Saturday, 27 August 2011

Excellent diner last night in Gatineau

We were invited last night by Marc-Aurèle and Frederick for dinner at their new home on the other side of the Outaouais River in Gatineau (Quebec). Marc-Aurèle is a chef, really, the food he prepared was wonderful and he has flair and talent. Knowing that Will has an allergy to gluten he prepared an entrée with endives and balsamic vinegar reduction which was truly very good. The filet mignon were wonderful cooked just right, he knows his timing when it comes to meat. For desert a personal favourite of mine, Crèpe Suzette flambée, wow! Now he must have gone to Hotel school to learn this or he simply has natural talent.

M.A. should consider as a second career as a chef or caterer. Fred with his sparkling Prussian blue eyes was delightful like always, a graphic artist he has an eye for colours, their lovely new house is tastefully decorated and the colours are relaxing and warm, with beautiful wood floors.

It was very nice of them to invite us, we had a great evening, which helps us re-integrate the great wilderness. 

Royal Wedding in Postdam, Germany

H.I.R.H Prince Georg Friedrich Ferdinand of Prussia, great-great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II, married Princess Sophie of Isenburg Saturday, a royal wedding that has rekindled German interest in the nation's Royals.
The couple were married in the church of Peace in Potsdam, outside Berlin, the former seat of the prince's family that ruled much of Germany until 1918.
After Saturday's ceremony, the couple traveled by horse-drawn carriage to Sanssouci Palace for a dinner and ball. Several hundred onlookers lined the streets outside of the church to see the couple.

The 33-year-old bride wore a dress designed by Wolfgang Joop, and a diamond tiara belonging to her family. The 35-year-old groom was dressed in a top hat and tails.
Wedding kiss on the steps of the Church, like his cousin Prince William, a summer of Royal wedding.
The event was broadcast live on local public TVand was splashed across the pages of newspapers and glossy magazines. The couple held a civil ceremony on Friday in Potsdam.
Seen together in Monaco on 2 July 2011 at the wedding of the Prince of Monaco.

From 1871, the Kings of Prussia also served as German Emperors, with Wilhelm II being the last. He abdicated in 1918. The Hohenzollern family are first cousin to the British Royal House and many other Royals of Europe.
Descendants of German royal and Imperial family still carry their titles as part of their names. 
Sans Souci, the summer palace of Frederick the Great, Voltaire visited here often.

The couple has known each other since childhood. Had the Prince chosen to marry a commoner like his cousin Prince William did with Kate Middleton, he would have lost his role as leader of the Hohenzollern Imperial House. As a descendent of the Prussian Kings, Georg Friedrich has family ties to the most important royal families in Europe. The House of Hohenzollern celebrates it's 950th anniversary this year, this wedding called for a little pomp and circumstance.
the happy couple, best wishes to them.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Ottawa habits

Ottawa is since 1867 by Royal decree from Queen Victoria the Capital of the Dominion of Canada and it can be said that since then the population of Ottawa has fought the notion that it was a Capital of a nation.
Quebec City, Montreal, Kingston and Toronto have all been at one point the Capital of Canada, even Aylmer which sits across the Outaouais river from Ottawa almost became the Capital.

The city by its own Mayor's admission has been stuck in small town thinking, parochial pursuits, unable to think big like other world capitals. Politicians come to Ottawa because Parliament is here but they do not live here, their families and interest are elsewhere. Even those politicians from the region are often from rural stock and take little interest in the city itself. Ottawa remains a sleepy town, expensive to live in but firmly stuck with its blinkers on.

People will tell you that it is a great town to raise a family in or that it is an interesting place or that its great for winter sports, they mean the skating on the Canal or cross country skiing in the Gatineau park across the river. But it you press them to explain further, you will find the conversation will drift and then turn to the weather, in fact the weather in Ottawa is one of those topics which is discussed with passion.

The mayor today in an interview said that he had changed his thinking, he use to be prudent and hesitant to make any decision on any topic, this by his own admission. City Council dithered about everything including garbage collection and snow removal. But now that the city stands at one million people it was time to think big and go for risk taking, though the mayor re-asserted that he still would be prudent, no revolution in thinking here. He is hoping for massive Federal Government funding for projects which have been debated for the last 40 years and have never gotten off the ground. He seems to think that this is about to change. How or why, he does not say, obviously the mayor has not read the plans of the Federal Government who is about to slash budgets overall. Like many politicos in town this sort of talk is cheap and easy, if nothing comes of your great plans you can always blame someone else.

People in Ottawa are said to be on the whole friendly, but there is a core attitude of very unfriendly even rude behaviour about town. You will find that a lot of people have difficulty saying good morning when they come to work or meet people or show any kind of interest in people around them.  These are the same people who work or live right next to you, but cannot bring themselves to the simple courtesies of life. They will say, I am not a morning person or I need my gallon of coffee before I can be social. It seems that the attitude can be described as, it is better to ignore people than to acknowledge them, sort of zoning out everyone, I don't want to be here mentality. Recently I even heard several people say that emails are not even answered let alone acknowledged, it's the I am too busy attitude or the sender cannot help or benefit me so I will just ignore him or her. Everyone wants to live in their own little space and just ignore everything around them.

I always found Ottawa to be a very cold and impersonal city despite official efforts to present it otherwise in touristic brochures. If you removed the Parliament buildings and the handful of museums there would be very little to speak of beside urban sprawl, which is Ottawa is now greater than Toronto a city of 5 million people. Would Ottawa fit in Dante's Divine Comedy, probably.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Then and Now

Last night we had a lovely dinner at our friend Cathy who lives East of us in a lovely house with a beautiful garden, she knows all her plants and takes good care of them. She even gave me a great sprig of Sage, what an elegant perfume sage gives, its a full, rich and creamy, I am thinking in Italian morbido meaning pretty much what I just said. She cooked corn on the cob it had been years since we had any and a lovely roasted chicken from a William Sonoma recipe.

Today we placed furniture in our new apartment, I have counted so far 15 boxes of stuff we have either given away or taken to the auctioneer, not mentioning a room full of furniture.  The books are next in the sorting out, we already did a first exercise before we left Rome and we will do more again, books as lovely as they are we will never read again, so let someone else enjoy them. Then all the framed stuff, too many things and so many we no longer care for, they too have to go. I am glad we are doing this because it needed to be done and should have been done a long time ago.

The apartment is starting to look like home give us another 2 to 3 weeks and all should be back in order.

Then: our former apartment in Rome.

Now: our new apartment in Ottawa, not yet decorated we only moved in 8 days ago.
Some familiar touches and a few boxes still, a work in progress.

Friday, 12 August 2011

A week ago now...

So much has happened this week in our lives in Ottawa on the Rideau, we moved into our new home and ran around Customs and other licencing bureau at Service (sic) Ontario to obtain clearance to drive our car.
Unpacked numerous boxes and gave away a ton of all manner of things we no longer want nor need. More to enter the great give away. We want to pear down to be essentials but will still have lots on hand. We accumulate so much in one's lives, it becomes an ever increasing canon ball which only gets bigger with the years. Today I opened quite a few of the wine boxes, that was fun, all these wines we bought in Siena and in Sicily. So we have Tuscan and Sicilian wines. We had a bottle of a very nice red from Sicily tonight with our steaks, from the Duca di Salaparuta Vineyards, Calanica 2009 is very smooth it is a combination of Nero D'avola and Merlot. We bought a case in Trapani in an Enoteca recommended to us by friends.

We are tired from all our doings, it has been a lot of work and it is not finished yet. I return to work next week, will have to continue at night after work to undo boxes, mostly books now and arrange the apartment to be liveable and enjoyable. We are already enjoying our new home, I can sense that we will be happy here.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Foolish Chicken, Ottawa

No this is not a political story or about a politician, though the title might lead some to think.
This is about a rather nice small restaurant in Ottawa I discovered thanks to my friend John and Rick. It is located at 79 Holland ave. in the Parkdale area, see the web site . It is a simple place, with a good menu of chicken and ribs, a nice wine list and desserts made by co-owner Natalie. Her spouse greets you and is also head waiter with a nice smile and an affable manner. It is a bit like going to dinner at friends, it has that simple friendly atmosphere and the food is good. I like their onion rings with a great Chipotle dipping sauce and their sweet potato fries.

The name comes, according to the story given by the owner, from their own experience in the restaurant business, a bit foolish and a bit of a game of chicken. He also told us that a family friend wrote for their kids stories about a Foolish Chicken, so there you have it.

We went for dinner the other night, I had a quarter chicken which was delicious, juicy and tender. Will had the half rack of pork ribs also very good. The place reminds me of a restaurant I use to like in Chicago 20 years ago called the Fireplace Inn, 1448 N. Wells street.

The art on the walls is for sale and is made by a friend, it compliments well the restaurant, at this time it is modern renditions of poppies. There was also on the wall one other drawing, that of a chicken entitled Chicken looking East. In fact according to the location of the wall in the restaurant it is East, drawing for sale at $1.00. I asked about it and was told that this was made by a little girl whose father is a nearby owner of another business, they are regular customers. She has already sold 4 such drawings in a couple of days. She is about 6 years old and the drawing is endearing, customers like to buy her naif style drawing simply for the fun of it and to give her confidence. She is apparently quite amaze that people would be interested in her drawing and are actually buying them.

This is why I like this restaurant in Ottawa, the food is good, the service is nice and the art work on the walls is charming.

Chicken looking East

The Foolish Chicken Restaurant
79 Holland ave. Ottawa
tel 613-321-4715

A quote in a book

Today we took a break from the move and went to the National Gallery of Canada on Sussex Drive to see an exhibit marking the 150th Anniversary of Italian Unity, it features an exhibit of works by Caravaggio and painters of his time who were influenced by his style. Afterwards, we went to have lunch across the street in the Market, since we had time we decided to visit the Nicholas Hoare Bookstore, which always has a treasure trove of books. I found a new book, a biography on General Georges Vanier (1888-1967) and his wife Pauline Archer Vanier written by Mary Frances Coady.

His Excellency, the Right Honourable, General Georges Vanier was the 19th Governor General of Canada since 1867 and the first French Canadian to occupy the position of Commander in Chief and Vice Roy of Canada, two Prime Minister's served under him, John Diefenbaker and Lester B. Pearson. A war hero (1914-1918), a founder of the Royal 22nd Regiment of Quebec, a diplomat, he was the first Canadian Ambassador to France (1946). He also started the policy of official bilingualism, (French, English) in the Canadian army. His wife Pauline and he were also humanitarians, actively involved in many organizations to help Canadian families and the disadvantaged, they also helped change the restrictive immigration rules to permit 188,000 refugees from Europe to come to Canada after the Second World War. They had five children and one, Jean has become famous for his work with the handicapped
his Foundation L'Arche is very well known, I had the honour to meet him in Jordan some years ago and was very impressed with him.

A quote by General Georges Vanier from his speech upon becoming Governor General of Canada in 1959, struck me,  he said: If Canada is to become a great Nation, each one of us must ask ourselves, how can I serve.  His was a time when people served others and their country without asking what they were getting in return or demanding rights.

H.E. the Right Honorable, General Georges Vanier wearing on this photo his uniform of Governor General of Canada with his wife Pauline.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

So many clothes

I remember reading that the Kaiser had something like 350 different uniforms and tenues d'apparats with medals and ribbons to wear on any given day, the challenge for his staff was to select the correct uniform and medals to wear for the different functions of the day. Un-doing all the wardrobes and different boxes today reminded me of that, my own Wilhelm would have nothing to envy the Kaiser. I too have been, during my time in Italy, guilty of over shopping for clothes and shoes and shirts and ties and scarves and the list goes on and on. Italy is a country where people dress as an image of who they are and what message they wish to convey. In Canada it's the opposite, there is no message or image, old jeans and T-shirt suffice in any social situation at home or in public, this explains the lack of closet space in most Canadian homes.

This morning I was up at the crack of dawn, a feat for me, so that I could bring my car to that great institution, Canadian Tire, who to this day in politically correct Canada, has the effigy of a miserly Scot as its corporate logo.  This is were the emission and safety check for the car took place at 07:30 am. at a cost of  $140 dollars, for this sum a certified mechanic, kicks the tires, looks at your car and gives you a piece of paper which enables you to get your permanent licence plates. But that is not all, before you get your sticker for the plates you must pay again $74 dollars and again prove who you are by presenting photo ID, did that yesterday, proof of insurance for said car, did that too yesterday and proof of ownership, again did that yesterday. It seems that the computer data bank of the Ontario Ministry of Transport expires every 24 hours. Its official I can now drive my 11 year old car in Canada.
Said car was purchased in Ottawa, but having such an old car is an oddity for most Canadians, on average people change car every 4 years, so I am the odd man out, much raised eyebrow at such a phenomena.

We have really been pushing ourselves this week with un-doing all the boxes and the next 3 days are just as heavily booked with activities. I also try to do any driving around town before 3 pm because of the terrible traffic and grid lock in late afternoon all over town. Ottawa has become sadly famous for its terrible grid lock and I am told that in courses on Urban planning, Ottawa is shown as the urban model to avoid.

I was at the supermarket today, I was struck by the abundance of what is on offer food wise, the selection is endless, the new trend is all organic and biological, this type of variety borders on the obscene, almost pornographic, is there really a need for 100 different types of breads, or 40 different makes of ice cream, all too sweet and full of chemical ingredients you cannot pronounce. I was looking for a pesto sauce, they only had 2 makes, one had 19 different ingredients on the label, since when is potato starch and corn syrup part of making a pesto sauce. I picked the other brand, because it only listed 6 ingredients all of whom can reasonably be part of a good pesto sauce.

In the cheese section, I note that most cheeses on offer are from Northern Europe, mostly Germany, Holland and France, Italy only had 3 cheeses, the obvious three. Canada produces a lot of excellent cheeses but in a supermarket you usually get only cheddar, mild or strong with that funny orange colouring.

I also learned how to shop at the By Ward Market in old Ottawa, this market has farmers and others, if you wish to buy only local fresh farm produce look for the F1 tag on the licence of the vendor. An F2 or F3 notes a re-seller trying to pass himself or herself off as a farmer, in such cases their produce come directly from a grocer.

The dogs are behaving very strangely, Nora has bloomed into a full hunting hound and howls madly at squirrels, we have lots of black squirrels in Ottawa. It is very difficult to walk her. Starting to think that she would be more happy on a farm.  Nicky sniffs everything in the park along the Rideau Canal but is generally surprised at all he sees. He often does not want to walk, looks afraid and has to be coaxed gently with much re-assurance and a biscuit or two.  Probably after Rome, Ottawa is just a tad too foreign for them.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Licence plate saga Part II

Well this morning early at 9am we return to the Service Ontario desk at City Hall. We had all the paperwork in hand including the English translation of the Italian language document they had requested at a cost of $80 dollars. What happened is so indicative of the whole mismanagement of the Ontario Government these days, first they did not need that translation, the officer did not even look at it, but use the registration documents I had in hand which was sufficient to establish ownership of the car to do the actual work, secondly it took five (5) persons all gathered around the computer to enter the data, it appears that no one had ever issued a licence plate at that central office before. They are use to issuing other documents like the Health Cards but nothing else. It seems again that lack of training is the main issue.

Tomorrow I have to go do a safety check and an emission check and then I can get my permanent licence plates. So it cost me $35 dollars for the plates, $80 dollars for the translation they did not need and a further $240 in extra car rental fees. I am writing to the Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Transport in Ontario to complain at the lack of training and preparedness of her staff for what should be a routine operation. With an election coming in October, one hopes that it might have an effect given that the current government appears to be about to be thrown out of Office, if all published polls are correct.  Her stated mandate according to her website states the following: As the Minister of Transportation, Kathleen is responsible for ensuring that Ontario is a world leader in moving people and goods safely, efficiently and sustainably to support a globally competitive economy and a high quality of life.  

This is the sort of statement you routinely get in Canada from politicians it means nothing but it is suppose to make you feel good, a bit like pissing in the wind, it gives you that warm feeling. It is also the sort of statement you would find on the Chinese Communist Government mission statement, I am starting to believe that politicians take lesson from China. 

Tonight we had a very nice dinner and opened a bottle of Langhe Chardonnay produced by Massolino,  Serralunga d'Alba, Provincia di Cuneo, Piedmont in Italy, see
As my mother use to say, Drink to forget!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Overwhelmed and exhausted

Since last week we have been in move mode, receiving deliveries of personal effects in long term storage and then other boxes from the Sea shipment. One thing is certain we will have to get rid of a lot of stuff, from porcelain to silverware, damask tablecloths, all kinds of things which have been accumulated through the years. Even some art work and maybe even oriental carpets I collected in my travels in the Middle East.
Its a painful process, many memories in each objects, however it must be done as we try to downsize and rationalize how we live. Apartments in Canada are small, in fact very small, most people live in one large room which is usually a kitchen, eat in area and living room, office combined with a separate bedroom and bath. Because we live in a throw away society, the only real item of furniture is the giant television set, apparently the standard size now is about 1.70 meter in size, it is difficult to find smaller sets, says a lot about Canadian society. We must be marginal people as we do not have a television set. Luckily for us our apartment is larger since our building was built in 1976 at a time when people were not forced to live in cramp quarters. A funny thing today, I was reading the Ottawa Citizen, the local newspaper, they have on weekends 2 sections in the papers devoted entirely to housing trends and house sales and new developments, what this is actually is free publicity for big developers, the reader is lead to believe that this is general information when in fact it is cleverly arranged promotional material for housing projects, with interviews of real estate agents and developers, telling the readers that this is what the public wants.
It seems that the Rupert Murdock school of journalism is alive and well in Ottawa.

Unpacking is going well, now it is a question of organizing and arranging our things. We will probably have to move in the future and at least with what we are now getting rid of, it will be less to worry about.
Though the whole process is exhausting.

Tomorrow its back to the Service Ontario Office to get temporary licence plates for the car. They are so concern about stolen cars, it is apparently an epidemic in Ontario, that you almost have to give blood to get a temporary licence plate. The entire attitude of the staff at the so called ''service centre'' is to treat every taxpayer as if he or she was a known criminal. I have to wonder who trained them to behave in this manner. Also wish government would stop using the word service, they are not providing a service, its a State Monopoly you have no choice.

Luckily so far the weather has cooperated and that is important when you move. Hopefully by next weekend most of this will be behind us.

Monday, 1 August 2011


Living in Italy for 4 years and taking an interest in the diet and food habits of Italians changed our minds on what our diet should be to stay healthy. We all heard about the Mediterranean diet but if you are not from that region or living in that area of the world it is difficult to follow, different places, different habits. Prior to my coming to Italy I was in China (PRC), I noticed how the average Chinese man weigh about 42 Kg, a teen would weigh about 32 Kg on average. I wondered why did a Chinese man looked so slim compared to a Westerner, you could say some had almost a famish look. Once you put aside body mass and body morphology and other characteristics about race, what I noticed was that the difference in weight had to do with eating habits and what people actually ate or did not eat.

Asians in general eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, and no dairy products or bread. Westerners eat a lot of bread and dairy products and little in terms of vegetables or fruits. Red meat is also eaten in small quantities in Asia where in the West and North America its more red meat the better. An example in most restaurants in Ottawa a small steak is usually 250 gr. where as in Asia it would be chopped up and less than 100 gr.

In Italy, though bread was part of the diet and pasta is an important food staple, butter is not used in cooking, olive oil is used for cooking instead, more healthy. However Italians make conscious choices, per example if you have a plate of pasta, the portion is usually half the size of any North American portion and you will have NO bread or butter with your pasta dish.

Italians will also eat a lot of grilled vegetables and other green vegetables with their main course, potatoes are not necessarily a part of a meal. How often at lunch time I would see men and women eat a plate of green vegetables, grilled or steamed as a main course, no butter just a little olive oil on top and salt and pepper for seasoning.

We have been thinking about all this since our return to Canada, we are trying to avoid what we believe to be unhealthy eating habits, large portions, overly sweet desserts, breads and extra seasoning.

The other night we had Tilapia which is a white fish, simply cooked in olive oil and then seasoned with lemon juice. We have fresh fruit for dessert with a little lemon juice or simply as is, no ice cream or heavy cream and or sugar on top. It is going to be difficult because the food culture in North America tends to be on the heavy, sugary, overly seasoned and large portions per person. We must not forget that we are only 2 generations removed from the days when our grandparents would plough fields all day and tend to large farm animals, heavy and strenuous manual labour, today's lifestyle is plain sedentary and not too strenuous physically.

We certainly do not want to return to un-healthy North American food diet and it is going to be a battle to follow our diet and not fall into the convenience of fast or frozen foods at the supermarket.

Our new Home as of today.