, no doubt. The antithesis to Montreal. Well, I wasn’t entirely wrong about the existence of some stuffy government people and extreme athletes, but Ottawa is (surprisingly) so much more than that. Among its many attributes, including a vibrant arts community and flourishing food scene, it boasts some lovely green spaces, particularly urban parks. Happily for this nature-loving, ex-pat Maritimer, many of these parks also include waterways where all manner of paddling activities can be enjoyed either through direct participation or on-shore observation.
One one recent, sunny, hot Saturday afternoon, I was invited to join my aunt and my cousin’s toddler (=my first cousin once removed?) at ‘their’ park. Knowing I was taking a photography course, my aunt thought it would be an opportunity for me to hone my skills in shooting some action or unposed portrait photography with my (borrowed) DSLR Nikon (D40) camera. At the same time, I would be able to capture some of those precious, fleeting moments shared between a devoted nanna and her wide-eyed, energetic granddaughter.
This park was their urban oasis or ‘secret garden’ to which they ventured every day to play since the apartment building in which they resided only had minimal green space, a trade-off that many urban-dwellers accept in order to live in the city instead of the outlying suburbs. I had not spent any amount of time in this park, other than enjoying a lovely, crisp, winter walk along the snowy river paths with my aunt one late January afternoon. Even then with its bare trees and frozen ground, the park was beautiful, and so I did not hesitate to join them on this summer July day.
Below are a selection of pictures that I took, originally shot in color, but which I transformed into black & white using Photoshop. (I have a real penchant for the artistry of black & white photography.) I shot well over 200 pictures, wanting to ensure I ended up with some good pictures in the bunch. A mid-afternoon outing, it was challenging at times adjusting the exposure to fit the changing light conditions. I also should have increased my shutter speed to freeze the motion on the swings and capture the elusive, parsimonious smiles instead of slowing my shutter speed in a bid to show motion through a blur; these pictures did not turn out, unfortunately. However, there were (thankfully) quite a few others I did like; among them a couple of color photos that just had to be retained as color images in order to appreciate their full effect. Throughout my largely successful attempts at being the unobtrusive, roving photographer, I was struck by how the scenes playing out before me kept reminding me of the wonderful imagery described so eloquently by Adam Gopnik in his highly acclaimed memoir — Paris to the Moon — of his years spent living in Paris with his family and raising his young son. Ottawa is definitely not Paris but this park had a certain charm to it, perhaps not unlike that of the famous Jardin du Luxembourg, where Adam Gopnik would take his son to play.