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, April 27, 2011

Cities for my birthday

It's my birthday tomorrow which I'll spend quietly (I hope) in Ottawa.

I can't remember celebrating my tenth birthday, but since then ...

On my 20th birthday I was a student in London and can remember that occasion very well.
On my 30th birthday I was in Bern.
For my 40th birthday Chris treated me to a long weekend in Vienna.
For my 50th birthday he flew me in our own 'plane from Ottawa to New York.
My 60th birthday treat is a holiday in Beijing!

I am a lucky woman.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A sudden craving for simplicity

Our son and his bride in the foothills of the Himalaya
This turned out to be a dramatic week for us, with my son just out of hospital in Szechuan (suffering from altitude sickness after a wedding-photo shoot in the wilds), now recovering in Beijing, and my daughter in hospital in London with our new grandson, Thomas James, born yesterday after an emergency Caesarian operation. We're thrilled with the news of his safe arrival.

Thomas James, one day old, photo by his father
Here in Canada, meanwhile, we're in the throes of planning our trip to China with round-the-world flights, while my husband's company celebrates the launch of the Playbook and his publishers launch his commercial pilot training manual, Flying Beyond, of which I have just received two copies, though it's not yet advertised on-line.

I managed to complete the Spring Edition of Crosswinds in time for the Flying Club's AGM last Saturday and this week I started work on the Summer Edition. It's also the tax-return season, and we have to make a sensible decision about casting our votes in the General Election on May 2nd.

I pick up our VISAs for China from the Consulate next Monday and the last lesson of my Chinese course is on Tuesday. I have a lengthening "to do" list and have started on the packing.

This morning a friend from the Quaker meeting we used to attend in Wales sent me an email. Kay and her husband are going to spend Easter on the shore of the little town of Borth on the Welsh coast. They treated us to a weekend there, once upon a time. I don't want to sound unappreciative of the excitement we've had recently, but I suddenly wish we were with Kay and Andy in Borth once again, escaping for a moment from the nervous tension of our present lives.

Borth (Wikipedia image)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The old photographs

A Sea of Steps (1903, in Wells Cathedral)
by Frederick Evans, platinum  print
In 1839 John Herschel described those newfangled phenomena called photographs as "miraculous. Certainly they surpass anything I could have conceived as within the bounds of reasonable expectation. Every gradation of light and shade is given with a softness and fidelity which sets all painting at an immeasurable distance."

At Canada's National Gallery, an exhibition of 19th Century British Photographs (although one or two of them appear to originate from the 20th century) is coming to an end tomorrow. I found time to visit it yesterday and am glad I did. What struck me forcibly was that, according to those black and white pictures, of scenes of farmyards with haystacks, orchards and tumbledown sheds, or of urban backstreets or grander buildings did not look all that different from what I remember of Britain in my childhood (a century later).

The early photographers, for obvious reasons, preferred static subjects, by no means confining themselves to their home country, however. There were documentary shots of buildings in Burma, in India, of a military encampment at "Sebastopol," and a panorama of "Constantinople" taken from a high tower up which the photographers had lugged all their heavy equipment. Other exhibits had been more lighthearted in intent, such as a shot of the "Lorna Doone" waterfall at Badgworthy in Devon and one taken in N.E. Yorkshire (where I once used to go hiking) of two little girls in Victorian dresses, one of them posing playfully in the branches of a tree, the photographer's daughters. His name was Herbert Sutcliffe (a Yorkshire name, like that of the famous cricketer). Other photos by this artist (surely they all thought of themselves as artists) were of the Danby Castle ruins and Hart Hall in Glaisdale.

At the end of the exhibition was the famous shot, shown above, of the steps to the Chapter House in Wells Cathedral "worn here and there by the tread of many feet, like fallen leaves" as a critic of its day poetically described it. The photographer himself had noticed that the steps were "worn into a semblance of broken waves  ... the curve of the steps ... is for all the world like the surge of a great wave ..."

(Speaking of Wells Cathedral, my mother has just told me on the 'phone that she'll be the guest of honour at a concert there, on July 30th)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This morning's distractions

Eight of the Konversationsgruppe
I had an influx of ladies today, all coming round to chat in German. There were fifteen of us in the end, in my not very large living room where I'd had to rearrange the furniture to accommodate everybody, the squirrels outside distracting us with their antics on the bird feeder. Luci, our Ko-ordinatorin, had us reading some satire by the German comedian "Loriot" whom I know from a film of his: Ödipussi, 1988.

Never mind the squirrels; I was distracted by thoughts of travelling soon. Chris, who had a meeting with the Chinese engineers early this morning, sent a message to tell me that his business trip to Hangzhou will definitely be combined with our visit to Beijing in May, and it's also almost certain that we'll be going right round the world. He needs to be in Cambridge and München for meetings at the end of June, on the way back to Canada. Ich reise mit (although perhaps I'll be in Wales while Chris is in Germany).

Monday, April 4, 2011

Plenty to think about

Today I spoke to my mother in Cardiff, my son in Sydney and my daughter in law and her parents in Beijing (some of this in Chinese) and had an email from London about the place where my grandson is going to start school. My second grandson will be born any day now, as is evident from the photo of my daughter also sent to me today. Shopping and clearing up took most of the morning;  I'm expecting about seventeen people to come round for coffee, conversation and snacks on Thursday, without much preparation time left during the rest of the week. I read Greg Mortenson's book Stones into Schools compulsively over my breakfast and lunch and in the afternoon was at the Embassy of Afghanistan for a couple of hours listening with great admiration to Fatima Galiani, the woman who runs the Red Crescent in Kabul (more about this later). After meeting for supper in town, Chris and I just had time to play some Bach before he rushed off to teach for three hours at the groundschool. While doing my ironing this evening I watched the last half of Chariots of Fire and the first half of Lolita before remembering that I had to create some database printouts that will be needed at the committee meeting I have to attend tomorrow, after my Chinese lesson.

Friday, April 1, 2011

"Poor" and "sad" in comparison

Perth, Ontario (photo by me)
The other day when I posted an album of photos on Facebook I got an interesting comment from Nadiia, a Ukrainian friend who used to live here but now lives in Romania. She said of the Ontario scenery in my pictures: "I did not like it though, kind of poor and it is sad."

I think she meant that Ontario looks pretty desolate at the end of winter. The landscape is certainly stark before the buds open and the spring growth starts. The grass that re-emerges from the receding snow has a brown, exhausted look, and the bush is grey and haggard like someone's face after a long and serious illness, without much sign of recovery yet. (It will come; only you have to be patient.)

Sibiu, Romania (tourism website)
Or perhaps Nadiia was referring to the little towns between Ottawa and Kingston along the route we were flying when I took the photos. They look "kind of poor and sad" to me as well, before the bustle of activity during their all-too-short tourist season (June, July, August, plus a week or two before / after).

Compared with the lively and picturesque eastern European towns she knows, with their warm spring weather and centuries of cultural heritage, these places in Ontario can't compete. Kingston itself looks very run down at this time of year: shops and museums closed, a burst water main on King Street, a deserted marina still sheathed in ice, only one stall in the market (selling a few potted flowers). But I saw drifts of flowering crocuses and snowdrops in the lakeside gardens, which is more than can be said for Ottawa.

I do see a sort of attractiveness in the simplicity of these landscapes; the air is very clear too, in fine weather. From the air you can see how the little towns, still in the early stages of development, relatively speaking, have come into being around the rivers. Maybe in another two or three centuries they'll have become almost as appealing and historic as their European equivalents. Maybe the climate will have changed by then, as well.

Afghanistan needs the women

I went to a meeting in the basement of a downtown church last week where I shook hands with Senator Mobina Jaffer, deputy chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, the title of whose recent report was on the training to be done in Afghanistan now that NATO is gradually withdrawing from its combat role in that country. The gist of the report was "Include Women." Senator Jaffer was the speaker at our meeting.

On the front row of the audience (I like front row seats) I found myself sitting next to the Chargé d'Affaires from the Embassy of Afghanistan, Ershad Ahmadi, who gave me his business card.

The meeting was entitled Afghanistan's Future: Count Women In. Here are some of my notes:
(Wikipedia photo)
  • there were no sanitary towels in the emergency relief packages sent to a disaster area (recent floods)—male troops need training in "gender sensitivity"
  • women soldiers must go
  • when consulting the Afghan elders, don't just consult the men
  • there are women leaders in the Afghan communities
  • women know where the water is (men have been known to negotiate rights to waterways that don't exist any more)
  • "Just educate our daughters!"
  • it's not about dress (the burqa); it's about the way people are treated
  • the Taliban emasculated the men, too
  • education, income generation, better healthcare are more important for women than training programmes
  • CIDA is a "poor department" and Pearson's expectations are not yet met
Well, there's a Canadian election coming up soon. We were urged to bring up the subject of Afghanistan with our prospective candidates. The more questions they get, the more research they'll have to do, which has to be a good thing. Senator Jaffer has spoken to Canadian soldiers about the needs of Afghan women and they "get it," she said, "they really do," especially the female contingent. But how will the troops be trained in future and how are we going to make sure that it's women who get the training? She has the greatest respect for the rank and file. But what needs to be done has to be led in the right direction. CIDA likewise can only do what Canada's leaders ask it to do. The PM has to set the priorities and the Chief of Defence must take a lead; we need responsible leaders.