Friday, 31 October 2014

Halloween 2014, Tutti i Santi, Festa dei Morti.

This year for Halloween I got a nice pumpkin well several really and carved the big one.
I have been doing this since I was a little kid 50 odd years. I put the pumpkins on the balcony, we are not expecting any kids at all, since our building is mostly older adults with no kids. There are some kids but I do not know if they are around tonight. Of course tomorrow is the Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead 1 November, a big tradition in Mexico and in many countries like Poland. Two countries where I have lived and saw their traditions. Very interesting, in Mexico people who got married on November 1 put skeletons and coffins on their wedding cakes. Tombs in cemeteries were ornately decorated with a multitude of flowers and candles. In Poland thousands of flickering lights would decorate family tombs and everyone went to visit the dead in the day time and also at night, the Cemeteries would be ablaze with candle light, quite lovely and a little spooky because of the many big old trees everywhere casting shadows. There was no Halloween in China or in Italy too foreign a concept, same for Egypt or Jordan. The concept of Halloween is very North American.

Here are some photos of the season.

Citrouilles 2014 
By the way for those who might wonder how do you say Halloween in French, well you say 
L'Halloween, simple yes?

Here are other photos of our neighbourhood

Our neighbours pumpkins 

Here is our pumpkin for this year, next to the Chicago Drake Hotel ceramic pumpkin I bought in 1994 with the 3 little pumpkin of this year, including the blue gray one called Sweetmeat pumpkin.

Friday, 24 October 2014

How to react to this event

When tragedy strikes as it did this week in Ottawa it is difficult to know how to react clearly to such horrendous situations. We live in an open society where people do what they want, say what they feel and pretty much go about their lives as they please. Canada is known for it's openness and for being accommodating and generous to a fault.

Though many young people have real trouble understanding notions of sacrifice and hardship because they are indulged and sheltered. Many schools went into a lockdown in Ottawa so did public buildings, hotels, Parliament where the attack took place, Embassies and numerous other public places, including shopping malls. Many complained about the inconvenience of such a measure and those who complained did not appear to be thinking as to why this was happening. Most only thought, it has nothing to do with me, so why should I be inconvenienced. Would it be useful to try to explain why security measures are required or how serious the matter at hand is in reality. We do live in a very narcissistic society, look at the reporter of SUN News who wanted a selfie with a US News personality at the scene of the crime, how inappropriate and thoughtless is that.

Maybe it is time to return to an era where everyone enjoys the same rights and freedoms as long as it does not step on the rights and freedoms of your neighbour or society at large. A world where respect is an important value. This would have to be taught in our schools with so many other topics which are not part of the curriculum at the moment.

As for the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, like Parliament, maybe it is time to teach people how to behave and what is appropriate behaviour is such places I have seen far to many people behave in disrespectful ways because they were more concern with having fun that bothered to think where they were.

As for the measures now envisaged by the Government on how to contain extreme violent behaviour and those who would visit violence on us as a society, I do not know what is appropriate but at the same time cool heads must prevail and strike the right balance.

The late Cpl Nathan Cirillo is on the left of this photo.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

What a strange day in Ottawa

Today Wednesday 22 October 2014 is certainly a very unusual day for us all in Ottawa and in the country. Who knew that the incident of yesterday in a parking lot of a mall in Quebec where a crazed so called convert to Islam who drove his car into two soldiers, killing one would repeat itself today with even more violent consequences.

At around 10am at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa an unmarked car with no licence plate stops and a man jumps out running towards the Memorial and opens fire on the Honour Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, killing Cpl Nathan Cirillo, 24 yrs old. of the Highland Regiment.

National War Memorial, Ottawa

The gunman then ran across Wellington Street unto Parliament Hill, he entered the Central block at the main entrance under the Peace Tower, which is only used for ceremonials. That is where he started to shoot up at the guards and from the video tape he ran down the Hall of Honour towards the Library of Parliament. Luckily for us all, he ran pass the two main committee rooms where the political caucuses were meeting, this being Wednesday which by tradition all Members of Parliament and the Prime Minister meet to talk about Parliamentary business. Had the gunman known more about the inside of the building, it could have had far more dire consequences. It was the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Commons who is responsible for security and order in Parliament who caught up with the gunman in this mad run through the corridors and shot him dead. You can clearly hear on the video the gun shots inside Parliament, many, some say up to 50 shots fired, I do not doubt it. One never thinks if you see the Sergeant at Arms walking down the corridor every day Parliament sits carrying the golden Mace which is the symbol of the Authority of Parliament in his formal uniform and bicorne hat that his role is anything but Ceremonial but Kevin Vickers today proved otherwise and is hailed as a hero for saving Parliament.

Sergeant at Arms carrying the Parliament Mace followed by the Speaker.

I am personally incensed at anyone thinking they can use violence against bystanders to make a statement what ever that might be. But in this case to attack our National War Memorial and kill a soldier guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then run to Parliament and do the same is a
direct attack on Canadians. To my way of thinking this is the same as running into my house and trying to kill me and my family. The gunman has been named as Michael Joseph Abdul Zehaf-Bibeau, 32 yrs old, it is known that his step-father was a Libyan Immigrant, his mother a senior government official, the parents had lost track of him 5 years ago. We will no doubt find out more about this idiot, who is also a drug addict and a convicted felon in the days to come.

This day has disturbed many of us living in Ottawa, our security has been shaken badly and it has offended our values and the image we have of our society as peaceful and law abiding.

Parliament of Canada

Update: The RCMP says that the gunman had no links to any Jihadist groups, he was mentally deranged, friends and family says he had a difficult childhood, a string of criminal convictions, petty theft, etc, he had no fixed address and was wandering around Canada for the last 2 years. He had tried to convert to Islam but had failed at this and was told to leave the Mosque because he was too disruptive, the Imam said that he had stolen items from the Mosque and disturbed many people with his incoherent rants.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Uber alles

I discovered something interesting today, sometimes it may take years to find out what something really means and in the meantime you're perception is totally wrong.

This past summer working on the Great War Painting Exhibits of the Canadian War Museum I encountered daily people who had assumptions of the historical period 1914-1918 and later 1939-1945, what had happened in Germany and the world and who was to blame, etc. But I think it is important to question our assumptions, are they correct or are we just falling for the obvious without a second thought.

Many events create a situation, one single event never amounts to much and in historical events, people and leaders all share in shaping events, there is also a continuum of history that brings us along,  a bit like falling dominoes.

I never quite understood the sentence ''Deutschland Uber Alles'' Germany above all is the translation, but what is the meaning beyond the translation and what does it mean to a German speaking person. What is the historical context of that expression?

Like many people I had assumed that it meant what we were told it meant after 1918 or 1945, domination over other people. This was part of the Official propaganda message put out by the Allies.
It went well with the histrionics and other falsehoods used to explain the wars and events surrounding them. These assumptions live on today, they are pervasive and the commercial world continues to spin them out, through books and movies.

The Revolution of 1848

So recently a friend of mine asked me if I knew anything about the German flag today, the black, red and gold. I remember reading that it was called the People's flag and first appeared in 1848. A year of revolution across Europe, the Germans wanted a more open form of government and wanted to do away with the autocratic rule of Princes. Napoleon had started the ball rolling by invading the Holy Roman Empire which comprise some 300 German speaking States, re-organized it into 37 Principality and humiliated the German people. In 1813 Napoleon was defeated and the Germans thought they could establish Parliamentary rule, equality under the Law and Justice for all. The Princes were anxious to return to their old autocratic ways.  The German flag of the Princes was Red White and Black whereas the flag of the People, not of a State or Prince, was the Black Red and Gold, the Princes banned it but they could not old down the People who felt the old ruling houses no longer legitimate or representative of their aspirations.

With this flag came an Anthem Das Deutschlandlied or Song of the Germans, words by August H. Hoffmann Von Fallersleben (1841) and music by Joseph Haydn (1797). The words Deutschland Uber Alles meant and means United Germany over all other 37 German Princely States.  Unfortunately the rebellion of 1848 was crushed and Chancellor Bismarck who was no democrat imposed a new authoritarian Constitution, in 1871 created the German Empire with the King of Prussia as head. The meaning of Deutschland Uber Alles was changed to mean military might over others and then under the Nazis in 1933 it came to mean superiority over all Nations.

In 1946 the new German Government under Chancellor Conrad Adenauer created a new democratic Federal Republic but with the Cold War, Germans had to wait until re-unification in 1991 for the original meaning of Das Deutschlandlied to regain its original meaning and spirit of 1848.  The Anthem starts with the words Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit,  Unity, Rights and Liberty. Only the third verse is now part of the Official Anthem. It reflects the modern democratic values of Germany.

Words of Das Deutschlandlied

Unity, Rights and Liberty

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The day the music died.

Today and the last 2 days have been gray and rainy in Ottawa. Typical Fall weather, low clouds, some  burst of sunshine and winds. The Rideau Canal has been emptied and all the flowers beds in the parks have been cleaned and prepared for Winter.  It is also the last week of the Ontario province wide Municipal Election.  A thing I learned about this election is how nasty some of the candidates can be especially if they are business people or from the Suburbs and Rural areas, they are not shy about displaying their prejudices in public since they believe it's ok because they have money and talk for the oppressed White folk they think they represent.

We may think ourselves above certain hatreds but it is all surface, look at the supporters of Doug and Rob Ford in Toronto.  It does not take much to see the haters come out in full force, it is always the same thing, hate of Bilingualism in the National Capital, hate of the poor or the homeless, illogical debates about not wanting to pay taxes for any basic services all the while demanding more and more services, refusal to recycle waste, hate for the environment or anything to do with the green movement, hate of public transit systems as one candidate put it, if you do not have a car you're a loser.

It is not clear what type of City Council we will get in Ottawa on 27 October but it can be hoped that it will be a stable one like the one we had prior to this election. It also looks like the current Mayor Jim Watson will be re-elected since no credible opponent has been able to mount a challenge. Which is a very good thing for this City and for all of us, the last thing we need now would be some clown beholden to business groups and private enterprise to come and impose a right wing agenda.

Let's change the channel, today I went to do some grocery shopping at my favourite store, I say favourite because the service level is good and the staff is pleasant which is a rarity in this city, most businesses treat the word 'service' as if it was some kind of perversion.

This song is amongst my second favorite after Peggy Lee ''Is that all there is'', they were playing it in the store and I stopped shopping to listen to it. Thing is if you can remember this song and what it talks about, the events, that time, you are at least over 55. It would really mean nothing to a younger person. It was not an easy time in the world, but the world was a very different place. It all seems so distant now. But I like the fact that I remember and lived through this period.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


I have been working for the last 3 days on various art presentations for the National Gallery and I also have to organize art lectures for the various schools who ask us to come in to give a talk.
It's a lot of work but I do enjoy it. I am trying to pick works of art in the Gallery that could be interesting to people.  As for the school program this year I want to talk about Abstract Art and Surrealism. One teacher would like me to talk about the Renaissance again this year. I will try to convince him otherwise. The Renaissance as a topic is far too large for a 50 minute presentation. Come on how can you cover 250 years in 50 minutes and most of it is religious art. We have PC guidelines and religious art is a no go area. Also the kids have very limited knowledge of history, geography, art, the world and anything before 1995.  So you can see the problem with a period covering 1297 to 1550, a little far for them to grasp.

As for this music interlude, well Haendel was of the Baroque period, nothing to do with the Renaissance. Please don't say, Oh he is so Victorian, we do that a lot in Canada.
Though it all gets all mashed up together a bit like World War I and II, not the same but most people think it is as I found at this Summer at the other Museum and war painting exhibit.

Saturday, 11 October 2014


This annual Festival has only been popular around Canada since the late 1970's, I do not really remember such a German themed Festival in October before that date, unless it was a local festival in some communities of Ontario around Kitchener Waterloo and Stratford where there are substantial amounts of Canado-German families who have lived in the farmland area for generations. After all Kitchener only got that name at the time of the First World War, prior to that date it was Berlin, Ontario.

In Ottawa it is a weekend festival around 18-19 October with some Bavarian style bands, beer and sausages, but nothing like what you would see in German speaking countries where the festival runs for 6 weeks.

The Festival itself started at the time of King Ludwig I of Bavaria (1786-1868) not to be confused with the other Ludwig II who was deposed and drowned. So King Ludwig I married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810 to mark the happy day a great festival was organized in a Meadow named for her Theresienwiese. The festival has been held ever since every year and now attracts upwards of 6 million participants annually.

King Ludwig I of Bavaria

It is interesting to note that Germany has 1200 beer labels and very strict laws on what constitutes beer making, you cannot produce beer with ingredients like wheat or sugar per example and production is strictly regulated. Every region of the Old Holy Roman Empire produced beer and had it's own recipe, freshness being one of the key ingredients.

Of course with it goes Sausages and every German Town appears to have its own sausage recipe. From Berlin with its Curry Wurst to the Frankfurter Wurst, Munich's Weiss Wurst, to my favourite the Nuremberg Brat Wurst with the special spices that Nuremberg was able to obtain because of its link to Venice and the Oriental Trade routes.

The Curry Wurst of Berlin is a new addition to German Sausage Family, in 1946 the City had been devastated by war and on the verge of famine. A British soldier had bought a sausage from a street vendor and simply added curry powder to make the sausage more tasty. People noticed what he had done and in no time at all a new sausage was born.

The Frankfurter Wurst is a thin pure pork sausage in Mutton Casing originated at the great Coronation Banquet given for the Coronation of Charlemagne, a whole Ox was stuffed with sausage and roasted and served to the guests, it was a success. Today the Frankfurter is known as the lowly hotdog.

The Nuremberg Sausage dates of the early Renaissance period around 1350, it is usually 5 to 9 cm long and weighs about 20 gr. More than 3 million sausages are produced daily and exported around the world. Goethe loved them and while he lived in Weimar would have packages sent to him from a supplier. It is served with horseradish and potato salad.

But there is also other sausage recipes and favourites like the Thuringer, Sonnenberger, Coburger, Frankishe, Kumbacher, Hofer, Westfalishe, Nordhessische, Pfalzer, Rote Wurst, Sulzfelder and St-Galler, what a choice.

Beer and Sausages define German character and culture, it was Tacitus who noted that German Tribes drank prodigious amounts of beer each day. It was Bismarck who said that there are two things people do not want to know, one is how Laws are made and the other Sausages.


Friday, 10 October 2014

Thanksgiving Weekend

This year Thanksgiving falls on Sunday 12 October, in French Canada it is called L'Action de Grâce, an old Feast Day which has European roots in the harvest festivals which are upon us now.

I love going out to the grocery store and shopping for a pumpkin or pumpkins. We are also looking at our menu for the Thanksgiving lunch on Sunday. I got pieces of turkey this year instead of a big bird.
I also have chestnuts and Brussels Sprouts, will do something along the lines of roasting them instead of the usual boiling. Heritage carrots, yellow and purple and red all mixed up together. The potatoes are Russian Blue, I do not know why they call them by that name since all potatoes come from Bolivia originally and the so called Russian Blue is a favourite of the Andean Natives in the highland of Bolivia. Will is going to make Pumpkin Spicy or Smokey soup and for dessert we will have a special dessert for the occasion made by Pastry Chef  Michael Holland at his store Holland's Cake and Shake by the Parkdale Market at 229 Armstrong street in Ottawa. See their web site

This is a great place for pastry done in the old famous traditional way but with a modern twist and lots of imagination. All of it is made fresh daily no day old or stale stuff there.

The weather is crisp and cool now and the trees have started to change into a wide array of vibrant colours.
 This year's pumpkins on our balcony.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

In the vaults of the Canadian War Museum

Today as a thank you to the volunteer guides of the Summer Program on the paintings of the First World War we were invited by the Coordinator of Volunteers of the Canadian War Museum on Le Breton Flats to an exceptional visit, a very rare event, to go underground to see where all the 84,000 artifacts of the Museum are kept and curated.

We were a small group of 12 people composed of volunteers from various other National Museums like myself who had come to help out with the Exhibits Witness and Transformations (1914-1918).
I was expecting a short visit maybe 30 minutes, sort of a general tour, we got a 90 minute tour to various rooms where various artifacts are kept in well humidified and temperature controlled rooms, look after by a staff of dedicated and knowledgeable people some of which are themselves volunteers with expert knowledge in one field or another.

We first went to see the room where the Lord Beaverbrook Canadian War Memorial Fund paintings are kept. We were able to see some pictures which were not part of the exhibit this Summer.

The Flag by John Byam Shaw, 1918. A dead Canadian Soldier wrap in the Flag of Canada at the time lying at the foot of an Imperial Lion (Britain) mourned by Canadians. A very large canvas, it has not been exhibited since 1919 when it was shown at the Royal Academy in London as part of the Canadian War paintings.

We were able to look through the collection. We then went to another room where 2 artists were preparing a diaporama of the battle of Passhendaele in Flanders, Belgium for the new exhibit which will open in November. They were working on figurines of soldiers in the 30 mm and 5 mm scale, amazing work they are doing. Recreating battle scenes in great detail. They have to hand paint each one by hand, incredible work.

Then on to the paper room where posters and sketches and small aquarelles are kept all in special boxes on shelves, again in a temperature controlled room. A lot of the drawings made by Canadian soldiers which were shown at the exhibit Witness have now been put away and will probably not be shown again for 40 years. Meaning I will never see them again in my lifetime. The paper used by the soldiers is 100 years old and all the artwork is very fragile, in most cases the paper used by the soldiers on the battlefield was not good quality, in many instances it was letter paper or scrapes of cardboard or scraps of cigarette cartons, whatever they could put their hands on. But such beautiful art work they did to express what they saw and how they felt, often with great humour despite the danger and death all around.

We then went to the weapons room, it was full of cannon balls, bombs of all kinds, torpedoes, a small submarine, World War one gun carriages, saddles for horses, etc... We got a short course on the difference between a Howitzer which has a short neck and a cannon which has a long neck. Then one person asked about how you load a cannon and how you put the fuse on the shell. So we got a demonstration, and I learned that you first fitted the fuse on top of the shell, then put the shell into the cannon and then this tubular pillow like device which explodes when the cannon is fired propelling the shell forward. Depending on the size of your cannon you could fire a shell up to 2 Km or more in distance.

Then someone asked if they could see the Sherman Tank, I like many people have heard of the Sherman Tank but had never seen one. There it was, it is about a third the size of a regular tank of today. Still it is pretty big and the model we have is a 1939 tank manufactured in Montreal. It is powered by gasoline and makes an incredible noise when the motor is started and lots of exhaust fumes.  Apparently it is difficult to start and you have to crank it by hand like the model T Ford.

There was also a very large German Gun manufactured by Krupp in Essen which is being restored and which will be part of the exhibit in November. We were shown deep indentations in the metal of the gun, this was made by shrapnel which killed the crew manning the gun.

We did not see the room where uniforms and flags are kept that in itself is also very interesting. All in all a good visit and I am very happy to have seen something that is not open to the public and can only be accessed on special permission.