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.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A rowdy restaurant

I went to see a loud, crude and funny film at the Bytowne Cinema, in German; it was called Soul Kitchen (2009). When I say loud, I mean ear-splitting. Most of the action takes place at a resto-bar in Hamburg's docklands. It acquires a manic chef who flings the kitchen knives around, as well as disc-jockeys and live rock musicians. When the place becomes popular and crowded the clientele shout for their meals, and when the new chef sprinkles an aphrodisiac spice on the desserts veritable orgies break out. At closing time the staff relax by visiting noisy discos.

Not the sort of film I'd normally expect to appreciate, but the comic touches were so good and the story line so fast-paced that I have to confess I did rather enjoy it. Directed by a German-Turk about a German-Greek and his brother (on parole from gaol). See the trailer here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Huā chá
I spent an hour practising Chinese phrases with my friend Yìwén yesterday evening, the phrase for "We're drinking beer! / "We'd like some beer" for instance, which is "Wǒmen hē píjiǔ!" This is a particularly useful phrase; according to Yìwén even bottled water is suspect over there and red wine (hóng pútáojiǔ) is more akin to sherry than what we're used to. "yī ping píjiǔ," (a bottle of beer) and then "Cheers!" "Gān bēi!" After which I'll probably need to know the word "wèishēngjiān," as in "duibuqi, wèishēngjiān zài nǎli?" (Excuse me, where's the washroom?)"...zenme zǒu? (How do I get there?)

Anyway, the brand of beer that Yìwén recommends is known as "xuě huā", Snow Beer, she called it.

"But doesn't 'huā' mean flower, as in flower tea / jasmine tea ('huā chá)?" I asked.

That's right, said Yiwen, it means 'snowflake.'

So a chinese snowflake = a snow flower. How lovely.

In the face of extinction

A third of all animals and plants on earth face extinction -- endangered blue whales, coral reefs, and a vast array of other species. The wave of human-driven extinction has reached a rate not seen since the fall of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But there is a plan to save them -- a global agreement to create, fund and enforce protected areas covering 20% of our seas and lands by 2020. Right now, 193 governments are meeting in Japan to address this crisis. But without public pressure, they are likely to fall short of the bold action needed to avert the collapse of ecosystems the world over.

This has been written on Avaaz' front page on the Internet this week, encouraging people to sign the following petition (admittedly there's a split infinitive in it, but to point that out is not to denigrate the passion behind the words):

"To all parties of the Convention on Biodiversity:
One third of Earth's species face extinction. We call on you to urgently agree to create, execute and fund the protection of 20% of our oceans and lands by 2020. Only bold and immediate action will protect our planet's rich diversity of life."
(my underlining)

Tomorrow is the day that the petition will be presented to the summit conference in Nagoya and it looks as if it will have well over 600,000 signatures. Whether that number means anything in comparison to the billions who don't care remains to be seen, but what impresses me (I signed on Tuesday) is the rate at which the signatures are coming in, thirty per minute or more by my estimation, the names of "Recent Signers" appearing briefly on the sign up page in real time, and the variety of places from which people are signing. Consider the time zones from which they're signing, too! I have been watching this page with fascination, on and off, for the past couple of days and just now, out of curiosity and for the sake of this blog post, jotted down the different countries represented on the screen during a 10 minute span. They were Singapore, Congo, Uruguay, Brazil (lots of people from Brazil), the UK, Canada, the Bahamas, Peru, Guadeloupe, France, Greece, Honduras, Bolivia, the USA, Mexico, Switzerland, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Venezuela, S. Korea, India, New Zealand, Italy, Columbia, Germany, Ireland, Costa Rica, Spain, Austria, Poland, Nicaragua, Belgium, Burkina Faso and Fiji.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Off to talk French now

I have to confess to "ce qui m'a marquée pour la vie" this afternoon. I don't intend to tell them all of it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Museum of Nature

I was one of the people who took a group of diplomats to visit the newly renovated Canadian Museum of Nature on Friday. On the left here is an artist's impression of its new look from the outside.

Most of our tour focussed on the history of the building, its architectural heritage and the sometimes unforeseen use to which it was put (for four years it was the Canadian parliament's headquarters even) but the staff seem proudest of its renovations, completed this year.

When you walk in, you can't help noticing the moose mosaic at your feet.
"...During the 1950s, a Roman Catholic-school group visited the museum through the main door, as was the practice back then. A nun with the group objected to the depiction of the bull's genitals and requested that something be done about it in order to protect the moral values of visiting children. Fearing negative publicity, the Museum covered the mosaic with a carpet. The mosaic remained hidden and all but forgotten until the early 1990s, when the atrium underwent restoration work and it was decided that the mosaic also be restored."
There's a diorama featuring a stuffed moose as well, in the Mammal Gallery on the second floor, the dioramas having a realistically painted background, done by an artist (Clarence Tillenius) who took his commission seriously, visiting the parts of Canada that were depicted, to observe the caribou, for example, migrating across Lake Athabasca. Our guide pointed out an interesting corner of the picture where the freezing water was painted blue; this is where the Slave River rapids begin, a dangerous place for canoes.

I am in two minds about the merits of taxidermy, especially after reading Yann Martel's strange, chilling novel, Beatrice and Virgil this year, but during my tour of the museum I was pleased to find in the Bird Gallery a stuffed hermit thrush that confirmed my tentative identification of the unfamiliar visitor to my garden last week.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Three weeks with my mother

 Very full, these past three weeks. I flew to England, rode on by train to Cardiff and shared my mother's life there for a few days, including a walk around Bute Park and a hospital visit for her eye treatment. My sister's house was the usual haven of relaxation where the chickens entertained us and Mel cooked us one of his excellent suppers. At Mum's house I watched TV, one show being a documentary about Prince Charles' organic garden and home grown (reed bed) sewage treatment facility, the next an account of how a classroom of lazy 9 year old boys in Harlow were inspired by a charismatic visiting teacher (Gareth Malone) to write their own play. I liked that. I also liked my solitary ramble across an unfarmed field between Whitchurch hospital and the River Taff. I'd never seen so many blackberry bushes in one place, and it felt like open country.

Then followed my long journey with my mother, via London, to Canada. We stopped at Hampton Hill en route, getting a welcome not only from Emma and family, but also from the pub staff at the Roebuck, who know us now. We slept in the room that overlooks the bus route and spent a happy day with young Alexander, picking up twigs, leaves and beechnuts in Bushy Park, deer in the grass and green parrots in the trees. We made mobiles and crowns from the gatherings which Alex' granddad Chris admired on Skype.

During the first of Mum's two weeks in Canada we took in a Musée des Civilisations exhibition and the Hubble telescope film after meeting my German speaking friends on a wet day, then spent a morning walking the Waterfall Trail in the Gatineau Hills. In the evening we sat on the front row at an NACO symphony concert featuring a Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos, the grand pianos on stage tessellating, so that the soloists Shai Wosner and Benjamin Hochman could keep an eye on one another. We tried to imagine Mozart playing it with his sister.

The parks, the grounds of Rideau Hall in particular, and outdoor markets have been spectacular under the sunny skies. Mum and I also got to see cranberries being harvested from the Vallée des Canneberges in Venosta on the Maniwaki road, thanks to my friends who drove us. Elva offfered us supper at her house that evening and how well we slept that night, having sat by her log fire and seen the Milky Way above her drive! Another thrill for Mum was to have chickadees feed from her hand beside Mud Lake one day.

On the Tuesday of Mum's second week here Faith flew in to join us who had been at an Indexer's conference in the Netherlands. Another trip to the Musée des Civilisations with Faith and Elva, lunching at the Green Papaya across the road and seeing another 3D Imax show afterwards, this one about Arabia. My sister, having been plunged into Dutch, Welsh, English, Canadian, Thai and Saudi Arabian environments in rapid succession, was suffering from cultural overload, so we had a quiet day in the parks next, before setting off on our two-day "ladies road trip" with three of my friends via Perth to Westport and back, staying at Rothwell's Stone Cottage. (Albums on Facebook.) The rest of the Thanksgiving weekend we spent at home, walking in the woods by Meech Lake on Sunday. Monday for me was entirely taken up with our Thanksgiving supper; I enjoyed both the preparation and the company, eight of us round the table.

Before Faith accompanied Mum back to Wales we did a sunny circuit of Parliament Hill to visit the stray cats, sharing a picnic under the pavilion, walking back through town.

I wish every 91 year old were as fit and able to enjoy things as my mother. She complains of her age but her voice was warm with appreciation of her trip when we spoke on the phone Wednesday morning, and now, in Britain, she's about to observe a second autumn, the leaves over there only just beginning to change.

Monday, October 4, 2010

One thing at a time

My mother's staying with me. We're making the most of her visit under the lovely Autumn trees which doesn't leave much time for me to write my blog, and I must be patient. I have a huge backlog of things worth recording.

On last week's rainy day I took her to the Museum of Civilisation in Gatineau where we watched a 3-D Imax show about the Hubble telescope. I know which part of it will stick in my mind. It showed an American astronaut repairing the 'scope in his space suit, which he said was as difficult as doing brain surgery with oven gloves. The only way he could cope with the challenge of unscrewing the defective unit was to assume a Zen approach, he said: only thinking about one screw at a time. If he let his mind dwell on  the whole of the challenge, he'd be lost.