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.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Huronia and back

We have lengthened our weekend by flying to Midland, on Georgian Bay. Back home now and ready to report.

Chris checked the minimum en route altitude (10000ft) and the winds at that altitude (headwinds, 40 knots) and decided it would be better to take a less direct route at a lower altitude (4000ft), stopping at Lindsay. So our first leg was CYRO-CNF4, via the V-300 airway. We went IFR. Strato-cumulus were being blown north east and the skies around Ottawa were busy with traffic, some of it entertaining crowds at a local airshow: "F-18 circling Carp at your twelve o'clock, two miles..." (a far more streamlined flyer than PTN, emitting a trail of smoke from his back-end) and with him, a Harvard trainer. Meanwhile another aircraft was preparing to release a load of parachutists: "Drop at your discretion!" said the controller. Beyond Carp we had the sky to ourselves, flying under alto stratus and then into increasing cloudiness, with bigger, darker clouds over the Haliburton Highlands concealing embedded towering cumulus. We kept a close eye on our strikefinder that was once again displaying a trace of lightning strikes in that direction.

We approached Lindsay through a benign shower after about two hours of flying; the sun was already drying the tarmac as we touched down and two coyotes scuttled off the runway, one to the right, one to the left carrying something in its mouth, either a cub or something it had caught. I'd packed sandwiches, but the Airportview restaurant's all-day breakfast is a better option, complete with fresh and crispy home fries. A line of heavier showers was in the vicinity, the radar display of them monitored carefully by the pilots waiting to fly, and while this weather passed by, Chris and I stretched our legs for a couple of miles past the wriggling Go-kart track, edged with old tyres, and through the farmland.

Mid-afternoon we took off again, CNF4-CYEE. As our weather briefing had warned us, we ran into showers over Lake Simcoe which didn't develop into anything significant until we had flown through and left them behind (as witnessed by our trusty strikefinder). After landing at Huronia airport we found accommodation at the inexpensive but comfortably adequate Red Carpet Inn on Yonge Street, booking a taxi to take us there.

The airport is a ten minute drive from the town of Midland, originally inhabited by the Wendat / Ouendat people. In 1610, Samuel de Champlain sent Étienne Brûlé to live with them and learn about their culture. Champlain himself paid a visit in 1615. A Jesuit mission was established here in the 1630s, led by Père Brébeuf who was eventually killed: the Catholics, calling him and his confrères martyrs, have erected a massive shrine in the vicinity to house their bones. In 1793, J G Simcoe (after whom Lake Simcoe is named) established a naval base in Penetanguishene Bay and when the lumber companies, steamship companies and railway companies arrived, the place was in business, with grain being shipped to Ohio and coal coming back in return (the Midland Coal Dock Company operated from 1901 until the 1960s). We learned some of this while walking along the waterfront trail before and after supper at Scully's Crab Shack, past the Unimin plant with its not unattractive mountains of gravel lit by the evening sun. Beyond the moored boats, the bay itself, part of Georgian Bay with its so-called 30,000 Islands, seemed peaceful and alluring.

Midland looks like a prosperous town, with recently landscaped or well maintained parks all around, and big houses old and new. It is home to what Chris called "a disconcerting number of dentists" and the history of the town is shown by the murals of ships, trains, Hurons and missionaries on every available vertical surface, from the wall of the supermarket to the row of silos in the harbour.

Early to bed and late to rise, and this morning the sky was covered in low clouds; once again it was just as well Chris has his IFR rating. After a Search and Rescue helicopter had come in from Trenton and after we'd glanced at the large scale maps used by its crew, we took off into the stratus and maintained a climb to 7000ft, taking a bearing towards the NDB at Muskoka, then, when our instruments told us we were over it, taking the "Victor" airways to Killaloe and thence towards Ottawa. Just before Killaloe, our routing was changed from the direct V370 to Ottawa to the indirect V 363 which goes via a waypoint called ONDOB, not in our GPS database. Chris therefore had to navigate towards it using conventional navigation devices rather than the GPS: good practice. For some short periods we could see something out of the window, either the cloudscape or patches of landscape through holes in it, but we were mostly inside clouds, growing as the result of a low pressure trough and the warm, damp air surrounding us, so that some of them were rather turbulent in their centres. It's a lovely feeling to come out the other side of such clouds and see blue sky ahead.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The trumpet shall sound ...

during the Ottawa Jazz Festival, in the Rideau Centre. I went to hear Derek Robertson (also of the Rockcliffe Flying Club*) and his band playing to the shoppers there at lunchtime. These quite elderly musicians enjoyed themselves so much that they overran their allotted hour by a good fifteen minutes.

Everybody loves my baby! they were playing when I arrived, Derek on trumpet, Bob on clarinet, Alistair on trombone, Ted on banjo, Aubrey on the drums and Neil (of Barbados), who runs a jazz ensemble of his own, currently performing at the Goose and Gridiron in Merrickville, on bass. Then with a "One, two, one-two-three..." they were launched into the St Louis Blues by W C Handy. Derek, who like his friend Alistair is a one time Scottish immigrant, put his trumpet aside to sing part of this number:

That St Louis woman
She aint goin' nowhere with me.
I got the St Louis blues! ...

The band used to play on the pleasure boats that sail the St Lawrence but apparently there isn't the demand for this any more. Someday you'll be sorry! they continued.

"Now let's do a fast one," said Derek to himself over the microphone. "Here we go!" with That's a-Plenty, before slowing the tempo again for the Old Memphis Blues. "If Beale Street could talk..." sang Derek, Beale Street being where W C Handy wrote the first ever blues song, in 1909.

What entertained me more than anything was watching the reaction of unsuspecting shoppers passing by on the up and down escalators to the side of where I sat. Some people did not respond at all and went by leaden-faced or lost in their own concerns or chatter, not in the least curious to know what was going on. Others, when they heard the jazz and noticed the band, immediately started tapping their fingers on the handrail, their faces lighting up spontaneously. At first I wondered if it was a generational thing, most of the younger people having earphones stuck in their ears so presumably deaf to everything but their own choice of music. But then I saw some of these looking down and smiling too. Then I wondered if it had anything to do with racial types, Asians or people from the middle east perhaps less likely to respond to this kind of sound, I imagined. But after a few minutes' more observation I could find no correlation there either. I finally came to the conclusion that there are simply two kinds of human being, the musical and the unmusical, and it makes no difference what age they are or where they come from.

Oliver Sachs in Musicophilia claims that it is possible to distinguish the physical brains of musicians from other brains. There's a noticeably larger corpus callosum between the two halves of your brain, if you are a musician. The question I'd like to ask is whether it becomes more enlarged with constant exposure to music, or whether it shrinks if you don't get enough music in your life. The nature v. nurture debate.

The band rounded off their performance with Oh when the Saints go marchin' in, of course, but then there was "time for just one more" number, Goin' home, at which I went.

*Talking of the Rockcliffe Flying Club, you can download a pdf of our Newsletter (containing an article by Chris and an article by me) if you click "Spring 2008" on this page.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


The Lowertown West Community Association held a barbeque in Bordeleau Park round the corner from our house yesterday, in order to raise funds for the "revitalization" of this park, occasionally the scene of sleazier activities. Chris raises people's eyebrows by referring to it as Bordello Park, but it's not that bad. We were full of good intentions to support this event (and donated a sight-seeing flight in PTN as one of the raffle prizes), but so many other things were happening yesterday that we failed to show up. For the thirteenth year running, we missed seeing Ottawa's Dragon Boat races, as well.

After a three hour meeting (AGM) of my Diplomatic Hospitality Group at Kathy's house on Friday I was glad to be outdoors in sunny weather on Saturday at the Concours d'Élégance organised jointly by the Flying Club and the Ottawa Jaguar Club, some of whose aficionados got there at 7:30a.m. and didn't leave till after 5 p.m.—rather a long time to spend admiring rows of cars, if you ask me, but it all depends on your degree of dedication. Several Jag owners even polish their tyres (tires) for these occasions; I must admit that the old cars exude stylishness and do look good in conjunction with the aeroplanes.

After one of Tony's burgers we had to hurry away to an 80th birthday party at a church hall in Alta Vista. Quite a different atmosphere here. Actually I had a very good time at the party as it gave me the chance to introduce Chris, at last, to a couple of my friends from our German group in the company of their husbands whom I hadn't met before either: Peter, a travel consultant, and Craig, a former Canadian ambassador to Helsinki—we six younger(!) ones sat together round a tea table and enjoyed each other's stories and enthusiasms. Melita herself radiated pleasure in the whole company and her birthday (postponed from April 23rd to June 21st rather like the Queen's) was celebrated by the cutting of her phenomenal Cake (see picture).

At the end of the party each of the ladies present came away with a "loot bag" containing one of Melita's treasures collected from the many, many countries she and her husband have visited. That was a nice gesture. In my bag was a pretty little blue vase from China.

Our next destination was the Flying Club again, where Chris had left his bike. I drove home, he rode home, before smartening ourselves up for the second time and setting off for another party, this one the annual German-Canadian barbeque hosted by a German military family, all four of whom have been for a ride in PTN at one time or another. Many diplomats and military attachés were in the garden but it's always a very informal affair with little children milling around, playing with balls and ice-cubes and building towers out of beer cans. There was a three year old present who, encouraged by his mother, could recite the Bayernhymne from memory. One never knows whom one is going to meet on these occasions and one has to be quick at switching from one language to another when moving from group to group. The highlight of each year's party is when Uwe suddenly brings out his bagpipes and plays to his friends, at which all conversation ceases. My picture here is of one of the children at the party lost in admiration of such a tremendous noise.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Heute morgen hat die Frau des deutschen Botschaftlers in Ottawa unsere deutsche Konversationsgruppe zu ihrer Residenz eingeladen, wo uns Sekt aus Baden-Baden angeboten wurde und nicht nur dieser Wein sondern auch ein Buffet von Köstlichkeiten mit Kaffee dazu, von dem ungefähr zwanzig von uns sehr gerne gefrühstückt haben.

Danach war ich dafür verantwortlich, den anderen im schönen, grossen Empfangzimmer (mit Bechstein-Flügel!) ein Programm von deutschen Liedern vorzuführen. Die Lieder, die ich ausgewählt hatte, waren alle Gedichte von Goethe, die von berühmten Komponisten (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert—vor allem Schubert!) vertont worden waren. Von den meisten ausgewählten Liedern hatte ich Aufnahmen auf Tonband oder auf CD vorzuspielen, aber von Es war ein König in Thule (von Schubert) hatte ich keine Aufnahme, deshalb musste ich dieses Lied selber vorsingen: das soll das erste Lied sein, das die junge Gretchen singt, kurz nachdem sie ihren Verführer—Faust—zum ersten Mal kennengelernt hat. Eine tragische Geschichte ist das.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thirty different nationalities

I'm preparing a programme of German songs to present to our Konversationsgruppe at the German Ambassador's residence tomorrow morning and will probably describe that in my blog tomorrow. In the meantime I've been thinking about the people who are members of our group, since our co-ordinator, Rosemary, has asked me to read out her report of our year's German conversations at a meeting this Friday. In this report she lists the countries we come from. Every Thursday this year I have been meeting not only people from Canada and Germany, but also from Bulgaria, Croatia, Egypt, Estonia, Japan, Macedonia, the United States, Switzerland, Brazil, Britain, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Indonesia, the Ukraine and Latvia.

I have been part of the group for twelve years now, and in previous years we've been joined by others from Austria, Slovakia, Trinidad, Romania, Benin, Belgium, Turkey, India, Italy, Myanmar and Iceland, all wanting to keep up their German. But those people have all left Ottawa now. We miss them, every one.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Senior star in the shopping mall

The lady in the picture is a friend of mine, performing as the first local contestant in this year's nationwide Senior Star Competition, a sort of Canadian Idol contest open to anyone over 65 (so Chris and I don't qualify), sponsored by a chain of retirement residences. I went along this morning to add to the applause after Melita's piano medley. The event took place at the St Laurent Shopping Mall. I don't yet know whether Melita got through to Round 2 as I made myself scarce after the second and third participant had had their go, and went back to my shopping.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cumulonimbus ahead!

(Some of the following was recorded with my husband's assistance.)

Flying back from Iroquois after a very hearty brunch at the Monte Cristo restaurant and a walk right round the airfield past the boathouses to the beach where four of us cooled our feet in the river water—turned out to be "a useful learning experience".

Though it was lovely weather down by the St. Lawrence, we could see towering cloud formations building up to the north—in fact I (ever the pessimist on these expeditions) was the first of our party of eight to notice them—and when Chris started up PTN we already had confirmation of thunderstorm activity on our Strikefinder, "lighting up like a Christmas tree," as he puts it.

"We'd better be on our way, then," said our four pilots, "and see if we can get home in time". Chris, Don and Laurie asked for transponder codes, but Roger, preferring to keep out of the Ottawa airspace on his return flight, decided not to do so.

On the roll, Chris had his first learning experience of the flight when he noticed that PTN's Airspeed Indicator wasn't working. (There must be some blockage in our pitot tube—see picture—we don't yet know what has caused it.) He instinctively decided to continue his take-off as the runway at Iroquois is neither long enough (2000 feet) nor wide enough (23 feet) for second thoughts, and coming back in for a landing there without a functional ASI wouldn't have been a safe option either. So we carried on climbing and headed north towards Rockcliffe, Chris guessing at our airspeed by the "feel" of the plane and the indications of the other instruments (pilots practise such scenarios during their training so the situation wasn't altogether new for him and I didn't feel over-anxious as his passenger).

It soon became clear that the big black clouds were directly in our way, so Roger veered off towards the east to give them a wide berth and we had also begun a turn to the east, telling ATC we'd be going "around the weather", when we heard Don, well ahead, broadcasting his intention to make a beeline for Ottawa International Airport in order to sit out the storm that now seemed to be developing in the vicinity of Rockcliffe.

"That's a wise decision, if I may say so!" commented the Air Traffic Controller, at which Laurie's voice was heard to announce that he would do likewise, and Chris immediately chimed in, saying that he had changed his mind and was going to come in behind the other two, requesting a straight-in approach to Runway 32 at Ottawa. Unlike Roger, we had abandoned the idea of landing at Pendleton to wait out the storm at the gliding field. All the same, I didn't like the thought of deliberately flying towards the blackness ahead and asked Chris how long it would take us to get down to ground level at Ottawa. Ten minutes, he said, and we'd speed up during the descent. We picked up the localiser and glideslope and flew the ILS to runway 32. We had no idea how quickly we'd be coming down because our Airspeed Indicator was still out of order. In fact we landed with a bump as Chris slightly misjudged the last few feet of descent.

Don and ATC were correct and the storm by-passed us to the north of the big airport, over the city, remaining directly over our home airport for about a quarter of an hour, while we sat impatiently but safely on a corner of Ottawa's taxiway "Juliette", the three pilots and their passengers gesticulating at one another through the cockpit windows and communicating by means of cellphones. Chris also had the presence of mind to communicate with the Ottawa Tower controller through his spare, emergency, hand-held radio. By this means the controller, with reference to the precipitation indicated on his radar screen, was able to give us an idea of how close the next storm was, there being a series of them in the offing. On our behalf the tower controller asked an aircraft arriving from the north whether it would be possible to get into Rockcliffe. The answer was "only for the next three minutes".

We waited for another 10 minutes and then the controller told us that the next storm was already passing over Carp, which meant we had a short (!) window of opportunity in which to make the short hop to Rockcliffe between the end of one storm and the beginning of the next.

Unusually for Chris, we took off without going through the full pre-flight checklist (which takes about 5 minutes, as a rule). He wanted to make a quick getaway to allow the other two pilots enough time, in our sequence of take-offs, for a safe escape. Despite the fact that Chris had tried to unblock the pitot tube by stabbing it through its hole with a pen during our enforced wait on the ground, the ASI was still hovering around 50 mph at take-off, when it should have been reading about 60 mph, which meant we would have to accomplish another landing without its help, perhaps in the gusty conditions that often precede a storm. Fortunately though, the windsock at Rockcliffe gave no cause for alarm as we came overhead, and Chris, now able to anticipate the adjustments necessary for a descent without reference to our airspeed, brought us down to a remarkably smooth landing. Laurie and Don came down uneventfully behind us, clearing the runway with their usual sense of satisfaction.

So six of us were safely home but the storm from Carp was now almost upon us. Were Roger and Francine still airborne? We had no idea. Roger's fellow pilots began to "pace up and down", as Yiwen put it, observing their concern with great interest (she is a recently licensed pilot who had come along as a passenger on this occasion); they made a few 'phone calls, ascertaining that Roger's Cessna was safely on the ground at Pendleton. Another longish wait; nobody felt inclined to drive home until Roger and Francine could rejoin us. At last we heard they were in the air again, deviating south to avoid the cumulonimbus, but making for Rockcliffe. Another storm had just come through, the heavy rain bouncing off the ground and obscuring the buildings on the near horizon, all the club aircraft and owners' aircraft tied down and Tony sheltering in his barbeque hut. This one would probably be classified as a "light" thunderstorm, despite the many flashes of lightning and thunder-cracks that accompanied it, because there was no hail, and it wasn't preceded by excessive gusts of wind (a "heavy" thunderstorm can generate winds of over 100kph or even tornadoes). In fact the winds we were watching from the shelter of the Rockcliffe clubhouse behaved with text-book predictability, blowing from the centre of low pressure, first from the west as the storm approached, then gusting from the south as the darkest part of the cloud passed by a mile or so to the south of where we stood; then as the storm receded the windsock began to swing from the southeast. Shortly thereafter we heard Roger's voice on the clubhouse radio, broadcasting his position south of the field and coming in for an approach to runway 09, from the east, and then he too landed safely.

"Let the flavour be your surrounding"

The Embassy of Indonesia held a Bazaar yesterday, at which Yiwen, Carol and I bought some freshly cooked Indonesian specialities, as we mingled with the crowds. Most of the people were from the local Indonesian community, happy to be browsing among their own kinds of foods, toiletries and clothes—batik shawls, sarongs, jewelry, fans, cloth handbags and kebayas on sale in the main hall—and singing along to the Karaoke played continuously on the outdoor TV screen. Indoors, another TV screen played Indonesian tourism videos, from one of which came the title of this blog post.

We arrived too late to catch the gamelan performance, but I enjoyed watching the children play with their balloons in the formal reception room. Indonesians seem very family-oriented. I like that.

When we'd finally exhausted the possibilities of the bazaar, Yiwen drove us to another place where Carol and I never been before, an authentic Chinese supermarket, where she (Yiwen, not Carol!) put three wriggling crabs in a paper bag to cook for her supper. The items on the shelves included fish heads, bread rolls to be cooked in steam, bags of aniseed powder, ginseng candy, fresh rice noodles, bok choy, whole water chestnuts, chicken's feet, dried mangoes and a whole dried octopus, vacuum packed (you flavour soups with it). Chinese lanterns and dragons hung from the ceiling and the cashier spoke to Yiwen in Chinese.

Letting the flavour be our surrounding today, as well, we flew to Iroquois on the St. Lawrence seaway and found that we had landed in a field of wild strawberries ripe enough to nibble as soon as we climbed out of the 'plane.

My mother's wisdom

In Darlington, England, last Wednesday, my mother and my sister attended the funeral of my Uncle Frank who has died of cancer and old age. He would have been 94 next month.

My sister has sent me a copy of the seven minute address my mother made at the chapel service, in which she attempted the impossible by trying to recapitulate her brother's whole life in carefully selected details in order to convey all the essential qualities of someone who at one time or another had been a jazz pianist, mountaineer, clerk, Conscientious Objector, painter-decorator, organist, gardener, teacher, activist and composer. He and my mother had known one another for nearly 89 years.

She ended her tribute as follows:

... Above all he was a lovable, good, comical, much-loved man. My daughters and their children have all loved him dearly. I have a photo of him playing with my triplet grand-daughters in the garden when they were about 3. They were playing with snails. He is holding out his hand with a snail crawling along the back of it.

It's hard to believe he isn't still in the world. But I'm sure that the world has two levels. There is the ordinary surface one of our everyday lives, which are only temporary. But some experiences, and especially love, make us aware of the deeper, more real, timeless world where those we love are always with us.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fiddling in the garden

At a garden party on the edge of Kemptville today, with prizes for the best sunhats, we had Tai Chi and Sogetsu Ikebana demonstrations, house tours, garden tours and me giving four consecutive mini-lectures on how to take good photos (or how to avoid taking bad photos).

In between these activities, a group of Ottawa Valley fiddlers were adding to the atmosphere by playing Ottawa Valley folk tunes for us, on their fiddles.

The culprit

Here's the fellow who's been digging my mint out of the pot and eating it. I caught him (on camera) yesterday morning.

We also saw a raccoon at the top of a maple tree in the park the other evening: a ball of fur around which a family of crows was going berserk, making a terrible din and darting towards it with their beaks. Presumably the raccoon was feasting on the eggs from their nest; anyway it wasn't going to budge. Another one was delicately dining on the dinner set out by René Chartrand for the stray cats on Parliament Hill, near Queen Victoria's statue.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Me estaba bañando

I hope I got that title right. Half way through our Spanish conversation practice this morning I went for a swim in the hostess' flower-lined swimming pool. Precioso!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dancer on the roof

What struck me most about downtown Ottawa when I first saw it was its plethora of architectural styles: Victorian gothic, French renaissance, red brick utilitarian, Tudor-gothic, neoclassical with Doric columns, art deco, mid-twentieth century geometric concrete and eighties glass towers, all in one place.

Every mid-day this week, in a niche between the asymmetric walls of the NAC buildings, Kenneth Emig does a dance of his own invention on the patio stones. Three of these triangular stones had been removed and filled with pebbles/ sand/ a sheet of metal for the dance he performed around them to the strains of an electronic humming as of Tibetan singing bowls.

A pity I missed most of this in trying to find the location in the NAC's concrete maze with all its flights of steps.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Mulch, gutters and oily rags

Yesterday was clean-up day at the Rockcliffe Flying Club where I was one of the gardeners, weeding and spreading soggy mulch around the shasta daisies. Today, said my husband, would be the day we installed new guttering (or eavestroughs as they often call them in North America) at the back of our house. So we spent an instructive morning driving from Gatineau to Gloucester searching for the requisite materials, which when we found them (Chris cutting his finger on a sharp edge before we'd even got them off the racks in the store) we realised couldn't possibly fit into a car the size of ours. Delivery of the gutters would cost $60, and the job of fitting them would be harder than we'd anticipated.

Deferring that challenge till a later date, we cheered ourselves up by spending the afternoon lying on our backs in the grass, cleaning the dust and smears of oil off the belly of our aeroplane. The temperature was 33 degrees in the shade ("feels like 42").

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

From journalism to jewelry

A jewelry exhibition took place today, hosted by the Slovak Embassy, to which I'd been invited by Veira, the Ambassador's wife. The pieces of wearable art displayed on the dining table in her reception room were created by a former Slovak journalist now living in Canada, by the name of Andrea.

My Venezuelan friend Isabella who won the "door prize" was able to take home one of the necklaces as a gift.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Spotting danger

This summer we're planning an adventure in a north-easterly direction, hoping to fly C-FPTN to St. Anthony, Newfoundland, and back. We're taking the northern route because there'll be less water to cross that way, but that will necessitate our flying over some remote country on the border of Quebec and Labrador, beyond the reach of roads. The road that links the communities on the north shore of the St. Lawrence seaway peters out at Natashquan (1000km beyond Quebec City) and beyond that the only means of transport is aeroplanes or boats. The question of how we'd cope if we got into difficulties out there was rather unanswerable, so Chris has bought a SPOT for our trip, coloured bright orange, which a little light that flashes every three seconds in case we need rescuing in the dark.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Love Gone Wrong

The couple sitting next to me this evening told me they had a folk-singer friend who's noticed the unvarying theme of the songs people like to hear her sing. With tongue-in-cheek, she calls them her "LGW songs", songs about Love Gone Wrong.

German Lieder, of course, are exactly the same. I could have entitled this blog post Lieb und Leid, as it's such a recurrent phrase in the German Romantic poetry set to music by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Lachner, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler, Berg, Schönberg, Strauss ...

We have just come home from a live performance of Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and of Schumann's Dichterliebe (another chamber concert at John's house). The performers, both young, were a baritone from Montreal, Marc-Antoine d'Aragon, and the pianist Christine Desjardins (another graduate of McGill).

They wrung out the anguish for all it was worth in both song cycles as well as in the operatic encore (Tchaikovsky's Ya vas lyublyu)—Chris counting "twenty-one songs of unrequited love!", this evening—the singer looked the part too with his thin bearded face, shirt with the top three buttons undone, and wild eyes. I didn't know the Mahler very well but Chris and I have been studying the Schumann for some time now, so after their very dramatic performance, Chris got talking to the pianist and I got talking to the singer to find out if our impressions of their interpretation had been correct.

For instance I was surprised by the bitter intensity in his version of song number 6 (Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome) which I'd always assumed was a song of reverence; this performance made me wonder though, and on second thoughts it could be seen the other way. And in song number 7, the best known one, he seemed to be conveying pity and bitterness simultaneously. I've never heard it done like that before. Apparently he works with a mentor who encourages him to try out the songs in more than one way; he says he's still experimenting and when he came to

Ich grolle nicht...
Ich sah, mein lieb, wie sehr du elend bist

tonight, decided to go for a combination of interpretations. On the whole though, he inclines towards the bitterness. So do you think the poet forgives the girl in the last song? I wanted to know, as Monsieur d'Aragon had performed it with such vehement anger. Oh, not till after the very last bar of the piano postlude, he said. However, I think the piano part is there to convey the tenderness behind the pain and besides, I still think that Fritz Wunderlich gave the definitive interpretation of these songs, so in my opinion, the Poet forgives his love long before the very end.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


In calling my blog Juxtapositions, I believe I'm onto something. The experience of constant randomness and of being in places where incongruous things are "rubbing together" as I quoted in yesterday's blog, really is a sign of the times.

I first remember hearing the word "eclectic" when we lived in Chapel Hill at the end of the 1980s and where a restaurant we used to go to had an "eclectic menu". I can't recall the name of the restaurant but it may well have been this one. Nowadays people tend to eat an eclectic diet all week every week, pizzas one day, chicken korma the next, our families and friends quite familiar with the concept of tacos, couscous, ratatouille. My parents wouldn't have had a clue what any of those dishes were when I was growing up, when lamb stews and rice puddings were the norm, or fish and chips with slices of (white) bread and butter and a pot of tea if we ate out.

Multiculturalism is no longer confined to a Museum of Mankind. It's all over the place. Among our city's festivals this year are the Greek Summer Festival, Lebanorama, an Italian Week and the Festival of Cultures (in general). So many of us here come from widely dispersed families with friends and co-workers from all over the world. And "The Internet is breaking down geographical barriers," as my husband keeps pointing out. He said it again this evening.

As we were driving home after a hike in the woods today we were transfixed by some music on a Radio 2 broadcast, Sunday Afternoon in Concert featuring a suite from a 21st century opera by Osvaldo Golijov (an East European Jew who grew up in Argentina and is now a Professor of Music at a Massachusetts institution called the College of the Holy Cross). The title of the opera was Ainadamar, Arabic for "Fountain of Tears". It came to an end and we should have switched the car radio off then, but the announcer was already telling us about the next item on the programme, a Finnish pianist playing some Mendelssohn. Following that was a selection of music by black American composers.

See what I mean? Much as we relish our varied diet, what makes people twitchy and restless in the modern world is chronic mental indigestion.