Sunday, 31 March 2013


Today we decided that despite the fact that it will be a quiet Easter at our home we wanted to decorate and do the traditional thing. So we have put together a menu which will include roast lamb with the roast potatoes and green beens, we will start with a giant shrimp cocktail and for dessert we have this wonderful Almond and Apple cake a recipe from our friend B.S.
It is gluten free and is wonderful. We also went to the local bakers, there are two on Elgin street a few steps from each other, both are Japanese. They make wonderful bread, cookies, pies and other special items daily.

 Making coloured Easter Eggs with food colorant
 from our favourite florist Minou at Bel Fiore Flowers on Elgin street
we found these beautiful natural flowers just sprouting out of the clay egg enchanting. This will be our table centre piece.

Russian Easter Festival Music by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The painting is Easter Procession by Illarion Pryanishnikov.

Easter this year was a simple affair, only us and one guest, but it was fun all around and the lunch was wonderful. We ate the coloured eggs.

so simple to make and it makes the table special.

But to start the day we had the traditional Hot Cross Buns

In setting the table we got special bread shaped like Easter bunnies

Our table with the Polish table cloth we purchased 14 years ago near Warsaw while we lived there.
With family tableware that is more than 65 years old and used at so many family events.

We were especially pleased with our centre table flower setting arranged by Minou of Bel Fiore accompanied by the Cristal egg with the small chick inside a gift to both of us some 35 years ago.

To accompany our espresso after the meal the Easter cookies, they are decorated gingerbread.

Today in Saint-Peter's Square, Easter Mass with Pope Francis

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Parliamentary Democracy

The government of our dear Leader Stephen Harper has demonstrated again problems in understanding how democracy actually works in a country like Canada.  We are seen by PM Harper as the governed, an expression he and his party members use all the time when speaking of Canadians, us the taxpayers and citizens of this country, the Constituents who elect Members of Parliament. Harper and Company see themselves as great Lords of the Realm.

This past week again another example of this attitude of rejecting the concept and the role of Parliament when a Conservative Member of Parliament tried to ask a question and was stopped from doing so by the Party Whip. His question on selective abortion based on the gender of the foetus would have raised a point PM Harper did not want raised. By doing so the Party put itself in the place of the Speaker of the House. Only the Speaker can decide who will speak and be recognized. The sports team analogy is particularly inappropriate.

In the House, Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands and and Leader of the Green Party of Canada rose to make this point of Privilege on 26 March 2013.

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Langley, as well as the hon. member for Vegreville—Wainwright. As a specific case, may I say this is one of the most important points of privilege I have heard in the brief two years, almost, that I have been serving here? It cuts to the core of what is wrong with parliamentary democracy that the hon. government House leader could put before you a sports metaphor that we are here as teams, as brands or colours, and we are all to take instructions from our team boss.
We are not here as teams. The principle of Westminster parliamentary democracy is that we are here as representatives of our constituencies and our constituents. We are merely incidentally members of political parties. Political parties do not exist in our Constitution. They are not an essential part of our democracy. They have grown to be seen to be the most interesting thing going on, and we have grown to see politics as some sort of sport. However, democracy is not a sport.

The Prime Minister and the Conservative Government House Leader, think that MPs are just Team Players like in some Hockey team. This way one Member cannot speak on behalf of a matter that may be of concern to his-her Constituents if it is not in agreement with the view of the Team Captain (Harper).

A thank you to Ms. May for making this intervention in the House.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Easter Weekend

Good Friday is a very quiet day, all the shops and businesses are closed for this holiday, so there is no one around, no cars, very few people.

As It Happens, a radio news commentary show on the CBC has been around for 45 years and the tradition on Good Friday, after they have done with the various segments of the show, is to have a reading of Oscar Wilde's short story The Selfish Giant.

I always found that story appropriate for Good Friday.
Simple and beautiful, with a wide appeal, though the story is about children and Wilde intended it to be read to children, I always thought it was aimed at our society and adults in general.

Happy Easter to all!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Un peu de musique

This is a not so well known symphony, the no.2 by Tchaikovsky. A very nice piece, entitled
''Little Russian''. You may recognize some airs as the composer took his inspiration from
folkloric music of old Russia. I am not familiar with this conductor but I do like his style, Vladimir Ivanovich Fedoseyev is 81 years old. He has a long distinguish career.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

two new books

With the changes at the Vatican lately, I have decided to read two new books on the Holy See and how it operates not only as the HQ of the Roman Catholic Church or the Universal Church as they like to call it at the Vatican but also as a huge business empire involved in banking, real estate, geo-politics and Italian politics. Despite the fact that Italy is a Republic and the Holy See is a separate State, the Vatican meddles excessively in the lives of Italians throughout political interference and money payouts to Italian politicians.

The first book, The Vatican Diaries: A behind the scenes look, I found truly interesting and entertaining, written by John Thavish who after 30 years as a journalist specializing on Vatican Affairs has written a memoir or an eyewitness account of his time covering Popes and the Vatican. Lots of personal observations on John Paul II and his Rock Star style and on Benedict XVI.
Trips aboard the Papal plane on voyages around the world and daily business making world news.

He gives a good account of the scandals and the personalities involved, you quickly realize, as one colleague told me years ago, that you do not work at the Vatican to find your Faith, you will probably loose it.

The second book I read, Ratzinger was afraid, by Gianluigi Nuzzi, . The title of the book is different in various countries and the original was written in Italian. This book was written from the documents stolen by the Pope's Butler, Paolo who was then arrested and jailed. He was pardoned by Pope Benedict and now has a job as a cleaner at the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome which is run by
the RCC. This book is somewhat like Wikileaks and is dubbed Vaticanleaks.

I did not enjoy as much, first it is poorly translated, you need to know some Italian to realize that the English word used is incorrect. Also it is simply a sensational style book, you have private correspondence or secret documents from the Pope's desk or from one of the Cardinals working closely with the Pope, this is all internal documents without context and it requires that you be aware of the background story and know the actors named. There is a long passage on world economics, Italian politics and speculation on what to do from the Vatican's point of view to influence the outcome by the then Head of the Vatican Bank who was advising Benedict XVI, a little tedious.

What you do understand is that there are 3 villains at work here. The first is the all powerful Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone who is in the Holy See Government the equivalent to a Prime Minister and is the number two of the RCC. He is now on his way out with the change over with the new Pope Francis I who will appoint someone else.
Then there is the arch-conservative former Secretary of State under Jean-Paul II now Dean of the college of Cardinals Angelo Sodano.  Cardinal Sodano knew all along from 1982 about the pedophilia scandal but under orders of Pope Jean Paul II kept everything under wraps and very quiet. Jean Paul II saw the abuse scandal as a needless distraction from his own agenda. Angelo Sodano was a trouble shooter and very adept at buying silence the old fashion way, using his powerful office to do so.
He used compliant politicians, governments and the media who were too happy to give a positive spin to what ever Jean Paul II was doing instead of looking into negative aspects.

Then comes the Editor in Chief of the Vatican Newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Giovanni Maria Vian who controls the news and the message out of the Holy See and often will set the tone for other Catholic newspapers on various stories.

You also have the arch-conservative Private Secretary to Pope Benedict, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, known in Vatican circles as Father George. He was the door keeper and screened what the Pope would see or hear about. Finally Pope Benedict appears as a frighten man who did not want to manage the huge machine and was more and more bewildered by the various scandals and faux-pas appearing around him.  Benedict appears as a man who lived his life isolating himself in the milieu of the Vatican City. The Apostolic Palace a cocoon far from the real world outside. He took his meals with his servants, ladies who belonged to an ultra-catholic organization and who like him had conservative views. In the book this appears in sharp contrast to Jean-Paul II who would be out and about and who had his meals with many dignitaries he would invite at his table for discussions or monologues depending on your view of who speaks.

Not to forget the role around the Papacy of powerful organizations like Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation or the Military Order of the Knights of Malta play an important role because their members are wealthy, powerful and belong to the political elite of many countries. No wonder the average Catholic is a bit lost and confused on the goings on when observed from your parish.

These two books certainly give a good look inside the Vatican but both require prior knowledge of the operations of the Vatican organization to achieve a fuller understanding, however you are left in no doubt that the reason of State (Raison d'Etat) always trumps all other cards.

It will now be very interesting to see what changes Pope Francis, a Jesuit, brings to the Curia. So far all we have seen is cosmetic. My impression is that Francis is obviously bringing a simpler style but that he is a very firm manager and has a clear idea of how he wants to stir the ship.

Two Popes, on the left Benedict XVI on the right Pope Francis I. Very different style look at the difference from the throne, the shoes, the dais and the outfits worn.


24 March

Today is my birthday, many friends have sent good wishes and I thank them all.

We are now in Spring time Canadian style which means that snow is still on the ground. Though it is still winter weather in parts of Europe too, but warmer weather is just around the corner.

In 2011 photo taken in Vienna at the Hofburg Palace.

Today 24 March 2013 at Le Café, Centre national des Arts, Ottawa

This Begonia Bonsai is my birthday gift from Will, Nicky and Nora

Saturday, 23 March 2013

it must be official now

Well I retired at the end of 2012 and I have now received my first retirement pension cheque and got my dental plan card.  It all went pretty smoothly no complications and I am happy I am retired.

Thursday was another disaster Federal Budget by the Harper government. Our Prime Minister maintains that the country is bankrupt, that we are facing the same problems as Greece and that our Fiscal Health is in danger. At the same time he lectures world leaders on how Canada has avoided the financial crisis of the last few years and how strong our Banking system is. Any sensible person knows there is no crisis and all of it is cheap politics for the gullible, unfortunately there are lots of very gullible people out there.

Also today the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page took the Harper Government to Court, over the refusal of our Prime Minister to tell Parliament anything about the budget or cuts to services and how this will be achieved. The Prime Minister maintains that the public nor Parliament needs to know, he is governing this country and the governed (us) do not need to know a thing. I hope the Supreme Court sides with the Parliamentary Budget Officer. What is even stranger is how the Media is going along with whatever Harper says, few will challenge him, people are afraid. Harper has far too much power and he is clearly abusing it.

So I am pleased to be out of this nightmare government, I can just ignore them and vote against them come the next election. A happy retiree.
I have also been very busy at my new volunteer job and have put in a lot of hours organizing events/conferences, I do enjoy it a lot and the people are nice and fun to be with.

My birthday is coming up this Palm Sunday, it will be a low key affair, last year I was in Rome at this time.  We are going to Le Café of the National Arts Centre which has a very good chef, it has been known for many decades as a excellent restaurant in a beautiful setting along the Rideau Canal.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

more on Florida visit

I went to Florida at my brother and his wife's invitation. They had invited us to visit them in their new home in Clearwater. I nice bungalow in the Florida style, nice garden. They just repainted the whole inside, quite a nice job of it too. My brother also as a green thumb and has planned improvements to the garden by buying some nice plants and a few palm trees, which he will plant himself, quite a job on your own but he has done it before and enjoys it.

We drove around quite a bit, since the distances between places makes walking very difficult. He owns a huge F-150 truck. We went to the beach, Clearwater has a bay and is connected to the Gulf of Mexico by a causeway. In the same fashion Clearwater itself is connected to Tampa by a causeway. If you do not have a car, renting one is imperative since Florida is notorious for its poor public transport.

Most nights I cooked for them at home, there is a strange paradox in the USA, if you want to eat healthy it is expensive but on the other hand junk food or processed food is dirt cheap, though it is not good for you at all as it is loaded with fat, sugar, salt and many unpronounceable items on the label.

We did go to a restaurant I liked on North Beach called Calis, which is slang for California. The breakfast and lunch menu was very good and the wait staff where very pleasant.

We also drove to St-Petersburg just south of Clearwater about 30 km away on a Saturday to attend on open air art show, though that day the weather was terribly cold around 7 C with high winds. As the name indicates the city was founded by a Russian émigré about 120 years ago. Sarasota and Bradenton are just a little further south on the Gulf. If you look at the map it looks like one large city spread over 80 Km. you never actually leave the urban space while driving around.

The only other cities I had visited in the past were Miami, Sarasota and Bradenton which are all very different from one another.

We also went to a Greek enclave called Tarpon Springs known for its natural sponge and Greek community who have made a business of diving for sponge.

The North Beach area has lovely homes and is very quiet, no traffic to speak of, distances are walkable.
Lots of Canadian SnowBirds of a definite age, who rent or own homes in that area.

 My brother's kite on the beach, it is quite big and with the strong wind flew high. The tail of the kite is 4 meters long, gives you an idea of the size of this kite.

He also has a motorcycle, you cannot say a bike since that would imply something for a kid who pedals around. A Harley-Davidson, quite powerful, I did not try to ride it around.


Monday, 18 March 2013

More potpourri

In preparation for Tuesday the Holy See is now presenting more details of the new symbols ahead of the enthronement.

First a dish of pasta favoured by Pope Pius XII who was elected in 1939, Fettuccine alla Papalina (Pope's fettuccine) the sauce is made of finely chopped white onion, sliced Prosciutto, butter, 3 eggs, Parmigiano and heavy cream.

Then the new Coat of Arms of Pope Francis I, the brilliant sun is the symbol of the Jesuit order, the letters IHS represent Christ and the 3 nails of the cross. The Star is the symbol of the Virgin Mary and the grapes that of St-Joseph as representing the Universal Church. The motto (Miserando atque elegido) is taken from words spoken by Jesus in choosing St-Mathew a tax collector to follow him in his ministry. The ring in silver and gold bears the likeness of St-Peter holding the keys to Heaven.

This Coat of Arms will be displayed on the left side of every church entrance in Rome as is tradition.

Finally the Official entrance of the Apostolic Palace reserved for Heads of State who come to visit the Pope with the great staircase in the background. Tourists do not get to see this.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Enthronement or Coronation

The new Roman Pontifex Maximus was elected by the Princes of the Holy Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday 13 March and will be Officially Enthroned on Tuesday 19 March.
St-Peter's square night of the election of Pope Francis.

The central message of the new Pontiff is '' The Church is here to serve the poor'' a catchy message, not a new one for the Roman Catholic Church, it is part of the central message. The image of the new Pope given to the world Press is of a simple man, with simple taste. Pope Francis has already done well with the image by paying himself his hotel bill and retrieving his luggage and riding a mini-bus with other Cardinals back to the Vatican. He has said his first mass at the Church of St-Anne which is just inside the St-Anne Gate, the business address of the Holy See. He has met with the faithful after mass in front of the Church like  any parish priest would. I have been observing his body language and the way he handles people, first big smile, welcoming, happy, down to earth. Then its a quick hello, a word here or there and he moves on to the next person. The security detail around him, know what to do, it is all well rehearsed. It works, its effective and the public appears to like it. Same with the Cardinals who elected him, he greeted them after the mass in the Sistine Chapel, he spent a little more time with each one of them but not more than a few more seconds really, he also has a way of letting the person know it is time to move on. Obviously this fellow is an effective people handler, you did not see his predecessor Benedict XVI do that, he always looked a little tired or overwhelmed, not Pope Francis.
Swiss Guard in gala uniform

Also since his election Pope Francis has been wearing black shoes not the famous red loafers all Popes have worn in history. The Red shoes are a throwback to the day of the Roman Republic when the Chief Priest or Pontifex Maximus wore red leather short boots. During the religious service at the Temple of Jupiter Great and Best on the Capitoline Hill, the Pontiff would have to slit the throat of the great white bulls brought from Tuscany for the sacrifice, the blood would quickly pool and it was important because of the sacredness of the moment that the Pontiff did not get any blood on his immaculately white toga and his boots had to stay dry but not be stained, so the red leather hid any blood that might splatter. The meat would then be roasted some offered to Jupiter and the rest distributed to the faithful in communion during the service. One of the famous Pontifex was Julius Caesar, we just celebrated the Ides of March. The question is where were you on the morning of 44 BC when Julius was assassinated?

To come back to the enthronement of Pope Francis on 19 March, this ceremonial as changed with time.
Once a great parade would take place between the Cathedral of Rome, Saint-John Lateran and the Basilica of St-Peter going through the Roman Forum to symbolize the link and legacy with Imperial Rome. Not to forget that the Popes claim to be the heir of the Roman Emperors since Constantine in the fourth century. The Pope would wear the triple imperial crown as Sovereign of the Universal Church. He would be carried aloft in the Sedia gestatoria by the Gentleman of the Papal Court, they are the ones you see in photos dressed formally in white tie and dark coats or purple coats.
 Pope Pius XII being carried at his enthronement wearing the triple crown.

It is not likely that we will see any of that on Tuesday with Pope Francis, it promises to be a far simpler affair. The last Pope to be carried aloft was Jean-Paul I, his successor did not want that and since then the Pope has walked. I am told it cannot be a coronation because Kings are crowned by Popes or Cardinals, so Popes can only be enthroned since it is not likely God the Father would come down from Heaven for the event. Though he will be present at the ceremony for the faithful.

Papal Crowns, on display at the Lateran Palace in Rome

A friend of ours said she is staying home on Tuesday because Rome will be invaded by an estimated 1 million visitors for this event. Given that Rome is a city of 3 million people, you can see how this can create traffic problems, even if everyone walks. Attending the ceremony will be 140 Government delegations from around the world, numerous religious congregations and the 115 Cardinals who elected Pope Francis.

Cardinals walking in procession from the Pauline Chapel (named after Pope Paul III) to the Sistine Chapel to vote during the Conclave. Inside the Vatican Palace.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Absence and return

I was away for a few weeks in Florida were the internet does not exist or if it does it is still in a primitive state of development. Weather was cold, did get some sun and now returned to yet colder weather in Ottawa, but am happy to know that Spring is just around the corner. It is after all the Ides of March so winter is done with like old Julius Caesar.

Went to visit my brother and sister in law who now live in Clearwater which is only one part of the greater metropolis area of Tampa and St-Petersburg. Fascinated by the 6 to 8 lane streets and constant traffic, the numerous identical shopping malls and all manner of Protestant churches devote to 24-7 bible study all claiming to have the correct interpretation on large billboards. In central Clearwater you cannot miss the HQ of the Church of Scientology with its hundreds of adherents all dressed alike walking like zombies amid Church security guards. They own a lot of property in the downtown area and have killed off all other businesses. There was also the beaches North and South and the charming village of Dunedin with its Scottish association.

The baseball teams also do their Spring training in Clearwater, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Phillies were in town. This brings in lots of fans and many weekend festivals. I left just as March Spring Break was beginning, did not want to see that scene of loud drug and booze beach parties. Large very visible police presence everywhere, not to mention the U.S. Coast guard patrolling the sea and sky.

I only wish the weather had been warmer.