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.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Art songs and Newfie jigs

Jean Desmarais, Denis Lawlor and Isabel Lacroix are described on this page. On a recent Sunday afternoon, we went to a concert to hear them all perform at close quarters at John's house on Marlowe Crescent. For the past several years, John has been organising a series of concerts in his living room (filled with a variety of chairs that he sets out in rows) and we're lucky enough to be on his mailing list!

For this concert, the baritone and the soprano took turns to sing to us from a programme of art songs followed by...

The songs from Europe:

The lengthy and demanding Adelaide by Beethoven, to start with. I always think of my son George during this, who loves its piano part. Then we heard six Schubert Lieder… Liebesbotschaft, Der Neugierige, Frühlingsglaube, Im Abendrot, Gott im Frühling, and Sehnsucht (four of which I know note for note and word for word). Two Mädchenblumen songs (Kornblumen and Epheu) by Richard Strauss were new to me, before Mr. Lawlor sang Strauss' Morgen to the accompaniment of piano and violin. For some reason this one never fails to conjure up the magic of Lake Thun, for me, as seen from Spiez*:
... Und zu dem Strand, dem weiten, wogenblauen, werden wir still und langsam niedersteigen ...
* Am Strand, Spiez
The legato sounds more effective on the violin than it would under the right hand on the piano, which is how I remember it. Chris reminded me that there's also an orchestral version of that accompaniment. Next came Schumann's Widmung and Wehmut and Brahms' Von ewiger Liebe which I actually sang in public once when I was young, though not half as well as Ms. Lacroix. But I learned it, and that was something. What impresses me now in retrospect is that my dad was able to play the accompaniment! I knew Fauré's Lydia too, which is a man's song
O Lydia, rends-moi la vie, que je puisse mourir, mourir toujours!
and recognised his Rêve d'Amour.

In marked contrast to that arch-Romantic selection, the concert finished with ...

The songs from Newfoundland:

On the Newfoundland coast
All of these were sung by Mr. Lawlor, who comes from there. He was on the home straight now in more senses than one. Salt Water Joys was in jig style, to the accompaniment of Isabel's fiddle, as the decorous audience almost tapped its feet. He performed She's Like The Swallow unaccompanied. It's a beauty of a folk song, that I used to sing at school, though I remember slightly different words. And the concert finished with a really funny song or story, the iconic Newfoundland jig about Aunt Martha's Sheep


Friday, October 25, 2013

The richest man in France

Jacques Coeur was the son of a furrier who lived at the time of the 100 years' war between the French and the English, who became the right hand man of Charles the Victorious (Charles VII) son of Charles the Mad (Charles VI) when in middle aged he was made Master of the Royal Mint, maître des monnaies.

Françoise belongs to the Cercle des Amies de Marion. Marion being long gone, I never met her, but I see some of the others once a month or so, and it was Françoise's turn to talk about something that had caught her interest this week. She told us about a novel she'd been reading, entitled Le Grand Coeur. It's by Jean-Christophe Rufin of the Académie Française and was published last year to great acclaim. It tells the life story of Jacques Coeur, born in Bourges, who as a child meets men from the Crusades and Santiago de Compostela pilgrims and wishes he could travel likewise. In his late teens he also observes the devastation of the French army at the Battle of Agincourt, attacked famously by Henry V and his British troops.

There were four women from France in our group this week, and it fascinated me to hear them talking about that period in history. To them the English are the baddies, no doubt about it, laying waste to France until Jeanne d'Arc finally saves the country from that plague of raping and pillaging. The Battle of Agincourt (Azincourt) is lost because the French nobility are too chivalrous. In England the story is told from quite a different angle.

In Rufin's story Jacques rises to power by means of a love affair. He feels humiliated, enragé, by the way the Chevaliers have treated his father with scorn, but through his marriage to the daughter of an argentier the nobles eventually pay him some respect. He travels across France with his father-in-law and teams up with a coiner who works for the King. Their success in this trade is ensured by the fact that they make more coins than the King has ordered, keeping some aside for themselves! Jacques ends up in prison when the trickery's found out, but not for long. He becomes a reformed character and sets out for the Levant, by ship to Crete and Alexandria, then taking the road to Damascus. In this city is a richesse inouï of gardens and fountains, spiced foods, caravans of 2000 camels passing through it, and he is tempted to continue on his travels towards China, but then he remembers his wife and children. He is robbed on the way and returns home "sans un sou"!

Once again he starts up his business with childhood friends whom he trusts and by trading with the Orient he becomes a rich and successful merchant, meeting the King and building modern (i.e. Renaissance style) châteaux. I lost my concentration at this point and didn't catch how or why he comes to be tortured and has to flee the court. I must read the book to find out. It is something to do with his close connection with Agnès Sorel, who dies a suspicious death. Anyhow, Jacques is exiled, but manages to travel again via Marseilles to Rome, is granted a fleet, writes his memoirs and in 1456 is tracked down by his enemies and assassinated (at least that's how the novel tells it, apparently) on the island of Chios, on his way to fight the Turks.

I never knew about any of this before, which makes me wonder, as often, how much else I don't know.

When it's my turn to give a talk to the Amies de Marion this year, they want me to tell them about Australia and my Australian son's occupation, pulsar astronomy––in French of course. Mon Dieu! That will take some preparation.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Treating myself to an outing

Poem at Ottawa's railway station
Train journeys really appeal to me, and to other people it seems, as witnessed by the poem that's displayed these days in the ViaRail station on Tremblay Road, Ottawa. A translation into English is displayed too, on the other side of the entrance, but it's not as good as the original.

My husband being in Vienna, I took myself off to Montreal this morning, just to wander about in the streets and shops and enjoy myself. I didn't go on the metro but once out of the Gare Centrale I walked everywhere, without needing a map. I had lunch in the Vieux Montreal crêperie (Café Muru Crêpe) that I remembered from a few years back, and my "Crêpe d'Accord"there with a café au lait came up to expectations in all respects.

Then I lingered in the Marché Bonsecours with its attractive boutiques, walked through the Vieux Port and Chinatown, then past the Place des Arts and so back to the city centre in the vicinity of McGill University, shopping (or "just looking," mostly) in a perfunctory sort of way. I'm not the world's most avid shopper and my feet and legs got too weary for me to consider visiting a museum as well; anyhow I was quite happy without that, today. The weather had cleared up by lunchtime.

Shades of Paris in the "Square Victoria"

View down rue Bonsecours (after lunch)

Place des Arts, Montreal

The former concourse of Windsor Station
Before getting back to the station I made another detour to take a look at the old Gare Windsor that came into service in 1889 but is a station no longer. It is an imposing building on the outside, nicely preserved inside, and seems to be haunted by the shades of early 20th century immigrants moving westwards in droves, or of Canadian sailors, soldiers or airmen moving to and from the great World Wars through that former ticket office and concourse. It was deserted this afternoon except for a few early home bound commuters taking a short cut through there to reach the metro at Bonaventure.

The train ride home took me towards the sunset all the way that I could appreciate from my window seat.
Speeding home across the Ottawa River, west of Montreal

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tartuffe in Newfoundland

We had tickets for the preview of Tartuffe at the National Arts Centre last night. It wasn't in French, because this was an English Theatre production, set, in fact, in St. John's, Newfoundland, in 1939, and the English version was Molière's French translated into subtly rhyming couplets using the Newfoundland slang of the 30s––very clever indeed. The man who did the translation was also the actor who played Tartuffe on stage (Andy Jones) who says:
I used a lot of expressions from Newfoundland. I consulted three dictionaries, and used many familiar turns of phrase. I also made up a few expressions of my own.
Molière would have recognised the plot, although Orgon in this version becomes a wealthy fish merchant who is also a veteran of the first World War; he has lost an arm in the war:
It's important to the ending of the play that the main character be a hero in a recent war. World War I was a significant event in Newfoundland. We lost a greater per capita proportion of men than any of the other dominions in the British Commonwealth. Almost every family was touched by the war. Orgon becomes a believable character as a World War I hero.
The French names of the characters were preserved, and Molière would have recognised some of the dialogue too. One scene was a fairly literal translation of
DORINE. Madame eut avant-hier la fièvre jusqu'au soir, Avec un mal de tête étrange à concevoir.
ORGON. Et Tartuffe?
DORINE. Tartuffe? Il se porte à merveille, Gros et gras, le teint frais, et la bouche vermeille.
ORGON. Le pauvre homme! [etc., etc.]
The "poor man" gets his comeuppance in the final scene which was brilliantly staged in this production with all the other protagonists turning to worship Orgon instead, wearing the famous tablecloth, in which he's become entangled, like a toga.

Before we went into the theatre we listened to a discussion between the artistic director, Jillian Keilly, and the enthusiastic wardrobe manager, Marie Sharpe, both of whom are from Newfoundland themselves. It was quite a revelation to hear how important the costumes, lighting and set-design are to a show such as this and how much care is taken over their creation. The set was big and on four levels; it looked like a house split in half, a life-sized, thoroughly furnished doll's house with a board walk winding through rocks in front of it and a deck with washing line to the side. Lively use was made of the doors and stairwell. In the distance (backdrop) was a hint of other houses under a northern sky. The music sounded authentic too, the actors turning into a band of evangelists between scenes, singing Jesus-loves-you songs in a NFL style, in harmony. They have remarkably good voices.

The audience laughed throughout and enjoyed it immensely.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sunday night in Toronto

Sunday, October 13th

Gatineau paper mill, on our departure
It was a misty, then sunny morning in Ottawa with a light breeze from the east, though when we climbed there was a west wind ... but no turbulence. On our flight to Toronto, anticipating rain clouds ahead, we were routed via APLOV waypoint, then LORKA and ILIXU (on the Prince Edward County peninsula near Mountain View). This was the start of the long IFR "ILIXU4 approach" to Toronto City Island aka the Billy Bishop Airport (YTZ), taking us across the middle of Lake Ontario a good 10 nautical miles from shore, which is beyond "gliding range," so we hoped the engine wouldn't quit. The GPS programmed our next sequence of waypoints for us––ILIXU-DUSUB-UKPAG-MURUM-ROTRU––just as well, since most of them don't appear on the maps. For half of our journey we were in the clear, but once over the lake we were soon above a thin layer of wavy cloud, with thicker layers ahead.

"Are you enjoying yourself?" I asked.

"Oh yes, very much!"

Destination more or less in sight
Before long, the Toronto controller asked us to descend from 8000' to 4000' which took us into solid cloud, still way out over the water, but as we continued the approach, descending further, we broke out of cloud at around 3000' and there were the Toronto Islands starting to be visible through my window! That was encouraging. Because we now had visual contact with the ground, Chris was granted permission for a Contact Approach to YTZ, so we never needed to fly as far as ROTRU; he was excited by the novelty. We landed from east to west, one of Porter's "twin turbo props" waiting for us to land before it rolled onto the runway itself, as we taxied to the Porter FBO.

FBO service at YTZ is compulsory and expensive ($35 for the tie-down), but Porter gave us a welcome that we'd recommend. The airport has changed beyond recognition since we used to fly here at the turn of the century, now with a gleamingly modern passenger terminal and escalators to and from the ferry; the ferry itself (shortest cruise in the world, 2 minutes) is soon to be replaced by a pedestrians' tunnel to the shore. Unlike the rest of the numerous foot passengers who were being shepherded to a car park, we set off to walk along the lakefront past the Music Garden and marinas to our hotel. A big "revitilization" of the Toronto waterfront is taking place, with the road up and partly closed, the sidewalks repositioned and "wave decks" and bridges being installed. It's a proper mess at present but will look good when it's done.

The Radisson "Admiral" Harbourfront Hotel would normally be beyond our means, but for $149 on Thanksgiving Sunday we got a room that would otherwise have cost $285 (plus taxes). It was an upgrade from the room I'd chosen online, at the quiet end of the corridor, with a huge bed, a view of the Police Basin (housing 10 police boats) the lake and islands beyond, an early check-in too, and free wi-fi access. Great!

In the afternoon we walked up John Street in the rain through the arty district to the AGO, to see the phenomenal Ai Weiwei exhibition, According to what?, that's been widely publicised. I've mentioned it in a previous blogpost. The crowds and line-ups at the entrance were also phenomenal; I'm glad I'd booked our tickets on line because that meant we could walk straight in. The crowds were visibly moved and awed by the exhibits, mostly photographs or videos (one of Mr Ai jumping around stark naked with other naked men; he has a lively sense of humour, it seems, in spite of his angry thoughts) and sculptural installations. The wall of 5000 children's names was particularly poignant, a recording of their Chinese names and ages being broadcast through loud speakers.

We saw the snake made of school bags and the wooden maps of China, the cluster of Qing dynasty stools held together like a chemical molecule without nails or glue and the many pieces of rebar he's had straightened after being twisted in the Sichuan earthquake, the pile of these rods, entitled Straight, now representing a fracture zone and the earth moving in waves. No 2-D photo can do it justice.

Another irresistibly interesting piece is Forever Bicycles, a tower of intertwined bikes, the front wheel of one becoming the back wheel of the next. Apparently its title is a reference to Yong Jiu, or Forever-Bicycles, a popular make of bicycle in China owned by millions (although the irony is that these are now being superseded by cars). There's a relatively small version of this structure in the museum, but out of doors in Nathan Phillips Square by the City Hall they have a really big one, made of 3144 bikes, "creating a massive, labyrinth-like, visually moving space..." The girl at the hotel desk advised me to go and see this as well as the exhibition. It took 2 weeks to construct and caused a sensation when lit up at night. Someone was arrested for climbing on it yesterday.

After a necessary sit down in the organic coffee place diametrically opposite the AGO, we ended the day with a walk back through the business district in the rain and found a bronze elephant with two babies in Commerce Court just off Bay Street and a tasty and nourishing supper at the Spice Thai restaurant on the waterfront, the same place we'd patronised on our last visit to Toronto two years ago. Amazing effects were caused by the low cloud swirling around the skyscrapers, the warning lights on top of the towers shining like stars through the murk. We watched the Porter and Air Canada aircraft departing from YTZ and immediately disappearing into the low cloud ceiling; we could see them from our hotel room too.

Monday, October 14th

View from our hotel room at daybreak
I woke just before sunrise to see a beautiful change in the Toronto weather. This meant we didn't have to rush to get back home and could linger over a posh breakfast on the 5th floor of the hotel, where the outdoor pool is, before setting off on a leisurely walk to the ROM, 4 km north of the lakefront at the corner of Queen's Park and Bloor Street. Via the university campus it took us about 45 minutes to get there. This was for Chris' choice of exhibition; having read many books on the subject he really wanted to see the show about Mesopotamia. For this one we didn't have tickets in advance but it didn't matter; it was a quiet morning, most people being at home with their families for Thanksgiving.

It was a tremendous collection of exhibits, mostly on loan from the British Museum, such as the stone statue of Ashurnasirpal II, Assyria's self-proclaimed "great king, mighty king, king of the universe... mighty male ..." I kept thinking of Ozymandias, King of Kings and of Kipling's poem too:
... Lo, all our pomp of yesterday / Is one with Nineveh and Tyre! / Judge of the Nations, spare us yet, / Lest we forget––lest we forget! ...
We haven't altogether lost track of the ancient civilisations so long as stone carvings and artefacts like the ones on display can be preserved and not blown to smithereens by fanatics. We even saw a stone tablet inscribed with a chapter from the Gilgamesh epic. I was surprised by the smallness of the cuneiform script, proof that the scribes must have had excellent eyesight. The realism of the carved figures of animals and men, of their faces, beards and muscular arms, was astonishing too, considering that this was done thousands of years ago. The ancient world comes alive in an exhibition such as this, partly thanks to the coloured animations which spark the imagination and keep the visiting children interested. You begin to wish you could have seen the hanging gardens of Babylon (with its hundreds of thousands of inhabitants), perhaps created for the King's wife, missing her mountainous homeland.

Thin cloud over S. E. Ontario, higher cloud on the shoreline
My legs were tired by the time we left Toronto; I reckon we walked 18km from one place to another, as well as standing for long periods in the museums. It was nice to sit still in the cockpit after that and float along with the benign clouds. On the return journey, we flew VFR, following Lake Ontario's shoreline to Oshawa, then skimming over a thin white layer all the way from Peterborough to Almonte. Chris did a "simulated engine failure" landing for practice on arrival at Rockcliffe which curtailed the circuit. I ought to mention that the colours of the treetops all the way home were lovely.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

An unusual concert

Saturday, September 28, 2013 7:30pm. Classical, World, Jazz and something more.... Featuring: Special guest Beverly Soulière - native drums, Ralitsa Tcholakova - violin, Ron Korb - flute, Mark Ferguson - piano. Music by Ron Korb, Mark Horvat (Première of a piece based on First Nations Folklore), Hiroki Sagakuchi and other composers. MacKay United Church
Ralitsa, the Bulgarian-Canadian violinist, had sent me an invitation to this; she'd organised the concert herself and it was full of quirky juxtapositions (she used that word when introducing her programme, which caused me to smile). The first 5 items were as follows:

  • a fast fiddle solo by a contemporary Canadian composer (I didn't catch the name, but I gather he used to work as a truck driver), part folksy, part classical
  • a movement from Beethoven's "Moonlight" Piano Sonata played by one of Ralitsa's pupils, a talented Korean boy
  • variations on a Korean melody, a duet for Ralitsa and the same boy, playing the violin this time
  • a Jig and Reel by the composer of the first item
  • an arrangement of Bulgarian folk music chosen by Ralitsa, in 7/8 time

Then Ron Korb made his appearance, wearing two long, pink, Asian tunics, one on top of the other. He is a man of striking appearance with long grey hair, who plays a multitude of flutes.

The concert continued with a piece for flute and piano that Mr. Korb calls "Mozart's Wedding." Mozart never had music at his hasty little wedding to Konstanze, so he'd written something suitable for that occasion "... and for his honeymoon in the Caribbean!" (wink) It was cleverly in the style of ...

Then followed a piece for penny whistle, fiddle and piano, dedicated to a Celtic God. This one sounded very Irish, bitter-sweet, with glissandi on the whistle.

The advertised "Première of a piece based on First Nations Folklore" came next, with Ms. Soulière on the native drum. She is also a Justice of the Peace, by the way. Mr Korb played an alto flute in this one.

Item no. 9, for violin, flute and piano, was inspired by Mr. Korb's visit to St. Germain in Paris and once again was very soulful. I'd rather like to get hold of one of his CDs to use as a conversation piece at a dinner party.

"Christmas in Prague" had an Eastern European flavour (as well as a Ron Korb flavour) and was written for a bass flute, such as you rarely see at concerts.

Five more numbers from Mr. Korb's albums:

  • A harvest jig, with the audience clapping to the beat.
  • "Beckett's Whistle"––a tribute to Samuel Beckett, inspired by a visit to his home in France. The piece was Irish folk style again, expressing Beckett's probable homesickness and featuring an Irish flute.
  • A trio in the style of ... inspired by a visit to Beethoven's house in Vienna.
  • Something completely different, played on a Cambodian bamboo flute, held crosswise. Mr. Korb put its end into his mouth where it pressed against the inside of his cheek as he blew into it. This one didn't sound at all Irish.
  • "Saint Johann"––a tribute to J.S. Bach ... which dissolved into jazz, the pianist (Mark Ferguson) really coming into his own here!
The final two items on the programme were another jazzy one, "Dark Eyes," the audience again clapping a beat, and a "Native Earth Song" including the native lady drummer again and a tribesman's flute, which, so I learned, was traditionally a serenading instrument.

I don't imagine that the elders who founded the United Church on MacKay street ever anticipated it being used for this sort of purpose.