Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year and Best Wishes to everyone

Tanti Auguri!
Bonne Année, prospérité, santé et paix!

Not wanting to forget anyone, my best wishes to you all for 2012!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ? CHORUS: For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint-stoup !
And surely I'll be mine !
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne. CHORUS

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou'd the gowans fine ;
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit,
sin' auld lang syne. CHORUS

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
sin' auld lang syne. CHORUS

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gives a hand o' thine !
And we'll tak a right guid-willie-waught,
for auld lang syne. CHORUS

Robert Burns, 1788
and also Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians from whom I first heard on New Year's Eve 1961.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

What no Television

We are now at the 5 month mark since our return from Italy. Our intention was when we returned to buy a new television, we even made a date to go to the store and look at models, the latest technology with gadgets etc.... This was in August, we were still unpacking and moping for la bella Italia, boxes everywhere and chaos. So we postponed our trip to the shop and then simply forgot about it. It turns out that we did have a large flat screen TV in Rome but never watched it, we always had other things to do or things to go and see, so the television just sat there. Now last weekend we were in Montreal and our hotel room had a large screen TV, we turned it on mostly for the puppies as background noise when we were not in the room to distract them. I did watch a bit of news but overall I found the contents of what was being presented on various and numerous channels totally vapid and of no interest to me what so ever.
The talking heads in most cases, no in all cases had no idea what they were talking about, just flapping their gums about this and that and finding themselves very funny, I just found them boring, sorry Radio-Canada and CTV. Most announcers on television are so pretentious and so full of their own importance its comical, they are also desperate to look just like everyone else on the street, faux common bond. They are dying to tell you what is new and hip and why you should do like they do, because their mothers or someone in their family think its great. They got their finger on the pulse of things, really?  All this to say that I would not buy a television set based on what I saw on television. I found most announcers and assorted talking heads good reasons not to get involved with the thing to begin with.

At Christmas lunch at one point the conversation turned to a series on television, I had never heard of it
neither had Will.  We told family that we did not own a television set and did not plan at this point to get one. We got strange looks, in North America the television culture is deeply ingrained and is part of everyday life, no one really thinks of doing without a television.  We have come to realize that we are a breed apart, too much travel, too much living abroad, too many different experiences. We are on a sort of permanent jet lag. So we will continue to do without a television for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

My three favourite composers and remembering 2011

There are pieces of music which I can hear over and over again and always love because they evoke memories of my childhood. Not to say that I do not have other favourite composers, Shostakovich, Eric Satie, Mahler, Bach and Cécile Chaminade.
But my three favourites are French, Claude Debussy (1862-1918) who composed Peleas and Melisande, my favourite opera, Maurice Ravel (1875-1935) for Le Tombeau de Couperin and Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) for Le Dialogue des Carmélites and his piano concerto.

They are all modern composers and I simply like their musical style, it makes be dream. Which brings me to reminiscing.

A few more days and we will be into 2012. Certainly 2011 was a year of change for us. We did go in January to Padova and visited this great Italian city, full of incredible art treasures not to mention St-Anthony, my mother's favourite Saint, then to Innsbruck and Salzburg, we stayed at the Hotel Bristol while we attended the Mozart Week and a short visit to Vienna. We also managed to attend the Venice Carnival, well worth seeing, though it can be cold in February, but we were lucky and had lots of bright winter Sun. Then in March I celebrated by 55 birthday and my 30 year of service with a wonderful dinner party in Rome and my friends Cathy and Collette travelled from abroad to attend the party. We visited Siena in early May, a not to be missed city in Italy. We then toured by car Sicily in May from Palermo to Catania, discovered many wonderful dishes and wines in every city we visited. We saw the Royal Canadian Air Force in Trapani. In Marsala we discovered more wonderful Sicilian specialties and we also visited some wonderful sites. Saw magnificent ancient Greek temples in Agrigento. We were very impressed with the beauty of Sicily and its wonders. Then in early June we went to Ravena and saw such wondrous mosaics, the city is renowned for it. On the 22 June we packed up and spent the next 4 months living in suitcases in what can only be politely described as a very stressful time which could have been averted had management been a little more thoughtful of its employees.

Then in June we attended the season closing of the Canadian Club in Rome at a wonderful cocktail party of the roof of the Hotel Minerva by the Pantheon to say goodbye to our friends. Not to forget the delicious dinner party Linda and Nazareno gave us at their home in Capena. Linda was so worried we might not like what she had prepared, everything was great and both of them are great company.

Just before we left we went just for one day to Spoleto to see a tribute to our friend Professor Alberto Testa, one of the great Italian choreographers, with whom we spent our Christmases and Easters at the home of dear Simonetta and her family in Rome.

We were very lucky to find an apartment in Ottawa which suited our needs and met our expectations. By September it was time to reacquaint ourselves with a changed Capital on the verge of becoming a big city. Our old Friends have been wonderful and very helpful in so many ways. One of our first weekends back in Canada, JAG invited us to the cottage, an old tradition re-instated with our return, then in September with visited Wakefield and the Grannies, in October Merrickville for Thanksgiving. In December our friend Cathy arranged for us to have dessert and coffee with Angela Hewitt and found her to be as charming as can be on top of being a great pianist. Also in December was a very special Birthday for Will with a special gluten free cake from Thimble. The puppies had to adapt to a new environment, Eleonora (Nora) discovered squirrels, Nicholas (Nicky) all kinds of new smells and grass everywhere to roll in and lots of dogs to growl at to our despair. With the fall being uncommonly warm up to mid-december and snow coming only at Christmas time, the puppies discovered they need boots and coats to go out. No, Rome was never this cold.

Yes 2011 was a charmed year, now the new Year and its new challenges, at least we are staying put this year, no transatlantic moves, at least that I know of so far.  

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

What I got for Christmas

Christmas 2011 has come and gone and what did I get for Xmas? A friend of ours in Italy when asked today told us, I got to spend Christmas with my family. For him this was the best gift because he thought of all those people who have no family or are estranged from their families. We all have parents, this is true of all people including orphans, this is where we came from and then with them came our family for better or for worse. Some have large extended families others have small contained families, others still have maybe one parent and maybe a few relatives. So at Christmas time it is good to be able to spend some time with our family. In our case ( W and I) as was the case today, we have our family, we visited in Montreal. Then we have another family which are old friends, who through all these years have been with us. In Ottawa our old friends have been with us since W and I came to this City in 1976, so many memories with them and we have all grown old together. We had a Christmas pot luck luncheon with them today with a toast to their health and a few words to tell them how much we care for them. It was a real pleasure to see them all again after 7 Christmases abroad.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas day we were in Montreal, to be with my mother who is gravely ill and my father who is in relatively good health depending on the day or the weather. Both are elderly and who knows how much longer they will be with us. For my mother who is suffering from Alzheimer and is in the final stages, it is always a pleasure to get a smile, a fleeting recognition if only for an instant from her, a squeeze of the hand. We had Christmas lunch with her and it was beautiful, beautiful flowers, music, good food and the company of relatives and siblings. My cousin L. did a lot of the cooking, turkey breast and a sugared ham, tourtiere and ragout de boulettes, salads and small tarts of creamed sugar. My father also worked at organizing this get together in the fashion he wanted with the help of my brother who came to spend 2 weeks with him. Trying to recreate a normalcy which given my mother's health and that she is confined to a care facility, though a nice and quiet place, is far from normal but it is our normal now.

Today W mentioned that he wanted to visit his brother who lives in Atlantic Canada more than one thousand kilometres away. To get there we need to take a ferry to the island and this depends on the weather and the ferry schedule. I hope we go, we would take our Nicky and Nora with us. It would be quite the adventure, considering that by plane it is a 2 hour flight, we plan to drive for this family visit. Canada is a big place.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas smells

Today as neighbours prepare for Christmas eve there were some wonderful smells in our building. We live in a condo building where most owners have lived here for the last 30 to 40 years. So everyone knows everyone else and it is a nice crowd. Today our neighbour at the other end of the corridor was cooking up a storm. Wonderful smells of roasting turkey and meat pies and other goodies. Our neighbourhood is largely composed of Edwardian style homes built between 1900-1914. They are large and comfortable with big windows and many formal rooms, reflecting the fashion of that era. So as we walk the puppies in the evening along the Rideau Canal you can see the Christmas trees in those homes. Some are quite large and have many wonderful decorations to them. People also put lights and natural wreaths on their doors. It is not the gaudy decorations seen in the far suburbs, decorations here reflect more the historical context of the neighbourhood. Finally tonight we have a carpet of snow just in time for Christmas and temperature of -20 C. to go with the season.

I also got the flyer from the supermarket and I see some great prices on lobsters and oysters and other sea food, I am surprised at the low prices. Too bad we have already done our menu, maybe next year I can do a seafood, oyster Christmas. Today on the news, an item on Canadian Caviar, apparently as the stock of Russian Caviar is becoming rarer and stock of sturgeons are depleted, Canada has developed its own stocks.  We have sturgeons in Canada and now it is becoming a new market, not only the Caviar but also the fillet. Currently one kilo of Canadian Caviar sells for $3000 dollars the demand is such.

Tomorrow morning the 24th we will have a nice breakfast, have a small gift exchange, yes Nicholas and Eleonora went shopping online, clever little hounds, and then off to Montreal to see the family. Hopefully Nicky will not cry all the way as he usually does in the car.  
Tourtière a favourite in Canada at Christmas.

Now A Christmas menu for my taste would go something like this, to start we could have some nice little pancakes with sour cream and caviar or a nice clear consommé, then a first course of tourtière (meat pies) a favourite in Canada, with a nice home made ketchup using usually the surplus garden vegetables of last September, followed by a wonderful roasted turkey with a chestnut sausage stuffing. The finish the meal a wonderful plum pudding with hard sauce, but not any old kind of plum pudding, no that would not do, it has to be the recipe favoured by King George V. The plum pudding is brought into the dining room with dim lights so that your guests can see the flames as it is flambe. To finish the meal a nice baby Stilton. The make it more fun, you compliment the meal with a variety of wines to suit each dish. Not to forget a good French Champagne for the toast.
Of course if turkey is not your thing, roast beef done rare is also excellent.
Plum Pudding

Merry Christmas say 80% of Canadians

A recent poll published today in the National Post shows that in Canada the politically correct is finally receding.

Most Canadians are firmly in the Merry Christmas camp, according to results of the latest Ipsos Reid poll conducted for Postmedia News and Global Television.
Of those polled, a strong majority of Canadians, some 73%, defend using the more traditional greeting, saying it is the “original meaning and purpose of the holiday” in this country.
Canadians appear to be adamant about their more traditional tastes, with their attitude similar to findings when the question was asked last year.
“I think what we’re seeing here is an interesting renaissance where Canadians, many of them, don’t feel that they are being offensive to someone if they call it the Christmas Season,” explained Ipsos Reid pollster John Wright. “Because the majority of people in this country are Christian, the majority of people in this country believe that it is Christmas.”

Presepe in the Cathedral of Enna, Sicily 2011

Middle-aged and older Canadians — 73% of 35- to 54-year-olds, and 80% of those aged 55 and older — are more likely to have a preference for the traditional “Christmas Season” term, which Wright said is not surprising.
But younger Canadians also favour calling it the Christmas Season, and significantly more so than last year.
Sixty-six per cent of those polled between the ages of 18 and 34 prefer the phrase Christmas Season, up 10 points from last year.
“Again, I think there’s a bit of a renaissance here,” said Wright. “Who knows what’s happening, except to say that young people are carving out a niche of their own.”
Across the provinces, residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, at 80 per cent, are most likely to favour the term Christmas.
British Columbians come in at a close second with 78 per cent, followed by 77 per cent of Albertans and Ontarians, and 74 per cent of those living in the Atlantic provinces.
Sixty-one per cent of Quebec residents prefer Christmas. 
For many Canadians, Wright said, Christmas is akin to American Thanksgiving, a time when people go home to reconnect with their family.
“It’s not about religion,” said Wright. “The No. 1 reason is really about family.”
Fourteen per cent think Christmas is a time for exchanging gifts this season, up from last year’s nine per cent.
Nineteen per cent think Christmas is a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ, while 12 per cent see the holiday as just “a nice festive season in the middle of the winter.”
Thirty-five per cent of Atlantic Canadians see Christmas as a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ. The rest of Canada isn’t far behind, but just six per cent of Quebecers agreed, which Wright said could have to do with Montreal’s cosmopolitan culture.
The online poll of 1,021 Canadians from an Ipsos Reid online panel was conducted between last Dec. 14 and 19.  
December 23, 2011 Ottawa by the Rideau Canal

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas- Noël

Well we are only a few days away and we are pretty much ready. No gifts this year, it was a year for downsizing and we really don't want anything. In many ways it is better this way. We have good friends, we have family, we have our puppies and we have each other. The tree is up and my sister and brother with their spouses are coming up to Canada for Christmas. The menu, lots of goodies has been arranged by my Dad. It is all catered, so no anxious moments or getting tired trying to cook and then cleaning up.
The weather appears to be promising some snow for Christmas, it was really cold today -20C. Puppies find it really difficult, being from Rome they have never seen such weather. They will be 3 yrs old in February 2012. They have their coats and their boots.
Lights in Roppongi Tokyo

Will says it was a difficult year, in a way it was, we did spend 4 months in suitcases and leaving so many friends in Rome and a very nice apartment and the life we had in Italy, all these changes were difficult. A lot of adjustments in returning to Canada, life here is very different, values, culture, attitudes, sometimes parochial, the food, heavy and starchy or too sweet. We are adjusting piano, piano, as we say in Italy.
The old Star on our tree, the same star for the last 34 years.

We have good friends here and we have been lucky to find an apartment by the Rideau Canal, making it easy to walk to work, to shops and other venues in the Capital.
some of the decorations on our tree.

Our tree is full of memories, every decoration from the Star on top bought in a dollar store, to all the other decorations, bought in all kinds of places around the world, many hand made or part of a tradition.

Best Wishes to our friends and to all a Happy Christmas. Who knows what 2012 will bring, we can only wish for Health, Happiness, Prosperity and Peace. It does not have to be peace in the world, that is too complicated, but just peace in our lives and of those we love and care for is quite enough for me.

All the best to all of you!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Books I am reading now

A few weeks ago I was reading the Globe & Mail, dubbed Canada's National Newspaper and Jeffrey Simpson whose column I have been reading for years, I wonder how old he is, I do like his column a lot. He recently recommended a new book which has been published on the War of 1812, titled the Civil War of 1812. This war will be commemorated in 2012 by the Canadian Government as will be the Diamond Jubilee of our Sovereign.
A monument to the war's bicentennial is under construction in Ottawa, but no one seems to know where exactly. I think I may have glimpsed at it today by accident at the corner of the Western Parkway and Wellington street just below Parliament. I saw what looks like the new footing of a great monument, but I digress.  What I wonder is, will the government also build a monument to the Queen on the anniversary of her 60th year as monarch. She already has an equestrian monument on Parliament hill on her favourite horse Burmese (1962-1990), a gift of the RCMP.
H.M. the Queen riding Burmese

All this to say that Jeffrey Simpson in his column suggested that we should not commemorate the war of 1812 between Canada and the USA. It was according the author of the book Charles Taylor, more of a civil war between the same people, than a war between two nations. The book is full of very interesting facts, unknown to me. One in particular made me laugh, the White House sent an express messenger to Canada to warn us that war had been declared, so General Sir Isaac Brock had several hours head start on the US Authorities at the border who had no idea that they were at war with Canada. Brock took advantage of it. The book also shows that US politics was not much different then as it is today. The Republicans were against taxes of any kind. The Federalist were very friendly to Canada and willing to see  things our way. Many of the great American heroes were nothing more than greedy businessmen and rapacious landowners, the 1% of their time. The USA was not well established as a Republic and it would take at least until 1867 or after the Civil War to firm up in the population the idea of republicanism and nationhood.

The other two books are on our first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald (1815-1891) born in Glasgow, Scotland, he move with his parents to Kingston, Ontario at the age of 5. Richard Gwyn has done a marvellous job of bringing the man to life in a very personal way, showing him as a human being with his frailties and not just as a politician. Macdonald was certainly a man of vision, who united the Nation, built the transcontinental railway, created the first national political party. He became Prime Minister at a time when Britain was no longer much interested in Canada, preferring India and openly suggesting that we might want to join the USA, it was an uncertain time, even our border with the USA was not clearly established, we had far more land to the south of the 49th parallel. It was a time when Macdonald had the vision of us as a distinct people, as Canadians different from the Americans. He was a Scot by birth but an immigrant by choice who believed in the possibility of his new country Canada. His vision, to secure land, the North West ( a.k.a. Western Canada), owned by the Hudson Bay Company and to build a railway to cement the national bond. He also had clear plans on governing, he created the RCMP, ensuring that our history would be different from the Americans. His vision was that of a country based on law, order and good government, settlement of the western provinces to the Pacific ocean would be done by the government in Ottawa and not as in the US model by whoever happened to be going westward. He also decreed by Order In Council that the Government of Canada would use British English spelling in all its documents and this is what we do to this day.
Sir John A. Macdonald as First Officer of the Privy Council of Her Majesty in Canada. This picture is a favourite of mine and hangs in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa.

 Certainly Sir John ranks amongst the great Nation builder of the 19th Century, men like Disraeli, Garibaldi,  Bolivar and Bismarck. It is most amazing that a man who suffered so many personal tragedies, his first wife died young, his first son died in infancy, his second son Hugh John was distant from him, and though his second marriage was a happy one, his daughter Mary was born an invalid, he love that child and 30,000 letters survive full of gentle and funny words for his dear daughter. His strenght of character allowed him to rise above it all, in other words he took the high road and who we are today as a country is thanks to him. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Canada.

Sir John A. Macdonald as a young man 1842.

Earnscliffe, the home of Sir John on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, it is the Residence of the British High Commissioner since 1930. He died there in his study in 1891.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Oath

Our Minister of Immigration and Citizenship who is also responsible for Multiculturalism, the Hon. Jason Kenny ordered yesterday that anyone taking the Canadian Oath of Citizenship had to be seen and heard by the Judge administering the Oath and it had to be done in either of Canada's Official Languages, French or English.  Since 1977 and until now the Oath was taken in various forms, in a variety of languages and the Judge or Consul administering the Oath could not be certain if the person understood what was happening.  The new measure clearly spells out that the Judge who administers the Oath of Citizenship has to see the person's face and hear them say it in our Official Languages since it is a legal process.

It's the old principle come forth and be heard which is the principle of Justice given by the King under the Oak tree, it goes back at least one thousand year if not more. However there are people who are screaming loudly against such a simple measure. The media has turned this into a feminist issue because it involves Muslim women who wear face covering in public. Editorials on Freedom, Tolerance and accommodation, Canada being such a welcoming country, allowing just about anything to please just about everybody. I have come to understand that the free Press is not about informing you as it is about fomenting discord in society under the guise of trying to inform you. A lot of the editorials are half baked and ill conceived and gloss over facts by being facile.

The measure announced clearly states that anyone, man or woman, even a child over the age of 14 must show their face to the judge so that he can see them pronounce and make the Oath. It is not just a question of hearing someone but of seeing them. It is a public gesture you are showing yourself in public and affirming your allegiance to the Crown and to the Country. But again the critics say we should not even ask foreigners to take the Oath, apparently is infringes on their rights. They should become citizens simply because they are here. What a concept, more a fantasy really. Other Western countries demand that you speak the National language to be able to drive a car or become a Citizen. Exam are given in the National language and you have to pass a test administered by a Government inspector, the pass mark is high and citizenship is given after a long painstaking exam. In Canada we simply ask that you go through what can be called a simplified process and take an Oath in public. I think here of the American process or the French, Italian, Polish, German, Swiss, Austrian or British processes to acquire Citizenship, much more difficult than Canada. So why the indignant cries from the media?

In a Court of Law, you swear in front of a judge and everyone present that you will tell the Truth, when you marry, you say to all assembled that you are entering into matrimony, it is your pledge. It is something we do here in Canada, our pledges, our Oaths are public displays, it is our tradition. It should be pointed out that in Canada to obtain a driver's licence which is a Provincial jurisdiction you are required to show your face to obtain a driving permit because an ID photo is inserted into the driving permit, no one Muslim or otherwise has protested. But wait, for Canadian Citizenship which is a high privilege, you have all this moaning. Why?

What I have noticed in the last 25 years in Canada is an evolution, there are some people and they are loud, who simply  reject any notion that belonging to a society, any society, involves responsibility to others or duty to that society. There are many selfish people who only wish to take and see what they can get for themselves.  Rejecting commonly held values for such people has become a virtue. The Oath of Citizenship in certain quarters has been ridiculed amongst many other public symbols which makes our Canadian identity.

What I find particularly disturbing is the CBC, the State broadcaster, making itself the mouthpiece of such groups, giving them a platform. People are encouraged to phone in and voice their opinion, so the sample of calls being broadcasted ridicule the notion of Citizenship as not important, taking an Oath is not important, it does not matter. Our society is Patriarchal so of course men tell these Muslim women that they cannot cover their faces in public. It is dangerous, to have men say such things we are told. The Citizenship Oath is just a ceremony of no importance apparently. We are asking foreigners who wish to become Citizens to jump through hoops like circus animals. Since when is taking an Oath comparable to some kind of cheap trick? This last remark comes from a University Professor in Ottawa, presented as an expert.  The number of offensive remarks being broadcasted on the CBC are nothing short of shocking and maybe this is what the public broadcaster wants, shock value for ratings. Responsibility, Civic duty is not important because individual rights come first. What appears to be important is the notion of what can the Country do for me, is this the last stages of a culture of entitlement.

I am just happy that the Government has finally taken steps to ensure that the Citizenship Ceremony is restored to what it was intended to be to begin with, a dignified affirmation of the wish to become a Canadian Citizen. Foreigners need to understand that in taking this Oath, you have duties and responsibilities and that you will be asked to uphold certain principles, one of which is that we are all equals as Citizens and that women cannot as is the case in certain cultures, made into second class persons with no voice. In an open society like ours certain foreign cultural concepts have to be abandoned if you wish to be part of our Canadian Society, for the sake of harmony and social peace.

Certain cultural habits you bring with you from foreign lands are a private matter and not part of who we are as a Nation, you do not like how we live as Canadians, fine, but, if you wish to become a Citizen of Canada, you will have to accept our basic principles. Canadian Citizenship is a privilege not
a right!

The Oath of Canadian Citizenship

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

Further this week a poll by Forum research reveals that 81% of Canadians overwhelmingly support the decision of the Government to have no veils or face coverings at Citizenship Oath Ceremonies.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Birthday and trimming the tree

December by Hans Thoma

Well we had a good birthday for W. surprised him with a special cake of orange spice with a white cream icing in a Laura Ashley design. The cake was made by Thimble Cakes of Bank street in Ottawa, they specialize in cakes that are gluten free, lactose or nut free for people who have allergies but still like their cake. The design they have for the cakes are beautiful and make for a unique presentation. It was my contribution to a lovely dinner at old friends on Parkdale, a nice bottle of Moët et Chandon, some nice wines and many other delicacies. Our friend R contributed as always his own artistic place settings for each guests. I have a whole collection of dinner parties place settings R has provided through these many years.
Wonderful gluten free cake

The cake was so good everyone had 3 helpings. See their website, the staff are also most helpful, we had a sit down chat about the sort of cake I wanted. Their website

W also received many messages of good wishes from friends. Now he can enjoy fully senior citizen discounts.
Birthday bouquet homage from Scrim's my favourite florist in Ottawa since 1976.

Many years ago when I was in Jordan, I would fly to Canada for Christmas and the flight usually stopped in London. I used the stop over to shop for baby Stilton which W, likes especially. The first time I went to get one I was not prepared for the size of the cheese, it is the size of a baby, I paused for a moment when the shop attendant asked me if I wanted the whole thing, I thought W had played a trick on me, so I did my King Solomon and took only half with me to Canada, a smelly baby indeed.
 I remember one year, a colleague suggested we go see about wines and spirits at one of London's great wine stores, Berry Brothers and Rudd at 3 St-James Street. I love London in December, there is such an atmosphere in the City. We did find some great wines which I brought with me to Canada. That Christmas we were going to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Holiday period, staying then at the old Oban Inn, prior to the great fire.

Last night we put up the Christmas tree, pre-lit, this way no grand schemings on lights and were they should go etc.. One of the time honoured tradition is to polish the Sterling Silver Xmas tree balls all 30 of them. Starting with the first one marked 1979, our first Xmas together. This was the year Neiman Marcus of Dallas introduced this item to their catalogue, we stopped at the year 2009. Mostly because we thought we had enough for the tree. What is most fun about those silver balls is that each one has a special memory, of a city or a place we were living in the world at the time. I was looking at 1987 Mexico City, 1998 Warsaw, 2007 Rome, so many happy memories.
''It was Katmandu in the Spring, well you see as I said to LaBouBou as he was then.....

The weather is definitely cold now at -6C and the Rideau canal is partially frozen, still no snow but we are told that after the 15 Dec it is likely that we will have some snow at least for Christmas. I only wish for an elegant covering of white, no need for masses of it, a delicate blanket, I hope Mother Nature is listening.

Polishing those famous N&M sterling silver balls
Dachshund God guarding the balls and Christmas tree 2011

Thursday, 8 December 2011

All I want for XMAS! Courtesy of H.M. Royal Navy

There is nothing quite like the Royal Navy and the skits they invent to amuse themselves, a fine old tradition. This piece has gone viral. I just love it.

Colonna dell'Immacolata, Piazza di Spagna, Roma, Italia

Today is 8 December and in Rome the Catholic Church celebrates the Immaculate Conception.
This is still to this day in Republican Italy a National Holiday. The Pope will travel from the Holy See on Vatican Hill to Piazza di Spagna usually taking a route were he will cross the Tiber River at Ponte Cavour, then down Via Tomacelli and Via Condotti turning towards Pizza di Spagna. The streets are effectively closed off thus cutting the city in two creating giant traffic snarls.  It may be a holiday but people are shopping for Xmas. He will come deposit a garland of flowers on the arm of the statue of the Virgin Mary a top the column on Piazza di Spagna with the help of the Vigili of Rome ( Fire dept) and a cherry picker. The Piazza is usually crowded on this day, so much so that the metro stop at Piazza di Spagna is closed, the crowds are too great.

All the religious congregations in Rome will come to the Piazza wearing the different uniforms of their congregation to greet the Pope, sing hymns and pray to the Virgin. Leaving at the foot of the column many flower tributes. This being Rome the whole scene takes on a Carnival air.

The column itself was taken from an ancient Roman temple, the statue of the Virgin is in fact an ancient statue of Venus, remodelled somewhat. At the foot of the column sits 4 Hebrew patriarchs from the old Testament. They represent the links to the promise made by God the Father to his people to send a Messiah.

The column stands in front of the College for the Propagation of Doctrine of the Faith, which the current Pope use to be the Head and next to the Royal Spanish Embassy to the Holy See.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

a corner has been turned.

A little over 4 months ago we returned from Italy. It was a difficult return, we had become well established in Rome and we had a routine and a life and friends. We became very familiar with the city and what it had to offer. We often also travelled around Italy to several small cities discovering a good restaurant or some are treasure or a good wine. There was always something to see either in Rome, a new exhibit, a cultural event or somewhere else outside the city, just a short train ride away.  Our departure from Rome was not helped by certain individuals who created administrative difficulties which made our move longer than necessary.  We arrived back in Canada and the settling in period started, it was not always easy, meeting with obtuse government officials, a changed city and indifference. It all looked so parochial and limited.
But this week finally a corner is turned, maybe it was that concert at Knox Presbyterian or the Christmas lights all over the city, on public buildings, in city parks or the change in the weather and the firming up of plans for the Holidays. Who knows but it seems we now have a new routine and we are finally settled.

For sure we will always have strong fond memories of Rome and of our lives and friends we left behind.
But for now Ottawa seems to be our new home and that thanks to long time friends here who have been helpful, we have been able to start a new life and look to the future and make plans.
Canadian Parliament Building, Ottawa

Winter and Xmas

As I was sitting in my cubicle office on the 16th floor looking south over Ottawa on a cold morning this week, it was -1C outside and windy, it suddenly occurred to me that your brain tells you to eat more as a form of comfort against the cold and greyness outside. The coffee shop across the street called Les Délices, is privately owned and has beautiful Belgian chocolates, butter croissants and other pastries in the morning to have with your coffee. It is very tempting and the cold weather entices you to just get a cappucino or a caffe machiato and a croissant which was made just an hour prior with that freshly baked scent. Of course it is all a question of control and not overindulge and over eat. Winter is approaching slowly this year, with a record breaking warm autumn in Ottawa. Today was a bright sunny day with a cold wind, the puppies put on their coats before going out. They find it cold now at -4C I wonder how they will feel on those winter mornings when the temperature is -30C.

Since our return to Canada a few months ago our friend C.P. has been an angel, she has arranged for us to be kept informed of what is happening at the National Arts Centre and in various other locals, sending us information on concerts, choirs and cultural events. We have been to quite a few choir concerts and symphonic concerts thanks to her. C.P. is a soprano and sings with the Cantata Singers of Ottawa under the direction of Michael Zaugg. Thanks to her, we met with pianist Angela Hewitt who is from Ottawa, at a private function, she is one of my favourite pianist and such a nice person, it was a delight to be able to speak with her while enjoying desserts at Le Café of the National Arts Centre. We also saw maestro Valery Gergiev, he too is one of my favourite conductors, Riccardo Muti being the other.  This evening we are going to hear yet another choir concert, with Christmas Stories read by Adrian Harewood of  CBC Radio and the Ottawa Cantata Singers at Knox Presbyterian Church (c.1844) at the corner of Elgin and Lisgar Street . This is a beautiful stone church, a landmark in Ottawa with its roof of Red British Columbia cedar and red Oak doors. We will dress warmly for our walk down to the church as the wind is biting and cold.

About the NAC apparently plans are afoot to change the outside look of the building,first inaugurated in 1967 for the Centennial of our Canadian Confederation as the cultural and national showcase of the Federal Government to the country. Plans call for a transparent glass wall to replace the current pebble brown concrete exterior with a new entrance off Elgin Street. The idea being that it would reflect openess and transparency, themes dear to the heart of the Civil Service in Canada. This renovation of the building's outside exterior is to coincide with the Anniversary of 2017 when Canadian Confederation will mark 150 years.

On Parliament Hill and everywhere in the centre of the Capital Xmas lights have started to appear. It is quite beautiful. We are putting up our tree on Saturday 10 December. A new tree this year to fit into our smaller apartment. Our neighbours have also started to decorate, a nice change for us, because in Rome no one put out any display of lights, or at least it was rare, even at the Vatican, you had the corporate looking giant crèche and a sorry looking tree with white lights, usually a gift from Catholic Austria, but that was all. So we are looking forward to all the lights and decorations around the city. The concert at Knox Presbyterian is also a chance to re-aquaint ourselves with a tradition that of the Xmas sing along Hymns which is very popular in Canada.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The week that was

Well this week we had the first snow fall in Ottawa, strange how on this one day everyone has instant amnesia and forgets how to drive. Puppies Nicky and Nora being from Rome had never seen the stuff and there was much panic. Will made a little movie of it on his site.
 Nora and Nicky on their morning rest, such a hard life. Notice the little Dachshund statue next to the chair.

Nora in the snow at 06:45am by the Rideau Canal, what is this stuff ?

The Saga of Bus #96 which crosses Ottawa continues to be reported on CBC Morning Show. According to news report or if news report are to be believe it has to be the most unpleasant bus route in the National Capital Region, nasty stuff all around. You really want to get your SUV and go drive instead of taking public transport. If you want action take number 96 it is high in drama, not to mention the occasional fist fights and bad language, parental warning advise but again its the kids who are causing all the trouble.

The saga of the singing bus driver also continues, 12 passengers complained over a period of time that the poor fellow did not know how to hold a tune, but then 300 passengers thought it was nice to hear him sing. Our good Mayor Jim Watson from his chauffeured driven limousine told him to shut up and drive the bus. So the passengers in a show of bravado decided to board the now silent singing driver's  bus and sing in defiance of the Mayor's dictat. You have to wonder in what other Capital of the world would such events occur, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, Rome, Copenhagen, NO only in Ottawa, a city where eccentric behaviour is encouraged.

We also celebrated our 34th Anniversary this week and the retirement of a colleague after 35 years in La Carrière. We went to the Café of the National Arts Centre a solid standard, the food is excellent and the service good.
Dinner at the Café of the NAC.

Yesterday our local daily The Citizen had a full front page dedicated to IKEA, the new store, the mystique, the legend. A new giant store is opening shortly, you will be able to enjoy Swedish meatballs and a panoramic view of Highway 417. Some places have things like StoneHenge we have IKEA. I am aslo starting to think that the Editorial board of the Citizen have shares in IKEA they have given that store alone tons of free publicity, I wonder why. Maybe the Ottawa Citizen is run by a bunch of Swedes passing themselves off as innocent Ottawa valley folks.

We also bought a new Xmas tree this week a somewhat shorter version from the previous version. We went to several stores, compared prices, number of tips and lights, etc... our dear friend B came with me and from my cell phone would rally the info to Monsieur at home who played Nero and gave the thumbs up or down to whatever tree we thought might suit us.

I went to the auctioneer's today, Maclean on Laperriere to see how our various items were selling, well we did good and I was happy with the results. Lots of people and fast action. They also had a area full of 54mm lead soldiers, all good makes at very low prices. I just could not help myself and had to stop to look and bought a few.

Tonight we are returning to Grill 41 at the Lord Elgin Hotel, will see how they do this time around,  I will review the restaurant afterwards.

The weather so far in Ottawa is very much like that of Warsaw, grey skies, a bit of rain and temperatures around 8C. I would not mind at all if it continued like this all winter. Tonight the temperature climbed to 13C for the end of November this is exceptional and me think WONDERFUL!!!!!

W has a big birthday coming up in a week's time and I will follow Chinese Tradition and serve him a big bowl of Gluten free Noodles in chicken broth for breakfast on his Birthday, it is called Longevity noodles, we will also wish him 10,000 more birthdays. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Le Jour du Souvenir 11 novembre 2011

I read today in the newspaper that Remembrance Day was a forgotten holiday. I do hope this is not true, many things can be forgotten but not that day. Too many young, brave and often scared Canadian soldiers made great sacrifices for all of us. We should not forget what they did in the First World War 1914-1918, the Second World War 1939-1945, the Korean War or during all those Peace missions around the world and more recently in Afghanistan. They secured our future and I am proud of them and grateful.
Friday 11 November at 11 am we shall remember them.

Prince of Wales laying a commemorative wreath.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A private evening with Angela Hewitt

Last night we went to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa to hear Angela Hewitt play Ravel. I have liked her for so many years and with Alicia Della Rocha she is one of my favourite pianist. After the concert she had arranged for a small group of people to meet in the restaurant of the NAC for dessert, many of the people present have known her since childhood. She came and greeted everyone in a very personal and friendly manner. Not only is she a great artist, she has wonderful people skills. One could be excused for being tongue tied meeting someone like her, but she put everyone at ease by speaking in the most friendly way as if we had known her for years. Angela Hewitt has a house in Ottawa but she also lives in Trasimeno, Umbria, Italy where every year in June she organizes a Music Festival with other great artists. This coming year in June, Anne Sophie Von Otter will be part of the Festival program. This Music Festival also includes now concerts in the towns of Gubbio and Perugia.

I was thrilled to meet Angela Hewitt and be able to speak to her over dessert as an old friend, I thanked her for her talent and the many hours of pleasure she has given me listening to her wonderful piano playing.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Bolshoi le grand gala d'ouverture

This past Friday the Bolshoi, (great) theatre in Moscow re-opened with a grand gala of artists, music and dance.

The Bolshoi company of Ballet and Opera was created in 1776 by Prince Peter Urusov and the Englishman Michael Maddox, a famous theatre owner in London. The Bolshoi Theatre building was designed in 1824 by Joseph Bové built with a classical facade and an opulent interior, known for its acoustics. The first work to be performed was the ballet Cendrillon by Fernando Sor on the 18 January 1825.

The Friday gala opening was broadcasted live on Russian television and friends in Rome went to the cinema at Piazza Repubblica to see it. I wish we had this opportunity in Ottawa, not likely though, here we are waiting for the opening of the new IKEA store in the West end of the city.

Russian television (RT) put up a segment on YouTube and it struck me how Russia today is celebrating its culture and its past, Imperial symbolism are prominent, from the uniforms of the honour guard which are from 1800 to the choice of music, God Save the Tsar, to the restoration of the Imperial Coat of Arms now used by the President of Russia and on all buildings. So the past, prior to 1917 was not so bad after all.

Russian Television and the artistic team responsible for the production of this gala did a superb job. It was very impressive. There was the opening chorus of modern construction workers on stage acting out the renovation of the theatre and singing an excerpt from the opera A life for the Tsar and then the march of the Tsar's Life Guards as the entire corps de ballet and other artists who are part of the Bolshoi Theatre came on stage in a choreography of what looked like a Debutante's Ball. Outside a jeux de lumières projected unto the facade gave the public the history of the cleaning, restoration and rebuilding of this great theatre, ending with peals of church bells and fireworks.  

Made you wish you were there. Well maybe one day we will visit.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Nicholas and Eleonora

Here are some photos taken this past week after Nicky and Nora went to the groomers. The last time they were groomed was in June prior to leaving Rome. They needed a good grooming and though they are hunting dogs, wire hair dachshunds need regular grooming for their coats as it grows fairly quickly and becomes ever thicker.

Eleonora di Capena (Nora)

Nicola di Capena  (Nicky)

posing quietly waiting for a biscuit.

They are hounds and they make hound sounds like a hunting howl which is frightening. They are also very clever being Dachshunds so you have to watch yourself because they are good at training people.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Photo albums

I have been going through boxes of photo albums going back 30 years or even 50 for some photos. So many souvenirs of so many places we travelled to around the world, of our dogs Bundnie and Reesie who are both associated with posting in Egypt and in the USA. They in fact were so well travelled, they also lived with us in Poland and in Canada, Reesie died in Rome at age 16. Our Vet Dr. V. use to joke that our dogs were better travelled than him. Same now with Nicky and Nora who were born in Rome and now live in Canada. What is strange is that I see clothing I still have and still wear from 25 years ago, I suppose if you take care of your clothing it will last a long time. So many souvenirs, we have the same friends we had 35 years ago, we all grew old together, some have lost weight, other have white or gray hair, some regretfully have died.  Memories of so many parties to mark a departure usually to a Post, or a Xmas in Canada, some fancy meal prepared by Will, photos of his famous Plum Pudding recipe from the kitchen's of Windsor Castle, C.1912. We also have lots of pictures of table settings for dinner parties we gave over all these years. I had written notes on each photo so they are easy to identify, others bring back instant memories of events.

Now we have to scan all those photos and put them on disk so that they do not fade, it is also easier to carry and consult. Some I may put up on my Flickr account, though I have learn to restrict access.

All this is part of the clean up and downsizing of our belongings, call it rationalization, in any event to many things to hold on too and not really necessary. I suppose we have to become a little more Zen in our thinking.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

looking for a vacation

We have started to look at cruises around the Baltic we would like to go to St-Petersburg and spend 3 days visiting.  We thought we could fly to London and see our friends there and sail from London. With the economy the way it is a lot of cruise lines offer very good deals. We are looking for a smaller ship, about 1000 passengers or less. We like top of the line, nice cabin with a balcony, don't care much for on-board shopping or entertainment. If they have a good restaurant or bar that is a plus. They also offer excursions in every port and we usually skip those and do things on our own. We did that on the Danube cruise from Budapest to Nuremberg and it was great. We are still thinking of going back to Italy to see friends also.
It is all a question of saving our pennies and we have already started to do so, aiming for May 2012.

As for Xmas and New Year's, it will probably be Xmas in Ottawa though we have no idea with who or what we will do. 

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Death of .....

This week the dramatic events of the death of Muammar Ghaddafi on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, beaten to death and shot by angry Libyans, shocked many in the world. It was not totally unexpected, the hatred he generated amongst ordinary Libyans was such that any other outcome dictated that he flee the country quickly to a friendly nation like Zimbabwe. The airspace closed by NATO planes only left him a desert road to Niger.  With his death he is the most recent Pan-Arabic leader to fall signalling the end of a generation of leaders who came to power following the example of Gamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt, the man who in 1953 overthrew the Egyptian Monarchy and asserted that the Arabs would govern themselves. Nasser was against the old Arab Aristocracy, the princes who had ruled for centuries, the old colonial powers, Britain, France, Germany, the corrupt ruling class who abused ordinary citizens.  The Nasser revolution in July 1953 was a genteel affair, King Farouk was given 3 days to pack his things including part of the National Treasure and leave, he went into exile sailing to Rome on his yacht. In Irak a few years later it was a less genteel affair, the Royal family was massacred by the high military command in their beds. Jordan was to be next and Nasser and Assad of Syria tried for years, even paying Yasser Arafat at one point in 1970 to try to overthrow the Hachemite king, to no avail the Bedu tribes came to the rescue.

Nasser never liked Ghaddafi much, he had taken over Libya in a bloodless coup while King Idriss was away on an Official trip abroad. Nasser would say that he found Ghaddafi untrustworthy and a little strange. Pan-Arabism as an ideology sought to be a Socialist Arab movement devoid of religion, it never achieved its aims. The ideology quickly turned into whatever each dictator wanted it to be in his country, in all cases a police state, a dictatorship style of government and like many Fascist movement exalted the leader in a huge personality cult with the national army as the enforcer. Egypt, Syria, Irak, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria all fell into the same morass. Because they were all semi-agrarian or with semi-nomadic people or fierce tribal groups, rapidly growing, largely illiterate poor populations, they became pawns of the Cold War games between the USSR and the USA, having been pawns of the colonial powers, Britain and France previously. Each dictator needed lots of cash to pay off the elites and weapons to keep their armies happy, both the USSR and USA were happy to oblige in return for political allegiance.

Nasser died of a heart attack in 1970 realizing that his ideas of one pan-arabic government by the masses was nothing but half baked ideology. Assad died of old age a few years ago in Syria to be replaced by his inept son, who may meet the same fate as Ghaddafi if he does not flee in time to Iran his ally. Yemen is into a civil war with President Saleh hanging on barely having survived an assassination attempt. Egypt is in chaos and Libya well it all remains to be seen what is going to happen next. As for Irak turmoil continues in this ravaged country, divided by political tensions along religious lines.

Tunisia is the only one so far who seems to have been able to pull it off with an free and open election this weekend. So bye-bye Pan-Arabic leadership and hello uncertainty. It is really not clear what is going to happen next, certainly not western style democracy, getting rid of a dictator does not mean that everyone understands what democracy means or how it works in everyday life, if Irak is an example of what can go wrong when you have no tradition of dissent or open plural society. I am sure that many outsiders will certainly try to make helpful suggestions on how to go about it, but often suggestions are not welcomed and are seen as nothing more than interference.

As for a trial for Ghadaffi at the International Court in The Hague, as much as this follows the idea of a society based on rule of law and international recognized standards of Justice, this was never going to happen. Ghadaffi knew too much and he had become a bothersome figure, he could have embarrassed more than one leader. The trial would also have been yet another platform for him to spin out his ideas of the world, it would also would have made him a martyr to some. In a cynical world his death closes a chapter.  Looking back on it, when on Christmas day 1989 Ceausescu and his wife were summarily executed in front of a firing squad in Romania, after a trial which lasted 30 minutes, I do not recall the same call for an investigation. He had been the President of Romania for years and a thorn on the side of many countries but the good ally of others. But then again this was another time in history.


Saturday, 22 October 2011

Mirick or Merrickville on the Rideau Canal

The Ottawa valley has a lot of interesting villages along the Rideau River and the Canal. One is Merrickville, a very picturesque town. It is a short drive from Ottawa in pleasant countryside reminiscent of Northern Poland formerly Oriental Prussia.  
Sketch by Bainbridge 

William Mirick an Empire Loyalist or a late loyalist, in other words someone who was fleeing the American rebellion against the Crown, established his saw mill on the Rideau River where the river drops 24 feet. He was amongst thousands of Yankees who disenchanted with the American revolution and high taxes after the American war of Independence, came to Canada for the free land and low taxes. It is recorded that in 1790 he was given a Crown grant of land (200 acres), the community grew around his saw mill and it became known as Mirick later MerrickVille. By 1800 it boasted a lumber mill, a foundry (still in operation today), blacksmith shop and several hotels and taverns.

By 1824 Lt Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers was drawing plans for the Rideau Canal, the canal was built to protect Canada from a possible invasion by the Americans, who where constantly scheming to invade Canada even at this early stage in their history, feeling compelled to annex land and expand their territory. When you read this part of the history of Canada you see that the USA was a threat to its neighbours both Canada and Mexico. The canal's main purpose was to move troops between Kingston and Ottawa which is connected to the Saint Lawrence river (Montreal) via the Outaouais river. 
The Canal was opened in 1832 and it brought a great deal of prosperity to the town and the area being a major commercial hub. But in 1860 with the arrival of the railway and other points being chosen as railway stops, Merrickville suddenly fell into slumber being bypassed by progress. It was only in 1960 that the town saw a new era with modern tourism and historical refurbishment of the Blockhouse and locks as the Centennial of Canadian Confederation (1867-1967) approached. 

Today Merrickville is one of the best preserved 19th century town with more than 100 historical buildings, many of them made of stone, colony of artists and artisans. It is said to be one of the most beautiful small towns on the Rideau known for its gardens and flower display. It also has good restaurants and friendly people. The foundry is interesting, set in the original building it still produces many products for Canadian Embassies, Government buildings, official organizations, and private individuals. You can order from their catalogue a personalized hand painted plaque for your house.

 Main cross roads in Merrickville

The blockhouse guarding the canal

The Rideau River below the dam

the old foundry covered in ivy.

some of the old heritage buildings 

marmalade, mustards, other products made by locals in the valley.

the Rideau canal locks at Merrickville, unchanged in their original state.

the locks of the canal and next to it the Rideau river above the dam. The locks are still all operated by hand, the doors are pushed open with long poles with teams of men operating them daily to allow small boats to pass.

So this was our little trip along the Rideau river on this Thanksgiving Day weekend. It is the last weekend before the canal is emptied for the winter. The locks all along the canal system where opened on Wednesday 12 October and only in the city of Ottawa proper is there enough water left in the canal so that it can freeze and be turned into a 10 Km skating rink between Parliament and Dow's Lake.  

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


We have so far had a very nice Autumn in Ottawa, lots of sunshine and the morning air is crisp at 6 C.
The trees have changed colour and with the sunshine it makes for a festive look all around. The walk to work in the morning is pleasant walking to work down quiet streets. Only the last portion about 3 blocks do I enter the central office district.  It is true that the streets in Ottawa are very clean and the sidewalks even which is a good thing given the number of old people in our neighbourhood.

The view from our kitchen window.

Along the Queen Elizabeth Drive

The Rideau Canal water level has already been lowered by 2 meters leaving just enough water so that come winter freeze the Canal will become the longest skating rink in the world.