Monday, 29 September 2014

Random Autumn theme.

About 8 days ago it very much looked like Summer was over as temperature fell all of a sudden to near zero C. The Condo corp decided overnight to shut off the A/C system and put on the heat, we can individually shut it off in our units and this is what we did. Then the following day the warm or hot weather came back with a vengeance, we face South and have strong sunshine until 3PM. The building was extremely warm around 29C inside, so we opened all the windows in the hope that the heat would escape. I say in the hope because it made little difference really. However the trees having had a dose of  cold weather and then hot turned all shades of red. The grocery store has an abundance of squash of all kinds and pumpkins too. Funny thing the cashier wanted to name the various squash I had bought, they are all 0.99 cents each but she has to enter them by name, Butternut, Sweet meat, Pepper, etc...

 Pepper and Butternut Squash


The blue grey squash is called a sweet meat squash sitting on top of my terra cotta pumpkin bought 20 years ago at the Drake Hotel Flower Shop in Chicago.


We also started to cook in the Fall fashion recipe, lots of varieties of apples right now on offer. I bought Braeburn Apples to make an apple cake. The puppies love it when we cook, they sit and watch always in hope that maybe just maybe we will drop something or will offer a tasting to them, they are eternally patient.


Demi-tasse coffee cups bought in June in Dresden, love those ironic faces.

We also had the Annual Canadian Army Run (marathon) and a parade of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry Regiment who are celebrating their Centennial. The Regiment PPCLI was created through a generous donation of $2 million dollars in 1914 by Hamilton Gault a very wealthy businessman. In todays dollars it is a fantastic fortune to give. Princess Patricia was the daughter of Prince Arthur Duke of Connaught and brother of King-Emperor George V, she was also the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria.  Prince Arthur was the Governor General of Canada at that time.



Then in October of 1914 Le Royal 22ième Régiment de Quebec was created. They are stationed at the Quebec Citadel on Cap Diamant, the Summer Residence of the Governor General. Canada did not have an army in 1914 we had a small militia of 3000 men. But within months an army of half a million men was raised or 10% of the population of the country.


Being on the Rideau Canal in the centre of the Capital we cannot miss the Army run and the other events year round. The parade of the PPCLI from Lansdowne Park to Cartier Square was a recreation of the event which took place in 1914 when the soldiers arrived in Ottawa by train. The Driveway as it was then known was the Official entrance into the Capital.







Saturday, 27 September 2014

Anniversary - In Memoriam



On Sunday 28 Septembre 2014 is the first anniversary of the death of my mother who a year ago entered immortality. It was after a long illness, 14 years of decline to Alzheimer. The end came quickly early on that morning a year ago. I had gone out for errands and when I came home Will simply said, I am sorry, your sister called from Montreal, I knew immediately that Mom had died. He did not have to say more. I was surprised, though the end was near we had been warned by the doctors, but yet I did not expect it, Death is like the visitor you really do not expect, who simply shows up. I am just happy for her that she simply slipped away in her sleep. That is what she always wanted.


Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Sebastiano Ricci, 1659-1734, Resurrection



I chose the music for her requiem Mass and this piece by Fauré, I know she would have liked. Here Philippe Jaroussky sings the Pie Jesu.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

How to explain

I have completed my Summer assignment at the Canadian War Museum as Interpreter guide for the painting exhibit ''Transformations'' paintings of the Canadian A.Y.Jackson and German Realist Painter Otto Dix. Two interesting men and certainly famous painters though in the final analysis I find Otto Dix far more interesting as a painter than Jackson who was essentially a landscape artist.

In the course of the tour of the exhibit I presented the basic differences between the two men, they were in fact very different men not only by temperament but also in their up-bringing and in the life they led.
Otto Dix (1891-1969)

With Otto Dix comes the various art movements he worked in and associated with, Futurism, Cubism, Dadaist movement, Realism, etc... Dix modelled his life on the Philosoply of Friedrich Nietzsche who is seen as the philosopher whose theories influenced much of the XXth Century and the way we live. He was the main proponent of Existentialism. Now the problem for me was to try to explain very briefly Nietzsche as an influence in the life of Dix and his paintings. How do you do this with a public who has very minimal knowledge of painting, who has never heard of this painter and who does not know who Nietzsche is. The easy way out would have been to skip it all together but the explaining notes alluded to it, so you need to maybe give some context to it all.

The other problem is that the Second World War is a very large elephant in our collective memory and unfortunately our view of that war and the events surrounding it is very distorted and has been simplified into a lot of nonsense. So here I am trying to explain that the painters Jackson and Dix saw action during the First World War (1914-1918) which has no relation to events between 1933-1945 and their world was transformed by the Great War and no I am not talking of Nazis and Jews.

In fact one of the questions that came back constantly was at the very beginning of the tour when people would ask, So what did Dix do during the Nazi era? Was he a Jew? Did he leave Germany? How come he survived did he collaborate with the Nazis? I constantly had to remind my dear public that first Dix was born near Dresden in Germany in 1891 and we are looking first at the paintings of his early life and his war experience during the period 1914-18 as a very young man.  In most cases I could clearly see that my public was lost or at least disappointed, they could not pigeon hole Dix into the bad German or bad Nazi mode. It has been 100 years and that is a very long time ago for most people.

One person insisted that he had to be an evil man because he did not get on the soap box to denounce Hitler in 1914 and leave Germany pronto.  Never mind the fact that Hitler an Austrian, was not a political figure in 1914 and was just an anonymous conscript like millions of others. I did say that Otto Dix had a difficult character, was a social climber and became famous and infamous because of his high jinks in the art world in Germany.

On the other hand A.Y.Jackson was seen as the good guy simply because his name is recognisable with the Canadian Group of 7 Painters. Beyond that most people did not know a Jackson from a Renoir. Most cannot identify a Group of 7 painting from any other landscape painting. If truth be told only the most famous paintings, those that are endlessly reproduced are known by sight. The Group of 7 contrary to popular mythology was also short lived, they were active only between 1919 and 1932. Some members of the public thought that they were still painting as a group in the 1970's when in fact most of them were long dead. The Group disbanded because the Art critics got tired of their landscapes.

Many women were asking about another Canadian Painter Emily Carr who did not figure in the exhibit since she did not take part in the Great War, was not a Canadian War Artist and the exhibit was not about her to begin with, for some reason I always got the impression that my female public was disappointed she had not been included as if this was another ''equity issue'' we are so fond of here in Canada.

The automatic association the viewing public made with the Group of 7 and A.Y.Jackson was also maddening. It was as if they believed that from birth Jackson was in the Group of 7 as a painter. However almost no one could name another painter in that group, it seems that when it comes to Canadian painting if you do not mention the Group of 7 there is no Canadian painting period.
A rather sad commentary on general knowledge of Canadian Art and artists.

So there I am back in the early years part of the exhibit trying to give a concise explanation about Nietzschean philosophy. I would usually say this: Nietzsche rejected Traditional Christian values, he argued that the ideal human the Übermensch would  be able to channel his passions creatively instead of suppressing them.  He also reasoned that Christianity's emphasis on the afterlife makes its believers less able to deal with earthly life.  Dix certainly followed Nietzsche in his life and in the way he perceived himself in the art world.

In some cases, not all, depending on my audience, I would also explain the fascination Dix had with violence and sexual violence done to women, the case of Jack the ripper was fresh in European minds at the time and the recurring theme in his early works of the idea of regeneration, that the earth is associated with motherhood and fecundity, that trenches were men hid and fought from was similar to a woman's genitalia. This was presented in the notes and I heard more than one visitor scoff at the program notes as inventions by the Curator. In fact the Curator was paraphrasing Dix himself who explained why he painted as he did.

In one of Dix's war paintings he paints red poppies on top of the trench, as an erotic flowers and not a flower of remembrance as we in Canada think of them. Certainly between 1919-1933 which was Dix's most prolific period he was in open revolt against the German War profiteers and German Bourgeois society denouncing its hypocrisy in the face of social upheaval and economic uncertainty. Dix late in his life said: I paint for the man in the street, I hope he likes what I do but I do not know.

Many of the visitors at the exhibition preferred Jackson who is much easier to assimilate and whose paintings did not challenge pre-conceived ideas of war and sacrifice. In this sense even British painter Paul Nash who hated the war and those in charge of it, is far darker and Nihilistic than Jackson who simply refused to show in his war art the horror of the battlefield, unlike other Canadian artists like Arthur Lismer and Frederick Varley. No Jackson was not the controversial one, in fact after the Group of 7 disbands in 1932, he will transform himself into the teacher, writer and government propagandist, his paintings will be reproduced into thousands of copies plastered in every waiting room of the nation, he will sit on Government Commissions choosing soldiers who will paint specifically requested scenes of the Second World War (1939-1945).

If during the First World War the Canadian Government of Sir Robert Borden did not care for an archive of Canadian War Art, Canadians can say a large thank you to Max Aitken Lord Beaverbrook for giving us one,  during the second world conflict the situation was very different now propaganda or Art at the Service of War was a powerful tool and continues to this day. In the latest conflict, the longest in Canadian history the 12 year Afghanistan war in which we were involved, the Harper Regime rather clumsily tried to tell the artists what to paint.

Jackson will continue to sit on various government commissions, one will be the Commission on the New Canadian Flag of 1965.  In his final years he will paint at the McMichael studio in Kleinburg Ontario North of Toronto, nothing too challenging for the eyes just more of the same.

After 1945 for both Dix and Jackson it was clearly the case of Fame stifling Genius, they were famous but no one cared much for their painting style. Grand old men of an era most people wanted to forget and today we have forgotten about the war,  but Dix is still present and his paintings are questions for us to answer in this very troubled world we live in. To me he is still fresh and relevant.

In the late 1920's Dix was interviewed and he explained that as a soldier he wanted to feel what it was like to fear death when it is in front of you on the battlefield and the lust he felt in plunging his bayonet into another man in battle. Though this statement is shocking Dix is nonetheless brutally honest, he became infamous for his brutal honesty. Whereas Jackson would say to friends that he did not want to show the horror of war in his paintings, he preferred leaving it to the viewer to figure out what they were looking at, to me his so called reserve is dishonest, very middle-class and so Canadian, don't rock the boat approach.


Art exist so that we will not die from the Truth!  F. Nietzsche.







Saturday, 20 September 2014

Lampedusa and chicken dumpling soup

Now I am sure you wonder what on earth has the Prince of Lampedusa and chicken dumpling soup in common.  Well this week in Ottawa has been terribly, unseasonably cold, nights near the freezing point and day times full of cold late fall sunshine, a certain crispiness in the air. But wait we have not arrive at the end of Summer yet that only happens after the 21 September. Well if truth be told we have not had much of a Summertime at all this year. It has been cool not hot and many days it was rather cold. So now all too soon it is Autumn, the pumpkins are out ''en force'',  so today I found a new translation of the book of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa entitled The professor and the Siren. Lampedusa a nobleman of Palermo, Sicily who wrote the famous book The Leopard which then became a famous movie with Burt Lancaster. I have never heard of the Professor and the Siren and am looking forward to reading it. It will remind me of the more temperate and warmer climes of Sicily, a place one should visit and appreciate for its beauty and very rich culture. I am very happy that we had the good fortune to visit the island by car a few years ago. What a treasure trove it was and how unknown it is to most people, maybe it is better this way, it will not be spoiled by mass tourism.


Of course the cold weather has also ignited my interests in winter dishes and in soups and other hearty meals. Will has started making dishes in the crock pot, one being his Bolognese meat sauce which is rich and unctuous. Today I discovered this recipe for Chicken dumpling soup, very easy to make and just the thing to keep you warm on those cold days. I also want to make Parmesan Biscuits, another easy recipe or Pasta al Forno which is easier to make than most think. Will has already made a very good vegetable lasagna.  Because they are still in Season barely, how about Watermelon pudding with Pistachio.

Just thinking that Nicky and Nora enjoy going out now but come Winter with ice and snow, they will not like it so much, with boots and coats to keep warm.  How I am not looking forward to it at all.



So no there is no link between Lampedusa and cooking, but it was just an easy association I made on this chilly evening.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Scotland!

Referendum day has come and I am listening to the BBC World Service running commentary on what is happening. It is odd really listening to this event taking place, shows how little I knew of Scottish politics in the UK.  It appears that the turnout is high or very high more than 88% in rural and suburban areas whereas in the Cities the turnout is much lower around 75%. Scotland is hoping to have as high a turnout as in the Quebec referendum of 1995 which was 93.5%. It looks likely they will achieve that given the importance of the vote and the question. The big story tonight is how incredible the voter turnout has been. Usually during British general elections the turnout is around 65% the numbers tonight are very high in comparison.


The population of Scotland is small at 5.2 million Scots, somewhat smaller than the population of the City of Toronto. This does not count all the Scottish diaspora around the world, who cannot vote in this referendum. Scotland is portrayed as more left leaning and liberal than Britain. Because of its small population it cannot influence Parliament in Westminster and has little say in the budget. Scottish Labour is seen as unable to disassociate itself from the free-market and austerity policies of the moment, which makes it unpopular. By tomorrow the results either for or against independence, one thing appear certain the old certainties of the past will be dead and gone. The consequence for Cameron and the Conservatives are huge, it would probably mean the government will fall and Cameron will have no choice but to resign. As for Labour it will also be a shock and their future will be also uncertain. No Prime Minister wants to be remembered as the one who lost the Union. However watching the vote results come in Scotland appears divided, there are strong opinions in either camp.


Either way Britain tomorrow morning will be a different country. What I like about the coverage is how there is talk now even before the final results are in of change and how Westminster needs to change, respect for the aspirations of the Scots. It will be interesting to see how this evolves between now and 2016. What is also impressive is the level of respectful dialogue between people on either camp, except maybe for Ukip. There is none of the insults and bad language and immature attitudes we so often find here in Canada when there is differences of opinion after elections.

I would agree with commentators that Canadians and people in Quebec all have a lot to learn on how to run a referendum on such questions, much more mature and respectful in this case.




Friday, 12 September 2014

Reading, what am I reading now...

I have several books waiting to be read either in paperback or on Kindle. I am a slow reader by nature and will often leave a book and then pick it up again a few days later. Of course there are books you cannot put down and those I will read and often reread again. I had bought in May, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck written some 80 years ago, it is or was a bestseller and she won the Nobel Prize for Literature I only got around to reading it this past August and then read it in 3 days.  I enjoyed the story about a Chinese peasant in the last decades of the Empire before the revolution of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, his family, the land and the role of women in China in those days. Though Pearl Buck was an American citizen, the child of Christian missionaries in China. She captures all the flavours of China and its people. The story now read some 80 years later with our knowledge of what happened in the decades afterwards with the Japanese invasion of China, the Second World War, the Civil War and the Communist take over, you can appreciate the complexity of the story and of the people it represents, their complicated relationship to each other and their humanity.

This book is well known and I had heard of it for decades, it is often quoted as an example of life in China before 1925. It also always reminded me, I do not know why, of a movie made in the 1950's entitled Love is a many splendored thing about a women Eurasian doctor (Jennifer Jones) and an American reporter (William Holden) in ChungKing, the Provisional Capital of the Nationalists nowadays called Chongqing.  The period is the Civil War between the Nationalist of General Chiang Kai-Shek who have the total support of the USA despite the fact they are hopelessly corrupt and loosing the war, the Americans really know how to choose sides, against the Communists of Mao Tse Tung.  I know that the book of Buck and the movie have no relations but nonetheless it was an association for me.

Come to think of it, Canadian Foreign Policy towards China was also largely influenced by Canadian Christian Missionaries who convinced the Political Establishment in Ottawa, i.e. the Liberal Party in the era of Pearsonian Diplomacy that Canada should recognized the People's Republic of China in 1969. Rooms in the Embassy of Canada in Beijing are named after them, Chester Ronning, Arthur Menzies, John Small and Ralph Collins, three of them served as Canadian Ambassadors to the PRC in the 1970-1980 period. What I did not know and maybe should have, given I served in China (2004-2007) was that the One China Policy was a Canadian Idea, a compromise of sort, devised by Pierre E. Trudeau which allowed us to recognize the PRC in 1969. He argued that since the mainland represented one third of the population of the planet Earth, it was silly to not recognize them. Taiwan on the other hand was a nasty dictatorship with a population of a few million people. Taiwan was no more democratic than the Communist PRC. In the geopolitic sphere the People's Republic had more weight and Canada should open up to this new relationship. Thus the problem of the Chinas was solved by recognizing the greater number of Chinese instead of the lesser number. Then other countries of the world, including the USA with Kissinger as Foreign advisor to the President, simply followed suit and did the same thing.

Man reading by Farr

Another book I read recently is The Once and Future King: The rise of Crown Governments in North America by F.H.Buckley is an interesting comparison between systems of governments in Canada, USA and UK. All three have their peculiarities on their development and practices and the central idea from which they evolved. There have been several books lately on how democracy is evolving towards ever greater powers being given to a single person, either the Prime Minister or the President. In Canada Executive system, Cabinet which is the composition of various ministers and the Prime Minister around a table come to a consensus on political decisions and it is or was a collegial affair. Nowadays it's a one man rule, the Ministers are informed later or are a simple rubber stamp. The same is true of Parliament, where matters like the Budget are voted on without much discussion and most Members of Parliament do not bother to read the thousand page document.

It made for an interesting read except that I found that much of what was said about Canada needed revision given the style of our current PM Harper who has taken us down the road of one man rule.

I am now reading in French, L'art d'avoir toujours raison by Arthur Schopenhauer (the art of always being right). I do not know if anyone still reads Schopenhauer. An interesting book on conversation and how to present arguments and either get your opponent to agree with you or deflect his arguments. I can see how this is done in French but in English I do not think I would be able to do that. An interesting read nonetheless.

I am also reading all of Aesop's Fables which I never read before, it is highly entertaining and something everyone should read, if for no other reason that it is amusing.

But that is not all, I still have 3 other books to start on various subject, one being how modern archeology was invented just 300 years ago, another on Stalin, a river of blood, Hitler looks like a boy scout in comparison and yet another on the diseases that killed famous authors or at least made their lives miserable, sort of a mystery novel, since in many cases no one knew what they were suffering from.

So as you can see it is a very mix bag of topics and not one airport bestseller in the lot.



Monday, 8 September 2014

Weekend Pleasures

A beautiful weekend it has been. Friday night we had a violent thunderstorm again with high winds and many trees felled, strangely enough the very old and very large tree, it is at least 90 meters high, at the front of our building on Cartier Street which is full of holes where the squirrels have established homes, stands impervious. I always expect it to come crashing down one fine day and given the size of it, I do not want to be around to see it.

Our summer balcony on the Rideau Canal were we have our meals.

So I walked to Lansdowne Park named after Lord Lansdowne who was Governor General of Canada at the time. I wanted to see this great piece of land return to its park like state. It was originally some 120 years ago well outside the City of Ottawa, a racetrack for thoroughbred horses and a great park for agricultural fairs held every year. Major cities in Canada had them, to help farmers with new implements and show off the best in animal husbandry and farm produce, this included a big flower show. Toronto had the Canadian National Exhibition and Ottawa had the Central Canadian Exhibition. In the last 50 years Landsdowne had become a tawdry place where a carny show was held, the main buildings had become ruined shells even the football stadium was in a ruinous state, no one cared it was mediocre and every year it was a grotesque show to all that a National Capital should not be. A few years ago the City Council finally closed the park down cancelling the Ex which was no longer attracting anyone. It promoted the revival of the whole area, which was now well in the centre of he City a terrible eyesore on the Rideau Canal. This new redevelopment was not achieved without major opposition by the navel gazing gang in the Glebe, privileged upper middle class entitled yuppies who opposed the re-development for the simple reason that it might bring people from other parts of the city to their neighbourhood. The judicial wrangling was carried out to extraordinary length, at one point the media and the police were called out to protect bird nests and squirrels. Committees set up to adopt a squirrel and the CBC even had a campaign on it. For anyone who lives in Ottawa it is well known that squirrels are so numerous that they are a pest we tolerate.

After a multi-year fight the re-development went ahead and the final result is pretty impressive. A new stadium for the new football team called the Red Black, the old Horticultural building has been moved on rails from one end of the park to the other and completely renovated, it is built in the Prairie style school of architecture. A new apple orchard has been planted, there is a new underground garage, the Aberdeen Pavilion known as the Cow Palace has been restored to its former glory, to think that 25 years ago when the current Mayor Jim Watson was just a young councillor, he spear headed the fight to avoid its demolition, good thing he did. Where use to be the old asphalt parking lot is now an immense field of green the size of the one on Parliament Hill, hundreds of trees planted everywhere. There is a large play structure for kids, an artificial skating ring and a new Water Park Sculpture which will be ready in the fall.
It is truly beautiful, it is a real urban park, there are also new shops and 2 condo towers facing Bank street.
New Lansdowne Park 

 The green which use to be a massive parking lot

Modern light sculpture still under construction with the new Stadium behind it

Renovated and re-positioned Horticultural building at Lansdowne Park

The partial view of the apple orchard with the Aberdeen Pavilion in the background, the Farmer's market will be permanently relocated inside the Pavilion in a few weeks.


We also did a bit of cooking this weekend with squash, peaches and tomatoes, apparently Dr. Spo tells me that tomatoes do not grow in Arizona where he lives, poor things, living under the dictatorship of the Tea Party and bourgeois reactionaries. We went to Brewer Park which is located on the Rideau River next to Carleton University Campus, a very nice area of the city that I do not know well. There are lots of nice neighbourhoods in Ottawa, quiet and leafy and this is one of them.



 What would a Farmer's Market be without the bake goods including doughnuts freshly made
I thought of Dr. Spo who is a famous doughnut connaisseur from AZ. That picture is for him.
http://sporeflections.wordpress.com


The Farmer's Martket at Brewer Park is moving, it was only temporarily at this location while the whole of Landsdowne Park was being re-built and re-made into a green area.  In the coming weeks the Farmer's Market will return to Lansdowne Park and will be housed in the Aberdeen Pavilion, a giant place and much more convenient since it will be protected from the elements.

Will's creation an Ontario Peach Schnitz pie 

Some of the variety of tomatoes we bought at Brewer Park to be used in various recipes in the next few days, I think we have about 8 lbs or 4 Kilo in total. 

Aubergines and Patty Pan Squash which will be used in recipes also in the coming days.

A whole pot of fresh garlic about 2 lbs or 1 Kilo of it in total, very fragrant 

Will's famous roasted tomatoes a recipe by Marcella Hazan, wonderful with any meal.

 portion of BC Red Snapper and Rosemary accompanied by Yellow Spaghetti Squash dressed with tomatoes, parsley, Basil, yellow pepper and walnuts

More tomatoes for the spicy tomato soup

Dinner of Shrimp Tempura with roasted tomatoes


We also attended the last lecture of the Gustave Doré Exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada. The lecturer was Dr. Eric M. Zafran the Curator of the Susan Morse Hilles European Art collection at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford Connecticut,  a well known authority on art from Doré to Calder. His lecture was on Doré and the Bible, the artist Gustave Doré illustrated the stories of the Bible and it became a worldwide best-seller in the 19th century. The Bible Society of New York has a large library with many wonderful examples of those bibles which were translated in many languages.
The lecture was as well attended as my own Mercredis Culturels program at the NGC.

I also purchased a few other books on Doré and his illustrations, I also got a book of posters of the First World War 1914-1918, entitled the Art of selling War and a book of Charles Perrault (1628-1703) with comments and notes on his fairy tales with illustrations by Doré. The NGC shop also has a wonderful collection of calendars for 2015 and thinking of how Van Gogh was influenced by Japanese wood block paintings got a calendar on that topic.



War is heck, Prosit!