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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Other times, other places

Writing my couple of articles for the Flying Club magazine has taken precedence over blogging for the past two days. With the ice pellets, snow and freezing rain falling outside, it's been pleasant to have a reason for filling my mind with mental images of summer, just as I like to imagine George celebrating Australia Day last weekend in sunny New South Wales, or to travel vicariously with my nieces in the heat of southern India.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Up and down the canal

At last, the Rideau Canal is open for skating (or at least part of it is) and although Chris and I don't skate, we've been on and beside it, watching the skaters glide by last night while walking to the latest of the private concerts at John's house, at which my friend Ralitsa, with Ineke Helby-Simons accompanying her on the piano, performed

Willem De Fesch - Sonatas for violin and piano Nos. IV and V
Beethoven - "Spring" Sonata in F-major
Marius Flothuis - Four Bagatelles
Fritz Kreisler - Liebesfreud, Liebesleid, Schön Romarin

Ralitsa played the de Fesch pieces using a Baroque bow, with a thin, pointed tip; then there was a pause while she went to fetch her other, "Italian" bow for the Beethoven Sonata, by far the most profound and most demanding item on the programme. Sitting on the front row, we had to be sure not to stretch out our feet and trip her up.

This morning we returned in Elva's car to the Somerset Street footbridge over the canal to meet Carol and her parents, on a visit from Toronto, so that Carol's father could skate with her and with Laurie, while Elva, Chris and I walked along the edge of the ice keeping her mother company.

Elva and Laurie (travelling with her) have just come back from a Canadian trade mission to Jamaica and Barbados.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A cheerful day

It was a relief to hear that our grandson Alexander in London (one year, one month, two weeks and six days old) hadn't been diagnosed with chickenpox after all, that his mystery rash had disappeared and he was back at his nursery this morning. This afternoon, by means of our Skype connection, I peeped into his living room at home after his supper and watched him "reading" from his picture book. "Dog, teddy, duck," he said, pointing to the fox, the bears, and the swans. Then he correctly identified an "owl". Good boy, I said.

At this side of the Atlantic, it was a snow-shoeing morning again, and this time I took Carol with me, introducing her to a large number of diplomats and other Canadians who were being welcomed today at the Malaysian High Commissioner's residence. I was amused to observe, when we stepped into the garage where everyone was trying to find the correct boots in a chaos of mukluk bags and wet plastic bags, that one of the press photographers was quietly recording all this commotion from the far corner. I limited myself to twenty snaps of the people in the park for our Diplomatic Hospitality album. Then back to the warmth and elegant spaciousness of the Malaysian reception rooms with their orchids, polished hardwood floors and chandeliers, so that our eighty or so participants this morning (from Japan, Tanzania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Korea, Swaziland, Venezuela, Algeria, etc., etc.) could chatter to one another in comfort and share the buffet lunch.

Other things I've been up to this week have been the preparation of another article for our flying club's Cross Winds magazine and a good deal of music making on the rented violin that we still haven't returned to the violin shop. Or rather, we did return it, but as I couldn't bear the thought of leaving it there I took out a second month's rental, bringing it straight back home again. With Chris on the clarinet, we can now work together on our duet repertoire: Brahms, Schumann, Mozart, Handel, Massenet, Bach. Compared with the viola, I find this instrument easier and am amazed at how much I can remember of the technique and fingering, although I haven't played a violin for over thirty years. It must be like riding a bike or swimming, once learned, never forgotten.

To round off the day, we ate a quiet supper with Carol and Don at the Saint-Éloi Café in Gatineau, Chris enjoying a couple of Tuborg beers avec ça.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Afghan scenes

Waiting for my snow-shoeing photos to be printed last Monday, I stepped into Timothy's World Coffee Shop on Sussex Drive and discovered photography of a far superior quality by a professional photo-journalist, Stephen Thorne. Other framed photographs by him are presently on display at the National War Museum; the ones on the walls at Timothy's are an overflow from this exhibition.

All taken in Afghanistan, they reminded me of scenes from The Kite Runner, the film recently blogged about by George, by me, and by Maryam. Only this time, the images were captured from real life. My table at the coffee shop stood beneath a sharply defined picture taken right in the middle of a ferocious game of Buzkashi, the mêlée of Afghan horsemen fighting for possession of the dead calf that's the object of the contest. One of them had succeeded in grabbing its leg. How the photographer managed to get this shot is beyond my comprehension; it's in close-up. He can't have been one of the riders, surely? I found the flecks of blood on the horses' teeth most disturbing. "This is not a gentleman's game," it said, in the caption.

However, the images that stand out the most vividly are the portraits: the despairing faces of widowed mothers in a children's hospital in Kabul, the faces of the old men now obliged to work in the iron foundries as so few younger men are available. The average life expectancy in this smitten country is 48. The photographer also took pictures within the ranks of the Canadian military stationed in and around Kabul. Those people were clearly under strain as well.

I added an appreciative comment in the visitor's book as I left. Interestingly many of the other comments had paid tribute to the "beauty" of these pictures, for despite the grim environment there is still beauty in Afghanistan, and the photographer has captured it. The mountains capped with snow. The flowing drapery of burkhas (the women's faces in this picture significantly turned towards a display of low-cut, silken, western-style evening dresses on display in a shop window). A little boy running with a kite, the kite made from a Canadian flag, its maple leaf fluttering in an alien sky.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A question of vocabulary

Our son-in-law Peter has sent us a link to something quite extraordinary. Despite its dull theme and the potential to bore his audience numb with the use of jargon, Hans Rosling, a global health expert from Sweden and co-founder of Médecins sans Frontières in that country, gives a statistics presentation that's spirited and gripping. Every would-be teacher should watch this talk for Mr Rosling's virtuoso display of teaching skills. Because of the importance of the subject matter, so should everyone else.

It's always a challenge for professionals to avoid jargon in their field of expertise. Because they are so used to it, I suspect they don't even recognise it as such, and yet for newcomers and laypeople confusing vocabulary and acronyms can induce a humiliating sense of exclusion. As I said in my previous blog post, I've been trying to make sense of Gordon Pape's financial advice for Canadians on the verge of retirement. His book is aimed at ignoramuses, but it's still difficult for someone like me to distinguish between securities and equities, annuities and income trusts, assets, capital gains, benefits, dividends and holdings, or between treasury bills, bonds and certificates, without the aid of a glossary. As for the GIS and the GICs, the REITs and the RRIFs, the DSC and the ACB, MERs and ETFs... Well, do you know what they all stand for? I'm thinking of compiling my own crib sheet with the help of this site: The language of finance, before my interest in this subject wanes, as it's bound to, rapidly.

More bewilderment on Monday when I joined the Spanish-speaking group to read Lo más olvidado del olvido, from Isabel Allende's Cuentos de Eva Luna and an article Por la Paz en el Mundo from this month's edition of the local newspaper for Spanish speakers, Mundo en Español. I found the article easier than the story, but even more demanding was the general chit-chat in Spanish before we started on the reading, because all I could come up with was Italian vocabulary. I have been giving too much thought to the story of The Aristocats, which George and I have been attempting to read in Italian!

Fresh from my struggles with Spanish I went to visit Claude at the Manoir Héritage, who handed me a new assignment: to translate some phrases from English into German for her, for use at a health clinic. She'd met a foreigner at one of these places unable to comprehend what was required of him, and had promised to ask around for help. So after talking to Claude in French for half an hour I went home to look up words for "urine sample" and "stool test kit" in German. That too is very specific vocabulary.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Planning ahead

In my spare moments between having a tooth filled and the car serviced, playing the piano for Chris, teaching seven of my friends some German, watching the film Whale Rider (recommended by George and borrowed from the library) and driving south of Manotick to take pictures of diplomats on snowshoes (after which everyone came indoors to learn about Rotary International and the IFUW), I have been studying a book this week—about financial planning.

Recently a financial advisor sent us a note about how we should be investing our money, "assuming an end date of 90" for both of us. What a euphemism! As I have no intention of coming to an end just then, it looks as though we're bound to become stony-broke centenarians, sponging off our children. Joking aside, Emma and George shouldn't worry too much; our lives so far have taken all kinds of unforeseen turns and why should the next forty years be any different? Therefore it goes against the grain to make very exact plans. If we do find we've enough money to spare we'll spend it. If not, we'll be careful to spend less. I know that's being reactive rather than proactive but it seems the simplest policy and I'm all in favour of simplicity.

However, to show willing, I have now read right through Gordon Pape's The Retirement Time Bomb, taking notes. There is plenty of information and common sense in this book, but I do wonder about the helpfulness of Mr Pape's suggestion on Page 59 where he writes:

To get you started, here is a Personal Lifestyle Planner. Set aside an evening with your spouse or partner to go through it. You may discover some hopes and desires you have in common that you never knew about before.

Maybe so, but when I came to that sentence that I couldn't help thinking what a confident view of human nature this man has; he can't have read Chapter 21 of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, where ...

Tandis qu'il s'assoupissait à ses côtés, elle se réveillait en d'autres rêves.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hidden dangers

Pat Mooney, leader of the ETC Group and winner (among other things) of the Giraffe Award as a "person who sticks his neck out" not to mention the Order of the Buffalo Hunt in Manitoba, provoked a gathering of the CFUW on Monday evening into wondering whether the role of science in solving social problems might be overrated. He was speaking about the risks and dangers inherent in nanotechnology. "How many of you have heard of nanotechnology?" he wanted to know. A few hands went up. "Well, that's not bad; you're better informed than [...]!" he said, naming a group from a prestigious educational institute in this city.

Identified by others as a Luddite, Pat Mooney feels "obliged to be controversial." The original Luddites, he said, were people trying to negotiate and survive, but the government of the day said that they were stopping progress and had them hung or deported.

Mr Mooney doesn't think we should behave like the Samurai swordsmen of old, refusing to acknowledge the existence of gunpowder, but we ought to have intelligent government, scientific advisers to the Prime Minister, offices of corporate assessment and other such regulatory bodies. In the UK, there have been citizens' juries (televised) who have sat for a month at a time with the experts discussing nanotechnology in question and answer sessions. This process was excellent. These British juries have asked for controls to be implemented.

Nor does Pat Mooney trust governments alone to grasp the pace of change in the modern world, and ordinary people know next to nothing about nanotechnology, he claims, although hundreds of products are presently being manufactured that make use of it. Nanoparticles are already present in cosmetics, pesticides, foods, clothing, cars, cameras, medical equipment and, of course, computers. At first, the scientists or engineers, keen to exploit the exciting possibilities, declared that our bodies' cells wouldn't be able to absorb the particles or if they did we wouldn't come to any harm, but now all the experts agree there could well be a risk. Aluminium oxide, for example, generally used for tooth repair, at the nano scale can ignite bombs. You wouldn't want all your teeth to blow up, would you? he joked. Gold is a stable element, but when you're dealing with a minute quantity, 7-20 atoms of gold, it becomes a highly reactive substance. You don't know what you're playing with.

It seems unlikely there'll be proper regulations in place to control the development of this technology for another ten years. Meanwhile, its development is continuing regardless, especially in Asia. Incidentally, more scientists are currently working in Beijing than in the whole of northern Europe, and earning far lower salaries.

Synthetic biology has already come up with a synthetic genome; the inventor filed his patent last year. A new variety of maize is being manufactured for use as a bio-fuel by means of an experimental process that urgently needs surveillance. The United Nations has tried, but this monitoring panel was "killed off" by the US government. Which is like giving ourselves a frontal lobotomy, said Mr Mooney.

Geo-engineering, described not long ago as "nutty", is now making a come-back. In fact we could say that we geo-engineered our planet into the mess it's in now, so perhaps geo-engineering can get us out of it, too. For example, we could spread a film of nanoparticles over the Humboldt current. However there's a high risk that doing this would lead to a sterilisation of the ocean, thus creating a new Ice Age. Australian scientists were recently planning to spread urea over an area of water around the Philippines to encourage the growth of plankton, until Greenpeace and the WWF put a (temporary?) stop to it.

In the erroneous belief or hope that new technology can solve our problems without us—non-scientists—having to do anything, it seems we have lost track of its potential social consequences, but we do need to see the changes coming. History shows that the introduction of any such advanced technology into an unjust society must widen the gap between the rich and the poor. Here Mr Mooney used an expressive metaphor. The rich ride the crest of progress while the poor, unable to adjust so rapidly, drown in the trough, as was often the case during the 19th century Industrial Revolution. Such waves of change are now coming faster and faster. The no-stain or "wrinkle free" materials that have been developed for clothing (using nanotechnology) don't need as much cotton in them as before. What does that mean for the world's cotton growers and cotton harvesters?

About $700 billion is presently being invested in nanotechnology. By 2015 it's estimated that it will be used for 15% of global manufacturing and that the expenditure will rise to $2.6 trillion.

So what can we do? asked one of the ladies in the audience. The answer was simple. We must participate in the debate and governments must pay attention, if only because the impact of nanotechnology on the poor people of the world is likely to be enormous, a far greater cause for concern than how it might affect our health or the environment.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

At the Bridgehead coffeehouse, Tuesday morning

This afternoon I'm going to call on two women living very different lives in parallel streets. The younger one, born in China, has just bought a house with her boyfriend and is a software consultant now looking for work after taking a year off to travel the world. The other one, born in England, is a journalist and retired public relations officer for the National Art Gallery who knows Sir Roy Strong and other VIPs in the art world. She is just convalescing from a nasty bout of flu and needs some help with her shopping. Funnily enough the two women who have no connection with one another (apart from me) are both interested in the Antarctic. Y. was lucky enough to take a cruise from Ushuaia to Elephant Island and back on the Explorer at the end of 2006 and J. had been booked for four years to take that same cruise at the end of 2007 when unfortunately the ship sank so she couldn't go after all, a miserable disappointment for her.

My attention is wandering now as five young mothers have just come in carrying their babies of a few months old. One of the mothers is Julian Armour's wife Guylaine Lemaire and I must say his son does look like him. His name is Francis. All the little ones are fascinated by the rotating ceiling fans: what a happy sight! Not for the first time I notice how early motherhood enhances women's looks (my daughter being no exception). All these young people seem radiantly beautiful; it's the sense of fulfilment that does it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Flying away

George's 'plane left the gate in Vancouver at 23:50. Estimated time of arrival in Sydney, 10:38 (Sunday) which is 18:38 (Saturday) in our time zone, i.e. thirty hours since we put the luggage into our car yesterday afternoon to drive to the airport (admittedly via a pub for lunch, stopping to look at the Hogs Back Falls more flooded and tempestuous than I've ever seen them before). George and Jonathan had to travel via Montreal on their way home, which had them taking off in the wrong direction and flying back over Ottawa again four hours later.

Predictably, we were very sad to say goodbye yesterday but it comforts Chris and me to see our son looking forward to being back at home and at work. We talked about this on our own way home. If he'd showed signs of distress at leaving us we'd feel far more worried about him.

Our policy as parents has always been the same. It's like holding butterflies in your hands. You can't clutch them too tightly or you'll break their wings. When the moment comes (repeatedly) you've got to open your hands and let them fly.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Catharsis and "closure"

In extreme contrast to The Way Things Go, the film we watched in the morning (see my previous blog entry), the film we watched on Tuesday evening was The Kite Runner, though you might say that one thing caused another in the sequence of events depicted there, as well.

I read Khaled Hosseini's novel a couple of years ago on George's recommendation and went to the cinema assuming that the screen adaptation would not live up to my expectations, but I came away with the impression that the film is actually better than the book. The German born director Marc Forster understates and selects, leaving the worst to our imaginations (or our recollections of the written narrative), making the film all the more powerful. The background scenery and crowd scenes are spectacular and anachronisms are meticulously avoided in the flashbacks, but this is a film that focuses on people, not things. We forget we are listening to Dari, Pashtu, Urdu, Russian when the actors aren't speaking in English, so compelling is their performance.

Sitting next to George I could tell that he was becoming overwhelmed by it, though in a way I hope this may have done him good—the Greeks called this phenomenon catharsis.

If you want to be educated about Afghanistan's recent history this is a film to see. I expect the families of soldiers in action over there will take an interest in it as it will give them some insights into the horror in which the Canadians and others are trying to intervene. Last night I was handed an article to read in French from GEO magazine that describes Les Hazaras, le peuple maudit d"Afghanistan, in preparation for a future session with my French conversation group. That's going to be a disturbing read too.

As far as the personal aspect of The Kite Runner is concerned, the end of the story describes the main character's "redemption" and recovery from terrible emotional trauma. The trendy word for this is "closure", but it's a word I disapprove of. On the contrary, if ever you have suffered, you have to open yourself to the truth of what you've gone through, however painful that might be. I don't think you ever come to terms with it by closing a door on it and shutting it away. That's obviously what Mr Hosseini thinks, too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The way things go

At the National Gallery yesterday, despite our pause for thought by the appallingly huge sculpture of A Girl (newborn) by Ron Mueck, the exhibit that grabbed our attention for the longest time was one I've never seen before, and whether it should be classified as comic drama, film, sculpture, photography or engineering I'm not sure. This was a screening of Der Lauf der Dinge, the video recording of a 30 minute long chain reaction carefully engineered from everyday objects by artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss of Switzerland, an extract from which can be found on YouTube. I bet you won't be able to stop watching until the sequence fades out, if you click here. In the gallery where we saw it, another film was running simultaneously, showing the artists struggling to set it up. Anyone who questions causality (Chris) should take note of this!

Heath Robinson would have recognised a couple of kindred spirits.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The rain it raineth every day...

There are more quotations about rain on this page if you wish to dwell on the subject, which I don't. The weather co-operated well enough to give George and Jonathan a thoroughly white Christmas, but the last few days' weather have been frustrating.

It's a good thing that plenty of people have been around to distract us from the greyness and the damp.

At the beginning of the weekend, Friday evening, Francine, Roger, Bill, Mickie, Elva, Laurie, Carol and Don—bringing his father Bob—all came round for supper and a chat and to hear some music played on our various instruments. The plan for Saturday was for a dozen of us to meet for lunch at the jockstrap place (Jacques' Trap, a sports bar in Carlsbad Springs, as mentioned in a previous blog post) on our way to go skating at Bourget. However, the venue turned out to be CLOSED and For Sale, and the ice on the pond at our destination wasn't thick enough. As Bob and Tracy didn't want all their guests to get their feet wet or disappear beneath the surface, the skating party is now postponed until February 2nd. No matter! Fifteen people were still invited to fill their country house on Saturday afternoon, some of us taking advantage of the opportunity to snow-shoe through the fir trees outside before darkness fell, while the remaining guests bombarded us with snowballs from the balcony, scaring away the downy woodpeckers. Neighbours' snow-mobiles zipped across the field the other side of the brook. I was on my cross-country skis, over which I have very little control when I come to any kind of downhill bend and without my realising what he was up to, George captured on video the very moment at which I fell flat on my face in a bank of snow, prefaced by my pathetic shuffle over the bump, to the tune of "Oh-dear-oh-dear-oh-dear, I can't do this, I'm going to fall over!"

Back indoors, we could cool off with a glass of wine or bottle of beer under the cathedral ceiling to watch the end of The Game being broadcast from the Czech Republic: Canada's Junior Hockey team beating the Swedes, the winning goal scored in the very last minute under a heap of bodies red and white or blue and yellow, the Swedish goalkeeper face down on the ice to hide his tears of despair and the Canadian boys dancing, leaping, hugging and kissing one another like maniacs. (Being neither a man nor an indigenous Canadian, I find this sort of thing far more interesting to watch than the actual game.) Then in the kitchen we helped ourselves to the chilli beef plentifully provided by Carol together with some of Elva's freshly made cornbread, while Tracy kept conjuring up colourful plates of vegetables to dip.

We drove home through a light flurry.

On Sunday I cooked for ten, preparing a beef roast, or Sunday joint, as we used to call it before we became aware that Canadians don't "share a joint" in quite the same way and seem startled when invited to do this with us. Our guests Alan, Sue, Liz and David, all British ex-pats, would have known what we meant; only Karen and Aran might have been taken aback.

The rain having begun, we sat round our log fire after the meal and let it fall on Jonathan and George, out for a walk. In the evening the four from our house drove to the evening concert at John R's house, a fund raiser for CAMMAC, where we heard a fine performance from a couple of university musicians Frédéric Lacroix (piano) and Paul Marleyn (cello), the programme being

Dvorak's Silent Woods for 'cello and piano
Mendelssohn's Variations Sérieuses for piano
Gaspar Cassado's 'Cello Suite
Frank Bridge's exciting 'Cello Sonata
Piazzolla's Le Grand Tango

As an encore we heard Dance of the Blessed Spirits, from Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice, in a transcription for 'cello and piano. The performers didn't announce this one and left to guess I couldn't remember how I knew the mystery piece so well; once I had the title I remembered how I used to accompany Emma as she learned to play it on the flute fifteen years ago, in Wales.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

Leaving at mid-day we stopped at the Pot au Feu in Wakefield before continuing along the road to Maniwaki through the villages that skirt the Gatineau River: Alcove, Farrelton, Brennan, Venosta, Kazabazua, Alwyn, Wright, Gracefield, Bouchette and Farley, these names indicating their inhabitants' linguistic confusion. Are they English or French speakers? They can't seem to decide. Near Alwyn a shack stood by the road called La Binerie, selling plates of hot baked beans. A pair of deer stood silhouetted on the frozen river. We drove through white fields dotted with black barns and rimmed with dark conifers as George practised his Italian phrases and Chris played us an ABC podcast about the Philosophy of Musical Performance from The Philosopher's Zone, with reference to Monteverdi's Orfeo. It seemed incongruous in rural Quebec, somehow. The interviewee was Paul Thom.

Our whim for New Year's Eve was to spend a night, with six of our friends, at the Château Logue in Maniwaki, a one-time trading post and now an interpretation centre and hotel, its walls decorated with enlarged, sepia photographs of scenes from the lives of the lumberjacks and draveurs who originally settled this area—doing their washing among the trees in an attempt to get rid of the "poux" (lice) in their clothes, for instance—and its lobby with ten or eleven curly haired Santa Clauses and a (very realistic) log fire.

In twos and threes, we explored the deserted streets of Maniwaki over the river bridges and along the multipurpose (i.e. ski-doo) trails that skirt the town, before undressing for an improvised game of volleyball in the the hotel pool. Hors d'oeuvres were served by and for our party in Room 305 to keep us going until we could take our seats for a leisurely, tasty supper in the bar overlooking the river: salads with cranberry flavoured dressing or cream of courgette soup followed by chicken breasts in a red pepper sauce with miniature courgettes and potatoes on the side, then gâteau. Some of us struggled rather to stay up till midnight after that, but games of table football and the results of Chris' predictions quiz from this time last year helped keep us all awake till we could toast the New Year with the ice wine generously supplied by Carol—thanks, Carol!

George chose 9a.m. as the time when we should gather for breakfast on January 1st, Chris and I arriving only half an hour late for this, before we set off for another brisk and bracing walk along the snowy trails. We passed an old river boat, its hull decorated with poetic lines of writing about the thaw that used to herald the first log-drive of the season:

... La voix de la grande rivière avait commencé de se faire entendre.
Elle annonçait le temps de la drave.

Our walk was good exercise in view of the car rides ahead, the others having to return to Ottawa through a blizzard, and Chris driving George, Jonathan and me a couple of hours further north and east into the Laurentian Mountains around Mont Tremblant.

The first part of this route took us along a snow covered, up and down road, winding through the forest, so Chris was probably relieved when we came to the junction with the Trans-Canada Highway (Rte 117). We lunched at a spot three of us have lunched at before, L'Ami du Passant, with its moose antlers on the wall by the serving hatch, a small family diner and bar laitier adjacent to the highway and to Mont Laurier airport at Lac St Jean, ski-planes landing and taking off as we watched.

Some might find the area monotonous, but I enjoy drifting along and noting what we pass on our way through towns like Mont Laurier and Lac-des-Écorces: the Salle de l'Age d'Or right next to the cemetery so that the old folk can gaze through the window at what's coming next, the places selling hardware or furs, the ten pin bowling alleys—the Quincailleries, the Fourrures, the Salons des Quilles—the Bronzage parlours. Log cabins that serve as eateries are labelled Queues de Castors or Au p'tit bouff tout and such and we passed an outdoor equipment place named Coureur du Bois after the old-time trappers.

As the scenery grew more mountainous and rocky, the snow began to fall, but by this time we had nearly reached Mont Tremblant where I had booked us into the Comfort Inn by cellphone ahead of our arrival. The scene there turned out to be quite bizarre, with some guests wandering through the lobby in all their winter wrappings, furry boots, balaclavas, and others barefoot, in swimming trunks or bikinis because of the steaming, outdoor hot tub situated close to the lobby. And yes, we felt compelled to take advantage of it, though not until the three men had also taken advantage of the opportunity to buy two-day passes for the snow-tubing run down the hill beside this hotel, a treat for children of all ages.

The other three didn't altogether trust my ability to find them somewhere for supper in Ste-Jovite, but after a short, chilly walk down the steep hill from the hotel, we did find the main drag a block or so further, very different from how it looks with the bright flowers and the churchyard fountain that I remember seeing a few summers ago, but prettily lit with Christmas lights at this time of year, and a choice of restaurants. George said that John le Grec's looked like the liveliest place, so in we went for a large plateful of Grecian style dinner (rice 'n chips on the side) which I ate in full view of the revolving display of green jellies none of the diners seemed inclined to request for dessert. And so back to the hot tub, the falling snowflakes and bed.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Back from the Laurentides

My first two blog posts of 2008 are going to be written in backwards chronological order; they'll be in the correct chronological order, therefore, if you come upon them at a later date.

Chris is performing Haydn's Trumpet Concerto for us as I write this... on his clarinet, with George at the piano representing the orchestra. At the other end of the room, a log fire is burning in the hearth.

This morning, in our bedrooms at the Comfort Inn, we drew the curtains on a fantastic view of blue sky over white mountains, dark fir trees and the little town of Ste-Jovite in the middle distance, clustered around its church. We had an even better view of this scene after breakfast from the top of the glissades—the steep tube run. Despite the wind chill of minus 25, Jonathan was obliged to remove one of his gloves, risking frostbite in order to video the three-man descent from tube level, while I recorded the same from above. If this ever appears on YouTube we shall entitle it YouTube, of course.

Highway 323 from Mont Tremblant to Montebello was a spectacular route to drive, past the white expanse of Lac des Plages, and the roadside cliffs flanked with ice. The Omega Park, with its population of wild animals we could not only see clearly but also touch from time to time, gave us yet more beauty and pleasure. Here's a young deer approaching for the sake of a carrot, besides which we saw coyotes, wapitis, bison, a moose and wolves.

Ontario bound, we took the river ferry from Masson to Cumberland, grazing the river ice as we crossed over.