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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A dubious claim to fame

I woke up from a vivid nightmare which was of the last few horrible moments of Madame Butterfly, Act III, in colour, modernised. Pinkerton was crashed out, fully dressed on a double bed, too jetlagged to realise that his dead wife was on the floor at the foot of it. The onlooker (me) or film viewer could see her face in the mirror. Where on earth did that image come from? I have never witnessed such a production of the opera anywhere.

I must have been watching too many videos lately, Babette's Feast (Babettes Gaestebud) being one, which has plenty to say about music as well as food, but which is not at all horrible. Here's a very good article that says what I feel about that film. Last night I also started watching a beautifully made French film (1988), lent to us by one of Chris' colleagues, about singers and singing teachers, Le Maître de Musique.

I vaguely remember my son-in-law Peter pointing the camera at us during my last visit to Wales, but thought nothing more of it until I log on to Facebook after getting up this morning and find myself posted to all and sundry in a YouTube video clip, playing the piano, although the star of this film is my grandson, of course. As my brother-in-law ironically comments, "One day he'll be really grateful to you for making this available to everyone ..."

I composed that accompaniment myself, by the way.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wooo, scary!

From the end of this week I may have no time for blogging until the end of November because my grandson and his parents are coming to stay, so here's a spooky mantelpiece in advance of the Hallowe'en weekend.

I snapped it on October 16th during a "diplomatic hospitality" outing to Saunders Farm where there are acres of ghastly frights hanging in the trees, a plethora of playgrounds, eleven mazes, a puppet show and old barns dressed up for the season. About fifty of us (including some little Japanese children as well as ladies from Pakistan, Romania, Germany, Indonesia ...) took wagon rides through the plantations and pond sized puddles, pulled along by a couple of tractors before returning to the log cabin (dating back to the 1840s) where an open fire did its best to warm us up and where we were served warm drinks and wedges of pumpkin pie with cream. Sheila organised a team game in which we had to identify (or guess the purpose of) various old-fashioned farmhouse objects being passed around, such as a wooden spigot, a hot pie extractor made of bent wire and a gramophone turntable arm. Distracted by the giant spiders' webs, bats and living dead monsters that surrounded us, my team didn't do well.

By the way, I have just discovered from Google Analytics that people logging on in 87 different countries have glanced at this blog since I created it two years ago. That's also rather scary.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lovely music

Chris and I have just walked home (through the park, under a starry sky) from a concert at MacKay United Church, a fundraiser for their piano purchase. We listened to Mozart's String Quartet No. 20 (K499) followed by Brahms' Clarinet Quintet performed by members of the NACO who live nearby: Leah Roseman and her husband Mark Friedman on the violins, David Thies-Thompson on a beautiful (Inokuchi 1997) viola, Margaret Munro Tobolowska on the 'cello and the Principal Clarinetist himself playing his instrument for the Brahms, Kimball Sykes. Good quality musicians, all.

It was enough to have heard the Mozart piece, especially its langorous slow movement with all the minor key modulations—why don't we know this piece better?—the remainder of the concert was a bonus. We recognised every note of the Brahms, in fact I remember following the score with great excitement during an A-level class at school in 1968 and discovering the Zigeunermusik in the Adagio! However I hadn't realised how pervasive the motto theme is in this work. Before the players launched into their performance of the whole thing Mr Sykes gave us an illustrated mini-lecture , pointing out the way in which the material from the first four bars of the first music generates everything that is to follow! He also revealed that Brahms in his late 50s had apparently decided to let younger men do the composing of German music as (by 1890) he felt he was getting past it, until he happened to come across the clarinetist Mühlfeld, whose musicality inspired him to start afresh.

I've just found this web page which includes the following description:

Mühlfeld’s playing style was apparently quite individualistic and somewhat outside the Germanic tradition of clarinet performance. In Germany he was lavishly praised; Brahms nicknamed him “Fräulein Klarinette”, “meine Primadonna” and “the nightingale of the orchestra”, and Clara Schumann described his playing as delicate, warm and unaffected, with perfect technique and command of the instrument. Reports of his concerts in England, however, were at times uncomplimentary, his interpretation, tone and technical execution being called crude and even comical; and in Vienna he was not regarded as equal to the best local clarinetists. In part at least, these contradictory opinions might have stemmed from Mühlfeld’s reported use of vibrato and his fiery, extroverted approach to performance, both perhaps attributable to his background as a violinist.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"This is a fight for fairness"

Today I joined some of the people affected by Nortel's pension cuts, demonstrating our disapproval of the lack of support from the current Canadian government. If you count the spouses of the ex-Nortel employees—and so you should!—some 40000 Canadians have taken a direct hit, and even more upsetting is that this figure includes people whose disability benefits have disappeared. One of the speakers said, however, that 70% of the people to whom such payments are owed are too ill to know they have been neglected.

The demonstrators stood in the cold for about an hour and a half, while the organisers, high profile supporters and opposition party leaders (Gilles Duceppe, Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff) clustered together on the steps ahead of us and took turns to make the most of the microphone set up for them there. Layton seemed the most passionate of the three:

Well, sisters and brothers, are you ready to fight?

I'm not tall enough to make my living as a photo-journalist. Peering on tiptoes through the crowd I failed to snap a picture of Mr Layton as he told us that this was a fight for fairness, although I did later manage to get a shot of Mr Ignatieff who was allotted the grand finale.

The demonstrators' banners told much the same story in the same sort of rhetoric:

Bankrupt Nortel must not mean bankrupt pension plans.

Fix the bankruptcy act.

Workers get screwed!!!

Nortel pensioner mad as hell.

Pourquoi le gouvernement ne s'occupe pas des pensions?

Oppose legalised theft.

Give pensions preferred status.

MPs fiddle while pensioners get burned.

Don't give us the silent treatment. NORTEL us more lies. Act now, Mr Harper.

MPs, what if it was your pension?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Literary excursions

In September I was invited to join a group calling itself le circle des amies de Marion and who Marion was, I'm not quite sure. Most of its members are quite elderly and speak French as their first language. I was to have participated in a table ronde session with them, talking about le livre qui m'a frappé le plus. Unfortunately this was cancelled, due to an administrative hiccough, but I'd been preparing myself to tell them about Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot which (apparently) is translated as Le Char des Élus. There's very little about it on the internet in French, though there's a fair bit of rather difficult stuff about it in English.

I would have introduced my subject like this:

J'ai choisi de vous parler d'un roman d'un écrivain australien qui a gagné le prix Nobel pour la litérature en 1973, Patrick White. (Le roman se passe aux alentours de Sydney dans les annees 50 apres la fin de la 2e guerre mondiale.) La premiere foix que j'en ai fait la découverte mes enfants étaient encore tres jeunes, et j'avais simplement besoin de quelque chose d'adulte à lire pour ne pas trop m'ennuyer a la maison. Ma mère venait de lire ce roman qui s'appelle "Cavaliers dans le Char" (ou "Le Char des Élus" dans la traduction francaise) et me l'a recommandé. Il m'a ému énormément. Il est écrit avec une intensité formidable qui ne plairait pas a tout le monde, parce que la violence de certains passages vous donne des frissons d'horreur. De temps en temps, j'apprécie des livres de ce genre...

Of course I reread the whole thing in English and it doesn't seem to have lost any of its power to shock. Once you have delved into Patrick White's writing you are never the same again.

On a completely different tack, I met a German lady recently, Anne C. Voorhoeve from Berlin, an author of novels for teenagers, such as the one we are reading in our Konversationsgruppe these days: Lilly unter den Linden. This book was created from the "Drehbuch" Ms Voorhoeve wrote in preparation for the film of the same title, shown on German TV. When I spoke to her, she told me that her research for this project took up four years of her life. It's the story of a 13 year old girl who flees through the Iron Curtain from West to East, rather than the other way around, in order to join her relatives who are stuck in the DDR.

Our opportunity to meet the authoress was offered by the Martin-Luther-Kirche on Preston street. In 1989 their Pastor, in those days a student in East Germany, was a Charter Member of the East German Social Democratic Party in Leipzig who experienced the collapse of the communist régime first hand. He invited Ms Vorhoeve to Ottawa this month to help commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Wall's collapse. Her book is set in 1988, in Hamburg, Berlin and Jena.

She read us extracts from the first half of the story and then all the "congregation" (we'd been sitting in the pews of the church) repaired to the church basement to find out what happens next by watching the second half of the film. Then we came back upstairs for wine, cheese and conversation with Lilly's creator.

In December I'm going to be able to watch the whole film, this time at the residence of the new German Ambassador to Ottawa.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A cricket match at the airport

Earlier this month I sat in one of my usual coffee shops, writing two essays, one in French for a talk I'll have to give (see above) and one in English for the Flying Club's newsletter of which I'm the editor. I think the essay in English was the easier one to write:

This year's thank you took place on September 12th, club volunteers mingling on the grass outside the clubhouse in perfect weather to enjoy the reward of supper from Tony's Mile High Bar-B-Q, with carrot cake for dessert. In order for some of the crowd to work up an appetite for this feast, Chris Hobbs organised and umpired his usual cricket match on the field behind the hangar between two teams spontaneously recruited, The Rockcliffe Flyers and Valerie's XI. Meanwhile, Bopper Sensation, a five-man jazz band from the city, were tuning up for a performance on keyboard, trombone, guitar, percussion and vocals, that kept our feet tapping until well after sunset, some of their lyrics being as spicy as the dressing on Tony's burgers! By the time darkness fell, we also had telescopes erected on the field, courtesy of our guests from the Astronomy club, who were able to show everyone interested four of Jupiter's moons. A fortuitous extra thrill was the transit of the international space station moving smoothly and rapidly across the evening sky, spot-lit by the sun from well below the horizon. The space station, unlike high flying jet aircraft, does not leave a contrail.

Happy Thanksgiving

Yesterday was a Canadian day par excellence, beginning with a two hour ride, Carol driving Elva and me in Laurie's car, Don driving the men in his car, to Bill's cottage north of Gananoque. Beyond Kemptville the country roads became prettier and prettier, bordered with colour. We passed through Merrickville, Toledo, Delta and crossed the bridge at Lyndhurst before turning off the road along a track through the fields and into the woods beside a farm that reared Belgian draft horses. Bill's was the neighbouring property.

When we drew up at the cottage beside Grippen Lake and got out of the car we could not only smell pine needles but also, wafting from the oven indoors, the Thanksgiving turkey. It was a big bird, more than sufficient for the ten of us who sat round the cottage tables to eat it: Mickey and Bill's mother (a fine old lady of 93), Bill himself and his friend Alan (who've been friends for more than half a century), Carol, Don, Elva, Laurie, Chris and me. I'd enjoyed myself picking some wild flowers for the table to go with the pumpkins and decorative squashes. Mickey and her daughter had made some superb apple and pumpkin pies for our dessert, lashed with dollops of whipped cream. Two dogs, Baci and Harry, had a share in the feast as well, Baci from sheer joie de vivre flinging himself into the lake afterwards to retrieve a bounce ball, repeatedly.

Bill's cottage has a host of attractions, a swing, a boat, and tied up on the other side of the dock, C-FUEY, his yellow floatplane. Because of the wine we'd shared, the 'plane did not take off after our meal; instead, we went bush whacking round the property so that Bill could show us his hunting grounds, the grand old trees, rocky cliffs and deer trails. Elva, Carol and I extended our walk by hiking up to the road and back as well and by the time we returned to base the sun had set, the sky had gone pink and the view was one to remember, so I took this photo (click all the pictures to enlarge them):

Nobody wanted to leave yet, of course. Bill said, "Shall we light a bonfire?" so despite the chilly night air, we did, and to Chris' bemusement roasted marshmallows on skewers held over the glowing logs and the men reminisced about other campfires they'd sat around, winter camping at -40° in the North and so on, outdoing one another with tales of how they'd nearly killed themselves or each other people on various occasions in their Youth. In Rockcliffe, when they were small, (actually this was a dinner time anecdote) Bill and Alan used to "chuck rocks" at the gang of Frenchies across the road and the Frenchies would retaliate by chucking rocks at the maudits anglais. Those were the days, apparently. Only when the clock struck tea time Bill's mother would call "Willi-AM!" in no nonsense tones, and that would be that.

Fourteen years

I was cycling home along MacKay Street this afternoon and, as I passed the house we used to rent when we first moved here from Wales in the autumn of 1995, suddenly realised that we have now been in Ottawa for fourteen years. When we moved in, that week, the street looked like it does now, magnificent, though the two maple trees in the foreground on the left were then not much higher than the For Sale sign is now.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The end of the holiday

9th September, 10th September? That was a long time ago, but I still want to conclude my account of Summer 2009 and record of our last evening at Ste. Flavie and the flight home.

The sun went down five minutes before we were due to take our seats in the restaurant at the Auberge and when we went in, we were given the coveted corner table by two windows overlooking the beach and the sculptures. The colours, as you can see from my pictures, were mesmeric. I can't remember now what I ate, surrounded by the Gagnon family's works of art, but I know it tasted good, as did the Quebec wine.

The next morning, having packed reluctantly and breakfasted deliciously, we refuelled the car in Mt Joli, returned it to the airport and climbed back into PTN to take her home. On the way to Quebec airport we overflew the towns we'd driven through the day before, me saying, "There's the church of Ste. Luce, remember?... There's the lighthouse, there's the submarine! Look, you can see the catamaran from Forrestville just pulling into dock..." (and we'd never realised at ground level how close the Rimouski airport had been to the port). The whole of Rimouski was clearly laid out below us, obviously the region's metropolis, a much bigger place than Mt. Joli.

Beyond Rivière du Loup, the landscape became increasingly familiar and I deliberately looked out for the stripe-patterned fields around the mouth of R. Quelle and the curves of the Ile aux Grues, just as I do when I'm 30000ft higher, flying back to Ottawa from the UK.

At Quebec airport, which had had a facelift and looked smart, we discovered that daily flights go from there to Paris. Our destination was not Paris but home, and back to work.

We've been working hard ever since, and I haven't had the time to blog.