The other night I cut through Rideau Centre on my way home from the bookstore. For those of you who don't live in Ottawa, it's a multi-storey shopping mall right downtown. As much as I dislike malls, I have to acknowledge the evil brilliance of the place. It's strategically placed between geographic, traffic and topographical barriers. Anyone going from the major Transitway stop on the Mackenzie King Bridge--which is to say, all the kids busing in from the suburbs--to the nightlife of the Byward Market finds that the path of least resistance takes them straight through that mall. Because the Transitway station is located on a tall bridge--that is, some three stories above ground level--the multiple escalators between Rideau Street and the station make the mall even more attractive as a shortcut.
All of which is to say that in the evenings and overnight, the centrally-heated, ice-free halls of Rideau Centre are full of bright young things in short skirts and heels making their way to and from the restaurants, bars and nightclubs on and around the Byward Market.
One girl in particular I noticed that night. At first glance what I took to be a black woman--I mean black as in, not dark-skinned-African but coal-black--was in reality a Muslim girl wearing a black full-body stocking and headscarf under her short pink club dress.
Every now and then you hear nativists, bigots and talk-radio loudmouths, yammering about how multiculturalism is undermining our values and immigration is going to make this country unrecognizable. It's the same refrain we've heard for generations: that the changes in our culture that happened until recently (be it 1850 or 1900 or 2011) made us who we are, sure, but the most recent ones (brought by the Somalis or the Ukrainians or those lousy, stinking Irish) are but the thin edge of the wedge that will swamp and destroy us... whatever "us" happens to be at that particular moment.
What I saw the other night was, or should be to any reasonable person, a sharp rebuttal to that view. I saw a girl from a different culture with its own rules (including the idea that women should stay covered head to toe) and who found a way to follow those rules while fully participating in what our culture has to offer (such as the right to be smokin' hot in public.)