At Ottawa’s Elgin and Albert intersection there is a bronze sculpture of Oscar Peterson. Walk past, as I did today, and you will hear his music. Looped for continuous playback is a number of recordings, prominent among them selections from the 1962 album Night Train. There have been many colourless days when my spirits have been lifted by the sudden hearing of C Jam Blues. One is now and then brought so low by the barren nordic misery of this place that it takes a shock to make the depth of this fact apparent.
It was especially fitting today — the first Spring-like day of Ottawa — to hear “Happy Go Lucky Local.” The first time I listened to Night Train from start to finish was at that happy moment when the touch of the season is first felt, when the windows may at last be opened and the flesh liberated. Although it was released in December, Night Train will always be, for me, an album of the porch and birdsong and the coming-round again of a long-dormant fecundity.
Each year I am compelled to wonder Why do we put up with the weather? Long after I have left this city, I will recall it foremost as a cold place. There are perhaps two or at most three months that have a reasonable chance of being pleasant in this part of the world. I spend nearly half the year wearing long johns, unable ever quite to feel warm. By October the city is uniformly the colour of wet concrete, and soon thereafter life is driven inside and underground. It remains so at least until April, and even then one half expects the Winter to deliver its final taunt. There used to be an outdoor music festival in mid-May, and for several years I tried to enjoy it, but in Ottawa the evenings are damp and cold well into June. Nor is this unique to the capital, most of the country being the same if not worse.
Throughout the world are places that are sunny and warm the year round, and people choose to live here! In my own case it is mostly inertia and circumstance that have kept me put. And, it must be said, a full accounting will show that the planet’s tropical paradises often have poverty, hurricanes, and poisonous snakes on their ledgers. It is a surface irony of our world that the countries where most of the year nothing can grow are the “rich” countries, and the productive ones are impoverished. So much for being on the sunny side of the street.
I don’t need to tell you in which season the bogus mathematics of so-called Blue Monday puts the most depressing day of the year. The period between Christmas and Spring seems interminable, and every year the spirit-deadening conditions obtain until one has quite given up all hope of relief. This is the principal reason Spring feels almost miraculous. Do you mean to say there is something to be had other than cloud, frozen rain, and wind? Something that does not require fifteen minutes of putting on one’s armour before leaving the building? The relief arrives to universal joy, and finding that we are still standing we all inwardly congratulate ourselves for having prevailed another year. Soon enough, we will be tested once again.