Friday, 31 August 2012

photos of summer

Here are photos of us in Tsarkoe Selo (Tsar's village) outside of St-Petersburg and in St-Petersburg on the University embankment with the sphinx, across from the Winter Palace. We wish we had spent more time in that wonderful city. The vision of Peter the Great, a city he built and went to war with Sweden for 20 years to ensure that the city port would have a free access to the Baltic sea, he won eventually. What is interesting in the story of this city is the number of Italian and French architects, engineers and designers and landscape gardeners who worked for Peter and then Tsarina Catherine I, Tsarina Elizabeth and Catherine II the Great. Tsar Peter wanted to ensure that the city would be a Western European looking city. It was not easy to populate the city, the noble families did not want to come and live there, only force, threats and the absolute requirement that if you wanted to show loyalty to the Tsar you had to move and built your family palace in St-Petersburg. It took years to convince and coerce people to come. Today you have a city of Palaces and great imperial government buildings, all more magnificent then the other. As much as Moscow is old Russia of Ivan the Terrible and Boris Godunov, St-Petersburg is the Russia of the Renaissance, of the Romanov dynasty, of the new Russia opening itself to the world. The legacy of Peter the Great lives on to this day in St-Petersburg despite 70 years of Communist dictatorship utter neglect, in fact there is a renaissance since 2000 when the city embarked on a program of renovations and embellishment.

On the Neva river at the University embankment with the Sphinx, a must see if you wish to return to the city.

In the gardens of the Catherine I Palace at Tsarkoe Selo, in the background is the pavilion that once housed the Office of Catherine II the Great.

In front of the Alexander Palace built by Catherine the Great for her grandson Tsar Alexander I at Tsarkoe Selo, the last home of Tsar Nicholas II and his family before their tragic exile and death.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Robert K. Massie

Robert Massie is a great storyteller and a Pulitzer prize winner. He is 83 years old now and is latest book on Tsarina Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796) is a masterpiece, entitled Catherine the Great, the portrait of a woman.
In this portrait the Empress wears the orders of St-George and the great collar of St-Andrew. Both Imperial orders are still given today in modern Russia.

Previously Massie wrote about Peter the Great who is the founder-creator of St-Petersburg and modernizer of the Russian army and founder of the Russian Navy. Catherine a German Princess, whose birth name was Sophia Fredericka Augusta Von Anhalt-Zerbst, who came to Russia from her father's estate North-East of Berlin at 14 years old to be engaged to Peter's grandson Peter III (1728-1762), himself a child at the time, raised in Holstein, a very Prussian Prince, who suffered from serious psychological problems due to his being physically abused by his tutors after his parents death.

Her job as it was explained to her by Tsarina Elizabeth was to produce an heir for the Russian throne. Enormous pressures where put on her and Peter III to produce that heir. That she did not become mad herself in the stifling almost prison like atmosphere of the Imperial Court is almost a miracle. When she did produce a male heir Paul I (1754-1801), the newborn was taken away from her immediately upon being delivered and taken to the apartment of Empress Elizabeth, she would see her son only sporadically and from a distance.
              Tsar Paul I will reign only 6 months before being murdered in his bed by his generals. He angered far too many people and was not politically very savy. He wears the green jacket of the Life Guard.
Tsar Peter III who will be murdered by his wife's lover after a short reign, he was seen as an agent of Prussia. In this coronation official painting Peter wears a Prussian uniform.

Massie writes an extremely interesting book rich in details on Catherine II and examines the personalities of the other Kings and Emperors around Europe as well as the people at Court in St-Petersburg and life inside the Winter Palace. The reader is drawn into the story, you want to know more. The correspondence of Catherine II and of the people who came in contact with her also serves as abundant reference giving an intimate look at the people and their way of thinking. The murder of her husband Peter III by the Orlov brothers who will propel her on the throne and the murder of Tsar Ivan VI who was known State Prisoner no.1 shortly thereafter on orders of her Prime Minister Nikita Panin. Poor Ivan had been a prisoner since birth on the orders of Tsarina Elizabeth, shows that the male line of the Romanov family actually ended with the death of these two men. Catherine II son Tsar Paul I was in fact the son of her first lover, the diplomat Saltykov, all this arranged to secure the dynastic line at all cost. Frederick II the Great of Prussia played an important role in ensuring the future of the Russian Imperial Family by supplying German Princesses of the Holstein-Gottorp family.

Massie examines the story of her 12 lovers, mostly pretty boys from the Guard Regiment who spoke French and could amuse Catherine. All supplied by two former favorites Prince Grigory Orlov who murdered Catherine's husband Tsar Peter III and by Prince Grigory Potemkin who became vice-ruler of Russia and who is thought to have been her secret husband.  The book also details her great work to reform and develop Russia along modern European lines in the age of Enlightenment. Needless to say a very complicated and very human story.

It is difficult for ordinary mortals who live in the modern age to understand a woman like Catherine II. She was an autocrat in an age of absolute rulers, we are very far from our world. Massie tries hard to explain that we as readers must make an effort to see her world as very different from ours. The idea of political and social stability in the largest country in the world was paramount and may in many cases involve what we would think today as cruel or unjust decisions or punishments, but in this case necessary since no other solutions were available at that time. Massie has one chapter on the NAKAZ or great political and social reforms Catherine tried to introduce by convening an Estate General of all classes of Russian Society well before such a thing would be done in France or anywhere else in Europe or America. She quickly realized after 18 months of conferences that you cannot impose change on an illiterate people. Though she opened the way for reforms which her successors Alexander I and Alexander II, the Tsar Liberator will bring forth and many other important reforms of course will appear too late in 1905 and in 1917.

After our visit in June of St-Petersburg and Tsarkoe Selo reading this book brings more understanding to it all. One cannot but be impressed with the will of Catherine II an educated and intelligent women to reform and advance her country on many fronts at once.
                               Tsar Peter the Great, wearing the green jacket of the regiment he created the Life guard who today are the Presidential guards at the Kremlin. Today the guard wear the updated uniform of 1812.

The other great book of Massie is on Peter the Great (1672-1725), the modernizer who took Russia screaming and kicking into a European mold. The life of Peter was just as dramatic as that of his future successor Catherine II. Both can be considered the creators and founders of the Hermitage museum at the Winter Palace, being avid collectors of art. Peter's childhood was marked by dark conspiracies amongst the Boyars and Orthodox Church clergy and as a young child, he witnessed a massacre of State Councillors and family relatives in the Kremlin by body guards gone mad. An event of blood and gore which lasted 3 days, he will never forget these terrible events and will live in fear of conspiracies and plots. Peter is described as being extraordinarily tall for his time, at 6.5 feet tall, with a pronounced nervous twitch on his left side and famous for being moody, cruel and having violent rages but also a man who gave Russia its current flag modelled on the Dutch flag by simply reversing the design, a student of all things modern during his life time, curious and intelligent and surrounding himself with equally intelligent and talented people most of whom came from Western Europe. This all powerful autocrat was greatly feared and admired. He is tragically remembered for ordering the arrest which lead to the death of his only son for reasons of State.
Again a difficult concept for us to understand in a modern setting given that ''la raison d'Etat'' is never invoke nowadays. Peter was also involved in the 20 year war against Sweden and Charles XII which led to Russia taking the Baltic States from Sweden and establishing Russia as a world power. Massie also devotes passages of the book to the difficult relationship between the Tsar and the old Orthodox believers who were very xenophobic and constantly agitating for a return to isolation from Western influences. Peter instigated a policy of tolerance and protection of other Christian religions, he is described as a moderate in matters of religion and had apparently a good singing voice participating in the Choir at religious services.

We visited Peterhof his summer palace just outside St-Petersburg and the small house called Mon Plaisir which he built himself. Had it not been for Peter and Catherine, one wonders where Russia would be today, how would it have evolved, certainly there would be no St-Petersburg.

If you have the energy to read such huge books, it is well worth it, the wealth of details brings the subjects alive and give you a better understanding of Russia and the Romanov legacy. In 2013 the Russian State will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty.


Saturday, 18 August 2012

1662-2012, 350th Family Anniversary

On 18 August 1662 in Quebec City my ancestor Jean Philippe Lebel de Beaulieu arrived in Canada. He will join the French army regiments like Le Régiment de la Reine and the Régiment de la Franche Marine sent by the King Louis XIV, the Sun King to protect the borders of the French Empire in North America from the English south of Montreal. From humble beginning to today. We know that he was only 16 years old and illiterate, had come to New France to make a life for himself. Hired himself as a man-servant and worked for friends of  the Governor of New France, he then decided to join the regiments arriving from France. He saw quite a lot of action in what is today Vermont, Lake Champlain area and Albany, New York. He was then posted on the St-Lawrence river at Fort Chambly. Finally returning to Quebec City he received a deed of land and managed to triple his landholding. He will, later in life, do battle again in 1690 when Quebec City is attacked by Admiral Sir William Phipps, the English are quickly defeated. The rest is family history, of farms along the St-Lawrence river and of settlement.
We no longer have farms and are now all city dwellers, involved in different trades and the family now spans Canada and the USA. I wonder what our ancestor would think of such success.

I dedicate this popular musical piece of the 17th Century to his memory.

Malbrouque s'en va en guerre, referring to the Duke of Marlborough and the battle of Malpaquet 1709.
Who has not heard or learn this song in their childhood. I like this clip because it shows the uniform and flag of the regiment under which my ancestor served. There is one funny family trait we all share to this day, the Beaulieu nose. We all have the same nose it is quite funny at family gatherings, anyone looking at all of us would notice that family trait.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Ferr'Agosto!!! 15 Agosto

The Roman emperor Augustus so enjoyed late summer that he claimed as his own the month we now call by his name.  He ordered month-long festivities, called feriae augustus, which included games, races, and rituals to honor the goddess Diana, who was worshiped as queen of the fields as well as of heaven and earth. Augustus was equally enamored with the beguiling island of Capri, which he appropriated from the municipality of Naples in exchange for the nearby island of Ischia.
With the rise of Christianity and the suppression of pagan feasts, August 15 became a religious holiday commemorating the assumption or lifting into heaven of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Over the centuries various communities developed special ways of honoring the Madonna.  In the Sardinian town of Sassari men carrying elaborately decorated wood columns dance through the streets.  Messina’s townspeople construct La Vara, a fantastic sixty-foot-high pyramid from which stars, clouds and figures of saints dangle. At one time young boys dressed as angels and apostles were hoisted into the air by rings attached to La Vara. As part of the ceremonies a young girl representing the Virgin Mary freed a prisoner. 
According to a Neapolitan legend, local fishermen once pulled a portrait of the Madonna from the sea, and their king ordered a church built around it at the beach.  On August 15, which became known as the Festa della Nzegna, everyone was tossed into the water. The night before the faithful ate only watermelon but feasted on sumptuous desserts the next day.
In the late  Renaissance, Rome’s governors flooded the splendid Piazza Navona for festivities that included fake fish splashing in the water and young boys diving for coins. As darkness fell, candles and torches glistened, and Romans enjoyed lavish dinners called sabatine (little Saturday feasts). Today many will have a Pranzo de Ferr'Agosto as we did in Pesaro on the Adriatic every year. 
Times have changed. Now a national holiday, Ferragosto marks the height of the Italian vacation season. In cities and towns many businesses, banks, restaurants and shops close; residents shut up their apartments and flock to the beaches. Seaside villages often end the day’s festivities with spectacular displays of  fireworks (fuochi d’artificio). 

This little clip of the famous Italian movie Pranzo di Ferr'Agosto by Gianni di Gregorio illustrates well what it is like in Italy on that day, a lunch with friends and relatives. I found it delightful because it mirrored our lives. Though we preferred to spend our vacation by the seaside.

But amid all the gaiety some Italians suffer a sad fate. Because of their jobs or finances, they  must remain in the deserted cities. And so the phrase “ferragosta in citta” has come to mean a bleak, unhappy situation.
May you have a wonderful Ferr'Agosto! Auguri a tutti!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

I wish I was in Greece

It is raining tonight here at home and the weather seems to be turning towards autumn though we are still in early August.  This song written in 1962 by Mikis Theodorakis on a poem by George Seferis. On the Seashore sung by Maria Farantouri.  About life and its changes, the past, the present, the future.
We spent a lot of nice time in Greece and have wonderful friends. One day we will return.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Some random photos of things I like.

On this beautiful summer evening in August only a few days away from Ferr'Agosto, I can imagine already in Italy people leaving cities to go on vacation. Usually on a nice evening like this we would go to the Baths of Caracalla to see an opera amidst these famous ruins in Rome.

Later we would drive to Pesaro on the Adriatic for the Rossini summer Festival and have dinner at the Bristol on the boardwalk where Lorenzo Grazioli would prepare some incredible fish dish for our pleasure.

So instead here are some pictures I like on this very pleasant evening in Ottawa.

The dining room Les Ambassadeurs of the Hotel Crillon in Paris, the room is in the original 18th century decor with 6 types of coloured marble in a Louis XV style. A beautiful room the chef is Christophe Hache. What a wonderful room in which to have a meal with friends.

Sunflowers at home, such an exuberant flower.

Our Nicky nicely groomed, not something he likes in particular.
little me in my Jager jacket at the Bristol Hotel in Salzburg

At the Quirinale Palace in Rome, the personal guard of the President of the Italian Republic. A Corazzieri (Cuirassier).

For the Olympics a member of the Italian Swim team. Even the sunglasses are stylish.

Well we are returning to Salzburg in May 2013 for the music festival and I do hope we make it back to Pesaro such a lovely town.