Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Wallace Collection at Hertford House, Manchester Sq. London

I always wondered what was in that great house on Manchester sq behind Selfridges in London. The house has a long history connected to several noblemen. It is said to be the finest collection of art ever assembled by one family, five generations, four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace. Part of this collection is the most complete French Royal artifacts, furniture, objects, paintings of the period 1700 to 1790, all from the massive sales the French revolutionaries conducted as of 1793 from the Palace of Versailles and le Petit Trianon, including Sèvres porcelain dinner service and silverware, beautiful paintings and other small objects.  It also contains Medieval and Renaissance works of Art, Flemish Art, Dutch Art, Dutch masters, French Art, British Portraits, set in beautiful rooms as it might have been when Sir Richard Wallace lived there. The staff are very helpful, they can show you a work of art you would like to see but cannot find because of the size of the house. It is difficult to imagine living in such a house today loaded with art treasures and fine furniture. Then again people had lots of servants to take care of everything for you. Life was as a different pace and collecting beautiful things to impress society was important, it gave you gravitas. Much time was spent visiting fine houses and admiring the objects d'arts. Today the Wallace collection is the mirror of an age long ago. But it is not the only house in London where you can see how people lived. Some of these people like Frederick Lord Leighton who also has a beautiful house in the Arts and Crafts style at 12 Holland Park Road in Kensington, now a museum and an imposing mausoleum in St-Paul's Cathedral.

Hertford House known as the Wallace Collection on Manchester Sq, W1, London

one of the many rooms of the house, to help the visitor they have photos of the rooms as they were in 1890 when Sir Richard Wallace lived in the house. Not much as changed.

One of the many paintings on Napoleonic wars. This one is entitled the Regimental dog. The little dog has been injured and the drummer boy is cleaning the wound.

The top of the stairs in the house.

the Marie-Antoinette salon, everything in this room belonged to the Queen.

The middle painting is by Marie-Antoinette's personal portrait painter Marie-Louise Elizabeth Viger- Lebrun. The National Gallery in Ottawa will be holding the first retrospective of her work in 2014.

 Two medallions of Marie-Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI, made in 1774 of gilt bronze on marble.
this painting of Francesca da Rimini and her lover in hell visited by the poet Dante in his book
the Inferno. The frame was made following the text of Dante's epic work for Anatole Demidoff Prince of San Donato in 1853.

The original bill of sales of 1793 from Versailles advertising all the Royal property put up for auction by the Convention. Marie-Antoinette had 2 months to live at that point, her husband Louis had already been executed.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Regent Park, London

This beautiful park was a great project of John Nash in 1811 to transform what had been the hunting forest at the time of Henry VIII. This hunting park was bordered on one side by the village of Marylebone, with the parish of St-Marylebone (c.1400) and the Tyburn River. Next to the Church graveyard and until 1791, there was a hunting lodge used by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Today all this is part of central London. It is one of the most beautiful Royal Parks in London. It is called Regent's Park in honour of the Prince Regent, son of King George III who assumed the regency in the last years of his father's life. The Prince Regent will become King George IV (1820 to 1830) he will be succeeded by his brother King William IV (1830-1837) the sailor King. This park was a huge real estate project and was to be bordered by Palladian style mansions, some were built but the whole project was never fully realized, though what you see today is nothing short of spectacular. It is my favourite of the Royal Parks in London, the rose garden alone is worth a visit to Regent's Park.

If you walk up Baker street towards Regent's Park you will pass the famous 221 b, Baker Street, the home address of Sherlock Holmes.
it is a museum and open to the public.

one of the many palladian style mansions lining Regent's Park, many are homes or colleges

the park is a very tranquil setting for birds like this Heron to fish in the streams.
In 1935 King George V celebrated his Jubilee as King and Emperor, this gate was erected and Queen Mary's garden created, a beautiful place to visit.

At this time of the year few roses remain in the rose garden but still some beautiful specimen can be seen.

This type of white rose is called Ice Cream

imagine living in one of these flats bordering Regent's Park.

the steeple of St-Marylebone where John Wesley worshipped, he is remembered as the composer of Hark the Herald Angels sing. He is also buried in the Church yard. Lord Byron was baptized at this church and Lord Nelson was also a parishioner as was is daughter Horatia. 

Saturday, 20 October 2012


We returned to Ottawa from Rome after a 7 year absence in August 2011 to discover that Jim Watson had become Mayor, a man of many achievements. He describes himself as a careful prudent man and having met him a couple of times at public events I can also say that he is a nice, decent person, quite affable and easy to speak to. Jim is a home owner and you can sense that he understands the concerns of other citizens since he has the same concerns about living here. Under his mild manner though I suspect a strong will and a man with a plan for our Capital. I see someone with a vision for what Ottawa can become as a Capital. He has brought order to the city management and has made with the help of Council changes beneficial to the Citizens of our City.

Ottawa can be a difficult city to govern, given that it is the National Capital, saddled with several layers of governments, Provincial, Federal and the National Capital Commission. Then the many neighbourhood groups and various other special interest urban groups concerned with architecture, design, etc... Groups love to be consulted at lenght and in details many would prefer if the City Council simply implemented their recommendations as is, in other words our wishes become our command. They wish to govern forgetting that we elected a City Council to do just that.

I remember several projects in the past which generated endless consultations and town hall meetings where every one expressed ideas and concerns but few solutions and often advocated for the status quo. I always came away thinking that we would never see any progress. In any such discussions or consultations there is always resistance, some groups appear against every new idea or project. I am against it and am not offering any solutions, goes the tired refrain.

Years ago, there were consultation on replacing the building on the corner of Rideau and Sussex drive, it had been a department store, architecturally said to be of the Chicago school style, it was finally demolished and replaced by a post-modern condo tower after years of debate. Then there was the Rideau street mall idea which went through several incarnations and consultations. Rideau street still requires work and an extension of the Rideau Shopping Centre has been announced, developer Cadillac Fairview appears to have new tenants and a clear idea of what will happen. However already concerns have been raised about the old Ogilvie store now closed and derelict, will it be restored or pulled down? This is also tied to the LRT Station to be located near this mall extension, already the Ottawa Citizen (OC) is speculating which is not helpful.

Lansdowne Park and the new Casino project or the Light Rail Train (LRT) all produce lots of consultation and endless debate. Hopefully the idea of a new water treatment plant put forward by the Mayor will receive wide support, simply for its positive environmental impact.

Finally, Lansdowne is now going forward and construction has begun. Many opposed the project for a host of reasons, but what do they offer as an other option? The Mayor rightly pointed out that we had to move, Lansdowne had become derelict and an eyesore in one of the nicest neighbourhoods of the Capital. People should look at other World Capitals where similar sites have been transformed through urban renewal, think of Les Halles in Paris.

Each time the media in this case the OC will take sides often against a project on the reason as one reporter puts it; obsessed with process and planning. Does that imply that our elected officials and Mayor will not follow due process, the City cannot plan? Has the media assumed the role of unelected Opposition or Guardian of Public discourse replacing the Citizens? It would seem so.
Some reporters wish to question every word or phrase, looking for hidden meanings or messages, when careful reading of City Council minutes or the Mayor's statements already provide clarity. I see this as a search for controversy where none exist. Twitter encourages this as we saw recently between one OC reporter and the Mayor.

Same for the idea of intensification of the downtown or central core, if we are to make Ottawa a vibrant city after 5PM, we need to bring people to live in the centre and lots of them, to re-invent the old neighbourhoods and give them a new lease on life. It will also save the city money, suburbs call for lots of infrastructure and roads which are costly and required years of financing. It is easier to re-develop a built up area inside the city centre than some far away suburb. A pattern so many cities in Europe and Asia have followed to positive results.

Ottawa is on the cusp of great change, much change has already happened in the last 7 years and much more is coming and far more rapidly. We all need to get into our collective head that we live in a National Capital of a great country and as such we need to think along those lines. Ottawa is not some inconsequential small town in Ontario.

Jim Watson is good for Ottawa and he is a Mayor with vision and we need it. We are on the count down to 2017, the 150th anniversary of Canada an important milestone, Ottawa needs to reflect the country as a whole. Leave behind your view of my street, my neighbourhood first against everyone else. Whenever you oppose a project based on narrow blinkered interests you damage the interests of every community in the city. It also has to be understood once and for all, that we cannot achieve anything if private interests are not brought in or if we refuse to pay for a project. We cannot as a Capital stand still forever until the perfect solution materialize.

The Mayor has promised to hold up on taxes and he has been good to his word. So let's trust his prudent and bold management and go for it.

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Gatineau National Park across from Ottawa

Many decades ago a French urban planner suggested to the Federal Government of Canada in his report on the National Capital that a string of great parks be created around the Capital. One such park is the Gatineau Park. Just a few minutes away from Ottawa on the Quebec side of the Outaouais river, the park entrance is inside the City of Gatineau and the parkway takes you deep into the mountains. There are lots of lakes and trails taking you inside the forest, however stay on the trail, you do not want to get lost in the woods, the forest is thick, there are lots of bogs, waterfalls, cliffs and other hazards.

There are also several official residences in the Gatineau Park, one is Meech Lake which is the official summer residence of the Prime Minister, formerly owned by a Lumber Baron and the other is Kingsmere, the former Estate of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. Upon his death he donated this large estate to the people of Canada. The Estate like the man is eccentric, Uncle Rex as he was known to his friends started going up to the Gatineau and developed his Estate over 50 years until his death July 22, 1950, it was his hobby, his fantasy.

The Farm, one of the three houses on the Estate, was an old farm house he bought, renovated and enlarged into a beautiful house, today it is the Official Residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons and closed to the public. I remember maybe 30 years ago it was still open on certain days and you could see the bedroom where Mackenzie King died with all the original furniture. The Speaker then was married and had little kids, the children were afraid to sleep in that bed, it had a plaque which said that this is where the Prime Minister had died. His wife had the plaque removed which caused a great deal of comment. She was also the one who use to push the emergency security buzzer to see how quickly the RCMP, who provided security, would take to answer the call, they were not amused.
The other house on the lake is Kingswood a simple cottage which is undergoing renovation at this time to be completed by June 2013. The three houses are over 100 years old.

The one best known to the public is Moorside which houses the tea salon and small restaurant with formal gardens. I noticed that the old stone bird bath in front of the house is gone. The ruins have been spruced up and look better than ever. Those are the famous ruins from buildings demolished in Ottawa a long time ago, with architectural features the Prime Minister liked, so he purchased these bits of stone and masonry, had them moved up to his Estate and reassembled in a fantasy style garden.  To this day, people think that Uncle Rex was an eccentric. In his days there were also other features like stone animals but those have been removed a long time ago.

I am currently reading his biography entitled "King" by Allan Levine, the author goes over all the usual stories about Mackenzie King, using the diaries and journals left by Uncle Rex, we have close to 2 million pages of detailed information, Uncle Rex kept up his diaries over his entire adult life from age 18, a real treasure trove.

He was a deeply religious man, raised a Presbyterian, had puritanical ideas, believed firmly that the Hand of the All Mighty was guiding him in all things, but all that did not prevent him from having several mistresses. He explains in great details in his journal that he is looking for the perfect woman, who would be like his mother, virtuous, pious and kind, the embodiment of all feminine qualities. A very 19th century picture, he never found that woman despite having several lady friends often the wives of prominent men in Ottawa. One was the wife of the Pastor of St-Andrew Presbyterian Church on Wellington Street.

The book also tells us that he was deeply involved in Spiritualism and though his mother died in 1917, throughout his life he will travel everywhere with no less than 5 pictures of his mother. In his study at Laurier House in Ottawa, there is one such picture described by one of his lady friends as "that horror". He also spoke or communicated with his dead dog Pat and he also spoke to Pat 2 and Pat 3 who will outlive his master. Ministers were appointed to his Cabinet based often on doodles they would make on pieces of paper. Mackenzie King studied them to determine if any significance or meaning could be given to them.  Thanks to his journal we have a complete record of his thoughts and emotions. On the other hand he was a far thinking man and we can thank him for much of the labour code reforms in Canada and for starting much of the social programs we have today. Mackenzie King believed deeply that his duty as a politician was to help his fellow man. He worked for Rockefeller and certainly tried to change the anti-labour attitude of most business owners at the beginning of the XXth century. We are lucky that William Lyon Mackenzie King deeded his property to the Nation, a magnificent gift.

The fantasy ruins

To go back to my ride up into the Gatineau Park, I was almost alone on the road, only saw 2 other cars and about a dozen cyclists, those are the hard core cyclists, the climb is difficult and steep. There were two men at the Huron Lookout and both must have been in their sixties with legs of steel. We are very lucky in the National Capital Region to be able to enjoy this park.

View at Huron lookout, looking south towards Ottawa in the distance to the left
Huron Lookout is so named because in the period between 1604 and 1613 several French explorer came to the area among them Etienne Brulé and Samuel de Champlain. The Huron lived further north down the Outaouais river. The area of the Gatineau Park is Algonquin land cousins of the Mohawks of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Scène d'automne Canal Rideau

The waters have now reached their winter levels on the Rideau Canal and the different ducks and geese are feeding on the many little fish. Despite the cool weather and cloudy sky a walk along the canal in the Glebe from Pretoria Bridge is always nice.

The walls of the canal need much repair but it appears that only the most urgent is being done,
giving it a look of antique neglect.

The canal runs parallel to the Rideau River which is just half a kilometer away on the left side of this photo. At low water level the aspect of the canal is completely different.

All along the canal manicured lawns and trees, in the summer great floral display can also be seen.

one of the little inlets along the canal from the days of its initial construction, this one near Clemow avenue. You can see the black mark line where the water is usually during the summer.

Though we are in the centre of the city in a neighbourhood the flora has that rural aspect.

Lots of ducks and Canada geese at this time. The geese and ducks should fly south for the winter but many still linger in the shallow water.

Change of name and mandate

Last weekend The Globe and Mail announced that the famed Museum of Civilization in Hull-Gatineau across the Outaouais river from the National Capital, Ottawa would see its name changed and get a new mandate. The new name will be the Museum of Canadian History, as soon as Parliament can pass the legislation since it is a National Museum.

The Museum of Civilization was built 27 years ago on an architectural design by Douglas Cardinal, it was then the talk of the town, the building is very unusual and at the time required new building techniques, it was opened to the public in 1987, it was or is a museum celebrating civilizations in Canada, in the plural sense, meaning many definitions of civilization and culture and not just of one  dominant group. This was part of the diversity agenda under Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau, celebrating the many peoples of Canada.

Native First Nations of Canada are celebrated in this museum since it is built on grounds sacred to the Algonquin. The museum also presents exhibits about early Canadian history and hold exhibits on diverse topics, recently there was an exhibit on Gods and various religions in the world, very interesting, sort of a wide lens approach broadening of the mind. Currently there is a very good exhibit on the Mayan culture with numerous artifacts from Mexico. There is also a small Canadian Postal Museum  and a Children's Museum on the premises and an IMAX cinema. In this re-branding the Postal museum will be closed and packed off to a warehouse.

Today the Hon. James Moore, PC, MP, Minister of Canadian Heritage announced the change in the Museum's name and mandate. Mr. Moore made it clear that this announcement was made on behalf of our dear Leader, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister, a man who has made a point of never going to any museums and cancelling several museum projects in Ottawa, like the National Portrait Gallery on the pretext that there is no money and closing several others. Though there is always money to spend on military monuments or for ever more severe security detail for his entourage to keep the governed at bay.

Mr. Moore was quick to point out that he had the idea of transforming the museum to present a more complete picture of the Monarchy and Canadian history with emphasis on the military aspect. This fits perfectly in the narrative of the current government. We already have a Canadian Museum of War near by, so is this duplication? Do we need more history on the Monarchy? This is a favourite topic of our Dear Leader, he loves the Royals, so his ministers have to come up with projects to emphasize the Royal Family, though the majority of Canadians remain puzzled with this fascination by Harper and company.

What is also curious about Mr. Moore's pronouncement today about the re-branding of the Museum was another announcement last week by same minister that the Laurier House would no longer have any guides, the house is full of personal artifacts, it is a living museum. This house was the private residence of two of the more famous Prime Ministers of Canada who both served long terms in Office, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King and truly shaped the history of Canada in the XXth century. Unfortunately for them both Liberals, that is no longer acceptable for the official history of Canada in Harperland. That is another point of the Harper doctrine, demonize the Liberal Party and destroy the legacy.

Now Mr. Moore has also announced that his ministry will spend 25 million dollars on refurbishing the enormous Museum of Civilization. No new money he emphasized, simply money allocated to other projects or salaries now re-directed to this new project. This is what budget cut backs are all about to free money for other things. Why this project now? Well we are on the countdown to 2017 when Canada will celebrate its 150 Anniversary of Confederation (1867-2017). In the meantime Mr. Moore is also involved in closing down many other museums across Canada on Canadian history. What a confused message, no credibility here Minister.

You have to wonder what version of history will be presented in this re-furbished museum. Many are bracing for a very Harperesque version of Canadian History. We saw it this year with the Diamond Jubilee where only photos of Mr. Harper with the Royals where selected for official presentations. Given that Harper has only been PM for 6 years so far one wonders what happened during the other 54 years of our history. All other Prime Ministers being Liberals were omitted and only historical factoids of the dear Leader were emphasized to fit the political agenda. Another example would be the silent treatment the Anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom received or the Anniversary of the Canadian Flag, both came about under Liberal governments. When asked our dear Prime Minister pretends, A) he did not hear the question or B) pretends he does not understand what you are talking about.

So this newly renovated museum will see much cleansing of history. You also have to wonder what can actually be achieved with such a small amount, 25 million dollars is not much money for such a project. The current director was asked what the new museum would look like and he immediately said that he did not know since Parliament would have to decide what would be displayed. Oh, Oh!!!! Neo-Con politicians becoming over night museum curators, good grief!

Sad, I feel we are losing a great museum, it was in fact the most visited museum in Canada. Small minds, partisanship and pettiness have taken over in this case. The Canadian people are the losers.


Monday, 15 October 2012

F. Liszt and a day at the Museum

Today being Monday, I spent the day at the National Gallery of Canada on Sussex Drive. The Museum  
is closed on Monday's like all museums around the world. Being one of the volunteers, I was there for meetings and for training. How very nice to walk around the closed museum going from gallery to gallery, we have so many beautiful painting collections in our Museum.

The Smiths by Canadian painter W. Blair Bruce 1894. This painting in the National Gallery is quite large. The men are making steel wheel rims, an art lost long ago. It is believed that this painting was a tribute to Hamilton, Ontario.
The National Gallery of Canada on a grey day.

I really enjoy my time at the museum, meeting with other volunteers and curators.

This evening I was listening to Radio Swiss Classic on Airport Express on the internet, a little device that allows me to listen to radio music from around the world. This piece by F. Liszt is called Les Cloches de Genève, les Années de Pélerinage. Played on the piano by Konstantin Scherbakov in Zurich in May 2011.

Friday, 12 October 2012


One of my favourite composer of the XXth century is Francis Poulenc. Today we had a little bit of Poudrerie, a dusting snowfall which lasted all of 4 minutes and quickly disappeared under a returning bringht but cold sunshine.

I thought of these pieces from Poulenc's Suite Française went well with the weather today in Ottawa.
Also today the Rideau Canal is being emptied in preparation for winter. That is a sure sign in the Capital that the Seasons are changing. It will take about 3 days to bring the level of the water down sufficiently so that just the right amount remains to form a long skating rink. The big pike fish will gather in the depth of Dow's Lake to hibernate until Spring. Time to change the wardrobe from summer to winter, come out sweaters, mittens and scarfs. Time to think to buy snow tires, ouch!! they are not cheap.  Boots also for the children of Cerberus, so the paws don't get cold.

Edwardian house at the Canal on McLeod Street and Queen Elizabeth Drive.

John's Pumpkin cheese cake with pumpkin seeds dipped in chocolate.

the herons are still fishing around for small fish despite the level of the water slowly going down. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Thanksgiving Luncheon

Last year we did not know what to do for Thanksgiving, having just returned from Italy, we were sort of out of the loop of friends and company. This year we got 3 invitations at once, so today Sunday we will be going out to dinner to our friends who live in the West of the City. Tomorrow Monday being a holiday we will make Thanksgiving lunch and have invited friends. This year I will cook the bird, I am not making any stuffing, just roasting the turkey, will make some gravy, I already have nice stock I can probably use. Will have whole berry cranberry sauce, vegetables, I am planning to roast a squash, a first for me, I have a recipe to do it provided by friend blogger C de V. Keep it simple is my motto for this year.

Years ago in the late 70's we subscribed to Gourmet magazine, they had fantastic photos of great table settings and exquisite meals. The only problem was that the recipes were complicated and required hours of preparation not to mention the ingredients often exotic and hard to find on the open market.
I remember how frustrating it was not to be able to find that spice or that other ingredient or vegetable they recommended. You see back then, the markets in Ottawa were not terribly sophisticated, you had your turkey, potatoes, green beans, brussels sprouts, carrots and peas. What else did you want? Chestnuts were hard to come by, if you wanted a bread stuffing there was and still is the dreaded Stove Top stuffing out of a box, or plain white bread, anything else was considerer exotic or was simply not available, Ottawa was too small a market. It was also expected that most people would simply travel during the holiday so stores did not stock up or were closed Sunday and Monday for the holiday. Meaning you had to rush on Friday night or Saturday morning otherwise you were out of luck.

Same for desserts, you could back then buy a cake ready made full of sugar and spongy or you could try to have a festive dessert meaning you made it yourself from scratch but again same problem with ingredients. I remember Mr. W had lots of energy to take the Gourmet magazine and go to it, my responsibility was to do all the shopping for those rare or non existent ingredients. Of course if we were on posting abroad that was another kettle of fish, you had to adapt to local traditions and markets.
We always did manage and it was always fun.

I will go out now and get some freshly fallen leafs from the Maple trees along the canal for decoration on the table. It is a bright sunny day though the wind is a little chilly and brisk around 5 C.

Fall is most beautiful on a cold but bright sunny day. Outdoor pictures taken this Sunday morning October 7 on my walk along the Rideau Canal and on the Campus of my Alma Mater, Ottawa U.

In keeping with the theme of Thanksgiving, Horn of Plenty, Corne d'abondance by J.B. Mauzaisse.