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, March 29, 2009

Go round about, said the Boyg!

I mustn't fail to record an experience we had on the evening of March 21st, when for three rapidly passing hours we were entertained, troubled and impressed by a performance of Ibsen's Peer Gynt at the new Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre on Wellington Street. The Thirdwall Theatre Company presented this play in the studio theatre, sparsely set with four white curtains hung on wires and a few boxes on the floor between the parallel blocks of seating for an audience of no more than 80 people at a time.

Ottawa's Ambassador for Norway stated that, "to know Peer Gynt is to know the Norwegian" and the actor who played the part, Andy Massingham (whom I've just realised I also saw a few months ago in Ayckbourn's How the Other Half Loves, at the Gladstone Theatre), seemed to understand Peer's character thoroughly, which has a good few similarities with Goethe's Faust. Ibsen's script had been translated by the Canadian writer Henry Beissel and the translation given a few tweaks by Mr Massingham himself. The cleverly composed music for the production was by Nick Carpenter who brought more than one reference to Grieg's more familiar Peer Gynt Suites into his score.

The scene in the last act where Peer Gynt peels the "onion" of his Self (the shipwrecked traveller, the king of lunatics, the archeologist, the prophet in the desert, the man of leisure and so on) to see what he can find at the core—nothing!—was particularly well done, the actor tearing skin and layers from a real, red onion and chucking them all over the floor. We were sitting close enough to hear the flesh rip and smell the onion!

Now we don't have the Canadian translation at home, but we do have Chris' old school text book, the Penguin Classics edition of Peer Gynt translated by Peter Watts, treasured by Chris since he played the part of the Button Moulder in the Huntingdon Grammar School production of 1967, and in any version or language, the play has unforgettable lines, so I'll quote some.

Peer lying to his mother about his reindeer hunt in Scene 1:

... the reindeer plunged us both down to the depths! At our backs the gloomy rock-face - under us the deep abyss! First we hurtled through a cloud-sheet, next we split a flock of seagulls, scattering them in all directions while they filled the air with screeching...

Abducting Ingrid at the end of Act 1:

Bridegroom: Peer Gynt - look at him, there on the hillside!
Many voices: With the bride!

Act 2

Peer: There soar two tawny eagles - and wild geese fly to the southlands, while here I stumble and trudge knee deep in quagmire and slime.

And so he wanders into the Kingdom of the Trolls (very wild and appropriately lit in this production, the thinly clad Trolls sporting pointy ears and long brown tails).

Old Man (Troll King): Outside among men, where the skies are bright, there's a saying 'Man, to thyself be true'; but here among trolls, the saying runs: 'Troll, to thyself be - enough.' [...] Ah yes, my son, we must give you some treatment to cure all this human nature of yours.
Peer: What will you do?
Old Man: Simply scratch your left eye a little bit, so that you'll see askew ...

Peer fights off the invisible Boyg (who "conquers without a blow") and to the accompaniment of church bells in the distance (like the Easter music that saves Goethe's Faust from suicide) The Voice admits:

He was too strong. There were women behind him.

Åse (pronounced something like Orza or Ohza) his mother and Solveig (pronounced Sohl-vey), the innocent girl in his life, are the women in question, i.e. the ones who love Peer for himself. Solveig was very well cast in this production, a first year student from the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama taking the part.

Solveig: Coming here on my skis I asked the way; they said, 'Where are you going?' I answered, 'Home.'

Peer can't take her up on her offer though, shamed as he is by the memory of his night in the Hall of the Mountain King with the Troll King's daughter.

The Woman: When the autumn came and my child was born, I had only the devil to act as my midwife - can you wonder I'm ugly now?

Our hero remembers Solveig waiting for him in the hut:

Peer: To meet her like this - just as I am - would be sacrilege.
Solveig: Are you coming?
Peer: [...] You must wait; it's dark and I have a load to carry. [...] Stay where you are. I shall carry it all.
Solveig: Don't be long.
Peer: Be patient, my love. Long or short, you must wait.
Solveig: I will wait.

Years and years later (at the end of Act V), after a lifelong search for his "Empire" over continents and seas, meeting cynics, gold-diggers, madmen and women who seduce and exploit him on the way, Peer returns empty handed to Solveig's hut where, as an old woman now symbolically blind and leaning on a stick, she is still waiting for him, singing to herself. Desperate to prove to the "Button Moulder," who threatens to melt him down like a useless button for the manufacture of other souls, that he is too sinful to be a mere nonentity, world-weary Peer throws himself at Solveig's feet and pleads for help.

Peer: Cry out how sinfully I have offended!
Solveig: You have sinned in nothing, my only love. [She gropes for him and finds him.]
Button Moulder: The list, Peer Gynt.
Peer: Call out my crimes!
Solveig [sitting down beside him]: You have made my life a beautiful song [...]
Peer: Then I am lost ... Unless you can solve a riddle. [...] Where has Peer Gynt been since last we met?
Solveig: Where?
Peer: With his destiny on his brow. Where? Since he sprang from the mind of God? Can you tell me that? If you cannot tell, I must go down to the shadowy land.
Solveig: Oh, your riddle is easy. [...] In my faith, in my hope, and in my love.

At the end of the play she starts to sing again, like a mother singing a lullaby to a wayward child while the Voice behind the hut utters its last warning:

Button Moulder: Peer, we shall meet at the last cross-roads ...

My husband, at a personal crossroads in his life and career, thought it all rather too close to the bone for comfort and I couldn't sleep afterwards either for thinking of the Solveigs I have known. Such is the power of poetry!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

We turned off the light

An Italian friend on Facebook "ha spento la luce", I see, and so did Chris and I and our neighbours in Cathcart Mews this evening. In honour of Earth Hour we kept our house dark from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. and went out for a walk onto Parliament Hill where it was also relatively dark and where we had to watch our footing on the steps. The stray cats and raccoons of the Hill were on the prowl, not minding the lack of illumination at all, as well as a few people making a gesture with tea lights on lollipop sticks. Whether any of this has made a difference remains to be seen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Taffy and the Belgians

My friends and I were at Stanley's Olde Maple Lane Farm today. Farm animals—a family of cats, cows, pigs, a noisy goose and cockerel—could be met in the barn and teams of Belgian horses were set to work pulling us round the muddy fields and through the maple bush on wagons. We could suck blobs of maple taffy hardened in a bed of snow from wooden sticks, a treat that lasted a good hour, so effectively did it stick to our teeth. Maple taffy is a precious commodity for it takes forty spoonfuls of sap to produce one spoonful of syrup. We visited the tumbledown sugar shack beside the farmhouse to see the syrup being reduced by steaming, an old hand at the task standing by to explain what was happening.

Here are some of Carol's photos:

At the end of the outing a generous brunch was served to about a hundred of us: pancakes, sausages, French bread, frittata and baked beans, with maple syrup a main ingredient in the preparation. A Ukranian chef, the lady who runs the Sunflower Café on Rideau Street, also gave us a cookery demonstration, showing us, for example, how to prepare a salmon fillet with slices of Granny Smith apples, maple syrup and hyssop leaves.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Morning, noon and night

This morning, the sky over the Ottawa River was full of flying geese. I had breakfast and a nice conversation with Greta and Gareth, a consultant statistician who works for UNICEF, before driving Greta to a house across the river for a second breakfast provided by the hostess, Beryl, where our conversation was mostly in German; we were talking abut old fashioned etiquette. Then for lunch (pizza on a cardboard plate) I crossed the river to fetch Chris home after my "guided tour" of the mostly abandoned Nortel premises, saying hello (or goodbye) to some of the lost souls that still remain there. What a sad site /sight. By this time next week Chris will have seen the last of it. By the way, one of the ex-employees is aiming to sell what he calls his enhanced severance package on eBay; I like to see how humour is cheering them (some of them) up. This evening, in pouring rain, Chris and I walked to Jack's for an hour's work on our Vaughan Williams and Schubert songs.

Monday, March 23, 2009

And about time, too

There have been too many juxtapositions for me to keep track of during the last few weeks, and in my husband's opinion I should only write about one thing at once. Well then, one of the things with which I've been preoccupied—apart from the compilation of ideas for further editions of Crosswinds for the flying club, our constant financial calculations in view of the imminent end to Chris' employment at Nortel with no foreseeable compensation (I even attended a webinar about this), my Spanish conversations on Tuesdays, French on Wednesdays, German on Thursdays, and the remarkably bright, high pressure weather that's had me out gardening in a "feels like" temperature of minus 20—is a computerised transcription of some sheet music, using the abc Music Standard, created by Chris Walshaw, player of pipes and whistles in the Climax Ceilidh Band.

My Uncle Frank (aka Francis Bishop, Gordon Bishop, Francis Gordon Bishop or "Concordia"), of whom we were all very fond and who died last summer aged 93, composed, improvised, taught and performed on the piano and organ for most of his life. When I was visiting my mother in England last month his wife Ruth posted her some of his "pop songs" (as she calls them) and piano pieces, all in hand-written form. Neat though her brother's writing was, my mother has a hard time reading these manuscripts, so I offered to try to make them more legible once I got back to Canada. It is turning out to be a very long job, but rewarding. I feel I'm getting to know my uncle better; the exercise certainly brings him to life again for me.

For the music in this illustration, for example (click to expand), the following computer program notates the treble clef line of the piano part:

V: 2 clef=treble
(c =B>c) | % 1
(_B A>B) |
G E (F |
G _B)(>A |
[G,CEG] [G,CE] [G,C]) | % 5
([A,CD] [A,CE] [A,CDF] |
[E3G3]) | z [=B,2D2] |
(c =B>c) |
(_B A>B) |
(G [G,CE] [CEG] | % 10
[A,_CEFA] F>A) |
[B,EGB] [B,EG] E |
(_c2 F |
[D3B3]) |
[_A,B,DF] {B}b B, ||
V: 3 clef=treble
!mf!z [E2G2] |
z [D2F2] |
z [G,2C2] |
[=B,D] [=B,DF] [B,DF] |
!mp!x3 |
!crescendo(!x3 |
(D C/2_C/2 B,/2=A,/2!crescendo)!) |
!diminuendo(!(_A,2 G,)!diminuendo)! |
!mf!z [E2G2] |
z [D2=F2] |
x3 |
x [A,CE] [CE] |
!crescendo(!x3!crescendo)! |
!f!z [_C2E2] |
!diminuendo(!G2 _G |
x!diminuendo)! x2 ||

and then some open-source software known as abcm2ps generates a postscript file, such as the one that gave me my page of music above.

Our guitarist friend John says that LilyPond might be a better notation system for me to try, but I don't know whether I want to make the effort the switch would entail. I have a folder full of my father's music manuscripts to transcribe as well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What Alexander said

I've been in England with my two-year-old grandson, who has now discovered language, and while I was with him I noted down some of the delightful things he said. He is particularly interested in trains and buses, toy ones and real ones.

Alexander got lots of many pieces fix that train track.

Thomas goes to bed in Gordon's shed.

He made four attempts at a negative statement about his toy train.

Gordon got any much steam coming out. Gordon got no steam. Gordon hasn't got any more steam. Gordon hasn't got any much steam left.

When we were on board, waiting to leave the station,

'xander can't see wheels on the train... We're not going any more!

Colouring a drawing of "Ivor the Engine", he told us,

The buffers need be green.

and after a trip to see "Ivor the Engine" on the Watercress Line,

Ivor blow his whistle for us!

We plunged out of the tunnel.

Doors go pssh, open, let more people get off. Doors go pssh, shut, then the bus go.

The baby go wah-wah on the bus.

This is a reference to one of the many verses of The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round. After dark, catching sight of my son-in-law's reflection in the bus window,

Mummy, there's a picture of Daddy on the bus!

Alexander knows the numbers of the buses that pass through his part of London (such as the "airport bus", No. 285) though I'm not sure he can recognise the shapes of every digit, yet. The first evening I spent with him, when he'd been collected from his day-nursery, he counted the gas cylinders beside the NPL building where his parents go to work:

One, two, three, six gassy Lindas.

Then we got him home and prepared to have supper. "Grandma's washing his hands." He loves his yoghurt. "That's a little small spoonful," he said, helping himself to a large amount.

The next day being sunny, we did some gardening. "Oh come dig!" he insisted, and talked about it afterwards.

Alexander dug a big hole Grandma put blue flowers in it.

The fluffy black cat that belongs to the neighbours padded by.

'xander stroke the cat one of these days,

he said.

Indoors, there were jigsaws to play with.

Do the jig-jaw all so well. Well done, Alexander!

he says to himself, clapping his hands when he has completed one. And to settle down at night, he has books read to him.

This is a big, happy book!

he told me, choosing from the shelf in his bedroom.