Downtown Ottawa – March 2016

It really is one of my favourite places to visit and to take pictures. There is so much going on down there. People, places and things. 
I spent a couple hours there on Saturday morning. I needed up taking far fewer pictures than I had planned. Why? Well, because I met Gilles and Jean. 

I was wandering past the Shepherds of Good Hope, and stopped to take a picture of a house. As I was taking the shot (which didn’t turn out) Jean came over to me. He pointed at my camera and asked me what I was taking pictures for. We started chatting, and I told him that it was a hobby and that I liked to take pictures when I found I had the time, or needed to clear my head. 

Jean, was definitely under the influence of something. His eyes were glassy and red and he kind of weaved side to side while standing. He sort of slurred his speech a bit and thought that pretty much everything was kind of funny.

Gilles came over a few minutes later and asked me the same basic questions that Jean had. He then started telling me about all the camera gear he had back at his place. Extolling the virtues of film over digital. Jean kept laughing and told us repeatedly that he had no idea what we were talking about. 

Taking part in a conversation with Gilles and Jean was an exercise in patience and listening. They had a tendency to talk at the same time, and at different volumes. I try to always respond to direct questions and use eye contact to show people that I’m listening. That was not easy. 

Jean suddenly stated “you draw too!” I told him that if love to be able to draw but that I wasn’t very good at it. His reply? “No. You draw.” He then demanded to know what the last thing I drew was. I told him that, the day before, I had done a little cartoon sketch of one of the students I work with. To say that he looked confused would be an understatement. After about a minute of silence, during which Gilles continues to talk, Jean asked, with great seriousness “Why?” I tried to explain to him that I’d been trying to use it as a little bribe to get a student to quickly get ready to go outside. He interrupted me with “Why?! Why? Cuz you’re an artist man. Aww shit. You’re and artist!” Gilles, Jean and I had a pretty good laugh at that. 

Three very, very nice folks who were doing outreach, looking for veterans who had fallen on hard times. Gilles said something about how he’d been in Kosovo, but with the French Foreign Legion, so he was well taken care of and didn’t need their help, unless they had some warm gloves. Turns out they did. Gilles stripped off his thin little gloves and took the new ones. He showed me that his right had was almost completely bandaged because of frostbite. He mentioned that he had it on both feet as well. 

Jean was talking to the outreach workers, intently. Gilles told me about having been in prison for nine years. He explained that it wasn’t all that bad but pretty boring. He then told me that he taught himself to speak Spanish, while in prison. 

With a rather heaving francophone accent, he explained that someone had given him a Spanish bible. He couldn’t ready it, and was mad at the person for giving him something he couldn’t read. He got his hands on an English bible. He said that at the beginning of the bible it said that you could not change the word of God. So he figured that the Spanish bible must be a word for word translation of the English one. So, he tells me, he began to spend time writing down the words that seemed to match each other. Thus, he tells me, “I can speak Spanish.” Throughout, Gilles would occasionally pull out a flask and take a nip of something. He also mentioned, several times, that he smoked “a huge fatty” for breakfast. 

The outreach folks seemed to be wrapping up their conversation with Jean. When I looked over, I saw that he had tears running down his cheeks. The lady outreach worker wiped them away and told him that things could get better. Gilles nudged me and said “Life’s a hard fuckin’ thing man.”  Gilles offered to introduce the outreach folks to some of the other guys. 

I bummed Jean a smoke. He wiped at his eyes a few times. He then asked me “Wow man, did you see the snow cone down? I musta got something in my eye.” I looked up at the crystal clear, cloudless sky and told him that that had been to freakiest, shortest snow storm I’d ever seen. We had a very good laugh about that. 

Another fella approached Jean and I. I didn’t catch his name. Jean, spread his arms and asked “what can I get for you man? How can I help?” The new guy, in a very heavy French accent, told him that he wanted a new pickup truck. I’m pretty sure he was just making a joke. Jean did not think it was funny. He went off on a bit of a rant, angry that the guy would take a sincere offer of help and try to turn it into something stupid, asking for something that he, Jean, clearly didn’t have. Jean then seemed to get angry that he had a hard time understanding the new guy, and told him to stop being French. I should add, at no point did Jean seem to be able to catch his balance, always weaving and swaying a bit. New guy was swearing at Jean, in French. After a couple of minutes, it seemed that Jean’s anger switched off, and he suddenly offered to hug the new guy. New guy accepted the hug. New guy smiled and told Jean “I know what I want!” And then told Jean that he needed an ounce. Jean beamed and told him “that’s what I meant man.”  I left them to their burgeoning bromance. 

I said goodbye to Gilles and thanked him for talking with me and letting me snap a few shots of him. He told me “John, you are a really good guy!”


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