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The Day Ottawa Was Colder Than Mars

It had been a long, cold and tough week and I was craving a feeling of accomplishment. I needed to do something pointless and rewarding. Going to the mall to capture the “magic of Christmas”—or at least the capitalist reading of it by retail—had been on my to-do list for a while. Today was the day. I had to buy the guys their Christmas presents, anyway.

I put work on hold, grabbed my camera and headed to downtown Ottawa.

However, I had conveniently denied the fact that it was cold outside. Like, really cold. Like the weather app on my phone literally said that: “-30ºC and very cold”. I knew it, I had walked to Starbucks in the morning.

Despite the cold warning issued, I thought I could handle the weather because after all, I survived very low temperatures before and fuck it, I’m Canadian. I was prepared too: I was wearing two pairs of knee-high socks, boots, jeans, a sweater, a warm coat, gloves, two scarves (one around my neck under the coat and a larger one to protect my face), a hat and I had a hood on.

But when your Canadian weather app says it’s cold, it’s actually cold. It was unbearable. I had to cover every bit of skin and still, it hurt. It was so bad I didn’t smoke because I couldn’t use my lighter with frozen hands and taking a glove off, even for a few seconds, was unthinkable. My legs were numb, my face was burning.

By the time I reached the mall I had already taken several breaks inside various stores just to warm up and feel my fingers.

Once inside the Rideau Centre, I took my hood and scarf off so that it wouldn’t look like I was about to rob a store. I checked the camera. The battery was almost empty—the cold had drained it.

My initial goal was to take “street photography” pictures in the mall, candid portrait of shoppers during the peak shopping season. Decorations, happy faces, you get the idea. But the mall wasn’t exactly delivering on Christmas magic. There was a massive tree but no ornaments. There was a Santa house but no Santa around. The main decorations were some giant baubles hanging from the ceiling. Meh.

I looked around for happy faces and satisfied shoppers but all I could see were people coming from outside being cold and people about to step out complaining about the cold. A very Canadian moment, sure, but hardly Christmas magic—although there were plenty of noses redder than Rudolph’s, including my own.

I walked to the Disney Store and bought Mark a set of Star Wars figurines.

“Wow, your coins are so cold!” the saleswoman noted.

I almost blurted out something inappropriate, like “if you think that’s cold, you should touch my legs!” but fortunately, I just shrugged. “Yeah, it’s pretty bad outside.”

I snapped a few pictures at the mall but I wasn’t happy with them. Everywhere I looked, it screamed “miserable cold day!” rather than “I’m so happy Santa is coming!

I crossed to The Bay and walked to the Byward Market, where I took pictures of fancy holiday cookies. Then, as I was attempting to light a cigarette outside, I saw six brave souls, all bundled up and clearly freezing, ordering BeaverTails pastries from the iconic kiosk on George Street.

I laughed. This is something you’d do in the summer—order a pastry and stroll around the Byward Market. I snapped the picture, capturing this very Canadian moment.

And then it hit me. This is what I came for. People surviving a tough, cold winter day. A deserted mall because it wasn’t a good day to go out, period, even if it meant eventually ending up in a warm mall. People wearing boots and coats grabbing a last-minute gift.

Cold is hard to capture. When you’re indoors and look out the window, you can’t really appreciate how cold it feels outside. It could be 10ºC, it could be -30ºC. There is no dramatic change of scenery like during a snowstorm, no specific warning that breathing this cold air will make you cough and that your skin will feel the burn.

I took a few more pictures of this strange winter day and headed home, in the cold.

It’s only later in the evening that I learned this piece of trivia: that Thursday, temperatures on Mars had been warmer than in Ottawa.

Suddenly, the set of pictures I had just taken were brag-worthy. I had been out, that day, documenting yet another Canadian winter moment!

You can see more Canadian winter pictures on Flickr.

Giant Christmas Bauble at the Rideau Centre
Ornament in fake tree
Ornament in fake tree
Holidays-themed store window
In doubt, booze (LCBO doesn’t even try to do Christmas, guaranteed customer base)
Holiday-themed store window
Warning up at the mall
Lost glove
Chocolate fountain at the food court
Cupcake fix
Watching the construction on Rideau Street
Warning up at The Bay
The iconic year mittens, 2016 edition
Snow boots at The Bay
Under-dressed mannequin, bundled-up customer
Kid crying because he got socks instead of chocolate
Festive marshmallow and chocolate treats
Holiday-themed cookies
Holiday-themed cookies
Holiday-themed cookies
Six brave souls buying beavertails
Boots and slush on pants

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