Thursday, 31 May 2012

Our Gracious Sovereign

Saturday 2 June marks the coronation of Elizabeth II has Queen of Canada and all her other Realms on this year of the Diamond Jubilee.  Only one other Monarch in the history of Canada ruled to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee and that was Queen Victoria. Though she was in poor health at the time of her diamond jubilee, the Lords and Members of Parliament had to come to Buckingham Palace to present their best wishes and the Service at St-Paul's Cathedral was held on the steps of the Church because Victoria was to ill to leave her carriage.

Queen Elizabeth is older than Victoria was at the time and in much better health for her own Jubilee. She travelled down Pall Mall to Westminster Abbey to receive in the great hall the messages of both Houses of Parliament. The ceremonial and traditions and the symbolism all around is interesting to observed. It is very similar to Canada.

The Coronation ceremony, you can see it on YouTube with clips from 1953, is a religious ceremony, the Sovereign is anointed by God and the Monarch like a Priest takes vows before God. This is why when the popular press starts talking about abdication it makes no sense whatsoever. One cannot break a contract made with God, its permanent and final. Even if the Queen became ill like King George III or King George V, a Regent or a Council of Regency is named to rule in the name of the Sovereign. But the Monarch cannot resign or abdicate. Just watch the Coronation of 1953 on YouTube and you will understand how this ceremony is more than a President simply swearing an Oath.

The wonderful stain glass window presented to her by both Houses of the British Parliament with her coat of Arms will be mounted in the North window of the Great Hall built almost one thousand years ago by King William II Rufus.

The Parliament in Canada also gave a stain glass window to Her Majesty which will be installed at a later date.
The Canadian window shows profiles of both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth with their Coats of Arms and below the centre block of Parliament as it was at the time of Victoria and the building as it is today.  Seen with the Queen is the Speaker of the Canadian Senate and Prince Philip.

To me this Jubilee is important since the Queen is the only Sovereign I have known in my life and because of my Oath of Office the person I promised to serve and represent. During my career I received 3 commissions from her has Consul in Egypt, Mexico and Chicago.

This photo by the celebrated Canadian photographer Yusuf Karsh was taken in 1951, it became for many years the official portrait of the Queen in Canada and appeared on coins, on stamps, in Post Offices and in other public buildings.

A memorable date June 2.

The Queen at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, 2012.

The words that come to my mind when I think of our Sovereign are; Commitment, Dedication, Duty, Service. God Save the Queen!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Roman Forum in 1882, Rome

Foro Romano   click on link to see photo.

This picture of the Roman Forum in 1882 is fascinating, it shows what the Forum looked liked before Mussolini ordered in 1926 that large excavations be undertaken to expose the ancient Roman monuments beneath. In this photo at the front you have the 3 columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, behind them is a church and other houses which no longer exist since they were sitting on ancient foundations connected to the Imperial Palaces of the Palatine hill. The tree lined path leading to the Arch of Titus is also gone. and the triangle now shows where the Vestal Virgins had their house and temple. The Temple of the Vestals will be partly rebuilt by Mrs Mussolini to honour Roman women. Mussolini with his ideology of linking his regime to Imperial Rome created without realizing it the most visited tourist site in all Rome for us to enjoy today.

Sunday, 27 May 2012


Recently while browsing for a book I fell on the Amazon site and a selection of books popped up, one of them was Sir Ernest Satow, A diplomat in Japan, first written in 1885 from his diaries. Satow in diplomatic circles is seen as sort of an icon, he wrote the famous Guide to Diplomatic Practice in 1917, many times updated and still used today, I have a copy I often used as reference.
Satow became Her Britannic Majesty's Ambassador to Japan and China and Head of the British Foreign Service. He also served in Siam (thailand), Uruguay and Morocco.
Sir Ernest Satow, P.C., G.C.M.G. 1843-1929

As a young man in 1865 he joined the British Foreign Service, he very much wanted to go to Japan not China, why because as he tells us, he was intrigued by those beautiful Japanese Geishas. To his credit Satow makes a point when he is hired that he absolutely wants to go Japan specifically, he wants to learn Japanese and is sent to China first. Why China, because at the time it was known that Japanese Kanji was borrowed from Chinese script so it was assumed by Westerners that Japanese was like Chinese, Satow knew this could not be but being a new hired no one would listen to him.  He will only stay in China a few months events in Japan will make it so that his presence is required and there he will study intensively Japanese and become a very resourceful translator for his Head of Mission. In all Satow will spend 21 years of his Foreign Service Career in Japan.

Japan was that big unknown country then having opened its ports to foreign savages i.e. non-Japanese people, in 1854. Try to imagine a country totally closed to the outside world, Japanese society is highly stratified and everyone has a place and rank, all living in an ancient feudal system highly codified by honour and ancestor worship, all ruled by a Shogun or Tycoon who is a Regent, this function is occupied by the Tokugawa clan for 400 years and an Emperor or Mikado, who is kept behind high walls and is rarely seen and if heard by the aristocracy and never the people, speaks Court Japanese which is somewhat like Ancient Chinese. These ancient titles of Tycoon or high Prince and Mikado were the ones used by the British having no other point of reference. What is very funny is that in his diaries Satow explains that none of the Foreign representatives, the UK, Prussia (there is no Germany at that time), the Netherlands, France, Italy and the upstart USA have no idea how Japan is governed, who is in charge and who should they negotiate with to open up the port cities. Europeans do not speaks Japanese and must use the handful. literally of Japanese who speak Dutch, to translate from Japanese to Dutch to English. The French Minister Des Roches has one Japanese translator who does a poor job of translating and Satow is often asked to help out, thus giving the British and advantage.
Why Dutch, because being merchants like the Portuguese they had been trading in Japanese ports for centuries prior to the other Europeans.  Osaka appears to be the one area that is always more open to Europeans or Savages than any other Japanese port. Some cities like Kyoto the Imperial Capital are totally off limits, it was unthinkable that such barbarian filth should approach the capital of the Chrysanthemum throne. I visited Kyoto just a few years ago and entered the park where the Imperial Palace stands in splendid isolation, you do understand when you see it that for the Japanese the Emperor is a God, regardless what we Westerners might think of it today.

The Japanese are described as very curious of any foreigners having never seen one, it is a true novelty.
The different Princes and great Lords spend a lot of time fussing on Protocol and on receiving these Foreigners. Satow spends a lot of time as the go between his chief and the Japanese Lords, going to great feasts and drinking mountains of Sake, all the while trying to figure out what the Japanese position is to various questions the Europeans want answers too, who has authority and who can make things happen. You understand that sometimes diplomacy is a bit of a complicated dance where each party has to present its point of view in a carefully measured way. Satow's job is to try to figure out who is who and who does what, per example who is in charge in Japan after the Shogun resigns, the Europeans did not believe the Emperor was the real head of the country or that the Japanese would follow him, it just goes to show how Europeans did not understand the Japanese mind.
In this period of decline for the Shogun and the Meiji Restoration, this book by Satow written from his diaries is fascinating for the details it provides into the lives of the Japanese, dress and customs at the time. It also gives an intimate look into the British Foreign Service of the time, reading about it I can see how little as really changed, some things are exactly the same 150 years later.

A good book to read which gives a glimpse into a world forgotten today but which shaped our relationship with Japan in the XXth century.


Gavotte, described as a mountain air dance, in French danse des gavots or mountain people, popular in the 18th century. From the Holberg Suite.

Played on the piano instead of by a string ensemble. I like the soft tones of the piano.


I love the montage accompanying this piece of music. Musicians, paint, canvas, it all goes well together.
This is the Sarabande movement of the Holberg Suite by Grieg.
A few days ago I uploaded the Prélude played by the same orchestra.

Hope you all have a beautiful Pentecost Sunday. 

Friday, 25 May 2012

Vernissage Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Canada


Last night was the Vernissage at the National Gallery of Canada of the new Van Gogh exhibit, the first in 25 years in Canada. There were lots of people, the great Hall was full, we had a glass of wine and enjoyed the piano music though it was a little hard to hear over the conversations. The Government of the Netherlands and Japan participated in the organization, it was explained that Van Gogh is very popular in Japan and he had collected nearly 400 Japanese prints between 1886-88. He was fascinated with Japanese wood block prints. Other museums in Amsterdam and in Toronto like the Royal Ontario Museum also provided works, many never seen before in public, taken out of storage. I also like the etchings from which is took inspiration, beautifully detailed. The exhibit shows the different techniques he used from Horizontal lines, zooming in on a subject, close-up details, playing with perspective, push and pull and strong diagonals. You can see it all in this exhibit which is rare given that usually museums only have a few of his paintings. The Exhibit is called Van Gogh up close and yes, what I saw reflects the theme.
Iris in the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada

The poster of the exhibit is the painting Amandier or Almond blossom, Van Gogh chose the blossom of the almond tree, a member of the rose family, to celebrate the joyous occasion- the birth of his brother Theo's son, his nephew- and as a symbol of new life. I really like that painting in particular.
Others I liked are Lavender, on loan from the Museum of Otterlo, comes from a short trip he took to the South of France where he painted View of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. You can almost smell the lavender field.
Lavender fields in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Roses and Sunflowers, on loan from the Kunsthalle in Mannheim. Sunflowers return frequently in Van Gogh paintings, a Christian emblem of Faith. For the artist it symbolized companionship and gratitude. Iris, which is part of the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, a popular motif in the Dutch still-life tradition, the iris also featured in the Japanese woodblock prints that Van Gogh studied.
Auberge Ravoux today in Auvers-sur-Oise

Van Gogh had a short life and a tragic one, born in 1853 in Zundert, a small village of the Brabant in the south of the Netherlands and died by his own hand in 1890 in Auvers-sur Oise, North of Paris.
There was a few details about his life, he did a little travel between the Netherlands, Belgium, England and France, he was a lay preacher, tried to become a full time preacher but failed, too excentric apparently. Many of his exhibits he organized in small Café's and local restaurants where he lived. His brother Theo who was an art dealer in Paris supported him financially all his life and was at his side when he died. Van Gogh did spend some time in a Sanatorium in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and contrary to popular Hollywood belief he only cut-off the lobe of his ear not the ear itself. A tormented soul, who lived in poverty and who left us a wonderful gift, without his realizing it he became immortal.

In closing let's not forget that our National Museums are all struggling financially with little to no help from the current Government. It is up to the public, all of us to strongly support our Museums. This exhibit on Van Gogh is at the National Gallery of Canada on Sussex Drive in Ottawa until 3 September 2012.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Favorite photo

This is my favourite photo of our male Wire Hair Dachshund, Nicholas or Nicky. This photo was taken by our friend Jack who was visiting us from Beijing. He has a high powered camera with a very speed lens.  Nicky is about 2 years old in this picture and its morning in Rome looking out the window of our den in our home on Via Dei Villini. He is now 3.5 years old and has not changed that much.

 He can be a good boy when he wants to be but if he does not like you, watch out. He is a hound, loves the sunshine and a hunting dog, sharp razor teeth.

But he is still our Nicky. His lineage is Hungarian-Italian, he was born on a farm in Capena just outside Rome. His father is a National champion show dog in Italy. 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Not in Salzburg? Non mon cher.

Salzburg, Austria

We are in Ottawa this long Weekend and not in Salzburg, Austria as per our yearly tradition. Not to forget that for the last 4 years in May, we would take the train from Rome to Salzburg for the Whitsun  Music Festival or in German, Pfingst Fest Spiele. How I miss Salzburg and all the charms of this wonderful Season. This year was dedicated to Cleopatra with a presentation of classical music and opera on this theme followed on the 27 May after the presentation of Julio Cesare of a dinner with delicacies of the time of the Queen of the Senses, Cleopatra. You can see the website at
Now is the time to book for next year's festival, if you want to go.

This weekend in the Canadian calendar marks the Official opening of Cottage and Bar-B-Q Season. It is also the end of the University year for many graduation season.

On Friday night we went to hear Angela Hewitt's piano concert at Christ Church Cathedral, see my previous post on this wonderful concert.

On Saturday night we went to a Dinner Murder Mystery event at the Wakefield Theatre in the New Community Centre on Valley Drive in Wakefield. This was great fun with 3 murders during dinner, I was able to figure out who it was, no doubt years of playing the board game Clue came in handy. The actors were all amateurs but very believable in their roles, Kerstin Petersson as the famous Berlin artist of the 1920's Weimar Republic era, Helga Von Hackenschplatt, who could have been a Marlena Deitrich. Andrew Rooney as Detective Blake Field, a male Ms Marple, Scott Hébert-Daly as Allen Burns InnKeeper extraordinaire and seedy Club owner. Mara McCallum as Patty Laverne-Maxine the wanna be singer with no real talent, like Kim Kardashian and her mother Shirley played by Gwen Shea who reminded me of every Jewish mother as in the Barbara Streisand mode. The Producer was our friend Brenda Rooney who did a very good job. Since this was a dinner murder mystery our Head Waiter at the Tik Tak Club was Eric Hébert-Daly who has much sex-appeal. There was also in this murder mystery a Boris, Jeffrey Ferguson and a Natasha, Jill Rick who reminded me so much of Rocky the Squirrel and Bullwinckle the moose. A wonderful evening all around.
Wakefield Community Centre
The Gatineau river at Wakefield

Sunday we had lunch with friends who bought a house in the Hintonburg neighbourhood a few years ago and transformed a very plain and ugly backyard into the most beautiful and peaceful garden I have seen in a long time, including a working waterfall made with selected granite stones. Our lunch or Brunch was at Canvas on Holland ave. I have already reviewed this restaurant and again I was disappointed with the food and the menu. It was not a Brunch menu it was nothing more than breakfast and it was expensive for no reasons.

Today we took a boat ride on the 180 year old Rideau Canal (1832) from Parliament Hill to Dow's Lake. It was fun, the canal is beautiful as it crosses the city through park land and various historic sites. Starting point is just below the Sapper's Bridge and Chateau Laurier Hotel (1912). We pass by the old Union Train Station (1910), the National Arts Centre (1967), the National Defence Headquarters, the University of Ottawa Campus (1848) then on to the Rideau Aquatic Club (1902), it is now the site of the Ritz Café, the beautiful Aberdeen Pavilion (1868) were the telephone was first presented publicly in 1877.
Ottawa new Convention Centre

The Sapper's Bridge by the Chateau Laurier Hotel
New Social Science Faculty building at the University of Ottawa campus.

Along the way we learned that 4000 men had worked at digging the canal and that approximately 1000 had died from  malaria because of the numerous bogs, snake and fly infested swamps near today's Lansdowne Park and Dow's Lake, they also had to blast away the rocky terrain using black gun powder, a very dangerous enterprise prior to the invention of dynamite. Only 19 Km of the canal 202 km in total needed to be dug out  on a varying depth of 2 to 6 meters, the rest is a connections through 49 locks of natural waterways, the deepest part is in big Rideau lake at 118 meters. Many poor labourers, Irish, Scots and French Canadians on an average salary of 17 cents a day toiled at this great military project. The total cost at time of completion was 889,000 British Pounds Sterling. It caused a scandal and Colonel John By had to return to London to answer questions from a Parliamentary committee. It convinced Britain that Canada was far too expensive a colony and just a few years later, the Brits told us to manage our own affairs (1867), they could not be bothered.

We could have sailed on to Kingston but that would have taken us 3 days. The entire length of the canal is 202 Km, very scenic and quite pleasant for any one who has sailed its lenght. Difficult to imagine today that back in 1826 it was hostile dark forests and dangerous wilderness.

Pretoria street Bridge

So tonight we will have fireworks for Queen Victoria for her 193rd Birthday, one of the last place on Earth where it is still celebrated.

A young Queen Victoria, a very German princess.

The Prince Archbishop's Castle, Salzburg, Austria


Saturday, 19 May 2012

Angela Hewitt Concert at Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa

We went to hear Angela Hewitt at Christ Church Cathedral on Sparks Street. This Anglican cathedral is said to be the un-official National Cathedral in Canada but in reality we do not have such a designated church in Ottawa because we also have a Roman Catholic Cathedral on Sussex Drive. Nonetheless Christchurch is often use in State Ceremonial and several Prime Ministers and Governor Generals had their funeral service performed at the Cathedral. The Cathedral was built in 1832 on land given by Nicholas Sparks in Neo-Gothic style, the site is a bluff overlooking the Chaudière Falls and the Ottawa River.

Angela Hewitt's father Godfrey Hewitt, who was himself a great musician who turned down the position of organist at Westminster Cathedral to accept the position of organist and choir master at Christ Church were he worked for 50 years, (1931-1980). It was touching to hear his daughter who is an international Star in the Music World play a program of Couperin, Ravel and Schumann accompanied by the Chamber Players of Canada. As an encore she played a piece by J.S. Bach, a favourite of her late father.

The piano was a Fazioli, a wonderful instrument, the great wood ceiling of the cathedral gave very good acoustics.  The presenter was Lawrence Wall of CBC Radio who has the old style radio news reader voice once favoured by the likes of the BBC World Service. He reads the 6 o'clock evening news on the radio in the Capital.

This series of concerts given in Ottawa by Angela Hewitt is connected to her own music festival at Lake Trasimeno, Italy. The Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson was on hand and made a short speech. The concert was very well attended given the virtuosity of Ms Hewitt and her renown as a pianist.

She played the Piano Quintet by Schumann, Sixième Ordre by Couperin and Le tombeau de Couperin by Ravel. The encore was Jesu Joy of man's desiring by J.S. Bach.

A wonderful evening.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A fascinating study by the University of Cambridge

A research paper by Prof. Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew.

Language change among our prehistoric ancestors came about via the arrival of immigrant men - rather than women - into new settlements, according to new research.

The claim is made by two University of Cambridge academics, Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew, in a report to be published in Science on September 9.
They studied the instances of genetic markers (the male Y chromosome and female mtDNA) from several thousand individuals in communities around the world that seem to show the emergence globally of sex-specific transmission of language.
From Scandinavian Vikings who ferried kidnapped British women to Iceland – to African, Indian and Polynesian tribes, a pattern has emerged which appears to show that the arrival of men to particular geographic locations – through either agricultural dispersal or the arrival of military forces – can have a significant impact on what language is spoken there.
Professor Renfrew said: “It may be that during colonisation episodes by emigrating agriculturalists, men generally outnumber women in the pioneering groups and take wives from the local community.
“When the parents have different linguistic backgrounds, it may often be the language of the father which is dominant within the family group.”
Dr Forster, of Murray Edwards College, also pointed to the fact that men have a greater variance in offspring than women – they are more likely to father children with different mothers than vice versa. This has been recorded both in prehistoric tribes such as the 19th and 20th century Polar Eskimos from Greenland and in historic figures like Genghis Khan, who is believed to have fathered hundreds of children.
Indeed, his Y chromosome is carried by 0.5 per cent of the world’s male population today.
Perhaps the most striking example of sex-biased language change however comes from a genetic study on the prehistoric encounter of expanding Polynesians with resident Melanesians in New Guinea and the neighbouring Admiralty Islands. The New Guinean coast contains pockets of Polynesian-speaking areas separated by Melanesian areas. The Polynesian mtDNA level (40-50%) is similar in these areas regardless of language, whereas the Y chromosome correlates strongly with the presence of Polynesian languages.
Past studies have shown similar findings in the Indian subcontinent among the speakers of Tibeto-Burman and among the immigrant Indo-European languages as opposed to indigenous Dravidian languages.
In the Americas, too, language replacement in the course of postulated farming dispersal has also been found to correlate for the Uto-Aztecan language family.
Added Forster: “Whether in European, Indian, Chinese or other languages, the expression ‘mother tongue’ and its concept is firmly embedded in popular imagination – perhaps this is the reason why for so many years the role of fathers, or more likely, specific groups of successful males, in determining prehistoric language switches has not been recognised by geneticists.”
“Prehistoric women may have more readily adopted the language of immigrant males, particularly if these newcomers brought with them military prowess or a perceived higher status associated with farming or metalworking.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

King Lear

Who has not heard in the English speaking world of the play King Lear by William Shakespeare. Written between 1603-06, a powerful tragedy of a King who gives away foolishly to two of his three daughters his kingdom, falling victim to their flattery. Thinking that he can retire and they being loving will take care of him.

The National Arts Centre English Theatre under the direction of Peter Hinton presented an all Aboriginal cast of players and set the play in 17th Century Canada. The set and costumes was the great forests of Canada and the actors wore the traditional costumes of Natives in 1660. I had forgotten that Natives when speaking English have a natural soft pronunciation and a slight accent. We were plunged into a very different reality, no longer England or Europe but Canada and North America, when the French, Natives and the English fought for control political, economic and military. The decor, sound of native drums, war cries, was quite beautiful and I really enjoyed the play, which is saying a lot given that I do not usually like Shakespeare. Before the start of the play, in the Foyer of the NAC, a large group of Natives who were supporting cast of this production did some chanting with drums, the echo throughout the theatre was impressive. I think what I found the most seductive was the introduction of this Canadian element which spoke to the audience. It brought me back to the time of my ancestors who arrived in 1660 in Quebec City on a French Royal troop ship, suddenly it felt more personal.

August Schellenberg was Lear, Monique Mojica as Goneril, Tantoo Cardinal as Regan, Jani Lauzon as Cordelia, Billy Merasty as Gloucester, Lorne Cardinal as Burgundy, Craig Lauzon as Kent, Jeremy Proulx as King of France.

The NAC describes this presentation of King Lear as; A play has big as Canada, resonating with our own history.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Tea, Thé

Around last Christmas a colleague had brought tea to the office and she was making this wonderful chocolate organic tea, the aroma in the office was just wonderful and very strong. I asked her about it and she told me her children had bought it at a tea shop on Bank Street in Ottawa. I went to David's Tea some time later and bought in tin cans their loose leaf tea. All the teas they have you select from a small catalogue. You ask for the tea you want and they measure it by grams and with a spoon transfer it from a larger container to your tin, you can smell and sample before you buy, price is by weight. If you bring back the tin canister then you get a discount. It's a nice modern shop with soothing colours devoted to tea. By the way the tea my colleague had received as a gift has no chocolate in it per see, it is composed of a mixture of green rooibos and green tea with some cinnamon.

I bought Earl Gray made from Chinese black tea, oil of Bergamot and Cornflower petals. It smells wonderful. The other one I bought was Earl Gray's Garden, made from Black Ceylon tea, bergamot, blue cornflowers, freeze-dried strawberry pieces. Again wonderful and rich. See

They offer many other types of teas, like Oolong and flavoured Oolong, Pu'erh, rooibos, maté, herbal, white and green teas. Seeing all these teas reminded me of excursions we would make in Beijing to the south west of the City to the neighbourhood of Ma Lian Dao where all the tea warehouses are.

Also this weekend I finally found after months of searching a Jade tree, which is like a small bonzai. Not to be confused with a Jade Plant.  I wanted a Jade tree that was about 12 inches high. It has a beautiful form and fits into the Ching Dynasty vase, the Jade tree needs full light and is potted in soil fit for cactus and succulent plants, the soil should be allowed to become quite dry before watering again. The vase I purchased in Beijing six years ago. The Ching Dynasty came to power in the 17th Century in China pushing out the Ming Dynasty which was the last Han Chinese rulers in China. The Ching rulers were not Han Chinese, did not speak Mandarin and had very different culture and traditions. They are a people from Manchuria an area between today's North Korea and Mongolia. This explains the very complex design on the vase with peonies, birds and butterflies, so different from the more simple Ming white and blue design.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

For my Mom on this Mother's Day

A little music by Edvard Grieg, Holberg Suite, Prélude.

played by the Christiansand Orchestra at the Lindesnes Lighthouse in Norway. 

Saturday, 12 May 2012

In our National Capital it's Angela Hewitt Week, 14-20 May 2012

The Mayor of our National Capital Ottawa has proclaimed the week of 14-20 May, Angela Hewitt Week. The world famous pianist is a native of Ottawa and she will be playing a series of concerts at the National Arts Centre.
We are going to see her. We had the good fortune to meet her in person at a private event at Le Café a few months ago, she is absolutely charming. Hyperion is releasing her latest CD of Schumann piano concerto 2 weeks ahead of schedule in Ottawa only. Angela Hewitt made her professional debut as a pianist at the age of 9.

Here she is playing Les barricades Mystérieuses by François Couperin.

National Museums in Ottawa

The Nation's Capital has 3 major National Museums, the Canadian War Museum, the Museum of Civilizations, the National Gallery of Canada. All three were built in the last 30 years and represent an effort by the Federal Government to present Canada to the world in the Capital. The architecture is impressive, top architects were involved in the design and building, they are Moshe Safdi for the National Gallery, Raymond Moriyama for the War Museum and Douglas Cardinal for the Civilizations museum. The collections are impressive, much of it gifts to the Nation from individuals or purchased on the open market at a time before ''art'' became a hot ticket item with outlandish prices.

With all the cutbacks in the last 15 years to the National Museums budget, purchase of new art works or even maintenance and curatorial work has become next to impossible. Staff have been cut, services to the public have been cut and attendance is way down, some 40% according to the Government. So the reaction has been from the Government to declare the museums un-necessary, putting them on life-support and claim that if the public is interested it is up to the public to do something about it. The ''vision'' of Canadian identity and culture is gone from public discourse replaced instead by accountants and politicians who prefer to talk of efficiencies in saving money, all this waste must be gotten rid of, a rather mercenary discourse, but it does find resonance with a certain uninformed public.

I have in the last 10 days visited all three, first I found that the museums are empty, attendance is very low, often finding myself alone in the galleries with a lonely guard as companion. Private security firms have been hired to patrol the exhibit space. There is lots of empty parking space, restaurant facilities are operating at minimum since few patrons come in. The general public perception of these museums, despite the pride people take in them, is that they belong to the ''elite''. The people have no need of culture or art or knowledge, this type of argument reminds me of Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese Cultural Revolution when art and culture was destroyed in China in search of the values of the people.

This argument is in part confirmed by the low value placed on education in general and by the very low literacy level amongst children in Canada, if the figure released at the Ottawa Writers Festival are to be believed.

If you cannot read and have little general knowledge then what is the incentive in going to a museum to appreciate what is on offer. Recently a study of students in High Schools reveals that generally speaking few have developed critical judgement abilities and lack focus or attention, do not read, lack vocabulary and have difficulties understanding certain concepts of logic or thought process.

But what about the rest of the population, why are they not going to our National Museums?
Why are the museums having difficulties attracting sponsors in the Corporate world or important donors
with deep pockets? Is it because we constantly looked to the Federal Government in the past to do all the financing. Very serious problems and no response or suggestions are offered to tackle this question. Are tourists not interested? Why are we not marketing the National Museums beyond a website?

I first went to the National Gallery on Sussex drive, it should be noted that this impressive building on what is the Ceremonial boulevard of the Capital, like Pall Mall in London or les Champs Elysées in Paris is not connected to any direct public transport route. The museum was near empty, beautiful works of art displayed in a grand setting with the right lighting and set to be enjoyed. Only a few people here and there visiting, I encountered a group of bored teenagers brought by a teacher on a school outing, they obviously had no idea why they were there. This summer the National Gallery is presenting its summer special exhibit on Vincent Van Gogh, hopefully it will attract a crowd, it opens on 24 May (Victoria Day in Canada).

I then went across the Ottawa river opposite to the National Gallery is the Museum of Civilizations built to resemble a Long house favoured by the Algonquin people who use to gather by the hundreds in the summer time on the banks of the Ottawa river before 1780. A little known fact or a forgotten one, all of the land on which is built Ottawa the National Capital of Canada is un-ceded Algonquin land which still belongs to the Algonquin people. As the saying goes Canada is the only country in the world whose Capital is built on land belonging to another Nation.

The museum of Civilizations houses many stunning artifacts and its great hall is dedicated to the Pacific coast native people like the Haida, Salish, Tlingit and Nisga'a to name a few. Many of Bill Reid's sculptures are on display with the mythological creatures of the old native religions and complex belief structures being represented.

The museum also has special exhibits, currently one entitled ''God an owner's manual"
depicting the different beliefs of people around the world. The function of the museum is to display but also explain aspects of civilizations. The approach is multicultural putting all civilizations on the same footing, something that is out of favour with the current administration in Canada.

The only people in the museum the day I came where Asian Tour groups, 5 buses and a handful of other people.  A telling conversation at the ticket counter, a young couple wanted to buy tickets for the IMAX cinema, the attendant asked them if they wanted to see the rest of the exhibits, the woman who was around 30 said to him in reply that they had no time for all that boring stuff. Maybe that is the problem, culture is perceived as boring of no value. This appears to be a general belief fostered in large part by our modern consumer culture, we need to be constantly stimulated and hilariously excited.

Yesterday, W and I went to the Canadian War Museum built in close consultations with all Veteran groups and the Royal Canadian Legion, they had a large say in how the museum would look. Moriyama the architect certainly produced a building the Veterans were satisfied with, it recalls the trenches of the First World War and the jagged edges of battlefields, rising from an unseen underworld.

Unfortunately there is too much to read and the museum does cover 500 years of Canada's military and political history from the discovery of Europeans by the Aboriginals to today. An enormous amount of information, difficult to digest if you do not have at least a basic in the history of Canada or of the many conflicts we were involved in.  The artifacts are also poorly displayed, one example is a large Mercedes Benz limousine which belonged to Adolph Hitler pushed in a corner. The museum architecture tends to be dark and foreboding, certainly something that was desired in illustrating the dark, deathly side of all Wars, but at times it is overwhelming.

Again few people, except for the school groups who like all teenagers thought war fun, the weapons awesome, sort of like an internet game. It is difficult for a generation who has no knowledge of conflict and whose sole information of war comes from the television news to be interested in something that appears so remote, disconnected from their reality. The museum becomes a theme park to have fun.

I was disappointed in that particular museum, I thought the presentation could have been different. Again the War Museum sits in splendid isolation in LeBreton flats, a vast desolate area west of Parliament Hill and by the Ottawa river, once a neighbourhood, bulldozed in the late 1950's, basically the middle of nowhere in the Capital.

I often think that Ottawa is not much loved by Canadians and not much respected by the politicians who are mostly indifferent to the Capital.

Enjoying the Sunshine

Today was a sunny day after 3 days of cold rain, so I took a walk in the neighbourhood along the Rideau Canal. For this purpose I have chosen this music by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767).

Walking along the canal and its park like setting it is difficult to imagine that just one hundred years ago this area was semi-industrial with all manner of goods piled up on the banks of the canal waiting for barges and shipment to other towns. In the 1950's all that disappeared and the canal was transformed into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The neighbourhood was also developed around 1900 with large Edwardian homes, the proximity to Parliament meant that a wealthy class of people came to live here. The land had previously been owned by the family of Colonel John By, of the Royal Engineers builder of the Rideau Canal.

Many trees are in flower right now.

This flowering tree produces a multitude of crab apples.

the tomb of the unknown soldier and the National Cenotaph inaugurated in August 1939 a few weeks before the start of the Second World War by King George VI. The monument was meant to commemorate our soldiers who died in the First World War, nowadays it covers all conflicts involving Canadian Soldiers.

homes around Minto Park named after Gilbert John Kynynmound Lord Minto who was Governor General of Canada from 1898-1904.

Lord Minto, Governor General of Canada

These homes are quite large and often have 3 floors.
Many are very well preserved and are worth a small fortune to their owners.

of course Eleonora and Nicholas both enjoy the sunshine and walks on the Canal.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Tulip, Tulipe, Tulipano, Tulp, lale

On this lovely Saturday I went to Dow's Lake which is a former swamp flooded during the construction of the Rideau Canal just below Hogs back falls in Ottawa. It is a large park area, with old trees and flower beds. At this time of the year and for the last 60 years we have over one hundred thousand tulips blooming.
Each year the Royal Dutch Family and the people of Holland send thousands of tulip bulbs in memory of Canada's help in the Liberation of the Netherlands in 1944-45 and in the hospitality and help we gave to the Royal Family of the Netherlands. Here are some photos of today's excursion.

Tulips in our home's front hall a gift of our friend J.

The man from Appeldoorn, symbol of the two hat contribution of Canada to help Liberate Holland and then feed and re-build the country. A similar statue stands in Appeldoorn symbol of the faithfulness and friendship between Canadians and Dutch people.

Dow's Lake in central Ottawa