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.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Linnaeus' home

On May 21st (Victoria Day in Canada), while Chris was giving a presentation at the conference in Stockholm, I went to Uppsala by train. The train fares vary according to the times of day, and I was able to chose the cheapest option, arriving around midday on a quiet, double-decker train. Returning at the end of the afternoon also allowed me to sit in a quiet carriage, although trains coming the other way, carrying the commuters home from Stockholm, were packed.

Uppsala is very attractive, not big, a university town visually dominated by its castle with domed tower and the tall gothic cathedral that I shall talk about in a separate post, both buildings a warm, pinkish red colour. The shopping area near the station is modern, but mostly traffic free, which I approve of, despite the inconvenience to drivers; there are busses to take people home, running on bio-gas, and many Uppsala inhabitants prefer to get around by bike, in any case. Near the Fyris River, with its little weirs and boardwalks, is the Universitet district and cobbled Radhus (town hall) square and surrounding older streets, swarming with happy-looking students. Bicycles galore parked beside the river. The blonde girls sit on the boardwalks, dangling their long, bare legs over the placid river where ducks dabble. I had my lunch, bought from an Indian snack van, in a rosegarden behind the cathedral which was bordered by a salmon leap, an artificially constructed series of watery steps. A little boy was very interested in it, although no salmon were leaping at this time of year.

My mission in Uppsala, apart from visiting the cathedral, was to see Carl Linnaeus' haunts and report back to my sister, a keen botanist. What I should have done --- hindsight is a wonderful thing! --- was confirm that Linnaeus' house and garden would be open; on Mondays, it was not. I did find an open gate for staff only and trespassed; don't tell anybody. The lady who caught me taking photos in the garden was very kind, making allowances for my foreigner's lack of comprehension, and allowed me to take a few more, before insisting that I leave, so that she could lock up. Obviously I couldn't go into the house, which must be a fascinating museum to visit on other days of the week, nor into the gift shop. So I didn't learn much about Linneaus (Carl von Linné), other than on the internet, although it was clear to me he must have been a happy man, living so peacefully and purposefully, where blackbirds sing in the trees and the garden fountain splashes. Diagonally opposite the house, outside on Linné Gatan (of course) was a pleasant Café Linné where I sat a while under the awning, drinking tea.

Other peaceful spots in Uppsala were to be found around the edge of the University campus. Celsius came from here as well, became an astronomy prof. at the university, and his original thermometer is apparently exhibited in the main building, though I failed to go in and see it. The Wikipedia tells me that he proposed an international standard temperature scale in a paper presented to the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala:
His thermometer was calibrated with a value of 100° for the freezing point of water and 0° for the boiling point. In 1745, a year after Celsius' death, the scale was reversed by Carl Linnaeus to facilitate more practical measurement. Celsius originally called his scale centigrade derived from the Latin for "hundred steps". For years it was simply referred to as the Swedish thermometer. 
I was aiming for the Botanic Gardens, really well worth the visit, being laid in formal style around an elegant 18th century building with pillars and pale walls, up which vines were climbing, nests in them. The courtyard at the back was full of large plant pots containing a collection of Mediterranean and subtropical plants. I had this place to myself, lovely. The continuation of the gardens across the road was even lovelier. I stayed there for a long time, sitting down with an ice cream at a table outside the Cafe Viktoria as well as admiring the flower beds and taking photos. I finished my wanderings in that part of Uppsala by climbing the back steps to the castle for a vantage point overlooking the cathedral on the next hillside. Thence I decided I'd have time to walk to Linnaeus' Tradgarden, as described above.

Photos to be added later.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Swedish vocabulary, first impressions

Before coming to Sweden on this trip, I've never made any attempt to learn Swedish, although I have appreciated a few Swedish films and picked up one or two words that way. On the way here I read a small guide book about Stockholm and found a few words worth noting:

norr, söd, öst, väst

gamla stan, old town
gatan, street
gränd, lane
torg, square
museet, teater, gården, station, kyrka, slottet (castle), strand (shore)
konst, art
blomor, flowers
holmen, islands
malm, rock
sten, stone
lilla, little
bron, bridge

Since we got here, I've added a few more to the list:
tåg, train (e.g. tåg till Uppsala), billjete, utgang, ingang. For the next stop they say näste. At cafe entrances they write, Välkommen in, unless you have to board a ship and climb stairs, in which case it's Välkommen upp!

I have deduced that "not" is inte, "and" is och. "Good" is usually either bra or god.

The food vocabulary is fun, easy to remember: mjolk, smör (butter), bröd, våfflor (waffles), ost (cheese), ägg, kyckling (chicken), lax, sallad, blåbär (blueberries), soppa (soup), svamp (mushrooms), pannkakor (pancakes) ... med sirop, fisk (fish), kaffe, te.

Strange to discover, öl is not oil (olja) but beer! and the Red Cross is known in Sweden as Röda Korset.

Wild strawberries, made famous by Ingmar Bergman, are smultron, and there are places where you may sample mjod (mead). The Vikings used to drink it from their horns, hornen.

So it seems that Swedish is fairly straightforward, although the pronunciation of their language poses some initial challenges. Kärlek, meaning love, is pronounced something like syärlek. The lady sitting next to me on the flight to Stockholm told me that "Sorry!" is förlåt, only I wrote it down wrongly as verlort, which just goes to show.

While in Stockholm with Chris' colleagues, one of them (Kevin, who has made many visits to Sweden) told me that the word lagom is worth knowing, as in the phrase lagom är bäst, which means there's virtue in moderation, or less is more. Lagom may be of Viking origin, from the ancient command Laget om! meaning: take just the right amount of mead to drink when they pass the horn around. These days it stands for the modern Swedish ideal, living a sustainable lifestyle that's not too extravagant. IKEA, it seems, is playing this card for all it's worth!

At the Gothenburg Museum of Art

A fortunate discovery! Not wanting to walk so far today this morning, because Chris is suffering from mysterious muscle cramps probably caused by his demanding week of work, we merely wandered within range of the hotel into the gardens across the canal where I'd been on Friday, and from there past the Teater and up the hill towards the university buildings. A couple of blocks further, was another wide avenue, leading to important-looking buildings at its top end, one of which was the Konstmuseet. Being keen on art galleries, we spent an hour in there.

The exhibitions are on 6 floors, the most interesting part of the permanent collection being on the top two. Floor 5 has galleries devoted to 18th and 19th century Nordic art, a collection of European Old Masters: including Rubens, Rembrandt, and Cranach --- the latter's painting a rather horrible Salome with the head of John the Baptist --- juxtaposed with some equivalent Swedish paintings such as the lovely Damporträtt by an artist called Ökand (never heard of him). The larger oil canvasses were either examples of Swedish romantic landscape painting ("the sublime" much in evidence: cataracts, unscalable rocky peaks, dramatic waterfalls!) or of social realism: documents of 19th century scenes, the women pictured in Scandinavian costume. One wall was cleverly hung with a mishmash of older and newer framed pictures, including a striking chiaroscuro interior from 1959, by a Finnish photographer, Esko Männikkö: a chair in a beam of sunlight. At first glance it looked like something from the 17th century, until you noticed the bicycle wheels propped up in the background. We also found a girl's head done in black and white by Tomas Lundgren in 2014, entitled An Other.

Finally on the 6th floor, I took one glance ahead and warned Chris, "I'm going to be ages in here!" There was a whole area set aside for French impressionist, post-impressionist and expressionist paintings (Picasso had a whole room to himself). Swedish artists at the turn of the (19th / 20th) century were centred in "Bohemian" Gothenburg, so of course there was plenty of their work on display here, too. One of them, Ivar Arosenius (another person I'd never heard of) had been a versatile artist who sometimes worked on large canvasses (e.g. Vinter: a lonely little man trudging across a bleak winter landscape) and sometimes did funny little "fairytale" drawings, e.g. of a portly "knight with six maidens". In another part of the gallery two paintings, side by side, reminded me of Canada's Group of Seven. These were a painting from 1901 of Snö (snow) by Gustav Fjaestad, and a mysterious white tent(?) with a light glowing inside it and snow-laden firs all around, painted in 2015 and entitled Altarpiece, clearly symbolic in intent. Another relatively modern painting (modern in context, anyhow) was Nils Nilsson's Flyktinger, the heads of refugees with a few skulls showing behind them, one of the few paintings I found here in neo-romantic style. It was painted in 1937.

I incidentally learned a good deal of Swedish vocabulary by reading the notes against these paintings, not to mention what I picked up about Swedish history and culture.

Friday, May 25, 2018

In Göteborg

I’m writing this at a table in the Palmhuset at the centre of Göteborg's Trädgårdsföreningen, Gothenburg’s Garden Society Park from the 1840s. It is peaceful and warm in here.

We arrived yesterday, after a morning of meetings in Linköping for Chris and a drive in Kevin’s car for me, down the eastern side of Vättern Lake and then westwards, via Jönköping. Kevin didn’t need to be at those meetings but hoped to make some preparation for today’s demos in Göteborg. We passed a lakeside castle ruin, and the drive through forests and farmlands was in general very pleasant, along quiet roads, with red cottages and barns all the way. We made a pit stop at the edge of a ski resort, the remaining snow covered in enormous white tarpaulins. Chris and the others pulled off the main road to have their lunch by the lake.

After about 3 hours en route, Keven dropped me not far from these gardens at a traffic light on red. I grabbed my rucksac and leapt out, not having much clue where I was. It did “feel” quite central, however, so I wasn’t at all dismayed. Luckily, signposts stood in the parks; very soon I found a pointer to the Central Station which I knew would be close to our (Radisson Blu) hotel, so I walked in that direction, across a canal bridge in Kungsparken (as I now realise, having got hold of a map), into the Kungstorget, where there’s a canal-side market, swarming with people. Had I followed the Stora Nygatan along the edge of the canal, I could have walked straight to the hotel, more or less, but the wide street called Ostrahamngatan (East Harbour Street) seemed a more likely option at the time. Canal boats were boarding tourists below the bridge there. Signposts were still pointing towards the station, but when I reached the major junction at the Stora Hamnkanalen there was no further signpost, so I had to admit defeat and ask for directions.

 “It’s that way,” said the girl, pointing down the Brunnsparken where the trolley bus lines were leading. “Everyone is going there, you can’t miss it.”

Once I reached the Drottningtorget (Queen Square) I saw not only the station, but also our hotel on the Slussgatan, so, mission completed. I checked in ahead of Chris, as in Linköping, sent him a message, and went out for a late lunch at a nearby corner, a Mongolisk Buffe (Mongolian buffet where they stir-fry your choice of food). Then I had a rest in our room, which has windows overlooking the square, and sent the men a message to tell them where the nearest Parkhus was.

 Chris’ car arrived in good time, with a couple of hours to spare before we needed to eat again, so we explored the shopping mall beyond the station; walking through there, we reached the Opera House by the docks where a lot of construction is going on, but where the boats are. We had reached the Lilla Bommen and Lilla Bommens Torg, from which an overhead glass walkway takes you back across the roadworks into town. A 4-master tall ship is moored there, the Viking, and you can buy lunch on it. I might try that later today … And did! You order and pay for your meal at the hatch on one of the decks, add extras to it from the salad and coffee bar (95kr includes everything --- good value) and then carry your tray up the spiral staircase to the upper deck where you may sit in sun or shade with views of the various docks. Many locals up there, enjoying their lunchbreak. You're free to wander around most of the rest of the ship, which is also an hotel.

We had supper last night at a French restaurant with four of the QNX men (Garry, Adam, Grant, Matthias), after meeting them in the inner courtyard bar at the hotel, where they were relaxing with glasses of beer. More beer at the restaurant and the waiter teased Adam from Liverpool by presenting him with a magnum of champagne. I had coq au vin.

Chris and I took another short walk round the outside of the gardens after this supper, passing the Stora Teatern. Before we went up to our room, a woman who works at the hotel approached us to warn us that there would be an early morning event just outside the hotel that we might find distracting, and this morning, sure enough, with noisy music playing, a large crowd (mostly male) turned up, some of them dressed in costumes (dressed as Darth Vader, or in kilts, animal suits, Lederhosen and Bavarian hats, etc.) to inspect a convoy of racing cars parked in the entrance, all strewn with confetti. This was a fundraiser for a children’s hospice, so we forgave them for waking us up.

(Photos to be added later!)

Monday, May 21, 2018

To Stockholm by a round-about route

I'm starting to write this at the boarding gate for Flight SA7979 to Stockholm, from London, Heathrow. This will be the first time either Chris or I will have set foot in Sweden, and we're full of curiosity. According to our itinerary we'll be there for 11 days, flying back via Copenhagen on May 30th. It wasn't possible to book our seats simultaneously so we shan't be sitting together on the plane. I am in a business class seat and Chris isn't, though he does have a window. It is a beautiful, high-pressure day, with the Royal Wedding taking place in Windsor; we have absolutely no desire to be among the crowds there, though we have been seeing snippets of the TV coverage in the Terminal 2 Departures hall.

I set off last Sunday evening, landing here the next morning and travelling on to Cardiff by train in order to spend Monday afternoon, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning with my mother at her care home. I'm afraid that, suffering from senile dementia, she doesn't remember my visit. On Wednesday I was with her for over 8 hours, an exhausting day, even though we were doing little more than sitting. I had to encourage Mum to eat her meals, something she is reluctant to do and finds difficult . At nearly 99 years of age she has lost so much: sight and hearing to a large extent, her sense of balance, ability to walk more than a few steps with assistance, her sense of taste, and all of her top teeth except for one, which wobbles. Most disturbing for the rest of us is her loss of weight from refusal to eat; she looks skeletal, although when the nurse measured her blood-pressure, pulse rate, blood oxygen level and body temperature, all was normal. We had a visit from my nieces and their children on Wednesday which was a happy distraction and I also met Rhiannon and Justin for a vegetarian lunch one day, at the Fino Lounge in Whitchurch.

Now in the air, over Sweden! We have just had an announcement from the Captain that the computers at Stockholm airport have failed and we are therefore diverting to Gothenburg where we'll be delayed for a good two hours, not good news. Never mind, it all adds to the interest of the journey. We flew over some Swedish port a little while back, after plenty of water in the northern seas. In English airspace, we followed the River Thames to its mouth before heading up the East Anglian coast. The weather is still good, with isolated anvil clouds in the distance. So far, the Swedish landscape looks very like Canada, with rocky islands in lakes surrounded by coniferous trees. I have been reading my guide book, learning some Swedish vocabulary. Like Romanian and Japanese, a lot of it looks fairly understandable and what isn't like English often resembles German. The Swedish (sverige) word for German is tyska.

Yesterday (18th May) I was awake very early, following Chris' transatlantic progress on the Flight Tracker. I caught a bus to the Heathrow Central bus station and met him in Terminal 2, just as we had met George, back in January, when he flew in from Australia. There followed a fairly lazy, sleepy day, catching the bus to Teddington, seeing the grandsons coming home from school with their dad that evening, their mum arriving later. We all went out for an Italian supper on the High Street, in a noisy restaurant, full of kids, followed by a walk in Bushy Park, where a game of cricket was being played. Chris and I had seen more cricket practice elsewhere in the park earlier, young boys being taught how to keep their elbows in and their bats straight. It is that time of year. Descending into Gothenburg now, so I'll resume this later.

We are fully fuelled, ready to go, but are waiting for permission to depart once the Stockholmers have sorted out their computer failure. "Hopefully it's good news ahead," says this phlegmatic Englishman, but for the time being we have to remain on board. We shall have priority for landing, once we get there. However, before this he said we'd be waiting "for at least two hours" so I suspect we shall need to be patient. I can update my blog for the duration. So far, only 5pm, British Time.

We landed in Stockholm, finally, at about 19:20 local time and took the Arlanda Express to the city. Chris' was following our flight on his tablet and took a screenshot of the diversion: see image above!

Our hotel, the Grand Central by Scandic, is only a three minute walk from the station and the lobby vaunts the words HELLO, GORGEOUS! right in front of you in pink neon lights. We were greeted by a blonde receptionist who fluttered her very long, artificial eyelashes at Chris as he checked in to our Superior Twin room on the 5th floor. This evening we ate a buffet supper at an inexpensive Chinese "restaurang" on Kungsgatan and then strolled further through the city, seeing some of the romantic waterways and bridges near the Rijksdag after sunset. It was still not completely dark, even at 22:30.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Earth Day, Wakefield

Earth Day had already started when the sun came up, so we were told at the start of the meeting that took place at the Wakefield Community Centre on Sunday 22nd of last month. I was at the event with Elva and Laurie, who live on the way there.

A facility known as Eco-Echo was sponsering this community event, the Wakefield-Lapêche people having a lot to say about eco-friendly values, eco-citizenship, and their relationship with Nature. Led by their councillors, the locals were going to plant a little forest of organic cherry trees. "You may all know where to plant a forest." Since there were well over 100 people present at the Earth Day event, that could make quite a difference. Eventually, the Initiative (see below) "will plant indigenous trees all over the place."

"If you'd like to donate a little grove," you may plant one in someone's memory. $20 gift cards were on sale as well, to raise funds for the project. The first planting was to take place on May 12th, and you were to bring gloves and a hat, and a spade, which would be sharpened for you on site. The Quebec government was supplying some seedlings for free.

"We'll start with a song!" suggested the organiser, and two men with guitars came forward, to give us "Sweet Mother Earth, Cool Daddy Sky / Don't ever say goodbye!" The other verse was much the same, ending "Don't desert us, please!" I think these gentlemen had a whole repertoire of such compositions, because a second song went: "Once there was a wilderness, / Once there were clear flowing streams. / Now there's tourist traps ...", the final message being: "Is it all worth striving for? --- In-dis-put-ab-ly!" Later, while queuing for lunch in the lobby, where incidentally there was an impressively large, hanging twig sculpture, we heard them again, performing the music of their youth: 60s songs by the Beatles.

We had a whole bunch of retired activists present, both on stage and in the audience.

"Lapêche is running workshops to teach us to think like trees!"

A female "eco-poet" was up next, reciting a poem about a tree standing "tall and ready for rescue", perhaps the same one as the pine tree depicted on canvas on a nearby easel, this very good painting entitled "Standing Tall"; it was by Anne Swiderski.
The painter came up and spoke confidently, in French as well as English, about how much she loves the native trees known as white pines. "Ils ne brisent pas. I think they're uplifting. They are a symbol of hope and expectation. Ils continuent d'etre debout, d'etre la. Facing what's to come with strength and integrity." Her tall husband symbolically stood alongside, holding her notes for her.

Another artist told us that "trees are part of the forest", which I'd have thought pretty obvious, but what she meant was that they are a community, like us. She was the one who introduced us to the Lapeche Global Forest Initiative, also promoted by a Dutch-Canadian arborist, who spoke of what a tree does for you, and of how the forest stands together, don't forget it.

The introduction to the main event of the morning finished with the recitation of a poem by Mary Oliver. This extract will give you an idea of it:
[...]What joy was it, that almost found me? What amiable peace? Then it was over, the wind roused up in the oak trees behind me, and I fell back, easily. Earth has a hundred thousand pure contraltos-- Even the distant night bird as it talks threat, as it talks love over the cold, black fields. Once, deep in the woods, I found the white skull of a bear and it was utterly silent, And once a river otter, in a steel trap, and it too was utterly silent. What can we do but keep on breathing in and out [...] 
The main event was the screening of a remarkable, two-hour film, Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees. In this documentary, Diana Bereford-Kroeger, an Irish botanist who lives in Ontario, leads us on a world tour that "explores the science, folklore and restoration challenges of the global forest." Trees, so she and others claim, are the key to reversing climate change. The documentary records the alarming diminution of the world's natural forests due to human activity and calls for immediate action. If each of us were to plant a tree a year, an indigenous tree, to combat climate change, then perhaps the damage could be reversed.

After the film, we lined up to buy a Local Lunch: either beef or vegan chili, all served in eco-friendly pottery bowls that were washed by volunteers, by hand, and in the afternoon Tree Climbing For Kids was on offer, but we didn't do that.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Different perspectives, different reconstructions

Troy remains an “enigma”. Nobody can be 100% sure that the ancient city existed at a spot some 30 km southwest of modern day Çanakkale (Turkey) or that the Trojan War ever took place, as described in Homer’s Iliad of the 8th century BC. However, having studied the site in question, experts these days are more than 90% convinced. The site has had UNESCO World Heritage status since 1998 and a new museum, adjacent to it, will open this summer, after 30 years of planning, exhibiting the last 30 years of finds at the excavation site. The museum building is in layers, like the site itself. Extensive digs are still on-going, uncovering history that dates back 7000 years.

Dagmar and I learned all this from Dr. Rüstem Aslan, who gave a Canadian Institute for Mediterranean Studies (our mutual friend Louise is the CIMS Ottawa Chapter’s competent President) lecture at the Centrepointe theatre in Ottawa last weekend, with slides and video-clips for illustration. He has worked at the site since 1988, originally as a student of the previous, German, Director, Professor Korfmann, and now as the current Director of Excavations. Most of his predecessors were German, the most famous being Heinrich Schliemann; then came Schliemann’s friend Dörpfeld, then the American, Blegen, then Prof. Korfmann, who was granted Turkish citizenship shortly before he died.

The Trojan horse displayed in downtown Çanakkale to attract the tourists is a 20th century imitation donated by the Americans; many Hollywood films have been made about the Trojans, such as the 2004 one, in which Brad Pitt plays Achilles. The newer-looking wooden horse that towers over visitors to the excavation site, is also a replica, of course. The horse represents the “brutal” victory (as Dr. Aslan put it) of the Greeks over the Trojans after a 10 year siege and there is no historical evidence for the dramatic Trojan horse story. It is feasible that the idea came from the wooden machines used to attack the walls of Troy at the end of the siege. The horse legend doesn’t appear in the Iliad, but rather in the Odyssey, created 2 years later, and in Virgil’s Aeneid. Aeneas, of course, is supposed to have founded Rome.

A stone artifact recently discovered, with carvings in the Hittite language, mentions a middle-eastern settlement that had two names; the Alaksandu Treaty of 1300 BC contains a mention of a similar legend to the one Homer told, horse and all. Homer was from Smyrna, or Izmir, as it is now named, so we ought to refer to him as an Ancient Turk, not an Ancient Greek.

Troy, or Ilium---the city with two names---lay on the Biga Peninsula in the Aegean. The exact whereabouts of Troy puzzled scholars for centuries. Mehmet II’s library at his Istanbul palace contained the first written copy of The Iliad. 17th century explorers from Europe pinpointed Troy’s location as Pınarbaşı, as witnessed by Lechevalier’s map of 1791, and that guess was believed valid for 200 years, although the identified site is at Hisarlik near Mt. Kazdağı, closer to the sea. But the region is an earthquake zone, and repeated quakes buried one ancient settlement after another. The archaeologists have discovered nine “complicated” layers of remnants, at this location, which they number in chronological order of existence: Troy 1, Troy 2, Troy 3, etc. In the late Bronze Age, around 1300 BC, Troy (i.e. “Troy 6”) is thought to have been the major city of Anatolia, with a population of some 6000 people. Metal seals unearthed in 1995 apparently confirm that the Hittite language was spoken in Troy. In 1118 BC something catastrophic occurred at this place, but no written evidence has been found to determine whether it was it an earthquake or the legendary climax of the Trojan War!

Subsequent cities here were also ruined, probably by major earthquakes, in 85 BC and 25 AD. “Troy 9” (i.e. Ilium, now belonging to Rome) had a population of 9000 and was visited both by Hadrian and by Alexander the Great, the Romans boasting that by having conquered the Greeks, they had avenged the Trojans.

Frau Schliemann wearing the treasure
In 1882, Schliemann found what was nicknamed “Priam’s Treasure” (Priam being the King of Troy in the legend) in a cache in the ruined stone walls. Schliemann’s wife Sophia was notoriously photographed wearing the golden headdress and necklace they had unearthed, but mistakes were made in dating the jewellery. They carried most of it back to Germany. After the 2nd World War the treasure (plunder, rather) was transferred to St. Petersburg and thence to Moscow, where some of it still remains. Today, in fact, 9 museums and 7 cities around the world today share the hoard. As long ago as 1874, the Ottomans protested at the sale and dispersal of these treasures, to no avail, although vain promises were made to return it, even then.

After the presentation the Turkish Embassy laid on a reception with plates of baclava and other treats. Three lucky raffle ticket holders went home with booklets about Troy and bottles of Turkish wine.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Songs in French

Verlaine said that the art of poetry was "de la musique avant toute chose"; at last Wednesday's lunch hour concert at Southminster Church in Ottawa, you might have put it the other way round, claiming that music was first and foremost poetry, French poetry at that, because the concert included Fauré's and Duparc's settings of poems by Verlaine and Baudelaire. There were also Cinq melodies populaires grecques, settings of Greek folk songs translated into French, by Ravel as well as three Don Quixote inspired songs by Paul Morand, also in French, also set by Ravel.

I enjoyed this concert! The singer was Denis Boudreault, currently Artistic Director of the Ottawa Recitalists Art Song Academy, and originally from Sept-Iles. Apparently he has been singing to the accompaniment of his pianist friend Frédéric Lacroix since 2001. Mr. Lacroix is very well known in Ottawa and has been mentioned several times before in this blog. I had come across some of the songs before, as well. As for the words of the songs, I'd discovered them during my student years in the 1960s and 70s.

Some lines in the Verlaine poems (Fêtes galantes) I remember underlining, in those days:
... Voix de notre desespoir,
Le rossignol chantera.  
Romances sans paroles ... 
... ta voix, étrange
Vision qui dérange
Et trouble l'horizon
De ma raison ...
Fauré successfully captures the wistfulness of the Fêtes galantes, incorporating melancholy arpeggios into the piano part. These pieces would fit well into an exhibition of impressionist art, as would the Duparc settings of Baudelaire and Lahor, with their mention of watery suns, ciels brouilles, sunset skies d'hyachinthe et d'or, soft moonlight, tinted seascapes, etc. The Lahor poem Extase was given a slowly rocking, lullaby accompaniment by Duparc. His lovely Chanson Triste I vaguely remember trying to sightread once. Its title Sad Song is because of the inclusion of
douleurs  ... triste coeur ... tête malade ... tes yeux pleins de tristesse 
in the poem, ending thus: I shall imbibe so many kisses and so much tenderness that perhaps I shall recover! But probably not, is the implication.

The concert was entitled L'invitation au voyage in honour of the Duparc song of the same name, the minor key setting of a very well known poem by Baudelaire. Here, the composer daringly has the singer singing the refrain
... La, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté
on one note, and the following line
Luxe, calme et volupté.
is also sung on one note (a few tones lower). Here's a superb rendition of the song by Gérard Souzay:

Ravel's music made a good contrast with the rest, with its rustling, fast running or rhythmic accompaniments, the dance-like effects and the middle-eastern ornamentation of the singer's long notes in the first of the Greek songs (Le reveil de la mariee). The tenor had to sing in both high and low registers for these. Morand's "Drinking Song" in the second set was composed in a fast, Spanish style of music, with tumbling piano chords at the end ... Je bois a la joie!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Flying home from the Finger Lakes

Preparing to depart

KITH VOR seen on take-off
We had the same shuttle bus driver take us from the hotel to the airport this morning. FBO has a toy putting mat for golfers. Filed the EAPIS and CANPASS documents on line; you have to remember to open the international flight plan once airborne, too. Chris did his preflight checks outside the FBO's big hangar at Ithaca airport and we took off into a bright sky with small white clouds.

Some snow in fields near Ithaca
Snow still lingers in the fields near Ithaca; some more fell in the night. We climbed to 5500 ft and headed towards Syracuse over Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. The way we covered the route on the map seemed a lot quicker than on Saturday morning, and was, because this time a tail wind was helping us along. Watertown airport, beyond Syracuse, is a very obvious landmark. As we approached the border country over the St. Lawrence River conditions in the air became fairly turbulent with thermal lift and gusty winds, with lenticular cloud visible ahead, just north of Lake Ontario. We crossed the St. Lawrence, back into Canada again 5500 ft above the 1000 Islands international bridge, seeing the town of Alexandria Bay from both sides of the river as we did so. After this, visibility deteriorated as we flew through snow showers under the bases of thickening clouds. Even Ottawa International airport was hard to spot ahead of us, but Chris didn't seem in the least alarmed by this, nor by the bumpy ride.

Skaneateles Lake
View from the Canadian border

Near the clouds over Manotick, snow falling
Our descent into Rockcliffe was relatively smooth, so we had an easy landing.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A morning on the campus

Footsore, having walked 8 or 9 km yesterday and 6 or 7 km this morning, I am resting in our hotel room to write this while Chris wanders off to search for some toothpaste to replace the tube he forgot to pack. He doesn't approve of the remains of mini toothpaste tubes that I brought along for myself.

Ithaca's known as College Town, and its campus up the hill is huge. Over breakfast at The Commons Kitchen we discussed going to the Easter Sunday Quaker Meeting at the Friends Meeting House on Third Street, but Chris said he'd prefer seeing the waterfalls, following the Cascadilla Gorge Trail up to the university, a walk we enjoyed on our last visit. The start of this trail is on Linn Street, not Aurora Street, but we soon re-oriented ourselves, only to find that the trail is closed at present, presumably considered as dangerous during the spring thaw as under ice and snow. I do recall slippery steps in May. Anyway, a large wrought iron gate was barring our way, very decorative, but disappointing. The first of the waterfalls looked tantalisingly gorgeous so I took a photo of it from the footbridge:

Cascadilla Creek, at the start of the Cascadilla Gorge trail

Fall Creek
I remembered another scenic river with waterfalls further on. This is Ithaca's larger river, Fall Creek, with the Ithaca Falls, the Forest Falls, the Rocky Falls, the Triphammer Falls, all below Beebe Lake. There's a series of bridges too, vertigo inducing road- and footbridges, each one with safety netting above or below to catch any desperate student who wants to kill himself by jumping off. This is not funny and our shuttle bus driver of yesterday was of the opinion that it is usually Asian students who make the suicide attempts, fearful of losing face when they have to confess an exam failure. Poor souls.
Beebe Lake and falls

Along this river the trail was open, with warnings about No Winter Maintenance, and we remembered the starting point at the bridge on Stewart Avenue, opposite Carl Sagan's (the famous cosmologist's) house which we also remembered from before. We stayed by the edge of the gorge till we'd seen three more bridges, the uppermost one officially still closed for winter, though we stepped onto it to take photos of the white water pouring over Beebe Dam, before continuing along Forest Home Drive past the various faculty buildings: arts, physical sciences, human ecology, plant science and so on.

Lewis Building and Herb Gardens, Cornell
We eventually arrived at a spot near Beebe Hall where we could look down at the Cornell Botanic Gardens Welcome Centre and herb garden, winter garden etc. which looked so attractive that we went down some steps to explore, despite having spent the rest of the morning walking uphill and knowing it would entail yet another climb afterwards. It being Easter Sunday, the Welcome Centre is not open to welcome anyone today, but Chris enjoyed sitting at an outdoor table out of the cold wind while I enjoyed discovering a few things already in bloom: a cornus tree with yellow blossoms (Cornelian cherry?), some hellebores, masses of snowdrops and yellow flowers as ground cover for which I couldn't find the ID tag (winter aconites, I believe). In the Flower Garden near the herbs (not yet showing signs of blooming) a young mum was hiding hard-boiled, decorated eggs for her little girl to find, the little girl cheating by peeping through her fingers sometimes. Having spent a while engrossed by all this, I then realised that we hadn't seen a fraction of Cornell's whole botanical collection which covers several miles of land. We shall simply have to come back at another time, maybe by car so that we'll have the energy to walk round all of it. This would be a great place to bring my botanist sister Faith one day.

A variety of Cornus in bloom, at the Cornell Botanical Gardens
From there we walked the length of Tower Road through the campus, then down to College Avenue and across the bridge at the top of the Cascadilla Gorge where we found an eatery that was open, doing a roaring trade in snacks and hot drinks, so I finally had a sit-down before we went back downtown, down the steep hill.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Another trip to Ithaca

Over eastern Ontario, near the St. Lawrence, looking north
We flew to Ithaca in New York State today; we came here in the spring of 2016 and have been thinking for some time that it would be worth coming back; it seems a good way to spend the Easter Weekend. We are in luck with the weather, although it wasn't good enough for us to set off yesterday. IFR flying isn't so much of a problem in summer but at this time of year it's best to keep out of the clouds because of the risk of picking up ice (as we started to do on our way back from Kingston recently). Let's hope there are no clouds to fly through on the way home. Today's flight was totally clear of cloud.

"Before take-off, a professional pilot is keen, anxious, but lest someone read his true feelings, he is elaborately casual." (E.K. Gann, 1944). This is Chris---every time!---pacing around in the clubhouse at the start of a flying trip.

Ogdensburg International Bridge from the southern shore
Up earlier than on usual Saturdays, we took off from Rockcliffe at 9:40, having filed an international flight plan to Ogdensburg, the closest airport where a customs and immigration service was available today. It only took us 47 minutes to get there from CYRO although we were not allowed to fly in a direct line, and had a headwind. The customs men from the Ogdensburg bridge arrived exactly on time, driving through the airport gateway in their car just as we were going through our post landing checks. These men were quick and efficient too: checked our passports and Chris' pilot licence, went round the plane pointing their Geiger counter at it in case we had radioactive bombs on board (I don't think we'd have had room for any on the back seat, what with the other luggage) and we were cleared into the USA. Three minutes all told.

Landing at KITH, jet holding short of Runway 14
We got out of the plane before our next leg, which was 1 hour 41 minutes from KOGS to KITH (Ogdensburg to Ithaca). The headwinds on take-off were quite gusty, and strong at altitude, so that we feared it would take longer, but less strong as we progressed south of Watertown and Syracuse, with Oneida Lake on our left and the pretty Finger Lakes in their ancient glacial valleys ahead of us. We had an "interesting" approach and landing at Ithaca due to gustier than anticipated winds. Chris handled this really well, as usual. The service at the "Taughannock Aviation" FBO was marvellous, with a very efficient and friendly young lady at the reception desk. She had booked our hotel room for us yesterday as soon as I called to enquire what the FBO could do for us, and when we landed and walked in she had the hotel shuttle bus driver already there, waiting to fetch us into town. Meanwhile, one of her colleagues was parking the plane for us and offering to carry our luggage across the apron in a golf cart.

We've experienced good service at other FBOs, but this was exceptional. The shuttle bus driver was impressed too, especially by the fact that she'd served him a free bagel and a coffee while he was waiting for us to arrive.

Lighthouses at the end of Lake Cayuga, Ithaca
By the time we'd checked in at the new Marriott, the hotel the girl had picked for us (we got a hotel discount from the FBO as well) I was famished, so we ducked into one of the nearby eateries, Simeon's Bistro, for a brunch. After our meal, sauntering towards a large 2nd hand bookshop called Autumn Leaves, I picked up a leaflet at the Information Centre, advertising the Cayuga Waterfront Trail. We didn't do this actual walk but a parallel one on the opposite shore of the Cayuga Inlet, as far as the point beyond the municipal Golf Course where we could see out into Lake Cayuga, where the two lighthouses are. Yachts were sailing on the lake, perhaps for the first time this year, on this warm and sunny afternoon. Other boaters (oarsmen and -women) were getting ready for action too. There are numerous young people in this town, mostly associated with Cornell University, probably, raring to go at whatever takes their fancy. The energy in the town is palpable. I wouldn't mind living here.

In spite of the blustery wind, people weren't wearing coats, and after the first half mile of our walk, nor was I.

Beyond the Farmers' Market, not in operation till the summer, the historic wharfs and the many boat places, we had the pathways mostly to ourselves, and walked out along the top of the wall to the lighthouse at the end of the promontory. Well, Chris calls it a promontory (I had to look up the spelling) but it is just a crumbling wall on a rocky point, really. I was a bit nervous of falling of it into the lapping (and certainly cold) water where Canada geese (with yellow plastic markers round their necks, for some reason) were swimming and the male ones fighting. Chris went ahead but before he reached the lighthouse a female goose, fiercely guarding "at least half a dozen" eggs in the nest she had built on this wall, hissed at him and flapped her wings, so we had to turn around. We warned other walkers coming our way not to approach her.

The walk back into town seemed long and I fell onto the hotel bed, once I reached it, for a short snooze before supper which we found at an excellent Indian restaurant close to the Ithaca Commons.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wisdom and tolerance

Image may contain: textAt the end of February Chris and I went to see a play by G. E. Lessing, performed in German in a basement theatre on the Ottawa University premises by a group of people known as die Deutschsprachige Theatergruppe, under the auspices of Kirche und Kultur, an initiative of the Martin-Luther Church on Preston Street. The pastor himself took part as one of the minor characters, a comic friar! Each of the actors was a native German speaker, so pronouncing and memorising the lines wasn't such a challenge as it might have been, although the elderly gentleman playing Nathan held a book in his hands throughout, reading his part from it. The director, Jörg Esleben, played the part of Saladin. One young man came on stage between scenes as narrator, speaking to the audience in English, filling in the content of the missing scenes, explaining who was who, and giving us a hint of what was to come next. Furthermore, subtitles in English were projected onto a screen at the back of the stage, although at times these got out-of-sync with what we were actually hearing, so that it was easier to listen to the German and guess the meaning of any unfamiliar vocabulary, rather than follow the translation. Lessing's German, old as it is, is not difficult to follow.

The scenery and costumes for this production seemed very basic—especially the rather floppy palm tree erected for outdoor scenes!—but it was for good reasons that the production team gave priority to putting the words across. Supported by the Austrian, Swiss and German embassies as well as the university, I gather they had been rehearsing the play for months.
Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise) was first performed in 1779, in the era of the European Enlightenment, a decade before the French revolution. Mozart and Goethe were alive at that time; Voltaire had died a year previously.

Saladin, ca. 1185
Set in Jerusalem during the time of the 3rd Crusade in the 12th century, it is a play about religious tolerance and a shared humanity. Jerusalem at that period in history was ruled by Saladin, a Muslim Sultan, while the Christian Knights Templar were hoping to capture the Holy Land for themselves. The Jewish community of Jerusalem was caught between their clashes. All three religions are represented by the main characters in Lessing's play: the Sultan Saladin, a young Knight Templar who is a prisoner of war, and the Jewish merchant Nathan. In the course of the action, the dramatis personae argue about which is the "true" religion, and which should predominate:
Nathan: Sultan, Ich bin ein Jud'.  
Saladin: Und ich ein Muselmann. Der Christ ist zwischen uns. – Von diesen drei Religionen kann doch eine nur die wahre sein. 
Entwined into the plot are complications: the Christian Knight looks remarkably like the Sultan's lost brother and has also rescued the Jew's daughter from a fire. In fact the last scene reveals how they are all interlinked more than they had realised, are all, indeed, one family. That contrived conclusion is perhaps incidental to the chief message of the play, emphasised in Act 3, Scene 7, in which Nathan tells the Sultan a symbolic story, the parable of the three rings.

A loving father, following a tradition of many generations, wishes to bequeath his ring to the son he loves the most. However, in his case, the father loves each of his three sons equally and has to reconsider what to do. He decides to have three replicas of his ancient ring made, so that each son may inherit something equally precious. In the process, the original ring is lost. The sons, fighting for ascendancy after their father's death, are eventually told of the deception:
Jeder liebt sich selber nur am meisten? – Oh, so seid ihr alle drei Betrogene Betrüger! Eure Ringe sind alle drei nicht echt. Der echte Ring vermutlich ging verloren. Den Verlust zu bergen, zu ersetzen, ließ der Vater die drei für einen machen.
The significance of the bequest is spelled out:
Hat von euch jeder seinen Ring von seinem Vater: so glaube jeder sicher seinen Ring den echten. – Möglich; dass der Vater nun die Tyrannei des einen Rings nicht länger in seinem Hause dulden wollen! – Und gewiss; dass er euch alle drei geliebt, und gleich geliebt...
The "rings" of course represent the three monotheistic religions, the father standing for God, the "sons" being his worshippers. In other words, none of the three religions is meant to predominate or become tyrannical. Each religion is equally valid, equally loved by God, but each an imperfect copy of the original. In Lessing's day this was a revolutionary message. It has some relevance to the world of today, besides.

"Je me souviens"

Luckily, Ursula of the German conversation group reminded me that Robert Lepage's latest one man show, '887', was on at the National Arts Centre, and for January 20th I managed to buy a seat at the penultimate performance. As I expected, having seen his Face Cachée de la Lune more than 10 years ago (I saw the film too), the experience was phenomenal. Lepage is a genius. His stage works are highly unconventional, and he creates them with the help of the Ex Machina team, in operation since 1994.

The play was a meditation on the theme of memory, posing the questions: how do we remember things and why do we remember some things better than others? What happens when memory fails us and we forget something that's meant to be important? How do we remind ourselves of the most precious parts of our past lives? When does the history of a nation impinge upon one's personal history? It was also the very personal story of Lepage's own childhood in Quebec City; I suspect he tweaked the truth a little, here and there. He said that one of his neighbours in the apartment block where his family lived in those days had a noisy dog, a great dane. "They called him Hamlet..." Well, maybe they did, but I doubt it.

The beginning of the show was clever. Robert Lepage came on stage just as one of the NAC staff might (I recognised him, but perhaps many in the audience didn't) and told us the usual housekeeping rules about using the exits and turning off our cellphones during the show, then without any appreciable pause he went straight on to tell us how he came up with the idea for this production---he'd been asked to recite a poem at a public event and found he had terrible trouble learning the poem by heart, why?---with a few projections following on a screen behind him, as if he were giving a TED talk, or something of that kind. As he continued to present his thoughts, though, the lights dimmed, the backdrop disappeared and scenery appeared on the revolving stage, models of his childhood surroundings, and of his present day surroundings, each setting cleverly transformed into the next.

Here's the trailer for '887':


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Stereotypes of Canada

What impressions and prejudices have people had in the past, as regards Canada? What are our own fixed ideas about this country, and should they be questioned? This was the theme of a year-long exhibition held at the National Library as part of the Canada's 150th anniversary: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? which I only got to see during its last few days. It proved to be thought-provoking, worth visiting, and worth mentioning in my blog.

Jacques Cartier was the first to use the word Canada to designate the territory he discovered on the shores of the St-Lawrence River. The name comes from the Huron-Iroquois word kanata, i.e. village, incorrectly interpreted as the native word for their surrounding landscape and of the (St. Lawrence) river itself; Canadiens was Cartier's name for the Iroquois people he had met. Thereafter, Canada became the name for the French colony on the shores of the St. Lawrence, French colonists being known as Canadiens until the mid-nineteenth century, when the name, anglicised to Canadians, started to refer to the loyalist colonies on the Great Lakes as well, later to all of the British North Americans.

Samuel de Champlain, the early 17th century French explorer, saw Canada's potential, his maps reinforcing the "daydreams" of the court of King Henri IV and then of Louis XIII, whose chief minister was Cardinal Richelieu. A surprising number of official maps and their surrounding illustrations (such as Champlain's maps of New France, published in a book, Les Voyages, in 1613) depict wishful thinking, rather than actual facts.

In the 18th century, France and Britain fought over the possession of these territories. Voltaire, perhaps representing the scorn or misgivings of the French intelligentsia, clearly doubted whether this struggle was worthwhile:
J'aime beaucoup mieux la "paix" que le Canada, et je crois que la France peut etre heureuse sans Quebec. (1762)
(I saw this in Voltaire's original letter, on display at this exhibition.)

Later, in the 19th century, Krieghoff's paintings: frozen river, red sleigh, settlers' log cabin--reinforced the way in which Europeans envisioned this part of the world. The canoe and the beaver became defining symbols. Champlain reappears in 19th century paintings / sculptures as the conqueror, with Canada (often a female figure) as his conquest; other artwork depicts Canada as a wilderness in need of taming, where hunting is a metaphor for colonisation. Paul Kane's pictures of native settlements reflected the period’s idealising style.

Also displayed at our National Library was Catharine Parr Traill's journal of 1837. She lived to the age of 97, having spent most of her adult life in Upper Canada, as it was then known (Ontario), and is well known for her writings. Her sister, younger by less than 2 years, Susanna Moodie, emigrated here likewise after her marriage, living next door to Catherine, and did delicate paintings of Canadian flowers to mitigate her cabin fever while "roughing it in the bush" during the cold seasons; she referred to Canada's woodland as "the prison house".

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According to the curator's notes, the Dominion of Canada's first Parliament buildings (erected in the 1850s) were a tour de force of Gothic revival. This was the architectural style of British parliamentary democracy and colonialism. The translation of the National Anthem in 1912 demonstrates the 20th century utopia that Canada was meant to be, despite the lines about felling the forest domes with steadfast hand, which environmentalists of today would frown upon.

Transatlantic settlers were encouraged. The front cover of a “Canada West” immigration atlas published in 1923 by the Ministry of Immigration and Colonization (sic) shows romantically golden curtains of grain and a British, idealised, inaccurate vision of Canada in the background, based on a faith in agriculture, trade and (not so romantic) industry.

The Mounties, needless to say, became the world's heroes, throughout the 20th century and beyond.

Canada’s first peacekeeping mission, encouraged by the Minister of External Affairs, Lester Pearson, was in response to the Suez Crisis. Because Great Britain was deeply involved, critics saw Canada’s role as a betrayal of the “mother country”.

How is Canada seen in the present day? What does Canada stand for, nowadays? Peacekeeping is still one of those things. And according to the blurb at the exhibition "many Canadians" would also mention the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, multiculturalism, diversity, Canada's official bilingualism. In this exhibition I found multiple references to contributions to Canada by first nations people. Who Do We Think We Are? was of course created under the supervision of our present government and could be seen as modern propaganda. We are probably still creating and promulgating stereotypes.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The butterflies

I had a lovely day last Tuesday, which was cold, clear and bright in Ottawa like the rest of this week. In the morning I caught one of the new double-decker busses through town, sitting in the front seat on the top deck as excited as a small child to enjoy my unusual view of the city from above. A grown man on the other front seat was just as enthusiastic.
Wellington St. from the top deck

I got out at Bank and Catherine Streets to walk to the Museum of Nature where I bought an entrance ticket that included the temporary exhibition Butterflies, featuring live ones in a tropical greenhouse on the ground floor at the back of the museum. It was full of children as well as butterflies, the insects settling on their heads and sleeves and hands. I had one of the blue morphos (Morpho menelaus) from the tropics of Latin America land on my finger for a while, until I transferred it to a three year old little girl's hand. When they land you can hardly see the blue side of their wings; the other sides are dramatically patterned in shades of brown, giving the effect of eyes. Entrance to the show was by timed slots, meaning that I had to wait my turn, but once in the butterfly room, I lingered there for a good three quarters of an hour, entranced by the different kinds and colours of butterfly that begin and end their lives there. (They emerge from their chrysalides in the glass walled hatchery next door.) The staff give each visitor a thorough lecture about not treading on the butterflies---not touching their wings, not bringing them back out through the doors either accidentally or on purpose---before allowing you in.

Blue morphos sipping orange juice and showing their "eyes"

While awaiting my entry slot, I also took another look at the Arctic Gallery on the 4th level, which I saw last summer with our young German friend Toni Aschentrup, another well prepared exhibition. On this 2nd visit I had time to listen to the voice-recordings that accompany short video presentations from and about the people who live in the Arctic, very interesting. One of them said that what the Inuit can teach the world is "endurance, patience and respect", a phrase that impressed me so much, I jotted it down immediately.

Floor map of the Arctic
After my museum visit I walked home through town, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

Tuesday was not such a good day for my mother or my sister, though, in Wales. Unbalanced and more than usually bewildered by the onset of a urinary infection (a common ailment for the very elderly), Mum fell in the bathroom at her care home and needed to be checked over in hospital; my sister having to comfort her and calm her down all day.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The big rally

As before (on March 14th, during the school walkouts) I have been glued to the TV channels this afternoon watching the live broadcasts from the USA of the March for our Lives in Washington DC; the young people's determination and sincerity shines through the world. A remarkable number of world-famous people support them, including Malala Yousafzai.

This morning Chris and I took part in a smaller scale, sympathy demonstration in Ottawa, marching from Parliament Hill under a bright blue sky to the park behind the U.S. Embassy, shepherded by some of our local police force. Every generation, including the Raging Grannies, was represented in the demonstration; even a few pet dogs carried placards round their necks.

The Canadians students taking part are probably just as impassioned as their U.S. counterparts, but don't seem as loudly uninhibited. Something to do with the national character, probably. I have not yet heard how many Ottawa people participated, but shall update this post as soon as I find out.

I have felt very involved in all this, because I can imagine so well how the initiators feel. I have been a young person myself. I have been a teacher and parent of teenagers and cannot imagine anything worse than having the children you love perish from senseless violence. We once sent our children to a school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for a whole school year: in those days we didn't consider that they might be shot. They had tornado drills where they were taught to crouch in the windowless corridors while the danger went by, but didn't undergo shootout drills as happens nowadays. When I was a teacher in England and Wales I met a few kids who were mentally disturbed, either from some physical infirmity or trauma, and could not be reached and helped, so deeply were they wrapped up in their misery. The young man who shot the others at the school in Florida reminds me of them. To think that he had easy access to the most lethal of guns is upsetting in the extreme.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Home-made happiness

A cartoon I saw posted on Facebook from the Deutsche Welle site appealed to me.

"Where did you find that? I've been looking for it everywhere!"
"I made it myself."

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I have always been an advocate of homemade happiness. People try hard to grasp that elusive thing. The point is, it can't be grasped by force.
Alle rennen nach dem Glück / Das Glück rennt hinterher
as is sung in Brecht's Dreigroschenoper of 1928. I saw this on stage once. During this scene, all the actors ran round in a circle, with one holding up a placard saying "Glück", either at the front or the back of the line ...

An earlier poet, William Blake, had a brighter idea, when he wrote

He who binds to himself a joy / Does the winged life destroy. / He who kisses the joy as it flies / Lives in eternity's sunrise!

Last year I acquired (or won) from a travelling group of Chinese subversives a scroll of Chinese calligraphy. Shown on the scroll are a depiction of the characters reading
Yiqie jie xiaoshi / Wei dangxia yongcun
meaning: everything fades away; only the transient moment stays forever. This is hanging on our living room wall now.

I believe that the secret is to seek and find happiness in very simple things: a breath of fresh air after a morning spent indoors, the smile heard in an old lady's voice, the warmth of skin on skin, a bunch of flowers from a friend, a familiar song, a technical problem solved, shared laughter after a funny use of words, or the sun shining on snow as when, a couple of days ago, we drove through the pure white fields between Bourget and Rockland after visiting a bathroom showroom in Bourget (this last clause is irrelevant to the subject of my blogpost).

Young children know how to access happiness without trying. You'd only have to observe our Australian grandson sprinkling the hot patio stones with his toy watering can to realise how intense is his appreciation of the momentary bliss he has made for himself.

If only we could all retrieve such an ability. Homemade happiness costs absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Contrasting Doors Open concerts

Re. the DOMS Wednesday lunch hour concert series, I went to one of these concerts last month, on St. Valentine's day and one today (March 7th).

The February one was A Trumpet Romance, with Peter Crouch on the trumpet playing pieces chosen for St. Valentine's, including some romantic compositions of his own (one of these written for his wife, he said), accompanied on the piano by Nick Rodgerson. To start with, the two men played an arrangement of the traditional Irish song, Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms, and a series of similarly sentimental numbers followed, including some "Spanish music of love": Crouch's arrangement of the Adagio from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen. The trumpeter took a break by turning pages for his accompanist, who played a famous "Consolation" by Franz Liszt, solo; this was followed by the arrangement for trumpet and piano of a Saint-Saens aria. They finished with a rendition of Johnny Mercer's Skylark, which Mr. Crouch confessed was his "favourite type of music."

Today's concert was more serious, with the crucifix at the front of the church (i.e. behind the performers) draped in sheer purple for Lent. Southminster has an attractive interior with multicoloured stained glass windows and an embroidered wall-hanging that states: BIDDEN OR UNBIDDEN, GOD IS PRESENT.

The music was by J.S. Bach, the harpsichord played by the Artistic Director of the DOMS concerts, Roland Graham, with Christian Vachon on the violin. They performed three of Bach's first group of six Violin and Harpsichord sonatas: Numbers 1, 3 and 4. Numbers 2, 5 and 6 will be presented at a matching concert later in the year, on June 6th, by the same performers. It is wonderful music of the 1720s, the two instruments in an equal partnership which, so the violinist told today's audience, was an original idea in those days. The six-pack of sonatas was according to the conventions of the Baroque period, though.

Each sonata took about 15 minutes to play. We heard the two minor sonatas first (No. 1 in B minor and No. 4 in C minor) and they finished with the major one (No. 3 in E major). Their concentration on the notes was palpably intense. The C minor sonata was particularly impressive, the violin part in the opening Largo movement resembling the obligato part for Erbarme dich, mein Gott --- the famous aria in Bach's St. Matthew Passion, with its meditative, spiritual qualities.

BWV1017 1 Siciliano excerpt.jpeg

The Allegro movements were taken at a lively pace; the fugal second movement must have been particularly challenging for the harpsichordist. The other slow movement (Adagio) in this sonata was also lovely, with the violin line at a lower pitch than the harpsichordist's right hand, which played an elaborate melody in counterpoint. This minor key movement ended with a major resolution, as is often the case with Bach.

Similarly startling, in Sonata No. 3, the Adagio movement, in a contrasting minor key, seemed to end on an incomplete cadence. The final movement of this sonata bounced along in 9/8 time like a Gigue.

After the concert was over I caught the violinist's attention and told him that I had enjoyed every note of this concert.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

End of the day, in Kingston

We did well this Sunday, first driving north to meet Elva and Laurie at the MacKenzie King Estate in the Gatineau Park to follow the Lauriault Trail, less than 4 kilometers. However, according to the app. on Laurie's smartphone, the hills you climb on this walk are the equivalent of going up flights of stairs in a 35 storey building; you might think twice before attempting that, but you don't mind the ascent under blue skies between the lovely trees, taking it at an easy pace in good company. There was a fresh covering of snow on the slopes, not deep, just enough to cover the icy patches. I'm glad I wore the spikes over my shoes this time, didn't slip once.

Free of ice, the stream was flowing through the valley, with little water falls and clear pools in it. Woodpeckers were knocking at the maple trunks and crows were soaring on the thermals over the south side of the hills. It is starting to feel like spring although there is not a trace of green, nor of buds, or sprouting plants. We must be patient, since it's only the beginning of March. We watched enthusiastic skiers go by as we crossed their trail. In Chelsea, hundreds of cars were parked so that Chris and I had four goes at finding a space. Elva and Laurie, more lucky, saved seats at a table for us in the lively Chelsea Pub, where we ordered large salads, or in Chris' case, fish and chips.

Chris wanted to go flying this afternoon and again (with a day off work) tomorrow --- to Kingston, he said --- so Elva asked, "Why don't you go to Kingston this afternoon, spend the night there, and fly back tomorrow?" We thought: that's a good idea, so we did.

We took off from CYRO at about 3pm at which time the sky was quite overcast and dark with snow clouds to the east, but obviously clearing to the west, as was soon confirmed once we were up above the Ottawa VOR near Aylmer. Our route was obviously going to be mostly in the clear; we only flew through one area of precipitation (sparkling fast moving snowflakes), near Carleton Place. Chris sensibly asked for flight-following from Montreal Centre Air Traffic Control outside the Class C controlled area, which gave us ATC protection until we were only 10 NM away from Kingston. The scenery was as beautiful as I've ever seen it, today, shining bright lakes, the thin ice reflecting the sunlight, and the grassy areas mostly clear of snow, even at this date! Another aircraft from Rockcliffe, C-GMME, was flying the same route at the same time as we; we knew of its whereabouts but only actually saw it once, when we were on the ground at Kingston. During the flight the winds were gusty, but not violently so, and we had a 25 knot tailwind which made our time en route 10-15 minutes faster than usual. We told the taxi driver about this on our ride into town and he made some knowledgeable responses. He'd also had a go at learning to fly.

At home I had quickly found a hotel room online, not spending too long researching the possibilities; we're staying (like Elva and Laurie on their last visit here) at the Sheraton Four Points on King Street. It is comfortable and conveniently placed and we have just been in the swimming pool and hot tub on the 4th floor. The sinking sun lit the city sights (domed roofs, waterfronts, ferry) very nicely this evening. Before it got dark we sauntered up and down the central streets, seeing people skating on the ice rink in the market square behind the city hall, and sat down to share a muffin in Balzac's Coffee Rosterie on Princess Street. After all the exercise and excitement I was still hungry, so we found a satisfactory early supper at Mango, a "pan-Asian" food place, also on Princess Street.

Retracing our footsteps in the dark and then extending the walk a few blocks brought us back to the Sheraton where Chris promptly fell asleep on the bed (this was before we went to the pool).