Friday, 30 November 2012


I have kept to the European tradition of shopping for food everyday. We no longer do the once a week shopping trip to the giant mall, we never really did that anyway. First I find that it takes away one day of your weekend and then the mall is crazy with people not looking where they are going and acting in a rude often unpleasant manner, not to mention the screaming kids in tow. In other words you come out feeling harassed and tired. So everyday I go out in the morning to shop in our local stores and find a different variety of people who have more time and are on the lot more relaxed.

One fun thing to do at the check out counter is to read the front pages of tabloids. On any given week it will be stories of marriage, divorce, death, tragedy or new beginning for some name in the news. It has to be either the Queen, William and Kate, Kate's sister Pippa, Bill Clinton, Cher or some other Starlet you would know only if you follow the Hollywood gossip. The headlines are always outrageous, recently one said: ''Queen is dying'' Next to it a smaller headline ''Queen ask Kate to get pregnant quick so she can give the Throne to William''. ''Kate going to fertility clinic'' apparently William is impotent or sterile or both, poor Kate. Bill Clinton has been dying for many months and his clearly photo shopped picture shows a skeletal Bill, he looks different from the image on live television, who is telling the truth. Kate is also always having fights with Camilla, they apparently hate each other. William has also ordered Charles to dump Camilla. As for Prince Harry, let's not go there, he is apparently another Princess Margaret in the making, orgies, booze, loose living. The tabloids also announced that Kate's parents are not invited for Christmas at Buckingham Palace, the Queen does not like them at all, big family food fights. Pippa is having numerous affairs with rich men all over London, she is portrayed as a gold digger, it is insinuated that her sister Kate was one too. All of it sounds like a soap opera a la Dallas or Dynasty.

Cher and Oprah are in and out of fat farms, clinics of all sorts, rehab programs, are having problems with money or family or both. The other starlets in Hollywood are getting married for the fifth or sixth time hoping for real love. They always seem to be going out with uneducated thugs picked up on the beach or at some disco and you know that they will end up in Divorce Court in 6 moths.

Some other funny headlines, all accompanied by strange photo shots, usually not photos anyone would want published, the idea is to make the subject look deranged or at least in an ugly mood:
Drunk Jackie Chan disinherits son
Mary Osmond meltdown
Vanessa Williams all washed up
Dr. Phil is a facist
Larry Hagman's death medical mistake
Mariah goes nuts

The theme of all these stories is that despite these people being rich and famous they cannot escape ordinary people problems, makes ordinary folks feel better I suppose. Any divorce story is usually followed about horror stories of abusive spouses, booze and drugs. Death stories are always a mystery or a cover up, look at Nathalie Wood, JFK, Elvis, no one ever dies of natural causes, the conspiracy element is strong in all storyline, usually because of money grabbing relatives.

It passes the time while I wait my turn at the Cashier counter. I do not know if anyone actually believes the stuff but I did see one lady pick up several tabloids, I hope its for entertainment and not serious reading.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

All I want for Christmas....

We are just 26 days away from Christmas it is cold today, brisk wind about -14C and swirling snow flakes. Will and I have been talking about what we want for Christmas, well this is what I want and I dedicate this song to Will.

Christmas Lights in Ropponghi, Tokyo.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Symphonie no.5

Many years ago I read the biography of Dmitri Shostakovich, (1906-1975), the great XXth Century composer who lived in what can only be described as a very difficult time in Soviet Russia under Stalin and then under years of mediocrity under various Soviet rulers in an crumbling and creaky country.

I love his music, it is so expressive and so very different. Composition was not easy in those days as he had to fit the official party image and doctrine. He would be severely criticized and attacked by Communist Party ideologues often at the urging of Stalin who played a game of cat and mouse with Shostakovich. In Russia, ethnic origin always plays an important part in how the regime views a person, Shostakovich's ancestor were Polish, the family became Russified after living in Russia for several generations. However that was not sufficient for the Soviet Authorities who viewed him with suspicion.

Stalin who remains famous as a violent if not deranged, cruel dictator, had countless people executed for a mere trifling. When he died, Shostakovich was surprised he had survived, so many other artists had perished. Strangely enough Stalin died 5 March 1953 the same day as Sergei Prokofiev, another great composer.

His music is haunting and I like all his work, I picked Symphonie no.5, the conductor is Semyon Bychkov.

                                   Dmitri Shostakovich

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

To put you in the mood

If this does not put you in the mood I do not know what will, this beautiful photo of the Christmas Tree by the Amphitheater of the Flavians on Via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome. Though it has to be pointed out that the tradition of the Christmas tree is relatively new in Central and Southern Italy. It made its first appearance about 20 years ago at the most, many Italians still do not have one at home. The Crèche or Presepio is the Italian Tradition at Christmas. How often I have walked this avenue.

Only 27 days before Christmas. Click on photo for larger view.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Monday musical

This morning at 7 am just before the Sun rise in the East which is behind those buildings. Winter wonderland on the Rideau Canal.

This morning 26 November Winter officially arrived in Ottawa, we woke up to see about 15 cm of snow on the ground. The canal is not frozen yet but it makes for a nice wintery scene. Brilliant sunshine, maybe a little too bright, reflected off the new snow makes it a hazard if driving.
Top Winter as January and bottom Winter with the Wolves.

I usually spend my Monday's at the National Gallery of Canada, the museum is closed on Monday's but being a volunteer, we go for classes and briefings on Art. We go through the galleries and often have our talks surrounded by magnificent artwork.
The National Gallery of Canada before the snow.

I was listening to Radio Swiss Classic from Zurich on the radio and they were playing ''Dove Sono'' of the Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, sung by Barbara Fritolli in 2010 at the Opéra Bastille in Paris and I thought how lovely on this sunny snowy morning.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

25 November only 30 days to go

We are now only one month away from Christmas Day. Given that it is very cold outside though sunny  and we do not have snow yet. The cold wind reminded me that the Season is very near us.

Here is some beautiful music for the Christmas Season. O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen, an American composer of Danish origin. This composition is taken from the Christmas Morning Service and was composed in 1994.  Sung by a wonderful choir.

Latin Text

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.

This version by one of my favourite composer Francis Poulenc of the same piece by the Oxford Choir. Composed at an earlier period of the XXth Century.

This music comes to me after hearing our friend C.P. who has a beautiful soprano voice, she sings with one of the more famous and well established Choirs in Ottawa. We have been at several of their concerts to hear them.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Today is our Anniversary, as a couple we have been together for 34 years. Jokingly we say and never a cross word. However we endure despite all the postings around the world, the travel, the foreign cultures and relocations and often the separations due to work or assignments which did not allow us to always be together. W has always been an incredible source of support for me during difficult moments and I think I can say that we always saw our relationship as a base for our lives. I really cannot think looking back on my life that I could do without W companionship and support throughout all these years. All the travels we have done together and all the places we have lived in. The little traditions like the Christmas tree and its decorations. Not to forget our dogs who have been so much a part of our lives, yes like all loving dog owners we often tailored our lives around them. Bundnie, Reesie, Nicky and Nora. All Dachshunds, who came into our lives at various points in Egypt, Chicago, Rome.

We are now entering a new phase, retirement and other activities. I look at it as a new chapter in our life. And another happy 34 years together.

Happy Anniversary to us!

The gazebo at NOTL and the Niagara river. A favourite spot.

Friday, 23 November 2012

It may be Black Friday in the USA but...

It may be Black Friday in the USA but in Canada we have a uniquely Canadian Holiday called BLACK FLY DAY. This little insect is truly Canadian and lives in Northern Ontario.

No we do not have Black Friday in Canada, in fact it is a little known phenomenon here in Canada.
We prefer to celebrate something that means something to us and that we cannot ignore, you simply cannot ignore little black flies.

Which brings me to this little tune a classic of the National Film Board of Canada.


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Court date

Today I went to Traffic Court in the West end of the Capital. It's a new building beside Algonquin College, it use to be in an old building at Rideau and Nicholas street. There was a lot of people for different offence to the traffic code. I thought I am going to be here all day. The judge came in wearing her judicial black robe and a green sash indicating she is a Justice of the Peace, other colours indicate other types of Courts, Scarlet sash is a Provincial Court Judge, Burgundy is Superior Court or Court of Appeal Judge, Gold is Federal Court Judge, Purple sash is a Federal Tax Court Judge, Fur line in Red robes is a Supreme Court Judge, only 9 of those in Ottawa.

It was interesting to say the least to listen to the judge explain the proceedings and how it all works, I quickly realized how little we understand of the operations of the justice system. The judge explained that if your car was found on the spot where you got your ticket you are guilty but can provide an explanation and mitigate the fine. Otherwise you go to trial with all that that entails. It is impressive and a little frightening all the same. Yo must take your hat off in Court and no cell phones or food. You must stand when speaking to the Judge and speak directly to the Judge. Exiting the Court you are required to walk backwards and bow to the Judge if you are an Officer of the Court or a Police Officer.

A Court of Justice even if it is just for a traffic offence is a very formal place. All rise when the judge enters and the clerk says, all rise for Justice XXX, the Court is in session, come forward and be heard. The judge then asks you what will you plead and then ask what is your explanations. Important to note that the Judge speaks to you and not the other way around. Stick to the facts and be polite. Some of the testimony was quite funny, per example one gentleman who had difficulty in English explained that his little nephew had to go to the washroom and he had to stop and yes he was too close to the fire hydrant, the rule in Ontario is a distance of 3 meters or 9 feet, he was only 3 feet away. So the judge sentenced him to pay $30 dollars instead of the $75. because of the little nephew. Another lady did not know how to plead, maybe I will plead in the middle she said, what do you mean the Judge asked, well not guilty and guilty too, she said. The Judge explained to her that you could not do that, its one or the other. The lady then said ok what to you advise me to do then, the Judge told her that she could not tell her how to plead. So finally the lady said ok well then I will plead guilty but I have a good explanation. I also noted that there was a lot of poor people in Court, they cannot pay right away and ask if the Court can wait for 2 weeks for the fine payment, the Judge gave all one month to pay. Many did not show up at all, and that is not a good thing, at that point you are deemed guilty and the police will have you on their radar. The licence bureau will also be notified and the computer keeps tabs, so there is no escape the long arm of the law.

I had a good explanation for my parking offence and got a reduced fine, so I went away happy. Despite the crowd it only took all together 35 minutes.

Flag of the Province of Ontario.

Coat of Arms of the Dominion of Canada

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Art Is In or Artisan

In Ottawa I discovered a wonderful bakery at City Centre the most unlikely place for a bakery, West of Preston street this area is an industrial area that never was. Amongst the bays and docks there is a selection of shops in an industrial setting as if they landed there from outer space, a total accident. Though in many ways it is charming, Art Is In is a play on words for Artisan meaning an old fashion bakery. The owner Pastry Chef is Kevin, no there are no Art as in Arthur in the place, he is frequently asked about this.

The variety of breads, pastries, sandwiches a large freshly made selection, etc... is amazing and all done with all natural ingredients, old recipes and fresh daily, by 4pm what is not sold is offered at 50% off. Otherwise what remains unsold at closing time is given away to the poor. The next day it starts all over again, all fresh daily, like in the old days.

I love going there, such wonderful quality, so European.

250 City Centre ave, Ottawa

Sunday, 18 November 2012

reporting and social media

Modern media outlets face many challenges one being with the Internet news travel fast, much faster than before and the enormous amount of news being seen at any given moment in the world is more than any human being can reasonably absorb. Meaning that any journalist must produce and be on his or her proverbial toes all the time. Some journalists here I follow in Ottawa are on Twitter all the time, they report what they hear and comment, though in 140 characters.

So editors decided to report only on news that will be of most interest to its readers. Per example hurricane Sandy travelled a very large distance and crossed and touched many countries, in the end all you heard was how Sandy had devastated New York City. What it did elsewhere in the Caribbean or in other US States or cities or even how it ended up in Canada was barely mentioned.
An almost universal decision was made to talk only about NYC because most news readers could understand the story quickly. Do editors talk to each other or merely follow what the other guy is doing. It seems that quickly is also the operative word in the news nowadays, this leads to often to factual errors and other mistakes, hard to correct once the story is out.

In the Arab Spring context, editors and journalists have labelled the different parties, in the arab world they are usually called rebels or militants, the word terrorist is not use because the rebels or militants fight an established authority in their own country. They would be terrorists if they attacked foreigners.
However there is no time for context to explain how or why this happened. Take Nigeria where groups have planted bombs and attacked civilians, these incidents are described as a fight between Muslims in the North and Christians in the South, in reality it is about land distribution, property rights and perceived injustices, the religious part of it is another issue not necessarily connected to this economic one. It would be too difficult to start explaining to the public at large the economic discrepancies of a country like Nigeria, so the media stick to the easy religious explanation though it is not factual.

The civil war in Syria is another example, a minority the Alawites have ruled Syria for 45 years and run the country like a mafia fief, ruining the economy in the process and setting the country up as a haven for various violent groups who could use their base in Damascus with impunity. Syria a transit point between Iran and Lebanon. Such detailed explanation of the situation would be too complicated and most news readers barely know where Syria is on a map.

This approach makes serious or grave news trivial matters. Everything is so quick and so simplified that our basic understanding goes out the proverbial window and the average person starts to think in terms of black and white issues. Also it de-humanizes the persons involved in such conflicts, they are so far away from us and we have such little understanding of them that generalities start taking precedence over hard facts. One fanatic becomes millions of fanatics or an entire countries population can all be put in one bag because it is all the same, an example Iran, all Iranians must be fanatics given the government they have, final conclusion is, they are not like us.

We now have the situation with Gaza in the middle-east which to me geographically would be more accurately described as the Near East but the media has made the middle-east a grab bag of all the countries from Morocco to Iran, easier for simple folks to understand. Leading a lot of people to automatically assume that Turks and Iranians are also Arabs because they are Muslims. A bit like saying that all Catholics are Italian. Forgetting that in all those countries in the grab bag that is dubbed the Middle-East you have ancient Christian and Jewish populations, though small still they are there and have been part of the fabric for a long time. Yes there are Palestinian Christians and Iraqi Jews and Christians and Egyptian Jews and Christians. But the media will not talk of this so as not to confuse the basic simplistic message of good against evil. Thus instead of informing the media spreads ignorance and stereotypes.

Here is Canada we have a similar situation, the media has always divided the country between the English and the French. Very simplistic but so much easier to do, spreading stereotypes and falsehoods all around. It continues to this day, despite the fact that we are now a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual nation. There is nothing quite like a good stereotype to get the readers agitated and confused.

So in the latest reporting on the eternal conflict between the Israeli government against the Palestinians, they became Militants or is Hamas the Militants, what does the word militant mean? The Libyans are described as rebels to this day despite the fact that Ghaddafi is gone from power. Why then the word militants instead of simply the Palestinians in Gaza. At any rate this is not explained and neither is it explained that the millions living in that little strip of land called Gaza are just ordinary folks who cannot exit, leave or do anything, they are captive since the borders are closed by Israël. But you could be excused if you thought that all Palestinians where with the militants or worse. Do the Palestinians desire peace and a better life in a secure country, yes, they all do like any human being, but that is rarely discussed by the media.

The media loves to use all kinds of images and words to inject meaning, the other day a reporter for the CBC spoke of the Sacred City being shelled, then in the next phrased used Jerusalem. Sacred to whom, did this reporter mean Jews, Christians and Muslims? No she meant to the Israelis. Another CBC reporter called Jerusalem the Capital of Israel, not correct, Tel Aviv is the capital of modern Israel.
Ancient Biblical texts do not make international law today.

Then the BBC got into the act and presents lopsided reporting, it would appear from the perspective of the BBC News that Israel is far more at risk and suffers far more than anyone in Gaza. Given the terrible living conditions in Gaza compared to modern affluent Israel, one wonders where does this comparison come from. What is missing is the context, what Gaza is really like as a place to live for millions of people, a huge poor ghetto where people are contained in squalor and surrounded by a powerful modern, well equipped Israëli army who is preparing to invade, up to 75,000 soldiers ready to march and already staging an invasion. Given the population density of Gaza it is going to be a civilian blood bath.

The New York Times has a series of photos showing the two sides of that border, in Israel people lead modern affluent lives, this could be Florida. One photo shows a young women in a luxury car, talking on her cell phone next to a huge army tank, another photo shows Israeli citizens in a shelter, all are well dressed, they look worried but otherwise the photo could be a community centre in North America.

On the other side of the border in Gaza, people are poorly dressed, dirty, amongst ruins, desperate scared, some are injured looking bewildered, this is the third world. One comment says that a family has gathered together so if Israel attacks they will at least die together. All is devastation and despair, so far 45 civilians have been killed and 390 injured, medical support is weak due to the economic and military siege of Gaza by Israel. There is something totally unnerving about such photos and the inequality is stark.

What is truly obscene, is the IDF, Israel Defence Force on social media justifying their actions against civilians. Even if you accept that in politics and war there is no morality and no ethical behaviour, in the 21 century, there are laws on how civilians will be treated. Israel claims to be a modern state ruled by laws and says it abides by international treaties, so then why the social media PR campaign to try to justify its actions. I am not convinced and find no credibility in the explanations given by Israel so far on action in Gaza. It is not the first time in the last 35 years that Israel has launched military campaigns in the region against much weaker rivals.

Despite the fact that Israel claims it is only defending itself, an editorial yesterday in the Jerusalem Post by Gershon Baskin entitled ''Israel shortsighted assassination'' says that this campaign is not what it appears and Israel provoked this crisis by killing Al-Jabari, Security Chief of Hamas. An election is coming next year in Israel, PM Netanyahu wants to retain power at all cost and this type of action is a vote getter amongst the fanatical settlers and other groups who would like ''a final solution'' to the Palestinian question. He is politically in trouble and his war mongering against Iran during the USA Election campaign and his open support of Mitt Romney backfired badly so now he has to try something else.

We can still be hopeful that some foreign government will call Israel's bluff and refuse to look the other way. The argument of self-defence does not hold water anymore. It is high time for the Israeli government to find a true path to peace and a living arrangement with its neighbours, bellicose attitudes will not do.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Salute to a brave and modest nation!

Salute to a brave and modest nation - Kevin Myers , 'The Sunday Telegraph'

Until the deaths of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan , probably
almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops
are deployed in the region.

And as always, Canada will bury its dead, just as the rest of the world, as
always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does..
It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both
of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over,
to be well and truly ignored.

Canada is the perpetual wallflower that stands on the edge of the hall,
waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she
risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. 
But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower
still, while those she once helped glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely
neglecting her yet again.

That is the price Canada pays for sharing the North American continent with
the United States , and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global

For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions:
It seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one,
and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved.

Yet its purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world
wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy. Almost 10% of Canada's
entire population of seven million people served in the armed forces during the First World
War, and nearly 60,000 died. The great Allied victories of 1918 were spearheaded by
Canadian troops, perhaps the most capable soldiers in the entire British
order of battle.

Canada was repaid for its enormous sacrifice by downright neglect, its
unique contribution to victory being absorbed into the popular memory as
somehow or other the work of the 'British.'

The Second World War provided a re-run. The Canadian navy began the war with
a half dozen vessels, and ended up policing nearly half of the Atlantic
against U-boat attack. More than 120 Canadian warships participated in the Normandy
landings, during which 15,000 Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day alone.

Canada finished the war with the third-largest navy and the fourth largest
air force in the world. The world thanked Canada with the same sublime
indifference as it had the previous time.

Canadian participation in the war was acknowledged in film only if it was
necessary to give an American actor a part in a campaign in which the United
States had clearly not participated - a touching scrupulousness which, of course,
Hollywood has since abandoned, as it has any notion of a separate Canadian

So it is a general rule that actors and filmmakers arriving in Hollywood
keep their nationality - unless, that is, they are Canadian. Thus Mary
Pickford, Walter Huston,Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, Norman Jewison, David
Cronenberg, Alex Trebek, Art Linkletter, Mike Weir and Dan Aykroyd have in
the popular perception become American, and Christopher Plummer, British.

It is as if, in the very act of becoming famous, a Canadian ceases to be
Canadian, unless she is Margaret Atwood, who is as unshakably Canadian as a
moose, or Celine Dion, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.

Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of
its sons and daughters as the rest of the world is completely unaware of
them. The Canadians proudly say of themselves - and are unheard by anyone else - that
1% of the world's population has provided 10% of the world's peacekeeping

Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest
peacekeepers on Earth - in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN
peacekeeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia.

Yet the only foreign engagement that has entered the popular non-Canadian
imagination was the sorry affair in Somalia , in which out-of-control
paratroopers murdered two Somali infiltrators. Their regiment was then disbanded in
disgrace - a uniquely Canadian act of self-abasement for which, naturally,
the Canadians received no international credit.

So who today in the United States knows about the stoic and selfless
friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan ?

Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac , Canada repeatedly does honourable things
for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains
something of a figure of fun. It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud,
yet such honour comes at a high cost. This past year more grieving Canadian
families knew that cost all too tragically well.

Lest we forget.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ave Verum Corpus

This piece by Mozart is so beautiful, on this sunny November day in Ottawa, I thought of including it into my blog. Just returned from a program of school visits with the National Gallery of Canada where volunteers present works of art from the NGC to school children ages 7 to 12. It was fascinating to see the interest of the children in the works presented. Their comments, often very perceptive, showing a great sensitivity to art and what they are looking at.

The NGC every year in Ottawa alone will do presentations to 40,000 students with the help of its volunteers.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Le Jour du Souvenir

Remembrance Day was instituted to commemorate the end of the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month in 1918.

I was at a ceremony in the Rotonda of Tabaret Hall at the University of Ottawa on Laurier street. The event was presided by our former Governor General and Commander in Chief, the Right Honourable Mikaëlle Jean.  The University Archivist had arranged an exhibit and I noticed two new plaques on the wall with the names of all the University Students who being over 18 years of age had volunteered to go to war. There were more than 1000 names, I was amazed looking at all those names, imagine 98 years ago all these young people stepping forward to go to war. At a time when people did not travel much if at all, to go to Europe by transport ship on often rough seas, knowing that you might die and never see your loved ones again. But they were motivated and thought enough of their country Canada or the Empire or God knows what, to simply go, to serve. What made me think was the fact that today in 2012 the University has about 60,000 students back in 1918 the University had less than 5,000 students, so a large proportion of them went to war.

The University had a remembrance ceremony every year until 1978. I was attending Ottawa U. then and I remember that a group of student was against such ceremony to remember our war dead. The reason being at the time that such ceremonies simply glorified war, those who served where either naive fools or part of some kind of Capitalist conspiracy. So the University President at the time an elderly priest who did not want any trouble simply caved in and the ceremony of remembrance was done away with. It was only in 1998 that it was re-instated. I remember encountering back in the 1970's and 1980's such anti-war sentiment, a lot of it had to do with the end of the Vietnam War in Asia and many people had arguments that were half-baked but were considered nonetheless by society in general. There was a real confusion on the past and the present and many who voiced opposition came from comfortable backgrounds and had never wanted for nothing in their lives. They could judge others actions without ever having met them.

Today in Canada more and more people participate in commemoration ceremony, there is a better understanding of what sacrifice means and what these men and women did for us. Maybe this is because of Afghanistan and the 10 years Canadian troops served there for a war we do not fully understand. But we can certainly understand the First or Second World War and the Korean conflict.

We should never forget their sacrifice and remember to thank those who returned for what they did.

Bronze at the Royal Academy

Currently at the Royal Academy in London there is a beautiful exhibition entitled BRONZE. The exhibit presents bronze works from around the world. It is grouped by subjects, figures, Bronze casting, Animals, Groups, Objects, Reliefs, Gods, heads. You can see some exceptional pieces such as the Dancing Satyr, a Greek sculpture of the second half of the Fourth Century BCE. This piece we had seen in Sicily at Mazara Del Vallo or St-John the Baptist preaching to a Levite and a Pharisee by Giovan Francesco Rustici from Florence, The Chariot of the Sun a 2400 year old piece from Denmark. or a Buddha Shakyamuni in AbhayaMudra from Bihar India. The exhibits presents also a series of lectures, events and walks. You may want to consult the website

The quality or property of bronze is that in can lead you to believe that a statue will speak, giving it a life like quality, this is accentuated if the statue has alabaster eyes. Marble on the other hand has a cold remote quality, bronze has warmth.

If in London it is well worth dropping by the Royal Academy in front of the Ritz Hotel, the exhibit is on until 9 December 2012.

the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts with the statue of its then President Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

London shopping

London retains all the flair of a great city when it comes to shops, is it not said that Britain is a Nation of shopkeepers. Service and Courtesy is the hallmark of the British shop. I love to go to Jermyn Street to shop, Fortnum and Mason is located on that street, they have a wonderful restaurant and so are many other shops like shirtmaker Pinks or for wonderful cheese Paxton and Whitfield. Even if you buy nothing it is well worth to look at the shops windows.

Gentlemen's wear.

Beautiful cravats, shirts, vests, cufflinks, etc...

 the selection is truly gratifying

Gentlemen's silk bathrobes

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Greenwich on the Thames, London

I remember years ago when I was in Egypt and we would listen to the BBC World Service for the signal at the hour coming from Greenwich where the famous meridian is located, we would set our watches on this signal. There is another meridian that one in Beijing and crosses the Tian An Men square, though Greenwich is the famous one.

I had heard of it but never visited the site of Greenwich, located further out than the Tower of London and across from Canary Wharf, I always thought it a fair distance but really it is not.

Greenwich has been many things, the site of a Royal Palace, a Naval School, a hospital for sailors and a scientific research station with its own telescope and the site of the famous meridian. At an international conference in October 1884 it was established by 44 participating countries that Greenwich would be the mean meridian on a 24 hour clock and this way all countries around the world would establish their time zones based on the Meridian of Greenwich. To this day the only country in the world not to adhere to this system is CHINA, Beijing time is the only one for the entire country, meaning that it is the same time where ever you may be in China. A little jingoism on the part of the Communist Party.
The main buildings of Greenwich, the great Hall to the left, the Queen's House in the middle and the Chapel on the right. The seating area is being dismantle it was part of events for the Olympics this past summer.

We sailed from Westminster Bridge down river towards Greenwich, it was a cold and blustery day with ever changing skies. I had never seen the City from the river. Arriving at Greenwich you are met by the Cutty Sark now beautifully restored. You can easily spend the day at Greenwich it is a large complex and park, so many details and so much to absorb with some of the best views of London. They had some Olympic competition during the summer and are still dismantling the seats and re-soding the great lawns.  The is also a monument to General James Wolfe next to the observatory. I really do not understand what Wolfe is doing there, what did the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and the Battle of Quebec City have to do with Greenwich, am not sure. The monument was unveiled by the descendant of his adversary the Marquis de Montcalm, the unlucky commander of the French Army. I do note that the monument is pock marked with bullet holes as if someone shot up the stone plinth.

A view from the hill looking towards Westminster, on the left you can see the new skyscraper called the Shard it is located near Waterloo Station. I do not like it, it looks inhuman or sic-fi.

Street view of Greenwich

The Cutty Sark, now completely restored.

The Bradly Observatory at the top of the hill of Greenwich. The view is spectacular.

The great Hall which is or was used as a banquet hall.

The apotheosis of Admiral Nelson whose body (note the bare feet indicating death) being held up by winged Victory is handed over to Britannia. Nelson is buried at St-Paul's Cathedral with the Duke of Wellington.

Greenwich buildings and park is a very large space and give yourself time to explore and look at the site including the Naval Museum which is very well done and interesting. Walk in its beautiful park and look for the Meridian line on the ground. I am glad I finally went to see it. Maybe go on a warmer day with less wind also helps, I needed a pair of gloves.


Monday, 5 November 2012

New photo

I was at a conference last week and they offered free professional head shots. I thought what a good offer.

I am rather pleased with the results, will use this as my new icon photo and photo for other official use.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Cooking classes

Today in the kitchen Will was cooking look at the two attentive children of Cerberus, it is cooking class time for Nicholas and Nora.

Of course they want to learn and taste the pork ribs. Nothing could move them from their spot.
To go with the cooking a little Waltz by Prokofiev, what cultured little Dachshunds we have.

The Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster

Under sunny skies with a cold wind went to visit the Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster. In ancient times around 1099 and up to 1547 this was a Royal Palace and Kings lived in a group of buildings. Only after the death of Henry VIII did his son Edward VI give the palace to Parliament and it met in Saint-Stephen's Chapel from 1547 to 1834. What the Parliamentarians inherited was in a ramshackle state, not what you see today.  So the buildings we see today were built between 1840 and 1870 by John Barry and Augustus Pugin. Inaugurated by Queen Victoria when she was still a young Queen. What is truly old of the entire complex is Westminster Hall built by Rufus the son of William II in 1099. This is where all visitors assemble before starting on the tour. This magnificent hall has seen a lot of history, more recently this is where Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother was lying in State prior to her funeral.
The great stain glass window in Westminster Hall.

The Westminster Hall was the seat of the Royal Law Courts until 1822. Many famous trials took place in this great hall, Thomas More, King Charles I, Robert Deveraux Count of Essex, Guy Fox, all condemned to death. Oliver Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector in 1653. Truly this great hall is the history of England.
Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector.

We then ascended the steps and turned left entering St-Stephen's Hall which use to be a Chapel until 1547, the Commons met in that room for many centuries until the great fire of October 1834.

The tour starts at the Sovereigns gate which is the entrance at Victoria Tower. The reason for this is to illustrate to the visitor that 3 elements form Parliament, 1. the Sovereign, 2. the People (Commons) 3. the Peers (Lords) all 3 elements only meet one day a year when the Sovereign Queen Elizabeth comes to Parliament to read the Speech from the Throne. For Canadians this is just like our own Parliament in Ottawa, the ceremonial and its significance is just the same, some years the Queen will read the Speech from the Throne other years it will be the Governor General.
The Royal Robing Room

The ceremonial is explained by the guides, we were shown the robing room were the Sovereign will put on the robes of State and the great train which requires 4 male pages to carry it otherwise she would never be able to walk forward it being so heavy. The Imperial State Crown weighs about 5 lbs meaning its like wearing a big bag of sugar on your head and she alone must  put it on and adjust it. Attendants are not permitted to help, the Crown is considered Sacred and a symbol of Authority, only the Sovereign can handle it.
The room where Queen Victoria had her question about that fresco.

The procession would go through an anti-chamber on its way to the House of Lords where the walls hang with frescoes, our guide pointed out one such fresco in which the Duke of Wellington on his horse at Waterloo is seen shaking hands with the Prussian General Blucher. Apparently Queen Victoria was puzzled by this scene and on her way to the House of Lords, stopped and asked if this handshake had ever really taken place, she could not remember anyone ever telling her this. The event depicted was well within living memory and Wellington was still alive. Panic ensued no one knew exactly what to answer. She was finally assured that yes they did shake hands on the battlefield and the procession continued. The House of Lords is very ornate with Royal Symbolism, the prominent colour is red.

The House of Lords or upper chamber of Parliament where the Queen reads the Speech from the Throne. The Speaker does not sit on the throne but on the big red cloth bag in front of it. The bag is filled with wool as a symbol of trade and wealth.

We then proceeded down the corridor to the other end of the building to the Commons, whose predominant colour is green. The room is laid out like the Commons in Parliament in Ottawa, though it is smaller despite the fact there are 50% more members of Parliament in London. The decor is sombre and plain a sharp contrast with the House of Lords. Our guide explained that the main power of the Commons rests in questions of finance and money bills. No taxes shall be imposed by the Sovereign without the assent of the Commons. Any government who looses a vote on a budget bill is automatically defeated and a general election is called. I was somewhat surprised by the small size of the room, I am more familiar with the House of Commons in Ottawa which is a far larger room and more airy, though the layout is similar.
The Commons, the Speaker sit on his chair at the front of the room, the Sovereign cannot enter this room ever. When Parliament meets the Sovereign in the House of Lords will send the Gentlemen of the Black Rod to fetch the Members of the Commons to come to the House of Lords to meet. The Sovereign will say with haste immediately and the Members will, by tradition, come slowly instead. 

During this tour, men must take their hats off, it is forbidden to wear a hat out of respect for the institution of Parliament. No chewing of gum and no food or drinks, no photos either. You cannot sit anywhere despite lots of comfy chairs. You should be quiet, no cel phones or other electronic devices. The guards keep a watchful eye and don't try it. The tour takes about 90 minutes, it is very interesting.

Came away from this visit with a renewed sense of how important Parliament is as an institution. The Ceremonial and symbolism is steeped in history and very important to our democracy.

The Victoria Tower at the foot is the Sovereign's entrance.


The Garrick Club, London and Lord Frederic Leighton's House

I was invited to the Garrick Club in London steps away from Leicester Sq. in the theatre district. This is the Club of theatre people and it is also one of the most prestigious Clubs in London. The walls are covered with portrait paintings of famous actors and countless mementos which belonged to all these great theatre people. An old fashion club with lots of sterling silverware, leather chairs and the air of exclusivity. Only men can be members at the Garrick Club though women can come as guests. Exactly what a men's club should be. Even the toilets are in the old style with soaps and cologne, clothes brushes and fresh towels, a wonderful place.
The bar prepares perfect cocktails and one only needs to ring the bell for the waiter to come and refresh drinks. It is as if time stood still, it has a large variety of wines and champagnes, the way bars use to be.

The Club is named after David Garrick (1717-1779) the most famous actor of 18 century England. His father had immigrated to England from France and the family name was originally Garrigue.  Garrick became director of the Drury Lane Theatre in 1749 and remained there for 30 years. He is buried in Westminster Abbey in the Poets corner. There are so many famous actors names associated with this Club that your head is spinning a real who's who.

To become a member one must be proposed by other members and it can take up to 7 years. The selection is said to be done on the basis that '' It would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted''  

When you enter you see the porter first who will greet you, if you go up the great staircase to the bar you will be greeted by the barman and the waiter. All the staff know the members and in turn the members know the staff. Once you have entered the portico of this great club you have passed the threshold into a world of old charm, traditions and civility.

Earlier I went to see the private house of Frederic Lord Leighton at 12 Holland Park Rd. he was the most famous artist of his day very much into the Arts and Crafts movement. He died in 1896 and the house is a reflection of a man of taste in late Victorian era. A real gem of a place and well worth a visit. Born into a wealthy family, his father was a physician to Queen Victoria and his grandfather had been a Court physician to the Tsar of Russia. Leighton was an intimate of the British Royal Family. This meant that he could devote his life to painting and traveling. The became the President of the Royal Academy of Arts in London and upon his death the house and contents were put up for sale, Leighton had promised a sum of money to the Academy but it was not readily available. So though the house is quite large, it only has one bedroom and could not be sold. The contents paintings and furnishing were dispersed at auction by Christie's. However in the last 100 years much of it has been given back to the museum or bought back and you can now see what the house was like when Leighton lived there.

Though is style of painting today may seem passé it is still beautiful and gives us, moderns, a glimpse into another world and how people lived. He has his mausoleum in St-Paul Cathedral next to General Gordon of Khartoum.

Frederic Lord Leighton, self-portrait

Acme and Septimus

Daedalus and Icarus