Friday, 28 February 2014

100,000 views + and my nomination for best Foreign Film at the OSCARs

I have had this blog since 2007, I did not write anything in 2008 and then started to write in earnest ever since on various topics of interest to me.

Today I surpassed the 100,000 view mark, a milestone of people viewing my blog from around the world. The largest readers are from the USA and then Canada followed by Russia, UK, Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Poland.
I am quite happy with that number and with people reading and on occasion commenting. Thank you to my readers.

On another topic, the Oscars are this weekend, I usually pay very little attention to the Oscars, to me it is not on the same level as other Film Awards and often looks biased. However this year I do hope that the Italian film of Paolo Sorrentino, La Grande Bellezza (the great beauty) will win the prize for best Foreign Film. The actors are well known, Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone and Sabrina Ferilli.

I absolutely loved this film and it made me cry, which does not happen often at movies, if ever.
Maybe because Will and I lived in Rome and feel that Rome to us is like our home, we have been taken by the eternal beauty of the Città but also the life of the City and so many other facets that make it a wonderful place.

In the final closing moments of the film, the camera cruises the Tiber going towards the Vatican and the bend in the river, going under several bridges I crossed many times, I can name them, the buildings are all very familiar, the last building to appear is the Mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian known as Castel San Angelo which is featured in the final scene of the Opera Tosca.

Maybe Rome is the great beauty or maybe it is for Jep something else. At any rate I am very happy I saw this movie and hope to see it again soon.

Che piacevole film

Sunday, 23 February 2014

La Sagrada and La grande bellezza, two films

In the last week we went to see two very different movies, one a documentary and another one recommended to me by our friend in London David N. We had to wait a few months but both movies were great to see.

La Sagrada as the title implies is about the great basilica under construction for the last 130 years, where Antoni Gaudi spent most of his life working. The Expiatory Church of the Holy Family as it is know in Barcelona is an incredible work of architecture. This documentary shows you through photographs, aerial shots and interviews with the different builders, architects, artists and master carvers how the work is progressing. It is almost a miracle after all the troubled times of the XXth Century to see this church nearing completion today, final completion date is said to be 2028. The question remains though will it ever be finished since the main Glory portal is still a blank concrete wall, work is however progressing well in all other areas.

There is still several groups who are for or against completion of the building work.  One is the City of Barcelona Municipal administration who appears not to be very interested in seeing the building completed, a second group is the various critics who believe the church should never be completed and accuse the current sculptors and architects of designing a Disney like building and who question what purpose does it serve to complete this masterwork. You also have the various people who work at completing the building and who are determined to see the work of Gaudi done.

Major obstacle stand in the way today, one is the main rail tunnel only 30 meters below street level of the Barcelona-Paris high speed train which passes several times a day as it enters or leaves the train station in Barcelona. Low vibration could damage the uncompleted Glory main facade of the Basilica.

The other is the fact that the City of Barcelona sold all the land in front of the church and directly across the street to a developer in 1976 going against established municipal zoning laws. Buildings now block the area that was to become a grand 200 meter long plaza as designed by Gaudi.

The stark unfinished front facade, Glory facade, will it ever be finished?

The 1936 start of the Spanish Civil War saw all the designs by Gaudi destroyed by the Republicans who were against the Catholic Church in Spain who had sided with General Franco and the Fascist forces, work stops completely.  In 1939 the Second World War became another obstacle despite Spain being technically speaking Neutral though it supported Nazi Germany, lack of funds was another chronic problem. After the war a commission of experts wanted the building to remain as is, an unfinished ruin or a museum, luckily they did not succeed. It was only in 1976 that work re-started again with Catalonia becoming an autonomous region as it was prior to 1936.

Today the Basilica has become a major tourist attraction bringing in millions of Euros a year, financing is no longer a problem and construction is going on at great speed, based on fragments of documentation and drawings that has been salvaged. The artists continue their work based on Gaudi inspired designs.

The aerial shots of the basilica gives a wonderful view of the building and it is well narrated with interesting interviews of the principal actors involved in this great work.
I found it to be a very satisfying documentary on a building I first heard of when in was a child in school some 50 years ago, I am so happy to have had 2 opportunities to see it and walk through it.

Possible foreign film Oscar winner?

The other movie La Grande Bellezza ( The great beauty) a Fellini style film by Paolo Sorrentino resonates with me. It was suggested to me by our friend in London David Nice, he has impeccable taste when it comes to suggesting books to read, exhibitions to see or in this case a movie.

To me La Grande Bellezza is La Dolce Vita 60 years later, in many ways Italian society has not changed and it is a sad, funny, challenging movie and like life it has elements of nonsense where you want to say wait a minute, it is also strangely immoral. It is the story of a man Jep Gambardella, an author who wrote one book in his life and became famous, the book entitled L'apparato Umano.

Jep is 65 years old and the movie opens on his birthday party at his luxurious penthouse in Rome over looking the Collosseum and the Palatine Hill, not a bad view. His friends are the old money of Rome, Princesses and Counts, authors, and simply very rich people. They dress well, they go to parties and drink a lot but do not do anything much with their lives and all of them are on the threshold of their senior years. Everyone is unhappy about how Rome let them down, that is a phrase Italians will recognize. This movie is a critique of Italian society today, of its decay, rampant mediocrity and the themes being developed speak to a sort of Italian angst about life and what it is suppose to be or not be. Rome of course is for Romans the greatest city on Earth none compare to it, never has, never will. We lived in Rome for a few years and I know exactly what that means. The problem is that Rome is an old city, very old with a seriously decaying infrastructure amid architectural and artistic treasures.

People continue to live in this old City as if things were just fine though everyone knows they are not but no one will lift a finger to change anything by fear of braking a magic spell. There is a sort of neurosis, in fact there is an expression, people will say that they miss the neurotic atmosphere of Rome. Say this to an Italian and he will smile, you spoke like a true Roman.

Jep sees his friends and old lovers decaying and dying, one is his first love who dumped him when he was 19, she married another man and many decades later upon her death her husband discovers a diary, she kept for decades, full of praise for Jep and not a word for him after 35 years of marriage. Jep wonders why did she leave me. Another friend is an unpleasant club owner on the fame Via Veneto, he owns one of those expensive night clubs full of Polish strippers, his own daughters is a stripper, claiming to be an artiste but she too is looking to cure herself of ennui, what is her problem no one seems to know, not even her. Viola a fabulously wealthy women who lives in one of the many great palaces of Rome loose her son who kills himself, he is psychotic but his mother believes that he is doing better, he too is uncomfortable with the world around him and with himself.  There is also the little daughter of a wealthy art dealer who is exploited by her parents for profit. At garden parties for a select crowd she performs, creating large canvasses of modern art which sells for millions of Euros. One women notices that the child is crying while she creates these great canvases, no one else seems to care, the party must go on.

The list of character goes on and so too the parties, the drugs and the luxurious lifestyle and not to forget the Botox clinic also set in a fantastic baroque setting. Yes Botox treatment for high society Rome is a prerequisite, everyone does it and it is obscenely expensive.

Jep on his terrasse 

Sorrentino hits all the beautiful people of Rome, the powerful Cardinal who it is said will be the next Pope, cynical, wealthy, a Prince of the Church who rides in a beautiful Rolls Royce and has nothing to say for himself, except to give out cooking recipes. The parish priest and the nun who are having an affair and who dine in a 5 star restaurant and drink Cristal champagne, how can they afford it? The ruined Count and his wife who still live in the beautiful palace of their ancestors in Rome. The palace is a museum and they have 2 rooms in the attic, renting themselves out at high society parties, their name alone brings prestige but little else. The there is the visiting Saint modelled after Mother Teresa, she comes to Rome to receive an award from the Pope, it is said she is 104 and looks it, she only eats roots.
She has not given an interview in decades and when Jep tries to interview her for his publisher she merely replies that one cannot speak of Poverty, one lives it. In one famous scene she is seen climbing on her knees as is required the Santa Scala (Holy Stairs) said to be from the Palace of Pontius Pilate, Jesus climbed those stairs on his way to his trial, the staircase was brought back to Rome by Saint Helena. At the top of which is a Christ resurrected, who has this look as if to say, well when you get to the top I'll be waiting.

The society shown in this movie is not the one seen by the traveller to Italy, you have to live there to see it, it is not open to foreigners, unless you speak flawless Italian and still, it is like a private club. A closed little world living by the rules known to the tribe, self-absorbed, languid, blaming Rome seen by many as a concept for their predicament. One scene shows a group of tourists, they are Asians, outsiders permitted to visit the City who will never be part of it, totally unaware of the traditions like the noon day gun on the Gianicolo Hill. Sorrentino is telling us that Rome has always been like that, vulgar, rough and imperious. The visitors (tourists) are looked down upon by the formal grandeur of this Eternal City.

Beautifully shot, love the musical score, it was eerily reminiscent of my years in Rome, yes we met such people living this Roman Carnival. There is no violence in this movie, the city even at night is quiet and peaceful as I remember it, people simply go on somewhat like the Tiber which flows slowly through the city. Roman Society is not a pretty sight despite the diamonds and great names. Well worth seeing, I thought it was hauntingly beautiful. In the end you discover what the great beauty was or is, it could be Rome but no, it is something quite simple.

 A movie not to be missed.


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Winter is ending finally

We have been in snow since 24 November, first snowfall day. Today I noticed at 17:35 it was still day light and the sun had not set yet. The temperature was around 7 C so there was a big melt. But next week winter is back but it will be milder, the worst is over.

This weekend is the National Liberal Party Convention in Montreal and 3400 delegates are at the Convention Centre. The Democrats have sent people to talk and do presentation, Liberals unlike Mr. Harper and the Conservatives like Obama.
The latest poll shows that 54% of Canadians support Justin Trudeau and the values he is promoting.
The Liberal Party has 258,000 new members and millions in funds raised in the last few months.

It looks like Canadians are tired after 8 years of the nastiness of Harper and his government of right wing evangelicals modelled on the US Tea Party, Ted Cruz and assorted misfits.

What is interesting is the right wing press in Canada, CTV News, Postmedia, Maclean's who are harsh in their criticism of Justin Trudeau. Paul Wells, Colin Horgan, Don Martin have nothing good to say and I wonder why. Ottawa is well known for its Press Gallery and we also know that journalists are not as neutral as they claim they are. You do not always get the facts, you also get a lot of personal opinions and slants. Here I suspect that producers are in on it and calling the shots to get a story which they can spin for days. Even photos are not flattering and I know from my previous career how the media can fix it so, even little Red Riding Hood would look nasty.

The Conservatives have also sent spies down to the Convention in Montreal. Minister Poilievre who is trying to convince us that voting is really not necessary and is shepherding bill C-23 Election suppression voter act, is in Montreal. I personally think that he is trying to defect to the Liberal Party. Come the next election his riding has been split in two by the new re-mapping of electoral boundaries, he may find himself in difficulties, what is a 34 year old unpleasant little man to do.

The party that has been completely left out in the cold is the NDP who despite the fact that they are the Official Opposition in the House of Commons are nowhere to be seen or heard.  Their Leader Tom Mulcair has done an excellent job of showing up Harper for what he really is and has nailed him on several important issues but for all his hard work and effort it looks like Justin Trudeau has stolen his thunder.

The one I feel sorry for is Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party who is an excellent member of Parliament and does incredible work but the media ignores her all together.

Tomorrow Saturday is Justin's big speech at the Convention. Will the election really be in the fall of 2015 or sooner. Who knows, however the rumour is that if Harper continues to sink in the polls and he is pretty low as it is now, he will leave before having to face certain defeat and abandon the Party to some other person, a bit like Mulroney did years ago.

With Hope and Hard Work, you can be part of the change!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Oh the sunshine is so nice!

oh the sunshine is so nice by lnb1956
oh the sunshine is so nice, a photo by lnb1956 on Flickr.
This photo was taken in our Rome Apartment on Via Dei Villini 26 when Nicky and Nora where still puppies, they turn 5 years old this week. Haapy Birthday Nicky and Nora!

Monday, 17 February 2014

A must see at the National Gallery of Canada

I had the good fortune of seeing this painting by Thomas Couture in the conservation area of the National Gallery a few months ago as it was being restored by Fiona Beckett. It caught my eye immediately, it is a big canvas, full of colour and quite interesting as a subject.
I am happy to read in our local newspaper that it is now on display at the National Gallery in Ottawa.

It underwent a restoration as is explained here by Stephen Gritt one of our outstanding curators at the NGC. He is the one who discovered in the vault of the museum a forgotten Titian thought to be a copy. Through his studies of the painting he was able to establish that it was an original and saved it from the garbage can.

The Souper à la Maison d'Or it is also known as Each party has its end by Thomas Couture was painted in 1855. It is now on display for a long term loan from the Vancouver Art Gallery, I believe the time frame of the loan is 35 years. It is well worth seeing, as the subject is very interesting.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Carnavale di Venezia, Sabato 15 Febbraio

While the Carnaval in Quebec and in Ottawa end this weekend the celebrated Carnaval of Venice starts with a wonderful water parade on the Grand Canal.

The theme this year is ''La natura fantastica'' in celebration of a fairy like carnival, of the wondrous, the dreamy, the fantastic. Every day special events will be held throughout the city and of course beautiful costumes and masks will be on display everywhere.

From the 22 February to March 4, there will be a competition on the most beautiful mask, they have to follow the theme of this year Carnavale and be made by hand and hand painted also, really works of art.

Some of the highlights are:

16 February, Corteo Acqueo, Canal Grande, Cannaregio (a great decorated gondola parade on the Gran Canal) quite beautiful.

2 March at the Palazzo Pisani Moretta will be held the Gala dinner and Mask Ball of the Carnavale. This is a prestigious event and tickets for this night is difficult to obtain. The dress code is an elaborate costume and mask, you cannot enter otherwise. It starts at 23:30 and tickets per person are 640 Euros. The elaborate dinner and lavish entertainment are held in the great baroque salon of the Palace.

There lots of other events which are free and can be enjoyed throughout the City.

22 Feb Festa dell Marie (which is a parade of beauties in period costume on San Marc Square)

23 Feb. Il volo dell'Angelo ( the flight of the angel from the top of the bell Tower of St-Marc into the Square below)

4 March, Svolo del Leon, award given to the most beautiful Maria of the Carnavale.

There are also fireworks and good food and so many fun things to do, if you are in period costume and walk around the city it really is like a dream. Well worth doing once in a lifetime.

The Carnavale ends on Mardi Gras with a silent candle light parade of gondolas to mark the end of the festivities and the beginning of Lent.

Buon San Valentino a tutti!

Happy St-Valentine's Day to all,

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The largest Winter Carnaval in the World 60th Anniversary in Quebec City

For the last 60 years Quebec City host the largest Winter Carnaval in the World.

It is quite a lot of fun and there are many activities.

The mascot is Bonhomme Carnaval. I remember from my days when we lived in Quebec City in 1961 what a big deal this was, with the Ice Palace and Ice sculptures, the long toboggan ice slide on the Dufferin Terrace, the numerous outdoor parties, the music and the Ball of the Carnaval Queen, the fantastic Night Carnaval Parade, etc...

  Bonhomme Carnaval, Quebec City.

The website of the Carnaval de Québec

Ottawa in Winter

This is the second weekend of our Annual Winter Carnivale ''Winterlude''

The ice on the canal is said to be like a mirror, perfect for skating, a friend came to dinner last night and skated from Dow's lake to our home a distance of 5 Km. He said that the ice was the best he had ever seen in many years.

People commute in winter to work using the Canal as in this photo and the same at night going home.
Its free so why not enjoy it while it last.

Morning commute to work taken from the Corktown bridge looking East and South.

A dramatic photo of the Parliament buildings and the Locks of the Canal near the Chateau Laurier and the Ottawa river. Afternoon photo around 2:45pm.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Dedicated to our Athletes in Sochi

On the eve of the Opening of the Olympic games in the old USSR, I mean Russia, I really don't see much difference.  I dedicate this song to the athletes in the hope that despite the controversy even before the opening, not to mention the sites are not really ready, some good might come of this orgy of  money 51 Billion $ to make a point, n'est ce pas Vladimir.

Here is Beatrice Lillie, Lady Peel from Toronto to sing There are Fairies at the bottom of the Garden.

In Ottawa our Mayor Jim Watson has announced that at City Hall the Gay Pride Flag will be flying during the length of the Olympic Games in Sochi. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Recommendations for travellers

Often people ask me about my travels and if I can recommend an hotel, a restaurant, a service provider.

Well I have a few here I would like to recommend.

Venice in the last few years has become very expensive and finding accommodations is tricky and difficult. You do not want to be on the Grand Canal, too noisy from dawn to dusk. You do not want to be near or at Piazza San Marco, expensive and crowded with tourists and dirty pigeons (flying rats), unless you go there before 9am or after 10pm when everyone is gone and only the Café's are still open. Listening to the last chimes of the great bells of the San Marco Basilica at midnight it thrilling, the piazza will be deserted at that point and you can really feel the grandeur and solemnity of La Serenissima at that moment.

Venice is also very small and it is easy to travel on foot or by vaporetto (floating bus). I just find that walking is easy and so very pleasant.

So I hear there is a great B&B on Rio Tera 1285 in Santa Croce with reasonable rates, not far from the Vaporetto stop of Riva di Biasio on the Grand Canal.  Look at the web site

The other service I heard about recently and seems to be a wonderful idea is one promoted by a friend in Spain, Mitchell on his website.

In Madrid a group of ladies (businesswomen) offer the possibility of staying at their beautiful home for a one week intensive Spanish language immersion course which includes 3 course meals and visits all around Madrid, one of the more beautiful Capitals of the world. The price they are asking for one week is more than reasonable considering what is on offer.
See the web site:

Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Picture a little square

We have been to La Sérenissima, many many times. Though Venice today is not the Venice I first encountered in the 1990's it is still a city that fascinates, though now it is more a relic of what it once was, the current City administration has for several years moved all services to the mainland in Mestre. Venice is more and more devoted to tourism and apartments rented to visitors, hotels have become very expensive and good restaurants are rare. The Venetians are moving out, pushed out by soaring rents and speculation on the various buildings to transform them into luxury hotels. Venice always was a small city and the population was never large. Though today it is considered very small and dwindling further each year. What will become of Venice once most if not all its inhabitants are gone. The various parishes and churches which stood for centuries empty, will they be all museums for tourists to run through them?

I still remember Venice at a time when the daily rituals started at 04:00am with the returning fisherman's, then the fruit and vegetable sellers would arrive and set up stalls on the market square near the Rialto Bridge. There were grocery stores and milk and cheese vendors, bakeries and various other goods on offer. Many countries still maintained Consulates on the Grand Canal.

There are on the net several very nice blogs on Venice and much of the information is quite charming if not  evocative of a time when there were less day trippers and more Venetians.

Here is a photo of the neighbourhood of the old Ghetto of Venice in Canaregio.
I really like it because it shows Venice as peaceful and quiet, just a neighbourhood, you are not likely to see many tourists in that part of town.

Canaregio the old ghetto area, Venice

Café Florian, Piazza San Marco, Venice

Or this photo of a lady with her wire hair Dachshunds enjoying a drink in this old café frequented by Richard Wagner, who died in Venice. How so very civilized.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Can Spring be far away on St-Bridget's Day?

Well if you live in Ottawa on the snowbank Spring is never that close. We just had a further snow fall.  Though we could be living in Rome and experience the floods which plague the City every winter now. This is due in part to the two rivers the Aniene and the Tiber who connect and become torrents has they cross the City. The water is already some 16 meters above its normal level. All neighbourhoods below the famous hills of the City are experiencing some flooding. The sewers of the ancient city have also not been cleaned for decades and many are blocked. Little if nothing has been done to resolve this problem, the government seems to think, it will pass, yes but what a mess.

Yesterday I got news from the farm in Capena just outside the City where Dr. B lives with his wife and where our Nicky and Nora were born. The farm is flooded but not the house and all the dogs are safe.

Our friends L and N live near by but high up on a hill so they are not affected, however entering Rome from their area is complicated as the Via Tiberina which connects with the highway into the city is flooded.

31 January 2014 flooding in Venice 

Pisa, Florence, Turin and many other major cities have experienced flooding, the Alpine Brenner pass which connects Italy to Austria has been closed, a very rare occurrence due to heavy snow fall and now the risk of avalanche.

The Island on the Tiber in the centre of Rome the water of the river is about 16 meters high.

Floods in the Roman Forum area 

Rome Electric Tram 

Here well it's Winterlude, the so called Winter Carnival in Ottawa, lots of skaters on the Canal. Trudging through the snow is not my idea of fun but apparently to some bureaucrat it is.
We also have a few ice sculpture focusing on the First World War, this is part of the Official message to the masses from our dear Prime Minister S. Harper, gee how to depress everyone during a Carnival, I am starting to believe the Tar Sand fumes have affected his brain.

At the same time it was confirmed today that we will have 6 more weeks of winter, of course we will, it would be strange if we did not. This means that warmer weather will come around the last week of March, Oh Joy!  The Candlemas rhyme says: If Candlemas day be dry and fair, the half of winter to come and more. 

Well let's look forward to Spring and more pleasant weather.