Tuesday, 29 April 2014

illiteracy in Canada

For the last two years I have been involved in a school program which brings Art to the school. The idea is to present art mostly painting to students in a fashion they can understand and maybe spark their interest. One difficulty I spotted right away was that a lot of children nowadays do not seem to know much despite attending school for several years. Vocabulary is poor, writing skills not much better and general knowledge is poor or non-existent, geography, history, math, logic and ability to compare or reason.

I have to tailor any presentation with simple language and try to explain any art work in terms that will not bewilder them. They are easily bored and lost on any given topic.

Imagine today reading a recent survey of illiteracy in Canada and the surprise I got in looking at the numbers. I knew we had a problem in Quebec per example with boys under 16 years of age, in that group 40% will abandon school before they graduate from grade 12.

The study spoke of all students male and female who finish high school, at graduation 56% will be unable to write or read properly meaning that they do not understand what they are reading and cannot write a complete sentence without making numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes. The percentage is not much better for basic math, 58% are unable to do simple math, adding, subtracting, multiplying, division.

Those who complete University at the bachelor level 48% cannot read or write properly and 44% cannot do simple basic math. This is very scary and does not bode well at all for the immediate future of Canada. It also raises the question of why are high schools and Universities graduating students who cannot write or read or do simple math. How did we ever get to this sad state of affairs. The study point to poor educational policies by our Politicians trying to do the PC thing and please parents, at the same time doing society at large a huge disservice. Ontario Education Department and other provinces have a NO Fail policy so no one can get a F score and a D is now a passing grade so that little Shirley or Bobby is not traumatized.

I have noticed that when I speak with someone under the 30 year old group I often encounter, lack of focus, lack of attention to details, incomprehension of basic facts, inability to relate to a topic which is more than 20 years old, let alone the simple knowledge of facts.

In many ways I find that our society for all its technology is returning to a place where you have some people who are educated and whose parents have taken a keen interests in their lives and the acquisition of knowledge and then the rest who are simply surfing through life and will be easy prey for manipulation by politicians or easily turned into compliant consumers.

Recently there was a debate about learning cursive writing, is it still necessary the host of the debate asked of panelists, one was from the Education Department of the Province of Alberta, this fellow claimed that in Alberta public schools were no longer teaching cursive writing because children today  have computers and so there is no need to learn to write. Ontario is considering this move too, though a decision has not been made yet. How very sad, it would appear that only private schools are the option for a good education at a tremendous cost.  

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Canadian Supreme Court 5, PM Harper 0.

Canada is a country of rules and laws and everyone defines Canadians as law abiding, we have a Parliamentary democracy since 1848, modern Canada was founded on the principle of Peace, Order and Good Government.

It also has to be remembered that it was the 4 original Provinces ( Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario) who created the Federal Government by uniting as one single country in 1867. Dividing clearly responsibilities and powers in our Constitution on how we govern ourselves.

Each Prime Minister since has known what the Federal Government can and cannot do Constitutionally. We have had Prime Ministers who favoured decentralization and others like P.E. Trudeau who believed in centralizing powers and intervening or overlapping into fields of jurisdictions clearly in the Provincial domain. This has been the source of much irritation for the Provinces now numbering 10 not to mention the 3 territories.

However in each dispute there has been in the past Federal-Provincial Conferences in Ottawa usually in the old Union Train Station across from the Chateau Laurier Hotel or the Supreme Court has been asked to rule on matters of jurisdiction. Though in the past talking out problems has been the favourite way to go instead of going to the Supreme Court which hands down final decisions.

In the last  9 long years of the Harper government we have seen an important shift, no talks and no communications with the Provinces, the Harper philosophy is to ignore them all together. Even with Alberta, PM Harper ignores the Provincial government in Edmonton and pursues his own vision of how his home province should evolve, doing so by protecting one sector the Oil industry to the detriment of everything else.

This has been the one theme of his government pursuit of power by all means at the expense of everything and everyone else, inability to connect with the people in general and his lack of social skills in feeling a kinship with the voters and issues.

Canada has always been a country of consensus, of bringing diverse views together and finding a common goal, something PM Harper is loath to do.

Supreme Court of Canada building on Wellington street 

Early on into his mandate he openly expressed his contempt for the Supreme Court, labelling the judges as activists and going against the will of the people. He even went so far as to criticize openly the Chief Justice, no previous Prime Minister has ever done so in public for all to hear.

He was reminded by Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin of the separation of powers in our system of government between the Crown, the Legislative and Judicial. PM Harper seemed unable to understand that anyone could challenge his authority.
But this has not stopped him from continuing his criticism always displaying publicly his ignorance on the workings of our Constitution and the separation of powers in our system of government.

A few weeks ago his nomination of Judge Nadon to the Supreme Court was thrown out because Justince Nadon did not meet the requirement to sit on the bench of the highest Court in the land.
Harper was angry and said that the Supreme Court is interfering, worst his Justice Minister Peter MacKay claimed that the PM could not have known about the new rules for nominating Justices to the Supreme Court. The rules have been in place since 1864, not exactly new. No again it was a challenge to the Constitution. Will PM Harper appoint someone else who meets the rules to the highest bench, no probably not, he will in his fashion continue to ignore the Supreme Court. We currently have 8 sitting Judges they will be 7 in November out of a total of 9 members on the bench.

Other previous negative decisions by the Supreme Court have to do with well established Jurisprudence, PM Harper does not like this at all and believes that he can change what he does not like by simple decree. In a dictatorship you can do this, no problem, but not in Canada. Jurisprudence interferes with his notion of Law and Order and severe punishment for criminals. He has failed to notice that our crime rate in Canada has been falling for years and now stands at the level of 1973.

This is why he is now proposing to pass a law called the Bill of Rights of Victims of Crime, again he demonstrates his ignorance of established jurisprudence which deals with victims rights. Justice is not about vengeance or revenge but if you read the bill you will see how persons victimized by crime would be able to make demands financial and otherwise beyond any sentence a Judge in a Court of Law might impose on a convicted criminal. All along PM Harper has maintained that Judges are too soft and too liberal in sentencing dangerous criminals so victims are never properly satisfied, let the punishment fit the crime so to speak.

In the same idea of law and order he now surrounds himself with more security than Colonel Khadafi of Libya use to have, to see Harper's motorcade in Ottawa and the hundred of police surrounding him at an event makes you wonder if he has lost his mind. This way he can entertain the notion in the mind of a certain public that we live in a very dangerous and violent society. Currently spending over 20 million $ a year on his personal safety or more than we have ever spent on all Prime Ministers combined.

PM Harper has also consistently ignored Parliament, refused to answer questions in the House, refused to be held accountable for the actions of his government. Has launched negative ad campaigns against opponents in Parliament treating them like ennemies instead of colleagues with whom he is disagreeing in a Parliamentary debate.  Obviously he has never heard of Oliver Cromwell or Charles I.

How PM Harper has failed to see that his decisions and crime bills in Parliament would be rejected by Judges is beyond comprehension when you think of the briefs and analysis papers prepared by lawyers, advisors and experts. The conclusion can only be that he does not read anything and simply acts on what he alone believes is right. After this fifth negative decision by the Supreme Court on a Constitutional matter of such serious importance as the reform of the Canadian Senate, any credibility Harper might have had is gone. He lacks judgement and lacks a fundamental knowledge on how to manage the affairs of the Government.

Canadian Senate Chamber in Parliament 

What is worst was his reaction to the decision on Friday morning, he said in the petulant tone of a spoiled child that the Supreme Court stood for the Status Quo and that the Provinces were to blame in this failure. There was nothing more he could do. This is not what the judgement says, he deliberately presented a false interpretation of the decision of the Court preferring as he usually does to throw the blame on others for his own misdeeds to please his base, the 30% of electors who support him.

He knows that any reform of the Canadian Senate must be done in consultations between the Federal Government and the Provinces and abolition requires the unanimous consent of all 10 Provinces. This he won't do since he has not spoken to the Provinces in 9 years. So all his talk of reform for all these years was nothing more than talk, what a sad, nasty little man our Harper.  

However many Canadians have come to understand how dangerous for our democracy Harper has become. In 17 months we will have a general election, it will not come soon enough.


Friday, 25 April 2014

25 April 1849 the Parliament of the United Province of Canada burns in Montreal

Today marks a very sad day in Canadian democracy, the burning by a mob in Montreal of the Parliament of the United Province of Canada.

Montreal was the Capital of the United Province of Canada from 1844-1849. We had achieved in 1848 the stage of Ministerial Responsibility in Government meaning that the Governor General appointed by London was no longer the Head of Government. We now had an elected Parliament and  Prime Minister in the person of Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine. However the Assembly of the United Province of Canada was bitterly divided between French and English population.

The Parliament voted a controversial law in April 1849, this law gave compensation to anyone who had lost property during the Rebellion of 1837-1838. Compensation would be given for loss of property due to the British army or Rebel action. The Montreal Gazette then and now a prominent newspaper incited the English population to revolt, claiming that since the Rebels were French no compensation should be given to criminals who defied Royal Authority for any damage they caused to property.

On April 25, 1849 Lord Elgin, then Governor General of Canada came to the Parliament on the Carré D'Youville to sign the new Law and give it Royal Assent. Within minutes a dangerous crowd gathered outside the Parliament and forced its way into the building. Setting it ablaze, the great loss of that day was the library of 25,000 books and archives which dated back to 1608 containing all the Official documents and Acts of New France up to the time of this incident, many fine paintings were also destroyed. The building was a complete loss. In November of that year, the Capital was transferred to Toronto.

Here is a short video in French about this terrible incident and how the site is now being restored so that this page of Canadian history can be remembered.


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Thinking of Greece today

I started thinking of Greece today, we use to fly to Athens in 90 minutes from Rome and the cost on Aegean Airways was fairly low.
Maybe it is because Spring so far as been cold and not exactly what one would expect. Elsewhere the weather is more pleasant. Listening to a selection of Greek songs, many are poems and I find the Greek language so rich and it has this wonderful velvet quality about it.

I am also reading at the moment a book by Joan Breton Connelly, The Parthenon Enigma, which is fascinating as it fills in the blanks of my visits to Athens for the last 20 years wondering about the many little details about the Acropolis.

Just thinking of the islands of the Aegean Sea and all the little villages, Mount Parnassos and Delphi and other places we visited touring around Attica, so very nice.

The old archaic temple of Apollo in Corinth

Monday, 21 April 2014

Next Holiday please

Well now that Easter is behind us for another year, what is next? Here in Ottawa it's the tulip Festival a gift of the Royal Family of the Netherlands who spent the Second World War in the Capital.

Already the National Capital Commission is setting up in the various parks the tulip beds and the fencing to keep the pesky squirrels out. Our Nora is doing her best to hunt them down.

Here are some photos of this year's Easter day.

 Easter flower arrangements for the table in a great porcelain egg

Pastiera Napoletana, traditional Neapolitan dessert of Easter, whole wheat berries, ricotta, essence of orange blossoms 

Home made coloured hard boiled eggs

 Bunny bread crown
Glass chick in Egg, the first gift I bought Will all those decades ago

Easter cookies

 Nora waiting for her Easter bar-b-q black squirrel she caught, nothing better

Monsieur Nicky, watching out for his roasted leg of lamb, thinking they always make me wait the stinkers

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Happy Birthday!

Monday 21 April 2014 is the Queen'a 88th Birthday. Here is the Official Birthday Portrait taken for the occasion.

H.M. Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada.

Happy Birthday to our Sovereign and very best wishes of good health! 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Passover, Easter

This holiday unites two great religion, Judaism and Christianity through biblical text and music. Pesach for the Jews is about the Exodus from Egypt a re-birth as a people and liberation from slavery in a foreign land. The Israelites saved their new born from the last of the 7 plagues visited upon Egypt by marking their thresholds with lamb's blood. A symbol which re-appears in Christianity.

For Christians it is about Resurrection of the Messiah and Salvation and the promise of Life after death. Religious texts are united in the Eternal promise of God the Father of a Messiah and of Paradise.

In Christian homes roast of lamb is the traditional meal of Easter Sunday.
Easter also is associated with Spring re-birth of nature. We went to the Tenebrae Service on Wednesday evening at the Ottawa RC Cathedral on Sussex Drive. The musical setting by Mgr John E. Ronan with the combined Male Choirs of the University of Ottawa, Notre Dame Cathedral and Alumni of the St-Michael Choir School. The Lessons by Matthew, John, Luke, Peter, Isaiah, were read by 8 women. The service was presided by the Archbishop of Ottawa, Mgr Terrence Prendergast,S.J.

Chag Pesach Sameach!

Happy Easter!


Wednesday, 16 April 2014


Several people have asked me about the results of the April 7 Election results in Quebec. I was not going to write about it but given the numerous questions, I will give my take on it.

First I have to state that my family belongs to the Anciens Canadiens arriving in 1662 in Quebec City. The new elected Liberal Premier of Québec Dr. Philippe Couillard's family arrived in 1613 so we belong to the old stock. Now for a lot of people familiar with Quebec Politics this makes us ''pure laine'' but we cannot be called séparatiste, this is not the case. The majority are attached to the concept of Canada as one Nation. The rest can be best described as sentimentality with a dose of pragmatism.

First for myself and for many other belonging to the Old Stock families, the Province of Québec as we know it today is a modern invention dating from 1949. The borders have changed a lot since 1763 when Canada was ceded to England by France under the Ancien Régime in the Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Year War between England-Prussia vs France-Austria. In fact until the Treaty was signed some 4 years after the short battle (10 minutes) on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City in September 1759 it was not very clear to the troops of King George II if they were going to stay permanently or return to Europe.

France was tired of its territory in North America, too costly and did not bring anything in terms of revenue, England did not want New France, the war in North America had been nothing more than a diversion. When France offered in the peace talks to give away all of New France which was basically all of North America with the exception of the British 13 Colonies, the Prime Minister of England William Pitt Junior said NO!  In the end Pitt realized he had to accept, there was nothing else on offer. The King of England did by decree recognized and guaranteed protection for the French Language, religion RC and French Civil Code. In the Royal decree of 1791 women who owned land could also vote.

Fast forward to 1865 and all the talks about uniting the 4 Provinces against a possible American aggression. Here Quebec represented over 50% of the population of the New Canada under Confederation. The new National symbols all belong to pre-arrival in Canada of the so called English, the Feuille d'érable, the Castor, and the National Anthem O Canada,  a poem composed as a French-Canadian Nationalist Anthem for the St-Jean Baptiste Society, not exactly an English symbol.

Though to be fair, the English Elite (mostly Scots and some Brits) dominated the business sector and abused their position.  The French-Canadians, Irish,Welsh and a few Jews where not well treated at all. There was grievances and they were not always properly addressed. Though again French-Canadian Politicians dominated the political scene. One of the most famous Prime Ministers was Sir Wilfrid Laurier an icon of French Canada and a Saint of the Liberal Party.

So for me Canada or old Canada is this big land mass from l'Acadie (today's Maritime Provinces) to the Rockies out West and also a great big chunk of the USA where the Mississipi flows including many cities like Detroit, Chicago, Duluth, St-Louis all originally French settlements.

I cannot conceive of this idea that the Province of Quebec today would be my country and ignore the rest of Canada as irrelevant. I also do not buy into the long winded speeches of Politicians of the Parti Quebecois though they appeal to basic fundamental cultural heritage and language. Speech that mirror a very narrow vision of Ethnic Nationalism, remember Yugoslavia and Milosevic, very similar.


The situation in Quebec today (2014) is not that of 1968 when the Parti Québecois was created by René Lévesque. It is true that back then Quebec society was far more homogenous, so was Canada for that matter. There were some important social injustices and economic inequalities, there was none of the important financial institutions like the Caisse de dépôt or economic autonomy which exist today.

It was another world and another generation, that of my parents who were running the show. The Catholic Church which had been such a power for centuries was losing its grip. Society was becoming rapidly open and accepting of new ideas and concepts, in other words it was the era of the famous Quiet Revolution.

The PQ came to power for the first time in 1976, the year of the Olympic Games in Montreal. In their first mandate they certainly cleaned up the mess left behind by years of inept governments, they also established a framework on cultural identity and language, Bill 101. That was then and the past cannot be relived or brought back.

Today Quebec Society is diverse, multicultural and young. Quebec controls fully its Immigration something none of the other 9 provinces in Canada do, we have seen an important intake of French Speaking Africans, Haitians, Maghreb Muslim Arabs with others from Lebanon, Egypt and Syria.
The actual number of French citizens (France) coming to Quebec is fairly small and not stable since upwards of 40% leave after only a few years in Quebec.

The PQ was created in 1968 for one purpose alone Secession from Canada, its article 1 of the Party Charter. The raison d'être without it there is no reason for the PQ. The PQ lost by a slim margin the second and last referendum in 1995. Since then a long period of bitter recrimination amongst PQ loyalists has been simmering against the Federal Government in Ottawa and anyone like myself and others or 65% of the population of Quebec do not support them.

According to official PQ speak, the victory had been stolen by the Anglos and Ethnic voters in 1995. Foreigners were the problem and kept Quebec in a state of advanced Colonialism like what could be seen in Africa prior to 1960. The PQ speak is extremist and borders on known forms of extremist ethnic politics. If you do not speak French fluently you might not always understand the turn of phrases used.

Some 18 months ago in 2012, the Quebec government of Liberal Premier Jean Charest fell with the help of social unrest provoked by Pauline Marois and the PQ in their support of University students who were demanding Free Tuition for post secondary education.

The students looking at post-secondary education in some European countries where it is Free  demanded that the same standard be applied here. Premier Charest had 80% of public opinion on his side and refused to grant the request of the students claiming that there was no money for such a policy, which is quite true given that record numbers of young Quebecois going to University. However through well orchestrated public protests and riots in Montreal and elsewhere the government called an election on the question and lost and Premier Charest retired.

During this election Mme Marois promised the students that she would grant them Free Tuition, once elected she quickly forgot that promise and raised the tuition fee tying it to the inflation rate. Though her victory was far from complete, the Liberal won 31.2% of the vote the PQ won 31.95% of the vote Marois was in but had a minority government.

 Mme Marois wanted a majority government and to gain a majority she needed an issue, she found one by creating a false identity crisis based on a narrow ethnic definition of what a Quebecois is. No one was fooled, to fit the bill you have to be an Old Stock Family, White, Catholic, French. The Catholic part is bizarre since very few people are practicing Catholics.

The Quebec economy required attention and massive intervention but Marois and her PQ colleagues could not gain much traction on that topic given the PQ lack of policies and vision on investments, job creation, etc, high taxes in Quebec and the bloated Public Service and the enormous debt are a huge impediment. Not the sort of complicated issue you can win easily with when you have no plan.

Pauline Marois and her tchador (election humour)

So the issue of choice of Mme. Marois was the ''Foreigners'' in general, who undermine Quebec culture and the Muslims in particular with their Sharia, tchadors and violent ways, the Jews and religious Sikhs were also thrown in for good measure. The problem with this approach being that most if not all immigrants come either from Francophone Africa or the French Maghreb. So if the Foreigners are the problem why is Quebec Immigration concentrating on a specific region of the World?

Marois and her party orchestrated a Commission of Enquiry for the implementation of a Charter of Québecois Values to study the Muslim menace which promised to turn Quebec into an Islamic Caliphate in no time at all. The Charter had to be imposed to protect Quebec old stock identity and Christian civilisation. Again all this was extremely strange and bordered on the twilight zone of politics.

Some testimony at the commission was hilarious and downright dumb, like the one by this family who travelled to Morocco for the first time and came back with cartoonish impressions of strange Foreign practices we could not allow in Quebec.

On the other hand you had testimony by people like Jeannette Bertrand who is a retired talk show host, tv actress, public personality and an icon of 1970 Feminism ( a select club of white old women who see their values as the correct ones) Mme. Bertrand would like to correct young women today who do not understand that their brand of Feminism makes too many concessions to please those other foreign women wearing veils. Her friend Lise Payette also a former talk show host and a former PQ politician wrote articles sympathizing with her.

The whole Charter episode is a sorry one of ignorance, intolerance and prejudice, too many ugly things were said by people who should have known better given their status in Quebec Society.

The Charter debate in the media and public at large gave the impression to Mme Marois that she could easily have an electoral campaign based on cultural identity crisis and fear of the other. She firmly believed that this would be the magic trick to a majority government.

This was a false impression, the polls appeared to give her a majority government, they were wrong and her strategy backfired. She failed to understand that the Quebec population wanted to talk about the economy, jobs, the debt, investments, education and health care, not separation and not a referendum and the Charter embarrassed far too many people.

Clear polls showed that 85% of the Quebec population did not want a third referendum and did not want to hear about Sovereignty, Separation or any other items of the basic PQ platform. Mme Marois ignored those polls, it was her big mistake.

Then she allied herself with PKP or Pierre Karl Peladeau the son of Peladeau father the media baron who became rich by being tough with the little guy, a crude and unpleasant man. PKP is also known as being the enemy of the working man and for his hatred of labour unions. Suddenly this arch-conservative was a PQ star. It is important to note that the PQ has always been a leftist party closer to socialism and labour unions than capitalism. How could a party which stood for the lower classes and the blue collar workers suddenly become the Republican party? No one in the Quebec electorate understood that one, least of all staunch PQ old time leftist members, the die hard separatist branch of the party.

The debate on the Charter of Values created a malaise in Quebec society, most people think of themselves as open and socially progressive, Quebec is by far the most open and liberal society in terms of morals and attitudes in North America, if compared with any other part of Canada or the USA for that matter.

This Charter was not and is not a reflection of Quebec, Montreal a city of 4 million people is diverse, cosmopolitan and multicultural, how to impose such a backward notion of society on a city which is the economic motor of the Province.

So the result of this ill conceived campaign was a PQ defeat, the worst electoral results since its creation in 1970, gaining only 25% of the votes cast. The PQ still got 30 seats but just barely, in many cases wining by just a few hundred votes where just 18 months ago they had won by a large majority.
It was also the first time since 1921 that a sitting Premier (Marois) was defeated by a new incumbent (Couillard).

In many ways this defeat of the PQ is a third NO to the idea of a referendum and separation. Probably a final No to the basic tenet of the party. Mme Marois herself lost her seat to an unknown candidate and so did all other controversial candidates espousing narrow ethnic views like Mme Mailloux who spouted Nazi propaganda which Mme. Marois did not disavow. It was the worst campaign I had ever witnessed, showing how incompetent Mme Marois was and how detached from every day reality. It was also a vanity project, Mme. Marois saw herself as the first women to become President of a New Republic, she would succeed where men including the party founder René Levesque had failed. Born in a very poor and humble family, Marois rose to prominence and became a millionaire living in a Chateau on an island and wearing a lot of bling. How did this all happen, well that is another sorry story.

What is troubling now is how her lieutenants like Bernard Drainville and J.F. Lisée two senior PQ Ministers say they did not mean all the things they said and did not really support the Charter. Repudiating Mme Marois even before she steps down after Easter.

As for the PQ loyalist they blame again the Media, the Foreigners like the Muslims and all other Quebecois who do not support their vision for this defeat. Basically the majority 58% is wrong for not supporting the PQ. What is also sad is the continuous un-going monologue about how we as a people are in danger and how the forces of oppression (the bad anglos and the foreigners) are out to get us. The other country and its Parliament (Canada) is pure evil, we must save ourselves. Just read the chat lines and the opinion pieces in newspapers, pure lunacy. It remains as the Elected Premier Couillard said, an idea does not die, yes that is true and in Quebec the 30% die hard separatist will not let go. But the PQ as a party is in very serious trouble and may disappear all together in the coming years if it is unable to re-position itself. If the PQ abandons article 1 on separation then it has no purpose as such, if it does not then it is marginalized, other parties have taken up the space the PQ once occupied, this is how political commentators see the debate. It very much looks like the whole idea which led to the creation of the PQ was the project of one generation which is now passing. PQ support is amongst the 60 and older group.

I think it can be truthfully said that the Quebecois are Nationalist but not Separatist. Happy to remain in Canada and make the best of it as we have for the last 400 years.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Pizza, Pizza!

When we first moved to Rome a colleague of mine who was leaving said you know they cannot even make decent pizza here. I was very surprised by this blanket statement. Did the Italian not invent the pizza? Did they loose the recipe somewhere? How could this be, how could Italians not make something that is quintessentially associated with Italy. But this was not the end of it, I quickly discovered other colleagues who did not like the Italian food served in Italy.

Now that was quite the surprised, one colleague upon arriving a few months after me with her 2 kids, well let's say adult teenagers declared that Italy had the worst Lasagna in the world. Now in this case she had ordered lasagna in a well known restaurant where I had been myself several times.  So I asked in a state of bewilderment what did she mean, what happened I said to her. She proceeded to explain that in Canada they had a tradition of having dinner at 5pm promptly. Oh, I said, knowing that in Italy at that hour of the day most people are at work or having an aperitivo usually a glass of Prosecco, dinner is later usually around 8pm or 9pm.

She then went on to described her lasagna experience. She explained that the dish had veal instead of beef and not much of it, it was more like a creamy cheese tomato sauce not at all like hers which even if you shake the plate would stand tall and firm like a tower that you cut with a knife. I see I said, there was nothing else on the menu she recognized so foreign these Italian dishes were from what we have in Canada. She was convinced that in Italy all they had on the menu was pasta dishes and nothing else.  She was taken aback by the offer of beef, veal and lamb and then the various fish and seafood dishes. Italian cuisine is varied to say the least and depends a lot on the region for specialities.

So my colleague who so disliked Pizza in Italy did so because it was not loaded with ingredients and meat like in Canada. Pizza was historically speaking a food for the poor, invented in Campania to feed those who could not afford anything else, essentially a flat hot piece of bread with one topping, usually a bit of tomato sauce or a bit of green and mushrooms. Just enough to satisfy the appetite and sold on street corners for pennies.

Pizza with truffles and figs with ricotta cheese.

Pizza in Italy is sold in many different ways from small family owned shops. It may come in a big square pan with different toppings known as Pizza al Taglio meaning it is cut in square pieces and you buy a square the size of your hand or more with the toppings you want. It is also made in a pan a meter long and sold by weight Pizza alla pala. You may also find it in circular dishes and sold in triangle wedge Pizza Americana, but this is more rare. Or again in a Pizzeria your pizza is the size of a round dinner plate Pizza Tonda, always cooked in a wood burning oven this is a point of dogma and is followed carefully by Italians.

Pizza wedge with prosciutto 

Small Pizzette, one bite pizza

Other style of Pizza are Calzone, pizza Genovese, pizza foggiana,(Foggia, Puglia) pizza siciliana, pizza marchigiana (Marche region) and panzerotto (stuffed similar to a calzone). There is also the pizzette and pizzelle, (small dollar size pizza).

But there is more, in Rome a Pizza Napoletana is topped with tomato, mozzarella and fresh anchovies.
Order it in Naples and it comes without the mozzarella and is seasoned with oregano and garlic, it is also called Marinara even though it has nothing to do with the Mare (sea).
Not to forget that your pizza comes either Alta (high) typical of Naples or Bassa (thin or low crust) typical of Rome.

You cannot find any of this in Canada, so this is why my colleagues were so confused.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

When is Brunch time?

The idea of Brunch on Sunday morning is not a new one, though it is not a old one either, maybe 50 years old at best.
I remember when it started to be introduced here in Canada it was in the mid 1960's previously the idea of the Brunch was introduced by hotel operators in large American cities like New York, Las Vegas and elsewhere by simply offering a stiff drink in the morning like a Bloody Mary  to help you get over the hangover of the night before, they would also offer to extend breakfast time to 11am instead of 9am. Saturday night was devoted to going out dancing or to a show and most likely on Sunday morning people wanted to sleep in and have breakfast later than 7:30am. Also with changing attitudes people started to skip that 10am Sunday morning Church service. So you had to offer something. The Brunch came to replace the Sunday Hotel Family lunch option, to this day many hotels still offer a Brunch Buffet which is borrowed from the Scandinavian Smorgasborg idea. Restaurants in Canada and in Ottawa in particular will get into the act much later, the Brunch stayed the domaine of hotels and resorts at least until the early 1980's in Canada. Today everyone offer brunch options even Asian restaurants.

But what is Brunch? It is not a buffet and it is not breakfast in the classical sense of what a North American Breakfast is with its juice, toast, jam,cereal, fruit, pancake, waffle, bacon, sausage and egg offering. Brunch is suppose to be an offering of dishes which mixes breakfast and lunch together but you are not suppose to find any of the regular breakfast offering on the Brunch menu, at least in the classical sense of what Brunch is and it is not a Buffet offering either despite the fact that many hotels and restaurants do buffet service. One example is the Easter Sunday lunch which in Ottawa has morphed into Easter Brunch Buffet, the reason for this is to save money for Hotel management and maximize profits on liquor.

I remember the first time I had Brunch it was in an hotel in Montreal and it was in 1967, the offering was interesting, I had to get used to the idea that after 11:30am, no one offered Brunch before that time, Brunch started at 11:30 and ended at 3:30pm, it was almost lunch time and the mid-day point. The menu if my memory serves me well, had quiche and omelettes with various vegetable and cheeses, toast was replaced by French baguette served slightly warm, no jam though, other items were a chicken dish, like a pot pie or Vol au Vent, grilled or poached fish and seafood in a creamy sauce, vegetables, rice and roast potatoes. Back then only a green salad was offered, salads tended to be simple side dishes. The adults started with a Bloody Caesar or a glass of bubbly or simply a spicy tomato juice. Desserts in that era, the black Forest Cake and the New York Cheese cake were very popular, there was also French pastries, unlike what passes for pastries today, it was the old fashion European style pastries, you can still see and taste in Europe.

How the idea of brunch has changed, nowadays it's starts as early as 8:00am and no alcohol or stiff drinks are offered. It is basically a breakfast menu, no lunch items are offered and it usually ends by 2:00pm at the latest. Everything on Saturday and Sunday is geared towards the Brunch crowd and the menu concentrate on the usual tired looking Eggs Benedict with a sauce trying to masquerade as Hollandaise, Eggs Florentine has disappeared from menus due to rampant E.Coli in so many eating places or eggs any style, toast and bacon or sausage, freshly squeezed juice from a commercial box and lots of refill of acidy american coffee. It seems that the meaning of Brunch has been lost and replaced with another way to make money without imagination and poor offering.

Far too many restaurants offer Buffet Brunch, I have a personal aversion to all Buffet, especially if it says all you can eat for $ 9.95. To me a restaurant buffet rimes with botulism. If you have been raised as I have in restaurants and hotel kitchens you quickly learn that the food in the Buffet has been prepared hours before it is finally offered to the customers. Of course no customer is made aware of this fact.

This is especially true of salads often made the night before or any cold cuts or cold fish or meat dishes. Eggs are often prepared one hour before and kept warm on a hot plate or lamp, same with any sausage or bacon. Nothing is freshly made unless you accept the word fresh as meaning prepared 5 hours ago or more. As for any desserts, none is made by a pastry chef anymore and all is bought from a large industrial distributor. Buffet allows the owner to maximize profits by offering the lowest quality. Yes even 5 star hotels are guilty of this because there is no standard rules to follow.

This is not to say that you cannot find a nice Brunch menu prepared with imagination but it is becoming difficult. Here in Ottawa almost all restaurants offer a Brunch on the weekends but very few know how to do a classic brunch. Of course they offer what people will go for and buy and it is also a question of educating a palate, unfortunately in a world of fast food and Starbucks or Tim Horton, ignorance is rampant. Also from a cultural point of view having the old fashion Bloody Caesar, a Mimosa or some Champagne to start is not something people do in Ontario where drinking laws are stuck in 1910. We also as a society drink less than in the days prior to 1975.

I remember great Brunch menus in Chicago where we would go with friends back in 1994, the drinks were stiff Minoza made with Orange juice freshly squeezed at the bar, Drambuie, Champagne on crush ice in a big glass. Brunch in a way is a celebration, you meet friends and you have a lively conversation and laughter. Brunch for me remains a Sunday tradition like the Sunday lunch in Italy is a tradition. Saturday has other traditions as do days of the week when you meet friends for lunch.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Summer Job even at my age

Well I finished the Season of Cultural lectures at the National Gallery of Canada and completed the program for the next Season which starts in September.

Moving on the my next job at the Canadian War Museum for the summer show which opens 09 April until 21 September. The exhibits celebrate the Centennial Anniversary of the beginning of the Great War 1914-1918. Some 650,000 Canadians went to war or 10% of the population of Canada at the time, 66,000 were killed and 175,000 returned badly injured. It was a war which changed Canada as a society and brought a new vision of what being Canadian meant. Canada also fed Britain at the start of the War by sending millions of tons of food and agricultural goods thus avoiding a famine in the British Isle.  

The two painting exhibits of the Canadian War Museum 
April 9 to September 21 in Ottawa

Beautifully mounted exhibits with great works by Canadian artist A.Y. Jackson and German artist Otto Dix. There are also works by various artists like Paul Nash,  Homer Watson, E.A.Rickards, F.H. Varley, Cyril Barraud and many others.

Poppies by artist-soldier V. Cummings

The Canadian War Memorial Fund was the creation of Max Aitken Lord Beaverbrook, 116 artists participated in all. The collection of 400 paintings was given to Canada by Max Aitken in 1919.

We had over 300 members showing up for the opening tonight and the exhibition hall was very busy. 

Lord Beaverbrook, 1879-1964
a life of generosity

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Tomorrow is the big day

Well tomorrow is the Official opening of the Summer exhibits at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. The two exhibits mark for centennial of the First World War, 1914-2014.

Transformations A.Y. Jackson and Otto Dix

The other exhibit is entitled Witness

I have been preparing for weeks for both studying painting styles, painters and everything one needs to know about the Western Front during the First World War, the border area between France and Belgium.  Remembering the names of the battlefields like Vimy, Ypres, Arras, Flers-Courcelette, Somme, Mont Sorrel, etc....

My job will be to interpret the paintings for visitors. I will be there from 09 April to 21 September.
There are over 400 paintings from the Canadian War Memorial Fund and if you visit the National Gallery of Canada, room 215 and other rooms around the Court yard you will also see other giant canvases of the CWMF, financed by Max Aitken Lord Beaverbrook.

The two exhibits at the CWM will feature some of the paintings not all.

Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, 1 Vimy Place.

On a completely different note I also heard this piece of music and thought it had a Spring like feeling about it, reminds me of Greece for some reason, maybe more Balkan like.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Finally Spring in Ottawa!

Well Winter started on 24 November 2013 with the first snowfall and finally on 31 March 2014 it came to an end.

It was long and very cold, we had one of the longest skating season on the Rideau Canal and Ice Fishing on the many rivers and lakes. Now its Sugar Bush time, the Maple trees sap will start running with the cold nights and warm days, a sure sign of Spring.

So we need a little dance music to celebrate the New Season.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote le Devin du village, presented to King Louis XV in October 1752 at Fontainebleau.

I will write shortly about the two new exhibits I am involved in at the Canadian War Museum on paintings from the Canadian War Memorial Fund of Lord Beaverbrook. The two exhibits open on 10 April to the public in Ottawa.