Saturday, 25 December 2010

Tom Smith

For our Christmas dinner we always have Christmas crackers. Tom Smith on a trip to Paris in 1840 noticed the Bonbon of sugared almonds wrapped in tissue paper. He decided to enhance this by placing a small love motto into the package he was able to create interest in this new novelty item. Then one day while thinking how he could improve on his product he noticed the cracking sound of a log on the fire and this led to the creation of the first crackers we know today. He invented a cracking mechanism that created a pop as the wrapping of the Bonbon was broken. The company was originally in Clerkenwell, East London and moved later to Finsbury Square. The Company has a Royal Warrant since 1847 as purveyors of Crackers to the Royal Family.

Today's crackers, have a paper hat inside, a small novelty item, a silly joke or riddle and may have other items depending on the quality of the cracker you bought. They are a wonderful tradition at the Christmas table.

Christmas day 2010 ROME

The Festivities started last night when our old friend and colleague of many years B. invited us to her house  for Christmas Eve dinner, she is an excellent cook and a great and elegant hostess, in a way rarely seen in this day and age.  We started the evening with a Jeroboam of Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Champagne and with little hors d' oeuvre of seafood. Then for dinner on a beautiful table, Foie Gras with more champagne. The main dish was turkey with vegetables and dessert a Panettone stuffed with pistachio ice cream, I had never seen such a thing, absolutely wonderful. We drove home down Via Nomentana which was almost deserted of cars in a Rome that is quiet and silent, in a way so unusual for this city.

Today we rose late, took care of the puppies and then opened a bottle of Champagne and had panettone while we opened our gifts, I gave Will 2 paintings of Rome by a Canadian artist, scenes of the city not often seen but known to Will. I received a beautiful Cashmire scarf and 3 books, one on a specialized topic of Roman Aqueducts by A.Trevor Hodge, published by Duckworth UK. Of the numerous aqueducts built by the Romans to supply the Eternal City with water quite a few still work. What is amazing is the description of the team of maintenance men needed to keep the system going and the incredible feat of engineering in an age when knowledge of mathematics and construction was still rudimentary.

W and I also got a beautiful drawing of the basilica of St-Francis in Assisi on this the 800th anniversary of the founding of the order by St-Francis.

Lunch was more Foie Gras and rack of lamb, I enjoyed it a lot and W did a wonderful job, as always, in the preparation.

Foie Gras is my weakness, I really cannot resist it.

Tomorrow a few friends may drop by for a drink, otherwise it will be quiet.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Almost Christmas

Well we are almost there, the tree is up, Will again did a wonderful job on the tree and despite my having to be careful, I got to put the star on the tree as is the custom in our house every year. This is probably the one single thing I like the most about preparing for Christmas. So many souvenirs in those accumulated decorations from different parts of the world, all chosen from many cities or gifts from friends, some from Neiman Marcus, our favorite discount store. We use to shop there in the days of Stanley Marcus and Alfred Neiman, now it belongs to some other company, I think it's Federated, still a nice store.

This year has been a bit slow off the mark, work at the office kept me really busy and many people are away, so we will not see them during the Holidays.  But on the 24th we are going to have a very nice dinner with friends, then on the 25th we are having Carré d'agneau, the 26th drinks with friends and possibly another dinner at a restaurant in Rome just entre nous with 4 other people.  For New Year's Eve we are having dinner at home with old friends and we all share in dish preparation.

The New Year will be with us all too soon. But for now let's play some Christmas music from Southern Poland, Mazowsze Polskie Koledy i Pastoralki and from Michael Praetorius, Lutheran Christmas Morning Mass of 1620 and enjoy a glass of two of Champagne.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

pre-Xmas blues

Friday night,
Well so far this year, I cannot say I am excited by the Festive Season. Maybe the recent surgery, too much work at the office and the uncertainty about next year, still no news, where will we be next year at this time, someone in Personnel for sure knows. Maybe once the tree is up, things will look different or as we get closer to Christmas, who knows.
                                    Christmas Market, Bologna, december 2010.

Anyway I am sort of melancholic now, I just can't get into the spirit, many of the people around me are also tired and anxious at work over technological changes which appear overwhelming.

Sunday morning,
Now the tree is up in the living room thanks to the help of our friend Lionel, who very kindly came over, he lives next block up. I am unable to help W. with this chore this year due to me recent surgery. We went for lunch today at one of your neighborhood restaurant with our good friends Larry and Walter, so we could see them before Xmas since they are going away for the Holidays to southern Italy, we had a very good lasagna as a first course, Primi and as a second course, Secundi, a veal chop with one large artichoke Roman Style, with the mint typical of Rome, mentuccia. The weather is grey, cold and humid today, stores are open but mostly empty, Xmas sales do not appear to be on the swing like years past, maybe it has to do with the economic slump here.
                                    Our tree 2010 in Rome

Next door in Greece snow in Athens, lots of it, I knew it sort of snowed in Greece in winter, they have ski resorts on Mount Parnassus and just a sprinkle of snow in Athens, but this time there is a lot of snow and apparently it will stay at least until after Xmas because of the cold front in the area,  how do people keep warm, homes are not equipped for the cold.

Venice is under water, up to a person's waist line, which is very high, it's salt water from the Adriatic and you cannot go anywhere because you cannot see where the sidewalk ends and the canals begin. It is a disaster but it is not in the news, strange really.

Our Holiday visitor arrives on Tuesday from Paris and this coming week we have one Cocktail party and one dinner party in E.U.R. that neighborhood built in 1938-39 by Mussolini outside of Rome. We had a beautiful Holiday dinner party at the Residence on Via di Porta Latina, the roast beef was excellent and so was the turkey. Both H.E. and Madame have outdone themselves, it really felt like home, Chef Paul as always was superb.

Tomorrow 13 December is Santa Lucia, the Feast of Lights to mark the Winter Solstice.
                               Italian Carabinieri in their Sunday best

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Since November 1978

We met in Ottawa on 23 or 25 November 1978, I say this because there is some debate on the date itself. However we have been together ever since. So many years, so many trips, so many souvenirs.

Happy Anniversary, Auguri a Noi !!!!

Douce France, cher pays de mes ancêtres

Convalescing at home, I have some time on my hands, so I started to look up some family genealogy and found that certain first names in my family keep reappearing over and over again from one generation to the next. I was not really aware of this tradition in my family.  We now have 12 generations in Canada. One ancestor Nicolas Philippe was born in Normandy in 1633 in the small village of Illeville sur Montfort, on the Eure River, population today of 720 persons. He marries in 1650 with Marie Lebel who is from Gruchet le Valasse another small village, it is known for its old Cistercian Monastery, near the Seine River, population 1200 persons.

They have one son Jean Philippe who will immigrate to New France (Canada). He is illeterate like most people of his time being a poor peasant but he can sign his name and hires himself out to work for another farmer in the area of Quebec City, this is how with a work contract you could then immigrate to Canada. It appears that he married Marie Coipel from the Parish of St-Jacques de la Boucherie in Paris but then his marriage is annuled in 1680 by the same Quebec City notary Pierre Duquet de la Chenaye who appears to be the notary of many other families in the area and who will also prepare legal documents for the other branch of my family the Hudon dit Beaulieu.

Jean Philippe Lebel dit Beaulieu will remarry in 30 July 1685 in Charlesbourg near Quebec City with Catherine Galarneau. He dies in Quebec City in January 1703. This is the ancestor who takes on the surname of Lebel dit Beaulieu, he will use both the family name of his father Philippe and add the family name of his mother Lebel and then a third surname Beaulieu. His children will drop the family name Philippe and keep only Lebel dit Beaulieu. Upon his death in 1703 his wife will remarry a man by the name of Savard who has 7 kids of his own. Her children from her first marriage will keep the name Lebel dit Beaulieu.

Our other ancestor Pierre Hudon dit Beaulieu of the village Notre-Dame de Chemillé, Cholet, Angers, Maine et Loire, is born in 1648, from the age of 15 in 1663 he works as a domestic for a gentleman named Nicolas Marsolet de Saint-Aignan, said to be a colleague of Samuel de Champlain. As for the Beaulieu surname which is the one that will become the family name, it apparently comes from a forest known as la fôret de Beaulieu, near the village of Beaulieu sur Layon in Maine et Loire and this is the reference Pierre Hudon dit Beaulieu will use.
Church of Notre-Dame de Chemillé (old Church XII century), Cholet

He comes to Canada as a soldier with the Compagnie of Grandfontaine in the Regiment of Carignan (which is a Regiment whose original purpose was the protection of the King's person), sailing from LaRochelle on the French Royal Navy ship L'Aigle d'Or de Brouage on the 13 May 1665 and arriving in Quebec City on 19 August 1665, he is 17 years old.  He will participate in battles against the Iroquois (Agniers), will participate in the building of Fort Chambly near Montreal. The Iroquois are defeated, 5 villages are burned and Albany is threathened, Peace is established and by the fall of 1666 he is a baker in Quebec City and then a farmer, he becomes wealthy, owning cows and bulls, has 2 rifles and land 10 hectares fronting the St-Lawrence river which at the time was considered a large piece of land. We also know that he distinguished himself in battle when General Sir William Phipps attacked Quebec City with a British Squadron in October 1690, Louis de Buade Conte de Frontenac is Governor General of New France at the time. The British are defeated and will not attack Canada until the 7 year war in 1759.

Pierre Hudon dit Beaulieu and Marie-Ange Gobeil will marry in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Quebec City in July 1676, they lived up to 1681 in La Bouteillerie, Quebec on land given to him by Sieur Jean-Baptiste François Des Champs de la Bouteillerie, who is a French Aristocrat and a Major of the Garrison of Quebec City. He will die in April 1710 at Rivière Ouelle. He and his wife will have 12 children and they in turn will all have many children.

On my mother's side of her family, their ancestor Pierre Gougeon was born in 1659 in Aubigny in Vendée this is the Pays de la Loire region near the Atlantic Coast and the famous Sables d'Olone beach, he was a master mason, he married in Montreal, Marie-Catherine Danis in 1686. I remember La Vendée, in 1969 my parents and us kids visited the region, it was very green countryside, the Loire river and very old French villages, local markets, etc.
A plaque to an ancestor Jean or Giovanni Goujon in Bologna.

So on my father's side of the Family, first names are usually Jean, Philippe, Louis and Laurent.
On my mother's side, Pierre is common. It is as if someone is keeping track of the names of the ancestors and is passing it along to the next generation.
The name Laurent is derived from the Parish church St-Laurent a reminder of their home parish in France. Strangely enough they settle in St-Laurent Parish in Canada. So my family has lived in Canada for  345 yrs.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The pursuit of Happiness

As I finish reading the biography of Voltaire, I came across many facts I was not aware of, per example in his time, people had little knowledge of other countries or of what was going on elsewhere outside of the immediate area where they lived. Well over 95% of the population did not know how to read and write and where so ignorant of the world that the lives of average people was governed by superstitions and whatever the Lord of the Manor or the Priest said to you. Public Opinion as we know it today did not exist. In his time public opinion was people at Court in Versailles and a few intellectuals. The rest of Frenchmen had no knowledge really of what was happening. This gives a very different coloring to mass movements under the Revolution 20 years after his death. The crowds were still being manipulated then by clever orators. Political manipulators who believed they could turn on and off mob fury against anyone perceived as an enemy, this led some historians to state that the French Revolution was more a civil war than a true revolution.

When Voltaire went to England for the first time, it might as well have been to the moon, France and England were vastly different countries, England had a Constitution, a well established Parliament, the Justice system was well organized and there was Freedom of Expression, none of that existed in France.
The Roman Catholic Church controlled many aspects of life in France and any crimes against the Church was punished with extreme severity, cutting off limbs, tearing out of tongues, torture and burning at a stake was very common punishment for any slight against the authority of the Church. Per example failing to remove your hat when a religious procession passed was enough for a death sentence.

With the age of Enlightenment in Europe the idea of Freedom of Expression in France and elsewhere started to gain ground and with it came the idea that man should pursue Happiness. It was a fashionable idea. As of 1730 this idea appears in writings by many philosophers of the time in France and elsewhere.
This idea or concept will then be borrowed by American thinkers who were much influenced by both England and France's Enlightenment movement. This borrowed concept will finally be incorporated into the US Constitution as an idea that all men are entitled to the Pursuit of Happiness, an 18 century concept which has loss its meaning in our modern age.

Legal reforms in France only came about with the Revolution, during Voltaire's life he will write about the need to reform the law, for a separation of Civil and Criminal Law from Church Law. That judges had to be trained in the legal profession and not become judges because they could afford to buy a judgeship. That punishment must be a deterrent not a means to seek revenge.
That Justice is part of the Social Contract and the Law should apply equally to all, whether Noble or Commoner. The accused should have access to legal representation and should be allowed to cross examine witnesses against them.

Many of the ideas of the time were about shaking off the authority of the Church and its stranglehold on society. Allowing men, at first this meant people who had property and where educated compared to all of society as we think of it today, to have a social contract between the governed and the King, establishing obligations and basic rights. Voltaire or any other person, per example could not travel abroad without permission of the King.

Books which were denounced by the Church and failed to pass the Censors at Court could be burned publicly. Writers of such banned books could also face severe punishment. It is difficult for us to imagine  today in our Western World where we can do and say pretty much whatever we want and have the freedom to travel and behave inappropriately and not fear any retribution what it must have been like to live in such a repressive regime.  Of course such regime exist still today in some parts of the world.

The ideas of the French Enlightenment were denounced by the Church as the work of Satan and the Church used its enormous powers and influence to persecute anyone who dared challenge the established authority.  After reading Voltaire's correspondence contained in this book, I understand better the ferocity of the Revolution against the old order and the Church in France in particular.

Caramel, a sweet and hair remover

Caramel (2007) Directed by Nadine Labaki; written (in Arabic and French, with English subtitles) by Ms. Labaki, Jihad Hojeily and Rodney Al Haddad.

This month ARTE the French-German Television station is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. They are showing award winning movies from the film Festivals of Europe. Caramel is a Lebanese production and refers to the sweet which is used in Oriental cultures also as a hair remover. The Beirut beauty salon where most of  ''Caramel" takes place is likely to be a familiar type of establishment, even to people who have never been to the Lebanese capital. What the shop lacks in sleekness and chic it makes up for in the kind of friendly, sisterly warmth. 

Women of various shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds gather to bond and gossip. Their camaraderie is occasionally disrupted by a crisis, but you are likely to remember this charming film, directed by Nadine Labaki, less for its gently comic, mildly melodramatic plot than for its friendly and inviting atmosphere.

Ms. Labaki plays Layale, owner of the shop, which is called Si Belle. Like many unmarried women in the Middle East, Layale, in spite of her professional independence, lives with her parents. She is also having an affair with a married man and spends anxious hours waiting for him to call, ignoring the attentions of a handsome traffic policeman who is obviously smitten with her.

Layale’s friends and co-workers are supportive and tolerant of her, and also have troubles of their own. Jamale (Gisèle Aouad) is a recently divorced actress made frantic by the necessity of competing with younger women for work in television commercials. Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri), a Muslim, is engaged and is worried about what will happen if her future husband discovers that she isn’t a virgin. Rima (Joanna Moukarzel), who cleans up around the shop and washes hair, develops a crush on an elegant client. And then there is Aunt Rose (Siham Haddad), a seamstress who lives down the street from Layale’s shop with her demanding, mentally disabled sister, Lili (Aziza Semaan).

Life for these women is not easy or especially fair, and each of them faces moments of humiliation, loneliness and potential heartbreak, there are also twinges of real pain and disappointment.
But in the best melodramatic tradition, their toughness, good humor and loyalty see them through. 

I very much liked this movie because it shows life as it is and not as it is too often portrayed in the news. I know, for having lived for 8 years in the Middle-East, such charming people and their family, their stories and little dramas, hopes and joys. The movie touches on many topics, adultery, homosexuality, women's issues, marriage, family life. It brought back many memories of cities like Cairo, Amman, Damascus and Beirut, where I lived or worked or visited many times over.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Advent Calendar

Well today is the first Sunday of Advent and on 1 December we will start our Advent Calendar. Will got me this very nice Calendar made of wood with little drawers containing each one Nougat. I love Nougat, there is something so rich in the name itself, there are 24 in total.

 Next week, it's the start of the Xmas Markets all over Europe, here in Italy and in Germany, Austria, lots of good things to eat and hot Spiced Wine.
We will be sure to visit some market. In Rome Piazza Navona has a Xmas Market, but we have been to Germany who has great Xmas Markets, music, good food, specialties and all kinds of handicraft for Christmas. It simply beats any shopping you might do in a store.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Reading China Daily

The Official newspaper of the Government of China, the China Daily is published in several languages and brings news from China that indicate where the Chinese Communist Party is taking the country. News Items prior to the G20 in Korea indicated through a series of interviews that the People's Republic of China was not about to help the USA with its current financial problems, senior official stated that they knew in advance that the Western Press would make much of the current undervalue of the Yuan or Renminbi the official currency of China but for them the G20 meeting was about much more than that, inasmuch as the value of the Yuan is not really a pressing concern for the Chinese Government. What they wish to talk about is more global issues on trade. Then after the G20 meeting the White House and the Western Press were talking about how the meetings had not gone well and how China had said little about the value or letting the Yuan float to a higher level against the US dollar. The real message which was not carried by the Western media was that China and Russia are about to drop the dollar as a currency in which they conduct foreign trade. The Chinese believe that the US dollar is a weak currency brought down by massive debt and the US President is not able to be decisive and is now weaken by a Republican Congress. The Chinese are not interested in weak leaders or countries with big debts and since China owns much of the US credit debt it is now unloading it around the world. Then on the 24 and 25 November articles in the China Daily announced that Premier Wen of China and Premier Putin of Russia had concluded an agreement to use each others currency when doing bilateral trade. This is a powerful signal that the US dollar is no longer considered by China as a strong currency and that they do not intend to allow their currency to reach a higher value against the US dollar. For the USA this chess move is a signal that the end game as started, China intends to replace the USA as a dominant economic force and that the USA will not be able to surmount the numerous economic problems facing it.

China has started to dump US dollars and buying other currencies weakening further the US dollar and by creating its own consumer class in China (about one billion people) they will no longer need the USA for its own goods. For China trade partners now are Brazil and India, Russia the old ally of the cold war.
Leave the Americans to their troubles with war on terrorism, Afghanistan, Irak, North Korea and its Nuclear Program, Iran and the Middle East issue, and its economic woes, in other words enough on the US plate to exhaust completely the rival. The Chinese Communist never forgave nor forgot that the USA supported Taiwan and the Nationalists against the Communists nor the humiliation of years of being snubbed by the USA until Kissinger and Nixon finally decided they could recognize China. The recognition though came but not on American terms.

Unfortunately no US politician will have the courage to point to the coming years of difficult economic reality at home, no one is willing to believe despite all the signals that this is happening.  The sun is finally setting and in ten to fifteen years time, a short time really, China will be telling the USA what to do.  By running after too many rabbits at once the US has exhausted itself. In the meantime China continues to invest massively in Africa, South America and Europe. It has already come to the rescue of Greece and is doing so in many other countries, eclipsing the USA. China has the money and loads of cheap labor, the signs have been there for years but no one paid attention. It is worth reading China Daily to know what is happening or where things are going.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Something I have learned since 7 July

On 7 July 2010, I started my diet with a dietician, a professional well known to many other health providers in Rome. She is very good and I lost a lot of weight around 12kg. I am so far 4 kg or 8 lbs short of my perfect weight. I did this to improve my health and also to get my blood pressure under control to a more normal level, it is not high, it is on the border, either over slightly or just normal.

What I learned during this process is how men can develop specific male health problems with the weight around their waist area, the fat in that area can cause with age a lot of serious health problems. Now this week I had surgery for an hernia, it was large and more serious than I thought. What I learned from speaking with the surgeon and the resident doctor was that male abdominal muscles are very important and should not be neglected, they play an important part in keeping everything in place. Unfortunately too many men do not seem to be aware of this fact and have soft abdominal muscles and thus many problems with their back and with hernias etc...   Lifestyles and drinking habits, lack of exercise and often deskjobs do not help.
I find that too often we are unaware as men of the dangers of poor habits, they are not discussed in the media and are not part of the general discussion in society. I for one was mildly aware of what I should do and also as you age needs change. The fact that the image we see is usually of young under 35 men and that programs of exercise or diet are focused on youth leaves anyone else older out in the cold, youth sells in the Marketing world, even with an aging population.

In North America it is a phenomenon of its own, you can easily find articles on women topic, from food to health, to fashion, education, work and career. Try finding anything about men, it is far more difficult and it is often very slanted. Same goes for medical or health information, information is not provided with the optic to grab the interest of a readership but is more focused on telling us about a problem without offering any solutions. If a solution is offered it is often a fad and will not last. So you need to get good advice from a professional.

So it is up to us individually to inform ourselves of what we should be aware, small things are often more important than we think.
Out of my hospital adventure I received these very nice flowers from my colleagues at the Office.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Back from Villa Mafalda

Well yesterday I had my surgery, it was not a day surgery, walk in and out procedure. It was painful but all is well now and am resting with pain killers. It really is a nice clinic or Casa di Cura as we say here in Rome. Lots of care for the patient and lots of attention to details. The food is good too served on nice china ware.  The big stress was that all of this happens in Italian and when you are groggy with painkillers words escape you and you do not know how to explain what you are feeling, however the nursing staff speak a little English and one of the doctors spoke French. The pain is described in Italian as fastidioso or dolore intenso. Then there are all the little details, what you cannot do or should avoid after the operation. I also like the fact that the doctor pointed out to me that there will be no scar, important detail per la bella figura.
I have to go back in a few days for a check-up and settle the bill, it is a private clinic, so it is not cheap.
But then again you do not wait and all is done in an atmosphere of calm, cannot say that about public hospitals in Rome.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Life in Rome

On Friday night we went to one of our neighborhood restaurant's called Stella Maris (Sea Star), the specialty is fish and it is owned by a family from Sardinia. The food is good and we being regulars and neighbors always have a table. Had some mussels and then some calamari and octopus a nice green salad and a little dessert, all with a nice Vermentino White wine. After dinner I asked the owner for a glass of Mirto which is a liquor made of Myrtle which is his specialty and is served with spice cookies his wife makes. He also surprised us with a plate of hot chestnuts to go with our Mirto. How very nice I thought, it is chestnut and Olive Oil season right now in Italy, in France its Beaujolais nouveau but here in Italy it is unknown. We  have 16,000 wine labels in Italy so Beaujolais is not exactly something people go for.

The chestnuts were good and hot to handle, delicious and on a cold night was just the perfect way to finish a meal, a luxury.

On Tuesday I will have a small operation in an Italian Hospital, being operated on by a Italian Surgeon all in Italian. I have been to Mexican and Polish Hospitals in the past and the service was always fine and
have really no problems with getting medical problems attended to. This time maybe because I am older I am a bit apprehensive, it is surgery, nothing complicated and the doctor is well recommended by everyone I spoke too. I suppose what bothers me is that with the stress of the operation is the fact that it will be in a foreign language.  I speak some Italian and I do understand what people are saying quite well, it is just that I have to make an effort to pay attention, so I catch the meaning of it all. The hospital is a private clinic and it is well known. But surgery is always a little stressful no matter what.
Because of this medical situation, I missed yesterday a private visit to the Quirinal Palace, a real shame.
I will not be able to go for lunch and the opera in Florence next week.  But I cannot put this off, it must be taken care of now.

So is life.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

François Marie Arouet dit Voltaire 1694-1778

Well you probably heard of Voltaire the author of Candide which was made into a musical by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. He wrote many works in his lifetime and his writings challenged the establishment in France and elsewhere in Europe.
Unfortunately like many famous historical figures he has become a bit of a caricature. Popular culture sort of reduces everything to a cliché. So in Montreal I went into one of my favorite bookstore on Green Ave in Westmount, Nicholas Hoare, , they always have the nicest collection of books. I saw this book, a biography of Voltaire by Ian Davidson, published by Pegasus Books. Davidson took over 1860 letters written by Voltaire during his life to friends, acquaintances, Kings and government officials. It's Voltaire speaking and talking about himself, his life, a very personal, intimate portrait of the man. He suffered from depression, he wanted to be recognized and loved, he was a syncophant, he suffered from erectile disfunction at 50, he had an incestuous affair with his niece Madame Denis who was 20 years younger than he was. He also lacked judgement sometimes and fancied himself a great spy, he was simply an amateur in diplomacy, especially when he wanted to reconcile France and Prussia. He spoke English well and also wrote in English. He became very rich early on in life, he had a very difficult relationship with his father and his brother Armand.
                                              François Marie Arouet, Voltaire

He became the epitome of the age of French Enlightenment, a new man who challenged by his writings the Ancien Regime and was hated by the Roman Catholic Church for exposing its hypocrisy and corruption.   He never sought to become the leading figure of the Enlightenment movement nor the leader of anything for that matter, but in his life time he was famous and controversial all over Europe. He feared rivals or persecution by the authorities, he was intensely ambitious for literary success, his career was marked by feuds and crises. It certainly gives me a better appreciation for the man who in Canada is remembered for saying that '' Canada was nothing more than a few hectares of snow''. In his life time France lost North America to England to the regret of every French government since.  This biography shows the man in his greatness but also as a human being, capable of folly and pettiness, who in the latter part of his life realized that he was part of a greater movement heralding a totally new age.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Visited with Mom

I believe that I wrote some time ago of a visit with my Mom who is now in a care facility. Mom is slowly dying of Alzheimer, it has been 11 years now. She is still looking healthy, good skin tone and lively eyes, she loves to listen to opera music, eats well, smiles and laughs a lot. What we can no longer do is have a conversation and she no longer remembers who I am, though she will at times give you a look indicating a brief moment of lucidity, she seems to recognize me but does not remember my name anymore. My sister had warned me that things had changed since the last visit. Looking back I now see how things were five years ago, when she still went out with my Dad to the restaurant and enjoying outings and then two years ago when she entered this facility and today.
It’s very painful to see this slow but sure decline.

On the other hand my father has increasing pulmonary health problems and with the cold humid windy winters in Montreal, I am also worried about him. His lungs are very fragile and he has to be constantly careful.

Talked with my sister and brother-in-law who are both in the health field and have a lot of experience with elderly people, death and dying.

This morning just before going to the airport, I went to see the doctor who has been following my mother for years now and spoke with him about what to expect.

We had a good conversation on what to expect in the next three years. Mom is now at stage 7, the final stage and it is a matter of time before the disease completes its progress.  The doctor explained what to expect, it is not pretty and I was distressed to hear it. I find it necessary to know, so that I can prepare myself for what will happen. Talked with my sister and her husband, my father has a lot of problems with acceptance and what is coming. Luckily my Mom had the foresight to tells us all many times some years ago before she became ill and to include in her living Will that she does not want any extreme measures and machines to keep her alive or to prolong life. She has always said that when it is time to go, its better to leave with dignity than to hang on.

It does not help that today the weather is gray, dreary and rainy.

Sitting at Montreal, Dorval AKA Pierre E. Trudeau airport

I remember this airport from the 1960’s when flying was an exotic adventure for a few lucky people and if you flew overseas well that was as if you were going to the moon. I had one uncle who worked for Air Canada and he and my aunt would travel to Italy, Portugal and France, they were like astronauts to us kids. No one travelled much further than somewhere in Canada and usually by train or to the USA, even then a lot of people drove to Florida in winter.

To me the airport in Montreal will always be Dorval named after a French Aristocrat who owned the land in the area during the French Regime in Canada (1534-1763). Currently it has been re-named and re-built completely as the P.E. Trudeau airport after our late Prime Minister of the 1970’s. Dorval is also the oldest city on the West Island of Montreal, founded in 1667 by les Messieurs de Saint-Sulpice, the Sulpicians and led by French Nobles, Father François Salignac de Fénelon founded a school and a mission post for the Indians. Pierre Le Gardeur de Repentigny was the owner of “La Presentation” at the time. In 1691, Jean-Baptiste Bouchard d’Orval bought the “La Présentation” land. The word “d’Orval” which was the name of a small hamlet where he was born in Aisne, France. 

The airport use to have a restaurant called the Kebec on the second floor, the specialty was roast beef with all the fixing and the décor was sumptuous with views of the runways, going to this restaurant prior to a flight was a big thing, it was exciting and glamorous. You had a huge meal with cocktails and wine and then took your flight. No security lines in those days, once you were checked-in that was it. There was also one hotel at the airport a Hilton and every Sunday night they had a radio show on CJAD live from the Jupiter Lounge with big band dance music, it was part of the marvel of air travel and the glamour that went with it, Will loves to say that in those days Gentlemen and Ladies flew on aircrafts, men wore tie and jacket and ladies had nice dresses and pearls. We are very far from this era today, the glamour is gone and people dress as if they are cleaning out the garage, many are also very self-absorbed.

Today the Hilton Dorval is gone, it has been replaced by a newly built Marriott and the airport terminal itself has been completely rebuilt, you could not say where the old terminal buildings were. It still has that Canadian homey feeling, big but not too big, it is practical, modern and has a no nonsense approach.

Went through security easily, lots of staff, well organized, helpful, they tell you what to do to speed things along. The food options are very different nowadays, mostly fast food, but I note a lot of options for vegetarians and people wanting to eat healthy, fresh fruits, etc..

Despite the number of passengers it is relatively quiet.
So onwards to Zurich a city I have not visited since 1975.
Again this time I will only see the airport terminal between 2 flights. Zurich Airport is sleek and clean as a whistle, just what you expect in Switzerland with that funny singsong low German-Swiss they speak. 

Saturday, 6 November 2010

125th Anniversary Transcontinental Canada

This weekend is the 125th anniversary of the inauguration and completion of the Transcontinental railway across Canada, it was built as a promise to the Province of British Columbia in 1871, so that they would join the union with other Canadian Provinces. It was completed by Sir William Van Horne in 1885. The Last Spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was the final spike driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia at 9:22 am on November 7.
Some 30,000 men and 6,000 Chinese migrant workers built this railway which is clearly a symbol of Canadianism linking the Nation from Sea to shining Sea, across several time zones and thousands of kilometers. With the Maple Leaf, the Beaver, the railway is an iconic symbol for all Canadians.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Changes everywhere

After work I make a point of going for a little walk, the building we are in is 50 years old and is not in good condition and has very poor air circulation, so you feel tired after a few hours. Ottawa is enjoying some very good weather though a bit cold but sunny, so I go for a walk. Today I walked down Laurier ave towards the Rideau Canal ( a UNESCO site) and the University of Ottawa, my old Alma Mater. Incredible changes on campus, so many new faculty buildings, modern architecture and hundreds of trees planted all over the campus making it a very green place.  A new foot bridge, said to be the most used bridge across the canal connects the University centre with the Queen Elizabeth Drive. When I think of what the campus was like when I was a student, it was mostly a huge paved parking lot with a few old buildings, some with a historical background, not exactly an inspired campus. In the last 30 years, the campus has been transformed.

What has also changed is the restaurant scene in Ottawa, a city not known in the past for fine dining, people use to go across the Ottawa River to Gatineau for fine French restaurants. On the weekend the city was basically dead and on Sunday's you could not even buy gas. In the last 10 years the restaurant scene has been  totally transformed.  Some very good restaurants have now opened with creative chefs and innovative menus. Gone are the cheap eateries and poor service in mediocre decor. The restaurant scene has certainly matured, to the great benefit of the city.

What I also notice is the number of monuments which have sprouted all over the centre of the Capital.
It use to be that most monuments were concentrated on Parliament Hill around the Houses of Parliament, now you find them around the War Memorial on Confederation Square and along the great avenues.
It is also interesting to note the number of streets which have been transformed like old Wellington Street near Richmond Road, Bank street, King Edward, there has been obvious investments and urban renewal. Not to mention the new Convention Centre twice the size of the old one.

Now if only the new Mayor and City Council can solve the problem of the rapid transit system through the centre of the city, it should make for an interesting improvement to the Capital.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

another quiet revolution in Canada

The term quiet revolution in Canada refers to events in the province of Quebec between 1960 and 1969 when the province through a change in Government quietly abandoned the old mode of governance and society changed radically from being dominated by the R.C. Church who up to 1960 had controlled education, health care, book publishing, and other social programs. The government had until that time been a conservative led affair with little interest in the lives of the governed. The people in general who did not belong to the educated elite felt left out completely and disparity between rich and poor were important.
Great changes amounting to a revolution took place, the left wing politicians stepped in and the Church lost all the influence it had enjoyed becoming a marginalized institution and disappearing from people's lives.

This week in Ontario several municipal elections took place, in Ottawa an incompetent mayor was tossed out after just one term and a former mayor who is a good guy with no vision and thinks of the National Capital as a small town, was elected, steady as she goes politics in Ottawa. The big change came in Toronto, Canada's largest city at 4.5 million in population.

The City elite who in Toronto is educated, liberal and left wing had decided that their candidate George Smitherman would win and the other candidate Toronto City Councillor Rob Ford would loose.
The newspapers endorsed Smitherman and dismissed Ford, however what was not reported and largely ignored by the press was the amount of anger at the level of the common man at high taxes and no services and incompetent big city management.  Also the common man is sick and tired of being told by the elite and by the newspapers in this case The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star what to think and what is good for him. All the common man sees is that he has to pay for it all while he does not get invited to the party.  The Toronto left wing or liberal elite suffers from the Marie-Antoinette syndrome, let them eat cake and forget about it.  What is interesting in the weekend papers is how pages after pages are filled with Cassandra like warnings that the common man by electing Rob Ford, the raw populist, has made a terrible mistake.

One article tells us that the morning after the victory of Rob Ford, the CBC National radio show As It Happens with Carol Off interviewed Mr. Ford. He, at that moment, was coaching his football team all the while answering Carol Off's questions.  The interview did not go well, Mr. Ford was busy with the team, a practice was on, he showed that he did not care much for the CBC, the national broadcaster, and he hung-up on her abruptly. Next morning Mr. Ford gave another interview this time with Talk Radio AM 640 and it went very well, why, well the ordinary man listens to AM radio and not to the CBC.
The elite is offended how can this man ignore us and give more attention to a local station then the National Broadcaster.
Predictions by the press are that Mr. Ford will be a terrible mayor and papers like the Globe have turned their backs on him. Mr. Ford it turns out was elected by immigrants and the ethnic vote in Toronto who are more conservative and are now the new common man. They are the new majority displacing the old traditional elite of the city, we knew this was coming, Canada is changing rapidly and is far more multi-ethnic now than it ever was, the majority of our immigrants come from the Asian sub-continent. Ford represented Ward 2, Etobicoke with a 48% immigrant and ethnic population, as a City Councillor Ford has been re-elected in the past with very large majorities.

Margaret Wente in her column put it best when she writes about the masses revolting, with good reason.
She describes the elite in Toronto who did not see the Tsunami Ford coming as people who live and work in downtown Toronto and rarely leave it. Few have ever met a person who voted for Rob Ford.
The editors of the Toronto Star describe people who voted for Ford as people with pointless rage, who are deluded, to explain why the common man ignored editorials telling them who to vote for, in this case George Smitherman, the darling of the left wing elite and the Liberal Party of Canada. The problem as she explains is simple the Toronto elite believes it knows what is best for the masses, even if the masses massively disagree. The problem is simple, people have a lot more government than they can or will pay for, Mr. Ford knows that and he promised to scale down city government in Toronto.
We will see now what actually happens, stay tuned. His brother Doug Ford replaces him in Ward 2 as the new City Councillor.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

recent pictures

Since July 7 I have been following a new regimen with the help of a dietitian and the results are showing to my great pleasure, however this means that all my clothes now need to be altered, I have lost 3 cm on my waist which makes a difference, I find that this weight loss makes me look more distinguished. My doctor also mentioned that for men's health a slimmer waist is far better than the North American paunch which is so common here in Canada and elsewhere. Apparently many health problems for men start with a large waist area, diabetes type 2 and heart problems which then lead to other serious problems.

Villa Aurelia on the Janiculum Hill, Rome last year before the diet

In Mykonos, Greece, October 2010

In Mykonos in October 2010.

I am now hoping to conclude by arriving at my goal which is 70 Kg. I am only 3 kg off at this time, I have lost about 14 Kg. or 25lbs. My goal of 70 kg is what I call my Asian weight target, in China most men weigh between 60 to 70 kg on average which is far less than Western men.

Another discovery I made while in Ottawa at the old By Ward market, I found this new apple called Honey Crisp, they are not very common on the market yet but very good, bigger than a Mac Intosh and certainly more juicy and sweet.
You know the old saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away, it is apparently true and proven now by new medical studies.

Greek Marathon 2500 Anniversary 31 October 2010

Some 12,000 runners are expected to participate Sunday’s 42-kilometre (26-mile) race, a threefold increase over last year, in this celebration of the victory of Democracy over Totalitarianism.
"The 2,500-year anniversary of the battle of the defeat of the Persian empire by citizen soldiers from the democratic city states of Athens and Platea.
Panathenaic (all Greek) Stadium in central Athens.

According to history, the distance from Marathon to Athens was first run by Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger who in 490 BC dashed to the city to announce victory ''Niki'' over the Persians, before dying of exhaustion.
Athena Nike Temple, a top the Acropolis, Athens.

Run on a four-lane concrete avenue through the urban districts of east Athens with a finish at the ancient all-marble Panathenaic Stadium, site of the 1896 Olympics, the race is a challenge for runners as much of it is uphill.

Olympian Zeus Temple in foreground, Panathenaic Stadium in background, central Athens.

When the modern Olympic games were inaugurated in 1896 in Greece, the story of Pheidippides was revived by a 24.85 mile (40,000 meters) run from Marathon Bridge to Olympic stadium in Athens. Traditionally the final event in the Olympics, the first organized marathon on April 10, 1896 was especially important to all Greeks. Greece was hosting those first modern Olympic Games. The Greeks had yet to win a medal, and had one final chance to bring glory to their nation. Twenty-five runners assembled on Marathon Bridge. The starter said a few words and fired the gun, and the race was on. "The excitement of the crowd waiting at the finish line of Athens' ancient Panathenaic stadium was beyond description" writes the Greek historian Quercetani. Spiridon Louis, a Greek postal worker from the village of Marusi and veteran of several long military marches, crossed the finish line a full seven minutes ahead of the pack. His time was 2 hours, 58 minutes, 50 seconds for the 40 kilometer distance (average pace of 7:11 minutes per mile). When it was all over nine runners finished, 8 of them Greeks. The host nation was ecstatic, and the marathon was born.

At the 1908 Olympic Games in London, the marathon distance was changed to 26.2 miles to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to White City stadium, with the 2.2 miles added on so the race could finish in front of royal family's viewing box. After 16 years of extremely heated discussion, this 26.2 mile distance was established at the 1924 Olympics in Paris as the official marathon distance.
Today, marathons have become a running tradition throughout the world. Yet the annual Marathon at Athens, where it all began, has a tradition and an appeal like no other. In 1996, the 100th anniversary of the modern Athens Marathon, more than 3,000 runners from every part of the world gathered to run in the footsteps of Pheidippides.
 Greek Flag 

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Royal Canadian Navy Centennial

The Royal Canadian Navy which in 1945 was the fifth largest Navy in the world is celebrating its Centennial, 1910-2010, by Royal Proclamation May 4 is Royal Canadian Navy Day. It was H.E. the Governor General  Albert Henry George Grey, 4th Earl Grey who suggested to Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier that  Canada create its own Navy distinct from the British Imperial Navy. In Ottawa, Halifax and Vancouver there are displays to celebrate this event, Canada has 220,000 km of coast line on three oceans. Admiral Sir Charles Edmund Kingsmill (July 7, 1855 – July 15, 1935) was the first Director of the Canadian Naval Service (which later became the Royal Canadian Navy).

Charles Edmund Kingsmill was born at GuelphOntario in 1855 and educated at Upper Canada College in Toronto. He directed the RCN from 1910 to 1921.

Where is home?

Ottawa, Houses of Parliament

I feel like E.T. and I want to go home, but where is home? Coming back to Ottawa, the Capital of our Dominion, the city has changed, but it remains a small town. Now urban growth sees condos grow like mushrooms and the price is anything between half a million to several million dollars, the University of Ottawa, my alma mater, has grown with many new faculty buildings, obviously many rich alumni have given to the University. The Rideau Canal built by Colonel By and the Royal Engineers in 1834 to move troops rapidly in case of American invasion has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The capital is also cosmopolitan now, much more so than a decade ago.
By Ward Market

I know that if we return to Ottawa, where we have many friends and were we have had a home in some fashion since 1976, there would be a big adjustment. It is all a question of optics, I suppose. Rome is a small town in many ways and it is also Rome the Eternal City. The same can be said of many other cities, there's the image and the myth about a place and then daily reality.

It is nice to return and to meet so many old friends, the people we know here, we have known for decades.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Travel to Ottawa

So I flew back to the Capital of the Dominion on Friday with Lufthansa via Frankfurt am Main. I like Lufthansa despite the delay in departing, about 20 minutes, the plane was clean, having just arrived from Frankfurt, the delay was due to morning frost in Germany. I do not know how the pilot did it but in Rome at Fiumicino, he was able to basically taxi directly to the departing position ahead of other flights also leaving in that time slot. Frankfurt airport is huge and walking from one terminal to the other takes time, also because I was leaving the Shengen zone (exiting the European Union) we had to go through immigration and passport inspection, having little time, I lined up in the EU Citizen line, when I got to the examining officer he looked at my photo in my passport and then looked at me, he looked surprised, I do not know why, maybe I look different, though my passport photo is no more than 2 years old.

The flight to Ottawa was quiet, I did notice on board Air Canada, that the food served is heavy on the bread and sauce and heavily salted and sugared. In Ottawa I notice the same thing on menus in restaurants, lots of breading, dips, sauces, cheese and cream, people love their foods to be heavy. So I have to read menus and order what is less heavy and healthier, difficult to do in this culture. Canadians are not as obese as Americans but they are not far behind.

Again Air Canada has much older on board personnel than other airlines, on average I would say that most cabin crew is over 55 years of age and testy and not necessarily happy.

Ottawa has changed in 7 years, the airport has expanded and is a lot bigger though the international arrival still has only one luggage carousel, we also now have a Hilton hotel at the airport, a first.
Other changes, new congress centre, lots of new big towers, condos, hotels, many condos now sell in the 2 to 7 million Canadian dollar range, again another first for this city.

Though there is still no decent public transport system and this weekend the mayoral race will probably see a new mayor elected. The city is still very quiet, little traffic after hours and fewer people, it is also very clean and tidy and Sunday is still a day of rest and everything is closed.

There is also a lot of cultural differences with Europe, you notice how people in Ottawa are low key, polite and courteous in a small town kind of way, people do dress down, very casual. Even on the flight I notice lots of jeans and T-shirts, you can easily overdress in Canada. There is an overwhelming concern with protecting children, the hotel has prominent displays about parental supervision and blocking internet and TV channels to protect children, to give parents peace of mind. Against what exactly? It seems that there is a huge concern with inappropriate influences on children, the attitude is the world is an evil place, a puritanical, Calvinist, the nanny approach to life. On Air Canada, every film shown came with an advisory about bad language, nudity and violence, the movies on the programe had none of it, the movie's contents were all quite inoffensive. Same with television, always the advisory message, a little too anal for my taste.

I do not find Ottawa to be a very affordable city, many food prices and other items are more expensive than Rome, I have been doing conversion from dollar to euros and am surprised to see, contrary to popular belief, that Canada is more expensive than Italy at least, items like a restaurant meal, parking, public transport, groceries, a simple coffee are all more expensive. As for real estate it has now reached to my surprise the same level of any European Capital in terms of prices.

I have a lot of people to see in Ottawa, I am going to make a big effort to see as many friends as possible.

Tomorrow the training starts, will we have to return to Ottawa in 2011, will see what HR says.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

food blogs

While in Greece I visited with a friend of mine who is a bit of a celebrity, he has been on TV and participated in a cooking reality show in Greece.

He gave me a jar of his home made jam as a gift and it is wonderful. Have a look at his blog

Very interesting blog, beautiful photography.
Athens, evening sky over the Aegean sea and the city, 15 october 2010.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Travel tips

On this trip to Athens and the islands, I learned a few things, first the weather can be very humid due to the fact that Athens is on the Aegean and also has air pollution, you should bring with you your medication if you need it, do not count on Greek pharmacies having similar drugs as what we have in our home country.

For walking with an elderly person or a person with mobility problems, Greece can be a challenge, sidewalks are uneven, there is little handicap access and streets in Athens are often clogged with traffic making walking a sport for the fit traveller. On the islands, often the terrain is very uneven, stairs to go up a street or the enter a building is very common.
On the other hand the Athens Metro system is very clean, bright and efficient at one euro it will take you to many places including the Airport. The downside are the pick-pockets, it is a serious problem and you have to remember to keep things separate, cash in one billfold, credit cards in another another pocket, do not carry passports as you do not need them once cleared customs. Leave all other documents like air tickets and valuable in the hotel safe.

There are unsafe areas of the city like Omonia Square, there are also areas where you have to watch yourself like the Plaka and Monasteraki or Psirri. Too many tourists and to many pick-pockets watching the crowd.

Other areas to visit which are also charming and different are Gazi with its new restaurant and bar scene.

To avoid is the Islands in the summer time, July and August, you will find the most popular islands like Mykonos and Santorini over crowded and over priced.
The atmosphere can be very unpleasant, far too many people, large tour groups, loud music, aggressive merchants and high prices.  Several large Cruise Ships visit the Aegean and can disgorged on any island upwards of 6000 people or more in a few hours. The Islands are small and were never meant to welcome thousands of people in one day, the infrastructure is simply not there, including health, hospital or emergency services. You have to come prepared and ready to accept that services are limited, despite mass tourism.

Islands like Santorini are now over developed, Mykonos is like Cape Cod, the flavour is lost and in the peak periods you may wonder why such places became so popular. On the other hand if you visit in the off season, in May-June and September early October, you will find a more relaxed atmosphere, few people around and the sea view and the charm of these ancient sites is somehow recaptured. However in reading the book of Lawrence Durrell, the Greek Islands, I realize that what he saw in 1939 and then in 1966 or 1978, is now gone, replaced by modern mass tourism. In winter most islands are cut-off for the world, ferry service is greatly reduced and many hotels and restaurants are closed.

Greece remains for me a wonderful country to visit, the people are very nice and hospitable and there are many beautiful things to see and the views even from my hotel on Syngrou was breathtaking. I wish I could live here for a few months to get to know the area better and have a better feel for the country. For me it is still a country of dreams.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Afternoon in Gazi, Athens

Gazi is truly a neighborhood transformed, from an ugly industrial area to a new youthful look. You will find numerous new Greek cuisine restaurant offering a new twist on many Greek dishes and also new creations which proves that any national cuisine can re-invent itself. There are also numerous cafés and meeting places, a coffee and drink culture which is so central to life in Greece.  A new young Greece look and it is also the Gay area of Athens, lots of beautiful people. From Syntagma Metro station go to Keramikos metro station in Gazi. I have been there several times and always enjoy my visits, so different 
this area of Athens is compared to the Plaka, Monasteraki or Psirri.

In this photo you can see the Acropolis in the distance.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

vacation ending

Well the vacation in Greece went relatively well, despite some problems with the hotel in Santorini and the theft today of my wallet, money and credit cards, a first for me, after all the years of travel. I know now how it happened, how the pickpocket got close enough and it was all done in a few seconds. We were sitting ducks really, my father walking very slowly and with difficulty, an old person, me looking after him and carrying some shopping bags. It was all too easy. I was distracted and that is when the thief pounced. I took me a full minute to realize what had actually happened. I am only very happy that all he got was cash and my bank card and one credit card but nonetheless it is a big hassle.

The weather also today has been totally unpredictable, lots of wind, clouds and a violent rain storm, now the sky is clear and clouds are gone but it is much cooler.

Dad was happy today to go sit in the bar of the Hotel Grande-Bretagne, but he gets very tired after even just a short walk.

Tomorrow being the last day, will take it easy, maybe just reading. Looking forward to going home to W. and the puppies. 

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Return to Athens

This morning a fog lingers over the volcanic crater and the island of Therasia in front of us. The Aegean is like a mirror, still, calm, no wind and very quiet all around.

This is when you notice how birds and there are lots of little birds all around, sing in noisy shrill voices.
The sun slowly burns off the fog, boats glide slowly to the caldera where people go to swim in the hot sulphurous waters. The volcano still emits a fine puff of smoke almost invisible and a red pumice which covers everything and must be wiped away daily.

Today in Khatimerini the national Greek newspaper, I read about the Fava bean which is used in Greek dishes, we had some of it in a purée in Mykonos at the Kapari restaurant. It is now a protected designated food by the E.U.

Fava ‘protected’
Island puree gets EU stamp
The version of fava, a popular split pea puree, made on the southern Aegean island of Santorini, is to be included on the European Union’s official list of “protected designations of origin” (PDO) and “protected geographical indication” (PGI), it emerged yesterday. The puree joins a list of another 87 goods produced in different parts of Greece – including olives and olive oil as well as various fruits and vegetables and different types of cheese – that enjoy the special PDO and PGI status. The use of EU symbols on the labels of such products provides consumers with information regarding the products’ origin.

Our boat is at 15:35 this afternoon and in Athens the weather is rain and lots of it for the next 48 hours. Maybe we will simply go and sit at Alexander’s Bar at Hotel Grande-Bretagne on Syntagma Square. I was planning to visit Cap Sounion for the sunset but not in the rain, too soggy.


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Oia, Santorini Island

Today Tuesday another lovely day, it rained during the night apparently, I did not notice it, today was a hot sunny day. So we went to Oia, population 1230, which is on the tip of Santorini Island. Small village built on the volcanic cliff of the Island, lots of steps up and down, lots of little boutiques, commercial art work, T-shirts and nick-nacks for the house, few jewellery shops in comparison to Fira.

The views are spectacular of the sea and the crater against the blue sky. Lots of tourists from the Cruise ships, 3 big ships came in today. The tourist crowd is mostly 65+. Oia remains one of the foremost tourist attractions of the Aegean Sea. The famous Oia sunset, considered by many as one of the most beautiful in the world, keeps tourists flocking down to the castle, waiting for the moment when the sun slips down on the calm sea of the caldera. Tourists are often told that the fishing docks at Oia are the oldest continually used docks in the world, supposedly being in service for 3000 years.

My Dad has many allergies and one is tomato and the other is citrus, in Greek cuisine you find these items in almost every dish, another one is mustard or vinegar. So it is a little complicated when ordering food. They do not do substitutions, what you order is what you get.
My Dad also speaks to every one in English but it does not always work, many people just smile but do not understand what he is saying, in restaurants, despite many foreign tourists speaking German, Spanish, Italian, French or English, the staff speaks Greek or Albanian,
with a little English just enough to get by.

So far the weather has been fine, I was worried that it might rain but being at sea on different islands we have been able to avoid due to wind currents most of the bad weather. Have been reading a lot and found a beautiful bookstore in Oia with an incredible variety of books. Bought a book by Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) whose books are mostly all classics nowadays. The one I bought is entitled ‘’Greek Islands’’
He writes about Mykonos and other islands back in 1966, it is almost prehistoric when you think of it, the change in the islands since makes them almost unrecognizable.

Tomorrow we return by slow boat to Athens, it will take 9 hours going from one island to the other in this archipelago, a voyage of its own in the Cyclades, I am happy just to think that I will have cruised amongst them.