I wrote this fragmentary parable a few weeks back for a CU in the City event called “Built Ottawa: Our Places, Our Stories.” As you will see, it is inspired (and illustrated) by the various proposed additions to the Château Laurier. An audio version of it can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxu_hp4WNlU&feature=youtu.be
Once upon a time in a land called Ottawaville, there was an epic and beloved story called Le Château. It was a story that had been told and retold for generations; a story full of drama and beauty and romance. And it was written in that most romantic of all languages, French. The burghers of Ottawaville told the story with great pride. It was read aloud to every friend and relative who came to visit. It was revered as part of Ottawaville’s National Epic.
One day, the Man who owned the story had an idea. “I could sell copies of this story for a much higher price,” he declared, “but to do that, it would have to be longer. I will hire a writer to add a new chapter.”
Happily, Ottawaville was full of writers – fine writers, who knew the original story well. But not just any writer would suffice for the Man. For such an exalted job, only a Bard from the country’s natural capital, Torontoville, would do. Thus was a Bard from afar hired, and at a solemn ceremony in the Great Hall his new work was read aloud to the Citizens of Ottawaville.
When the Bard finished his reading, the people were aghast. “But… but… it is in Swedish!” they cried. “It makes no sense! It is grotesque! You cannot add a chapter in Swedish to our beloved epic!” The Man and the Bard shook their heads sadly. “The people do not understand. They are unschooled in the Beauty of Swedish. They do not realize that Swedish is the language of the Nobel Foundation; that it is the language of renown, of fame and of awards.”
But the people were not appeased. “You cannot do this to our epic, you must re-write the new chapter”, they declared. Members of the Great Council of Ottawaville, after some hesitation and mumbling, declared that they agreed with the people. Even the Lord Mayor proclaimed that the Bard must start again. The Man and his Bard withdrew with long faces, but among the people, there was great rejoicing.
Winter gave way to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall and fall to another winter, and still no one heard from the Man or the Bard. Finally, as the first signs of another spring appeared, so too did the new-new chapter. Another town meeting was called in the Great Hall.
“We have heard the voice of the people”, the Man observed solemnly. “The Bard has bowed to their will, and re-written the new chapter. Behold!”
“It is two sentences shorter than the last one, which shows the great respect we have for our forebears. We have used a more slender font, sans serif, to render the new chapter nearly invisible. And we have added an extra space between the last line of the previous chapter and the first line of the new one, as another gesture of our profound veneration for the original authors.”
The people gazed in utter astonishment. “But”, they cried angrily, “it is still in Swedish!”
The Bard fought to supress his contempt. “You just don’t like Swedes”, he said curtly. “That’s just the way you are!” Sensing danger, the Bard’s minions rushed to his aid and admonished the people. “You are not sophisticated enough to understand!”, they cried. They formed a circle around the Bard, and began to chant a verse in perfect, sophisticated unison:
Them Swedes are so smart and urbane
They put you mere peasants to shame
If you thought like us
Then you’d have the guts
To see beauty and good taste as lame.
Pandemonium ensued. The people turned in despair to the Great Council – but the councillors had quietly left the Hall. They called for the Lord Mayor – but he was nowhere to be found. The people wrung their hands in anguish. “We have been left to deal with this alone. How can we prevent this abomination?”
The rest of the story hasn’t been written yet, but if you live in Ottawa and have some thoughts about how it should end, you should write to your City Councillor.