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.  

Monday, 11 October 2010

Traveling in the archipelago, the Cyclades Islands

Monday 11 October, Canadian Thanksgiving, in Thira (pronounce Fira) on Santorini Island, named after Saint Irene ( Holy Peace in Greek).  We had breakfast and went to Thira which is about 3 minutes by car from our hotel.
Thira seen from a cliff

Most old towns in Greece on Islands now visited by tourists and cruise ships have been transformed from once upon a time real villages into giant shopping malls.
No one actually lives in Thira anymore, it’s all shops selling, T-shirts, cheap souvenirs, clothing all of it made in China, even when it looks like it might have been made in Greece, there are also lots of expensive Lalique, Baccarat and Choppard stores selling gold jewellery and expensive watches, would you believe in the $6000 dollar range. Mini markets 7 eleven style and of course discos, bars, and restaurants, all promising wild adventures in sensual pleasures, what is wild are the prices, $16. dllrs for a mix drink, $ 9 dllrs for a beer, the best one was a restaurant where the chicken consommé was $13 dllrs, must have been a special chicken.
 Dominican nun Roman Catholic convent in Thira

The change on Santorini came about after a devastating earthquake in 1956 when the island which was then a small fishing community was almost deserted by its inhabitants so extensive was the damage and no State help was available just 6 years after the end of the Second World War, Greece was still an unstable country.  Land was cheap and developers saw an opportunity to buy and develop the island into a tourist resort, changing forever the look and flavour. But have no fear, you can visit a traditional village today on Santorini where happy peasants delight the visiting hordes of tourists with their simple ways.
Dad looking at the architecture

I was in Santorini 10 years ago and it was still quiet and pleasant, there were shops but all in all it was still a quiet civilized place, since then it has boomed and now it is hardly recognizable. My recommendation is to go to quieter islands in the archipelago of the Cyclades islands.
There are quite a few still ignored by the cruise ships and mass tourism, where you can have a quiet holiday and enjoy the beauty of the place. 

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Canadian Thanksgiving 10 October

Dad and me in Mykonos at the Princess of Mykonos Hotel.

Today we sail from Mykonos to Santorini, the weather is hot around 24C and no wind, the Aegean is like a mirror.
Two, 4 masted schooners are at anchor in the bay off the Island of Mykonos. 

We will stop in Paros and Ios on the way to Santorini, the active volcanic island, unique in the Aegean sea, when the volcano blew up some 3500 years ago, it obscured the sky for months and the effect of which is mentioned in the Bible the passage about Moses and the Israelites in Egypt. The little villages like Fira on Santorini are all built on the edge of the crest of the volcano, if it should blow-up again while we are here, there is no escape.
Santorini the inner bay with the lava island in black formed just 450 years ago from the activity in the volcanic cauldron. This is the view from our room.

The weather for the rest of the week looks better today than yesterday, which is good. Will is at home with puppies and he will be having Thanksgiving lunch with other members of the Canadian Club of Rome, see

Our Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Pilgrims, Indians or Turkeys, it’s a harvest festival and marks the fall season, an old European tradition. Canadians may have turkey on the table but that is a deformation due to a custom coming from the south. What I like best is smokey pumpkin soup and Will has a very good recipe. 

Best wishes to all my friends who are celebrating this holiday, thinking of you here on the Aegean Sea in Greece on this beautiful day.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

food Mykonos

Here are some photos of the many dishes we had for lunch and dinner in Mykonos at Kapari restaurant (Greek for Capers).

Pork fillet rolls stuffed with dried tomatoes and capers and purée of potatoes

Spaghetti with tomato and seafood

Giant Prawns with a sauce of tomatoes, Greek cheese and green onions
Cycladic fritters of tomatoes, zucchini and fennel with a dip of Greek yogurt and capers

fresh grilled sardines with a purée of Fava beans and capers

Mix green salad with Greek cheese made in Mykonos and a dressing of olive oil and Balsamic vinegar

Crisp blue Skies and wind

Today, Saturday the weather was suppose to be variable cloudiness and possibility of rain with strong winds, not exactly the type of weather you want on a small island like Mykonos with limited things to do at the end of the Season. This morning the wind was around 40km per hour at sea, rough really and the fast ferries might not come to the island. At 10am we decided to go into the village of Chora which is the main town of Mykonos where all the cruise ships disgorged the hordes of tourists. Most of Chora is now boarded up and close because it is the end of the season and everyone who has a business here is returning to Athens for the winter.
Do you see Zorba at the windmills in Chora.

Chora is a bit of a lovely tourist trap, coffee is 3.50 euros and tea is around the same price, when you consider that on the mainland it’s 0.80 cents. There are also lots of shops selling 3 things, T-Shirts, expensive watches like Rolex or Cartier and table cloths and cotton clothing. In a 5 minute walk around the village we encountered no less than 25 shops selling expensive watches. We had bright sunshine but the wind was freezing. So after having a coffee we decided to return to our hotel on the other side of the bay. It was lunch time and now the weather had changed to hot bright sunshine and no wind at all.
Small street in Chora.

I hope that tomorrow as we sail to Santorini some 3 hours away by boat the weather is the same. I am told that tomorrow will be really hot, which is fine by me.

I prefer Santorini to Mykonos, why difficult to say maybe because it does not have the disco bunny reputation of Mykonos. Santorini is more elegant, less jet-set, more quiet though it is also visited by the cruise ships, it’s a different atmosphere.

Dad is doing better is coughing has almost disappeared, the hot sunshine helps a lot. I think we are the last guests in the hotel, we are leaving tomorrow and then they can close-up.

Apparently this was not a good season, less tourists due to the economic crisis in Greece and in the world.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Reading on vacation

I brought several books to read on this vacation, two by José Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel Prize for Litterature winner 1998 who died about 3 weeks ago. He had a long and fruitful career as a writer and his books are interesting read.
He also took a different look at life and I am currently reading The Gospel according to Jesus Christ, a book written in 1991.
Aegean Sea off Mykonos Island, 08 October. 

There are no Gospel by Jesus and this book at first is a difficult read by the third chapter you see where Saramago is taking the story and it becomes interesting.
In this book Jesus is not the Son of God but that of Joseph, he leaves home at 13. Mary Magdalene is not a convert by his lover, and God is a fallible, power hungry autocrat. Saramago writes a dark parable, a secular gospel, fitting for our time, at least this is my take on it.

The other one is also by Jose Saramago, The year of the death of Ricardo Reis, published in 1984. I just started reading this one, the story is set in 1936 in Portugal, when the clouds of Fascism are gathering. Salazar is about to become the long time dictator of this small nation, while Spain next door is going through its Civil War, Italy has also fallen to Fascism as Germany. Ricardo Reis has returned from Brazil after 16 years and engages into a rambling discourse on art, truth, philosophy and destiny.

In Saramago’s books I find that destiny appears as a constant, what is our destiny or the subject cannot escape his destiny.

The third book is by Jan Morris, titled Venice. Morris has written many books, I’ve read the one on Trieste, after visiting the city last year. His trilogy on British power,
Heaven’Command, Pax Britanica and Farewell the Trumpets are all very interesting. In Heaven’s Command I discovered parts of the history of Canada I had either forgotten or had never heard of. Morris also explains how it was Christian missionaries who pushed and lobbied for the creation of an Empire, not business or military interests. The little people had to be brought to civilization through Christ’s message.  The same thing happened in Canada. Our foreign policy towards China was developed through the advocacy of  Canadians who were missionaries in China. Some had children who were born in China and had become Canadian diplomats. This led our then Prime Minister Trudeau to open up to Mao and company in 1969, years before Kissinger or Nixon had thought about it and years before China could ever be thought of as a potential commercial market, being caught at the time in what can be described as a Civil war aptly called the Cultural Revolution.

So as I sit here on my patio in  Mykonos looking out at the Aegean sea, I read on enjoying the quiet.


Mykonos sunny and quiet day

Our hotel is located on St-Stephan’s beach in Mykonos, away from town and above it all. I can see from the hotel terrace the town and the cruise ships, I do not want to get any closer to it. Mykonos does have that reputation for being vapid, easy drugs and superficiality, sort of a Greek St-Tropez, nouveaux riches. Why are people attracted to this scene, I will never understand.

Early morning in Mykonos, a 4 masted schooner sails into port.

We had a lovely dinner at our hotel, very good sword fish and grilled vegetables and a nice dessert for my Dad. George and Poppy are great and friendly hosts.
Laurent at St-Stephan's Beach, Mykonos. (This is what 74kg looks like, sexy!)

I call old age a thief, it robs you of what you were and serves you all manner of indignities. I look at my Dad and I see a anxious, scared old man, who worries about nothing and everything, who depends on me to make this trip safe. He is in a foreign land but he wants to be reassured. He gets lost in his story telling and does not know why, he has become forgetful, confused and tired. I have been reassuring with him, telling him little jokes to make him laugh and feel better. The roles are reversed, he was the parent and me the kid, now I am the one with the authority and he is the dependent, as a child you do not want to see your parents in that position, but old age makes it so in a cruel way, I feel like Aeneas with his father Anchises, this is why I call old age a thief.

**Aeneas was the son of Anchises and Venus. He was a cousin of King Priam of Troy, and was the leader of Troy's Dardanian allies during the Trojan War. After the fall of Troy, he led a band of Trojan refugees to Italy and became the founder of Roman culture 

Thursday, 7 October 2010

On the Blue Star Ithaki

So this morning we sailed from the Port of Pireaus to Mykonos on the Blue Star ferry, Athens was cloudy and rainy when we left, there’s a huge weather system over the Greek Peninsula at this time and for the next 3 days. Meaning that the weather may not be ideal for Mykonos or Santorini but we are here to get away from it all. This was how this package was presented to me and that is what I wanted for me and Dad.

The Blue Star line are huge boats, carrying up to 900 cars and have 6 decks of passengers, business class and first class, restaurants and shops and television. At this time of the year, the boat is half full, we are entering the low tourist season. Everyone on staff is nice and things are quiet.
Mykonos port, Blue Star Ithaki

Greek television showing news, talk shows, weather, looks like rain everywhere. We had to get up pretty early this morning but this is the last early morning of this trip. Every other day will be at leisure. So far things are going well.

We made stops of a few minutes in two other islands before we arrive in Mykonos. Finally here we are, the weather is grey and because we are off season the place is deserted, most hotels have shut down for the winter and only one big cruise ship is in port.

Our hotel is quite nice on St-Stephan beach, a white and blue building with little cottages, a pool and a nice view of the bay.
We had lunch at Kapari, the restaurant of the hotel, Dad had fresh grilled sardines with a puree of fava beans and capers.
Grilled Fresh Sardines with white Fava bean purée and capers.

I do hope the weather improves in the next day or so, the sky looks uncertain, but what is nice, is the calm and quiet of this place. Now is the tranquil part of the vacation, nothing to do but read and write up on the computer.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Athens day two

Well today was an early day, we started at 7:30am a city bus tour of Athens, I should have known better, this type of tour is for people who do not travel much and who are nervous about going about town on their own, afraid to get lost.  I have been to Athens many times and I know the city so I had tried to tell the Travel Agency I did not want this tour but it was part of the package. Anyway not good value for money, I should have gone on the on off bus which stops in front of our hotel. We did go to the New Acropolis Museum and to the Acropolis, I never stop being amazed by what I see in the museum and at the Acropolis. Since 1992 the Greek Government with the help of UNESCO and the European Union has undertaken a large program of stabilization and reconstruction of the Acropolis, Parthenon, Erechtion, Temple of Athena Nike and Propylae. The results are stunning, it is very slow work but now you can see what 18 years of efforts have achieved. The Acropolis is more beautiful than it has ever been, the Pentelic Marble stone has been cleaned, new marble blocks have been inserted where they were missing, titanium rods have been used to attach blocks replacing the old corroded steel rods.
                                                     Dad in front of the Parthenon, Acropolis

The Acropolis looks majestic, visitors are kept at a respectable distance from the temples so no further damage can be done by the hordes of visitors.
                                           Restored Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis

The New Acropolis Museum is beautiful and I find it is best to visit it first before going to the Acropolis itself.
You get a very good perspective of the site and its history by going first to the Museum. My Dad enjoyed it too more for the fact that he never thought that he would see Athens during his life time. He walks very slowly and I was careful to make him rest, drink water and return to the hotel for more rest period.  Luckily our hotel is next door to all the sites. We had a good lunch and tonight we will stay in and have dinner at the hotel.
                                          Parthenon, South wall of columns restored with new pentelic marble (white)

We also visited the Athenian Agora which is on the South side of the Acropolis in the Monasteraki area. Dad really liked the rebuilt Stoa of Attalos and the Temple of the God of Fire which is intact due to the fact that Christians mistakenly believed that a frieze showing Theseus founder of Athens was in fact something to do with Jesus. Then the rain started and it was a downpour with a cold wind. Luckily we snuck inside Café Metropole which is in front of the Orthodox Cathedral of Athens. I always like going there, the staff are very friendly, mostly old waiters, food is very good, drinks are good too and prices reasonable.

Tomorrow morning we have a really early start, we take a taxi at 6:15 am to go to Piraeus (port of Athens) to take the ferry to Mykonos, forecast more rain for the next 3 days. I just hope the weather clears. In Mykonos at this time of the year there is nothing to do, so we will read and just relax.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Athens day one

Well here we are in Athens, Greece, my Dad got here on time without problems. However the crisis started the minute we got in the room. He opened his small case and said, I can’t find my medication, I must have left it all at home on the kitchen counter. He takes about 7 different pills a day, the most important being one drug for his heart and he cannot do without it. This is a 2 week trip and I thought what am I going to do.

I said to him look into your suitcase, it is probably there, No he replies, I did not pack them, what are we going to do. I could not get a straight answer from him on how important those drugs were, he was a little confused and felt bad about leaving home without his medication. I immediately thought of what options we might have, there is one big drugstore just around the corner from our hotel, but could they issue drugs without prescription? In Greece, it is not a problem, it can be done. So we got everything he needed except the most important drug. He told me that he really could not do without it. I was really worried and anxious I had no idea what to do. Phoned colleagues in Athens and they in turn phoned our house doctor, etc… the replacement drug was found around 4pm. Then casually my Dad empties his suitcase and what does he find, all his medication neatly packed. I was so relieved, travelling with an elderly person can be stressful. So the crisis is averted.

I pray to all Orthodox Christian Saints in Greece that this is the only crisis we have on this trip.

We did have a good lunch in the Plaka, he had a vegetable and fish soup, the fish was really a big piece, he ate it all and then had dessert and coffee. He is having a nap now.

Our hotel room has a great view of the Temple of Olympian Zeus across Syngrou street, Dad wanted to know if they were going to rebuilt it. I said, no its ancient history so it cannot be rebuilt.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

another walking tour of the Roman Forum

Today I took another tour of the Roman Forum, you would think that after all the reading and walking around I have been doing in the last 16 years that I would know everything about the place, not quite. Today the walking tour was with Yannick Nexon the Director of the French library in Rome and a man of great erudite knowledge. I had taken a tour of the Farnese Palace seat of the French Embassy on Piazza Farnese. It was a fantastic tour, his knowledge is just amazing. He has a great talent for details that will catch your imagination. He is one of the many experts who work at Inventer Rome which is a group of French historians and archeologist, all specialists in their own field.

(ancient fig tree where the shepherd found Romulus and Remus)

The Roman Forum today is very different from what is was 200 years ago, as of 1805 when Napoleon I arrives in Rome, he orders massive excavations, what you see today is the street level of the age of Augustus 40BC onwards, but there are another 800 years of sub-soil prior to Augustus from the early foundation time of Rome that are yet to be excavated. For most visitors to the Forum it is a very confusing place, you need to know some Roman history, otherwise it is just a field of ruins, but what a fascinating place it is.

Today we started by the Arch of Septimus Severus, at the foot of the Clivus Capitolinus. It turns out that on the original 7 hills where basically little villages, the Sabines lived on one, the Latins on another, etc.. Really small villages of 50 to 60 people living in huts and below was a big swamp and a place of mystery and myth, separating them and this place became the Roman Forum, the central square, place of business of ancient Rome. There was no understanding in Antiquity of what a swamp was, people believed that it was the entrance to the underworld or Hell. This gave rise to a lot of the original beliefs, all tied to history and the development of the Pagan religion. There is a well by the arch, I had never noticed it before, it was said to be the Gate of Hell which you can see and this door was opened 3 days a year for worship and prayers. Today the door is gone so the Gate of Hell is simply open, a fence keeps people away just in case you wanted to walk into Hell to see what is going on, like Euridice.
There are also old trees in the Forum, one group is an Olive tree, a Fig tree and a Vine, they have been there since antiquity, seen as sacred symbols, source of life and were worshipped as such.
Another Fig tree by the Senate house is said to also be the sacred tree which gave shade to the shepherd who found Romulus and Remus being suckhold by the She-wolf. It was also the spot in ancient Rome where prostitutes of all stripes use to hang out. As we arrived at the House of the Vestal Virgins and Temple to the holy fire, Nexon explained that what we see is a construction of the period after he great fire of Rome under Nero in 64 AD. Nero wanted a city with a grid pattern, the ash from the fire found in the area was a foot deep. we know that the Vestal remained an order who maintained the fire until at least 410AD, when under the order of the Pope it was put out for ever.
(gate to the underworld and Hell)

I also learned that Anastasia the sister of Emperor Constantine in 320 AD created what we know today as Christmas, she basically instituted the holiday, inventing the Christmas story and its observance and for her efforts she is mentioned in the second mass in the Christmas Service. No one before then believed that Jesus was born on December 25 and no observance existed, there was no date as such.  In ancient Rome this was the date for a famous Pagan Festival the Saturnalia, a festival to male virility and female fecundity. Apparently also the conversion of Constantine to Christianity was not well received at all by the majority of the population who belonged to numerous other religions including the old Pagan cults of Rome. The population could not understand why they had to adopt a new religion based on Jewish beliefs.
(Arch of Emperor Titus who destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem)

Until 520 AD many pagan temples still functioned and worship of the old gods continued, until the Pope became so exasperated that he started to institute persecution of non-Christians and the destruction and closing of Pagan temples. Now that was a twist I did not expect, the Roman Catholic Church in Rome loves to paint itself as a victim, now it turns out that they were the persecutors, apparently much evidence of aggressive Church policies have emerged in the last 20 years with new discoveries in the Forum.

What we see today of the Forum is mostly a field of ruins, this was caused primarily by a series of earthquake in Rome in the ninth century and in the 14th century and as of 1500 the Popes started using the Forum area as a vast quarry for their own Church building projects robbing the world of priceless art work, our Western Cultural legacy. This was done in response to the Reformation in much of Europe which scared the Popes and shook the Church. A period of great intolerance and violent repression under several Popes. The barbarian invasions did some damage but none lasting and what was damaged was often rebuilt afterwards.

The swamp was eventually drained by the Romans with the building of the Cloaca maxima, (purifying drain) which took the water to drain into the nearby Tiber river. Many buildings in the Forum are now newly opened to visitors, such as the House of Augustus on the Palatine, the temple of Jupiter Stator also known as the church of St-Romolo, one can walk to the grain storage houses which are also a support platform 7 storey high supporting what was the Palace of Caligula and connecting it to the Capitoline hill and the Temple of Jupiter great and best.

By walking around the Forum, Nexon also explained how today's Roman Catholic Church incorporated as much as possible of the old Pagan religion into Christian beliefs, per example Castor and Pollux the twins of the underworld are replaced by St-Damian and St-Cosmo, who never existed in reality and were not twins either. This incorporation was necessary if Christianity was to be accepted by the majority of people.

The event of Christmas day in 730 AD when Charlemagne comes to Rome to formally recognize the Pope as a religious authority and be his right hand man in imposing one religion is Europe is significant because it coincides with the development of a new religion in the Holyland, Islam and in Europe the old Pagan religions were still alive and thriving. With all this competition Christianity had a difficult time to impose itself.

(Temple of the Divine Emperor Antonin Pius and his wife Faustina)

This visit gave me a fresh look on Rome and how the city was shaped and built. It also gave me a new look on religion and how in ancient Rome political development, daily life, myth and superstition played an important role in the lives of people. This visit was certainly not the approved version of the Vatican.