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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Phagocyte rosettes"

Another place I visited on Monday was the City Hall where there's a gallery that features the latest work of local artists, in this case, Cynthia O'Brien. This exhibition, on the theme of Loss, consisted of what she calls "phagocyte rosettes" lying on a bed of black sand: "a collection of grey egg-like forms..." (I thought they looked more like exploded puffballs) with collapsed, decayed, grey shells, "... made of clay," some of them containing "found objects" such as pieces of coral, hair cuttings, a black and white photograph, and others containing coloured glazes, some of which could be interpreted as blood. The artist is personally frightened of loss—aren't we all?—but claims that it's such an essential part of life we have to confront this. In doing so, we may even find something beautiful.

By the way, since publishing my blog post about Voltaire yesterday, I have edited and expanded it (see below). Too tired to do that last night!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Voltaire's Dictionary

Ten days after I'd handed in my application the British High Commission called to say my new passport was ready. I picked it up today, valid until April 2018, when my mother reminds me she'll be 99.

A show at the National Arts Centre at noon looked interesting: I attended a reading from Voltaire's Dictionnaire philosophique in the Quatrième Salle where the audience sits at coffee tables and free drinks and cookies are served to sustain you during the performance. The extracts were read out by the professeure titulaire des lettres françaises (dont elle est directrice) ... de l'Université d'Ottawa, Dominique Lafon, who strode in wearing a man's suit and flamboyant tie, and before each extract we also heard a Domenico Scarlatti keyboard sonata played by Jean Desmarais at the piano.

Click here for a version of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary in English. Of course, the key words don't appear in the same alphabetical order as they do in the original. The translation of Anthropophages, for instance, must be sought under Cannibalism.

From the quotations we heard today it seems that Voltaire's condemnation of war and bigotry and his insistence on the equality of mankind were his obsessions.

Guerre: Vers le Canada, homme et guerrier sont synonymes, et nous avons vu que dans notre hémisphère voleur et soldat étaient même chose.

Égalité: Tout homme naît avec un penchant assez violent pour la domination, la richesse et les plaisirs, et avec beaucoup de goût pour la paresse; par conséquent tout homme voudrait avoir l’argent et les femmes ou les filles des autres, être leur maître, les assujettir à tous ses caprices, et ne rien faire, ou du moins ne faire que des choses très agréables. Vous voyez bien qu’avec ces belles dispositions il est aussi impossible que les hommes soient égaux qu’il est impossible que deux prédicateurs ou deux professeurs de théologie ne soient pas jaloux l’un de l’autre.

Voltaire's aphorisms come across as disturbingly modern, making me think that we haven't made much progress in thought since his century. Voltaire in 18th century France fought sectarian religious fanaticism with as much antagonism as do Profs A.C. Grayling, Richard Dawkins and company nowadays.

Secte: Il n’y a point de secte en géométrie; on ne dit point un euclidien, un archimédien...

Fanatisme: ...En un mot, toutes les horreurs de quinze siècles renouvelées plusieurs fois dans un seul, des peuples sans défense égorgés aux pieds des autels, des rois poignardés ou empoisonnés, un vaste État réduit à sa moitié par ses propres citoyens, la nation la plus belliqueuse et la plus pacifique divisée d’avec elle-même, le glaive tiré entre le fils et le père, des usurpateurs, des tyrans, des bourreaux, des parricides et des sacrilèges, violant toutes les conventions divines et humaines par esprit de religion: voilà l’histoire du fanatisme et ses exploits.

He didn't like the death penalty, either:

Il y a des fanatiques de sang-froid: ce sont les juges qui condamnent à la mort ceux qui n’ont d’autre crime que de ne pas penser comme eux.

Voltaire himself wasn't an atheist, mind. Here is part of his Credo that I listened to today. Voltaire is actually quoting from a contemporary in this passage, the Abbé de St Pierre:

« Je crois en un seul Dieu, et je l’aime. ...

« Je crois en Dieu le père tout-puissant, parce qu’il est père commun de la nature et de tous les hommes qui sont également ses enfants. Je crois que celui qui les fait tous naître également [...] n’a mis aucune différence entre ses enfants que celle du crime et de la vertu.

« Je crois que le Chinois juste et bienfaisant est plus précieux devant lui qu’un docteur d’Europe pointilleux et arrogant.

« Je crois que Dieu étant notre père commun, nous sommes tenus de regarder tous les hommes comme nos frères.

« Je crois que le persécuteur est abominable, et qu’il marche immédiatement après l’empoisonneur et le parricide.

« Je crois que les disputes théologiques sont à la fois la farce la plus ridicule et le fléau le plus affreux de la terre, immédiatement après la guerre, la peste, la famine, et la vérole...» [= leprosy]

Other intellectuals (besides Dr Samuel Johnson) who compiled dictionaries as a means of letting off steam were Gustave Flaubert and John Ralston Saul.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fetching the buccaneer

James hadn't seen his Lake Amphibian since December when he left it at Muskoka Airport for an engine repair; today we gave him a lift there to pick it up. This particular model being known as The Buccaneer, James has had a skull and crossbones painted on its tail (click on the picture above for illustration). A useful aircraft, when you're flying across Northern Quebec, says James. If you can land on water, you've got "runways" everywhere, there are so many lakes. As we struggled against the 30 knot head wind that extended our outward journey to two hours, he told us how, on more than one trip, he'd taken C-FBOQ as far north as Kuujjuaq for the sake of the fishing. The first time he'd tried it he'd been scared, venturing solo into that unmonitored airspace, but the thrill of that lonely freedom and untouched landscape had grown on him. The other time he was scared was in mechanical turbulence around Wabush, so extreme that the plane had tipped to an angle of 90° several times. He was glad he'd been alone in the cockpit that time, he said.

A gusty crosswind at Muskoka this morning meant that Chris had to cope with some turbulence himself, not that much, though. We hadn't been expecting any inclement weather when we set off from Rockcliffe where it was what pilots call "severe clear", but a layer of cloud had piled up over the higher land around the Haliburton Highlands which made it gloomier there, though not over the top of the cloud layer, where we were for most of the second hour.

Anyhow, closer to Ottawa—both on the way out and on the way back—the views were as splendid as I'd predicted. The last picture is of the Rideau Falls near our house:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

One wonderful sight after another

And we're anticipating more tomorrow when we fly a fellow pilot to Muskoka.

Last Wednesday around 10p.m. many people in Ottawa went out to see the eclipse of the moon on a clear, cold night. Almost full, it blushed behind its shadow, as this photo by Don Buchan shows.

The weather the following morning was still fine. I drove Chris to work along the Ottawa River Parkway giving him the chance to gaze at the mysterious adiabatic mist rising from the rapids in low temperature air; when I drove back the same way an hour later it had dispersed, but the trees and other plants that had been hidden by it were now white with hoar frost. This morning Chris saw the same phenomenon on his way to plug in PTN's engine heater at the airport . We didn't take off until after 3p.m. but our flight along the escarpment with views of the pure white Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers and wintery fields was worth the wait.

I see from Phil's website that people are enjoying the snow in the Alps as well, this month. Yes, it's fun on snowshoes! Once we'd finished tying PTN down this afternoon, I strapped mine on too and bounded around on the field between the rows of planes, from sheer joie de vivre.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache!

Working on a German lesson I'm going to give tomorrow, I have found a selection of German Sprichwörter, proverbial sayings, that rhyme, thus proving more learnable, I hope. Some are quite amusing:

Vater werden ist nicht schwer, Vater sein dagegen sehr.
Abends vull, morgens null.
Wein auf Bier, das rat' ich dir. Bier auf Wein, das lass' sein.

One or two German proverbs are encouraging:

Gut begonnen ist halb gewonnen.

but more often discouraging:

Träume sind Schäume.
Klug zu reden ist doch schwer, klug zu schweigen noch viel mehr.
Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual.

or they have a nagging tone. If you're born German, you ought to be up early and getting on with things, no slacking, or woe betide you!

Was du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf morgen.
Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund. Wer verschläft sich, geht zu Grund'.

In other words ...

Morgen, morgen, nur nicht heute, sagen alle faulen Leute.

Well known sayings in any language are clichés really, too familiar too make much of an impact once they've been around for a hundred years or so. They can just be used as a lazy kind of one-up-manship. I wonder how many neat turns of phrase being thought up in this 21st century will turn into proverbs eventually. There are some worth noting, by Professor A.C. Grayling for instance, whose book of essays or articles Chris gave me on New Year's Eve. Here's a good one, relevant to my subject, too:

Only the wise can learn from precepts, but, being already wise, they do not need them.

By the way, if you need a translation for the German lines above, I've made a stab at it. Click on Comments.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Horses ancient and modern

On the new Ontario Family Day, the weather was mild but wild and the National Gallery, usually closed on Mondays, opened its doors so that people could at least come in to see the special Fafard exhibition (if not their permanent collection), so in we went. As I mentioned in two recent blog posts, I have already seen this show, but Chris hadn't; I was interested to see how he'd respond to it.

What he particularly seemed to like was a work of art I didn't mention before: the horse Joe Fafard created for the MacLaren Against the Grain Fafard Field Project. We looked at it by means of a short documentary film, for which you can find the trailer here. Recommended!

The Field Horse stood 1,920 feet by 1,100 feet, 2700 hands high. Drawn on a canvas of winter wheat, canola, alfalfa, soybeans and corn ... shaped by nature and by a community of artists and farmers.

This is a modern version of the more permanent horses created out of chalk on British hillsides during the last 3000 years or so. Those people were fond of horses too, it seems.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fiddling and other pleasures

The violin we have been renting since December is ours. The man at the shop, subtracting all our previous rental costs (including George's 'cello rental) as well as the cost of the violin case from the purchase price, said it was probably a German, pre-war, Guarneri-style violin, because of the shape of the F-holes. Anyway I'm thrilled to own it and in celebration have been playing it for hours, this weekend: Easy Duets(!) by Mozart, with Chris on the clarinet, and on my own, some Fauré songs (playing the voice line), to the extent that the finger tips of my left hand are all blistered.

Yesterday was also a worthwhile flying day, fine, cold and clear, so after an hour and a half's snow-shovelling, we taxied PTN out to the runway and took off for an hour's flight up the Ottawa River to Arnprior and back over Lac La Pêche, a pure, untouched white.

Today, a walk along the snow-banked streets into town and across the Alexandria Bridge to the Jacques Cartier park, where during Winterlude all sorts of fun takes place.

(Photo by Chris)

While I was posting these pictures the temperature has risen above zero and the rain that's been falling since lunchtime has began to penetrate the house in a determined manner, melt-water now streaming through a hole in our basement ceiling into buckets on the floor. It's as well George doesn't have to sleep down there tonight.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Time to think about a change of scene

This morning's view from my kitchen table speaks for itself. Five weeks from tonight, though, on Good Friday, we're going to be in a more colourful place.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The local news

In 1973 there was obviously a hot debate over the wittiest, most suitable name for a weekly paper reporting news (in English) in the Gatineau Hills area. A compromise must have been reached, because it came out as The Low Down to Hull & Back News, which with no competition, at 76¢ a copy, is still going strong. Low is a village named after a lumber merchant at the northernmost extremity of the paper's reach, and Hull (now part of Gatineau) is the city that lies to the south of the hills across the river from Ottawa.

I love these little papers; when we lived in North Carolina in the 1980s, I used to keep cuttings from The Chapel Hill News, so entertaining did I find it.

Elva has lent me her copy of a recent edition of The Low Down. The headlines à la Une tell me that Stag Creek wins fifth Dragonfest (that's a hockey tournament)—picture of a "Low Black Hawk" trying to "take out the legs of Orangeman Scotty MacKay" at the Wakefield match—Cougar up tree, not in trap (Subheading: Cougar leaned on trap, sniffed bait and turned around) and that Erick goes back to school (subheaded: How do we help this little fella?) which is the continuing story of an 8 year old who "threw an egg at the school" (Wakefield Elementary) and got suspended after resisting arrest, so to speak. In the aftermath he was said to have locked himself "in a resource room" and is now threatened with a year's expulsion from every school under the Western Quebec School Board's jurisdiction. A child psychologist has diagnosed the young man's problem as Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Yes, well, I came across a fair number of kids who had that disorder myself. Seems to me I used to teach whole classes suffering from it, though I don't think they suffered as much as I did.

On Page 3, above a story about Quebec's "beef and hog producers" and their latest clash with the federal government, is a sweet picture of some better-behaved children, aka "Jackrabbits"—seven-year-old girls on a cross-country skiing lesson.

The editorial is a funny account of a "winter camping trip": a story about nine women who slept out of doors in "a shallow culvert in the snow" at -15° in an attempt to beat the winter blues. At 3a.m. the editor of the paper gave up and walked home to her warm bed.

Page 5 has a description of the discovery of a "nice-sized" marijuana "grow-op", 1070 plants being cultivated in someone's basement at Edelweiss. The police literally sniffed them out, which sounds just like a scene from Saving Grace, that funny film set in Cornwall, England.

On other pages, the paper tells us that Wakefield Memorial Hospital is replacing its styrofoam coffee cups with biodegradable ones (that's good news!) and that a new political party is being formed in Quebec in the interests of minorities such as Inuits and anglophones, whose leader is a certain Allen Nutik. A recruitment drive is announced for the Nocturnal Owl Survey (Owl Survey a hoot, says the headline) and another bird story features the sighting of what appeared to be a real penguin at Chelsea's "Penguin" picnic field, actually a murre blown astray from its migration path to Newfoundland.

This paper is highly educational. On Page 10 appears a feature about a local artist who has been on a "ceramic exchange" to Fuping, China, bringing back the fruits of his experience for display at the Museum of Ceramic Arts (I had no idea there was such a museum). And there are the usual articles about land ownership and sewers.

The small ads offer opportunities to buy a dump trailer, Celtic fiddle lessons, a small size woman ski instructor's snow suit, ecological firewood, winterized cottages and 14 male alpacas.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What Canadians talk about

We were back in Bourget at the weekend for the sake of Bob's birthday party, starting at noon and ending whenever, as it said on the invitation.

Those of you so inclined can, weather permitting, enjoy skating on the pond and cross country skiing or snowshoeing on our trails. Those who'd rather stay warm (Bob is the leader of this group) can sit around inside and watch the outdoorsy types.

The house being so comfortable, Carol and I with our snowshoes were the only outdoorsy types present, especially as the skating option had been cancelled, owing to the weight of Bob's snow blower that had apparently caused a resounding crack in the ice, a crack that ran between Bob's legs as he was attempting to clear the surface snow off his pond and occasioned a hasty withdrawal.

"You wouldn't want your guests to go under!"

"If we did, we'd invite a completely different set of people."

So after supper (smelling delicious as we came in out of the snow to eat it) the favoured ones sat around in the living room while four children rushed around upstairs and downstairs, playing hide and seek with walkie-talkies. From a recent immigrant's point of view, it was interesting to see which topics of conversation were the most lengthily discussed: how to chop down maple trees, how to shingle roofs, the habits of wild turkeys, and Monty, whom some of us hadn't met before, turned out to be a great raconteur, holding the floor with his account of how he and his wife fought wind and waves on a yachting trip to Hamilton, across Lake Ontario.

Passport renewal

I applied for a renewal of my British passport at the High Commission this morning.

"Times have changed," said the security guard. "We're a lot stricter than we used to be."

I was kept waiting outside the locked entrance in a -30° wind until he'd finished frisking the only applicant ahead of me and had let him through the inner barrier. Once I was allowed indoors I had to turn out the tissues in all of my pockets and remove my watch, have my bags examined and turn off my cell 'phone, which was then confiscated until I had left the premises. The guard was wearing thick gloves for protection, telling me that he'd stabbed himself once with an unexpected syringe while searching in a woman's handbag. As I didn't beep when I went under the arch I wasn't frisked, myself, and it only took a couple of minutes to hand over my application form and authorise the Home Office to withdraw $250 from my VISA account.

Within ten business days I can go through the same procedure in order to pick up the new passport; otherwise I'd have had to pay another $15 to have it delivered to me.

I have been recording this at Tim Horton's on Sparks Street where the ghost of some long gone politician on Parliament Hill, or an actor in a top hat for the amusement of Winterlude tourists, is queuing for a coffee and a bagel.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Doctor's Advice

Last week I found a parcel on the doorstep in a plain wrapper, addressed to my husband. The label said it contained The Doctor's Products. Oh, I thought. What can this be?

That evening, we unwrapped the parcel and applied its contents —especially formulated, all natural, blend of non-toxic exotic, oils, antioxidants, and stabilizers ... made by the Doctor himself—carefully following his enclosed instructions.

People’s enjoyment of my programs comes from my humorous approach and passion for making and using products and techniques, explains Dr Henderson ... in contrast to what is on the shelves of the corner store or urban legends passed down through the ages ...

Oil your instrument "Nature's Way"... Expensive, yes, but worth the peace of mind.

There are 3 parts to the Oiling Rig, we were informed. The two natural wool mops and the slotted tip and cotton jersey swabs. Oil should be applied to the mops sparingly so that they are damp, not dripping wet. (This last sentence was in bold font and underlined.) The smaller mop is used to oil the upper tenon. Since the register tube extends into the bore and no mop will pass it, I will angle the small mop to pass on either side of the tube from the top of the upper tenon and then oil the rest of the bore of the upper tenon from the bottom side...

After use the mops may be stored in the little plastic bags until next use. Bore Doctor will not turn rancid over time so this is an easy storage solution.

We were then supposed to let the oil sit for 12-16 hours.

This procedure adds dimensional stability, retards the tendency to crack or split, prevents water logging, and improves your overall tone.

Still not sure what I'm talking about?

Click here.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Horses, cows and human beings (continued)

At the beginning of his career as an artist Joe Fafard, having graduated in the USA and taught a while at the University of Regina, decided to come home and make works of art that paid tribute to the people he understood best. So his first pieces of sculpture, in plaster, wood, earthenware and even flocking, with a coating of oil paint and lacquer, were of his family: Mon Père, Ma Mère, Groszmama (in scarf and meticulously reproduced wheelchair), Oncle Eli. He made them smaller than life-size, with their hands often disproportionately large.

From these beginnings he went on to make likenesses of other local people, an Old Gent aged 107, the village priest, a Cree Man with enormous, veined hands, and other anonymous people whom he gave ironic names: The Merchant of Pense, George II and King.

As time went by, his figurines became more lifelike. Wandering Spirit (1979) is an eye-catching aboriginal with silver hair, kneeling, naked, in contemplation on the ground. Only his face and sagging stomach show his age; his arms and legs are the muscular limbs of a young man in his prime.

I'll never amuse other people if I can't amuse myself

Fafard says, and among his early pieces are the Four Horsemen, not of the Apocalypse exactly, but sardonic models of fellow artists or art teachers on comedy horses, on wheels or padded hooves, with phallic heads, their riders unmistakably of the 1970s.

In the 80s and 90s the sculptor branched out to depictions of his favourite artists, Cézanne, Auguste (Renoir) and Cher Vincent. Fafard identified with and even looked rather like Van Gogh:

Almost like a Messiah, he opened the door for artists of the twentieth century

he enthused. His clay heads coloured with acrylics in deference to the individual style of each artist are larger than life. More recently, in the last two or three years, he has made sculptures of Frida and Diego, a detailed, neatly coloured piece in tribute to that Mexican couple, and of Emily and Friends, i.e. Emily Carr—a far messier bronze as is appropriate to that artist's slap-it-on-thick approach to painting—her "friends" being her pet monkey, her lap dog and her horse.

As an alternative to his sculptures, or as preparatory studies, Fafard drew very good charcoal sketches of his subjects. I saw one of Renoir and several of horses and cattle.

Having mastered clay, he moved on to the more challenging medium of bronze or steel, experimenting as he progressed from one idea or technique to the next, and now the animals became his preferred theme: five Assyrian Cows thin as Giacomettis with a variety of patinas (green, yellow, blue, grey/indigo and brown), then a more realistic cow with newborn calf, entitled Victoria and Albert (1988), a Picasso-like Taureau and the bull, Géricault, whose photo illustrated my previous blog post. One of his bronze bulls, Royal Sweet Diamond is not only true to life but also life-size! He talks of the"architecture" of an animal like this or like the elegant horse Silvers, now owned by our National Gallery.

The last exhibition room was filled with a single exhibit, Running Horses (2007), the steel "cut-outs" of seven horses and four foals, their manes and tails streaming behind them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Horses, cows and human beings

I have been to see the Joe Fafard exhibition at the National Gallery. There is no sculptural problem that cannot be worked out in a cow, he said. Or a horse, presumably, for most of his works of art were representations of cows, bulls, calves, or of horses and foals.

Other pieces depicted members of his family, fellow artists, the general populace of his home town—Ste. Marthe, Saskatchewan—and former Prime Ministers of Canada, but he kept coming back to the animals.


Monday, February 4, 2008


Dos nuevos miembros at our Spanish conversation today, a Greek lady born in Australia, and a Canadian lady born in Peru. We read and talked about a romantic fantasy, El viajero.

Tramping through snow

We too have been hiking in the bush, and after our walk around the Larriault trail yesterday, our leg muscles are still feeling it, because that normally easy walk took twice as long as usual, owing to the fresh fall of snow. This is a picture Chris took, and the other two were taken by Carol. Our friends pictured here are Elva and Laurie, Robert and Francine. The admirable walking stick I am using was a gift to me, handmade by Robert and just the job for these conditions, and Elva is climbing the hill with the aid of my ski-poles. Having completed the circuit, we drove on to Wakefield for lunch at the Maison Earle.

(Clicking on either of these two pictures will show you an enlargement.)