Thursday, April 30, 2009

Puppies in Profile

Calm down - its still the first week OK? I'm still excited about having them around the house, so this type of post is going to show up with alarming regularity. Once they stop being "cute" I'll get more settled. And I received several requests to tell the world a bit more about our Nora and Nicky. Honest I have! Would I lie to you? Well yes, but not about things like that!

Both pups were born at Casa delgi Orso in Capena just north of Rome. Massimo Buzzanca and Tizzana Talo have previously bred St Bernards but in the past two years had added daschies to their breeding activities. He's a vet with a practice in Rome and she manages the kennel. There is a restriction on the number of litters so we rest assured that it is not a "puppy mill." Their facility is well maintained and I watched them with the dogs - there was a good deal of honest affection and caring, something I don't think you can fake with animals. Our guys came from two different litters born about a week apart. A few week's ago I put up some photos of their dames and sires. Now here's some details on the kids, as well as those gratuitous Puppy pictures.

Ladies and first born take precedent of place - plus she tussled with Nicky for it and won - so:
Here's Nora!
  • Registraton name: Eleonora della Casa degli Orsi
  • Known as: Nora
  • Born: February 13, 2009
  • Mother: Lucy - Italian, Dwarf Wire-haired Dachshund, Italian Champion in Boar Hunting trials
  • Father: Ligetfalvi Erik (Camillo), Hungarian, Dwarf Wire-haired Dachshund, Italian Champion in Burrow trials
  • Observations: On the day we picked her up at the kennel she was quiet shy and almost apologetic for being in the back seat. Its all an act! She is already showing the hunting instinct that makes her parents champions. And she has quite the growl on her for such a little thing.
Then there's our Nick:
    • Registraton name: Fantastico Nicky della Casa degli Orsi
    • Known as: Nicky
    • Born: February 24, 2009
    • Mother: Catullus Filomena (Giverny), Hungarian, Miniature Wire-haired Dachshund
    • Father: Catullus Indian (Monet), Hungarian, Miniature Wire-haired Dachshund
    • Observations: He started being real sucky on the ride home and continues to be the biggest suck in the history of dogs. Despite being 1/3 her size he is able to hold his own in puppy scraps with Nora. And he seems to think he has right of ownership to my lap.

    So many of our friends sent us great suggestions for names and there were some heated discussions - okay outright fights - until we settled on Dora's suggestion: Nick and Nora. Cute but of what significance? Well despite what an Anonymous commenter rudely suggested I am not the only one who immediately cottoned on to where she was coming from. One of Hollywood's greatest couples were Myrna Loy and William Powell as Dashiell Hammett's wild and witty detectives Nick and Nora Charles. The first Thin Man movie was screened in 1934 and 5 sequels followed, the last in 1947. Unlike many sequels - Rocky XXXIII et al - the series was consistently carried by the chemistry between Powell and Loy; erudite, witty scripts mostly by Hammett and the writing team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett; and for the first four, the direction of W. S. Van Dyke.

    As Carla reminded me Nick and Nora had a dog of their own - Asta played by that well-known actor Skippy. The only Asta they will be getting will be of the stuffed variety!
    And then when their awake they can fight over it - and they will!

    30 aprile - San Pio V Papa

The Last of the Follies Girls

I've been fascinated by the story of Flo Ziegfeld and his famous Follies since I first discovered a book about him at our local library back in the '50s. I now have a full collection of books tracing the story of man and his remarkable creative ability. He was particularly know for picking some of the most beautiful and talented women in the world to be Follies Girls. I was surprised to see in Tuesday's New York Times that Doris Eaton (Travis), the last of the Follies Girls, is still alive, well and literally kicking.

A right click on the picture of Doris in her heyday as a Ziegfeld girl will take you to the article. The vitality and spirit of the wowman, at 105, is amazing.

30 aprile - San Pio V Papa

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mercoledi Musicale

I mentioned yesterday that we'll be hearing the Prologue to Boito's Mifistofele this weekend on the Accademia; here is the concluding part from the San Fransisco Opera in 1989.

We saw this same production in Chicago in the mid-90s with Sam Ramey as a charismatic Satan. Canadian director Robert Carsen and designer Michael Levine did some of their finest work on this production. I remember wondering if they had blown all their inspiration right off the bat on the prologue only to spend the rest of the evening in constant wonder at their whole conception.



Unfortunately the video quality is not the best nor can it totally capture the magic of this near perfect marriage of music and staging as I recall experiencing it back in Chicago.

29 aprile - Santa Caterina da Siena, patrona d'Italia

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Forever Faithful

On Saturday night many of us in the audience at the Sala Ste Cecilia weren't so much applauding the performance we had just witnessed of Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht's Seven Deadly Sins as the sheer existence of the star performer. We were applauding her and ourselves for still being around. Like Marianne Faithful we had got through the past 40 years a bit battered, a bit bruised but still able say to the world "We here!"

Faithful has reinvented herself several times now - as a singer, an actress, a writer and now as what they use to call in the old days a diseuse. It is interesting to note that though the programme note told us we were hearing the arrangement for contralto, she was listed simply as "voce" or voice. And even someone as steeped in nostalgia as I have to admit there really isn't much of a voice left - but what she has is an incredible ability to communicate. Using a variation on the Auden-Kallman English translation she sang-spoke Brecht's story of Anna, a little girl from Louisiana who goes to the big cities to make her fortune. She sends all her money home to her moralistic pontificating family so they can build a little house on the Mississippi.

Originally conceived as a ballet-opera Brecht uses the conceit of two Anna's - Anna I, the singer, who by her own admission is "realistic" and Anna II, the dancer, who is "the one with the looks." All the while her travels - through St Louis (Sloth), Memphis (Pride), Los Angeles (Wrath), Philadelphia (Gluttony), Boston (Lust), Baltimore (Avarice), San Francisco (Envy) - are commented on by her family - in the form of a barbershop quartet. Brecht's intent is satirical: Anna II only does wrong when she refuses to commit the sin required to earn the money. She tries to do the right think but is always brought back to "reality" by Anna I and her hypocritical family. The only thing the defeated Anna II ever says is "Right, Anna."

Under Ingo Metzmacher the Orchestra treated Weill's music to the glowing performance it deserved - I happen to believe Weill is one of the 20th century greats. And it would be hard to imagine better harmonies than those produced by Mark Bleeke, Eric Edlund, Peter Becker and Wilbur Pauley - the Hudson Shad Quartet. Special praise to Bleeke, who despite a few wayward notes, sang Weill's particularly difficult tenor line effectively. Though the text was printed in the programme the skill of all the performers in delivering the English text made it almost unnecessary.

Laurent was not as enamored of the performance as I - which could have something to do with those clouds of nostalgia - and at one point muttered that he wanted his Weill sung the way Teresa Stratas or Ute Lemper does it - not croaked. And though I am a big Stratas fan, I was more than happy with the experience. It is funny how nostalgia can alter perception.

28 aprile - San Pietro Chanel

Angels and Demons in Concert

The season at Accademia Santa Cecilia is almost over and it has been a good one - I'll be posting something on last Saturday's concert later today. Sure there has been at two or three clinkers - Lorin Maazel leading the most leaden Berlioz's Romeo et Juliette I've ever heard, an uninspired Verdi Requiem under Antonio Pappano and a dull evening of Debussy and Ravel led by Heinz Holliger - but its been a season of some fine - in some cases outstanding - performances and interesting programming. The list of conductors and soloists has been impressive and the chorus and the orchestra are, in MHO, the best in Italy and amongst the best in Europe.

Amongst the highlights have been:
  • A slightly dowdy looking Martha Argerich sitting down at the piano and suddenly becoming the most beautiful woman on earth as she showed us how the Beethoven Number 1 should be played.

  • The Labèque girls - Katia in scarlet party-girl flounces, Marielle all matronly somber black - under the fatherly eye of Georges Prêtre in an exciting reading of the Poulenc Concerto for two pianos; preceeded by an enchanting performance of his Les Animaux modeles.

  • Pappano, who I find so disappointing in the more classical repertoire, tearing the place apart with a wonderfully noisy Mahler 6th - sledge hammer and all. Then further proving he knows his way around 20th century music by conducting some of the finest performances I've heard of Bartok, Sostakovic and Ligeti.

  • That wonderful chorus helping Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos finding new things in Orf's shopworn Carmina Burana one week then giving a Broadway umph to Porgy and Bess the next. Plus being all Germanic solemn and sanctimonious in Medelssohn's Elijah, a first rate peformance with Rene Pape of a second rate work and barbarically Polovesian in Borodin's Prince Igor. The later under Gennadi Rozdestvenskij who coupled it with a lush reading of the Tchaikovsky Pathétique.

And speaking of the chorus - Norbert Balartsch's forces will get quite the workout this coming week with the Verdi Te Deum and the prologue to Boito's Mefistofele in a concert under the title Angeli e Demoni.

The bright lights at the Accademia's publicity department are capitalizing on the forthcoming movie of the Dan Brown pot boiler for the general public and the current golden couple of opera , Anna Netrebko & barihunk Erwinn Schrott*, for the more hard core classical music fans. Both the photo and the English blurb advertising the concert on the website are as cheesy as my home made lasagna. Aside from the fact that its really badly Photo Shopped, it looks to me like Antonio's using some of that sweat he works up conducting to repel Erwinn's Devil. I'm a bit disappointed that Erwinn is fully clothed as there are some fine pictures out there of him showing what abdominal exercises can do - I mean for the voice, of course.

We almost always tend to picture the Devil as a horned monster. In a word, repellant. But if he has the capacity to seduce us with all those temptations for which we humans promptly fall, he must be equipped with superior intelligence, to begin with, and he must also be irresistibly attractive.

Therefore, Uruguayan bass Erwinn Schrott is made to play Mephistopheles. Dazzling as a fallen angel (and the fortunate consort of equally gorgeous Anna Netrebko, the celebrated Russian soprano who recently gave him a son) Schrott will sing the title role in the Prologue to the opera Mephistopheles by Arrigo Boito, the pièce de résistance in the first concert in May conducted by Antonio Pappano.


Still the thought of the forces at Santa Cecilia plus Erwinn - even if he remains fully clothed - doing one of the most fun pieces in Italian opera has me eagerly anticipating this weekend at the Parco.

*My dear friend OC has posted some great shots of Anna, Erwinn and operadom's favorite baby. You have to admit they make a really pretty family.

28 aprile - Luigi Maria Grignion de Montfort

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gratuitious Puppy Video II

Okay I'm being a silly new puppy owner but... hey my blog my choice!

video

27 aprile - Nostra Signora di Montserrat

Lunedi Lunacy II

I'm not familiar with Twitter - and its not that I'm technically-challenged just that I have my hands full with other things and frankly from what I can see of it my life isn't all that fascinating. And though the Swine Flu is no laughing matter I thought this posting from my buddy Kevin is a great example of where technology can take us:



And much like I said earlier today - these people may well be voting, driving cars and reproducing - though hopefully not all at the same time.

27 aprile - Nostra Signora di Montserrat

Lunedi Lunacy I

This almost sounds like a joke but ... let's admit it there are people out there.



And to think the person that wrote this probably votes, drives a car, reproduces, hell they may even hold public office!

Thanks to my friend Naomi for this one.

27 aprile - Nostra Signora di Montserrat

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Gratuitious Puppy Video I

It the Nick and Nora Show!

video

25 aprile - San Marco evangelista

What Is That?

My friend Yannis posted this short film on Facebook earlier this week. Given what Laurent has been going through this past few weeks I thought I would share it.


What is that? (Τι είναι αυτό;) 2007 from MovieTeller on Vimeo.

Alzheimer's is truly a dreadful disease. As well as it hitting home in our household I know so many of my friends are dealing with it in their families. The best we can all do is have compassion and hold the memories of who they were in our hearts.

25 aprile - San Marco evangelista

Friday, April 24, 2009

Presenting....

Fantastico Nicky and Eleonora

Better known in our household as Nick and Nora.
And here we have Nick (right), Nora (left) and some balding guy with glassy eyes in the middle.

For registration purposes the dogs had to have names that began with F or E - don't ask just put it down to Italian bureaucracy - so that's how the breeders registered them. And because at the moment I have my hands full I'll just post a few pictures and leave it at that for the day.
Nick decided that the cow squeaky toy - courtesy of Linda and Nazareno - was his ... for the moment.
Nora was satisfied with the squeaky pig until she saw Nick with the cow ... as predicted she is going to be a handful.
At the moment everybody has a toy and peace reigns in the house.
What with a car ride, slippery marble floors, new smells and new people it can wear puppies out - time for a nap.


24 aprile - Santa Fedele da Sigmaringen

Homecomings

This appears to be a week of homecomings around here. After 10 very busy days in Montreal Laurent arrived home last Sunday. I came home from a brief hospital stay earlier today and today is also homecoming day for Nick and Nora, the latest additions to our household.

We've been using Raising Spot, a great little site, to refresh our memories on how to handle a new puppy - or as in this case two new puppies. Its been a long time since we've heard the patter of tiny paws on the carpets - correction they've all been lifted, make that the marble, which Aileen has been told not to wax. From the looks of it we may be in for a few sleepless nights until things settle down. I've made one promise to Laurent - no food from the table and I mean to keep it.

Hopefully I'll have a few pictures to post later today so everyone can get to know Nick and Nora.

24 aprile - San Fedele da Sigmaringen

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Parlo del Piu e del Meno

A few random things and a handful more Barcelona photos - I've got 427 of them. I do get fixated on the oddest things at times, this time it was street lamps.
The broad pedestrian mall leading up to the Arc di Triomfe - another hold over from the 1888 World Exposition - is lined with fanciful lamp posts. They appear to be an attempt, perhaps not with total success, to wed Beaux Arts with the emerging Art Nouveau style.

  • Its been a hard winter here in Roma and spring has been a long time coming. It seems that it started raining sometime back in October and not a day went by without rain of some sort until this past week. Perhaps it was just a shower but often as not there were wild, almost tropical, thunder storms with pelting rain, high winds and wonderful displays of electric lightening. And thought the temperature rarely dips below zero the buildings hold that damp cold that marble and terra cotta seem to attract. At one point we witnessed the Tiber rising 50 feet overnight and almost breaching its banks here in the city. But we are not the only ones who got the stuffing knocked out of us - Venice had the worst Aqua Alta in 30 years, Palermo in Sicily had snow and not just a light dusting - it stayed, Calabria was battered by storms that cause mud slides, cargo boats were ripped from moors in Genova and the north had record snow falls that were great for skiing but hell for driving.

    And as I mentioned spring has not been in any hurry to show up - after having stored the winter blankets away two weeks ago I found myself hustling them out Easter weekend. And this past week we have been using a space heater to warm the bedroom area as heat is turned off in most buildings come April 15. One sad effect of the deluges and late spring is that the wisteria that climbs so many buildings is not as lush as it was last year. But today it seems like spring is finally here - please god I'm not tempting fate by saying it.

In the old historical centre of Barcelona you can almost tell the district you're in by the street lamps. Often striking examples of the iron monger's art they are just another feature in a city rich in architectural detail.
  • Strange item in today's il Giornale with the leader: Stop the anarchy of take-away! It appears that the governing Legge Nord Party in Lombardy is closing down kabob and donair restaurants in the region. Before anyone could jump to conclusions they issued a statement saying: It isn't racism, its a matter of public health. Racism - the Legge, my goodness who would ever make that assumption. And just to make sure they say they're going to do the same to take-out pizza places and gelato stands. Meanwhile editorials and letters to the editor are mocking the move, comedians are having a field day and a several eat-ins have been planned with the cry: Kabobs for Free! Kabobs for All! You would think that with a country in crisis there would be more important things for politicians to busy themselves with than Kabobs but apparently not.

As well as the glorious buildings of Gaudi, smart shops and trendy restaurants Passeig de Gracia is lined with these fanciful lamp posts. Again perhaps not with total success the Industrial Age meets Art Nouveau.

  • It was a little unsettling last year when Mr Berlusconi said that the army would replace the Caribinari standing guard over Embassies and Ambassadors' residences. His expressed reasoning was that the Cabribinari could then go about their real business of catching bad guys and Mafia chiefs. The army boys - and anyone under 21 I consider a boy - are dressed in camouflage and carry machine guns. As our friend Robert said when this first came about: getting the public use to seeing the army in the streets is a tactic not unknown in Italy in the last century. Most of the young lads at the Residence near us will nod in greeting as they get to know that you live in the neighborhood, in fact I was surprised that one actually cracked a joke with me last Saturday night. I was coming home around 9 pm with a bouquet of tulips for Laurent's arrival and a big, burly, young private gave me a big smile and said: For me, you shouldn't have! We all had a good laugh.

    But one thing I've noticed when it rains - even just a sprinkle - the boys run for cover in the jeep parked nearby. Do their uniforms run if they get wet? Would that matter with camis? Has the government not issued them rain wear? And who's protecting the Ambassador while they're snug and warm?
23 aprile - Santa Renata di Lorena

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mercoledi Musicale

The past 18 months in Roma have given me the opportunity to hear and see artists that I knew from broadcasts and CDs but had never experienced live: Antonio Pappano, Danielle Dessi, the Labreque girls, Andreas Scholl, Georges Prêtre, Lorin Maazel, Cecilia Bartoli and the list goes on. Coming up in the next little while will be Marianne Faithful (yes that Marianne Faithful), Lang Lang (with Ceci,)more Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, Philippe Jaroussky, Fabio Biondi, Juan Deigo Florez, Kate Alderich and again the list goes on. It has been a rich musical time here.

One singer that I would love to hear is Thomas Quasthoff but his current schedule shows him more active in North America than here in Europe. My dear friend OC had the chance to see him in Milan in February doing Schubert's Winterreisse with Barenboim at the piano and as always made me envious because she was there and I wasn't.

Quasthoff is known not just for his glorious voice but for his gift of communication with his audience. Whither he is doing lieder, opera or crossover (he is an accomplished jazz singer) he seems to get to the heart of the material and bring out depths previously unheard. Here he is doing an old standard but making it sound as new as it must have sounded to the audience that first heard it back on November 15, 1927 at the National Theater in Washington, D.C.



Given the immaculate diction its had to believe that his mother tongue is German.

22 aprile - San Virginio

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sharing

Its been over a month since I posted links to favorite blog items I've read. And its not because I haven't seen great stuff, just mostly because I've been lazy. So here's a few items that I found were worth the read - amongst so many - as well as a series of pictures from one of our stops in Barcelona.

Poble Espanyol is unmistakably aimed at tourists - and being tourists we took the bait one afternoon. Aside from the worst - and it wasn't really that bad, it just couldn't compare with the others - and most expensive meal of the trip it really is a delightful place to visit. Built for the 1929 Exhibition it features the architecture of each region of Spain - Castilian leads to Andalucian which lead to Aragonian etc. Its sort of architectural Spain in the nutshell.
The Bajada de Cervantes is a passage of wide steps lined with buildings in the Basque style on one side, Navarrese on the other. But what fascinated me were the bronze tethering posts that worked their way down the street. Obviously of recent design, they reflect the arts and crafts on display in the village.
  • Its not unusual to be asked for a "word verification" these days when posting comments to blogs - it can help weed out the spammers fairly effectively. But you would think that if its called "word verification" than they would be actually words but often they are just random conglomerates of letters. Frequently if taken out of context they can sound faintly obscene. Buddy Sling was feeling in a Lewis Carroll mood recently and composed this for our enjoyment.

  • The Bookbinder
    The Glass Blower
    Laurent says this isn't a courtesan but ... hey I still think its an art.

  • As well as taking us on a Sunday drive - the first I'd been on with him in a month or more, Jeff decided to render a public service by posting this timely video on Facebook Relationships.

  • The Blacksmith
    The Potter
    The Woodworker

  • I've always considered her my Blog Mama, Big Ass Belle has a way with words that can tickle your funny bone one minute and tear at your heart the next. She's been involved in a writing seminar and has been sharing some of her work with us. I won't single out any one piece but just suggest that you click over to Big Ass Belle and scroll through. I guarantee it will be worth it.

  • The Spinster
    The Musician
    The Rope Maker

  • And speaking of Lewis Carroll, Lotusgreen has a delightful take on one of my favorite passages from Through The Looking Glass - I've always loved the Walrus and the Carpenter and tea is one of my favorite beverages.

  • The Basket Weaver
    The Sculptor

  • Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie is one of my favorite plays - back when I was a teenager I saw it three Saturday matinees in a row with the under-rated Canadian actress Barbara Hamilton as a funny, frightening and touching Amanda. I was reminded of it when I saw Lotusgreen's lovely mixture of William's words and the glass makers' art.

21 aprile - Sant'Anselmo d'Aosta

Happy 2762 Birthday

According to the first-century BC historian Marcus Terentius Varro 2762 years ago today ( April 21, 753 BC) Romulus gave up She-Wolf milk and set up shop on the Palatine Hill. And it would appear that recent archaeological evidence backs up this story - or at least the part about the earliest settlement in what was to become Roma.

The City of Roma has arranged a full calender of events for the celebration - concerts of all kinds, walks, talks, open air theatre and just general celebration. And because this week is also La Settimana della Cultura(The Week of Culture) most museums - not just in Roma but throughout Italy - are free. All and all not a bad week to be here in Roma.

Happy Birthday Roma, for 2762 you still got a lot of life in you.

21 aprile - il Natale di Roma

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy

Wilson, Keppel & Betty were a popular act in British Music Halls between the two great wars and often featured in Wartime Cabaret. Their best known number was "The Sand Dance." Minus Betty the boys had a lark guying the Egyptomania brought on by the discovery of Tut's tomb.




20 aprile - Santa Sara di Antiochia

Sunday, April 19, 2009

For My Orthodox Friends

Wishing my friends in Serbia and Greece and all my Orthodox friends a Happy Easter.

Христос Bоскресе - Χριστός ανέστη


19 aprile - Pascha

I Rant! I Rave!

I don't normally rant on here - I save that sort of thing for the home front. However, and you knew with an opening sentence like that there was a however coming, comments on a news story on the CBC website yesterday had me incensed to the point of ranting and almost raving. And I figured I should get it out of my system before Laurent gets home.

A look at the IRIS website shows that there have been numerous earthquakes around the world in the past two weeks. Many have been minor or in regions where damage has been minimal but several have caused loss of human life and habitation. Here in Italy there have been tremors the past 14 days in the L'Aquila region just north of us - the last one on Monday evening a full week after the first. As most of you have seen that the devastation has been incredible.

The CBC was reporting on a series of quakes (5.5 and 5.1) in a rural area of Afghanistan about 80 kilometers east of Kabul. Though the figures were nowhere close to those in Italy two villages where badly hit with 22 dead and about 200 homes (mostly made of dried mud) destroyed. And because the area is isolated and mountainous aid workers were having some difficulty in getting to the region.

What absolutely stunned me were the numerous vile comments made by readers. A number of people - Canadians mostly - were making statements that showed a level of ignorance and lack of compassion that astounded me. People in my country - my country that I have always been proud of for its caring and understanding of the world - were saying things that make me ashamed of being a Canadian.

It's God's punishment for their treatment of women," countered by "They don't believe in God, they believe in Allah." or ""Hehehehe!!!! Good ole earth quakes eh!!! The country and the people are straight out of the stone age." or "Canada send no aid it is allah's will." and "Hope there are more earthquakes to come but its a good start. Mother nature has its way of dealing with the weak." And one bright soul remarked on the stupidity of constructing houses of dried mud in an earthquake zone.

I am wondering how many people left this sort of comment when the earthquakes hit us here Italy? Not many from what I recall, most of the comments were of support and concern. But surely if an earthquake is God's punishment on one people it is his punish to all people. Or because we are a Catholic Christian country was it not a punishment but a terrible misfortune?

Yes, much about the treatment of women is not right in Afghanistan but I find it strange that the God these commentors invoke takes his anger out on two small villages in the mountains. Surely that vengeful anger (very Old Testement almost stone age) should be directed somewhat higher up the chain? And to the person who wrote "They don't believe in God only in Allah," Allah is the word for God in Arabic, as in Italian they use Dio, in French Dieu or in Russian Бог . In fact if you did a bit of research you would find that an Arab-speaking Christian and Jew would use Allah when referring to God. And in Malta God is referred to, in a Christian context, as Alla. Oh and by the way the Allah that is prayed to derives from the same God that Christians and Jews worship.

As for the use of dried mud to build houses - if you want to get picky bricks are nothing but dried mud. And as surprising as it may seem there are places in the world where they don't have a ready supply of wood or reinforced concrete to use in building. And even those materials, as witness the modern buildings lying in heaps of rubble in the Abruzzo, don't guarantee that a structure can withstand the force of an earthquake. And as for not building in an earthquake zone, tell that to people living in California or Ottawa for that matter.

And having just experienced an earthquake and 8 after shocks I can only say to those who wish it on others, I sincerely hope you never find yourself wakened from your sleep to find the world around you heaving and rolling. It is a very frightening experience. Or even worse, as the people of L'Aquila and Afghanistan have done, I pray to God/Allah/Бог that you never have to watch as a relative or loved one's smashed body is removed from a collapsed building which was once your home.

And I am left wondering what punishment God/Alla/Dio has for those who lack compassion or understanding?

19 aprile - Sant'Ermogene

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Different Time - A Different View

Though it had been a major port throughout history there was a time when Barcelona turned its back on its waterfront. The best addresses where up in the hills away from ships, shipping and the riff-raff smelling of fish and salt. The Olympics changed much of that and the area is now very upscale. The Marina is bustling with parks, malls, multi-plex cinemas, restaurants and a not-bad Aquarium. Its a pleasant (if crowded) place to spend a Sunday.

At one other point in its history Barcelona celebrated its maritime heritage. For the World Exposition of 1888 the glories of sea going if not the sea itself were trumpeted. To commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in Barcelona, the year after he discovered the New World, a monument was built on the the waterfront. It stands in the middle of Plaça de la Porta de Paul at the end of Las Ramblas and is topped by a 7m tall figure of the explorer. He points out to sea but rather oddly to his hometown of Genova, the opposite direction to the "new" world he had "discovered" for their Catholic Majesties.

The monument, created by Catalan artist Gaietà Buigas i Monravà, reflects the sensibilities of its time. In the 1880s, and indeed up until recently, Columbus was viewed as a heroic discoverer and the men with him - clerical and military - had done great things in conquering this savage land.


Captain Pedro Bertran i de Margarit, next to a kneeling awe-struck aboriginal.


Father Bernat de Boïl, preaching to a kneeling Native who kisses his stole in gratitude.

A new look at history over the past two decades have revealed a less romantic view of his conquests, the efforts of those with him and the monarchs who sponsored him. Nowadays the figures on the monument engender a certain cynical irony rather than admiration. A different time - a different view.

16 aprile - Santa Bernadetta Soubirous

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Does Anyone Still Wear a Hat?


"And are the ladies looking for hats for any special occasion," simpered the very eager and very British young salesclerk. Sales on the High Street are very slow and the sight of Peg, Anna and Gillian with Jim and I in tow had her hopes up for big sales.

"Well actually its for a funeral" I replied trying not to burst into laughter as Gillian modeled a flippy feathery number.

Poor girl - she was totally nonplussed but then she didn't know Deb. She couldn't imagine the half-smile and those eyes crinkling that we all could see as hats were tried on and comments made. She couldn't understand that what we were doing reached back to salacious lunch hour conversations, raucous restaurant banter, deep late night talks about everything that touched our lives or quiet chats on a London bound train where prognosis were revealed and talked about. But hopefully she could see the incredible love and heartbreak that was in our laughter. Deb wanted the ladies to wear hats at her funeral and damn it our ladies were going to wear hats. And if those hats were a bit flippy, a bit feathery, so much the better.
Peg thought something in a broad brim with a slightly My Fair Lady Ascot flair would work but finally settled on a smart little feathered pill box reminiscent of a 50s night club cigarette girl.




Gillian modeled several smart numbers gallantly proffered by Jim and I wanted her to get the feathery one that made her look like she was appearing in Swan Lake at the Theatre Royal. But she decided an old faithful that she had brought with her from Montreal would be just fine.


Anna tried on something broad brimmed and then a puffy gray pill box - for some reason puffy little hats on headbands are all the rage in England these days. She left the store sporting a straw saucer with a whiff of black feathers.
Slightly saucy, maybe even a bit silly our Deb would have loved them. And knowing she had taken us shopping one more time would have pleased her no end.

15 aprile - San Telmo