Thursday, 30 June 2011

1534-1867-2011 Dominion of Canada Day

On Friday 01 July Canada will be 477 years old making it one of the oldest countries in the world today. July 1 also marks our political union of 1867 some 144 years ago.

Canada is a federal state that is governed as a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and commander in chief. It is a bilingual nation with both English and French as official languages. One of the world's highly developed countries, Canada has a diversified economy.  We are the USA first trading partner with trade worth 1.5 billion a day. We are also the number 1 supplier of oil, gas and electricity to the USA. Though most Americans are blissfully unaware of this fact.

We should also remember on this day our Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and our RCAF missions over Libya.

                  Canadian Grenadier Guard of the Governor General of Canada at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
So this is our last Canada Day in Rome, we had a lovely party today in the Chancery Gardens of the Embassy on Via Salaria, quite a good turnout and the food was good. The weather also was pleasant and sunny with a light breeze under the umbrella Pines of Rome. In Ottawa under windy gray skies, Prince William and the duchess of Cambridge arrived for their first Royal tour across Canada. They expect to see about half a million people 1 July on Parliament Hill for the festivities of Canada Day, I can hardly imagine what that would look like.

Best Wishes to all on this Dominion of Canada Day.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Ravenna, Emilia Romagna, Italy

Well in 30 days we will fly to Canada to resume our life in our home country, the four years in Italy were nothing short of wonderful, a very great opportunity. I was also fortunate to have Greece in my portfolio of responsibility, so I think this was a little like a double header in terms of the basis of Western Civilization, Rome and Athens.

We could not leave Italy without a visit to Ravenna which is located North East of Bologna, easy to get to by regional train, a bit of a milk run but the countryside is spectacular. Ravenna is heavy with history and a city of the Arts. Often bypassed by the hordes of tourists who descend on Firenze,Verona or Venice, it is not well known, but has so much to offer which is unique and is in many ways a key piece of the puzzle which is our western heritage. Ravenna makes a first entry into history with Julius Ceasar who will stop and assemble his army before crossing the Rubicon river to march on Rome. Under his nephew Octavian Augustus, Ravenna will become an important seaport as the seat of the Western Imperial Roman Navy. Ravenna back then was built on stilts and surrounded by water, a style immitated by Venice many centuries later.  In the fourth century after Emperor Constantine abandons pagan Rome to establish a new imperial Capital with his new Christian religion, in his new city Constantinople, Ravenna will become the new Capital of the western part of the Roman Empire.
                                             The Ravenna Festival brochure

Theodoric the king of the Ostrogoths (454-526 AD), has a young boy had been sent by his father to the Imperial Court in Constantinople and was educated there. He was what the Romans called a Romanized Barbarian. He ruled on behalf of the Emperor in this part of the Italian peninsula, Theodoric will launch a program of grandiose constructions, palaces and churches and great public buildings. The Bysantine style is present everywhere, as we see it today in Christian Orthodox churches, so different from the Roman Catholic style which copies Pagan Rome.

A wealth of opulence in rich mosaics decorating every wall telling Biblical stories mixed with ornate inlaid marble and mosaic floors. Even the windows are of alabaster panes giving the interior a majestic golden aura. One can imagine the religious services heavy with incense and music, conveying the feeling of Divine mystery.  It is also interesting to note that Ravenna was also the scene of the evolution of the Christian Faith from early times. Theodoric and his Court where followers of Arius and his doctrine known as Arianism, their beliefs were one of many Christians beliefs of the early Church around the fourth and fifth Centuries. Different Christians groups had different experiences and understandings, such as in Egypt with the Copts or in Antioch or Jerusalem or in Constantinople or in this case Ravenna. For the Arians Christ has a human nature and his divinity is revealed only upon his baptism in the Jordan River. He walks from the West to the East. He is represented as a youth (no beard) and naked, just a young man, a bit pudgy almost a mama's boy.
in this mosaic we see Christ, St-John the Baptist and on the left the figure of the Jordan River in an old man.

The Emperor in Constantinople, needed to solidify political power through religion. This representation was not part of his official political program, Christ had to have a majestic aura as ruler of the world and the Arian beliefs was too humanistic, it clashed with what was to become official doctrine after the violent suppression of the Arian Cult. It is also interesting to note in the period before 700 AD it is the Emperor who is the head of the Christian religion and not the Bishop of Rome, who for many centuries will remain a bishop amongst many, again not the version the Holy See likes to spread around.

The three wise men, coming from the West and dressed like Barbarian chieftains bringing gifts to the baby Jesus and his mother. Mosaic church of St-Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna.

We also saw a very rare Easter Calendar indicating the days on which Easter would fall between 582 and 626 AD. I learned that Christian Easter was celebrated at the same time as the Jewish Passover until the Church at the Council of Nicea, some 325 years after Christ, decided that this could not be. It was important for political and religious orthodoxy within the young Christian Church to differentiate itself if it was to survive as a separate religion.

Not a painting but 5th century intricate mosaics decorate the cathedral of St-Vitale, Ravenna.

In Ravenna you also see that the so called barbarians are in fact trying very hard to integrate themselves into the easy life of the late Roman civilization. The barbarian chieftains wish to give their own people an easier life, a more settled life, with clean drinking water and easy access to food and other conveniences found in city life. The clash comes when the Romans refuse to allow them to migrate through their settlements or into their cities. The Roman legions are stretched and it is difficult to defend if not impossible to stop this human wave of migrants who descend upon the Italian peninsula. Eventually the Romans will have no choice but to accommodate the newcomers. This can be referred to as the fall of the western Roman Empire.

Ravenna, today is landlocked with a canal giving it access to the Adriatic, the great marsh lands were drained about 600 years ago and turned into rich agricultural land.  But we could not be in Ravenna without visiting the tomb of the great Italian poet Dante and attending the opera. The summer festival in Ravenna offers many wonderful things, it is held jointly with other music festivals like Whitsun Festival in Salzburg and Madrid. We saw the opera I due Figaro by Saverio Mercadante a sequel to the Marriage of Figaro, the story picks up some 20 years later.  It was presented at the Teatro Alighieri, under the direction of Riccardo Muti and the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini with the choir of the Vienna Philarmonic.
                                   The Teatro Alighieri

We also had some very good meals, it is difficult to eat badly in Italy, we found a little place called Bistrot just around the corner from our Hotel, see  A very nice place, good food and good service, they catered to people suffering from Gluten intolerance, as many restaurants do in Italy.  Our hotel the San Andrea was ideally located within walking distance of all the sights in Ravenna. See
                                 Antipasto dish at Bistrot.

Am glad we went it was well worth the trip to see this beautiful ancient city.


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Ottawa on the Rideau

Well this past week went by quickly and got a lot of stuff accomplished for our return to Ottawa later this summer. The best thing was the find of this beautiful apartment, totally unexpected. After seeing many substandard apartments advertised in what can only be called as misleading statements and photos, I found a great place for us in an area of town known as the Golden Triangle by the Rideau canal. We had a great agent Eric helping us and he did a very good job answering our questions and getting the information I needed.  It pays to visit properties and not go on info solely provided on paper or on the internet.

Ottawa has changed a lot, the city has matured in the last 7 years and it is much different than when I left.
It is still a very clean city, lots of beautiful parks, very green and quiet. Met with old friends, went out to dinner.  Looked for and compared prices on food etc... this gives me a better idea of what it will be like on our return in 8 weeks.  Dining out in Ottawa is still expensive, more so may I had than in Rome or Vienna, if you look at the 13% tax and then the obligatory 15% service charge added to the final bill, not to mention the price of wines and liquor in restaurants which can easily be 500% of the retail cost at the liquor store. So we will not be doing much dining out. I also found that a lot of foods served in restaurants does not appeal to me. Too many flavors, every chef wants to be trendy, any given menu item has a long description of what the dish is about, to the point of incomprehension. It seems that food has to be trendy, as if that would equate with good taste or savoir-faire in the kitchen in the hope of attracting the monied crowd.  At the moment you have a lot of cranberry sauce with balsamic vinegar and chipotle onions.  Last night per example I had duck breast for dinner it came with what was described as duck confit, it was not, wrapped in rice paper to make it look Vietnamese with wild rice and vegetables and again this sweet and sour combination sauce, this was not an Asian restaurant but a trendy neigborhood one. Not very pleasing at all. The only fish on most restaurant menus is salmon steak, do we not have other fish to serve, it appears not.  The desserts also tend to be very heavy, Ottawa is still stuck in the Cheese cake era and in hot weather a total turn off. So we will eat at home probably replicating what we had in Rome. A good friend of mine described Canadians as people with damaged palates with over stimulated taste buds.

Groceries stores are interesting, you have the superstores and then the local specialty ones, some offer all natural, organic, biological, fair trade, grown in the shade (whatever that means), gluten free, free of dairy products, no eggs, peanut free, products. The variety is impressive, expensive and sometimes a tad funny, you wonder if we need all these choices, but it seems to reflect a certain affluent hypocondriac mentality preoccupied with lifestyle and correctness.

Ottawa also has horrendous rush hour traffic problems now as people try to leave the city centre by the main roads out towards the suburbs, it starts around 3pm until 7pm and on some streets like Bronson it is an all day and late into the night traffic jam.  The Queensway, the only major east west highway in Ottawa is a parking lot in both directions at rush hour. This is why I can happily say that I can actually walk to work in 20 minutes and do not need a car from our new home, I am very happy about that. The walk will also be very pleasant mostly through beautiful park land smack in the city centre. This is one of the very nice features of Ottawa.

Today its back to Rome for the pack up in 16 days the countdown is on. We have movers but we will need to make decisions on what we will take with us and what will be sent with the sea shipment.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

150, Festa della Repubblica Italiana (1861-2011) Festa degli Italiani

June 2 marks the birth in 1946 of the modern Italian Republic in this year of the 150th Anniversary of the creation of one united country, Italy. The President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano went first to the Vittoriano, the great white marble monument on Piazza Venezia this morning to lay a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier in front of the statue of the Goddess Roma. Then he was driven in his elegant and beautiful convertible official car a 1961 Lancia Flaminia 3035 around the Roman Forum and returned via the Circus Maximus and the Porta di Capena to the avenue which leads to the great Arch of Constantine below the Palatine Hill, considered in Antiquity the official entrance to Rome. This is were Marcus Tullius Cicero entered Rome when he returned from exile shortly before the assassination of Julius Caesar. The Presidential car like all things designed in Italy is a mixture of elegance, style, sportiness and relaxed comfort and beauty. You admire the car for its colour a medium level blue, it's a convertible and can seat 4 persons in the back and 2 in the front. It is not like a lot of other State cars anonymous and bulky, it is also not bullet proof or bomb proof. Usually the President on the right of the car and his wife or in this case the Minister of Defence on the left, on the jump seat the Chief of the Defence Staff and Head of the Carabinieri. On the front seat the driver wearing white cotton gloves and next to him the Head of the Personal bodyguard of the President, in his grand Gala Uniform.

                               Lancia Flaminia 1957-1970

There he received the salute of the Italian Armed Forces as leaders of the world gathered on the official dais on Via Dei Fori Imperiali. I learned today that the blue colour is the official colour of Italy, I always wondered why, it turns out it is the colour of the Royal Family of Italy, the House of Savoy. Italy despite being a Republic since 1946 has kept the colour blue as the National colour.

All European countries sent either their Head of State or Head of Government to the ceremonies today. Many other countries sent delegations.
Beautiful sunny day today 20 C. The parade down Via dei Fori Imperiali is largely an historical pageant this year of the Armed Forces of Italy for the last 150 years, in keeping with the events being celebrated. Very well done and high in colour. Every Army, Air Force, Navy and Police regiment is represented. Also delegations of the historical 3 capitals of Italy, Torino, Firenze, Roma. NATO sent a delegation, many countries also sent military detachments. The Italian Navy has a horse regiment, probably the only one in the world to have such a thing and the Army has a railroad regiment.

Interesting note is the seating plan on the Dais, sitting on the left of the President is the president of the Parliament and on the far right two seats down is the Prime Minister Berlusconi, he seemed to have been pushed to the side. Last year he was sitting immediately to the left of the President. President Karzai of Afghanistan was seated between the President of Kosovo and Joe Biden the USA Vice-President who did not appear to have much to say to Karzai. Though he talked up the President of Kosovo who was wearing a classic Chanel outfit.

The parade concluded with all the horse regiments coming down the avenue and the two pass by of the Italian Air Force over Rome and our house since we live in the centre. You can hear them coming for at least 10 seconds before they actually appear in the sky. This evening the President of the Republic is hosting a grand State Dinner at his residence at the Quirinale Palace.