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, June 30, 2010

The isle in the Baie St-Paul

We have been here before, the last time in 2005, and we're going again.

Either your visit is by bicycle, by car or by feet; you will be charmed by the overwhelming scenery of L’Isle-aux-Coudres [...] It is Jacques Cartier that discovered the Island in 1535. He gave it the name of “Coudres” due to the abundance of hazelnut-type trees name “Coudriers”. [...] The popular belief wants that the very first family who had established themselves on the Island were Joseph Savard, his wife Marie-Josephine Morelle and their children. Nowadays there are approximately 1313 residents on the Island. [...] Renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, its legendary serenity, and the famous people conviviality the Island has definitely taken a tourist vocation [...] everyone will be satisfied. No matter how long your journey is, a wide scope of activities is offered to you. Bicycle, beach walking, pedestrian trails, stars and bird’s contemplation, painting, tennis courts, bowling, wild berries gathering [...] you will unquestionably enjoy your voyage!


We unquestionably shall. Actually, our voyage is going to be by Hobbs Air. We set off on Friday morning and once again shall be staying at the Auberge La Coudrière.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Music in town

It hardly matters what cultural event you attend in Ottawa; it seems there's always a good turn-out for it. A concert given by aspirant young musicians at the University of Ottawa last week attracted an audience of over eighty people. This Tuesday I went to a similar one at the Museum of Civilisation, both concerts put on as part of the NAC's Young Artists' Programme that offers lucky participants a series of master classes at the university.

In the first concert I heard an Impromptu for Flute and Oboe by Thea Musgrave, with swirling, off-beat phrases, performed by a young man from New York State and a girl from Montreal, then the Saint-Saëns show piece (Rondo Capriccioso) for violin and piano well executed by a young man from New Jersey, followed by a long movement from a piece by Vaughan Williams that I'd never heard of, a Piano Quintet (with violin, viola, cello and double bass) written in 1903. The ensemble made a romantic sound and the performance was full of energy. At the second concert string performers who were still of high school age played the demanding first movement from Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet (I was close enough to read the music from the first violinist's stand) and the whole of the third of the Beethoven Opus 18 quartets.

Plenty of music happening in Ottawa these days, with the Jazz Festival just starting, the noisy Blues Fest coming up after that and not one but two (rival) chamber music festivals in the offing this July. Chris and I have bought festival passes for the less expensive of the two, Music and Beyond, which promises such great things that since reading the programme we have had to rethink our going-away-for-a-holiday plans .

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Everything shook ...

...including me at home and Chris at his desk at work.

This afternoon we experienced an earthquake in town. I heard a bang, thinking that the workmen painting my neighbour's house outside had had an accident, but when the contents of my house rattled and the kitchen floor under my bare feet began to judder, I realised what it was. As the quake died down, the last things to stop trembling were the leaves on the plants in my garden.

Vivien and I then went to visit an elderly friend in hospital, but she was asleep when we arrived and must have slept through the earthquake; we didn't stop. As mere visitors we'd have been evacuated from the hospital in any case; most people in the buildings around town were being made to stand around in the grounds for a while.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Drummers, acrobat and crane

If you'd missed this notice in the Ottawa Citizen, you wouldn't have expected to look up yesterday evening over the roofs of the Byward Market to see those seven noisy drummers dressed in 18th century French costumes (tricorne hats) and a trapeze artist suspended in the air from a giant crane. They call it the Mobile Homme. A compulsive sight that stopped the traffic and stopped business in the market for a while too. I overheard a woman saying, "Well, I've never seen anything like that before!"

Un mobile de percussionnistes prenant place à plus de 200 pieds dans les airs, soutenus par une grue de 300 tonnes!

I am so annoyed that I didn't have my camera with me. Here's a link that gives you an idea of the excitement, though.

Monday, June 14, 2010

One famous painting after another

Before I publish a post on classical Chinese art (went to a lecture about this recently), I really ought to mention my visit to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris on April 22nd. This museum on the Rive Gauche of the Seine used to be, and still looks like, a railway station, where many an emotional reunion took place after the Liberation. Nowadays you have to queue to have your bags checked before you can see the treasures inside.

Not having been here before, I felt duty-bound to walk through the Impressionist galleries. It was like an art book come to life. I shouldn't be judgemental, but to my mind, Monet was the greatest of the Impressionists. I saw his Giverny paintings, his haystacks, his seascapes (like the Grosse Mer à Etretat, with little people, cliffs and waves under a dark grey sky) and his Rouen Cathedral series. There's a wonderful painting of the wind or at least, the Effet du vent in pines and poplars. I like that one. The painting of his wife, Camille, on her deathbed, comes as a shock in the midst of the pretty scenes, but being the man he was, he couldn't not paint her; he painted everything else he saw. On the other side of the museum I also looked at his Déjeuner sur l'herbe in two vast frames. (I'd had no idea the original was that big.)

Manet did a famous canvas with the same title, also enormous, as was the controversial Olympia, though even she's not as likely to shock the unprepared viewer as is Courbet's fully frontal and uncompromising L'Origine du Monde, in front of which, when I came across it, a cluster of embarrassed Japanese tourists were doing their best to look the other way. (There is no equivalent to this picture in the whole of 19th century art, claimed the note alongside.) Probably they calmed down again in front of Corot's restful trees, such as Le Catalpa. I always think of my mother when I see a Corot painting. She too appreciates the presence of trees.

Renoir's painting of a Guernsey shore (1883) also reminded me of Mum because she and I sat in the same spot 110 years after Renoir, trying to sketch the same view. I like his idyllic Chemin montant dans les hautes herbes too, and Pissaro's Printemps with the pruniers en fleurs. The 18th century Chinese delighted in pruniers en fleurs as well, but I'm coming to them later.

Like the Canadian "Group of Seven" the Impressionists deliberately copied and were inspired by one another's ideas, and the museum makes this clear. So there's Manet's La Lecture (his wife, in white—the picture at the top of this blogpost) next to Renoir's Liseuse. Both Manet and Degas did a version of Le Tub (voluptuous woman in bath tub), embellished with pastel touches "like cosmetics." Baudelaire called cosmetics "une déformation sublime de la nature." That was another thing I learned at the museum.

There are wonderful light effects in Degas pastel dancers and nudes of the 1880s, fully fledged impressionism, but when you come to Toulouse Lautrec, the style is quite different, more sardonic, far less innocent, like a cartoon. His Danse Mauresque incorporates a caricature of himself and of Oscar Wilde in a top hat, looking awfully similar to Stephen Fry, a red-nosed pianist, and a girl doing the can-can.

Beyond the turn of the century art became "suggestion rather than description" (said Gauguin) so we have Redon's flying horses and a long-bearded viellard ailé (!) standing in an old church. With Edvard Munch fresh in my mind I noticed Vuillard's Figure de la douleur, a pastel portrait of a girl with explicit red hands who seems to be the twin sister of the one in Munch's Puberty. Technical "suggestion rather than description" was practised by the pointellists Signac, Cross and even Mondrian and Matisse in their early phases. Matisse's Luxe, calme et volupté (1904) stole its title from the poem L'Invitation au voyage by Baudelaire.

I had not heard of Signac and Cross, nor of Gustave Caillebot, nor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. His sculpture La Danse caught my eye—naked laughing girls and a young man with a tambourine in their midst—but there is a limit to one visit and I simply walked past the Van Gogh paintings of Auvers without stopping, too exhausted to take them in, escaping for lunch on the Boulevard St. Germain.

Alexander's first poem

Here I put on record that my grandson (aged 3) "without any help or prompting" sent us two Instant Messages on the Skype link yesterday, after he had come home from yet another exciting trip to central London. He typed:

bus stop

IMHO, this is tantamount to a poem!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Chinese supper

During the four days when Chris' work was undergoing a technical audit, one of his colleagues invited him, another (Chinese-Canadian) colleague and the auditors to supper at the Yangtze Dining Lounge in China Town, and I went along too. Now that my son has a girlfriend from Beijing I'm interested in all things Chinese in any case.

We sat at a circular table with a lazy Susan in the centre from which we could help ourselves to the various serving bowls. We began with bowls of freshly brewed green tea, and I forget of what all the dishes consisted, but there was a corn and crabmeat soup, very tasty, crispy beef, crispy chicken, rice (of course), tofu and shrimps. The vegetable dish was steamed green shoots that tasted of, but didn't look like, peas. Dessert was fruit salad with lychees for Frank and me, ice cream for the four Englishmen (!), and Yi chose a creamy tofu with ginger syrup.

The Yangtze River, by the way, is the third longest in the world. I didn't know that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Co-pilots," aka willing passengers

Last Saturday morning I did a spot of teaching in Rockcliffe Flying Club's classroom, being a guest speaker at the Co-Pilots' Groundschool run by a friend of ours, Jean René de Cotret. As a typical (?) right seat passenger, I'd been invited to enthuse the nervous participants in the course, who seemed to have little if any experience of going along for a ride in a small 'plane. I told them what they could do to lighten their pilot's workload—before setting off, during the flight and after landing—what to carry in the 'plane, how two pairs of eyes were better than one up there, when they should say something in the cockpit and when they should keep quiet. I spoke for almost an hour and hope I didn't regale them with too many horror stories, like the one about a gusty landing on the Isle-aux-Coudres in the summer of 2005, that caused me to scream.

What a super trip that was, though. We eventually reached Halifax by way of the Gaspé peninsular. We might head in an easterly direction again this month or next month, stopping at the Isle again with the intention of travelling on to explore the Saguenay Fjord northwest to Chicoutimi. We'll see. First I have to persuade my husband to take a break from working so hard to make QNX's ultra reliable software ever more ultra reliable.

Éli passe de l'autre côté

When I was in Paris (in April, see blogposts below) I bought a little book for my grandson who is three. This was Anaïs Vaugelade's somewhat surrealistic story, Le Matelas Magique. Entranced by my discovery, I set about translating it for Alexander during my ride to London on the Eurostar train. Alexander loved the book, by the way, in whichever language we read it to him:

It's eight o'clock.
"Goodnight, Mummy," says Eli.
"Already, my lion cub?"
"Do you want me to come and read you a story?" says Daddy.
"No thank you," says Eli. "I think I'll be going to go to sleep straight away. Good night!"
What Daddy and Mummy didn't know is that Eli the lion cub's mattress is a magic mattress. There's a sort of hollow place in the middle. If he presses himself down into the hollow, Eli goes through it to the Other Side...

Eli has all kinds of adventures on the Other Side, some good, some utterly scary ("...a herd of monsters without tails and without any heads are running after him") and some rather tricky to translate without my English version sounding dubious ("...While the mattress is hearing the news about Granny Sofa, Eli plays with the poufs"...), but the book ends in a way that never failed—during our several repetitions of reading it—to make Alexander laugh out loud:

On the Other Side is the sea. A current carries Eli away and throws him down on the beach. A wave brings him the mattress. Another wave brings him a telephone ...

(That was the line, with its accompanying picture, that made Alexander giggle so much.)

The telephone rings. It's Mummy calling. "Good morning, my lion cub, time to get up."
"OK," says Eli. "Coming in five minutes."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New post published ...

This evening I published a new blog post but because I started writing it a few weeks ago, it appears below, dated May 6th. It relates to what I saw on April 15th!