blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cold, slippery, wet and dark

The weather here has not been good, except for a calm, bright day on Christmas Day itself when we snowshoed again, this time in a loop through the trees behind Elva's and Laurie's road. Our Christmas supper was excellent and so was the next one that we ate with four of the Graves family on Boxing Day. Carol tried to drive Elva, Jenny and me to Wakefield yesterday but the cloud was so low and thick and the freezing rain so dangerous that she turned around at Chelsea and took us back to town. Jenny and I took a brief look inside the Musée des Civilisations but were put off by the 45 minute queue for entrance tickets and the number of young families present. Later, Elva and Laurie had to use the ski-poles they'd borrowed from us in order to reach their house without mishap from where they'd abandoned their car. Today's temperatures were milder, but with the winds gusting fiercely and the Rockcliffe taxiways still slick with water-on-ice (the runway friction index effectively at zero), there still wasn't any flying. Chris, Jenny and I did make it to Wakefield though.

Our "Skype" service to the outside world, blurry and pixelated though it is, has come in for plenty of use during the last few days, linking us with friends and family in Yorkshire, Teesside, London, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk and with George even further afield, so that at one moment we saw the cat on Rob's knee in his living room in York and the next moment a palm tree through the window of George's hotel or a Cessna rolling down the taxiway at Darwin airport.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Merry Christmas Eve

We met Elva and Laurie for lunch at Chelsea's Pub where cranberry cocktails (champagne, cranberry juice and vodka in tall glasses with floating berries and a slice of orange) were on the house. Then we "did the loop", walking the Gatineau Park's Sugarbush Trail, nicely groomed, in a clockwise direction, before resurrecting the log fire in the sugar shack's corner stove, and letting Jenny try out the pleasures of snowshoeing in the field and through the trees by the stream. The snow was thigh deep in places. Back at home we had a curried vegetarian supper, played our instruments again and watched a funny film in the basement.

In case I don't have time to add to this blog tomorrow, may I wish everyone who reads this a very Happy Christmas (or for George and friends in Australia a Happy Boxing Day). The sun is expected to shine and we're off to do some more bush-whacking in the hills where Elva and Laurie have invited us to share their Christmas Dinner.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jenny's journey

At 2:50a.m. on Sunday morning (when North Americans had not yet gone to bed on Saturday night) a taxi drew up on a street in York, England, to take Jenny to the railway station. Her "train" to Manchester turned out to be a bus to Leeds, followed by a proper train from Leeds to Manchester reaching the airport by about 6a.m. As it happened, Jenny needn't have set off quite so early because her flight to Newark, New Jersey, was 270 minutes late taking off. The check-in staff at Manchester advised her to assume she'd not be flying on to Ottawa until Monday and took the precaution of booking her onto a connecting flight from Newark that would leave the following day. Landing at Newark airport at the very time she was scheduled to land in Ottawa, according to her original schedule, Jenny had already missed her connection by a couple of hours.

Admittedly a major winter storm had been raging all across New England and eastern Canada, which explains the delay and the thousands of displaced travellers at Newark airport, but that is no excuse for the baggage handlers not knowing which terminal was the right one for flights to Ottawa. Because this was the U.S.A., Jenny had to reclaim her case (large backpack) in order to carry it through U.S. customs before checking for her flight to Canada. Having reached the Departures hall she then stood in the transfer queue for two hours. We managed to communicate with her from Ottawa at this point; she told us there was just a chance she might still get a seat on a late flight to Ottawa before the end of the day. However, no chance, all the flights were fully booked, and it was just as well Manchester had had the sense to book her on a Monday morning flight or she wouldn't have been allowed on that one, either. Rather than spend the rest of her very long day at Newark airport she sensibly found accommodation at a nearby hotel although Continental Airlines had informed her they were not willing to pay for a hotel room because the weather was considered to be an Act of God rather than the company's fault. They also told Jenny to make sure she returned to the airport by 7a.m. at the latest to catch her 8:45 flight to Ottawa.

The next morning, the shuttle bus driver took her to the wrong terminal. On realising this, she hurried off to catch the "air train" heading towards the correct terminal ... and it broke down. All its passengers were told to stay on the train, and then told to get off. It transpired that none of the other trains were working either at that juncture. Jenny asked for help and was told to find Gate 71. She had no idea where that might be, couldn't see any directions, so asked someone else, a security guard, for help. He wouldn't let her go until she'd calmed down (!) but pointed her in the right direction telling her she should be able to walk it; it would take her ten minutes. She then set off in rather a panic, but in the right direction. She needn't have rushed. The flight for Ottawa didn't depart until 10:55. The cafe queues being too long to join, Jenny bought herself a bag of nuts and raisins for breakfast. On the flight she was also served a muffin and a drink.

It was a sunny but bumpy flight over the Adirondack mountains. Even at Ottawa the wind was gusting to 45 kph so she suffered a bumpy landing as well. Two other 'planeloads from the USA had arrived just ahead of Jenny's flight, so the immigration baggage reclaim halls were very crowded. In fact we waited another two hours before she came through the International Arrivals doors at Ottawa airport, the main reason for the delay being the fact that her suitcase had not turned up, so that she had to fill in a claim form. The last straw was that she was also escorted into a side office away from Passport Control and given a lengthy grilling by a Canadian Immigration officer who asked all kinds of impertinent, personal and humourless questions about why Jenny could possibly want to visit Ottawa at this time of year to visit people to whom she wasn't even related, and why she hadn't wanted to spend Christmas at home in England with her own family. Jenny assured them that we are friends of her family, but that didn't cut much ice. The officer wanted to know if we were bona fide Canadian Citizens. She wishes she had been forewarned of these questions, as she found them quite intimidating and can't imagine what she has done to deserve such discourteous treatment.

We bought Jenny lunch on our way home, as all three of us were famished by the time we were able to drive out of the airport.

This afternoon, after several vain attempts to call Continental Airlines to find out where Jenny's luggage might be, she went shopping for some spare clothes. This evening, though, we had two calls from Ottawa airport, the first to say the luggage had been identified and put aside for delivery to our house within three or four hours. The second call was less optimistic, telling us that we can (apparently) expect its arrival "sometime before midnight." As I was rereading this blog post before publishing, I am glad to report that Jenny's luggage finally arrived. It has taken three whole days.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Figgy pudding in Module 16

It's time for a break, time for music! Today my husband took his clarinet and a book of Christmas carols to work, in order to put his colleagues in a festive frame of mind. Yesterday my daughter and her colleagues / friends put on a concert at the National Physical Laboratories in London. Emma, who launched this choir herself, sent us a copy of their programme:

Christmas Concert

Thursday 18th December 2008 at 12:30 pm in the Lecture Theatre, Module 16

Ding Dong! Merrily on High, 16th C. French, arr. Charles Wood, words by G. R. Woodward. The December 2008 edition of the BBC Music Magazine features a list of the "50 greatest carols as voted by the world's finest choirmasters". Ding Dong Merrily on High comes in at a respectable no 35. If you haven't heard enough of this tune by the end of the third chorus, you can always get an extra fix at

Concord, Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976), words by William Plomer. From the opera Gloriana, originally written to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II.

It came upon the midnight clear. Trad. English, arr. Arthur Sullivan, words by E.H. Sears. This well known carol came 40th in the BBC's poll.

Adew Sweet Amaryllis, John Wilbye (1574 – 1638), Anon, after the Italian of Battista Guarini (1538 – 1612). The heyday of English madrigal writing was a brief but intense period around the ends of the 16th Century and the reign of Elizabeth I. Madrigals are unaccompanied secular songs, usually in three to six parts. This example is considered one of the most refined and superbly crafted of all English madrigals.

Sussex Carol. Trad. English, arr. David Willcocks, “Homage to R.V.W.” Occupying a lofty 12th position in the top 50, this is a truly traditional carol. The words were first published in 1684. This English folk tune was collected, by Cecil Sharp and also by Ralph Vaughn Williams in 1919. The latter heard it sung by Mrs Harriet Verrall of Monk's Gate in Sussex, hence the title.

Concerto in G major for four recorders. Georg Philipp Telemann, arr. Markus Zahnhausen. One of the most prolific composers of all time, G P Telemann (1681 – 1767) was far more famous, during his lifetime, than his contemporary and compatriot J S Bach – a dictionary of the time afforded him four times as much space as it did Bach! His contribution to the recorder repertoire is extensive, some of the most beautiful, and frequently stolen by flautists. We offer two movements as a sample.

Czárdás. Vittorio Monti, arr. Joris van Goethem. Even if the title and the composer don't sound familiar, the tune will. A Csárdás is a type of Hungarian dance that was in vogue in the latter half of the 19th century. This particular one was written by the Italian violinist Monti (1868 – 1922) in about 1904.

On the trail of the Pink Panther. Henry Mancini, arr. Paul Leenhouts. This flamboyant arrangement of a familiar theme was written for the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet, by one of its members, and requires a Great Bass Recorder. Believe it or not, recorders do get bigger than this - a lot bigger!

Torches. John Joubert, Galician, trans. J.B. Trend. A rousing modern carol to be sung with gusto.

In Dulci Jubilo. Old German tune, arr. R. L. Pearsall, edited and adapted by Reginald Jacques. As if to prove our good taste, this version of In Dulci Jubilo was voted no. 2 (beaten only by the lesser known version of In the Bleak Midwinter). This tune has survived the tests of time, first appearing in manuscripts around the year 1400, it may actually be even older. In more recent times the tune has remained popular but is perhaps best known in the form of Mike Oldfield's 1975 hit. The words are a mixture of Latin and English, the latter translated by Pearsall from the original medieval German dialect.

A Merry Christmas. Trad. West Country carol, arr. Arthur Warrell, “To Geffrey Shaw”. This Carol is 16th C. English traditional.

Did anyone bring us some figgy pudding? We won't go until we've got some!

Future lunchtime concerts, at 12:45 in the Scientific Museum, Bushy House

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Endangered WORDS

The Oxford Junior Dictionary for British children aged 7 and older, as mentioned in my husband's latest blog post and elsewhere, has recently been updated. Such is the potency of words, that the list of vocabulary considered irrelevant to our grandchildren dismays Britons of my generation.

OK, it's reasonable to banish "Empire", "Pentecost" and "duchess" these days, and probably even "christen" (I won't get side-tracked into discussing that provocative verb)—gone are the days when the majority of adolescents queued up in a church "aisle" for "confirmation" by the local "bishop"—but to eliminate the word "monarch" while the UK still has one, and "abbey" (where the nation's next monarch is likely to be crowned), seems a bit much.

What's really disturbing though is the cutting out of vocabulary for children's Nature Studies (sorry—why use short words when words of four or five syllables will do?—I mean Environmental Education): moss, fern, bluebell, ash, sycamore (and their keys, presumably), primrose, minnow, kingfisher, lark, thrush. Reading such a resonant list puts me in a state of mourning: that's the essence of my childhood gone! Where will today's children find their mental sanctuary? Not in words like "vandalism", "committee", "compulsory" or "voicemail", that's for sure. Ironically, I see that the word "endangered" is also being added to the dictionary, but if our grandchildren can't tell one species from another, what's the point? How can we ever teach them the appreciation of a world that's become verbally extinct? Before we know where we are, the concept of "sunset" will soon have gone, too, if it hasn't already, and if we aren't careful, so will "sun", "moon," and "stars". Or is "star" now cross-referenced under "celebrity" for the modern child's edification?

What I believe the English-speaking world needs is not a Junior Dictionary full of trendy jargon, but a Seniors' Dictionary, written to enlighten people like my octo-(nearly nona-)genarian mother who hasn't a clue what "broadband" or "chatroom" means, nor what an MP3 player is. At the same time, the OUP ought to be publishing another dictionary, equally educational, aimed at those intelligent 7- and 8-year olds of whatever cultural background who might be on the brink of discovering British fiction from the old days, crammed full of the enticingly strange vocabulary that some unimaginative academic, or more likely academic committee, full of self-importance, has chosen to condemn, the vocabulary of Minnow on the Say, Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Railway Children, The Borrowers, Treasure Island. I've never read any of the Harry Potter series, but have a sneaking suspicion that those recently written and hugely popular stories, too, are more about elves, goblets (or goblins) and newts than about boring old "block graphs" or "file attachments".

What, no more catkins? No more conkers? Don't make me angry. And please don't tell me there aren't any wild primroses in big cities like London, either, because I saw them there last spring, flowering on the railway embankments. Let's continue to tell the children what they are.

An old fashioned tart

For a Potluck lunch at work this coming Friday, I've been asked to provide Chris with a home made Bakewell tart big enough to share with his colleagues. I was born in Derbyshire so ought to be able to do this. Once upon a time women accomplished nothing but such things; our generation must be over-pampered because I found it quite a challenge.

To create a Bakewell tart in the right sequence of steps, what you should do first is line a 23cm-diameter pie tin with pastry. If you're making the pastry yourself, use about 100g fat (I used margarine) and about 200g plain brown and/or white flour, combine into crumbs, add enough chilled water to make the pastry stick together and roll out on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, trim and thicken the edges. If you're feeling fastidious, clean up the resultant mess before finding the red jam that you must smear over the surface of your pastry pie shell with whatever utensil comes to hand.

Then make the filling. This consists of 80g fresh breadcrumbs, 80g sugar, 80g ground almonds, the grated rind and juice of a lemon, 80g melted butter (or half and half butter and good quality margarine with no cholesterol content) and two eggs, with their yolks separated from their whites.

I had ready-ground almonds to hand, but had to produce the breadcrumbs from scratch, using a couple of aging (but not yet mouldy) bread rolls and a thick slice of toasting bread. Crumble the bread into smallish lumps and then finish off the process with a bladed food processor. I used a small hand blender, but if it's set to work in a wide bowl the crumbs will spin off in all directions, liberally sprinkling your kitchen surfaces. Believe me, it's better to use a tall, thin container and make the breadcrumbs in small batches. I assume everyone knows how to grate and squeeze a lemon. Don't omit the lemon as this gives the pie its essential flavour.

In order to separate the eggs you'll also need a special gadget unless you're dexterous enough to skim yolks from whites without the yolks getting broken as they spill in a slimy manner over the edge of the cut shells. Don't use old eggs or eggs from battery hens or you're doomed to failure. Catch the egg whites in a small bowl on the side and plop the yolks straight into the sweetened breadcrumb-ground almonds mixture that you have moistened with your lemon juice and melted butter. As you stir, you will find the consistency quite stiff, but this can be softened with the egg whites. Pick out any bits of egg shell that have fallen in before beating the slime to a fluffy whiteness that forms peaks. I did it with a hand held whisk. Fold these thoroughly beaten egg whites into the rest of the filling with a large metal spoon and then scoop it into the pie shell and smooth over the surface.

The tart then needs baking at 350°C for just over half an hour until the filling is firm, with a golden-brown surface. Let it cool and settle down before removing from the tin. The surface will subside a little. When the tart is cold (or thawed out again after freezing) it can be coated with white or pale pink icing (made from icing sugar and diluted, seedless, red jam) and decorated with glaciated cherry halves around the perimeter. A small segment makes a satisfying dessert.

A nice variation of this recipe is to use stewed, sweetened gooseberries (in season) as a base for the filling, instead of red jam, or to top the pie with sliced almonds instead of icing sugar.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A botanist in the Arctic

On Saturday evening we met Elva's and Laurie's neighbour in the Gatineau Hills, where Elva served us a tasty supper with a magical view from her windows of the snow-covered forest. Lynne Gillespie is a botanist specialising in Arctic flora and has worked with an international Education and Expedition team introducing an international group of students to the polar regions. The project was called Students on Ice. Normally she works as a researcher for the Museum of Nature.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Le rôle de l'art dans la vie

I was at the NAC again last week (Centre National des Arts) to see the French Theatre production of Cyrano de Bergerac, for which I was lucky enough to get a free ticket. Before the show, I also had the privilege of hearing Wajdi Mouawad, current director of French Theatre at the NAC (who incidentally keeps a blog), give a talk about the importance of the arts and our support of the arts. Having grown up as a French speaking Lebanese immigrant in Montreal, he spoke in beautiful French, quietly but passionately.

For Wajdi Mouawad there are countless possible answers to "What is art for?" or "What is an artist?" but he was not going to try to answer those questions except by giving us a couple of pictures ("images"). The first picture he wanted us to imagine was that of driving a car along a road in stormy weather, the rain lashing at the windscreen, the night very dark, so that the oncoming headlights dazzle and tire us. To keep us going along in the right direction, we put our trust in the occasional roadsigns and the centre lines. We concentrate on them for all we're worth. Of course those lines painted on the road are important in fine weather too, but all the more so at moments of crisis, when we have to face something terrible, like death. Art is like the road signs and white lines, "une chose visible et précieuse" which will prevent us from coming to grief "quand il ne fait plus beau."

It is at such moments that we are at our most receptive to art. For example, a Mozart concerto.

Dans les périodes de crise, ça vous boulverse soudain...

His other image was that of the little scarab, or dung beetle of the Middle East, that feeds itself from what other animals' bodies have rejected. From their excreta—crotte—the scarab makes a perfect ball that it rolls into a secret place to consume at leisure. This is like Artists (the "naifs", the "pure" ones) who nourish themselves from what others have rejected or found useless.

Un artiste est un scarabée qui trouve, dans les excréments mêmes de la société, les aliments nécessaires pour produire les œuvres qui fascinent et bouleversent ses semblables. L’artiste, tel un scarabée, se nourrit de la merde du monde pour lequel il œuvre, et de cette nourriture abjecte il parvient, parfois, à faire jaillir la beauté.

An Artist such as Wajdi Mouawad will put these things into words to let us see what we may have missed:

...des choses profondes, belles, incroyables, des choses fragiles...

(Exactly the message of Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal !)

One of the audience asked whether Wajdi Mouawad's present place of work, the national capital, had affected his choice of plays for the theatre. Oh, definitely, was the reply; that was a good question. The slogan of this year's French theatre programme is Nous Sommes En Guerre. Apparently, Wajdi Mouawad discussed what it means with his team. We can be at war for the sake of something, against something or with someone. It all depends on our point of view.

En guerre en Afghanistan, en guerre pour conserver le sens des choses ... le théâtre, c'est un geste actif ... pas passif ... On se combat pour rester éveillé...

We fight in order to stay awake.

I like this man, and I really approve of what he says.

No comment!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Feels like minus 30

Ottawa's current weather report informs me that we have just been for a walk round town at -18°C with a wind chill of -30°. Better to be indoors, then. Twelfth Night yesterday was great fun to watch, and today we were at the annual Flying Club party complete with a visit from Santa Claus who like little Tamara was all in red and white like the berries on the rowan tree across the drive from our house.

Friday, December 5, 2008


There's plenty going on in this city to take our minds off our local traffic congestion and weather. Carol and I and several hundred other people attended a Christmas concert featuring two local youth choirs at the Notre-Dame Basilica this evening: the Calixa Lavallée (university) Choir, conducted by a fellow student of music, and the (younger, high-school age) Chorale De La Salle conducted by Robert Filion who has trained this choir to an impressively high standard; they perform from memory, even when singing in Finnish, Spanish, Slovenian or Latvian, have been broadcast on the CBC and go on international tours. Why haven't I heard of them before? The school where this music teacher works is in Lower Town, just round the corner from our house.

Tomorrow six of us are going to watch a matinée performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Glebe Community Centre, the actor who plays Sir Andrew Aguecheek being a member of our flying club.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Podria haber sido ...

Busy day today. As soon as I got up, I made a start on our homemade spreadsheet to work out how much we're spending at the moment and to estimate how much we've therefore got to stop spending before our money supply runs out. It's best to do this depressing sort of calculation early in the morning when you're feeling strong, rather than just before bedtime. I then made a quick bowl of porridge (porridge being great value for money) before ringing the Glebe Community Centre Theatre Company to see if they still have $5 seats available for their Saturday matinée performance of Twelfth Night next weekend (they do), and then catching a couple of buses to a 10 o'clock meeting where we were planning the diplomatic Christmas party at the end of next week, at which something like 140 people are expected.

Home again at lunchtime via the shops, to work on some digital photo projects for various Christmassy purposes; it took most of the afternoon, especially as I had to make a call to iPhoto in the midst of this (haven't a clue what our iPhoto ID is for the login screen), but I did also speak to my daughter who can now be seen and heard in the on-line NPL Christmas greeting! Click on that link to hear her and four of her colleagues singing Ding Dong Merrily on High in NPL's sound measurement laboratories. My grandson Alexander was half inclined to sing to me as well today, but thought better of it when he realised he could be watching Thomas The Tank Engine on the screen instead, so said "Bye-bye Grandma!" in no uncertain terms. Then I had to make a quick supper for Chris, home in good time because he had to teach at the flying club this evening. I invented a thick Mediterranean-flavoured soup including lima beans, chickpeas and chunks of ham. There's a word for that sort of meal; I can't think of it. Anyhow after a bit more juggling with our budget spreadsheet we ate fast and so had time to play the Borodin piece on our clarinet and piano before Chris went out again.

Yiwen and Pete came round to bring us some Jamaican rum cake they've been making all this year, now baked & being divided amongst their friends. I decorated a cardboard box for the diplomatic party and finally sat down to write an essay in Spanish on what I would have been if I hadn't been what I am now. I have to read it out at the Spanish conversation tomorrow before going by bus again to a completely different meeting, this one about editing the flying club's magazine.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Variation on the theme

(See my previous two blogposts.) Click here for a review of another film about the redemptive power of music: Vier Minuten (Germany, 2006). It's being shown as part of the European Film Festival at Ottawa's National Library & Archives on Saturday evening and I plan to go and watch it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Feeding people's souls, forgetting their vices

I don't have as much time as I wanted to describe Tocar Y Luchar; a French-speaking group is meeting at our house this evening so I have to tidy up and prepare "une petite collation." Vivien has set each of us the challenge of finding some Wonders of the World other than the ones on the official list, and I've decided that my choice will be a toss up between Wells Cathedral (which I have visited) and the Library of Alexandria (which I haven't, but would like to).

However I promised to add something about the film to this blog, so here's a selection of quotations from musicians interviewed during the documentary, expressing their opinions about the young Venezuelans' musical education—El Sistema, as it's called.

The voice-over to a sequence showing an 11-year old child playing her violin out of doors along the narrow back-streets of the slums of La Vega, Caracas, goes something like this:

We think of social programmes providing food, shelter or medical assistance, but feeding people's souls [gives them the means to] find a way to feed themselves, house themselves ... and they'll grow into people of significance and [make a] contribution... When you establish the inner life of somebody ... then the possibility ... to enhance, to uplift society is endless.

Another interviewee said:

Art implies a sense of perfection ...therefore a road to excellence. What has the orchestra planted in their souls? A sense of harmony, of order, of rhythm ... of the aesthetic, of the beautiful, of the universal ... and the language of the invisible, transmitted unseen through music.

The little girl herself commented that she had discovered another world and that when she's playing her violin she forgets everything else. (In Spanish she said, "I forget about all the vices!").

Sir Simon Rattle, who recently recruited one of Venezuela's young double-bass players (Edicson Ruiz) into the Berlin Philharmonic, went so far as to say that the national musical education documented in this film was

not only enriching lives, but saving lives! ... Music is always about something, not just about itself ... Clearly, music is the most important thing in the world to these kids, and that comes over, loud and clear.

There was also footage of Placido Domingo being moved to tears by the high quality of the Venezuelan youth choirs and orchestras when he first heard them and another touching episode was where they showed mentally and physically handicapped children becoming involved in the music-making. One of the best trumpeters shown in the film is a blind 12-year old.

The man who started this, José Antonio Abreu, wants no less than to change the world so that classical music in our times (or "for eternity," as he put it!) becomes no longer something created by a minority for a minority, or even by a minority for a majority, but by a majority for a majority. He has been doing his best to realise this dream in Latin America for the last thirty years.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Respighi and Schumann for the OrKidstra

I mentioned this subject once or twice before in my blog this year.

Chris and I were at a private concert last night where money was raised to fund the OrKidstra for children of low-income families in Ottawa, in the presence of one of its initiators, Margaret Munro Tobolowska. She spoke to us in passionate tones about how she believed classical music should be accessible to every child, not just the gifted and privileged ones—preaching to the converted as far as I'm concerned—but wasn't the soloist at John's house; that was another 'cellist, Paul Merlyn, who like her had once progressed through the old and trusty "system" that's taken such a knock from recent governments blinkered by short-term financial exigencies who slash the funding for such things and make some of us very angry indeed. Mr Merlyn, having played in a local youth orchestra, got into the (British) National Youth Orchestra, then the European Youth Orchestra and now teaches 'cello here, in Ottawa.

He was accompanied by Fred Lacroix at the piano, playing the Adagio con Variazione by Respighi and Schumann's Cello Concerto with the orchestra part arranged for piano. Paul Merlyn talked about the Schumann concerto, written towards the end of his creative life when he was fighting the onset of madness. Does the music give an inkling of Schumann's loss of mental control or was it an effective antidote that kept it at bay for a while? Mr Merlyn was inclined to think the latter. He played the whole thing from memory, very well indeed.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the concert and keen to support the children, we bought a DVD of the film that inspires these people, Tocar y Luchar, which I'm intending to watch all the way through this evening. Watch this space for a rave review by tomorrow evening because, from what I've heard about it so far, I expect to be impressed!

Incidentally in John's kitchen after the concert I got talking to a lady whose winter occupation is house-sitting in Dawson City in the Yukon. She usually stays there till June and told me that although the city is small, it's a real centre of culture. Now there's some interesting food for thought ...

Here we go again!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An Indian Dream

As in musicals from Bollywood, the conclusion of A Midsummer Night's Dream is a lavish wedding party, and when Shakespeare's comedy is produced in an Indian setting, with an all-Indian / Sri Lankan cast in Indian costumes, with Indian props and musicians permanently on stage to accompany the action on Indian instruments, well, it's not how you might remember that play from your school days.

The Dash Arts company, directed by Tim Supple, were in Ottawa earlier this month and my friend Tanya, who had seen their production in its first week here, insisted I get a ticket for myself, "even if you have to steal it!" By the way, by turning up at the NAC box office after 4p.m. on the day of a performance, I was allowed to book any remaining seat at half-price, a point worth noting in these financially difficult times.

You can get an inkling of the vivacity by visiting the website where you'll find clips showing the actors (some of them professional acrobats) swinging like monkeys upside down on ropes and drapes hung across the stage. Once the play moves into fairyland (i.e. the Indian jungle), the trappings and inhibitions of civilized society are left far behind and the bamboo frame at the back of the stage becomes a maze of trees or tree-houses for fairies and mortals to climb upon. The silken mats have been removed from the floor, revealing a sand-pit where the various lovers become trapped in a literal web of Puck's mischievous designing (rubber bands!) In other parts of the play, Puck becomes a lethargic fakir, observing high and low caste society with detachment from his reclining position behind the ornamental pond at the front of the stage.

The two who made the biggest impression on our audience were the dancer / actress Archana Ramaswamy who plays both Queen Hippolyta of the Court of Athens and Tatania, Queen of the Fairies (with a strong implication that underneath their clothes they are one and the same!) and the comedian who plays the part of Nick Bottom, Aporup Acharya, in such a hilarious way that he has the audience in stitches even when he's saying his lines in one of the seven languages other than English (Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayam, Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi) that are used in this production, apparently in a faithful translation of the original script. The actresses all say their lines in English; the men switch from one tongue to another constantly.

The musicians are prestigious instrumentalists and composers in their own right; here they were responsible for setting the atmosphere of the play and keeping its momentum going. The opening scene began with the soft hum of a singing bowl; the last scene had the whole audience on its feet including me, clapping, arms raised, to the wild beat of their drums as the company on stage danced barefoot with fiery torches in celebration of married love.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Amazons and other denizens of the Kitchissippi

The Anishinabe—their stone axes can be seen in the Bytown Museum—were many-tribed, one of their peoples known as the Odawa, or "Traders." The first explorers from pre-revolutionary France misunderstood, assuming that their "Great River" (Kitchissippi) was the Odawa; hence its French name, Outaouais.

It was my idea to invite the diplomats' wives for a tour of the Bytown Museum, and this took place on November 7th, ladies from twenty-seven different countries turning up to be shown round by an excellent guide called Steve, disguised as an officer of the Royal Engineers of the 1820s. He spoke in a refined British accent, specially put on for the occasion, and wore a hat like the one in the museum which once belonged to Colonel By [picture by Barbara Miles]. Steve told us about the Odawa, about British Canadians burning down the White House in Washington in retaliation for an American attack on York, later known as Toronto, and of course about the Rideau Canal that now has World Heritage status.

Once the canal was complete, despite a tragic series of fatal accidents, the Irish navvies who'd done most of the dirty work on the canal were at a loss and a loose end. Some of them eventually helped to construct the Notre Dame Basilica on Sussex Drive; others, among whom were the dreaded "Shiner" gangs of the 1830s, ran amok in Bytown, where a Reign of Terror pitted them against itinerant French-speaking raftsmen, "draveurs," with their caulk boots studded with long, sharp nails to keep them steady on the log-rafts rolling down the rivers. In the brothels of Clarence Street, the "Amazons" catered to men who'd been lumbering in the bush for months on end without any female company. One of those lumberjacks was the legendary giant and strongman, Joseph Montferrand, reputed to have thrown several pesky Irishmen single-handed into the river during one riot, remembered as The Battle Of The Chaudière Falls.

But it was the entrepreneurs, the lumber barons Booth, Preston, Bronson and Eddy, with their timber mills on the Lebreton Flats, who were the real bosses. Booth when he died at the age of 99 was worth $35 million.

Ottawa's first police force was established, under considerable protest from the local taxpayers, in 1855. ("People never want to pay for what's required," commented Steve. "It's the same today.") Another project that helped to civilize the locals was the founding of Bytown College by Father Tabaret (he after whom Tabaret Hall is named). The college later developed into the University of Ottawa. Another such idealist was "Canada's first multi-culturalist," as Diane Rummery of the CFUW put it), D'Arcy McGee, but he was assassinated for his pains. Here's Diane telling the diplomats about "Sir John A," Canada's first Prime Minister, after she had told them about McGee under his statue on Parliament Hill, a tour of the statues being the other part of our outing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Three concerts

On October 25th, Shoko Inoue, born in Tokyo, played the piano at the National Gallery of Canada, this concert sponsored by the Embassy of Japan. Elva and I were there to hear her perform Bach's French Suite in G major, Chopin's Ballade in G minor, Op 23, and Schubert's Sonata in B-flat major, D 960, written right at the end of his life, the one with the wonderful Andante Sostenuto slow movement, that my mother loves so much. (You can find Alfred Brendel's famous interpretation of it on YouTube). Ms Inoue played her instrument in bare feet, as does the more extravert Evelyn Glennie.

On November 7th, "in honour of the 90th Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia", a concert (organised by my friend Ülle) was put on at the First Baptist Church: operatic arias sung by Heli Veskus (soprano) and Oliver Kuusik (tenor) of the Estonian National Opera. On tour in Canada, the two soloists were met at the station by Ülle, who also presented each of them with bouquets of flowers to vigorous applause from the assembled diplomats and friends at the end of their performance. Richard Todd (music critic for the Ottawa Citizen) gave them a glowing report. There was only one operatic duet on the programme, an extract from La Bohème, at the end of which the two performers wandered off suggestively into the "wings" (of the church) together, still singing. Ms Veskus' finale was Giuditta's song, by Lehár, you know the one: Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss..., but then the tenor came back to join her so that they could finish the concert by singing an Estonian "prayer" in unison. Apparently there's a great film about how "singing has always brought Estonians together," as the Ambassador told us, called The Singing Revolution.

The following day, I went to the third concert, this one a Strings of St John's performance at St John's church, a couple of blocks and across the road from the other one. I had a friend involved in that concert, too, who plays in the 2nd Violins (scroll down the page for Regina's photo and biography). This ensemble, with the young soprano Alexa Wing as soloist (obviously battling a cough and sore throat, more's the pity) gave an unusual programme of music: Corelli's Concerto Grosso in C, a secular cantata by Bach, then Britten's setting of Les Illuminations (poems by Rimbaud, of which Peter Pears probably gave the most understanding rendition, although it was originally composed for a soprano, not a tenor) which work has a good deal more depth to it than the last item on the programme, a Psalm and Jubilation for strings and harp by an American composer, Tracey Rush. Easy listening, but too bland. I much preferred the Britten.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Part of the Answer

During a long wait for our winter tyres / "tires" a couple of weeks ago, I wandered into a small park I hadn't seen before, the recently opened Cancer Survivors' Park not far from the hospital where local cancer patients often go for treatment. It was full of information or inducements to positive thinking carved onto plaques (in two languages) attached to unfortunately tomblike stones around the park's perimeter. Apparently the inspiration and funding for such parks, of which there are several in North America, came from a Mr Bloch, who with the help of his wife once made a dramatic, unexpected recovery from "terminal" lung cancer.

A sculpted group of eight human figures appears in a maze of doors or hurdles, their faces showing fear, determination, hope, joy ... depending on whereabouts they are on the symbolic journey. The sculptor's name is Victor Salmones and he called his creation a labour of love. It is entitled: Cancer, there is hope!

It is the most feared disease in North America, but according to what I read in the park it is also the most curable. Apparently, cells in our bodies divide "wildly" around six times a day, but as a rule our immune system recognises and kills off these potential cancers, unless for some reason our defences have become compromised.

Here are the encouragements I read (in no particular order; I have paraphrased some and strung some separate statements together):

  1. Promise yourself to defend yourself as hard as you can. "Sans exceptions," adds the French translation. The commitment you make is the most important part of your treatment.
  2. You can be part of the Answer.
  3. Knowledge heals. Seek and accept support. Find a physician who believes you can be successfully treated, get second opinions, get prompt and proper treatment.
  4. You are the boss. This is your life.
  5. Eat well-balanced meals and don't go on any fad diets. Exercise, but don't overdo it. Be selfish. Stress accelerates cancer; try to relax.
  6. Visual imagery can help you; so can a religious faith.
  7. Gather all your resources and concentrate on getting rid of the cancer: "now you have a chance!"
  8. Make plans and set yourself goals.
  9. Don't forget that many people have conquered this and that the majority of cancer sufferers are cured.
  10. Make up your mind that once your cancer is gone, you are through with it.

A week later I was driving past the same park where a couple of cars had pulled over to the side of the road with their emergency lights flashing. A couple of friends of mine were in the car in front which had been damaged by the car behind, driven, so I heard afterwards, by a woman in tears, rushing to the hospital because her husband was dying.

I can't help feeling that, spirited though they are, anyone who has just lost or is about to lose someone precious through this disease might see irony in those messages in the park and find them insensitive, but maybe I'm wrong, maybe that's just my European wariness of American optimism (or of sentimentality?) kicking in.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Black against white

This is nothing to do with people in American politics but was the title of the other art exhibition I explored (upstairs) at the Carleton University Art Gallery, back in October. (My penultimate blogpost described the exhibition downstairs.)

John J. A. Murphy, who lived from 1888 to 1967, specialised in wood engravings, though his career began as a designer of camouflage uniforms for the U.S. infantry in the First World War. When he went on to do his black and white cubist pieces in the 1920s, of Wrestlers, for example, and Sprinters, the effect was still of camouflage, so that you have to concentrate quite hard to decipher which parts of the picture are which when looking at these engravings. I was reminded of M C Escher's art from the same period. In Murphy's engraving Shadow-boxing, the figures' muscles are done by hatching, so as to keep things linear; he was influenced by his contemporary, Eric Gill, apparently, and like him did obsessive series of religious prints, a row of miniscule Stations of the Cross for instance, in 1921. Three years later, when Murphy's son was born, he took it upon himself to produce a hundred Nativity prints, but only managed to complete 28 of them. A thought apposite to his work had been written down by the poet John Gould Fletcher that same year:

Something is subtracted from darkness by every beam of light; yet darkness remains.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Resurrection of the American Dream

The outcome of the presidential election in the USA has been so exciting I haven't been able to concentrate on much else, these last few days. It feels the same as nineteen Novembers ago, when the Berlin Wall was breached. Today my German-speaking friends talked about a commentary from Der Spiegel which I'd printed out for the group to read, entitled Obamas historischer Wahlsieg. Die Wiederauferstehung des amerikanischen Traums. describing the tone of the man's voice:

versöhnlich [...] erhaben [...] wohltempiert [...] Der Obama-Ton schliesst Menschen ein und grenzt sie nicht aus. Es ist der Ton der politischen Romantik.

Conciliatory, exalted, well-tempered, the way in which he speaks includes people, doesn't exclude them. Rather a good description, that.

Another appposite quotation I found was in one of the pictures featured on the half-hour photo-documentary about Obama's life so far, that I found on website, a photo of the motto of the Senator Obama Secondary School in Kogelo, Kenya, saying:


Did you know that Barack Obama has a Canadian brother-in-law whose name is Konrad Ng? This is a multi-racial family and no mistake. At last, someone in the White House who should be capable of imagining the Rest Of The World as family. But the best thing he's done so far is to put pride and joy into his compatriots' faces. They needed that.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Here's a great quotation from Litany for the Homeland, a story by the Australian writer, Janette Turner Hospital):

No little man from Customs and Immigration stands at the doors of memory or imagination demanding to see your passport.

Last week I went to an exhibition at the Carleton University Art Gallery that seemed to explore that theme, entitled ImagiNation: New Cultural Topographies. There were six exhibits, each one making some comment on the lack of belonging or, paradoxically, the togetherness felt by people who have in one way or another been displaced from their homeland. I'll take them in the order I found them; it's an attractive gallery that I entered on the upper level and from above, the first installation that caught my eye was Gerard Choy's One Ton of Won Ton Bowls (2003) laid out on the floor. The title quite literally meant what it said. 279 identical won ton bowls had been set in concrete and painted blue; together they weighed 1 imperial ton. To appreciate the symbolism of this you have to know that this kind of bowl was first produced in the 19th century for Chinese people who had moved overseas. The colour is significant too, chroma-key blue being used in the film industry for screens onto which anything can be projected. Blue bowls are also a reminder of traditional Chinese porcelain.

At the bottom of the stairs from the upper gallery was a video installation, again dated 2003, featuring four flat screens, two of which were showing scenes from Orange County, California, the other two showing Orange County, Beijing, its deliberate, fashionable imitation. The same Asian man walked along the residential street past the same houses. There was no clue as to which country was which.

A video by Jin-Me Yoon was more disturbing, showing a Korean woman (the artist herself, 46 years old) lying face-down on a low, wheeled plank like a skateboard, propelling herself painfully along the streets of Seoul by means of her hands (in bandages) and feet, from the U.S. Embassy to the Japanese Embassy. Other people including several in uniform appear in the video, all of them ostentatiously ignoring her.

Against the wall was a huge 3-dimensional exhibit by Lucie Chang—and there's a multi-cultural name if ever there was one, even more striking when you read that she was born in Guyana—she calls the artwork entre-deux larmes, and it's a response to the immigrants whom she interviewed, one by one, in preparation for this work. The predominant colour is grey although some aquamarine colours are interspersed and a few bright bubbles (?) of video here and there. From a distance it looks like an underwater pool with hanging weeds, ripples, fish perhaps. When you come closer you see that each of the shapes is an eye in tears or a tear drop. As a friend of mine said, impossible to describe. You have to see it.

In the next room is The Hive Dress(2003) constructed by a collective from Montreal's garment-making district which has a predominantly immigrant population. Ribbons of various shades of pink / red are woven into a giant beehive structure, with some discarded on the floor, and on the back of the used ribbons quotations from the immigrant women are incorporated, each statement saying something about their "dreams and disappointments". I explored inside the rather claustrophobic beehive to decipher a few thoughts about missing family members.

Also included in the exhibtion was Frank Shebageget's Small Village. This artist is strictly speaking not an immigrant at all, but an Ojibway artist born and brought up in Thunder Bay, but his message about "cultural intersections ... alienation ... memory ... shifting communities ... history's silences and counter-narratives"—the subject of this exhibition—fits right in. The "village" is 39 identical model houses neatly placed on three shelves like rows of boxes. Each plywood house has one small window in the side wall, one window and a basic door in the front wall, modelled on the ugly, government issue, "Indian House" that native people were obliged to construct on their reservations.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Have a nice day


This is what you'll soon be able to read on the sides of buses trundling around the UK.


Apparently that PROBABLY was inserted to keep the advertising standards authorities quiet, like the "probably" in a famous Carlsberg lager advert, though a lot of the British Humanist Association who support this anti-God campaign would have preferred to leave the word out. Personally I rather like the inclusion of PROBABLY because it allows room for open minds. It's that NOW that bothers me, giving the command a bossy tone which is bound to alienate some of the very people at whom it's aimed. People can't be converted by nagging at them—that's a fact of life, and bad psychology.

The Humanists came up with the slogan in response to a rival campaign, as seen on the back of London buses in the months leading up to this face-off:

is there more to life than this?
explore the meaning of life
starting soon at a church near you

(sic) Maybe the Queen's English Society should have been the ones to organise a counter-campaign. The ALPHA COURSE organisers obviously wanted to appear trendy by minimising punctuation and capital letters and being lax with their syntax. The other side certainly has a better grasp of English, but that's by the way.

It's interesting to see the strength of feeling revealed by people's comments on the donation page for the NO GOD initiative. A hell (!) of a lot of people obviously loathe and detest Christian evangelists. I can't say I'm very keen on them myself, either, though "probably" not for the same reasons.

STOP WORRYING ... ? I wasn't worrying, actually, nor do I need to be reminded to enjoy my one and only life. When I'm dead, I expect to stay dead, although I hope and believe there's something essential within me and apart from me that will continue beyond my death in the lives of the people who love me. The concept of a Hell or Heaven after death is a red herring. It has always seemed to me that there's a Heaven and Hell in this world, never mind the next. That's what we should be WORRYING about. But I don't suppose the Humanists' slogan is aimed at people like me. The poor souls who usually fall prey to religious fundamentalism are almost invariably the sort who need emotional support to fill some empty space in their lives, and if you then take their acquired beliefs from them I'm afraid you pull the rug from beneath their feet. You can have great fun baiting such people with logical argument and snide remarks, and I've done it myself, but I can't help feeling this pastime is rather cruel.

What my opinion boils down to is that we should keep quiet about whatever it is we each mean or don't mean by GOD. Western thinking came a long way between the supreme confidence of Luther's Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott, and Proposition 7 of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.

But there does seem to be a perennial urge in human beings to say the unsayable. In Goethe's Faust, poor Gretchen asks him a nervous question: "So you don't believe in God?" and Faust answers her in overwhelming poetry, which is the only possible way to talk about such things:

... Name ist Schall und Rauch,
Umnebelnd Himmelsglut.

Anyway there's far more to life than thou art 'ware of, Horatio, and more to our appreciation of life than having a nice day. Sometimes we come to the "edge of doom" and look over it with horror. Sometimes we look over the "Doors of Bliss" (as Samuel Palmer did) and marvel at what dwarfs us. I for one refuse to have all this reduced to a trite catchphrase, so I have not sent the Humanists any contribution.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Where to start?

I've procrastinated too long this week, wanting to write a blog post about an extraordinary Japanese pianist I heard play last weekend and a Japanese painter whose exhibition I visited today, another blog post about my visit to Carleton University on Tuesday to see some rather different art on show, and (the toughest challenge) wanting to blog about the recent campaign to put an anti-religious slogan on the "big red buses" (as my 23 month old grandson calls them with such enthusiastic emphasis) in London, which has to date raised nearly £115,000 for this {...} cause. Fill in the adjective of your choice!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I have been engrossed in a British aristocrat's letters home: It Is Bliss Here, written in wartime and published posthumously, sixty years later. Myles Hildyard, 1914-2005, was educated at Eton, the son of a judge, and became an army officer at the beginning of World War II. His ancestral home, looking like this in John Piper's drawing of 1977, was Flintham Hall.

I came across the links in the above paragraph via Landschaft, a website created by a "tone-sculptor" (i.e. experimental composer, not unlike the fictional Hermann Simon in the film series Heimat, if you ask me) called Alan Walker, his project "encompassing music, photography, film-making and historical research, exploring themes of nostalgia [...] tapping into the lost memory of the landscape."

The way that's put calls to mind the quintessentially English poem:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

This is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain.
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

(A.E. Housman).

I've just learned that the Spanish word for "homesickness" is "nostalgia", the word originating from the Greek "nostos" (=return home) and "algos", (pain). This morning my Spanish conversation group read an article by Cesar Antonio Bello—in the Ottawa Latin American immigrants' paper Mundo en Español—entitled Nostalgia, seeming to claim that if you do tap into your longings for the land of lost content, good things can come of it, for it creates a web of solidarity between those who have left the place they came from and the people who stay. Human society thus becomes more interconnected every day:

... Es lo que permite que la solidaridad humana se exprese como una densa red [literally = dense network] global que une a los que se fueron y con los que permanecen en el lugar de origen. La nostalgia es pues un sentimiento de apego [= a feeling of attachment / devotion] con todo lo que amanos. Está [...] es también parte de nuestra identidad en un mundo cada dia más globalizado e interconectado.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I'm excited by a story one of the German diplomats told our German conversation group on Thursday when she brought us an article to read about schools in Germany for German-Turkish youngsters, particularly focussing on such schools in and around Berlin.

Before we read that excellent article from Der Spiegel, Cristina, who used to live in the Turkish-dominated district of Kreuzberg, told us about one Berlin school whose name until very recently had been synonymous with violent aggression and lack of discipline among its multi-ethnic pupils (80% of them the children of recent immigrants), but which in the last two years has turned itself around. The story of the Rütlischule in Neukölln is a thrilling one. In 2006 the members of staff couldn't face entering a classroom without the means to dial for police intervention in case they got beaten up by their pupils. In the end the threat became so overwhelming that the teachers went on strike, thus making national headlines. Everyone at the school seemed to be "against" everyone else:

Im Chaos handelte fast jeder gegen jeden, jetzt lautet das Zauberwort "Miteinander"...

Nowadays, directed by Hr. Aleksander Dzembritzki, it's a model school, as described here in Die Zeit. There are numerous music and sports societies. Its proud, self-confident pupils have designed their own, trend-setting uniform, calling it Rütli-Wear. Their "magic" slogan is "Together" -- "Miteinander".

How has Dzembritzki achieved this miracle? When new pupils join the school they and their parents are made to sign a contract in which they promise to conform to three simple rules:

  1. Jeder Schüler hat das Recht, ungestört zu lernen.
  2. Jeder Lehrer hat das Recht, ungestört zu unterrichten.
  3. Jeder muss stets die Rechte des anderen beachten.

(i.e. Every pupil has the right to learn without being disturbed by others. Every teacher has the right to teach without being disturbed. Everyone must always respect the rights of others.) If they misbehave they are immediately sent to a Trainingsraum for private, individual correction. If five visits to the Trainingsraum do not improve their behaviour they are then suspended from attending the school.

The article read by our group did not mention the Rütlischule, but told similar success stories about private schools. In a former British army barracks in Spandau the Tüdesb-Schule (a privately funded Gymnasium for children of the well-integrated Turkish middle-class) is in operation. Some parts of German society are suspicious of schools like this, thinking they might be a breeding ground for Turkish separatism and Islamic extremism, but they should look at the facts. At the Tüdesb-Schule, less than a fifth of the teachers are of Turkish background. German is the language of instruction and the primary foreign language taught is English; Turkish comes second. The school is, according to the article, a "religionsneutrale Zone" where Islam is not on the syllabus. The children learn "Ethics" instead.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Notices at the hospital

I accompanied Chris to an appointment at one of the Ottawa hospitals last week. When we arrived we could find no helpful sign pointing to the X-Ray Department, so we asked the friendly, white haired gentleman—an unpaid volunteer at the Visitor Information desk—where the X-Ray Department might be, where Chris' doctor had told him to go. We were told to go in the direction of Diagnostic Imaging.

Diagnostic Imaging encompasses not only X-Rays but also Mammography, Bone Density Scans, CT Scans, Ultrasound Scans, Nuclear Medicine and Gastric/Specials [sic], so I suppose the X-Ray Department is an obsolete concept these days, but isn't it confusing for people under stress to have to translate medical jargon as soon as they first arrive, especially if English isn't their first language? Oh well, no doubt by their third visit or so they get used to it.

In the rather gloomy and cramped waiting area the only decoration on the walls is a cluster of notices speaking volumes about the current state of Canadian hospitals, despite the fact that the professionals and assistants who work in these places do an excellent job and usually deal very kindly with you if you're anxious or in pain. The first notice on my list, by the way, appears in triplicate:

ALL PATIENTS. Please be assured that each Diagnostic area takes patients in order, with the exception of EMERGENCY / URGENT ADD-ON cases. Your patience is greatly appreciated.

ALL PATIENTS. We apologize for delays due to high workload volumes. Our team is performing their best to help everyone.

The Queensway-Carleton Hospital believes that its employees deserve a safe work environment. Aggressive behavior and / or coarse language will not be tolerated.

Time to renew! These facilities are being upgraded to serve you better.

Wedding on the airfield

An unprecedented happening at the Rockcliffe Flying Club today. We watched a newly qualified private pilot getting married on the lawn in front of the clubhouse, with the usual airport activity going on around the ceremony, aircraft taxiing in, being refuelled, tied and untied, and from where I stood (not an official wedding guest) the engine noises were drowning out the couple's wedding vows and the officiator's homily. But a happy atmosphere prevailed, the guests keeping out of the northerly crosswind inside a large white marquee erected for the reception.

PTN is just visible in the background of this photo in her winter tie-down spot. After I'd taken a few more pictures, Chris took me for another wandering flight around the Gatineau Hills and RFC instructors took some of the wedding guests for joyrides in the club 'planes, too.

Audible minorities

Saying goodbye to the Australian High Commissioner's wife Kerry last Tuesday morning (at the Guyanese High Commissioner's house), some of us broached the subject of the Australian accent, and to my surprise, for I hadn't realised this, Kerry told us that you can't tell from people's voices in Australia which part of the country they come from. Yet Australia is a huge land mass! The uniformity must be partly because (for English-speakers at least) the country is so young, but even so, I find it puzzling and wonder whether regional accents and dialects other than "Strine" will emerge as time goes by.

I followed this up with George afterwards, ensconced in his observation tower at Parkes at the end of a monotonous night-shift therefore glad of a distraction on our Skype link, and he said there was a difference between the voices of city dwellers and country people, but he agreed with Kerry that there don't seem to be any regional differences.

I was also interested in what Emma told me the other day about walking through Daejeon in Korea the day before her conference began. She said,

It’s the first time I’ve been to a country where I look different from the local population. I was expecting to feel awkward about this, but actually it makes some things easier. For while in France, Italy or Russia people expect you to speak and understand their language, here there is no pressure – they take one look at you and know that you are going to struggle. I bet it’s frustrating if you did speak Korean, but for me it makes life simpler.

Chris and I were indulging in some pleasant escapism by watching our dvd of The Ashes this week. Great cricket, and great entertainment, the sports commentators and players speaking in their distinctive lingo. It does strike me though how alike the two teams are, ditto their voices. (Sorry, fellas, but from this distance that's how you seem to me!) If someone unfamiliar with cricket watched the video it would take them a while to tell which side was which. In fact we did this experiment with three of our Canadian friends last night and they hadn't a clue. Nor did they find the game as gripping as we do, more's the pity.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Voice of Fire

There's a famous / notorious painting in our National Gallery here called Voice of Fire. The photographs I took yesterday from the air over the Gatineau Park (click to enlarge these two) will remind me that the trees speak with that voice too, sometimes, and should be treated with respect.
I have decided to cast my vote tonight for a Canadian-Iranian Muslim gentleman who stands for the Green Party in our part of town, by the name of Akbar Manoussi. I think that a man like that and a political party like that deserve some respect and encouragement.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm a macrumors newbie!

Chris encouraged me to register on an Apple Mac users' forum this morning to tell the world how I managed to solve a word processing problem through sheer, unaided, technical brilliance (aka trial and error). All because I'd wanted to reread a letter I'd written in December '98 using WordPerfect, which wouldn't "open" in my current word processor, NeoOffice. The answer, by the way, is to choose Insert -> File, and Bob's your uncle (or in my case, your dad). I wanted to find out for how many years I'd been responsible for the musical distractions at our CFUW's annual Diplomatic Hospitality Christmas Parties. The answer, as revealed by my successful research this morning, is far too many, ten years. Anyhow, the "mac community" posted my contribution to the discussion forum under the moniker "macrumors newbie," which amused me, and in case I forget it, I shall make a note here to remind myself that in case I ever feel like joining these discussions again, my user name is adhobbs (some of the others have far wittier user names, but I can't be bothered) and my password is the name of a favourite poet of mine.

I hate this current obsession with security and am afraid it will get worse before it gets better. It's a bit of a paradox that in today's world we seem prepared to reveal intimate details about ourselves as never before, in Blogs like this, on Facebook and the like, and yet we suffer from paranoia lest anyone get an inkling of what might be revealed from our multifarious "accounts". This inconsistency seems to say something about our modern values and priorities. Oh well, I suppose I ought to have a System so that there aren't so many different usernames / IDs / account numbers and passwords to remember. It got worse when banks and such started insisting on passwords of at least 8 characters long, that contained both upper case and lower case characters and numbers. What a pain.

Another pain is having to make up my mind how to vote in the Canadian General Election tomorrow. In order to help me choose my party of allegiance, Chris has just read me extracts from the manifestos of the four main political parties (as published in one of papers yesterday), without revealing which party advocates which, and got me to choose my preferences regarding their environmental policies, health care policies, support for the Arts (an all-encompassing term if ever there was one, although many people seem to equate "Arts" with "TV")... and so on. The results of my personal ballot show me to be the archetypal floating voter, which doesn't surprise me in the least: on a per policy basis, had I the choice, I'd give one vote to the Conservatives, four votes to the Liberals, four to the NDP and four to the Greens. In other words, all the exercise taught me was that I shouldn't be voting for the Conservatives tomorrow, which I wasn't intending to do in any case.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

People in all directions

My daughter's at an optical radiometry conference in Daejeon, Korea, my grandson and son-in-law staying behind in London; my son's in New South Wales and my sister's in Old South Wales, near my mother. My friend Elva's co-ordinating international standards at meetings in Stockholm and my niece Rhiannon is on a very strict Vipassana meditation course in Hereford, England. As I stood at Rockcliffe airport watching the sun set this evening it seemed that my thoughts were going in all directions towards these various people, like the contrails lit from below the horizon.

Here in Ontario we had a real treat, flying to Westport, at Laurie's suggestion, over miles of brilliantly coloured Ontario trees and blue lakes under a blue sky. Three other planes landed with us on the grass and another (Bill's yellow Cessna, a "180 on floats") taxied over the lake to join the outing so that nine of us could squeeze round the table to lunch together by the Mill Pond.

(Added on October 12th) Today being Thanksgiving Sunday, the Gatineau Park, through which we hiked for a couple of hours with Laurie this afternoon, is full of families enjoying themselves in the fresh air, dabbling in the streams and swishing through the fallen leaves. Simple pleasures; it's good to see people forgetting the world wide economic crisis and such worries while the sun shines. We're looking forward to a Thanksgiving Supper with David and Elizabeth for which I'm contributing some cranberry sauce I've just made from local cranberries bought at the market and (inspired by my sister-in-law, Debbie, who specialises in such things) a table top flower-and-leaf arrangement crammed into a small pumpkin.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Autumn farewell

My mother flew away home this evening, taking with her the memory of what she saw of Canada in autumn, such as this tree on the shore of Lac Meech yesterday morning. The colour will soon be gone, too, but while the trees have been lit up like this we've feasted our eyes on them in the Arboretum and round Dows Lake, in the grounds of Rideau Hall, in and around Chelsea, and in the Beechwood cemetery, where a fallen leaf was floating in the pond.