Wednesday, 31 December 2014

migrating, please note

To all my readers and followers on this blogger please note that I have move to Wordpress

My new and improved blog is now called

Please click on it and you will be re-directed to it. Hope to see you there in the New Year.

Happy New Year 2015 to all and thank you for reading me.

Monday, 29 December 2014

troubles and solutions

Well this was an anxious few days, after receiving a new iPhone I was installing apps and thought I knew my password for my gmail account. I had forgotten I had changed it a few months back. Suddenly I was out of gmail and out of Blogger, could not get back in and could not remember a thing. The more I tried to get back in the more things got complicated.  So I created a new gmail account which I will now use and keep the original account since it is well known by many people.

I also started a new blog on WordPress and I like the new format. So I will persevere and learn WordPress, you can find me there now at

Luckily I have smart friends like David in AZ who very helpfully suggested a google site with solutions to such problems as loosing one's password.

Well we are in the final week of 2014, a very good and interesting year, with travels and much fun all around.

Best wishes to all my readers for a very Happy New Year 2015, health, happiness, success!

Satyr, garden architectural detail, Zwinger Palace, Dresden, Saxony

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas and Santa and gypsies and dachshunds and Rome

On this Christmas Eve the little Santa's Dachshunds Nicky and Nora spoke to Santa and I got an iPhone 5, so finally after 25 years of Nokia simple cel phone graduating to the big league and I can now like everyone else constantly look at my phone and just ignore the world as it hurls itself into whatever.

Clever little puppies they are, so many times we have said we would give them away to the Gypsies of the Via Nomentana in Rome. So they surprised me, I did not have the heart to put them on the Alitalia flight Ottawa Rome. A little bribe goes a long way as they say, I suppose I will keep them for a while longer. They will be 6 years old in February 2015. I am just KIDDING. I would never send them out on the street.

Wonderful dinner on this Xmas Eve with some nice wines, the weather is very mild almost Spring like, very strange for a 24 December, this is the sort of weather we are use to in Rome in Winter at night.

Another gift which was a nice surprise was my Italian Police cap which can only be had if you are in the Carabinieri which is the equivalent of the RCMP in Canada. The yellow colour of the insignia is for Officers, I got it through our friends in Rome, Gail and Mariano. The insignia of the Corps is a flaming grenade. it is a para-military corps of Police.

Carabinieri on patrol in Rome

for the bicentennial of the Carabinieri in 2014 their new Highway car a Lotus Evora S. Very stylish!

We also had a wonderful dinner at home nice smoke Salmon from the Pacific and roast Lamb with roast potatoes. Our dessert was a Bûche de Noël.

The weather being dreadful, rain, +3C and wind prefer to stay at home and enjoy our home comforts.

Some photos of our Christmas Eve table 2014.

The Hunting Scene Dishes, hand painted by Crown Staffordshire that we have used for such occasions for the last 38 years. Must be all washed by hand.
We also used the Holme Gaard Copenhagen glasses bought decades ago in Denmark.

Chateau PuyFromage, a bordeaux and Tantinel a Prosecco bought are new to the LCBO and very good. We also had a bottle of dessert wine Chateau La Croix Poulvère.

Now I have to play with my new iPhone and program it. Learn out to use it. A quiet Christmas day and tonight dinner with friends at Le Café on the Canal.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Photos from my favourite places.

Some places I always enjoyed at Christmas, of course Rome, Belleza Aeterna, Palermo, Sicily such charm and faded elegance, Berlin a re-born Capital. What did I enjoy, well the food, the atmosphere, often quiet in the city and neighbourhoods, the parks and the wintery flowers, the brisk air, the weather and the pleasure of walking in a city with beautiful sights. The people and the little courtesies of the Season and all the traditions which makes Europe special.

 Fireworks seen from the Tiber River, Rome. The Fireworks are on top of the Janiculum Hill. 

Pariser Platz, Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate

Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Sicily, one of the largest Opera house in the world

Warsaw old Town at the Royal Palace.

 Ottawa Christmas lights by the Rideau Canal
The Old Teacher's College on Elgin Street

Our Mayor Jim Watson, serving lunch at the Ottawa Mission, a great guy!

Garibaldi Memorial on the Janiculum Hill in Rome in the snow
For those of you who think it never snows in the Eternal City.

May you all have a wonderful Christmas wherever you may be.

The final hymn '' Puer Nobis Nascitur'' of the Lutheran Christmas Morning Mass of 1620 in Germany, by Michael Praetorius 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Pet Peeve and dinner menu

The one thing I hate about any holiday in Canada is how the politicians and the media always turn it into a way to infantilize the population. Politicians make a point to wish everyone a safe and secure holiday. Enjoy yourself but do it responsibly. Why do we need them to say that? As for the media same approach with a message along the lines of what to do and not to do, as if the population was 9 years old. In fact you would not say that to a teenager knowing they would just ignore you or think you are an old fart. So according to our elected officials or the media we are irresponsible and behave like idiots so we need to be told. The other one is the news bulletin telling us that their will be police road blocks and the police is out in force to make sure everyone is behaving themselves, make sure you have a designated driver or take the bus and return safely home before midnight. All these messages may well be done with good intentions but in the end are very disrespectful and coming from politicians who are nothing more than our servants is a big no no.

Another hipster website in Ottaw, is name is Dwayne is promoting a non-alcohol Holiday Season with 12 fruit juice cocktails, again maybe intended to be useful but so offensive, I think he is confusing a Caribbean Cruise with the Christmas Season. Ottawa is known as the town that Fun forgot or the cemetery with lights, such campaigns are sure to make things just as boring as boring can be. I think it can be safely assume that most adults know how to behave and act in a responsible manner, we certainly do not need the sanctimonious messages from the media nor the politicians.

This is truly the hallmark of Canada, giving lessons to others and lecturing others how to live their lives, treating adults as if they were mere children. It's petit bourgeois mentality gone bezerk. I say get with the program, it's the Festive Season, a good ole Saturnalia is in order with lots of Merriment.
Do what I do, if the weather is bad and you want to enjoy your evening with friends, just take a taxi, so easy, let someone else do the driving, I do it and have no worries.
My resolution is to just tune out the PC crowd and wish everyone a Happy Christmas!

ADDENDUM: after writing this ditty, got an email from LoveOttawa, Dwayne's site, instead of answering my question on his philosophy of lecturing people, he showed his colour, his reply was smarmy and he obviously thinks highly of himself, thus the lecture of the evils of alcohol. He belongs in the Age of Temperance and all those rallies of 90 years ago.

Now the dinner menu for this Christmas Eve. I was reading about a typical meal in Rome which is very different from what one might imagine. In North America in the Immigrant Italian community there is a tradition of having 7 different fish dishes but not so in Italy. Here are some idea for either Christmas Eve or Day for a menu. The most traditional dish for a family in Rome is for Mamma or Nonna to prepare a Roast of Lamb, other dishes would be Spaghetti with shrimp tartare, bottarga and clams, Bacala e ceci which is steamed cod with a purée of chick peas, Steamed cod as an appetizer, Rigatoni alla carbonara, Bacala Manteca which is a small torte of buttered cod topped with chicory salad or Jewish Style (Fried) Artichokes, the Jewish community in Rome as been there for 3000 years, so they have a historical influence on the dishes of the City. For dessert being Christmas you have a choice of Panettone or Pan D'Oro. Panettone is a bread like cake filled with raisins or chocolate or orange. Pan D'Oro is a spongecake topped with powered sugar.

We are having roasted lamb and roast potatoes with rosemary and to start Smoked Salmon with sour cream and caviar. In Italy you would have a Tartare of Salmon in lemon juice which is quite good.

Roast Lamb and potatoes

So far our Christmas Season has been quiet, I have not been inside one shop and stayed clear of the crowds.
The weather promises to be really awful in the next few days, freezing rain, hot and cold weather, so we will stay at home.  Tonight the wind is raw and there is a cold humidity in the air. So I say time to open a nice bottle of wine, we do have that special bottle of Marsala which cannot be bought in North America nor for love nor money, small production and high vintage, BUFFA Marsala Vergine 5, not to be used for cooking but for enjoyable sip.  It is the last of a case we brought back from Marsala in Sicily from that little Enoteca The drunken Mermaid and its charming owner Salvatore. Please see the web site for the wines I would love to buy from them,

But if all else fails like in Rome most families go out to the restaurant for lunch or dinner. Who wants to cook and clean on Christmas day!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

to visit or not to visit

In the past year there has been a lot of talk, discussion and thinking about how to bring more visitors to the National Gallery of Canada. This conversation has hit a certain high note this year with the on-going and numerous, I should say countless cuts to various budgets ordered by our dear Leader Stephen Harper has slowly but surely destroyed many areas of service to Canadians. Many agree that we have entered an age of Corporatist politics, where Corporations are people and their voices count whereas the average taxpayer does not. This means a slow but certain degradation of anything and everything the Federal government does.

In the case of all our National Museums they are Crown Corporations, meaning that they receive a lump sum each year and the rest of their financing must come from the public through sales of tickets and other items such as memberships or donations. It has to be understood that for decades the main source of funding came from the Federal government who financed almost everything. Including building infrastructure and maintaining existing building, renovations, landscaping etc... the public was used to the Providential State stepping in at every turn to maintain these national institutions. Not understanding that they did not pay anywhere near enough taxes to support it all.

In other countries depending on their national history either the King or Emperor maintained private museums of their own collection, i.e. the Hermitage, the Prussian Royal Collections, the Saxon Royal Collection or the collections of the Bavarian Royal House or the Vatican Museums which until not so long ago where not open to the public.

In the USA it was Andrew W. Mellon who was the creator and founder/builder of the National Gallery in Washington DC.  Mellon bought the main European art works from the Bolchevics in Russia after 1919 who were selling off treasures of the Tsars and the Hermitage to finance their endeavours. In turn upon his death he donated to the American Nation all of it for the enjoyment of future generations. In the USA the Spirit with a capital S of endowment and gifts is well and alive, in Canada not so.

In Canada our National Museums were a government creation, unlike the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal which was a private sector creation. In 1905 our first Canadian Museum in Ottawa was the Geological Society of Canada located in a castle like structure named the Victoria Memorial Museum on Metcalfe Street, it is the very popular Museum of Nature today.

The National Gallery had one small room in the basement of that building. Ottawa was a very small town at the time and the development of the museums in general was overseen by Civil Servants. There were some wealthy donors but they were few, unlike cities like Montreal where a well established group of British and Scottish well to do families had their Clubs and Art Circles.

The situation only began to change in our National Museums with the Trudeau (father) era 1968-1982. He had a personal interest in seeing new National Museums built and started a dialogue with the public to get them to involve themselves in the development and enhancement of the collections.
He saw a program similar to the USA where endowment funds and donations would drive museum expansion and not government funds.
The old Lorne building (1959-2012) former seat of the National Gallery until 1987, named after Governor General Sir John Douglas Sutherland, Marquess of Lorne. 

The main idea was that donors would form circles of friends and actively support all the activities of a Museum in particular. This happened with the building of the new Canadian War Museum in 2005, an idea which came about with Barnie Danson (1921-2011), a veteran, member of Parliament and Minister of Veterans Affairs who gathered supporters and to this day continues to thrive on that idea.

The New National Gallery of Canada building opened in 1988, the design alone created a buzz and people where fascinated with it. On the opening year close to one million visitors came to see it.
However this was not a sign that the public was more interested in art in general because suddenly there was a new building dedicated for the first time to our National Art Collections.

National Gallery of Canada (1988)

Whereas in the case of the Canadian War Museum where every Canadian, Veteran or active military is sought after and welcomed, the National Gallery had an image problem very often based on false assumptions and opinions. The public had and has to this day the overall impression that it is a place for the elite and the wealthy. Amongst our French speaking population it is seen as an English institution not open to others. Nothing could be further from the truth but it is a tough perception which will not die easily. Thus an empty museum with the lowest attendance record of all our National Museums including the currently closed under renovation Science and Technology Museum.

The Alarm bell has been ringing and the Board of Directors of the National Gallery have decided that something must be done. I remember prior to 1988 when the National Gallery was located in the old Lorne Building on Elgin Street, a converted office building, the museum was empty then. It was a small dark crammed display area. Not really enticing to promoting the arts and it had that academic approach in the display of the art collection.

This academic approach to the collections is still very present and that is a big turn off for a lot of people in this day and age, when education and intellectual pursuit is ridiculed and seen as worthless in Canada by a clear percentage of the population which includes our Prime Minister who was often quoted in the last 10 years with negative comments towards Arts and Culture. The Media in general has not helped either, a certain popular press is quick to pounce on any type of art which is not appealing to the masses, this includes contemporary, modern and lesser painters of any era.
The tone of the articles is always the same, ''Your tax dollars bought that thing your 5 year old kid can paint'' This type of populist attack which appeals to the lowest common denominator is very popular and sells well.

The other problem, and this is one of society in general, the lack of conversation in Canada about what kind of society do we want to live in. Everything in the last 10 years has come down to the notion of not wanting to pay taxes, having lots of rights and no responsibilities for anything or anyone, the promotion of excessive consumerism, not needing education, i.e. traditional schools, we need more babysitting services instead, not needing arts or culture which is seen as too expensive as long as we have big name sports team and stadiums and prioritizing shopping malls and highways.
As one of our Conservative politician put it so succinctly, ''We are not in Europe here, we don't need that stuff'' meaning arts and culture. A good example of this current political way of thinking is the sudden announcement two weeks ago of the renovations and rejuvenation of the National Arts Centre of Canada on Elgin Street. This is a much needed project however if you look at the details you will quickly notice that we are renovating all the public areas, bar, restaurant, lobby, parking and toilets, nothing is done to the concert halls themselves. This does not mean that more people will be coming to the performances.

The same is true with block buster Art exhibits, one quick solutions to bring people in. Two years ago we had a Summer exhibit of works by Van Gogh, which gave the National Gallery the highest attendance records in decades. However other Summer shows by equally great names like Monet and Renoir have failed miserably to attract record numbers. We did have a show organized with the Tate Modern London in 2010 entitled Pop Life with artists like Andy Wharhol, Jeff Koons and many others, it was a flop despite being a North American exclusive. The cost also of mounting theses big name exhibits has become exorbitant, one cost is the insurance, transport and logistics. Such exhibits need a minimum work of 5 years in planning.
It would appear that Ottawa, the region and as a tourist destination fails to promote/market its museums or maybe the interest is just not there in the Ottawa Valley.

The National Gallery could for starters become more visitor friendly, while retaining a certain academic approach could vulgarise and popularize exhibit space, market the museum as open to the public and at the same time tell the public at large of what we have in our collections. Many Canadians are not aware of the vast richness and diversity of our collections making the National Gallery of Canada one of the truly great world museum.  Maybe the public in general should be asked to support financially the NGC and make a donation upon entry or at any other time. Why rely only on big name donors who are a few hundred at most.

Given that our public often has no information or knowledge on art and may not know artists beyond a famous name and is unable to recognize a work of art by any artists it is crucial to bring things down to a level that is inviting and inspire the imagination. Before we jump to the conclusion that our National Gallery is not at the level of museums in Europe like the National Gallery London or the Louvre in Paris or any other museum in Italy or Germany, we should remember that Europe suffers from the same problem. The Louvre director was saying recently that if it was not for 5 works of art everyone wants to see, the museum would be empty, same phenomenon in Rome, St-Petersburg, Vienna, London or Berlin. Because we live in an anti-education age, the dawn of a new Middle-Age perhaps, the attention span of the public is extremely short, they must be brought to climax quickly because they have other things to do.

The secret of our success in Ottawa depends on how far we are willing to go to reach
a public who is difficult to please or simply unaware of the beauty around them.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Delia Smith, an icon of the BBC Cooking shows.

During the year there are lots of Holidays and the food offered is usually the same. The dishes go with the idea or spirit of that holiday. It seems that turkey is always coming back and if not turkey then its burgers or hot dogs. I am thinking here of Victoria Day in May, that is the start of the Summer Season and Cottage opening time, so a Bar-B-Q is de rigueur. Then Canada Day again being Summer and July more Bar-B-Q meats of all kinds. At Thanksgiving in October it's roast Turkey or ham and the same at Christmas and or New Year. At Easter it can be a ham though I one point Lamb was a favourite, though Canadian Lamb is becoming quite expensive, New Zealand lamb is quite cheap but full of chemicals and so lately people have been cooking other dishes.  In Canada Tourtière is popular, the famous meat pie of French-Canada, though how it is prepared is important and what quality ingredients you use makes a difference. For some reason the Lac St-Jean version of the tourtière seems a favourite with some people or at least in popular mindset.

Personally, I am not a fan of turkey nor tourtière meat pie, so come any major holiday and I will not think of having either dishes on the table. As for ham at Easter, I like ham in a sandwich but not at a main dish for a feast, I am also horrified by the tradition of sticking pineapple and cherries on it.

So I am always looking for new ideas for Holiday meals, even if it is just for a simple Bar-B-Q in the Summer, I want something different.  Instead of turkey, why not Goose or Cornish Hens, instead of beef burgers why not veal and beef or mixed with some pork burger stuffed with soft cheese and mixed with herbs and a strong dry mustard. Of course you can also get dishes of Seafood, lobster meat (shelled) in a cream sauce or a mix of seafood served in timbale.

Delia Smith with her CBE

Here comes Delia Smith, who through the years has perfected Holiday cooking. I always liked her because her recipes are A, easy to follow, B, there are no mystery ingredients and C, anyone even someone with little experience can prepare her recipes. She proposes menus, from what type of hors d'oeuvres to prepare for a pre-Xmas party, to a dinner party during the Season to the Christmas day lunch menu timed in such a way as to leave cook with time to spare to relax and enjoy the day. By lunch time around 1:30pm all is ready. Of course Delia is an organized person and you have to be too. She will prepare her vegetables the day before, her desserts are also prepared a day or more in advance, so on the actual day only the bird and stuffing is left to be done. I liked her stuffing, a good mix of pork with fine bread crumbs and celery and herb mix. She also tells you to get a bird around 14 lbs no more, and shop around for a black turkey which is gamier and better tasting instead of the supermarket white one which is often very bland tasting. In her preparation of the bird she will smother it in butter and then place bacon strips on top. Placing it in a roasting pan builds a cover for it which allows for a cavity around the bird instead of having the foil wrap itself close and tight on the bird. This way while cooking air circulates all around and in the last 40 minutes of cooking you  remove the foil and let it roast to get that golden skin colour not forgetting to baste it.

She also cooks chipolatas and bacon separately this will accompany the bird and it is a very Bristish tradition. I do not know if you can get chipolatas in Canada.

This year for Christmas dinner I will cook Canadian Lamb filet (12 minutes cooking time) do some roasted vegetables and voilà. I have ordered my desserts and we also have the most wonderful home made Fruit Cake known as a John H. Special. Uncle Johnny has been making them for us for the last 40 years. I am not one to eat fruit cake usually but his Fruit Cake is really something to behold, it is home made and it is his recipe and a very nice recipe it is indeed. I also got a Stollen and we have nice cheeses,  a firm cheddar Goat cheese, some Stilton blue, and other cheeses with nice crackers and fruits like the big Clementines and a nice variety of apples.

Do have a look at Delia website, the one recipe I want to try because it looks so amazing ''Venison Braised in BlackFriars Porter ale and Port with Pickled Walnuts.'' If you do not like venison no problem substitute for beef instead. At any time in Winter this would make a fantastic dish.

Then there is one very light and wonderful dessert she makes which is perfect when your main dish is rich and heavy. This dessert is called, Champagne Jellies with Syllabub Cream and Frosted Grapes.
You do not have to use champagne instead use a Prosecco or a bubbly wine, much cheaper and perfect for this recipe.

Well my shopping is done for this Xmas so the next few days should be quiet, going to dinner at friends and cocktail parties.



Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Preparations and Shopping for Xmas

It is funny how until yesterday I thought we were 2 weeks away from Christmas and today by looking at the date I realize we were 7 days away. Time to get busy with getting menus and food.
I always like going to the Liquor store to see what they might have. There is not the variety we found in Europe, say London or Rome but there was quite a few wines I thought interesting. The sales lady was most helpful and in a very good mood, she was even wishing people a Merry Christmas, how very nice and old fashion at the same time.

So I got a good variety of Prosecco, white and red wines and a bottle of Zinfandel to make pears in wine which is always a nice Festive dessert and is served chilled.

As for food, I also want to make small Tarts with blue cheese and pears which are served warm, they are easy to assemble and you simply put in the oven at 325F for 10 minutes.

Then some puff pastry and fresh sausage meat, usually a mild Italian sausage will be used to make piggy in a blanket, always nice to have with a drink. On Christmas eve we will have Canadian Lamb
roasted, easy to make and quick. I found some nice Wild Pacific Coho Smoked Salmon to start. Then for the dessert I called Michael Holland of Cake and Shake at 229 Armstrong st. in the Parkdale Market area, who makes wonderful pastries the old fashion style. I ordered 2 Bûches de Noël, one vanilla with vanilla icing and the other carrot with orange icing.

All our Christmas wishes have been sent electronically or by mail. The house is decorated, so we can just sit back and relax. On the statistical side of things I note that I spent about 260 hours volunteering at the National Gallery of Canada and spent 40 hours at the Canadian War Museum on the Summer exhibit this past year. Something I really enjoy a lot.

'' God is not dead nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail. With Peace on Earth, good will to men.'' from the poem Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Noël in Canada, les anciens Canadiens.

In closing this picture of two little dachshunds in the snow, so very nice and makes me think of my two Nicky and Nora

Monday, 15 December 2014

More photos of Xmas preparation and Xmas puppies

Well we got our menu planned out for Christmas Eve, which will be dinner at home
starting with some Smoke Salmon and fixing and then Lamb filet with vegetables and
I will order the mini Bûche de Noël from Michael Holland. On Christmas Day we are going
to Le Café at the National Arts Centre, they have a very nice menu.

Drove by Parliament and the Christmas lights are amazing the National Capital Commission did a
very good job this year. It is spectacular to see.

This evening we watch on BBC Player on the Internet Chef Delia Smith who lives in Suffolk. She is 73 yrs old now and the programs are about 20 years old but nonetheless very well made and very interesting. She basically shows you how to make Christmas Pudding and Cakes and all manners of
other things for the Festive Season. She had one recipe for a fruit cake which can be made in minutes and takes 90 minutes to cook, very simple and perfect for anyone who has never made one. The one I really liked was the sticky toffee pudding cake and of course all those candied fruits and candied chestnuts, so very good. Now come to think of it we should have suggested to our friend Spo who wanted a recipe for Plum Pudding to watch Delia make one, very simple.

While she was mentioning the ingredients you need and even wine pairing, I felt nostalgic for those days when I would at the Holiday time fly through London on my way home to Ottawa and stop off and buy all manner of food stuffs. London prior to Christmas is a great shopping place and has so much to offer. Even Heathrow still has the real Duty Free shops not the make believe nonsense you find in most airports these days.

Such shows on the BBC really put you in the Christmas frame of mind.

Xmas puppies they sleep about 20 hours a day to prepare for the Holidays.

Holiday Table Centre

Silver snow flakes

this is such a nice Panettone, so good with a coffee.

Will's home made Ginger cookies

We also discovered on the internet radio RMF Classic 98.3 FM Warsaw, Poland. They have a 
very good selection of Christmas music. Music in Polish and English.

Projects in the Capitale as we prepare for 2017

Construction and renovations everywhere in Ottawa these days as we prepare for the 150th Anniversary of Confederation in 2017. Joanne Chianello had a article detailing all the projects in the Capital and she missed quite a few. Here are some of the numerous projects which will transform Ottawa completely by 2017 and beyond. She called it re-imagining the Capital and indeed she is right.

This year we have seen the re-furbishment of Lansdowne Park and the Stadium at a cost of $42 million dollars.

The New Arts Court building on Nicholas Street which will see the expansion of the Ottawa Art Gallery.
The new Arts Court which will complement the existing Heritage building.

The Innovative Centre at Bayview and the new City Library which is destined for that site.

The New bridge over the Rideau River at Stranheard and the new pedestrian walkway bridge on the Airport Parkway which serves as a gate to the Capital with its modern design.

New bridge over the Rideau River 

Foot bridge over the Queensway at the Train Station

Ottawa Airport Parkway pedestrian bridge

Then  the 2.1 Billion dollar Light Rail System under construction the largest project in the City since the building of the Rideau Canal in 1820.

The expansion of the Queensway which will continue this year, this highway crosses the City from East to West.

The total renovations of all the Parliament buildings and the creation of a Parliament precinct at a cost of 3.2 Billion dollars so far.

The 110 million dollar project to rejuvenate the National Arts Centre built in 1967 for the Centennial of Confederation.

The re-designed National Arts Centre of Canada on Elgin Street in Ottawa.

The refurbishment of the Science and Technology Museum at 88 Million dollars.

The Ceremonial Road (Confederation Blvd) on the Sussex drive area is also schedule to be completed after 2 years of total reconstruction and re-alignment.

Many other road projects, too many to name all are also in the works and then all the new condo towers being built on average 25 floors or more, which is a first for this City given that up to now 14 floors was the limit.

The Rideau Centre re-building and doubling in size should be mostly completed by March 2015.

The re-designed Rideau Centre (partial view) South-East corner

Chaudière Falls Windmill housing project and the LeBreton Flat area with a possible new large complex of National stature but details are sketchy on this one just yet. However it will connect the two city centres over the Ottawa River and the falls.

Finally 2 large monuments on Wellington Street, one to the victims of the Holocaust and the other to the victims of Communism. In both cases the Federal government is investing 3 million dollars each and the remainder must come from private donations.

The two monuments are somewhat controversial since the first one is not to all the victims of the Second World War but to just one group the Jews. Europe has had this debate where the war took place and being inclusive of all the victims appear to be the way to go. As for the monument to Communism and its victims it leaves out the victims of Fascism in Europe and it also appears to concentrate in its presentation only on the Polish victims of Communism.
Commemorative monuments should be for all involved and not create category of victims.

At any rate the Capital is changing very rapidly and becoming a great City no longer a town in Ontario. We have taken a long time to shake the small town mentality considering that changes have been happening since 1955, sometimes rapidly and sometimes at snail pace.

 Parliament in late Wintery afternoon seen from the West 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

End of the year reflections

I went shopping yesterday for the usual groceries and in the store they were playing Christmas music from an album by Maddy Prior, it is different from the usual mindless stuff found in stores nowadays, and it certainly got my attention. In Canadian groceries stores weights are officially in Kg but you still find a lot of things in lbs and it is very confusing to say the least. I needed to buy 3 lbs of chuck beef for stewing and I knew that in Kilograms it would be 1.36 Kg. The only thing was that they had packages of 0.380 Gr. To make it simple I simply asked the butcher if he could weigh it all for me.

I was also looking for a rubber ring which is the seal for our Moka coffee machine a Bialetti model. So I went to Luciano on Preston Street in Little Italy and sure enough they had, it no problem.

While shopping I suddenly started thinking about what a good year it had been all together, we travelled to Europe and Stratford, Ontario and we met friends, had many good times, I worked on a fantastic exhibit of paintings of the First World War by Otto Dix and AY Jackson and saw another great exhibit at the National Gallery on Gustave Doré.

We did one thing this past Summer which I found enriching and that was to work at the Shepherd of Good Hope, the big homeless shelter preparing and serving lunch to the hundreds of Homeless people in Ottawa. The poverty level in the Capital is far more serious and greater than one can imagine or than the media is letting on. Like all cities Ottawa has pockets of wealth and tony neighbourhoods but there are large areas of poverty and trouble. In the Lower Town on the fringe of the ByWard Market and below the University of Ottawa Campus where many shelters are located. I am not speaking of the ghettoes in Nepean or in the West of the City or around Heron road where mostly poor immigrant communities live, in such cases, Somali gangs exist and fight each other for drugs and territory. I am speaking of the working poor, those on minimum wage and the ordinary poor people and many native and Innu people you see around the downtown core, Bank street north of the Queensway and on Elgin Street or in the Market area or near King Edward and Rideau Street. They are just people who have a story, something happened to them and they were unable to return to a routine where they could support themselves. Some suffer from a handicap which makes them unable to work or suffer from mental illness. On that topic Ottawa is a singularly harsh city and the media feels no sympathy for anyone with mental issues. Recently a column in the Ottawa Citizen was openly suggesting that people with mental illness should be simply incarcerated forever on the basis that they could be dangerous to others.

During the Summer a friend of ours Denis S. asked us to help him at Shepherd of Good Hope during one of the long weekends, as a tradition he and his family volunteer on those long weekend holidays when most people leave town. Lunch still has to be served and a crowd will show up.

We went on July 1 and on August 1 to serve lunch. Arriving around 08:30am to start preparation, cutting meat, buttering bread, making sandwiches for the after lunch afternoon crowd etc...
I made 650 sandwiches one morning and then helped serve a hot lunch to 700 people, cleaning up afterwards. The manager told me that it was a slow day given that it was a holiday weekend. Usually they serve 1000 hot lunches. The food is quite good, if you wondered, and the desserts are very nice.
All of it is fresh and they have 2 cooks also volunteers who have been doing it for years. It is a humbling experience and brings home certain realities about life in the big city. If you are poor and homeless life can be very harsh and you die young. They have a small chapel at Shepherd and they will have services and prayers for those who die. It is shocking to see that mid-forties is the expected length of life while for the rest of us can reasonably expect to live in our mid-eighties.

I am grateful for Denis S. and his suggestion that we participate in helping out at Shepherd of Good Hope. This is one lesson of Life that I will remember when I think of 2014.

Further to this experience I met with the director of La Soupe Populaire in Gatineau, the City across the river from Ottawa on the Quebec side. This organisation is involved like Shepherd in feeding the poor on the Quebec side of the river where the needs are just as great. He told me a terrible story of people freezing to death in the National Capital Region during our winters, some 2 dozen in 2012, shocking. Again it is a topic you rarely hear about, the Media do not cover such topics it's not sexy enough and for sure would embarrass the Hipsters, Politicians and Suburbanites.

We are thankful at Thanksgiving in October and we should also be thankful at Christmas for all our blessings.


Saturday, 13 December 2014

What are you listening to at Christmas Time

When we live in Europe at Christmas time the radio stations did not play Holiday Music and stores do not in general have music on while you shop, this includes grocery stores, it is not part of the European cultural experience. It seems that this is a North American phenomenon and a phoney way to put people into the consumer crazy frame of mind.

What is truly funny is how the CBC or Radio Canada avoids constantly to use the term Christmas, they are so politically correct at the State Broadcaster despite harbouring people like our Gian Ghomeshi, until it was discovered that their superstar lived the Fifty Shade of Grey Life style. So it is all about Holiday Season, constipation is the word at the CBC.

I avoid the shopping malls all year round and do my shopping online. Unfortunately for me, yesterday I went to COSTCO, I know hard to believe but you know they have great prices on Stilton Cheese and paper products. I was in and out of there in 15 minutes. The COSTCO experience is like living in the world of Zombies or the un-dead, truly a twilight experience, I wonder about the employees there, what sin have they committed to be condemned to such a fate. I try to go only every trimester and stay only long enough to do what I have to do and get the hell out.

I am sure my dentist has some kind of crazy music on, he seems to think that it will take your mind off the idea of being at the dentist. He is addicted to Ellen and her cohorts of hysterical females who show up in the audience of her equally moronic TV show and scream at anything she says no matter how inane. I wonder where they get audiences like that, are they the same group of Furies you see in Shopping Malls?

Some of the many decorations for our tree

Then there is my own old friend and shrink the one I go on vacation with, Dr. Spo also known at Kontitonttu or Hustomte in Scandinavian, who is apparently haunted at work by cheesy Xmas music, you know the Chipmunks do Xmas type of thing. I wonder if this is the curse of Carl Jung unfolding as it should.

So to get back to what kind of Christmas Music do you listen to in the car or at home. Here is a selection of what I like to listen to at this time of the year.

Marc Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), Antiennes ''O'' de l'Avent

The Elmer Iseler Singers, Early Canadian Christmas Music from 1648 to 1907.

Michael Praetorius, Christmas Music 17th century.

Christmas Music from English Parish Churches 1740-1830

Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) Weihnachts Historie

A Venetian Christmas music by Gabrieli and De Rore 16th century

Michael Praetorius, Christmas Vespers

Marc Antoine Charpentier, Noëls and Christmas Motets (french-english music)

Michael Praetorius, Christmette, Christmas Mass of 1620 in the Lutherian Church, a favourite of mine.

Sir Thomas Beecham arrangement of the Messiah (1959)

Polskie Koledy i pastorali by the Warsaw Chamber Opera

and of course from my childhood the famous
A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi trio.

An eclectic choice but it beats the Xmas Muzak any time. I also discovered that the abbreviation of Christmas to Xmas is not a new thing at all. Apparently it started 1000 years ago, we did not invent anything and it is taken from Greek.

Venez Divin Messie, an old French-Canadian Advent carol, the composer is Ernest Gagnon, words by the abbé Simon-Joseph Pellegrin (1663-1745).

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Renewed National Arts Centre of Canada, vision 2017

It was announced this morning that the National Capital Commission will go ahead with a complete renovation of the NAC. The National Arts Centre was a commissioned building in 1967 to celebrate the Centennial of Canada's Confederation, one of many projects that year. Now 50 years later the centre needs to be refreshed and renovated, acoustically the Southam Hall is wonderful but it needs to be cleaned up and the look modernized, the 1960's decor is dated. As for the public areas they also need to be opened up and look less monolithic and in some cases claustrophobic. These changes are needed and will certainly make for a new look to our National Arts Scene.

Here is the video on what is going to happen at the NAC as announced by Mayor Jim Watson.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Messiah!

There are many recordings of Messiah by Georg Friedrich Haendel,  a man who spoke little English being German serving a British King George II who disliked the English and England, spoke next to no English being the Prince of Hannover. They probably spoke German to each other, though the King had learned French as a first language.

 King George II (1683-1760)

Georg Friedrich Haendel (1685-1759)

Sir Thomas gives us a rendition of the Messiah unlike any other, in my opinion the best one you can hear.
Unless our friend and music expert David N. can point me to a better rendition, will see what he has to say.

The recording in question is from 1959 with Jennifer Vyvyan, Soprano, Monica Sinclair, Mezzo-Soprano, the great Canadian Tenor John Vickers and equally great Bass, Giorgio Tozzi. Beecham gave this recording a tempo and he feels the words of the text which he manages to translate into a
dynamic recording.

I love hearing this recording while we are decorating the Christmas tree.

Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961)

Phase one is polishing all the Christmas Tree balls, we have 30 of them and then we also have to polish the medallions of various seasonal flowers. Then put up the tree and select the ornaments to go on, there is quite the collection all very different and from various parts of the world we have visited.

What is terribly nice is that each ball has the word Christmas and the year and it always brings back memories of where we were on that year starting with 1979 in Ottawa, 1986 Mexico City, 1989 Cairo, 1993 Chicago, 1999 Warsaw, 2007 Rome.

This year the tree went up on 8 December the Immaculate Conception on the Catholic Calendar, a great spectacle we attended each year in Rome at Piazza di Spagna where the column to the Virgin stands, a column taken from a temple from antiquity and the statue itself is Venus. The Pope comes from the Vatican crosses the City in a great parade escorted by the Carabinieri and all the congregations gather in the Piazza in their various uniforms and banners. The clue of the spectacle is when the Rome Firemen (Vigili) get into their cherry picker to hoist the great garland of flowers blessed by the Holy Father to the arms of the Venus turned Virgin and Mother of God.

The monument is in front of the Royal Embassy of Spain to the Holy See on the Piazza and the Ambassador of His Most Catholic Majesty the King of Spain waives from the balcony.

We have also decided this year that for Christmas day we will go to the Café at the National Arts Centre, they have a very nice set menu. Christmas Eve will be quiet at home and have a nice dinner with our Xmas Dachshunds.

Here are some pictures.

This year Will decided to put up this paper cut model of St-Nick. We got this in Dresden or Munich many years ago but never used it, very traditional and European. I cannot remember being in Dresden for the Christmas Market, the one in Munich is fantastic.

our Nutcracker from East Germany c.1979, they do not make ones like this anymore.

The tree is up now remains to decorate it.

Here are some traditional Austrian lead decoration hand painted, a decorated tree and St-Nick on his horse made by the Wilhelm Schweizer company.

More of the W. Schweizer company work, very typical of what you see in Austria and Bavaria at Christmas time.

A fraction of what has to be polished before it is put up on the tree. Neiman Marcus still sells them.

Christmas 1979 always put at the top of the tree.

A Winter Bouquet for Will's Birthday, the white flowers are called Nerine, there is some Heather and Boronia.