Aug 27, 2008

Ottawa: Canada's Canberra

This goes out to A.J...

I am born and bred Canberra (the Berra). I grew up in the southern suburbs of Tuggeranong (Tuggers), went to School at St. Edmunds Catholic Boys (Eddies) and drank my teens away in Manuka (Maaans).

Today I went to Ottawa, the capital of Canada. Why should this be exciting? Good question.

Ottawa is the unknown Capital, just like the Berra. It was one of the capitals you could never guess in a geography exam (but really should have known). When you are overseas, ask anyone the capital of Australia, if they answer Sydney punch them, answer Melbourne spit on them and buy them a beer if they guess the mighty Berra.

If you are fortunate enough to have grown up in a nations capital you understand the mentality of other capital inhabitants, especially those in an unknown capital of a famous country. Even better when they are both equally hated by the rest of the country for being boring, full of public servants (pubes) and well, boring.

I understand why people hang shit on the Berra. But its clean, pleasantville-esque, family friendly veneer hides a very smutty city. Prostitutes (prozzies), porn stars (porn stars), pushers (wankers), spies (spooks) and politicians (pollies) rub shoulders and everything else on each other every night of the week. I have seen more craziness in the Berra than I have seen in most of my world travels. The people there are scary, probably because there isnt much to do. Canberrans make their own fun.

Could Ottawans be of the same ilk? Unfortunately I had only six hours in Ottawa so unless a politically led, perverse sex cult was abducting visiting Aussies at Ottawa Central, I wasn't going to be able to rub Ottawa's underbelly.

So armed the presumptive attitude that Ottawa was going to be totally boring yet mysteriously sexy and with a willingnes to patronise, I took the train to Canada's Capital.

First impression werent great. Like Canberras train station which sits in an industrial park in Kingston (Kingo), Ottawa Central was in the center of nowhere. There were 4 people in the main hall. Its surrounded by a depressing suburbia and worst, its only has buses in and out if it. ( I have to note here that when I lived in London I had a recurring nightmare that I was stuck on a Canberra Action bus and couldnt get off it...ever. Which means I couldnt get back to London, thus my fear of capitals with bus-only cities)

Already regretting my decision to visit, I headed for the city and was instantly surprised. It was beautiful. You cant escape the feeling of the French Canadien influences in everything. Even though it only has 50 or so years on Canberra, its buildings appear hundreds of years older thanks to the architects who copied the ski Chateau look on every Government structure. Everything is written in both English and French. Ottawa made me wish that Napolean carried out his planned invasion of Australia and that Canberra got some French architects after the war.

However on closer inspection it seemed the town planners got a bit confused with what the city was meant to be as Ottawa is more war memorial than city. Massive monuments to WW1 and 2, Lest We Forget' shrines bear down on the streets and an enormous Queen Victoria statue keeps a watchful eye over her colonies.

Surrounded by memorials it semmed appropriate to check out the War Museum, and it quickly struck me that Canada and Australia share nearly identical war histories. Walking in was like being teleported to the War Memorial in the Berra. The stories of both courage and annihilation were the same...we fought along side each other, got mowed down by the Germans together and as both countries were famous for being British canon fodder for most of the worlds conflicts, blindly sacrificed our best and brightest young men for King and country. They even have their own Gallipoli, the battle of Vimy Ridge.

One thing Ottawa has over the Berra is its totally geared for tourism. Sure, you arrive scared but its full of walking tour info stops, tour buses and the Tourist Information place sits right across the road from the Parliament. Plus its a walkable city. Like the Parliamentary triangle in Canberra but smaller and with stuff to see. If you tried to walk around Canberra you would die of either exhaustion or boredom, most likely boredom.

The Berra is full of heroin addicts (junky scum), Ottawa is full of bums. Bums everywhere, on every street corner. And like Canberra, its full of blokes and not many women. Go figure.

The two capitals reflect the cultural cringe that exists in both nations. Without the rich history and culture of European ancestory, both countries have to cling to recent history for credibility. Thus the uber-monuments of state, business and memorial. Australia and Canada's capitals try to prove themselves as abundant, free and eager to carry the wounds of the war time past, rather than acknowledge their darker periods of history.

So as a Canberran, an Australian and citizen of the Commonwealth, I have always qualifed to draw parallels and hang shit on the Berra. And now I have free reign over Ottawa, without repercussion.

Best of all was that I got upgraded (by computer glitch) to 1st class on the train back to Monters. Pure fuckin luxury.

Aug 25, 2008

Tea is for Toronto

A change is as good as a holiday, right? How about a complete career change, erm say brewing ice teas, smoothies and then handing them out on the streets of Toronto? Yes friends, I have made a temporary career change, into the world of loose tea.

As many of you may know, I am visiting my friend Kim in Montreal. Only 3 weeks before I arrived, Kim started a new job at Although she is doing several roles she is basically setting up a chain of tea shops, tapping into the seemingly untapped North American tea market.

You see, North Americans love coffee. Not that I would call it coffee, more like coffee flavoured tea. They love it weak, weak as dishwater. The coffee is so bad here that it would make an Italian spit it out, force a Frenchman to stop making love and an Englishman get head spins.

The market seems ready for a tea revolution. In Australia we have trendy tea chains like T2, with chains in every shopping mall. Its a simple branding formula that has taken hold. Its worked for us and I think will become a permanent fixture on North American high streets.

But as with everything in North America, it has to come big, sugary and ready to go. So in the interests of public awerness, Davids Tea went to Toronto to make tea smoothies and ice teas to give out to unsuspecting Torontans. And they loved it! We made cool cocktails with Lime Bangs, Vanilla Oolongs, Cream of Earl Greys and Citrus Berry Splashes teas. 95% of people we offered tea to drank it and wanted to know more (and they seemed to become more friendly after a free coupon was handed over.)

I never really thought too much about it before, but tea is one of the most important economic and social products of our time. Tea helped to define modern day trade routes, created economic power-houses, offered an excuse for the opium wars and kept Britannia in power for hundreds of years, which in effect created the world as we know it today. Tea made us.

The most interesting aspect of Davids Tea is that they will also offer tea enlightment to customers through history, recipies and products to enhance the tea experience.

David is a young guy with a vision that really rubbed off on me. He is an true entrepreneur, he sees no limits and carries an optimism that is rare in this world. I respect his can-do attitude to life and has made me realise that if you can dream it you can do it.

And he makes you love tea.

The most remarkable experience I had from the world of Davids Tea was what it feels like to be David. Everyone thought I was him and before I could say I wasn't, I was being congratulated, supported and welcomed to the market by passers-by that will become future customers. It was an amazing feeling, and I feel really excited for him and his pursuits.

And whilst I sweated in front of boiling water, with tea-stained hands that were continually scalded and stank of 6 different types of tea, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I hadn't felt in a long time. I wasn't getting paid but I was supporting a dream, which is more than payment could ever provide (seriously though David, if you are reading this I would love some bottles of Veuve Clinquot).

Aug 19, 2008

Every country has its own vegemite

Vegemite is what defines Australians. We boast about it, praise ourselves for being able to eat it and relish at the facial expressions when we lure a Vegemite virgin to taste it. To my knowledge, its the only food stuff we have thats reknown as Australian.

It has mystical powers which assists hang-overs, the munchies and makes mouldy bread edible. We are obsessed with it.

The whole world knows about it, which brings me to believe that Aussies have been pushing thickly coated pieces of Vegemite toast into the mouths of unsuspecting foreigners for decades. The whole world has tasted it, but in amounts that no Australian could tolerate. This has caused a terrible scar on the psyche of the planet and it doesnt bode well for Kraft's international Vegemite expansion plan (still a working title.)

Every country has its Vegemite. Something totally adored in the country of origin and absolutely loathed by the rest of the world.

The Swedes have Kalles Kaviar; fish eggs in a toothpaste tube. It tastes very salty not to mention fishy. Its a breakfast food and applied to hard breads, eggs and just about anything that suits a bitter taste. It has a cheap competitor (like our Aussiemite with that stupid koala on the front), the same 1950's branding and is administered to unsuspecting foreigners straight from the tube, like some sort of rite of passage. A Swedish girl I shared an apartment with in London brought a bucket of it and lived of it for 3 months.

The Canadians have Clamato; clam chowder and tomato juice mixed together. It tastes like clams and tomato. I have a real problem with this one, purely because it disturbs me to think what would posses a human being to mix up clam chowder and various juices to come up with Clamato. Its really disturbing. Clamato is administered to foreigners straight up but its hard to keep it down.

The Canooks also have maple syrup, not a salty breath killer like the above mentioned products but thick, sugary and applied to EVERYTHING. Eggs, bacon, name it. If they had Vegemite they would put maple syrup on top. Each year they go out into the forests and eat it straight off the tree. I like maple syrup, but not on pasta.

The English have shit food. Enough said.

The Americans have saturated fat. There is no escaping it. Even the salads are drowned in it. After 2 weeks in the US on my first trip I was almost weak from lack of vegetables. Scurvy was close to setting in.

So what is it with our obsession to get the world to try our crap national foods in such lethal doses? Surely if we were serious about it we wouldnt lay it on so thick that the victim gets a nervous tick everytime they hear the name. Which is why I am I so scarred from Clamato, maple syrup, Kalles and saturated fat.

In reality, us Aussies will never try and introduce someone to Vegemite in any other way. It goes on thick as peanut butter to anyone that has never tried it. Even better on the end of a table spoon.

We want them to hate it, because we want them to think that we are special for loving it.