Sunday, 29 June 2014

A worthwhile experience

I am reflecting on a volunteer experience I had today at one of the better known Humanitarian organisation in Ottawa. I was asked to help out with meal preparation and serving lunch to those who come in from the street in Ottawa's Lower town on Murray Street. The Shepherd of Good Hope is well known in Ottawa and is centrally located on the corner of Murray Street and King Edward. Everyone knows it and knows of their good work for the poor and the homeless. It is the largest Not for Profit organisation dedicated to helping the poor and the homeless in Ottawa.

The story began 30 years ago at the Parish of St-Brigid in Ottawa. The priests of this parish had started  feeding homeless men in this poor area of Ottawa. The need was great and Shepherd of Good Hope was established. Today Shepherd offers many services to the needy from a 500 bed shelter partitioned  in several buildings around Ottawa, free meal service, health, assisted living services and other programs. The services are offered to Men and Women alike. Hundreds of hot meals are served on any given day and the shelter service is helpful especially during our extremely cold winters but also provides a safe and secure place for people who have nowhere to go and are vulnerable.

I was asked by Denis Schryburt who is running for Councillor in the Somerset Ward in Ottawa's Municipal elections on October 27 to lend a hand.
He has been participating in this program for years with his family and friends. We got to 233 Murray street at 08:30 am and started work, put on an apron and start cutting up meat and vegetables so that the experienced volunteer chefs in the kitchen can cook up the meal for lunch at 11:30am. Everyone is a volunteer and many have been doing this work for many years, so they are old hands at it. There is also a permanent Staff who manage all operations and a Board of Directors.

The meals are not only free but nourishing and copious, today there was a thick minestrone with chicken meat, a beef stew, a spicy rice curry, 2 vegetables and a coleslaw, tea, coffee, milk, bread and a rich dessert.  After lunch around 12:30 pm, for those who want we also have sandwiches to give out in case they are hungry in the afternoon.

The clients are old, young, of all ethnic background, male and female. The ladies have there own dining room as per their request. Many are fragile and afraid, the streets can be very mean even in Ottawa.  The whole operation is like clockwork, the dining area is spotlessly clean and all meals are served on chinaware, no paper cups or plastic plates. Many thanked us for preparing the food and serving them lunch today, telling us how good the food was. I saw what a kind word and a smile can make a big difference for someone down on their luck. Some 300 people had a good lunch on what I was told was a slow day due to the long Canada Day Weekend, the numbers are usually greater.

It made me think of the numerous platitudes we too often hear about how Canada is a rich country, when you see this type of need in just one city and this city is the National Capital, can you imagine what it is in other cities like Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary and elsewhere. No need to look in far away lands to help out people you do not know. Look in your own backyard there are plenty of Canadians who need a helping hand and some compassion.


Our volunteers on this day at the Soup kitchen of Shepherd of Good Hope.

This is Canada! 1534-1867-2014

I found this song listening to the CBC Ben Heppner's show on Opera. Heppner is a famous Canadian Tenor now retired. Here we hear Canadian Soprano Terasa Stratas sing This is Canada, the images are  of Canada 1960. Things have changed, you can see Toronto skyline at 01:35 not like today at all. The last image is of the Royal Yacht Britannia sailing on the St-Lawrence Seaway. The song is a bit corny but fun nonetheless.

Calixa Lavallée, musician, composer, maestro, world traveller. 

The composer of the Canadian National Anthem is Calixa Lavallée (1842-1891) I learned today that he immigrated to Rhode Island and served as a Union Soldier with the rank of Lieutenant in the American Civil War. He died in Boston. He was one of 60,000 French Canadians who fought on the side of the Yankees. His anthem as first was composed for the Société Nationale des Canadiens Français which then became the Société St-Jean Baptiste. What was once since as a Patriotic anthem for French Canada became shortly thereafter the National Anthem of Canada.

We have put up our Canadian Flag on the balcony, the same flag which has travelled the world with me for the last 40 years. I originally got it from Parliament from my Member of Parliament, back then you wrote to them and they would send you a flag.

Because this is the Centennial of the Great War 1914-1918, I post here the Old Flag, known as the Red Ensign, which was replaced in 1965 by the new Maple Leaf Flag.

Canadian Flag in 1914.

Canadian Flag 1929-1965

Happy Dominion of Canada Day to all Canadians wherever you may be on this July 1. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Third Anniversary

In June of 2011 we packed our house on 26 Via Dei Villini for our return to Ottawa. It seems like a long time ago but we returned to Rome since for visits. The first time was in March 2012 and again in November 2013, always a pleasure, Rome remains our home, we know the city well and comfortable everywhere.

What we loved was the Art and the panorama of the City, just turn your head and look, there you have it a splendid view. The arts are everywhere in monuments, in private collections, in Churches or public buildings, minutes away from you. Even from our living room window lush greenery and historical piazzas. Impossible to forget.

I am listening to Ottorino Respighi the Fountains of Rome and the Pines of Rome, he certainly captured well in music the sights of the Città. I can see it now.

 Bronzino's portrait of Princess Eleonora of Toledo and her son Giovanni, she was the wife of Cosmo I de Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany. (1545) Both will die within days of each other of malaria in 1562.

Pauline Bonaparte Princess Borghese (1780-1825) died of liver cancer, sister of Napoleon I.

 Pope Leo X (1475-1521) son of Lorenzo il Magnifico Medici, by Raphael

Portrait of a lady by Bernardino Luini. The elaborate head dress this lady is wearing is made of her own natural hair and took hours to comb and weave on a frame made for this type of hairstyle. Only the very wealthy could afford such fancy dress.

Friday, 27 June 2014

28 June 1914 a fateful day.

The 28 June marks the Centennial of the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. A fateful day and one that will shape much of what will happen in the XXth Century.

The Great War would start on August 1 and would transform the world. Canada's contribution was great and should be remembered, 10% of the population went to war (620,000) of that number 10% were killed. Many returned badly wounded to a Canada transformed by the war. New measures also such as Personal Income Tax, women voting, a move from a rural to an urban setting, industrialisation, social change in the work place, workers riots in Winnipeg and elsewhere and the harsh response of the Conservative Government of Robert Borden and Arthur Meighen.

The Great War would bring the fall of 4 Empires and would create more economic and social problems which would lead just 20 years later to the Second World War. What is also known today is that no one actually lost the war, it became clear at the end of 1917 to all involved that the war was un-winable. An armistice on 11 November 1918 was declared, it was the allies at the Peace Conference in 1919 who declared that Germany was guilty and France sought and got harsh terms in the Treaty of Versailles. European leaders in my view are all guilty in this case given that many were sleeping at the wheel and did not realize the danger of a World War.

This exhibit is currently on at the Canadian War Museum until 21 September 2014

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Celebrating World Pride Day 2014

In Canada and around the World we are celebrating Pride Week.

The Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (MOCCA) in Toronto has a special exhibit for World Pride Day.  Website:

Attila Richard Lukacs, Coo coo Ka-chhoo, Mr. Robinson (1999)

Yes the Liberal Party of Canada under Justin Trudeau as Leader our next Prime Minister is celebrating World Pride Day! The agenda of the Just Society born in 1968 with his father the late P.E.Trudeau is back with us to make our Canada great again.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Dresdner Triptychon, Der Krieg by Otto Dix

The Dresdner triptych on should not be confused with a similarly named one by Jan Van Eyck painted in 1437 for the MarienAltar which can be found today in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister  in Dresden. This triptych was created for the celebrated Giustiniani Family of Genoa, Italy. This family has a Saint in the person of Lorenzo Giustiniani who was Cardinal in Venice.

Between 1929-1932 Otto Dix the celebrated German painter and father of German Realism painted a triptych in memory of the Great War 1914-1918. He being a veteran of this war had strong memories of the horrors he witnessed on the battlefields and regrets, the war experience had transformed him. If before 1914 Dix in a self-portrait presents himself almost like Albrecht Durer, who he admired. After 1919 Dix now presents himself in a new self-portrait as Mack the Knife, the character of the Three Penny Opera of Bertold Brecht. Dix laughs and denounces Bourgeois society and its conservative values, the hypocrisy, the lies, he sets himself against that very society of the Weimar Republic. His world is that of the Cabaret, the Cafés, the Brothels and its prostitutes. As a painter and artist he will enrage Hitler who also a veteran of the Great War cannot understand why Dix rejects what Hitler see as glorious, the army, family, discipline and order.

Here is a YouTube documentary in German and English on this masterpiece. I am very happy I had the opportunity to see it in Dresden. It was one of the highlight of our visit. See the web site of the museum:

Oompah Bands in Salzburg

Many traditions thrive in Salzburg, the region became rich because of the Salt Mines, Salzburg, salt mountain and Salzach river, Salt river, many references to salt and you can visit the salt mines in the lake district around Salzburg. There are a lot of attractions, hiking in the mountains, camping around the lake district, fishing etc.. It is not all music festival.

Here are some photos of the Pentecost Parade each year on Saturday at 11am where the different parishes congregate in the centre of Old Salzburg and march across the Staatsbrucke.

All in traditional costumes, bands and parish flags, very colourful and lots of fun to watch.

Here we are Will and I at the parade in our traditional costume. Love those hats.

The riders crack their whips 

Dult sponsors the parade and gives out beer to the crowd, everyone loves a good parade. This beer is brewed in Altötting, Bavaria just across the border. Dult sponsors several beer festivals in October and in the summer time.

Musical program of the Salzburg Pfingstfestspiele 2014

I am not writing these entries in order at all, it is more as I recollect them in memory, so far I have spoken more about Dresden than Salzburg. So here I will return to the Festival which was the main reason of our trip to Europe this Spring.

As per years past we had a full program of music and this year the program prepared by musical director Cecilia Bartoli was dedicated to Rossini. Of my experience this year I most enjoyed the concert given by Joyce DiDonato who has a beautiful voice and clear diction. She was accompanied on the piano by David Zobel.

Her Liedmatinee program was dedicated to music about Venice. We heard her sing from Venice most famous son Vivaldi an aria from his opera Ercole su'l Termodonte (1723).  Then from Fauré, Cinq mélodies op 58 De Venise. Followed by Rossini, La Regata Veneziana. Schubert Gondelfahrer, Schumann Two Venetian Airs, Michael Head Three Songs of Venice, Reynaldo Hahn, Venezia, Songs in Venetian dialect.

The other concert I enjoyed was the Stabat Mater by Rossini and the Libera me of Verdi directed by Antonio Pappano with the orchestra and choir of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia the Choirmaster is Ciro Visco. We often heard them in Rome and both the orchestra and choir are very good and always give a solid performance.  The soloists were Maria Agresta, Sonia Ganassi, Lawrence Brownlee and Erwin Schrott, who is quite the peacock on stage.

We then heard La Petite Messe Solennelle of Rossini with again Pappano and the choir and orchestra of Santa Cecilia. This time the soloists were Eva Mei, Vesselina Kasarova, Lawrence Brownlee and Michele Pertusi. I did not like Mei nor Kasarova, their voices simply did not suit this piece at all, I am not even sure in what language they were singing. It could have been Russian for all I knew.
This piece is sung in Latin and I enjoyed both Brownlee and Pertusi, strong and clear voices.

We also attended both operas La Cenerentola ossia la bonta in trionfo by Rossini and Othello by Rossini. In both cases I was confused and annoyed by what I saw.

The staging for La Cenerentola was modern, a dingy dinner run by the violent father of Cinderella also known as Angelina in this opera and the Palace of the Prince was a Disco. There was a lot of special effects like a car chase and a traffic accident, chairs which were all over the place, dancing furniture etc... All very distracting and annoying. I am told that Madame Bartoli loves Damiano Michieletto and Paolo Fantin as designers, both are very young 30 something. I just find their style distracting and somewhat childish.

The Choir of the Vienna State Opera under the direction of Jean-Christophe Spinosi which I dislike and his orchestre Ensemble Matheus. Spinosi is good at directing musician but when it comes to opera he cannot resist the temptation of burying the singers with loud music. You the listener loose in such a combination. He is young and brash, like those personalities you see on French Television Talk Shows where everyone is a smarter than the other guests and tries to prove it.

Cenerentola or Angelina was played by Cecilia Bartoli, the father Don Magnifico, Enzo Capuano,
Don Ramiro the Prince, Javier Camarena, Dandini the valet, Nicola Alaimo, Alidoro, Ugo Guagliardo, the ugly step-sisters Clorinda Lynette Tapia and Tisbe, Hilary Summers.

Again the female voices of Clorinda and Tisbe left a great deal to be desired, weak and incomprehensible.

As for Othello by Rossini the plot is different from the opera by Verdi. The plot is somewhat complicated by all that is not said and should be said by the actors. Hysteria, confusion reigns though out this opera and as one psychiatrist who also attends this Festival every year like us and who we have come to know through the years, Dr. M told us that he would have put the lot on tranquillizers because that is what they needed. Of course Rossini wrote this opera prior to the age of psychiatry.

There was no love between Desdemona and Othello, we learn because we are told so that they married secretly, really? Could have fooled me. Desdemona appears to be having an affair with her lady in waiting Emilia, this appears to be an idea of the designers.

The staging was very bad and frankly amateurish, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier were the designers and we were treated to a Desdemona given to spraying graffiti in her bedroom walls, seaport bar run by Maghreb Arabs and an Othello in black face, yes it is still done in this day and age.
Why does Othello have to be black? He is a Moor and they are Arabs so there is no need for him to be black or in this case in black face a la Al Jolson. Iago is not very present in this opera version by Rossini, he is a bit character. Rodrigo is the other main character with Elmiro, cruel, racist and stupid. The characters appear more motivated by racism than jealousy, I had the impression that we were playing to modern stereotypes.

The orchestra Ensemble Matheus was directed by Jean-Christophe Spinosi, again not impressed.
Desdemona was played by Cecilia Bartoli, Othello by John Osborn, Rodrigo by Edgardo Rocha, Iago by Barry Banks, Elmiro by Peter Kalman.

As for the Gala organized by Madame Bartoli it was a complete washout, I am so glad we did not buy tickets to it. Many of the great names of opera did not appear, the program had to be improvised at the last minute and dinner was finally served at midnight instead of 21:30. What a mess.

So in conclusion this years Festival had its good points but there were also quite a few false notes and I was disappointed and question the capacity of Cecilia Bartoli to direct such a Festival. She seems to want to try to many things at once and the results are very uneven.

The great voices of this festival Joyce DiDonato, Javier Camarena, John Osborn, Lawrence Brownlee, Erwin Schrott, Michele Pertusi. Great conductor Antonio Pappano, great orchestra Accademia Santa Cecilia of Rome and Choir under Ciro Visco.

I did not put Cecilia Bartoli in the list above because I feel that though she has a wonderful voice it has become cold and mannered, there is a tendency to try to impress the listener with vocal tricks which though pleasant to hear sometime lacks the emotion required in a piece and adds nothing to what is being sung. Bartoli was wonderful last year in Norma but this year in Cenerentola and Othelo, I felt boh as we say in Italian.

Overall we had a good time, Salzburg is always beautiful and gemütlich the weather was hot and sunny.


Monday, 23 June 2014

Dresden Zwinger Palais

Dresden certainly has beautiful museums and rich collections thanks to the Wettin Family who as  Prince Elector and Kings of Saxony through the ages collected various Art objects for their beauty, prestige and the pleasure they brought.

On this visit to Dresden, our first in 14 years, we visited again the Zwinger Palace built in 1711 by Matthaus Daniel Pöppelmann on the site of the old Fortress of Dresden, it is across the street from the Royal Palace. 

The Zwinger is a strange word in German, it actually has a military significance. It means a building usually for military use built by the City Defensive Walls, this Zwinger never had any military use and was built purely for pleasure and festivities, it did not have any residential use either. It was a place for entertainment and great festivities, dinners, balls and other State occasion when the King needed to show how magnificent his Court was to Foreing dignitaries. Somewhat like the Trianon in Versailles, la Gloriette at the Shönbrunn Palace in Vienna or the Villa Borghese in Rome. 

It like the rest of Dresden was severely damaged in the fire bombing raids of 1945, it was in a very poor state until 1990 when major reconstruction and renovation work took place. Originally the Zwinger housed the Royal collections of great masters paintings, rare Asian porcelain and other Art objects. Luckily the collections were all stored away in 1942 to avoid any damage. At the end of the war the area was overrun by Soviet troops and fell into the Soviet sphere, all of the treasures were stolen and brought back to Moscow on the orders of Stalin.

It was only after 1990 with the re-unification of Germany that Russia finally agreed to give back what had been stolen. 

What we were able to visit in 2000 was mainly the great courtyard of the Zwinger which was originally used as an Orangery and garden.  The buildings including the SemperBau were closed as they were unsafe and undergoing major repair work, still it was beautiful. 

Now restored it is even more beautiful and we marvelled at the work of the craftsmen who were able to re-create a Baroque fantasy. This means replacing the putti on the balustrade of the roof and other statues that were missing. For those who might be wondering a putto (singular) putti (plural) are not part of the 9 choirs of angels. We find them in Etruscan and Greek ancient imagery, they are secular and profane, often mischievous in the company of Bacchus, the God of Wine. The word Putto in Italian comes from the Latin Putus for boy. They are physical manifestation of invisible essences or spirits called genius or genii. They often represent Love, fertility, abundance, the Spirit of the Fruit of Life. 


It also meant replacing the 40 Meissen white porcelain bells on the glockenspiel and rebuilding the Crown Tower.

Satyrs having a good time 

Will not as a Satyr posing by the Crown Tower

Though much as been done the SemperBau which houses the old European Masters painting collection will undergo a modernisation of its engineering system so that it will be in keeping with modern museum standards in the next few years.

Semper Bau built by Gottfried Semper in 1850 see how the landscaping today is different from the photo below. The Church of St-Sophie in the background disappeared in 1945.

Photo of 1875 

Today the Swinger houses the famous State Collections of Porcelain and Mathematical and Scientific objects of the 18th Century which at the time were true marvels. August II the Strong loved those objects, he wanted to have all the latest gadgets to amuse himself and impress this guests.

In the Porcelain collection is the famous Dragoon Vases. In total some 23,000 porcelain objects are on display. It is said to be the most complete and specialised collection in the world today.  I do not doubt it, it is very impressive. It was August II the Strong who was the instigator of this great collection, exotic oriental objects were all the rage then in what was called Chinoiserie.  He loved those delicate fine porcelain so much so that in 1717 he exchanges 600 Dragoon Soldiers for 151 Lidded Porcelain Vases that belonged to Frederich Wilhelm I of Prussia. Since the soldiers were Dragoons the vases came to be know by that name.


Would you believe that this fine porcelain grouping is a table centre representing an allegory of gods and nymphs. Just the thing for the table for that weeknight supper with a few friends.

These galleries are beautifully curated and give an excellent idea of life at the Saxon Court and the accumulation madness of beautiful objects in the Age of Princes.

As you can see from the photos all items are presented with minimum barriers so that the most natural aspect can be enjoyed. Needless to say that you do not touch anything and strollers or small children are not allowed neither are back packs or bags of any kind.

This is just a small sample of what can be seen on a visit to the gallery. 

 A last reminder of what the Zwinger Palace looked like in 1945, fortunately it was restored for us to enjoy today.

And the Satyr are still dancing in the sunshine

I hope to return to Dresden in the coming years, it is truly a beautiful city and all the art collections are of the finest quality. It was the young Goethe who on his first visit to the Zwinger was enraptured by what he saw, today you can see the same thing and feel what Goethe felt amid such beauty.

Friday, 20 June 2014


Since we were in Dresden we decided to visit the City of Meissen where in 1724 under the auspices of the King of Saxony a group of researchers found the secret of how to make fine Porcelain. Until that time all porcelain came from China and the City of Jingdezhen was the World Capital of fine Porcelain since the Yuan Dynasty. I visited Jingdezhen in 2005 for the 1000 anniversary of the invention of the process in transforming simple clay into fine Porcelain. At the time of the late Renaissance European rulers started to see a new product appear from their trade with Asia, at first cups and saucers to drink Chinese tea and then that new drink coffee or chocolate from the Americas.

Fine Porcelain was a luxury product available only to Emperors and Kings, a novelty item really at first to marvel at since no one in Europe knew how to make such fine and delicate objects.
The King of Saxony had the idea that if he instructed the alchemists at this Court maybe they could find out the process and if they could produce porcelain of the quality of what was coming from China then Saxony could become the producer and supply house for all the Courts of Europe.
A great idea but not one easily achieved.

So we decided to sail to Meissen on an original steam boat built in 1860 powered by coal and steam.
Such boats take tourists up and down the Elbe river between the two cities a 2 hour leisurely trip. If you book ahead you can have breakfast or lunch on board, they also serve an excellent coffee and cake.

Steam boat mechanism.

The Elbe river is very scenic, all green fields, cows, sheep and horses, vineyards and castles.
As we left Dresden, the boats are moored just below the Brül Terrace, we got a very good panoramic view of the whole city centre.

We passed near the tower of the slaughter house which is featured in Kurt Vonnegut's book Slaughter House 5. The rest of the journey is spent looking at the wonderful countryside of Saxony on this very quiet river.

Tower of the Slaughterhouse as seen by Kurt Vonnegut

One of the many vineyards along the way producing mostly Riesling white wine

Meissen, Albrechtsburg Castle and Cathedral, said to be one of the oldest in Germany

The albrechtsburg Castle on the Misni Hill dominates the countryside. The foundation stone was laid by Duke Heinrich I in 929 as a fortress it was transformed by architect Arnold Von Westfalen into the first Palace in Germany by 1471 as a symbol of the power and wealth of the Wettin Family. The construction at the time used the most modern techniques and the castle rose on four floors using arches and support columns to carry the weight of each floor with large windows.

It was in 1710 that August II the Strong converted the entire castle into a porcelain fabrication research centre, he wanted to discover the secret process to make fine porcelain. The main residence of the Royal family had moved to Dresden many years prior and Albrechtsburg was the perfect setting for this secret work.  A cathedral built in 1260 is also part of this complex as well as the Bishops Palace.
The cathedral continued to function first as a Catholic church and then at the time of the Reformation it 1581 became a Lutheran Church. A Royal Chapel is the site of the burial of the Wettin family. The Cathedral has works by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

West door with Wettin Family tombs dating from the 13th century. 

art work by Lucas Cranach the Elder, in the memorial chapel of the Duke, scene here praying with his wife to the Saviour.

 People's Altar in the main sanctuary, note the Meissen porcelain crucifix and candle sticks.

 High Altar in the Santuary from the time when the Cathedral was R.C. reserved for the Monks.

View from the heights of the Castle with Elbe River 

In 1860 the porcelain making was transferred out of the castle to a new installation and the Castle was renovated and refurbished into what we see today. With large pseudo-middle-age paintings on the virtues of the Wettin Family, all very Wagnerian all Wotan and Lohengrin reminded me of Ludwig II castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, mind you it is the same historical period and the two families knew each other.

Difficult to imagine living in this decor around 1860. Though the King lived in the main Residence at the Royal Palace. Albrechtsburg was for show only.

Meissen as a town is quite beautiful, it is very clean and much is being done to erase the traces of the terrible flood of 2013 when the Elbe river invaded the city and the flood waters reach 2.5 meter in height.

There are of course many shops selling the Meissen Porcelain at very nice prices, a coffee set for 6 persons only 3900 Euros. It is the best possible porcelain you can buy and it is made with great care, truly a collectors item. In Canada we do not know Meissen Porcelain because of the monopoly of British Bone China which is not the same quality and is far more affordable.

We had a lovely lunch at the Castle with a view overlooking the whole region. The Hotel Burgkeller has a terrace with mature linden trees. A very good menu and good service, it was most pleasant.
Will had an apricot and strawberry soup and then white asparagus in a béchamel sauce with ham.
I had catfish in a fennel and dill sauce. See

Our return was with the S-Bahn which is a light rail train connecting all the small towns around Dresden. Only 30 minutes and we arrived at the main rail station in Dresden. Again efficient public transport for all, no need for a car.