Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Stratford as a town

Stratford has a lot to offer as a town, the Theatre Festival is now more than 60 years old and employs one thousand people year round in various tasks connected with the  Festival, a huge enterprise. I have been looking into our move to Stratford, now that I am retired I really see little point in staying in Ottawa. I came here for study and work, I never planned to die here. One factor to consider though is our friends and we have a lot of old and dear friends in Ottawa, people we have known for 30+ years. We do not know anyone in Stratford and would have to start over which can be difficult at our age. But Ottawa is a very expensive town, oh yes, it ranks up there with Rome and London, I am not exaggerating, I was involved in price comparison studies and Ottawa is not cheap, food, rent, gas and general expenses reflect the fact that it is the National Capital. So how do we entice our old friends to move or at least visit us. I should do a separate entry on this topic of why I am inclined to leave Ottawa.

But I digress, Stratford functions also outside the Festival and has been mindful to keep in mind that it must be more than one industry town. At one time and for more than 100 years Stratford was a major railway hub and international quality furniture maker. Today the furniture industry is gone and the railway is greatly reduced. The Festival brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue which profits to all local businesses, hotels, B& B, restaurants and many shops. To meet the demand of the many tourists and travellers who come to Stratford there are 3 fine chocolate makers with an incredible array of quality hand made chocolates. One is Rheo Thompson beautiful quality chocolates and candies. The other are Barr Chocolates and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. All are worth a visit because of their in house specialties.

 a very large piece of Fudge with nuts, it weighs about 6 Kg. 

 We actually bought this Creamsicle Fudge it has an orange taste and is quite nice

There is also for the gourmet some 15 fine dining establishment where Chefs outdo themselves with wonderful culinary delights. There are 8 real estate offices, 8 Art galleries, 7 fine coffee houses each one catering to a clientele who prefers good coffee in a relaxed atmosphere. In that category I like Revel Caffè on Market Place. Also 5 bookstores offering a lot of service to its clients in the old fashion way bookstore use to cater to the reading public. I shop at Fanfare Books on Ontario street which has a wide array of books for all taste. For those who love old things 4 antique stores, you can find some real gems often from old Estate sales.  There is also numerous professional services, lawyers offices, Medical doctors, numerous banks, etc... The city does not die during the winter Season as of November, some business have reduced hours but on the whole life goes on.

Of the restaurants we enjoyed Pazzo Taverna is a favourite, the Italian cuisine and service are very good, staff are knowledgeable about the wine list and the house specialities. You will not find lasagna or spaghetti on the menu, the chef follows original Italian recipes found in various regions of Italy.

Pazzo Taverna on Ontario Street

There is also an excellent Indian Cuisine restaurant Raja on George street, the atmosphere, food and service are excellent.

For after dinner drinks and a bite to eat where you are most likely to run into the actors and theatre staff Down the Street Bar on Ontario Street.

Another favourite restaurant is Mercer Hall Inn on the ground floor is the restaurant and  above there are two floors of well appointed rooms and suites, we stayed there and loved it.

We also discovered a new restaurant Bijou on Erie Street, they have no menu, just a blackboard and you read it and choose what you want to eat, there is a prix fixe of  2 plates for a set price and 3 plates for another set price. So it is very simple and good again the service was courteous and knowledgeable.

Stratford is part of what is now called the Nouvelle Ontario Cuisine, focusing on local ingredients and what is in Season. Ontario also has a lot of very good award winning wines. So it makes for a great combination.

Stratford also has many beautiful streets and old homes, it is a town with character.

Stratford Court House

All along the streets arrangements of either fresh herbs or a variety of flowers

What is interesting to note is the display of colours and arrangements everywhere in parks and along streets, a great deal of care has gone into this display throughout the city.

Ornamental fantasy gate in the city centre.

Street scape note that the tall facade were built to impress, the building is in fact not very deep as it can be noticed on the Stratford Tourism building.

Homes on Lake Victoria across from the city centre

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Shirts of Spo!

A few years ago I stumbled upon the blog of Dr. Spo, a real life doctor who is a board certified psychiatrist in the style/school of Carl Jung. He is also a shirt maker, what a combination, it is a hobby he took on and has made shirts for friends. One of his creation went on a world tour, all this from a hobby. He lives in Pumpkinville aka Phoenix AZ, with DAW his (a Saint) partner and Harper, no not the PM of Canada, their puppy a beautiful Boxer-Airedale-Chow mix.

DAW and Spo at Pazzo Taverna in Stratford

So a few months ago the Spo announced that he would like to do a shirt for me, would I like one and he in turn also offered to make one for the Willmeister. Mine is a Japanese pattern a la Katsushika Hokusai. Will's shirt pattern are Dachshunds after our puppies Nicky and Nora.

A creation of Michael C. Rockwell

Me and the Dr. Shirt maker in Stratford, On.

Will and Dachshund pattern shirt

Monday, 25 August 2014

It was the Stratford week

Well this year for Ferragosto and the 2000 Anniversary of the death of the first Roman Emperor Augustus on 19 Aug, 14 AD in Nola we went to Stratford, Ontario, the Canadian home of the Shakespeare Festival. The Festival was established by Tom Patterson, a local fellow who had no background in theatre simply an idea for a festival. Quite the success story in Canadian Culture when you think of the tens of thousands of people who attend the festival and all the great names of the English Theatre who played at the Festival each year.

Stratford is a small town of about 30,000 people, established in 1832 as a settlement. The name of the town came from the owner of the first local Inn-Tavern, his establishment was called the Shakespeare and the head of the town settlement thought let's make a word association and call this little settlement Stratford. At the time it was a simple settlement infested with deer, a woody marsh. It grew to become an international centre of fine furniture making until the collapse of the furniture market in the early 1960's with the last manufacturer closing in 1980.  Stratford was also a major railway hub until the late 1970's, trains from all over North America crossed through the town. A very elegant Prairie Style railway station is still in use, though much of the traffic nowadays is freight trains and only four passenger trains daily.

 The imposing Stratford City Hall

Stratford today is a picture perfect South West Ontario town about 90 minutes West of Toronto on HWY 8. The town has kept all of its 19th century architecture and presents an aesthetically pleasing look. It is also a very wealthy town by the number of large patrician homes dotting its quiet leafy streets. In the middle of town is Lake Victoria, an artificial creation done with a water control dam. The lake is populated with ducks and Royal Swans and on both sides gardens and flower beds.

We met again this year our friends from Pumpkinville, Arizona AKA Phoenix. I learned that Pumpkinville was the original name. We had a wonderful time with them and they are a delight to travel with it was the second time we had vacationed together.

Dr. Spo is my favorite psychiatrist and shirt maker, quite the combination, he has talent and a very different career in fashion if ever he decides to branch out. DAW is Mister Theatre, his knowledge is impressive, he works as a volunteer in the milieu and is a very regular theatre goer.
Combine that with Will who also has very much the same interests and bingo, much good conversations.

We saw 5 different plays this year, my least favourite was King John by Shakespeare, again for me often it is the language which is the obstacle, English is not my first language and Shakespeare convoluted way of saying things has the effect of putting me off. The director was Tim Carroll and King John was Tom McCamus.

On the other hand we saw a Restoration play by George Farquhar (1677-1707) The Beaux Stratagem, very well written, funny, and modern in its outlook. This is the period of Charles II, James II and Queen Anne in England. The play is described as a satire with sympathy on marriage and divorce, I enjoyed this play for its elegance and style. The director was Antoni Cimolino and Colm Feore and Mike Shara played the two main characters.

Mother Courage by Bertolt Bretch with a translation by David Edgar. It is a different translation than the one most people are use to and I preferred it. What a timeless play, the story told still ring true today in our world of globalization and conflicts. The play left me with sadness at the end for Mother Courage and her children. Martha Henry was the director and Seana McKenna was Mother Courage.

The two other plays we saw were Alice through the Looking-Glass a play written by Canadian James Reaney who was born just outside Stratford in 1926. The play is based on Lewis Carroll's story.
The technical effects were highly entertaining and innovative, fast paced and much fun.

Crazy for you, the musical was billed as the new Gershwin musical, the music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin and the book written by Ken Ludwig. The Director was Donna Feore and the title role of Bobby Child was played by Josh Franklin, Bela Zangler by Tom Rooney, Polly Baker by Natalie Daradich. High energy and incredible dance numbers with that wonderful Gershwin music.

Stratford Festival Hall

We also attended a talk by Prof Paul Prescott of Warwick University on Sam Wannamaker who was the instigator for the rebuilding of the Globe Theatre building in London.  An interesting talk which exposed some myths about Wannamaker. One being that he was not a life long devotee to the work of the Bard, he came very late to it. In the end I had the impression that Wannamaker wanted a project which would cement his name for posterity, an ego thing perhaps. At any rate the talk debunked the American myth bandied about on Wannamaker's ambitions for the Globe and his devotion to Shakespeare.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

photos of Ferragosto

From what I hear and messages I received from friends in Rome some people are leaving the Città for  the beginning of the Summer Holidays which in fact started as early as Monday 11 August and will continue until at least the 2 September for the very lucky and up to the 18 August for those not so fortunate in more ways than one. Italy has slipped back into a severe recession and the economy is not good, unemployment for young people (under 30) is hovering around 43% which is a disaster. This is due in large part to years of Right Wing Conservative Politics and negligence under Sylvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister.

As a tourist you are not likely to see anything and if you do not speak Italian you will not even be aware of the problems facing Italy.

Nonetheless now is time for the annual vacation and the 15 August which was instituted by the first Roman Emperor Octavian know as Augustus some 2000 years ago. When in the fourth century Christianity became an official religion in Rome the holiday meaning was gradually changed and became a major religious holiday dedicated to the Assumption into Heaven of the Blessed Virgin Mary,  nowadays it is the signal for summer vacation time.

Here are some favourite photos of Rome and Italy.

 The Church of St-Agnes in Agony on Piazza Navona, the church dates from the 8th century, the baroque facade from 1652 on the orders of Pope Innocent X of the Doria Pamphilij Family. 

 Our pool in our first home in Rome, Via Asmara 9. It was quite large, no we did not have to clean it.

The old garden area of the former estate on Via Asmara 9, never did discover who had built this garden but it was quite large and pleasant.

Another view of our pool on Via Asmara 9, never used it really.

 Our Reesie, he was a long hair Dachshund. Sitting quietly amongst the white roses in the garden

 The Oculus of the Pantheon in Rome, the opening is 27 feet in diameter or 8.2 meters

  Moon over Rome, if you look closely at the picture the middle dark part you can see the ruins of the Imperial Palaces on the Palatine Hill.

 Seen from the Market of Emperor Trajan a side view of the Italian Altar to the Nation also known as the Vittoriano on Piazza Venezia, the largest marble monument in the world. 

 The window of the French Ambassador's Office at the French Embassy in the Farnese Palace in Rome. The Coat of Arms above the window are those of the Farnese Pope Paul III.
Incidentally the first French Ambassador to rent out the palace as a residence was none other than the brother of Cardinal Richelieu who was Chief Minister of the King of France. Cardinal Alphonse Richelieu (yes it ran in the family) was the religiously inclined one compared to his politician brother.

Street parking in Rome with Olive trees

 Castle San Angelo originally built as the Mausoleum to Emperor Hadrian.

Carabinieri in gala uniform, they are the elite police corps in Italy 

 The famous fountain of the turtles near the old ghetto of Rome

Equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on the Campidoglio Piazza in front of the City Hall of Rome on the Capitoline Hill. The original statue is 1900 years old and is inside in the museum to the left of the photo.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Weekend of cooking and Feast Day San Lorenzo

This weekend has been sunny and hot, something rare this summer in Ottawa.

It is also the Feast Day of San Lorenzo in Rome, 10 August, Patron Saint of this most Summer like activity the Bar-B-Q.

Martyrdom of San Lorenzo by Pellegrino Tibaldi, 1592, at the Church of El Escorial, Spain. 

Peaches and plums are back in Season and have started to appear in Farmers Markets. Ontario is a great producer of many fruits and vegetables not to mention award winning wines.

So Will decided to make peach ice cream, he has a machine to do just that and for many decades now he has been making wonderful ice cream, what can I say home made is by far superior to anything you would buy in a store, no chemicals, no added sugar, no emulsifiers or colouring which often gives an acidic taste to commercial ice creams. Many decades ago, I wish I had a picture to show you, he use to make Bombe Glacée which looked like a watermelon with real chocolate pépites to simulate the seeds.

The trick is to have lots of ice to keep things cold, using cream and the whole peach fruit. It taste like ice cream tasted in olden times.

Peaches with cream (peel and pits) to infuse the cream with flavour of the peaches. 

A good blender helps a lot this is our Cuisinart the second one in 36 years.

But if you are in a rush and have no time to make ice cream, here is another old Italian dessert, this is as old as time itself and most authentic Italian dessert you can possibly imagine. Take white peaches wash them and then cut them up, fill a large wine glass with them, then simply pour a chilled dry white wine over them until they are swimming in it. Voilà and serve. Elegant and simple as they day is young.

Also in the summer we will have cold soups, one I like and again it is an old recipe that Will has used for many decades is a cold Zucchini soup to which you can add curry for a spicy twist. There are other recipes using seedless English cucumbers.

This weekend he also made Creamy gazpacho Andaluz, which is a soup we encountered for the first time while travelling in Andalusia last fall in Seville and Granada.  It is served cold and is delicious, especially on a hot summer day.

For this recipe you will need 3 lbs of medium ripe tomatoes, cored
1 small cucumber, peeled, halved and seeded.
1 medium green bell pepper, halved, cored and seeded
1 small red onion, peeled and halved.
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
1 small serrano chile, stemmed and halved length wise
 Kosher salt
1 slice high-quality white sandwich bread, crust removed, torn into 1inch pieces
Half a cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoon finely minced parsley, chives, or basil leaves
Ground black pepper
for the preparation see

I made a warm potatoes salad this weekend, using 4 red potatoes, 2 green onions chopped, half of a large red onion chopped fine, a small tea spoon of cayenne pepper, half a cup of mayonnaise and 3 soup spoons of Dijon Mustard and two soup spoons of grated Parmesan Cheese.

Once your potatoes are cooked cut them up in smaller pieces, mix all the ingredients together and serve.

And we had lots of our favourite Canadian Official Cocktail Bloody Caesar,
with a large celery stalk.

The puppies love the celery stalk.

Nora just back from the groomer's our groomer is Kathryn Bowcott, she does a wonderful job with Dachshunds. You can look her up at

Not to worry Nicky is next, he does not know it yet. Both went to the dentist this summer to have their teeth cleaned so now they have a nice smile with 50 lbs of crush, who knew!