Monday, 30 December 2013

Auld Lang Syne on Hogmanay

Happy Hogmanay!

The end of the Old Year and the beginning of a New Year always seems to me like a period of quiet during a hurricane, a bit like being in the eye of the storm for a few hours. If things were not so good yesterday then surely tomorrow will be better. However for me and both of us at Palazzo degli Bassotti Tedeschi it has been a good year. So we can just wish for more of the same.
So many years in so many cities around the world with friends and colleagues leaves me in a mood of reflection. We have celebrated New Year's in Mexico City, in New York City, in Cairo, in Chicago, in Warsaw, in Beijing, in Rome, in Madrid.

Robert Burns wrote in 1788 this poem now world famous and it represents, I think, that feeling of the end of the year. Maybe this year I will greet the Old and New Year with a shot of Single Malt Scotch.

Robert Burns

Here the original words of the poem Auld Lang Syne sung by Graham Duncan.

Happy New Year 2014! Best Wishes to all.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Endings and souvenirs of the past year

We travelled this year to Europe twice, once in May at Pentecost to the Salzburg Festival and then in November to Italy, Spain and England.
We were lucky weather wise, with lots of sunshine and only minimal bad weather.
In Canada we travelled to the theatre Festival at Stratford, Ontario and met with our new friends,
D and M of Phoenix.

Our old home but still our home

Me and our dear friend D. at dinner at friends on Via Tronto

The Christmas Italian Puppies
They will be 5 years old in February 2014. Strange to think that five years ago we were meeting them in Capena just outside Rome at the farm. 

Salzburg Festival, May 2013

Hellbrun Palace gardens outside Salzburg

Having a glass of bubbles at Café Bazar in Salzburg.

 Stratford street 

Donation by Will to the Stratford Theatre archive collection

Travelling with my own physician nowadays 

Will with Will in the background

Then when we renewed our lease here on McLeod street we decided to ask our landlord to replace the broadloom with hardwood, he agreed readily and it only took 3 days to do two rooms, very happy with the results.

In November our cruise on Azamara Quest from Rome to Seville, 23 days of pleasure in many lovely ports.

London street decorations for Christmas enjoyed the shopping and food. London has quite a few very good restaurants nowadays.

On 28 September by mother died after a 14 year battle with Alzheimer. 
A sad moment but for her it was a deliverance from a terrible disease which is little understood.

It was a very full year with many events.

Friday, 27 December 2013

One Year Later, 28 December

So we are now at the close of 2013, in terms of world events well we had the usual disasters, wars, massacre of population and very little Peace on Earth. One Supreme Pontiff resigned not the first to do so in the history of the Holy See replaced by the first Jesuit ever to reach that exalted position. The new Pontiff  is a very good PR man and knows how to catch people by surprise, in a way the old Polish Politician Jean-Paul II could not, despite all the Media hype. We have also come to learn of his role and lack of action in the whole child abuse scandal. Of his powerful friends who were deeply involved and were he failed to act because he was pursuing a political agenda closely tied to Polish Politics. A moral failure on his part in my view which does not deserve his elevation to Sainthood. Luckily Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) will also be elevated to Sainthood, a much more deserving choice.

Then the Civil War in Syria, we came close to a military intervention again in a conflict the West did not understand and had little interest, though for reason of public policy politicians had to show the masses they cared. Once the matter of the chemical weapons was settled, the West lost interest and the Civil War continue apace. As for our so-called friends in the Syrian Opposition it looks like Russia knew all along that they were not trustworthy and President Assad is the devil we know, a classic case of I told you so, the Russians are laughing now and the Americans well have poor quality intelligence but then again that is not new. The series of articles in the New York Times of 29 Dec 2013 explain the whole Benghazi affair and the many failures of the CIA, yet again.
Then there was Egypt and Morsi and the Brotherhood. The Egyptian crisis will continue for some time to come, not to mention the many crisis in the whole region, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Qatar.
Iran elected a new President it appears some change may be at hand, will see. Hopefully no war with Iran it would be a huge mistake. The so called Arab Spring that was not really a change for democracy, how can you have democracy with extreme poverty, lack of economic opportunity, illiterate people, lack of basic sanitation and clean water and corruption. It looks almost like a luxury this democracy thing. In North America we are very naive, too often thinking that people want to copy us and our culture.

There were other conflicts in Africa, Mali and Central African Republic where France and their President are playing old Colonial Masters coming to help the poor Africans. Would it not be better to simply let Africans settle their own score? Am sure they are quite capable without the help of France.

In Canada well we saw more GOP and Tea Party Politics thanks to our born-again Evangelical, Rapture seeker Prime Minister, several of his ministers have shown how out of touch they are with reality, spitting on the poor, the elderly, the disabled, Veterans, pensioners, the public service and poor children, in the immortal words of Minister James Moore, ''It is not my responsibility to feed my neighbours children'' or in the words of Minister of Veterans Affairs, Fantino, ''We have no responsibility to our wounded Veterans'' or better still Minister of Justice, Mackay ''the homeless should sell whatever they have so they can pay their fines". This same government is now involved in a political scandal which is destroying the faith we might have had in our democratic institutions. For years Canadians lived in this dreamy stupor believing that we did not have corruption in Canada, we now know that we are a very corrupt country where many political appointees are on the take and have Mafia connections. Canadians have also woken up to the fact that our Governor General cannot do a thing about any political situation, no matter how dangerous it might be given the near dictatorial powers Mr. Harper has given himself, that being a flaw in our own Constitution of 1867. The GG's role kiss babies and eat cake, basta.

I will not go into the depressing situation with the Mayor buffoon of Toronto the former metropolis of Canada, a role the city held for a brief period between 1977 and 2006, before being replaced by Calgary.
Toronto today is bankrupt and is the fruit bowl of Multicultural Policies that simply do not work in the real world, no matter how hard Canadians wish to believe in our national myths.

I will not bore you with the rest of the news which had little to make anyone smile. I am sure you have your own favourite news story.

But let's look instead on the brighter side of things, this year has been my first year in retirement. I volunteered with our National Museums, spending over 360 hours working as a volunteer.
I learned a great deal and it has been an interesting experience.

We travelled in May to Salzburg to the Pfingstfestspiele Music Festival. We had like in years past a wonderful time and we are returning in 2014. Then in August we travelled to Stratford Ontario for the Theatre Festival, a first for me, fell in love with this lovely city.

During our stay in Stratford we met with fellow bloggers we had been corresponding with. Meeting people in person after speaking and commenting on the internet is always a bit daunting but it was a rewarding experience and met like minded fellows and made new friends. See their blogs at
and We will most likely meet them again this August at the Festival.

Then in November we flew to Rome met with many old friends and then on to our cruise on AZAMARA which took us to Spain. It is our second cruise with this line and we love it.

Spending 23 days in Europe and visiting many famous sites was a pleasure. We discovered Valencia, Gibraltar, Séville and Granada. The beauty of the Alcazar and the Alhambra, treasures of our past. This trip was our gift to ourselves on our 35 Anniversary, (1978-2013). At the end of our trip we met in London with our friend D.N. who suggested a wonderful fish restaurant J. Sheekey and entertained us with a delightful conversation on music and the arts. I am always in awe of his prodigious memory for details. We stayed in London with my fiancée C. at her very central flat near Baker Street. She also took us to a great restaurant Brasserie Zédel.

On this blog I am ending the year with 92,000 clicks, thank you for all the comments. This is our 3rd year in Ottawa we have re-connected with friends and have our old regular circle back.

Being retired is not difficult and life takes on a different look, I now have other priorities which have nothing to do with work and more to do with what I like and want to do. I do not regret for one moment having retired. As for 2014 I do not have any resolutions, I do not really believe in them. Will see what this new year brings.

In Capri at Dr. Munthe's House


Monday, 23 December 2013

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Adeste Fideles

One of Italy great tenor Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957) whose statue stands in the Foyer of the Teatro del'Opera di Roma and whose name graces the piazza in front of the Opera House, sings here this Christmas favourite Adeste Fideles.
It is an old way of singing but I find it very satisfying, probably recorded around 1934. He was considered the generation of new opera singers after the great Caruso. Gigli retired from the stage in 1954. He came from humble origins in a small village of Italy. His voice was noticed by the Choir Master of his parish church and his parents sent him for tutoring with the great masters of his time. He did odd jobs to pay for his tutoring. He rose in fame and made his debut at the San Carlo Opera House of Naples.

Pietro Perugino, 1446-1523, Nativity

Shopping for Christmas food

Shopping for Christmas food can be a lot of fun, finding delicacies, may it be cheeses, paté of duck or goose liver, nuts, sweets of all kinds, vintage wines and bubblies or maybe it will be a fig compote
or a jam of rhubarb and ginger or maybe sugared lemons or glacé fruits, what about nougat or chestnut spread or Stöllen.

Well in Italy our small grocery stores was packed at Christmas time with all manner of chocolates and sweet cakes with fruits or liquor. Not to mention meats and cheeses prepared for the Holiday period.

It was such fun to discover all kinds of specialty food items. In Ottawa fortunately there is a significant Italian community and of course they follow the traditions of their old homeland. So finding specialties is easy enough. They may also have something special from the South Tyrol
which we associate with Austria but part of that region reverted to Italy in 1918 and the Friuli and Alto Adige have many food items we would think of as Austrian. In fact in that part of Italy people often have German names and still speak German.

So I found on Preston Street here in Ottawa a variety of things Italian in the various shops owned by members of the Italian community. One in particular is Nicastro on Preston near the Queensway underpass and there is also Luciano on Preston or Simply Biscotti, all of whom have an array of wonderful foods.
What I also like is that they will sell at lunch time the typical Italian sandwich or pannini like the ones I could buy in Rome. When I need my Italian fix I go to Preston Street and love to speak in Italian with the owners.

 Stacks of Christmas Panetonni at Conan Grocery store in Rome

Street vendors in our old neighbourhood of Viale Regina Margherita


Thursday, 19 December 2013

Vieux Noël Français

From the end of the 16th century (1531-1601) this old cantiques de Noël. Allons gay bergères by Guillaume Costeley

The pronunciation is old French so it can be a bit difficult to catch unless French is your mother tongue. Though is remains beautiful by its simplicity and the beauty of its harmony at a time when Noël was still full of that ancient meaning lost to us today.

Madonna and child with a young St-John the Baptist, by Renaissance painter Santi di Tito C.1541.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Christmas Island 1947

This morning I had to go fairly early in -40C weather to the grocery store to get some things for
a luncheon we were giving.

So I was listening to the radio in the car and this song from 1947 came on. Just thinking with snow filled streets and very few people walking given the cold wind and the ice on the sidewalks how nice it would be to be in the South Pacific right now.
This song Christmas Island was one of the Andrews Sister album of '47. To me often this was like yesterday.

Lots of fun to hear again after so many years.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Some of my favourite

There is always some Christmas music you like for whatever reason.
Here are 3 such songs I like at this time of the year.

Michael Bublé which I consider a new talent has a voice that I did not always like but with time
I have come to like him quite a lot.

This other Christmas song has a strong Foreign Service memory for me. When you are in the
Service it is not always possible to go home for Christmas and after many years home becomes a relative place, home for us ( Will and I) was where we where at the time.

So this song has memories and leads sometime to remembering past Christmases.

Finally this one by Mariah Carey which became a huge success in 2009, carries also a lot of memories for me of places I have been and what was happening at the time in the world and in our lives. I remember he the crew of the British Navy, HMS Ocean made a video of this on YouTube, it was quite funny.  We celebrated Christmas in wonderful Rome that year.

The Christmas Tree, Piazza Venezia, Rome

 Christmas tree on Via Fori Imperiali, Rome

Christmas tree in St-Peter's square 

Berliner Schloss

For the last 11 years I have been following the story of the re-building of the City Palace in Berlin historical centre on the Island where all the art collections of the Prussian Kings and German Emperors are located in various buildings and the Lutheran Cathedral of the City.

The City Palace was for about 900 years the Residence of the Hohenzollern Dynasty. The Palace was destroyed in part during the Second World War and completely destroyed by the Communist Government of the GDR in the 1950's.

This left a huge hole in the centre of the City and since reunification the City Government of Berlin and many private individuals have advocated that the Palace should be rebuilt to form a united architectural ensemble in that area. Finally the plan was approved at various levels of government in Germany and through a partnership of public and private funds the City Palace is being re-built.

The exterior will be a replica of the old Palace but the inside will be modern, a design by an Italian architect has been retained. It will be a cultural centre and will focus on learning, culture and the Arts.

This is what the web cam shows on 15 December 2013 on the progress of re-construction so far. It is progressing well. A similar Palace reconstruction project was completed in Potsdam city centre just a few months ago.  See the link

Friday, 13 December 2013

Food and Food programs at Christmas time

At this time of the year there are a multitude of food programs with recipes for that perfect Christmas meal, cocktail, drink, party. All guaranteed to impress your guests to death and make you a celebrity.

It is all a bit silly when you think of it because unless you are a regular cook, someone who is comfortable in the kitchen and has imagination when in comes to food preparation and combination of different foods, well it can be a challenge to say the least to prepare a meal or a dish for that special Holiday event. Not to mention make it picture perfect like in that magazine.

I do however love to watch cooking shows at Christmas time, some of the recipes are intriguing and depending on the presenter/chef you can get that good feeling about a recipe and how beautiful it looks and how good it must be.

One Chef that I do like is Nigel Slater on the BBC Player, see

He is one of several chefs who present various recipes. What I like about him is that his recipes are or appear to be easy to make. I have tried a few and yes the result were as promised, no fuss and good.

I also watched another Chef on BBC, Delia Smith and she has a segment on Christmas Cakes, it looks easy and she certainly presents it that way, minimum fuss and preparation appears simple enough. Her method of presenting on air is old fashioned, first will show you the ingredients all pre-measured on a work table in her kitchen, then she puts all ingredients in a bowl and does a minimum of mixing, then jumps to the final product, voilà. You do not see her put the cake into the oven or take it out or even cutting the cake or tasting it. It is somewhat a little too surgical and just a little too pat. She also speaks to an audience of women, somewhat formal, no nonsense and no humour, you know she is not talking to men in the kitchen.

Rick Stein is another chef on the BBC, Rick has a restaurant and he is in business, big business.
He prepares dishes more to show you what can be done at Christmas time, I do not get the impression that you could do this at home. His preparation take place in his restaurant kitchen, it is all professional and he has other chefs to help him out, they work for him.  The results are great and he serves the food at a party for about 40 guests. It is fun to watch and you get the feel good of the Season.

But I return to Nigel, I have read his books on his life as a kid and love his recipes, he makes it easy and fun. The only one problem I have with his 12 Christmas dishes is how his producer for the series staged it all. We are told it is at his house in North London, a very modern and nice place with a great garden. Then the filming or shooting effects, the camera goes soft, zooms in and out of the kitchen, some shots are from the garden looking in or from the kitchen looking out, somewhat wistful, as if the cameraman is distracted by some external thought or souvenir. In the end it all looks a trifle recherché. Nigel also simpers to much a bit like an old lady.

In his Christmas special, he is in Scotland and Norway. First in Scotland in the Highlands with two good looking lads, he calls them the boys who cook a dish for a family dinner. Nigel watches them prepare a cocktail and a meat dish for an upcoming Christmas dinner and there is some double entendre banter throughout. Nigel purses his lips a little too much and needs a haircut.

Then off to Norway to select a Christmas Tree for Trafalgar Square, the tree has to be more than 20 meter high, a very big tree. So there is lots of walking in the woods with two Norwegians looking for the big tree. Finally finds one, a superb tree, 115 years old. We are told that since 1946 Norway has given Britain a Christmas tree every year as thanks for the help received during the Second World War.

This of course is a segway to another of his recipe, the Salmon Wellington which is very easy to make and looks wonderfully delicious.

This year we are not having Goose or Roast Beef or Crown of Lamb. My cousin is cooking and we will have a tourtière and a ham, vegetables and Plum Pudding and other desserts.
Though next year I do want to return to Roast Goose a favourite dish of mine at Christmas.

One tradition if we can call it that, is our friend John who for 30 odd years has produced wonderful
Fruit cakes at this time of the year. John has a unique talent to produce the most wonderful fruit cakes
from dark to light coloured ones. His fruit cake is the sort that you could eat in one go if you did not restrain yourself, they are that good. He also introduced a long time ago, the notion that his cakes keep for one to two years because they are soaking in Brandy or Rum and remain moist and delicious.  Indeed it seems that the vintage cakes are better tasting, richer and more flavourful.

My personal favourite is his light golden coloured fruit cake a real treat.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Monday, 9 December 2013

Some nice Italian Christmas music

This video on Youtube shows European scenes at Christmas. You may recognize the Cities, Rome, Warsaw, Milan, Palermo, villages in the Dolomites and the Alps.


Sunday, 8 December 2013

Our Home Christmas decorations

Well we are all set for the Holidays. E-Christmas cards are sent, I like them because they are animated.

I am the one who each year will put the Star on top of the tree, while Will plays paparazzi.

Hope you are all set for the Festive Season. My best wishes to you all for a very Happy and Blessed

 La Befana, the old women of Italian tradition who brings gifts to children while looking for the Bambino Gesu.

 Nicky watching all while relaxing.

Our Nutcracker made in the GDR in 1979, you can't really find nice wood carved ones like this one anymore. He has followed us all around the world.

 The Polish Crèche from Warsaw 1999, made by a Polish artist.

From Salzburg, lead ornaments made by Wilhelm S. Diessen company. Hand painted. 

This is why Rome is a great Capital.

I blogged often on Rome and Italy because I had the very good fortune of living there for several years. You often think you know something only to discover that you missed a fact or you did not quite understand what you were looking at. Italy and Rome is a complex place, contrary to popular belief Rome is not just a unique one sided place, it is and has been for 2700+ years a very cosmopolitan Capital. Once the Capital of the World, everyone came to it and it shone back unto the world its influence. Though the Vatican is located within the City as a separate country and has undue influence in the affairs of Italy, Italians on the whole have their own views and at times fought against and died by the hundreds to liberate themselves from Papal Authority, think of Garibaldi.

The recently elected Mayor of Rome, Iganzio Marino has brought much desired changed to the City and new direction after a few years of a far-right rule at City Hall.

For Christmas this year, a novelty and a surprise in a gesture of public recognition for 3 gay youths who committed suicide because of bullying.
The rainbow lights are part of the Christmas lights in the Capital and run from 2 strategic points in the City, Piazza Venezia and Piazza del Popolo down Via del Corso. In antiquity this consular road was the Western thoroughfare to Rimini on the Adriatic, known then as Via Flaminia.

Today Via del Corso is a great shopping street lined with beautiful monuments like the Column to Marcus Aurelius, the Prime Minister's Office (Palazzo Chigi), the Palace of Prince Doria Pamphilij and many other sites. The lights cover about a 2 Km length quite the sight.

This project comes from the Mayor Ignazio Marino and Councillor Imma Battaglia who heads the LGBT group at City Hall. The idea is to send a message of acceptance following the outcry over the suicides of 3 gay Italian youths this year.

The Far-Right (Fascist) parties are of course against this display, they use to be part of the former coalition of Sylvio Berlusconi the now disgraced Senator.


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Burl Ives saved Christmas

I had said earlier that we would not have a Christmas tree this year, I just did not feel like it, not in the mood.
Also we have been traveling a lot to Europe and I have been very busy at the National Gallery of Canada, so I thought oh fudge, no way this year.

We were grocery shopping this week and looking for something in Aisle 5, can't remember what now, our grocery store on Bank street is very convenient and they have everything. They also have had Christmas music for the last 2 weeks though the volume is low.

So suddenly I hear Burl Ives (1909-1995) sing A Holly Jolly Christmas.  He has a great voice and I always liked him, his voice has a certain smile in it. It is also a period of my life the 1960's which I like to remember fondly. Well it is funny how one song can change your mood. Then Will said something about not polishing all 30 Sterling Silver Christmas balls for the tree. We do have other Sterling Silver ornaments but I don't know I just did not feel like it. This week also has been a wash out weather wise in Ottawa, gray sky and mild weather, some freezing rain.

So thanks to Burl Ives, we put the tree up and got the ornaments on that we have been collecting for the last 35 years from around the world. Some Wedgwood, some Baccarat cristal, the rest of the silver including 4 balls of selected years, I like to remember where we were that year, not always in Canada. We also put up the Russia porcelain ornaments and the ornaments from Italy and Germany, all hand made. Tomorrow night I will put the Star on top, the same old star we have now for 35 years, made of golden tin foil and bought at the dollar store, strange, but to me it is the most important ornament of the lot. We also have the Crèche from Poland hand carved by an artist we knew. A tree is not the same without the Crèche and Nativity scene.

Christmas calendar

Your Calendar for Christmas:
December 6, La festa di San Nicola, Patron saint of shepherds. (the original Santa Claus)

Not to be confused with our Fantastico Nicky of Capena 
Nicky profile in the morning

December 8, La festa dell'Immacolata (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) Rome, Piazza Spagna
On this day we would go to the Piazza Spagna where the famous Spanish Steps are located and the great column of the Immaculate Conception with its remodelled statue of Venus into a Virgin Mary with all the right curves. The Pope comes to the Piazza and will put a crown of flowers on the statue, the firemen are required since the statue is way up on a large column from a pagan temple.
 At the fountain of the boat in Piazza Spagna with the Column of the Immacolata behind me.

 Royal Spanish Embassy to the Holy See on Piazza Spagna with special banners for the Feast Day.

The Pope and his escort of honour.

December 13, La festa di Santa Lucia (Festival of Lights)
The story goes that She plucked out her eyes so that her intended could not see her beautiful eyes, she only wanted to be a Saint. 
December 24, La Vigilia di Natale, (Christmas Eve)
December 25, Natale (birth day of Jesus)
December 26 La festa di San Stefano (Boxing Day in Canada)

December 31 La festa di San Silvestro, la vigilia di Capodanno (New Year's Eve)

January 1, Il Capodanno (New Year's Day, the top of the year)
January 6, L'Epifania (epiphany the arrival of the 3 wise men) and the Befana, the old lady who gives gifts to children good or bad, though the bad ones get a lump of coal.  
La Befana, the old lady who brings gifts to children all the while looking for the infant Jesus. (Italian tradition)