Pickin Up Good Vibrations

Ottawa XPress – Shotgun – January 26, 2006

Guys, do you ever wish you were porn-store clerk Nino Quincampoix in the French film Amélie, and Ms. Poulain would leave you secret messages by the Beaver Tails stands?

Or ladies, maybe it’s Laure you want to be from the movie Vendredi soir, hoping a suave Parisian named Jean will hop into your car as you’re stuck in traffic on Bronson and ravish you silly?

Full points for imagination. But do these spontaneous and adventurous rendezvous ever happen to us normal folk in Government Town?

Truthfully, does Rideau Street inspire you to gesture romantically to a passing lady and tell her she looks like an angel that you wish would fall from Heaven into your arms?

Did the Rideau-to-Bay bridge Christmas consumerism encourage any romantic unions in the Byward Market, or just drunken face-plants en route to vomiting in toilet bowls during holiday parties at the Honest Lawyer?

And how about Bank Street North? Piss-stained snow covers the piss-stained street full of two-storey discount shops and nice restaurants that aren’t even open for a Sunday meal. Hardly a hotspot for any hottie with a pulse on a Sunday night.

Don’t get me wrong – I adore Ottawa. Hell, in the hip Quebec film Les Aimants it’s our own cool “Ottawa Centre for Experimental Art” featured in half the scenes.

Okay, so Ottawa doesn’t have such a centre, but it’s pretty telling if the producers thought a little something Ottawa suited their film about the magnetic attraction between lovers and strangers.

Even if our real-life surroundings inspire us, though, or if some genius ever redevelops Sparks Street Mall into shops, bistros and cafés, florists and residences, I’m convinced that it would take something more than a bustling quartier to transform Ottawans into des vrais romantiques.

I’m talking mindset. Ottawa could give away tickets to the crucifixion and no one would show up because we’re comfortable and polite and we’ll just wait for the next show, thank you.

Where’s the passion? That neutrality may explain why if you approach a stranger in this town and start talking to them, they look at you like you’re from Mars. I’ve witnessed guys call a woman’s assertiveness “crazy-intense,” and girls mistake a guy’s interest as “stalker” or “too forward.”

We want people to notice us, yet when it actually happens we shit our pants. Or worse, we’re rude.

Our sexy French neighbours call us têtes carrées. I know this because when I strike up conversations with strangers in Montreal I’m told it’s impossible I’m from Ottawa because I’m too animated.

Add to that what a Montreal bike courier said to me once: Ottawa is a city devoid of eroticism. There’s a reason the producers of the reality TV series The Bachelor chose Paris over Orléans.

Sexy cities have a soul and a secret energy that infuse the air with a bit of magic. Sort of like how your apartment feels after you’ve had sex. There’s an aura.

To understand this energy, go to the shawarma shop – it will test your sex appeal. If you can appreciate the charming Lebanese shawarma restaurateurs, you will have understood what the French call le jeu or galanterie, where an invitation for conversation or physical intimacy can be communicated in a non-offensive way.

Second, forget you are in Ontario. Pretending you are on vacation can transform you into that self you are when you’re travelling, where no mould or expectations imprison the person you crave to invent.

Now that you’re acting like you’re not from around here and are feeling daring and receptive to sexiness, steer your ass into a parallel universe and make shit happen for yourself. See your target and zoom in. As Jean-Luc Picard says to his first in command of the starship Enterprise: “Make it so, Number One.”

Don’t know how?

I take my lead from two women I met at a party in Montreal months back. Each pointed to the hot dude beside me and asked, “Bonjour, is that your boyfriend?” I said no and they moved in.

They didn’t get anywhere, but who cares? These women went boldly where few Ottawans dare to go. Not into battle, but into the game. There, the rejection is as light as the flattery and no one is crushed by the crush.

The whole experience puts infectious mile-wide smiles on everyone’s faces – or makes us proud that we took a chance. Either way, you win.

I don’t know about you, but if we are, as the poet Tennyson writes, “a part of all that I have met,” I want to make damn sure I meet a ton of interesting people, regardless if they’re available to snog or not. In this, it’s not the city that makes us a cool person, but the other way around.

Let’s be urban angels and flutter about inspiring each other, sharing our stories, and nourish Ottawa’s little soul. Outsiders can think our city isn’t sexy or interesting, but only we can make it so.

– Sylvie Hill