Tightrope Walkers And Tourist Dollars

The New York legislature has voted to approve a request by Nik Wallenda, a member of the well-known family of daredevils, to tightrope walk across the Niagara Falls.  Wallenda would take a 2,200-foot walk above the falls, which are 180 feet high.  New York’s Governor still needs to approve the request, as do Canadian authorities.

Niagara Falls, of course, has a long and colorful history of foolish stunts and daredevil activities.  Everyone knows of publicity-seekers who sought to go over the thundering waterfalls in a barrel.  Some lived, many died.  For many years, such stunts have been outlawed.

In view of that prohibition, why would New York legislators vote to allow a tightrope walk over the gorge?  The answer seems to be that such a stunt is likely to increase tourist interest in the Falls — even if by sick individuals hoping to witness a tragic accident — and thereby increase tourism-related revenues for the state.  In short, the state is willing to sanction ultra-dangerous activities if they may have a positive economic impact on the state’s coffers.

Does anyone else think it is absurd that a paternalistic nanny state that will fine you for driving a car without wearing a seatbelt is happy to approve hazardous daredevil activities, so long as they may produce revenue and enhance tourism?

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Canada’s Capital

The rear of the Canadian Parliament building

The last few days we’ve been in Ottawa, Canada for a conference.  Ottawa is Canada’s national capital, and it is worth a visit from Americans curious about our friendly neighbor to the north.

We are staying at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a hotel that is directly across a canal from the heart of Canada’s governmental complex.  (More on the hotel later.)  The Canadian federal buildings are very imposing, gothic-looking structures, somewhat blackened with age, studded with gargoyles, and separated from the street by stone and black iron fencing.  Couple those elements with a gray, overcast day, such as we have had, and it feels as if you have stumbled into The Fall Of The House of Usher and Edgar Allan Poe will come springing out from behind a balustrade at any moment.

The federal buildings all are situated around a wide quadrangle of green grass, and the whole area has a decidedly British look.  The federal complex is capped by the Peace Tower, a large clock tower reminiscent of Big Ben that is dedicated to the sacrifices of Canadians who have fought in various conflicts.  The Peace Tower affords a commanding view of Ottawa and its environs and features a solemn, moving, and beautifully considered memorial chamber where the names of the fallen have been inscribed into large journals.

Ottawa is located on a wide river that divides the city into three parts, so there are lots of bridges and river views.  If you walk past the federal complex to the rear of Canada’s Supreme Court building, there is a good viewing spot that allows you to get a river perspective on the city.  In that view, the Canadian Parliament building appears framed by lush green trees, with the river sliding past far below.

In addition to the federal complex, we’ve also visited the Market District, which is a multi-block area of restaurants, shops, bars, and other businesses.  We’ve had two good meals there — including a terrific dinner at a nifty restaurant called Eighteen — and enjoyed walking around the bustling area.  Although we haven’t been there late in the evening, I suspect the Market District offers some good night-life options.

I’m ashamed to say that I am not well-versed in Canadian history or government, which is pathetic given our close proximity to this interesting and sprawling country.  If you want to start to learn about Canada, Ottawa is a good place to start.