Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Puppies by Rodin

The French Sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) never used Dashchunds in his work and that is a shame. Here are our two old puppies now 4 years old in poses for the morning, called Reflections on an Italian Winter or if you prefer Were is my Biscotti. They being both from Capena in the Lazio Province near Rome is a fitting title.

Pensiero del giorno

dove gli biscotti
Ciao bello

Cosa c'e di piu bello di me? 

Monday, 25 February 2013

One Word

FLORIDA, a word known  by 3 million Canadians as we prop up the Orange juice State and prevent it from going over the fiscal cliff by buying all the oranges and make delicious Screwdriver cocktails with Vodka. Yes Canadian Snowbirds are so numerous in Florida, the economy depends on them for most of the year, we think of it as the 11th Province of Canada. Mexico is the 12th Province and Cuba the 13th Province since the 1959 revolution.

Needless to say I am going there to do my bit for their economy, it is my own effort at Foreign Aid.

Will return to the frozen gulag in 2 weeks.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The new face of Canada

These guys started out a few years ago with one video on YouTube. They are now a success.
Asians in Canada either from China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand from a large ethnic presence. The most numerous at 1.3 million out of a total population of 35 million Canadians are Chinese.

Andrew Gunnadie aka Gunnarolla started 3 years ago on YouTube with a skit called Canadian Please, this skit took off. Julia Bentley was his partner in that video. Lately a new partner Andrew Huang appears with him. They have obvious musical talent and imagination.

They are funny, weird and try to appeal to a large audience with their videos. They define themselves as Asian-Canadian, now Toronto base, though I believe that originally were from Vancouver, but I remember Gunnarolla saying he lived 2 hours by train outside Toronto, so who knows.

They produce music videos and say they make attempts at comedy, music and stuff to make you think. I just love them and think they are refreshing and fun. Gunnarolla also speaks French fluently am not sure about Huang. This bilingual French-English language element makes it all the more Canadian, at least in my mind. I presume they also speak Cantonese but could be wrong.

My question is are they doing this on their own or is there a large production crew behind them a la Hollywood or like Martha Stewart does. I think that there is, cannot see how you can produce this type of quality video without a crew to support you. You can find them on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, 18 February 2013


Our little puppies, well not anymore, will turn 4 years old this coming week.

Imagine four years ago, we went shortly after their birth to Capena a small town just a few kilometers outside of Rome, a suburb by today's standard. Capena is famous for being in antiquity a town for wealthy Romans who had villas. Marcus Tulius Cicero (the father of lawyers) was one, Livia, Empress of Rome, mother of Tiberius and wife of Augustus, also had her famous summer villa at Prima Porta.

We had heard, I do not remember how, of the Casa degli Orsi, (the house of the bears) which is a breeding kennel for Wire hair Dachshunds and for Saint Bernard's, two very different breeds of dogs.
The kennel is owned by a well known Veterinarian Dr. Massimo B. and his wife Tiziana who have won many trophies and awards.

We loved the farm or kennel, lots of big trees and meadows and old stone farm house, there was also a big pool full of Koi fish. The two bitches who were with their litters were inside the house. The puppies being new born still had their eyes close and were very small, smaller than my hand. Tiziana picked up one little female puppy and then went over to the other box and picked up a little male. The two mothers looked alarmed and kept an eye out so that their puppies would not be harmed. When she returned them to their respective boxes the mothers licked them, checking that nothing had happened to them.

The male dogs who fathered the litter were kept outside in a pen with the other wire hair dachshunds.
With Will at the farm in Capena, left Nora and right Nicky at 6 weeks.

We decided then to adopt the two puppies and left them at the farm to return 6 weeks later to pick them up. We also had to think of a name for them, in Italy you cannot give just any name to your dog, there is a complex registration process and papers have to be filled out, it is as we say ''la bella face''. We had a contest on the internet and a friend came up with Nicky and Nora as in the 1940 movies about Nick and Nora Charles. It was explained to us that both dogs could not have names starting with the letter N, so a device was invented to go around this rule.
Our Nora before her grooming session at the Salon.

Nora close up in 2010, Rome

So our female dog was named Eleonora della Casa degli Orsi, we call her Nora for short. Her father was Hungarian, Erik Ligetfalvi, her mother was Italian and named Lucy.

Nora was born on 19 February 2009, feisty even has a new born with a hunting dog mentality, very independent.

Our Nicky, we named Fantastico Nicky, born 23 February 2009. Both parents are Hungarian, the father was Indian Catullus and his mother Filomena Catullus. Nicky is not a hunter more of a show dog  like his father, life is a catwalk, very vain, he knows he is beautiful, how can dogs know this, he knows, its his Italian side, all style.

Fantastico Nicky groomed for his birthday on Saturday 23 February.

We got proof of origin for pure bred dogs (Hungary) and registration of birth in Italy and then permits were issued by the province of Lazio (Rome) with their Health Certificates. We being the owners had to provide proof of identity and our Codice Fiscale or tax number. They also got their European Union international chip inserted when we went to bring them back to Rome.
This is by far my favourite photo of Nicky in our den at home in Rome on Via dei Villini.

The trip back to the City down Via Tiberina and then Via Salaria in our car was comical, Nora was happy to go and settled quickly, while Nicky whined all the way for 25 minutes, very unhappy to leave his family and the farm. It turns out that Nora has a large vocabulary of sounds to tell you things and will bark at you to indicate different things that she wants. While Nicky whines, he does not bark unless he is upset about something and it is usually one sharp bark. He may give a low ominous growl as a warning but that is all. He can also tell time, per example 7am is breakfast time, 17:35 is dinner time and 22:00 is bedtime, if you forget not to worry he will remind you. He is very precise about such things, we just find it strange. I suspect he as a little watch like a Piaget hidden in his kennel.

Nora and Nicky on the ancient Via Appia, posing by a funeral monument in the Spring time, Rome.

Happy Birthday to our little Dachshunds who bring so much joy to our life.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Le violette

The violet a little flower and listening today to WFMT Chicago, I heard two pieces, one by Scarlatti in Italian and the other in Spanish by Padilla. I long for Spring time which is not very far now and violets are nice reminder of days to come on this sunny but cold day in Ottawa. The violet is in the same family as the African violet and this is the flower I am more acquainted with being common in many households in past decades but not so much now.

Le Violette sung here by the late Luciano Pavarotti

The other song a famous tango, I always liked by José Padilla, La Violetera, sung here by opera, bel canto specialist Montserrat Caballé. She is, I am told, still singing and was in Vienna last year in Fille du Régiment.

We always had lots of African Violets, my Mom really liked them and they were on the window sill
in the kitchen or the living room.
Saint Paulia or African Violet named after Baron Walter Von Saint-Paul Illaire (1860-1910) discovered the plant in Tanganyka today Tanzania in 1892 and sent it back to Germany to his father an amateur botanist. They arrived in Canada as a house plant in 1926.

I don't think Violets are associated with Spring, though I remember seeing some in Rome in late March last year.
The balcony of Via Tronto, Rome.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Happy St-Valentine's Day!

Today is a beautiful bright sunny winter day with lots of skaters on the Rideau Canal.

Happy St-Valentine's Day to Will.

With this George Gershwin composition sung by Dinah Shore.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

To renounce the Papacy

On Monday morning 11 February, the anniversary of the Signing of the Lateran Treaty, I was awaken to the news that the Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI had renounced his title and functions as Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. It did not take long for the press in Canada and elsewhere to get all excited, if not hysterical over this piece of news. What is also of concern is the lack of correct information and factual information or perspective on this news.
So many terms have been used and so much information was just simply wrong. If you do not have factual and correct information how can you reflect or understand anything. We live in an age of flash information and we have never been so misinformed, it is very discouraging at the best of time.

Few of us can claim to know Benedict XVI or who he is as a person. His reputation has been established for better or worse by the media and their confused interpretation of events at the Holy See. Comparing the current Pope with his predecessor Jean-Paul II is also not helpful, two very different men coming from two very different background and countries with different experiences.
Jean-Paul II was a Pole who grew up during World War II in a country marked for annihilation by Nazi policies and then worked during decades of harsh Communist rule stage managed from Moscow. Jean-Paul II was a clever and hard nose politician who knew what he wanted to achieve. I remember being told by Vatican Official once that he was very impatient and wanted everything done quickly, he was not the typical Vatican insider. His last months of his life were difficult, kept alive with a medical cocktail prepared daily by his doctors, often in great pain and confused, everything was stage managed by his Polish entourage so the public could believe that his mind was alert. Benedict then Cardinal Ratzinger saw all this and as a close colleague found it painful, but the Polish entourage was in charge and they wanted to remain in power.  

This is what we have to remember of the Holy See, from the very beginning when Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth Century and created the position of Bishop of Rome at the Lateran, the political manoeuvring started and continues to this day. It is a very complicated story and it has more to do with politics and power than Faith in One God.

Benedict is very well educated, a scholar in Latin and on other topics. He is also a very pragmatic person and in his own words for the good of the Church has decided to renounce his function as Supreme Pontiff. It is rare to see someone, anyone, renounce such a powerful office. Usually people in power become convince that they are indispensable and refuse to leave, even when it has been demonstrated it would be better for them to leave office.

What has also not been mentioned here is the fact that when a Pope dies or in this case renounces his title, all other Cardinals must also abandon their portfolio. Benedict had a weak number two, Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone not up to the responsibilities given to him in the management of this huge machine which is the Holy See and the World wide Church. There was failure in management and communication and Benedict was reluctant to replace people like Bertone who clearly were not up to the challenges. To many scandals including the one created over his butler who was found guilty of stealing private documents, may in the end bring the Pope to conclude that it was better to leave so that a new Pontiff could truly clean up house. A courageous gesture and one of wisdom and clarity which may help the Church in the long run.

The Pope weathered many storms, like the sex scandal which had been brewing for years under Jean-Paul II but never came to the surface, the world was busy with other events like the end of the Cold War and the long illness of the Pope and the team around Jean-Paul was far more politically minded and astute in Public Relations. Benedict inherited the mess and did all he could to bring closure. We can credit him with implementing measures to put an end to these abuses. Maybe he could have done more, maybe he could have been more political or more with an eye to the popular press to satisfy the public at large, but that was not his style. Benedict remains a man of his generation, more conservative, more European in out look, not comfortable with the rock star style of his predecessor. I also believe that with time Jean-Paul II papacy will be re-evaluated by history as the truth will finally come out on what he failed to do for the good of the Church.

It is true that the Church today appears out of step with our modern reality, but then again the Church has always been out of step, example the Galileo affair, the Reformation movement or the movement for the Unity of the Italian Republic or the eternally festering dispute with the Orthodox Church on who comes first in Christendom, the Bishop of Rome or the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Today the issues are different but it remains that the Church does not change to suit popular taste which are seen as a passing fad.

If you think that things are bad in the Roman Church, look at the Anglicans or the Lutherans or the Orthodox, similar political disputes and disagreements. Muslims are not any better with fights between the Shia, Sunni, Druze and Alawites. Or in Israël between the Orthodox Jews and the more Liberal Jews.

In the last few days the popular press including some so called serious newspapers have talked of the Pope quitting his job, resigning, he has done neither. He renounced his functions which are governed by Cannon Law article 332. No there is no signing of papers or retirement parties, no pension for life.
Like any Sovereign he cannot quit or resign, he does not have a job and he is chosen not elected by the masses. The Holy See is not a democracy but a Theocracy, something many people do not understand.

The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano pointed out that in 2009, Benedict had visited the earthquake devastated area of L'Aquila and had made a point of visiting the tomb of Pope Celestine V who had renounced the papacy in 1294 of his free will. Benedict had said then that he would do the same if he felt unable to continue, he had left his Pallium at the tomb of Celestine V. The Pallium is the white woollen band with pendants worn by the Pope as a symbol of his authority.

the small building on the right of the photo will be Pope Benedict's home in the Vatican garden.

Now the Cardinals will assemble in the Sistine Chapel, sorry tourists it is closed for the duration, and will discuss and vote on a successor. Benedict will retire first to Castel Gandolfo just a few minutes outside Rome, the summer residence of Popes and then after the election will move to a house in the immense gardens of the Vatican Hill near the old radio Vatican tower to live out his days. It is not a palace and a rather plain two story building with a small chapel and a garden surrounded by a high greenery wall.

And for those who commented that maybe there should be fix terms in office and all kinds of civilian job related modernity a la US political system, again the Holy See is not that kind of organization. The Pope reports to God and not to us, maybe it is better this way, humans tend to be a fickle bunch. I also do not believe the doom sayers who say the Roman Catholic Church is going to disappear. On the contrary it is thriving and growing rapidly in all parts of the world with the exception of Europe and North America. So our thinking is skewed by our North American biased view of the world.

fresco God the Father in the Royal Spanish Church of San Pietro in Montorio, Rome



Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Le mercredi des cendres, Ash Wednesday

For me today has always been a day of reflection on the meaning of life and death and the afterlife.
It is the beginning of Lent or Le Carême as we call it in French and in 46 days we will celebrate Easter and the promise of the afterlife.

I always like the opéra Dialogue des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc. The story is set during the French Revolution and tells the story of the Carmelite nuns in Paris who fall victims of the fury of the French Civil War and of the street mob. The final act of the Opera takes place on Place de la Révolution today Place de la Concorde.

These women are facing execution in public, the mob roars, the sinister guillotine looms large over them. At this grave hour they are carried by Faith and Faith alone and the promise of the Afterlife. Poulenc uses the Salve Regina as the backdrop music to make his point and to illustrate the courage of the nuns. At the very end Sister Constance is the last to walk to the guillotine, she falters and Sister Blanche who ran away from the Order when the revolution started comes out of the crowd and joins her, having found Faith and Courage.

In our world this is a forgotten message. Poulenc wrote this opéra 60 years ago but it could have been 300 years ago, the world today is so very different. Difficult to find people motivated by Faith or by Courage today. Such themes take us into a different reality which requires a deeper understanding of who we are and of the world around us, hopefully Ash Wednesday is such a day.

The finale of the Dialogue of the Carmelites, Canadian Robert Carsen created this production that we saw at the Scala Milan a few years ago.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Poulenc for Lupercalia

This week we have Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Valentine's Day (Lupercalia) and Friday 15 February is Canadian Flag Day Proclamation (1965) so much celebration.

All ancient celebrations, Lupercalia is probably the oldest coming to us from Antiquity with a cosmetic change into Valentine's Day a few centuries ago by those Christian people. It is essentially a fertility rite. It is believed that it started with the founding of Rome in 753 BCE. It tells the story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by the She Wolf in a Cave below the Palatine Hill. It was announced in 2007 that the cave at been found and is located below the House of Emperor Augustus. It is under going restoration.

Mardi Gras is related to Lent and a Feast Day ending Carnivals celebrations. In Ottawa we had an excellent Winterlude this year, the weather was cold and the ice sculptures around Confederation Park where shining in the bright winter sunshine. Thousands of people skated on the 7.8 Km lenght of the Rideau Canal. At City Hall we had free figure skating shows by young skating champions accompanied by beautiful music. The City also re-used the Christmas trees it collects every year after the Holiday Season to create hedges of greenery which topped with fresh snow and coloured lights has a magical effect amongst the Ice sculptures in the park.

Winterlude old Canada treats

Ice Skating show at Ottawa City Hall
Skating on the UNESCO Rideau Canal

Ash Wednesday in the Christian Calendar 13 February 2013, not much mentioned nowadays in the age of ME First. I always liked it as a day of reflection. But then reflection nowadays is not much in fashion. We are 46 days prior to Easter and it is a time for Christians to reflect on life and death, life's choices and direction.

Friday is the birthday of the Canadian Flag (1965), 48 years ago the new red maple leaf was proclaimed on Parliament Hill by Queen Elizabeth II in the presence of the then Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1956) the Rt Hon. Lester B. Pearson. The original flag which flew that day from the Peace Tower of Parliament is now kept at the National Archives in Ottawa.

Finally why Poulenc for Lupercalia, well I wish to dedicate this piece of music to Will for Valentine's Day. Les Chemins de l'amour by Francis Poulenc, one of my favourite French music composer. Sung here by the great Yvonne Printemps.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Un Sou, One Penny 1858-2013, R.I.P.

Today 4 February 2013 marks the end of the Canadian penny or Cent.
First minted in 1858 as a Canadian coin, there are today 34 Billion cent in circulation. The Royal Canadian Mint stopped making them last May 2012 and today, all of them are out of circulation.
Stores will no longer accept them nor will they give them out. You can bring your pennies to the Bank all rolled up and exchange them for paper dollars. But then even the paper currency is changing, since last year we went from a cotton paper fabric for our currency to a polymer which is a form of plastic and has that feel. This new polymer paper money will last much longer than the old version.

As for the cent made of copper alloy it was too expensive to produce and no one carried them anymore. Instead ending up in piggy banks all across the nation or in jars.

Merchants are suppose to round the price down if you pay in cash, otherwise the price is rounded up.
So this means no more $9.99 sale prices.

We will still see them for some time to come given the number of cent in private hands. But think of the  expressions that will disappear, like not worth 2 cents or in French ça ne vaut pas un sou noir.

Sunday, 3 February 2013


Since my retirement I have read quite a few books it seems that I now have the time and can focus on what I wish to read. When I was working I did a lot of reading but not what I wanted to read, it was mostly what I had to read for my work. A very different affair all together and not always interesting.

I also had work obligations which ate into my leisure time, you know the propaganda from the employer about balancing work and play or work and family or whatever, well its just propaganda, totally meaningless. My employer never intended to be serious about such issues or any other issues, their were just mouthing the words because they had to be perceived as caring. Always optics and perceptions in the Government not reality.

So since end of 2012 I have read 8 books some brought to my attention by friends and others I discovered by reading columns in literary sections of the newspaper or on the web. In the last couple of weeks I read books translated from Russian by Ludmila Ulitskaya, Ben MacIntyre and by Nigel Slater, a cook not a chef. All books I can get in seconds with KINDLE, beats going out to the bookstore in this awful weather. Since my fall on polished ice about 2 weeks ago, Winter and I are not talking, I do not know what people find so fascinating or attractive about living in a country where frostbite can happen in less than 10 minutes or unpleasantly bitter cold weather which despite the bright Sun is thoroughly inhospitable that nothing can be enjoyed unless you stay indoor and drink yourself senseless. That probably explains why about 5 million Canadians live in more warmer climes all year round. For a country of 35 million people that is a significant portion of the population.

So I have read the Funeral Party by Ludmila Ulitskaya. World War II espionage by Ben MacIntyre, AKA the story of Eddie Chapman,criminal of the London under-world, turned Master spy, double agent, who despite being brave did not charm me at all, too much of the lucky con artist double dealing everyone, his lovers, MI5 and the Nazis.

Just finished reading the bio of Nigel Slater, Toast: A boy's hunger. I first saw on BBC a video of Nigel Slater cooking and fell in love with his simple yet wonderful dishes. I have tried some and they are very good. His website at: www.nigelslater.com

He has won many awards and written much about cooking and all is recipes are simple but beautiful and he has an herb & vegetable garden at his home in Highbury, North London. He is the sort of person I could get along with, witty, funny and down to earth about food and life. His life also has some strange similarities to mine. On the BBC site you can see the different videos on cooking. Well done. SEE: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/chefs/nigel_slater

The Funeral Party by Ludmila Ulitskaya is earthy in the sense that life is just like that, no fancy stories or fantasies, plain and ordinary but so touching and so human on so many levels. The people in her stories are very real and you can relate to them. The people she writes about are either her friends or people she knows or has known. They are very real, ex-pat Russians in the big Apple, immigrant community who long to return to mother Russia, but will not for multiple reasons. I was very much taken by this story.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Winterlude, Bal de Neige, Ottawa's Carnival

Today 1 February is the opening of the Winter Carnival in Ottawa which will last 2 weeks. Luckily this year the weather is going to be cold so the Canal will be splendid for skating all along the 7.8 Km. There is also the spectacular Ice Sculpting show at Confederation Park and the City is covered in coloured lights, very Fairy Land like.

Lots of parties and events and hot drinks served to warm the brave who walk, ski or skate. Not to forget, of course the famous Beaver Tails which goes with the Winter Carnival like Scotch and Water. Last Winter we went to see the Ice Sculpture and had Maple Syrup on Snow as a treat. The Maple Syrup is hot and drizzled on a patch of snow, you eat it with a stick. It is very good and every little kid loves it, there is no better treat.

The Ice Sculpture are imaginative and fun, at night lighted with coloured lights, it makes it all magical.

In other events last night I was invited by my old Alma Mater, Ottawa U. to speak on my career in the Foreign Service to a group of students at the Social Sciences Faculty. Some 250 students showed up, after my presentation I stayed an extra 90 minutes to answer multiple questions from the students. It was great fun. The Social Sciences Faculty has 34,000 students enrolled in its study program. I tried to explain to them the reality of working in the Foreign Service. I was able to make them laugh and they appeared interested. They certainly had lots of questions.

I am also going to Florida at the end of the month to see my brother and his wife in Clearwater. It will be a nice break from winter.

On Saturday 2 February the Carnavale di Roma starts there will be 135 events and the largest equestrian show in all of Europe. The parade starts at Piazza del Popolo and goes down Via del Corso.

see the website at: en.carnavale.roma.it

See the crowds in Piazza del Popolo in front of Santa Maria di Montesanto going down Via del Corso.