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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Red ribbons over the Gatineau

Maybe this post should have appeared in my river blog instead; never mind. I wanted to record an outing to Wakefield on the River Gatineau which has cheered me up a great deal after a bout of gastroenteritis about which the less said the better. Today, with my appetite coming back, I managed to enjoy a lunch with Chris, Elva and Laurie at Chamberlin's Lookout above the General Store. The service was rather slow with just one waitress there, but the clientele was in a relaxed mood so it didn't seem to matter. We like the fact that this place has many dishes on its menu that incorporate the freshly baked multigrain bread of excellent repute from the Wakefield Bakery across the road. In the summer you can sit out on the balcony of the bistro, overlooking the river, but with a temperature well into the minus figures today, despite the Christmas decorations, the sunshine and deep blue sky, that was not an option.  I took this photo from inside, looking across the river through the window. Wisps of advection fog were rising from the faster moving channel of river water that still hasn't quite frozen over, but my camera isn't good enough to have captured that effect.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sing in exultation!

I've just been listening online to the Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on BBC Radio 4, broadcast live from King's College, Cambridge. I appreciated every nuance of it, singing along to the descants as I used to do as a child. The words and music, especially the contemporary music on the programme, thrill me every year to the extent of shivers down the spine, and this year's service was a particularly good one. I knew that my 92 year old mother in Wales would be listening in as well and 'phoned her at the end to tell her that I hadn't missed it.

The Programme:

Once in royal David's city (descant Cleobury)
Bidding Prayer read by the Dean
I wonder as I wander (Rütti)

First lesson: Genesis 3, vv 8-19 read by a Chorister
Remember, O thou man (Ravenscroft)
Adam lay ybounden (Ord)

Second lesson: Genesis 22 vv 15-18 read by a Choral Scholar
Angels from the realms of glory (arr Jacques)
Riu, riu, chiu (Flecha)

Third lesson: Isaiah 9 vv 2, 6-7 read by a Member of College Staff
Nowell sing we now all and some (medieval)
Sussex Carol (arr Willcocks)
It came upon the midnight clear (descant Cleobury)

Fourth lesson: Isaiah 11 vv 1-3a, 4a, 6-9 read by a Representative of the City of Cambridge
A spotless rose (arr Ledger)
The Lamb (Tavener)

Fifth lesson: Luke 1 vv 26-35, 38 read by a Representative of Eton College
Blessed be that maid Mary (arr Cleobury)
Bogoróditse Dyévo (Pärt)

Sixth lesson: Luke 2 vv 1, 3-7 read by the Chaplain
Christmas Eve (Tansy Davies – first performance, commissioned by King’s College)
Sans Day Carol (arr Rutter)

Seventh lesson: Luke 2 vv 8-16 read by the Director of Music
The Shepherd’s Carol (Chilcott)
While shepherds watched (descant Cleobury)

Eighth lesson: Matthew 2 vv 1-12 read by the Vice-Provost *
The Three Kings (Cornelius arr Atkins)
Illuminare, Jerusalem (Weir)

Ninth lesson: John 1 vv 1-14 read by the Provost
O come, all ye faithful (arr Willcocks) Collect and Blessing
Hark! the herald angels sing (descant Willcocks)

Organ voluntary: In dulci jubilo BWV 729 (Bach)

* The Vice-Provost is an expert in Islamic Studies, from Iran, a very good choice of reader for those verses!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Markets everywhere!

Stuttgart's Weihnachtsmarkt in the rain
There's even one in Cardiff these days. They had them in Paris, with stalls selling Christmas decorations from Alsace, roasted chestnuts, friandises, but the home of the Christmas Market concept is Germany and Austria. With centuries of previous experience to draw from, Stuttgart's Weihnachtsmarkt is very well put together, as is the equivalent one in and around the Marienplatz in Munich. They brighten up the short, dark, dull, damp days of Advent in those city centres (as do the umbrellas carried by the thousands of Christmas shoppers––a large number of whom seemed to be speaking Italian) and on December 7th and 9th gave me a target for my solo excursions. Deliberately travelling light I couldn't fit many extra purchases into my luggage, but if I'd wanted to, I could have spent a fortune at these colourful little stalls, with their displays of carved Christmas tree ornaments, beeswax candles, cuckoo clocks, Tyrolean Krippenfiguren, nutcrackers, glass balls and all kinds of winter clothing.

Candles for sale from a stall in Stuttgart
There's no shortage of things to eat when you need sustenance while wandering through these markets, with stalls or wooden Stuben offering

  • Baked apples (Bratäpfel)
  • Dates (frische Datteln) and "sweet" cherries
  • Roast almonds and chestnuts: gebrannte Mandeln und Maroni
  • Frische Waffeln
  • Game (Wildspezialitäten)
  • Currywurst mit Pommes Frites
  • and Steckerlfisch, big ones, sold and displayed on skewers

In Stuttgart I treated myself to some chocolate covered slices of mandarin and apple, also on a skewer. And of course there's the ubiquitous Glühwein, served in mugs so that you can warm your hands on it. I had some of that too, but in a posh place where I could sit down to make the most of it: a Hauspunsch at the chocolatier's, Maelu, on the Theatinerstrasse in Munich.

Wooden Christmas decorations on sale in Munich

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Time to spare in Sindelfingen

Kaffeehaus in Sindelfingen, near the market square
After breakfast at the Hotel am Klostersee on December 8th, while Chris was giving his presentation at the Stadthalle round the corner, I took the opportunity to wander through the streets of Sindelfingen, which by 10 o'clock in the morning had hardly woken up.
Sindelfingen ist traditionell Automobilstandort ...
Around the edges it's a residential district for employees at the Mercedes-Benz plant and associated establishments, as is the neighbouring town of Böblingen. The previous day I'd taken a train into Stuttgart from Goldberg station––a 3km walk in the rain from our hotel up one side of the Goldberg (hill) and down the other, during which I had to consult the street map several times under my umbrella, but with a better sense of direction on the way back I found a short cut, a path through the houses.

Hansel and Gretel's witch
The older part of town, around St. Martin's church on the hill behind our hotel, has less of a modern feel to it, with eye-catching corners. Martin's best remembered saintly act was to give his cloak to a beggar who was feeling the cold, as a modern sculpture outside the Sindelfingen church portrays. There were several other sculptures around the streets and squares, and in a shopping mall, temporary displays of scenes from Christmassy fairy stories. Another thing worth mentioning is that we found a great place for supper on the market square, the Fässle. This was such a good pub that we patronised it three nights in a row.

Streets of old Sindelfingen

Facing St. Martin's church

Gossips at the fountain, old Sindelfingen

This sculpture gave my husband a fright

In the market square, Sindelfingen

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ordnung muss sein ... and chocolate squares

On my way to Tübingen with Annegret and Klaus I was driven through the northern Black Forest countryside southwest of Stuttgart via a place called Waldenbuch, known above all for the Ritter Sport Fabrik which lies in a pretty little forested valley on the edge of the town. The factory's Schokoshop sells the famous chocolate squares in every available flavour, size and quantity (we bought some), and an art museum, the Museum Ritter, where they specialise in Kunst im Quadrat, modern art that features squares, paintings by Mondrian, as you can imagine, as well as a series of exhibitions entitlled Hommage an das Quadrat, Black Box, Bewegung im Quadrat and so on. On the outer wall of the museum a large square is affixed at an angle and their is a lawn behind it featuring square flower beds and outdoor sculptures.

My friends outside the Museum Ritter with its square on the wall

A square patch of garden behind the chocolate factory
We spent some time browsing in the art shop and I wish now that I'd bought a book they had there showing photos of the entertaining creations of the Swiss comedian-artist, Ursus Wehrli, especially his series called The Art of Clean Up that makes fun of the obsession with tidiness (Ordnung) that seems to be endemic to the German speaking world.

Old Tübingen

The famous view of Tübingen by the River Neckar
On December 6th, the morning after we arrived in the Stuttgart area, staying at the Hotel am Klostersee in the dormitory town of Sindelfingen, Klaus and Annegret picked me up in the lobby and drove me to their home town, Tübingen. We went via the Ritter-Sport chocolate factory which I'll mention in another blogpost.

The old part of Tübingen, built on a hill by the Neckar is all half-timbered old houses with plane trees, steep roofs and cobbled streets, squares and alleyways, very attractive as you can see from my pictures. It's been a university town since the 15th century and is still obviously prosperous. Klaus was a student there himself, at the school of Theology. Goethe spent a week there in 1792, perhaps on his way home from witnessing the French Revolution. In last week's blogpost I mentioned Hölderlin's and Hesse's connections with the town as well.

I saw the 16th century Rathaus with the murals on its façade, the Jacobuskirche and the beautiful Stiftskirche where the stone tombs of the Hoffürsten (the princes of Baden-Württemberg) were and where a series of J.S. Bach concerts was taking place. In the footsteps of all the people we were imagining, we walked down the Nonnengasse and the other Gassen and followed the steep steps down to the banks of the Neckar, in the middle of which was an island park featuring the Avenue of Sighs (Seufzerallee) where students throughout the centuries have paced up and down, worrying about their exams. The city's patron saint was St. George and there's a statue of him brandishing a sword against the dragon at the stone well (Brunnen) in the market square. This is the spot where, according to Klaus, a chosen Theology student always used to have to give a "Final Dissertation" to his fellows at the end of the school year.

Figure decorating the Rathaus
At the old mill, the Neckarmühle, now a brewery, I sampled the local ale at a window seat overlooking the river and ate Maultaschen mit Kartoffelsalat, Schwäbischer Art, i.e. a local speciality, filling but very tasty.

As well as the Neckar, a smaller canalised river, the Ammer, runs through Tübingen. In the summer my friends, who live further up the valley, cycle 6km along the bike path beside the Ammer to do their shopping in town. This is typical of the region; the locals are very eco-friendly and have elected a young, "Green" mayor (Oberbürgermeister). The shops sell stylish Naturkleidung and organic fruit and vegetables. The greenery being sold for Christmas decorations was lovely; Annegret bought a bunch of Christmas roses (helleborus) in a flower shop there. She had recently been working at a Pflegeheim (nursing home for the elderly) in this part of town, with a peaceful, secluded courtyard.

At the end of my tour I was driven on to Unterjesingen for coffee and a cake at the flat which had a lovely view of the Wurmlinger Kapelle, a place of pilgrimage on a hill across the valley. It reminded me of St. Martha's on the Pilgrim's Way in Surrey, England, on the ridge of the North Downs.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In Paris, December 3rd

In the mirror of a French café near the Seine,
photo by Chris
On all three evenings of our weekend in Paris we took a walk (near our hotel) around what the Chinese would call the CBD of Paris, La Défense, with its architecture de qualité supérieure and quirky sculptures. We liked it and appreciated the vision behind the erection of La Grande Arche lining up with the Arc de Triomphe in the distance across the river.

It rained for most of the weekend, with a real downpour at the end after supper on the Sunday evening, but this didn't interfere with our enjoyment of the city. On Saturday morning, having taken a metro train to the Place de la Concorde, we strolled through the deserted Tuileries (I like deserted city gardens!) under our umbrellas then crossed the Seine to the Rive Gauche and St. Germain-des-Près district (where the writers Paul Guimard and Benoîte Groult used to live ... not to mention Pablo Picasso, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Henri Matisse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald) where we found the requisite artsy cafés, little high-end galleries and a well stocked, Canadian second hand bookshop, to which Chris had found a signpost. We also went into a photocopying shop where we got talking to a young British landscape architect (working on his portfolio) who'd been living in Paris for a while and could speak excellent French.

A view from the Batobus
From there we explored as far as the Monde Arabe on the river bank (we'll have to go back––a new museum is due to open there next February) before returning to the quais to board a batobus. I was flagging and needed the hour's sit down on its round tour as far as the Tour Eiffel and back. Back on land, we crossed the island bridges and wandered west of the Seine through the Marais, veering off down side streets to the Centre Pompidou, eventually. By this time it was dark; Christmas shoppers were swarming. It reminded me of Barcelona. Chris was determined to find Les Halles, the sleazy setting of some Maigret novels, and we did so, but it has been radically updated and cleaned up, the forum being reconstructed and landscaped, in the process of being transformed like Berlin's Potsdamer Platz or the People's Park in Shanghai. It's going to be huge and very impressive.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Paris, December 4th

Zooming in on Montmartre, from the Arc de Triomphe
Luckily for us, the 280 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe were free of charge on Sunday, December 4th. Having walked the length of the long, straight avenues (Charles de Gaulle / de la Grande Armée) from the Pont Neuilly at La Défense to the Arc, we climbed up to see the views of the city from that splendid vantage point. Montmartre looked so higgledy-piggledy, with the dome of Sacré Coeur above, that it could have been Istanbul. Then we stepped back down and set off down the Champs Élysées, that now terminates at the ferris wheel (La Grande Roue, dramatically lit up after dark).

Champs Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe

Ave. Foch and Ave. de la Grande Armée. La Défense in the distance.
We'd walked from there! 
Avoiding lunch on the Champs Élysées, too touristy for my liking (where shopaholics were queuing to be allowed into Louis Vuitton or the new branch of Marks & Spencer), we found a cosy Brasserie on the rue de la Boétie where we could sit at a window to enjoy our steak-frites and beer. Good service, good food!

Back on the main drag we walked past another Marché de Noël, French-German style, thousands of people milling around:
... pas moins de 160 chalets authentiques (fabrication dans les Vosges) ...
Molière as César, 1657
We decided on impulse to take refuge the Petit Palais (opposite the Grand Palais, between the Pont Alexandre III and the Champs Élysées metro station), an imposing edifice built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 and recently renovated (in 2005). Its permanent exhibition contained a substantial collection of paintings, including a lovely one I'd never seen before by Monet, Sunset on the Seine at LavacourtAt the moment the Palais features an exhibition about the Comédie Française, which interested me a lot, having (once upon a time) studied the 17th century French playwrights. There was the original portrait of Molière as a young man, acting in a play by Corneille; there was Molière's leather armchair, rather the worse for wear all these years later. What interested me most was the painted depiction of productions through the centuries of the great plays by Racine and Molière, several of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and L'Avare, for example, none, to my surprise, of Tartuffe. If this exhibition is anything to go by, the Comédie Française seems to have preferred to stick to French drama, with few deviations into Shakespeare, say, except for an occasional performance of Hamlet in translation. A picture of the riot caused by the première of Victor Hugo's Hernani was shown. Another thing that surprised me was that I didn't recognise a single face on the wall of faces that were the present day troupe of the Comédie Française, France's top-ranking actors. Had contemporary film stars been among them I'm sure I'd have been able to identify some of those.

Candlelit Bach

I sat on the front row for an excellent performance of Bach's Wachet auf cantata yesterday evening, in St. Andrew's Church, by candlelight. The church choir there is directed by a well respected Ottawa musician, Thomas Annand, and includes professional or semi-professional soloists, so was bound to be worth hearing. The cantata includes two duets for bass and soprano soloists that are supposed to be dialogues between Christ and one of the "wise virgins" representing the receptive Christian soul, but are composed as love duets, the two voice parts answering and winding seductively around one another. Click here to hear what I mean.

The choir sang Cantata No. 65 as well, written for an Epiphany service in Leipzig: the accompanying orchestra included two French horns and a cor anglais used here as a substitute for the oboe da caccia Bach composed for, which soon afterwards became obsolete.

The female soloists also each sang an aria—one from Bach's Christmas Oratorio and one from the Magnificat (I knew them both)—the choir added three modern, unaccompanied Christmas anthems beautifully and softly sung, and at the end the congregation was allowed to join in with four carols. From where I stood, adjacent to the orchestra and close to the choir, I could watch the conductor and pretend to be one of the performers. I liked that.

Chris and I also spent a couple of hours or more singing carols in harmony at a friends' house on Saturday night. I had no voice left even for conversation after that, but it did put us in a Christmassy frame of mind.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hölderlin, Heine and Hesse

Friedrich Hölderlin
During my trip to Germany, I saw places where, at the beginning, middle and end of the 19th century, all three of these German romantic poets spent their time.

Friedrich Hölderlin lived for a long time in Tübingen. Here's a poem by him that I know and love:
Hälfte des Lebens (1805)

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?

Die Mauern stehn
Hölderlin's house by the Neckar
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.
A reasonable translation by Michael Hamburger goes like this:
The Middle of Life

With yellow pears the land
And full of wild roses
Hangs down into the lake,
You lovely swans,
And drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
Into the hallowed, the sober water.

But oh, where shall I find
When winter comes, the flowers, and where
The sunshine
And shade of the earth?
The walls loom

Speechless and cold, in the wind
Weathercocks clatter.
Hesse's bookshop in Tübingen
I believe I saw the descendants of those same swans he described, on the River Neckar, dipping their heads into the water around the Stocherkahne by the bank (that's the German word for punts, as found in Oxford and Cambridge), and then I quoted from the second verse to Klaus, the gentleman who was showing me old Tübingen; he knew the poem too.

Hermann Hesse worked at the Heckenhauer bookshop in that same town (from 1895-1899), publishing his first book of poems there.

On the wall of Heine's lodgings
Heinrich Heine
Heinrich Heine spent a year in Munich in the 1820s, co-editing a political magazine, but wasn't very happy, finding that city kleingeistig (small-minded) and longing all the while for Berlin. His Buch der Lieder was published while he lived there in the Radspielerhaus. Chris sings several of the songs by Schubert and Schumann that were settings of those famous poems: Der Doppelgänger, Ich grolle nicht, etc. Heine ended up living in Paris, by the way.
Hermann Hesse

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Alexander's nativity play

Last Friday, which feels like months ago, I was sitting on a bench by the water feature at the Hampton Hill end of Bushy Park in London, near a stately home on its perimeter that used to belong to the Admiralty. The water feature is an artificial waterfall or weir falling into a pond in formal gardens. The rest of Bushy Park is more natural in appearance, the water running along dykes through the bumpy field where, that morning, antlered deer lay chewing the cud. Frost on the grass had turned to dew.

Applying the Crown Jewels
Trying on the costume
This was precious therapy for my daughter, worrying about the imminent end of her maternity leave from a demanding job and the even more imminent birthday party—15 children invited with their parents—for Alexander (five years old on Monday). Alexander's other excitement this week has been the school nativity play for which he'd been cast as both Narrator (someone who "says words") and one of the Wise Men ("I'm in the Wise-man's Team"). We had to make him a suitable costume, so I bought a length of curtain material, sewed a hem along one side, using my travel sewing kit, and threaded a purple ribbon through to gather it into a cloak. That would do. Dark clothes under the cloak and a home-made head-dress complete with the felt crown that Alexander decorated unaided with stick-on "crown jewels." He had seen the real Crown Jewels at the Tower of London so knew what he was about. A most convincing Wise Man. His Narrator's lines went like this:
The landlord had hoped he would get a good rest.
He hadn't expected this number of guests!
I warned Alex that the audience might laugh when they heard that, seeing the 120 children on stage, but that if they did, they'd be laughing at the story, not at him. He knew to recite the lines clearly and slowly, "not fastly."

Alexander's parents were amused when they heard that several children would be playing the part of the Star of Bethlehem. My son-in-law supposed that with 15 wise men in the Team, some would be disorientated by the extra stars and might go off searching for Baby Jesus in the wrong direction. The reason why there are only three Wise Men in the traditional version is that all the others had got lost, he said.

Alexander's primary school has just published the results of its Offsted school inspection to the parents of its pupils. Result, "good" in almost every respect. This is a large school with about 1000 students between the ages of 4 and 11.

I wasn't allowed inside the classroom when we went to fetch my grandson home and furthermore each child was checked at the school gate to make sure (s)he was going home with the correct adult; to me, from a far-away generation, these security procedures seem astonishingly strict.

Almost another week later

View of the Autobahn near Ulm
So much for the intention of keeping my blog updated during our Europe trip. It's hopelessly impossible, now Thursday evening; we have reached the outskirts of Munich after coming down the Autobahn from Stuttgart, driven at 180 kph by Peter who said he knew the road, having crossed the watershed (Wasserscheide) between the North Sea and the Black Sea and seen the Alps in the distance. Peter is a serious mountaineer who has led expeditions up Himalayan as well as Alpine peaks. When we got out of the car, he showed us photos of these climbs. Selling software systems must seem very tame in comparison.

In between journeys I am reading Breath by Tim Winton, having found it in a bookshop near the Sorbonne, in Paris; this novel's about the addictive, death-defying lifestyle of surfers on the western coast of Australia.

Old Rathaus, Sindelfingen
This morning Chris was giving his presentation at the ESE congress in the Sindelfingen Stadthalle, a few minutes' walk along the path by the stream from our hotel (Am Klostersee), and I was exploring the narrow, winding, cobbled alleyways below the Martinskirche at the top of the hill at the heart of Sindelfingen, the Kurze Gasse and the Hintere Gasse. On either side were beautifully maintained 16th and 17th century half-timbered houses; I passed the old town hall as well, its beams painted yellow, which at one time was a "salt house" and more recently a school. It is a museum, these days.

It's time for supper in Ismaning, now.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Written on the Eurostar from London to Paris

December 2nd

How civilised! I have a “solo” window seat and am travelling backwards as London recedes at high speed, or at least what I can see of it above the rail-side barrier. We may be rushing through Kent now; there are fields. Traffic on the motorways is at a standstill which makes me feel superior. The French speaking steward has just served me the petite collation to which I'm entitled on this standard premier coach, and un vin blanc avec ca:

Timbale de riz aux épices orientales (and a sesame seed bread roll)
Grosses crevettes marinées et salsa verde (with two kinds of beans)
Gâteau aux pistaches et au chocolat au lait, crème anglaise

In Flemish, to my eyes is indistinguishable from Dutch, it reads like a different meal:

Rijst timbaaltjje met tikkekruiden
Gemarineerde gambas met salsa verde
Gebak met pistache en melkchocolade, crème anglaise

The French steward approaches again, speaking to me in English this time, such a seductive accent. “Would you lack a kerp of tea, Madame?”

I gaze into his eyes and say yes.

At Dover, with a brief glimpse of the South Downs under the darkening sky, then we plunge without pause into the Chunnel, 28 minutes after leaving St. Pancras Station. At St. Pancras the way to the train was well signposted and plenty of comfortable seats in the departure lounge, some with plug in points, and coffee bars, newspaper stalls, but no opportunity beyond the security checks to acquire Euros. No matter. The info desk sold metro tickets, as day passes or by the carnet (un carnet de dix billets) for £15, cheaper than London transport, it seems. I'd been using my Oyster card all over London, on the buses, overland and underground trains, by far the easiest way of paying.

Time in the Chunnel was 22 minutes today, then we emerge in France. Respecter la mer en passant sous la terre! -- says the slogan on a large board by the railway.

The rest of the journey was travelled in the dark, nothing of France to be seen other than parallel motorways, until we got to Paris, Gare du Nord. Like my fellow passengers, nearly all businessmen, I read my complimentary copy of The Economist and once on the platform hurried to the Metro, Chris having advised me which stop to aim for (Esplanade de la Défense on Line 1, after changing trains at Châtelet). The train on Line 1 was dreadfully full; with commuters still on their way home at 7:30 p.m. I had to fight my way to the door. Even so, I like Paris, could feel at home here.

Chris met me at the station exit, arriving only 3 minutes later than he'd anticipated, and we followed the walkways to the Ibis Hotel by the Pont Neuilly. From our bedroom window we can see the Seine flowing by and can even catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mannerheim followed by Tamm

[This blogpost to be expanded when I have time!]

Another discovery this week, courtesy of the Canada-China Friendship Society; I went to hear the journalist Eric Enno Tamm talk about the book he has written––The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds––which is an account of the adventure he organised for himself in 2006, following the ancient, northern Silk Road (approximately) from St. Petersburg to Beijing in order to retrace a journey to China made by a Russian spy in 1906.

Gustaf Mannerheim, who eventually became President of Finnland, was the spy.


Confucius once advised: "Study the past in order to divine the future."

"By studying China's past," says Mr. Tamm, "I raised troubling questions about its future."

I queued up to speak to Mr. Tamm after his presentation (asking him how he'd managed the language problems––he said he had relied upon interpreters a lot of the time) and told him that when I got home I'd go straight to his website on the computer, which I did. I recommend it (a proper time-consumer, though) ––excellently well put together. Click here to take a look.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Reading Pélagie-la-Charette (by Antonine Maillet), the novel mentioned in my blogpost about the Acadians, I'm struggling to follow the dialogue written in historic Arcadian dialect. Not having a French-Acadian dictionary to hand, I just have to guess at the meaning. Here, for example, is a passage I can more or less decipher ...
Je nous accoutumerons, j'avons connu pire dans le passé, et j'en sons sortis [...] Charlécoco, partez chacun de votre bord, l'un au nordet, l'autre au suroît, et me rapportez une paumée d'eau claire. [...] Après le règne des vaches maigres vient cestuy-là des grasses. Ça sera pas dit que je nous quitterons corver entre les deux. Allez, ouste!
... except for the verb "corver" (no idea what that means).

The book sweeps me along all the same, and could be the basis of an epic film if anyone took the trouble to adapt it. But then, what would become of the language?

Another thing I'm spending time on at present is helping Chris prepare for his presentation in German at the ESE conference in Sindelfingen next month. As we read through the documentation I can't help wondering what the Germans themselves make of their language these days, that leans so heavily on English, English technical jargon at that, in this context. Here's part of an introduction to one of the other talks that will be given at the conference (my italics):
Der Teilnehmer erfährt, wie neue Regularien im Energiebereich, Smart Grid, heruntergebrochen und durch technische Features realisiert werden können. Beispiele sind hier auch Smart Meters. Anhand von anschaulichen Use-Cases wird dem Teilnehmer vor Augen geführt, was es bedeutet, Sicherheit in der Fertigung in der Industrie einzuführen und was das Keymanagement in der Realität für Anforderungen an IT und betrieblicher Sicherheit stellt. Der Teilnehmer erhält dadurch Informationen, die ihm die Entscheidung erleichtern, ob und wenn ja welche Teile von Embedded Security als Entwicklungsdienstleistungen besser eingekauft und welche besser in-house aufgebaut werden.
It's hardly German any longer. Do students of German engineering rely on guesswork too?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The famous railway

Ontario Science Centre photo of a Canadian Pacific steam train

The other day I got to see the documentary Imax film that's been showing at the Museum of Civilisation since the beginning of last month: Rocky Mountain Express.

At the end of the nineteenth century, against the odds, William Cornelius Van Horne of Illinois built the most challenging stretch of the trans-Canada railway, through the mountains of British Columbia and Alberta. He was aided and abetted by crazily obsessive surveyor-engineers like Major A.B. Rogers of Rogers Pass fame and assisted by heroic Chinese workers in the construction crews. They were paid $1 a day for their work in horrendously dangerous conditions. Tragically, hundreds of them died before the railway was finished.

Stephen Low of Ottawa directed the film, which I thought outstanding. A report in the National Post described the cinematography:
Cameras mounted on the engine’s cowcatcher, above the drive wheels and atop the boiler provide a train’s eye view hearkening back to some of the first frames of motion-picture film ever made. Helicopter footage captures the romantic pairing of engine and landscape ...
and if you've ever read Pierre Burton's book The Last Spike you'll know what a gripping story is told in the voice-over.

All over the place

I read another article this week about how Internet addiction was linked to Attention Deficit Disorder in teens, and although I'm not a teen I've begun to wonder whether leaping from my bed to the computer screen on my way to the bathroom first thing in the morning might not be a habit I ought to break. In defence of the Internet, it's always interesting, and looking things up and writing about them is a good way of fixing them in my mind. But what I'm learning does seem very random and fragmentary at times.

Maybe it's nothing to do with the Internet; my whole lifestyle is like that. During the past couple of weeks, as usual, my thoughts have been all over the place. Not only in Afghanistan, Montreal, China and "Acadia" (as mentioned in my last few blogposts), but twice in Guatemala too, with one of our German conversation group giving us a lively account of her recent trip there as a wedding guest at a ruined, 18th century convent in Antigua. She climbed a volcano besides and encountered the Mayan Guatemalans, small, clean, tidy people, she said, who are proud of their heritage and refuse to speak Spanish. A few days after listening to that, I heard another lady, this one in the Spanish conversation group, telling us about her experience of Guatemala as a volunteer on a couple of Construction Expeditions, building a community centre with Mujeres in Acción, a partner of World Accord. She showed us marvellously colourful pictures of the Mayans and their woven cloths.

Meanwhile, at home, I've been writing out a complicated itinerary for what Chris calls our Grand Tour of Europe starting soon; we'll be travelling to London, Paris, Stuttgart and Munich, and Chris will be in Hannover and Oslo as well, giving presentations of his work. A lot of Internet research is required beforehand, and if we're not careful, imagining ourselves in five different countries within seventeen days causes a twitchy mind.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Afghan Canadian Community Centre

From the Toronto Star:
Ehsan Ullah Ehsan
It was the spring of 2006, and the school [Ehsan Ullah] Ehsan had opened to teach girls and women English, basic health, computer skills and other courses in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar was fast running out of money. He was on the brink of shutting it down when the Toronto Star's Mitch Potter happened by, wrote about the looming disaster, and touched the hearts of two readers in Ottawa: Ryan Aldred and Andrea Caverly.
Ryan Aldred
I met Ryan Aldred last Thursday at a meeting of the CFUW's University Women Helping Afghan Women; he had come to tell us about what had happened next. He and his wife Andrea wrote to the reporter, asking, "What can we do to help?" and eventually received a grateful and detailed response from Mr Ehsan himself. He had no school buses, the computers were wearing out ... The young Ottawa couple decided to fund the Afghan school for 6 months, raising money from their friends and acquaintances in order to send donations. Meanwhile, in Kandahar, Ehsan chose a new location for his school, paying the teachers $100 a month and hiding the project from prying eyes because it was (and still is) very dangerous for Afghan girls to go to school. Families informed one another about the place by word of mouth, however, and with its lifeline of income from Canada the 100-strong student population quickly quadrupled. Then it transpired that men and boys wanted to be taught there too. "Almost overnight," said Mr Aldred, "we had 800 students." And eventually CIDA chipped in with a $310K grant to spend on buses and school equipment.

Afghan girl (photo by Paul Watson)
The girls are "fierce and fearless," according to Mr. Aldred, but the new buses protect them (from acid-throwers and other such extremists) on their way to school.

The CIDA money will not last forever. "You don't pull up stakes and leave everything flapping on the ground," when it runs out. What's to be done next? The request for three more years of funding was rejected, but people kept lobbying the Canadian government anyway, and then on International Women's Day a year's extension of funds was granted. "This is a big boost," says Mr. Aldred, "It helps us to keep going." During the several years since the project began, only half a million dollars have been spent, not a huge sum. The administrators of the NGO insist upon low cost developments, using members of the local community as staff. One of President Karzai's brothers has recently donated land for a new building, which some of the students themselves are excitedly designing.

In 2009 Ehsanullah Ehsan and Ryan Aldred founded the Canadian International Learning Foundation which supports not only this project in Afghanistan but similar projects in Nepal and in four African countries. Their initiative was reported in the National Post last month in an article by Jane Armstrong.

On its premises, the Afghan Canadian Community Centre now teaches over 1,500 students ...
...Business Management, Information Technology, English and Communications [...] with access to the Internet and online classes from Canadian and international institutions. The school’s programs provide students with the skills needed to obtain employment to support themselves and their families, improve their communities and participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The skills taught at the ACCC are in high demand by international development agencies, local businesses and the Afghan government ...
Each former student now employed supports seven family members, on average. When a young daughter of a family man becomes the primary breadwinner, it makes people think, and attitudes begin to change.

Accreditation of such an institution is very bounded by rules and requirements. Mr. Aldred's NGO still needs to acquire 501(c)(3) status, but the developments continue, regardless.
... 32 students at the Afghan-Canadian Community Centre are enrolled in the Business Management certificate program offered online by the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), a Calgary-based Polytechnic Institute that offers internationally-recognized post-secondary education. The Business Management program often allows students in Kandahar to secure high-paying employment after as little as one course. A group of 5 ACCC students have also been given scholarships to study online classes with the Canada eSchool, where they will study a range of subjects including Science, Math, English and Civics. 
A network of volunteer tutors in Canada tutors the Afghans at the Centre using Skype (mostly) for classwork and in one-on-one sessions. Other volunteers engage in online text chats with them, helping them with their projects and with career guidance. The young Afghans (the age of a student at the ACCC might be anything from 10 to 40 years old!) ask their Canadian mentors for help with online research, use of English, study skills. The only drawback to the system is the time zone. If you join in with the volunteering you may have to do your transcontinental chatting from Canada at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thin spread

The other day a wise, elderly friend of mine asked me how I was doing, and when I started to tell her about the many and various things that take up my time, she interrupted me.

"Alison," she said, "be careful. Don't spread yourself too thin."

I've been thinking about that, since. It is good advice.

Monday, November 7, 2011

In Montreal, a little extra

We drove all the way to Montreal and back yesterday for the sake of supper with friends (Ottawa friends!) on the rue Ontario. The restaurant where we had a booking is Au Petit Extra beside the Lion d'Or cabaret hall.

The journey there, with Chris driving and Dan along as passenger telling us stories of youth and his family (who were miners in Sydney, Cape Breton), took us along a pretty route by the deep blue Ottawa River and through the late autumn countryside, the horizons clear and the sky and water all pink at sunset as we crossed the bridge onto the Île de Montréal. Highways 40 and 15 through the city suburbs were less attractive but we easily found our way downtown and arrived with an hour to spare, parking on the rue Papineau. After that, the excursion began to acquire added interest. Dan is married to Gianluca Ragazzini (a colleague and friend of my own husband at work) and Gianluca, meeting us in Montreal after a choir rehearsal, was waiting at the bar opposite our parking spot, Le Stud. I have never knowingly entered a gay bar before (only by accident in London once, when my mother wanted somewhere immediate to sit down with a pot of tea) and was immediately struck by the fact that all the people there were large men in black leather, talking loudly. Wearing a fluffy white jacket, I probably stood out in that crowd. We later learned that this place is popular with the "bear" community (unfamiliar with the vocabulary, we had to have it explained) and that a few years ago there had been quite a scandal when a young woman called Audrey Vachon had been bounced from there for intruding on the men's exclusive domain.

They didn't treat me like that; actually we weren't on the premises for more than a few minutes (Chris, to my amusement, nervously trying to make himself inconspicuous at the doorway) before the four of us walked on towards the restaurant, taking in the sights of Le Village Gai along the rue Ste. Catherine, with all its rainbow flags. Many same sex couples were strolling by and the magazines on sale in the shops were definitely customer specific.

Au Petit Extra is up the hill from there and round the corner, past old, Montreal style tenement buildings with their curving outdoor staircases. We discovered the restaurant to be a subdued, elegant place where Gianluca and Dan, who have eaten there many times before, knew the staff. We met the other couple in our party, Steve and Mary, who'd also driven in from Ottawa, and sat down to our meal. The service was excellent, as was the food, prepared in a seriously professional kitchen. My choice was
  • aiguillettes de canard fumé et mâche à l'orange 
  • mahi-mahi à la caponate
  • gâteau framboise-pistache
Above the menu chalked on the wall, I noticed a letter written in the same hand-writing (by our waitress):
Ami Jean, 
Voici trois ans que tu nous quittais. Après bien des larmes, on s'est retroussé les manches et le navire vogue toujours. Tu le reconnaîtrais sans peine. Le Lion d'Or surgit de plus belle et le Petit Extra pourfend*  le temps. Nous pensons souvent à toi et, à bien des égards, tu es toujours là. 
Tu sera bientôt grand-père. Le savais-tu?
On t'embrasse tous.
* = fights against, a fencing term

I told her it was a lovely letter and asked her about it. Apparently the restaurant's former co-proprietor had died three years ago last night; it was written to him.

On leaving we walked back to the car down the avenue Papineau past a 19th century brick church emblazoned with garish, coloured lights, spelling out the message: Le salaire de ton péché c'est l'enfer (presumably a paraphrase of Le salaire de ton péché c'est la mort.)

"My favourite church in Montreal," said Gianluca, with heavy sarcasm.


The day after I published this post came an announcement in the Ottawa Citizen that Ottawa now officially has a Gay Village too.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"China changed us"

I joined the Ottawa Chapter of the Canada-China Friendship Society last week and at their October meeting heard an engrossing lecture by a former Ambassador to Japan, China and Mongolia, Robert Wright. In the Liberal Government of the 1990s, as Deputy Minister for Trade he had organised Team Canada trade missions to China, so was already well prepared, and the opportunity to have front row seats for the Olympic Games in Beijing was another ("fabulous!") incentive to accept this job offer.

Mr. Wright and his wife represented Canada in China from 2005 to 2009. "To quote an old adage," he said, "China changed us."

He confessed that living in China was more difficult than he'd expected. He found the polluted air and the crowds in the big cities "physically demanding," the language-barrier frustrating and the bilateral relationship between China and Canada not as strong as it was when the Liberal Party had been in power, the political atmosphere "cooler ... more hostile."

One day, the Ambassador was arrested for walking his pet dog in the city! Dogs that size (dà gǒu––it was a labrador) were not allowed in Beijing. However, when the authorities realised who the culprit was, a diplomatic embarrassment was avoided.

In Mr. Wright's favour was the fact that his staff belonged to the biggest Canadian embassy in the world––320 strong––and that the Chinese government made no objections to his visiting every part of the country while he was in office, including the politically sensitive Autonomous Regions. "It was good to get out of Beijing for a change." Although he suffered badly from altitude sickness in Tibet, he was able to enjoy some "frank exchanges" with students at a Tibetan university before fleeing from the thin air.

Stressing that these were his personal views, he said he had learned ten lessons while living and working in China:
  1. It is a self-confident and optimistic country. Unlike the conservative Japanese, the Chinese do not fear outsiders taking an interest in them. Japanese families would tend to resist the idea of their adult children marrying foreigners; attitudes in China seem just the opposite. 
  2. On the other hand, the Chinese government seems surprisingly insecure, afraid of instability. The government feels it should be autocratic in order to keep such a huge country safe and sound, therefore it cracks down on subversive elements and covers up its weaknesses. Mr. Wright felt that the next generation of leaders would be different in their governance, more flexible, because younger people in the Party have a better understanding of different cultures.
  3. Since China wants a fair share of the world's wealth for its people, the government hopes China's status will return to what it was at the beginning of the 19th century, not wanting to be seen as a global superpower so much as a major power within Asia, with a high-ranking GDP (it seems the Chinese have achieved that already). 
  4. Canada is respected for being the only developed nation that has not invaded China! The Chinese like Canada's fairness towards immigrants, and our civilised way of doing business. We should nurture the trust between our respective leaders because, in Chinese culture, this is very important.
  5. Canadians in general don't understand the Chinese very well. We still tend to see them as they used to be in the 1970s. (Only British Columbia, where Mandarin is now being taught in the schools, is an exception.) We're therefore missing our chances; if we're not careful, Canada will become irrelevant.
  6. We mustn't assume that the Chinese or would want to share our values priorities (he corrected himself there). To them, debates about democracy or human rights are lower on the agenda than how to tackle economic growth, education, environmental concerns and corruption in high places. They believe that, in order to keep their enormous country stable and secure, (in Mr. Wright's words) they want "autocratic control.") If we find fault with China, we should voice our criticisms politely and in private, advised Mr. Wright, then we might be listened to. Strident condemnation splashed all over the media can only have a negative effect. They detect a certain amount of hypocrisy and self-interest in criticism from the west; i.e. they are suspicious of our motives. 
  7. The Chinese are not easily classifiable. They don't think of themselves as communists any more. They are in fact "ferocious capitalists." Clearly they no longer want Soviet style labels. On the other hand, how can the door to a more liberal régime be opened? Slowly, cautiously, is the answer. If change is to come, whatever should be done about the giant portrait of Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square, for example? How can they eliminate the huge gap between their rich and their poor and the consequent threat of instability? Political evolution has to happen gradually or "uncontrollable forces" could be unleashed. The future of the Communist Party is being debated within its ranks, and that's a healthy sign, but it may take half a century, perhaps a whole century (say some) before China completely changes.
  8. Never underestimate the capacity of the Chinese to solve enormous problems, fast. Mr. Wright predicts that in 10 years time, China will lead the world in environmentally friendly technologies. Re. Lesson 6, above, the mess that the U.S.A. made of dealing with the devastation after Hurricane Katrina (2005) raised Chinese eyebrows. They were not impressed, especially in comparison with the "tremendous" way they themselves responded to the victims of the Sichuan earthquake (in 2008). 
  9. Nor should we underestimate the risks inherent in Chinese nationalism. The instantaneous reaction of the Chinese to attacks on their Olympic torch bearers before the start of the 2008 Games obviously rather scared Mr. Wright. They are a fiercely patriotic people.
  10. Despite the gaps between our cultures, there's an enormous reservoir of goodwill and commonality between our two countries.
Robert Wright remains optimistic for the future of the relationship between China and Canada. China being our second largest trading partner, he feels that trade will take care of itself. They buy potash, coal, wheat, transportation products and engineering expertise from us. He hopes that our influence in the world of engineering and science will bring about an increase in trust. We should continue to invite Chinese people to visit Canada as tourists, students, colleagues and friends. Likewise young Canadians should go to China as students, and we should "put more Canadians on the ground in the provinces of China," not just in Beijing and Shanghai. We should make efforts to learn the language.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Acadians

From another talk in French (on Tuesday) I learned about "les acadiens," also eventually known in the USA as Cajuns.

They were brave people; they had to be.

In the 16th century explorers from France claimed parts of northeastern America, naming the new found land "Acadie" after an ancient Greek word meaning peaceful refuge, idyllic place. Champlain (see my previous blogpost) encouraged settlement around the Bay of Fundy and around the Annapolis River where to counteract the extraordinarily high tides the new immigrants began digging canals and dykes (aboiteaux) through the salt marshes to dry out the land and harvest the salt. (You can find a model of this system in the Musée des Civilisations at Gatineau.) Little communities sprang up, Port-Royal, Grand-Pré, Pointe-de-l'Église. To start with, there were no women around, but friendly Mi'kmaq natives were trading their beaverskins with the new settlers, so inevitably some children of mixed race came along. As recorded in his journal, Champlain created a social club in Port-Royal called L'Ordre du Bon Temps to give the men some distractions. By the mid-17th century, French women were well established there too.

Then came interference from the British and a tragedy known to the Acadian people as Le Grand Dérangement, a moment in history of which Britain should be thoroughly ashamed. The expulsion was meant as punishment for rebellious behaviour, a refusal to swear unconditional allegiance to Britain. The governor of Nova Scotia in 1755, Charles Lawrence, ordered all the Acadians to be deported, about 10 thousand of them, with no redress. Grand-Pré, their departure point, is now a place of pilgrimage with commemorative gardens, monuments and a statue of the fictional Evangéline, heroine of the long, romantic poem about the exiled Acadians by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. There's another statue of Evangéline in Louisiana where some of them ended up.

Nowadays you can buy little Evangéline dolls wrapped in a box with Gabriel dolls (Gabriel was her long lost boyfriend) from the souvenir shop at Church Point.

I've not read the Longfellow poem, but Simone, the lady who gave the talk, lent me a novel in French telling a similar story. It's by Antonine Maillet and is entitled Pélagie-La-Charette. I have been warned that the dialogue is full of vocabulary I'll find difficult, the language of the Acadians being a unique corruption of old French dialects, "une langue déformée," the ladies called it. Simone had brought an Acadian-French dictionary along, and one of the others borrowed that to show to her linguist husband.

The Acadians, although they are not officially a nation, have chosen a national day for themselves, August 15th, and have a national anthem which begins like the Roman Catholic vespers hymn, Ave, maris stella ... Hail, star of the sea! We made an attempt at singing it. The yellow star appears on the blue stripe on their flag: blue, white and red like the French tricolore.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On s'arrange entre nous

Yesterday morning I heard a talk in French given by the novelist and translator Daniel Poliquin: he was speaking about a book he has recently translated entitled Le Rêve de Champlain, written originally in English by the American historian David Hackett Fisher––Champlain's Dream, 2008; in the hardcover version it is 848 pages long.

It would have been interesting to hear M. Poliquin say more about the challenges of translating such a weighty book, and he did tell us a little about this (making the nice little aside that he thinks the French version is probably better than the original; he had been able to correct some mistakes in the English version!), how his research into nautical vocabulary had taken him three days work with an expert mariner and so on, but mostly we learned about what an impressive man Samuel de Champlain must have been, and how his vision for New France (i.e. Canada) was way ahead of his time (Champlain died in 1635). Poliquin compared his policies with those of Willi Brandt and Helmut Schmidt who advocated a peaceable (pacifique) reunification of Germany in the 1980s. "Wandel durch Handel" (change through commerce; Poliquin made the striking remark that the Berlin Wall was brought down by fax machines).

The explorer-diplomat Champlain, who crossed the Atlantic 27 times during his 16th / 17th century lifetime, had the difficult task of having to work with the "Amérindiens" on behalf of France without being too confrontational about it. His attitude mattered. He was respectful and non-judgemental. He asked the native people about their beliefs and their politics and found them as intelligent and "evolués" as the Europeans. He considered their kayaks, for example, to be one of the greatest of human inventions. Champlain having paddled (or been paddled) along the lakes and rivers from Detroit to Montreal, this was not just a casual turn of phrase.

The word "sauvage" (savage, wild), as Poliquin pointed out, comes from the Latin silva, forest, so les sauvages were actually "people of the forest."

The word caucus, used in N. American politics today, is said by some to come from an Algonquin word cau´cau-as´u, although there's some debate about this. Champlain liked the way the native Americans arrived at their decisions by consensus, after giving everyone a chance to speak his mind freely. Because of his deference to the native way, there has been no genocide perpetrated by Europeans in this northern part of the Americas. When a Frenchman was murdered by one of the native people, Champlain played for time and would not countenance a knee-jerk, vengeful reaction. He entered into discussions, persuaded the tribesmen to make amends, effected an exchange of hostages and gifts. Poliquin said that this foreshadowed typical present day Canadian behaviour:
S'il y a du trouble avec des voisins, on n'appelle pas la police, ou seulement en dernier recours. On se débrouille entre nous, on s'arrange entre nous.
Poliquin calls Champlain's vision for Canada "un rêve modeste ... et fou." But Champlain's legacy, his influence upon Canada, and his dream of a peaceful new world remains. Champlain was a Renaissance man, a humanist, a botanist, a writer, an expert navigator and cartographer, not just a governor. "Il pouvait lire la forêt" and his maps, as modern tools confirm, were astonishingly accurate. As a scientist he did make some mistakes, however, convinced that the goal of his explorations –– China –– lay not so far from Montreal. There's a suspicion he may have been a Protestant, not a Catholic, although the French régime that supported his endeavours was Catholic, and very right wing at that. He was a failure in one aspect of his life. Married at 40 to a girl of twelve, she left him when she grew up and joined a convent.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Horrors on the street

I see that the Ottawa Citizen has published a report about this fund-raiser for the Ottawa Food Bank.

We crossed paths with several hundred zombies staggering through the Byward Market in Ottawa yesterday afternoon, almost all of them played by young people who'd been rather heavy handed with the gory make-up and accessories (I liked the fellow in an apron advertising Heinz Tomato Ketchup). "They look like typical students to me," said Chris, while I wondered aloud whether they might be evidence of the End Of The World that had been forecast to take place on Friday evening.

Commentators in high spirits were keeping up a good flow of remarks as the parade went by and to my amusement I heard a young man behind me say, "And now, for no apparent reason, here comes an old lady dressed in red ..." meaning me!

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I was very struck by the sight of cirrocumulus clouds on our way home from town this afternoon, as the skies began to clear after some grey, wet days. Chris took a photo too, as evidence of supercooled water droplets at 20,000 ft agl. They looked as though they'd been painted onto the blue with a big brush.

Here is my own picture, looking up from the park by our street:

"Là-bas, les merveilleux nuages!" (Baudelaire)

The trees inside

"Cedro di Versailles" at the AGO
"Ripetere il Bosco" is also visible
on the right hand wall in this picture
We visited the recently reconstructed AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) in Toronto last Friday, its transformation masterminded by Frank Gehry, and in the Galleria Italia on Level 2 we were impressed by a remarkable installation called Ripetere il Bosco (Repeating the Forest), by Guiseppe Penone.

Planks of wood, attached to the high inner walls of the spacious gallery, had been painstakingly chiselled out, exposing the form of the young tree it had originally come from. Presumably the message is that the tree itself is still there, to those who know how to look for it within a man made wooden artefact.
My artwork shows [...] the essence of matter and tries to reveal [...] the hidden life within.
In March last year Penone, struggling with a language that's not his own, gave a recorded talk at the AGO:
I take a big beam ... I start to carve the beam following a ring of growing ... and I arrive to find the form of the tree... I do several times because each beam is from a different tree [with a] different history. I make evident the tree that is in the wood that surrounds us.
Penone discovering the inner tree
In his intimate dealings with trees dead and alive, he imagines that ...
The space between the tree and the bark is the future time of the tree ...
Born in the alps near Turin, Penone is a member of the Italian Arte Povera group, creating sculpture from easy to find, ordinary materials, rather than from rare, costly marble and such things. Even so, I couldn't help remembering what Michelangelo did with blocks of marble towards the end of his life. Those were sculptures of emerging forms as well.

By the way, while searching for another link to Giuseppe Penone I came across a blog published regularly since 2005: Some Landscapes. These illustrated comments on the theme of landscapes as depicted in the arts are written (compulsively, I imagine) by "Plinius"—who likes that nom de blog—from Stoke Newington. I thoroughly recommend browsing through it.