A word about those Obama-Harper backdrops

Who knows what Barack Obama and Stephen Harper are talking about or how they’re getting along? We’ll try to figure it out later. Right now, all we’ve got is pictures. But about those pictures—don’t the Parliament Buildings look magnificent?

I can’t help it. I’m feel good whenever our neo-gothic showplace gets a bit of international TV exposure. And the best is yet to come, when Harper walks Obama into the Library of Parliament.

The library is, for my money, the most beautiful room in the country. And the 130-year-old round space at the back of Parliament’s Centre Block has never looked better, after a $136-million renovation, completed in 2006.

The copper roof is new, and the stone and brick exterior masonry was extensively rebuilt. Obama will get a peek at the unusually warm, elaborately carved pine bookcases and paneling inside—a true masterpiece of High Victorian design. I hope the pool cameras capture a proper sense of it.

I’m more conflicted about the Reading Room, where Obama and Harper will take questions (just four of them!) from the media. For about seven decades, this handsome room really was for reading. I remember happily slumping in a leather chair with a newspaper there, before it was converted into an all-purpose committee and reception space in 1990.

The murals on the walls, which date back to 1922, attest to its former and intended function. At one end, there’s “The Spirit of the Printed Word,” a sort of allegorical figure, and at the other, “The Printed Word”, a painting of a sturdy press with a group of muscular pressmen checking a proof-sheet. (Enough to make an old newspaper guy nostalgic).

By the way, we don’t make enough of our 19th century architecture. The Brits recently rediscovered theirs through Rosemary Hill’s acclaimed book about A.W. Pugin, the key figure in British gothic-revival, God’s Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain.

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