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

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

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fly like a bird, not like a Boeing!

As a member of the Cardiff branch of the U3A, my mother belongs to a Prose and Poetry group who exchange insights and instances with one another, taking turns. The subject of their October session is "Hobbies," and Mum has chosen 'cello-playing as the hobby she's going to present to the rest of the group. Although she doesn't play the 'cello herself, she wishes she had learned. She has shown me her quotations from the 'cellist, Paul Tortelier, whom she saw on TV during the broadcast of a master-class he was giving (some thirty years ago). Impressed by what she was hearing, she had jotted down and kept these quotations in her notebook. Here are a few examples of what Tortelier said, in his memorable French accent:

  • If they knew how joyful it is to play the 'cello, all the world would play the 'cello.
  • Breathe inside the music, not out of it.
  • You must fly like a bird, not like a Boeing! You must have contrast. Variety is what the world lacks; it is all mechanism and monotony.
  • [This music] is too beautiful to talk about. It is a mystery. Mystery should not be talked about. I have talked too much.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Among the Inuit and the Old Masters

Today being grey and damp, the National Gallery was the place to visit. My mother was interested in looking at some Inuit art so we descended to the basement level where the sculptures and drawings are normally exhibited, only to find that "independent Inuit video productions" are currently being shown in the exhibition rooms instead. The films (from the Isuma company) that we stopped to watch this afternoon were already half way through and, on closer inspection of the notes, turned out to have a very long running time, so we saw just a snippet of each to give us an idea of their content; very strong meat they were, too.

We came upon Atanarjuat The Fast Runner at its most violent point, where Amaqjuaq, the brother of the runner, is speared through his tent and killed; we preferred not to carry on watching this one. In another film on a different screen some animal (a seal?) was being very bloodily butchered on the snow (close up of a child's face smeared with its blood) so we gave that one a miss also (I may return to watch the Inuit films later without my mother!) and a third film seemed only to be getting into its stride with an Inuit elder explaining to a young girl, who had removed her furs, that she shouldn't be so interested in "having sex with dead people"... (?!) My mother then thought she might feel more at home on the top floor of the Gallery amongst the European art, so we transferred our attention by means of the glass elevator from the rawness of Nunavut into Renaissance Italy, thence walking through the Flemish and German "Masters" towards later centuries.

Come to think of it, the European artists often conveyed some fairly shocking scenes, too, perhaps with more detachment. Because we're more familiar the subject matter in this case, we aren't so upset by it. Is that a bad thing or a good thing?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Aschenbrödel or Aschenputtel

The traditional German story gives her one name, the Swiss version another. I saw Prokofiev's ballet Aschenbrödel with my children in Bern, in 1980, and kept the programme for it, which I showed to our Konversationsgruppe yesterday after we had read the story in German, talking about its different versions and origins.

We met at Vija's house in the woods at Carp, golden leaves all around us, and sang Lustig ist das Zigeunerleben! and O wie wohl ist mir am Abend in three parts. Tanya said if there were more singing in the world there'd be fewer wars; therefore music teaching in schools should be given a much higher priority. I think she's right.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In the Laurentians

View of Mt Tremblant and Lake Ouimet from the hill behind Gray Rocks, a being seen in St-Jovite, and the Rivière Rouge. Other illustrations have now been added to my previous blog posts, below.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

At Mont Tremblant

“Very nice, very civilised,” commented Elva as we were being served supper at Gray Rocks last night and Carol used the exact same phrase to describe tonight's meal. The iced water had a splash of lemon in it. Gray Rocks resort on Lake Ouimet dates back to 1905, with an old fashioned lobby, sitting room with striped armchairs (where I'm writing this) and a concert grand in the corner. In the opposite corner are French windows opening onto the lakeside lawn, through which a squirrel came scuttling in across the carpets on the wooden floor. Our bedroom windows also slide open onto the lawn where, beyond the pine trees that border the lake, we have an unobstructed view of the whole of Mt Tremblant, in perfect autumn weather. The dining room has a similar outlook, lake and mountain at sunset, which aptly rounded off our day that had begun with a view of the early morning mist rising from the Gatineau River from our breakfast table in Maniwaki.

Mum, reading the hotel's Répertoire des Services, says you can have a white clay body wrap for $105, if you want one. Or an algae and marine sediments body wrap for the same price, she says. She doesn't like the sound of that one. She's giggling away now about the Polynesian massages for $215: “That's over a hundred pounds!”

No extra charge for swimming in the hotel pool though, as I did before supper on Monday evening.

We spent most of yesterday in Carol's car, driving through the hills between Maniwaki and here via Mont Laurier, the mountain of that name to the north of us, and Nominingue where Le P'tit Train du Nord cycling trail has a couple of attractively landscaped stopping places, converted from the railway stations and signal stops they used to be. We found Nominingue's municipal beach too (closed since September 3rd and therefore beautifully deserted). Butterflies fluttered around over the seed popping milkweed (the fluff from which was used by the early settlers to stuff their bedding), the asters and the black-eyed Susans. Above the shore of Lac Nominingue the gîte, Chez Ignace, where we enjoyed a stay in 2002, is still in business, its Belgian flag still flying from the flag pole, so it can't have changed hands either.

We ended the day by star gazing again at the foot of the same steep slope (grass covered ski slope) that we climbed earlier so as to see more of the view.

Today we went up a much higher mountain, Mt Tremblant itself, cheating, by taking a ride in a gondola from the "village" where after another walk along the track of the P'tit Train du Nord, this time along the shore of Lac Mercier, I challenged my mother to a game of Mini Golf. Note the cable car in the sky behind the putting green. We rode on that one as well.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back to Maniwaki

Three of us who were last here on New Year's Day took my mother to the Chateau Logue in Maniwaki, up the same road through Kazabazua, etc., after stopping for lunch at Wakefield. The Gatineau River, very blue this time (rather than white) was on our right for most of the way through the autumnal farmland. They haven't started harvesting yet in the Vallée des Canneberges (cranberries) but we bought some dried ones from a gift shop. Also stopped at the Algonquin Trading Post at the Kichimikan reserve, where, had we not had the promise of a bed elsewhere, we could have spent the night in a teepee or wigwam. We had time for a look around the aboriginal displays inside, then on to Maniwaki itself where there's another point of interest: the draveurs' tug-boat, the Pythonga, that used to pull log rafts (booms) across the Baskatong Reservoire, now beached on the roadside and surrounded by information about the log drive. We went for a pretty walk along the river bank and board walk to get there, on the way back stopping at the stadium to watch the last few minutes of a hockey game, a Zamboni coming onto the rink to clean up the ice after the skaters had cleared off. Supper at the hotel pub at a table overlooking the river at sunset, and afterwards, Mum saying she would love to see the stars, Carol drove us a short way down the road to a darker place so that we could gaze at the Milky Way on this clear, cold night.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lots of ladies

Yesterday saw the start of a new season with the Ottawa CFUW's Diplomatic Hospitality group, when at a coffee morning held in Vanier we introduced ourselves to the new diplomats in town and reconnected with the ones we already knew. My job is to man the photography table on these annual occasions, at which I sell my photos of the last season, as well as home-made cards.

On the previous morning Mum, I and seven German-speaking Canadians had been round to see a Anke on MacKay Street, sitting round her dining table and sharing stories of what we'd each been up to during the summer.

Elva, home from Paraguay, came round for supper yesterday evening (with Laurie, Don and Kathryn) and tomorrow she'll be setting off with Carol, Mum and me for a trip into the Laurentians, returning next Wednesday. That one won't be such a dressy outing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

To market, to market...

... to buy a fat pig? No, my mother prefers vegetarian meals. We bought a demi baguette from the Boulangerie Française, a yellow courgette, some beans, grapes and blueberries from the Byward Market and a new blouse for Mum from The Bay.

In the evening Mum (playing the piano), Chris (on the clarinet) and I (singing) had a go at Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. I've just come across a web-page reference to it which contains the following sentence:

For all the superficial tendencies of the song, Schubert's feeling for the text is very genuine -- he knew quite well that he was not long for this Earth; the "spring" of resurrection was to Schubert a very welcome thing, and he was indeed quite ready, even eager, for such a wandering.

What pretentious speculation!

I also made an attempt at Elvira's recit. and aria In quali eccessi, o Numi from Mozart's Don Giovanni, as sight-read by George and friends in Australia this week, most likely. Thanks for the reminder of this wonderful music, George!

On Petrie Island

Mum and I wonder whether we've correctly identified the plants we saw on Petrie Island yesterday. Fall meadow rue? (Perhaps not.) Spotted touch-me-not?

We had a lovely walk round the island, also spotting a turtle, a dragon fly and a swimming beaver who may have been the one who chopped down the tree in the photo below.

Here are pictures of our outing:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Dinner parties going adrift"

Alan Ayckbourn, one of whose 72 plays we watched on Sunday, How The Other Half Loves was first performed in Scarborough's small theatre-in-the-round, in July 1969. I lived in Scarborough in those days and knew the theatre, but I missed this première, and no wonder. I wouldn't have been interested in the subject (the play being a satire on middle class, British married couples and their awful 1960s dinner parties) and there were more momentous things for me to think about. The first men to walk on the moon had done so ten days previously and I had just left high school on a high note, so to speak, singing with the school choir in Germany, and was about to leave home to become a student at the University of London.

It's interesting to read about Alan Ayckbourn now, though. It looks as though his fascination with the ridiculous messes people get into because of their lies and adulteries might have stemmed from his "childhood experience of several unconventional relationships and an unhappy marriage," as the Wikipedia puts it. Poor fellow, all those bedroom farces might have been his attempt to laugh it off. A couple of decades after writing it, the playwright himself said about this particular play:

It all seems rather manic, and I thought the dialogue desperately heavy. I hope I've got a bit cleverer than that; it's not that I've abandoned humour, but I think perhaps there are more serious things to write about than dinner parties going adrift.

However he seems proud of his solution to a technical challenge: how to convey on stage simultaneously what was supposed to be happening in two different but similar places at two different times! The dinner party scene is particularly ingenious.

The Canadian actors at the Gladstone Theatre made a good stab at English accents and mannerisms, but unless you are English it's impossible to get the frantic artificiality exactly right.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nothing wrong with repetition

We've done all of this before, but we like it: lunch for my mother and me al fresco on the balcony-deck of the General Store at Wakefield (changed since the old days) with a view up and down the Gatineau River (the café there known as Chamberlin's Lookout). They sell old fashioned children's toys upstairs—irresistible! No rain today, in spite of the less optimistic forecast yesterday. Chris, who'd been "flying approaches" before lunch, accepted a lift from Carol so that both of them could join us after lunch for an afternoon walk past the Wakefield Elementary school with its new playground, up the hill through the forest, past the cemetery in the field where Lester B. Pearson is buried and then down the hill past MacLaren's old mill beside the stream. The gift shop Jamboree is always worth visiting, as is the Wakefield bakery for its excellent multigrain loaves, and before we drive back home we sometimes remember to stock up on fresh water from the roadside spring, as we did today.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Lively lady

As the pace of life slows down your day can be reduced to: "woke up, ate a few meals, went shopping, chatted to some friends and relations, went to bed." The minutiae within that pattern doesn't have to be monotonous. Here's a variation on the theme.

Jet-lagged, my mother had been awake for most of the early hours so wasn't perturbed by her grandson's wanting to talk to her (from Australia) at 7:30 a.m. A dull, wet day didn't prevent us from making an outing to Loblaws after breakfast where she bought me a gorgeous bunch of flowers, walking back home through the park by the river. Then she had a lie-down on the settee to listen to Mozart's Gran Partita while I made lunch. After phoning my sister, Mum accompanied me on the piano while I played the violin and sang, trying out a Debussy song that neither of us knew, as well as some more familiar music.

When Chris came home, she sight-read the accompaniments for the Saint-Saëns and Borodin clarinet pieces he's learning, as well as several accompaniments for the songs he sings. We had also been chatting with Emma and Alexander who said the word "great-grandma" for the first time, when he saw her on screen. Mum then wanted to look at several people's photo albums on Facebook. Laurie, Liz and David joined us for a Portuguese supper at the Casa do Churrasco where we made arrangements for Liz, Mum and me to go to the new Gladstone theatre on Sunday afternoon to see an Alan Ayckbourn farce.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A long journey

My mother is in Canada and I'm writing this in the very convenient hotel where we spent the night; I met her at Trudeau Airport, Dorval, just before supper, where she had waited 40 minutes in the immigration queue. It is lovely to see her still cheerful and bright-eyed after a very long day en route. She'd had to get up at 6a.m. British time to get herself ready for her taxi to Cardiff bus station, had then taken a 3-hour bus journey to Heathrow, arriving in good time to catch the flight that left at 15:30, which had lasted another 7 hours. "I had to walk miles at both airports!" she told me, although it seems she had a ride on a cart down the long corridors at Heathrow. The best thing about her journey was the company of the kind Indonesian gentleman who sat beside her on the 'plane, telling her all about his work (he was on his way to a conference about bone-formation) and his family, and who came up to us in the Arrivals Hall at Dorval to shake her hand and say goodbye to her (making sure she had been met).

At the end of her 20-hour day Mum commented that although she loves being here, "this might be the last time I come to Canada" because she finds the thought of the travelling ever more daunting the older she gets, and she'll be 90 next year. Then she modified the statement by saying she might be willing to do it again if someone were to travel with her! Well, I'd certainly be willing to travel with her in one direction (take her home, I mean). Do we have any volunteers out there willing to accompany her in the other direction?

Monday, September 8, 2008

More words (québecois)

Last month, fascinated by the language I'd been trying to understand on our flying trip to the eastern border of Quebec, I visited the Librairie du Soleil on George Street and bought a Dictionnaire des expressions québecoises.

It's interesting to see how the preoccupations of the people come across in their idiomatic phrases. A book like this reveals much about their culture, or former culture, and lifestyles:

parler algonquin= parler d'une manière incompréhensible
avoir une face de carême = avoir mauvaise mine
elle a fêté Pâques avant le carême = elle est devenue enceinte avant le mariage
c'est pas catholique = c'est bizarre
ne pas s'user les genoux = peu enclin à la pratique religieuse

It seems the Quebeckers have had plenty of fun adapting English vocabulary for their own purposes, e.g.:

avoir de la baddeloque
être dans le trouble
avoir les bleus
avoir le shake
un peace and love
faire badtripper quelqu'un (= faire paniquer)
conduire en cowboy
faire une job
c'est le gravy sur les patates / la cerise sur le sundae! (= that beats everything)
à foulespide
faire un finger
tirer la plogue (= put a stop to it)
se matcher avec quelqu'un
roffe and toffe (i.e. rough, tough...)
avoir des screws de lousses
ne pas avoir de brain
être le flop du party
on va avoir un de ces times / avoir du fun

Never mind the pronunciation, having been taught the kind of French favoured by the Académie française, no wonder I often have trouble following what the people of Quebec are saying. Miles Kington wouldn't have had so much trouble perhaps.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Words, words, words

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.

My grandson's first word was "Boo!" (and he said it to me). Then he began naming things, such as birds (which he classifies either as "duck" or "owl"), road vehicles ("car") and spherical objects — from peas to oranges to the moon, he names them all "ball". Recently he's been acquiring far more vocabulary and has started to string words together into phrases, if not quite sentences. Having begun with nouns, he's now incorporating other parts of speech into his vocabulary: verbs, a few adjectives and prepositions. He can't yet manage personal pronouns or adverbs (other than "where?" -- e.g."where teddy?"), but he can already convey a good deal of information:

Dig, dig, uh-oh! (Alexander's commentary on the demolition of a building that he and his father observed.)
"Man-on-moon rock" [= rocket / lunar module]. (He was taken to the Science Museum last month.)
"Mummy wash ball." (Watching his mother pick a tomato and wash it under the tap, he picked another and held it up to her.)
"Big red bus." (He lives in London.)
"Dig, dig, dig! Yellow digger." (Playing in the sand pit.)
"Light on, light off."

To my daughter's delight, he even came out with "Love Mummy!" the other day.

I didn't think Alexander could manage anything other than the infinitive or present tense form of verbs, until the other day he surprised me after a hiatus on our Skype link: "A'nder did hit keys, gran'a gone." (i.e. I accidentally touched a critical spot on the computer keyboard that caused my grandmother's picture on the screen to disappear).

Interestingly enough, it's not only human babies who venture, nouns first, into language. It seems that computers take this route as well. My husband has been pointing my attention to the development of OpenCyc, "the world's largest and most complete general knowledge base and commonsense reasoning engine" that purports to contain "hundreds of thousands of terms, along with millions of assertions relating the terms to each other, forming an upper ontology whose domain is all of human consensus reality" rather like the links in the language processing part of our own brains, it seems. Apparently, the boffins involved with this project have for the last 24 years been trying to teach computers what we call "common sense", but in order to do that they have to give them an adequate word classification system from which to make the sensible sort of connections we humans make without much obvious effort. To give the example Chris showed me, "if you look at 'CEO' you'll see it has a subject type (organisation) and object type (person)." Therefore the computer understands that "an organisation's CEO is a person."

This web page gives you the opportunity to check the system for yourselves. I decide to give it a go and type in a few words. It knows what an "echidna" is, but it knows neither the word "mankind" nor the modern, politically correct alternative, "humankind". It doesn't know "me", either. All it shows for those nouns and that pronoun are "nothing available". Ditto, "quintessence".

For "romance", it gives: "romance [love] Has something to do with romantic love, like sending flowers to a significant other, or a couple embracing." Which leaves out an awful lot else.

I'll try it with a verb, I decide, and type "pitch", but it can only identify this word as a noun, the first example given being "baseball pitch".

How about adjectives? I try "nice" and "city of France" comes up! That's a good one.

It also adds a reference to something technical: "Nice, The-Program". This is one biassed ontological knowledge base.

Other parts of speech leave it floundering:

"whatever": nothing available
"unless": nothing available
"also": nothing available. It doesn't even know the word "then"!

My husband, reading this over my shoulder, says that my comments are inappropriate, because what I'm trying to describe is an "upper ontology," not a dictionary. I'm still dismayed though, for I find that the Reasoning Engine's understanding of "us" is limited to "United States" and if I look at the entries listed under the word "forward", I find that they're either computer related or applicable to a military context. The potential for a misunderstanding in that context is no longer funny. It worries me considerably.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A feverish rush towards modernity

Some people's juxtapositions aren't as lighthearted as mine usually are.

In town last week I came across quite a shocking photography / film exhibition by a young Chinese artist, Zhenchen Liu, whose pictures document the pace of change in his home city, Shanghai. He says:

...when I go back to Shanghai I cannot recognize it. It does not seem to want to have a history, all I see is a feverish rush towards modernity ... producing a culture of speed, cost-effectiveness, technology, instantaneity, fragmentation, competition, ephemerality.

His still photos taken a couple of years ago show acre upon acre of devastation, where old tenement houses are being demolished for the sake of high-rise developments on an unprecedented scale. Shanghai's dispossessed former inhabitants have vanished from the slummy scene, or so one thinks until (in the video) the camera zooms in towards the few, desperate individuals who have refused to leave their homes and still try to survive there. There was one shot of an old woman simply lying in a broken bed in a broken room, wailing and sobbing, her sanity clearly shot to pieces. Another scene, shot through heavy rain, is of a solitary younger woman washing crockery in a plastic bowl in a kitchen without proper walls, in a half-demolished house. A squatter perhaps. They look as if they belonged to the populace of Berlin trying to survive in the rubble at the end of the 2nd World War. Meanwhile in the background the demolition machinery continues to swing around remorselessly and new tower blocks rise on the horizon. The artist leaves it to us to make our comments or draw our own conclusions. It's clear that ugliness and squalor must be done away with, but at what human cost? This process is not gentle and though this is a particularly blatant example, Shanghai isn't the only part of the world where it happens. As the exhibition notes put it, realise that contemporary China follows the same capitalist model and is guided by the same concept of progress as western nations. The exponential speed and the scale of China's transformation simply create [...] an accelerated zoom effect on the capitalist system and its relationship with people.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Further delights

I omitted a few of the weekend's pleasures from Monday night's description, such as the sweet corn picked in a field on Saturday morning, flown from Iroquois to Ottawa by Yiwen, with Pete and Chris as passengers, so that a dozen of the cobs could be shared out at Don's and Carol's house on Saturday evening. Then there were the lovely flights over the forested hills north of Montreal on Sunday and Monday (with the added bonus of a tail wind), beneath our wings a view of boats zipping around every accessible lake (the Montrealers at play), and from ground level at Trois-Rivières, we could gaze at the ships gliding along the river.

Once again I looked at the monument to the explorer who was born there:

En cet endroit était située la maison où naquit le 17 novembre 1685 le plus illustre des trifluviens Pierre Gaultier de Varennes Sieur de Lavérendrye découvreur des Montagnes Rocheuses et de l'Ouest canadien

(To my amazement, I find that one of his company has just begun to publish an illustrated blog.)

Children at the Délices d'Automne festival had their own boats to play in. Water everywhere, and on Monday morning, Carol and I swam in the garden pool.

Monday, September 1, 2008


We flew back to Trois-Rivières, this Labour Day weekend, and slept last night at the same gîte as before, on August 4th: Le Fleurvil, in the quietest, most historic part of town. Our four friends who came with us this time found the place as attractive as we did.

It was by sheer luck, apart from the weather being perfect for this trip, that this time our visit to Trois-Rivières coincided with a food-sampling event on the waterfront, Les Délices d'Automne. What fun. From the rue des Ursulines it was a short walk through the convent gardens and the Parc Portuaire to the booth where we could queue for coupons allowing us to sample the delights and delicacies ("délices" means both) of the regional harvest, which, to stretch a point, included some Swiss produce, such as Tête de Moine cheese crumpled into rosettes by a special kind of scraping tool and served with a dob of jam (I happily gave up two coupons to try this) and the Dôle wine Chris and I used to drink 28 years ago when we lived in Bern. Ah, nostalgia! Although tempted by the wild boar sausages and wapiti(!) terrine, the crêpes, the pies, the homemade icecream and the wonderful, fat, red tomatoes, I spent my other coupons on a tasting of ice-cider from a cidrerie and a tub of fresh raspberries, my favourite fruit. Elva acquired a large bagful of ground-cherries which she was still passing around back in the clubhouse at Rockcliffe airport this afternoon. Carol and Don came home with several bottles of Quebec cider and Chris spent all five of his coupons on a beer from the Microbrasserie Nouvelle France, manned by two young men in tricorne hats.

As if we hadn't seen enough food we then repaired to Le Grill on the rue des Forges, as recommended by our host at the gîte, and very good it was too; although noisy and crowded, this place was run with impressive efficiency. From there we walked back to the riverside where the alcohol stalls were still in business.