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.

Monday, 17 October 2011

on the economy

''Austerity is a political ideology masquerading as an economic policy. It rests on a myth, impervious to facts, that portrays all government spending as wasteful and harmful, and unnecessary to the recovery. The real world is a lot more complicated.'' 
This little quote is taken from an editorial in the New York Times of Saturday 15 October. It illustrates what I and many people around the world think of the salad we are being served by politicians in general to explain what they themselves do not understand but are too proud to admit.

So next time you hear some hack politician about the austerity thing, cutting taxes and giving you everything for free, just think of this quote.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The easy life

Our Nicky is a lucky boy, as dogs go, in the morning he gets to walk on the Canal, a nice green area, then he gets his breakfast which is all biological, organic, fair trade, and totally wholesome for a little dwarf Wire Hair Dachshund like him. Then he goes and lies on a 70 year old Central Asian carpet to take in the morning sun. Nicky loves the sunshine, I do not know how he stands the heat but he loves it and snoozes, all happy and content. Not a bad life, it's like the Country Club everyday. He is a hound so he spends most of the day snoozing with little burst of activity. This weekend we had glorious sunshine in the high 20's Celsius.
Nicky just loves this carpet, I am sure he would want to take it to the pool to lounge around next summer.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Musical Evening in Ottawa

Our friend Blake, invited us to the house of his neighbour in Old Ottawa South, a district of the city which at one point about 60 years ago was the southern border of the City marked by the Rideau River. The other side, today's Riverside drive, was all farmland.
It remains a very nice quiet neighbourhood of prosperous looking homes. A neighbour, John has opened his house for musical evenings, it is by invitation only and it is a select small group. We were about 55 last night, the recital was held in what could be described as the music room with a large grand Steinway piano at one end. These evenings happen from time to time in an informal sort of way.
  see her web page

We heard a pre-concert recital by Bryan and Silvie Cheng, natives of Ottawa. Though Silvie was born in Tokyo. They will make their debut at Carnegie Hall in NYC at the Weill Recital Hall on October 16.

Bryan is 13 years old and studies in Montreal with Yuli Turovsky. It is amazing to hear this young cellist. Such talent and he is also well spoken and poised, something that is very rare in someone that age.

His sister Silvie is older by a few years. She is a pianist and has a beautiful light touch on the keyboard.  They had a good program and no easy pieces, it showed their talent. Being so close in this intimate music room, I realized for the first time that a cello makes a breathing almost asthmatic noise as it is played, at first I did not understand where the sound came from and then I realized it was from the instrument. As Silvie mentioned when introducing Sonata no. 59 by Haydn, this was composed for his client the Princely Esterhazy family whose great Estate at Eisenstadt was a cultural hub in the 18th century. The piece was played in a setting much like the one we attended for a small group in an intimate setting. It gives a completely different feel to the music being so close to the instrument and the musician.
Esterhazy Palace, Eisenstadt, Austria

Another piece they played and I enjoyed a lot was Bringing the Tiger down from the Mountain, by Canadian composer Alexina Louie. A modern piece composed in 1991, with great shifts and shows what one can do and the range of the cello.

The parents of Bryan and Silvie were also present, they had brought the refreshments for the evening, we had Peking duck, fresh fruits, cheese plates, and fancy cookies, wine, coffee and tea. It was such a nice convivial evening.

I also found this quote this week, in a newspaper article and I really liked it because at the moment their is so much talk about integration and multiculturalism in Canada:

“Being Canadian is not about losing your identity, but adding your identity to what is the fabric of Canada.”
                            Queen's Park Provincial Legislative building, Toronto

In fact the Provincial Election this week in Ontario ( pop. 11 million) saw the re-election of Dalton McGuinty also known as Premier Dad, for his 1950 fatherly style of government, more dotting than adventurous. A lot of the candidates in this election to the Provincial Legislature at Queen's Park were of immigrant stock, having been born abroad and raised in Canada. This is certainly a change from 25 years ago when most if not all candidates were white born Canadians.  Our re-elected member of the Legislature is Yasir Naqvi a Pakistani born Canadian who came to Canada as a boy. I spoke with him and he came across as well informed, well spoken and involved. I asked about him to colleagues and friends and everyone had good things to say about him.

Today is Thanksgiving Sunday,  we are going out for dinner tonight at Grill 41. Tomorrow off the Merrickville on the Rideau Canal. The weather is summer like at 25 C., it's what we called Indian Summer. It will not last so better enjoy it. I just discovered that the first Canadian Thanksgiving service was held in 1578 on Baffin Island in the far North by Martin Frobisher and his men. Our modern version dates from the end of the First World War.  It was Thanks Giving to God for Peace, Canada had sent 10% of its population at the time into that war. This contribution was more than any other allied Nation in the world including the USA who arrived very late in the conflict.
Fall colours in Ontario.

In the Gatineau near Ottawa

Monday, 3 October 2011


Getting out of Ottawa and into the countryside is easy, we are surrounded by parkland and agricultural land. In a matter of 10 minutes you are out of the city.  We went to Wakefield or La Pêche as it is also called in the Gatineau Hills on the Quebec side of the Outaouais river, these are the hills North of Parliament Hill and it is cottage country for many people who live on the Ontario side of the river. There are also many golf courses and the Prime Minister's Official Summer Residence at Meech Lake. The hills are very ancient, this is why they are so low, erosion and time, millions of years, have whittled them away. The forest covering is not so old, maybe 100 years at most, prior to that the forest was almost exclusively giant Pines, all cut down by the lumber industry between 1810 and 1920. Nowadays the trees are a mix of variety but Pines still exist, some groves preserved because they were on land owned by the Crown. The lumber industry has largely disappeared.

Wakefield has always been a picturesque village with lots of artists and prosperous city dwellers who inhabit the area. The Gatineau river runs along the old rail road tracks and there is also an old wood covered bridge, you could almost say that it is Ottawa's version of the Russian River near San Francisco.
On a sunny day it is very pleasant to go up to Wakefield and enjoy a lunch in a nice restaurant or visit an art gallery or friends who live in the area.

Gatineau River at Wakefield

The old wood covered bridge

the old homes in the village, keeping much of the flavour of an earlier time.

I also love to buy preserved made locally by people in Wakefield. In this case to help a local charity, QUAIL which supports independent living in Chelsea, Quebec for people with handicap or elderly.

or buy some of the heritage variety vegetables grown locally, species of vegetables you can no longer find in supermarkets. The Russet potatoes are excellent in stews or soups as they do not fall apart when cooked and the purple carrots or the yellow squash.

Here are the famous Wakefield Grannies or at least 3 of them with Will and Robert.
They are local grandmothers helping out other grandmothers who live in South Africa and are responsible for bringing up their grandchildren left orphans by AIDS. The Canadian Club of Rome invited Brenda and Robert last year to attend a fund raising event in Rome held by the Club and the Canadian community in Italy. See their web site for all details:
The Wakefield grannies have raised important sums of money and have greatly helped their African counterpart. They are truly wonderful ladies.

It is such a peaceful place and the quiet is so relaxing. In the fall when the leafs on trees change colour the area becomes spectacular.