blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Swimming in Lac Chevreuil

The lake on the Chemin du Fort (photo taken a week later)
A mini video documentary I found and shared on Facebook this morning showed two Syrian children, new to Ottawa, being exposed to a typically Canadian summer camp experience by a lake for the first time. They had "so much fun" and wanted to stay at the camp for "three weeks, three months!" they said. Quite apart from the fact that they had been refugees and that this was a way of making them happy in their unfamiliar surroundings, with new friends, I can understand their enthusiasm.

What I can't understand is people who make snide and hateful remarks about such children and their parents, simply because they are Muslims. Some of the comments posted under this story were despicable.

Anyway, Vija and Rolf invited us over for lunch at their cottage today. We drove beyond Cantley, to Val-des-Monts, east of the Gatineau River. There we turned onto the Chemin du Fort and found the lake and the cottage. What a delightful place to spend a summer's day (and a winter's day too, according to its owners).

First we sat on the porch for a while, from which there's a view of their floating dock, with a paddle boat and canoe attached. Sometimes our friends launch their boat at sunrise, taking some breakfast with them to share with the fishes at the far corner of the lake. Before lunch today, Vija and I changed into our swimsuits and went down the steps for half an hour's bathe in the cool water –– not over cool though, 26º C, same as the air temperature, lovely. The men took the canoe to the far end of the lake and back while we were swimming back and forth. The middle of the lake, Vija told me, was 60ft deep, so I had no qualms about diving from the floating docks and hitting my head on the bottom. The water in this lake is clean, and apparently home to many fish, frogs and snakes, though I didn't spot any.

One of the diving boards in Lac Chevreuil
We had a German picnic afterwards, of sausages and sauerkraut (with pieces of pineapple added), kale and sunflower seed salad in a sesame-ginger dressing, potato salad and a light beer dazu, all delicious; after the fresh air and the swim I'd probably have found any meal as good. A shower came through as we sat over our protracted lunch, never quite obscuring the sunshine.

Relishing the water

Friday, July 22, 2016


I remember, when I was a girl, getting out my school atlas during a dull lesson and poring over it, instead of paying attention to the teacher, daydreaming about journeys I might make from England to the far reaches of the world. I am still at it (when I should be doing other, more useful things), and nowadays, instead of my trusty atlas, I have the whole internet as an exploration tool. I have been wasting an inordinate amount of time imagining an overland journey from Stuttgart to a place I hadn't heard of, until a couple of days ago, called Timișoara, pronounced Timmy-shwahra, which is in Transylvania, Romania. I must refrain from calling it Tiramisu. The letter ș is pronounced sh.

Someone has contacted Chris to inform him he might have to do some work there soon. Or perhaps nothing will come of it. Chris is always telling me of possible work assignments in far away places, and as a rule, the suggestion comes to nothing. He is also being asked if he'd revisit Japan, and it's fairly certain that he'll have to be in southwest Germany again, in September. He was wondering if he might be able to combine that business trip with a side-excursion to Romania; time and travel budget permitting, I'd come with him.

Timișoara is closer to Budapest than to Bucharest (București) and getting there will give us an interesting challenge. It's an hour's flight from Bucharest or a 4 hour drive from Budapest. By train, the best bet is Stuttgart-München-Salzburg-Wien by intercity services, then to take a sleeper train to București via Budapest but get out at Arad, just beyond the Hungarian border, at 4am for a 26 minute wait on the "platforma". A connecting local train reaches Timișoara Nord at 5:52am. The total time en route without stopping to see any of those places would be 16 and a half hours, but I think the 12 minute connection time in Wien could be a bit risky. If we missed the sleeper train and had to wait for the next available service, we'd be stuck in a Hungarian place called Györ for over 6 hours in the middle of the night and would have to put up with non-sleeper trains all the way across Hungary, changing at Budapest and other places.

Budapest to Timișoara is 6 hours by train at normal times of the day. Budapest has three railway stations which could cause us problems. Quote from a traveller writing on Tripadvisor, whose first language is obviously not English: "The Déli Pályaudvar train station is covering the domestic western part of Hungary as well as some Internetional trains. The station is very rotten and ugly."

I note that we should need to acquire VISAs for Hungary and Romania.

Looking at the google map of the destination, I have learned some easy-to-remember Romanian vocabulary: strada, bulevardul, universitatea, catedrala, cimitirul, canalul, zona industriala, gara, platforma, oficul postal. I don't think I'd have too much trouble reading signs in that language, or to pick up enough phrases to cope. I had a look at some teach-yourself-Romanian videos this morning, too. If we choose to fly, there's a Romanian company called Wizz Air (!) that offers very cheap direct flights lasting 2 hours between Frankfurt and Timișoara. It has very mixed reviews. One reviewer recommends "member sheep" (a rather apt mistake, perhaps). Travelling by Lufthansa STR to TSR via MUC might be a safer bet: 3 hrs including the 50 minute layover in München.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Changes in Old Chelsea

Old Chelsea (Quebec), not more than 10 minutes drive from my house, doesn't actually change much. It's a laid-back, old-fashioned community on the edge of the Gatineau Park with a Catholic parish church, St-Stephen's that has stood under its maple trees since 1879. Its original congregation consisted of Irish settlers, lumberjacks of the nearby woods and their families. I hadn't ever been inside the church but took a look this morning when I saw a lady opening the doors to see to some flower arrangements. The exterior of the building is stone; inside it is all wood with carved angels to decorate it, stained glass windows and Italian Renaissance style paintings on the ceiling and upper walls. The largest painting is an assumption of the Virgin Mary that looks vaguely familiar, maybe copied from something more famous. Flanking the nave are stations of the cross paintings that were apparently donated by local families during the 19th century.

Sculpture Garden at La Fab Centre des Arts, Old Chelsea

Artistic creation at La Fab
The next door presbytery, also well over 100 years old, is now an Art Centre called La Fab: a gallery and workshop for a group of local artists, each of whom has a little studio inside. I hadn't been inside before; it is a relatively recent addition to the village. This morning I spent a while looking round the house and its sculpture garden, after my breakfast of a latte and egg scone (i.e. a plain scone with a baked egg inside it) on the verandah of Biscotti & Cie, Scott Road. I had driven there on a whim on this sunny day and didn't regret it. However, next time I might try the new place with the cats, the Siberian Cat Café, because that looks attractive too and, provided you're not allergic to them, you can make friends with the cats while imbibing.

Glimpse into a studio at the Art Centre

Artistic creation outside Delilah's
Delilah's, a clothing boutique, hasn't been there long either, but it's already closing down. I was told that they're going to have their grand sell-off during the first week of August. After that we'd have to visit their outlet in the Glebe.

Old house in Chelsea
They are resurfacing the roads and creating bike lanes through Old Chelsea and have erected stop signs at the intersection of Scott Road and Old Chelsea Road, a good idea. I walked down the back road from the pub to Delilah's, a pleasantly shady little stroll on this hot day. What pretty flowers they grow in this village!

The river by the Gatineau Park Information Centre, where I parked, has a brand new footbridge and a newly built beaver dam besides, that you can see from the bridge. The Information Centre will be a good place to go with our grandsons as it has a little museum inside featuring the local flora and fauna. They organise "hands-on experiments, games and activities for the whole family" when you can pretend to be frogs or other amphibians and so learn about them: summer Saturdays at 1pm, at Blanchet Beach, Meech Lake.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Saturday afternoon and evening, Trois-Rivières

Written Saturday evening

Chris said, "Let's stay in Trois-Rivières, tonight!" so at 11:30 this morning we climbed into PTN and took off to the north-east. Once at 7000ft we had a 15 knot tailwind, well above the fluffy layer of cloud that mostly obscured the Laurentian hills. It was a clearer sky near our destination, where a young man in the circuit was calling "vent-arrière pour un poser-décoler sur la piste zéro cinq" (downwind for a touch-and-go, runway 05). We landed at exactly 1pm and lunched at the airport café, Le Pilote. By far the most dangerous part of the journey was our crazy taxi ride to the downtown hotel where I'd booked a room, near the rue du Fleuve.

Trois-Rivières has developed considerably since we were here last, not so many years ago. It must have had a dynamic mayor and city council in the interim, because a big investment has been made in adding touristic touches to the Parc Portuaire and its surroundings, the most impressive addition being a vast Amphitheatre (COGECO) at the confluence of the Rivière Saint-Maurice and the grand fleuve, which will be a venue for Céline Dion, Cirque du Soleil shows and the like. It looks as though they are just putting the finishing touches to its landscaping. The lodgings and restaurants seem to be thriving; the city was teaming with visitors, several wearing black, on big motorbikes ... where from, we wondered --- Montréal? Quebec City? The nearby townships? Even so, the little corner of old Trois-Rivières, the rue des Ursulines where the nuns used to have their convent, is as tranquil as ever, with a peaceful little park and fountain opposite the church. We walked past the little gite where we'd stayed once, Le Fleurvil; I'd forgotten its name and I wished I'd been able to find it online this morning. This part of town has a very European feel to it, with 18th and 19th century stone houses.

Ursuline nuns of Trois-Rivières, 1947
I paid $4 to visit to the Musée des Ursulines which included access to the chapelle (1716), in fact a towering baroque church with elaborately painted dome, pillars, gilded altar: created with the full force of the counter-reformation behind it. The focal point was a grandiose painting on the ceiling of the dome of a battle between the Archangel Michel and Lucifer, both sporting magnificent wings, but Lucifer without any doubt on the losing side. In the front part of the museum a display of two beds and bedside cupboards from the nuns' former dormitories caught my eye. A video clip played on the screen: an elderly nun telling us how she prayed for the grace to remain "always subservient to those in authority" over her. That's the part I'd have had the most trouble with, the obedience, more of a challenge than my vows of chastity and poverty, I should imagine. They also had photos on display of the school run by the nuns, the girls in it very disciplined, and of the nuns themselves, bowing their heads.

This evening after a supper on an outdoor patio, not on the main street (des Forges) where all the action is and a lot of noise, but on the quieter rue St-Roch (at the Resto St-Roch, in fact), we walked back to the Promenade du Parc Portuaire where people were line-dancing for hours, encouraged by a man shouting instructions, and where further along a band of cadets was giving a very well rehearsed musical entertainment with trumpets, trombones, tubas, clarinets, flutes, drums, etc., some of them singing and dancing. We watched a big vessel of the Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) pull away from its moorings after hooting its horn three times to announce it was leaving port. Chris guessed it was a grain carrier. We watched it make its graceful way upstream to Laviolette bridge, by moonlight, the sun having set below splendid, golden-pink cirrus clouds.

Friday, July 15, 2016


Maesha Brueggergosman at the weekend, introduced by Evelyn Greenberg who said she (Maesha) was the same girl as when she'd first been noticed in Ottawa 20 years ago, was the star of a concert that was packed out. This singer has had a tough life since her student days; her triumph over the tribulations have given her charisma and a loyal fan club. She has a flamboyant stage presence. Unfortunately I was feeling tired that evening and not in the right frame of mind to appreciate it very well; I found her too operatic for the concert hall, and for the delicate Duparc setting of Baudelaire's poem L'Invitation au Voyage, in particular. My father taught me and all his other sopranos to sing like choirboys, so perhaps that's why I have trouble tolerating a pronounced vibrato. I know that it generates more resonance; it is probably just a matter of taste. I didn't think I'd enjoy what she was going to do with Schoenberg, listed further down the programme, so I slipped away before the second half. Maybe I missed something worthwhile.

Hélène Brunet, on the other hand, who sang yesterday at the same venue, with Valerie Dueck at the piano, is more restrained, with a fresher voice. Her stage presence seems more natural, too. She opened with a flourish, singing a Baroque aria, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini's Da torbida procella, contrasting it next with Giovanni Porta's Madre diletta, abbracciami, in a later style, more like Pergolesi than like Handel. Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate is a more famous piece, brilliantly sung by Ms. Brunet, with an impressive flourish of ornamentation in place of the usual high C at the end of the Alleluia. Imagine! Mozart was only 16 when he composed it.

Julian Armour's 'cello made an appearance for André Previn's wordless Vocalise and then she presented us with a series of Grieg songs.

Edvard Grieg* seems to be having a revival at the moment. Die Prinzessin seemed awfully like the Delius song Twilight Fancies, same story. I have just googled it to discover that Delius came across the words of the song in a Norwegian collection, so it is the same, just in a different translation and a different setting. Then followed the setting of an Ibsen poem Mit einer Wasserlilie ... I knew that one, having tried it out myself once, ditto Ein Schwan (En svane), easy to like when you're a romantic teenager, but hard to keep under control while you're building up to its climax. Ms Brunet did better than I ever did. She finished the Grieg section with Ich liebe dich, may have been singing in Norwegian rather than German; I didn't recognise that song and couldn't make out its words. My only criticism of Ms Brunet's singing was that her consonants, Ts and Ds particularly, aren't always clearly enough enunciated.

Psyché by Emile Paladilhe sung in French, then to finish the programme one of the lovely, unforgettable Chants d'Auvergne by Canteloube: Baïlèro.

"I don't want this to stop," she said, and meant it. "I want another two hours!" –– charming the audience.

She repeated the Mozart Allelulia as an encore, but then we had to call it a day.

* As an aside: my husband Chris wants me to add that he works with a software engineer who happens to be the great grandson of Edvard Grieg, although Canadians pronounce his name Gregg.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Guzheng and acrobatics, hoops, ribbons, balloons.

The circus began with a dance for lions to a noisy accompaniment, "colourful red and gold Chinese lions which rolls, jumps, and dances with playful agility," as the programme said. It was very reminiscent of the welcome at my son's Chinese wedding in Beijing.

The Acrobatic Troupe that performed in Ottawa for two weeks at the Music and Beyond festival was from Hebei. Like me, the Ottawa Citizen reviewer noticed how "regular chamber music patrons [were] sitting next to parents with young children and multigenerational families from Ottawa’s Chinese community." It was a lively audience, for sure, for the Thursday matinée performance that I attended.

Some of the programme notes were baffling or misleading. The Horizontal Bar, for instance, turned out to mean the Vertical Bar, but nobody minded. Before the scene entitled "Power Balance Two" we were told that "performers will assume powerful poses, using nothing but the strength of their own bodies". We saw one man standing vertically and the other stretched rigid, shoulder height above the ground, in a horizontal pose at right angles to his supporter. Not so easy to achieve, I should imagine!

Another item on the programme was the balancing of spinning plates on the tip of long bamboo sticks by two young girls, smartly costumed, "... as they themselves stand on the shoulders of their fellow performers. A heart-stopping act of balance and skill." A similar act, later in the show, was the "Turning Blanket", the acrobats spinning and balancing heavy, star-shaped cloths on their fingers and toes, "while maintaining a series of gravity-defying positions". The female compère (there were two, one male, one female; she spoke both Mandarin and English) made an wry comment to the audience here: "Try this at home, drop blanket!"

At one point we watched another acrobat "twirl and twist while suspended high above the stage by aerial ribbons in breathtaking flight" as the programme notes put it, her ribbons being long, scarlet, silk scarves. That was an awesome display of artistry.

Between the more serious acts, two clowns came on stage, making animals out of balloons and throwing them to the eager children, to keep. Behind me, a whole row of little boys were on their feet, yelling for balloons. Twice, we saw a conjuror, too, turning batons into silk scarves and vice versa, or tangling and disentangling shiny hoops with a wave of the hand. This was "Traditional Chinese Magic," so I gather. (A friend of mine, who has been on a few business trips to China, still speaks with horror of the occasion years ago, when she was taken out to a show by her Chinese colleagues and had a conjuror pull cold, dead fish from her pockets, which made everyone laugh enormously. Traditional Chinese Humour, I daresay. Personally, she didn't enjoy that experience at all.)

As an introduction to one of the scenes, traditional Chinese music was performed. The two girl musicians in long white robes, each played a guzheng (古筝), like a horizontally laid harp, with nail extensions for plucking, and a man added to their duet on his recorder-like bamboo flute. The contortionist display that followed had performers "bending their bodies with incredible flexibility" while balancing flaming candelabras in their mouths and on their foreheads, feet and hands. I dread to think what accidents might have occurred while this act was being rehearsed. Maybe I'm too imaginative, but here's a dark side to circuses which I cannot avoid thinking about when I see shows like this; it makes me feel uneasy. Witness Gustave Doré's horrific painting of the injured (probably dying) child who has fallen from a trapeze. These Chinese performers have been trained from an early age too, literally putting them through the hoops.

The finale was a display of Hoop Diving by the young men of the troupe flinging themselves through a series of hoops, towering ever higher, onto a thick mat. Sometimes they twisted or flipped their bodies as they dived. Sometimes three or four men flung one another through in fast succession, propelled by the arms and legs of the one behind.
Also known as “Swallow Play”(for its imitation of swallows in flight), this act features performers leaping nimbly through narrow mat rings, demonstrating a sophisticated combination of dance, balancing and jumping skills.

An aristocratic ambiance

The Queen in formal dress
The National Gallery and Music and Beyond combined forces again yesterday evening to present an evening of Music in the Lives of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Marie-Antoinette. Aristocratic ghosts (two of them dressed in 18th century costumes) were wandering through the halls, one section of the museum exhibiting the paintings of Vigée Le Brun, mostly portraits of Queen Marie-Antoinette and her contemporaries. Before their lives turned grim and tragic, she and her ladies of the court liked to dress up as milkmaids and shepherdesses in the Versailles palace grounds. Some of the paintings showed them clad in their "peasant" attire with flouncy muslin collars and big straw hats. In other settings they wore the formal court dresses of stiff silk, the men in fancy wigs. Marie-Antoinette was also keen on music. As a little girl she had played with Mozart, and as a grown woman she composed songs. I heard one of her songs sung by the soprano Jennifer Taverner, accompanied by Frédéric Lacroix on the fortepiano, and very musical it was, too. Mr. Lacroix afterwards played a dramatic piece by Dussek depicting The Sufferings of the Queen of France, her imprisonment and demise. She had been one of the composer's patrons.

This was part of a series of performances taking place in the Rideau Chapel, as was a lovely rendition of Mozart's Ave Verum by four singers and four string players.

Ceiling of the Rideau Chapel, National Gallery of Canada
 The festival's musicians played in various parts of the building for three hours: a trio of two clarinets and a bassoon in the Water Court near the entrance (playing Mozart divertimenti and such), members of the London Handel Players in the Great Hall under the glass tower, a harpist with flute player in the cafeteria and another harpist in the Garden Court, taking turns with Matthew Larkin who played a small organ there.

I lingered longest in the Great Hall, where a pair of dancers gracefully glided around to the strains of Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits.

Like Gluck, many of the composers, actors and artists employed at Louis XVI's doomed court were not French; even Marie-Antoinette was not really French, but Austrian. Her court painter Madame Lebrun escaped the Revolution to undertake lengthy travels through Russia, Poland, Austria, England, Switzerland and Italy where she was received to much acclaim.

Harpist in the Garden Court
Trio in the Great Hall

An aristocratic ambiance

The Queen in formal dress
The National Gallery and Music and Beyond combined forces again yesterday evening to present an evening of Music in the Lives of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Marie-Antoinette. Aristocratic ghosts (two of them dressed in 18th century costumes) were wandering through the halls, one section of the museum exhibiting the paintings of Vigée Le Brun, mostly portraits of Queen Marie-Antoinette and her contemporaries. Before their lives turned grim and tragic, she and her ladies of the court liked to dress up as milkmaids and shepherdesses in the Versailles palace grounds. Some of the paintings showed them clad in their "peasant" attire with flouncy muslin collars and big straw hats. In other settings they wore the formal court dresses of stiff silk, the men in fancy wigs. Marie-Antoinette was also keen on music. As a little girl she had played with Mozart, and as a grown woman she composed songs. I heard one of her songs sung by the soprano Jennifer Taverner, accompanied by Frédéric Lacroix on the fortepiano, and very musical it was, too. Mr. Lacroix afterwards played a dramatic piece by Dussek depicting The Sufferings of the Queen of France, her imprisonment and demise. She had been one of the composer's patrons.

This was part of a series of performances taking place in the Rideau Chapel, as was a lovely rendition of Mozart's Ave Verum by four singers and four string players.

Ceiling of the Rideau Chapel, National Gallery of Canada
The festival's musicians played in various parts of the building for three hours: a trio of two clarinets and a bassoon in the Water Court near the entrance (playing Mozart divertimenti and such), members of the London Handel Players in the Great Hall under the glass tower, a harpist with flute player in the cafeteria and another harpist in the Garden Court, taking turns with Matthew Larkin who played a small organ there.

I lingered longest in the Great Hall, where a pair of dancers gracefully glided around to the strains of Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits.

Like Gluck, many of the composers, actors and artists employed at Louis XVI's doomed court were not French; even Marie-Antoinette was not really French, but Austrian. Her court painter Madame Lebrun escaped the Revolution to undertake lengthy travels through Russia, Poland, Austria, England, Switzerland and Italy where she was received to much acclaim.

Harpist in the Garden Court
Trio in the Great Hall

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Exclusively Canadian music

Tuesday's noon hour concert at Dominion Chalmers United Church (more a concert hall than a church these days with framed photos of concert performers on the walls of its corridors) was entitled 'Made in Canada'. We listened to five compositions by musicians I'd never heard of. One of them, Victor Herbiet (five years younger than my daughter) was there in person, playing the saxophone for a Fantaisie written by an older composer, Denis Bédard, with Jean Desmarais at the piano. Something about this piece reminded me of Vinter's Song and Dance for clarinet, in a similar (British) style.

I digress. The first piece in the concert was John Burge's Sonata Breve no. 4 for oboe and piano, performed by the duo I heard and blogged about a few weeks ago, "Chip and Fred", who will be including this piece on their upcoming CD. The NACO oboist Charles Hamann puts as much expression into his eyebrows as into his fingers when he plays, a performer to watch! Burge is a professor at Queen's University who initially composed the sonata for the principal oboist of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, his son's music teacher.

The following item was a series of short dances and interludes (sic) for piano, this time played by Brigitte Poulin; the composer is a friend of hers from Montreal who also writes opera music and has been a dancer. She mentioned a lullaby incorporating tiny footsteps on tiptoe, but I'm not sure which section that was. The music sounded experimental, and one of the pieces, all of them seemingly handwritten on small scraps of paper that the pianist had taped together, was played on the top few keys of the keyboard and sounded like snippets of birdsong. She slapped or tapped the piano frame as well during this –– imitating a woodpecker?

Herbiet's work was the last item, called Fabulosae Creaturae, written for theremin and harp, played by non-Canadian musicians (Thorwald Jorgensen and Renske de Leuw). Premiered in Newfoundland, it tells a story of a shipwreck on a foggy island after which the Captain of the ship is persued through Hades by Cerberus, the Hound of Hell. Guided by forest spirits, the Nymphae Arborum, he escapes and flies away on Pegasus, the winged horse. This story line gave the composer plenty of opportunity to depict strange sounds, bird calls, laughter, the "sounds of monsters": Cerberus growling (on the theramin), the harpist sometimes hitting the frame and strings of her instrument, rather than plucking them.

Before we left, the basics of the theremin (invented by Leon Theremin in the 1920s) were explained to us. This peculiar electronic instrument creates "music out of thin air". The left hand controls variations in volume, the right hand the pitch. Its foot pedals seem to be able to generate chords and change registers too, but he didn't explain this.

The harpist and theramin player gave us a short encore by a Russian composer.

Music for gardeners

You can imagine the Music and Beyond directors meeting to decide what to present to their Ottawa audiences. Now, how are we going to capture peoples' interest this year? they must have asked each other. On this year's list were combinations of music and law, music and Shakespeare, music and haute cuisine, circus acrobatics, pizza concerts, music plus art, etc. One of the "...and Beyond" events in the latest Music and Beyond festival was Monday's creatively programmed concert in which every item on the programme had some connection to gardens or plants. The concert began at 11am, but for the hour before that I could have taken part in some easy yoga stretches on a mat. I didn't arrive early enough for this and anyway thought my bike rides to and forth would be exercise enough.

The two pianists, Luke Bell (who looks like a blond Schubert) and Valerie Dueck, opened the concert with a duet from Ravel's Mother Goose Suite: Le jardin féerique. Solos for the piano followed, first by Ms. Dueck playing a Dupont piece, Du soleil au jardin, then the famous and sentimental To A Wild Rose by MacDowell. My son and I used to try out a version of this for 'cello and piano. The next piece, Debussy's Jardins sous la pluie, performed by Mr. Bell, was much harder and faster moving, not something I could have attempted, although my mother told me today that she used to play it.

The second, longer half of the concert was taken up by the performance of a decidedly strange, modern work by a young composer and Yoga practitioner Elissar Hanna, who was on stage to direct it, wearing a black shawl. Also on stage were Mr. Bell and his page turner, two percussionists with a whole array of instruments, two trumpet players and a trombonist, and four singers. They gave us Ms Hanna's version (did she write the words as well or were they a paraphrase of the Qur'an?) of the Garden of Eden story. Satan, or the Serpent, was Iblis in this version, so it wasn't the same as in Genesis. The singers doubled as narrators, intoning the story between arias in their speaking voices. The words of God were spoken in unison by all four of them, an effective ploy that reminded me of the special effects in the film Prospero's Books. Most of the narrative was accompanied by thundery rolls on the timpani, and in the fourth section, by weird sounds from elsewhere in the percussion section. The brass added their voices here and there. As far as I remember, the only completely unaccompanied part was at the point of the story where God Created Eve (soprano solo).

Viola and song

A concert at the Tabaret Hall last week combined piano (Jean Desmarais), viola (Nicolò Eugelmi) and mezzo soprano (Donna Brown). It started with Two Pieces for Viola and Piano by Frank Bridge, the second one romantic with arpeggios in the accompaniment and chromatic modulations.  Then we heard three songs by Edvard Grieg, sung in German. Gruss was a Frühlingslied, and in contrast, Dereinst, Gedanke mein seemed to be a song of mourning, akin to Åses død in the Peer Gynt Suite, with a nice portamento from Ms Brown on the line "... und ohne Pein wirst ruhig sein." The third song was a coy little lovesong, Lauf der Welt, which, according to the lyrics, ought to be sung by a man:
...Ich weiß nicht, wie es so geschah, /Seit lange küss' ich sie, / Ich bitte nicht, sie sagt nicht: ja! / Doch sagt sie: nein! auch nie...
Two songs by Brahms (op 91) followed, with viola obligato as well as the piano accompaniment. In Gestillte Sehnsucht the soprano sings about the golden light of evening, the viola having the first section to itself, and then we heard the Geistliches Wiegenlied, with the viola quoting the Christmas carol Joseph lieber, Joseph mein. Each verse of Brahms' lullaby finishes with the gently descending line "Es schlummert mein Kind."

The last item, in contrast to the romantic sounds we'd heard, was Shostakovich's last work of 1975, his long Sonata for Viola and Piano, which unfortunately had to contend with the noise from the construction team outside the building working on a big hole in the ground. At least, in the quieter moments, the intrusive hum of their equipment was in approximately the same key! The Adagio final movement, deliberately composed in memory of Beethoven, has clear references to the Moonlight Sonata but, this being Shostakovich, his evocation of moonlight is a good deal darker than the moonlight of Beethoven's time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Scandinavian swirls

These Music and Beyond reports are out of chronological order. I'll now describe last Thursday's noon event, a piano recital at the National Gallery.

Once again, as in the Mosolov concert, this was a combination of music with visual art, but this time round I was less antagonistic towards the idea of combining the two. On this occasion, the art on projected onto the screen was an animated display of semi-abstract paintings by Dagmar Glemme, a Swedish painter who incorporates Chagall-like, surrealist elements into her work (birds, fishes, waves and other scenic touches, suns and moons, human heads) as well as cliffs that look like keyboards (in one case) and clippings of sheet music. I couldn't tell whether the latter are glued in as a collage or whether she paints the notes, staves and such herself. I'd have to study the originals. Each piece or section of music played by the pianist, Carl Petersson, was accompanied by a different painting, chosen for relevance to that piece. Chopin's Grande valse brillante, for example, was illustrated on the screen by a painting that featured lots of Ms Glemme's blue swirls, mirroring the swirling sounds we were hearing from the piano.

Each painting in the show was displayed piecemeal, as it were, in animation, during the piano playing, small details that only fused together as the whole, motionless picture during the final bars. Playing a piece of music to the finish, to coincide with the final image on screen, must have taken plenty of rehearsing. The pianist told us, for example, that he he'd had to speed up his performance of the Liszt piece (mentioned below) to a faster tempo than ususal, to make it fit.

This cleverly prepared recital-cum-art-show was quite an education. Mr. Petersson clearly likes to teach, and as had happened at his Godowsky recital, he had something to tell us about each item on the programme. Arriving a few minutes late, I missed his introduction to the Scarlatti sonata at the beginning but heard the rest. Central to the programme was Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite, familiar of course to most audiences; what I hadn't realised was that it was originally composed for the piano, not as an orchestral work. (I have the piano music at home and have since got it out to have a go myself.) The pianist's comment about In the Hall of the Mountain King was that this part of the Peer Gynt story is not to be taken literally; it is more in the nature of a "drugged dream." Makes me think a lot of the rest of the drama might be only in Peer's head, too. I hadn't considered that.

We listened to one of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies after hearing that Liszt had been the long haired rock star of his day with women fainting as he appeared on stage, etc. (I knew this); then came an introduction to a less famous composer, Per Nørgård, whom Mr. Petersson referred to, even so, as The Most Important Living Scandinavian Composer, who has just been awarded the Siemens prize: "the Nobel Prize of music". He had written the piano sonata we were hearing at the age of 16, in 1949. The last item on the programme was called "Walking", by Lars Bisgaard, another Dane, who had dedicated it to our pianist, apparently. I'm sure he must have felt very proud of that. It is an "appreciation of nature", a "spiritual, minimalist" work.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Family Day at the music festival

Juxtapositions galore, yesterday. It was the free entry family day of the Music and Beyond festival, held at the university under the ubiquitous red and blue balloons. The organisers had even "planted" flowers in the gardens –– coloured sheet music turned into pinwheels.

Lois Siegel with a young audience
For five hours, musical things were happening both indoors and outdoors. Once the key to unlock the piano keyboard had been found after a 15 minute delay while the organisers hunted for it, I saw the Vienna Trio playing in the Tabaret Hall (see my previous blogpost). Next came four female singers of Tapestry on their third visit to Music and Beyond, each member of the a capella group standing in a corner of the hall to enhance the polyphony before they met together on the stage.  They were singing in Latin: two extracts from a contemporary composition, The Nine Orders of the Angels by Patricia van Ness of Boston. Their middle song was an arrangement of a lullaby from Montenegro, Lyulyala, Lyulyala. In another room on the ground floor I found Lois Siegel of the Fiddle Chicks, entertaining visiting children with a performance on the spoons.

In the auditorium at Perez Hall across the road, I watched a series of displays of Russian dancing, to recorded music. Between dances, a tall young lady in a long, Russian dress sang soulful, Russian art songs. In a lecture hall elsewhere in that building the versatile saxophone quartet "Sax Appeal" played arrangements of Bach, an Irish jig, The Pink Panther and Fly Me To The Moon. I liked their versatility, their trilbies and their sense of humour. Sitting beside me, a boy my grandson's age observed them with rapt attention and answered all their questions.

Families watching outdoor musicians
Outside, in the university grounds, the young audience was watching a gentleman playing a piece called "Old Joe Clark” on a banjo, with a lady dancing: these people were the Celtic Rathskallions. Some of the kids were later allowed to have a go on their banjo and harp. Seven members of the Nepean Panharmonic Steel band were playing outside the Perez Hall and another of the outdoor shows was a complete Balinese gamelan orchestra. Snacks and drinks were on sale, salespeople from a musical instrument shop were allowing children to try out their fiddles, trombones and such, and a van from Ottawa's Bookmobile library fleet was taking the opportunity to advertise its services too.

Celtic Rathskallions with fascinated toddlers watching

In the numerous rehearsal rooms of the Music faculty at the university, a variety of mini-recitals were taking place, which, with the doors open, made rather a cacophony. One was by a third year student of Paul Merleyn, Jaeyoung Chong, on the electric 'cello, playing an extraordinary piece called "Raindrops" that he had composed himself for this instrument, its voice electronically duplicated 18 times. I caught two of Frédéric Lacroix' students giving a performance of a Quilter's lovely song, Come Away Death, the singer a bearded baritone and Evelyn Greenberg accompanying a 'cellist playing Fauré's Après un rêve. This experience was making me decidedly nostalgic, for one reason or another. I heard another young 'cellist playing music my son used to play –– the Swan from Carnival of the Animals, and Squire's lively Tarantella.

On the third and fourth floors, they had more musicians than space, so that some had to play in the corridors or, like the young ensemble Musicalement Fleet (siblings), on violin, harp and 'cello, squeezed into a corner outside the elevator doors. A strings tutor was accompanying much younger children on his 'cello, the little girl wearing face paint but taking her turn very seriously. I was glad to see how well he had taught his pupils to hold their violins.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The sublime Vienna Trio

They were introduced at their first concert of the week, on Thursday, by the Austrian Ambassador to Canada who said, "Well, they're back!" and everyone present burst into enthusiastic applause. This group of musicians, the Vienna Trio (Wiener Klaviertrio), has been coming to play at Ottawa's chamber music festivals for the past two decades and is therefore known and loved here. David McCarroll, their recently recruited violinst from California, plays a Gagliano violin made in 1761. Matthias Gredler (from München) plays a 1752 Guadagnini 'cello. Stefan Mendl, the pianist, is undoubtedly the boss of the trio, and a very fine job he makes of it, too.

This year, I heard them perform three times, twice at evening concerts and this morning, briefly, at the Music And Beyond Family Day at the University of Ottawa, when they were more casually attired ...

... reprising a movement from the Haydn trio (no. 44) which they had performed on Thursday and then the original version of a movement from one of this week's Brahms trios, as well. Apparently Brahms first wrote this one when he was 21 and in love with Clara Schumann. In his maturity he revised the music. At the Family Day they played us the earlier version.

Several of us had gone to the Thursday concert expecting to hear a different set of pieces, because the souvenir programme had printed their pages in the wrong order. In the event they played Haydn, Ravel, Bridge and Brahms (no. 3), the Ravel Piano Trio of 1914 being one of my all-time favourites, ever since I first came across it as the theme music for one of my favourite films, Un Coeur en Hiver. This is how the music begins:

(the men of the Vienna Trio took it at a slightly slower tempo in their performance) and from there it builds impressionistically to its impassioned finale (animé).

On the second night, at Southminster United Church, Chris sat in the audience with me to hear them play a CPE Bach sonata, Brahms' 2nd piano trio, and, after the intermission, Shostakovich's overwhelming Piano Trio no 2, written and first performed towards the end of the 2nd World War in the Soviet era when Stalin was in power. Chris comments that he has no idea how Shostakovich got it past the censors, because this music is visceral with frantic grief and fury, starting with an etherial lament on high harmonics, played on the 'cello at the top of its range. Right from the start you know you are being taken on a long journey. The violin creeps in at a lower pitch, making it a duet, and then the piano joins in too. What follows may have a passing resemblance to Russian / Jewish dance music in places, but any musician can tell that this is all intensely personal. It is not the sort of music during which an audience can nod off and dose. We were on the edge of our seats throughout. The performers were all over the place (we were close enough to see that the 'cellist's shirt was drenched with sweat by the end) and during the furious passages the pianist was bouncing up and down on his stool, which must have had good padding and suspension.

It took me a long while to calm down after that concert, even after we had walked the kilometre back* to our parked car and had driven home.

* Concurrently with this event, a big American football match was taking place at the nearby stadium, so the parking was a challenge. Fortunately we couldn't hear the roars of the football crowd during the concert, once the church doors were shut.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Chalifour and Vanhauwaert, twice

The third concert I went to on Wednesday, in the evening, one for which I had an excellent seat near the front, where I could see all the nuances of the performers' facial expressions, was a recital by the violinist Martin Chalifour of Canada and pianist Steven Vanhauwaert of Belgium ... who is interviewed in this video:

Both are based in LA. Mr. Chalifour plays a 1711 Kreisler Stradivarius; the piano Mr. Vanhauwaert was using was from Ottawa's Steinway shop. It could have been the one I played myself last month. What a thought!

Anyhow, this was a splendid concert of sonatas by Mozart (K301), Beethoven (Op 30, No.2) and Fauré (Op.13), introduced by Mr. Chalifour who said that he used to play the Beethoven sonata when he was young, so had fond memories of it. The Mozart sonata had two movements only. By the time Beethoven came along, the convention was to write four movements for a sonata. The Adagio Cantabile was lovely, and Beethoven's formidable drive was much in evidence in the finale (allegro) movement. The Fauré, played after the intermission was very French, in the late romantic style, the violinist swaying from foot to foot as he played. It had a fast running 3rd movement with pizzicato accents. As the Ottawa Citizen's review pointed out next day, both musicians were "perfectly chez eux" in the Fauré and earned their ovation at the end.

I was by no means the only one who also turned up early by bike next morning to hear this duet play again at the Thursday Coffee Concert, same venue, same seat! The two performers had coffee, croissant and muffins with the rest of us before this concert began, the refreshments provided by the managers of a local retirement residence who are no doubt looking for future clients. For many of us it won't be so long in the future, either. There's a general wish that more young people would attend this annual festival, but perhaps if they do give it a try they are put off by all the grey hair and think it's not for them, what a pity.

The Coffee Concert was a celebration of music by Fritz Kreisler, exclusively, unless you count his arrangement of Dvorak's famous Humoresque as the exception. This is light music, good fun, the audience all smiles throughout. The programme began with a "Menuet" in the style of Mozart (the first piece our Monsieur Chalifour had ever performed in public, apparently) although it didn't sound to me at all like Mozart. Schön Rosmarin was a well known, bouncy little number ("I want that one played at my funeral!" said a lady near me in the audience.) Then there was a Viennese march, a waltz, a caprice, and a Gitana with glissandos on the piano. Kreisler always wrote or played short pieces, because, like the TV producers of today, he reckoned that his target audience had a short attention span. We heard a short but rather grandiose Praeludium and Allegro that seemed to be a homage to JS Bach, the piano cleverly imitating the drone of an organ pipe at one point. A Tambourin Chinois turned out to be more Viennese than Chinese in spite of its repeated 5ths in the accompaniment.

The concert finished with Kreisler's Liebeslied (in the clip below he is playing it himself) and then his Liebesfreud, both famous.

Like Godowski, Kreisler had been a child prodigy who gave his first recital at the age of nine. He lived a long life, not a competitive one; in fact he was rather modest. In the earlier part of his career he performed what he claimed to be undiscovered music previously hidden away in monasteries and such, but by the 1930s he admitted to having composed it all himself.

Immediate appeal

While talking about music the other day, my husband said that what non-musicians want to hear is something with an "immediate appeal" before they graduate to a more profound experience. What that means is debatable, but by their smiles and body language you can see the immediate effect on an audience of some music, when they hear this, for instance:

That's the folksy Andante Cantabile movement from Tchaikovsky's first string quartet (in D major, Op. 11), a work that was performed in Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon by the Utrecht String Quartet, their 2nd performance in a series. The members of the quartet are not as Dutch as you might think: they come from Finnland, Australia, Russia and Germany, respectively. Their programme featured music by Beethoven (Op. 18, No. 4), Tchaikovsky (they also played a selection of pieces from his Album for the Young arranged for string quartet by a member of the Borodin Quartet) and Piazzolla's Las cuatro estaciones porteñas, arranged by the father of the Utrecht's viola player.

Hearing about Godowsky

Part of Godowsky's arrangement of a Chopin Étude
It's going to be difficult to catch up and keep up with my reports on the Music and Beyond festival. I have been to six more concerts / events since Tuesday, all blog-worthy.

At lunchtime in the Dominion-Chalmers Church on Wednesday there was a lecture-recital about the music of Leopold Godowski from the Swedish pianist, Carl Petersson, who also gave a recital at the National Gallery yesterday (which I'll describe later).  He began by asking, "Who here has heard of Godowski?" and not many of us had. "I'm here to give a great man a small renaissance," Dr. Peterssen said (whose PhD was written on the composer), going on to describe the life and particularly turbulent childhood of this man.

He was born to a Jewish family in Lithuania; his father died when he was one year old and he was then brought up by his uncle, who sold musical instruments for a living. By the age of five, Leopold could play the Mendelssohn violin concerto, not just on the violin which he was forced to play because his uncle thought there were too many pianist prodigies in Europe, but the orchestral part on the piano, too. The boy didn't need to struggle to learn how to play and gave recitals from the age of 9 onwards; he said it was as natural to him as eating or breathing. When he was 12 he was taken on a tour of North America, but the uncle was no good at looking after him. Leopold found himself "ditched" in Vancouver and, without knowing English, had to make his own way back to New York (which he did). Back in Europe he found a better protector, a Mr. Saxe, whose daughter he eventually married. As a teenager he wanted Liszt to be his teacher, but by the time he had the opportunity, Liszt had died. He ended up in Paris as a sort of foster son of Saint-Saëns.

As an adult he taught the piano, not liking pupils with "fast fingers and slow brains". Although he suffered permanently from stage fright, he also became a very successful performer in Berlin, for a while, liked living there, so when asked to move to Vienna he was reluctant. His wife advised him to demand exorbitant fees and for his sponsors to cover a phenomenal amount of expenses. The ploy didn't work: all their demands were accepted.

Dr. Peterssen called Godowsky a workaholic, a visionary and a philosopher. He was an idealist, inspired by other visionaries engaged in what he called the "vain fight against selfishness, ignorance and brutality." He believed that the human race should diffuse love, light, harmony, not be engaged in the crude commercialism which was "the curse of our age."

It seems we need him back to reiterate those thoughts now.

Why is Godowsky not better known? My illustrations to this blogpost give a clue –– his music was just too impossible to play! Even Horowitz commented that one needed six hands for it; his compositions don't sound particularly strange and modern, though, being in the old Viennese tradition. Dr. Peterssen claimed that this composer could have been remembered as the King of the Waltz rather than Strauss, had his waltzes been more playable. He (Godowsky) claimed that his contemporaries who composed experimentally, such as Alban Berg, were "dishonest snobs"! He didn't like Wozzeck at all.  He knew all the famous early 20th century Viennese and wrote music for the left hand, for Paul Wittgenstein; but that was too hard to play as well. Godowsky's main breadwinning occupation was the transcription or arrangement of other composer's works for piano. He even had the effrontery to "arrange" 53 Chopin Études, complicating them beyond measure.

His adult life was fairly grim, his son committing suicide and his wife dying soon afterwards. He had a faithful daughter called Dagmar who looked after him until he died a joyless death of cancer in 1938.

The short examples of Godowsky's music we heard after the lecture didn't sound particularly complex or extraordinarily memorable, in my opinion. We heard an extract from the Java Suite, part of an attempt by the composer to pay tribute to the music of the world (he didn't get very far with it) ...

... , two songs sung by the soprano Hélène Brunet, so rarely heard they may never have been performed before, this side of the Atlantic, which sounded like early Schönberg or Mahler, as well as extracts from Godowsky's "Miniatures" and "Impressions" for piano, entitled Orientale and Valse Macabre.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Chinese balm

The news of Brexit and the latest bomb attacks in the Middle East, plus the awfulness of American electioneering, and people's comments on Facebook, vindictive, snide or sadly analytical, have left many of us in a depressed state, this summer. Everyone needs a soothing antidote, and what I have discovered is that studying Chinese and Chinese culture gives me exactly that. It goes a long way to restoring my serenity. (For that matter, so does swimming and being out of doors.)

My little Chinese conversation group, presently consisting of Nancy (her Chinese name Jingnan Xue -- our young teacher), Erika, me, Lee and Victor, met at Lee's house yesterday evening to learn how to talk about our favourite pastimes in Chinese. Afterwards, we took a look at Lee's exotic plants in his garden, the beauty of which also helped to put the world in perspective. Gardening is yuan yi in Chinese (i.e. garden art). We learned that the Chinese / Japanese art we call bonsai is actually pénzai in Mandarin (simply, pot plant) and that they also have the word pénjing (pot landscape). Huapen is a flower pot. If you want to say, "I like growing vegetables in pots, too!" you'd say, wo ye xihuan zai hua pen li zhong cai. I also like in flower pot inside grow vegetable. Xihuan (their word for the verb to like) literally signifies happy pleasure.

I have just re-read Mark Frutkin's poetic novel A Message For The Emperor –– which has a similarly soothing effect on me. Mark lives in Ottawa, but has surely visited Hangzhou (as we did in 2011) in order to write this book so evocatively. Most of his research, though, must have consisted in a personal and thorough immersion in Buddhism, because his writing seems so true to the spirit of his subject. He describes the journey of a fictional landscape artist with a contemplative soul, whose destiny is to become a Buddhist monk (that is what I read into the conclusion of the book) and it seems to me that, as the narrator, he thinks monk-like thoughts himself. The story is set in Song Dynasty (12th century) southern China; it describes scenery that is of course still there, if not quite so remote and untouched, these days. It's a Rahmenerzählung, as the Germans would call it, constructed within the framework of an art museum's curator studying ancient Chinese scroll paintings by the artist, Li Wen, and imagining what inspired them. Wen is the hero of the novel. He is ordered to undertake a year's journey on foot to the Emperor's court at Lin'an (nowadays Hangzhou) to deliver a message and to present four landscapes that he has painted himself, in ink, depicting the four seasons. Here is the passage that describes how he starts to work on his Autumn scene:
    As he prepared [to paint], he heard birds calling in the distance, and noticed the patterns of their cries. He felt a gentle movement of the breeze pass through the spruce forest, curl around a stone promontory and drift lazily past him. He smelled the evergreen resin that perfumed the air. Rolling out the blank paper sheet, he placed eight small stones to hold it down.
    As Wen reached out for the brush of silk strands, everything around him slowed further. The silences between bird cries grew vast, the breeze seemed to hold for a moment, the world spacious and still. Light and shadow spattered the trunks of the oaks and maples, drifting along the boles with each subtle murmur of breeze. [...]
    Picking up the brush -- its weight almost imperceptible -- he raised it to the heavens, horizontal above his gaze. He then bowed to the heavens as well as the blank page as he held the brush over it. He paused, drinking in the radiance and freshness of the blank sheet. It would never be so perfect again. It saddened him that he felt this need to sully its purity.
    He paused, the brush hovering over the page. He waited until the empty space within him gave birth to mountains. 
It's good to have access to such beneficial things as this book.

An extra dimension? Or not?

This lunchtime, as a festival pass holder for this year's Music and Beyond concerts in Ottawa, I was at a performance of Alexander Mosolov's String Quartet No. 1. Written in 1926, it's a serious, some would say difficult, piece of music in four movements, that deserves attention.

It was being performed today, very impressively, by the Utrecht String Quartet. They played in the National Gallery auditorium against the backdrop of a screen showing blurry extracts from contemporaneous (silent) black and white Russian films: documentaries by Dziga Vertov, and the tragic feature film, Mat (Mother), by Pudovkin. Some images were scenic, but those scenes portraying the early 20th century Russian underclasses were disturbing, to say the least.

Sebastian Koloski, the quartet's 'cellist, introduced the concert. He explained that the sequence of film clips selected to accompany the 25 minutes of music was compiled from 4 hours of footage in the Dutch Film Institute's archives, a challenging task. It created a "tricky" timing challenge for the instrumentalists themselves, as well.

Inevitably, so conditioned am I to the bombardment of images with subliminal sound tracks, I was almost completely distracted from the progress of the music by what was being shown on the screen and am now listening to it again in the YouTube recording linked above.

Mr. Koloski said that the intention was to give Mosolov's music "an extra dimension." However, I'm not so sure. Does the combining of music with visual images really does add to its impact? I have seen / heard it attempted before and thought the same then. What is wrong with leaving added images to an audience's imagination? is what I'd like to know. I can't help feeling that such experiments are no more than a gimmick and actually detract from the music.

Vice versa, I feel the same about attempts to add the "extra dimension" of music to a display of the visual arts, although I do see the point of wordless sound as a mood intensifier for emotional scenes in films. The background music for the battle scenes in Branagh's film of Henry V by Shakespeare is a good example.

The other day Chris and I listened to a radio interview with a New Zealander called Paul Cameron, the CEO of a company called Booktrack, which has added music and sound effects to e-books (novels and children's stories mostly) that you can hear as you read; apparently the app. adjusts to your reading speed. It would be hopeless for someone like me because I have the habit of hopping back and forth all the time while reading a book and the sound effects would never keep up. Anyhow, Booktrack's website advertises "a synchronised movie-style sound track" to enhance whatever you buy to read. Here's an example.

Do you think this is a good idea?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Last roar of the dinosaurs?

The conflicted world needs to keep a careful watch over the machinations of xenophobes, but I take heart from the youthfulness of the majority of their detractors, who have grown up with friends of other cultures, other skin colours, other religions, other persuasions, who simply don't see the relevance of right wing prejudice to their own lives. The next (my grandchildren's) generation is likely to be even more oblivious. At least, I'm assuming so.

Here, on July 1st, Ottawa was full of people celebrating the diversity of Canadians. Elaine and Piet, visiting us from the Netherlands and experiencing Canada Day In The Nation's Capital for the first time, commented on the striking multi-ethnicity of the good-natured, well-behaved crowds, as did we. Walking up Rideau / Wellington Street onto Parliament Hill in the afternoon, we spotted long African robes, long Indian robes, First Nations' feather head-dresses, mini-skirted cowgirls, east Asian and South American families, veiled Muslim ladies from the middle east, Bengali musicians ... all proudly and excitedly Canadian, so it seems, the children of all colours blowing toy bugles or wearing freebie moose antlers on their heads. When the inevitable cloud-burst came, everyone either huddled in doorways or got soaked to the skin together.

Across the Atlantic, today (July 2nd), London saw an estimated 30,000 young people demonstrating in favour of staying in the EU and vociferously celebrating European unity, even though the referendum has been and gone, against their wishes. Over there, on the last day of campaigning, Gordon Brown said:
The Britain I know is the Britain of Jo Cox. The Britain where people are tolerant, and not prejudiced, and where people hate hate.*
Right wing Facebook pages from North America, Britain, Australia, are full of unreferenced video clips of riots, burning flags, "menacing hordes" of Islamic immigrants or refugees, juxtaposed with sentimental pictures of Jesus, such wearisome nonsense. In Germany, PEGIDA's all male, self-appointed chorus in Germany chants, Wir sind das Volk! but they're not.

The day before the British referendum I prepared an over-optimistic, anticipatory blogpost rejoicing that the xenophobes have had their day. And that we'll hear their roars becoming increasingly frenetic as they see their values being overturned. Shocked by the outcome of the referendum, I didn't publish that post, but it ended like this:
... "patriots" who talk of "freedom" apply such words only to themselves; their allegiance is limited and their concept of freedom is very narrow. Their heyday was in the 19th century and their nationalist fervour and fears still belong to the 19th century; we saw the tragic outcome of that sort of thinking in the 20th century wars, but it's the 21st century now, and, like it or not, we are the citizens of a shared world these days and must function as such.
In spite of the setback, I have not changed my mind.

* I hope this is what "The 48%" was, and still is, demanding, although I can't be completely sure, because some of them are now quite viciously condemning their compatriots who voted to leave Europe --- condemning the older, more impoverished, less articulate population of Britain, who in many cases have valid grounds for complaint, despite the dismal fact that immigrants are their scapegoats. I hate to admit it, but there are signs of hate and prejudice on the left side of the political spectrum too.