Thursday, 12 February 2015

Have you seen the NEW BLOG?

Please visit my new blog at

A new blog, a new format. 

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

migrating, please note

To all my readers and followers on this blogger please note that I have move to Wordpress

My new and improved blog is now called

Please click on it and you will be re-directed to it. Hope to see you there in the New Year.

Happy New Year 2015 to all and thank you for reading me.

Monday, 29 December 2014

troubles and solutions

Well this was an anxious few days, after receiving a new iPhone I was installing apps and thought I knew my password for my gmail account. I had forgotten I had changed it a few months back. Suddenly I was out of gmail and out of Blogger, could not get back in and could not remember a thing. The more I tried to get back in the more things got complicated.  So I created a new gmail account which I will now use and keep the original account since it is well known by many people.

I also started a new blog on WordPress and I like the new format. So I will persevere and learn WordPress, you can find me there now at

Luckily I have smart friends like David in AZ who very helpfully suggested a google site with solutions to such problems as loosing one's password.

Well we are in the final week of 2014, a very good and interesting year, with travels and much fun all around.

Best wishes to all my readers for a very Happy New Year 2015, health, happiness, success!

Satyr, garden architectural detail, Zwinger Palace, Dresden, Saxony

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas and Santa and gypsies and dachshunds and Rome

On this Christmas Eve the little Santa's Dachshunds Nicky and Nora spoke to Santa and I got an iPhone 5, so finally after 25 years of Nokia simple cel phone graduating to the big league and I can now like everyone else constantly look at my phone and just ignore the world as it hurls itself into whatever.

Clever little puppies they are, so many times we have said we would give them away to the Gypsies of the Via Nomentana in Rome. So they surprised me, I did not have the heart to put them on the Alitalia flight Ottawa Rome. A little bribe goes a long way as they say, I suppose I will keep them for a while longer. They will be 6 years old in February 2015. I am just KIDDING. I would never send them out on the street.

Wonderful dinner on this Xmas Eve with some nice wines, the weather is very mild almost Spring like, very strange for a 24 December, this is the sort of weather we are use to in Rome in Winter at night.

Another gift which was a nice surprise was my Italian Police cap which can only be had if you are in the Carabinieri which is the equivalent of the RCMP in Canada. The yellow colour of the insignia is for Officers, I got it through our friends in Rome, Gail and Mariano. The insignia of the Corps is a flaming grenade. it is a para-military corps of Police.

Carabinieri on patrol in Rome

for the bicentennial of the Carabinieri in 2014 their new Highway car a Lotus Evora S. Very stylish!

We also had a wonderful dinner at home nice smoke Salmon from the Pacific and roast Lamb with roast potatoes. Our dessert was a Bûche de Noël.

The weather being dreadful, rain, +3C and wind prefer to stay at home and enjoy our home comforts.

Some photos of our Christmas Eve table 2014.

The Hunting Scene Dishes, hand painted by Crown Staffordshire that we have used for such occasions for the last 38 years. Must be all washed by hand.
We also used the Holme Gaard Copenhagen glasses bought decades ago in Denmark.

Chateau PuyFromage, a bordeaux and Tantinel a Prosecco bought are new to the LCBO and very good. We also had a bottle of dessert wine Chateau La Croix Poulvère.

Now I have to play with my new iPhone and program it. Learn out to use it. A quiet Christmas day and tonight dinner with friends at Le Café on the Canal.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Photos from my favourite places.

Some places I always enjoyed at Christmas, of course Rome, Belleza Aeterna, Palermo, Sicily such charm and faded elegance, Berlin a re-born Capital. What did I enjoy, well the food, the atmosphere, often quiet in the city and neighbourhoods, the parks and the wintery flowers, the brisk air, the weather and the pleasure of walking in a city with beautiful sights. The people and the little courtesies of the Season and all the traditions which makes Europe special.

 Fireworks seen from the Tiber River, Rome. The Fireworks are on top of the Janiculum Hill. 

Pariser Platz, Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate

Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Sicily, one of the largest Opera house in the world

Warsaw old Town at the Royal Palace.

 Ottawa Christmas lights by the Rideau Canal
The Old Teacher's College on Elgin Street

Our Mayor Jim Watson, serving lunch at the Ottawa Mission, a great guy!

Garibaldi Memorial on the Janiculum Hill in Rome in the snow
For those of you who think it never snows in the Eternal City.

May you all have a wonderful Christmas wherever you may be.

The final hymn '' Puer Nobis Nascitur'' of the Lutheran Christmas Morning Mass of 1620 in Germany, by Michael Praetorius 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Pet Peeve and dinner menu

The one thing I hate about any holiday in Canada is how the politicians and the media always turn it into a way to infantilize the population. Politicians make a point to wish everyone a safe and secure holiday. Enjoy yourself but do it responsibly. Why do we need them to say that? As for the media same approach with a message along the lines of what to do and not to do, as if the population was 9 years old. In fact you would not say that to a teenager knowing they would just ignore you or think you are an old fart. So according to our elected officials or the media we are irresponsible and behave like idiots so we need to be told. The other one is the news bulletin telling us that their will be police road blocks and the police is out in force to make sure everyone is behaving themselves, make sure you have a designated driver or take the bus and return safely home before midnight. All these messages may well be done with good intentions but in the end are very disrespectful and coming from politicians who are nothing more than our servants is a big no no.

Another hipster website in Ottaw, is name is Dwayne is promoting a non-alcohol Holiday Season with 12 fruit juice cocktails, again maybe intended to be useful but so offensive, I think he is confusing a Caribbean Cruise with the Christmas Season. Ottawa is known as the town that Fun forgot or the cemetery with lights, such campaigns are sure to make things just as boring as boring can be. I think it can be safely assume that most adults know how to behave and act in a responsible manner, we certainly do not need the sanctimonious messages from the media nor the politicians.

This is truly the hallmark of Canada, giving lessons to others and lecturing others how to live their lives, treating adults as if they were mere children. It's petit bourgeois mentality gone bezerk. I say get with the program, it's the Festive Season, a good ole Saturnalia is in order with lots of Merriment.
Do what I do, if the weather is bad and you want to enjoy your evening with friends, just take a taxi, so easy, let someone else do the driving, I do it and have no worries.
My resolution is to just tune out the PC crowd and wish everyone a Happy Christmas!

ADDENDUM: after writing this ditty, got an email from LoveOttawa, Dwayne's site, instead of answering my question on his philosophy of lecturing people, he showed his colour, his reply was smarmy and he obviously thinks highly of himself, thus the lecture of the evils of alcohol. He belongs in the Age of Temperance and all those rallies of 90 years ago.

Now the dinner menu for this Christmas Eve. I was reading about a typical meal in Rome which is very different from what one might imagine. In North America in the Immigrant Italian community there is a tradition of having 7 different fish dishes but not so in Italy. Here are some idea for either Christmas Eve or Day for a menu. The most traditional dish for a family in Rome is for Mamma or Nonna to prepare a Roast of Lamb, other dishes would be Spaghetti with shrimp tartare, bottarga and clams, Bacala e ceci which is steamed cod with a purée of chick peas, Steamed cod as an appetizer, Rigatoni alla carbonara, Bacala Manteca which is a small torte of buttered cod topped with chicory salad or Jewish Style (Fried) Artichokes, the Jewish community in Rome as been there for 3000 years, so they have a historical influence on the dishes of the City. For dessert being Christmas you have a choice of Panettone or Pan D'Oro. Panettone is a bread like cake filled with raisins or chocolate or orange. Pan D'Oro is a spongecake topped with powered sugar.

We are having roasted lamb and roast potatoes with rosemary and to start Smoked Salmon with sour cream and caviar. In Italy you would have a Tartare of Salmon in lemon juice which is quite good.

Roast Lamb and potatoes

So far our Christmas Season has been quiet, I have not been inside one shop and stayed clear of the crowds.
The weather promises to be really awful in the next few days, freezing rain, hot and cold weather, so we will stay at home.  Tonight the wind is raw and there is a cold humidity in the air. So I say time to open a nice bottle of wine, we do have that special bottle of Marsala which cannot be bought in North America nor for love nor money, small production and high vintage, BUFFA Marsala Vergine 5, not to be used for cooking but for enjoyable sip.  It is the last of a case we brought back from Marsala in Sicily from that little Enoteca The drunken Mermaid and its charming owner Salvatore. Please see the web site for the wines I would love to buy from them,

But if all else fails like in Rome most families go out to the restaurant for lunch or dinner. Who wants to cook and clean on Christmas day!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

to visit or not to visit

In the past year there has been a lot of talk, discussion and thinking about how to bring more visitors to the National Gallery of Canada. This conversation has hit a certain high note this year with the on-going and numerous, I should say countless cuts to various budgets ordered by our dear Leader Stephen Harper has slowly but surely destroyed many areas of service to Canadians. Many agree that we have entered an age of Corporatist politics, where Corporations are people and their voices count whereas the average taxpayer does not. This means a slow but certain degradation of anything and everything the Federal government does.

In the case of all our National Museums they are Crown Corporations, meaning that they receive a lump sum each year and the rest of their financing must come from the public through sales of tickets and other items such as memberships or donations. It has to be understood that for decades the main source of funding came from the Federal government who financed almost everything. Including building infrastructure and maintaining existing building, renovations, landscaping etc... the public was used to the Providential State stepping in at every turn to maintain these national institutions. Not understanding that they did not pay anywhere near enough taxes to support it all.

In other countries depending on their national history either the King or Emperor maintained private museums of their own collection, i.e. the Hermitage, the Prussian Royal Collections, the Saxon Royal Collection or the collections of the Bavarian Royal House or the Vatican Museums which until not so long ago where not open to the public.

In the USA it was Andrew W. Mellon who was the creator and founder/builder of the National Gallery in Washington DC.  Mellon bought the main European art works from the Bolchevics in Russia after 1919 who were selling off treasures of the Tsars and the Hermitage to finance their endeavours. In turn upon his death he donated to the American Nation all of it for the enjoyment of future generations. In the USA the Spirit with a capital S of endowment and gifts is well and alive, in Canada not so.

In Canada our National Museums were a government creation, unlike the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal which was a private sector creation. In 1905 our first Canadian Museum in Ottawa was the Geological Society of Canada located in a castle like structure named the Victoria Memorial Museum on Metcalfe Street, it is the very popular Museum of Nature today.

The National Gallery had one small room in the basement of that building. Ottawa was a very small town at the time and the development of the museums in general was overseen by Civil Servants. There were some wealthy donors but they were few, unlike cities like Montreal where a well established group of British and Scottish well to do families had their Clubs and Art Circles.

The situation only began to change in our National Museums with the Trudeau (father) era 1968-1982. He had a personal interest in seeing new National Museums built and started a dialogue with the public to get them to involve themselves in the development and enhancement of the collections.
He saw a program similar to the USA where endowment funds and donations would drive museum expansion and not government funds.
The old Lorne building (1959-2012) former seat of the National Gallery until 1987, named after Governor General Sir John Douglas Sutherland, Marquess of Lorne. 

The main idea was that donors would form circles of friends and actively support all the activities of a Museum in particular. This happened with the building of the new Canadian War Museum in 2005, an idea which came about with Barnie Danson (1921-2011), a veteran, member of Parliament and Minister of Veterans Affairs who gathered supporters and to this day continues to thrive on that idea.

The New National Gallery of Canada building opened in 1988, the design alone created a buzz and people where fascinated with it. On the opening year close to one million visitors came to see it.
However this was not a sign that the public was more interested in art in general because suddenly there was a new building dedicated for the first time to our National Art Collections.

National Gallery of Canada (1988)

Whereas in the case of the Canadian War Museum where every Canadian, Veteran or active military is sought after and welcomed, the National Gallery had an image problem very often based on false assumptions and opinions. The public had and has to this day the overall impression that it is a place for the elite and the wealthy. Amongst our French speaking population it is seen as an English institution not open to others. Nothing could be further from the truth but it is a tough perception which will not die easily. Thus an empty museum with the lowest attendance record of all our National Museums including the currently closed under renovation Science and Technology Museum.

The Alarm bell has been ringing and the Board of Directors of the National Gallery have decided that something must be done. I remember prior to 1988 when the National Gallery was located in the old Lorne Building on Elgin Street, a converted office building, the museum was empty then. It was a small dark crammed display area. Not really enticing to promoting the arts and it had that academic approach in the display of the art collection.

This academic approach to the collections is still very present and that is a big turn off for a lot of people in this day and age, when education and intellectual pursuit is ridiculed and seen as worthless in Canada by a clear percentage of the population which includes our Prime Minister who was often quoted in the last 10 years with negative comments towards Arts and Culture. The Media in general has not helped either, a certain popular press is quick to pounce on any type of art which is not appealing to the masses, this includes contemporary, modern and lesser painters of any era.
The tone of the articles is always the same, ''Your tax dollars bought that thing your 5 year old kid can paint'' This type of populist attack which appeals to the lowest common denominator is very popular and sells well.

The other problem, and this is one of society in general, the lack of conversation in Canada about what kind of society do we want to live in. Everything in the last 10 years has come down to the notion of not wanting to pay taxes, having lots of rights and no responsibilities for anything or anyone, the promotion of excessive consumerism, not needing education, i.e. traditional schools, we need more babysitting services instead, not needing arts or culture which is seen as too expensive as long as we have big name sports team and stadiums and prioritizing shopping malls and highways.
As one of our Conservative politician put it so succinctly, ''We are not in Europe here, we don't need that stuff'' meaning arts and culture. A good example of this current political way of thinking is the sudden announcement two weeks ago of the renovations and rejuvenation of the National Arts Centre of Canada on Elgin Street. This is a much needed project however if you look at the details you will quickly notice that we are renovating all the public areas, bar, restaurant, lobby, parking and toilets, nothing is done to the concert halls themselves. This does not mean that more people will be coming to the performances.

The same is true with block buster Art exhibits, one quick solutions to bring people in. Two years ago we had a Summer exhibit of works by Van Gogh, which gave the National Gallery the highest attendance records in decades. However other Summer shows by equally great names like Monet and Renoir have failed miserably to attract record numbers. We did have a show organized with the Tate Modern London in 2010 entitled Pop Life with artists like Andy Wharhol, Jeff Koons and many others, it was a flop despite being a North American exclusive. The cost also of mounting theses big name exhibits has become exorbitant, one cost is the insurance, transport and logistics. Such exhibits need a minimum work of 5 years in planning.
It would appear that Ottawa, the region and as a tourist destination fails to promote/market its museums or maybe the interest is just not there in the Ottawa Valley.

The National Gallery could for starters become more visitor friendly, while retaining a certain academic approach could vulgarise and popularize exhibit space, market the museum as open to the public and at the same time tell the public at large of what we have in our collections. Many Canadians are not aware of the vast richness and diversity of our collections making the National Gallery of Canada one of the truly great world museum.  Maybe the public in general should be asked to support financially the NGC and make a donation upon entry or at any other time. Why rely only on big name donors who are a few hundred at most.

Given that our public often has no information or knowledge on art and may not know artists beyond a famous name and is unable to recognize a work of art by any artists it is crucial to bring things down to a level that is inviting and inspire the imagination. Before we jump to the conclusion that our National Gallery is not at the level of museums in Europe like the National Gallery London or the Louvre in Paris or any other museum in Italy or Germany, we should remember that Europe suffers from the same problem. The Louvre director was saying recently that if it was not for 5 works of art everyone wants to see, the museum would be empty, same phenomenon in Rome, St-Petersburg, Vienna, London or Berlin. Because we live in an anti-education age, the dawn of a new Middle-Age perhaps, the attention span of the public is extremely short, they must be brought to climax quickly because they have other things to do.

The secret of our success in Ottawa depends on how far we are willing to go to reach
a public who is difficult to please or simply unaware of the beauty around them.