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, June 29, 2019

Back from down east (in the USA)

At the end of June 2017 we flew PTN to Yarmouth in Nova Scotia, as I recorded with great pleasure in this blog. This summer, again just before Canada Day, we took the plane across the border to the coastland of northeastern Maine, to spend a few days in the Bar Harbor area. As before, we flew through some beautiful but unsettled skies on both the outbound and return journeys. This post describes the home-bound legs.

Our route went clockwise, with changes of heading at the dots
Wednesday morning was a cool, foggy, wet one at Bar Harbor airport (KBHB). We waited till almost midday until the cloud began to lift (it was still raining, dripping in around the air vents) and took off on an IFR flight plan to enter the cloud at 300 ft above ground, on a heading of 040, not emerging above that layer until we'd reached 6000 ft, by which time we were well on our way to the beacon at Augusta. Never saw what Augusta looked like, down there. It is the state capital, not large. Before long, the unbroken whiteness did break up, as promised in the forecast, into cloudlets with blue sky above, and ahead of us was higher, summer cumulus. Our heading changed to a direct line from Augusta to KLEB, our destination, taking us at an altitude of 8000 ft through two or three MOAs (Military Operations Areas) which were inactive, fortunately, like the ones we'd flown through from Sherbrooke to Bangor, on Sunday. This route took us south of Mount Washington, the position of which we could deduce from the pile-up of cumulus above and around it. The mountain ridges beneath our wheels were steep and the summits rocky and bare, with cloud shadows in the forests.

Undercast breaking up

Cumulus building on the horizon, over Mt. Washington


Connecticut R. at White River Junction, from the Vermont side
Landing at Lebanon, KLEB, was easy, after a 15 mile visual, straight-in, final approach. I had informed the Granite Air Center FBO that we'd be arriving at that time (1:45 p.m.) and the girl at the desk had ordered a taxi to pick us up and take us to our hotel. The taxi was waiting as we rolled in; a ramp attendant helped us park and the taxi driver came straight up to our plane to load our very small amount of luggage into her car, thence driving us straight out onto the road. This saved us a good deal of time. She was an interesting person to talk to—taxi drivers nearly always are—she'd been born on a native reservation near Chicago, but liked her home on a hill by the Connecticut River, with human remains in her garden, so she claimed. This too was former tribes' land, with a native graveyard on her property. At Hallowe'en she makes the most of this, scaring the local children with "eyes" lighting up above the graves.

Main Stree, White River Junction
White River Junction, the locality of the hotel I'd chosen, turned out to be worth a visit. It's actually one of several little towns or villages that amalgamated into a town called Hartford, but on the Google map it's labelled West Lebanon. The other part of "Lebanon" is across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire. White River flows into the Connecticut here, and is brown, not white. The "Junction" refers to the two railway lines that have met here since the 1840s. Amtrak trains still carry passengers to New York and then Washington, DC, but that slow journey on The Vermonter takes over 11 hours, if you board at this station early in the morning. It would feel like a pretty long day. A gentleman talked to us at the station's Welcome Center, and told us about the trains and the town, how it has revived considerably since the 1970s, when the unemployment rate was around 40%. Nowadays, unemployment is at a very low percentage because the area has embraced modern technology (solar power, for example) and the arts (with several theatres, a college for cartoonists, galleries); medical and science institutions have been established in this region too. It seemed lively for a small place, buzzing with optimism. The town hall put on free concerts; the outdoor one we overheard went on for two hours! Next door to our hotel, a Turkish-American entrepreneur had established a restaurant, the Tuckerbox, where we ate well, served by a waitress from Kazakhstan, and a gift shop called Little Istanbul.

Hotel Coolidge entrance, with a thunderstorm coming
The Hotel Coolidge, was one of the oldest buildings in White River Junction. It has two square towers and a very long wing where the bedrooms are. We were given a sort of suite on the upper level: two bedrooms, one with a single bed, and a bathroom in the middle. Ideal for a three person family! The furniture, window fittings, hallways were old. The shower and its plumbing was ancient and erratic. We liked the place though; it had character. The hotel's owner-receptionist had a sealed-off area in the high-ceilinged lobby to herself. This morning she gave us a voucher form for our small breakfast at the adjoining coffee shop where the lady who served us was very insistent that it be properly filled in. I could have spent hours in that coffee shop, which had a sort of library in the corner and several issues of the New Yorker to read, but Chris wanted to get going with his flight preparations at the airport. The Granite Air Center was a comfortable spot too, mind, having Adirondack chairs by the big windows where you can sit and watch the action on the airfield, comfortable leather armchairs behind them in the rest of the room. There were historic news clippings and old photos on the walls and 1950s Coca Cola aviation themed adverts in a display cabinet. The FBO building has a completely solar panelled roof, installed a year ago, the output from which offsets a huge amount of carbon emissions, apparently a very successful idea. The receptionist gave me two miniature bottles of maple syrup as a souvenir when I paid for our Avgas.

Crossing the Canadian border (St. Lawrence River) into Ontario

So this morning we left Lebanon for Ottawa at 11 a.m. on a flight lasting 2 hours 15 minutes, via the RUCKY waypoint and the Burlington (BTV) VOR, before which we overflew Mount Ellen (4083 ft) and other peaks of the White Mountains. Cloud formation and development along our route seemed to be associated with the hills and lakes, in particular at the western edge of Lake Champlain where they grew larger and bumpier, gloriously white and bulbous from a distance, but with dark grey undersides and centres when you are in amongst them. Pilots of the large commercial planes were reporting "light chop at all levels" according to one of the controllers. We had filed to "climb and maintain 8000" but when I started complaining about the turbulence in the bubbly areas, Chris requested a descent to 6000' where we could just about stay below the flatter cloud bases. No thunderstorms in our vicinity earlier today, although as I write this in the evening, with rain falling, I can hear the rumbles of local storms. At lunchtime, there was obviously some "weather" over the Mt. Tremblant area in the distance beyond our right wing.
Clouds to the west of L. Champlain

Over the Massina VOR near the border, as we were handed over to Montreal Centre by the Boston Centre air traffic controllers, we changed our heading again, direct to Rockcliffe. The lower clearer air was also turbulent on that leg, for some reason, but we were congratulating ourselves on a most successful and enjoyable trip as we homed in to Rockcliffe. We made a dramatic arrival though. At the last moment, after touching down, we had a sudden flat tyre (or tire) and went bumpety-bump till PTN stopped in the middle of the active runway, necessitating an immediate closure of that runway (other pilots having to continue their overhead circuits for 10 more minutes) and Rockcliffe staff hastening across the field to make sure we weren't in too much trouble. We weren't. Chris had kept the plane well under control and had brought it to a stop at the edge of the grass. The inner tube had simply worn out. It was replaced by Pat and his team in the hangar straight away. Chris was shown the hole.

Flat tyre on landing!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Orkidstra's 12th End-Of-Year concert

They are getting better and better; this is a phenomenal success story, chapters of which I have mentioned from time to time in this blog.

Everyone together for the final item in the concert.
I believe I went to the first End-Of-Year concert put on by Ottawa's Orkidstra in 2007. I remember feeling very moved on that occasion by the effort the children and had made to put on a concert at all. They were for the most part very young. The stage management in those early days was not good; it took ages to get the children all lined up in the right places for each part of their performance. This year's concert was very different, despite the far greater number of people involved, the movements on and off stage well rehearsed and slickly executed, with unobtrusive but competent help from the adults in charge. From a small group of about 40 youngsters learning to play donated instruments with the help of volunteers, this El Sistema inspired initiative has mushroomed into a city-wide movement now serving about 500 children from low-income families. The organisers are about to open a third "hub" for the work they do.

I wish I could describe the punch the young musicians put into their performances. It is electrifying.

Senior orchestra playing 'Pirates of the Caribbean'

Chris has just interrupted me to tell me that "Ottawa has a new slogan: Canada In One City." A teenage orchestra member yesterday took the microphone at one point and told us that the whole city helps to support this "Family" of theirs, so that slogan is apt.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Free concerts

If you choose carefully and take advantage of good luck, Ottawa can provide cultural experiences that cost very little. I went to two free concerts last week.

The first one (June 5th) was a Wednesday noon concert, an hour and a half long, in the eclectic Doors Open for Music noon hour series at Southminster United Church near Lansdowne Park. This was maybe the best DOMS concert I have ever attended there, and I've been in their audiences for several years. They say it's free but you are encouraged to make a "free will offering" to help the musicians and organisers, so it's best not to bring a completely empty purse. This time the musicians were a cellist and pianist, the latter (Michel-Alexandre Broekaert of Montreal) a former university pal of Roland Graham, the artistic director. The girl, playing the cello, was Noémie Raymond-Friset, also of Montreal. The name of the team is Duo Cavatine. The pianist came in carrying a spare instrument for Noémie, saying, "Don't worry, you won't hear me on the cello today."

She began by playing her Baroque cello, with authentic gut strings, but she told us they were wrapped with metal for more resonance, which was cheating, really. The cello had no spike so she had to hold it between her knees with a masterful grip. She used a Baroque bow, too, wider than the modern bow and held further up the stick than at the frog. The bow appeared slightly convex. I must say the instrument played thus made a beautiful sound. She performed the 5th Cello Suite in C minor by J S Bach which is less frequently heard than some of his other suites (in April I'd heard Suite No. 3 performed on the viola, not yet described in this blog). The movements are the same in all the Suites: Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gavottes 1 and 2, and a Gigue, in that order. I always look forward to the Sarabande and this one didn't disappoint, a very slow and simple piece, sad but serene. Here is a recording of Yo-Yo Ma playing it:


The last two movements were executed with nice variations in the dynamics as well as the melody lines.

This girl was particularly good at the attack when she began to play each section or each variation on a theme and this was noticeable in the rest of the concert too. The middle item on the programme was Beethoven's Sonata No. 2 in G minor, composed when he was young, and according to the performers, "full of humour and light," before his life became tragic. The Adagio opening was melodic, like something by Schubert, and then it changed to "allegro molto piu tosto presto" (= soon speeding up a lot more?) in the first movement, with a rondo to follow in the second. No more movements. Apparently this was one of the first sonatas where the two instruments were given equal prominence.

Alfred Schnittke
The last piece was one of the cellist's favourite works: the Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 by Alfred Schnittke, a German Jew who lived in Russia in the 20th century, so had a tough life. It had been dedicated to a woman. Schnittke's wife was a pianist. There was no pause between the movements, but the difference between Largo, Presto and Largo was fairly obvious. The middle section was "angry" music.

For Thursday evening, I had a ticket to a symphony orchestra concert at the NAC, with a seat on the 3rd row, which I had acquired for free by participating in the annual Musical Lunch arranged by the CFUW. (This is where I heard the viola performance mentioned above.) Mary Partington, who sees to the musical component of that lunch, liaises with the NAC who contribute by helping her to find a young performer and giving vouchers for free NAC concert tickets to everyone who comes along. We don't get a choice of concert, mind, and this year's offering was not to everyone's taste (although I personally appreciate this sort of challenge): from the Vanguard Series of the NAC Orchestra's season: Leila Josefowicz playing her violin in a very modern violin concerto, with another highly energetic young woman conducting, Joana Carneiro of Portugal. The featured violin concerto was the last of four items on the programme and was composed by Thomas Adès, British, written in 2005. It was an exciting piece.

The other three items were also British and also exciting. "Rewind" by Anna Clyne, that started the concert, only lasted 6 minutes; it began with glissandi and a lot of bangs.


"Secret Psalm" (1990) by Oliver Knussen that began the second half of the concert, also lasted 6 minutes, a seemingly very accomplished "meditation" based on something romantic that I failed to identify.


The other item was a fascinating but puzzling longer piece of music (half an hour long) by the Scottish composer James MacMillan, that was meant to represent the "Woman Of The Apocalypse" from Revelation in the Bible, but I couldn't follow the references so easily. I appreciated the title of the section called "The Great Battle", very noisy, especially the brass. I may have been sitting rather too close to the front for this. There was an ethereal moment in the music where the leading string players became an "ecstatic"--- as it says in the programme notes --- string quartet, before the "violent surging" by the rest of the orchestra resumed. Its "relentless, pounding conclusion" generated enthusiastic applause.

Tomorrow I'll be attending a free concert of a different sort, when I attend the end of year performance by the Orkidstra's youngsters. Am greatly looking forward to that one. Again, donations are expected from the audience!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Experiencing Norway's National Day

Mostly written on the 17th of May, Syttende Mai, Norway's Constitution Day, in Oslo.

We are in Oslo at a fortunate moment, without having planned it. When we arrived yesterday evening (three hours late on the train from Arvika, but that is another story) we didn't know that today was going to be Norway's Constitution Day. We found out about it before going to bed, having happened to see a notice in the window of the (closed) tourist information office at the station. I noted that it would involve a procession of children through the city to the Royal Palace where the King would wave at them from his balcony, but I never imagined the scale of this parade.

It involves something like 100,000 people, most of whom arrive in red busses, carefully organised and lined up to pick them up in groups again when they need to leave. The organisation is impressive!

I'd been apprehensive about the day because, being small, I find crowds claustrophobic or intimidating sometimes, especially when they're rowdy, and I have a painful back just now from too much physical exertion in Karlstad, Sweden, so thought the standing and watching might get overwhelming, but I needn't have worried. As soon as we came downstairs to the door of our hotel this morning, we saw the people and the bands of children arriving, making their way to the muster point for the start of the celebration. Chris and I perched on bar stools nicely positioned by the coffee shop window where we had our breakfast to watch. Two ladies wearing their provincial costumes came in, looking proud and happy to be in Oslo, and allowed me to take a photo of them, there and then.

We followed the costumed people for a few blocks, since they were all heading in the same direction, and found a vantage point for what appeared to be the start of the parade. It may have been only one wing of the parade, for we later saw that streams of people, mostly children, were merging and converging on the roads that led to the Royal Palace. This was where the King and his family would come out and wave to them. What heartened me most about seeing these thousands of people go by was how diverse they were. Admittedly the majority were blond and blue-eyed, many of the girls wearing plaits in their hair, but there were many newcomers to Sweden among them, obviously, the whole spectrum of skin colours and racial types, handicapped children too, everyone cheerful, everyone feeling extremely patriotic today. It gave an impression similar to the impression we get on Canada Day, although the difference here was that most participants in the celebrations were very smartly dressed, the men and boys wearing jackets and ties. Some men wore hats too. Nearly every woman in Oslo wore her long national dress, adorned with a silver belt or necklace, carrying an embroidered purse. Some had matching jackets or capes.








Another remarkable thing about the children was the number of competent musicians among them: flute, clarinet, bugle, drum players all keeping time and playing in tune, even the little ones. Weeks of practice must have gone into this.

What impressed us as much as the disciplined children was the organisation of the parade. There seemed to be no muddle in the placement of these tens of thousands. Busses were mustered to pick them up at a certain time, in a certain order, at the bottom of the hill by the harbour. Sections of the town had been fenced off to accommodate the busses and the patiently waiting children. I saw no fractious behaviour, although it must have been such a long morning for them. I don't know what the children got to eat; we didn't see them eating. Extraneous people (us, for instance) were kept well away from the school parties.

Chris and I were lucky to find the last seats available at the fish market restaurant that day and had a meal of freshly caught haddock, with chips. (The following day we saw the boats bringing in and selling the fish.) Some National Day gatherings were taking place on board boats in the harbour. After lunch we walked a little further: into the Royal Palace part of the city where we found that we could go into the palace park, a pleasant place to recover from the excitement and watch families greet one another and play on the grass.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Changing trains in Arvika





We'd had a change of room at the Good Morning Hotel in Karlstad, due to resurfacing operations just below our original room at bedtime. It was actually quite interesting to watch the modern construction vehicles, the scraper truck equipped with a cockpit-like cabin including two computer screens and many switches and levers. But noisy, even in the quieter room at the back of the building, and we could smell the tar.

On the 16th of May, we were going to take an after breakfast train from Karlstad to Arvika, spend a couple of hours looking round this last of the Swedish towns on our itinerary and then catch the lunch hour express from there to Oslo across the border, arriving mid-afternoon. It promised to be a sunny day.

The first part of the day went according to plan, although I limped to the station with my back hurting, leaning on my suitcase.

Edane, view from the station
We had lovely views on the ride, on a train that stopped by blue, sparkling lakes, at Edane for example, before we reached Arvika. The Värmland province is Sweden's cottage country, doubtless a magnet to wealthy Stockholmers when the summer season starts. The scenery wasn't as flat as it had been further east, and Arvika is built on a hill overlooking a fairly large lake, Sweden's only inland fjord. On our arrival, we crossed the tracks and went to sit beside the lake first, I not being up to much walking. Then on the other side of the tracks across the station square we found a first rate Espresso House where we bought a light lunch. The little town was peaceful on that day. It's the kind of town where arts and music festivals take place. There's a music college here. Pedestrian streets of course, with trees. One of the older buildings had an eye-catching mural.

Espresso House, Arvika

Kommunhuset, Arvika


Returning to the station for our connecting train coming in from Stockholm we were at first dismayed to discover it was delayed (labelled fel tåg = faulty train ... fel means error, failure, etc.) by a couple of hours. In case we'd misunderstood the announcement on the board, I looked for an information office where we could make sure, only finding an AVIS car rental desk, but that was good enough. The AVIS lady was able to look up the train's status and confirmed the delay. I asked if there was somewhere where we could leave our luggage—she told us to go to the taxi office at the other side of the building, where for a fee they took care of it. Everyone speaks English, no problem.

Trefaldighetskyrkan, outside
Panel on the pulpit
So now we had more time to explore Arvika, not a great disappointment. Maybe it would have been better for me to sit still and rest my back, but curiosity got the better of me. I made it up the hill to the yellow walled school (Solbergagymnasiet) and the Trefaldighetskyrkan (built 1911), the Trinity Church: a pretty, whitewashed one with a spire. Inside, the National Romantic style of its artwork was worth seeing. Chris stayed on a bench outside in the blazing sun, getting sunburnt and listening to the birds, while I discovered the domed altar, surrounded with frescoes painted by an artist called Björn Ahlgrensson. Paintings were on the sides of the pulpit too, telling mysterious, ecumenical, didactic tales.

Trefaldighetskyrkan, inside


Back to the station, via another very attractive tea and coffee place, to see if the Oslo train announcement had altered. In fact the delay had lengthened, so we wandered back to the city park (Stadsparken) we'd found at the bottom of the hill, with its large pond and fountain, a miniature "train" going round it. We sat on a bench in the shade for ages, watching a pair of Arctic terns seemingly enjoying their aerobatics, screeching and plunging beak first into the water, dive-bombing the fish.

Stadsparken, Arvika
At last the train arrived. A young woman with her mother, a lap dog and a baby had put bags on our reserved seats so, not wanting to disturb her, we sat in empty, backward facing ones across the aisle. The baby behaved very well. On this two hour stretch of the journey the windows were grubby, so I took no photos but still appreciated the views of hilly fields and forests and read my book (The Bone People, about peculiar New Zealanders). We went through tunnels crossed the border with absolutely no hint of formality other than a "Velkommen til Norge!" announcement over the speakers, no passport check, and then we were following an impressively wide river, the Glomma, round its bends to the southwest. Logs used to be floated down it, as on the Canadian rivers. We reached Oslo three hours late.