This morning I took a great many photos at a fashion show. It was quite an Occasion. I'm not yet sure whether publishing the details in this blog is permissible, so I'll just give a hint of what we saw, without mentioning any names!
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
A friend and colleague of Chris' who retired from Nortel (of his own accord!) last November has taken to walking near his house every day after breakfast, and the trail he likes to follow is the one that goes around the Britannia Conservation Area, popularly known as Mud Lake.
This morning John invited Chris and me to join him and, despite the fact that it was raining, we met for the walk at half past nine, setting off under tall, straight pines among the deciduous trees, finding many spring flowers and flowering shrubs sprinkled with raindrops, stagnant beaver swamps, glades, then wild rock gardens on outcrops of slate by the riverside with a view of the still very full Ottawa River where there are partly drowned islands and dangerous rapids. Crossing landscaped parkland around the water purification plant, we rejoined the path, seeing radiation fog steaming from the pond, a massive, bloated snapping turtle's carcass (not very nice) draped over a log, bees, yellow pond lilies, frogs, a few herons and yellow warblers of some kind. A chickadee perched on John's hand though he had no food to offer. It took us about an hour in all to complete our circuit of Mud Lake and we felt we'd made a very worthwhile discovery by exploring it, although seeing the police team on the bank near the rapids trying to locate the drowned bodies of a young couple accidentally swept down them last weekend wasn't so pleasant.
It seems rather a pity Chris isn't going to stay retired like John or we could look forward to doing this more often! Coming out of Viva Loca, by the way, we spotted the picture of an ex-Nortel friend of Chris and John, Miguel, on the front page of the Ottawa Citizen's Business News. I met Miguel as well recently when we all met for lunch in a pub. Click here to read the article, but I warn you, it makes depressing reading.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Alec and Melita, hearing that Chris and I were keen on the idea of seeing Istanbul one day, wanted to show us some slides of their visit there ten years ago. While Alec projected his slides and Melita gave the commentary, I took some notes.
Geographically, only 3% of Turkish land lies in Europe. Tulips originally grew in Turkey.
Of its current population (71 million) 99% are Muslim. It was President Atatürk's idea in the 1920s to adopt the Latin alphabet for written Turkish and under his leadership the change-over from Arabic took no more than three months. (He founded the Republic of Turkey in 1923.)
Istanbul is full of traffic jams and mosques, notably the Süleymaniye Mosque, built for Suleiman the Magnificent, and the Blue Mosque with its six minarets and adorned with blue tiles within, built in the 1600s to rival the Hagia Sophia. The great Hagia Sophia itself, now a museum, was first of all—for over 900 years!—a Byzantine Cathedral; it was built in the 530s AD, when the city was not Istanbul but Constantinople, under the supervision of Justinian I; its walls are pink. When the invading Muslims captured the city in 1453 they immediately turned the Hagia Sophia into a mosque and before long its Christian mosaics were plastered over, but some have since been restored.
From a boat ride on the Bosphoros you can spot stone edifices erected in Constantine's day as well as the Rumeli Fortress built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 as he prepared his final attack on Constantinople. The hospital where Florence Nightingale worked can also be seen from the water, overlooking the Sea of Marmara.
There are palaces to be explored in Istanbul as well, the 19th century Sultan's Dolmabahce Palace, Atatürk's residence, and the Kremlin-like Topkapi Palace, headquarters of the Ottoman Empire, where Mehmet the Conqueror lived in the 1450s.
My notes degenerate after this. Melita and Alec left Istanbul for a few days to tour other parts of the country and the most extraordinary places they saw were the troglodite cities of Cappadocia. For the sake of seeing its ruins, they also visited Antioch, third largest city of the Roman Empire, as well as Iznik (Nicaea), where the Council of Nicaea took place, and Bursa, near King Midas' country. The Edict of Caesar Augustus is still clearly visible, carved, in Latin, on a wall near Ankara. Anatolian, Phrygian, Hittite civilisations, I wrote. Caravanserais on the Silk Road where the free stopping places were a day's walk apart for a camel.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
I carry small notebooks around with me. Flicking through my latest one, I see snippets which would doubtless puzzle any investigator rummaging through my bag. Apart from the four pages of notes about Turkey (to be referred to in a subsequent blogpost) I see that I made the following notes:
"Your resonators are buzzing!" Hungnooo, Hungmmmeee
Make supper ahead Salmon Wellington spuds ratatouille
"Let us bus your table" (sculpture garden pavilion)
UA 7374 Dulles arr. 6:30. Silver Ford Fusion. Parking 13 Dulles.
Chinese counting: ee, arr, san, sue, all, leo, tzee, baa, geo, sure
tree-tree = forest, peace in house = woman
Tuskegee Road, Syracuse. The Tuskegee Airmen, a black WW2 Fighter Squadron, the 99th.
Rockcliffe Ramblings 1954-86. Nigerian student flew over to YOW on day Snow Birds were on show. Did touch-and-goes on Rwy 22 to impress former instructors. Jack contacted tower saying language problem.
Extras - Jack $20, Parking $10, Bag $8.99, Plants $5.18
www.re-cycles.ca, 477 Bronson Avenue, old, donated bikes
Stephen Fry's letter to his 16-year old self: "Knowing how to feel is more important than how you feel. Deadness of soul is the only unpardonable crime... and if there is one thing happiness can do it is mask deadness of soul."
Thursday, May 21, 2009
For the record, my husband Chris—laid off by Nortel at the beginning of April—has this week signed a contract to work full time for a company called QNX, based in Kanata, starting June 1st, where he's going to be in the team developing the QNX microkernel. He seems really excited by this challenge, which makes us think he may not be quite as ready to retire from regular work as we thought he was. He now has a few days in which to get used to the idea of resuming a normal week's work, handing responsibility for the chipmunks and so forth back to me.
Monday, May 11, 2009
May 5th was a far easier day. How pleasant to hear the Syracuse tower controller say, "Canadian Foxtrot Papa Tango November, wind calm, cleared for take-off!" The cloud ceiling was 8000ft overcast, so plenty of room for us underneath, flying IFR all the same because that is the easiest way to file a flight plan across the border.
Syracuse lay below and behind us and I was rather sorry we hadn't been into the city to see what was there. It used to be known as Salt City, after the settlers had found some salt in the swamps round about, but gained its status as a worthier place once the Erie Canal, aka Clinton's Ditch (a reference to the New York Governor of 1817), had been built through it. The area is also famous for the help it gave to runaway slaves on their way to freedom in Canada, on the Underground Railroad.
No lack of visibility anyhow, so that we could see the Oswego cooling tower on the lake shore and even a hint of the Canadian shore in the far distance. Towards Watertown sunny patches on the coast indicated that the clouds were thinning out further and breaking up as we progressed northwards past the waypoints WIFFY, WEEPY, PAGER and BRUIN. It was less than an hour's flight to Kingston, coming into Canada across Wolfe Island, now the home of a huge, wind farm which hadn't been there last time we flew this way. The 86 turbines look interesting from the air but are something of an eyesore once you get on the ground and see them from near Kingston.
It was a relief to return to Canada! We never feel quite so much at home in the States, friendly though the people down there always are. Again, when it came to the point, our crossing of the border was completely trouble-free. We had some super views of downtown Kingston as we crossed the corner of the lake, descending towards the airport. When we landed, no CANPASS officer turned up to check our plane or our persons since we had phoned in with all the requisite information. Presumably they believed Chris when he said that all we'd bought over there was a bag of crisps (chips). Actually he forgot to mention the new vacuum filter, but that hadn't cost much either ($21 ... not counting the cost of its 3 hour fitting, of course!). Once the allotted time had past we climbed out of PTN and went to sit on the rocks by the lake.
The very last leg of our trip, Kingston to Rockcliffe was flown VFR for a change, the weather being so fine by now. Marie-Ève the dispatcher heard Chris' voice as he announced his approach towards CYRO and replied, "Papa Tango November, welcome back, Chris!"
Meanwhile George, having said goodbye to us the previous morning, was also zooming home, across the Pacific in his case.
From my emails sent en route:
May 4th, 11a.m.
We were hoping to take off in a homewards direction from Gaithersburg half an hour ago, but while doing his very thorough run-up checks, Chris found that the vacuum system in our aircraft wasn't working, which meant that we'd have had no "attitude indicator" and no "heading indicator" to show us which way up we were in the clouds. Not good, when you're flying on the instruments. This would have been what he calls An Emergency, so we're glad we didn't take off. It seems that the heavy rain has leaked into the tubes overnight and caused a blockage. It's still raining cats and dogs out there and the weather likely to continue like this all day, although once we get half way over Pennsylvania we'll probably fly into fine weather. Anyway, Chris is talking to the people in the maintenance hangar to see if they can fix the problem...
May 4th, 9p.m.
This is being written from an hotel in Syracuse! Yes, we succeeded in getting off the ground mid afternoon and flew here -- through a Frontal System—in spite of rain in the tubes, Korean mechanics whose English wasn't perfect, PTN having her seats and sides taken out and refitted and having to have the two removed, inspected and reinstalled and the soggy vacuum filter replaced so that we now have a spare one, three hours' labour.
We took off in driving rain with the cloud ceiling less than 1000 ft above the runway in spite of electric activity in the clouds near and far lighting up our strike finder with little orange lights. We think it was heavy rain rather than lightning and thunder but some turbulence and wind shear is associated with these discharges all the same, as you soon learn, once you get up there. Less than half an hour into the flight in the vicinity of the Winchester VOR we flew into an area of disturbance close to the pesky orange dots on the storm scope which made our (now functional) instruments wobble considerably and us bounce around in our seats. The vertical speed indicator showed rises and falls of 1000 ft a minute although Chris says we weren't actually doing that; the readings were due to sudden changes of pressure within the cloud. He told ATC we were in a spot of turbulence close to some storm cells, so please could we turn 20° left, away from them? Although our next expected heading would have been in the other direction, towards the Lancaster VOR, we got permission to turn to the northwest and it turned out to be a good idea. After about an hour of intermittent lesser turbulence and calmer spots we realised we were beginning to see something out of the window. First an under-layer of whiter cloud, then patches of ground, then, still from 5000ft, our assigned altitude, more continuous ground with views of the Pennsylvania slag heaps near the coal mining towns. Perhaps the ground was closer in fact, because we were now over the hilly area approaching Westport.
At about this point, on a direct route to Binghamton cutting a corner from the Victor airways at ATC's instigation, New York Centre told us they'd lost radar contact with us because of a defective transmitter on the ground. So we were instructed to climb and maintain 6000ft (not at all the correct altitude for aircraft flying north. There were no aircraft coming the other way, apparently, so it didn't matter). As we complied, Chris said to me, "Watch out for icing!" because the outside air temperature was now approaching 0°. He kept an eagle eye out for the raindrops solidifying on his wing strut and I did the same on my side. It didn't happen, but I soon noticed visible horizontal precipitation below us and to the side. "That looks like sleet," I said, and soon we could see snow whitening the front of the tyres. Chris gave a pirep (pilot report) and asked for a lower altitude again. That was allowed as we were back within radar coverage now. As we descended we went through a few more bumps, the sky began to lighten ahead of us, and all of a sudden, close to Binghamton, we could see ahead for miles. Then to our relief the sky ahead began to brighten and the wind backed by what Chris estimated to be about 20 degrees, giving us a tail wind once more. We had crossed the Cold Front and were out in the clear.
Too late to give Canadian Customs and Immigration the statutory hour's notice after landing at Syracuse, because it would have been near nightfall when we arrived in the Ottawa area, we decided to call it a day and sleep at Syracuse. The FBO girl recommended this inexpensive nearby hotel which is very comfortable and which sent a shuttle bus to pick us up. We had supper at a Denny's in the strip mall across the road and a walk through a pleasant residential area while marvelling at the gorgeous sunset overhead and the flowering cherry trees.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
The Washington street namers didn't show much imagination, but it's easy to find out where you are in the grid once you know which way you're facing. At the corner of 8th Street and F Street stands The Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery: a bit of a mouthful, but a marvellous place to go, particularly on a grey wet day like Sunday May 3rd. Actually it's two separate institutions housed in the same building.
I now wish we'd spent more time in there as we only saw a third of the exhibits; there is no charge for admission. On our arrival up the steps and through the pillars to the entrance lobby we turned right, which brought us to the "American Origins" collection of Colonial Portraits, in the National Portrait Gallery. We saw the faces of the men who had created America, Quakers, philosophers (Berkeley and Paine, for instance), idealists all. A side show in one of the galleries was The Mask of Lincoln displaying images of President Lincoln, young and old. It seems he was a manic-depressive. He certainly had a memorable face. The death-mask was included and I overheard an American chap showing it to his young daughter: "This is what Lincoln looked like at the end of his presidency." Well yes, at the end of everything, really. I'd have given her the grim truth if she'd been my daughter.
Three galleries at the end of the hall were devoted to leaders of both sides in the civil war. To me, not knowing much about it, they seemed to be remarkably similar types, except for John Brown, the abolitionist, who as an old man looked quite zany. I didn't like the ruthless appearance of William T Sherman, a commander in the Union army. General Lee's face however, on the Confederate side, was quite gentlemanly. Makes you think. Another revealing juxtaposition in a different part of the Portrait Gallery was in the photographed faces of the two candidates for the present presidency, enlarged in close-up so that you're confronted by the very pores of their skin. Obama's eyes looked very healthy in close-up; McCain's were bloodshot and seemed tired. The original of the famous portrait of Obama, entitled HOPE, that did the rounds of the Internet, was on display, reminiscent of an icon from the USSR, many admirers standing in front of it and studying it closely. Chris points out that the conservative websites say that it makes him look like Che Guevara.
It's vital to have a Portrait Gallery so that a nation can see where it has come from and where it's going, through the (abnormal!) faces of its most prominent citizens. That Mr Harper and the present Canadian government can't be bothered to support the establishment of a Canadian National Portrait Gallery infuriates me.
The American Art Museum on the other side of the very elegant and spacious Kogod Courtyard, where we sat down for a cup of tea, currently features a special exhibition called 1934, A New Deal for Artists. This is the sort of experience that frustrates me because I know I won't have the chance to go back and see it again, so educational that it merits more than one visit. This was art from the time of The Depression, when all the same, hope was in the air, it seemed. All the paintings were dated either 1933 or 1934, and many of them showed industrial landscapes—a mine in Minnesota, a hydro station in Maine, a coal mine in New Mexico. Work was of the essence, whether represented by an ice house or a lumber mill or an Engine House and Bunkers at a railroad marshalling yard. The artists were fascinated by the patterns and curves created by rails, chimneys or machinery. Docks and skyscrapers recurred among the cityscapes and even a mundane structure like the Underpass at Binghamton, New York became extraordinary after dark to the artist who painted it.
The pictures in the exhibition weren't all of utilitarian subjects. There were some rustic landscapes like the ones nostalgically painted by the British neo-Romantics of that period, one of a farmyard in Vermont, for example, and some more down-to-earth street scenes (St Louis Street Scene, by Joe Jones. A view of slums (Tenement Flats of Los Angeles) wasn't so good as, but had some similarities with, Michael Ayrton's painting of the seven deadly sins, Captive Seven (1949), that one in an Italian setting: all human life was there! More lighthearted, in the 1934 collection, was a geometric painting of racing yachts on the ocean, by G S Foster, and one of Skating in Central Park by Agnes Tait, which has echoes of Breughel the Younger, especially when you notice the shape of the dog in the foreground. At the end of the show hung a painting of the Golden Gate Bridge of San Fransisco, still under construction, by Ray Strong. It hung in the White House for a while, apparently. A symbol of hope, indeed.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
It is one of the most prosperous parts of the USA and the residential areas are full of big, posh houses, golf clubs and Equestrian Centers (sic). What we preferred on our drive from Shady Grove to the Sugar Loaf Mountain were the country roads through the farming communities of Montgomery Co. such as Barnesville ("established 1747"). I'd found the Sugar Loaf, a "Registered National Landmark," on the map we'd bought in Washington, having noticed that lumpy green hill out of the corner of my eye as we'd flown into Gaithersburg a couple of days before, and when we felt like hiking on Saturday May 2nd, it looked like a good place for that purpose.
It was. The trails up and around the mountain were clearly marked and many of the trees were in bloom. We heard birdsong and tried not to let the warning notice about rattlesnakes put us off the steep and sandy section that requires a little scrambling if your legs are as short as mine. There was a good view from the top which with its rocks and trees reminded George and me of Alderley Edge in Cheshire, England.
At the foot of the mountain was an mansion that looked as if it should have been in the home counties of England, framed with lawns and creamy dogwood trees.
It was time for lunch at the end of our walk, so we drove on to Poolesville to find a restaurant called Bassetts, that served us good sandwiches and was decorated with images of bassett hounds. Nearby was the Potomac River at a ferry crossing, White's Ferry (1828), where during the Civil War the Army of West Virginia had waded across to invade Maryland under the direction of General Lee. On September 17th, 1862, there followed the Battle of Antietam, the "bloodiest day in American history" according to the historical notices posted there, with 23,000 casualties. Poor souls.
Further along the road, Chris spotted another historic plaque as he drove by, did a U-turn, and to George's delight gave us a closer look. Apart from the plaque there was only a field full of ploughed, red earth, like Somerset soil, but in the 1950s an antenna array had been set up here that detected radio waves from Jupiter.
Back into the 19th century again as we met the river bank for the second time, at the Great Falls further downstream, this being 50 miles downstream from the more famous Harper's Ferry. There's a $5 entrance fee per vehicle for Great Falls Park that's well worth paying: you see a well preserved 19th century tavern there, and, by the tavern locks, a barge pulled along the Chesapeake and Ohio canal by a pair of mules, the people doing the work dressed in 1880s costumes. Walk along to the Falls Lookout on Olmstead island, a short way down the canal, and your view of the wide river rushing over the rocks in parallel with the canal is superb. The island itself, in the middle of the river, is a nature reserve that you cross on a railed boardwalk, looking down at the waterfalls and flora (bright blue spiderwort—tradescantia virginiana—eastern red cedars, post oaks) and fauna (zebra swallowtail butterflies, turkey vultures, ducks, geese, herons) as you go.
George has a posted an illustrated description of this outing on his own blog, as well.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The Pavilion Café within the National Gallery of Art's peaceful Sculpture Garden was where we were lucky enough to find a place for lunch on Friday, May 1st, in crowded Washington.
Here are four of the photographs I took as we explored downtown Washington last Friday morning, of the Jefferson Memorial across the Tidal Basin, the Lincoln Memorial beyond the National World War 2 Memorial and Reflecting Pool, the White House with Constitution Avenue and one of the ubiquitous police cars in the foreground, and Freedom Plaza at the junction of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue with a glimpse of the U.S. Capitol in the distance.
Monday, May 4, 2009
After going through all the hoops set up by the CBP websites in order to prepare the way for crossing the Canada - USA border--decal purchase for the aeroplane, eAPIS registration, examination to check whether Chris knows the regulations pertinent to the Special Flight Rules Area around Washington DC (including the printing and filing of the Certificate to say he'd passed), on-line notice of intent to cross the border, phone calls to Syracuse Customs to announce the exact time of our arrival, as well as filing the Flight Plan--our actual entry into the USA was surprisingly easy, this time.
We revved up at the appropriate time, Chris having briefed me on the flight procedures ("I will ask you questions like 'What angle must we fly at from here?'" - pointing to the Ottawa VOR on our Canadian LO-chart), and took off from Runway 09 at 11 a.m (15 Zulu). As soon as we were airborne, Chris was speaking to the Air Traffic Controller who "had his IFR" for him, writing it down and reading it back in the air. "YOW VOR to Syracuse VOR Victor 145 Flight Planned Route Maintain 6000 feet climbing through 2500 feet at this time." The distance was about 140 nautical miles and as we crossed the St Lawrence, where lies the international border, we entered thin cloud and began talking to the Air Traffic Controllers from Wheeler-Sack (a military base responsible for the airspace in these parts), who have a noticeably different (New York) accent from the Montrealers. The upper winds had smoothed the upper surface of the clouds as if with sweeps of a broad paintbrush, and when we came close to the shore of Lake Ontario south of Watertown we could see some of it through holes in the cloud layer. Over to Syracuse Approach who said, "Fly heading 216 and I'll have the direct approach available for you momentarily." Which sounds to a British English speaker as though his approach heading may not be available for very long so he'll have to make best speed, but which actually means: any moment now.
We were beaten to the customs shed by a Metroliner that touched down just before we did and we were told to park beside this aircraft that had been into Canada and was bringing back some object from the military, packed in a large cardboard box. A voice on the air commented, "Ugly, isn't it?" so the Metroliner's Captain must have felt doubly insulted when Chris asked, "Is that the one over there with the spindly legs?"
"Don't give the Metroliner crew a hard time, now!" warned ground control.
Having given the Metroliner a going-over, the customs / immigration officer rolled over to our spot in his car, checked our passports, tried to find radioactive material in PTN with his Geiger counter, failed, made a joke of it, and we were free to go, all within the space of about three minutes.
Our next stop was at another corner of the Syracuse airfield, the FBO Exec Air who without any formality other than a sign-up sheet handed us the keys to their "crew car" and a hand-drawn map to the recommended local diner, Zebbs, the sort of place that has posters of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe on the chrome plated walls and offers you boneless Buffalo wings at vinyl topped tables in little booths. I had a tasty bowl of chilli topped with melted cheese. Rain began as we drove back to the airport along a street lined with greenery and flowering trees; in gardening terms, we were already well ahead of Ottawa.
The heavy shower was finishing as we took PTN down the long taxiway past the New York Air National Guard base to the threshold of Rwy 28 for take-off. We climbed towards the cloud base and ATC cleared us "direct, when able" to the VOR at Binghamton. Victor 499, our airway of choice, was long, straight and monotonous, because we were "in IMC" (i.e. had no view) for most of the way. Through the occasional hole we saw the U-bends of the rivers and the striped fields typical of the NY - PA border. Looking out for the waypoints on our chart and on the GPS, with funny names like SCOFF, NOSEE, SWANK, MEATS, etc., we were handed off to Wilkes-Barre (pronounced "Wilksbury") and then Harrisburg Approach. The Harrisburg controller helpfully encouraged us to fly "direct Westminster" so as to make a short cut on the planned route and then, "direct Gaithersburg", which meant we must be nearly there. It may also have suited Traffic Control's purposes to keep us out of the way of the larger aircraft like the Springbok Heavy and the Lufthansa Heavy that were also flying around somewhere up there. The girl being trained (Chris assumes) as a Potomac Approach controller gave PTN a heading to fly but didn't tell him that it was an intercept heading, and didn't clear us for the approach. As we flew through the VOR radial, Chris prompted her and her supervisor took over, giving us the proper approach clearance! For the initiated, Gaithersburg has a "non-precision approach". I think Chris was glad to touch down. It had been a long flight into an unknown, high-traffic area and I'm sure he was feeling tired.
Once on the ground, it's my turn to take responsibility for our movements, so I got us a taxi to the Comfort Inn at Shady Grove where we were booked in for the next four nights. We checked in, had supper at the Indian restaurant next door and spent the next day in downtown Washington, getting there by means of the metro train. I'll describe Friday May 1st in my next blogpost.
On Friday evening we were just in the process of renting a car when we had a call from George at Norfolk airport, VA. "I'm on an earlier flight," he said, "getting to Dulles at 6:30 instead of 9. Any chance you could meet me that early?" It meant we had to drive down the 12 lane Interstate during the rush-hour instead of at a quieter time of day, but what a bonus to have two more hours of his company than we'd anticipated! We managed it, following my printout from Mapquest, and met him in the baggage hall. Feeling wobbly with hunger I wolfed down a bag of nuts and raisins, we lost our way on the roads outside the airport, found ourselves again at a suburb called Sterling, and ate a relaxing supper (with beers) at an Irish pub, out on the patio in the evening sunshine.