Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Centennial of the Great War, August 1914-2014

Today on 1 August 1914 the Great War started for Canada, we entered the war on the side of Britain and the Empire. Canada sent 10% of its population to war, some 620,000 men, poorly equipped and trained. At the end of the war some 61,000 Canadian soldier will be dead and another 18,000 will be missing never to be found buried in the mud of the Western Front.

Rightly so the Canadian people would ask ''For What ?'' a question the Conservative government of Sir Robert Borden had no answer.

Look at this map of Europe in August 1918 and note how the old Continent looked then. Four great Empires would collapse, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman Turk. Britain despite the armistice in November 1918 very nearly collapsed. This war would change the world and Canada.








In 1919 Europe would see new countries emerge which did not exist previously, created from nationalistic grievances. The Paris Conference would create many new problems and the final Treaty of Versailles will plant the seeds for a new war even more devastating some 20 years later.


Canada would emerge as a great power and would become an independent country, leading to renewed prosperity until the great economic depression of 1929.
Who knew that August one hundred years ago what was about to happen to the old order.

Europe today looks again very different since 1989 and the fall of the Iron Curtain and Communism.




Three Summers ago

We have now been living in Ottawa for 3 years, we lived here off and on since 1976, but with my postings there were long periods when I was away from the City.

Our return after many years abroad was not easy on many levels. Strange to say but there was culture shock when we returned and also a long period of adaptation. It is difficult to explain to anyone who has not lived abroad, physically out of Canada. Re-entering Canadian life can be very difficult, you forget so many things about life here, the attitudes, culture and the tempo of life in general. We had to re-learn a lot of things, life in Canadian Society has its peculiarities.

Going from a small office where you have real responsibilities to a giant one at HQ where you have no responsibilities and dozens of managers who are more of less incompetent is an adjustment. The first year back at HQ was difficult, nothing made sense and it felt like working with a bunch of chickens running around whose head had been cut off. More uncertainty, more lies and more hypocrisy about where we were going as a Government. Our Minister Jason Kenny could not bring himself to saying Good Morning to people, it was beyond his capacity, this is how much he loathe his own employees. Senior Management were shitting their pants so afraid they were for their jobs and all hoping they could retire before things got too ugly or out of hand. I certainly did not recognize HQ after a 7 year absence, too much had changed for the worst unfortunately. To many 20 something running around pretending they knew it all and had seen it all, they had a University diploma don't you know. To many experienced hands retiring or being pushed out because they were over 55. What is the point of staying anywhere if you are no longer wanted. Better to leave and forget the rest, and this is what I did, I can honestly say now that I have no contact with my former employer and frankly I do not miss any part of it.

We were lucky that we found a very nice apartment immediately, with good neighbours and were able to settle well in a pleasant surrounding. We also had our friends in Ottawa, they must have found us a little strange with our comparisons. We had to reason with ourselves and admit that there was no comparisons to be made and just stop looking at things in an odd fashion as if we could wake up from a bad dream. It is at this time that I started to remember old colleagues who had spent 20 or more years living abroad and never returning to Ottawa. When they finally returned near the end of their careers many simply could not live in Ottawa the cultural shock was too great.

Even today many colleagues retire elsewhere in Canada or abroad. We chose to retire to Ottawa for the time being.


I had the good fortune of having the presence of mind to start thinking about two years ago before my retirement of what I wanted to do once retired. I do not think I could have simply stayed at home and do a little reading and walk the dogs. Luckily I fell into a very good opportunity and it has worked out very well for me at the museums.

I also made a trip back to Rome in March of 2012 and this was a very good trip and was enormously helpful in focusing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It has not always been easy to go forward in the last three years but now I feel that we are settling in Ottawa and I have lots of interests in what is going on in the City and in the volunteer activities I am involved with.

Rome and Italy will always be with us and as we discovered anytime we go back and we have returned many times, it is like home. We are building a new life here and a more permanent one.
Renewing our lease for another 2 years also adds permanence and this is helpful to give us a feeling of belonging.



This painting by Giovanni Paolo Pannini of an art dealer's emporium in many ways reminds me of what I am now doing as a docent and how much I enjoy it and all the other activities connected to it.



  

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Some photos around Ottawa

In 2017 Canada will celebrate it's 150 Anniversary as a unified country, this is when the 4 original Provinces ( Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) united to create the Federal Government in Ottawa.

So you can imagine everything that can be re-built, renovated, improved is being done right now and will be until 2018. The City Ottawa is under an impossible to drive around program of re-building the sewer system on all major roads, re-surfacing is taking place also, a new light train system is being built. Then major improvements and new buildings are springing up everywhere. The Queensway highway 417 which crosses the city from East to West is also being enlarged with new overpass and more lanes.  In the centre of the City the Parliament precinct is completely being re-built at a cost of well over 3.5 Billion dollars, politicians want the best for themselves but not for you. There are barricades everywhere, not to mention new monuments to pet projects of our controversial and infamous Prime Minister Stephen Harper, hopefully he will be gone next year and polls indicate that there will be a totally new administration in town in 2015.

So in other words skip Ottawa until 2017 when most of this construction will be over with. Ottawa is worth visiting when there is no construction. However in the summer what is very nice around the city is the display of flowers.

One of the original Trafalgar Square (London) fountain from 1843 given to the National Gallery of Canada in 1955 and installed in Confederation Park in 1975.

 Flowers on Elgin street in front of the National Arts Centre


Flowers on Sparks Street 

Sparks Street is the oldest pedestrian mall in Canada. Unfortunately deserted after 5pm and on weekends. It is an office tower area with very few shops and a lot of construction right now in the Parliament Precinct area. 


Queen Street, the Light Train tunnel is 30 meters underneath but the real story here is the old Cemetery and the hundred or so graves discovered in this trench. About 110 years ago the cemetery was moved from this area but those who could not afford to move their dead relatives or the dead who had no one to claim them were simply paved over. Now the City has moved everyone out and is looking for relatives who might want to claim those unfortunates. This is going to be very difficult to see the least. They probably will simply end up in a communal grave in one of the Cemeteries in the City.



The West Block of Parliament under wraps, no it is not an art installation by Christo et Jeanne-Claude. No it is part of the massive renovation project of $3.5 Billion dollars so far to modernize these buildings built around 1860. This is only phase one, once this project is completed in 2017 the central block will be closed and renovated. Both the House of Commons and the Senate will move out. The House will sit in the Courtyard of the West Block in a exact replica of the House and the Senate will sit in the old Train Station for a period of a few years. The whole project is to be completed by 2027. The final cost is a closely guarded secret.

 The Bank of Montreal branch on Sparks street at O'Connor across the street from Parliament
is to become the new Party Central for Parliament. This spectacular building in pure Art Deco was built in 1930, it is all black and white marble inside and the floor also in marble is made to look like waves from sea to shining sea. It is now under renovation some $210 million dollars has been spent modifying the building, I do hope they have not ruined it in the process. Mind you the public will never know since once it is completed it will be off limits to mere mortals.

Details of the wrought iron in the windows re-silvered and re-gilded.

Sparks Street in Ottawa has been transformed in the last 50 years from a vibrant pedestrian mall with shops to a dead zone. Once the Parliamentary precinct work is completed it will become part of Official Ottawa and off limits to citizens, occupied mostly by Parliamentarians and their staff when they are in town Monday to Thursday.

However another chain is opening for beer drinkers, Ottawa is a beer town it is simply a question of dollars and cents, you can buy a lot more beer than wine.

In the old abandoned Woolworth's and Zeller's store Bier Markt is opening a giant restaurant and beer garden. You have to wonder how they will succeed given that they depend on the lunch crowd. No one around after 5PM and no one on weekends.

Another heritage building circa 1890, the old Yesterday's which use to be Sherry's restaurant, the food was rather pedestrian to go with the mall, it finally closed. It is being renovated and Dunn's smoke meat house is opening to go with the Beer hall across the street.

Grant House on Elgin Street, for years this old patrician house built in 1873 was a famous roast beef restaurant, then it closed. The house sat empty for a few years and now it has been restored and Chef Beckta is opening a million dollar restaurant and wine cellar which given his reputation would be a premier restaurant in the Capital. The house has been incorporated into the new Canada Council building.

Next to Grant House is the First Baptist Church c. 1875.

The Old Teacher's College on Elgin street, c.1870 now the Office of the Mayor of Ottawa.











Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Eleonara di Capena or Nora for her friends.

We had a few days ago our little story about our Nicky and now it is Nora's turn, our eternal little hunter. She cannot help it her mother was a National Hunting Champion in Italy and she has all those instincts. The lady in Capena who owned the kennel had a room full of trophies and ribbons to her champion dogs and she did offer to train Nora for hunting but we declined given that we lived in the Città and move to another City. Though in the city there are cats, squirrels and wild rabbits, badgers too. We live by the Rideau Canal and there is a lot of wildlife despite being in the centre of the city.

Nora is also an excellent guard dog, she has a very keen sense of hearing and smell, nothing escapes her. We are constantly surprised by the fact that she can hear the elevator door open some 20 meters from our front door or knows when someone who is downstairs, that is 4 floors down is coming up, she is able to differentiate the phone ring tones, though we cannot perceive with our human ear the subtle differences.

She is also very talkative and modulates her voice to attract our attention, every sound means something different and we have become accustomed to it all, though we are not always sure what she means. Her hunting howl makes her sound like the Hounds of the Baskerville and can wake up the whole neighbourhood, it is a booming howl for such a little dog it is surprising.
Dachshunds have that capacity which make them sound ferocious.

And like all Dachshunds she likes to hide and burrow, we often loose her in the apartment, though she always knows where we are at all times. Unlike Nicky she does not like to lie in the sunshine as much as he does, she gets too hot and moves off to a shady corner. She is also not shy about putting him in his place if he annoys her. He is often scared of her because she bosses him without mercy.
She is a week older than him maybe that is why.

Her favourite sofa in the house, she is in this picture but you cannot see her though she is looking at the camera, hiding behind the small cushion. The sofa is growling you say, look closer and you will see her. 



There she is wedging herself between cushions and falling asleep, she loves doing that, especially at night. If we let her she would probably sleep there all night.


the one nice thing about Nora is that she loves everybody and is quite affectionate unless you are a squirrel then you are dead meat.







  

Thursday, 24 July 2014

It could happen to any of us.

This week is truly full of dreadful news and the recent downing of the Malaysian Airways jet MH 17 at the Eastern border of Ukraine and Russia by Pro-Russian militia with a BUK missile is an horrendous crime against humanity, 298 people died. One can only hope that they felt nothing and that their death was quick and painless.

The spectacle of the Pro-Russian militia and Russian agents looting the personal belongings of the dead is not only revolting but shows the level of barbarity of those so called Pro-Russian militias and the Russian government. As an ex-Foreign Service Officer I knew from my days in the service during the Cold War that the Soviets (Russians) had absolutely no scruples and no morals whatsoever. After all they supported Nazi Germany and had a secret pact to destroy Eastern Europe and its population. Then in 1941 Soviet Russia decides to switch sides and join the Allies because it was risking annihilation at the hands of Nazi Germany. So you can see that political calculation and hedging their bets is an old Russian way of doing business. They invoke the Raison d'Etat, you do what you have to do and morals or scruples do not enter into it. Something politicians are loath to admit to the electorate in Western Countries.

When MH17 was shot down, someone asked me if I thought there would be consequences or that President Putin would be made to pay. I answered that little if anything will be done, there will be no reprisal. There will be lots of angry words but not much else, just enough to occupy the Media and distract the public.

This is what has happened so far, France is still selling to Russia two war ships a deal worth 1.5 billion Euros, President Hollande of France said he did not see any reason to cancel the sale.
Germany is thinking about its gas supplies it receives from Russia and has no other source of heat for the coming winter, not to mention the important trade ties, despite German sympathies for the victims there is a limit to what they are willing to endure.

Britain has made lots of angry pronouncements but Russian money is still flooding the Financial markets in the City, where would the City be without all the oligarchs and their money?

Italy is against sanctions because it would damage its luxury goods market to Russia and given its fragile economy Italy needs all the export sales it can get.  As for The Netherlands who had the most dead in this tragedy, it has been strangely quiet.

Everyone in the EU is thinking Trade and Economics, do not jeopardize the economics and Putin knows that, he knows all too well that he is holding the strong cards. Even the USA is very reluctant to do anything because it does not want to be caught in a situation where Russia could manoeuvre between it and a divided Europe.  Also no one wants to go to war, not over Ukraine and not over a down passenger airliner, it is not worth it, too much is at stake in terms of trade, oil and gas and the politicians know it. But what does it say to Ukrainians about the EU? Not much really, Ukraine you are on your own.

So we have the public message of Western politicians to the people carefully crafted by the Spin experts and then we have the reality of trade and economics. Because if a Western politician in France, Germany, UK, Italy or USA took serious steps to sanctions and punish Russia political consequences would follow. For all of our wringing of hands and our words of sorrow over the dead civilians, none of us would like to suffer the consequences of a Russian angry response and yes Russia can sell its oil and gas elsewhere think China who has an unquenchable thirst in terms of energy demands.  This is where human nature comes in, the me first attitude despite the atrocious incidents.

Canada in all this, well PM Harper has sounded sharp and hostile against Russia. We are fairly insulated from any possible retaliation from Russia except for our Northern Border which is with Russia, unfortunately Canadians do not look at that border, no one thinks that the Russian would dare claim the Arctic. Surely the Americans would come and defend us, think again Canada, the USA will do nothing if it is not in their interests, we are very likely to find ourselves alone in having to deal with Russia. We have no Navy and no Armed Forces to defend the Arctic Border, so it is wide open for the taking by Russia or whoever wants to take it. Again short-sighted policies by the Harper Government despite all the talk.

So the tragedy of MH17 could happen to any one of us and do not count on your government to help you out, other priorities will take precedent over your life, that is what is call ''Real Politik''.

In the meantime, do you remember that Syria is gripped by a vicious Civil War, Gaza is being bombarded by the Israeli Army, Iraq is unstable and a violent Jihadist group is now emerging. Afghanistan is still no further ahead and the Taliban is a dangerous force. How about those 200 girls kidnapped a few months ago by Boko Aram, no more news about them. The Media has lost interests in those stories. The world goes on and on.










Saturday, 19 July 2014

A dog's life

Well for Nicky and Nora it's a tough life I am sure Nicky has plenty to complain about.
Here is his story:

Me and Nora at birth we are about one week old here in this photo.

Here I am in Canada of all places, I was born in Capena, Lazio just outside of la Città Aeterna, my parents where Italian-Hungarian and my dad a National Champion Show dog. So I thought my life would be spent in shows around Italy with lots of Paparazzi. One day out of the blue, when I was 6 weeks old, I was kidnapped and left my relatives and the farm. We, Nora and I, she is not my sister by the way. Her story is a little different, I knew her relatives but they are hunters, her mom was a Champion Wild Boar Hunting dog.

La famiglia mia a Capena 

Anyway I digress, so we arrived in Rome, did I tell you I cried and cried in the car all the way to Rome.  Apparently one of them, the one with the beard wanted to throw me out of the window. Luckily the other one told him not too, he was more understanding of my sensitive nature.
We had this rather nice place to live on Via Dei Villini, a large place with a very nice garden, the food was good and we had nothing to complain about. It was not the farm with all our families but hey we were getting lots of attention and cuddles and toys and blankets we would chew, we also chewed on furniture and concrete. We have good teeth.


Via Dei Villini 26, Rome

Our new home in Rome, come in kids.


We were well looked after and our Vet understood dachshunds since he had 8 of them at his home.
Then one day, we are taken to the airport, I was very upset and made a point of letting everyone know, I barked as loud as I could, people were afraid but alas to no avail, we left our beloved Italy for Ottawa. It is not Rome I can tell you that much. I was only 2 years old when this happened but I still remember it. The new place in Ottawa was also nice and very green by a lovely canal, that does not matter much to me because I am not much of a walker unless it is a dog walk with lots of paparazzi and people giving me biscuit. Nora on the other hand loves it, so much to hunt she says and to sniff out. She goes for long walks along the Rideau Canal and comes back exhausted but happy. Oh well if she likes it who am I to comment.

Now my days are simple, I usually wake up around 06:30 in the morning, if there is sunlight well then maybe earlier.  I love sunlight, I give one sharp and loud bark to wake up the servants, they are very lazy and I often have to give one to two more loud barks to wake them up, Canadians are so lazy its terrible. You would never see that in Italy I assure you. So one of them will prepare my breakfast and Nora's breakfast too. She is very quiet in the morning so I do all the barking.

Sun is so nice in the morning after breakfast.

After our breakfast we go out for a short walk, just so I can see what is going on out there and what kind of weather we are having. The winters in Ottawa are terrible and I hate them, we have to put coats on and boots otherwise we freeze our paws. I have pleaded time and again to return to Italy for the Winter months, to no avail, they don't listen these people.



Then I come back in and will go and sit in the sunshine for a morning snooze, love the sunshine and could spend my whole day just lying there. We have many more walks in the day time and each time I make a point of having a little snooze.

Yes my days are quiet unless the cleaning lady comes in and I make a point of letting her know I am here and to leave me alone, not to make noise and not interfere with my routine but they do, it is so unfair.

Now I know that Nora has gone to the Vet lately for her annual physical and teeth cleaning.
I also went to the Vet and declared to be in perfect health. I am only 5 years old now. But now I hear that next week I am going back to the dentist for my teeth cleaning. What a strange idea they have here. Do I really have to go? No one asked me what I thought about it.
So you can imagine how stressful all this is going to be. Why do they always have to disturb my routine.

You can see and appreciate that I have a difficult life in exile here in Canada, thank God for the biscuits and the celery, carrots, the nice cheese and other goodies I get from time to time.









Changing religious art and Protestant Reformation

I was at the grocery store when turning a corner I came face to face with an ex-colleague I had not seen in a long time and we started talking about Italy and Rome and exchanging news. When I got home I started to think about how religious art in Italy started to change after the Council of Trent  (1545-1563) or Trento in the South Tyrol or Alto-Adige in Northern Italy which has a lovely castle and produces excellent wines. I had also seen an Italian site where there was talk about restoration of some of the works of Michelangelo (1475-1564), mostly of the marble statue of Christ in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, the only Gothic church of Rome built over the temple of the goddess Minerva (Wisdom). The church is behind and next to the Pantheon of Rome and is famous for being the site of the trial of Galileo in 1633.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome


Statue of Christ by Michelangelo, altered with a bronze loincloth by the Dominicans in 1600. 

Funny how ideas sometimes collide with each other based on conversations and reminiscing of things we saw or heard of and trigger memories. We were in Trento a few years ago on our way to Innsbruck and Salzburg for the music Festival at Pentecost. We visited the castle and the town and saw some wonderful art work and of course heard about the famous Council called to answer the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation starts around 1517 and lasts as a movement until 1562. Martin Luther (1483-1546) who is a Catholic becomes a critic of the Pope, he sees the role of Pontifex becoming a substitute for God on Earth and Luther believes that the Papacy has become very corrupt. He becomes the head of the Reformation movement, there are others like John Calvin but Luther is the better known.

The Reformation and the opposition movement to Papal authority was nothing new. Originally the Pontifex of the Official Roman Religion which protected with its pantheon of Gods, Rome and its Empire was the first man in Rome, Julius Caesar was P.M. and then his Nephew Augustus. The Emperor assumed the role of Pontifex Maximus, when Constantine in the 4th Century made Christianity the new Official Religion of the Empire, not without major controversy and revolt amongst Romans, he named a bishop for Rome but he kept for himself the central role of Pontifex.

When Constantine moved the Capital to the new city of Constantinople
he named a bishop there also. But the bickering started immediately between the 2 bishops of the two Imperial cities. When Constantine died, the Bishop of Rome grabbed the title of Pontifex and claimed to be the successor of the Roman Emperor producing a fraudulent last will and testament to back up his claim. This and many other events led to the great schism between Rome and Constantinople a few centuries later.

When the Papacy returned to Rome from its long exile in Avignon, France around 1376 the Pope found the city devastated by centuries of neglect, the once great capital of the world was nothing more than a small village of about 10,000 people. The city had one million resident until 350 AD.

The old St-Peter's Basilica built in 318 AD and destroyed in 1460 to make way for the current basilica

The original Saint Peter Basilica which had been built by Emperor Constantine was in very poor shape and the whole structure was no longer safe to use. It was Pope Nicholas V, a humanist and a man of the Renaissance who started to rebuilt Rome the moment he became Pope in 1447.  Restoring the Aqueducts which could once again bring clean fresh water to the City, this can be seen today in the Fountain of Trevi fed by the Aqua Virgo. He also paved the main roads and started to re-build St-Peter Basilica. He declared 1450 a Jubilee Year and started on his great construction projects. He needed construction material and using 2522 cart loads of stone from the ancient Coliseum he used them as building material, he also turned the Roman Forum into a quarry, most of the original antique buildings had survived almost intact.

Facade of St-Peter's basilica today 

For 100 years every Pope worked on re-building the basilica we see today. This meant that a lot of money was needed and this is where the trouble started, many architects and artists and labourers worked year after year on this giant project. Popes needed to be creative to find new sources of revenues and one had the idea of selling indulgences and Holy relics of Saints to make a quick profit,
of course it was all for a good cause but that is a sure way to the road to Hell.

Martin Luther like many Europeans including Princes, Kings and Emperors were a little fed-up with the over the top ways of Bishops and Popes alike there was a lot of criticism and if it got to loud, Popes could excommunicate and even have critics put to death for heresy. Martin Luther studied closely the Bible and event translated it into German, a first, so that ordinary folk could understand the reading of the texts.

Luther challenged directly the authority of the Pontiff to collect taxes and sell indulgences which allowed the buyer a fast track to Paradise. Luther pointed out that this was nonsense since the Bible made no mention of any of this.

Furthermore Luther got the protection of the King of Saxony and was kept out of reach of the Papal agents and Police. Unable to shut him up, the Pope saw him as a dangerous enemy undermining his authority. The influence of Martin Luther extended all over Europe and the Reformation movement had real traction, Catholic churches were converted into new Protestant churches in many Kingdoms.

Luther rejected the worship of Saints and its calendar, the marketing and selling of Holy relics, he also challenged the Marian cult which had taken a great deal of importance in the Catholic Church.

Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus, by Gerard David 1490.

As a reply the Papacy called the Council of Trent to reclaim its authority and rebuke the Reformation.
In so doing it ordered that all religious art, there really was not much secular art anyway, should follow new guidelines in the representation of the Divine. Per example the Virgin Mary as Mother of Christ could no longer be represented as an ordinary mother with her child, breastfeeding images were common in the early part of the Renaissance. The Council of Trent gave her a new role, that of Queen of Heaven and images now had to present her in a regal role. Christ had also been represented naked on the cross, this could no longer do. Popes thought that it was a too humanist approach, so painting and sculptures where altered accordingly.

Christ by Michelangelo, original version intact of 1522 made for Metello Vari and now in the church of San Vincenzo Martire in Bassano Romano near the town of Viterbo.

 A very young Michelangelo created this Christ in 1492 for the Church of Santo-Spirito in Florence.

However it was acceptable to mix pagan gods with Christian images in frescos because it presented an artistic continuity from antiquity to today. Since the Catholic Church claimed direct link with Imperial Rome this made sense. Apostles who were all Jewish would now be depicted dressed as Roman Senators, this also goes for Moses or all other Prophets of the Old Testament, thus transforming them into Roman-Christians. Since the population was still largely illiterate and the story was told from the pulpit no one questioned what they were told.