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, October 22, 2015

Motion sick!

As I told George yesterday, who is currently hard at work in distant Urumqi, but still able to use Skype, his dad and I have been working on our itinerary for November and December, trying not to feel overwhelmed. In the space of six weeks, we’re going to be in Chicago, Cambridge, Cardiff, Reading, London again, Stuttgart, Munich, London again, Ottawa (from time to time), Vancouver and Sydney. Perhaps with some other stops not yet listed. Chris will probably go to Cambridge on his own.

"That's a lot," commented George.

I replied, "And when we get back from Sydney in January we’ll have two weeks before we depart for London, Brighton, Cardiff etc. ..."

So it goes on. This year, Chris (and / or I) has (have) already visited California, Vancouver Island, Beijing, California again, the Gaspésie region of Quebec, London, Cardiff, Huntingdonshire / Cambridgeshire, Abstatt (near Heilbronn), Ittersbach, Pforzheim, Karlsruhe, Mainz, Burlington (Vermont) and Detroit.

From time to time it's impossible not to feel overwhelmed, but, as instructed before an IMAX show, you must simply close your eyes and wait till the feeling passes, when you feel motion-sick from the changing effects.

It hasn't helped that both my husband and my daughter have had to make big decisions about their jobs, this year. Both have been offered new positions which, after inner turmoil and long conversations with me, they have eventually turned down. My mother has been causing us concern as well; she fell over and cracked a bone yesterday, but is being kindly cared for at a familiar nursing home at present, where the whole family is now hoping she can be persuaded to stay.

Apart from Urumqi and Beijing, my son also stayed in Busan, S. Korea, as well as Kunming and then Guiyang, Guizhou, this summer. Not to be outdone, besides frequent journeys around England for various purposes, my daughter has visited Delft, Madrid, and Berlin and is about to set off to Beijing, to take part in some meetings and meet her brother there just before he and his family set off back to Sydney. She'll be making a side trip to Baotou City and beyond during her week in China, and she'll be setting off to visit Toulouse in November, also.

It's hard to keep track of where we all are at any one time. If nothing else, this blogpost can serve as a useful reminder.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Canada's new start

Canada has refreshed itself and chosen a new government. Mr. Harper and the Conservatives have just been defeated by the popular vote. Last night it was fascinating to watch how the "red wave" of Liberal success swept across the map of this vast country, starting in Atlantic Canada as the first results came in. (Chris didn't see this, being busy teaching "airmanship" to PPL students at the RFC's ground school, but I was glued to the online screen.) Once the results started coming in, it wasn't long before the CBC's team of commentators could predict that Justin Trudeau would be our next Prime Minister, with a majority of seats to his credit. Through the unusually long campaign, this summer and autumn, none of the pundits in the media seem to have thought that would be possible. At times, the three main parties were neck-and-neck in the horse race to Election Day.

As usual, it turned out to be all about personalities, in the end. Mr. Trudeau had the body language of a winner, the others not so much, nor were they as good looking. This is a cynical comment, but I'm afraid such things do count, especially among female voters.


The other thing that counted, though, was that Canadians, male and female alike, have had time, this year, to consider the priorities. Last week, a young woman in Vancouver wrote an open letter to Stephen Harper, which has been shared widely through the social media. It seems to sum up what a majority of people have been thinking lately:
I live in BC with my husband and two little girls. I grew up in Calgary and have many friends and family members there. I’m white and in my early 40s. One of us is a stay at home parent, so we benefit 100% from the direct deposits in lieu of a National Childcare Program. We also benefit 100% from income splitting. And we can afford to take advantage of the increased allowance in our TFSAs.
In other words, we’re the picture of the family who benefits the most from your economic policies.
But we’re not voting Conservative on October 19th. 
You see, you’ve misjudged us. We enjoy our standard of living, we work hard for it but it’s not the only thing that matters to us. 
You assume we don’t care about our First Nations neighbours, or Canadians trying to bring their family members here from war torn countries. That we don’t care about less fortunate Canadians, our veterans, or scientists. You think we don’t mind that to save a few bucks and balance the books we axed the census, dumped decades of research from our libraries, cut funding to CBC, under-spent our budgets in important departments and closed coast guard stations. You figure we no longer want our lakes and rivers protected and that we don’t understand that climate change is a far greater risk to our way of life than Barbaric Cultural Practices.
You’ve underestimated us. 
On October 19, we’re not voting for our bank balance [...]
The general perception is that the Liberals under Trudeau will care about more than our savings, and that this is no bad thing, because, when all's said and done, the country's soul is more important than its material wealth.

I remember, in the autumn of 2000 when I was not yet a Canadian citizen, sitting in a hotel room with my mum, watching the broadcast of Pierre Trudeau's funeral and seeing his son's oration over the coffin. Having studied the play Julius Caesar at school, it struck me that this was a Shakespearian moment, reminiscent of Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears ... I'm guessing that even then that young man was thinking of stepping into his father's shoes one day. I notice that Justin Trudeau used the words My friends,... an awful lot in his acceptance speech last night, as well. He seems to have quite a gift as an actor, but that's to be expected in a successful politician. One thing I do like about him is that he has worked as a teacher in secondary schools; you can't teach without the ability to sympathise with others' needs or be an imaginative listener––exactly what Mr. Harper was incapable of doing. It's promising that we're now going to have a PM with those qualities.

As Bob Rae says in the Globe and Mail,
by the end of the campaign Mr. Trudeau was seen by Canadians as the hardest working, most compassionate, most willing to listen, and most capable of learning.
I didn't vote for the Liberals, by the way. I anticipated that the Liberal candidate in our riding would win anyway (he did). At the door of the polling station I was still in a state of indecision. The NDP candidate was a worthy person too, a young woman who had lost her job by taking part in the contest, but when it came to the point, I voted for the Greens. They happen to be the party whose views most coincide with mine.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The old prayer

My daughter has posted an extraordinary link on Facebook, to show how the Lord's Prayer sounded in its original language, and what it literally meant:
Our heavenly Father, hallowed is your name. Your Kingdom is come. Your will is done, as in heaven so also on earth. Give us the bread for our daily need. And leave us serene, just as we also allowed others serenity. And do not pass us through trial, except separate us from the evil one. For yours is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory.To the end of the universe, of all the universes. Amen.
The reading of the prayer, with its guttural consonants and glottal stops before the vowels, sounds like Arabic to me (although I don't know Arabic)––obviously in the same family of languages, anyhow.

"Temptation" in appears the Anglican Book of Common Prayer seems to have been a misleading translation of the ancient Aramaic word for "trial" and the line about serenity is significantly different from the line in this version that I have known since childhood:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.
Another revelation is that Jesus' name was actually pronounced Eashoa, and that he could imagine "all the universes."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The firemen's bands

They have been friends for many years: the firemen-musicians of Grömitz on the Baltic Sea in northeast Germany and their counterparts in Ottawa (The Ottawa Fire Department Band) have visited one another's cities and have often marched and played for the people there. The German and Canadian bands have processed along the Grömitz sea front promenade together ...

This afternoon, in Ottawa, both bands played at the German Ambassador's residence in Rockcliffe Park. Jörn Rosenberg, the Ambassador's deputy, was their host. I was invited along because his wife is a friend of mine in our German conversation group. In fact she and Jörn came flying with Chris in our aeroplane last week.

It was a cold afternoon in the garden; the chill comes as rather a shock after Monday's temperature of 24°C or thereabouts. The music had to be performed outside because it would have been absolutely deafening indoors! As the bands played their respective national anthems, flurries of snow began to fall. A lady wrapped shawls round the two young girls who were part of the German band and Cristina F. lent me her gloves because I was shivering too. From the Canadian band of elderly gentlemen──one, whom I recognised, has never been a fireman, but usually plays his trumpet in a jazz band (he told me afterwards that he was there to swell the ranks, today)──similarly uniformed and be-medalled, we had a medley of Canadian tunes, The Maple Leaf Forever and the like. Consider yourself at home / Consider yourself one of the family was another old-fashioned favourite, aptly chosen. Each band leader introduced his part of the programme and when we repaired to the reception room indoors, spoke respectfully about his partner from the other side of the ocean.

I liked the friendly atmosphere at this event. In spite of the ceremony, appreciated by the bandsmen, I think, this was not such a stiff occasion as some diplomatic receptions can be. The oompah music may have had something to do with it, or the presence of several children. In the house we were served wine, or beer, tea or coffee, with salty or sugary snacks. A bandsman from Ottawa told me they'll be taking the German party to see the Niagara Falls next week. When the Ottawa band had been in Germany they'd visited the Kiel canal and the Belgian battlefields. I told him about my dad's choir exchanges with Germany in the '60s. I talked to the military attaché's family and some other German-speaking acquaintances and to a Swiss lady from the management team at the Chateau Laurier who was another of our hostess's friends.

Friday, October 16, 2015


IVSTITIA (Justice), outside the Supreme Court of Canada:
detail of a bronze sculpture by W S Allward
Group photo in the Federal Court of Appeal

People who couldn't get into the Supreme Court could watch
 and listen to the trial from an overflow room downstairs
The Supreme Court was busy last Thursday with 100 people present to hear the conclusion of a case concerning Aboriginal rights. Our Diplomatic Hospitality Group was on the premises too, sitting in the Federal Court of Appeal downstairs, on the western side of the building. We were there to learn about the structure of the court and its history, as expounded by a young gentleman called Cédric.

The entrance to the Supreme Court is through
the doors upstairs
Before coming into the lobby, we had to be searched and frisked for weapons. (It wasn't like that the last time I visited, a decade or so ago.) The lobby is built of Italian marble; the inner courts were constructed during the 2nd World War (1939-41), using wood imported from West Africa and Australia, immaculately varnished. All the interior was designed in a French, art déco style, very symmetrical, by an architect from Montréal, Ernest Cormier.

It is part of "a very hierarchical system," Cédric explained. Courts of Appeal are presided over by three judges, and there are seventeen such courts throughout Canada. In Nunavut, no specific buildings are set aside, so they use the local libraries or even gyms. The biggest questions of public importance––maybe 50 cases a year––are tried in the Supreme Court in Ottawa, where five, seven or nine judges sit. This is the big room upstairs. If the public benches are full, as they were during our visit, the people who didn't gain admission can watch the trial on big screens in the lobby and in the room below the stairs. Headphones are provided so that people can hear what's going on, too.

The Supreme Court judges are appointed by the Prime Minister and presently comprise four women and five men. Since the year 2000 the Chief Justice (Puisne Justice) in Canada has been Beverley McClachlin, the longest serving person in that position in Canadian history. She will have to retire by the time she is 75.

Canada's Supreme Court was created as long ago as 1875 and originally employed six judges to hear the final appeal. This being an even number, the defendant still had recourse to a further option if the verdict was undecided; the case was ultimately taken across the Atlantic to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. This system continued for 50 years before an extra judge was added to the quota, but until 1949 London was still the last resort. Then the Canadian legal system finally became independent.

How long does it take, someone asked, before an appealed case comes to its conclusion? It can take up to 18 months for an application for appeal to be processed and then, even after the Supreme Court trial, perhaps another four months before the judgement is received. The hearing itself usually takes two to three hours and Cédric told us we'd probably find it boring because it's "all legal gibberish". The Supreme Court basically looks for errors of law in the previous trials. If we are interested in following a case, we can either come and sit in the public galleries, watch it live on the website, or hear a webcast in retrospect.

Because this blog is about juxtapositions, I'll add one more paragraph.

A kleroterion from Athens
Chris and I went to see Les Grecs at the Canadian Museum of History on Thanksgiving Monday (the last day of the exhibition), and we discovered that the ancient Greeks had administered trials by jury as long ago as the 5th century BCE. Jurors were chosen by means of a sort of random number generator, a kleroterion, a stone with slits in it, into which each man's token was fitted. After the prosecutor and defence council had each spoken for six minutes, the jurors made their verdict by selecting bronze discs indicating "Guilty" or "Not Guilty" and placing them in receptacles (urns), accordingly. They could hide their verdict in the palm of their hand, so that it became a secret ballot. In those days, they had the sense to elect an odd number of jurors.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Robert Fisk in Ottawa

Robert Fisk (Speakerpedia image)
On Friday September 25th we went to St. Matthew's in the Glebe to hear Robert Fisk speaking as a guest of the Ottawa branch of Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East. What he said is worth recording, so no apologies for the length of this blogpost.

Mr. Fisk has won numerous international awards for his writing. This seemingly fearless Englishman has been a reporter for 40 years, half of that time for The Independent. Face to face, he has confronted the likes of Osama bin Laden and the Ayatollah Khomeini with his questions. In Fisk's opinion, there should be not a single western soldier in the Middle East. Doctors, teachers and engineers, yes. Fighters, no.

He does not mince his words. "What is going on in your country?" he began. "Canada used to be a country that wanted to help those who suffered." Not any more. He mentioned the blue berets of Canada's brigades, no longer prominent within the UN peacekeeping forces. Fisk still believes in the United Nations and sees Germany's Angela Merkel as the only statesman ("statesperson") among them.  In response to the present refugee crisis, "your Prime Minister did not stand beside her." He finds it sad that the Canadian press (he read out extracts from the National Post and Calgary Herald) constantly paints middle eastern refugees as suspect.

However, "retired soldiers are coming forward to save the honour of your country," high profile people like Gen. Hillier and Lt-Gen. Romeo Dallaire, who have not lost the idea of Canada helping those who suffer. They came up with immediate ideas for helping refugees from the war zones. Fisk, who tells us, "these people are not going back"–– Syrian refugees don't have a country to go back to –– asks why they aren't being given "Nansen passports" according to a system created with the Armenians in mind, that were used effectively for years. But he says that western decision makers have lost the ability to plan ahead.

He comes across as a knowledgeable and intelligent historian, admitting that, in spite of his decades of research, even he cannot really grasp today's situation in the Middle East. When he spoke recently to a gathering of CEOs in Banff, he started like this, he said, quoting from a recent article he had written for The Independent:
The Saudis are bombing Yemen because they fear the Shia Houthis are working for the Iranians. The Saudis are also bombing Isis in Iraq and the Isis in Syria. So are the United Arab Emirates. The Syrian government is bombing its enemies in Syria and the Iraqi government is also bombing its enemies in Iraq. America, France, Britain, Denmark, Holland, Australia and – believe it or not – Canada are bombing Isis in Syria and Isis in Iraq, partly on behalf of the Iraqi government (for which read Shia militias) but absolutely not on behalf of the Syrian government.
The Jordanians and Saudis and Bahrainis are also bombing Isis in Syria and Iraq because they don’t like them, but the Jordanians are bombing Isis even more than the Saudis after their pilot-prisoner was burned to death in a cage. The Egyptians are bombing parts of Libya because a group of Christian Egyptians had their heads chopped off by what might – notionally – be the same so-called Islamic State, as Isis refers to itself. The Iranians have acknowledged bombing Isis in Iraq – of which the Americans (but not the Iraqi government) take a rather dim view. And of course the Israelis have several times bombed Syrian government forces in Syria but not Isis.
"I hope I make myself obscure." he added.

He recalled the empire of ancient Rome. When the Romans captured a country they made all of its citizens equal, citizens of Rome. President Bush, he says, could have given the Iraqis American passports when his forces captured them. Fisk's voice cracked with emotion as he continued, "This would have shown them that we loved them!" But the USA was interested in other things.

Map of the Sykes-Picot divisions, 1916
He blames today's violence and disorder in the Middle East on the way it was divided up a century ago in the Sykes-Picot Agreement by the British and the French, an arrangement that is still bitterly begrudged by people "who get up in their hovels every morning and walk out into the sewage" around them. "Look back at what we have given the Arabs!" he exclaimed. He finds it ironic that the bravest British soldiers who fought in those days were given medals with the words "The Great War For Civilisation" inscribed upon them. What did Arabs receive during that war? No freedom, no independence, no dignity. The Kurds are still stateless. Lately, during the recent "Arab spring" (Fisk calls it the Awakening) they have begun to demand freedom and dignity. It's significant that they do not ask for democracy, because that's a word they associate with the condescending western world.

We should ask what lies behind the Arabs' cry for dignity and freedom. The millions of refugees from Syria and Iraq are "brave, courageous people, who will not accept our rules and our frontiers any more." He spoke of the Sykes-Picot frontier (the border between Iraq and Syria) as being no more than a line of sand, now being pushed aside by Isis' bulldozers.

Robert Fisk's home is in Lebanon. One in three people now living in Lebanon is Syrian, he says. Half of the Syrian soldiers he has interviewed since 2011 are now dead. Recently he has been hearing people say, "There is no more Syria." He spoke chillingly of the clouds of white flies that rise from the corpses around Aleppo, the "chosen capital" of Isis, that he referred to as "a cult, an army of lost souls." Being a journalist he has been obliged to watch their videos, that the rest of us cannot bear to see, over and over again, and is struck by the lack of emotion in their making and their technical perfection. A video recording of an execution by burning was filmed from seven different camera angles. A mass execution by drowning was even filmed underwater. Isis members do not shout in perverted celebration when they do these things; they seem to have no ideology.
Last year I went to Yabroud after the Syrian government army had managed to retake it. I went to the church — the oldest Christian church in Syria. Around the church someone had specifically drilled out all the eyes of the Saints in the Orthodox mosaics, including St. George and the dragon. They even drilled out the eyes of the dragon! In one corner there were piles and piles of ripped up oil paintings. Beautiful, gold paintings. But they didn’t use a knife to cut them. They brought a machine — the paintings were mathematically, precisely cut by a machine. 
This coldness is the unique danger of Isis. Isis is just a weapon being manipulated, Fisk says ... but in whose hands?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Meine liebe deutschsprachige Konversationsgruppe

Our German conversation group has been in existence for over 20 years now, started by a lady from the German Embassy; I joined it in 1996. There's something very worthwhile in our Thursday mornings together. It's not so much our shared interest in the German language as the mutual affection. Every summer we take a break and tend to miss one another's company. In the autumn the group resumes its weekly get-togethers at one another's houses. From time to time we do have male guests or a hostess' husband join in, but we're basically a group of women. 

Last Thursday we went to Abla's house for our first Konversation of the season; Lolan, Sue and I arrived a few minutes late and the friendly atmosphere in the room when we walked in was palpable. Everyone was smiling. Two new ladies had been invited along and seemed to appreciate the genuine warmth of their welcome.

Eight of us together last June

My responsibility is usually to bring along something to read and talk about, but, on this occasion, the obvious thing to do was to introduce ourselves to the newcomers, one at a time, and have them tell us about themselves. Since 15 of us were present, this took nearly an hour, so there wasn't time for any reading, although I did have copies of a funny article from Der Spiegel in my bag, that Uschi had found for us, about snails. We'll get round to it next week.

Since the group began, we have been expressing ourselves in German to various degrees of fluency. For some it's their mother tongue; others are just beginning to use the language. It struck me as worth recording who's part of this, and where we all come from. In the circle last week, for instance, were Rosemary, Leila, Lolan, Judith, Christiane, Luci, Ursula, Elvira, Vija, Johanna, Abla, Sue, Nadia, Mira, Uschi and me. Barbara, Dagmar, Tatiana, Ulli and Paule were missing. Only Sue is a native-born Canadian (and even then, her mother is German); the rest of us in the current group are from Germany (5 ladies), from the USA, Egypt, China, Austria, Luxembourg, Brazil, Switzerland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Lebanon, Italy (Mira's family is Polish, though) Russia and England (me). We're expecting a Czech lady to join us soon, and a lovely person from the Slovak Republic left us to return home this summer. The other one we were really sorry to say goodbye to, this year, went home to Portugal. In the past, we've had Konversationsgruppe members from distant countries like Myanmar, Benin, New Zealand, India and Japan, as well. I remember others from Estonia, Croatia, Macedonia, Belgium, Ireland, the Ukraine ...

Das, was wir miteinander gemeinsam haben, ist unser Gefühl von anderswo.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Young musicians from Beijing

They are called the Canada Tour Troupe, and they come from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing: 中央音乐学院. Last Tuesday evening, I bought a ticket to watch and hear their Chinese Music Soirée in the Theatre at the National Arts Centre; it was Confucius' birthday, in the week of the PRC's National Day and Moon Festival. The Chinese Ambassador was present and among the large audience, hearing the voices and seeing the faces, I almost felt as if I were back in Beijing.

First came four young ladies with long black hair, wearing turquoise, orange, pink and mauve, a yangqin quartet. These are Ming Dynasty instruments, Chinese dulcimers, we were told, laid on wooden boxes, varnished red and inlaid with golden dragons. The yangqin is played with two sticks, like a xylophone. The music was jazzy and syncopated. Then followed a sequence of four solos, for piano, for the pipa (a sort of wooden lute, a more ancient instrument), for the yangqin again (the pianist accompanying) and for a young baritone. His chosen aria, "The Mighty River Flows Eastward," was sung in Chinese, but sounded awfully like Russian romantic opera. I think he'd been listening to Dmitri Hvorostovsky. The instrumentalists were virtuoso performers who had won prestigious awards.

Chosen members of the audience were invited on stage to try playing the pipa and the yangqin, obviously too difficult, but they received prizes of miniature instruments to take home. Then four staff members of the Beijing conservatory played a piece called "Spring of Mount Tianshan", the melody line being held by the flute player, on a bamboo flute held vertically like a recorder. The others played the piano, pipa and yangqin, again.

After the intermission came what I think was the most beautiful item on the program, a "Bows and Strings Dance" for an erhu quartet. It doesn't seem far removed from modern, western string quartet music, although interestingly there is no apparent hierarchy among the players, since each instrument has the same pitch range. The bows are held like double bass bows, fitting inside the instrument's two strings. This quartet was beautiful to watch as well, the four girls who played wearing long, Grecian style, white robes. They held their instruments upright on their knees, and sitting on the front row I appreciated the graceful way they swayed to the music, and the changing expressions on their young faces.

Next came a "Guitar Duo" named Pumping Nylon (!)––two young men from the conservatory playing a Brazilian dance by Jorge Morel, the only piece on the program not by a Chinese composer. I was interested to see how restrained the guitarists were; although their playing was technically perfect, they seemed reluctant to let themselves go! I remembered the students I saw dancing at the Jiao Tong university in May. The flute player who returned to the stage after this, an older man, one of the Profs at the conservatory, was of course far more self-confident. This time he used a traverse flute. Apparently there is quite a range of bamboo flutes in China.

I think the finale made the biggest impression. A line of the Chinese musicians sat with their instruments at the front of the stage, ready to play, and then the curtain behind them lifted and there sat a large ensemble of Canadian musicians and music students from Carleton University, ready to play with them! Surprised applause! The piece specially composed for this ensemble was called "Beside a Clear Spring––Canadian Songs Caprice". 20 well known Canadian songs had been sent to the Chinese composer and he had chosen elements from three of these to blend with a traditional Chinese lullaby, depicting "a dialogue of singers of the two cultures across the time and distance," as the program notes quaintly put it. I was amused to discover that the three Canadian tunes he had chosen to experiment with were a French folksong (A la claire fontaine), Canada's national anthem and Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. The conductor of this little orchestra was Canada's Barbara Clark.

An inspection of snowshoes and mukluks

Snowshoes ready for use in Feb. 2007
Back in June I was volunteered (yes, I know it's meant to be an intransitive verb) to convene a committee to make decisions about a large collection of snowshoeing equipment. My committee met for the first time in the middle of last month, and since then we've been collecting the names of people who'd like to participate in snowshoe outings, next winter. Already, we have more than 30 people showing an interest.

Last Tuesday three of us on the committee lugged a collection of old snowshoes and seven heavy bags of old mukluks around the basement of Muriel's apartment block downtown. 43 pairs of traditional snowshoes were being kept in her storage lockers, all numbered. We laid them out across the floor of the squash court, inspected them carefully, and decided to keep the ones in best condition apart, 19 pairs. I made a note of their numbers.

Snowshoeing with traditional equipment in Feb. 2006
We did the same with the mukluks and decided to reject 10 pairs of these that weren't worth keeping, which are now in my garage at home. The idea is to donate these to a charity, for whatever use can be made of them. We re-bagged the rest of the boots, 39 pairs in seven different sizes, all of these in good, wearable condition; some pairs are as good as new and would fetch a very good price if they were sold. However, several of these can be kept for use in combination with the snowshoes we've set aside for next winter.

Afterwards, Muriel, who has spent half her life in Bermuda where snow is unheard of, served tea while we talked. We have plenty of ideas about where we could go snowshoeing.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Ottawa's "reservoir of goodwill"

Mayor Jim Watson is hopeful. He ran an open house about the local possibilities for refugee sponsorship last night, and about 1000 people showed up. Mr. Watson said he was "overwhelmed" by the numbers and spoke of the "reservoir of goodwill" here in Ottawa in response to "the most pressing humanitarian crisis of today." I and some of my friends were there.

We arrived in time for the presentations in the Council Chambers but couldn't get in because it was full. The Jean Pigott Place outside, to which they relayed the speeches through loudspeakers, was also packed, but noisy, so it was hard to hear what was being said. There were many stalls where we could get information about local groups already helping refugees, and the Mayor announced a new initiative, putting potential sponsors in touch with resources: Refugee 613––the website has only just gone live, so has some teething problems at the moment. It is to be Ottawa's version of Lifeline Syria, a Toronto initiative.

The city is pooling its "wisdom and compassion," said the Mayor. 40 lawyers have apparently joined the University of Ottawa legal faculty's Refugee Support Program, willing to team up with potential sponsors and offer pro bono services. Law students such as Hélène, an admirable girl whom I'd met before, are lending a hand with the coordination. Maha, Nicola and Patrick also went to a forum with some of these volunteer lawyers after the main presentation, but I didn't stay for that part. United Way has created United for Refugees in order to help process people's donations and will subsidize Groups of Five, if these small sponsorship groups can't raise enough money by themselves. The local universities have already promised bursaries for incoming refugees who want to study here.

A lady called Lisa Taylor spoke, representing Refugee 613. She says this organisation will align people's efforts to help and will reduce duplication. We should inform them about what we need, tell them what we want to do, and they will make it happen.

A gentleman who was a refugee himself spoke next, thanking us for caring. Many people at the gathering were former refugees, who understand what's at stake.

Don Smith, chair of the refugee working group with the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, briefly described the two kinds of refugees recognised by the Canadian government (the "Visa office referred" cases and the less urgent) and warned us that for every refugee family settled in Canada, another is turned away, so it can be a frustrating challenge. He urged us to work with Syrian family members already in Canada, if we possibly could.

My new badge
Before leaving I walked round the room picking up leaflets from the many different support groups in town, and a badge for my jacket. It was heartwarming to see the variety of people there, many of the grandparent / retiree age, but younger people were out if force too, some with babies and children along. The local LGTB community was represented; I saw Africans and people from east Asia or the Indian subcontinent, and a couple of gentlemen wearing Jewish skull caps (yarmulkes) who were courteously making way for Muslim ladies in headscarves (hijabs), trying to get through the crowd from one side of the room to the other. A microcosm of the United Nations, really, united in sympathy for people in trouble.

If only the world at large were like that.