Wednesday, 31 March 2010


I sort of followed from a distance the whole debate on Health Care in the USA, I am impressed with your President, he is one hell of a good President, I know many people do not like him but I like him a lot. I was impressed with him from the start and with his wife too. Just the way he handles himself and the way he approaches people, you know he is the Head of State but you also sense you can speak with him like a normal person, he will understand what you are saying. From a Foreign Affairs point of view, he is really saving your bacon USA. His demeanour and the way he approaches other Heads of State, small gestures like per example how he greeted Arab Princes with a few words in Arabic pronounced correctly, that goes a very long way. I say wow!
This is why when I hear all the so called conservatives in the Republican camp and the Tea party people with their rantings about socialism and communism and Nazism, etc... They sound so ignorant, they are also what ugly Americans look like, intolerant, arrogant and pushy.
Obama is the personification at least for me of the old fashion American, I use to know, soft spoken, friendly, kind, welcoming and not over-bearing. The passage of this bill on Health Care will no doubt do a lot of good to a lot of people in the USA. The common good that is what democracy is all about, always searching for something that brings the Nation and its people together. To think that some Americans because they have money would deny other less fortunate Americans access to health care, is the opposite of what American values, the ones of the founding fathers stood for, is all about. In any country social cohesion is based on sharing the wealth with all citizens, its equality for all, money should never be the defining element, such a society based on wealth and property and rank is not democratic. The Founding Fathers and the Americans who followed them said a loud NO to this type of Society. It would appear a lot of people have forgotten that today.

This brings me to ask what a real Conservative is, it is a word you hear a lot these days, it seems that conservative stands for me first and the hell with the rest, or only white Christians here and the rest of you are not included. The word has been bastardized by the Republicans and a few loud mouths who blab and blab without thinking.

To me a conservative is a person who adheres to moderate views and prefers tradition and stability in society, preserving established institutions, prefers gradual change. It is not what you see nowadays in the Republican party or in the right or far right. They may say they are conservative but I see more a form of extremism, which could very well lead to social upheaval instead of stability. Advocating violence per example in a protest against Health Care reform is NOT a conservative point of view.

In a civil society, discussion and listening to the other point of view is important for the advancement of ideas and of social change. Refusing to listen or coming to a debate with the idea that I am against it and will not consider any other point of view is not being conservative, it is being close minded. How did so many Americans arrive at this point?

I also think as an observer outside of America, that the fact that Obama is black, has a lot to do with the opposition we see today. It seems to me that a lot of people cannot accept that a black man is the President or that he can lead the Nation to important changes. He will pass into history now as not only the first black President but also as one of the very few President who made an important contribution during his mandate. That rankles a lot of people in America today and it is profoundly sad for such a great Nation.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Dinner menu

Here is the Birthday dinner menu prepared for us by my caterer:
Velouté aux Poireaux (Leek cream soup)
Entrée: Paté d'Artichaux et Emincé de "Coniglio porchettato" Oignons confits (paté of arthichokes and rabbit with glazed pearl onions)
Plat principal: Tagliata de Boeuf Duroc et Julienne de Legumes croquants (filet of beef in cognac sauce with julienne crunchy veg)
Salade Mixte Saisonnière (small green salad)
dessert Soufflé au Grand Marnier (Grand marnier individual soufflé)

We had proseco to start with hors d'oeuvres and for dinner a white frascati and red Italian merlot from the Lazio region, dessert wine and liqueur.

It was an excellent dinner, no stress and so pleasant with good friends. The caterer also had place settings made for each guest with a photo of me taken in the last 24 months in different places. It was a very elegant evening.
As for gifts I got lucky, 3 bottles of vintage Veuve Cliquot Champagne, a beautiful shirt and lead soldiers.

My caterer is a Canadian who came to Italy and started her company with her husband in Frascati which is just outside Rome

She is catering a dinner on an historical 1930 vintage Rome Street Car for the Canadian Club of Rome in late April, that should be a great evening crossing the city by street car while having dinner. See

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Time, Tanti Auguri a Me

Well today is another anniversary for me. So many things have happened in my life. From the period after the Second World War, before decolonization to the societal changes of the 1960's, the Vietnam War, man landing on the moon, meeting Will and starting our life together, my entry into the workforce when the typewriter was king, photocopying was still in its infancy, more recently the age of the computer and the internet and now the eve of my possible retirement in the next few years.

So much change in one life and all in a relatively short period of time. Not to mention all the countries I have visited either for work or vacation and lived in, so many different cultures, languages, beliefs, all complex with their own history, societies very different from Canada. Countries where even the food and eating habits have nothing to do with western habits. Rice, vegetables and fish or flat bread,olives, green onions and eggs or maize, corn, beans and root vegetables, diets where any milk products simply does not exist. Where fast food is not McDonalds but what ever the people locally enjoy and is common to all creating their own fast food or here in Italy the whole slow food movement. Had to get use to all these different, taste and diets, lucky me that I was able to enjoy them all without difficulty.
All the wonderful things I have seen and was able to get to appreciate in several continents, the people I met, many I had heard about or read about but never thought I would ever meet in person and more often than not in a private setting and getting to know their family.
I sometime feel like Ulysses, as the French saying goes, ''Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage'', maybe this is what my life has been a long and interesting journey.

Lots of good things, blessings and a lot of good luck.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


Well let's see, this weekend we had a lot of fun. First was the Scotch tasting evening paired with Indian food. I am not a Scotch drinker and until very recently knew little or nothing about Scotch. However through a friend who has a wonderful website, see, I have learned quite a lot about Scotland and Scotch. We only drink single malt and she likes to introduce you to music and poetry to accompany the tastings, food is also a big part of it. Who knew that India is the biggest market in the world for Scotch and that Indian food is a natural to drink with a fine Scotch either neat or with a bit of water, beer is definitely not recommended with Indian cuisine despite North American popular belief.

The event was held in E.U.R. a neighborhood of Rome built from 1935 for the World Expos Rome 1942 which never took place due to the Second World War. The buildings are modern, stark and monumental surrounded by vast parks and lakes, to showcase the achievements of the Fascist Regime. Today it is a neighborhood of multinational companies and immigrants, the completion of the construction on the different buildings took place between 1955 and 1962. You past by the area on your way in from the airport.

Sunday, we went to the Rome Marathon, which covered much of central Rome, with over 15000 participants. This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Rome Summer Olympics 1960 and at those games, an Ethiopian ran barefoot and won, wearing jersey no. 11. Well this year an Ethiopian won again the Rome Marathon and he too ran barefoot. Ethiopia and Italy have a very old history in common, well over 2000 years and there is a large Ethiopian community in Rome and Italy.

We went to support our friend Vincenzo, who had prepared for months for this marathon of 42.1 Km. The route was spectacular, starting at the Colosseum crossing the Roman Forum, Piazza Venezia, along the Tiber River all the way down to the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls then back along the Tiber crossing over to the Vatican and again along the Tiber and re-crossing at the Milvio Bridge along the Flaminian road passing by the Mausoleum of Emperor Augustus and the Ara Pacis (Altar of Augustean Peace) down the Corso through the Borghese gardens, Piazza Spagna and back to the Colosseum for the finish. We were tired after walking much of it and went for lunch at Valentino on Via Cavour, a family run restaurant, very good value for money. An exciting day and so much fun.

This coming week 2 days off for my birthday, I decided to have a catered dinner at home for 8. Then we have Easter which will be in Rome, our friend Jack is visiting and then off to Palermo, Sicily for a few days vacation. So much excitement!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Ides of March

Well today is the 15 March, the Ides of March, fateful day in the Roman Calendar when Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Portico of the Theatre of Pompey (Piazza Argentina today), where the Senate was meeting. In all 27 blows only one was fatal all witnessed by Marcus Tulius Cicero who was sitting opposite him. Just think had Caesar listened to his wife and his friends and had not gone out without his bodyguard, none of this would have happened. In fact we know today that almost everyone knew something was going to happen at the Senate meeting, the plot had been uncovered the night before. Caesar walk the short distance from his house in the Forum to the meeting, he wore red leather boots because he had been acclaimed by the army as a great commander (imperator), a purple tunic bordered with gold. The world we know today would be a very different place for sure, probably no Emperors and a different outcome for Rome. Ironic really Caesar died at the foot of the statue of his political nemesis Pompey the Great, who had been killed in Egypt just a few years prior. His nephew Octavian who was only 18 years old was named in his will as heir. He had his uncle deified and a temple built to him in the Roman Forum.

News flash USA now a Canadian Province

Well is was bound to happen, after we won the war of 1812 and burned down the White House in a bid to help Dolly Madison redecorate the place, you nice Americans have been annexed to Canada. You all have instant access to Health Care all inclusive, you are sick no worry, just go to the hospital it is all taken care of. If you are gay you can marry, no problem, its in the Constitution (the new one better than that thing you got from those founding guys) and don't worry about those Evangelists, they are not allowed in Canada because they are not polite enough and not inclusive of everyone. You also have 2 official languages now French and English, remember French culture illuminates the universe, so the world will now think of you as sophisticated. As for the Hispanic in the USA no worry, Spanish is like French very similar.

In Foreign Policy you will be loved as Canadians by the world. So you see it was inevitable, we win the most Gold medals at the Olympics and you finally recognize that is all comes down to Hockey, Canada's game.
Aren't you glad you are Canadians now.

Friday, 12 March 2010

French songs from my youth

I remember this song as the first song from my little childhood, they use to be quite popular on Radio-Canada in Montréal and usually at 12 noon there was a 30 minute program of French songs. In those days, late 50's early 60's music from France was very popular and people like Charles Trenet who was one of the most popular French singer of the period 1935 to 1970, had a long string of very big hits. He was a very big star around the world and his music was very much of the period. I know that today the style and compositions may seem terribly dated. What I like is the poetry of the songs and the very clear diction, pronunciation was very important in popular song. Many of his songs were of an eternal France, maybe even a France that never really existed except in people's minds. The songs were of a great, happy and prosperous country, were everyone knew thy belonged and recognized the theme of what he sang about, French culture illuminated the universe, the influence of France around the world was for the better. It made people happy, it was a simpler time, a more naive world.

Ménilmontant is a hillside area of Paris the 20th arrondissement, I do not think that the Ménilmonant of 1939 would be recognizable today. It was a village outside Paris until 1860 and a working class area for a long time.
But it is a song I love and it has a way of transporting me to another time and place whenever I hear it. So many memories of a time long ago, a happy time.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

in Winter in Rome

Rome is a city which lends itself well to la passagiata or a promenade in the numerous parks or back streets in the many neighborhoods of the city.
In the old Suburbia (below the centre) of Rome, which is a neighborhood as old as the city itself just behind the back wall of the Temple of Mars the Avenger built by Octavian Augustus, to thank Mars for the deadly revenge he had on the assassins of his uncle Julius Caesar, you will find Via dei Serpenti and a little narrow cobbled stone side street Via della Madonna dei Monti. No tourists here, North Americans might be afraid to walk down this little street at night, though there is little danger, it is mostly a quiet residential street.

From the street you would not be able to tell that this is the site of the Ice bar, located inside a building of the 17th century. The Ice bar is made of solid ice all of it, the bar itself, the shelves, the furniture and the glasses all solid ice. It is minus 5 C inside and you have to wear gloves and a thermal cape to keep you warm. It is a great deal of fun, but after 30 minutes you start to feel the cold and it is time to walk out. We then went for dinner next door in a lovely restaurant la Taverna dei Fori Imperiali. The name recalls the time in antiquity when Taverns were on every street corners and the neighborhood Gods where kept there. They were also neighborhood clubs were fraternities met, had a meal and a drink. See their web side

Then on the weekend on a bright but cold sunny Sunday we went to walk on the Via Appia. This is probably the most symbolic road of Imperial Rome, First built by the Censor Appius Claudius in 312 BC,as a military road it ran all the way south to Naples and then later was extended to Brindisi. Little did he know that this road would become so famous, today it stand in a large green park with old mausoleums and other reminders of Imperial Rome. Almost everyone of note walked or rode this road, Cicero was murdered on it by the men of Mark Anthony, every Roman legion walk up and down it, Spartacus and thousands of his followers were crucified along it as a reminder to all that no one defied the Senate and the people of Rome, it is said that St-Peter met Christ on the road and St-Paul also walked along it, St-Sebastian is buried here.

It is so peaceful with the wonderful cedar trees rising high into the sky, and to walk on the old stones thinking what they saw and witnessed through the ages. Makes you humble to think that this road has seen countless generation of men come and go.
As you walk away from the city walls look to your left and there you will see some of the great Aqueducts who for centuries carried the water to the Eternal cities, the Aqua Marcia is still operational and brings water to fountains in Rome to this day.

Also not far from the road, you can see the spot where Caius Martius Coriolanus, the banished hero of Rome met his mother who having learned that he had turned against Rome and joined the Voslci and was about to attack the city, shamed him for his treason, by asking him, is this my son who raises his hand against his country?

The Via Appia use to start at the Capena Gate which is located near the Circus Maximus but with the expansion of the city and the building of the city walls by Marcus Aurelius the Via Appia now starts at the Appian Gate known today as the San Sebastiano Gate. Just a another beautiful walk and when after all this fresh air you feel hungry, you can stop at a restaurant near the great Tomb Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Privilège, Privilegiato

It has been a busy time in Rome of late. We have been to the Rome ICE bar on Via della Madonna dei Monti near the Roman Forum. Then last weekend we walked along the Via Appia Antica a wonderful road, known as the Queen of Roads (Regina Viarum) built by Appius Claudius in 312 BC making the road 2322 yrs old with its original paving stones intact.

Today was the highlight a private visit made possible only because we knew someone who could ask for special access to the Casina of Pope Pius IIII in the Gardens of the Vatican. This Casina built in 1553 as a pleasure retreat for the Pope is never open to the public and no one is allowed to visit period, the only people allowed in are the staff and special guests invited by the Pope. It houses today the Pontifical Scientific Academy, along the lines of the Academy of Athens in antiquity and is headed by an Archbishop. You can imagine our delight at being allowed to enter and visit the building. We could only enter by one door in the new wing and exit via the garden, we could not sit, nor touch anything, any pictures we took cannot be published. I wish I could show you the inside it is marvelous, the colored marbles alone on the floors are unique. Our guide was Nancy de C. who is extremely knowledgeable and makes any visit truly interesting.

We entered the Vatican State by the Porta Santa Anna on Via Di Porta Angelica, this is the official entrance to the Vatican State and is used by people who come on business to the Vatican, meeting an official, etc... but it is not a gate for the public. We walked along the drive between buildings, on our left above us the Palace where the Papal apartments are located, and then through a large courtyard with a fountain with the coat of arms of the Borghese Pope and then under a large archway and up a coffered brick ramp which led us just outside the walls of the Sistine Chapel, the effect of brightness inside the chapel is created by high powered lights aimed at the outside windows, (see picture). Then a sharp turn right and we are behind the basilica of St-Peter and in the Vatican gardens. Even in cold weather and heavy rain the gardeners were busy. There it was the Casina.

Set amid the Vatican Gardens, the Casina was begun in 1553 by Pirro Ligorio and Sallustio Perruzzi, and completed between 1560 and 1562. This villa consists of four separate sections, with two pavilions and two arched gateways or Propylaea, connected by an oval inner court like an ancient nymphaeum, decorated with statues in the round, high reliefs, bas-reliefs, festoons, friezes, escutcheons and frames in stucco, where putti ride on waterspewing dolphins. It was here that Pius IV used to enjoy moments of peace and solitude. Also his nephew, St. Charles Borromeo, then Cardinal Secretary of State, held his famous literary dinners in the evenings. All this came to an abrupt end in 1565 when the new Pope Pius V closed down the Casina and it remained in a decaying state until 1920.

Since 1926, it has been used as the seat of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which encompases both the Academy of the Sciences and Social Sciences. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences consists of eighty scientists (Sciences and Social Sciences) selected from around the world who are appointed for life by a sovereign act of the Pope.

The aim of the Academy is to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and to advance the understanding of the history and philosophy of Science.

A very good day despite the cold and rain.