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.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Not calling a spade a spade

This is an uncomfortable subject. In German today we looked at an interview published in Welt Online: Unwörter sind Produkte von Medien und Politik, which was about the way words are invented or distorted to cover up the truth about things. You could translate Unwörter as non-words, perhaps.

The press is particularly prone to coming up with abbreviations like "Gitmo" for Guantanamo Bay or "WMDs" for Weapons of Mass Destruction. If something is too unbearable to contemplate, give it a nickname. Actually people are for ever doing this, from military personnel who can't face the truth of what they really mean by "collateral damage" to the insecure father of a teenage girl inventing a silly name for her boyfriend rather than deigning to call him by his real name.

Insurance companies come up with insensitive inventions like "Todesfallbonus" (a death bonus) and "Langlebigkeitsrisiko" (the risk of a long life), which the philologist Horst Dieter Schlosser feels is an insult to human dignity.

Talking of dignity, what about those nursing homes run by Dignicare, Inc? Doing a Google search for "dignicare" by the way, also reveals this link, a perfect example of how words can sometimes deliberately imply the exact opposite of what they actually stand for.

Then there are the inappropriate exaggerations. Schlosser deplores the recent use of the word "pogrom" in connection with managers' salaries, and haven't animal rights activists gone too far, he asks, by telling us that battery hens live in a "Hühner-KZ" (a concentration camp for chickens)? "KZ" itself is another of those euphemisms invented by someone who couldn't bear to pronounce the actual word.

Well, talking of chickens, here's a quotation from C.S. Lewis that Chris found for me today:

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Back to basics

From the book The Arctic Sky, Inuit Astronomy, Star Lore and Legend by John MacDonald, which I've just posted to George for his March birthday (allowing enough of time for a parcel by surface mail to reach Australia), here's a quotation from an Inuit man:

"Even if I did not have a watch, the movement of these stars can tell me the time. The Tukturjuit [Ursa Major constellation] are easily recognized because they have the form of a caribou. When the caribou apppears to stand on its hind legs and its head starts to get higher this is an indication that midnight is approaching." [...] In South Baffin Island the stars of Tukturjuit were also used for orientation: "When you are a long distance out on the sea ice and the shore of Baffin is obscured—raise your left hand and when your fingers and thumb match the constellation's stars your arm points towards the mainland."

Were our clocks and GPS gadgets to fail, who in our 'civilised' world would still be able to use the stars for guidance?

I thought I might find some similar information about Australian aboriginals, and sure enough: although they never had calendars, the Boorong people of Victoria always knew that when, in what we call October, the Mallee-fowl constellation (Lyra) vanishes, to "sit with the Sun" it's time to start gathering the Mallee-fowl's eggs on earth. Other indigenous Australians see the first appearance of Orion in their sky as a reminder that Dingo puppies are about to be born.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Staff dinner

It was the Rockcliffe Flying Club's free dinner at Friday's for staff and board members and their guests, last night. In photo-journalist mode, as Chris' guest, I brought the camera with me; actually it was Chris who took most of the pictures. Here are the dispatchers and young instructors, René, Marc, Benoit, Stéphane, Stéphane's girlfriend, Joey and Adam. With a view to including this photo in a future edition of Crosswinds, I'm trying it out here in black & white.

I'm reluctant to make any additions to my 12-page January issue, as this is now ready for printing. If I were to add any more material, it would have to fill four more pages; I have only just realised that, for ease of stapling, newsletters need to be prepared in multiples of four pages—obvious, when you think about it, but I hadn't.

Don stood up half way through the meal and told us that 2008 had been a fantastic year, the most active in recent history, with 5,200 hours of flying time on the club aircraft. "As a team, it all works!" he said, praising instructors, staff and maintenance people (chief of whom is 'Red'—in the picture—wearing an extraordinary hat last night that had belonged to his father; someone on our table commented that it made quite a statement of its own). Our achievements have been amazing, said Don, considering the weather, and as we can't possibly have such bad weather this year, we're expecting 2009 to be even better.

Simon, Chief Flying Instructor, also made a speech, telling us that 2008 had been the club's second best year for flying (2003 was the best) and the best year ever from a financial point of view, despite the fact that the management was beset by challenges: not just the weather but also a high turnover of qualified staff, resulting in a severe shortage of instructors last summer. The aviation industry's expansion has slowed down, however, RFC has fast-tracked its Class 1 instructors and we now "have depth", with sixteen instructors employed by the club, eight of whom are currently in training for a higher rating.

At this juncture Simon made a joke about how it was the instructors' job to break the club's aircraft ("...and PHV will be fixed shortly!"), saying how the 'planes are being upgraded, a couple of them acquiring GPS, a new Cessna 182 added to the fleet, and a fully VFR-certified simulator on order to replace the old one. There's even a new toy (the recently acquired tractor-trailer-snowblower) for Steve. So Simon is looking forward to continued progress using all the available new technology. Meanwhile, to nobody's surprise, the clubhouse is in urgent need of replacement, the roof falling in, animals falling in, the walls tilting, the doors sticking, with leaking pipes, frozen pipes ... Never mind; Simon promises to manage the transition to our New Facilities (when we get 'em) and this year is going to focus on developing his staff, rather than standing in for missing instructors, and be altogether more managerial.

He thanked the board of directors for their "unbelievable" amount of support.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Startling the people that matter

I watched three brilliant teachers this week. What they had in common was self-assurance and a passion to share the ideas that drive them.

As I said I would, I went back to the National Gallery to watch the documentary film about Bernini, actually Part 2 of the BBC Series Simon Schama's Power of Art, entitled Bernini. In this production Schama presents a dramatised version of Bernini's life story, and shows us "the most daring sculpture in the history of art," the Ecstasy of St. Theresa. He talked about its "rippling cushions of stone," how the nun's habit, sculpted in this way, represents what's happening inside her: "a helpless dissolution into liquid bliss"—!

Schama doesn't pull any punches. Forget the euphemisms, he says, this is the face of sexual euphoria. Theresa was one of the barefoot Carmelites, says the narrator, depicted here, in "molten marble," not as a forty-something old maid, but as an unforgettably beautiful young woman. The artist, adept at "startling the people that mattered," shows spiritual ecstasy as something anyone can relate to:

What Bernini's managed to make tangible is something that we all, if we're honest, know we hunger for, but before which we're properly tongue-tied [...] No wonder when art historians look at this sculpture they tie themselves in knots to avoid saying the obvious, that is, that we're looking at the most intense convulsive drama of the body that any of us experience.

It is not a furtive piece, says Schama. Bernini "wants us to look, and look hard," witness the "audience" that he's incorporated into the ensemble (the faces painted on either side). He has set it up as theatre (apparently Bernini was also known as a playwright, painter and master builder) with "fake lighting", even. On the floor there's evidence that the earth has literally moved for St. Theresa, as there are the dead, arising from their graves. Bernini was not being "crude" however, understanding that for mystics, soul and body are one and the same. The Pope himself—Innocent X—liked it.

My second exposure to good teaching was when my daughter sent me a link to a presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, on the TED website, asking: Do schools kill creativity?, done as a sort of stand-up comedy that has the audience laughing out loud ... and thinking. He's highly provocative. Senior academics, he says, "look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads. It's a way of getting their head to meetings." Yet the modern education system puts this sort of people at the top of the intelligence tree, and treats the creative ones (musicians, artists, dancers) as less worthy of notice. Robinson tells the story of Gillian Lynne, choreographer, who was considered educationally subnormal, until a doctor realised that her lack of attention in school was a symptom not of deficiency but of her natural creativity. "Gillian isn't sick, she's a dancer..."

The third fine teacher this week was Barack Obama, whose Inauguration speech, if you ask me, was a lesson (not just to Americans) on how to think. I was taking notes!—noting that he mentioned the value of curiosity (hooray!) and of restoring Science "to its rightful place." As for national and international security:

Power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please ... Our security emanates from [...] the tempering qualities of humility and restraint ... We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness ... People will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy ... we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist...

I was impressed by a story that came out in the Guardian about rather less famous Joe Favreau (27) who helps Obama to compose his speeches, working on the word-crafting in coffee shops for hours on end.

I can relate to that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The writing on the wall

AVAAZ, meaning Voice, is "the world's largest on-line advocacy network" with 20,000 new members joining each week, apparently, most of us having heard about it from a relative or friend; it was my daughter who persuaded me to join about a year ago and I, along with thousands of others, mostly hopeful, have just sent a message of encouragement to Barack Obama on a "virtual wall" that AVAAZ has named The Obama Inauguration Hub. Messages are being posted at a prodigious rate from all over the world, so that mine dropped off the bottom of the screen within minutes. I wonder who will read them (I doubt if the President will have time, although I think people have decided to participate in this are under the impression that he's open to suggestion) apart from the like-minded members of this organisation. An even more imaginative ploy by AVAAZ was to erect a real wall for writing on, in a very public part of Washington, when Mr Obama was first elected.

I don't know whether this sort of action changes minds, but at least the impulse is there and it's indicative of a worldwide longing for change. Some of the people writing on these walls are immoderately emotional and many say "Don't let us down, Mr Obama!"—a terrible burden for the man. It's interesting to see that very few messages relate to the colour of his skin. I've just taken another look at the Hub, and someone has posted:

Obama please talk about compassion as a new weapon.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sign of the times?

Just received an email from Greta, who organises our Spanish conversation group, saying:

Hola Señoras,

We have decided to postpone our Spanish meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, January 20th, to the following week, Tuesday, January 27th, due to the Inauguration of the new US President ...

because several of our group don't want to miss watching the ceremony on TV!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Snow-shoe photographers

This morning the temperature reading at Gatineau Airport was MINUS 37°C. This is me (back view) lining up four of the foreign diplomats who had braved the extreme cold to try snowshoeing along the north bank of the Ottawa River this morning. Meanwhile, Carol had borrowed my other camera to take these photos.

Indoors at Louise's house, the scene was warmer. There were sixty-eight people present, apparently. I'm the one in the (Nepalese) striped pullover, on the right.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Economic Factors

Usually you wouldn't expect to find me in the audience for a lecture entitled Economic Factors, Your Retirement, and Fidelity's Mutual Funds. Sounds deadly, doesn't it? But on Monday evening, there I sat at the RA Centre waiting for the speaker to begin. Ladies in smart business jackets at the door were handing out adverts for Mutual Funds and a free ball point pen to each arriving attendee, saying "Enjoy!" A gentleman on the front row beside Chris and me didn't think his pen was a very good return for the investments he'd made so far with the TK group. The audience of about 100 people were not all pending retirees by any means, the youngest person present being a very small and pretty baby who'd come along with her parents.

The speaker was Peter Drake, a man who has never retired, because he tried it for half a year once, and he (and his wife) got fed up with it. An economist with the TD bank and a lecturer at the University of Toronto, he's been in the Canadian finance industry for the last 35 years.

To my relief, his lecture was much easier to listen to than I'd expected. He believes that "we're gonna get out of the mess", that the media are being wildly over-dramatic, giving confusing and scary messages without stepping back to see the big picture. Mr Drake, who is going to be in the CBC box on Budget Day, says that you can't make risk go away, but that bankers have become totally risk-averse lately. The central banks of the UK and Canada are the present day heroes, as are the US Federal Reserve, who, learning on the fly, have dropped their interest rates. Are we going back to the 1930s in N. America or the Japanese 1990s? He thinks not. The governments of the '30s were "too tight", didn't stimulate the economy as ours are planning to do and the Japanese were scared; fear of hyper-inflation was "burnt into their souls", an attitude that cost them a decade of growth. The Global Economy we have now means we trade far more now than in the past; this is good news, but means we have to learn how to deal with international issues as well as our own.

There's a shortage of workers in Canada already that's going to get worse, so the aging population shouldn't fear unemployment; we're going to have the opportunity to carry on working! So says a man who obviously loves his work. Nor should we talk of a "housing crisis". It's a "house price correction", that's all. He predicts that the fall in house prices will stop about half way through 2009, an important step towards better times. As regards the ups and downs of the price of oil, market momentum is a powerful force. If prices go up, we cut back, and we'll soon be better at conserving oil.

We're in a period of de-flation, the opposite of in-flation. Typically we wait before buying things at such times. Two years ahead we'll feel like buying again and the currency will start to inflate.

Yields from bond funds have dropped noticeably, but that's just part of a trend; they've been falling for years. In the past bonds have yielded a 19% return. That was an anomaly that won't happen again for some while.

A retired couple in Canada spends $48,450 per year, on average (which seems a suspiciously precise number and a surprisingly low amount to me—just over £13,000 each, in British terms). Of course, "essential expenses" and "discretionary expenses" are debatable.

Statistics, according to Peter Drake:
A female of my age has a 50% chance of living to the age of 86.
At least one person per couple has a 50% chance of living to the age of 90.
25% of us will live till we're 94.
50% of us will live in nursing homes at one time or another.

Once retired, to keep up with inflation, medical costs and so on, we should aim at a 4% withdrawal rate from our savings.

There are only two basic options for governments faced with financial trouble:

  • cut taxes
  • raise spending

Recent governments have followed the ideas put forward by J M Keynes, but they "didn't read the second chapter." As regards the USA, Clinton got the US out of deficit, but the current administration (Bush & co.) knows nothing about fiscal policy! We shouldn't blame our own financial advisors for the stupid mistakes of credit rating agencies and regulators who screwed up and the investment bankers in the US who followed the herd. Peter Drake himself being a contributor to, and his lecture being organised by a group hoping to sell us their Mutual Funds, perhaps we should take that comment with a pinch of salt.

Someone in the audience asked Mr Drake what newspapers he recommended us to read and he plumped for the Financial Times as the most reliable. The pundits from The Economist don't know as much as they think they do, but aren't bad, and nor is the Globe and Mail's Report on Business. He didn't think much of the Financial Post, however.

Perennial words of wisdom: "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." and "If an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is." Anyway, we're not to worry. Peter Drake expects to see regrowth in the economy by the third or fourth quarter of this year.

Could be a bit late for the latest victims of Nortel's shenanigans.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hot and cold

Our son in Australia has just had a Skype chat with me.


Gosh .... the temperature has hit 40C here! It's hot. "A Rail Corp spokeswoman, Marianne McCabe, said there were no delays despite some trains slowing as a standard precaution against distorted tracks and sagging overhead lines."


Minus 25C here! It's COLD. "Temperatures will continue to stay cold Wednesday dropping even further as another colder Arctic air mass moves in from the Prairies."


Oh well ... only a 65C difference!


I've noticed this phenomenon many times now. When you have extremes of heat we have extremes of cold. That can't be mere coincidence. We'll all have to take care. Walking home through town today I wore a woolly scarf-hat round my face and head and a furry leather hat on top of that, with the collar of my down-filled jacket also zipped right up over my chin. I bet that makes you feel warm just thinking about it. Only my eyes were showing, but my eyelashes froze even so.

George (who is a Scientist):

We should correlate the temperatures in Sydney and Ottawa and see if there are inverse correlations at the extremes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Sumatran wedding

The bride's family coming from Sumatra, the wedding was held in traditional style with a grand post-nuptual reception at the Indonesian Embassy yesterday to which a huge number of friends and acquaintances of the Embassy staff were invited. The wedding, that had actually taken place privately at the Mosque the previous day, was repeated during this reception for the education of their guests, the Indonesian Ambassador and his wife being our host and hostess, with the ladies of the Embassy involved in five days of food preparation beforehand.

At twelve noon, closely watched by the assembly, the Indonesian ladies in their best kabayas and shawls and many of them, including two beautiful little girls, also wearing a hijab (aka tudung), the two families processed slowly towards an elaborately decorated central arched gateway from diagonally opposite directions, preceded by musicians in white, playing bamboo flutes and drums. Male representatives of the families then addressed one another in an exchange of repartee, reciting what the announcer called "limericks", i.e. funny rhymes which made the Indonesian guests (who could understand them) laugh. Then followed a ritual display of self defence from a young man of the bridegroom's family, ceremonially "fought" by a member of the other clan, to show that the groom's people were of worthy, courageous stock. At the end of the bout the black-clad combatants politely bowed to one another, hands together. The groom was then permitted to put a lei of flowers around his bride's neck, and arm-in-arm they slowly proceeded towards the stage at the front of the hall where there were seats on either side for the parents of the couple as well as for a beautifully adorned little child from each family. These children had golden feathers in their black hair.

Presentation of the wedding gifts followed, traditionally such things as jewelry, footwear and lingerie from friends of the bride, if I heard correctly, and a dance of welcome by young girls wearing long, curved, golden, artificial nails to make their hands more expressive. They wore collars of red velvet studded with gold and matching headbands, vibrant silk tunics and sarongs finely brocaded with gold threads and had belts of gold around their waists. Nisa, one of my Indonesian friends at the reception, whispered to me that Sumatra, the nearest part of Indonesia to the Malay peninsula, is famous for its goldmines. The bride's hands participated in the dance, although the rest of her stood still as she watched the other girls; I expect she used to be exactly such a dancer before she became a married woman. Symbolically, a lady came up to the podium bearing a petal-strewn tray on which the bride had to place her own dancing nails, the lady helping her remove them from her finger tips. Thus she leaves her youth behind, explained the announcer, adding an ad lib comment (because Tasha was smiling broadly): "She's happy!"

Towards the end of the ceremonials the young couple knelt before each set of parents, pressing their faces to the parents' knees as a gesture of devotion, trust, or obedience, call it what you will. Both mothers (mothers-in-law) became tearful at this touching moment and all four parents instinctively stroked or patted the shoulders of the young couple with great affection as they did this. (My picture here is of the bride's family looking across at the in-laws.) Then the roles were reversed; each pair of parents came forward to feed the bride and groom morsels of food from a spoon. It seemed a bit of an anti-climax to have a Western style cutting-of-the-wedding-cake ritual straight after this, but the press photographers surged forward en masse, as if this were the climax of the proceedings. The cake was decorated in English; the icing said: "Daniel and Tasha, January 11th, 2009.") The wedding ended with another demonstration from the dancing girls, announced as the Umbrella Dance. (They twirled red parasols, and that was all I could see of this one, not tall enough to look over the heads of the people in front of me—and the dancers themselves were even shorter than I.)

For the bride and groom there was no sitting down to lunch just yet, for they finally had to stand in a reception line and shake hands with every guest in turn, as we were all requested to step up and congratulate them. The poor bride who may have been supporting more than 2 kg of solid gold on her head, if my information is correct, and who was surely hungry as well, became pale and dizzy after about an hour of this ordeal and had to be supported herself. Meanwhile most of us had been tucking in to Indonesian specialities from food stations spread around three sides of the hall, a meal that was magnificently well organised.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

An illustration for the Flying Club's newsletter?

An editor needs comic relief from time to time. I thought this picture might do for my January edition of RFC's Crosswinds. Any suggestions for the text that should appear alongside?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bernini's Busts

Bernini, 1598-1680, was a genius. He was a child prodigy too, introduced at the age of 8 to the first of the many Popes he met, who told his father that this child would soon outstrip him as a sculptor. Like Leopold Mozart, the father didn't mind this comment, apparently.

Today I saw the exhibition of Bernini's portraits on display at the National Gallery along with a few pieces by his contemporaries. Aged nearly 82 when he died, Bernini had competed with a great many other Baroque artists. His was a period of European history when portraits came into their own, because they were status symbols—Louis XIV of France and his court had a great many done—as well as being a means of showing the both spiritual and the sensual side of humanity. What the exhibition notes called "naturalism" had a high priority in the taste of those days, Bernini having grown up under the influence of Caraveggio. Then there was the impetus from Rome, the Catholic Church galvanised into Counter Reformation by the Protestant opposition. Most of Bernini's busts seem to have been of Cardinals or Popes, the VIPs. One of the Popes, Urban VIII, said to Bernini (who'd had him under observation for ten years before giving his marble face and beard amazing vitality):

You were made for Rome and Rome for you.

In my ignorance I hadn't realised that Bernini was not only a great sculptor but a consummate painter too, who put his first ideas down as chalk sketches. In the first gallery was his self portrait at 25 years old, rather alarmed at the sight of himself in his mirror, it seems, but very alive. In the last gallery two other self portraits were juxtaposed, one of them a study in chalks (from the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford) of his young self, dated 1625, and the sketch beside it showing him as an old man in 1665 (this latter portrait came from HM the Queen's collection).

The marble busts in the show seem to sparkle, so white is the stone, and when you look at them closely you can see the lifelike detail that makes them so extraordinary: the pockmarks on the cheeks of a Cardinal who'd once suffered from acne or smallpox, the stubble of a growing beard. One bust depicted Bernini's elderly mother, a dignified lady with a Roman nose and a mole on her top lip, carefully rendered. You'd think the medium of marble would make the limbless figures stiff, dead looking; on the contrary, it's hard to believe this is not flesh itself, about to move. Of course, the sculptors of the day had standard ways of tricking the viewer into thinking their creations were alive. A wrinkled sleeve implied movement of the implied arm. A half open mouth signified that the subject was about to speak. When you think of the Ecstasy of S. Teresa di Avila and what that depiction implies, ... But that was a whole figure. Here in Ottawa we are limited to seeing busts. In one of the exhibition rooms a film was being shown about the Saint Teresa sculpture, but it was running on a 50 minute loop and I didn't have time to watch more than a short section. "Art is all about passion" said the narrator. I'll be back there shortly to watch the rest.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ploughing on

The snow ploughs are out in force again tonight (as in one of our pictures from last winter), but we're carrying on regardless, as my father would have said.

On Sunday, we managed to fly to Lachute for lunch, although our friends didn't, the other three planes being grounded due to frozen mechanisms or unwarmed engine oil. Chris and I floated through the sky at a lower altitude than usual, watching the establishment of ice-fishing "villages" all the way along the Ottawa River between here and Hawkesbury. We circled over one to watch a fishing hut being dragged into place across the frozen bay.

I was given a life-changing piece of equipment for Christmas—a slow cooker—so that when we return from an outing we're now greeted by the aroma of a ready-made supper, and all we have to do, before tucking in, is set the table.

Chris went back to Nortel on Monday and I set to work tidying up our messy house and baking Welsh cakes and flapjacks in preparation for the nine Spanish-speaking ladies who came here for coffee and conversation yesterday. We talked about what we'd been doing over the holidays and Beryl made me feel muy envidiosa by showing us her photos and describing her sun-drenched week on the Riviera Maya in Mexico.

Never mind. I've also started reading a book about the Australian outback, another excessively sunny place. This is a Christmas present from George, Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines. What it's teaching me about the Aboriginals is quite a revelation. It seems to show that our society underestimates these people. After leaving Jenny at the ski-slopes, by the way, on New Year's Eve, Chris and I were walking down a quiet side street into the village of Wakefield when a couple of Canadian aboriginals came along in the other direction, looking a bit drunk. One of the men came right up to us. Chris looked alarmed in case we were about to be accosted, but I smiled at the native man and wished him a Happy New Year. He beamed all over his face, held my hand for a moment and then went on his way with the other fellow, apparently satisfied with the encounter. There was a spontaneity about this incident which I keep remembering. My behaviour was right for once. What happened to my usual wariness?

Another absorbing book I'm reading is the biography of Anton Chekhov that my mother left here after her last visit. Chekhov and Chatwin—now there's a nice juxtaposition!

Today I have trudged through the snow to the bank, the supermarket and Shafali's new coffee shop and have sat down to prepare some teaching notes for my next few German sessions with the Konversationsgruppe, then this afternoon I have been working on the first five pages of the Flying Club's Newsletter, of which I'm now the "managing editor" (as Joe Scoles called himself when he had the job). I have a new tool on the computer called Pages which allows me to cheat by using templates. This evening I slithered and stumbled into town through the storm again (better than driving: Chris did an involuntary 360° turn while trying to drive home from work this afternoon) in order to play the piano at Jack's flat for my husband's singing lesson. Chris sang Where e'er you walk (Handel), O Isis und Osiris (from Mozart's Zauberflöte) and songs 1 and 3 from Schubert's Winterreise.

While I have been writing the above, Chris has been updating his own blog with a post about "Anaximander’s opposites".

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A few too many? Parties, I mean...

Happy New Year!

How people find the time and energy to make New Year's Resolutions, let alone try to keep them, beats me. Our week has been crowded with people. After Chris had taken Jenny flying over the Gatineau Park last Monday, with three landings at Gatineau, each a touch-and-go, Jennie (correct spelling, different woman!), her husband Bill and Christine came round for supper and to sing some belated Christmas carols with us. Christine, Bill's daughter, is the one who accompanied our son George to Alice Springs last year. Last Christmas she had a go on George's 'cello and this time round she had a go on Jenny's flute. Bill, once a telecomm colleague of Chris' and thereafter a science teacher at a Ashbury College, is now VP of Technology at Iogen Corporation, a company that's making cellulosic ethanol, i.e. fuel from straw, something that sounds like a very promising occupation.

The following day, Tuesday, we went to Barbara's house, with live candles on the tree in the German tradition, for a buffet lunch, meeting her son and daughter (Mark and Lara), Andrew and Claudia (Claudia is a travel agent from Peru) and a Political Science prof. —Achim—with his wife Julia and their baby daughter, Eva. Mark and Andrew are financial wizards in Miami and Toronto respectively and Lara is studying to be a translator and perhaps an interpreter, presently at Ottawa University.

New Year's Eve being a bright day, we took Jenny to Ski-Vorlage so that she could enjoy herself on the slopes, meeting her again in the bar at the "day lodge" afterwards and taking her to lunch at Chamberlin's Lookout above the General Store at Wakefield with its lovely view of the (snow-white) Gatineau River. It has a glass floor, so that you also get a view of the shop beneath your table. In the evening our flying gang, Roger and Francine, John (CEO of Air Navigation Data), Jill and Bronwyn (John's daughter who has previously worked in racing stables around the world but is now studying modern languages at Toronto), Elva and Laurie, Carol and Don all arrived, with various contributions for supper, to see the New Year in at our house. For the sake of brevity I won't list all their contributions, but what a feast! We did make a bit of a mistake with my mulled wine that needed more sugar and with Jill's three bottles of champagne that we left out of doors in the snow for rather too long a time, so that the contents of the first bottle slurped out like slushy in a semi-solid state, Don manfully trying to thaw out the other two under a warm tap before we reached the stroke of midnight. Other amusing distractions from the remorseless passing of time were Chris' annual Predictions Quiz, as mentioned in this blog a year ago, and a game of Charades. Chris and Laurie, for example, made us guess The Dam Busters with Laurie enacting the part of the Lancaster bombers and Chris the bouncing bomb. As illustrated in the picture above, we wrapped ourselves up at the end of the evening to venture out in search of the advertised fireworks display, but couldn't see much of this from the park, whereupon we hurried back into the warmth where we'd been singing / playing Auld Lang Syne in three parts arranged by me. Which reminds me that I should have apologised to our neighbours for the probable disturbance.

On New Year's Day, after lunch here with Elva and Laurie, Elva, Jenny and I walked into town to meet Varvara (Elva's administrative assistant, from Russia) at the National Arts Centre for a traditional Viennese concert in Southam Hall, enhanced with six Viennese ballet dancers, two ballroom dancers and a soprano and tenor soloist, the accompanying Ottawa Symphony Orchestra conducted by Niels Muus. You wouldn't enjoy this if you don't like music by J Strauss and Léhar, but take it in the right spirit and it's great fun. The ladies' dresses were spectacular, the soprano wearing a stupendous bright yellow décolleté gown with long black gloves for the first half of the concert and a purple dress shimmering and decorated like a peacock's tail for the second half. Laurie taxied Elva and Varvara back to our house for tea and cakes afterwards and Chris brought Jenny and me home to join them. Dropping Varvara at her place after that the rest of us repaired to the Buchans' for supper by candlelight with Carol, Don, Kathryn, Andrew and Lilian, Chris and Andrew sparring in philosophical debate and several of us having a go at the Wii sports games the family had acquired for Christmas.

More snow fell yesterday but Chris took Jenny skating on the canal (on Carol's skates) all the same. We met at Piccolo Grande for lunch. While I shopped for supper ingredients the other two then explored the Aviation Museum. In the evening, Elizabeth, David and Carola, plus Charlie the dog, came round to share our meal with us and sit around the fire for a very pleasant and relaxing conversation.

It was Jenny's last day with us today and all she had time for was a session in the flight simulator at the Flying Club with Chris and a walk into town and back for lunch before we reluctantly said goodbye to her at the airport. She has to be back at her teaching post in Birmingham the day after tomorrow. This evening Chris and I are on our own. How strange that suddenly seems, and, we must admit, how peaceful.