Tuesday, 28 February 2012


This lovely piece of music by Erik Satie always reminds me of a radio afternoon show on the CBC long ago cancelled after decades on the air, the host was Bob Kerr who died not long after he retired from broadcasting. He was one of the legendary fixtures of CBC Radio. What pleasure it was to hear him, he knew so much about the music he played.

Gymnopedie no.3 by Erik Satie

Monday, 27 February 2012

Something to think about....

I like to read the newspapers and look at the different news stories. I have become fascinated with the development in our Capital Ottawa and the different new ideas for urban renewal. I also follow what goes on in other levels of government at the Provincial and Federal level. As a country, as we approach the 150 anniversary of our union (1867-2017) I see many changes in the composition of the country and in the shifting of political and economic influences towards Western Canada. Though economically we are stable, have a very low crime rate similar to what we had back in 1974, we are doing quite well compared to other G8 nations, little National debt, with modest growth economically, lots of cheap imported labour in our growing service sector, job growth in the service sector at minimum wage. The dark cloud is the growing debt of the average Canadian family.

A certain hysteria has griped the country because of the economic crisis largely because of news from Europe in the Euro zone and a slowdown in China due to a maturing of its economy, we are told by various conservative think tanks that Canada could face economic problems with catastrophic consequences tomorrow, again the sing song of Conservative politicians. This little refrain we all heard it now for the last 6 years and I do not find it credible in the least. In my humble opinion it is all smoke and mirrors to keep us all on the edge of our seats like at the movies when Godzilla is about to eat Tokyo.

Every day a senior Bank economist or the Parliament budget Officer points out that we are not facing the sort of economic problems the government would like us to believe. Its a political strategy to make everyone believe there is a fire and in the end, if you repeat it often enough the people will believe it.

So to explain away this dire situation we need to draw-up a list of people who are responsible for this state of affairs, an enemies of the State list so to speak,  it goes like this: We have an aging population, by 2030 about one third of our population will be over 55 years of age. People live longer up to 84 years of age now in Canada compared with 65 years of age in 1971. This means more pensions and benefits of all kinds to pay out to aging boomers who by the way have paid into the programs for years, while they worked. The refrain goes; If the boomers had saved their money maybe there would not be a problem, poor young generation who will have to support them.

So enemy number 1 is the elderly and they are a target of a lot of political posturing. Some politicians have suggested in public speeches to young audiences that it is so unfair to them that all these old people are such a bother. This is why we need to rearrange the public pensions of Canadians, though there is no visible reason to do so. Maybe we can put the elderly on an ice flow to ensure a better future for the young.

Then at number 2 you have anyone who is concerned with the environment, you don't have to be a tree hugger, just concerned that our environment is being degraded by pollution. Be opposed to big Oil and big Tar Sands development. Environmental stations are being closed, they monitor the Ozone depletion in the far North. We are told again by some Conservative politicians that these activists opposing pipelines and oil are fanatics financed by foreign money, just short of terrorists.

Then at number 3 you have just about anyone who works in a government position, they are lazy and well they are too numerous and we don't need them, the government can be self-service or drive through like at McDonald's. The simplistic approach to deliver every program with no one to deliver them, computers and consultants will do it all, but we are assured that you will still have access to the services, though it may take 6 to 10 weeks to have access.

Then at number 4 you have anyone who disagrees with the government on any topic, just choose one. That is quite a few people, what to do with all these malcontents. Well monitoring the Internet like the Communists government in China does would be a good start, there is a bill in Parliament right now on that topic.

At number 5 you have the poor in general, who are largely marginalized, too bad we no longer have Work Houses like in the golden age of Queen Victoria. On this topic a 5% tax has been suggested by leading economists on all food items to raise revenue, the difference in price would probably force many poor people and elderly to the edge, but according to said economists that is the price to pay for efficiency.

Then at number 6 is the Judiciary, any judge is a target, they are depicted continuously as soft on crime, unwilling to do their job and being dangerous activists willing to strike down laws found unconstitutional. There appears to be a misunderstanding, in Canada there is a separation between branches of the government and that the Judiciary is independent. There is such criticisms of the Judiciary by senior politicians in government that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court took the steps to speak up in a rebuke the critics.  Some judges have refused to give out mandatory sentences ordained by the current government because the mandatory sentences were deemed cruel and unusual punishment. Just to have the Justices rebuked in the House of Commons the very next day by the Prime Minister.

Not much harmony in our little Dominion. I wonder who is left now, it seems that the list grows longer with each passing day. It really is a sad state of affair. What is sadder still is the fact that the public does not appear to care or understand what is going on. The latest Nanos poll shows that the public is bloodthirsty for major budget cuts, however when asked if they understood what would happen if the cuts where to happen, said public had no idea of the consequences. Ignorance is bliss.

Finally today in the House of Commons the opposition called for a debate on the robo-calls made on or before election day last May 2011, directing people to the wrong polling stations, in the hope of swinging some ridings where the vote was close or too close to call. Quite the shock to our democratic system. Some editorials speak of a Nixonian moment, reminiscent of Richard Nixon and Watergate. The quest for power turns quite a few heads. How can anyone have any faith in such a system. Some 40 ridings are involved, the election was also the lowest turn-out ever in a National election, not exactly a strong mandate.

Plato in his book The Republic presents the five types of government, a cycle of politics, none are best, except that Plato liked the Aristocratic phase.

  • Democracy: government by the many  (what we are suppose to have now)
  • Oligarchy: government by the few
  • Timocracy: government by the honored ones
  • Tyranny: government by one for himself
  • Aristocracy: government by the best (Plato's ideal)

But it seems to me that though we live in the illusion of democracy, we are in the process of morphing into a mix of three elements. We have oligarchs in the very wealthy, the business class, the one per cent, who constantly agitate for lower wages and higher profits and lower corporate taxes. We also have the honoured ones, academics, experts and other who present themselves as thinkers or think tanks, mostly right wing and ultra conservative. Tyranny in the power resting in the hands of one man, the Prime Minister who is more powerful than the US President. So we are sliding out of Democracy and into a mix of the three driven by autoritarian ideology. Quite a change but who will notice, in a population who refuses to believe or show interest as long as their selfish consumer goals are unaffected.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sushi by Jiro!

When I think of all the Sushi available in supermarkets and in different stores which is nothing short of mass produced cheap sushi, I think of the Sushi I had in Japan, it was so fresh and so tasty, so well prepared, nothing like the bland tasteless stuff masquerading as sushi we have here, I often wonder how fresh any of it really is. This little film shows how from a simple little shop in a Tokyo Subway station a great Sushi chef  Jiro, known as a National Treasure in Japan can produce such excellent fare. A man dedicated to the art of refined cuisine and doing all he can to bring fresh and delicious seafood to his clients. You can only admire someone like that, he believes in what he does and he knows his art, great cuisine. Just looking at him makes me want to go to this little shop in Tokyo.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


A wonderful little clip on Venice and how it works. A city we have visited many times and simply love. We walked all over it, did a 3 day cruise of the greater lagoon and many islands where no one ever goes unless you are a native. Visited the beautiful cemetery where I am to be buried, I think that the dead in that place are happy.  Have eaten in wonderful restaurants known only to Venetians. I find that Venice is beautiful before 10 in the morning and after 4 in the afternoon when all the day trippers are gone. What to do between 10am and 4pm, easy, go into the neighbourhoods not frequented by the hordes and discover the peace of the city, walk in the deserted alleyways, go to one of the many churches and look around, appreciate the silence.

One strong memory of Venice which has stayed with me all these many years is the toll of the bells of the many churches which ring the hour in every neighbourhood. At midnight all the smaller churches will toll the 12 strokes of midnight and when the last one has finished, suddenly the bells of the San Marco Basilica at the top of the Campanile will strike 12, if you are at that moment in the deserted Piazza San Marco at that hour, the silence is broken by the giant bells, it is chilling, grave, you are the witness to a ceremonial repeated every night for centuries, it catches your attention and it is magical.

Venice Backstage. How does Venice work? from Insula spa on Vimeo.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Omaggio alla Città Eterna

What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that cannot be found anywhere else?
I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago. E.J.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The story of my life in a few pictures.

This really summarizes what people think, who ever thought about it really hit the nail on the head.

Click on photo to enlarge. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

an institution in Canada

I was reading today an interview with Hubert Lacroix President and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the CBC. In March the Federal Minister of Finance will table in the House of Commons the Government's budget for the year, we are told that very deep cuts are coming and the CBC as the State Broadcaster is facing a 10% cut in its budget.  This time around Mr. Lacroix says that after this most recent series of cuts the public will notice some drastic changes in the way CBC's radio and television network operate. The cuts are so deep that either the French Radio Service could disappear or the English Service or 2 full days of television broadcasting. It is unlikely that one or the other of the radio service would disappear completely for reasons of Canadian National politics but this illustrates the seriousness of the matter.

Since we returned to Canada in August 2011 we have already noticed how the CBC is not the way it use to be, the programming has suffered and it is certainly not the same standard it once was as the premier broadcaster and the image of Canadian Culture to the world. The CBC and Radio Canada was lots of great radio and television programming, many famous hosts known across the country by listeners a National following from coast to coast. The CBC brought us Canadian content and told us about our country Canada like no private broadcaster in Canada could. Currently the CBC receives about 1.1 billion dollars annually from the Federal Government not exactly a fortune given their mandate spanning the airwaves of the second largest country in the world.

Currently a lot of our politicians appear to have no time for the CBC and do not seem to know of its contribution to the Nation or they think it is passé, belonging to another era, would anyone call the BBC passé? There is no debate about the CBC's future or debate is stifled under the speeches of fiscal constraint, it appears that talk of deficit and cuts and being responsible is the only talk in town, it has been whipped up into mass hysteria, though on the other hand we are also told how sound our banking system is and how good our financial position.

How much of these speeches is manufactured for cynical political aims remains to be seen. I suspect like many Canadians that the fact that the CBC as a broadcaster cannot be controlled or dictated to by the politicians is the real reason for the trouble. Though with the disappearance of this great National institution or its belittling we as Canadians loose.

The promotion of our National Culture is one area where private industry cannot replace the role of a State Broadcaster looking after Canadian interest as the CBC-Radio Canada has done so well since 1920. A private company has no interest in promoting arts and culture because it never makes money and private broadcaster are not interested in broadcasting outside their market area. The CBC- Radio Canada is recognized as our greatest National Cultural Institution.

Unfortunately despite having lots of friends supporting the CBC, our government has decided otherwise and is not listening. Private industry will do it all for us apparently, I have heard private radio and seen the re-runs on TV and it is not worth the time of day. We live in sad times in Canada. To quote Graham Spry of the Canadian Radio League who testified in Parliament in the 1930's, the founding of the CBC was a choice between private interests and the people's interest, it should be the same today.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Dialecto Italiano

Many years ago we were in Venice at a wonderful restaurant in a small hotel near the Accademia.
The restaurant is located in the garden of the hotel with wonderful old wisteria and old vines making a roof over our heads. At a table near by a couple was being entertained by the lady owner of this small hotel. She was a native of Venice and had spent all her life in the city. The gentleman was doing much of the talking and it was a very general conversation on Venice, suddenly his female companion chirps up, she wanted to know if their host spoke Italian or dialecto, the hostess was a little surprised by the question because the implication was that she was not educated and spoke only Venetian dialect and not Italian. We thought this was a very rude question, but as we learned years later, dialecto is spoken in Italy by many Italians and they will often know the typical dialect of their region and speak the common language Italian. The two are very different, one of the difficulties of Italian unification 150 years ago was to get everyone to speak Italian and abandon their dialect. How can you unite a country if no one understands what the other fellow is saying. Per example in Canada many Canadians of Italian origin speak dialect and not Italian, this is why often they are shy to speak with me so as not to give away the fact that their Italian is not perfect.

The hotel owner in Venice did answer the question of her guest, she told her that in Venice with other Venetians since it is their common language and same for the Veneto, but with Italians from other parts of Italy then its Italian which is in fact the dialect of Tuscany which was adopted as the common language. In Rome, there is Romanesco, in all more than 30 dialects exist and are used in the different regions of Italy. This is not so strange, until unification in 1860 most of Italy was a cluster of little principalities and Duchys and some under the Papal State.    

So when you visit Italy and you hear people speaking but you do not recognize what they are saying it is because they speak dialect. 

Tricentenaire de Frederic II de Prusse, 1712-2012

I read a few years ago a very good biography of Frédéric II of Prussia by Giles MacDonough, I use here the spelling of his name in the French manner, the way he liked it. He was a great Francophile, he exchanged correspondence with Voltaire for 50 years and Voltaire did live in Potsdam for a while, but it was a stormy relationship, Voltaire found him to militaristic and questioned Frederic's acceptance of the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment, after all he was an absolute monarch. Frederic liked coffee made with champagne instead of water, hated beer and anything German, he is despite that fact a popular figure in Germany, maybe because he was such a character. He spoke French fluently and bad German all around. Loved his Italian Hounds, he is buried at SansSouci with them in the garden as per his wishes, he was a great reformer of government, instituted public schooling for all, abolished the death penalty and instituted religious tolerance in his Kingdom, many French Huguenots came to live in Prussia and several French aristocrats found position in his government. He introduced the potato to Prussia and this is why it is featured prominently in German cuisine to this day. The story goes that he cultivated potato plants in his garden, made sure the population knew about it and he had the patch where the potatoes were guarded by day by his feared Grenadiers, the soldiers went away by night so the people would come and steal some potatoes to try this exotic vegetable reserved for the table of the King.  He was also a musician composing 100 pieces of music for the flute, he was a friend of the Bach family, he appointed  Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach as Court composer and he is remembered mainly as a brilliant military strategist, his army was feared though it was not the largest in Europe. His favourite colours where white and gold or green and gold and black and gold, dominant colours in his palaces.

When he recognized the USA as a new country in 1786, he inserted into the treaty establishing diplomatic relations, that prisoners of war between the USA and Prussia would be treated with care and kindness, this was a first for his era an unheard of idea for the time. He was also involved in supporting Britain during the Seven Year War (1757-1763) which had a profound impact on Canada, troops from Hesse were sent to Canada to fight alongside the British troops against the French. It was a Swiss-German Commander in the town of Sorel near Montreal who with his wife introduced the tradition of the Christmas tree to Canada.

                                      Born in Berlin 24 January 1712, died at Postdam 17 August 1786

If you visit Potsdam this year you will see some wonderful restorations of buildings from his era. Many have been rebuilt or are under reconstruction, such as the City Palace and the Garrison Church.
This web site in German only gives a good idea of what is being worked on in Potsdam,

His family Hohenzollern is also closely related with our own Royals in Canada, they are first cousins. Queen Victoria was the grandmother of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Official Diamond Jubilee portrait 2012.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Accession Day 6 February 1952

On this day King George VI died in his sleep at the age of 56 and his daughter Princess Elizabeth was proclaimed Queen of Canada.  She would later take her Oath of Sovereignty upon her return to London from Kenya where she was with Prince Philip. Today is the 60th anniversary of her Accession to the Throne, the beginning of the Diamond Jubilee year. She is the only Sovereign I have known in my life and I met her twice.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Ottawa on the steps of the Peace tower of Parliament taking the Royal Salute one month before the beginning of World War II in 1939 on a tour of Canada.

Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Official portrait of the Diamond Jubilee (1952-2012)

We as Canadians can be very proud of our Sovereign and all her achievements, devotion and sense of duty.
God Save the Queen!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Snow can be romantic

It's funny how a snow storm can be romantic in one city and cause people to curse in another city. How can this be I wonder, could it be the beautiful century old buildings, the parks and landscape or simply the image we have of Rome. The snow is falling all over Italy and it is simply romantic and beautiful.

The great gates of Villa Borghese in Rome in front of Piazza Flaminia

Oh my! they have not taken the tacky Xmas decorations down at Piazza San Pietro.

Taken from inside a passing car, the staircase leading to the Campidoglio with Castor and Pollux looking down from the Capitoline Hill.

Looking down Via della Conciliazione towards St-Peter which has disappeared under the snow storm.

The doorman of the Embassy of Canada to the Holy See in Rome cleaning the snow off.

As I was saying to the Holy Father this morning as he was gazing out from his apartment window down unto St-Peter's Square, we should go skiing.

on the street, where is everyone?

The beautiful cathedral of Siena under the snow.
No one at the Caffé today

un bello ragazzo

How I miss it all, as Puccini said, you will never see anywhere in the world a city has great as Rome.
I have to agree.